Tom Rosenstiel


Ethics - Dictionary Series

Why ‘be transparent’ has replaced ‘act independently’ as a guiding journalism principle

Whenever people discuss how journalism is changing, one of the most common questions is: “Who is a journalist today and who isn’t?

It’s the wrong question.

In an age when publishing has gone from being an industry to a button, as theorist Clay Shirky has put it, anyone might commit an act of journalism given the right circumstances.

The more pertinent question, then, is what constitutes an act of journalism.

Bill Kovach and I have considered this question in several of our books together, particularly “The Elements of Journalism” (a thoroughly new edition is coming next spring). Now, Poynter’s Kelly McBride and I, along with a dozen other thinkers, have taken up this issue in a new book called “The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century.”

The work explicitly attempts to update a set of ethical guidelines, “Guiding Principles for Journalists,” developed by The Poynter Institute in the 1990s under the leadership of Bob Steele. Read more

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Facts

The danger of journalism that moves too quickly beyond fact

The best thinking about journalism’s future benefits from its being in touch with technology’s potential. But it can get in its own way when it simplifies and repudiates the intelligence of journalism’s past.

That is happening, to a degree, in a discussion gaining momentum lately that journalism should now largely move beyond fact gathering and toward synthesis and interpretation.

The NSA story is just the latest case that shows the importance, and the elusiveness, of simply knowing what has really happened.

In a Nieman Journalism Lab post, Jonathan Stray made the case recently for moving beyond facts, or what might be called The Displacement Theory of Journalism. “The Internet has solved the basic distribution of event-based facts in a variety of ways; no one needs a news organization to know what the White House is saying when all press briefings are posted on YouTube. What we do need is someone to tell us what it means.”

In their manifesto on Post Industrial Journalism, C.W. Read more

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Key to Leadership

5 qualities of innovative leaders in today’s media

In “The Boys on the Bus,” Timothy Crouse’s fabled book about the press and the 1972 presidential campaign, Jim Naughton was the quiet and contemplative New York Times reporter who toiled alongside the outsized and flamboyant Johnny Apple.

After he left The Times 1977, Naughton became known to another two generations of journalists as a manager and leader — first as a top editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer in its ascent to becoming one of the country’s great papers, and later as president of the Poynter Institute. (Poynter’s annual Leadership Academy, one of its signature events, begins each year with a lecture in Naughton’s name.)

Naughton, who passed away last year, led in a style ahead of his time — by listening, shielding creative people from bureaucracy, pushing power down and more — concepts better recognized today for their value than when Naughton subtly advanced them.

What qualities distinguish successful leaders in media today? Read more

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Conversation2

Why we need a better conversation about the future of journalism education

Two New York writers exchanged misfire recently about journalism education, and almost all of it was misdirected. Then the conversation they started died with damning faint praise.

We should have that conversation, only a better one.

The brouhaha began when media pugilist Michael Wolff in USA Today attacked the Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism as a “disgrace” and “an intellectual failure” largely because President Lee Bollinger had appointed a traditional journalist as new dean, ex-Washington Post managing editor and New Yorker writer Steve Coll.

The New York Times’ David Carr rose to praise Columbia and Coll, but in the process he tarred almost everyone else. “Journalism education is something of a confidence game,” he tossed off. Given a shrinking job base, “many journalism programs … are escalators to nowhere.”

This is a critical juncture in the history of how we teach the next generation of journalists– whether they work in conventional newsrooms or elsewhere. Read more

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mobilenews

New studies offer 5 ways publishers can capitalize on mobile trends now

As Cory Bergman explored in a thoughtful piece here last month, mobile connectivity– people linked to the Web via smart phones and tablets — is poised to thoroughly disrupt news all over again.

News publishers must deeply understand the contours of the shift or risk mobile becoming “digital hesitation 2.0.” The market research firm comScore recently released its annual major mobile report. A dive into the data distills lessons for journalism right now, some of them counterintuitive.

Move aggressively to mobile immediately — don’t wait for revenue to materialize

Smartphone ownership grew 30% in 2012 to surpass the 50% mark of units owned. Americans also own 50 million tablets — a penetration in three years that took a decade for smartphones.

One in three minutes spent online (37%) is now on mobile devices — and growing. And news is a major part of the activity — close to two-thirds of tablet owners use the devices for news and half for smart phones. Read more

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pressbriefing

The dangerous delusions of the White House press corps and the president

The White House press corps became a story this week, which is almost always bad news.

In a piece entitled “Obama the puppet master,” Politico reported that the Obama Administration had put media manipulation “on steroids.” It was using social media and technology in new ways to bypass the press and target access. By doing so, the White House had embarked on a “transformational” path that tipped power “unmistakably toward government.”

What’s really occurring, however, is something less novel but actually more important — and it may be making our leaders less honest and less credible.

Presidents and the press

Presidents have grumped about reporters since Thomas Jefferson complained about the licentiousness of the press in 1809. And every competent president has adopted the newest technology to bypass them, from Roosevelt talking directly to Americans on radio in the 1930s, to Clinton using satellite hookups with local TV reporters.

Martha Kumar of Towson University in Maryland has studied presidential communications for decades; she recalled this week that when Dwight Eisenhower’s people broke the ban on allowing television cameras in press conferences — the disruptive technology of the 1950s — Ike’s press secretary Jim Haggerty wrote in his diary: “To hell with slanted reporters. Read more

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mainstreetsmall

The Next Journalism will be a service that helps build community

This column, launching today, will be about where news media culture is heading. We are calling it The Next Journalism.

The subject matter will range widely. The search for new revenue to subsidize the mission of journalism will be part of the focus. So will experiments in how to use new technologies and platforms to gather and report news. The ethics and values that make news useful and reliable will be another topic. And a central goal will always be to understand the changing nature of how the public consumes and shares news. The column will not shy away from debate, though argument will not be the prime purpose.

It will be a reported column, one grounded in facts and offering new information. But it will be a column with a point of view.

With that in mind, readers are owed a few disclosures about the assumptions and predilections that will inform that opinions found here. Read more

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Newspaper readers are not graying as quickly as reported

My friend Alan Mutter wrote something startling this week in his always thought-provoking blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur: “The population of people reading newspaper has aged dramatically in the last three years.”

By Mutter’s analysis, roughly three-quarters of newspaper readers are now over age 45. That, according to his calculations, is up dramatically from half in 2010 — a graying of newspaper readers by 50 percent in two years.

He based his analysis on data from the Pew Research Center that I was involved in producing from summer 2010 and summer 2012. (I left the Pew Research Center in December to take the helm of the American Press Institute).

The problem is, the analysis doesn’t reflect reality. Read more

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In this photo taken and released by a protester, a local university student, left, a supporter of the Southern Weekly, is interviewed by a foreign media before being taken away by plainclothes policemen outside the newspaper headquarters in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. Police attempted Thursday to prevent more of protests outside the compound housing the Southern Weekly and its parent company, the Nanfang Media Group, in Guangzhou, a city long at the forefront of reforms. About 30 police officers guarded the area and ordered reporters and any loiterers to move away, saying there had been complaints about obstructing traffic. The influential weekly newspaper whose staff rebelled to protest heavy-handed censorship by China's government officials published as normal Thursday after a compromise that called for relaxing some intrusive controls but left lingering ill-will among some reporters and editors. (AP Photo)

What China press censorship protests say about digital shift and democracy

It is telling that the protests in China this week over government control involve a newspaper and censorship — not a military tank in a public square.

China has walked the fragile road of modernism and capitalism without democracy. But history keeps repeating one message about trying to balance economic advances without freedom. Information by its nature is democratizing.

In China, the information box is already open. Half of the Chinese public is online, according to the data from fall of 2012 by the Pew Research Center. Fully 93 percent of Chinese have cell phones; 62 percent engage in social networking. And half the Chinese public, according to Pew’s data, share their personal views on social networks. (I was founding director of Center’s Project for Excellence Journalism for 16 years until December.)

What the Chinese are willing to share in these spaces is equally fascinating. Most — 86 percent — say they share their views about “movies and music,” but only 10 percent are willing to share their views about “politics.” At the same time, fully half say they share their views about “community issues.”

Those answers hint at the problem for authoritarians. Read more

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