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TelevisionConsumers have noticed cutbacks in newsroom spending and they are increasingly abandoning traditional media. These cutbacks leave news organizations less capable of monitoring companies and business.

Those are the findings of Pew Research Center’s annual State of the Media report.

Consider:

– Television news coverage of government has dropped by half since 2005. Traffic, weather and sports now make up 40 percent of the content, which is not a good sign, since those things can easily be found by a variety of other sources.

– “Regular local TV viewership among adults under 30 fell from 42% in 2006 to just 28% in 2012.”

– Cable news is more “cable talk,” with the delivery of traditional news stories dropping 30 percent from 2007 to 2012.

– Nearly one-third of study respondents said they abandoned a news outlet because it no longer delivers the content they expect.

– “Campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans.”

– Figuring out a viable digital model is still a challenge for news organizations, which are failing to grab huge shares of the online ad market.

The findings suggest news outlets have yet to find the sweet spot for producing quality news and balancing their budgets. If we don’t find it, consumers will continue to jump ship.

Links of the Day:

– If New York City is allowed to test speed cameras, it’s only a matter of time before they come to Rochester.

– Cuomo’s top cop double dips. I’m not sure why this is such a big deal, considering it’s happening all over the state. Lt. Governor Bob Duffy is among a plethora of retired law enforcement personnel allowed to collect their pensions and salaries.

– Before they decide on gay marriage, let’s look at the marriages of the Supreme Court justices.

– NFL players are subjected to different medical standards than the rest of us.

Links of the Day:

– The journalism world was jolted by news the Times-Picayune in New Orleans is cutting staff and publishing only three days a week. Newhouse Newspapers announced the same move for papers it owns in Alabama. The company also owns the Syracuse Post-Standard, a foreshadowing of things to possibly come for that organization.

The news was startling because the Times-Picayune won a Pulitzer for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina (much of that coverage was online). The outlet led national coverage of the disaster. More recently, I’ve been awed by its amazing and disturbing coverage of the state’s for-profit prisons.

Of course, Newhouse is spinning this as a positive thing. Online coverage will be beefed up! We’ll bring you more news! Erik Wemple at Washington Post points out:

Bolded text added to highlight Latin-rooted corporate nonsense. Strikes me that if you reallocate to accelerate, you necessitate more people, not fewer people. The memo rhetoric is just another variation on the we’re-going-to-do-more-with-less cant that fools no one and insults everyone, every time.

While I agree with the assessment that cutting journalists does not lead to a better product, I don’t mourn the loss of print. I haven’t read a printed newspaper in a long, long time.

A newspaper doesn’t go away when print goes away. I often wish print would go away now. Print can force reporters to write a certain length. Print can force newspapers to hold stories because of space needs and the needs of the front page. Print can force reporters NOT to write as much as they would and could because of false constraints.

But a lot of people still read print and it’s paying a lot of bills. For now. Not publishing every day doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

– I bet a lot of newspaper reporters are sending their resumes into Warren Buffett-owned outlets.

– After reading this column in the Buffalo News, I’m convinced I’m the only person who’s not excited by the prospect of a death fall into the Niagara River.

– This is a little scary. Ohio’s governor is letting businesses draw a lot of water from Lake Erie.

 – When should a students off-school-grounds conduct be punished in school?

Links of the Day:

snark·y

adjective /ˈsnärkē/
snarkier, comparative; snarkiest, superlative

  1. (of a person, words, or a mood) Sharply critical; cutting; snide

– Warning: This is a snarky blog post. 

The governor’s staff wrote a lengthy memo outlining the things they don’t like about an Albany TV anchor and blogger’s work:

A top aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo assembled a 35-page dossier on the work of an Albany political reporter considered hostile to his administration, highlighting any shred of criticism in a document that reflects the intense sensitivity of a governor on the brink of taking the national stage.

The document was provided to BuzzFeed by a New York City political operative who said he believes it reveals Cuomo’s “scary dark side.”

(snip)

The file, composed of highlighted and annotated blog items by Elizabeth Benjamin, one of Albany’s dominant political reporters, paints a picture of an executive branch that’s particularly averse to hints that Cuomo could be, as is widely assumed, conidering running for president in 2016. The document focuses particularly on seven items it describes as “GENERALLY SNARKY…”

The dossier is disturbing on many levels. It bolsters the notion of Cuomo as a control freak. Trying to shut Benjamin up by going to her bosses is particularly offensive. It shows a lack of respect for the people tasked with holding the administration accountable and informing the public.

I was also bothered by the term “snarky.” Sarcasm, cynicism and biting criticism do have a place in journalism and analysis. There’s no rule that says reporters have to be sweet and nice to politicians. Furthermore, when “snarky” is applied to a woman, it brings to mind the “b” word. Snarky men are smart and witty, if not a little arrogant. Snarky women are…you know.

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto is on a radio program right now saying it’s common for politicians to call reporters’ bosses to complain about stuff they don’t like. “It’s a standard course of business in Albany, Washington…everywhere…to characterize it as something else is a distortion.”

The general rule among reporters is when a person in power calls your boss, you’re doing a good job.

– There’s a meth boom in Central New York. It involves driving around with soda bottles filled with harsh chemicals.

– A student at Georgetown University says he was not prepared for college. He blames his teachers at a D.C. charter school who focused on rote memorization, not critical thinking and writing. He says they had low expectations for him. One thing not mentioned: the impact of the concentration of poor students. If this student had attended an economically-integrated high school, he would have been exposed to higher-level students before college.

Cybercrime is a myth. 

Buffalo is mad it was left off a Rust Belt Chic list.

When the media decides to scare the crap out of you, it does a darn good job.

Exhibit A: Pink slime.

Pink slime is a food product that’s been around for years. It cuts the cost and fat content of ground beef. It doesn’t change the nutritional value. It’s also safe. But that information isn’t getting out underneath the hysterical headlines.

ABC News and The Daily never would have ignited such a frenzy if they had not called the stuff “pink slime.” The accurate name is “lean finely trimmed beef,” which is sometimes treated with ammonia to ensure safety. But calling it LFTB doesn’t terrify you, so the media stuck with pink slime.

Wegmans, in announcing it’s pulling LFTB, referred to the “sensationalism” surrounding the product. Wegmans doesn’t even sell beef treated with ammonia, just the so-called “filler.” The company insists the product is safe, but it’s bowing to customer pressure.

Everyone’s upset cow scraps treated with ammonia are used in ground beef. I’ve probably eaten pink slime for many years. I’m still here! I’m glad my food is treated with chemicals to get rid of bacteria. I don’t buy organic for that reason. I’ve never, ever had a stomach ailment in my life.

I would have been just fine not knowing anything about pink slime. I also don’t want to know what’s in my hot dogs or chicken nuggets. I don’t want to know how many preservatives are in the cereal I ate for breakfast or how many bug bits were in the canned soup I had for lunch.

But since I’m a reporter and advocate for transparency, I agree with pink slime fighters that we need to hold the government accountable for what’s in our food. The dude who coined the term pink slime wasn’t even concerned it was bad stuff – he just thought it needed to be disclosed.

The problem I have with the pink slime debate is that it’s a manufactured issue designed to get ratings and web clicks. The amount of news coverage devoted to pink slime should be reserved for products that actually will kill me or when the United States goes to war.

I highly doubt the pink slime frenzy will transfer to other food products. Can you see mass hysteria over ammonia in our donuts? (Those are chemically-treated, too.) A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Pink slime by any other name wouldn’t have caused a ripple.

A Dansville 6-year-old was left on a bus by himself for less than 10 minutes by a forgetful driver. The incident scared the little boy and made local news headlines.

A quick search of “child left on bus alone” yields dozens and dozens of news stories from all over the world. The most troubling and egregious incidents involve children with special needs. This happens so often, a company came up with an alarm system to prevent kids from being abandoned.

Leaving kids alone on buses is terrible! Drivers who do such a thing should be disciplined and maybe even fired. Every case is different. It’s entirely appropriate for news organizations tasked with holding government accountable to question officials about policies and procedures.

While this can be upsetting and scary for children and parents, virtually none of these incidents resulted in any physical harm. A child getting asphyxiated because of hot temperatures on a yellow school bus is extremely rare.

But in one South Carolina news report, a parent vowed to drive his children to school every day, even though thousands of children a year die in car accidents and almost none die on school buses. At what point are we losing perspective?

I suspect the sheer volume of “kids-abandoned-on-buses” stories has a little bit to do with something that has had a profound impact on our society: the fear of something bad happening to children left alone for any length of time, no matter how small the risk.

Update: A company compiled a list of incidents – ones that make the news. This really does happen a lot.

The LeRoy Central School District sent out this statement to the media today (emphasis added by me):

 This morning, without any prior notice to the District, camera crews from a number of media sources, including both national and local outlets, entered District property for the purpose of filming an unidentified individual taking soil samples.

It is appalling that whatever group or entity employing this individual, as well as the media outlets participating in this effort, chose to conduct themselves in this way – which can only be characterized as grandstanding. Not only was this criminal activity which forced the District to call in local law enforcement to maintain the security of its property, it disrupted the District’s preparations for a weekend music event involving students from over twenty-two schools as well as other student activities. No legitimate organization would function in this manner.

As previously indicated, the District is working in conjunction with local and state agencies relative to this matter. Based upon the results from testing already conducted at the District as well as review of other information from multiple sources, environmental factors have not been identified as a cause of the symptoms that have manifested in some students. Testing conducted with rogue samples is of no scientific value, as it is not conducted in accordance with scientific methodologies and safety protocols utilized by reputable environmental experts in all testing situations. In fact, such actions could hamper the coordinated effort already underway by the District in conjunction with environmental, health, and safety experts to address this matter. The District will continue to provide information with respect to these efforts as it becomes available.

Local law enforcement will continue to monitor the security of the District’s property.

I have no idea which media outlets or individuals were involved or if the characterization of the incident by the school district is accurate. Media cannot be blamed for covering the LeRoy girls extensively. The families, devastated by the girls’ illness, have sought this attention. The LeRoy community is very worried about what’s going on.

But don’t we already know what’s going on? Doctors have made a diagnosis of conversion disorder, yet many are still referring to the situation as a “mystery.” There has been no other plausible explanation. People suspected the HPV vaccine caused the tics, but the Democrat and Chronicle reported few of the girls got the shot. Erin Brockovich suspects environmental causes, but that theory has been debunked by the state and there is no new proof.

Conversion disorder is a psychological issue that manifests itself in the body. The New York Times did a story in 2006 about brain images showing it’s a real disease. The article also noted there is much we don’t know about it:

Conversion disorder has long been a troubling diagnosis because it hinges on negative proof: if nothing else is wrong with you, maybe you’ve got it.

This has led to some obvious problems. For one thing, it means hysteria has been a dumping ground for the unexplained. A number of diseases, including epilepsy andsyphilis, once classified as hysterical, have with time and advancing technology acquired biomedical explanations.

Such specious history makes patients skeptical of the diagnosis, even though the rates of misdiagnosis have gone down. (One widely cited 1965 study reported that over half of the patients who received a diagnosis of conversion disorder would later be found to have a neurological disease; more recent studies put the rate of misdiagnosis between 4 percent and 10 percent.)

Are the LeRoy teens part of the 4 to 10 percent? We don’t know. We also don’t have any proof to suggest otherwise.

It’s entirely appropriate to continue monitoring the developments in this case. There’s a place for skepticism of the scientists, doctors and school officials dealing with this crisis. There is also a place for facts.

Links of the Day:

Media

– Journalists reflected on the state of their craft when false reports of Joe Paterno’s death surfaced. A Penn State community news site got it wrong. CBS reported the information without double-checking or even attributing the information.

Some journalists blamed Twitter and glory-seeking reporters for jumping the gun. I do not. As fast as false reports spread on Twitter, they are debunked. That doesn’t mean mistakes are okay, but bad info won’t linger for long. Furthermore, errors in reporting happened well before the days of social media.

Most every journalist on Twitter retweets credible news outlets without personally checking the information. I attribute reports by naming the outlet and/or including a link. If I suspect there’s a problem with the information, I will say it’s not confirmed or simply not pass it along. Andy Carvin at NPR has made a career out of crowdsourcing information he has not verified on Twitter. This is the nature of Twitter – sharing and finding information.

Let’s face it – journalists aggregate all day long, whether they’re on Twitter or not. Every newsroom in town uses Associated Press wires, national networks and CNN. We cite reports from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. We also see work from local competitors, verify it and report it as our own. Twitter makes this process much more transparent, warts and all.

Tech

– We tend to think jobs go overseas because of wages. A devastating piece in the New York Times on Apple suggests that’s simply not true. IPhones are made in Asia because of skilled workers, flexible factories and access to supply lines.

– People hate touch keyboards. iPhone-lovers tell you they can type just as fast, but studies show that’s not true. All Things Digital has a great look at how engineers are trying to create the perfect modern keyboard.

– Cell phones only last about a year, but most of us can’t get an upgrade for two years. There’s a movement to rethink those contracts and lease phones instead of buy.

Kodak

– The Democrat and Chronicle calls on Kodak CEO Antonio Perez to talk to the media.

– Kodak used to be a sports marketing giant.

Links of the Day:

– Alec MacGillis has a must-read in the New Republic about the rise of he-said-she-said journalism and the fall of fact-checking. Reporters are supposed to ferret out the truth, not just repeat both sides of an argument. I took a ton of heat for fact-checking Jean-Claude Brizard; at least once he outright lied. But journalists are very uncomfortable calling out politicians on lies because we’re worried about appearing biased. The public is not served if we don’t aggressively take on fact-checking.

– A very disturbing study out of Massachusetts found that one in 13 teen girls had participated in group sex. The girls were often subjected to pornography, alcohol and drugs. Many also said they were pressured into sex and had sex against their will. The study of 328 girls between the ages of 14 and 20 is small, but cause for alarm.

– A Harvard study found the nation’s police officers suffer from a serious lack of sleep, which can lead to bad decisions on the job.

– New York State now allows human ashes to be buried at pet cemeteries.