Bill Kirtz

write on media topics for trade and general circulation magazines; teach varity of print journalism courses.


Sinking platform, rising truth: Highlights from Shorenstein Center’s 25th anniversary

While a distinguished veteran reporter voiced concern about the erosion of traditional journalism values in the Internet age, two prominent new media thinkers said the Web provides more and richer information than conventional news outlets.

Their comments — amid much discussion of whether and how “truth” emerges from the welter of Internet information — came during this past weekend’s conference marking the 25th anniversary of Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

Sinking platform, rising truth

Marvin Kalb, the Center’s founding director and award-winning CBS News and NBC News correspondent, wondered how you connect new technology with core journalism values. Now, he said, he feels as if he’s standing on the news platform watching emerging technologies speed by.

Your platform is sinking,” replied MIT’s new Media Lab director Joichi Ito.… Read more

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NY Times’ Abramson: ‘Long-form narrative is not only alive but dancing to new music’

Forget the digital doomsayers, said Jill Abramson. “Long-form narrative is not only alive but dancing to new music.”

Other prominent journalists echoed The New York Times managing editor’s optimism about thriving in a Twitter age at Boston University’s annual narrative journalism conference last weekend.

Abramson said devices like tablets and iPads give long-form narrative new ways to reach new audiences. She said her paper focuses on integrated storytelling in series like “A Year At War,” with multimedia “freshening” the story by letting readers “see, feel and almost taste” soldiers’ and families’ experiences.

She added that new tools can’t trump journalism basics. Wary of “narrow specialists,” she worries that journalism schools’ new technology training may detract from traditional shoe leather reporting values.

Abramson, a former Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, said she hires “passionate storytellers who go the extra reporting mile.” Her mantra: “report and report some more.” Her favorite example: Gay Talese’s classic 1966 Esquire story, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.”

The 15,000-word profile includes a short scene in which the singer hassles a young writer whose footwear offends him.… Read more

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awards

How award-winning investigative reporters earn readers’ attention, impress advertisers

Have people tell their own stories with interactive tools. Maneuver around cost-conscious editors. Consider cooperating with other media groups and journalism schools.

Investigative reporting award winners and finalists offered those tips Tuesday at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center.

The Las Vegas Sun’s Marshall Allen and Alex Richards won the $25,000 Goldsmith Award by finding multimedia ways to dramatize the excessive number of preventable hospital injuries and infection. They combed through 2.9 million records to find thousands of such cases.

The series’ sophisticated Web presence let patients use video to relate their experiences.

Allen said the Sun, an eight-page insert into the rival Las Vegas Review-Journal, takes advantage of its small size.

“There’s great freedom in not being the paper of record; we don’t cover car crashes. We can be more nimble; our goal is all enterprise stories.”

Allen stressed the need to “earn readers’ attention” by writing from patients’ point of view.… Read more

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Frank Rich, right, accepted the annual Goldsmith Career Award from Alex S. Jones, left, Director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, which sponsors the awards. (Heather McKinnon/Shorenstein Center)

Frank Rich: ‘I wanted to hang it up at The Times while I still enjoyed it’

New York Times veteran Frank Rich acknowledges journalism’s current dilemma: “How to make money when information wants to be free.”

But Rich, accepting the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism at Harvard Monday night, said, “The news business will eventually flourish in forms we haven’t yet imagined.”

Frank Rich, right, accepted the annual Goldsmith Career Award from Alex S. Jones, left, Director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, which sponsors the awards. (Heather McKinnon/Shorenstein Center)

He called the current news landscape more diverse than ever, with entries like Talking Points Memo, Bloomberg News and the Huffington Post.

Rich, who will join New York Magazine in June as an essayist and editor, is “heartened by the smart, brave and determined young people who want to go into journalism.… Read more

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AOL Huffington Post

Zucker: NBC tried to buy Huffington Post for 18 months, couldn’t agree on price

Just-ousted NBC Universal president and chief executive Jeff Zucker today praised AOL’s $315 million acquisition of The Huffington Post. He said NBC had tried for 18 months to buy the popular blog but “could never agree on price.”

At a talk sponsored by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, Zucker called the purchase “a very good day if you believe in news. It helps The Huffington Post monetize its investment and gives AOL a bigger platform.”

Zucker, who lost his job when Comcast acquired the network, has in the past described broadcast television’s financial problems as trading “digital dimes for analog dollars.” But now he sees progress, and puts those numbers as 25 cents for digital and 50 cents for analog.

Calling the DVR the biggest threat to networks, he said, “We have to monetize eyeballs in different ways.”

He advises patience as traditional networks navigate the new media universe.… Read more

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Carroll: AP a guardian of openness, with 1,500 FOIA requests in 2010

WikiLeaks’ lauded and condemned release of 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables doesn’t change responsible news outlets’ responsibility to weigh national security concerns against the public’s right to know and to verify information and put it in context. And whatever the technology, government and press priorities will continue to clash.

Leading journalists stressed those points Thursday at a Secrecy and Journalism conference sponsored by Harvard’s Nieman Foundation.

New York Times executive editor Bill Keller called government attacks on the disclosures nothing new. He said officials want it both ways: to keep secrets while trumpeting successes. “One man’s security breach is another man’s publicity campaign –  and sometimes they’re the same man.”… Read more

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Maddow: ‘The Country Hates the Press’

Rachel Maddow’s contention that conflict, not calm reflection, attracts audiences drew little disagreement from a Harvard audience she spoke to Sunday. But some held out the hope that new technology will let more responsible voices be heard.

Maddow, host of MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” told an audience Sunday night gathered at the University’s Institute of Politics Forum and convened by The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, “The country hates the press — not some of it. All of it.”

She said the nuts and bolts journalism of truth telling and reporting facts in context doesn’t work commercially. What does, she said, are comments that can be portrayed as a “clash” or a  “smackdown.” She said that her ratings spike when she trashes conservative journalists.… Read more

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Goodman: Avoid ‘food fight journalism’

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman advised serious reporters to embrace, not avoid, complexity.

At Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism on May 4, Goodman said winners and finalists for J. Anthony Lukas book prizes “work against the very strong tide of the times, against food fight journalism. We live in an era of opinion hurling, where there are villains and heroes. Everything is required to be far more simplistic than the problems we face.”

But she said these books are built on “pilings of reporting. They’re complex when complexity is out of fashion. Against the trend to oversimplify, they follow the story wherever it leads.”

Goodman said, “Complexity respects the subtlety of people,” and urged reporters to “avoid the slick and quick in favor of the real.”

Jonathan Schuppe, who won a $30,000 work-in-progress award for “Ghetto Ball,” echoed that theme.… Read more

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Goldsmith Honorees Offer Tips on Investigative Journalism

Top journalists detailed how they turned tips into groundbreaking series Wednesday at Harvard. During a panel discussion, finalists for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting and the winner stressed the need for long-term commitment to produce memorable stories that lead to change.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Raquel Rutledge, winner of the $25,000 prize, began her yearlong project exposing fraud and criminality in Wisconsin’s child-care program with a tip from a concerned state worker, who told her about a boy left in a hot van to die.

Papers provided by the worker, who was risking her career, gave Rutledge a road map, which the investigation followed with stakeouts of no-show child-care workers. The first story in her “Cashing in On Kids” series ran four months after the initial tip; Rutledge’s reporting led to investigations, indictments and new laws.… Read more

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Does Political Journalism Focus on the Trivial?

Trivia or legitimate front-page news? Journalists and political commentators sparred over the difference Friday in a discussion of presidential coverage at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

One example of trivia trumping vital subjects, said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch, is the “silly” New York Times Page One story about President Barack Obama’s all-male basketball games.

But Boston Globe columnist Renee Loth and Elaine Kamarck, who served in the Clinton White House and was a senior policy advisor to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, said the hoops story illuminated important gender equity issues.

Branch, a former magazine editor who compiled his latest book from interviews and conversations with President Bill Clinton, criticized what he called the press’ “pattern of cynicism.” He charged that the media has contributed to the “corrosion” of attitudes about politics as a profession.… Read more

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