Throughout the day Tuesday, the top trending hashtag on Twitter was #AdviceForYoungJournalists. I'm fairly certain it was started by USA Today, but I could be wrong on that. Anyway, I decided to participate. Here are ten words of wisdom for young journalists.
It should be rather obvious who and what I was referencing throughout (except for #6 and #10). The hashtag coincidentally appeared on the first anniversary of The Intercept's launch (February 10, 2014). If you've followed The Daily Banter for the last year or so, you probably have a strong sense of how I feel about The Intercept and especially its flagship adversarial writer Glenn Greenwald, who migrated his personally bastardized version of what's only generously referred to as "journalism" from The Guardian to his current home. Contrary to accusations, my view on this topic has little to do with the NSA or Edward Snowden or surveillance in general and considerably more to do with what I consider to be bad journalism.
Built upon the bedrock foundation of Edward Snowden's stolen NSA documents, The Intercept famously launched with a $250 million investment from PayPal and eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar with the following goal: scare the hell out of paranoiacs, Millennials and Millennial paranoiacs until they're sufficiently terrified of the NSA, then sell them newly-developed software to protect against it. Genius. After rushing to launch with what looked like a blog built upon a generic WordPress theme, The Intercept and its parent company, First Look Media, appeared to have made all of the same mistakes as other notoriously over-funded, under-planned dot-com startups. Later, a sister website, The Racket, run by Matt Taibbi, dissolved under the weight of controversy and chaos before ever launching.
Meanwhile, The Intercept reportedly abandoned Greenwald's original plan for publication: to not only "rewrite the unwritten rules of journalism," but also to not have editorial "obstacles" for its reporting. Combined, it was an hubristic nose-thumbing at the traditionally indelible mandates of good, ethical reporting. That said, we learned during the breakdown of The Racket that the non-hierarchical editorial structure that Greenwald designed had failed and was replaced with a standard editorial chain of command.
But the structural adjustments haven't stopped The Intercept, with the help of former Gawker editor John Cook, from publishing hyperbolic headlines and clickbait articles -- with a wafer-thin patina of seriousness. Here are some doozies:
SHOULD TWITTER, FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE EXECUTIVES BE THE ARBITERS OF WHAT WE SEE AND READ? (In which Greenwald chastised Twitter and Facebook for suspending accounts that posted the James Foley beheading by ISIS terrorists.)
And who can forget the time Greenwald co-authored an article that effectively tossed Matt Taibbi under a bus -- an article, by the way, that read more like a cover-your-ass legal document than an actual news article?
Remember when Greenwald wrote a thousand words theorizing that NBC Gaza correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin was pulled because he witnessed an Israeli attack that killed four Palestinian boys? He turned out to be totally wrong about it.
One of the more incestuous and ethically questionable news items to come from the First Look organization in the past year was when it created and distributed two new grant funds. Out of the first fund, $550,000 earmarked for journalism organizations, First Look handed out $350,000 -- the lion share of the tranche -- to the Freedom of the Press Foundation. The second fund, earmarked as a litigation fund, went to David Miranda.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Greenwald and Snowden sit on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which received $350,000. And Miranda, the second grant recipient, is Greenwald's husband.
This of course raises the ethical question of self-dealing. At the very least, the grant applicants who were passed up or who received far less money should be asking some serious questions about why on both occasions money went to persons affiliated with Greenwald. Oh, and here's a post script: the second largest recipient of the first grant, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which received $100,000, later published a glowing review of Greenwald's NSA book and failed to disclose the First Look grant.
If you're a young journalist and you really want to know what not to do, just look to Greenwald and The Intercept. In its effort to reinvent journalism or "re-write" the rules, it's abandoned the core principles of solid news reporting. Details are invariably scattered, context is never offered, headlines and ledes are crafted for impact rather than accuracy, mitigating details are buried and the real stories are lost. It's a high profile example of a growing trend in digital journalism, and it's not good.
Adding... I almost forgot the ultimate advice for young journalists.