Journalism’s Highlights and Lowlights

The Associated Press has come out with its ranking of top 10 stories of the year. They are (in order): Hurricane Katrina, Papal transition, Iraq, the Supreme Court, Oil prices, London bombings, Asian quake, Terri Schiavo, CIA leak, Bush’s struggles.


In the media world, 2005 was the year of: Peter Jennings’ death, a Mitch Albom probe, sale of the Detroit Free Press, Knight-Ridder’s uncertain future, the Judith Miller jailing and fallout. (Read Joe Strupp’s list of top 10 media stories and Jon Dube’s list of top 10 online media stories.)


We asked some journalists to respond to these questions.
 
What stories do you think were overplayed or underplayed? Why and how?



The thing that strikes me about the top 10 list is what it doesn’t include: the tsunami. Yes, the actual event was Dec. 26, 2004, but it certainly was a big story in 2005.


The tsunami and Katrina point out how incredibly difficult it is to cover major distasters. Katrina was hugely difficult, but the worst devastation was confined to one coast of one country. The level of complication in the tsunami was even greater. It involved a huge geographic area that transcended national boundaries and languages.

David Carlson, “E-Media Tidbits” contributor; Director of Interactive Media Lab, University of Florida; President, SPJ


I think most (not all) of the U.S. media continue to underplay international stories, stories that are complex and not easily reduced to Red State/Blue State arguments or winners and losers, and stories that do not lend themselves to easy solutions.

I fear that the tsunami story is a mere memory and the Pakistani earthquake a blip on most Americans’ consciousness. When news organizations pull their resources out of international  postings because of expense -– and a because of market-driven belief that audiences care primarily about “what’s in it for me?” stories -– journalism is diminished and citizens are poorly served. 


If the world we know is the world we learn about on television news and our local paper, we  may be far too isolated and therefore ignorant of the world in which we live. Worse yet, If we have stopped watching and reading news, choosing instead infotainment or editorial narrowcasting in all media –- print, broadcast and online -– we HAVE actively chosen ignorance over information.


– Jill Geisler, Poynter Leadership & Management Group Leader


None of the top 10 were overplayed. Person I’d most like to hear absolutely nothing about in 2006: Tie, Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt. Close second: Angelina Jolie. Underplayed: The Bush administration’s argument that torture ought to be legal. 

Scott Libin, Poynter Leadership & Management faculty member


Post-Katrina, we saw the biggest migration of Americans since the Dust Bowl. How will that migration change other communities?


The meltdown of General Motors will have huge implications for Americans. GM is cutting 30,000 jobs, is closing plants in a dozen cities. The company’s stock is at a near 30-year low. In the meantime, Toyota is increasing production and could, in 2006, surpass GM in production. It is a huge shift.


The price of housing was a giant story in 2005 that will have implications for years to come. It is still uncertain if we are in the midst of a housing bubble. The cost of housing resulted in speculation that encouraged land development, condo construction and investments that were unimaginable in previous years.     


Underplayed stories include the war in Afghanistan. The mudslides in Guatemala were hidden from view. 


The price of energy, especially gasoline died too quickly. For a brief time, when gasoline topped $3/gallon and oil companies posted record profits, there was a spark of national interest in developing a real innovative national energy policy and alternative fuels. When the price dropped, the conversation died down. 


– Al Tompkins, Poynter Broadcast/Online Group Leader


The impact of oil prices was underplayed. Of all the top stories on AP’s list, it is the only one that directly affects the lives all of our readers and viewers — in the form of higher expenses — yet it got much less attention than the other stories on the list.

– Jon Dube, ”Web Tips” columnist; Editorial Director, CBC.ca; Publisher, CyberJournalist.net


I keep waiting for actual coverage of the Sunni vs. Shiite divide in Iraq, on some level other than tribal tensions. This is a HUGE story, and I wish someone in the better papers would help me get a handle on it. As we say at GetReligion.org, this is a powerful ghost in a huge story.

Terry Mattingly, ”Journalism with a Difference” columnist; Senior Fellow,
Council For Christian Colleges and Universities


I think stories about blogging and podcasts were a bit overplayed, mostly because you always get the feeling that the writers don’t really get the point, and they exaggerate the speed of impact on mainstream culture. In the next run, they will underestimate the impact itself, but only after a period of downplaying.

– Steffen Fjaervik, ”E-Media Tidbits” contributor; Associate Director, Norwegian Institute of Journalism


What coverage surprised you the most in 2005? Why and how?



Televised coverage of Hurricane Katrina surprised me. It was a rare moment in which the viewer became the eyewitness to a story as it happened. Because the reporters were, in many cases, first responders, viewers were able to see the indescribable before their very own eyes. No matter what was said from  Washington, or from the warmth and comfort of news studios in cities far away, the on-site photographers and reporters in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast provided a continuing window to the story and the suffering. 


I watched that coverage for days, and was particularly impressed with the solid, mature coverage of CNN’s Jean Meserve. She wasn’t there to emote for the camera or make herself the story (and didn’t), yet her  reporting was remarkable. Her eyes, ears and most of all, her carefully chosen words were the most powerful reporting tools of this tragic event. Her nighttime phone interview with Aaron Brown as the waters overtook homes in New Orleans, and as the magnitude of what she was seeing became apparent, stands as a pillar of clear and compelling journalism.


– Jill Geisler, Poynter Leadership & Management Group Leader


CIA leak: A complicated, Washington-insider, media-elite story that, on its own, wasn’t likely to resonate with anybody outside the Beltway got lots of national attention — even if nobody could really explain it effectively. 

Scott Libin, Poynter Leadership & Management faculty member


I think the Schiavo case was among the most disappointing stories of the year. Media allowed the iconic images (file tape) of Terri to indicate she was awake and smiling without showing the other images that would indicate that she was totally unresponsive.


The story devolved into an emotional “Save Terri” battle rather than a conversation about the fact that baby boomers are entering senior citizenship in 2006 and this question of how to handle end-of-life matters is about to smack us in the face in larger than ever numbers.     


– Al Tompkins, Poynter Broadcast/Online Group Leader


When the Pope died, there was little coverage of the strong, strong hatred of John Paul II in the U.S. Catholic establishment and, especially, in higher education. All we got was the positive. We needed more balance, to understand the reality facing Catholicism here in the West.

Terry Mattingly, ”Journalism with a Difference” columnist; Senior Fellow, Council For Christian Colleges and Universities


As a European, I must say that the American coverage of the Schiavo case and the Intelligent Design debates surprised me. I think we Europeans tend to underestimate the importance of religion in American politics. The connection is clearer now than ever before, with Bush in the seat.


I had also thought that the great disasters AFTER the tsunami would have been covered more extensively, if only for of a sense of proportion. But they weren’t. It has to do, of course, with what we can relate to. Identification. We could relate to the tsunami, because there were a lot of Europeans in peril. We could not relate as much to Pakistan, because we are not Pakistanis, and most Pakistanis in e.g. Norway are people we don’t socialize with. A sad truth.

– Steffen Fjaervik, ”E-Media Tidbits” contributor; Associate Director, Norwegian Institute of Journalism


On which stories did the media, on the whole, distinguish itself with exceptional coverage in 2005? Why and how?



Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Terri Schaivo’s death and the papal transition. The hurricanes and Pope stories were expensive and logistically challenging, yet sometimes stingy media companies spent the time, money and energy required to provide meaningful coverage. The Schaivo case was complex and controlled by the opposing parties closest to Terri herself, but journalists got past the press conferences and edited video excerpts to enterprise stories that helped readers, viewers and listeners understand the issues — ethical, political, legal, etc.  


Scott Libin, Poynter Leadership & Management faculty member


Katrina showed the power and importance of the Internet. When local newspapers weren’t able to publish and TV stations were unable to broadcast, they were able to publish essential information online, providing key information from New Orleans about the biggest story ever in the city’s history and showing the power of the Internet as a tool to help communities connect during tragedies.

– Jon Dube, ”Web Tips” columnist; Editorial Director, CBC.ca; Publisher, CyberJournalist.net


Obviously, NOLA.com was stunning in the wake of Katrina. Far, far, far better than the storm of political coverage in most of the MSM.

Terry Mattingly, ”Journalism with a Difference” columnist; Senior Fellow, Council For Christian Colleges and Universities


On which stories did the media, on the whole, fall especially short in 2005? Why and how?



Natalie Holloway’s disappearance: Coverage I saw was a mile wide and an inch deep. Too much focus on lurid crime angles, too little on practical parenting issues. 


Scott Libin, Poynter Leadership & Management faculty member


I still don’t understand Medicare drug programs, although I am sure it is a big issue. I still don’t understand the significance of the No Child Left Behind Act, although I am sure it is really important. I still don’t understand why hydrogen fuel is taking so long to catch on. I still don’t understand why FEMA didn’t know there were thousands of people at the New Orleans convention center. I still don’t understand why the American-backed government in Iraq allows the Saddam Hussein trial to be televised worldwide but our own Supreme Court bars cameras.


– Al Tompkins, Poynter Broadcast/Online Group Leader


Low point of the year: Newsweek covers Katrina and offers all of ONE PARAGRAPH on Mississippi in its entire cover story.

Terry Mattingly, ”Journalism with a Difference” columnist; Senior Fellow, Council For Christian Colleges and Universities


Climate change. Climate change. Climate change. Even after New Orleans, the climate change doesn’t reach the front page. How is that possible?

– Steffen Fjaervik, ”E-Media Tidbits” contributor; Associate Director, Norwegian Institute of Journalism


What will journalists still be talking about next year?



Next year, journalists will still be talking about what it will take to keep the most serious among them committed to the vocation. Newsroom cutbacks in people and resources and constant politically-motivated attacks on journalistic credibility have left many good journalists fatigued.  The fire for excellence is still there, but journalists don’t want to have to fight so hard to achieve quality, much less excellence.


– Jill Geisler, Poynter Leadership & Management Group Leader


The changing economic media model driven by consumption and technological trends.


Scott Libin, Poynter Leadership & Management faculty member


Media layoffs, consolidations, duopolies and RSS delivery. RSS could well become the story of 2006 as blogs were in 2004 and Google was in 2005.


– Al Tompkins, Poynter Broadcast/Online Group Leader


What happens to Knight Ridder’s future will be one of the major media stories of 2006. One of the biggest media stories of 2006 will be the future of network news anchors and the early signs of whether they will play as big a role as anchors have previously. In particular, Brian Williams
solidifying his position as number one, the first real tests for ABCNews’ new anchor duo, and the naming of Dan Rather’s successor.

– Jon Dube, ”Web Tips” columnist; Editorial Director, CBC.ca; Publisher, CyberJournalist.net


Brokeback Hollywood. God in the 2008 elections. Darwin, Darwin, Darwin.

Terry Mattingly, ”Journalism with a Difference” columnist; Senior Fellow, Council For Christian Colleges and Universities


Climate change? He he. No, journalists will be talking about the editor that behaves like a CEO, and maybe even the CEO that behaves like an editor. Which of these is the greatest horror I don’t really like to think of…

– Steffen Fjaervik, ”E-Media Tidbits” contributor; Associate Director, Norwegian Institute of Journalism


News people will still be talking about staff cuts because more are likely. They will talk about the outcome of the potential Knight Ridder sale. A second round is possible in which a buyer sells off various individual papers. Mostly, though, they will be talking about how the Brave New multi-platform World is changing their own jobs. Get with the program, and think online.


– Rick Edmonds, Poynter researcher and writer


What’s the biggest change you’d like to see in journalism in 2006?



Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in 2006, journalism’s leaders found the business model or models that underwrite high-quality newsgathering? A business model that allows newsrooms to continue to invest in going to the story, taking time to gather abundant information, time to edit and illustrate it, and then disseminate it in whatever fashion a citizen prefers –- print, broadcast, online, podcast. And, at the same time, wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in this successful business model, citizens also had a stronger connection to and conversation with those journalism entities, so the wisdom of all is combined?


My hope for 2006 is that we tone down the volume of the self-serving arguments about bias, or arrogance or trustworthiness in the traditional as well as the emerging media forms, and focus instead on an enduring value best expressed by Kovach and Rosenstiel in “The Elements of Journalism” — and that is simply, the journalism of verification.


– Jill Geisler, Poynter Leadership & Management Group Leader


Recovery from the widespread hyperventilation over all things blogospheric. Replacing all the dismissive tut-tutting about how dead “mainstream media” are, I’d like to see some serious work to blend the best of traditional journalistic values — verification, for example — with the most promising elements of new approaches to content and distribution.


Also a more reasonable level of investment in staffing and training for newsrooms — before, rather than after, the next big ethics explosion.


Scott Libin, Poynter Leadership & Management faculty member


I would love to see more media companies go back to private ownership in 2006. The stock market pressures have placed unrealistic expectations on companies whose principal purpose should be to serve the public while making a fair profit to reward investors. But Wall Street pressures force media companies to be too short-sighted in their strategies. I am not saying media companies should not be profitable, but the pressure to produce at quarterly expectations is harming the quality of the journalism.


I would also like to see journalists spend more time covering issues of open records, open courts and open meetings. So much was made of the Valerie Plame case in 2005, but so little was written about why and how journalists use confidential sources. Instead of signing petitions of protest, I wish journalists would cover public record systems more.


– Al Tompkins, Poynter Broadcast/Online Group Leader


The biggest change I’d like to see in journalism in 2006 is the recognition, throughout the media industry, that the Internet is equally as important as newspapers and broadcast, both in terms of its ability to communicate information to audiences and to the future of the media business. And I would like to see a full reflection of that reality in how everyone in the media industry — from the leaders to the reporters — acts.

– Jon Dube, ”Web Tips” columnist; Editorial Director, CBC.ca; Publisher, CyberJournalist.net


Like to see? That’s easy: Religion news being treated as a normal, complicated, serious hard-news beat, with skilled specialists. More people asking the question: What Would Dick Ostling Do?

Terry Mattingly, ”Journalism with a Difference” columnist; Senior Fellow, Council For Christian Colleges and Universities

Related Posts

No related posts.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.