Opinion

Jack Shafer

Two cheers for tabloid trash

Jack Shafer
Nov 30, 2011 23:28 UTC

Giving testimony yesterday at the Leveson phone-hacking inquiry (PDF) in London, former News of the World features editor Paul McMullan took the only position on the scandal not yet occupied: That of an unrepentant tabloid journalist.

Don’t blame tabloid excesses on tabloid journalists, McMullan held, as he blithely parried the panel’s questions about how he could justify the tabloid press’s phone-hacking practices, its surveillance of subjects, and other intrusions into people’s lives.

Blame tabloid readers, McMullan said.

“Circulation defines what is the public interest. I see no distinction between what the public is interested in and the public interest,” he said. “The reason why News of the World sold 5 million copies is that there were 5 million thinking people and that’s what they wanted to read.”

Continuing his blame-the-readers-not-me tack, he said, “[Readers] are the judge and the jury of what is in the paper, and if they don’t like it—if they don’t like the fact that you’ve written a story about Charlotte Church’s father having two-in-a-bed—sorry, three-in-a-bed on cocaine, then they’ll simply stop buying the product.”

Asked by Lord Justice Leveson if the ends justified the means, McMullan let his interrogator have it. “Yes, I think so,” he said. “All I’ve ever tried to do is write truthful articles and to use any means necessary to try and get to the truth.”

Morning prayer: CBS’s latest last-ditch attempt to beat GMA and Today

Jack Shafer
Nov 16, 2011 23:10 UTC

You could fill a graveyard with the bodies that CBS has posed in front of its morning show cameras over the decades in its ratings pursuit of NBC’s Today show and ABC’s Good Morning America. The latest dead-anchors walking, appointed yesterday by CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager, are Charlie Rose and Gayle King.

Wikipedia stacks the names of former CBS morning show hosts like cordwood. In the 1950s, Walter Cronkite, Jack Paar, John Henry Faulk, Dick Van Dyke, and Will Rogers Jr. helped chair the show. When Cronkite was anchor, a segment was devoted to a lion puppet named Charlemagne discussing the news with him, as this picture proves. Cronkite remembers his cotton colleague warmly, writing in his biography, A Reporters Life, “A puppet can render opinions on people and things that a human commentator would not feel free to utter. It was one of the highlights of our show, and I was, and am, proud of it.”

In the 1960s, hosts Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner were fed to the morning band-saw, and in the 1970s, John Hart, Hughes Rudd, Bernard Kalb, Bruce Morton, Faith Daniels, Lesley Stahl, Richard Threlkeld, and Washington Post Style section sensation Sally Quinn were similarly sacrificed. (Nora Ephron interviewed at the same time as Quinn for a co-anchor slot and luckily lost.)

Stop the Chelsea moaning; she’s “somebody”

Jack Shafer
Nov 14, 2011 23:11 UTC

Allow me to be among the first working journalists to welcome Chelsea Clinton to the Fourth Estate. Clinton, as you probably read in this morning’s New York Times, has taken a job with NBC News as a full-time special correspondent and will cover stories for the network’s do-gooder “Making a Difference” series.

Please read no snark into my Clinton welcome.

Yes, I know that many of you will deplore the fact that somebody like Clinton with no real journalistic experience but plenty of connections has won a high-ranking reporting position at a broadcast network. Your thought balloons about cronyism, already passing over my office, read, If Chelsea wanted to be a journalist she should have gone to journalism school or gotten an internship and parlayed that into a job covering crime for a paper in the boonies, and then over the years worked her way up.

But Clinton, who will turn 32 in February, isn’t the first high-profile political spawn to use the family name as a media-career springboard. The Times article notes that President George W. Bush daughter Jenna Bush Hager is an NBC Today correspondent, and presidential candidate Sen. John McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain contributes to MSNBC. Caroline Kennedy has published nearly a dozen books about patriotism, the Bill of Rights, courage, and poetry and Susan Ford, daughter of President Gerald Ford, has published two volumes of mystery fiction. Ron Reagan, Michael Reagan, and Maureen Reagan all leveraged their father’s prominence into jobs behind the microphone. Maria Shriver, whose uncle was President John Kennedy and whose father, Sargent Shriver, ran for vice president, capitalized on her family connections to get a job as a reporter at a Philadelphia TV station in 1977 straight out of college at the age of 22. She moved to CBS News six years later. You know the rest.

My Romenesko verdict: no harm, no foul

Jack Shafer
Nov 12, 2011 00:10 UTC

Media columnist Jim Romenesko—who was scheduled to depart his full-time position at the Poynter Institute at the end of the year, anyway—vacated it abruptly yesterday after his boss, Julie Moos, publicly criticized his “incomplete” methods of attributing other journalists’ copy in his summaries of their work.

For those who haven’t followed the story—and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, because it’s so inside baseball it’s inside the laces of the ball—Romenesko has been writing a Web-based cheat sheet about the news business since 1999. The column, which the non-profit Poynter Institute picked up in 2000, has been an indispensable destination for journalists and civilians interested in the media. (Interests declared: Romenesko has cited my work many times since 1999. For the last 10 weeks, Poynter has been paying me to participate in weekly, hour-long Web chats with readers.)

In declaring a “pattern of incomplete attribution,” Moos pointed to a recent example from Romenesko’s work in which he ran whole sentences from a Chicago Tribune story in his summary of it without placing the words in quotation marks or block quotation to indicate its exact provenance.

Who gets to be anonymous?

Jack Shafer
Nov 9, 2011 23:32 UTC

Yesterday, The Daily was first to name Karen Kraushaar as one of the two women who worked with Herman Cain at the National Restaurant Association and accused him of sexual harassment. As the Poynter Institute’s Kelly McBride wrote, Business Insider and the Daily Caller repeated the Daily‘s report that Kraushaar had made the sexual harassment claim, and NPR got her to confirm her identity as “Woman A.” Shortly thereafter, Kraushaar was talking to the New York Times, and the whole world knew who she was.

For what good reason was Kraushaar’s identity concealed in the first place?

Politico, which broke the sexual harassment claims story on Oct. 31, didn’t really explain why it did not name the accusers in its scoop, reporting only that it had “confirmed the identities of the two female restaurant association employees who complained about Cain but, for privacy concerns, is not publishing their names.”

Unoccupy Google Reader

Jack Shafer
Nov 3, 2011 20:43 UTC

As a man of habit, I resist all change, especially the change that’s forced on me. So this week I got steamed when one of the tools I rely on to do my work and nourish my brain, Google Reader, got a complete makeover and was pushed onto me whether I wanted it or not.

Which I don’t.

We users had been warned for weeks that a redesign of the popular (and free) RSS reader was in the making, so the appearance of a new version didn’t come as a shock. The only shock was how terrible the new version is. It subverts users’ needs in favor of Google’s. The company wants to fight Facebook with a uniform interface for its free suite of services—which also includes Gmail, Calendar, and Docs—that will encourage sharing of content on its newish social-networking product, Google+. But in making the whole Google product line visually consistent, the company has crippled one of its best offerings.

Seeing as Google doesn’t charge for its RSS reader I can’t complain much more than if a bar serving free beer suddenly switched from Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to Old Milwaukee. But to extend the metaphor, I don’t have to drink Google’s swill unless I want to.

You know where you can stick that Southern civility?

Jack Shafer
Nov 2, 2011 21:17 UTC

The last refuge of a bogus trend story is the claim that it “got people talking.”

If the author and editors of “A Last Bastion of Civility, the South, Sees Manners Decline” from today’s New York Times have adjourned to a coffee shop to eavesdrop on the conversation, I suspect they’re hearing what I’m thinking: Does that bold assertion come with evidence?

Here are a few examples from the  “growing portfolio” of behaviors the Times draws on to plot the decline of Southern manners.

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