Wednesday, September 05, 2007

“Democracy & Journalists:” Nothing So Far

Back on August 22 I sent American Journalism Review editor Rem Rieder an email. A copy of that email is included in the post below which I first published on August 22.

As you may recall if you read the email then or as you’ll see if you read it now, I promised Rieder I’d publish his response in full.

I also promised to keep you informed.

So far I’ve heard nothing back from Rieder. I’m about to send him the email you find following the double starline at the end of this post.

Let’s hope we get a response this time.


Democracy & Journalists - August 22, 2007

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.

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.
I decided to send Rieder the following electronic letter.

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.)

Neff said:
“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)

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)
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?

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?

Why not?

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


Dear Editor Rieder:

This is a follow-up to the email I sent you August 22. You’ll find it in this link:

I understand my email concerns matters that must be painful to you both as an editor and as someone who frequently lecturers on journalism ethicists.

But I believe you’ll agree your professional position and concern with journalism ethics enables you to respond to the contents of the email in a way that illustrates for readers how a journalist can strengthen democracy by correcting errors.

I renew my offer to publish your response in full at my blog.

I look forward to your response.


John in Carolina


Johnny Winter said...

Go, Go Johnny Go !!

Anonymous said...

Neff is showing himself to be a typical elitist snot by refusing to level with you. Of course, it's because your question forces him to admit that N&O used anonymous sources (probably including MBN himself!) in its initial pot-banging story(ies). I don't think you'll get him to respond honestly, but thanks for trying.

Anonymous said...

TAP TAP ATP TAP TAP..... waiting, still waiting, zzzzzz, snore...... YAWN , M S M is boooooring and unfit for purchase or reading.

Anonymous said...

John: Perhaps your questions should be put to the CEO of McClatchy in Sacramento.