former journalists discuss a profession in crisis

Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

March Celebrated Past But Didn’t Commit To Future

In Blog on August 30, 2013 at 2:30 pm

What happens when you compress all the news coverage of Black History Month into one week, and put it on steroids?  This week’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Don’t get me wrong. It is absolutely fitting to mark this event, and to pay homage to the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.  Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech ought to be remembered. We should honor the years of struggle that African-Americans endured to galvanize a nation.  Their nonviolent protests were met with beatings, imprisonment and death, and those horrendous events were broadcast across the nation.  Television journalism helped inform the conscience of a nation.

But what was lacking in the commemoration was the acknowledgment that the strides in racial equality also demanded political power.  As dramatic and moving as the civil rights protests were, the prospects for legislative reform 50 years ago seemed dim, at least until the Southern Democrats’ hold on the Senate was broken.

Ignoring that fact meant that this week’s events were more about emotion than strategy and leadership. The reading and viewing public got a big dose of memories, leavened with cogent analysis of the continuing legacy of racism. It was in large part, about sharing memories. NPR’s “The Race Card Project,” offered us an intriguing glimpse into the feelings of average Americans about black-white relations.

Watching the broadcast coverage of the event, one was struck by the tens of thousands of people who gathered on a rain-soaked day, the speeches, and the songs.

But here’s one concern about all that coverage. The March was framed as the one event that changed the course of history, prompting the passage of landmark civil rights and voting rights laws.

No one wants to diminish the March’s impact. It was crucial to the advance of civil rights. But the media ill serves the civil rights movement and history when it implies that speeches and marches alone change history. King, and his colleagues sowed the seeds for reform, as did the hundreds of thousands of civil rights activists throughout the country. And civil rights leaders were acutely aware of the obstacles that stood in their way in Congress, and used the media as a vital tool to overcome some of those obstacles.

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Five Things Jeff Bezos Can Do to Upgrade The Post and Win Over Its Readers

In Blog on August 7, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Dear Mr. Bezos,

Since you’ve paid cash ($250 million) to buy The Washington Post, I’m assuming that you can afford to spend a bit more to enhance your property. Think of these suggestions as adding a new wing to your DC pied-à-terre. I believe they will actually make The Post more attractive to its readers, and since you say you are all about pleasing the customer, they might appeal to you.

Restore The Post’s ombudsman. Last  April, The Post discontinued its ombudsman position. That was a short-sighted move.  You can reverse this decision.  The Post needs an independent and wise journalist to look over its shoulder and assess its performance. An ombudsman is the paper’s conscience and its customer service rep, the person who can respond to reader concerns and complaints in a thoughtful, meaningful way. And if you do take this suggestion, hire someone feisty and brave, like The New York Times’ Margaret Sullivan.

Hire more copy editors. As a reporter, I always resented editors for getting in my way. They do, and they should.  The good ones ask the right questions, guard the grammar, spot errors, and help shape stories. After waves of buyouts, you can see The Post has suffered from an editor shortage. Stories often are pointlessly long, lack focus, and leave readers frustrated for lack of basic information. Don’t take my word for it.  Read the corrections page each day, and the “reader’s comments page” on Saturday.

Beef up the Health-Science section. The Post Health section used to be plump with solid health journalism. Now it is thinner and a mishmash of health and science news, often snatched from wire services. Surely, an aging population of wealthy readers is pretty obsessed with health news.  Give them better, more comprehensive coverage from health journalists.  If you don’t want to staff up, give more in-depth assignments to free-lancers. Medical Mysteries is one feature that is a winner for the section, but it needs more heft.

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