Why I still subscribe to two newspapers

On Saturday, I read an interesting story on the front page of the News & Observer It was entitled Border watch heightens crossing peril and it told a story stating that it is now much harder for illegal immigrants to cross the Mexico-US border into the US.

Although the article sounded authentic, it just felt "funny", like a Bush administration plant. So I sent email to Barbara Barrett, the author of the article, and cc'd Melanie Sill, the N&O's Executive editor and senior vice president (I met Melanie many years ago and respect her highly).

I am very pleased with Ms Barrett's reply, which I received this morning. It highlights the major reason that I subscribe to the N&O and to the NY Times, namely that we need actual reporters on the ground telling us what they see. While I am a big fan of blogs such as BlueNC, we generally don't have people doing investigative reporting.

In fact I would suggest that newspapers indicate when their own reporters are actually in the field. This might help show us the worth of their product.

Here is Ms Barrett's reply to my email:

Mr. Entenman,

I can assure you that I spent the past week in Arizona and Mexico, in three different Mexican border towns of various sizes, all along the Arizona border. I talked with dozens of migrants, with local residents, with humanitarian activists as well as Border Patrol agents. I watched people cross into the United States and saw Border Patrol agents try (and fail) to hunt them down.

Part of the story's point is that the stepped-up security is a message that migrants are receiving, and it is pushing many migrants into far more dangerous territory, away from the urban areas where than just dash across, and into the more rugged desert and mountain landscapes. During the week we were there, eight people died trying to cross in one area of Arizona, including two children.

I hope this helps answer your questions. Thanks so much for reading and taking an interest.

-Barbara Barrett

The News & Observer

And here is Melanie Sill's reply:

Barbara was (and is) on the US-Mexico border covering the N.C. Guard unit's deployment there. Her account was based on several days of reporting and interviews with, among other sources, immigrants trying to cross who said it has become much more difficult.

Now I'll sit back and wait for Anglico to flame me!!

-- George Entenman

Comments

George...something tells me

George...something tells me Anglico will keep his trap shut on this one. I agree that it would be nice if reporters would indicate when they did the field work. I always indicate when I've done the FEC digging or when I picked the info up from another site. Heck...if I do the hard work I want people to know :) It also means if I made a mistake in my research I have nobody else to blame.

That's a nice story. I read the online edition of both newspapers, so miss a lot of stories. How nice that you received responses from both women.

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I was wrong

Anglico opened his yap. What can I say? I guess I just don't know him that well. It sounded like she provided at least an "in-person" account.


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:)

He doesn't know when to keep his big mouth shut, so to speak.

Hehehe

I know you have a very spayshul relationship with the N&O

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No flames ... just a heavy dose of salt.

Just because Babs is on the ground in Arizona or wherever shouldn't diminish your suspicions one bit. She works for McClatchy, which now owns the News and Observer, and I have found her reporting to be pretty darned sketchy. For example, she wrote this story about off-shore drilling, declaring that there is a sea change in opinions among coastal residents. The article is based on a few legitimate interviews, but the angle and premise of the story is the kind of bullshit you'd expect from a corporate mediabot carrying water for Big Oil.

I'm not saying Ms. Barrett is a dyed-in-the-wool rightwing mouthpiece who always slants her stories to support BushCo, but if that was your initial instinct about this story, you might very well have gotten it right.

As to Ms. Sill, she's as good as they get. But that doesn't make up for an editorial page (I know, she has nothing to do with the opinion section) that flat out sucks. I refuse to contribute to the profits of an organization that employs Steve Ford and Rick Martinez.

Fair enough, Anglico...

But as soon as they stop being profitable, I'll be at your door with a subscription form, ok? ;-)

-- ge

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo
https://george.entenman.name

Don't like what you read? Good.

I'm assuming everyone is refering to "datelines" when they say "by-lines." While some papers play fast and loose with this concept, most of the time when a story in a local paper says REALLYDAMNHOT, Ariz., the reporter was there. After the Rick Bragg scandal (and others), there seems to have been a tightening of this rule, which is good.

As for not liking what is said in any given story--that's good. If you're not challenging your own views every single day, then you're not thinking. That's why I read all of Pat Robertson's books. Well, there's also the humor factor, but that's beside the point.

Even if, at worst, Ms. Barrett is a tool of the Bush Administration (you might ask her old boss, Indy editor Richard Hart, about that), then you know what the "enemy" is thinking. That kind of information is a lot more valuable than someone confirming your own beliefs.

There are a lot of things in the N&O that could be improved. That includes the reporting skills of every single reporter there--after all, no one is perfect. But the border story seemed to illustrate precisely how people in power are often indifferent to the consequences of their actions. Anyone who thinks that piece earned a gold star at the White House didn't read it completely. The evidence presented in the story is damning, no matter how nonchalant the Guard and Border Patrol are when they talk about it.

Thanks PRTMD

I appreciate your perspective and your exhortation to read things that challenge strongly held beliefs ... though I'd forgive anyone for avaoiding books ghost-written for Pat Robertson. But mostly I appreciate the information on Barbara Barrett. I didn't realize she was once in the employ of Richard Hart, whose work at the the Independent I admire. I'll give her a closer look.

For the record, it gives me no pleasure or satisfaction to find myself at odds with the N&O. Back in the olden days, the paper was one of my favorite clients and I counted many people who worked there as good friends. As noted above, my main gripe is with their editorial positions, or should I say, lack thereof.

Thanks for weighing in, whoever you are.

When I see a by-lined piece

When I see a by-lined piece in a newspaper, I make the asssumption that the reporter was "in the field", i.e., that the story is based on reporting and research conducted by the repoerter and, perhaps, a support staff.

When I see a blog posting, I make the assumption that the piece expresses one person's point of view about... something. More often than not, the "something" is a piece of reporting that prompts an expression of opinion.

I never assume that a blog post comes as the result of reporting "in the field."

The key difference is not the technology used, but the behavior of the writers. Far too many bloggers claim to be reporting when all they are doing is publishing their opinions. The scary thing is that many of them don't seem to know the difference betweeen mouthing off and reporting. Perhaps too many hours spent watching talking heads on the alleged news channels. On the one hand, this leads to much of the amateurism we see online these days. More depressignly, it leads to the belief that all news reporting is inevitably colored and biased by the economic agenda of the owners. It's wise to know who owns your newspaper. It is not wise to blithely assume all its reporters are, of necessity, members of a fifth column spewing clever propaganda for their corporate masters.

Reply

Far too many bloggers claim to be reporting when all they are doing is publishing their opinions.

Far too many reporters claim to be reporting when all they are doing is publishing their opinions.

And I think that there is a disturbing trend of a combination of biased reporting in the news pages of the N & O and just plain bad reporting. Take Andy Curliss for example: he shows both quite regularly.

When I see a by-lined piece

I assume the person is in somebody's pocket. Whether it's working for a corporate interest or a political one, too many reporters have sacrificed their vaunted objectivity on an altar of punditry and agenda.

Lots of reporters are doing their level best, but, then again, so are a lot of bloggers.

Sometimes I'll write straight journalistic style (once upon a time I studied the journalistic arts), and those posts are clearly distinguishable from my opinion pieces. Oftentimes, I'll write half a piece as fact and half as opinion. You can recognize the opinion part because the superlative adjectives start turning up.

Which bloggers "claim to be reporting" when publishing opinions? Show me even one, and we can talk. But I think your own opinion is here in this comment thread masquerading as fact.

Scrutiny Hooligans - http://www.scrutinyhooligans.us

Billg

Except for whatever on-the-ground knowledge bloggers have of specific events or people, mostly what we do is share opinions and encourage conversation.

Regarding the mainstream media, you wrote:

It is not wise to blithely assume all its reporters are, of necessity, members of a fifth column spewing clever propaganda for their corporate masters.

I'd never make that assumption about ALL reporters, but when one of them asserts that there is a shift in public opinion based on a few interviews, well, you have to wonder what's really going on. My comments were specifically about Barbara Barrett and her story about off-shore drilling.

In a way...bloggers are far better journalists than reporters

in the sense that we don't hide that we are providing our opinions along with the facts. So many reporters not only artificially balance their stories, some completely disregard facts that are readily available. They also change facts to fit what they want to say. I see it almost every single day from the N&O to the Washington Post. I do my best to provide the facts and I'm open about my opinion about those facts. Also, if you catch me making a factual error or misinterpreting something...I'll own up to it. It's very hard to get newspapers/reporters to admit they've made a mistake.

It doesn't make me a journalist, but I do have a degree in journalism. :)


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A blog is a tool

That can be applied to reporting and pontificating (and whatever else, I guess), and it's true that pontificating is more common. But I think the blog reading world tends to sort out those whose comments fill a need and those whose don't.

I take exception, though, to the notion that "too many bloggers claim to be reporting when all they are doing is publishing opinions." In my experience, this just isn't true. Can you point to some examples of where a blogger claims to be reporting and isn't? My hunch is that you're simply assuming that us bloggers think of ourselves as reporters. There are bloggers who primarily wear that hat (many of whom are "real" reporters by day), and many more who do the occasional bit of reporting but usually comment. But to assume that bloggers can't tell the difference between reporting and commenting is just wrong.

Targator: Your assertion

Targator: Your assertion that reporters publish opinions disguised as news doesn't support an assertion that bloggers do not, if that was your intended implication. I wasn't so much trying to claim that some bloggers are posing as news reporters as I was claiming that an awful lot of people seem to claim they're getting their news from blogs. If you're getting your news from blogs, especially your political news, then you're probably getting news from a source whose biases accord with yours and that posts content that's deliberately cherry picked to find favor with readers like you. I'm a blatant yellow dog Democrat, but pay only a little more attention to the prominent Dem bloggers than I do their conservative counterparts (that is, no attention). I assume they're all probably leaving something out. So, except for the humor or the "Yeah! That's right!"/"You stupid idiot!" adrenalin rush, why bother?

Screwy Hoolie: Why would you assume that every bylined reporter is in someone's pocket? Does drawing a salary inevitably corrupt the salary earner? It seems to me that one essential element of engaging in reporting is to ask questions and report the answers. A blog piece may be written in journalistic style, but if the writer's only source of information is himself, then the piece may be journalism, but it isn't reporting. It's essentially akin to a newspaper column: a (perhaps informed) individual viewpoint. As for bloggers claiming to be reporting: Much of the fuel that propels many bloggers, especially those who came to it after 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq, seems to me to be their strong dislike and distrust for almost any corporate source that labels itself as a news producer. Sometimes I think part of that animosity comes from forgetting that everything that calls itself "news" isn't necessarily that. Talk radio is not a news source. There's no reporting going on there. The same can be said of pretty much of every talking head on TV, and any panel that consists of journalists sitting around talking to each other. Then, other times, I think it must be because, perhaps, some people only recently became serious news consumers and still cling to the myth that objectivity is sine qua non for reporters. It isn't, because there is no standard for objectivity. It's a demand whose answer can never be quantifiably assessed. Reporters, but not necessarily journalists, need to be seen trying to be fair, but fairness is a different thing than objectivity. In the end, readers need to be savvy enough to understand the context in which the words and images they consume have been produced, and the audience that product targets.

Southern Dem: I wasn't attempting to praise the current state of journalism. It isn't as good as it ought to be. (That's not to say it is worse than it used to be. American journalism has been pretty rotten at times in our history.) One thing that's pretty apparent is the willingness of many reporters and their editors to shape their creations to accord with their own preconceived notions of what the story should be. This is not the same as letting the facts take a story where they will. It's a model that draws from columnists, magazine writing, etc., in that the writer decides, or is told, beforehand the reaction the story should invoke from readers. Inevitably, relevant information gets left out and irrelevant information gets written in. Most of the time, I doubt this is done out of malevolent or conspiratorial motives, but more because that's the kind of journalism that surrounds them.

You are right

The assertion I made does not rebut the assertion about bloggers. If I had wanted to rebut that assertion, I have plenty of ability to do that .

I was however giving some context to your statement.

Hey, whaddabout me!?

Left out. Damn.

I just want to say that I do get a majority of my political news from blogs, and that that works for me because I'm careful to collect views from a variety of sources and because I read the linked sources. (I'd be glad to post a list of the blogs I track if anyone is interested.) In fact, I suspect that very few people get their political news by sitting down with the NYT, the Post, etc. every day and reading them through. I'm sure that there are those who do, but most people don't have the time and rely on community members to highlight stories and viewpoints that seem important to them.

Blogs are just such a community. If someone chooses to associate themselves with only people who share a narrow mindset in life or in blogland, that seems to me to be a failing of the individual in question, and not the fault of their friends or the blogs they read. There's no point in being upset at any particular source for not covering all possible angles of a story. Grownups should be able to identify and balance the biases in their informational surroundings.

Billg...Yes....

it may be the type of journalism they're surrounded by, but it isn't the type of journalism they tought in J-school 20 years ago. I still remember what I learned in J-school. I imagine most reporters do too. Should we excuse mediocre journalists just because "everyone else writes that way?" Each of us is surrounded by mediocrity every day, but that doesn't mean we have to settle for it. It isn't encouraging that many reporters not only aspire to mediocrity, but they embrace and defend it as well.

Obviously, this doesn't apply to every reporter. I simply feel like I see this far too often. I saved an email exchange with Jim Brady, the executive (?) editor of the online Washington Post in which I took issue with the artificial balance I had seen in many of their stories. I told him my feeling was that professional reporters should report the facts and not artificially balance the story. His reply was that he disagreed with me. Evidently, even the esteemed Washington Post encourages its reporters to mold the story to fit their view of events.

Maybe I'm expecting too much.


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My 2 Cents

Since the repeal of the "Fairness Doctrine", reporters no longer need to be "Fair and Balanced". (read about the fairness doctrine here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairness_doctrine )

I see many blogs like clip-sheets brought to politicians, Corporate Heads and Ambassadors. Relevent news, clipped out and brought to the forefront to shine in the light of day.

I agree with Lance, not everyone can read all newspapers from front to back and gleen out the important issues, but many times, bloggers do. So going to different blog sites, reading the posts and following the links, imho, gives you a much better grasp of the news (no 10 second sound bites) and many times days before the MSM pick it up.