Simple look at ethics loophole

Study highlights check-splitting in Va. gift reporting – The Washington Post.

This Washington Post story examines a legal practice that splits the cost of a gift from a lobbyist to an elected official. The cost of an expensive dinner divided by nine clients that the lobbyist represents becomes a cost below the $50 reporting threshold in Virginia. Some say “splitting the check in that way undermines the spirit of disclosure rules.”

The story uses real examples and on-the-record sources to examine the procedure. The story is a nice model of public-affairs reporting.


People will pay for content — consider cable TV

College Football’s Most Dominant Player? It’s ESPN —

The New York Times looks today at the influence ESPN has in college football — scheduling and the inspiration of conference realignments.

But this story illustrates a wider point. People will pay for content. But do people think of that cable subscription as part of their entertainment budgets or their budgets for news and information? (As if we Americans follow budgets!)

Can journalists figure out how to encourage people to pay for news in the way they pay for cable tv premium channels? There’s a lot of money out there:

Today, nearly 100 million households pay about $5.54 a month for ESPN, regardless of whether the subscribers watch it or not, whether they realize it or not. This year, ESPN will take in more than $6 billion in subscriber fees. Today, nearly 100 million households pay about $5.54 a month for ESPN, regardless of whether the subscribers watch it or not, whether they realize it or not. This year, ESPN will take in more than $6 billion in subscriber fees.

That’s a lot of money. The story points out what goes on within college football to get some of that money. But I still think the wider questions remain: What will people pay for, and why?


N.F.L. Pressure Said to Lead ESPN to Quit Film Project –

N.F.L. Pressure Said to Lead ESPN to Quit Film Project —

The Post sale gave a chance to understand a bit more about the business of journalism. Today’s New York Times story is another. Journalism values independence from sources. Disney owns ESPN. The NFL contract pays the bills by attracting advertisers and audience. But this brain-injury reporting stretches allegiances.

Brief history of news business profits

The Post, the sale and the news business – The Washington Post

People ask me about what will become of journalism. (It will endure or the democracy crumbles, I reply.) In reflecting on the sale of The Washington Post, long-time newsman Walter Pincus gives a condensed history of news profits. (See the link above.)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has bought the paper, much like the wealthy Eugene Meyer bought it in 1933. Meyer didn’t see a profit for 20 years. Pincus explains:

Like most owners of local U.S. newspapers, Meyer was already successful and never saw newspaper ownership as a money-maker. Instead, as [Philip] Graham put it, the family thought of the newspaper as a public utility and if it ever made as much as 7 percent on its gross income, it would be deemed a success.

Then the acquisition of television and radio stations and the conglomeration of media companies into chains sent profits to the 25 percent range and family companies went public and were beholden to stockholders rather than only rich families.

Now the publicly held Post has sold once again to a rich man, and maybe he’ll see the news organization as a public good. Journalism’s duty is to tell the truth and serve the public. We often fail. But as we go, so goes the democracy.

Pincus’ column is worth reading for the history in the first take, but the second half bears a debatable supermarket metaphor and is weak on the past decade. Pincus has been at the Post more than 50 years. He’s seen plenty.

New York Times runs two corrections on college-age drinking story

Verification was our topic in “Introduction to Journalism” this week at the University of Illinois. I told the students about a situation a former student had in which a person in line at a Campustown bar assumed another student’s name when he identified himself to her. After the story appeared on local television, the family of the “name”  demanded an apology — and got one.

Most reporters don’t ask for a photo I.D. when interviewing people out in public. Maybe we should. The New York Times appears to have been badly stung — unverifiable names and a misspelling all in the same story. Here’s the link: For College Students, Social Media Tops the Bar Scene –

Don’t let digital dissemination discussion blind you to how the culture of news gathering has changed

We know people read in various media. And we know journalists are in a bit of a panic about how to get paid to produce either short- or long-form pieces. New York Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati’s recent speech focuses on that and even tells the cost to produce a New York Times Magazine cover story ($40,000 and up). I was intrigued by the glimpse at marketing the stories (early release to get the bloggers going in order to drive traffic to both the online and print versions). And while we hear so much emphasis on how online dissemination changes things, Marzorati describes also how the culture of news gathering has changed. Access to public figures is managed and tight. So writers now give us “ordinary people” stories, and stories of health and science. When we focus only on digital transmission, we forget that we operate in a culture that also helps form the news agenda. As editors, we must weigh our total environment. You’ll find the entire speech worth reading. I did.