Access is everything to reporters. We want people to talk to us, to share confidences and documents, to point us to others who will do the same. But there's a price: Don't burn your sources ... which can mean ignoring a story that will prompt the subject to slam the door (figuratively or actually) in a reporter's face. That might be one reason it took Rolling Stone to reveal the contempt for the president and other civilians to whom U.S. military officials in Afghanistan report.
The Federal Trade Commission is sticking its nose into the future of journalism. It's not needed. The FTC has enough to do; news is not a monopoly, nor is it a fraud. That hasn't kept staff from studying what already is being studied, drafting issues and suggestions that hardly suggest novelty or media neutrality and laying the groundwork for continued employment of FTC staff while working journalists are being fired by the thousands.
When is disclosure of potential or real conflicts of interest sufficient? Or, put another way, when is the absence of disclosure an ethical issue for journalists? This question of transparency provoked an attack on the World Health Organization's recommendations regarding H1N1, and locally it's an issue surrounding Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan's role on the 3CDC board.
When Elena Kagan was nominated for the Supreme Court, an immediate story was that her confirmation would mean "three Jews, six Roman Catholics and no Protestants." The media still have a lingering fixation on Jews. Not Judaism, Jews. Somehow it often seems necessary to identify people by their religion when they're Jews.
In the Good Old Days, journalists generally held a story if authorities said it could compromise the stakeout, chase or anticipated capture of a suspect. Even if we knew where agents were headed or or stood with them outside a motel where a kidnapper and victim were hidden, we responded with silence. These issues arose again when the 24/7-obsessed news media unthinkingly helped the Times Square bombing suspect almost escape.
Reporting creates personal reservoirs of trivia. My treasury includes South African troopers in vehicles designed to defeat land mines laid by ANC's military wing during the apartheid era. So I wonder why American reporters in Washington, Iraq and Afghanistan haven't written about the Pentagon decision to go to war without South African vehicles that could have reduced now-common traumatic brain injury and loss of limbs from roadside mines and IEDs.
Gannett's Indianapolis Star has a real mess on its hands involving a breach of ethics and the readers' trust, started when the paper "repurposed" a three-year-old feature story and photo spread on summer camps in a new camp guide advertising section without the reporter's or photographer's knowledge. The old story was labeled "special advertising feature" and presented as if it contained up-to-date information. I asked Enquirer Editor Tom Callinan about his policy on the separation of news- and advertising-oriented content.
We're watching the meltdown of another story that was too good to be true, too vivid and contemporary to challenge: the runaway California Prius. It didn't take long before the California driver's claims were restated as facts: uncontrolled speed, inability to slow or stop and heroic cop who played a role in averting disaster. It made sense if you believed the hype about Toyota problems. It was too good a story.
Katty Kay is a worldly Brit who's covered our nation for more than a decade, though a "strange duality" continues to puzzle her: The more highly respected an American politician is abroad (such as President Obama), the more suspect he is at home; and Americans want some kind of health care reform but refuse to learn anything from "socialistic" Europeans who enjoy cheaper, broader health care with equal or better outcomes. She explored these contradictions at the national speakers forum of the Cincinnati Woman's City Club on March 11.
In today's cultural, intellectual and financial world, I can't imagine a media job with less potential than science reporter. When your sources become objects of public scorn and ridicule, what's to write? In a nation accustomed to seeking simple answers to complex questions and a culture increasingly driven by belief rather than evidence, scientists today often are trying to communicate with the willfully deaf.