935 Lies: what journalism learned from the War in Iraq

The Bush administration made 935 lies to extend the specious connection between the attacks of Sept. 11 and the American invasion of Iraq. So says longtime investigative journalist and journalism champion Charles Lewis in his reporting and 2014 book entitled “935 Lies.”

Lewis uses the book to champion the importance of investigative journalism, the role of journalists more generally and an engaged citizenry. Lewis is part of a class of journalists whose careers spanned the golden age of American journalism, when the business models worked and audience reach was an essential monopoly. That has all changed, yet his perspective is still welcome. The book is drier than I expected, but the mix professional memoir and treatise on journalism was full of insight.

Below I share my notes for future reference.

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Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts and Fake News

Tall tales and blurring the lines between fact and fiction is part of the American identity.

Fake news isn’t new but the latest variation on the theme. So argued Kevin Young in his 2017 book Bunk
The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News
.

The book came from a series of articles he wrote for The New Yorker. It mashes culture, journalism, cultural appropriation and Americana. It reads like a collection of interesting tidbits, which can be fun, though I put the book down and picked it back up a few times over the couple years since it was given to me.

It still adds to my understanding of my field and my country. As Young quotes poet Mary Karr as saying: β€œThe American religion β€” so far as there is one anymore β€” seems to be doubt. Whoever believes the least wins, because he’ll never be found wrong.”

Below I share my notes from the book for my future reference.

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3 ways journalists can use AI writing ethically

This was originally a video, post and thread elsewhere.

ChatGPT is especially scary to journalists because AI writing feels a lot like cheating. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are three ways I’ve experimented with AI writing that don’t break any journalism codes:

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Thoughts on tax status and journalism

Journalism is the messy art of connecting that which is true with that which can be understood. I’ve defined it in other ways before. However you define it though, practitioners like me tend to assume it is important. We work to maintain it.

In the past few months, I’ve taken a critical look at that assumption, that journalism matters. One way I’ve done that is thinking about the types of organizations that produce whatever it is that journalism is.

In periods of economic change, when institutions or processes or elements of culture are lost, challenging the assumption of importance matters. It’s a crucial step. Are we trying to hold on to this thing because of tradition or because something functionally has import?

Political philosophy is rich with debate over what crucial societal functions should be enshrined into government, or maintained by charitable organizations and what the free market can do best. With the economic disruption confronting how journalism is produced, this question is relevant again.

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Local and national media: once no difference, and now the central difference of newsrooms

One of the many economic ripple effects of the global scaling of the web has been an enormous rift between place-based and place-less news organizations.

As recent as the early 1990s, the business fundamentals of the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer weren’t all that different. They were all advertising and subscription businesses that used a newspaper model as its strategy, leveraging thick newsrooms to gobble up a high comprehension of readers in its audience segmentation.

The web has transformed this into what seems very obvious to you today. Despite the geography in their names, the Washington Post is read globally for insight into U.S. government affairs; the New York Times is read globally by an affluent tribe that identifies with its brand and the Philadelphia Inquirer is read regionally by those who want to access that geography’s largest and most influential newsroom.

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Real Life Local News Revenue Experiments: ONA19 session

Powered by a decade of pursuing local news revenue models, I got together a few friends doing similar work and hosted a session during the 20th annual Online News Association conference, in New Orleans, on Thursday.

The session was called Real Life Local News Revenue Experiments That Aren’t Advertising. Building on a 2016 lightning talk at the same conference, I published an essay a few days before the session to gather related thoughts and spark conversation.

My big takeaway: journalism is a strategy, not an industry. Or put another way, it is an approach to competing in any number of business models. For local journalism to thrive in the future, we need to find and experiment there.

Find notes, slides and more below.

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Consider a tax credit for employed journalists

Typically journalists are reporting on tax credits for other industries. Should news organizations make a case for one of their own?

Yes, this might sound like it comes at a strange time, as trust in the media is waning. But I think that’s a good reason why: we need to incentivize and instill trust.

In the U.S. tax code (and others), there are straightforward deductions for anyone’s business expenses, including reporters, but I’m imagining something more. This could be a payroll tax credit, rather than any direct distribution, so this is an indirect subsidy of a public good, rather than a direct government intervention. A payroll tax credit would essentially subsidize a news organization’s investment in information gatherers, making them cheaper than other roles in the organization.

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