Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post from 1965 to 1991, died this week at the age of 93. Whenever journalism giants die, there are lots of stories around about their lives and careers.
I usually find it fruitful to read as many of them as I can find.
Bradlee, familiar to non-Beltway insiders as the character played by Jason Robards in the movie version of Woodward and Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men,” was not a sportswriter or a sports editor. But he liked sports and, evidently, understood well the role of sports journalism. His obituary, linked in the lede above, notes that when he took over as managing editor of the Post in 1965, its most famous writer was a sportswriter, Shirley Povich.
Here’s NBA.com and TNT reporter David Aldridge, who got his start at the Washington Post, writing on Facebook:
Working at The Washington Post was the anchor for my professional life. All the lessons I learned about journalism came from my nine years there, and all those came with Ben Bradlee at the helm. He didn’t run the Sports section, but he was the undeniable boss of the paper. He loved Sports and was quite fond of our immediate boss, George Solomon (the feeling was mutual). So, while he wasn’t there every day, Ben would come back to the section quite often to see what was going on. He was not that interested in the score of the game last night. He wanted to know if anything big was cooking. (Per David Maraniss’s outstanding biography of Vince Lombardi, It was Bradlee who first found out Lombardi was coming to D.C. in 1969 to coach the Redskins, having been given the scoop by his close friend, the late owner of the team, Edward Bennett Williams. Bradlee told Sports, which printed the story. THAT was Ben Bradlee’s idea of a big story.)
New Yorker editor David Remnick was a Washington Post reporter from 1982 to ’92. In a thoroughly entertaining remembrance, he writes of Bradlee, “Among his many bequests to the Republic was a catalogue of swaggering anecdotes rich enough to float a week of testimonial dinners.” The piece ends with one of them.
Here’s a great letter Bradlee once sent to a PR flack from a circus who had complained that the Post’s Style section hadn’t published a story about someone’s retirement. The kicker is a nice statement of purpose when it comes to dealing with press agents: “I would like to be sure that you understand that we trust our editors’ news judgment and that we distrust yours.”
Ben Bradlee Wrestled With Racial Issues by Richard Prince, Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
Ben Bradlee: His sense of Style brought a new sensibility to features by Martha Sherrill, Washington Post. The headline refers to the influential Style section, which Bradlee introduced.
A Story About Ben Bradlee That’s Not Fucking Charming by Peter Maass, The Intercept.
Journalists reflect on Ben Bradlee’s life and career by Benjamin Mullin, Poynter.org.
After all, the headline on Mallory Jean Tanore’s piece is “What media outlets can learn from the Ebola Deeply news site,” and we’re all media outlets, right?
The site, launched last week by Lara Setrakian, a former ABC reporter who also founded Syria Deeply, is dedicated to nothing but coverage of the Ebola outbreak. A note of disclosure: I’ve met Setrakian a few times and think the world of her and her work.
Increasingly, nontraditional news sites like Ebola Deeply and Syria Deeply are filling gaps by publishing stories that legacy news outlets may not have the capacity or resources to cover in depth.
Journalists can learn something from these sites, which break down complex information in a way that’s easy to understand. Ebola Deeply does this partly by offering readers a variety of ways to consume information.
In addition to written stories, the site features Google Hangouts, a Twitter feed, videos, a timeline of events related to the epidemic, and a case map [showing] the number of deaths and infections around the world.
Thanks for sticking with me, because here’s my point: Where are “the gaps” in what you cover, or might cover? That’s where the opportunities are to do great things. That’s something I’ve learned from, among other places, sites like Ebola Deeply.
Looking for an internship, fellowship or other educational program to kick your journalism career up a notch or two? Check out this Poynter.org post, which lists, at this writing, 34 of the best of them.
Note that the URL says there will be 27 of them, so you might want to keep checking back. The list is growing.
As Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin notes, “October through January is internship application season.” Some of the application deadlines are already coming up. It would have been helpful if the list were in order of deadline dates, but here are the ones with October cutoffs:
The Virginian-Pilot—Oct. 24
The New York Times James Reston Reporting Fellowship—Oct. 31
The Dallas Morning News—Oct. 31
The Miami Herald—Oct. 31
All of the programs Mullen lists, he says, are paid, even if the pay amount is sometimes missing.
They’re not listed in the Poynter post, but Bleacher Report has two paid educational programs that we think are among the best as well, the Advanced Program in Sports Media, which focuses on sportswriting, and the Advanced Program in Editing and Content Management, the focus of which should be clear from the name.
Both are paid, 12-week programs for advanced journalism students or early-career professionals. Two things set them apart from most other programs: One is that they’re part time, usually taking about 10 to 15 hours a week, and the other is that students telecommute. There are no travel or living requirements.
Visit the links above for more information and the applications.
Thursday was the 10th anniversary of Lionel Messi’s debut with Barcelona. Bleacher Report covered that milestone in four ways, and I think they’re a nice cross-section of some of the different types of content available as you think about how to cover any event or topic.
There were two fairly traditional pieces, one looking back and one looking forward:
There was a slideshow that rounded up quotes about Messi:
A video featured the moment of Messi’s debut for Barca:
And a pair of graphics, each accompanying a brief story by Patterson:
Finally, to encourage engagement, there was a Twitter contest in which fans could win a shirt and an exclusive print by artist Stan Chow:
I wonder what we’ll be able to do for his 20th anniversary.
It’s hard to keep pace with the changes in media: New tools and platforms are coming online every day, and users’ habits are changing with the technology.
But if you don’t want the business to leave you in the dust, you have to do your best. One good resource is the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Futures Lab, a weekly video series produced by the University of Missouri School of Journalism that provides an update on innovation in journalism.
An update two weeks ago shared insights and takeaways from the 14th annual Online News Association conference in Chicago. The description of the video says a lot about the very things we should be staying current on:
We bring you a recap that identifies several major themes: The growing complexity of devices and platforms; a drive for more sophisticated analytics; the central role of social media in news today; and the integration of new technology and innovation.
The videos are generally about six to eight minutes long, and while they’re professionally produced, they’re not very slick. Futures Lab is an easy, slightly nerdy way to keep track of some of what’s going on in the biz.
Kenna Griffin, an assistant professor of Mass Communications at Oklahoma City University, offered a ton of great career advice recently in a Twitter chat and a follow-up interview with the Society of Professional Journalists.
I found the chat, which used the hashtag #youngjournojobs, a little hard to read and digest, for signal-to-noise reasons, but you might find some useful nuggets. The interview, by SPJ communications coordinator Taylor Carlier, had some real wisdom. A sampling:
What are the top three qualities news orgs are looking for in the young generation of journos?
News organizations are looking for professionalism, strong foundational skills in writing and reporting and an understanding of multimedia tools with a willingness to adapt to change …
If young journos only have time to market one skill to potential employers, what should they focus on?
Adaptability. Our industry is changing in ways many of us never imagined. Students have to show that they have the basic skills they need now and a willingness to learn whatever storytelling tools the future presents.
Griffin also advises having two versions of both your résumé and clips, paper and digital; networking by joining as many professional organizations and attending as many local events as you can; and promoting your work with a consistent online presence.
As the headline points out, Olshan wants most MarketWatch stories to stick to 400 words, “without all the empty calories and filler journalists love to stuff in the sausage. We will also do longer, deep dives on important stories that warrant such treatment. This is the way the digital news is going: tall and venti, no more grande.”
That’s not a new idea, but we just heard last week that the traditional newspaper length, around 750 words, was optimal from the perspective of users’ attention, which advertisers crave. I wonder if Olshan will run into some resistance to his 400-words edict from the business side.
Olshan also makes a point that’s a favorite around here, about having to stand out from the crowd: “It’s important to routinely ask the Passover question: Why is this site different from all other sites?”
And most amusingly, when asked what he looks for when hiring someone to work at MarketWatch, Olshan says, “Someone to fetch me bagels.” That sounds like a joke, a little self-deprecating humor about what a lousy boss he is. But it turns out to be a tasty bit of writing advice:
My years at the New York Post taught me how to tell stories with a sledgehammer, how to find that one detail that ends up a kind of shorthand for anyone talking about the whole affair. When New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook was busted in 2010 on the usual corruption charges, for instance, we focused on one of the seemingly minor offenses: He fudged his expenses to charge taxpayers $177 for a single bagel. Whenever Seabrook is mentioned now the sentence almost always contains the word bagel.
I am looking for reporters who can find the bagel in every story. Tweets are now the atomic unit of journalism. When quizzing reporters on their stories, editors used to say, “So what’s the headline here?” Now we ask, “what’s the tweet?”
Ben Koo of Awful Announcing did some great detective work to clear the name of Joe Streater, whose name had been dragged into the history of the Boston College point-shaving scandal of 1978-79, despite Streater never having been implicated. In fact, as Koo points out, Streater wasn’t even a member of the 1978-79 BC team.
In Guilt By Wikipedia: How Joe Streater became falsely attached to the Boston College point shaving scandal, Koo shows how an anonymous user added Streater’s name to the Wikipedia entry about the scandal:
There is no mention of Streater that we can find as being involved the scandal before 2008. In May of 2007, a Wikipedia article had been created and can be found in its original incarnation here.
On August 12th, 2008 an anonymous Wikipedia user for all intents and purposes then rewrote history. We don’t know why or who, but on that day 43 characters were added to the page. The bulk of these edits were the addition of Streater’s name five times into the article. The changes to the article on that day can be found here. From that day in 2008 up until yesterday, Streater’s name was never confirmed, challenged, or deleted. He was now part of the scandal.
That’s a problem, but here’s the real problem: Koo writes that a variety of media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press and SB Nation, have included Streater’s name in pieces about the BC scandal over the years.
A Bleacher Report story, now corrected, named Streater. And of course, the AP story, reprinted countless times in outlets across the country, became a major distributor of the incorrect information.
This “snowball effect,” as Koo calls it, is a particularly dangerous enemy of the truth. It’s easy to cast Koo’s story as a lesson in why we shouldn’t trust Wikipedia. But it goes beyond that. You needn’t have trusted Wikipedia to name Streater in this case. There was his name on all sorts of other trusted sites. Heck, Sports Illustrated, one of those that named Streater, published the original first-person account by mobster Henry Hill—one in which Hill named three BC basketball players he says he bribed, none of whom was Joe Streater.
We talked about this effect recently on this blog, after someone confessed about a Wikipedia hoax they’d manufactured, inserting a false fact about a children’s literature character. From that post:
Whether it’s Wikipedia or that respectable news organization, if there’s no attribution, you keep digging till you find the origin of the fact. If you can’t find that origin, if you find yourself running in circles from reference to reference without finding a source, you shouldn’t use the fact, or you should be clear that you’re not sure about its provenance.
In this case, Koo notes that while the Wikipedia page had citations before Streater’s name appeared, those citations have disappeared. The entry now carries a warning at the top that reads, “This article does not cite any references or sources.”
The other places where Streater’s name has shown up, including Bleacher Report, did not cite any sources for that information. That makes sense: There was no source for the information. It wasn’t true.
That’s the very difficult takeaway. Not just “don’t blindly trust Wikipedia,” but “don’t blindly trust anyone, including any major media organization you consider trustworthy.” If you’re going to use a piece of information, dig down until you find the source of it. If you can’t find that source, don’t use it.
That’s a tough call to make, but it’s one that prevents things like what happened here: it becoming accepted fact that an innocent man was part of a conspiracy. It also would have prevented the media-wide embarrassment of the Mante Te’o-Lennay Kekua story.
More B/R Blog posts on Verification.