News releases are not news

News releases are not news. They might be newsworthy, and they might share information that can become news. But, in and of themselves, news releases are not news. They are a one-sided, unbalanced pitch originally intended for journalists who would, hopefully, create some news stories with them. In our modern communications era, they are used to spread information with a certain perspective to the public, as well, through websites and social media outlets.

It is abhorrent behavior then, for news outlets to take these news releases and print them verbatim on a news website. And yet, that’s exactly what happened recently with two outlets in Lansing — WILX TV 10 and the Lansing State Journal. They took a news release sent out by Sparrow Hospital and Hayes-Green Beach Memorial Hospital that explained a growing partnership between the two medical centers. The State Journal didn’t even bother to remove the sentence in the middle that announced a joint call for the media that day, including the passcode for the telephone press conference! The hospital actually had to change the passcode since the LSJ decided to announce it publicly through its latest veiled attempt at being a professional newspaper.

I do not fault Sparrow, Hayes-Green Beach or anyone involved in the public relations industry for what happened. It is their job to get the news distributed with as much of their information and perspective as possible. I’ve been in the journalism or PR business combined for more than 20 years. I’ve been on the receiving end and the sending end of news releases. I know how they are used and why they are used and have no complaints with that. I don’t even mind that we in the PR industry can now bypass the media and go straight to the public. I believe the public is smart enough to understand that what an organization is putting on its website is expected to be one sided. But are they savvy enough to figure that out when looking at a supposedly unbiased and objective news website? The problem is that as soon as that news release is posted to a legitimate news organization’s website, it’s no longer just a news release — it’s deceptive reporting.

WILX and the Lansing State Journal clearly shirked their duty to perform reliable, responsible journalism. The journalism industry is already suffering from a credibility gap, and acting as a shill for a public relations machine — either deliberately or through sheer laziness — is only expanding that gap.

Here are some screen shots of the news release, as well as the WILX and LSJ websites where it was posted:

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MLive may just breathe life back into journalism

When people have complained about print newspapers dwindling and everything moving online, I’ve written  about how news gathering matters much more than the form in which it’s delivered. I’ve also had my share of critical reviews of MLive, its recent merger with Booth Newspapers, and the entire concept of focusing too much on delivery of the news and not the gathering of it. I had a first-hand, behind the scenes look at the new MLive Media Group recently, though, and I have to admit that maybe I have been too quick to judge.

I still get frustrated with MLive’s website being too cluttered — some days it seems a testament to society’s insatiable appetite for information vs. knowledge, not to mention the wisdom needed to fully appreciate both. But if you spend some time with Dan Gaydou, publisher of the Grand Rapids Press and now president of  MLive Media Group, you can start to see the positive side of what that organization is trying to do for the journalism industry and its consumers.

During my tour of the new Grand Rapids MLive hub, which is being prepared for opening in February, I have to admit I found myself nodding in agreement with what Gaydou was preaching, and finding myself more excited about the future potential of journalism than I have been in years. Gaydou is a traditional newspaper guy but he has found a way to embrace the next generation of journalism. He still understands that what matters is community — how every story can be a local story because news readers can and should care about what’s happening across town, across the state and across the country because of its potential impact on their town. But he also sees the increasing use of technology in journalism as a method by which to gather and deliver that news faster and better, and not a collection of flashy toys that look impressive but don’t deliver on their full potential.

It’s not appropriate for me to share too much inside information with folks. After all, that is MLive’s news and I’ll let them be the first to share it. But I can tell you this: MLive is outfitting its reporters with some of the latest technology and providing workspaces that are tapping into technological resources many of us will be envious of regardless of our current industry or position.

MLive’s “hub” is under construction in Grand Rapids.

As a news consumer, I’m excited to see the technology and flexibility of bloggers married to the standards and ethics of professional journalists. As newspapers have struggled to survive, they have left a void filled by amateurs who, even when well-intentioned, often fall short in their ability to deliver quality news. Bloggers aren’t journalists, and not just because of a judge’s list on page nine of this 13-page ruling.

But journalists have suffered recently as their employers have scaled back, struggled to survive and refused to give them the resources they need to do their jobs well. I think that could change with the MLive news hubs. Journalists will be given the equipment and resources needed to be out in their communities gathering news, writing good stories and delivering them at an amazing pace. Hopefully, MLive Media Group will see that there is still a place in this world for well-researched, longer stories that deliver more than knowledge, they also help readers find wisdom. I heard a great line about the difference lately. “Knowledge is knowing tomatoes are a fruit, while wisdom is knowing not to put them in a fruit salad.”

The MLive Media Group is growing rapidly in several markets and has its eyes set on more. They are challenging the old way of thinking in journalism. Gaydou preaches that they are trying to find a way to deliver the best journalism they can in a way that allows them to connect with old and new audiences alike. If they truly practice what they preach at MLive Media Group, then we’re about to see something special happen.

Newspapers aren’t pizzas and journalists aren’t delivery boys

Journalism is a profession. It requires education on theories, training for practical application and experience to make you a well-rounded professional. It requires the ability to gather, share and explain news. It is about reporting news, not distributing it.

When I ask my students at Michigan State University what their main source of news is, many cite Twitter or Facebook. But these are not sources of news, they are sources of news distribution. So are YouTube, RSS feeds and blog posts with a bunch of links to press releases and news articles written by other journalists.

Seth Godin recently blogged about “lazy journalism,” and he makes some valid points. But I can’t blame journalists for this dearth of professional reporting, particularly in my old stomping grounds: newspapers. I blame the bean counters at newspapers and readers who are too cheap and fickle to support their local news organizations.

I wrote earlier this year about how “news” is more important than “paper,” because it is content that matters, not the distribution system. Since that post, which I wrote after the major MLive/Booth Newspapers merger in Michigan, I’ve seen experienced journalists dropping like flies. The Booth Capitol Bureau  lost a seasoned reporter who has not yet been replaced and may never be. The Grand Rapids Press lost two experienced newspapermen that I’ve worked with over the years and grown to trust for their talent and forthrightness. And today I learned a Kalamazoo Gazette reporter is leaving with no real idea of where they are headed next. They didn’t say it, but I think I can safely assume they are a victim of what MLive/Booth called an “investment in our digital future.” Newspaper reporters left behind on the beat are often inundated with spreadsheets from bosses about the number of hits on a news post, sometimes being directed to write about those numbers, as if that’s actually newsworthy.

Booth has dropped seasoned reporters and editors and consolidated editing functions to a centralized location instead of having local editors edit local copy. Gannett is throwing up its hands on trying to get out-of-control reader comments tamed by selling its readers down the Facebook river. And some of the “news” outlets that are now online have resorted to posting links from press releases to balance out stories rather than doing any investigative interviews of their own. This is happening nationwide, not just in Michigan.

Is it any wonder then that the 2011 list for the “year in media errors and corrections” has some real doozies in it?

At one point in my career, I was the editor for a weekly newspaper and we were the main competition for the local daily paper. Often, people don’t think weeklies can compete with dailies because of the delay in printing. But we focused on hard news stories just as much as the daily did — we simply took advantage of our extended deadline by digging into the story from a different angle or to a deeper level than the daily had the luxury of doing. We gave them a run for their money and every week I was proud to say that our little weekly newspaper was chock full of news that was of importance and interest to our readers.

The newspaper industry is missing a fantastic opportunity to fill a niche. Newspapers have always had a disadvantage when compared to TV, radio and, now, the Internet. Newspapers cannot be first to break a news story unless they’ve been working on an investigative piece quietly and launch an exclusive. But they have the advantage of an extended deadline. TV and radio have to meet a regular deadline (or several) every day. Newspapers have tried to emulate that deadline hell instead of focusing on what they should be doing:  getting a better story, a deeper story, a more compelling and interesting story than their broadcast brethren would ever have the time or space for.

Newspaper journalists need to focus on doing a better job of keeping their profession professional. Give us the stories we need. Give us the details we can’t find on TV or in a tweet. Give us the fair, accurate reporting that often is lacking in opinion-laden blog posts. Give us what we want, even though we may not yet know that we want it. Steve Jobs created an empire at Apple by doing that with tech gadgets. Imagine what newspaper journalists could do if they applied the same philosophy to the intellectual pursuit of real news instead of the packdog-driven drivel they’re forced to heap upon us.

“30 minutes or less” is a fine mantra for pizza delivery, but newspapers aren’t pizzas and journalists aren’t delivery boys.

“News” is more important than “paper”

There is a lot of discussion going on at the moment about the bombshell Booth Newspapers dropped today regarding its move to “invest in its digital future,” which is a pleasant way to say they are scaling back on print editions and employees. If you follow the link I put in above, you’ll be able to read the letter with the company’s spin on this announcement. If you want to know the basic facts of what’s actually happening and what it really means to you as a reader or subscriber, then you should jump straight to the company’s FAQ.

My Twitter and Facebook feed exploded with this news and potential fallout from it, with comments discussing the entire universe of what this announcement means. Some folks are worried about their friends and colleagues who work at Booth-owned newspapers. Others are declaring that they saw this coming and it was only a matter of time until the news chain went primarily to online distribution. And still others are pointing to this announcement as the continuing death of newspapers.

They are all somewhat right, and yet they all may be wrong just a bit, too.

As a former newspaper reporter, I can attest to the fact that for generations it has always been the newsroom and the reporting staff that gets cut first when the budget axe is wielded. So, people are right to be concerned about folks losing their jobs — Booth even admitted that layoffs are possible if people can’t find a proper fit within the new organization. Those who remain will be referred to as “content producers,” which is to say they are the ones who learned to adapt to a rapidly changing world in ways that allowed them to marry their experience with technological abilities.

Those who are suggesting that we all should have seen this coming may be right — after all, the newspaper industry has from the beginning bungled its use of the Internet at the expense of its print products. There is little indication that anyone has learned how to correct the initial blunder of offering news content for free online but only via payment for hard copies. I don’t see that changing, so I suppose my kids will be using something else to line birdcages with some day.

Despite my nostalgic fondness for the smell of newsprint and the ink smeared on my fingers, I’d have to say that it is those suggesting the death of newspapers who are most inaccurate in their assumption. It is not the death of newspapers that should concern us, it’s the death of news gathering. Paper is, after all, just a form of delivery. There is some truth to the notion that you tend to stumble upon news more when reading a print edition than an online edition, but our habits will adjust over time. If the news is gathered properly, completely, and accurately, does it really matter what form it’s delivered to us in?

The biggest issue surrounding this announcement is what this new MLive Media Group will mean for the “content producers.” Will they be given enough resources — meaning equipment and fellow employees — to actually do some real reporting? Or will they be hamstrung by resources, forced to regurgitate press releases and become aggregators of what other people are doing and saying, often without the burden of journalistic standards and integrity?

This story is just breaking and it’s far from over since we won’t know what the real impact will be for some months to come. In the meantime, I hope it all turns out well for the company, its employees and its customers. In the world of journalism, “news” is more important than “paper.” If we’d all stop losing sight of that fact, we might just become the consumers that these organizations need to know exist — people who want accurate, complete news and not a bunch of regurgitated hearsay made pretty with blue links and shaky video.

Legacies don’t stand a chance in a judgmental and unforgiving society

President Obama gave Helen Thomas cupcakes for her 89th birthday in 2009. Earlier this month, he called her comments on Israel and Palestine "offensive" and "out of line."

It used to be that a person’s legacy stood for something. But in today’s era of instant communication, instant sharing and instant judging, the power of a solid reputation or a history of greatness means very little.

Take Helen Thomas for example. A veritable institution in political news coverage, Thomas began her rise to White House fame by covering President-Elect John F. Kennedy in 1960.

According to Wikipedia:

Thomas has received numerous awards throughout her career and more than 30 honorary degrees. In 1976, Thomas was named one of the World Almanac’s 25 Most Influential Women in America. Thomas received an Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media from the Freedom Forum in 1991. The White House Correspondent’s Association honored her in 1998 by establishing the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2000, her alma mater, Wayne State University, established an award for journalists in her honor, the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity award. In 2007, Thomas received a Foremother Award from the National Research Center for Women & Families.

There are few who would argue against the concept that Helen Thomas paved the way for women to be respected as professional journalists. She is an institution among all journalists, male and female, when you consider something else Wikipedia points out: “Thomas was the only member of the White House Press Corps to have her own seat in the White House Briefing Room. All other seats are assigned to media outlets.”

I had a brief discussion on a colleague’s Facebook page about Thomas the other day, which you can see here:

It is interesting that a bastion of old-school journalism has been taken down by modern online “reporting” of a citizen with a Flip-style video. More important than how it happened, however, is why it happened. Again, without debating the merits of what Thomas said about Israel and Palestine, did the fact that she shared a fiery opinion negate everything she has done for journalism and women for more than half a century?

Have we become that judgmental and unforgiving? I’d like to hear your thoughts and all opinions are welcome here. I may not agree with your comment, but I promise not to judge you for it!

(Thomas/Obama photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

This is CNN…unfortunately

Those of us who remember when the fledgling Cable News Network began its run also probably can still hear the deep voice of James Earl Jones saying, “This is CNN…” on their promos.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I always thought a 24-hour news station would provide endless possibilities for news coverage — investigative, in-depth and insightful. Too bad we don’t have a 24 hour news cycle that meets those criteria. Instead, in the United States at least, we have just a few hours of news repeated multiple times and opinionated hatefests scattered across the networks to fill time and sell advertising.

CNN certainly isn’t the only network blowing a wasted opportunity to actually serve the public good and take the journalism industry’s credibility and importance to new heights. Back in the 1980s, as cable TV opened our eyes to the potential of 24 hours of news coverage, we still had no clue what today’s mobile, instant-access technology would be capable of delivering. But CNN, FOX, MSNBC and, sadly, even some local TV news outlets, have squandered it all in the name of expediency over accuracy and titillation over veracity.

This age of Internet-based news outlets isn’t helping, as people have come to rely on blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates for their “news.” Well, here’s a newsflash: the ability to type or speak into a TV microphone does not make  you a journalist. It’s unfortunate that people aren’t holding journalists to a higher standard of professionalism. Even CNN’s foray into social media is failing us. They used the all-powerful Twitter feed yesterday to put out “breaking news” that Sandra Bullock was getting a divorce. If society is ever to trust the Fourth Estate again, they need to believe that they are being given information that is as unbiased and fair as possible. That means the politically driven agendas need to stop. That means “professional journalist” needs to reference someone trained and experienced in digging through the propaganda of news releases to find the real story, and having the resources and the chutzpah to write the stories that need to be written.

I stumbled upon a site the other day via Twitter called WTFCNN.com. It’s exactly what you’d think — a site dedicated to pointing out how ridiculous CNN’s online front page has become when compared with other news sites in the U.S. and around the world. The welcome screen explains it best:

Dear CNN,

We know you think this is what we want, but it’s not. We don’t care what random Tweeters think about a news story, how many holograms you have in your Situation Room, or even the latest celebrity gossip. We care about our world. Instead of using your resources to do the journalism that gives us a better understanding of this world — we get the front page of CNN.com. Why do we have to look enviously at the front page of Al-Jazeera English for a better sampling of important news stories at any given time?

The site has a split screen, with CNN on the top and a site of your choice at the bottom, ranging from NPR in the United States, to the BBC in the United Kingdom and Al-Jazeera (in English) from Qatar. You can also check out a similar comparison of FOX News with these sites.

I’ve found myself tuning into the BBC via Sirius Radio lately when I want real news. I still have a preset for CNN and FOX on my radio, but I almost always scan past it because of content that is insulting, annoying or simply pointless. Recently, I was flipping between the three stations to do a quick comparison of stories at that moment. I found FOX going in-depth into Larry King’s eighth divorce and CNN analyzing the reaction of Tiger Woods’ wife to the Nike commercial starring his dead father. Then I switched to the BBC and found myself drawn into a report about China’s economy and growing concerns over the growth of its Gross Domestic Product and the potential for a Chinese recession.

Certainly, not every news outlet will always get it right. And the folks at CNN and FOX will probably argue that they are giving the people what they want. Well, I’m one of those people, and I don’t think they are. I also don’t believe I’m alone. Not everyone will care about China’s economic issues, even though they probably should because of the impact it could have on their lives. But wouldn’t it be nice to hit a story like that, decide it’s not something you’re interested in, and be able to flip to another important news story at another news outlet? Wouldn’t it be great if there were more outlets delivering news that matters and not the pop culture drivel and political propaganda being spewed by “experts” and “consultants” who are nothing more than hired guns?

What do you think? Will the major U.S. news networks start to deliver news again? Or am I just old-fashioned, longing for the days when important, accurate stories were being told to us by professional journalists we could trust?

(CNN logo photo courtesy of Alan Stoddard’s Flickr stream.)

No matter how hard managers stir, “communications” still isn’t a bucket

A recent column and blog post have created a dust-up over whether journalists should be hired to do public relations. It all started with a column by Jill Geisler at Poynter.org listing the 10 reasons why journalists could help public relations operations. That led to a post by Kathryn Hubbell at the Public Relations Society of America’s blog citing frustration in some parts of the PR profession with journalists invading the PR territory.

The comments at the PRSA blog turned nasty rather quickly, suggesting that Hubbell’s piece was inappropriate, short-sighted and, for some, insulting. I was bothered by the post, too, because it seemed to attack the path I had taken in my career. I was a newspaper journalist — first a reporter, then an editor — before jumping over to the public relations side of the business. I’ve always valued my media background, and so have my employers and clients. Journalists are trained to recognize a good story, write it well and explain it in easy-to-understand terms. Still, there’s more to public relations than that. There’s research, strategy and myriad other components involved in being a good PR counselor.

At first I was going to respond to the PRSA post talking about how off-base Ms. Hubbell was, but then the slew of comments that ensued took care of that for me. And as I watched those comments unfold, my opinion that some PR people are just snooty about their profession and want to defend it from outsiders changed. I came to realize that we’re all a bit like that, whether we specialize in journalism, public relations, marketing, advertising or any other form of communications. We hold our specific training and talents sacred — and rightly so.

The problem now seems to be that economic conditions have led to management teams losing sight of the fact that “communications” is not a bucket into which you can just stir in bits and pieces of professions and watch great products emerge. Journalists and their counterparts in the other various communications fields each have something to bring to the table. Unfortunately, we’ve reached an era where management is looking solely at the bottom line, hoping that by combining public relations, marketing and advertising into one discipline, with half the positions previously considered necessary, they have a winning managerial decision on their hands.

But the reality is all they’ve created is an inefficient and ineffective mess. Here’s a newsflash for those number-crunching CEOs: the people trained in those disciplines get upset when they’re told anyone can do their job, and so they should. Too many CEOs and vice presidents seem to believe that if you’re a journalist, of course you can do public relations. If you can do public relations, of course you can do marketing. And how hard can advertising really be, so why can’t the PR people or marketing staff take care of it? Oh, and internal communications — well, anyone can drop some cute stories into a company newsletter, right?

I’m a former journalist who now does public relations. The leap can be made. There are plenty of people who can be trained to cover more than one discipline. But it takes years of training, experience or both to make that transition and reach a point where you are comfortable saying, “Yeah, I can do more than one job for you.” But even then, it doesn’t mean you want to or that you should have to.

The company managers trying to figure out how to handle media relations, public relations, marketing, advertising and internal communications need to get a grip on reality. They should stop trying to save money by forcing people to work outside their disciplines, and then holding them accountable when they don’t get the biggest bang for the buck.

As I was thinking about this over the past few days while contemplating this blog post, I remembered a great lesson on figuring out the difference between several of the communication arts disciplines. It goes like this:

If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday’, that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed and it makes the nightly news, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it in the news story, THAT’s public relations.”

Maybe those of us involved in communications should begin communicating more with our managers, starting with delivering a copy of that story.

(Image courtesy of Jake Khrone’s Flickr feed.)

Love it or hate it, Journalism 2.0 is amazing

Lots of folks are familiar with the term “Web 2.0,” which refers to the interactive Internet so many of us have come to appreciate and rely upon. In the past couple of weeks I’ve had experiences leading me to the realization that as a former journalist, I’m envious of the reporters who now get to practice their trade in this era of what some are calling “Journalism 2.0.” (Mark Briggs even has a blog by that name that is a running conversation about journalism and technology.)

What got me started down this recent path was writing a piece for Dome magazine about changes occurring in the Lansing, Mich. radio market, including a new Internet-only radio station. That led to a guest appearance on a local radio talk show. During the interview, the host and I were chuckling about how we were discussing changes in radio based on an article I wrote for a magazine — but one that is only published online now. That was interesting experience number one.

The second came when I was contacted by a journalist who is working on a story for a local print magazine that features my wife Jessi. There’s a reference to me in the article, so the reporter contacted me to find out my title at the company I work for. What struck me about the outreach was that it was via Twitter, and the reporter saying, “I tweeted my question because I’m on deadline.”

Of course the reporter, Louise Knott Ahern, also found amusement in my reply, which is that I would probably end up blogging about her tweeting because she’s on deadline. She replied: “I like that your response is that you feel a blog post coming on. Times changing, indeed.” Louise should know. One of the daily papers she’s written for has been shedding reporting staff lately faster than one can say, “I already read this online.”

The third event that triggered this post was writing an article for Ragan.com about cross-posting on social media. The piece’s readership picked up steam when it was shared a lot on Twitter, but it truly came to life when people starting posting thoughtful and thought-provoking comments on it.

I even added a comment to the article:

One of the things I value as an online journalist vs. when I was a print journalist is all the great discussions that can spring from the original article. This is another great example. Thanks for all the comments and allowing us all to learn from every one of you.

I come from an era of journalism that isn’t really that far removed from the present, at least in terms of years. It was the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was putting pen to paper, furiously jotting down notes, statistics and lively quotes to inform and entertain readers.

It’s amazing to think how much has changed in 20 years. I’m not just talking about the technology, although that certainly plays a pivotal role in what has happened. I’m referring to the engagement with the audience that journalists today both enjoy and, probably, revile.

News reports now have an opportunity to become living, breathing entities, fueled by the insightfulness and, unfortunately, the thoughtlessness, delivered by the readers and viewers. These “flame wars” are best illustrated by a comical piece on YouTube involving Beaker from the Muppets.

So, certainly, there is a negative side to allowing comments. And the strain of a constant deadline brought about by a Web-based beast that is perpetually hungry for information is a tough one for some journalists to stomach.

Still, there’s no question that Journalism 2.0 should be embraced and revered. I often long for my days as a full-time newspaper reporter. But, lately, I can’t help but feel sorry for that former journalist who never had a chance to practice his trade the way he could now.

I wonder if the journalism students of today appreciate what they have available to them in their future careers? And, as the name of this blog says, “Here comes later,” so I hope they’re ready for it. Are you?

Mr. Publisher, rebuild that wall!

The news is spreading about the Dallas Morning News memo to its employees explaining how the editors of various sections will now report to sales managers, who are being renamed general managers. Robert Wilonsky does a great job in this blog post detailing how the issue started and even has interviews with the paper’s editor and publisher.

As a former journalist, the concept of having editorial content people reporting to advertising people gives me the shivers. When I posted the original story to Twitter the other day, I commented, “I weep for the future.” My comment was predicated on the one made to me by Becky Johns when she sent me the post with the note, “Read and weep.”

There has always been an invisible wall — and sometimes a physical barrier — between the editorial and advertising departments at newspapers. It’s been there as a protective barrier for employees on both sides, as well as their customers — the readers on one side and advertisers on the other. Journalistic integrity and credibility are two of the pillars that have kept journalism strong in this country. They have helped readers trust that what they are reading is not tainted by bias. It also has kept advertisers confident in the paper’s power to attract an audience that will, in turn, see their ads.

Certainly, advertising is an incredibly important part of any newspaper, because it is, after all, a business. Advertising revenue is what drives the newsroom budget and determines the size of the paper’s news hole. But I’ve always seen advertising as a necessary evil and certainly nothing that should be embraced by the editorial staff.

I found the following two things the most interesting:

  1. The publisher was most bothered by the line, “In short, those who sell ads for A.H. Belo’s products will now dictate content within A.H. Belo’s products…” that was in Wilonsky’s original post.
  2. The publisher’s comment that, “This is much ado about nothing…”

It seems to me that the publisher is bristling at the idea that editorial staff will be affected by what their new managers — remember they used to be called sales managers — is because Wilonsky cut a little too close to the bone. I don’t know how anyone can see this as anything but editorial reporting to sales.

I also can’t believe the publisher suggested people are over-reacting to this news and we’re supposed to believe nothing is going to change in terms of the editorial decisions the paper makes. Really? If nothing is going to change, then why reorganize? The paper’s management claims it’s going to help make things more audience-focused. But, their memo to employees clearly states, “Their (general managers) responsibilities will include sales and business development. They will also be working closely with news leadership in product and content development.”

You cannot have a manager in charge of sales and not expect them to try to influence the news when working with leadership on “product and content development.”

It’s been called a bold idea, but bold doesn’t always mean good. In this case, it’s a bad idea that needs to be abandoned before it can do any real damage. Mr. Publisher, rebuild that wall!

(Wall photo courtesy of frankartculinary via Flickr.)

Get the opinionated commentators on their own network

reportersnotebookI’ve always dreaded the day I would turn into the guy that said, “Back in my day…” But, alas, it’s finally happened. I can’t take it anymore. The sullying of the news industry is moving at a breakneck pace and something has to change.

So, as I was saying, back in my day when I was a newspaper reporter, it was vitally important that no one knew my personal opinion on anything. I never discussed religion or politics with anyone unless it was to get their comment for a story. I didn’t profess an opinion on much of anything and while most people probably didn’t realize I was consciously doing this, I bet that if you had asked them where I stood on an issue, they would have been hard-pressed to figure it out.

That was all a part of my attempt to remain as objective as possible when reporting on a story. But, more importantly, it was a way for me to eliminate any perceived conflicts with sources. I didn’t ever want someone thinking they wouldn’t get fair treatment in one of my stories because I was biased in some way against them or their issue.

It’s too bad the current cable television news channels don’t practice this division between fact and opinion. Ask people why they watch CNN, Fox or MSNBC, and it will probably be because they think the networks they don’t watch are too biased to the left or right.

It’s also no wonder that this happens though, when you consider that the line between news and commentary is blurred regularly on all of the networks. Too often, the morning “news” shows are full of opinionated comments from the hosts about the news they are covering. Throughout the evening, the “news” networks are filled with shows based on personalities known more for their vitriolic tirades than their commitment to sharing fact-based news with their viewers.

I’m not suggesting there isn’t a place for opinion-based commentary on TV. After all, newspaper columnists and radio talk show hosts have been informing and entertaining people for many years. But newspaper publishers, radio station owners and even local TV news outlets have traditionally done a better job with drawing a distinctive line between what is news and what is opinion. On the cable TV networks, however, this line is blurred.

That’s why it’s time to get the opinionated commentators on their own network. Call it CNN-Commentary or Fox Opinion — but get it off the news stations. If we don’t get the opinion out of the news broadcasts on TV, we are going to continue to see the erosion of the journalism industry as a whole.

Get the opinions out of the news and you’ll soon see credibility working its way back in. It’s not too late — is it?

(Image courtesy of Knight Science Journalism Tracker)