posts about or somewhat related to ‘Jack Shafer’

[Was hard] news ever commercial?

Gerald J. Baldasty’s book, The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century, makes a case clear as spring water that hard news has almost never been a mass commercial enterprise.

The American newspapers of the 1820s and early 1830s were creatures of political parties, edited by zealots. Essentially propaganda sheets, these newspapers were “devoted to winning elections,” as Baldasty wrote… Without newspapers, top political organizer Martin Van Buren once said, “we might as well hang our harps on willows.”

Political parties supported the papers financially, and when editors strayed from the party line into independence, the parties would dump their newspapers.

Everybody blames the Internet for the decline of newspapers, but the Web is only the most recent of electric interruptions to have disturbed their profitability, which began with radio in the late 1920s and was followed by broadcast television, car radios, transistor radios, FM radio, and cable television. Newspapers were in so much advertising trouble in September 1941 that Time magazine ran a piece about their “downward economic spiral.” Press scholar David R. Davies argues in his 2006 book The Postwar Decline of American Newspapers, 1945-1965 that daily newspapers were in serious trouble by the mid-1960s, because, among other things, they had failed to hook the baby boom generation. Los Angeles Times press reporter David Shaw sounded the alarm in a 1976 piece in his newspaper. It began: “Are you now holding an endangered species in your hands?” Update the figures and change a few dates and the names of the principals in Shaw’s piece and you could almost pass it off as a 2012 diagnosis of newspaper industry ills.

— Jack Shafer, Reuters. The Great Newspaper Liquidation.

Nostalgia for Old-Timey News →

It’s good to have media critic Jack Schafer back. He’s been writing at Reuters after being let go from Slate earlier this year. Yesterday, he had this to say about veteran newscaster Ted Koppel who’ll be joining NBC’s Brian Williams for a new news magazine show called Rock Center.

Ted Koppel, my favorite media punching bag, has stepped back into the ring for another beating.

And so it begins. Shafer criticizes Koppel for his persistent nostalgia for the way news was once done, and for pining for the good old days when news organizations had missions and didn’t tell the public what it wanted to know, but what it needed to know.

Koppel’s consistent nostalgia for the old days must not go unchallenged. No thinking person would trade the current mediascape—which gives us instant access to newspapers around the country and around the world, from the BBC and Al Jazeera, to the Reuters, AP, and AFP wires, and to narrowcasting websites of all sorts— for the ancient one in which the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the newsweeklies, CBS News, NBC News, and to a lesser degree Koppel’s also-ran, ABC News, ruled the news universe.

Koppel can only think that journalism has lost its “mission” if he spends more time on than he does on the Guardian. The rest of us who care about news are feasting our way through an endless, high-quality banquet.

The source of Koppel’s news angst isn’t hard to locate. He pines for the 1980s because that was the high-water mark of the now-displaced “media regime” in which he held power. I lift the phrase and the analysis from After Broadcast News: Media Regimes, Democracy, and the New Information Environment (Cambridge University Press), a new book by Bruce A. Williams and Michael X. Delli Carpini.

Williams and Delli Carpini explain how technology and the end of the Cold War “have destabilized the media regime of the mid-twentieth century, challenging the premises of which the Age of Broadcast News were based and accounting for current debates over the eroding boundary between news and entertainment.” It isn’t the first time that a media regime has toppled. Williams and Delli Carpini provide history lessons tracing earlier media displacements—the rise of the penny press in the 1830s, for example, and the development of the halftone print in the 1880s, which made newspapers more visual, and later triumph of broadcast journalism over newspapers. Somewhere in history’s dustbin a 110-year-old newspaper guy is making the same complaints about Walter Cronkite that Koppel is making about the current scene.

Glad to have Shafer back, and looking forward to reading Williams’ and Carpini’s new book.

Rather than ripping news outlets for “slanting” the news—as Groseclose and the other bias-hunters do—I prefer to blame news consumers for journalism’s deficiencies: Readers and viewers aren’t as critical about their favorite news outlets as they should be, except to complain that the New York Times isn’t as liberal as it should be or that Fox has failed to terminate the career of Barney Frank. My cure for this kind of credulousness is simple: Have readers and viewers expand the range of news sources they consume, embracing the whole SQ spectrum from liberal to centrist to conservative to “off the wing.”

Jack Shafer (via soupsoup)

Hey consumers: You’re responsible for the failings of the media you consume, and not the other way around! So says Shafer. If we’re so appalled, so underserved and so mislead by the news outlets that inform us, and if we were actually willing to quit them, they’d quickly change their tune to give us what we want. The fact that we’re still having the same discussions about bias, without anything changing, means we’re getting exactly what we want as consumers, or worse yet, we’re getting the media we deserve. 


A great interview with Jack Shafer on Reliable Sources about media criticism and having strong journalistic standards.

FJP: His comments about state government sunshine acts are dead on (around 8:00).

Slate Layoffs, Big Wigs Among Them →

We try not to get caught up in the coming and goings of media figures from their publications. There are very fine sources that cover that.

But word that Slate’s laid off some of their heaviest hitters, including media critic Jack Shafer, definitely draws our attention.

Via Politico:

In the occasionally prickly world of media reporting, it’s hard to find anyone who does not love, respect and, yes, slightly fear Jack Shafer.

So widespread is the love that American Journalism Review published a valentine to him earlier today, devoting 2,500 words to figuring out just what makes him so much better at writing about the media than everybody else.

Then, just minutes later, Adweek broke the news that Slate had laid him off, along with several others.

“These are tough times for publications,” Shafer told POLITICO. “They had to let some people go, and I was one of them.”

He said he would continue as a contributor.

Also let go are longtime senior writer Timothy Noah, winner of the 2011 Sidney Hillman Prize, and June Thomas, Slate’s foreign editor.

At least Shafer has his humor about him. Responding to Twitter posts about his firing he writes, “Reading these tweets is like reading a series of short and flattering obituaries. Being dead has never felt so good. Thanks, y’all.”

Still, the layoffs probably save Slate a couple hundred thousand dollars a year. Is that its current margin of error as a Washington Post company?

Jon Stewart on this week’s Newsweek cover featuring Michele Bachmann

Newsweek featured Michele Bachmann in this week’s issue and put, how shall we say, a rather unflattering photo of her on its cover.

Her supporters, unsurprisingly, lashed out but even many of her opponents are calling foul with Terry O’Neill, president of National Organization for Women telling the Daily Caller that the cover’s blatantly sexist because a man would never receive such treatment.

Elsewhere, at Salon, Joan Walsh says the cover’s not sexist, writing:

[Newsweek editor Tina] Brown has nothing to apologize for. Newsweek picked a striking photo that distilled Bachmann to her newsworthy essence. It’s also simply true that Bachmann does something very interesting with her eyes when there’s a camera in her sights. Sometimes she’s looking at something off camera, as she did when she delivered the Tea Party rebuttal to the State of the Union, which makes her seem distracted and/or demented. Often she just keeps them open impossibly wide and unblinking, which led Chris Matthews to ask her memorably if she was hypnotized on Election Night 2010.

Slate’s Jack Schafer has a different take. He supports Brown’s decision to run the image, but chastises her for pretending to be innocent of stirring up the pot:

There is nothing remotely unfair about making a strong visual statement about a profile subject if that graphic treatment harmonizes with the copy… The transgression comes only when the editor pretends—as Brown has with the Bachmann and Diana covers—that she wasn’t playing let’s-goose-the-public with sensationalist images. Obvious lies, such as Brown’s about merely trying to convey “intensity” with the Bachmann portrait, end up conveying contempt for the reader. And that’s not a pretty picture.

For more, New York Times Caucus blog covers the back and forth over whether the cover’s sexist. 

But what thinks you: Is the cover fair game or sexist?