.... my 2 cents ....
musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life,
by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
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USA Today has been both praised and criticized for running the fact-deprived op ed by the president last week, where he talked about Medicare.
Some criticized the paper running it, since, as The Washington Post's fact-checkers said, virtually every sentence contained inaccuracies, exaggerations or straight-out fallacies. Others criticized the paper for including links to fact-checking sites.
I understand that reputable papers usually fact-check op ed submissions when statements are presented as facts rather than opinion and if they are off base, the piece would be rejected or returned to the writer for corrections.
The editors at USA Today faced a tricky choice. They had in their hands a piece by the president of the United States. But they knew it was full of lies or errors.
Do they refuse to run it? Do they give it back and insist the White House correct it? Or run it, with lies exposed and corrected?
I think the paper did the right thing by running it, with links to other reports that showed the real facts. It let readers see the president's words while exposing them for the lies that they are. False statements side-by-side with clear facts. Let readers make their own judgement as to what's fake news.
Leslie Stahl also came under criticism from the right for her interview with the president, which aired on "60 Minutes" last night.
From what I saw, she was doing her job as an objective journalist, trying to get at the truth. She asked the president some tough and direct questions and didn't let him squirm out of them by changing the subject or throwing more falsehoods into the mix. But now there's meme going around on Facebook saying how slanted the interview was. "FOX & Friends" whined that the president was "peppered endlessly with questions" during the interview, as if Stahl was doing something bad by asking questions and repeating or following up on them when they weren't directly answered.
When the fake news comes from the president, whether as an op ed or in answer to interview questions on TV, it should be called out for what it is -- lies.
Finally, the media is doing that. Good for them and good for us.
Bob Woodward, talking about his new book, quotes his former boss, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, about the decision to publish the Watergate stories 46 years ago. He said those words remain in his mind as his new book is being published.
Media people, as well as all Americans who cherish our freedoms and our democracy, have been troubled by the president’s ongoing war on the media. His tweets and his rants at his rallies about the media being “the enemy of the people” raise fears among many of us that he is trying to move this country toward a fascist dictatorship. A free and unfettered press is a key element in keeping a democracy a democracy.
The Boston Globe has launched a campaign to battle those destructive words from the White House. It is urging other papers nationwide to run editorials on Aug. 16 that condemns the president’s anti-media rhetoric. So far, more than 100 papers have joined the effort, including major market dailies like TheMiami Herald, The Denver Post, The Houston Chronicle and The Star-Tribune in Minneapolis. Small town papers are also joining.
Marjorie Pritchard, the editorial page editor at The Globe said it’s not a political move. “It’s not about being a Democrat. It’s not about being a Republican. It’s about the importance of a free press, enshrined in the Constitution. It’s something we should all get behind.”
In an editorial yesterday, The Globe reminded readers about a 1974 book by political theorist Hannah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” “A people that can no longer believe anything cannot make up its mind,” Arendt was quoted. “It is deprived…of its capacity to think and judge. And with such a people, a leader can do what you please.”
Thus, the editorial continues, an ill-informed, frightened public is precisely the audience an authoritarian president hopes to cultivate. Losing public trust in a free press leaves unprincipled leaders with unprecedented powers and control.
Does anyone still not understand the importance of a free press here in the U.S.?
The papers have been reporting some mixed media news...two encouraging items and one discouraging, although not at all surprising.
On the positive side, Tribune Media has called off its pending sale to Sinclair. I'm happy to see that, since the sale would have created an enormous media company with a strong conservative bent to the news it broadcasts.
Sinclair already forces the local TV stations it owns to air brief news updates within local newscasts that have strong right-leaning and not always accurate opinion disguised as real news. The purchase would have added 42 more stations to the the 181 it already owns, giving it coverage in 70 percent of the U.S., plus cable outlet WGN Worldwide, which Sinclair planned to convert to a FOX-like conservative channel.
The deal was called off after the FCC chairman voiced concerns about side deals Sinclair was making to enable it to continue to control the content of several stations the company had agreed to sell off in order to meet FCC standards for competition in some major markets. Sinclair was trying to bypass rules that encourage competition and help prevent one media company from controlling content -- in this case, news content -- in individual markets.
Another encouraging piece of news is the report from the New York Times that its digital subscription base and revenues are continuing to climb, offsetting losses in print advertising.
The Times says digital subscriptions went up by 20%, to a total of 2.9 million. Add the 900,000+ print subscribers, and the total is now up to 3.8 million subscribers. The increased subscription revenues helped the Times have 2nd quarter profits that exceeded analysts' expectations. "Failing" New York Times? Hardly, thank goodness.
On the disappointing front, a new poll by Axios shows how the White House's constant demeaning of the media is having the desired effect, on his supporters at least. Forty-three percent of Republicans, the survey shows, believe the president should have the power to stop media he feels are "behaving badly." One could reasonably assume, based on the president's tweets and rhetoric, that bad behavior includes being critical of the president, his policies and his allies. "Bad behavior" might also mean reporting on possible presidential misbehavior such as conflicts of interest, conspiring with enemies of America, and telling just a few lies to the American people and to Congress.
Permitting that sort of presidential power moves us another big step toward fascism or tyranny be rather than democracy... something the president and his supporters seem to prefer, based on action and tweets.
It's scary indeed, but we need to keep reminding ourselves that 43% of Republicans still means only about a third of all Americans, when you factor in independents. The majority still has the power, but we need to remember that the power exists only if we vote. Otherwise, we will continue to be held up by a powerful minority.
Despite the endless and increasingly desperate taunts by the president about fake news, network TV remains the most trusted source for political and major breaking news, according to a new study by the Video Advertising Bureau, reported by MediaPost.
Regardless of political affiliation, more than two-thirds of Americans surveyed said television is their primary and most-trusted source of information.
Newspapers appear to be the second-most popular source of information, slightly ahead of social media for most demographics except "blue collar," where social media takes a slight lead.
Social media continues to be a leading source of 'fake news,' fueled by political entities (Democrats and Republicans alike) and, as we now know, foreign powers like Russia who have been using misinformation online to fuel discord here and even impact our elections. While the president constantly rails against the legitimate media, he has done absolutely nothing to have our government try to deal with that misinformation -- propaganda -- coming from our enemies via social media.
That propaganda, and those putting it out there, are the "enemy of the people," not our media.
Despite what the guy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue says, The New York Times is not failing.
Both subscriptions and revenues are up for the first quarter of this year. It’s up thanks, in part, to the guy in the White House. People are looking for real news.
Overall revenue for the company went up by 3.8 percent for the first quarter. The Times added 139,000 new digital-only subscribers, bringing it to a whopping 2.8 million online subscribers. Those new subscribers, plus those buying the print editions, grew by 7.5 percent, accounting for about two-thirds of the company’s total revenue.
Ironically, even as online readership grew, digital ad revenues fell by 6 percent. Print ad revenue, which accounts for two-thirds of the company’s ad income, dropped by 1.8 percent – much better than print revenue drops at many other major papers.
The paper also derives revenue from special editorial products like online crossword and cooking apps. It also just announced plans for a daily newscast in partnership with FX network, as a way to expand reach and applications of its news content to other platforms, which will hopefully bring added revenues.
So it looks like The New York Times is not failing. But we already know that much of what comes out of the White House these days is incorrect. Some might even call it “fake.”
Over the past several days, I’ve seen several stories relating in some way to how to deal with fake news.
A few days ago in the New York Times, tech writer Farhad Manjoo wrote about a two-month experiment -- getting news the old-fashioned way by reading about it the daily newspapers and not looking at online news or social media. The headline neatly sums up the outcome… “Opting for Yesterday’s News Today: Deep, Informed, Accurate and Inky.”
Getting his news mostly through daily newspapers via their print editions enabled him to get information more fully developed and reported, with fewer inaccuracies and errors. In other words, slower but the truthful, or at least more truthful. He also got insight and context that fast-breaking news coverage can't always provide. And by avoiding posts about news on social media, he says he missed out on the slanted and sometimes intentionally misleading representation of information that we’ve all fallen victim to online.
It’s a good read and it does make me wish we could go back to the way it used to be. I know we can’t – that genie’s been let out of the bottle. But it seems that we as a nation might be better off if we could go back.
About two weeks ago on C-SPAN I caught the last few minutes of a conference from London about fake news. There was talk of an effort in the U.K. to create grades of truthfulness or accuracy for digital media so users might have a better idea if what they are seeing is truthful or biased. I thought, what a great idea! I wish there was something like that to assess U.S. media.
So I was pleasantly surprised to see a story in The Wall Street Journal a few days ago. It was bylined by a former WSJ publisher L. Gordon Crovitz, and it said that he and journalist Steven Brill -- best-known as founder and publisher of American Lawyer – have started a company called NewsGuard that will rate news organizations and sites based on their accuracy, bias and other things that might impact their accuracy, including ownership and affiliations. Rather than relying on algorithms, NewsGuard will have real people monitoring news and what passes for news, rating media green, yellow or red depending on their truthfulness and transparency.
They plan to rate some 7,500 news brands that account for about 98 percent of traditional and online news in the U.S. It’s a much-needed thing that will help most of us see what’s real and what’s fake.
Of course, it won’t stop those who prefer to believe fake news because it lines up with their own viewpoint. But it should help the vast majority of us who do want accuracy and truthfulness in the news we consume.
And finally, as we speak of fake news, there’s something that Sinclair Broadcasting, one of the largest owners of TV stations nationwide with nearly 200 stations, is starting to do. Sinclair’s owners are conservative and have been inserting into local newscasts brief “must-run” segments reporting on national political news, but with a strong conservative slant that is not always a truthful slant. They also insist that their owned stations run “terrorism updates” that repeat and spread the latest conspiracy theories. The pieces carry no identification as “editorial” or “opinion pieces,” but are presented as hard and unbiased news stories.
And now, according to the latest reports in the trade media, Sinclair plans to have its local news anchors -- people who are known and trusted in their local markets -- read pieces echoing the complaints we hear from the White House, some Republican politicians and from conservative media like FOX that the “traditional media” like the networks and major daily papers are reporting fake news.
Even though these pieces are being labeled as “opinion,” it is still extremely harmful to our democracy and to the public interest to have on-air reporters and anchors demeaning other media and promoting the idea of them being fake news. According to a CNN report, many Sinclair TV stations news anchors aren’t happy about this, calling this forced move “manipulative.”
It’s unfortunate and it’s dangerous, since it further pushes the concept of our news media doing fake news, ironically from one of the media companies that has been most guilty of disseminating fake and biased news.
My advice… check to see which station in your market is owned by Sinclair and be forewarned.
Even as the president continues to refer to it as the ‘failing New York Times,’ the “newspaper of record” is enjoying record-breaking readership and subscriptions.
A memo from the Times’ top editorial team says the paper now has 2-1/2 million digital subscriptions, a million print subscribers and more than 130 million readers every month. That’s twice the paper’s total audience only two years ago.
Ironically, the president probably has something to do with The Times' ballooning audience. With all the lies and "alternate reality" coming from the president and his White House henchmen, more people are now looking to media outlets they can trust for real and accurate news...The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major papers.
So thank you, Mr. president, for helping the New York Times grow. Its digital revenues jumped from $400 million two years ago toward its goal of $800 million by 2020, hopefully offsetting ongoing drops in print ad revenues that are hardly exclusive to The Times.
The editors have declared 2018 as “the year of audience,” which means they intend to do their best “to compete for audience time and attention and demonstrate to readers that Times journalism is so valuable it’s worth paying for.”
130,000,000 readers a month....if that's what "failing" looks like, then keep on failing New York Times. We need you now, more than ever.
Unless you've been hibernating or even if your only source of information this past year has been FOX or Breitbart, you've been hearing a lot about fake news.
The White House uses the term for anything even remotely critical of the administration and its policies, including news reports and analysis based on facts. The president often uses the fake news phrase when referring to his differing version of things we’ve seen with our own eyes or heard with our own ears, as trivial as the size of the inauguration crowd or as important as who the” good people” were at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
We now know fake news had an impact on the 2016 election, possibly to the point of swaying it toward the Republican candidate.
So how do we, as a nation, deal with take news and what can the media do?
We've seen major media do more fact-checking and correction wrong statements right there in the context of the news stories. We've seen some media outlets emphasize "truth" in their promotional ads and even on their mastheads, such as the Washington Post's new tagline "Democracy dies in darkness" and CNN's new ad campaign "This is an apple."
We've seen some schools and non-profit groups developing programs to help educate young people on how to consume news critically and to distinguish between real and fake news. And Google announced last week a partnership with the Poynter Institute to expand the International Fact-Checking Institute, which promotes best journalistic practices for online content.
And here's more... Publisher Steven Brill, known for founding the magazine American Lawyer, Court TV and in 2006 the Yale journalism Initiative, has just announced a new effort to combat fake news.
He is calling it News Guard and it will be an independent fact checker. Brill plans to start with a core of 40 – 60 journalists who will research statements and issues in the news to verify their accuracy or correct them as necessary. He plans to charge a fee to news organizations for the service.
Hopefully, this and other efforts will help make the public more aware of what can be fake news, while offering an easy and trustworthy way to check the accuracy of what is reported. This is needed, on so many levels and for many reasons, especially in these times when we have a White House that is leaning toward authoritarianism.
McClatchy Media, which owns 31 newspapers including the Sacramento Bee, The Raleigh News & Observer, The Miami Herald and the Kansas City Star, recently announced it is revamping its newsrooms to encourage reporters to do more reporting geared toward readers of it's digital rather than print editions.
On one hand, it is good that management is recognizing the growing importance of digital platforms. Some major papers like the n y times now have more digital readers than print.
But be there's a troubling aspect of the McClatchy initiative. According to a story in Media , the chain is having one-on-one sit-downs with reporters, analyzing their recent stories to see how many clicks, shares and likes each story got on the papers' online sites. And they are being coached, and eventually judged, on how much digital engagement their future stories get.
This means, according to the story, reporters will be pushed to give readers more of what they want, as measured by digital metrics.
That sounds good, in theory, but is it really a good thing for a news organization?
Might reporters gravitate towards sensationalism in hopes of their stories getting more clicks? Might they put greater emphasis on celebrity news or high-profile court stories as a way to get more eyeballs, while giving short shift to important but less sexy investigative stories looking at local civic affairs?
While media companies are, after all, businesses, their business is very different from other companies that must give the customer what it wants in order to survive. Media have a responsibility to give what the customer needs, albeit in a way that upholds journalistic standards.
It's a tricky line. With luck, the McClatchy papers will find a good way to navigate that line while still giving readers what they need. Other papers, and the companies that own them, will be watching. Hopefully this won't be the start of further degrading local news coverage.