Real reporting wins out
Donald Trump bashed The New York Times’ “outright lies” yesterday. It was The Washington Post a few days earlier. It’s to be expected. They’ve gotten under his skin by kicking his butt.
Step back and think how many stories they’ve broken, how many tweets they’ve inspired, how much cable coverage is pegged to regurgitating their exclusives. Their industry is declining and ridiculed by digital upstarts. But two bastions of old media exhibit the potency of old-fashioned reporting and editing, with a few bells and whistles thrown in, such as Post reporter David Fahrenthold’s use of crowdsourcing to find stories on Trump’s foundation.
Along with sophisticated analyses of policy and polling, The Times has had big stories on Trump and women, exploiting immigrants to work for him and his taxes, among many others. The Post’s been great on Trump’s foundation and his notorious “Access Hollywood” appearance, among many others. Coverage of Hillary Clinton is strong, too. Producers of TV’s morning news shows would be apoplectic if they stopped publishing suddenly.
Yes, other organizations have done great work and used new digital tools with aplomb. There’s been more good stuff than ever before, if also more crap. But, generally, others have not been as sustained in their enterprise journalism. The resources they’ve devoted to the campaign have shown in spades.
“The Post and the Times — for all their faults, in whatever way you want to argue with them — are invaluable institutions and this country would be immensely poorer without them,” says David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, whose magazine’s work has also been consistently fine.
“This sorry election makes that manifest. The Sulzbergers have the right values, and you can only hope they have the right business strategy and sufficient means to keep the paper. And while I have great regard for the Grahams, it’s obvious that Jeff Bezos has poured resources into the Post and let Marty Baron lead the paper.”
He adds, “Everyone in this field, everyone who cares about doing the right thing, has to figure out the future, day by day, year by year; we talk constantly about the technological and financial side of things — we’d be remiss not to — but let’s also take note of values, the news values, the investigative values and muscle, on display.”
Fuzz Hogan, a former CNN bureau chief who is managing editor of New America, a nonpartisan foundation, says, “There’s tremendous value in the new forms of journalism — so many reporters attacking a story and so much innovation around finding audience and formats to help inform the public. At such a moment, it seems like the legacy publications have figured out a differentiated value that is hard to replicate in other places: the editorial supervision to think strategically, drive stories, let people go very long, and then shape the coverage into a cohesive package and not chase squirrels.”
Matthew Baum, a public policy expert at Harvard, demurs to the extent he argues that the mainstream’s longstanding “tools for determining what is or isn’t newsworthy have proven inadequate to deal with the candidacy of Donald Trump.” (Huffington Post) But, especially in recent months, he tells me, he believes the two papers have been outstanding.
Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia political scientist, doesn’t “see how you can understand what’s really going on without reading them each morning. Maybe less has changed in the political media world than we’ve all thought.”
And Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, concludes, “Scoops have synched with deep reporting from these outlets and have shaped and reshaped the 2016 race many times over. In an era where anyone with a computer is a journalist and WikiLeaks splashes headlines with closeted information, the old war horses still set the pace.”
BuzzFeed’s interactive game show
“BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, which earns more than 5 billion video views monthly, and Keshet Studios, the L.A. branch of Keshet International, will bring an interactive game show to the digital culture. Based on the Israeli game show Touch, BuzzFeed and Keshet will create a ‘next-generation, transmedia’ version of the game, according to the companies. BuzzFeed has not announced yet where the show will air.” (Adweek)
A wrenching medical drama
CNN’s Sanjay Gupta and Wayne Drash did lovely work on the run-up to a dramatic surgery Thursday in The Bronx as doctors sought to separate darling 13-month-old twin brothers conjoined at the head. That birth was a one in the millions. (CNN) It took 16 hours, was deemed successful but tricky months now beckon. (New York Daily News)
Spy’s co-founder on his “child,” Gawker
Recode’s Peter Kafka asked Spy co-founder Kurt Andersen about the notion that his defunct satirical child spawned Gawker, as Gawker founding editor Elizabeth Spiers has suggested:
“Uh, I’m, you know, I mean…happy? There are many ‘spawned.’ Spy’s DNA went to Gawker. Spy’s DNA, in some way, is in John Oliver. You’re right, Elizabeth Spiers literally studied Spy magazine, and she was the first editor of Gawker, so there’s some direct ancestry there. You know, it’s all fine.” (Recode)
“I wouldn’t do Gawker, but you can’t pick your descendants.”
Trump would lose his suit against The New York Times
Trump is threatening a defamation suit against The New York Times for its story of two women alleging he touched them very inappropriately. Legal experts explained to me he’d lose such a suit. But that might not stop him.
Why? Pure emotional vengeance, namely trying to inflict inconvenience and fat legal costs upon your opponent. And there’s the notion of deterrence, namely seeking a way to make other women even more nervous about coming forward, or cooling the ardor of other media who might mull looking into your life. (Poynter)
The morning babble
On “Fox & Friends,” co-host Steve Doocy rallied to Trump’s defense. “Do you believe the press? And you know what? A lot of people don’t.” It showed video of Trump rally attendees booing the arrival of his traveling press corps. It gave credence to the notion of the media “colluding with Hillary Clinton” with a breakdown of time spent on Trump and Clinton-related WikiLeaks disclosures last night on the broadcast evening newscasts.
ABC News: 9 minutes on Trump, 30 seconds WikiLeaks. NBC News: 9 minutes on Trump, no mention of WikiLeaks. CBS: 5 minutes on Trump, 26 seconds on WikiLeaks. “Fox & Friends” then gave us Newt Gingrich telling Bill O’Reilly, “journalism in the sense that you grew up with and I grew up with has totally collapsed. The New York Times has been the leader in this collapse…The stuff they’ve been doing on Trump is an absurdity.” Blame the messenger.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Willie Geist likened the latest Trump anti-media, conspiracy-laden salvo to the final scene in 1969’s “The Wild Bunch,” with that aging gang’s guns blazing and wiping out all in their midst. (YouTube)
Pols, media behind closed doors in Philly
There’s a big U.S. Senate campaign in Pennsylvania and GOP incumbent Pat Toomey just spoke before the 124-year-old Pen and Pencil, the “oldest operating press club.” It could have made news if, alas, sessions there weren’t off the record. David Boardman, who heads the Media and Communication at Temple University, finds that absurd.
“Philly journalists, it’s time to enter the 21st century. Next time a politician speaks at your club, take out those pens and pencils and smartphones proudly and let the rest of us in on the conversation.” (Philly.com)
Remnick on Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize
Before I tracked him down with my pedestrian query, The New Yorker’s David Remnick had waxed eloquent, and speedily so, like a poet on a wire service deadline.
“And please: let’s not torture ourselves with any gyrations about genre and the holy notion of literature to justify the choice of Dylan; there’s no need to remind anyone that, oh, yes, he has also written books, proper ones (the wild and elusive ‘Tarantula,’ the superb memoir ‘Chronicles: Volume One’).”
“The songs — an immense and still-evolving collected work — are the thing, and Dylan’s lexicon, his primary influence, is the history of song, from the Greeks to the psalmists, from the Elizabethans to the varied traditions of the United States and beyond: the blues; hillbilly music; the American Songbook of Berlin, Gershwin, and Porter; folk songs; early rock and roll.
Over time, Dylan has been a spiritual seeker — and his well-known excursions into various religious traditions, from evangelical Christianity to Chabad, are in his work as well — but his foundation is song, lyric combined with music, and the Nobel committee was right to discount the objections to that tradition as literature. Sappho and Homer would approve.” (The New Yorker)
The Fahrenthold Way
It was a typical day for The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold as he used social media to track down ledes and story confirmation about Donald Trump’s foundation. A series of his tweets:
“1/Here’s something I need help on, folks…”
“2/in late 80s, NYC biz leaders organized an effort to remake the Pulitzer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza, outside Trump’s plaza hotel…”
“3/fundraisers asked for a voluntary “window tax” from surrounding properties. $0.50 per square foot”
“4/I want to know if this $264K gift — the largest in the history of @realDonaldTrump’s Fdn — was counted as gift from the Plaza, his business”
“5/Central Park conservancy no-commented. Anybody in NYC have a suggestion about who else might have records?”
A plea for polling sanity
New York Times reporter Nate Cohn, who spends much of his work life analyzing numbers, tweeted, “Just stop reporting Emerson polls. It’s a landline-only survey by college kids that weights to made up stuff.” (@Nate_Cohn)
I wished happy birthday to Peter Osnos, a great Washington Post reporter-editor who became a prominent book publisher. “Thanks Jim. Me and Billy Bush,” said Osnos, dad of Evan, a stellar New Yorker reporter. A week ago that wouldn’t have meant much.
Have a great weekend. Don’t think about this tawdry campaign. Come to my kids soccer and baseball games. They’re pristine in their removal from the political fray.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled “Access Hollywood.”