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« Where Newspapers Can Start the Conversation | Main | Jay Rosen's Next Book »

February 04, 2005


Mark Tapscott

You probably already know this but just in case, it is quite easy to obtain a great deal of information about non-profits by looking at their IRS Form 990 tax returns. You can either get the latest return by requesting it from the organization, which is required by IRS regs to provide it on request and with only reasonable copying charges. You can also go to and find the 990s for most non-profits, though not always the most recent. I posted on this topic last week, at:


What puzzles me about your post here is the assumption that the information is hidden rather than open and that 'transparency' is the solution. It seems to me that the fact of interest is absolutely clear and that the problem is that people don't seem to mind. In other words, there is no active response to try to change the status quo.


Welcome to our world, Dan, where endless streams of fraudulent data supporting Republican initiatives are shot out into the mediasphere.

Esme Vos

Think tanks hiding behind a veneer of independence is one problem. The other - and more serious one - is a lazy press that simply prints (with minor changes) the press releases that go with the publication of these "studies" and "reports". I can't tell you how amazed I am that journalists of certain newspapers, online and offline, simply quote these press releases. They don't check who is behind it. Not all journalists are lazy (and I understand the pressure of deadlines) but enough propagate the PR garbage that passes for news. Fortunately, there are bloggers like Glenn Fleishman and Sascha Meinrath, as well as columnists such as Carol Ellison at EWeek, who do some digging.

Julian Bond

In response to Esme, me too.

4 years ago I was producing a weekly email newsletter on B2B. My sources were Moreover RSS feeds and a couple of magazines that aggregated all the press releases. Given the niche, it was very obvious that when one of the big analyst companies released one of their "The X market will be Y big in Z years" documents, it would be followed in quick succession by 50 or so newspapers around the world repeating the analysis verbatim and often with the same headline. Exactly the same thing happens with AP and Reuters. Even now you can see the effect in Google News where a new story appears virtually unchanged in large numbers of newspapers almost simultaneously. But at least Google aggregates them together.

There's no journalism in this. And in today's internet world where we have essentially the same access to every source, there's no point. What is happening is that a single source is using the newspaper world as a distributed amplifier. Almost like a P2P swarmcast. And what's distressing about it is that there's only relatively few sources with the clout to be able to activate that amplifier. Which means that if you get your news from the mainstream, you get a homogenised view because the individual outlets are not adding any value at all, except to provide distribution.

And they call the blogosphere an echo chamber?

As an aside, there's clearly potential here to build a completely automated newspaper that takes half a dozen primary feeds, applies some AI grammer and synonym rules to the source and then republishes them with a set of randomly generated journalist names. Add a single human to write the editorial page and you have the functional equivalent of the "Boise Idaho Inquirer".

Jozef Imrich

The Bush administration has perfected the art of tightly controlling information? What is the price for its disciplined, on-message, my-way-or-the-highway approach?
As Lori Robertson of American Journalism Review noted: Four years of a very disciplined, on-message, tightly controlled administration had exacted a toll on Washington reporters. He (Ron Hutcheson) needed to keep his energy level up. "Because when you make calls and they're not returned, you stop making them," he says. "There were times I quit trying."

Mark Tapscott of the American Heritage Foundation predicts that online-based, grassroots media--discussed in Dan Gillmor's book "We the Media"--will develop into primary sources of news, and when that happens, "the people in government will have to adjust the way they deal with them." There'll be no more ignoring a phone call until a deadline has passed. "With 24/7 news," Tapscott says, "you can't do that."


"...powerful interests try to create public support for their side of issues without disclosing the hidden agendas...credulous reports that may be grossly biased...We need far, far more transparency than we get...[S]top by Source Watch..."

What I see here are two messages:

1. Journalists, report the hidden linkages
(yes, but they're in a hurry and the editor might not find it worthwhile)

2. Readers, here's where you can find the hidden linkages
(yes, but how far will the info then propagate?)

What I'd like to see is a third message:

3. Community, here are steps we can take to ensure that the hidden linkages get reported and widely disseminated


Sunday's article in the Washington Post about global warning ("Arid Arizona Points to Global Warming as Culprit") is an example of sloppy journalism that makes this kind of sponsored opinion obvious to all. In the article, the staff writer includes this remarkable paragraph disparaging the concept of global warming:

"There are dissenters who say it is impossible to attribute the recent drought and higher temperatures to global warming. Sherwood Idso, president of the Tempe, Ariz.-based Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, said he does not believe the state's drought "has anything to do with CO{-2} or global warming," because the region experienced more-severe droughts between 1600 and 1800. Idso, who also said he did not believe there is a link between human-generated carbon dioxide emissions and climate change, DECLINED TO SAY WHO FUNDS HIS CENTER. [Emphasis added}"

Why would a responsible newspaper accept unchallenged a statement like this refusal to identify sponsorship? Laziness, I expect...the energy industry's sponsorship of this organization is easily verified on the Web. This is but one example of the danger of an inadequate interest in truth in the media.


Esme is on-target with this one. I’ve “mediated realities” both inside and outside the Beltway and found that most journalists are simply too busy to check facts.

The average daily newspaper reporter faces hard deadlines and looks to PR people to give them the right information in a timely manner. If the information has a partisan spin on things, well, that’s the price the reporter pays for allowing the PR person to spoon feed him information. They’re welcome to perform their own research, if they have the time. Thank God some of them do.

The best a PR person can do is examine his conscience on a daily basis. There’s a fine line between ensuring that your client appears in a positive light and helping them avoid well-deserved ridicule in the national media.

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