On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was driving on I-295 in Washington D.C., listening to the radio. I was on my way into work at Potomac Tech Journal, which shared space with the Washington Business Journal in The Rosslyn section of Arlington, Va.
The cheerful morning DJ was chatting with musician Ben Folds, who was in the studio that morning, when they stopped to relay a news report about a plane having hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Details were lacking and they assumed it was an accident involving a small plane ... until the second one hit.
I was passing by the Pentagon right about then. The radio crew were realizing that there was more going on than an accident, but there was still little more than speculation to relay. And then I arrived at my office and had to conduct an interview over the telephone almost immediately.
My workstation was situated so that my back was to the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked south. I was focused on my conversation and taking notes, and only dimly aware of some commotion in the office behind me. Until I hung up the phone and turned to see the billowing plumes of black smoke rising into the air from the Pentagon.
It's a day that is indelibly stamped on our memories, and the tenth anniversary is coming up this year. Where were you on 9/11? Leave a comment to tell your story.
Posted on Aug 10, 2011 at 7:01 PM28 comments
A few days ago, I published an entry headlined “Horrible Bosses in Atlantis: How Google governs the news
,” about the influence that Google’s trending search terms have on the coverage of news. I said there that editors have to pay some attention to what the big topics of the day are because those are the things readers will be searching for.
The post generated some interesting reader comments. One reader, Dave, asked the cogent question: Did the blog entry – which led with a paragraph containing all 10 of that days top search terms – bring in more readers than usual?
The answer, according to the analytics tools we use, was a little baffling. Yes, it did get a few more views than an FCW Insider entry usually gets, but not by any dramatic amount. However, very little of that traffic came from search engines. Instead, the numbers came from the usual mixture of people coming directly to the website, or through the e-mail newsletter or via referrals from other sites. Google and Bing were in there, but accounted for their normal proportion of visits, not any increased number.
I think the explanation is pretty simple: If you Google the search terms you’re interested in – on that day, “space shuttle” or the movie “Horrible Bosses,” for example – you’ll get hits related to those terms, not our blog post. And if you string several of the terms together, our entry comes up in the number-one spot, but includes enough text to show the reader that it’s actually not about any of those things.
Which brings me to another commenter who posted thoughts on that entry:
“You traded on a respected name (FCW) but used nefarious tactics (a headline that has nothing to do with the article),” the reader wrote. “Now that I associate FCW with this sort of rubbish, I'll be less likely to click on your articles.”
I’m going to assume the reader was being tongue in cheek. What the entry did was something akin to a magician performing an impressive trick and then demonstrating how it’s done. Doing something transparently and then pointing out what you did and explaining why is hardly “nefarious.”
I’m also a little bemused at the accusation that the headline had “nothing to do with the article” … mainly because I can’t figure out what other sort of story a reader might expect with that headline.
Posted on Jul 15, 2011 at 7:01 PM0 comments
Some people believe a good reporter will do anything to get a good story.
It isn't so. Good reporters aggressively make use of sources, file Freedom of Information Act requests, wear down uncooperative gatekeepers with phone calls and e-mails, and generally use every legal and ethical means at their disposal to get important stories.
But there are lines they don't cross. Good reporters don't hack people's mobile phones to get their voice mail messages, for one thing, as employees of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. are under arrest for doing in England. They don't interfere in murder investigations or try to bribe government officials, either.
So far the scandal is limited to News of the World, a Murdoch-owned newspaper that shut down recently when the extent of its illegal activities came to light. But as Eliot Spitzer, writing in Slate, points out:
So how does all this concern Americans? First, it is hard to believe that the misbehavior in Murdoch's media empire stopped at the water's edge. Given the frequency with which he shuttled his senior executives and editors across the various oceans—Pacific as well as Atlantic—it is unlikely that the shoddy ethics were limited to Great Britain.
Much more importantly, the facts already pretty well established in Britain indicate violations of American law, in particular a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Justice Department has been going out of its way to undertake FCPA prosecutions and investigations in recent years, and the News Corp. case presents a pretty simple test for Attorney General Eric Holder: If the department fails to open an immediate investigation into News Corp.'s violations of the FCPA, there will have been a major breach of enforcement at Justice. Having failed to pursue Wall Street with any apparent vigor, this is an opportunity for the Justice Department to show it can flex its muscles at the right moment. While one must always be cautious in seeking government investigation of the media for the obvious First Amendment concerns, this is not actually an investigation of the media, but an investigation of criminal acts undertaken by those masquerading as members of the media.
Because News Corp. is incorporated in America, it is subject to the FCPA, Spitzer writes. An investigation could lead to revocation of FCC licenses for News Corp. operations in America -- including Fox News -- even if there's no evidence of American Murdoch employees engaging in similar acts.
Is this too harsh?
On the one hand, news organizations should follow the law and simple ethical principles. If Murdoch's company tacitly approved the behavior uncovered at News of the World, it may deserve more punishment than closing the newspaper -- which the company already did -- would bring.
On the other hand, though, if the actions were limited to News of the World employees, and not part of accepted practices at News Corp., it's hard to see how the American operations deserve to be sanctioned.
What do you think?
Posted on Jul 14, 2011 at 7:01 PM16 comments