January 22, 2016

Good morning.

  1. The overall performance smells
    Does the national attention to its drinking water debacle seem a little belated? “I daresay a well-placed FOIA several months ago regarding the Flint situation may have earned some mainstream news publication a Pulitzer nomination. Or perhaps aggressive coverage of local government under the state-appointed financial manager would have caught the issue earlier, or even prevented it from happening,” says David Poulson of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. “And a well-trained reporter covering local health or the environment and deeply versed in those issues may have really watch-dogged the transition from one water source to another and asked questions about required testing. Or an aggressive news organization may have even invested in independent water testing once questions arose and brought attention, testing and treatment much earlier than when it happened. That didn’t happen because, well, they don’t exist.”

    Poulson blasts some poor reporting by national outlets, while passing out good marks to reporters including Ron Fonger at The Flint Journal and Michigan Public Radio. But he knows that the thinning ranks of many newsrooms present a fundamental predicament here (MLive, which owns The Flint Journal, just announced another round of downsizing, he notes). Meanwhile, Tom Henry, environmental-energy writer for The Blade in Toledo, Ohio is working on a Sunday story on the whole mess and concurs that downsizing breeds a lack of accountability “because we (the media) don’t have the strength/numbers in our ranks and the veteran leadership.” He’s got 34 years of experience and knows that many younger reporters simply don’t know the government bureaucracy or have the needed contacts to handle a story of this complexity. He gives kudos to Chad Livengood and Jim Lynch of the Detroit News and also to the Detroit Free Press. For sure, both Poulson and Henry note the horrendous failures of government symbolized by the mess (“a massive regulatory failure at the federal, state and local levels,” says Poulson). “There’s blame to be passed around,” says Henry. “But a lot of it comes down to the decay of American journalism as well as decay of local government as costs for roads, sewers, police and everything else crippled budgets.” This seems to be a case study in the actual impact on citizens of the changes in media. It’s too bad most don’t seem to give a damn.

  2. Need a fat job? Call the Auburn athletic department
    How is it possible for colleges to generate so much sports revenue but still claim to lose money in running athletics programs? The Washington Post explained why in a series that made open-records requests for the athletic department financial reports filed with the NCAA. It’s quite possible. “According to the Post, Auburn has created more than 100 positions in its athletic department since 2004, including 15 jobs paying $100,000. Clemson is constructing a $55 million building for its football team that will include a miniature golf course and a barber shop. One of the stories detailed the millions that schools are paying to coaches not to coach, the result of them being fired with years and big money still left on their contracts.” And on and on, as detailed by Will Hobson and Steven Rich. (Poynter)
  3. Death in Yemen
    Almigdad Mojalli, a freelance journalist who was doing work for the Voice of America, was killed during an air raid in Yemen, according to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the broadcast outlet. He died in an apparently Saudi-led airstrike while reporting “on the human and economic impact of the war…often seeking out the most vulnerable victims.” (VOA)
  4. A confab on automated fact-checking
    Poynter and Duke University will host “Tech & Check,” apparently the very first conference to inspect “the promise and challenges of automated fact-checking.” It will be held March 31 to April 1 at Duke and bring together academic, journalism and tech experts. “While automating fact-checking entirely is still the stuff of science fiction, parts of the fact-checking process — such as gathering fact-checkable claims or matching them with articles already published — seem ripe for automation.” (Poynter) For more info, contact factchecknet@poynter.org.
  5. Leon Wieseltier and Steve Jobs’ widow!
    No, no, this isn’t a New York Post Page Six item, I swear. Wieseltier is the very cerebral, very opinionated former longtime literary editor at The New Republic who resembles a giant white rabbit and is apparently teaming up with Laurene Powell Jobs to attempt a journal on the impacts of technology. The yet-to-be-named publication “will not be a reboot of The New Republic, despite rumors that he was going to buy the old place back, and maybe publish many more of those essays picking apart Internet triumphalism or crusading to break up Amazon.” (New York Magazine) Oh, c’mon, we need more essays on Internet triumphalism, don’t we?!
  6. Dissenting view on Philly’s big media deal
    Those rooting for newspapers are predisposed to laud a Philadelphia billionaire’s decision to try to bolster the two major papers and news website there by creating a new nonprofit structure for them. One media analyst, Ken Doctor, demurs and now memorializes his initial qualms by writing: “Sprinkling some some nonprofit pixie dust won’t save the newspaper industry. Only new ideas can do that. I have no doubt that the new institute will invest whatever funds it has in some good, small programs or notions. The institute’s board of journalist/academics brings the highest credibility to the task, and the foundation wants to do the right thing. Let’s remember, though, that hundreds of millions in foundation funding, led by funders such as the Knight Foundation, has failed to slow the inexorable decline of American daily journalism.” (NiemanLab)
  7. National Review unloads on Trump
    The publishing child of the late William F. Buckley Jr. devotes an entire issue to “Against Trump.” (The National Review) George Will, Michael Barone, Neal Freeman, Glenn Beck, Rich Lowry and a small army of conservatives blast away. “Some conservatives have made it their business to make excuses for Trump and duly get pats on the head from him. Count us out,” declare the editors in a preamble. “Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.” So it strains to halt his momentum, knowing that the “safe bet,” as it concedes, “is on Trump.” As for Trump’s likely response? I’ll go with, “Aren’t those guys some old farts people don’t read anymore? I knew Bill Buckley, great man, liked him, had a good magazine. Used to read when I was at Wharton. Now? I didn’t even know they still publish. Nobody talks about it. And George Will bashing me? C’mon. Wasn’t his wife working for that total loser’s campaign, the Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker? Will’s a joke. I like the bow ties, but he’s a low-energy guy who should have retired a long time ago. Has spent his whole life rooting for the Chicago Cubs. I don’t take him seriously. And Beck is a whack job. And, hey, you see the latest New Hampshire polls? CNN? I’m crushing it.” Meanwhile, as a result of the issue, the Republican National Committee is disinviting the magazine from co-hosting its Feb. 25 debate. This may be a case of impotent rage all around. (BuzzFeed)
  8. Drama of Rezaian’s exit from Tehran
    The wife and mom of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian detailed the on-again, off-again drama of getting out of Dodge with the just-released reporter after a deal was struck. His wife “swung between concern and jubilation over her husband’s potential release as she and her husband’s mother were shuttled for hours between ornate reception halls and conference rooms at the airport.” Their saga includes being beckoned by a masked man at the airport, who hustled them into a silver Peugeot and then drove them to the diplomatic terminal at the same airport. Presumably he was from state security and didn’t want his identity revealed. (The Washington Post) The family, including Rezaian, departed Germany this morning and was headed back to the United States.
  9. White House press corps and snow
    As reporters were being ushered out of a White House meeting between President Obama and mayors, he made reference to the coming big snow in a city unable to handle even the threat of inclement weather. “They’ve gotta get home. They don’t want to get stuck in traffic.” The mayors laughed. Don’t laugh too hard, guys. There’s a rich history of some of your ilk getting into political hot water, even booted from office, due to screwing up snow removal. It’s you guys, much more than the media, who stand to get stuck.
  10. And if you somehow can’t find work in Auburn’s athletic department…
    Make sure you polish that cover letter. In what seems a decidedly firm grasp of the obvious, be informed that “recruiters of media professionals are especially going to be looking carefully at your cover letter, so this is your time to shine. When applying for a job, you can’t rely on good looks or charm to win over your potential employer. All you’ve got going for you in the pre-interview stage is your ability to succinctly convey your talents in a letter. And that letter had better be error free.” So in case you had planned on typos or misplaced commas, say the recruiting experts (people do get paid for this wisdom), make sure to copy edit the letter. “And let’s not forget that scanners are doing a hefty amount of the hiring workload these days.” Cheery. Getting shafted by a robot. (Mediabistro) Have a good weekend, especially if you can avoid that huge snow in the East.

  11. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
    Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org.

Adrian Chen is now a staff writer at The New Yorker. Previously, he was a freelance journalist. (@AdrianChen) | Emily Russo Miller is now deputy editor at the Juneau Empire. Previously, she was a reporter there. (Fishbowl NY) | Anna Lisa Raya is now senior awards editor at The Hollywood Reporter. Previously, she was an editor at AwardsLine. (Email) | Job of the day: The Naples Daily News is looking for a reporter. Get your resumes in! (Journalism Jobs)

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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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.…
James Warren

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