The most important moments for journalism in 2016

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Most of us can feel unavoidably like Mongo in Mel Brooks’ "Blazing Saddles," meaning a self-perception that "Mongo only pawn in game of life." (YouTube)

Yes, we all try to be philosophical but can lapse into merely being dim-witted, like Mongo (even if nowhere near as physically imposing). It happens at this time of year, trying to make sense of all that's passed (amid beckoning family-related stresses). It's why you need really smart folks to make sense of it all.

What was truly significant in media this year? Was it a development in journalism, or corporate moves, technological advances, social media or something else? What insight might we place into a personal time capsule? Here we go:

Tom Friedman, op-ed columnist, The New York Times: "This is the year we discovered the fundamental truth of cyber-space: We are all connected there, but no one's in charge there. And now that so many of our interactions — commerce, education, friendship and politicking — are moving there, we have a real problem. Unlike the terrestrial world, there is no governing legal authority. So we now have fake news, post-truth, hacking of our election from Russia & friends and Google and Facebook purveying truth and lies and not knowing, or wanting to police, the difference."

Hamilton Nolan, senior writer, Deadspin: "I'm biased but I'd say the media development of the year was Gawker Media being sued into bankruptcy (and Gawker being sued out of existence) by a billionaire-funded revenge lawsuit. Six angry people in Florida plus a bad judge plus a bond requirement so huge that a company cannot financially pursue an appeal equaled the end of an entire publication. Anyone who thinks this did not set a precedent for how powerful people fight media coverage they dislike is fooling themselves."

Kevin Merida, editor, The Undefeated: "We are witnessing a social renaissance among athletes, who are using their voices and influence more forcefully and more creatively than they have in decades. How we cover them has changed forever, I believe. "

Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief, Huffington Post: "Hogan v. Gawker. We're all at risk now."

Tom Rogers, Executive Chairman of WinView, former head of Tivo: "I would say DirecTV offering 100 channels for $35 a month, which along with its streaming service offering HBO for $5 a month and Apple TV for free, could blow up the video distribution world in a way that is beyond anything we have seen as far as a disruptive event. With or without the AT&T merger, it's a massive change in the economic of getting an abundance of video at a cheap price."

"I would also note how, in 2014, 14 of the top-100 events watched live on TV were TV sports. A year later, 91 of the top 100 events watched live on TV were sports. What's the big cataclysmic event is that the last bastion of live TV, the NFL, took a huge ratings dip. What is left to be shared live if even football games don't offer a meaningful live experience at the same levels?"

"Finally, the most talked about channel on TV, which is still HBO, introduced a half-hour news show every night with Vice Media. It suggests there may still be hope for TV news being about to reach an audience much younger than the average age of 65."

Melanie Sill, vice president of content, Southern California Public Radio: "This is an untold story, and I don't know the dimensions. But this year I've been struck by the absence of women and people of color in the top ranks and as sought-out voices in the journalism/media conversation. There are notable exceptions. I loved Teen Vogue's new journalistic spark."

Jill Lawrence, commentary editor, USA Today: "The most significant media development of the year, from my perspective as a columnist, commentary editor and lover of Twitter, is the degree to which a single political candidate dominated the news ecosystem and used it toward his own ends."

"My favorite journalism moment was when The New York Times corrected the spelling of the real name of a real guy who was spreading fake news on Twitter as a fake congressman. It's ironic. It's hilarious. And it's what we do. We need to learn from our Trump mistakes and forge onward with faith in the mission."

Jon Steinberg, founder of Cheddar.com, a digital CNBC for millennials and a former top BuzzFeed executive: "I never could have anticipated the volume and value of over-the-top skinny bundles that would emerge within 10 months of my founding Cheddar."

"Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Sony Vue, Hulu's live offering, and YouTube's rumored 'Unbundled' product have all emerged with a relentless pace. Add on top of this Facebook Live and Twitter Live and it certainly feels like TV is facing its print newspaper moment."

Shane Smith, founder of Vice Media: "I think the AT&T-Time Warner merger is a very big event that will have repercussions across media. It will signify a 'keeping-up-with-the Jones' on both the telco (telecommunications company) and mobile side. Sprint, Vodafone, and others will say, 'We need to do that to compete.' And media companies will say 'We have to have 400 billion market caps, not 40 billion,' and think that their survival means they will need a merger with a bigger company. Be it with a telco, Apple, Facebook or Google, starting a whole new revolution in media. It's the biggest we've seen."

Rick Berke, executive editor, STAT: "With Trump developments coming at us like a firehose — and huge reader interest — I'm watching for news organizations to come up with more and more creative ways to distill and curate reporting about the new administration. Many publications are starting transition newsletters, and we're finding at STAT that our 'Trump in 30 Seconds' about Trump and medicine/science is by far our fastest growing newsletter. Whether through newsletters, video, alerts, the competition will be for accessible and digestible and added value reporting about the world of Trump."

Mike Barnicle, longtime Boston columnist and regular on MSNBC's "Morning Joe": “This is not meant as criticism or an indictment of our most important business, the news business and the constant objective of delivering truth to the customers who purchase the product or sadly and more often consume it for free. It's simply an observation provoked by 2016: During this epic campaign year just ending we seem to have forgotten to rely on the art of listening."

"The demands of feeding the beast (a.k.a online editions), the thinning out of so many newspapers and the loss of talent to buyouts are just a couple of understandable reasons why that may have happened. But few things are more valuable, more enlightening, more educational and more fun than wandering around the edge of a big story and having a conversation with a stranger about that person’s life, about their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their problems and potential along with their daily existence.

No recording device in their face. No notebook and pen deployed. Just a simple, hands-in-the-pocket chat with people who have come to regard too many in the news business as arrogant, elitist, out-of-touch sophisticates who just don’t get it. "

Merrill Brown, director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair, New Jersey State University, founding editor in chief of MSNBC.com:

"For all the debate about the value of conventional media in the social media world, the fundamental stories that shaped the 2015-16 presidential campaign were delivered by the traditional press."

"A set of fundamental assumptions, embraced by millions of voters, guided the 2016 win by President-elect Donald Trump. And that is that his opponent is the corrupt representative of the status quo and that Trump is the successful, gifted businessman who represents meaningful change. That meme wasn't the product of fake news or social media mischief but instead the result of a national press slow to properly cover the campaign, late in providing voters with Trump's history, eager to cover Trump rallies night after night and unable to put the email scandal into proper perspective."

"Despite the erosion of business models, staff cuts, cord cutting and the accelerating death of daily newspapers, traditional media matters."

Owen Youngman, professor at Medill, Northwestern University: "Maybe an updated adage for our current age: “'When your probability models say they love you, check them out' . . . by getting out and doing some reporting. Just one example: I mostly grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio, and Clare Malone’s reporting from there for fivethirtyeight.com the week before the election provided a way better window into the election than even half an afternoon of mindlessly refreshing the Ohio 'nowcast.'"

Bruce Brown, executive director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: He cites a Supreme Court victory last week over the Obama administration, which fought the unsealing of World War II grand jury transcripts involving an Espionage Act investigation of the Chicago Tribune's disclosure that the U.S had cracked Japanese codes. It's a little-noticed reminder of Obama's uninspired track record on disclosure issues.

"Thanks to (colleague) Katie Townsend's work in this case, journalists and historians now have complete access to these materials to see how the government was trying to build a case."

Finally, there is Frank Rich, the great former longtime New York Times drama critic and now writer-at-large at New York magazine:

"I defer to the novelist and screenwriter William Goldman's famous dictum about Hollywood to describe the American predicament, including that of the media, as we close the books on 2016: ‘Nobody knows anything.’”

"Hear, hear!" as I predict some show on "Masterpiece Theater" will shout out next year.

Rahm's media emails (cont.)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's years in Washington left him an aggressive apple-polisher of the national press. It continues as disclosure of his personal email account shows an August barrage touting the just-to-open Chicago school in notes to George Stephanopoulos; Wolf Blitzer; The Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid (author of a good book on Emanuel), Peggy Noonan, Paul Gigot and Jerry Seib; David Brooks (a longtime Emanuel conduit), Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman, James Bennet and Carl Hulse of The New York Times; Al Hunt, Margaret Carlson, Mark Halperin and Peter Orszag of Bloomberg; David Ignatius, Fred Hiatt and Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post; James Fallows of The Atlantic; and John Harris of Politico.

Whew. You can take the boy out of Washington but you can't.... (Robert Feder)

An app and future of warfare

Foreign Policy relays a Crowdstrike report that "a hacking group known as dubbed Fancy Bear attempted to spy on Ukrainian artillery units by distributing a bogus Android application used for weapons targeting." It had “'the potential ability to map out a unit’s composition and hierarchy, determine their plans, and even triangulate their approximate location.'” (Foreign Policy)

High-speed Internet as a basic right

"Canada has declared high-speed broadband internet access a 'basic telecommunications service.' That means Ottawa will now work to provide accessible — and, presumably, affordable — internet to every Canadian citizen, just like it does for landline phones." (Foreign Policy)

One to remember

"The White House Correspondents’ Association congratulates Sean Spicer on his appointment today as President-elect Trump’s White House press secretary. We also congratulate Hope Hicks, Jason Miller, and Dan Scavino on their appointments to the president-elect’s communications team. We look forward to working with all of them in the months ahead. — Jeff Mason, WHCA president"

Check your calendar: The clock now starts ticking on when the first formal complaint comes due to the solicitous Media Welcome Wagon being screwed over by Spicer & Co.

The growing shutdown of access in pro sports

Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Rick Morrissey is very good on how "The biggest misperception about sports journalism is that reporters are around the people they cover a lot and that they’re able to interview them often." (Chicago Sun-Times)

He correctly singles out the Kremlin-like tendencies of the National Football League. "So access? What access?" He notes, "The lack of access helps explain why more and more sports coverage is geared toward analysis and talent assessment."

A contemplative coach

Ages ago, during the Jordan years, I interviewed then-Chicago Bulls player Steve Kerr about the wrenching central event of his family life: the terrorist murder of his father, Malcolm, the president of American University in Beirut, in 1983.

It's thus fascinating to see the maturation of his views all these years later, as The New York Times' John Branch profiles the resolutely decent, talented coach of the NBA's Golden State Warriors."In a rare and sometimes emotional interview this fall, Kerr spoke about the death of his father and his family’s deep roots in Lebanon and the Middle East. Some of the words sounded familiar." (The New York Times)

List of the day

"The Greatest Space Events of 2016" includes "'Pluto Killer' Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin at Caltech (taking) everyone by surprise when they announced that a mysterious ninth planet is probably lurking at the outer edges of the Solar System." (The Verge)

No-go on "Blacks" and "Whites"

In "Why we don’t call people ‘Blacks’ and ‘Whites’," Fusion writes, "Trump’s low road to high office has taken resistible turns that went unstopped by a news media still sorting out its own missteps. Many news outlets are asking hard questions about journalistic credibility, factual accuracy, and the importance of thoughtful word choice in public conversations." (Fusion)

Footwear background

The authoritarians at the NFL fined Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. $18,000 for wearing intentionally gaudy cleats in a game "to pay tribute to Craig Sager, the TNT NBA reporter who died earlier this week of leukemia. Like most of the clothes Sager was known for wearing, the shoes were bright. They were bold. They were gaudy." (The Washington Post)

Bourdain on the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner

Amid a fawning but still revealing Eater.com interview of Anthony Bourdain is this: "And I would never go to the White House Correspondents’ dinner — though I doubt there will be another. Thank god, that’s an institution I’d like to see die for years. If there’s one good thing to come out of the Trump administration, let it be that there will be no more White House Correspondents’ dinners. It reinforces all the world’s worst notions about the hideous, inside-the-beltway, all-in-it-together culture."

"It brings honor to no one to have Kim Kardashian or Tara Reid sitting there next to a news anchor. What is this all about? Fuck that. If I’m gonna make fun of you today, I’m not accepting your food tomorrow. I had dinner with President Obama, but I paid. We were offered Air Force One, and I said, 'There’s no way. No way.'" (Bourdain)

A depressing, damning education story

A USA Today Network investigation finds "that education officials put children in harm’s way by covering up evidence of abuse, keeping allegations secret and making it easy for abusive teachers to find jobs elsewhere." (USA Today) "As a result, schoolchildren across the nation continue to be beaten, raped and harassed by their teachers while government officials at every level stand by and do nothing. The investigation uncovered more than 100 teachers who lost their licenses but are still working with children or young adults today."

This is a stomach-turning reminder of a larger truth known for decades: the difficulty of firing teachers. For example, data for Illinois is damning, was uncovered long ago by journalist Scott Reeder of the Small Newspaper Group and was included in premier documentarian Davis Guggenheim's "Waiting for 'Superman.'"

To cut the suspense

If you don't get to Adweek's "The 50 Most Read Advertising and Branding Stories on Adweek.com in 2016," the winner is a Heineken ad that was a stunt, using an unwitting soccer fan at a big game and eschewing real actors. (Adweek)

Forget Periscope

"Thermal imaging on track to be next big thing for camera phones" (The Financial Times)

Unlikely to be debated on "Hardball"

"Is baritone Christian Gerhaher the world’s best lieder singer?" (Opera News)

The morning babble

Joe Scarborough and Washington Post pundit David Ignatius mulled Trump's foreign policy tweets on "Morning Joe." The latter reflected a serious traditionalist's take: "Disruption is useful if it creates space to negotiate and then things are less disruptive. If it's just one disruption after another that overturns existing policies without a stable new structure, then you have a situation that will be very difficult for the U.S. and very hard to say if our interests are served by that."

For "Fox & Friends" this all, of course, was part and parcel of Trump "flexing his negotiating muscles, working to make better deals for Americans and save money," as put by co-host Steve Doocy.

CNN's "New Day" showed snatches of a Vladimir Putin press conference today in which he cited similar data as did Trump over U.S. polling showing ample Putin support among Trump voters. Pundit Jackie Kucinich discerned Putin duplicity (a "wink and a nod thing") over his denying involvement in U.S. campaign hacking but noting his being among the few who thought Trump would win, "almost purposely muddying the waters," she said.

Well, the mud will persist into the new year when I shall next see you, as the Age of Trump beckons and the press agonizes over fakery and other matters. Have a great holiday and, as they said long ago at the City News Bureau of Chicago, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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