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  • A Peek Into The Saugage Factory

    Most folks know what goes into sausages but would rather not watch them being made.  Jeff Meade  a sportswriter for the Monroe (Michigan) Evening News recently wrote a column in which he confessed to a number of sins during his career as a reporter.

     The column titled “Journalism Students: Don’t Do This” purports to list the “most unethical things” Meade had done as a reporter.

    The list includes influencing stories by getting coaches to play a certain athlete in exchange for covering an event, dating a source, making up quotes after losing his interview notes and, in order to save time, getting a high school basketball coach to give him two sets of cliched quotes before a game — one to use later if they won and the other to use if they lost.

    None of these transgressions fall into category of the high crimes and misdemeanors.  We suspect they confirm the suspicions of many who deal with small town news organizations.

    One of Meade’s admissions wasn’t even a petty crime, in our view.  He writes of interviewing a city manager who was about to be fired.  The interviewee ripped his city council bosses and ended his rant by saying “Don’t put that in the newspaper.” But Meade says he used all the material because the quotes were “too good not to use.”  He hadn’t agreed in advance to keep anything off the record.  Meade included in his story the line “but don’t put that in the newspaper.”

    You can’t un-ring a bell.  Although that is something the Monroe Evening News has yet to learn as well.  Apparently after Meade’s column was posted, it generated a lot of negative commentary — so the newspaper deleted it from their website.

    Unfortunately for them — and fortunately for us — the article was captured by Google’s cache and can be read here.

    h/t Poynter

  • Train of Thought Derailment

    No matter how glib you are, lack of preparation shows when you are on TV.

    On ABC News’ “This Week” yesterday they had their usual panel of pundits pontificating about the typical assortment of matters such as the “Fast and Furious” flap and presidential politics.

    It must have been a slow news week because their third topic was a discussion of a recent magazine article titled “Why Women Can’t Have it All”  We’re betting the panelists didn’t invest much time thinking about the subject.  At the 2:20 mark of the clip below, Peggy Noonan starts to ramble and shortly thereafter goes off track. She finally admits: “I forget where I am going with that beyond…….”  followed by a pause.

    She eventually comes up with a few gems like “It is good to remember that it is good to work with children…it is good to be in the house…it is good to be in the office…”  Gee….that’s good.

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    We are betting Noonan (who wrote some great speeches in her day) spent a lot more time preparing for the program by thinking about gun running and vice presidential picks than she did on the topic of the magazine piece. 

    Her lack of preparation showed.  And while honesty is generally to be applauded — we don’t recommend admitting on national TV that you forget where you were going.  In a panel discussion, there is always someone else willing to jump in and talk. If you get lost…just say “It’s complex” and pause…one of your better prepared colleagues will almost certainly interrupt and save the day.

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  • Media’s Wawa Whining

    Too much has been made of Mitt Romney’s latest supposed “gaffe.” The incident tells more about how out-of-touch the media can be rather than politicians.

    In case you missed it, a lot of news organizations got spun up over the past couple days by remarks the presidential candidate made recently in which he appeared to go gaga over what wonderful places Wawa convenience stores are because of the nifty way you can order sandwiches there.

    The candidate’s comments were cited to confirm a preconceived notion  that Romney is unfamiliar with the lives of average Americans.

    When first reported on MSNBC, it was suggested that this was a “supermarket scanner” moment for Romney –harkening back to an incident in 1992 when then-president George H.W. Bush visited a grocer’s convention and was reported to be amazed by a common bar code scanner.

    In some ways the two incidents were similar in that both were good examples of bad reporting.  In Bush’s case — a New York Times reporter who wasn’t present took a pool report and came to conclusions that no one who WAS present observed. According to the urban myth investigation site Snopes, Bush was shown a newfangled scanner that could “weigh groceries and read mangled and torn bar codes.” Others who saw videotape of the encounter thought Bush was polite but if anything, bored. But the incorrect image of a baffled Bush lives on twenty years after the incident didn’t happen.

    In Romney’s case, a full airing of his remarks would have shown that he was trying to compare the inefficiency of government with the innovation and efficiency of private sector places like Wawa.  The reporting edited out all the context.

    There are several lessons in this for those who deal with the media. First, it appears that the rhetorical device Romney was using in making the comparison was irony.  Ironically, irony is almost always lost on the media.

    Second, there are always well-known negative images of people and organizations.  Fair or not, it behooves you not to play into those images or say or do anything which will allow your opponents to seize on it to prove their point.  For example, to keep with the political theme here, that means Bill Clinton has to stay away from anything which would make it sound like he is a womanizer, Romney needs to stay away from anything which (fairly or not) sends a message that he is a clueless millionaire. You have to go into events thinking to yourself: “How can my remarks be taken out of context?” and guard against it.

    You also  have to watch out for images just as much as words.  Remember Senator John Kerry (who also was criticized for being a wealthy elitist) allowing pictures of himself windsurfing off Nantucket or Richard Nixon (criticized for being stiff) walking on a beach while wearing his dress shoes.

    Finally, the lesson we draw from this incident is the importance of pushing back hard and immediately when your words or actions have been misconstrued.

    Many of the media who were quick to report Romney’s remarks as a gaffe still haven’t reported the full context.  The campaign should have been hammering those outlets immediately to obtain a more fair account.  On the second day of the story MSNBC aired the full context but failed to offer any explanation or apology of leaving out the government efficiency comparison in the first place.

    The airing of Romney’s remarks takes about three minutes.  You don’t have that much time to make your point.  Ramble on and the media quite likely will edit your remarks down to a much more soundbite-sized amount and you may well find the resulting product inedible.

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