Daily Archives: May 7, 2012

“The Washington Post seems to have worn its readers out” with its Social Reader. “They’re annoyed, and they’re quitting in droves.” The Guardian, too, has seen readers flee.

BuzzFeed’s John Herrman writes:

Social Readers always seemed a little too share-y, even for Facebook; they felt more like the kind of cold, descriptive, invisible and yet mandatory services we’re used to seeing from Google rather than genuinely new and useful tools for spreading information.

* Facebook Social Readers are all collapsing (BuzzFeed)
* Washington Post is in even worse shape than you think (
* Earlier: Facebook Social Readers amass millions of users (

The following is excerpted from the June 1976 issue of [More], the short-lived journalism review.

How do you define: off the record, not for attribution, background and deep background?

They all sound like the same thing to me. They all sound like don’t print it. Off the record is don’t print it. Deep background is don’t attribute it. I’d have to have the source define background. My experience is that as soon as someone says don’t print it, you pick up a paper the next day and someone else printed it.

Theoretically, off the record means you can’t use it. Most people think off the record means you can use it but there can’t be any connection whatsoever to them. During Watergate I had one lawyer say, “off-off-off the record,” and I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it. You have a real problem whether to use it. Most of the time you try to clarify. It’s different with everyone. It’s complicated.

Off the record is not for quotation. Not for attribution is the same thing. Background — that comes from the Lindley Rule, after the late Ernest K. Lindley of Newsweek. When you’re talking with Kissinger and you can’t attribute it to an official, you write it on your own. No such conversation ever took place. There’s not too much difference between background and deep background.

It’s negotiable separately with each source. Off the record is something I don’t quote. Not for attribution means you can quote, but you can’t identify the source. Background and deep background are terms for dealing with powerful people, and most of the work I do is with powerless people. I’m dealing with a court stenographer to get stuff on a judge. He’s probably never heard those phrases. They’re for dealing with the Secretary of State.

Most people think off the record is the same as not for attribution: You can use it, but don’t use my name. Off the record can also mean you can use the information but not the quotation — people have expressions or language that they use that might be recognized. Not for attribution means you can use the quotes but you cannot use my name. Background means you can’t use the information. It’s there to give you an idea of what’s going on. Deep background? The expression is just a joke.

I never try to define those things. That’s Washington journalistic jargon. Off the record means: I won’t quote you, but if I quote you by name I’ll let you see your direct quote.

Off the record: it cannot be used in any way. Not for attribution: it can be used, but the source cannot be named. Background: it can be used for your own information, but not attributed to any source, even an unnamed official. You use it for your own thinking. Deep background: I don’t know. I suppose you take extra precaution so the source can’t be identified. It’s a peculiar Washington phrase. No source has ever said “deep background” to me. What can it mean? Let’s go behind the curtain?

I really don’t operate at that many different levels. Deep background? I’ve never in my whole life found anyone so silly as to use the expression. Background? I’ve heard it at some farflung outpost of the bureaucracy. I’ve just dismissed it as a useless expression they enjoyed using. Generally, off the record means I ought to do everything I can to protect him. Not for attribution means I can get close to his office in identifying my source.

These interviews were conducted in 1976 by Judith Hennessee.

UPDATE: Rem Rieder sends this link to a 1994 AJR piece on attribution definitions.

The Milwaukee Police Department says its The Source website “provides the whole story — the one that television, radio and newspapers don’t have space or time to provide their audiences.” Also, “we’ll correct the news stories that got it wrong and highlight the ones that got it right.”

Police Chief Ed Flynn writes in one post:

This news site replaces the outdated face-to-face briefings with a select few media representatives, with a contemporary platform that enables anyone who wants to, with access to information for all. That is the essence of public information. To the Journal Sentinel I say, “Welcome to the 21st Century.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has aggressively covered the police department, while Milwaukee Magazine has been friendly to Chief Ed Flynn and his department. One of its writers said earlier this year that “no Milwaukee chief in modern times has presided over a bigger reduction in crime. Yet, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has done series after series of ‘Watchdog’ stories criticizing the department.”

The police department’s press release is after the jump. Read More

* Henry Blodget on the maturation of “billionaire boy-man” Mark Zuckerberg. (New York)
* “The range of sites and services nibbling away at journalism is immense.” (
* Media speculation on Junior Seau suicide out of bounds. (
* Greensboro publisher should be fired for editorial page silence on Amendment One, says ex-staffer. (Blog on the Run)
* Tom Brokaw says its time to rethink the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. (Huffington Post)
* “60 Minutes” viewership among 25- to 54-year-olds is up about 6% this season, while total viewership is unchanged. (New York Times)
* Publisher sues Tumblr for copyright infringement over porn photos. (paidContent)

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s take on news organizations’ use of 911 calls:

I’ve long felt that it’s close to obscene to play the most intimate, raw sounds of shock and pain experienced by those experiencing the effects of crime, given how little news value the recordings have.

And the fact that we can — that 911 recordings are part of the public record — doesn’t mean we should.

Those calls should be played if they advance the story “in a meaningful way,” he says, “but playing the audio simply to dramatize the depths of someone’s agony is abusive, not only of the privacy rights of the person who called 911 looking for help, not to offer up their darkest moment for the delectation of the masses, but also of the listener or viewer who’d rather not hear it.”

* Time for media to 86 the practice of reflexively playing 911 tapes (Chicago Tribune)

I posted a story last week about the Santa Clarita Valley Signal charging a dime per word for candidate endorsement letters. Late Friday, I received this email from Jason Schaff, executive editor of the Valencia, Calif.-based newspaper, explaining the new fee:

We initiated this policy because frankly management at The Signal feels that the newspaper was being used by campaigns to gain publicity for their candidates. We have been getting dozens of letters in letter-writing campaigns that read like ads, just getting the candidate’s name out there and not really engaging any issues. We don’t have the space for that. We didn’t want to just pick and choose letters. I would most certainly have been accused of favoring particular candidates if I did that. So the choice was to not run any political endorsement letters at all or impose a minimal charge on only political endorsement letters.

This is certainly not a new revenue stream or money making idea; the 10-cent per word fee will just simply pay for additional pages in the paper if needed. That way we can guarantee that all letters received will be run assuming they are not libelous or violate any bad-taste rules. If we get dozens of political letters, we’ll be able to run dozens of letters and still have room in our regular letters to the editor section for issue-based letters.

* California paper starts charging for endorsement letters

UPDATE: Joe Shults of the Columbia Daily Tribune says his paper has been charging for
election letters — “either of candidates or ballot issues” — for years now. “We charge $25 for letters up to 100 words, plus 50 cents per word after that,” he writes.” They’re always noted, of course, that they are paid letters once they appear in the paper. I’d be interested to know how many (or few) papers also charge for letters.”

A Washington Post journalist sends this email:

Bill Nye "The Science Guy"

I saw this posting today on Facebook — that the incident happened isn’t very surprising, but is it true that the Waco Tribune took down its story about it (mentioned at the bottom of this post)? I’d be interesting in knowing what really happened.

The emailer links to a piece from 2009 that’s apparently making the rounds on Facebook. It reports that Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) “managed to offend” a Waco audience “when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun.”

The post adds that “this story originally appeared in the Waco Tribune, but the newspaper has mysteriously pulled its story from the online version, presumably to avoid further embarrassment.”

Wrong! says Waco Tribune editor Donnis Baggett. He tells Romenesko readers:

The story was published on April 6, 2006, and is still posted on our paid subscription website. Therefore, it’s available only to readers who pay for access.

Additionally, for arcane reasons connected to a change in site hosting two years ago, sometimes the story is erroneously labeled as having been removed. This has apparently led some to believe we pulled it because of
pressure, when in fact we have not.

I’ve copied the story from our site and am attaching it below for your reference.

The Science Guy is entertaining and provocative at MCC lecture

Author: Tim Woods Tribune-Herald staff writer

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald on April 6, 2006

Audience members who expected to see Bill Nye “The Science Guy” conduct experiments and wow their children received quite a surprise Wednesday when Nye spoke at McLennan Community College./CONTINUES AFTER THE JUMP
Read More

-- UPI 'Now You Know' filler

It’s ’70s Week on (I recently found my stash of MORE magazines from that decade and will be posting some “hits” from that great journalism review.)

Ten “big-name” Washington Post journalists — including Dana Priest, David Finkel and Carol Leonnig — secretly met last month with Post president Stephen Hills and expressed their concerns about what’s going on at the paper, reports Lucia Moses.

Steve Hills

Over sandwiches around the dining room table, the journalists expressed concern about the loss of newsroom resources. Accounts of the evening that are making the rounds suggest it was hardly comforting to their journalistic souls. Hills was said to have shocked [them] with remarks that awards “don’t matter,” urged more traffic-driving slideshows over original Post photos, and compared the Post to Ohio’s Dayton Daily News, a paper with one-fifth the circulation of the 508,000-circ Post.

Hills tells Moses that “I was having a wide-ranging informal conversation at a dinner party with my colleagues, who happen to be some of the best reporters and editors in the business, about the challenges that we face.”

Asked about this story, one of my Post sources said: “Steve Hills scares the hell out of the newsroom. Marcus [Brauchli] doesn’t get nearly enough credit for fighting him off.”

* Secret meeting has Washington Post buzzing (Adweek)
* From Friday: Washington Post ad revenue continues slide (Washington Post)

Cornell University Prof. Walter Cohen was identified in Friday’s Cornell Daily Sun as the “Senior Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Cunt.” The paper’s editor explains how that happened:

The paper was vandalized Thursday night as The Sun celebrated its last night of publication for the semester. About 150 people gathered at our offices during this particular occasion. This is something that The Sun has been doing every year since I first joined. We have always held this event without incident, and we are appalled that someone would attempt to compromise our integrity by sneaking this curse word into the paper.

-- May 4 Cornell Daily Sun (h/t @collegemedia)

* Letter from the Editor: On the profanity in Friday’s paper (Cornell Daily Sun)
* Was the C-word in the Cornell paper planted by their own staff? (Ivy Gate Blog)
* Earlier: Suffolk University paper apologizes for “Dumb Fuckers” headline
* More publishing screw-ups on Romenesko’s Pinterest page