Read: May 2023

Inspiration: Came across in airport bookstore; interested to understand workplace dynamics in journalism


Written with the help of ChatGPT, below is a brief summary to understand what is covered in the book.

“Newsroom Confidential”, published in 2022 by author and journalist Margaret Sullivan, is a memoir that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the journalism industry and reflects on the challenges and concerns faced by journalists in the digital age. Sullivan, a seasoned journalist and former public editor of The New York Times, shares her experiences and insights gained from a career dedicated to reporting the truth. The book explores the evolving media landscape, the impact of technology on news consumption, and the importance of maintaining journalistic integrity in an era of fake news and misinformation. Sullivan delves into the ethical dilemmas journalists encounter, the changing role of newspapers, and the vital role of a free press in a democratic society. “Newsroom Confidential” serves as a timely reminder of the importance of quality journalism and the essential role journalists play in holding power to account.

Unedited Notes

Direct from my original book log, below are my unedited notes (abbreviations and misspellings included) to show how I take notes as I read.

Margaret Sullivan grew up amid Watergrate Scandal which hooked her to journalism, 85% of US households tuned in, there was general trust in what was on the front page of news vs now there is no common reality, work of Bob Woodward and Carl Berstein inspire a generation of journalists to hold power accountable in the field, 1976 almost 3/4 of the country had high trust in news media post-Watergate and Pentagon Papers, Margaret to Georgetown then graduate school at Northwestern Medill, joined The Buffalo News out of school and treated well but a male dominated workplace in the 90s, Magarette wanted to make newspapers more exciting/redesign front page layout even, 1999 became editor—woman running a regional newsroom was rare and was one of the youngest, stayed as editor for 12 years, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was NY senator til 98—named Hillary Clinton as desired successor, Moynihan known for intellect and speaking in riddles (Penn Station hall named after him), 2012 invited to join Pulitzer Committee, 2003 NYT introduced role of Public Editor where indep journalism takes role to oversee complains and fact check and then write a column NYT publishes of critiques, took job summer 2012 (fifth to have role and first woman), tough dynamic with other writers depending on harshness but Margaret developed fan base quickly on internet, by 2012 media trust was hurt by scandals as well as overuse of anonymous sources, liberal bias pushing by Fox/conservatives, Iraq War reporting flaws, increasingly Twitter criticism changed life of Public Editor and pressure on writers, attack and defense dynamic, Sullivan was an arbiter on a daily basis and often not side fully with NYT writers), NYT anonymous sources from Judith Miller led to inaccurate conclusion of Saddam’s WMDs and apology, Sullivan push for NYT to change anonymity standards—really should only be for national security concerns, Clinton coverage would be most consequential saga of Sullivan tenure through 2016, initially Sullivan see Clinton coverage as too presumptious but not too positive given NYT broke email scandal, beginning in 2013 NYT was all in on following Clinton 24/7 which Sullivan thought was odd, anointed Hillary too soon, 2014 NYT published clinton foundation cash story with Fox latched onto and blew up, March 2015 NYT broke email story when Hillary was Sec of State—Sullivan thought this story was a screw up, not criminal investigation as stated in NYT, too many anonymous sources that got it wrong but too late, then Oct 2015 Comey letter coverage overdone by NYT—GOP capitalize on sensationalism, all had material impact in swing to Trump, NYT was loud on Clinton criticism b/c assumed she’d win and wanted to be tough as she took office but in turn was quiet on Trump and swung election, volume of Clinton critiques seemed to equate with Trumps scandals though Trump far more egregious, false axiom is journalism is often “if both sides are mad at us, we are doing something right”—simply not true at all, 2014 NYT top editor Jill Abramson fired by Chairman Arthur Sulzberger for being to harsh and not lean into digital (was first female in role), replaced by Dean Baquet (first african american in role, but a bit unfiltered, got along with Sulzberger better), Baquet less of a traditionalist, 4 year stint for Sullivan up in 2016 and join Washington Post just before Trump Election—in role as a reporter as Post not have a public editor role, public editor position removed a year and a half after Sullivan left NYT—cited twitter and challenges of being in that role but Sullivan disagree with move, Sullivan was writing for Style section at Post which did overlap with politics but took time to find voice/was now not top of hierarchy, Sullivan blames Fox News as single biggest reason for today’s environment, not a news organization—became a state propaganda outlet, focus on profits at cost of peddling addictive lies/conspiracies, Fox rarely corrects reporting as all legitimate outlets do, famous Roger Ailes “orchestra pit” idea as advised Bush and Reagan on election—if one candidate says have solution for peace in the middle east and another falls in the orchestra pit, who will be on the evening news?, issue with “both sides” journalism where balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality, equalizing of the unequal via TV time, as strive for objectivity—does not mean balance and both-sideism (just means openness and being thorough), stating what is a lie is being objective (presenting lies as equal in logic to reality is not balanced journalism), important for news outlets to focus on democracy not parties—emphasize stories of redistricting and voting (have “democracy beats”), steer away from “political reporters” and instead “government reporters”, local news is key—but being dismantled by private equity owners often, nonprofit digital news rooms do well—not profit centric

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