To use s***hole or not? The president takes the media into the dumpster

Jim Schachter, news director of public radio station WNYC and a former longtime New York Times journalist, informed his Twitter followers Thursday night of his primary professional challenge of the moment: "I am rendering judgment on whether we can use the word 'shithole' on the radio."

He mulled this as CNN offered an international audience a discussion among five adults, all framed in a Brady Bunch-like set of five boxes, in which the same word was uttered or displayed incessantly on screen. Don Lemon, the host, called himself a product of shitholers, as did many across multiple platforms nationwide after the president borrowed from the Tony Soprano school of political rhetoric. It became morally charged short-hand for being a child in some way of immigration.

And at the same time that National Public Radio in Washington was tweeting listeners, "We are using s***hole online. Note the third asterisk in keeping with NPR style," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was informing its followers, "Our publisher is requesting us to remove @realDonaldTrump's 'vulgar language' from the lede in our @AP story about his vulgar language." (This morning it remains in the lede but is not in the headline.)

Hours before this, the once rather staid Los Angeles Times' online headline was, "Trump complains about allowing immigrants from 'shithole' countries," The Washington Post declared, "Trump attacks protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries" and the Stephen Bannon-less Breitbart News led its site with, "Trump Wants Immigration Crackdown from ‘Shithole Countries.’"

Now, no surprise, we did have a bit more decorum in the Salt Lake Tribune: "Trump attacks protections for immigrants from 's---hole' countries in Oval Office meeting." I wonder what would be the best accompanying background refrain from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on an audio version. 

But, hey, go figure that the New York Daily News initially looked more like the Salt Lake Tribune with its online headline:  "President Trump reportedly blasts protections for immigrants from ‘s--thole' countries." Thank goodness, it recaptured its tabloid mojo later with the print headline (and a cartoon caricature of Trump) "S**T FOR BRAINS." That's the Daily News we know and love (and worked for)!

As for the New York Times, it took the road less traveled and went online with, "Trump’s Vulgar Immigration Remarks Alarm Lawmakers." On this day, it verged on Elizabethan decorum, including in print (using the word in the lede, though).

"The question isn't who Donald Trump is," said pundit David Axelrod on CNN. "That's been asked and answered. The question is who are we."

I was watching him in the basement with our eighth-grader. I asked our guy to finish his homework and get to bed after an evening in which his vocabulary — and that of too many others — involuntarily expanded by one word.

I recalled a famous 1954 U.S. Senate hearing cum witchhunt in which red-baiting Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was confronted by Joseph Welch, a Boston attorney representing the U.S. Army. Welch had had enough of McCarthy alleging that a Welch assistant had Communist ties.

Were he only around to see the quandary faced by WNYC's Schachter and so many other editors —and presumably thousands of elementary school teachers Friday ("Mrs. Crawford, what is shithole"?) as a result of Trump. Welch could ask him the same question he asked McCarthy during that nationally televised hearing.

"Have you no sense of decency?"

Facebook fiddling with its News Feed

As Recode puts it, "Here we go: Facebook said on Thursday that it will start to show users more posts from their friends and family in the News Feed, a move that means people will see fewer posts from publishers and brands."

"According to Facebook, the move is designed to encourage people to interact more with the stuff that they actually do see. The thinking is that you’re probably more likely to comment and discuss a post shared from a family member than one shared by a business you follow."

The apparent bottom line:

"It’s bad news for publishers who rely on Facebook for traffic, or a business who uses it as a form of organic marketing. Facebook is very clearly telling these businesses their content won’t spread as far in News Feed, and many publishers spend lots of time and resources creating stuff intended to do just that."

"Facebook admitting that people will likely spend less time on Facebook has to be sour news for investors. The more time people spend on Facebook, the more ads they consume, and the more money Facebook can make. Less time, at least on paper, seems like it will correlate to less revenue."

Vox going union

Vox Media management will voluntarily recognize the Writers Guild of America, East as collective bargaining agent for about 400 editorial employees. It's all part of a surprise trend toward unionization among the ranks of young journalists at digital news operations. 

They'd voted to go union, meaning management had to decide whether to force a formal vote overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. It won't, setting up bargaining on a first contract. But what's at the heart of these turns to unionization by a younger generation long deemed beyond the grasp of unions?

"I think for a few years now, new media companies have experienced rapid growth largely thanks to investments from old media giants like broadcast networks and the flexibility of the digital medium they produce," says Sara Masetti, a producer in the Video Services Department of Vox Media. "This rapid growth has been fantastic but it also has allowed departments to sometimes staff up fast and cheap."

She and others generally view their management as smart and forward-thinking. "So I think that our desire to unionize has sprung out of the desire to make our growth even more transparent for all parties involved and to ensure that the welcoming and inclusive work environment we share now will continue to be part of our experiences as the company grows."

And when I asked about any misperceptions about her world, she says, "I think the widespread misconception about new media employees that go through unionization is that we don’t like our companies and we want to revolutionize them. I think the instances where employees have asked for big changes from management during unionizations were companies that were exploiting young new talents. That’s not the case at Vox. We know we have good jobs and we are lucky to be in a vibrant industry. We want to play an active role in protecting our jobs as the company grows."

What news consumers worldwide want

Pew Research Center unveiled a survey of news consumers in 38 countries, concluding they want unbiased information but don't always think they're getting it. When I asked Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research there, what strikes her as most notable, she pointed to this conclusion:

"Despite great variance then in government, political and media structures there is strong consensus that the news media should not take political sides. Across the 38 countries surveyed, a median of 75% say it is never acceptable for a news organization to favor one political party over others when reporting the news. Just 20% say this is sometimes okay. At the same time, though, reporting on political issues fairly is a performance area where publics give the news media their lowest marks. 52% say news media are doing well on this versus more than about 6-in-10 or more who give high ratings for each of the other three measures."

 

If you've followed Pew's research, you'll see the unceasing trend in polarization of news consumption, even as, say, Americans assert a desire for unbiased news, as well as the reality of coverage altered by an organization's ideological thrust.

 

Depressing headline and tale of the day

 

"Social media fury follows video of dazed woman put out in cold by Baltimore hospital"

 

It's from a Washington Post story that reveals, "It was the latest incident of 'patient dumping,' which has sparked outrage around the country — and one that, according to an expert, probably violated a 1986 federal law that mandates hospitals release those in their care into a safe environment. 'This kind of behavior is, I think, both illegal and I’m sure immoral,' said Arthur L. Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine." 

Ignoring texts and emails

Writing in The Atlantic on ignoring texts and emails, Julie Beck offers this: "People don’t need fancy technology to ignore each other, of course: It takes just as little effort to avoid responding to a letter, or a voicemail, or not to answer the door when the Girl Scouts come knocking. As Naomi Baron, a linguist at American University who studies language and technology, puts it, 'We’ve dissed people in lots of formats before.' But what’s different now, she says, is that 'media that are in principle asynchronous increasingly function as if they are synchronous.'"

"The result is the sense that everyone could get back to you immediately, if they wanted to — and the anxiety that follows when they don’t. But the paradox of this age of communication is that this anxiety is the price of convenience. People are happy to make the trade to gain the ability to respond whenever they feel like it."

Something's not quite right in L.A.

In assessing ongoing tumult at the Los Angeles Times, Ken Doctor reveals that New York Times reporter Louise Story "will become a managing editor. Sylvester Monroe, the (Washington) Post’s assistant foreign editor, will become an assistant managing editor. For each, the executive step-ups are major ones."

He also notes a late December SEC filing in which Tronc, which is owner of the paper and others, including the Chicago Tribune, agreed to pay Merrick Media, the primary vehicle of Tronc executive chairman Michael Ferro, $5 million a year for three years. "In exchange, Tronc receives 'management expertise and technical services.' In short, the company behind Tronc's executive chairman is being paid to give much of the guidance that executive staffs normally provide."

"Further, Merrick Media, which previously bought into the Chicago Sun-Times and then exited, offers no particular track record of successfully offering such guidance. In this contract, Merrick Media is to be directed by Tronc’s CEO. Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn is a long-time Ferro associate and the person he named as CEO soon after gaining control of the company two years ago. It looks circular and hard to justify to the common bystander. And remember: $5 million a year would fund at least 50 journalist jobs."

Here's an uplifting headline (not)

"2 education reporters … for a metro region of nearly 8 million people"

It's Joanne Jacobs in The Grade, an education blog, on how "California’s Bay Area shows what it looks like when a region’s education reporting gets whittled down to nearly nothing." Here's more.

The upside of off-the-field NFL competition

You'd be deranged if living outside Chicago and caring whom the woefully inept Bears management picked for a new coach (Matt Nagy) and his assistants. But, even after years of rank mediocrity, they have a primal pull on the area populace.

So the identities of the picks were notable, but so is the fact that Adam Jahns of the Sun-Times, Mike Mulligan of all-sports WSCR-AM, John Mullin of NBC Sports Chicago and Brad Biggs of the Tribune all had scoops of one sort of another. Even in a declining media marketplace, it was a reminder of the upside of actual competition.

The Morning Babel

Hey, how lucky that "Trump & Friends" had as a sub co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy, onetime reality show personality. She's got eight children, so what did she tell them about you know what? The question didn't come up. The show referred today to "blank-hole" countries, though co-host Brian Kilmeade called Trump's language "ham-handed, bad, it's not good and steps on a message ... and flies in the face of our values." He called for Trump to apologize.

CNN's "New Day" conceded that the president tunes into "Trump & Friends" as it sought to explain Thursday's history of odd and contradictory Trump tweets about renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and whether he got the leaders of North and South Korea mixed up as he said he had a good relationship with Kim Jong-un. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," The Wall Street Journal's Peter Nicholas interpreted the paper's own Thursday interview with Trump to divine that there's some kind of back channel discussions with North Korea, which would be interesting, so that he might have indeed meant Kim Jong-un.

And amid Trump bashing of the FBI, Joe Scarborough said he's followed the lead of Benjamin Wittes, a journalist and national security expert at the Brookings Institution who co-founded the fine Lawfare blog. He's contributed to the FBI Agents Association, which takes care of families of agents struck down in the line of duty.

The fashion of protest

So does everybody in Hollywood wear black at all upcoming big events coming down the pike, notably the Oscars, or does the fashion world follow suit at their big runway shows?

Alexandra Shulman, the former editor of British Vogue, opines in Business of Fashion that one stylist friend "suggests that the work achieved at the Golden Globes should continue not only through the awards season, but also into the international fashion weeks. She noted, too, that the Time’s Up Defense Fund was a way that the fashion industry could meaningfully contribute to the movement and called out Calvin Klein for its 'very significant donation.'”

"Certainly, using the glamour, aspiration and image-making talents of the fashion and film industry to draw attention to promoting equality is an ambition worth holding. Success will partly be due to preventing message-overload, compassion fatigue and accusations of easy one-click activism. In this social media-obsessed, short attention span world, there is a danger of the clothes becoming the story and overshadowing the message. It’s one thing to talk about or dress for change, it’s quite another to get into long-term action away from the febrile moments on the red carpet and catwalk. Over the next few months we will see how skillfully this is navigated."

* * *

That's it for the week. We've got a baseball practice, multiple soccer practices, two soccer games, one basketball game and a choir practice. Easy pickings.

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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