New York Times editor: Local news is the biggest 'crisis' in journalism

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The questions inevitably focused on Donald Trump when New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet spoke last evening to well-to-do rich techie types at a fancy resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

But while discussing and defending his paper's Trump reporting, and deriding others for "twisting news" (notably Fox), his most important thoughts didn't involve the chaotic White House, which has galvanized armies of reporters. They pertained to the dismal state of local news coverage around the nation.

The biggest crisis in American journalism, he said, is "local news. I don't think it's quite understood and accepted."

He was right and understatedly damning as he singled out the quality and (in his mind) strong future of just three major papers: The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. They "will be great," he said, despite the internet-driven tumult around them.

But, he said, "We have to figure out the Buffalos, the New Orleans, the Atlantas...so if a school board does something important in a suburb of New Orleans or Atlanta, it's covered."

Baquet did not mention any large regional papers, notably the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. He worked for both, running the latter. Mind reading wasn't necessary to infer that he doesn't see either in vaguely the same class.

Regardless, what's there to do?

His audience seemed more interested in his views on new conservative op-ed columnist Bret Stephens (Baquet's domain doesn't include the editorial page) than local coverage. But Baquet underscored its paramount importance in a democracy, even if he's at sea about what to do with your basic mid-sized and small paper.

"I would say to philanthropists and local leaders, you should think of a way to sustain local journalism," Baquet said. "I don’t know what that model is."

And, he conceded, the papers "screwed up. They cut themselves to the bone, they were seduced by clicks, a lot of these papers turned out too much digital coverage about crime and sports and made some giant mistakes."

He's correct. And he might have added how a flight of human capital has left many without the needed strategic or technological brainpower in their business, technological and editorial ranks to succeed.

For example, you just don't hear many editors talking, as he did last night, about differentiating between custom and tradition in discerning new ways to write certain stories. He conceded newsroom frictions on that score and also lauded tweetstorms by a terrorism correspondent, Rukmini Callimachi, as an inventive way of pushing the finest of old-line news values.

Many publishers and editors rationalize lowering the bar of expectations and doing what they feel secure in doing: cutting and finding false efficiencies while relying upon an inordinate amount of quick and dirty coverage. They think algorithms can supplant vision and three interviews constitute enterprise.

Speaking to members of the propertied class at the Code Media & Tech Conference sponsored by Recode, Baquet could only articulate one clear hope: that the biggest brains, and those philanthropists who might genuinely think about journalism's future, think about what's directly in their midst back home.

"Because that's a crisis."

Meanwhile, at another New York paper...

"Kathy Griffin sparks outrage with gory photo holding Trump’s decapitated head." (Daily News)

Oh, if driven to a follow-up: "Photographer defends his picture of Kathy Griffin holding decapitated Trump head." (Daily News)

"See it: Kathy Griffin apologizes for 'disturbing' President Trump decapitation photo." (Daily News)

Trump's fake followers

"Because Donald Trump is the president of the United States and the most famous person on the planet, one wouldn't think he would need to employ a bot to boost his Twitter following. It appears, however, he might have done just that." (Newsweek)

As screenwriter John Niven pointed out Tuesday morning, Trump's Twitter account saw an unusual spike in followers over the weekend, many of which appear to have been created artificially.

Top corporate pay

"The median pay for CEOs at the biggest U.S. companies was $11.7 million in 2016, up from $10.8 million the year before and a post-recession record, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of S&P 500 firms."

And, oh, this unavoidably alluring dissection underscores that "pay didn't always match performance." (Wall Street Journal)

Sheryl Sandberg, lobbyist

An Irish newspaper reports that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been leaning in to lobby Ireland's leader in search of friendly regulatory treatment and tax breaks.

She "personally lobbied the Taoiseach at one-to-one meetings and in correspondence, on who would be appointed as Ireland’s next Data Protection Commissioner." (Independent)

You cannot make this stuff up

As The Washington Post details in a far longer chronology:

"On Monday, Fox News Channel published an online article with no byline and a single unnamed source that claimed that Kushner, a senior White House adviser, did not try to set up a backchannel after all."

On Tuesday morning, 'Fox & Friends' co-host Brian Kilmeade posed a question to counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway: 'Do you back up the Fox News report?' Conway refused."

"A short time later, Trump tweeted a link to the Fox News report that Conway had just declined to support, seemingly endorsing an alternative defense of Kushner that his administration spent three days not making."

A big hire

Adam Feuerstein, a columnist for The Street via coverage of money and biotech, is headed to Boston-based Stat. As fate would have it, it had profiled him last year in "Is Adam Feuerstein the most feared man in biotech?"

"His stories make waves: Galena Biopharma fired its CEO after Feuerstein reported that the company had paid outside firms to promote its stock while insiders made millions selling it. At the now-defunct BioPure, an executive landed in jail after Feuerstein reported on safety concerns about the company’s blood substitute."

"And long before most people had heard of Martin Shkreli, Feuerstein reported that Shkreli’s employees at the biotech firm Retrophin were controlling anonymous Twitter accounts promoting the company’s stock."

Exiting CBS

"CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller, who had been sidelined for the past two months after suffering a heart attack, won’t return to the network as planned, and will be stepping down from his role." (Variety)

And, in typical Hollywood fashion, "CBS said Geller made the decision to step down from his role, and is in talks with the company for a production deal with CBS Television Studios."

Amazon's bookstores

It opened its seventh brick-and-mortar store, in New York City, and The New Yorker is not enthralled.

Its offerings "exist far less to serve the desires of the reader than to serve the needs of Amazon, a company whose 20-year campaign to 'disrupt' bookstores has now killed off much of the competition, usurped nearly half of the U.S. book market, and brought it back, full circle, to books on shelves."

One irritation, in this account: "At the right of the shop is a large, Best Buy-esque electronics area that’s mainly dedicated to the Amazon Echo. The Echo section occupies more space in the store than the section dedicated to fiction, which you’ll find on the left."

Layoffs at Kushner's paper

"A significant number of the Observer’s skeleton staff has been let go less than a week after Ken Kurson resigned as editor in chief of Observer Media. The onetime salmon-colored weekly newspaper, which Jared Kushner acquired in 2006, has been struggling to find its footing." (WWD)

Hey, perhaps a backchannel to Vladimir Putin can find some bilingual cut-rate reporters and editors.

Summer Olympics in Los Angeles again

The Wall Street Journal's Matthew Futterman reported Tuesday that, "The International Olympic Committee is progressing toward an agreement that would give Paris the Summer Olympics in 2024 and Los Angeles the event four years later, according to people familiar with the matter."

Influencing the press by joining them

Seth Masket, a University of Denver political scientist and co-founder of the terrific Mischiefs of Faction political science blog, writes in Vox about the unplanned influence on the press of his group's and others' blogs:

"We wanted to influence the journalists who covered politics and at least have them consider our perspectives. We succeeded, although not quite the way we expected. We changed the media not so much by convincing reporters we were right, but by joining them."

"Within the past five years, Vox took us under their umbrella, along with Polyarchy. The Monkey Cage joined The Washington Post. Jonathan Bernstein is now a regular at Bloomberg View. Brendan Nyhan started writing for The New York Times. Pacific Standard, FiveThirtyEight, Politico and other publications now regularly feature articles from political scientists alongside those from journalists."

"There are still plenty of high-quality independent academic blogs out there, but a number of us have joined up with those we sought to influence."

So much for LensCrafters

Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs is donating the eyeglasses busted by that Montana thug to the Newseum in Washington. (The Guardian)

The morning babble

"Fox & Friends'" increasingly strained post-Obama search for liberal targets meant bashing Kathy Griffin often but defending Jared Kushner from those meanie Democrats and FBI investigators.

"Morning Joe" wondered about a vague late-night Trump tweet about "negative press covfefe" (perhaps he's contracting out to an over-medicated Tiger Woods) and White House critic cum insider Joe Scarborough informed that "It's remarkable that this guy still president of the United States and still going out of his way to look for slights. I've told him more than one time,'you're President of the United States, just go with it.'"

CNN also went with the tweet (banner: "Trump's ‘covfefe' tweet sparks bewilderment") before moving on to Michael Flynn's dealing with congressional investigators and serious coverage of the terrorist bombing in Kabul, initially via a Skyping Jessica Donati of The Wall Street Journal.

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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