Summarizing a blockbuster — and its effects

October 4, 2018
Category: Newsletters

Blockbuster fallout, building trust, emphasizing the positive

The New York Times blockbuster on Donald Trump and his taxes weighed in at more than 14,000 words, but it prompted more one-liners than a standup act. 

It was so big — eight pages of newsprint — that extra workers had to handle the press load for Wednesday's print edition.

It was so big the Times itself wrote two smaller versions, one of them 2,500 words. And was praised for it.

It was so big it has its own Showtime documentary film, airing Sunday, and its own how-we-got-that-story text story.

It was so big that the email alert announcing it was itself a monster.

It was so big that The Times felt confident enough to use "loaded words" like fraud, given the preponderance of documents the newspaper dug up. Trump's attorney has threatened legal action, but The Washington Post's Paul Farhi notes that such threats have just been words before. More words came from the New York State, which is reviewing the Times report in case it decides to take legal action against the president.

Finally, it was so big that even GOP members of Congress suggested that Trump may have to do the thing he has always refused to do. "He may have to — he may have to give up those returns," acknowledged Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, before adding: "If I was him, I wouldn't want to give them up."

It was not so big that that it could not be summed up concisely and precisely. Dean Murphy, an NYT associate editor, called it "the first comprehensive look at the inherited fortune and tax dodges that guaranteed Donald J. Trump a gilded life."

From 14,000 to 19 words.

Quick hits

FACEBOOK BLOCKED GAY-THEMED ADS: The move has prompted protests from LGBTQ groups, writes the Washington Post's Eli Rosenberg. The company had determined they were "political," though they didn't involve advocacy or explicit political views. Facebook responded that most of the blocks were in error. A key sentence in the story: "Facebook declined to explain how the filtering process works and how much of the filtering was driven by algorithms rather than human monitors."

BUT WAIT, THE GIRL SCOUTS?: How do ads from mainstream advertisers — such as the Girl Scouts' “Helping Girls Change the World!” — end up on sites featuring hateful, racist and violent content? Ad product teams are developing systems that make it harder for legitimate advertisers to stop supporting sketchy sites, a Post investigation has found. 

A LITTLE TRUST, ANYONE?: A few basic steps could go a long way toward building trust between journalists and readers, University of Oregon researchers Lisa Heyamoto and Todd Milbourn write in the Conversation US. Here are four of them:

  1. Share how you produce the news.

  2. Create a shared vision.

  3. No diversity, no trust: “Broadly and authentically mirror the makeup” of the audience.

  4. Emphasize the positive, search out solutions.

SPEAKING OF: Your morning columnist is big on building trust and audience loyalty by emphasizing the positive, and solutions. A few resources, with examples, include the Solution Journalism Network’s Story Tracker, the Guardian’s The Upside, the NYT’s This Week in Good News, the Washington Post’s The Optimist newsletter, Mother Jones’s Recharge (disclosure, it’s a side project) and Erin Ruberry’s In Better News. I’ve written about the Guardian’s effort here, and about Ruberry and the NYT’s Desiree Shoe here.

BREITBART OUT: The site is an unreliable source for news, Wikipedia editors say.

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED 'VIRAL'?: The scholarly political and cultural journal Current Affairs, supported by small donors and carrying no advertising, is not usually retweeted by the likes of David Frum, Nate Silver, Nick Offerman, Glenn Greenwald and Leah Litman. Its editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson is not on Don Lemon’s speed dial. However, Robinson struck a chord with his examination of the latest Supreme Court confirmation process. His article, “How we know Kavanaugh is lying,” is its most-read ever.

MOVES: Amy Virshup, the NYT’s deputy metro editor, has been named its new travel editor. CBS reporter Bianna Golodryga has been named a co-host of “CBS This Morning.”

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Have a good Thursday.