Morning Mediawire: The media has long had a distrust problem

Here’s a little quiz for you this morning. What noted Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist wrote these words?

“There is everywhere an increasingly angry disillusionment about the press, a growing sense of being baffled and misled; and wise publishers will not pooh-pooh these omens. … If publishers and authors themselves do not face the facts and attempt to deal with them, some day Congress, in a fit of temper, egged on by an outraged public opinion, will operate on the press with an ax.”

Sounds as if they could have been typed out yesterday, right? But in reality they were written almost a century ago by journalism philosopher Walter Lippmann.

We bring them to you today because Poynter senior scholar Roy Peter Clark discovered a dusty, slender book in our library recently called “Liberty and the News,” a thin volume containing two magazine articles written in 1919 by Lippmann. Under the title was this blurb:

“Freedom, in the modern world, depends upon untrammeled access to all the news. This book is a cool, clear and informed exposition of how deeply public opinion has become involved in a web of propaganda, and suggests the possibility of a press properly informed and really free.”

As Clark writes in this subsequent compilation from the book, it was “like discovering an ancient scroll meant to be found a century into the future, unearthed just in time to rescue a civilization from catastrophe.”

Written in the immediate aftermath of the Great War and the Russian Revolution, the book has phrase after phrase promoting the idea of a professional, nonpartisan press that would be the underpinning of our democracy.

(Photo by Roy Peter Clark)

Here’s another excerpt, advising about the dangers of the demagogue:

“Now, men who have lost their grip upon the relevant facts of their environment are the inevitable victims of agitation and propaganda. The quack, the charlatan, the jingo, and the terrorist, can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information. But where all the news comes at second-hand, where all the testimony is uncertain, men cease to respond to truths, and respond simply to opinions. ... The whole reference of thought comes to be what somebody asserts, not what actually is.”

You really should read the full piece. It’s eerily prescient.

Fighting against attacks on journalism

That’s Job One for the new executive director of the Society for Professional Journalists, Alison Bethel McKenzie.

“A huge priority is to stem the attacks — both physical and verbal — on journalists around the country (and worldwide),” says Bethel McKenzie, named on Monday to head SPJ.

You can catch the full interview here with Bethel McKenzie, a former reporter and editor with the Boston Globe and the Detroit News as well as the past executive director of the Vienna-based International Press Institute.

Now let’s spring you forward for a look at what’s happening in today’s media world.

(Photo courtesy of Reporters Without Borders)

FBI JOINS PROBE INTO JOURNALIST’S KILLING: Authorities in Slovakia raided homes associated with organized crime, and the opposition party called for the resignation of the interior minister after the assassination of a journalist investigating high-level corruption. Scotland Yard and the FBI have joined the probe into the killings of journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend, Martina Kusnirova, found in their home on Sunday. It was the first assassination of a journalist in Slovakia’s history but the second of a corruption-hunting reporter in the European Union since October.

TOO BIG TO TAX?: That’s the question The New Republic’s Alex Shephard is asking about Amazon, led by Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. “Amazon, which recorded $5.6 billion in profits in 2017, paid zero in federal taxes, thanks to ‘various tax credits and tax breaks for executive stock options,’” Shephard writes. “That’s remarkable in isolation, but especially remarkable when you consider that Donald Trump’s corporate tax bill hadn’t even gone into effect; Amazon projects it will get an additional $789 million in benefits from the passage of that bill.”

THE SKELETON WORE A PINK GOWN: Daily Breeze crime reporter Larry Altman gives a long goodbye to three decades in the cop shop in Southern California, including this tidbit: “I crawled through a mausoleum with detectives to open a coffin to confirm whether the woman inside was who she was supposed to be. There she was, a skeleton wearing a big pink gown.” Larry’s available for hire:

GOOD OR EVIL? Twitter is asking experts to determine if it is fostering “healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking” versus “abuse, spam, and manipulation.” In related news, YouTube, after criticism of inaction on Nazi groups, has banned the channel of American Neo-Nazi extremist group Atomwaffen Division.

HOW QUARTZ SUCCEEDS WITH EMAIL NEWSLETTERS: There are metrics, yadda yadda yadda, and then there is this, from Jessanne Collins, editor of Quartz’s Obsession newsletter: “If I get even one response that says, ‘I didn’t think I was going to be interested in this topic, but I learned some fascinating things,’ I count that as a successful email. ” Popular recent obsessions: AIMPantoneThe nostalgia economyFICOjellyfish, and concrete.

Tuesday’s Obsession was about quinoa. Photo via Wikimedia.

WE CAME, WE SAW, WE WEREN’T IMPRESSED: Facebook went to six countries to sample its “Explore” test — whether people wanted two separate Newsfeeds, one from friends, one from Pages. “You gave us our answer,” Facebook’s Adam Mosseri writes. “People don’t want two separate feeds. In surveys, people told us they were less satisfied with the posts they were seeing, and having two separate feeds didn’t actually help them connect more with friends and family.” The experiment is ending this week, Mosseri says.

HIRED: Anup Kaphle, formerly of BuzzFeed, the Washington Post and the Atlantic, becomes executive editor of Roads & Kingdoms, the James Beard-winning travel and food site. He also will oversee the related Explore Parts Unknown site tied to Anthony Bourdain’s CNN travel show. Suggested reading: Kaphle’s harrowing account of crossing a Himalayan pass in his native Nepal in 2014 just before an avalanche killed scores of people. “Death had missed us by two days,” he wrote. Below, part of the Kaphle announcement:

FOX EXECUTIVE IS OUT: John Moody, a longtime Fox News Channel executive who wrote a controversial column before the Olympics ("Darker, Gayer, Different"), is no longer with the network, reports CNN.

10 BEST: Editor & Publisher picked 10 newspapers that did it right on new products, audience innovations, ad growth and digital transformation. Check out the list — and the runners-up.

IF ONLY WEINSTEIN HAD BEEN STOPPED IN 1980: The disgraced Hollywood producer was already exposing himself and trying his “massage” line with actresses on his first film 38 years ago, an actress tells PBS Frontline. Suza Maher-Wilson joins more than 100 actresses who said they were victimized by the predatory producer. Her account comes in a new FRONTLINE documentary, premiering tonight on PBS.

NOT THE BATHROBE!: Artists put a up a gold “Harvey Weinstein Casting Couch,” complete with a sculpture of Weinstein in his, um, bathrobe, near the venue of the Academy Awards, which are airing on Sunday night.

WHO WILL BUY FIVETHIRTYEIGHT?: The data-based website is moving on from five years under the umbrella of the Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN. Suitors include The Atlantic, The Athletic and ABC News, reports Poynter alum Ben Mullin of the Wall Street Journal. No word on companies whose first letter begins with the other 25 letters in the alphabet.

SPEAKING OF CHEESY, JOKEY LINES: That’s what Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show delivered when news broke that Netflix ordered up 32 episodes of a weekly comedy show — the first ever hosted by an Indian American. So what did Minhaj say? Oh:

HAPPY WEEKEND: Watch this rescued chimp help out on a flight over Africa.

New on

  • Can people be civil talking about a contentious topic such as immigration? Welcome to “dialogue journalism.
  • The Week in Fact-Checking: We’ve got a great new video that shows how close we are to automated fact-checking.
  • Here’s why we need a global database to track false news about migrants and refugees.

Quotable Poynter

Kelly McBride, Poynter’s ethics advocate, was quoted in this story about the Minneapolis Star Tribune reimbursing the Super Bowl Host Committee for the cost of providing the perk to employees who attended a media party: “This isn’t an ethical disaster by any stretch. But public actions like this go a long way in setting expectations for the journalists who work at the newspaper. Next time someone gets a valuable gift at work from an outside organization, it will be impossible to ‘forget’ what the company’s standards are.”

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    Anne Glover

    Anne Glover worked as an editor at the Tampa Bay Times for more than 33 years, and has been a visiting faculty member at Poynter teaching copy editing and leadership.


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