[This review was originally posted at the Nieman Journalism Lab on Feb. 15, 2013.]
A well-funded apology
: Six months after he was caught fabricating material
and resigned from The New Yorker, disgraced science writer Jonah Lehrer gave his first public apology this week in the form of a speech at a Knight Foundation seminar
. You can see the full text of the speech here
, and Poynter's Andrew Beaujon summarized the scenario well
: Lehrer acknowledged his fabrication and plagiarism, apologized, and explained how he's going to try to rectify the problem in the future. That only served to make his detractors (which is, right now, everyone) even angrier.
Several critics were incredulous at Lehrer's assertion that a series of procedural safeguards would be enough to keep him from fabricating again. Forbes' Jeff Bercovici called them
"the methods of the technocrat, not the ethicist," and Slate's Daniel Engber said a set of procedures can't solve Lehrer's staggering arrogance
. Poynter's Craig Silverman delivered this point most forcefully
, arguing that his plan is built to stop unintentional error, not the deliberate deception that Lehrer won't come to grips with. "Until Lehrer is willing to face himself without props and aids, he’ll continue the pattern of self-deception and public deceit,"
Others had different concerns: Psychology professor Christopher Chabris said Lehrer's fabrication was tied to his fundamental misunderstanding of science
. Wired's David Dobbs asked
why he hasn't apologized to his colleagues, friends, and editors, while NYU grad student Rachel Feltman chastised Lehrer
for tarnishing journalism's (and especially science journalism's) public perception. British journalist Kevin Anderson spoke for many of his colleagues when he said Lehrer deserves to never work in journalism again
After the talk, one key detail emerged that intensified the anger against both Lehrer and Knight: The foundation paid Lehrer $20,000 to give the talk. Said Forbes' John McQuaid
, "Before today, I didn’t think you could prostitute a 'I throw myself on the mercy of the court of public opinion' statement. I was wrong." Amy Wallace of Los Angeles magazine wondered
how Lehrer's friends and advisors let him think taking money for a speech like this was a good idea. Taylor Dobbs of Scientific American (among others) challenged Lehrer
to donate the pay, and Lehrer wouldn't comment
to Forbes' Jeff Bercovici when asked about whether he would do so.
Of course, giving an admitted fabulist and plagiarist $20,000 for a 40-minute talk didn't reflect well on the Knight Foundation (full disclosure: they help fund the Lab), either. Gawker's Max Read castigated Knight for giving Lehrer the money
, and the Columbia Journalism Review's Curtis Brainard said he hopes news organizations have a higher standard of professional re-admission
for Lehrer than Knight did. Knight's CEO, Alberto Ibargüen, initially defended the foundation's decision to bring in and pay Lehrer to Michael Calderone
of The Huffington Post and Erik Wemple
of The Washington Post, but the foundation later said it regretted the decision
Patch and Nextdoor's hyperlocal strategies
: AOL made news a couple of times this week — once for buying the tech reviews site gdgt
, and once for a better-than-expected quarterly earnings report that sent its stock price shooting up and had paidContent's Jeff John Roberts praising its retooled ad strategy
. Business Insider's Henry Blodget pointed out
the bizarre ongoing source of AOL's profit: Its ostensibly antiquated dial-up business.
But the aspect of AOL's report that grabbed the attention of journalism watchers was the revenue figure for its hyperlocal news project, Patch. As Forbes' Jeff Bercovici reported
, Patch's approximately 900 sites brought in $34 million last year, less than AOL CEO Tim Armstrong had predicted. Armstrong attributed the shortfall partly to Hurricane Sandy and partly to an emphasis on cost-cutting as opposed to increasing ad sales. Ingrid Lunden of TechCrunch (also an AOL site) gave some more detail
about AOL's plans for deeper local advertising partnerships.
Entrepreneur Bernard Lunn explained
why the human-powered Patch experiment is so important to cracking the hyperlocal news nut, contrasting it with the recently departed EveryBlock. At the same time, a new entrant into the hyperlocal field — Nextdoor — made a splash this week by announcing it had enlisted renowned venture capital firm Greylock Partners
as an investor. As Fast Company
and The New York Times
explained, Nextdoor is a private (real names only) neighborhood-based social network that serves both a neighborhood watch and neighborhood Craigslist function.
Mathew Ingram of GigaOM contrasted Patch and Nextdoor's approaches
to community information, praising Nextdoor's high barriers to entry and its fundamentally social orientation. "Instead of starting with the news and then trying to add social-networking aspects later, Nextdoor started with the social networking side,"
Drones, secrecy, and self-censorship
: The debate over drone strikes came to the forefront in the U.S. late last week thanks in part to two media reports: The New York Times and Washington Post revealed the location
of a U.S. drone base in Yemen, and NBC's Michael Isikoff reported on a leaked memo
making a legal case for strikes against U.S. citizens. In the case of the former, the Times and Post had actually known about the base for more than a year, but had agreed to keep it secret for now.
In large part, both papers received not praise for breaking the story, but criticism for waiting so long. The Guardian explored some of the arguments
on both sides of the decision, quoting one j-prof who called the decision to withhold the information "shameful." The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald said this is part of a pattern of subservience and self-censorship
on the part of the media: "Time and again, one finds the US media acting to help suppress the newsworthy secrets of the US government rather than report on them." In addition, the Times' own public editor, Margaret Sullivan, concluded
that this case didn't clear the bar to justifying honor a government secrecy request.
The Times' David Carr was more sympathetic to the media
in the drone debate, arguing that it has served relatively well as a site of public discussion on the issue and that it's instead Congress that has been strangely unconcerned about the media's drone revelations. In making his case, Carr cited a new study
(PDF) by Harvard's Shorenstein Center about the media's drone coverage. Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, meanwhile, said the drone news showed the value of leaks
: There were several other stories to watch this week:
— The media conglomerate Time Warner was reported to be talking about selling
much of its Time Inc. magazine division — magazines like People and InStyle, but not Time, Sports Illustrated, or Fortune — to the magazine publisher Meredith
. Peter Kafka of All Things D noted
that Time Warner was talking about putting its magazines up for sale last year, and Quartz's Simone Foxman looked at what might be behind the sale
— A few paywall tidbits: The currently paywall-free Washington Post is polling its users
on various paywall options, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal dropped their paywalls
for last week's winter storm, the Times closed one of its easiest paywall loopholes
and announced good news
regarding its paywall numbers, and paidContent's Mathew Ingram proposed a few ideas for building paywalls around people
, rather than content.
— Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism profiled four small newspapers
around the country as success stories with new business-model experiments. Rick Edmonds
of Poynter, Jeff Bercovici
of Forbes, and Mathew Ingram
of paidContent all summarized the lessons for news organizations well.
— The Journalism Interactive
conference on journalism education and digital media was held last weekend, and you can find tons of helpful ideas and tips from it with Florida j-prof Mindy McAdams' Storify
and College Media Matters' Dan Reimold's comprehensive summary
— Finally, a few bits and pieces to check out: Breaking News' Cory Bergman argued
that the next big journalistic disruption is coming from mobile media, the Lab posted a fascinating interview
with outgoing New York Times assistant managing editor and new Reuters hire Jim Roberts, MSNBC's Ned Resnikoff explained
how class affects who gets into journalism and what we see as a result, and Iowa Ph.D. student Dave Schwartz proposed
a personalized breaking-news Twitter feed.