Irin Carmon and Amy Brittain were on the verge of publishing an investigation looking into sexual misconduct allegations against a powerful executive at CBS. But the Washington Post decided not to run the story. Carmon looks back at how an important story was killed.
Cody Delistraty | Longreads | September 2017 | 8 minutes (2193 words)
Before David Fahrenthold won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for covering Trump’s candidacy, he spoke to the then-candidate on the phone last May. Trump called Fahrenthold “a nasty guy.”
One of Fahrenthold’s most impressive journalistic pursuits came after that conversation, when he began to investigate Trump’s charitable giving. Trump had long made loud claims about his charitable donations, but Fahrenthold discovered that although Trump claimed to have donated millions of dollars spread among 400 charities, very few of those charities had any record of Trump’s supposed contributions.
In 1989, Ruben Castaneda was an ambitious young reporter at the Washington Post, covering the downfall of then-Mayor Marion Barry. And like Barry, Castaneda also had a double life.
Eleven years ago, one of Washington’s most tradition-bound companies placed a bet that would transform its fortunes. The wager, by The Washington Post Co. and its Kaplan division, took the form of a $165 million purchase of an Atlanta-based chain of for-profit vocational schools that catered to low-income students. The bet was big — the price equal to the profits earned that year by The Post Co.’s print-media pillars: this newspaper and Newsweek magazine. So was the payoff. But what proved a deftly timed business move brought other, less welcome scrutiny to a family-run company that had long prided itself in serving the public interest.
Soraya Roberts | Longreads | September 2019 | 9 minutes (2,452 words)
The new release I most wanted to see during the Toronto International Film Festival was Unbelievable, the Netflix series that is neither a movie nor was it screening at TIFF. I was more taken by this miniseries, based on the ProPublica and Marshall Project investigation of a number of real rapes in Washington and Colorado, than by any of the movies I saw. But then, I have a particular affinity for this kind of mid-budget drama: real-looking people solving real problems in a real world, wading through the complications of humanity — “God shows up looking for someone to be of service, clean things up a bit, and he says, ‘Whom shall I send?’” — this is my shit. It’s the kind of thing you saw regularly at the cinema in the ’70s but that now tends to be relegated to streaming sites. I wonder how much of my affinity for Unbelievable — eight hours, three days — had to do with the fact that I could watch it at home. Alone. For free (well, Netflix-account free). Whether if all other things had been equal, but it had been playing at TIFF, I would have felt the same. Would I have felt the same had I chosen it over something else, doubt over my decision percolating in the background? Or if I were watching next to critics who liked it much more than I did, or much less? Or if I’d had an anxiety attack because I was assigned a middle seat (aisles only)? When the stakes are high, it’s harder to see past them. Read more…
When young writers dream of becoming journalists, how many envision themselves writing for trade magazines like American Shipper and Onion World? I used to work at a tea company which bagged its own tea, and it always amused me when our new issue of a heavy machinery trade mag arrived in the mail. It turns out, those niche publications are now far more stable, and often more lucrative, than most of the mainstream papers and magazines. Why was I laughing? I had to work at a tea shop to make a living as a writer.
At The Washington Post, Scott Nover takes us to Capitol Hill, where reporters for niche publications now outnumber reporters for the mainstream publications most of us associate with journalism. These reporters have specialties, from agriculture to medical devices, and their work caters to specialists whose particular interests are influenced by what happens on the Hill, and who are willing to pay top dollar for niche news. Besides making certain types of information more expensive, how has this changed other aspects of the media landscape?
Mainstream news organizations in search of new revenue streams have also moved into specialized coverage and research. In 2017, Digiday reported that Politico Pro — Politico’s subscription-based news and intelligence service — had 20,000 paying subscribers and accounted for half of Politico’s total revenue. In 2011, Bloomberg bought the Bureau of National Affairs, a trade publisher, and rebranded it as Bloomberg BNA; Business Insider launched Business Insider Intelligence in 2012.
When industry is the primary audience, the priorities for reporters can be different from those of mainstream journalists. Ferdous Al-Faruque, who goes by Danny, works for Medtech Insight, an industry trade outlet published by the British company Informa. “A large part of our audience are medical device companies. So their regulatory officers, their CEOs [and] various executives will read our stuff in order to know what is FDA thinking, what is FDA doing, how does this impact our business,” he told me. “The way I always try to remember this is if my articles are not, in some way, making money for the medical device industry, I’m not doing my job because what I write needs to somehow fill their business strategy.” He stressed, though, that the approach doesn’t guarantee favorable coverage. “Even though we might lose a major client because they don’t like what we write … we have to do it because it’s not about them,” he says. “It’s about our credibility.”
Some observers argue that the growing ranks of the trade press do contribute, albeit indirectly, to broader accountability journalism. At an Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in August, Usher and her colleague Yee Man Margaret Ng presented their research on social-media conversations between trade journalists in D.C. “What these trade folks are doing, especially on Twitter, is raising [the] alarm when [an] alarm needs to be raised,” Usher told me. “Or they’re covering something in a way that allows more mainstream … journalists to basically survey a sector they would otherwise not pay attention to.”