This week in media musings: Obama v. Fox News, and NPR’s social media tact
As Jay Rosen surmised after my last Media Musings, this review is largely curated from Twitter, with some RSS thrown in there to catch anything I might have missed. But because I’ve been out on the road and mostly off the grid for the last week, I decided to catch up via RSS, rather than trying to drink from the firehose that is a week’s worth of unread Twitter streams.
Consequently, this review may end up a bit narrower in its sourcing than usual, but I still hope to touch all the primary bases. (Explanation is here.)
— The Obama administration and Fox News have never been on particularly good terms, but this week the proverbial gloves came off. White House communications director Anita Dunn blasted the channel as “a wing of the Republican party” on CNN last Sunday, then told The New York Times the same day, “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent.” I’ll spare you the White House’s list of grievances — most of these links have a good overview — and focus instead on the administration’s decision to publicly go after a single political news outlet.
First, I believe this is something unprecedented. Yes, it’s reminding a lot of people of Nixon-Agnew and their “nattering nabobs of negativism,” but keep in mind that that remark was directed at the entire mainstream political press, not a single outlet. And of course, we’ve long seen presidential press secretaries and other top political officials have their feuds with individual reporters and publications, but those have mostly played out either in private or for an inside-baseball audience. Journalism historians can correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first time I’ve heard of an administration saying on national TV it will henceforth treat a major national news outlet as a political opponent.
So is the White House’s offensive a good idea? Probably not, although it’s probably going to accelerate Fox News’ move into a very strange spot on the political media spectrum: An advocacy/political niche outlet with a “mainstream media” audience. On the one hand, Chris Rovsar’s analysis in New York’s Daily Intel is spot-on — Obama is feeding an already galvanizing opposition’s caricature of himself with fresh material. And as the Times’ David Carr notes and Fox News counters in its own “news article” about the blowup (brilliantly skewered by Slate’s Jacob Weisberg), this move does make the administration appear petty and sensitive, as if it’s still in campaign mode.
Naturally, liberal media critics like Media Matters and The Nation are overjoyed at the White House’s aggressiveness, and in this case, there’s a legitimate reason. Those outlets have long seen Fox News with a “one of these things is not like the other” sensibility in relation to the rest of the mainstream political press, and they’re right. While the size of Fox’s audience may lead the public to believe it’s a mainstream press outlet, it’s clearly not — and that’s not because it tilts conservative. It’s because, as Weisberg points out a bit more calmly than Media Matters, Fox’s newsroom ethos is steadily being revealed as fundamentally different from the others. That ethos is about providing a central gathering point to inform and rally a political movement.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course; it’s just not what the rest of the mainstream political press does. It’s advocacy journalism, and the administration’s now-open war on Fox News will hasten the time when most of the American public recognizes that fact and evaluates Fox News within that framework. That may come too late to benefit Obama, but in terms of simply seeing things for what they are, it’s good for all of us.
— NPR released its new social media guidelines, and the takeaway is pretty similar to the Washington Post’s, released a week or two earlier: Don’t compromise our news organization’s objectivity, and don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say in print or on air. Yet while the Post’s guidelines got killed online, NPR’s got a positive, though quiet, response.
That disparity is a bit unfair to the Post — after all, the net results between the two are about the same — but it’s instructive in the importance of tone. NPR’s tone was softer, more conciliatory, where the Post’s was more stilted and frightened. Michele McLellan’s analysis of “leadership code words” is a little inane — come on, the Post used the word “valuable” in its second sentence, too — but as Steve Buttry noted, NPR’s implicit message was clear, and it was right on: Use common sense, folks. We trust you to do that.
— This happened two weeks ago now, but ignoring it for that reason would feel like a dereliction of duty: The FTC posted new guidelines requiring bloggers reviewing products or services to disclose if they got them for free. Suffice it to say, Jeff Jarvis hates the new rule. So does Slate’s Jack Shafer. If you want to go deeper, Edward Champion has an interview with the FTC’s Richard Cleland, and MediaShift’s Mark Glaser (Jarvis’ sparring partner on Twitter) has all the links you’ll need.
— Also pretty old news, but worth noting: Rupert Murdoch and the Associated Press’ Tom Curley fired their latest shot against search engines and, I don’t know, the internet, at a summit in Beijing. This is almost too easy for Jeff Jarvis, who dismantles their assertions with a lesson on the collaboration economy. Suw Charman-Anderson also has fun with the contradictions between what they’re saying now and what they’ve said in the past. Meanwhile, thanks to the Nieman Journalism Lab’s relentless Zachary Seward, we get some clarification and much smarter stuff from Curley. (Short version/full version.)
— A few nice conference overviews: Poynter’s Steve Myers and the Knight Digital Media Center’s Jacqui Banaszynski on the trends at the Online News Association’s conference, and MediaShift’s Chris O’Brien on nonprofit news from the UC-Berkeley Media Technology Summit.
— This week in depressing media statistics: Poynter’s Rick Edmonds crunches the numbers and estimates that newspapers are spending $1.6 billion less on news gathering each year.
— Finally, Steve Buttry says it’s time for journalists to re-evaluate their impression and use of Wikipedia. (He’s absolutely right.) And former Baltimore Sun copy chief John McIntyre has another remarkably simple reason that newspapers are failing: They’re a bastion of really crappy writing. I suppose Occam’s razor makes sense applied to newspapers.
- This week in media musings: Piling on the Post’s new social media guidelines
- This week in media musings: A full reboot for news, and a rude run-in over paywalls
- This week in media musings: Advocacy journalism’s (bogus) failings and more paywall options
- This week in media musings: Tablet madness, and ideas for Sunday talk shows
19. October 2009 by Mark
Categories: political journalism, this week | Tags: advocacy journalism, associated press, bias, fox news, jeff jarvis, npr, obama, political journalism, rupert murdoch, social media, washington post | 5 comments