Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Politics

Chuck Todd: Social media has flattened out barriers to entry for presidential candidates

If you ask NBC Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd how social media has changed political coverage, he’ll tell you that it’s made it more reactive, and more anecdotal.

Chuck Todd

“140 characters is a great way of sharing the anecdote, but you can sometimes be drilling down so far that you forget the big picture,” Todd told me in a phone interview. He said he feels lucky to have a job where he can share anecdotes on Twitter and his TV show “The Daily Rundown,” and then take a look at the bigger picture on the “NBC Nightly News” and the “Today Show.”

Using Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain as an example, Todd also said that social media has helped flatten out the barriers to entry for a presidential candidate: “Before social media, Herman Cain would not have been able to get the type of traction he’s gotten that would have allowed him to be in the presidential debate just four years ago.”

I interviewed Todd about this and about how he uses social media — Twitter in particular — to get news and share it with others. I also talked with him about why he thinks blocking people on Twitter is anti-First Amendment and why “the media is flat.”

I’ve admired Todd’s work for a long time, so I was happy to have the opportunity to talk with him. He was friendly and open, and our talk seemed more like a genuine conversation than a formal interview. Cheers to that.

You can read the full interview here. …

Bob Woodward: ‘I get up in the morning and ask, what are the bastards hiding?’

My dad said I should have asked Woodward if he liked that Robert Redford played him in "All the President's Men." Sorry dad, didn't ask that.

Last week I got the chance to interview longtime investigative reporter Bob Woodward while he was at my workplace, The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

I talked with him one-on-one and then listened to two talks he delivered at Poynter. Here are some of the highlights from my interview with him and his talks:

  • Woodward, who knows Eric Schmidt, said the Google CEO’s tombstone should say, “I killed newspapers.”
  • “It’s odd that the scandal got called Watergate. It turned out the secret code word for the operation was ‘gemstone,’ but we didn’t know that for a long time.” Woodward said. If they had, the suffix for big breaking stories would have been “stone,” like “Monicastone,” instead of “Monicagate.”
  • “So much is hidden. I get up in the morning and I ask the question: ‘What are the bastards hiding?’ Not as a cynical reporter, but as a realistic reporter. People are always hiding things.”
  • “You get the truth at night, the lies during the day.”
  • The perfect time to visit someone, he told students, is after 8 p.m. “They’ve eaten. And if they’re home, they probably haven’t gone to bed.”
  • “How much do we know about what really goes on in government, particularly in the White House? Do we get it? In the case of the Nixon administratoon with the tapes, I think we know 90 percent, but I don’t think we know everything.”
  • “We have the housing bubble and the dot.com bubble, and in journalism I think we have a news bubble.”
  • “I think there’s too much emphasis on speed and feeding the impatience people have. … In many ways, journalism is not often enough up to the task of dealing with the dangerous and fragile nature of the world, or the community, or anything you might try to understand.”
  • “The world requires “high quality, probing journalism. And there’s just been not enough of it.”
  • Woodward has a laptop, iPhone and iPad, which he uses to read The Washington Post and The New York Times. “I have a bridge game I play on it, too,” he said. “It keeps an old man’s mind functioning.”

You can read my full story about him here.

Exploring Journalists’ Role in Covering Kagan’s Sexual Orientation

Last week I wrote a piece about how journalists have covered the speculation about Elena Kagan’s sexual orientation. What I found in my reporting was that the Fifth Estate has been talking at length about the rumors that say Kagan is a lesbian, while the mainstream media have hardly joined the conversation.

I interviewed Slate’s Jack Shafer, The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan and others to find out what role they think journalists should play in covering the speculation. To go along with the story, I also moderated a live chat with Poynter’s ethics guru, Kelly McBride, and Michael Triplett, a journalist and lawyer who has covered the Supreme Court and who’s on the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association‘s board of directors. We had hundreds of people in the chat, many of whom asked questions and shared their thoughts on whether to report on Kagan’s sexual orientation. (You can see a replay of the chat at the bottom of the story I wrote.)

After Kagan's nomination, The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page photo of Kagan playing softball, prompting some readers to question whether the paper was playing off a stereotype. In a Politico story, the Journal denied such claims.

I’m less interested in whether Kagan is a lesbian and more interested in the role that journalists have in acknowledging the discussion that people are having about her sexual orientation. The Fifth Estate has acknowledged the speculation. Should the mainstream media just ignore all the chatter? What’s the harm in addressing it?

Some may argue that addressing it would distract from the news and the facts, but what if we turned that argument around and asked: How might journalists engage new audiences by fostering a dialogue about the chatter? How might they help their audiences understand some of the deeper issues that are making people so upset about the lack of information about Kagan’s sexual orientation? And how might this type of dialogue inform journalists’ understanding of other issues involving the LGBT community?

These are just some questions I’ve been thinking about since reporting this piece. Feel free to share yours, too, in the comments section of this blog post.

Journalists, Community Help ProPublica with its ‘Super Bowl Blitz’ Investigation

In timing with Super Bowl XLIV, I wrote a story about ProPublica’s investigation into which Congress members were going to the game and whether they would be fundraising there. ProPublica reporter Marcus Stern is the lead reporter on the “Super Bowl Blitz” project, which is one of several projects he hopes to pursue this year as part of his investigation into political fundraising leading up to the November elections.

To help expedite the reporting process, ProPublica asked the public and journalists to contact their local Congress members to see if they were going to the game. ProPublica documented the results of the crowdsourcing effort on its Web site and has reported follow-up stories since my piece about the project ran on Friday.

You can read my story about the Super Bowl Blitz project here:

“ProPublica reporter Marcus Stern will don his press badge at the Super Bowl this Sunday, but he won’t be covering the game. He’ll be looking for members of Congress who are there, figuring out how they got their tickets and trying to attend whatever fundraisers they’re holding.

“Stern, who plans to reveal his findings in a ProPublica story on Monday, has had some reporting help along the way. Knowing it would be too much for one person to contact all U.S. Congress members, ProPublica turned its “Super Bowl Blitz” investigation into a crowdsourcing effort and asked professional journalists and the public for help.

“The project is an example of how one news organization can tap into professional journalists nationwide to turn an 11th-hour idea into a collaborative investigation.”


Oh, and congratulations, Saints!

Interviewing Katie Couric about Political Journalism, Future of Network Newscasts

Earlier this week I had the privilege of interviewing Katie Couric, who just won an Alfred I. duPont award for her series of interviews with former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Having grown up watching Couric on “The TODAY Show,” I was excited to talk with her by phone about her career as a journalist and the future of her craft. Talking with her brought back memories of standing outside the NBC Studio in New York City as a little girl, hoping I could see her during a filming of “The TODAY Show.”

My mom, dad and I used to go to New York City every couple of years. We’d often wake up early when we were there so we could get a good spot outside of the studio and catch a glimpse of Couric, Matt Lauer or Al Roker. Mom loved anything that was free, so the idea of watching a nationally televised show without having to pay for tickets naturally excited her.

Talking to “CBS Evening News” anchor and managing editor Couric on Monday made me think about Mom and about how much I’ve grown up since the days when I would admire journalists from afar. Now, as part of my job at The Poynter Institute, I’m interacting with journalists on a daily basis, finding ways to learn from them and interviewing them.

When interviewing Couric, I tried to ask as many questions as I could in the 15-20 minutes allotted. I was happy that she was so willing to share her views on political journalism, the future of network newscasts and more.

You can read my Q&A with Couric here:

“When Katie Couric accepted the Alfred I. duPont award last week for her series of interviews with former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign, she said, ‘The much derided MSM — main stream media — clearly still has a role in these increasingly partisan times.’

“I spoke with Couric, ‘CBS Evening News’ anchor and managing editor, by phone on Monday to hear more about that role, what she learned from her interviews with Palin and her thoughts on political journalism and the future of network news. An edited transcript of our talk appears below.”


What ‘The Daily Show’ Writers & Producers Think about the Media

About a week and a half ago, I tweeted: ” ‘Daily Show’ watchers: What are some of your favorite clips? Which ones have you found to be most clever, convincing?” I was planning to write a story about “The Daily Show” and wanted to learn more from readers about the kinds of clips they like.

About five people tweeted back their favorite clips, which included “End Times,” in which “The Daily Show’s” Jason Jones visits The New York Times office; “Marines in Berkeley” and “Trapped in the Closet.”

I collected the links people sent me and then had to turn my attention to more timely stories. But when “The Daily Show” exposed Fox’s Sean Hannity for using incorrect video in a clip of the recent health care protest, I knew there was a greater time peg. I called my contact at the show last Thursday, and he set me up with three interviews on Friday. I ended up talking with two of the show’s producers and one writer. They had some pretty intriguing things to say about journalists and about their strategy for finding the perfect clips that expose the media’s wrongdoings or shortcomings.

There really aren’t many professional media critics out there, so it’s interesting to see how “The Daily Show” is helping to fill this void and holding journalists accountable when they make mistakes. The writer and producers I talked to said they don’t think journalists turn to “The Daily Show” for news. The jokes just wouldn’t make sense, they said, if people didn’t come to the show without some prior knowledge of the day’s political news. I wonder the extent to which people turn to it to get a better sense of how truthful the media reports they’re consuming really are. …

You can read my story here:

“Daily Show” producer Ramin Hedayati spends his morning flipping back and forth between the “Today Show” and “The Early Show,” glancing at major news sites and political blogs and reading The New York Times. When he gets into the office, he scans through news shows recorded on the office’s 13 TiVos and looks for glaring inconsistencies, misleading reports and humorous soundbites.

While watching Sean Hannity’s coverage of an anti-health-care-reform rally at the Capitol last week, he knew something wasn’t quite right. “I remember saying to myself …’There couldn’t be a more beautiful day for this rally.’ Then all of a sudden it went to cloudy footage,” said Hedayati. “Hannity used footage from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 rally to make his rally look bigger … We were surprised that no one else caught it.”

Hannity responded last week to the show’s uncovering of the inconsistency, saying the video switch-up was an “inadvertent mistake.”

While its touts itself as a comedy show first and foremost, “The Daily Show” is also an unabashed media critic and ombudsman of sorts that exposes journalists’  wrongdoings and shortcomings.

How do you see “The Daily Show” and journalism fitting together?

Obama’s Historic Inauguration Unites People, Renews Hope

Obama was posing next to Poynter's election front-page book, which was on display at Union Station. OK, so maybe he wasn't posing next to it, but we can pretend!

Obama was posing next to Poynter's election front-page book, which was on display at Union Station. OK, so maybe he wasn't posing next to it, but we can pretend!

The masses flocked to Washington, D.C., to witness a defining moment for our generation, the swearing in of the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama. They waited in lines, faced the cold and ran on little sleep in a city that seemed to flash continuously with lights, loud noises and waving flags. And yet amidst all the chaos that ensued, there was an overwhelming sense of calm.

As one of the millions who descended upon the city, I saw the smiles of people on the Mall, felt the touch of shoulders squeezing me tight, heard the stories of people who had traveled from afar. I felt like a freshman in college as I answered  questions from people I met.

“What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “When did you get here?”

People asked these questions with what seemed like a genuine sense of curiosity and care. Even the huffing-puffing, eye-rolling people (myself included) who couldn’t push past the crowds shed some smiles when one of the Obama volunteers called out, “Alright everybody, we need to make this line narrower! We don’t cut people in Obama’s country!”

“Right this way, right this way,” another volunteer yelled, motioning her arms like a traffic cop. “We’re all going to be happy, healthy and ‘huggy’ today.”

One man I talked to said he had been to four inaugurations but had never experienced one like Obama’s.

“This one just feels different, ya know?” he said. “The energy — man it’s strong.”

The guy had traveled from Florida and watched the inauguration with friends who he met up with in D.C. He said he hopes Obama will bring together people, Republicans and Democrats alike.

A mother standing by me shortly before the inauguration reached up and grabbed the hand of her son, who was sitting atop his dad’s shoulders. “Say bye-bye Bush, bye-bye Bush,” she told her son, who quietly shouted the refrain.

People partying on U Street the night before the inauguration sang in the streets and jammed to a chorus of “Ohhhh-baaa-ma, Ohhhh-baaa-ma …” Everyone was noticeably friendly and generous that night and on Inauguration Day and the day after. Take my experience on the Marc train. While heading from D.C. to Baltimore the day after the inauguration, I overheard a woman say she waited in line for a ticket ahead of time but didn’t make it to the front of the line before the train arrived.

“Can I just pay the pre-paid price?” she asked the conductor.

“That’s fine, no worries,” the conductor said. “Just pay the $7.”

“Oh thank you!” the woman said, coyly shrugging her shoulders. “You’ve got so much good will.”

“After yesterday, I’ve got enough good will now,” the conductor said, “ to last me a lifetime.”

All of the stories I heard and the acts of kindness I saw echoed messages of “yes we can,” “we are one,” and “hope in the face of difficulty.” People of mixed races embraced one another throughout inauguration week and seemed to share in an enduring commonality rooted not in politics but in the sense that we are all in this together and that yes, maybe change is possible.

Seeing blacks, whites, Latinos, Muslims and Jews gather for a common cause made me feel happy and invigorated. My happiness stemmed from a re-affirmation of the idea that equality and acceptance don’t have to be distant buzzwords that we pretend to think are important; they can be words that we turn into actions and live out in our day-to-day lives. They can be words that help us patch together a quilted landscape of varied colors, one that brings warmth to the cold-hearted and helps mend the world’s dropped stitches and tattered edges.

It’s the patchwork Obama laid out in his inaugural speech, a “patchwork heritage” that he calls “a strength, not a weakness.”

The weaknesses Obama laid out are many. ”Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” he acknowledged. “Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare for a new age.”

The economic woes didn’t seem all that evident the morning after the inauguration as people bought newspapers, magazines with Obama on the cover and other memorabilia. They lined up around stores and out the door, holding Obama T-shirts and stacks of The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“How many do you want of these?” one woman asked in the Hudson News stand at Union Station.

“Oh, give me eight New York Times,” the woman with her responded.

“I think I just about snagged the last copy of The Washington Post,” one woman behind me said. Its pages were scattered all over, she said, but she picked them up and put them together again.

People stared at the covers and dirtied their fingers as they flipped through inky pages and read headlines that made boldly simple statements: “President Obama.” “The President,” and “Obama Takes Charge.”

One of my friends heard about my experience seeing so many people waiting in line for newspapers and commented, “Greeeeat. Newspapers are not much more than keepsakes now.” In some ways, he’s right: seeing people get so excited about the newspaper was like a glimpse into the past, to a time when journalism in its daily printed form attracted far more attention and dedicated, daily readers. I thought it was refreshing, though, to see so many people buy the paper and to see them actually reading it, or pretending to anyway.

Whether you embraced Obama’s inauguration and scooped up copies of the paper, or whether you joined your Republican friends and reluctantly watched the ceremony from afar, there’s a sense that it is worth remembering.

The palpable desire to celebrate this historic moment is no doubt a testimony to the novelty of the event and to the hope that the goals set forth in recent days past will become the long-awaited reality of days, months and years to come.

What was your experience like watching the inauguration?

Traveling to D.C. for Obama’s Inauguration

I’m sitting in an Amtrak station now, waiting to take a train from Baltimore to Union Station in Washington, D.C. Like millions of others, I’ve come to see the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

I may not have much Internet access throughout the next few days, but you can be sure I’ll be writing more about the inauguration when I get back next Thursday.

So far, I’ve been amazed to see how friendly people are. I’ve met people from Nashville Pheonix, Baltimore and other places from around the country who have come here for the big event. One woman, Nancy, even tagged along with me from BWI to the Amtrack Station because she didn’t know exactly where she was going and wanted a “travel buddy.” (Mind you, I’m not that experienced at traveling to D.C., but I must have seemed like I knew what I was talking about!)

The children I’ve seen seem especially excited. A little girl named Bridgette, who was sitting behind me on the plane, kept asking her dad questions while we were flying.

“Are we in Heaven yet?” she asked as we flew into a cluster of clouds.

“When are we going to get to see Obama?”

“Daddy, why is the sunset so beautiful?”

She made me smile.

There’s lots more that will make me smile this week, including a concert Sunday afternoon featuring Bono, Beyonce, Bruce Sprinsteen and plenty of others. Check back for more updates …

Helping to Put Together Poynter’s Book of Election Front Pages

obamaRecently, I helped put together The Poynter Institute’s new election front page book, which features 75 newspaper front pages from around the world.

My editor, Julie Moos, thought of the idea for the book and led the institute’s efforts in putting it together in just two weeks. The goal was to have it published in time for the holidays and the inauguration. Poynter faculty member Sara Quinn co-edited the book and selected which front pages should be used. “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau wrote the book’s introduction. (Definitely worth a read!)

Several Poynter faculty and staff members contributed to the book. I wrote some captions, which required doing a bit of research and, in some cases, talking to design editors at the papers I was assigned to write about. I wasn’t the sole copy editor for the book, but I helped edit it after we received the proofs. I also had the opportunity to speak Spanish with editors of publications in Spain when asking for a PDF of their front pages and permission to reprint them. I love having opportunities to use my Spanish-speaking abilities.

This book is a bit different from other books Poynter has published, such as “Best of Newspaper Writing,” in the sense that it wasn’t text-heavy. Nevertheless, it still required a great deal of editing and it helped me develop a greater appreciation for all the work that goes into putting together a book under a tight deadline. Collaboration in these kinds of projects is key.

The Obama front page book is now available at bookstores and at the Poynter store. It could make for a good holiday gift. I know my family can expect to see a few copies of it under the Christmas tree.