October 26, 2005
Shark Bite Chronicles

Local media are either clueless or commit bias by omission in reporting on continuing problems within the King County Records and Elections Department, and Stefan Sharkansky's exemplary investigative work at Sound Politics helps illustrate why alternative media sources such as blogs constitute a growing threat to newspapers. So says a letter writer in today's Seattle Times, Scott St. Clair, of Kirkland. All this was brought on by recent reverential coverage, in Seattle print media, of the late CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and a new movie about him. St. Clair's 's letter is the second one down, here. He writes:

Methinks The Times doth protest too much in lauding the new movie about Edward R. Murrow and bemoaning today's sad state of journalism. You betray your biases and narrow frame of reference when you implicitly limit your definition of journalism to newspapers and broadcasting companies, be they corporate or independently owned. Scores of news sources use neither paper and ink nor a TV talking head to investigate, report and deliver the news. Internet sites and bloggers are the fastest-growing sources of investigative and good old-fashioned news-hound journalism around. It's telling that traditional news outlets routinely ridicule them, dismiss their efforts as "not real journalism," and resist efforts to accord them full First Amendment free-press status.

Stefan Sharkansky's blog, Sound Politics, has done, and continues to do, solid investigative reporting on the complete chaos in King County's Records and Elections Office, yet the "Old Boys" in the mainstream media routinely give this work short shrift or ignore it altogether. It's less a matter of corporate consolidation in news organizations and more a matter of a free market. Print and broadcast news, including The Times, represent 8-track thinking in an iPod world.

Newspapers such as the Washington Post (believe it or not) are acknowledging blogs more directly; The Post, for example, is providing trackback links to Technorati-indexed blog posts which link to specific Post stories, or Post opinion columns. It may not be popular to say it to dedicated Mainstream Media-bashers, but the plain fact is that healthy urban daily newspapers remain important to the political blogosphere - which filters and analyzes not only the content, but the often-flawed framing of issues by papers, and their omissions. Papers get conversations going, and can - face it - still do a good job, as many positive citations of their work at this site has shown.

Yet as St. Clair correctly notes, the industry's smug insularity is a real problem. Blog-inclusive steps such as the Post's - as opposed to the industry's pitiful breast-beating, and its personal-technology hardware fetishism - will help smart newspapers survive the citizen media revolution.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at October 26, 2005 10:07 AM | Email This
Comments
1. Unfortunately, no smart newspapers in Seattle.

Posted by: dl on October 26, 2005 10:26 AM
2. Blogs do something which newspapers could in online versions.
Link to source documents.
That I find is the single most valuable asset for the Blogosphere. With the traditional MSM Paper, Radio and Television, they expect the audience to trust in the accuracy of the reporting. After Rathergate the skewed reporting on the War etc... that trust is eroded.
A Blog normally has an upfront bias, not the veneer of objectivity. Then when a claim is made the ability to link to the documentation to back up the claim.
Blog are going to over run the MSM unless they wake up.

Posted by: JCM on October 26, 2005 11:05 AM
3. The editors of Seattle's newspapers are living in a utopian 60's echo chamber. They don't want to even listen to differing points of view, let alone print them. I-912 and the King County elections fiasco have shown the public, as never before, how out of touch Pravda-Izvestia (PI) and Slimes (Times) editors really are. Call the coroner, Seattle's newspapers are toast.

Posted by: Saltherring on October 26, 2005 11:51 AM
4. Not only do blogs link to sources, they correct themselves far faster than MSM when found in error. They're also about 24 hours faster at presenting news in Seattle than MSM sources, and their photography (think Stefan's shots of King County ballot envelopes, ballots, duplicate registrations, initials of guilty parties et al) is far more compelling evidence than the allegedly earnest looks of red-coated, blow-dried anchortwerps with fake backdrops.

Watch the Republican presentation today at King County Elections, and then compare it your local MSM's coverage of the 1943 mailbox voters - if they deign to cover it at all.

Posted by: Hank Bradley on October 26, 2005 11:57 AM
5. It's too bad that newspapers like the Times etc. are too willing to prop up KCE and not do the detailed research that Stefan is doing (there aren't many stories that are more important than the elections department goings-on right now), because I actually prefer to read my newspapers on paper, instead of online. But as long as they are only willing to do a brushing glance at the problems, they'll keep losing business. Even from those of us who might rather subscribe, but just don't see a reason to right now.

Posted by: Michele on October 26, 2005 11:59 AM
6. Too often The Seattle Times and Tass (err, The P-U) confuse serious investigatives reporting with being stenographers! Anyone can print what Logan and Sims say....that's stenography.
However, it takes a real investigative reporter to actually VALIDATE what Logan and Sims say.
Sadly, I believe some Times reporters like David Postman and Keith Ervin have the ability to do this job. The higher powers either fail to give them permission to investigate or gut what they come up with.
It's important to realize that what you read under the names of Postman and Ervins isn't actually everything they way they wrote it. Nor is it reflective of what they would like to investigate. It is what they are TOLD to investigate......sadly.
Ervins and Postman along with Sharkansky could easily develop the truth about KCE performance and culture. Too bad they aren't allowed to.
Bless Stefan for doing what he does....despite the lack of cooperation. At least Stefan has KVI and Mike Segal as outlets in addition to his Blog.
Very people I have ever met in my life are as committed and determined to expose the truth as Stefan Sharkansky. I salute you Stefan!

Posted by: Mr. Cynical on October 26, 2005 01:22 PM
7. ..and one of the favorite lines the old media like to point out is "Those blogs don't have any editors to put the brakes on trouble".

Well, CBS news and Dan Rather apparently had a few editors running around over there, and they STILL got caught with their pants down, running a bogus story with a bogus "document".

Posted by: Michele on October 26, 2005 01:28 PM
8. ..sorry for the additional post, but it also occurs to me in the above example and others, that it's the BLOGS who are having to keep the old media honest! Why, just this week, USA Today had to retract a photo that had clearly been 'doctored' to make Condoleeza Rice look like some evil alien and replace it with the correct photo!

Posted by: Michele on October 26, 2005 01:34 PM
9. One of the comments not yet made is that Old media and especially old media reporters never really transitioned to the "profitability above all else" new business model.

I really got to know some newspaper reporters and a radio reporter. Each day they are expected to churn out x column inches of "news" or y seconds of sound bytes disquised as "news." This means that each day they scan the wire stories and other things in their particular "beat" for potential stories. Being success oriented folks they want to be the lead story and get their byline in front of the public each night. Sometimes instead of being the key or major story of the day, they will settle for having more stories then the other reporters.

Most reporters I knew were not really technical experts on their beat area. Most of them had only limited time to bang out three or four stories a day in the hopes that one or two will catch an editor's eye and be displayed prominently.

I feel that with the pressure to make newsrooms responsible for profits or at least not too expensive, most "old media" are squeezing reporters even harder to generate lots of stories during a day.

That means that the reporters generally don't have time to do hardly any research, let alone the kind of research that has been done by Sharkansky. Many also are afraid to pick up controversial stories that could take a lot of time to explain and defend .

Likewise, they probably won't run with a story unless that is counter to the culture of their newsroom, as their goal is to get the story picked up by the editor and promoted by the media outlet.

Reasons, but not a valid excuse for the lack of old-style media giving a reporter time to reseach the election mess at King County.

Posted by: Bob on October 26, 2005 02:47 PM
10. It might seem like blasphemy here but blogs aren't the reason for the decline of the "mainstream media" but are merely a symptom. Furthermore, I am amazed and chagrined that the folks who run these large papers think that "blogging" up their stories will make them more hip and palatable to the reader; especially the ever marketable young reader who doesn't have the time or inclination to stop in the morning to read the morning scoop about some boring asphalt project or stormwater rate increase.
Since the main complaint seems to be focused about newspapers like the Seattle PI or the Seattle Times their decline can be traced to the fact that they no longer have relevent coverage. A complaint heard here is that neither paper bothers to report anything meaningful about the troubles with the King County elections office or Ron Sims et al. I maintain that the two papers don't do any meaningful local coverage period. Other than sports, when was the last time you read anything useful in either paper about what is happening in West Seattle, Federal Way, Bellevue, Green Lake or any of the communities in the area that isn't some smarmy sob-sister human interest piece about hemophiliac cancer survivor who was injured in a chainsaw accident who went on to get her college degree. (I'm being extravagent there but you get the point).
Take a look at your average Times or PI hardcopy today and count up the total number of articles written by actual Times or PI staffers. You might have one, maybe two in the A section and four or five in the local; mostly car accidents or house fire pieces that take an average reporter about an hour to interview and about 45 minutes to write. Everything else is either Associated Press, Knight Ridder, New York Times or any of the half a dozen wire services they cull from to fill up space and are the same stories you'll find in the PI, Times, News Tribune, Olympian, USA Today and on cable and network television news.
The local metros continue to provide a product that consumers can get elsewhere faster and cheaper.
There is a lot of handwringing about how newspapers are dying off. That might be the case for the PI and Times but not for community papers. You take a look at the ad sales and circulations for your average community weekly or small daily and you'll find them on the increase; often times dramatically so. That's because they provide a service people can't get elsewhere about issues that are happening down the street from readers about people who matter to them.
While the Times and PI waste newspaper space about pythons being found in toilets in Kuala Lampur or floods in Senegal, your local community newspaper is sending reporters to city hall, school boards and your next door neighbor.
If large dailies the PI or Times or San Fransisco Chronicle or New York Times were to take this approach the interest in blogs would evaporate.

I'll desist, for now, for space sake.

Posted by: Reporterward on October 26, 2005 03:29 PM
11. Bob,

That's not really how newsrooms work. Some of what you said is right, some is wrong and the rest are excuses some folks like to make for being lazy.
Other than publishers, ad reps and occassionally editors, the profit motive is not a factor at all; at least not in any newsrooms I've been in.
You're right about reporters not being expert in many of their beat areas. That's why you'll read stories with mentions of 50 mm machine guns, Ford Corvettes and tax breaks cause global warming and hurricanes.
In all seriousness though...
There is nothing really special about the environment of a newsroom and it probably exactly mirrors your own workplace.
Here is a composite of some character's you'll find in the news room.

Old Burnout: He had dreams of making it to the Washington Post. Now he's 60 and working in Wenatchee.

Feminist Broad: She usually has a column and writes about stuff no one reads.

Party Guy: He spent all of his time drinking in college for 8 years. He found a job that is incredibly easy where he only has to work a few days a week churning out a couple stories.

College Grad: She doesn't know what to do but she has the right last name to make the paper seem more diverse.

The Idealist: He wants to change the world with every story he writes. All he has to do is find the right scandal so he can make it to New York.

Pet Project Person: She usually has a favorite theme to write about. Usually the homeless, the environment or sleeping leg sickness.

Award Winner: His stories are all chosen so he can win another SPJ or WNPA award.

Reporterward: He tries not to let on that he reads Sound Politics or that he's met Sharkansky or Rosenberg.

Posted by: Reporterward on October 26, 2005 04:00 PM
12. as a powerful and influential member of the media (not really, but I do work in the field), I can tell you that Reporterward has NAILED IT. Very funny, but sadly true.

Posted by: Richard Easbey on October 26, 2005 04:25 PM
13. Reporterward, how sad that newsrooms are so narrow-minded and decidedly UNDIVERSE in thought that you can't even admit that you read a good blog. Sure doesn't speak well for them. That's one thing I noticed about people in journalism as a student, they all seemed kinda disturbed (except for the few normal ones) and too often foul-mouthed. It made me uncomfortable.

Posted by: Misty on October 26, 2005 04:34 PM
14. I was raised in a "newspaper" family. My Dad had a masters in journalism and was a newspaper executive for 44 years. Now, at 81, he clearly sees the death of the print media on the horizon.

As he is fond of saying.... "In the final analysis the most important function of every newspaper employee is to sell advertising."

Posted by: Huey on October 26, 2005 06:07 PM
15. If I could wean my three kids off the comics, I'd drop the ST like a hot potato. It's a 50 cent daily comic book in this household.

In case you weren't aware, St. Clair is one of the most prolific letter-to-the-editor scribes in the Puget Sound. He must average a couple a month. Look for him. It's usually good stuff.

Posted by: Organization Man on October 26, 2005 06:51 PM
16. "If large dailies the PI or Times or San Fransisco Chronicle or New York Times were to take this approach (relevant local coverage) the interest in blogs would evaporate."

Well, no. The universe of journalists under pay is very finite. The universe of bloggers is nearly infinite.

The chances of a reader finding a blogger who really knows a subject and has good investigative techniques is far higher than his chances of finding a journalist who has comparable knowledge of the same subject. And when the reader is specifically interested in that subject, Google will bring both the blogger and the journalist to his attention, and the journalist will usually pale in comparison.

If King County Elections were in the hands of evil Republicans and there was evidence of the sort of malfeasance now embedded there, the Times and P-I might make a run at a Pulitzer by committing some real resources to writing the story - reporters, and lawyers to force access to files, and threats of 'bad press' to shrivel the careers of the politicians in charge of stonewalling.

But it's in Democratic hands, and they won't commit the resources for whatever reason. And our interest in this blog, and any other which smokes out relevant information on Logan, Sims & Company, is intense and will NOT evaporate - since Stefan has earned a reputation as a superb investigator and data analyst. He has earned our confidence, and the papers our derision.

Posted by: Hank Bradley on October 26, 2005 08:05 PM
17. The problem isn't the business model...it's the product. The Internet has made it clear just how bad that product is.

Posted by: South County on October 26, 2005 08:18 PM
18. My uncle back east was a big newspaper guy and said one way to tell a paper was in dire financial straits was ironically if their obituaries become a bigger feature. This happen a few months ago in the PI. I hear they only have a circulation of approx 114,000 a day and this in a city of 2 million. I think they have decided to go for a strategy of appealing to what they think is majority left/liberal population in their anti-912 open warfare as well as their approach to so many other topics. Seems that have really thrown any hint of balance out the window in the hope it will attract new readers. Not going to happen if the buzz in my office is any indicator. At least they will get to write their own obituary.

Posted by: sokala on October 26, 2005 10:58 PM
19. Heh, Organization Man--at our house, we take the King County Journal. It's at least palatable, even though it has "lame comics" (how my family describes them; the ST has much better comics) and next to no car classified ads. For the sake of editorial content that seems to mostly try to run up the middle, it can be worth it to make the kids put up with 'lame comics'.

Posted by: Michele on October 26, 2005 11:00 PM
20. Actually, the P-I has by far the best comics. Even Horsey was funny today, for the first time in long months.

If it wasn't for those funnies, and a self-defensive need to keep a weather eye on the thinking of the blithering idiots who pass for 'urban intellectuals' around here, we'd dump the P-I in a minute.

Posted by: Hank Bradley on October 27, 2005 08:59 AM
21. You can read comics online. Release the subscriptions.

Posted by: HappyGoLucky on October 27, 2005 09:28 AM
22. My apologies for promoting the ST's content, but you need to read this "news story" by Keith Ervin to understand what follows.

The story was was on the front page of the print edition... which makes it news, not opinion, right? The headline reads "Voting woes from 2004 put speed bump in campaign trail for Sims," so I am all prepared to read the juicy details of the news surroung the corruption at KCE. To my complete and utter surprise, I read that it was all Nicole Way's fault, Dean Logan maybe should be fired, but kindly Ron Sims just doesn't operate that way, and mean old David Irons hammers Sims on this contrived issue every chance he gets.

This is not a news story. It is a front page ad for the Re-Elect Ron Sims campaign. Can somebody tell me how to file a complaint with the state elections watchdogs? The Times should be compelled to report this as an in kind contribution. And is free, only if you can afford it, speech like this even to be tolerated in view of our enlightened interpretation of the 1st Amendment?

Posted by: huckleberry on October 27, 2005 11:46 AM
23. I attended the college that claims the prestigious Murrow School of Communications. I will report :) that Comm majors generally fell into two groups: too stupid to study anything useful, or too lazy to study for a useful degree. It looks like the PI likes to hire the sadly common combination of stupid and lazy, then scratch their head when I won’t pay for their product.

ME: "I wouldn't pay to bring that garbage into my home"
PI: "but it's free"
ME: "Fine, but then I have to pay to dispose of YOUR garbage"

Posted by: Dan on October 27, 2005 01:53 PM
24. Dan, Have you asked them how much they will pay you to accept their product?

Posted by: huckleberry on October 27, 2005 03:06 PM
25. When people looking for subscriptions ask me about subscribing to their paper I always answer no! After hearing some of their inane coments It serves to confirm my lack fo desire to subscribe. HEHE

Posted by: Laurie on October 27, 2005 06:21 PM
26. lets have a play:
(Standard conversation with pi)

me: hello
Voice: would you like to buy a subscription for pi?
me: no
voice: yes you do
me: no i don't
Voice: yes you do
me (talking in a stupid voice) i know your dirty little secret.
Voice: how did you know?
me: you work for ron steams (aka: ron sims)
(calling ron sims a turd) he smells like one doesnt he?

Posted by: andrew on October 27, 2005 06:32 PM
27. I'm afraid the people calling us to subscribe to the P-I actually live in India!!!

Posted by: Mr. Cynical on October 27, 2005 09:12 PM
28. Don't worry about people in India Mr. C, I've found them to be conservative, and generally better educated than the staff at the PI or Times.

I had always thought that the people calling offering me a free subscription to the local "news"papers were from the KC executive's office.

Posted by: Dan on October 28, 2005 06:58 AM
29. Dan---
Unfortunately, I suspect you are correct.
Maybe Ron Sims new career will be a P-I subscription salesman.
They will probably feel obligated since they have so very little credibility left that most people do the opposite of whatever the P-I says to do.

Posted by: Mr. Cynical on October 28, 2005 11:12 AM
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