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2 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:41 pm

Palin’s Vetting — Breaking


WaPo is reporting that intensive vetting of Sarah Palin did not begin until last Wednesday:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was not subjected to a lengthy in-person background interview with the head of Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential vetting team until last Wednesday in Arizona, the day before McCain asked her to be his running mate, and she did not disclose the fact that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant until that meeting, two knowledgeable McCain officials acknowledged Tuesday.

The pressure on Palin to give a good speech tomorrow just went up another notch.  And the questions about McCain’s decision-making process is going to garner even greater scrutiny.

| posted in politics | 0 Comments

27 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 pm

Isn’t That Your Job, WaPo?


So Dahlia Lithwick of Slate had a piece in The Washington Postdated’s Outlook section today called “Light Reading for the Paranoid.” Contrary to expectations, it was not about conspiracy theories but rather the Bush Administration’s counter-terrorism policies, particularly Guantanamo.  I’m not  exactly sure why we should be paranoid about Guantanamo — angry, disgusted, outraged, sure — but paranoid?  Is Lithwick worried about being sent there?

In any case, her list of suggested books, blogs, and newspapers is a pretty comprehensive.  But I did find one paragraph rather odd:

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in foreign policy, media | 1 Comment

22 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:00 pm

Pathetic News Day


No, not in the real world, but in The Washington Post.  I’ve commented before on how the Post has gone from must-read to afterthought in my news consumption habits.  Today’s print edition is a particularly egregious example of why that is the case.

Here’s a rough guesstimate of the number of column inches devoted to some major stories in the Post today: Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in media | 0 Comments

19 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:34 pm

More on “The 300″ and Obama’s Experience


So I’ve gotten some interesting feedback, mainly via email, about last night’s post on The 300.  My good friend Steve Clemons at The Washington Note, agrees with me that the Times piece is a misfire. Not sure I agree with him, however, that Obama is “colonizing” the DC foreign policy community.  If he were, I doubt he would have only 300 folks in the network.  Or consciously exclude people like Richard Holbrooke and Zbigniew Brzezinski even if the former is Tony Lake’s rival and the latter has some outside-the-mainstream ideas on Middle East peace.

I know that to some of you, this may seem like little more than inside baseball.  Who really cares how many people are advising Obama?  Shouldn’t it matter more what kind of advice he’s getting?  To which I can only offer one response:

Exactly.

But the problem is that the mainstream media — and to a lesser degree some of my friends in the blogosphere — seem determined to portray Obama as “inexperienced” on foreign policy.  Just today, The Washington Post has a front page story with the following headline and sub-head:

Obama Going Abroad with World Watching
Foreign Policy Credentials Are At Stake

Huh?  Obama’s future credibility will be determined by what he does on a single week-long trip to Europe and the Middle East?  A trip that doesn’t include China, India, Japan, Latin America, Africa, or a whole bunch of other important places?  A trip that his opponent kept criticizing him for not taking until he started criticizing him for taking it?

Let’s acknowledge the reality here.  The trip is window-dressing.  Yes, it is designed to show Americans that Obama knows something about foreign policy.  But the only reason it’s getting this kind of coverage is that it’s late July and the media doesn’t have anything better to do than speculate on whether Obama’s entire candidacy will hinge on a few photo-ops.

The real story here is that the media continue to embrace a deeply corrosive — and oh yeah, completely wrong — meme that is, after all, little more than a a set of McCain campaign talking points.  “Obama is over his head.” “Obama doesn’t have the experience to be commander in chief.”  “Obama doesn’t know anything about foreign policy.”  “Obama is a rookie and we can’t have a rookie in charge right now.” “Obama is very very scaaaaary.”

What utter nonsense.  On issue after issue — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and more — Obama has taken positions that have proven to be far more sensible and realistic than those taken by either McCain or Bush.  He is more thoughtful, more realistic, more pragmatic, and perhaps most importantly, more often right than John McCain.  The only thing he isn’t is more experienced.

But if “experience” were the only prerequisite for the presidency, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney (ARGH! MY EYES!), Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson would be our candidates.

So instead of asking who is more experienced, maybe the media should ask who has the better ideas.  Maybe they should look at who has been more adaptive in responding to changing conditions on the ground.  And maybe they should stop mislabeling flexibility as flip-flops.

Nah.  That would require reporters to think.  Wouldn’t want that.  Making stuff up is a lot more fun.

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics | 2 Comments

16 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:27 am

Done Well & Done Right: Four Sites Worth Your Time


Last week, I blogged about The Washington Post’s utter incomprehension of new media.  In the spirit of not just criticizing but actually offering constructive solutions, I wanted to suggest four news sites worth checking every day.

1.  The New York Times — still the best site by a major paper.  Strengths:  It treats its front page as a constantly evolving version of its print edition, and does a great job of balancing reporting and blogging (it is the only major paper I know of that keeps a rotating list of its blogs in a prominent place on the main page).  Its blogs actually break news.  Drawbacks:  it still doesn’t quite “get” video, and its “most popular” box is too far down the page.  It’s ad-heavy, which I guess is to be expected, but the pop-ups, banners, and min-ads before video can get pretty annoying.

2.  McClatchey — probably the best example of a major media company (they own dozens of papers) “getting” new media.  Strengths:  Great layout, strong integration of news feeds and blogs by foreign correspondents (some of which rank among my favorites anywhere).  Prominent attention to feature stories.  Able to integrate best work from newspapers all over the country.  No ads.  Drawbacks:  Not many.  Major stories only rotate once a day, like a print edition.  Site is a bit text-heavy, but I like it.  Reporters get bylines only if they have the lead story.

3.  The Washington Independent (and affiliates) — a brand new effort by the Center for Independent Media to publish an online “newspaper” to compete with old media giants. CIM has established similar “papers” (all with Independent in the title) in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico (do I sense a swing state trend here?).   Strengths:  Some really good reporters, particularly Spencer Ackerman (who may be the best blogporter in the industry) and Sridhar Pappu.  Young, scrappy, hungry — they’re already providing some of the best coverage of key stories like the SOFA controversy. No ads. Drawbacks: They’re still learning their way.  Reporting sometimes involves commenting on other people’s stories as opposed to new content (as if I’m one to talk).  Small, so their coverage tends to focus on a few (albeit important) stories.  Their layout is getting better, but it’s still a little clunky.

4.  ProPublica — another new kid on the block, but one with the pockets to have a real impact.  Founded in order to fill a growing gap in print media’s investigative reporting capabilities.  Strengths:  They’ve drawn some top-flight talent and given them the leeway to explore issues in-depth.  If the first few stories are any indicator, they’re going to be outstanding.  Despite being a non-profit, they have the resources to compete with the largest media operations in the country.  No ads. “Scandal Watch” feature is great.  Drawbacks:  Still fairly new, and they don’t have much content yet.  Their news feed is merely an aggregator of other sources — and is unlikely to change, since their mission is to focus on in-depth reporting.  News aggregator is near the top of the page, above actual reporting.  Layout is still a bit clunky.  Weak, non-intuitive integration of RSS feeds and blogs.

Those are the first four I look at every day.  In addition, I use Google Reader as my RSS reader, which enables me to track 150 blogs and news feeds.  And let me be clear here:  I said track, not necessarily read.  I do have  a life (although Molly is increasingly wondering whether I’m married to her or my MacBook Pro).

What are your must-read news sites?

| posted in media | 0 Comments

10 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:43 pm

Ex Post Factor


It was only an offhand comment in a Washington Post editorial, nothing more.  Its intent was to highlight the media’s failure to catch a mistake made by the Justice Department during the Supreme Court’s deliberations on child rape and the death penalty.

Aside or not, it offered a revealing glimpse into the author’s opinion of the blogosphere, and by extension what the Post regards – or does not regard – as its competition: “Blame the media, too; only after a legal blogger, Col. Dwight H. Sullivan, had pointed out the mistake did a newspaper, The New York Times, take note.”

To add insult to injury, the online version of the editorial did not even bother to link to Sullivan’s original post, even though it did link to the subsequent story in the Times.  That certainly wasn’t because it was hard to find: thanks to the Google, it took me less than two minutes to find Sullivan’s blog, despite the fact that he blogs pseudonymously and I only knew his name.

Now far be it from me to disagree with the Post about the sloth of the mainstream media.  In fact, I used to joke that if you wanted to find out what was going to be on this evening’s network newscasts, CNN, or NPR, all you had to do was read that morning’s Post and Times.  And as Howard Kurtz (the Post’s media reporter) noted back in March 2007, many news outlets don’t even bother to cover stories until they appear in these two papers — even when other competitors manage to break a story first.

But these days, it is the Post that is looking increasingly lazy.  Until recently, the Post was my main source of news, my first-thing-in-the-morning-must-read.  Then, a few months ago, I decided to start my own blog.  I began reading other blogs to get an idea of who was doing what.

I soon discovered that the stories I was reading in the Post had appeared online anywhere from 48 to 72 hours earlier – in other words, a period much longer than what could be excused by the challenges of publishing a daily newspaper in 24-7 news cycle.  These days, I tell my friends that if they want to know what’s going to be in the Post tomorrow, they should go online.

Despite this, few of my friends have the time or inclination to read blogs (hey, wait a second!).  Most are in their forties, and grew up getting their news from other sources.  These are the Post’s primary audience:  people who want to remain moderately informed but whether because of time constraints or technophobia, choose to rely upon old media for their reporting.

If they do go online, they tend to go to… the new media versions of their old stand-bys.  Some of these sites, like that of The New York Times, are in fact quite good.  Others, like that of the Post, suffer from bad layouts, fewer resources, and a management team that doesn’t really understand how new media works.  But then again, most of their readership doesn’t understand it either — they just want the news.

There are millions of such individuals, willing consumers of WashingtonPost.com and other purveyors of old wine in new bottles.  That they choose to get their news this way isn’t a big deal, but they are missing out on some terrific blogs and emerging online news sites (like, for example, The Washington Indpendent).

They also are coming late to more than a few big stories.  Some of the best scoops of the past two years came from reporters who work exclusively online: Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo broke the Justice Department/attorney firings scandal (work for which he won the George Polk Award for legal reporting), and Mayhill Fowler of The Huffington Post broke the story of Obama’s “bitter” remarks at a San Francisco fundraiser.  Both stories received extensive coverage in the Post, despite their humble origins.  Most recently, Dafna Lizner of ProPublica, which describes itself as an online newsroom, beat the Post to the story of the terrible track record of Alhurrah, the U.S. Government’s Arab-language television station.

The reality is that the Post treats blogs as a resource rather than competitors.  If the Times scoops it, the Post reports that fact.  But when an online outlet is first, the Post rarely bothers to give it credit — unless Howard Kurtz mentions it in the Style section.

The Post can’t afford to coast anymore.  It has lost hundreds of thousands of readers over the past decade, mostly to online media.  And numerous surveys have shown that under-40s don’t get their news from newspapers anymore.

This isn’t the first time that newspapers have faced such a challenge.  Until forty years ago, many newspapers were published in the evening.  Many cities — and not just big ones — had a morning paper and an evening one.  Then, with the advent of the network evening news, every evening paper in the country either became a morning paper or went out of business.

Some in the blogosphere have speculated that the same thing is now happening to all newspapers.  Can the Post and other “old media” outlets survive the fast pace of change that has come to characterize contemporary 24/7 reporting?  I certainly hope so.  I still like the Post — and I’d like it to become essential reading once again.  And call me old fashioned, but there are few things more satisfying than drinking that first cup of tea in the morning while reading the paper.

This week, Katharine Weymouth, the forty-something Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of the Post, named Marcus Brauchli, the forty-something former editor of The Wall Street Journal, as the paper’s new executive editor.  Each replaces a man in his seventies.  According to Kurtz, who covered the story for the Post, one of the main reasons Brauchli was chosen was that he had successfully merged the Journal’s online and print news reporting operations.  He faces a similar challenge at the Post, one exacerbated by geography:  its print operation is located in downtown D.C. at the paper’s traditional home, while its online counterpart operates out of a separate facility in Arlington, Virginia.

Weymouth and Brauchli now must merge the two cultures, in the process making the Post more responsive to “internet time.”  They also might want to consider sitting down with the editorial board and urge them to reconsider their opinion of what is and what is not media.  As a recent Post editorial — the same one that looked down its nose at new media — noted, “it can be embarrassing, but the occasional taste of crow probably does more good than harm to the media’s credibility.”

| posted in media | 0 Comments

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