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Sunday, June 12, 2005 

Star Trib Tracks Coverage, Internet Influence

It's not often that we get a glimpse into the media mind to discover why they have--or haven't--ben covering a story. Today, the Star Tribune let's us in on why it decided to cover the DSM: (subscription required)

The back story reveals a lot about how news travels traditional routes and cyberspace at different velocities, about how the Internet is being used to influence media and about how those on the left and right have learned to puff up their feathers or grow small -- to foment coverage or strangle it.

Curiously, that silence extended to most of the U.S. media -- including the Star Tribune. For days, it appeared the story had no legs.

Unless you went online.

Cyberspace was roiling with it. Whole websites were being set up around the memo and liberal weblogs and websites were ablaze with outrage -- some of it at the U.S. media for not reporting on the memo. Some of the sites gave instructions for pressuring local media to run a story.

The article goes on to trace how reader emails helped influence the way the story was covered in that paper; first in the opinion section, then as a news article. It's a fascinating read. Especially important is this aspect of the story:

I love a good campaign in which informed, engaged citizens come together eagerly to debate issues. But there's something about these e-mail campaigns fomented by political websites (and Downing Street is just the most recent -- they erupt across the spectrum of politics and issues) that smacks more of Astroturf than grassroots. Ombudsmen around the country chat regularly about the latest campaigns; the technique isn't fooling anyone. It's also important to remember, however, that some of the Downing Street reaction, such as the e-mail from Bootz, was genuine and spontaneous -- although Bootz says he later went online to urge others to contact the media.

It should be noted that here at, while we have targeted media campaigns, we have not provided form letters, deciding instead to let each concerned citizen have their own voice in the campaign.

While such campaigns may smack of "astroturf", the bigger question to be asked is not whether these campaigns are effective or what the Ombudsmen think about them; the critical question is why do these campaigns have to be launched at all? What does it say about the current state of the media that average citizens like us have to take to the internet and organize just to have the media do its job and have a blurb on the DSM on page b-22?

The article ended on a strong note, noting the disconnect between wire services and the breaking-news-thirsty internet community:

The effort it has taken locally to get a string of politically potent stories to Star Tribune readers before they're old news online reveals a rusty news industry infrastructure that still hasn't absorbed the Internet into its newsgathering habits. The wire services, and the national newspapers that feed them, need to log in and begin approaching the Internet with the passion of a foreign correspondent dispatched to his first assignment in an exotic locale.

Regional newspaper editors can have a big impact by demanding quicker response from wire services to stories erupting online and by following McGrath's lead in assigning local reporters to the story if that's what it takes to get it into the paper.

Our readers clearly will accept no less. Good for them.

 posted by Georgia  # 8:49 AM  
Here are my comments on the Strib story from my blog:

Sunday, June 12, 2005

How Bad Is the Media?
Case study #1: The "Downing Street Memo"
Okay, the first major American newspaper to really address the Downing Street Memo (evidence that Bush lied about Iraq) in any serious way was the Minneapolis Star Tribune (from my home town!). I'm very proud of them. Good job.
But a closer look reveals just how poorly they did, and they were the best!
The Times of London published the story on May 1st. The Minneapolis Star Tribune made its first mention on May 13th, almost two weeks later!
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's reader's representative (see, the editor had known about the story but didn't print anything because, "the wires weren't providing stories on this."
Okay, so now we have an inkling of how the newspapers deal with stories of international importance; they wait for someone else to give it to them on a silver platter. If it doesn't come that way, then they ignore it. Am I wrong?
This begs the questions, of course, of why the wire services (Reuters, Associated Press, etc.) didn't do anything about the story. It obviously had "legs" in other countries and was pertinent to the U.S. Could the wire services, perhaps, be beholden to the Bush administration? Not possible. Perish the thought!
The Minneapolis Star Tribune's reader's representative goes on, explaining that, "Finally, he [the editor] gave up waiting for the wires and assigned reporter Sharon Schmickle to write about it -- despite the geographic disadvantage of reporting from Minneapolis on a story breaking in London."
Now I might be totally ignorant about the way news is gathered, but I was under the impression that geographic boundaries were not always very significant in these days of "tele-phones" and other modern devices. What was there in London that couldn't be gotten by phone or fax?
The reader's representative continues, explaining why the paper didn't run the story for two more days and then put it inside the paper instead of on page 1. "On May 11, Schmickle's story was ready to go and McGrath pitched it in the news meeting as a story for page one. But there was heavy competition that day: 69 killed by bombs in Iraq and the funeral of St. Paul Police Sgt. Gerald Vick. McGrath realized the story wouldn't make the front page and decided to hold it a day and try again. But news was heavy the next day, too. McGrath decided it was more important to get the story in the paper than to gamble another day on a page one spot. The story ran May 13 on the top half of page A3."
Now I didn't see the actual paper, but I wonder why they could not have used what they call "columns" to put three stories on page 1. Or what was so significant on May 12th that it pushed the Downing Street Memo story off of page 1. It must have been World War III that day. In any case, I say it would have made sense to put two stories together on page 1 on May 11: "Bush lied about Iraq" next to "69 killed by bombs in Iraq." I think they go together nicely, don't you?
Managing Editor Scott Gillespie said the paper wasn't "burying" the story by putting it on page 3. He's right! I always use my x-ray vision to read page three when I look at the newspaper stands. No problem.
Here's the kicker to the Star Tribune's report about the story, though. "The Downing Street story had played out almost identically to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth story last year. McGrath learned about the group and its ads from the Internet long before the wire services offered stories. He had a local reporter do that story as well, and it also ran inside the A section. He recalled a similar scenario for the story on the political effect of the movie 'Fahrenheit 911.'"
Oh boy! Where do I begin with this load of shite? Let's divvy it up and number the parts and the inferences to keep things clear, okay?
1. There is a subtle attempt to equate the Downing Street story with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth story, although the report merely says that they "played out" almost identically.
2. In response to #1, I expect to read some caveats, such as the following, "but there is in fact little similarity between the two stories. In the first place, the Swift Boat stories were total lies made for craven partisan gain and the papers ate them up hook, line, and sinker . . . whereas the Downing Street story covers an important piece of damning evidence about the Bush and Blair administrations; neither government has denied its authenticity."
3. Unlike the Downing Street story, the Swift Boat story had no problem getting picked up by wire services, newspapers, and tv news.
4. The readers representative's addition of the 'Fahrenheit 911' story is an attempt to make the paper look "balanced." This too is a pile of shite and is simply laughable. The paper did a political favor to the right by running anything that gave even the slightest credence to the Swift Boat liars. The media does no favor to the left when it runs stories that are critical of the Bush administration that also happen to be true. Printing the truth is not any part of "balance." It is a service to the truth.
5. The implication of the reader's report is that we should accept the weak mea culpa they issued here and move on, forget about it and congratulate them on a job well done. No dice! You haven't BEGUN to cover this story. Just today there's breaking news in London about additional damning documents about Bush and Blair's plans for war. I wanna see PAGE FRICKIN' 1! NO EXCUSES UNLESS IT'S FRICKIN' WORLD WAR III!

posted by Barry at 7:15 PM
One more comment from my blog:

Monday, June 13, 2005

Wire Services Think It's News When the News Reports the News

This just in from Associated Press -- "Wash. Post reports on Blair memo."
Who's not doing their jobs here?

posted by Barry at 4:53 AM
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