One of the big stories coming into the Winter Olympics was that of American skier Mikaela Shiffrin. She was expected to win multiple medals and was the favorite to win gold in more than one event.
She was supposed to be one of the stars of the Beijing Games.
Going into Thursday, Shiffrin’s Olympics could not have gone much worse.
On Wednesday, for the second time in three days, Shiffrin was eliminated from an event before getting even halfway through the course. She missed a gate in the slalom and was disqualified. Another event down the drain.
Moments after her improbable mistake, while other skiers zoomed past her, Shiffrin sat just off the course for several minutes, her arms wrapped around her knees and her head down. And we know that because NBC Sports zeroed in on her for what seemed like forever — much to angry criticism from viewers.
Many viewers took to Twitter and criticized NBC for not giving Shiffrin space to emotionally deal with her heartbreaking moment, and some even blamed NBC for Shiffrin’s failures. They said they hyped up Shiffrin to the point that they created unreasonable expectations — and then exploited her by showing her painful reaction. NBC also aired an interview where a clearly shaken Shiffin questioned how she had prepared for the past 15 years.
So was NBC’s coverage fair or over the line?
Well, first, let’s hear from Molly Solomon, executive producer of NBC’s Olympics coverage. Solomon told The Associated Press’ David Bauder, “We have an obligation in that moment, as the broadcaster of the Olympic games, to cover the moment. There’s no script when there’s a wipeout on the slopes or a fall in figure skating. We’re watching real people with real emotions in real time and we did everything we were supposed to do.”
Solomon kept on going, and raised another provocative point, saying that if one of the quarterbacks in this weekend’s Super Bowl — the Rams’ Matthew Stafford or the Bengals’ Joe Burrow — sat on the sidelines, dejected after a loss, there’s no question cameras would remain on them.
“Here we are in 2022 and we have a double standard in coverage of women’s sports,” Solomon told Bauder. “Women’s sports should be analyzed through the same lens as the men. The most famous skier in the world did not finish her two best events. So we are going to show her sitting on the hill and analyze what went wrong. You bet we are.”
Let me be clear about this: NBC did nothing wrong. I’ll go a step further: NBC did its job and did it well. Anything less would’ve been irresponsible. They aren’t there to collect home-movie footage. These are the Olympics. Shiffrin is a world-class athlete competing in, arguably, the most famous sporting event in the world. What she does — win, lose, jump up and down, cry, whatever — is news. NBC is there to capture that news.
You know the saying: The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. NBC is there to chronicle both and everything in between.
There are times to turn cameras away, such as a gruesome injury or an offensive outburst of profanities. But an athlete reacting to his or her victory or defeat is not one of those times.
Now there’s a backstory here. All of this comes on the heels of two high-profile athletes struggling last year with the mental health pressure of competing at the highest levels. Tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles both stepped away from their sports and talked about the pressure they felt to compete. That also plays into the criticism that NBC received over its Shiffrin coverage.
Another Olympian — American snowboarder Jamie Anderson, a two-time Olympic gold medalist — finished a disappointing ninth in the slopestyle on Wednesday, and also expressed the toll this has taken on her. In an Instagram post, she said, “I just straight up couldn’t handle the pressure. Had an emotional breakdown the night before finals and my mental health and clarity just hasn’t been on par. Looking forward to some time off and self care.”
On Thursday, a U.S. Olympic team spokesperson said Shiffrin and her mother/coach Eileen “will not be doing any media for the foreseeable future.” (However, Shiffrin finished ninth on Thursday night in the super-G, seemed in a much better place mentally and did talk to NBC afterward. She thanked those who have supported her through the first week of the Olympics.)
Choosing when and when not to give interviews is, of course, Shiffrin’s right. She is not obligated to do interviews or give us answers about anything. She isn’t obligated to compete if she doesn’t want to. She owes NBC and its viewing audience absolutely nothing.
But NBC is obligated to cover the Olympics to the best of its ability — the good, the bad and the ugly.
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The Palin-New York Times trial continues
Sarah Palin’s defamation suit against The New York Times is winding down. Closing arguments are expected today.
The former vice presidential candidate and governor of Alaska is suing the Times over a 2017 editorial that incorrectly linked the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords to a map circulated by Palin’s PAC that showed certain electoral districts under crosshairs. The Times corrected the editorial about 12 hours after it was published online.
On Thursday, Palin took the witness stand for the second day in a row, and said, “It was devastating to read a false accusation that I had anything to do with murder. I felt powerless — that I was up against Goliath. The people were David. I was David.”
At one point, Palin said the Times had a history of lying about her, prompting Judge Jed S. Rakoff to ask her to be more specific.
Palin said, “I don’t have the specific articles in front of me.”
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote, “No one who has even casually followed the former governor’s career would be surprised at these specifics-free blasts against the media. Yet this time, Palin chose the wrong venue for such a critique. Adoring audiences at Fox News don’t stop and ask for citations, specifics, supporting evidence. But that’s precisely what happens in a courtroom.”
Jeremy W. Peters, who is doing a fair and solid job covering the trial for the Times, wrote: “When a lawyer representing The Times had his opportunity to question Ms. Palin, he attempted to establish that she was not the ‘David’ figure she claimed to be and ran through a list of high-profile television appearances she had made around the time the editorial was published, including one short stint on the reality show ‘The Masked Singer.’ At this, Ms. Palin interjected. ‘Objection!’ she said, drawing laughter from the courtroom.”
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Haberman’s book on Trump
When Donald Trump was president, White House staffers would occasionally discover wads of printer paper clogging up the toilet. The assumption was that Trump was flushing the paper. That’s one of the early details revealed in a new book about Trump by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman. The book will be published Oct. 4 by Penguin Press.
Haberman announced details about her book on Twitter on Thursday. It will be called, “Confidence Man. The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.”
Haberman tweeted, “The book takes a long look at the arc of his life, from the world that made him in New York City to the world he tried to recreate in the White House.”
Axios’ Mike Allen, who first reported Haberman’s claims of paper in the toilets, wrote, “This is the book Trump fears most. Among Trump aides, Haberman’s book has been the most discussed of the bookshelf of books from reporters who covered Trump’s campaigns and White House.”
This seems like a big deal and it’s rather good news in the journalism world. The Washington Post announced Thursday that it will add more than 70 editorial positions to beef up coverage in areas such as health and wellness, climate and technology.
In a memo to staff, Post executive editor Sally Buzbee wrote, “The expansion we are laying out today reflects our strong commitment to our news mission of scrutinizing power and empowering people.”
Buzbee said the strategy comes after in-depth research, especially among younger readers, to find out what audiences want from the Post.
Buzbee told The Wall Street Journal’s Alexandra Bruell, “So many of our top articles are really outside the Post’s traditional core of politics and to me this is really an opportunity to double down on that. We really wanted to place some smart bets on some areas or pillars of coverage that would take the Post to the next level of drawing an audience and drawing readers.”
As Bruell points out in her story, data shows that the Post had 72 million monthly unique visitors in December. That’s a 23% decline from the previous year’s mark of 93 million. Then again, December 2020 was in the wake of the presidential election and, obviously, a newsy time. Still, it’s smart of the Post to try to look ahead and find new ways to capture audiences.
This doesn’t mean the Post is suddenly abandoning what it does best, which is politics. It will add eight new positions to cover U.S. political and social issues.
Super Bowl ad sneak peek
Anchors from the “Today” show did a Super Bowl ad. Actually, it’s a PSA for She Can STEM. The ad has the show’s anchors dressed up as their younger selves to encouraging girls, nonbinary youth and trans youth throughout the country to pursue their interests in STEM.
Here’s the ad, which features Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Al Roker, Craig Melvin and Carson Daly.
News editor shuffle
For this item, I turned it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.
Two of the nation’s best-known locally owned newspapers got new editors Thursday. Rene Sanchez, editor of The Star Tribune in Minneapolis for the past nine years, will become editor of the Times-Picayune/The Advocate in New Orleans. Sanchez, in turn, will be succeeded by Suki Dardarian, The Star Tribune’s senior managing editor.
The changes were set in motion by the retirement of Peter Kovacs, editor of The Advocate for the nine years it competed with and ultimately bought the long-established Times-Picayune.
Sanchez is a native of New Orleans and an announcement noted that his parents still live there and that he and his wife have a daughter attending Tulane University.
Dardanian joined The Star Tribune in 2014 from The Seattle Times, another prominent locally owned metro.
Both The Star Tribune and The Advocate have won Pulitzer Prizes for local reporting in recent years — The Star Tribune for its coverage of George Floyd’s murder and its aftermath and The Advocate for an exposé of a discriminatory jury system throughout Louisiana that allows convictions by majority vote.
The two have wealthy hometown owners, Glen Taylor in Minneapolis and John and Dathel Georges in New Orleans. The Star Tribune now has more than 100,000 paid digital subscribers and is also a leader among metro newspapers in daily and Sunday print circulation. Georges sensed an opening when the Times-Picayune dropped several days a week of print and bankrolled a six-year effort to become the city’s dominant outlet.
Kovacs told me that as he is turning 66 this month, he decided it was time to wind down (though he will remain on as an adviser for a year). Having spent nearly all his career in New Orleans, he said, “I may have covered more hurricanes than any other journalist — including two named Diana.”
- Speaking of New Orleans, former Times-Picayune managing editor Carolyn Fox has been named managing editor of the (Poynter-owned) Tampa Bay Times. Fox has been with the Times since 2019 and was senior deputy editor. The Tampa Bay Times’ Jay Cridlin has more.
- CNBC’s Alex Sherman with “The Athletic co-founders explain why they sold to The New York Times in their first post-deal interview.”
- CNN+ keeps adding big names for its programming when the streaming service launches this spring. The latest: Jemele Hill and Cari Champion, two former ESPN personalities who also co-hosted a show on Vice TV. For CNN+, they will host “Cari & Jemele: Speak.Easy.” The show will discuss the topics of the moment from sports to entertainment to politics to culture, and more.
- Jason Willick has joined the Washington Post Opinions section as a columnist. Willick was formerly an editorial writer and assistant editorial features editor for The Wall Street Journal, and before that a staff writer and associate editor at The American Interest. He will write about the latest legal issues, political news and global affairs.
- The Atlantic’s Matthew Hindman, Nathaniel Lubin and Trevor Davis with “Facebook Has A Superuser-Supremacy Problem.”
- Columbia Journalism Review’s Danielle K. Brown with “Impressions of progress: How managers and journalists see DEI efforts.”
- Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton with “An incomplete history of Forbes.com as a platform for scams, grift, and bad journalism.”
- Philadelphia Magazine’s Victor Fiorillo with “Philadelphia Weekly Ditches Idea of Being Philly’s Fox News.”
- An example of impactful journalism: CBS News’ investigation into rental car giant Hertz and a Colorado man arrested after being falsely accused of stealing a Hertz rental car. Correspondent Anna Werner has the story.
- The latest episode of “Proud Stutter,” a podcast created to shift the narrative around stuttering, features ProPublica journalist Mariam Elba. “Proud Stutter” host and creator Maya Chupkov tells me that this episode “is to help promote disability and diversity in journalism and media.”
- HuffPost’s Christopher Mathias and Ali Winston with “Inside Patriot Front: The Masked White Supremacists On A Nationwide Hate Crime Spree.”
- For The Marshall Project, Keri Blakinger with “The Rise and Fall of a Prison Town Queen.”
- Really cool Olympics story and graphics from The Washington Post’s Artur Galocha, Robert Samuels and Bonnie Berkowitz: “How Yuzuru Hanyu nearly landed a quadruple axel.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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