Daily Archives: February 3, 2015

… and a child shall lead them.

About a month ago, a journalism class at Bennington’s Mount Anthony Union High School posted a video on YouTube in which they systematically dismantled the integrity of Fox News “journalist” Jesse Watters. The video’s gotten 370,000 hits, and is well worth watching.

This has received quite a bit of notice outside Vermont, but not much within our borders. Probably something to do with Vermont media’s northern orientation; Bennington is a virtual black hole because it’s far away and not easy to get to.

A while ago, Watters ran a piece on “The O’Reilly Factor” in which he visited Vermont to confirm its reputation as a liberal hotbed. His visit was as pro forma as it could have been; he went to Bennington, the closest town to his NYC base, and did a handful of “man on the street” interviews with questions designed to prove his prefabricated point that Vermont is a haven of the far left. Questions like, “Why do you think the President has allowed terrorists to take over a third of Iraq?” (Pronounced eye-RACK.) His interview subjects were stereotypically flaky young people. (I doubt he considered asking anyone in a business suit to take part.)

Mr. Integrity.

Mr. Integrity.

The MAUHS students compared Watters’ report with the ethical standards of the Society of Professional Journalists, and found him guilty of “too many violations to count” resulting in a “wholesale distortion of truth.” As one student concludes, “By watching Fox News, we have learned buckets about journalism: what to do, and more importantly, what never to do.”

The conclusion isn’t a surprise, but what’s notable is the diligence and thoroughness of these students. Their work is worth noting and celebrating. Fox News didn’t see it that way, naturally; Bill O’Reilly referred to the students as “pinheads.” Stay classy, Loofah Man.

Oh, and just in case you want to stereotype these kids as loony liberals, the same class has taken the New York Times to task for its overheated reporting on drug abuse in Vermont, particularly the Times’ assertion that “the hallways of Mount Anthony Union High School… were littered with bags of heroin.”

Tweaking the noses of the powerful: one of the core functions of real journalism.


Tomorrow’s Burlington Free Press might be a bit thinner than usual

Today’s a Big Day for Gannett’s Newsroom of the Future initiative. See, Gannett has signed a big-ass contract with the Poynter Institute to provide virtual re-education camps for its rapidly dwindling cadre of newsies.

Shiny happy journalists.

Shiny happy journalists.

The Gannett-Poynter Training Partnership has its official kickoff today at 1:00 with an Employee Town Hall Webcast featuring Gannett President/CEO Gracia Martore “highlighting recent company news and a discussion about what’s ahead.” Expect a load of happy talk about how recent transitions (read: layoffs) have repositioned the corporation for a bright future.

Attendance, I suspect, is mandatory. I hope there’s no big news this afternoon.

After the launch party, staffers will undergo “four to seven modules that address a specific training need,” all with a goal of enhancing Gannett’s digital footprint and engaging the audience (they used to call us “readers”).

Poynter’s “training opportunities” include a bunch of courses in audience analytics, “building your brand,” “developing your social media voice,” promoting content online, and effective Tweeting. (I strongly suggest Michael Townsend sign up for that one.) Other notable “content modules” (they used to call them courses) include…

“Business Models and Strategies” — “innovative ideas that can bring new streams of revenue to your operations.” Which means partnering with sales staff and working with advertisers.

“Best practices for working with citizen journalists” and “How to Tell Great Investigative Stories with Dwindling Resources.” Meaning, we can’t afford reporters anymore.

“Cleaning Your Copy: Grammar, Style and More.”  Meaning, we can’t afford editors anymore.

“The Camera With You: How, and When, to Shoot with a Smartphone.” Meaning, we can’t afford photographers anymore.

Modules for the newly minted position of Content Coach include Managing Creative People (those damn crazy reporters), Dealing With Difficult Conversations (I’d think Gannett managers would already be experienced at this), and Language of Coaching (please stop yelling at the reporters).

Some of this is cringeworthy, and reflects a desperate industry making a last-gasp effort to maintain some sort of relevance. Or at least keep the profit streams flowing as long as possible. But to be fair to Gannett, a lot of this will help journalists and editors adjust to new realities being forced upon them. And when, sooner or later, they find themselves jettisoned by their corporate masters, they’ll be better equipped to bushwhack their way through our brave new media landscape where Content is King, but Content Providers are peons. And where salesmanship is at least as important as quality.

Leahy re-ups; a mixed blessing

So the news comes by way of VPR’s Bob Kinzel that Patrick Leahy will seek re-election in 2016. It’s not too much of a surprise, although if (hahaha, when) he wins an eighth term in office, he will be closing in on 77 years old. But he’s in good health, and I’m sure he sees the opportunity for the Democrats to regain the majority in the Senate; Republicans will be defending seats won in the Tea Party sweep of 2010, and will be hard-pressed to repeat that success in a Presidential year. If the Dems win back the Senate, Leahy gets back his beloved Judiciary Committee chairmanship.

On balance, Leahy’s continued presence in the Senate is a good thing. He’s reliably one of the more liberal members of the Senate, for one. Also, his seniority means influence, and he does bring home the bacon on a regular basis. (The most recent example: generous federal funding for the Lake Champlain cleanup.)

But, as universally beloved as St. Patrick is in Vermont liberal circles, I see some downside to his announcement.

First, he’s been in the Senate for 41 years, and he sometimes shows a dismaying loyalty to the clubby mores of our most hidebound deliberative body. When he chaired the Judiciary Committee, he made it harder for President Obama to get judicial nominees confirmed because of his adherence to the Senate’s “blue slip” tradition, which allows a single Senator to sideline a nomination.

Second, his continued presence will exacerbate the logjam in the upper reaches of liberal politics, and keep the glass ceiling pressed firmly on the aspirations of liberal women. We’ve never sent a woman to Congress, which is downright shameful. And it doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon; there are a lot of experienced, connected, talented men at the front of the line, waiting for their shot at higher office.

Finally, there’s the generation gap: add up the ages of our three members of Congress, and you get 215 years. That’s an average age of just under 72. Not that there’s anything wrong with being old; I myself aspire to a long and active elderhood. Still, I’m vaguely bothered by the lack of diversity in our admittedly small group: all men, all white, all senior citizens.

On balance, I’m happy with our Congressional delegation. Individually, they’re all fine. Collectively, though, they’re too old and homogeneous. Leahy’s announcement means it’ll take that much longer to get some new blood into Congress.