- Praying for better coverage
So, yes, reporters chided Donald Trump for screwing up reference to “Two Corinthians” (as opposed to “Second Corinthians”) the other day at Liberty University in Virginia. But the coverage reminds one of the blind spots the press tends to have with biblical literacy and a poor sense of history, notes Steve Waldman, who co-founded (the since-sold) Beliefnet, which was a terrific website on religion. “When it comes to covering religion, reporters tend to veer between being overly cynical to being overly credulous,” he says. But he does believe political reporters are “waaaaay better” than they once were. He finds Trump’s own language when it comes to religion pretty humorous, as when he says he’s got a “very great relationship with God.” But dig deeper, Waldman notes, and you’ll see botched coverage of his appeal to evangelicals, whom the mainstream press has categorized as very faithful to scripture and how candidates relate to scripture. Further, they’ve been deemed far more moderate, say, on immigration than rank-and-file Republicans. So how did the press miss the appeal to them of a thrice-married, potty-mouthed, anti-immigration rich guy from evil New York City? Maybe it involves a basic misunderstanding of evangelicals. (U.S. News & World Report)
- Registering journalists
Some legislative proposals need no commentary, they are just that dumb. Hello, South Carolina! “An Upstate lawmaker who tried to keep the Confederate battle flag flying and whose campaign spending habits were part of a Post and Courier examination of Statehouse money trails says it’s time to register journalists in the state.” (Post and Courier) State Rep. Mike Pitts, a Republican from Laurens (population, 9,100) introduced a bill called the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law.” There would be requirements for being a journalist and for firms hiring them. I’d hold this idiocy against his hometown but now learn that its natives include J.T. Taylor, lead singer of Kool & the Gang. We’ll give the town a pass. Unless Pitts thinks we should register R&B and Funk musicians, too.
- Podcast mavens, unite!
There’s now a digital magazine just for you. Podster is being unveiled (Podster) via Shelf Media. You can subscribe for free here. Part of me loves the idea of a free sign-up. Like the one at the bottom of this newsletter (hint, hint). But I do like people paying for worthy content, too.
- Joe Scarborough bombast belittled
Scarborough’s pugilistic take on U.S. relations with Iran and our allegedly weak-kneed approach was in full view last week when those sailors were briefly detained. He got into a Twitter spat with Tuft University foreign policy savant Daniel Drezner. Now that the U.S. sailors are out of Iranian custody and several imprisoned Americans, including journalist Jason Rezaian, have been returned, Drezner catalogues Scarborough statements from last week and offers a seeming case study in the perils of premature, ideologically driven, real-time punditry. But, as with Donald Trump, one assumes that this fact-check will have little impact. Scarborough is, after all, a celebrity, too. (The Washington Post)
- A question CNBC forgot to ask
Are we cascading toward recession? I looked up at the screen during CNBC’s “Power Lunch” and wondered if anybody at CNBC had a clue that their on-air pundit changed American history. It was Blair Hull, a very wealthy if little-known Chicago trader who resembles most of the graying corporate executives one sees on the network. What even most political reporters forget is this: In 2004 he was a moneybags political neophyte running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Illinois. The early frontrunner was a solid, affable state official named Dan Hynes. Hull spent north of $30 million and annihilated him with negative ads. For a period Hull looked like the guy, with lots of prominent, money-sniffing Washington consultants flocking to his wallet. Then he self-immolated amid disclosures about his own divorce and, later, his own confirmation of having been in drug and alcohol rehab linked to a high-flying cocaine and champagne-filled party past. He was toast. That cleared the way for an initial long-shot state legislator, who’d been himself creamed in a 2000 U.S. House race against former Black Panther Bobby Rush and mulled getting a real job. He won with heavy black support. It was Barack Obama, who spent $6 million on the primary campaign. Obama was flying to and from Detroit yesterday on Air Force One. Hull was running something called the Hull Tactical Fund and maybe occasionally mulling the question, “What If I hadn’t so screwed up that race?”
- Kickstarting journalism
“In the first nine months of 2015, crowdfunding projects devoted to journalism raised more than $1.74 million on Kickstarter,” according to a Pew Research Center report. “That’s up from $49,256 in 2009, the year Kickstarter launched. The amount of crowdfunding projects has also increased, growing from 17 to 173 projects over that same period.” (Poynter) The total number of individuals contributing rose to to 25,651 last year from 792 in 2009. Other startups have connected people to journalism projects, too, but it’s still a well-intentioned drop in the bucket.
- Whew, a print Penthouse remains!
Young males, breathe a sigh of relief. The British press had brought this dramatic news concerning the state of modern society and the rancor brought by the digital age: Penthouse was shutting its print publication. (Daily Mail) But wait! Americans ride to the rescue, at least with word that Bob Guccione’s creation of 50 years ago will survive in print. (CNN Money) Let the contemporary cultural analyses begin.
- Tragedy, ambiguity, great reporting
There are some stories that just scream, “Time, patience, tons of reporting!” That was the case with a New York Times investigation into the seeming suicide of a Navy SEAL commander in Afghanistan. Nicholas Kulish and Chris Drew (a former long-ago colleague at the Chicago Tribune) confronted what surely was a devilish tale to untangle and spin a fascinating profile of a smart and courageous man who appeared to unravel, as many of us just might, amid a perhaps unjustified sense of failure during a war most Americans (and the press) long ago forgot. It’s long and complicated and engrossing, reflecting the sort of investment that may be an increasing exception in a quick-and-dirty journalism culture. (The New York Times)
- The sky is falling faster than you think
So, yes, newspapers are in trouble. But Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica, takes to Medium to argue that it’s way worse than you appreciate. He takes issue with a McKinsey study from last October that suggests that the decline had plateaued. “We believe most of this core audience — households that have retained their print subscriptions despite having access to broadband — will continue to do so for now, effectively putting a floor on the print markets,” it maintained. He says that’s sadly just not true and assembles 2013 and 2015 circulation numbers. Even factoring in that some promotional copies are embedded in some of the 2013 figures, and that folks are naturally placing emphasis on their online version, the declines in average paid print circulation are breathtaking. He suggests, too, there’s really no basis in thinking they’ve come to a de facto halt. It’s all of a piece but consider these typical examples: Newsday slipped from 266,000 to 217,000, The San Diego Union-Tribune from 193,000 to 117,000 and The Arizona Republic from 286,000 to 164,000. (Medium)
- A judge’s second thoughts on anti-Bloomberg ruling
A bankruptcy judge in Delaware will now grant an expedited hearing Friday to Bloomberg after his ruling that 123 people involved in the underlying proceeding file affidavits about whether they spoke to a Bloomberg reporter about a rare earth mining company. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said it’s “pleased that the judge has changed his mind about letting Bloomberg be heard and may reconsider the scope of the order.” (Reporters Committee)
- Tough sleeping at Slate
Checking out the engaging site this morning, I fret for the health of its subjects. “Chief Justice John Roberts Faces his Absolute Worst Nightmare.” Ok, that’s fine. But wait. “Forget Donald Trump, John Kasich May be GOP’s New Nightmare.” (Slate) They’re talking about Roberts having to rule on Obama immigration policies, while Republicans fret that Kasich finishes second in New Hampshire and winds up a weak alternative to Trump. Regardless, let’s get everybody a prescription for 10 milligram Ambien. They need a good night’s rest. With this newsletter, so do I.
- Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
Jason Johnson is now political editor at The Root. Previously, he was a columnist at The Chicago Defender. (Fishbowl DC) | Job of the day: The (Hannibal, Missouri) Courier-Post is looking for a sports editor. Get your resumes in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: email@example.com.