Principal in Kansas resigns after student journalists question her credentials

The Kansas City Star has an amazing story of student journalists making a difference by looking into their new principal’s questionable credentials:

Days after student reporters at Pittsburg High School in Kansas dug into the background of their newly hired principal and found questionable credentials, she resigned from the $93,000-a-year job.

“She was going to be the head of our school, and we wanted be assured that she was qualified and had the proper credentials,” said Trina Paul, a senior and an editor of the Booster Redux, the school newspaper. “We stumbled on some things that most might not consider legitimate credentials.” […]

Students journalists published a story Friday questioning the legitimacy of the private college — Corllins University — where Robertson got her master’s and doctorate degrees years ago. U.S. Department of Education officials, contacted by The Star, confirmed student reports; the federal agency could not find evidence of Corllins in operation. The school wasn’t included among the agency’s list of schools closed since 1986. Robertson earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa.

Students found and The Star confirmed the existence of several articles referring to Corllins as a diploma mill — where people can buy a degree, diploma or certificates. And searches on the school’s website go nowhere. No one from the university responded to emails sent by The Star this week.

The Washington Post’s new slogan

The Washington Post’s new slogan is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” It’s fitting, punchy, and alliterative. And it could’ve been so much worse.

In an article in their style section, Paul Farhi reveals some of the rejected options:

The group brainstormed more than 500 would-be slogans. The choices ranged from the heroic (“Dauntless Defenders of the Truth”) to the clunky (“American democracy lives down the street. No one keeps closer watch.”) to the Zen-like (“Yes. Know.”).

The group ultimately ended up where it started — with “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

Note: apparently coming up with a new slogan is now a good way to generate a lot of media coverage (including one’s own).

“If it arouses an emotional response in you, double-check it.”

Great article by Deena Shanker at Bloomberg, talking with experts on how to avoid fake news:

“My biggest rule of thumb is if it arouses an emotional response in you, double-check it,” said Brooke Binkowksi, managing editor at Snopes, a website that specializes in debunking popular internet myths from both the left and the right. “They upset you because they’re meant to.”

When a story seems outrageous, such as a five-year-old Syrian refugee shown in handcuffs before deportation, it might not be true—or entirely true. That Syrian girl wasn’t in handcuffs, her father said after he had heard the reports, and they aren’t refugees. The photo shows detained Syrians trying to go on vacation who, despite their visas, were denied entry and had to return home. Binkowski and D.C. Vito, executive director of the Lamp, which teaches media literacy in New York, suggest searching for a second source, especially when a story is incendiary.

Regency and Fox launched fake news sites to promote ‘A Cure for Wellness’

Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko from Buzzfeed recently discovered that the producers behind A Cure for Wellness launched fake news sites to promote the upcoming psychological thriller:

At the core of the campaign is a network of five fake local news sites that are inserting promotional references to the film into hoaxes. The sites also host ads for the film and for a fake water brand that in at least one case directs people to a website directly linked to the film.

The fake local news sites mostly publish hoaxes about topics unrelated to the film, and in some cases their fake stories — such as one about Donald Trump implementing a temporary ban on vaccinations — have been picked up by real websites and generated significant engagement on Facebook thanks to people being fooled. Their biggest hit so far is a fake story about Lady Gaga planning to include a tribute to Muslims during he Super bowl performance. It generated more than 50,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

In principle, I’m not opposed to promotional micro-sites that have some interesting twist to them. And when it comes to imitating the actual look and feel of fake news sites like the Denver Guardian, the people behind this campaign actually did a good job.

The problem with these particular sites is that they also contain fake news that seems to incite the sort of hatred and reactions that “actual” fake news sites aim to get. So for instance, “Psychological Thriller Screening Leaves Salt Lake City Man in Catatonic State” is fine (although it still makes me slightly uncomfortable); Lady Gaga preparing a secret message for Muslims in her Super Bowl half-time show? It was a fake news story from one of these Cure for Wellness sites that went viral on Facebook.

In other words, the campaign would be funny and amusing, except for the fact that fake news can have actual, real-world consequences. For one Houston paper, it has already created problems.

It’s worth noting that after the uproar these sites caused on social media, all the film-related fake news sites are now gone, and redirect to the homepage of the movie’s website.

Update: Fox has now apologized for this marketing campaign.

The New York Times’ 2020 Report

A year ago, The New York Times created the 2020 group, tasked (among other things) with getting the company to $800 million in digital revenue by the year 2020. Now, that group has released a report detailing all the changes the Times needs to make:

We have not yet created a news report that takes full advantage of all the storytelling tools at our disposal and, in the process, does the best possible job of speaking to our potential audience. More of our journalism needs to match what a large and growing number of curious and sophisticated readers have told us they value most — distinctive journalism, in a comfortable form, that expands their understanding of the world and helps them navigate it. Our work too often instead reflects conventions built up over many decades, when we spoke to our readers once a day, when we cultivated an aura of detachment from them and when by far our most powerful tool was the written word. To keep our current readers and attract new ones we must more often apply Times values to the new forms of journalism now available to us.

For The Times to become an even more attractive destination to readers — and to maintain and strengthen its position in the years ahead — three broad areas of change are necessary. Our report must change. Our staff must change. And the way we work must change.

On the challenges the media is facing

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other. Others will use this opportunity to go on a long, rambling statement vaguely disguised as a question, but that’s also bad tactics. Non-questions invite non-answers. He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement (“Mr President, what about these horrible human rights abuses in our country?” “Thank you, Miss. This is indeed a very serious issue. Everybody must respect the law. And by the way, don’t human rights abuses happen in other countries as well? Next question please”).

Source: A message to my doomed colleagues in the American media

Offline

An unexpectedly moving article by Paul Miller, about what it was like to spend an entire year off the internet:

I’d read enough blog posts and magazine articles and books about how the internet makes us lonely, or stupid, or lonely and stupid, that I’d begun to believe them. I wanted to figure out what the internet was “doing to me,” so I could fight back. But the internet isn’t an individual pursuit, it’s something we do with each other. The internet is where people are.

Getting Accepted, Then Rejected, from Fresh Air

Interesting reflections from Martha Bayne, whose amazing piece Knocked Over landed her a spot on Terri Gross’s Fresh Air…before the interview went disastrously and had to be pulled:

[O]ne key thing that I forgot is that to a large degree, these interviews function as a stand-in for the story itself. So you’re being asked to re-tell the story you already told on paper, for those who don’t know it, rather than have a conversation that builds on the existing information. I remember subconsciously chafing against this at the time, thinking, Why is she asking me these dumb questions? But I blame myself completely for that part.

Doing Good for the World Through Film

Over at /Film, we’ve just launched a fundraising drive to raise $10,000 for FilmAid. The request? Donate as much as possible at FilmAid’s website, even if it’s just $1. The reward? A 10-hour long broadcast of the /Filmcast, featuring lots of fun guests from our show’s past. 
I will admit that I was a bit skeptical of FilmAid at first, as I know many will be. Why provide film and media training to a people that desperately also need basic necessities such as food and water? To be clear, those things are still important, and if you are a person who only donates to those types of causes, I still think that is great. But when you read about the work that FilmAid does, I hope you’ll realize that it’s also essential.
I know that crowdfunding at the scale I dreamed it is probably not possible. But I still have a vision that thousands of people will each donate a little bit. Whether we meet our goal that way or not, I hope we succeed and show that a few film fans can still change the world. Won’t you join us and donate today?

Breaking My Ties with the Internet

Kevin Smith has had a pretty rocky relationship with film reviewers these past few years but I’ve stayed a fan of what he has accomplished (I was one of the few on our podcast that was really impressed by Red State).

This past year has seen a huge life transition for me. As I’ve gone through it, and as I’ve experienced recent events, there’s one interview with Kevin Smith that keeps coming to mind, over and over again: a 2009 interview that Smith did with Lee Stranahan on “The Dark Side of the Internet.” In it, Smith discusses how the poor performance of Zack and Miri caused him to swear off the internet for good.

While I think constructive criticism can benefit any number of people (myself included), there’s one section of the interview that has really changed the way I look at things. It starts about the 5 minute mark above:

“You know what I realized one day? People can write the worst shit about you that you’ve ever seen. They can write really horrible shit about your wife, about your fucking kid. They can write things about your motivations. They can try to peer into your soul and write heinous fucking things. They can take you into bizarro world and write the opposite of everything that’s true, and maintain to the world in general that it’s true. And it’s only really recently that I’ve realized that they can do all that, and they can’t affect your ability to earn, to love, to be loved, to have a good day…

It’s weird. I’ll sit there and read something on the internet  really heinous about myself or about my work or something, and then I’ll go a meeting on some project I’m working on. Those cats aren’t like ‘Hey, we read that thing and that dude’s right, you are a prick!’ That shit doesn’t matter, and you bring it up to them! It’s so weird, I’m so tired of telling people in my life…people will be like, ‘What’s wrong?” and I’m like ‘I read this fucking thing on the internet that really bothers me.’  None of them have ever been like, “Oh man I’m sorry.’ They’ve all been like, ‘So? Dude, look at your life! You won! What do you give a shit what someone writes about you on the internet?’ And I’m like, ‘I dunno. Because I always have.’

And then I just realized, maybe I can just stop.”

Amen.

Yes, Filmmakers Should Defend Their Work

Drew McWeeny asks whether or not it’s appropriate for filmmakers to strike back after a negative review of their film. In referring to Calvin Reeder and his film, The Rambler, McWeeny writes, “He should say what he has to say with his films, I should say what I have to say with my reviews, and everything else should be tabled as needless noise that detracts from us both.”

I don’t agree with McWeeny here – informed dialogue after a movie has been released and written about can benefit both the filmmaker, the public, and film critics. Just look at what happened with that Django Unchained incident, after all.

That being said, I don’t think Reeder is the standard bearer for what constitutes a civilized response. Based on his communications on his Facebook page and on the comments on the Hitfix post, he seems more interested in sniping and destroying McWeeny’s credibility than in actually engaging in a serious dialogue.

But to me, there is no question that a person who makes their living talking about their opinion on the works of others should be able to have their work commented on. How productive that commenting is, and in what venue it occurs are the unresolved questions.

Quality vs. Quantity

Andrew Phelps has some cool analysis of Gawker’s new editorial guidelines that are geared towards garnering more page views:

The key to the balance probably doesn’t lie in raw numbers, though. A Gawker that was only weird Chinese goats would likely, over time, bore its readers. The more substantive stories serve as tentpoles for the entire site; once in a while, they’ll blow up huge, and they’re probably more appealing to the kind of brand advertisers Gawker seeks. […]

It also at least has the potential to lead to happier writers who know when they need to chase pageviews and when they don’t.

Should Stephen Glass Get a Second Chance?

Stephen Glass was a journalist who fabricated a wealth of materials for features that he wrote for publications such as The New Republic and Rolling Stone. His crimes were dramatized in the solid journalistic thriller, Shattered Glass. Glass is now trying to become a lawyer in California, but the Bar association there is…reluctant. Jack Shafer explores whether or not Glass has learned his lesson:

Glass ‘s legal struggle to join the bar goes back almost a decade. According to court filings, Glass passed the New York Bar Examination in 2000 and applied for admission to the bar in July 2002. But he withdrew his application on Sept. 22, 2004 after the bar notified him he would not likely be approved on moral character grounds. He moved to California that fall and passed its bar exam in 2007, but the Committee of Bar Examiners rejected Glass on moral character grounds in 2009. The committee holds that Glass has not rehabilitated himself, waiting more than 11 years to fully list and identify all of the fabrications in his journalism.

The New York Times’ Bizarre Jerry Sandusky Interview

After Bob Costas obliterated Jerry Sandusky’s reputation in a well-executed but troubling interview, one would think that we wouldn’t need to hear too much more about the matter from the man himself. Costas’ questions were pointed, relentless, and well-researched. Sandusky’s failure to provide even a moderately plausible explanation for his prosecution (and persecution) spoke volumes.

But today, the New York Times published a front-page story on Sandusky, featuring an interview with Jo Becker. The interview is bizarre, to say the least. Becker seems less interested in getting at the truth than in 1) trying to help Sandusky find justifications/explanations for his imprudent behaviors, and 2) giving Sandusky a massive mouthpiece with which to tell his side of the story. Commenters on the piece are lining up to complain about Becker’s softball questions. And as a side note, I can’t imagine this interview helps Sandusky’s cause any (Seriously, WTF is his lawyer thinking? Unless he’s playing some kind of circuitous, long game here…).

I’m not too familiar with Becker’s work. But if I may go out on a limb here, I think I can understand the motivation behind such a piece. It felt like Becker was trying to get inside the mind of a pedophile and try to make us understand his plight and condition. There is some value for society in this; if we can’t understand monstrosity, how can we ever hope to contain or stop it? But I’m also reminded of this important column about the Sandusky scandal by priest James Martin. In the column, Martin argues that pedophiles often exhibit two tendencies: grandiosity and narcissism. When the pedophile is discovered, these two qualities often fuse together:

The grandiose narcissist now focuses almost exclusively on his own suffering. His removal from office, or from ministry, he believes, is the worst thing that has happened to anyone, and he (or she) laments this fate loudly and frequently. Because of his narcissism he focuses almost entirely on his own troubles; because of his grandiosity he inflates them to ridiculous proportions. He suffers the most. This is the “Poor Me” Syndrome.

Even more dangerous: he draws others into his net, and the suffering of the real victims, those whose lives have been shattered, is overlooked-even by otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people. The focus of those within the institution is shifted onto the person they know, rather than the victims that they may not know.

We cannot allow this to happen. Today’s NYTimes interview does not help.

The Economics of Business Insider

Felix Salmon reveals the stark truths about Henry Blodget’s online news machine:

[T]here’s reason to be concerned about what Blodget’s team has sacrificed along the way. It’s worth noting that venture-backed media companies can very much be in a race against time for growth. Investors want a return on their money and, given the economics of web news, that almost always requires exponential growth in uniques and pageviews.

See also Marco Arment’s analysis of Business Insider’s copy-and-pasting of his material.

Update: And Business Insider responds to Arment (with aplomb)!

The Body of Your Enemy

TechCrunch’s continuing disaster spilled over onto the site again this weekend, as columnist Paul Carr decided to engage in some scorched earth tactics on his way out the door (see TechCrunch editor Schonfield’s response).

Rex Hammock pointed me to this post by David Winer, which tells a story that really resonates with me:

When competitors make public and personal accusations, how are you going to respond, when customers are watching? It’s a very low-road way to compete. Not much you can but weather the storm, keep offering the best service you can, figuring the smart customers will ignore the personal stuff.

Anyway, there’s an ancient Chinese proverb that goes something like this. “If you sit by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy float by.” It works! As your competitors rise, eventually they have done to them what they did to you, and if you sit there a while, you don’t have to do a thing — nature takes care of it.

For TechCrunch, This Is How It Ends

The Guardian chronicles the latest chapter in the Crunchgate fiasco, in which a startup that Arrington invested in won TechCrunch Disrupt:

The whole episode marks a giant loss in credibility for TechCrunch, a mangled, undignified departure, unprofessional personal scraps between colleagues and a decidedly fetid atmosphere around what has generally been a vibrant, inspiring and powerful brand. Ultimately, whatever the future of the writers and investors involved, this is a real shame for the entrepreneurs who’ve worked extremely hard to get this far.