Society & Culture & Entertainment Other - Entertainment

The Top 10 Stories About the News Business in 2010

If 2009 was one of the worst years ever for the news business, in 2010 there was no place to go but up. Fortunately, that's what happened. Newsroom layoffs slowed and some places even started hiring. No major papers closed, and the so-called called visionaries who once predicted the demise of print journalism were oddly silent. Meanwhile, there were scandals aplenty (Keith Olbermann, Helen Thomas), new dilemmas to be confronted (Wikileaks), press obstruction (the BP oil spill) and a sense that online news sites were coming into their own. Fox News grew more dominant but less fair and balanced, and one of the year's biggest scoops showed the power of the press. Another day, another story. Turn the page.

1. Newspapers Step Back From the Abyss

After the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased publishing in 2009 (the P-I continued online), many predicted 2010 would bring the end of still more major newspapers. It didn't. Things still weren't rosy, but there were positive signs: The slide in display advertising sales slowed, and online ad sales rose. And Time magazine's much-ballyhooed 18-month newspaper death watch? It died. As Margaret Sullivan, editor of The Buffalo (N.Y.) News wrote: "The well-accepted belief that newspapers are closing is simply not true." It was just as well: A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that most news still comes from traditional media, primarily newspapers, and that blogs and social media outlets produced little original reporting.More »

2. ProPublica Wins a Pulitzer, and Online News Sites Win Credibility

It was a sign-of-the-times moment: In April the investigative news website ProPublica became the first online news site to win a Pulitzer, for reporter Sheri Fink's 13,000-word story on the life-and-death decisions made by New Orleans doctors during Hurricane Katrina. In a larger sense, the prize showed that online news sites could be more than aggregators, that they could be important journalistic enterprises in their own right. As managing editor Stephen Engelberg told the AP: "It is a validation. To be recognized by your peers is an honor and it sort of says to the rest of the group: 'Yes, they're here. They're real. They are doing very serious journalism.'" The award was made more impressive by the fact that it came just two years after the site was started.More »

3. One Word: Jobs

After years of layoffs, news outlets - print, online and otherwise - are hiring again. So says a man who should know - Dan Rohn, founder of "Even with newspapers - which are supposed to be dead - I'm seeing a good number of traditional openings being advertised as well as online jobs," Rohn said earlier this year. Indeed, hiring seemed to be happening across the board, from big papers like the Wall St. Journal to locals like the Green Bay Press-Gazette and York Daily Record. And, AOL's new local news venture, was hiring literally dozens of journalists nationwide.More »

4. Paywalls Get Real

Paywalls became a reality in 2010; at year's end The New York Times was about to unveil one, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and the Times of London already had them, and other papers large and small were in the process of implementing them. And while the received wisdom at the end of 2009 was that paywalls wouldn't work, papers that had long had them in place - like the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - showed they could be quite successful. By the end of 2010, the tenor of the debate had changed; no less than Business Insider editor Henry Blodget wrote that The New York Times' paywall could "significantly increase the profitability of its online business AND help preserve the print business for longer than it would otherwise last."More »

5. Wikileaks Changes the News Business? Maybe

Wikileaks wasn't just a big news story; its classified docs dumps presented journalists with a host of ethical dilemmas and, some said, changed journalism itself (NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen called Wikileaks the first stateless news organization.) News orgs debated what should and should not be reported; The New York Times and several other publications vetted the documents and added context to those they published. Their work was praised by ethics expert Stephen Ward, who supported the release of the documents but added: "The enthusiasm many have for what Wikileaks is doing will go down the tubes the moment they publish something that gets someone killed."More »

6. Thugs Try to Obstruct BP Oil Spill Coverage

We're used to hearing about reporters being obstructed (and worse) in third-world dictatorships; we don't expect it here. But as the BP oil spill dragged on it became clear that reporters covering the story were harassed by law enforcement officials and others at the behest of the oil giant in a laughably heavy-handed attempt at PR damage control. There was the freelance photog cornered and questioned by cops and BP security staff after taking pictures on a public street; the ABC reporter who was hassled by a BP cleanup manager; and the New York Daily News reporter and photog who were told they couldn't access a public beach that had been affected by the spill. Pathetic.More »

7. Scandals Get Some Fired, Others Suspended

MSNBC host Keith Olbermann was suspended for two days for making campaign contributions to Democratic candidates (even though Fox News hosts Neil Cavuto and Sean Hannity had given money to Republican pols.) White House correspondent Helen Thomas was shown the door after saying Jews should "get the hell of Palestine" and go "home" to places like Germany and Poland. And Juan Williams was fired from NPR after saying on Fox News that he gets nervous when he sees people in Muslim clothing on an airplane. Of course, all three incidents triggered plenty of debate: Should an anchor known mostly for opinion-mongering be held to the same standards as straight-news reporters? (Yes, if those are rules your network has established.) Shouldn't Thomas have been retired years ago? (Possibly.) Was it fair to fire Williams for saying something that a lot of people are thinking? (No.)More »

8. Rolling Stone Gets a Scoop, and General McChrystal Gets Fired

The Rolling Stone article that led to U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal being forced out as the top military commander in Afghanistan opened a Pandora's box of ethics questions for journalists. But it also demonstrated, in case anyone had forgotten, the power not just of print journalism but of old-fashioned gruntwork reporting, as opposed to the opinion-mongering that increasingly consumes cable news and the blogosphere. The McChrystal story also demonstrated an age-old truism: All the opinions in the world, no matter how loudly and passionately proclaimed, will never carry the blunt force of cold, hard facts.More »

9. Fox News Gets Less Fair and Balanced

Fox News' dominance of cable news continued unabated, but in 2010 the network often seemed to be running off the rails. The year began with Brit Hume's obnoxious comments about Tiger Woods and Buddhism. Then Sarah Palin signed on as a Fox News contributor, sparking charges that she (and others like Mike Huckabee) were using the "Fair and Balanced" network as free publicity for possible 2012 presidential bids. Then came the Shirley Sherrod video fiasco, and at year's end Media Matters released emails showing that FNC Washington staff were essentially told to follow GOP talking points when covering health care reform and global warming. (And I haven't even mentioned the histrionics of Glenn Beck.) Fox News has had great success with its prime-time opinion mongers. But it clearly wants to be taken seriously as a credible news operation, and in that regard it spent much of 2010 shooting itself in the foot.

 More »

10. Jon Stewart, Advocacy Journalist

Jon Stewart says he's not a journalist, and he'd no doubt laugh in the faces of admirers who call him the Edward R. Murrow of our time. But in 2010 it became clear (if it wasn't already) that Stewart was something more than a comedian, and that his "Daily Show" was more than just a nightly half-hour of well-executed satire. In 2009 we'd seen him slap down the Wall Street boosterism of Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli; in 2010 he targeted the Fox News crusade against President Obama; staged the "Rally to Restore Sanity" in Washington; and, at year's end, was credited by the White House with breathing new life into a bill to provide health care coverage to Sept. 11 first responders, after he spent nine-minutes on his show ripping those in Congress who opposed the measure. Jon Stewart, advocacy journalist? We could do worse.

Follow me on Facebook & TwitterMore »

Leave a reply