Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Buzz Kill


High Times, that paragon of investigative reporting, broke a story about sexual hijinks at a prominent marijuana advocacy group. The Reliable Source article played the story straight, but the headline writers broke out in a fit of giggles. This is what the story ran under on page C1:
Trying to nip scandal in the bud
And the C2 headline read:
No high point for marijuana group
So in a serious story about workplace harassment, the copy desk decides they are Cheech and Chong. Just another example of the Washington Post going to pot.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Inside Salongate

The New Republic does the type of hard-hitting investigative reporting that newspapers used to do. It has a huge mega-turd (to use a Carl Hiaasen term) story on Salongate, WaPo's penny ante bid at influence peddling. Among the major revelations:

Katherine Weymouth is an idiot.
One theory was that she was simply na├»ve. “This was inexperience on her part,” says former Post executive editor Len Downie. Another held that her ego was to blame. “I think Katharine wants to relive the glory days of her grandmother,” says one executive, alluding to Katharine Graham’s legendary dinner parties.

The WaPo is folding faster than Kenny Rogers with no face cards.
Over the past year, the Post has folded its business section into the A-section, killed its book review, revamped its Sunday magazine, and redesigned the entire paper and website, while organizationally merging the print and online editions. Hundreds of staffers have left the Post since 2003, thanks to four rounds of buyouts.


Politico could have been an in-house property instead of a major competitor.
Downie counter-offered and told Harris and VandeHei they could manage a staff of eight to ten if they developed their project in-house. But Harris and VandeHei had plans to staff a newsroom of 100 reporters and editors. In November, they left the paper. Many of the people I spoke with agreed that the decision to let them walk out the door ended up being a disaster for the Post.

The new editor took a bulldozer to the All The President's Men newsroom.
Weymouth and Brauchli decided to bring the two divisions together and commissioned a dramatic renovation of the Post’s downtown headquarters. The move did not go smoothly for either side. The newsroom was gutted, and, during the construction this past summer, staffers worked either from their homes or out of makeshift quarters on the third floor and a windowless room on the ground level dubbed “The Gulag”--“a friggin’ sweatshop,” as one senior editor on the print side described it.

The print people and the webheads hate each other.
Print staffers grouse about the quality of the website. “Why does our homepage look so crappy and cheesy?” one reporter says. “Why is it not as nice as the Times’s page?” Others complain that Web producers don’t appreciate the Post’s august traditions. Some in the newsroom felt the frenzied coverage of the White House party-crasher scandal was driven in part by the millions of hits the story generated.

“Mouthpiece Theater” sucked really bad.
The entire controversy--which ended with Brauchli canceling the series--left the impression that the Post was aimlessly producing Web content in the hope that something, anything, would catch on.

WaPo will continue to whither.
But that Post will look very different from the one her grandmother ran. “It clearly is a smaller paper,” says Walter Pincus. “It’s not going to go back to where it was.”
And we'll be here to watch it.

(h/t to Gawker)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Copy Riters On Stryke

PC and Pixel

Why you're seeing more copy-editing errors in The Post
By Andrew Alexander
Ombudsman
Sunday, January 17, 2010


WaPo Ombudsman Andrew Alexander freely admits that judging by the volume of e-mail he gets from the Grammar Police and Spelling Nazis, the quality of the proof-reading (and yes I know that is different from copy-editing) is declining precipitously. He passes on some of the better howlers.
The errors are typically small but unremitting. A story about an Arlington National Cemetery burial described a soldier wearing "shiny black boats" (instead of boots). An item about an auto accident involving NBC newsman Tom Brokaw said he had "slammed on the breaks" (brakes). A listing of unemployment rates in foreign countries included "Cypress" (Cyprus). In a Sports story, the "principles" (principals) attended a dinner celebrating the hiring of Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.
He explains that part of the reason is that not only has the number of copy-writers been halved, their duties have been expanded. They are also in charge of pumping articles full of keywords so that search engines will find these articles online.
Separate online headlines must be written in a way that attracts attention on the Web. Links must be found, vetted and inserted into online stories, and so-called "keywords" must be highlighted. All of this is designed to make it easier to find Post content on the Internet and more likely for the Post to win the intense media competition to show up at the top of results lists when readers use search engines such as Google and Yahoo. And when readers click on those stories, it takes them back to The Post. That increases traffic to its Web site, which can boost online advertising.
But he says there is light at the end of the tunnel. WaPo is going to make writers create their own SEO copy.
This week, The Post will begin search-engine optimization training for the entire newsroom. Front-end help from reporters and other staff should ease the burden on copy editors.
He also blames over-reliance on spell-checkers that can't catch homonyms. But it all comes down to competence on the front line.
In the end, nothing can replace the experienced, fastidious copy editor. And nothing can help them more than reporters getting it right in the first place.
Or is that "getting it write the first thyme"?

Golden Half Globes

As a Washington Post subscriber way out in the hinterland sticks of Howard County, I'm used to not having sports scores for any game that ends after the sun sets. So I was very surprised to see a Style Section feature about the Golden Globes by top entertainment writer Hank Stuever (whom I occasionally love to hate).

Fizz is gone at the Globes
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 18, 2010


If you click on the link, the 'Fizz' headline is not the version used for the SEO-friendly online version of the article. But more than just the headline was changed. As I read the article at the breakfast table, I noticed that it mentioned some of the winners but not all of them. So I went to the online version and a few paragraphs in it was an entirely different article. You could almost stopwatch when the article had to go to press. Note the differences:

Dead Trees EditionOnline Article
If not packed with zingers, the evening did come through with a few nice moments in the acceptance speeches. For movies and movie stars, some top awards went to James Cameron (for directing "Avatar" - he gave some of his speech in the alien Na'vi language). Mo'Nique (for her role as an abusive mother in "Precious"), Meryl Steep (for playing Julia Child in "Julie and Julia") and "Up" (for best animated feature).

If not packed with zingers, the evening did come through with a few nice moments in the acceptance speeches.

There was a humbled and grizzled Jeff Bridges on a comeback high with a best actor award (in dramatic film) for "Crazy Heart." ("You're really screwing up my underappreciated status," Bridges told the audience during a long, sweet ovation, and then thanked his wife of 33 years, Susan.) There was a heartfelt Meryl Streep holding her seventh Golden Globe (for "Julie & Julia") and reconciling her "happy movie self" with a world in trouble. And there was the inspiring gratitude of Mo'Nique.
The internet edition also had an entirely new section refuting the thesis of the article that the ceremony is devoid of interesting speeches.
Robert Downey Jr. saved the Globes broadcast late in the game, accepting the award for best actor in a musical or comedy film for the lead in "Sherlock Holmes" and turning the idea of an acceptance speech on its head:

"I don't have anybody to thank, I'm sorry it's all so gratuitous," Downey said. "They needed me. 'Avatar' was going to take us to the cleaners." He then went on to comically "not thank" the studio, producers and managers (who have "only restarted my career 12 times since I began") and his wife ("because I could be busing tables at the Daily Grill right now.")
So the subscriber that pays good money to have a baggie tossed on his lawn gets the version of the Golden Globes that ended at 10:15 whereas the online reader gets the benefit of a writer that actually saw the whole show.

Explain to me again why I need to write that check for home delivery every month.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mistakes Were Made

Two separate articles published on the very same day about very different incidents follow a similar pattern and form an interesting juxtaposition.

In Afghanistan attack, CIA fell victim to series of miscalculations about informant
By Peter Finn and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 16, 2010


In the long front page story about how security was breached in Afghanistan long enough for a double agent to turn suicide bomber, there is this observation.
Jordanian and U.S. officials have since concluded that Balawi was a committed extremist whose beliefs had deep intellectual and religious roots and who had never intended to cooperate with them. In hindsight, they said, the excitement generated by his ability to produce verifiable intelligence should have been tempered by the recognition that his penetration of al-Qaeda's top echelon was too rapid to be true.
Elsewhere another terrorist attack gets a post-mortum.

Pentagon inquiry: Supervisors discounted Fort Hood suspect's worrisome behavior
By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 16, 2010


Again, dots aren't connected.
The review determined that supervisors of Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged in the Nov. 5 attack at the Texas military post, bungled his performance reviews by excluding instances of erratic behavior in treating patients and signs that he might be growing sympathetic to suicide bombers.
Here's the pop quiz: Who said this:
"My words will drink of my blood," he wrote, one of a number of statements suggesting an ambition to move beyond rhetoric.
I'll give you a hint, it was a professionally trained doctor that used his proximity to US troops to kill them. And nobody saw the signs soon enough to stop him.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Conflicting Interests

Washington Post sets policy for newsroom participation in sponsored events
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010


If you recall, there was a kerfuffle recently about the Washington Post organizing 'salons' where big-wig sponsors and high-paying toadies could hob-nob with WaPo staff in small groups in Katherine Weymouth's living room. It never happened because once word got out on this low-key high-money pimping of the staff, a hue and cry was raised. Hands were wrung, garments were rent, and heads were rolled.

Now months after that went down, new rules were established:
As a "general rule," the guidelines say, newsroom staffers will participate in Post conferences or events only when there are "multiple sponsors." Participation in single-sponsor events "can create the appearance that we are trying to further that sponsor's individual interest, especially if that sponsor has a direct financial or political interest in the topic." The executive editor, however, can grant exemptions -- if, for example, a company were to underwrite a conference on a topic far removed from its business.

I see some loopholes here big enough to drive an ADM corn fuel refinery through. But how does this affect working journalists?
Under the new guidelines, Post journalists can participate in conferences or events sponsored by outside groups, but must obtain prior approval. As in the past, the journalists cannot accept payment from governments, political groups or organizations that take positions on controversial issues. The rules also codify existing practice in saying that Post journalists -- except for opinion columnists -- should "avoid making statements that could call into question their objectivity."

So, you ink-stained wretches, if you get invited to the WaPo manse and there are bigwigs in attendance, here are the ground rules:
  • You are on the clock.
  • You won't get paid.
  • You might even be asked to carry a few trays of horsey douvers around.
It's all about maintaining appearances. WaPo might be running a bordello, but rest assured that nobody is just leaving cash on the dresser.

Accent-uate The Positive

For Virginia politicians, is a Southern accent a bad thing?
By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010


Stand-up comedian (and Georgia Tech Electrical Engineering graduate) Jeff Foxworthy once said that as soon as people hear a southern accent, they spot you ten IQ points. James Hohmann figures that the voters of Virginia do also. He points out that the last three governors elected were the candidates with the least drawl in their 'y'all'.
Virginia's incoming governor, Robert F. McDonnell (R), has little in common with his two Democratic predecessors, but like Timothy M. Kaine and Mark Warner, he heads to the Executive Mansion sounding more like a Yankee than his recent opponent -- a seemingly trivial fact that might reveal an evolving pattern in Virginia politics:

Can a decidedly Southern way of speaking create a handicap for candidates trying to win a statewide office?
And he finds evidence for the Foxworthy anecdote:
But several studies indicate that some people -- including Southerners -- stereotype speakers with Southern accents as honest and reliable but not too smart. And the accent can seem off-putting to some voters, including African Americans who voted in unusually high numbers in the 2008 presidential race.

"When white Southerners sound Southern, African Americans are viscerally suspicious of them, for obvious historical reasons," said Dennis R. Preston, an English professor at Oklahoma State University.
The article is clearly a spin-off of the Harry Reid 'Negro dialect' gaffe (a gaffe being a politician accidentally telling the truth) turned around to see if accents are a race neutral article of discrimination.

In another example of this trendlet, The Daily Howler asks if Harold Ford's southern roots are hurting his appeal as a reverse carpetbagger in New York:
Could Ford lose votes in the state of New York because of his intermittent accent? Presumably yes, he could. We say that because considerations of speech and accent have commonly been discussed with regard to recent American pols, with the steady suggestion that accent counts when it comes to getting votes. We may be wrong, but we think we’ve heard Chris Matthews suggest that Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) might have trouble as a national candidate due to his very strong Deep South accent. (This topic is hard to search.) Meanwhile, pundits have often caught big national candidates affecting their accents to suit a region’s preferences.
All of this is an end run around discussing Barack Obama's Hawaiian-Kansan-Kenyan blaccent because the chattering classes have to have something to say whenever some racially tinged topic raises its head. It all seems kind of silly. I can just imagine here on the eve of a three day weekend, Martin Luther King Jr. bellowing in his stentorian cadence: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the tone of their voice, but by the wisdom of their words."