Rem Rieder, editor and senior vice president of American Journalism Review, is worried about the decline in newspaper readership and the consequent decline in what he calls “large armies of [MSM] reporters.”
In Sunday’s Raleigh News & Observer Rieder tells us why he thinks we should worry too:
Here's why: democracy.I decided to send Rieder the following electronic letter.
An informed electorate is critical to democracy. And providing that information properly is expensive. It requires a lot of reporting firepower. And large reporting staffs tend to be fielded by newspapers.
Rem Rieder, Editor and Senior Vice President
American Journalism Review
Dear Editor Rieder:
I blog at John in Carolina where I report and comment concerning MSM news organizations, particularly the Raleigh News & Observer.
I read your opinion column in Sunday’s Raleigh N&O. I’ve also listened to an audio tape of the May 22 National Press Club’s Duke lacrosse newsmakers forum at which you served as a panelist.
In your N&O column you noted the vital link between journalists and democracy.
I agree. Honest and accurate news reporting enables democracy as surely as dishonest and inaccurate reporting destroys it.
With that in mind, I’d like to ask you some questions concerning your response and the audience’s response to statements N&O investigative reporter Joseph (Joe) Neff made when he served with you as a panelist at the press club forum. I transcribed Neff’s statements in question from an audio purchased from the club. (Purchase information is in this post.)
“One of the things that I think really helped our paper throughout this story is we have a really strict policy against the use of anonymous sources and we did not use a single anonymous source or unnamed source in our – uh – I think as of now we’ve written 541 articles by – with at least 19 different bylines on it and what that (Neff pauses)Could there have been more than one or two journalists at the forum who didn’t know the N&O story which launched witch hunt and media frenzy, Dancer gives details of ordeal , was based on an anonymous source interview?
It was really frustrating in the initial couple of weeks when it was so competitive and no other newspaper and no other radio or TV station felt compelled to – they were going with 'sources close to the prosecution' or 'we have learned' or 'Nightline has found out' and they would just put stuff out there.
Now some of it we knew because we were told off the record, but we won’t use it, but some of it was absolute nonsense –ah – ah – so it allowed us to get beat on some very small things, but in general by not using anonymous sources, we were really saved – ah – from putting some –ah- some bad stuff in the paper.” (Moderator moves to another matter)
The N&O’s Duke lacrosse reporting relied on so many anonymous and/or unnamed sources ( Is there a difference?) that three weeks after the “Dancer … ordeal” story appeared, the N&O published a story, Mother, dancer, accuser , identifying its sources as “former classmates and neighbors, friends and family members.”
The N&O even published on April 2, 2006 a photo of a “Vigilante” poster which it obtained from an anonymous source.
I felt sure you’d call Neff’s statements to his attention and invite him to correct or clarify them.
But you said nothing?
The current issue of the American Journalism Review contains your managing editor, Rachel Smolkin’s, 8,000 word critique of media coverage of the Duke lacrosse case. It includes the following:
[N&O executive editor for news Melanie] Sill's reporters also watched in frustration as national media vied for their sources. "It was a messy story, and the outside media coverage, especially the cable television shows, the presence of every national media outlet here, made it much harder to report," she says. "People we would normally just go interview were having press conferences, or wouldn't talk, or would only talk in a leaking situation." But top editors told the staff that quoting unnamed sources was unacceptable.Why, Editor Rieder, did AJR tell its readers “top [N&O] editors told the staff that quoting unnamed sources was unacceptable” without also telling them the N&O repeatedly used such sources?
Will you issue a prominent correction?
Press club staffers told me there was “very good attendance” at the forum and that almost everyone there had press credentials.
Yet during the Q&A no one asked Neff about his statements, which just about everyone had to know were false.
I’d have thought the last place someone could make a series of false statements and not be called on them was the National Press Club.
Am I naïve?
Lest you tell me to contact Neff and ask him to correct or clarify, I’ve done that repeatedly (See here, here and here ). He's responded by saying I’d have to disclose who I am before he’d even talk to me.
Thank you for your attention to this letter. I look forward to your response.
John in Carolina
I'll keep you posted as to what I hear back from Rieder.