This Business of Art Fix #2: How Not To Do Journalism

feature image: a photo of my bookshelf


Welcome to the second “This Business of Art / Media / Web Fix,” in which I share with you things I read that I loved relating to the work I do here — online media, business, entrepreneurship, women in tech, start-ups, journalism, publishing, management, queer visibility, and so forth. You can expect this sucker to drop every-other Wednesday.


This Business Of Journalism

+ Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia University School of Journalism Report: When a publication epically fails, they often commission their ombudsman or a qualified third party to determine what went wrong and make recommendations for the future. This report, composed by dean of Columbia School of Journalism Steve Coll, concerns the UVA gang rape story, a story that was supposed to blow the lid off rape culture on college campuses and instead managed to make matters worse by basing the entire story on a single, anonymous source. I think this report speaks to our responsibilities as journalists while also providing room to protect the needs of a survivor — and perhaps, also acknowledges that if you’re unable to do both (maintain journalistic integrity and be sensitive to the needs of the survivor), then you probably shouldn’t be basing your entire article on that specific survivor’s story. It’s shocking how easily Coll was able to procure information that Edely never attempted to procure.

NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen has his evaluation of the evaluation, which’s also really interesting and a must-read after you read the first one. It includes points like this: “Idea: Maybe “a single, emblematic college rape case” does not exist. Maybe the hunt for such was ill-conceived from the start. Maybe that’s the wrong way for Rolling Stone to have begun.” 

Gawker points out that Jann Wenner is a big dumb idiot who continues to blame the victim. This is a true fact! Also:

Here’s what happened at Rolling Stone: pathological conflict-avoidance. Every workaround deployed in this story, from not securing the alleged rapist’s name before publication to not interviewing the rape victim’s friends, was put in place in order to avoid a difficult, uncomfortable situation. Underlying it all is sense of grand interpersonal failures. I’m not going to delve into writing Rolling Stone editorial fanfic, but it’s fairly clear that something was awry between the personalities at play here. Whether it was regular workaday pressures—”Ahh, who has time to scrap the main gang-rape anecdote before deadline and get another?”—or something more insidious, whatever culture that bred this story is poisonous. And for Wenner, a rich, powerful 69-year-old man, to place culpability for his magazine’s lapse on a twentysomething pseudonymous woman, well, that tells you everything you need to know, doesn’t it?

The New York Times classifies the situation as a “lack of skepticism” and notes Erdely was playing a role “as much casting director as journalist.” He wonders if the all-male environment contributed to this lack of skepticism:

So what happened with “A Rape on Campus”? It is hard not to wonder if gender was a contributing factor. The magazine’s publisher and managing editor, and the editor of the article, were all men. Did that make them wary, consciously or not, of pushing back against a female writer’s account of a young woman’s rape?

Finnegan agrees:

I’ll go one step further than Mahler. Yes! Gender definitely had to do with how fucked up this article was. Consider Rolling Stone. A fine magazine, if you’re into the Black Crowes, war, and Matt Taibbi. Will Dana and Sean Woods have edited some wonderful dispatches from Baghdad. But as the Columbia report starkly shows, they were clearly entirely out of their wheelhouse when it came to Erdely’s report, and instead of, maybe, I don’t know, consulting with women, asking women for help, or trying to understand what was at stake, they just barreled on forward like they were still on General McChrystal’s plane.

She notes that it “brings to mind Grantland’s Dr. V disaster—this is what happens when people who think they know everything get too swept up in a story and lose sight of reality. It’s very bad.” Remember the Dr. V disaster? Of course you do.

+ I find reports on reporting like this really educational and interesting — if you agree, I’d also suggest checking out The Washington Post Ombudsman’s 1981 report on Jimmy’s World, a Pulitzer-Prize winning article about a homeless child addicted to heroin that turned out to have been entirely fabricated by its author, Janet Cooke. Cooke also lied about her credentials when securing her position for The Washington Post. Also, here’s 60 Minutes apologizing for their botched Benghazi report.

+ Who Makes Our Media? In which Bitch Magazine looks at the latest VIDA report:

This year, the results of the count are mixed. Some publications have improved significantly over past years: the number of women in Harper’s and The Atlantic increased six percent. Other publications remain disappointing: only 20 percent of journalists writing for The Nation are women.  Overall, it appears that publications are slowly chipping away at the gender gap, but a disparity persists. Of the 15 publications examined by the VIDA Count, only two had more bylines by women than men: the New York Times Book Review and literary quarterly Tin House.

They also tried to look at how many women of color worked at those publications but they didn’t have enough writers responding to the survey to draw significant conclusions, but “results of the New Yorker give a peek at what the landscape looks like.” Here’s that landscape:

New Yorker WoC

Soooooooo.

+ How A Pizzeria Took Center Stage In Coverage Of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law – Another look at what happens when writers (including me, I’m sure) pick up stories from other news outlets without doing their own reporting.

Wednesday’s online feeding frenzy reflects not only how some news organizations crave the odd and outrageous, but also how the press, more broadly speaking, has failed to decode what the Indiana law’s original wording actually meant.”


This Business Of Online Media

+ The Bold Italic, a consistently awesome and visually fantastic publication about San Francisco that recently published a really terrible/racist/classist thing about Oaklandis ceasing operations. I’d always assumed they were an indie, but apparently they were owned by IDEO and Garnett, Inc. The Bold Italic published a lot of content relevant to humans like us, including a rundown of Girl-on-Girl parties, Michelle Tea on Gay San Francisco history and Six 20-Something Dykes You Meet On OKCupid. So check those out before they disappear forever!

+ The King of Clickbait (The New Yorker) – This is a story about Emerson Spartz, who is 100% dedicated to one single thing: producing viral content. Even if that viral content is repackaged content from other websites! They just run ads, make lists, and let the money roll in. I guess that’s one way to do it. His primary site is Dose.com, which I’ve never heard of, but apparently makes a shit-ton of money.

Medium is courting writers and advertisers. But will the dollars follow? (Digiday)

+ The Food Babe Blogger is full of shit (Gawker)

+ Hulu’s got a new GIF search engine!

+ This is cool – TechCrunch is releasing its entire 2015 Editorial Calendar to the public.

+ HAHAHA SOMEONE GAVE THESE GUYS $14 MILLION IN NEW FUNDING AND THE PRODUCT FAILED EPICALLY LIKE FIVE DAYS LATER LOL ISN’T IT FUNNY HOW PEOPLE GIVE MONEY TO THINGS THAT FAIL INSTEAD OF TO THINGS THAT ARE AWESOME


 

Businesswoman’s Special: Advice On How To Work Better

+ Use Actionable Verbs For A Better To-Do List (lifehacker) – This is the key to everything. EVERYTHING.

+ Management Secrets From TaskRabbit’s Chief Operating Officer (medium) – I like these ideas a lot. It’s also great to see a woman of color in a leadership role at a tech start-up.

+ How to Start a Conversation With A Stranger At A Networking Event (Entrepreneur) – To be honest I didn’t find this very helpful because it wasn’t very specific. I’d love to hear any tips from y’all!

+ How to Steer a Conference Call Like a Champ (Entrepreneur) You know who steers conference calls like a champ? Crystal. Crystal does.


 

This Business Of Business

+ Gallup did a big “State of the American Workplace” report and found everybody is sad and all the managers suck.Only 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged in their workplace! Obviously they didn’t interview anybody who works here, where everything is sunshine and rainbows and we care about your feelings.

+ The Assistant Economy (Dissent) – “Like an intern, an assistant typically learns by observation and performs nebulous duties particular to the personality of the boss. In both cases, what’s earned, if anything, is less valuable than the perceived professional benefits—the condoned voyeurism, the network of current and former assistants, the interesting email addresses, friendly introductions, free galleys, and so on.”

+ The Folly of the Unicorns (Pacific Standard) – Yes, thank you, dear Susie Cagle, for articulating this situation: “Barring their ability to change government and economic policy by swinging their sparkling manes, the unicorns do little for the greater economy, where job growth is slow, wages are stagnant, and the wealth gap is widening.”

+ What Type of Entrepreneur Are You? I’m a “World-Changer,” FYI.

+ Who Wants To Be a CEO? Not Millennial Women (Entrepreneur) Does this mean nobody wants my job

+ Study: Introverts Are More Adaptable at Work (Inc.) SO THERE!


 

Articles I Wish Somebody Would Pitch To Autostraddle This Month

If you are that somebody, you can pitch here. (If you already work here, just hit up the #pitch channel in Slack or e-mail Laneia, obvs)

+ I wish we had a historian, like the kind with an advanced degree of some sort, who wrote interesting things about lesbian history every week. Wouldn’t that be fun?

+ We have so many readers in London and so few writers in London! I wish this wasn’t the case. Just saying.

 

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2685 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. The King of Clickbait piece made my head hurt. Not because of the clickbait. I have no issue with clickbait–it works and that’s fine. With the guy himself and, like, that he gets credit for “changing the world” but then says that he really just wants lots and lots and lots of traffic regardless of the integrity of the content and even if it is essentially ripping off other people’s work. :/

    • I thought the whole article was terrifying. It sent me spiralling into this dystopic (but all too likely) vision of what journalism and communication will be in twenty-odd years and urrrrrghhhh. Also the guy seems like a thoroughly obnoxious tool.

      I love it when The New Yorker writes these thorough sorts of pieces on clickbait-style material, though, because they don’t even need to have a non-neutral tone to disparage the subject matter; their journalistic integrity (by comparison) does so by automatic implication.

      • It’s by no means new (see my favorite history of clickbait, the first 100 years, at io9) but it’s really horrifying and pervasive in a way it wasn’t before.

        Like, recently I was searching for ideas for an upcoming trip to SF (first stop here, naturally!), and used the Google. My search results were so full of content farm and clickbait BS that I gave up and I’m just going to go to the library and check out some travel guides.

        • Yeah there is so much content farm nonsense out there that it’s really hard to find lists that are genuinely useful. Even trying to find a list of like, documentaries on a certain topic, gets just piles of clickbait. If I dare to ask google “How do I ______?” then I know the first two pages of results will just be content farm articles written in 30 seconds and then 20 duplicates.

          I just can’t believe that this guy is so allegedly “passionate” about basically tricking the internet? I don’t really even understand why advertisers would want their stuff on his sites when obviously there’s no genuine user engagement. And it’s gross that most of the content they use is just repackaged from somewhere else.

  2. Please don’t publish stories about London, unless they are about how housing is so expensive you can’t live there. I don’t need more London-envy in my life. I just don’t.

    That taskrabbit link was interesting, I love anything that talks about workplace culture.

    • I just want to make sure that you know what I really meant with that selfish sounding opening was: I will probably bookmark and share anything a London-based autostraddler writes.

  3. Modern journalism is becoming just a race for the front page headlines or the next Pulitzer prize. But in a real bad way, because any news, nowadays, needs to be spectacular or epic to be worthy of publication. Going with this idea, then, with or without intention, it is necessary to “embellish” or stretch the truth or just leave out any detail that makes the news less epic.

    But journalists forget that most news are not a Hollywood movie.

    As a journalist you have a professional responsibility. You can’t act like I would do, just posting links or copying and pasting everywhere, without checking a thing.

    Yes, I know, journalists are “people too”, but like in any other job, you always have responsibilities, some are greater, some are minor. If you can’t cope with those responsibilities, which you knew when you took the job or choose a profession, well, it seems that maybe you need to find another job.

  4. I love these posts!

    My only issue is with the conference call article, which was sounding more and more like the guy did them in a morgue. I thoroughly believe you can laugh and get shit done at the same time. I feel like there are probably stock photographs that prove this.

  5. Great post! I am a professional historian, although queer history is not my area, and sadly I don’t have the time to take up your proposal. But here’s a tidbit: one of Tamerlane’s daughters was notorious for taking extensive time to visit the ladies of Baghdad in the 14th century, and the original account makes clear she wasn’t just asking for decorating advice.

  6. I’ve been thinking that, as a grown-up, I should maybe start paying for some of the journalism I consume? because when I was a kid, I could never have accessed this much news for free. Now the question is: What?

    Obvs, Autostraddle is on my list. I had been considering The New Yorker but then I saw the VIDA counts and now I don’t know. I mean, maybe I should just do it? But also maybe I should give my money to Harpers or another site that’s more equitable?

    • Well I definitely agree that you should join A+! I pay for The New Yorker online — they produce a lot more content online than Harper’s does, and Emily Nussbaum writes for them and I LOVE HER. I used to subscribe to Harper’s but could never keep up with reading all of it and a lot of it was blocked online so I’d read an amazing thing but then couldn’t include it in TIRTL b/c the readers wouldn’t be able to access it. I think it’s super important to pay for online media, otherwise we’re basically saying that the only publications that deserve to exist are the ones that can attract advertisers, which should terrify everybody!

  7. I’m a Londoner, and have been all my life – would LOVE to write fur you guys :)I’m actually working on a purrsonal essay about being a bisexual woman navigating the world, but have been shy up until now about appurroaching Autostraddle. Clearly this is a sign! (Though I don’t expect you to suddenly accept me just because of my loCATion credentials). And I can maybe not write in cat puns if needed…purrhaps…

  8. Queer historian at your service! I’m almost done my MA thesis and I have some time on my hands…Where could I send a real pitch?

    P.S. This is my new favourite column. Except maybe the one where you read things and love them. It’s a tight contest.

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