Monday, August 15, 2016

Attribution FAIL! of the day: Washington Times

If this article is true, then it would be news to everyone on all sides of the Second Amendment issue:

Obama’s forgiveness of gun crimes amid push for controls ‘incredible hypocrisy’

"Richard Reid was already a two-time felon when authorities searched his Delaware apartment and found marijuana, crack cocaine divided into sales-size plastic bags, powder cocaine, a scale — and a loaded .32 caliber handgun, an unloaded .25 caliber pistol and ammunition for two other types of weapons.

"Last week, President Obama commuted Reid’s 25-year sentence and made him one of the hundreds of drug users and dealers who the White House says have done enough time.
But at the same time, Mr. Obama forgave scores of gun crimes convictions for the offenders, raising thorny questions about whether the White House is serious about keeping guns out of “the wrong hands” — a refrain of the Obama administration in the wake of mass shootings.

"Mr. Obama forgave six of Reid’s gun crimes, in addition to the drug trafficking and possession offenses for which he was convicted in 2007.

"He is one of 107 federal inmates who have had gun crimes convictions pardoned or sentences commuted during this administration, including a number who used firearms while dealing drugs or who carried them despite having felonies on their records. Still others were caught lying to gun dealers or carrying weapons with the registration numbers filed off — suggesting an even deeper level of gun crime

However, the article suffers from an epic failure of attribution:
  1. Nowhere in the article does it cite any specific source for the data.
  2.  Equally flawed is the lack of a link to a list of the 107 "gun felons" it alleges have been pardoned.
This article, its author and the Times have set themselves up to be dismissed.

Attribution provides credibility

While information that is provably true in a court of law is the gold standard in libel defense, failing to provide ample and frequent attribution diminishes an article's credibility even if every sentence is backed by legally solid evidence.

In an era of shrinking newsrooms in traditional media and the concurrent rise of citizen-generated content online, attribution is poorly understood and frequently absent or inadequate.

The Journalist Is Rarely The Expert Or Best Source

Journalists are rarely experts in the topics they write about or even the best source unless they are reporting events they have witnessed first hand. Even first hand or accounts by experts demand photos, video or confirming attribution from disinterested third parties to have inherent credibility.

A lack of attribution makes an article easy to dispute, can be legally hazardous, and offers Internet trolls an easy target.

The short excerpt below from the New York Times provides a solid exemplar of how to do this correctly.

Right-click image to enlarge.
The rest of the article continues to substantiate credibility with links to outside sources, image captures of documents and photos of locations and other relevant scenes.

Right click image to enlarge.
The ample attribution in this article is particularly significant because the object of the text, Paul Manafort, says the report is 'Silly'.

In a disagreement such as this, citing specific sources allows the reader to make fact-based decisions on the article's credibility. Because this is a political article, many readers will make up their minds in a partisan manner.

However, without the immediate attribution in the article and the context of multiple sources, this would be much easier to dismiss as a biased polemic and irresistible troll fodder.

A local example of good attribution

This article: Clayton Fire devastates Lake County town; thousands flee is also an excellent example of attribution because there is never any doubt as to where the information is coming from.
Images and video also bring home the seriousness of the situation and provide context.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

John Oliver on the decline of journalism. Don't miss this trip into the sadly absurd.

John Oliver's segment on the decline of journalism is right on point and enough to make a journalist laugh while crying.

This BuzzBin piece: "The Decline of Journalism According to John Oliver" offers a concise breakdown, although viewing the full segment is a must. (It's the first one on the video)

From  BuzzBin:

Just in case you missed it, here are the highlights:

  • “The newspaper industry today is in big trouble. Papers have been closing and downsizing for years and that affects all of us.
  • “A study of over 200 papers, found that between 2003 and 2014, the number of state house papers declined over 35 percent.”
  • And this is the problem, “print ads are less popular with advertisers than they use to be, and online ads produce much less revenue. Between 2004 and 2014, newspaper gained 2 billion dollars in online ad revenue and unfortunately in that same period, they lost 30 billion in print revenue… And this has led to cutbacks in newsrooms.”
  • “Extra digital demand being placed on journalists is now common throughout the industry.” If journalists are constantly required to write, edit, shoot videos and tweet, mistakes are going to get made.”

Read the rest of the BuzzBin piece.

Fate of local news operation on Calif Central Coast may rest on libel suit outcome


A small, digital news operation focused on California's Central Coast is facing a libel trial that may determine the fate of its eight-year-long experiment to offer local news coverage amid the trend of shrinking news staffs among traditional media outlets.

The news operation -- CalCoastNews (CCN) -- failed to have a libel suit over a hazardous waste article dismissed based on California's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute. That effort reached a dead-end in 2015, following the unanimous judicial ruling of a three-judge panel of the Second District of the California Court of Appeals.

That appeals opinion confirmed the 2013 decision by a San Luis Obispo County Superior Court judge. A tentative trial date for the libel suit has been set for Nov. 7, 2016. CCN has launched an online Legal Defense Fund campaign to cover the costs of the libel trial. Ironically, the judicial opinions offer journalists in general, some specific guidelines on how to better protect themselves against libel actions.

In the beginning was the article about hazardous waste disposal


On November 14, 2012 CalCoastNews (CCN) published an investigative article, "Hazardous waste chief skirts law," focused on what its news sources alleged were irregularities and possible illegal activities that had occurred in the city and county of San Luis Obispo (SLO).

According to the article:
"A contractor paid more than $400,000 annually by San Luis Obispo County’s Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) illegally transports hazardous wastes and has exposed taxpayers to huge fines by encouraging member public agencies to ignore state law, a CalCoastNews investigation shows.
"Charles Tenborg, the IWMA’s hazardous waste disposal site manager, also owns ECO Solutions, a private waste disposal and management company recommended as a hazardous waste transporter by the IWMA."

Subject of article files libel suit


One of the primary subjects of that article, Charles Tenborg, filed a complaint for libel on May 10, 2013. Page 13 of this legal filing, describes Tenborg as an environmental scientist and the owner of ECO Solutions. The filing said that:
"Over the course of many years, Eco Solutions provided hazardous-waste removal and related services to private and public entities, as well as other services such as spill cleanups, contaminated-debris removal, and pressure washing. "Eco Solutions was a small company with only 10 employees statewide and Tenborg was its public face in the relatively tight-knit waste management community, both in San Luis Obispo County and throughout California.
"Over sixteen years in business, Tenborg earned his hard-fought reputation as a premier and trustworthy provider of such services through Eco Solutions, and neither he nor his company was ever once the subject of an enforcement action by the state entity regulating such businesses."

The strange, sad death of journalism

Since my time as a daily mainstream journalist covering everything from local city court to the White House and Congress,  the business model has been shaken to its core by the refusal of people to pat for news. Sad wonder that cat videos and click-bait headlines dominate.

This article -- -- by the Washington Post's Michael Gerson paints a dismal image that continue to grow darker.
"At its best, the profession of journalism has involved a spirit of public service and adventure -- reporting from a bomber during a raid in World War II, or exposing the suffering of Sudan or Appalachia, or rushing to the site of the World Trade Center moments after the buildings fell. 

"By these standards, the changes we see in the media are also a decline. 
Most cable news networks have forsaken objectivity entirely and produce little actual news, since makeup for guests is cheaper than reporting. 

"Most Internet sites display an endless hunger to comment and little appetite for verification. 
Free markets, it turns out, often make poor fact-checkers, instead feeding the fantasies of conspiracy theorists from "birthers" to Sept. 11, 2001, "truthers." Bloggers in repressive countries often show great courage, but few American bloggers have the resources or inclination to report from war zones, famines and genocides. 

"The democratization of the media -- really its fragmentation -- has encouraged ideological polarization. Princeton University professor Paul Starr traced this process recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. After the captive audience for network news was released by cable, many Americans did not turn to other sources of news. They turned to entertainment. 

"The viewers who remained were more political and more partisan. "As Walter Cronkite prospered in the old environment," says Starr, "Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann thrive in the new one. As the diminished public for journalism becomes more partisan, journalism itself is likely to shift further in that direction." 

Read the rest of this article: "The strange, sad death of journalism."