Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Independent" Newspaper?

To say that the University doesn't heavily favor the GW Hatchet, GWTV, and WRGW over all other student news organizations would be a blatant lie. Now, I'm giving GWTV and WRGW a free pass here, because they have a monopoly on their forms on news distribution, and don't claim to be independent. But the Hatchet is different. They sit in their white tower of "independence," and yet are clearly favored by, and get insider treatment from, the University. Do you want to be this University's official newspaper? Fine. Do it. But don't try to call yourself independent in the mean time.

Yes, yes, I get it, they are run not under the auspices of the university, and technically can print anything they want, but there is something amiss here. The GW Hatchet is supposed to serve as a the information source for and voice of the students of GW, not a mouth piece of the university. But when that "independent" newspaper comes to have a close, intimate relationship with the institution they are supposed to be turning a critical eye on, they cannot possibly be doing a good job. I understand the desire to get good scoops, but I think the Hatchet is sacrificing too much for it.

What spurned this outrage from me, you may ask. Well, as I am sure you were all excited to hear, President Obama and Attorney General Holder will be coming to do some ceremonial swearing in at Lisner Auditorium this week. Ok, now go look for the same story here at GWBlogspot. I'll wait while you look.

Want to try the Daily Colonial?
The GW Patriot?
Wait, no, I know, let's go to the source. Check the press release! Here, try google!

Nothing? Huh. It seems that the University has given this scoop and made themselves available solely to the Hatchet. Don't believe me? Guess which is the only student press (Besides GWTV) given access to the event.

That's right, it's the Hatchet.

Now, we at GWBlogspot don't pretend to be perfect. We think our little corner of the web serves its purpose, and we hope to maintain some journalistic integrity as we work to be a voice to GW Students. Do we always succeed? Of course not. But we don't pretend that we do.

There's a certain sense of entitlement that comes with working at The Hatchet, that I think is working against them. As the biggest student newspaper, and the only one published as often as they are, the reporters, researchers, and editors there have become disconnected from what is going on here with the little people of GW. They forget that their newspaper isn't the be all, end all of student news, and refuse to work with other news organizations. And this hurts them. When all of your news and tips come from the university, you're in dangerous territory. Your reporting may be great, but if you're not reporting what's important to students, it doesn't matter.

I, personally, think the Hatchet could be an invaluable asset to the students of GW. It would given a forum to create a discourse on the problems facing GW students, and would allow them a way to organize with other students to fight for what we need. Instead, the paper has become watered down and useless; so concerned with keeping its ties to the information lines in the university that it refuses to challenge the status quo. I don't expect Woodward and Berstein from the Hatchet, but there are legitimate issues facing GW students today that are going unrecognized. If you're going to claim to be "independent," you better be darn sure to stand up when the students of GW need a voice.

Until then, I encourage you to avoid the conglomerate that the Hatchet has become. We at GW are lucky enough to have many other student media outlets, ones that are smaller and legitimately have an ear to the issues facing GW students. Make sure to check out the Daily Colonial, the GW Patriot, and Inside the SA, and keep updated here at the GWBlogspot.

In the mean time, stay informed, stay active, and make your voice heard.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

Get off your high horse and quit complaining.

Go do something about it. Nobody likes a whiner and all this post made me want to do is read less of GWBlogSpot.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? You people make a blog as a homework assignment and expect to instantly become "campus media?"

Anonymous said...

The Hatchet was the only news source to get a news story? Sounds like they got what journalists sometimes call "a scoop." You guys are journalist majors, right? You know what a "scoop" is?

AdamGreen said...

If you're posting under the name Anonymous, you strain credulity to begin your comment with "Seriously?"

If you want to be taken seriously, "stand by your comment" and post your name.

Jake said...

Someone sent me this blog post earlier this morning. My name is attached to this -- I was the editor in chief in 2007-2008 and a staff member at The Hatchet for four years. I never really experienced what you are talking about. In actuality, when The DailyColonial.com was active, they scooped The Hatchet on many occasions.

More so than many college campuses, The Hatchet is unbelievably inclusive. AT places like Harvard and Yale, people who want to write for the newspaper need to practically "rush" and "pledge" to be accepted. The Hatchet allows anyone to write.

At so many newspapers there is an idea of staff members being out of touch. The New York Times deals with this relatively frequently, as their style section often tackles issues such as private jet costs. But I think the core issue that you are missing is the fact that The Hatchet's ability to get stories before everyone else is because of relationships cultivated over decades. Not preferential treatment by anyone.

Hatchet edtior said...

I think you guys are confusing blogs and newspapers as being the same thing. As bloggers, most of your work is based on opinion or providing students with "helpful hints" on how to protect themselves from the sun in posts called "Ouch! I'm sunburned." Thanks for that.

You guys cover SA stuff, but that's pretty much it as far as hard news goes.

You don't take the time to meet with administrators during inconvenient hours, find out from long-developed sources whether Karl Hobbs will keep his job, or follow court cases involving the University. As a result, you don't report on the vast majority of the news. In fact, a good percentage of your posts are opining on legitimate stories written by the Hatchet. Why would the University come to a site about a year old with likely not 1/1000th of the distribution of the Hatchet? To be fair? Wait, I thought we're all independent. It's called competition.

AdamGreen said...

Thanks for weighing in, Jake.

Hatchet editor said...

And I know I'm going to get flack for typing "Hatchet edtior" instead of editor but here's me recognizing the typo.

AdamGreen said...

A response to "Hatchet edtior" (sic):

Thanks for engaging. And for posting your title -- very constructive.

I'll let others engage in the substantive debate about the Hatchet. But I'd make a couple points about the substance of GWBlogspot.

First, it's unfair to write off blogs as solely "analysis." It's a lot of analysis, yes, often filling a void left open by the editorial pages of the Hatchet that can't print every letter or weigh in on every issue in Op-Eds.

But plenty of news has been broken on blogs. And GWBlogspot, in particular, has a track record of merging analysis with breaking news. For instance, criticism of GW Housing practices on GWBlogspot led to a unique YouTube-interview by GWBlogspot of GW Housing administrator Seth Weinshel. (See here: http://twurl.nl/q2vf1j )

GWBlogspot also sponsored the one and only run-off debate. (News that the Hatchet, I believe, deprived their readers of. Ahem...)

Second, most of the commentary at GWBlogspot does not involve the Hatchet. I know the Hatchet loves to say that, but it's not true. When it is true, it's a legitimate practice. Should blogs NOT pivot off news in the Hatchet? Is the Hatchet above media critique? No, that's silly. But, regardless, most things on GWBlogspot don't even mention the Hatchet.

Third, did you really just compare the Hatchet "distribution" to GWBlogspot's? Maybe you should take Internet & Politics, or any class that teaches about "metrics" for judging success. I suppose, a blog's "distribution" is 100% of the campus community that has Internet access -- just as the Hatchet's "distribution" is 100% of the campus community that has access to printed piles of the Hatchet that many don't pick up or has access to a story on page 8 that never gets read.

But let's compare apples to apples here. How many people attended the GW Hatchet's SA debate in round one? Hundreds of people watched the SA run-off debate live on GWBlogspot and hundreds more tuned in on the day GWBlogspot liveblogged the JEC hearing.

Not criticizing the Hatchet. Just saying...let's not spread weird metrics for comparing the worth of various campus media. The Hatchet is above that.

Again, thanks for engaging.

Hatchet editor said...

Perhaps a more accurate word than 'distribution' would have been 'readership', both online and in print. No one can argue as to whose stories are read by the most people.

Anonymous said...

Ohhh Ouch that comment burns doesn't it! Hatchet editor that's a pretty hot comment :)

GWBlogspot - you all do give news information to an extend but the reason I come to this site is for mostly gossip or just some interesting articles about the campus. I don't want to "put down" your efforts or your journalistic endeavors, but I enjoy reading the articles that are specifically about students, and internships, and professor and the rumors going around campus. And...I almost never read the Hatchet but I'm ALWAYS on here refreshing the page since it's fun and still informative.

Andrew Perez said...

Re: Jake

I understand where you're coming from and appreciate that you've taken the time to write here. But I would like to contest this:

"The Hatchet's ability to get stories before everyone else is because of relationships cultivated over decades."

I mean no disrespect, but you are in a way rationalizing the preferential treatment the Hatchet is given. At the very least, you're admitting the Hatchet receives preferential treatment. No?

Nick Fabiani said...

I don't want to get too involved here, because I'd like this to be an open discourse, but I want to thank both Jake and the Hatchet Editor for posting here, and contributing to a more public debate.

The problem is that both of your comments, to me, seem to accept and agree with the idea that the Hatchet is the best source of news on campus. I understand that big newspapers in the country, the New York Times and the Washington Post and USA Today, by virtue of being the oldest, most established papers get better access.

I'm not asking the University to come to GWBlogspot to break news (As nice as that would be!). What I would like is for the Hatchet to not be afraid to actually delve deeper into the problems facing students because they might lose brownie points with the university.

That's what this all comes down to. There are a lot of dedicated, good writers at the Hatchet right now, but the feeling there is one of entitlement, that they don't need to actually dig because they have university contacts and, let's face it, do get the best circulation here on campus. When you have monopoly on the print market and have the best access, where's the impetus to rock the boat?

I just think we (The students of GW) deserve more.

W. Hunter Patterson said...

I think you're missing the point. The Hatchet is a paper of record, we at the Patriot and even you here at the Blogspot are not. We are commentary blogs, and you picking out this story as benign as it is, is pathetic.

AdamGreen said...

Hunter, did you read Nick's comment above?

If you did, than you don't "get it." In fact, you'd be the one nitpicking -- trying to reduce a big-picture debate about the role of campus media to a single article.

If you didn't read it before your comment, and would like to engage more productively, go for it.

(Opinionated sidepoint: Calling anyone the "paper of record" is kind of funny...kind of like SA politicians pretending they are President of the United States. Let's have a deeper discussion than one that steals phrases from the NY Times.)

Great point, Nick. And thanks for kicking off this conversation.

A,my said...

"I understand that big newspapers in the country, the New York Times and the Washington Post and USA Today, by virtue of being the oldest, most established papers get better access..."


The Hatchet staff includes more students than any other campus media publication ("big") and was founded in 1904 ("oldest, most established").

HENCE THE BETTER ACCESS.

AdamGreen said...

"A,my" -- did you read Nick's post? Any substantive response to it? It got to the real issue quite clearly.

Jake said...

No, it's not preferential treatment. Does the Washington Post get "preferential" treatment on the Washington Nationals beat? Well, I guess because they show up daily and build relationships with players. So when a story breaks they will have the relationship and trust built up from weeks of mundane reporting.

It's like any relationship between two humans. Journalists are asking sources to trust them. So if it's someone you've seen around, then yeah, you will trust them more. Trachtenberg was always more willing to give the Hatchet information because of relationships built over time. Because reporters put in the time and worked at establishing a rapport.

But look at someone like Jeff Zeleny, who covers the White House for the New York Times. He breaks stories left and right - and did so in the campaign. He has been covering Obama since he was a senator in Illinois and Zeleny was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. So that relationship is there - they know each other. Sports reporters at The Hatchet could certainly say that people like Jack Kvancz give more stories to The Hatchet than other media outlets because we dont JUST go to him when there's a story. But instead, schedule regular meetings with him to make sure reporters understand what's going on in his head.

If SMPA is not teaching the basic elements of beat reporting, I suggest going to The Hatchet. Because I'd say that what I learned there has helped me more in the professional realm and as I finish up my master's in journalism at Columbia than anything I learned in SMPA

AdamGreen said...

Jake - thanks again.

Beat journalism most definitely isn't taught in Internet & Politics. I'd assume it's taught in Journalism.

But I think Nick is calling the question on Beat Journalism as a journalism model. We see with the Wall Street situation right now, financial journalists who have been trained for so long to get "access" to Wall Street sources that they are unwilling to challenge them. Hence, the now-infamous question by a CNBC reporter to a Ponzi-scheme rip-off artist, "Does it feel good to be a billionaire?" (Answer: Yes.) That wasn't strong watchdog journalism.

So, Jake, one could totally argue that what traditional J Schools are teaching is old and wrong. That it perpetuates a system of reporters being unwilling to burn relationships with sources by holding them accountable -- because if you're limited to one "beat" you are up a creek without sources.

Now, an alternative theory on news is: gain audience by doing strong watchdog journalism and stirring things up, not by exclusives that require access. If you burn a source and that hurts coverage of that beat, swap in another reporter. Or don't...make the source deal with a watchdog journalist.

So, to be clear, this conversation Nick kicked off doesn't accept journalistic norms and ask, "How can GWBlogspot be like the Hatchet, which is the holy grail of journalism?" In fact, it questions journalistic norms (including those potentially taught at GW or Columbia), and puts the focus back on holding sources accountable?

Can anyone from the Hatchet point to a few examples of the Hatchet willfully burning sources in pursuit of strong watchdog journalism? It's a genuine question. Would really help the conversation.

Jake said...

Sure. There are a slew of examples that I can think of. While I'm sure the current EIC of the hatchet can think of some, below is one that stands out.

But the idea that you have to "burn your sources" to get good stories is particularly alarming. Fair honest and speaking truth to power are the tenants of this.


http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2007/04/12/Sports/New-Council.To.Pay.For.Say.In.Athletic.Department-2837678.shtml

AdamGreen said...

Good example.

To be clear, I didn't say burning sources = strong watchdog journalism.

But I did say that sometimes strong watchdog journalism means you need to burn a source. It just does.

And Beat Journalism disincentivizes a willingness to do that. Again, it just does. Because you feel captive to a more finite set of sources.

That said, if your internal media norms reward strong watchdog journalism over access and exclusives, than you're fine...so that's kind of an editorial call. I don't think current Beat Journalism does that though. If a Beat Reporter from a competing paper gets access and an exclusive, you could be looked down on by your editor. It shouldn't be that way...because that just results in sucking up to power.

The example you highlighted is a good one. A really good one. I wish I had some way to tell that directly to the authors who did a great job. :)

Jake said...

Another example

http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2008/10/30/Sports/Swimmers.Report.Hair.Loss.Irritation-3515661.shtml

Annabel said...

"Burning a source" means giving up a source's identity, a cardinal sin, and I don't think that's what you're referring to. What is it you mean? Can you name an example?

If you want an example of journalism that made a difference, the paper probably single-handedly saved the hippo when they reported that the hippo was going away. GW immediately threw a mid-level administrator under a bus to keep the students happy.

Jake said...

Attention should also be paid to times the paper has bucked administrative wants and written critically, and very accurately about the administration.

Take my word for it. I was there and was involved with the coverage.

Or, read any of these articles, which gave The Hatchet national prominence for investigative reporting

http://www.gwhatchet.com/home/index.cfm?buttonPushed=1&event=displaysearchresults&q=costa+softball+shaunte&tiOrderType=1

Or this about APES, where the students accused the university of wrongdoing.

http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2007/12/03/News/University.Busts.Apes.Leaders-3127767.shtml

http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2007/12/06/News/Apes-Rat.Out.Hazing.To.Officials-3136242.shtml

Or this, which highlights how GW's high tuition makes students not want to attend.

http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2007/03/08/News/The-Price.Of.Admission.Tuition.Poses.Hurdle.For.Incoming.Prospective.Students-2764818.shtml

Or this, that showed the university using facebook to target students.

http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2005/11/10/News/Eye-Of.The.Beholder.Colleges.Using.Facebook.To.Punish.Students-1052313.shtml

Or this, that took a critical look at UPD policies that are widely criticized around the country.

Beat reporting has its perils -- you may become close to some sources to build trust -- but that doesn't mean you cant highlight things that are wrong.

Jake said...

http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2008/03/10/News/Records.Closed.Upd.Reports.Are.Closed.For.Public.Inspection-3260908.shtml

AdamGreen said...

Annabel -- to answer your question: no.

We're talking about relationships here, not outing of confidential sources. That's a completely different conversation.

Jake's first example is a good one. Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz is someone Jake dealt with all the time, but Jake's story basically said that Kvancz was letting big-money donors have disproportionate influence in decision-making.

(Kind of funny that $45,000 is a big money donor -- since GW students pay more than that for one year of tuition.)

madison hall said...

Nick-

Please give examples of "legitimate issues facing GW students today that are going unrecognized."

Colby Anderson said...

From some of the people whom I have spoken with who have left the Hatchet feel that lots of times it is the other way around. That is, the Hatchet will constantly look for a story about the University doing something unethical when it isn't there.

Take that for what it's worth, but I thought I would throw it into the discussion.

Also, Adam, you are overlooking what I think is a critical fact about beat reporting. The relationship between source and reporter is a symbiotic one. The source needs that journalist for publicity, and the journalist needs that source for the story. When a source get's burned, they don't stop talking to that newspaper, and I that is something the Hatchet knows.

If you were to eliminate beat reporting, then you would not have close relationships to sources, and the symbiotic relationship would not develop. More things would not make it into the press, and that is not good for anyone.

P.S-I have no affiliation with the Hatchet.

Colby Anderson said...

I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were a professor.

When I referred to you as Adam, I should have addressed you as Professor Green.


My Apologies.

AdamGreen said...

Zero apologies needed. Adam works.

Your points are all valid. My guess is we could all list ways that journalism should work and agree on 95%.

Nobody is against access if access results in good watchdog journalism...or Beat Reporting, it that results in good watchdog journalism.

But, as CNBC showed recently as the main PR engine of failed Wall Street companies (and as "embedded" reporters showed at the start of the Iraq war) reporters who get too close to their sources sometimes don't challenge those sources when the public really needs them to.

So, essentially, we're talking about a perversion of the norms that we all could probably agree would work if implemented correctly.

Anyway...

Anonymous said...

CNBC : Wall Street :: The Hatchet : GW... Can you justify that analogy? You've brought it up twice. It's quite absurd.

Colby Anderson said...

I think what is being said here is that the Hatchet is close to their sources, and they are going easy on them-not following leads and what not.

My question is, what injustice is occurring that is not being covered? It might be that I am not aware of it (especially if the Hatchet isn't reporting it). Could anyone enlighten us?

Will Frey said...

Despite some negative responses on this comment board, I think Nick has touched on a great point here. However, the focus of the post shouldn't be the scoop the Hatchet got on Rahm Emanuel story. It should be their staff editorial - which was, quite frankly, weak and spineless.
Rather than ask tough questions (example: who else was being considered?) or gauge student response to the Emanuel graduation speaker decision, the piece praises the administration ("GW") and says that just because Emanuel is high-profile, having him speak to grads must be good for the school. (http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2009/03/26/Opinions/Staff.Editorial.Gw.Pulls.A.Hat.Trick-3683945.shtml)

But this isn't necessarily the case. Wouldn't you rather have a more thought-provoking, albeit less well-known speaker? If name recognition is the only characteristic we value in a graduation speaker, it says something pretty bad about our school.
So yeah, you're right to criticize the Hatchet, but the point is that it should maintain a little more editorial self-respect and stop being so spineless... have you seen their staff editorials take a strong and persistent stance on many issues this year? Nope. Often, the manufactured dialogue they create is dead as soon as their next issue or two comes out.

As for the point about the hatchet being a "conglomerate" : if that's a bad thing, why is there no clear alternative then? I don't necessarily disagree with your point - certainly, the Hatchet is bureaucratic and has a monopoly on campus news, but if this were to stop, there would need to be a clear, active [not to mention well funded] news oriented alternative... and right now there isn't one.

Nick Fabiani said...

Let me clarify some things.
1. This post was not meant to compare the Hatchet to GWBlogspot, but rather to all the other media sources at GW. The Hatchet has a monopoly on media here. We can't argue that. But we can argue that the University should foster the growth of multiple media sources here at GW.

2. My problem, and this is something I've tried to say multiple different ways, is the air of dismissal that the Hatchet and some of its editorial board and writers feel towards other forms of media because of their position. I think this comes from a certain sense of entitlement and comfort that goes hand in hand with being the exclusive provider of up-to-date news for the University. The Hatchet does indeed have wider readership (nobody can contest that), but if you aren't actively finding ways to speak up for students, then you, unfortunately, aren't doing your jobs.

And that's why I advocate people paying attention to the smaller news sources. The Hatchet may have better resources and better access, but they've become disconnected. You're right, when the New York Times has to deal with being disconnected from readers (Such as the 2008 election in its entirety), it's more noticeable. For the Hatchet, it isn't going to come from decreased readership. You have largely a captive market. It'll be a quiet force, slowly pushing the Hatchet away from reporting actual news. And nobody wants to see that happen.

But yes, what I see happening to the Hatchet is worrisome. If my post serves only as minor irritation to the Hatchet, but sits in the back of the minds of every reporter, then I will judge myself as having been successful.

In response to Colby, when I say the problems facing students, I don't mean to insinuate that there are some kind of huge earth shattering abuses of power being committed by the University. But sometimes there is a need to delve a little deeper. For instance, how is the University not in massive debt since we've been been over their estimate for enrollment for three years now? Or why is it impossible to see an itemized expected budget of expenditures? The release from the GW Budget Office just includes revenue.

The Hatchet has done some great work in the past, and I in no way intended to tarnish the hard work of those reporters who have really been effective in their positions. I just want to make sure it stays that way, and that the students of the university realize that there are more localized, niche-type media outlets on campus that might better reflect their voice.

I hope that clears some stuff up.

Anonymous said...

Fabiani, are you serious with your last comment. Why don't you do some research before posting these comments you write?

http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2009/03/05/News/Debt-Nears.1.Billion-3660985.shtml

AdamGreen said...

Anonymous. Your strain credulity when you write "are you serious" at the same time you hide your identity.

If you want to be taken seriously, "stand by your comment."

Anonymous said...

"But we can argue that the University should foster the growth of multiple media sources here at GW."

This is a non-starter of an argument; if media sources would like to grow at the University, they need to engage in the actual work necessary for newsreporting that blogs -- whether by design or product -- have conclusively lacked, as witnessed by the plethora of comments here.

Several years ago, the Daily Colonial grew primarily because of substantial effort by their editors and "challenged" The Hatchet, so I'm perplexed why individual initiative would necessarily be replaced (or even supplemented) by a coordinated University effort. Do the hard work necessary and then come back and complain; writing about a burrito place in J Street and a few housing issues, while admirable, are a very small step and don't legitimize you.

NB: The University is actually "growing" media by paying Professor Green several thousand dollars in tuition as an adjunct to essentially maintain and create a student blog.

In regards to #2:

You've raised this point, of a perceived lack of "real" student issues, repeatedly Nick, but it doesn't seem to be based on anything more than conjecture from thin air.

I'd challenge that real students a) don't care about University debt and that b) on the two issues you raised, debt and a lack of admin. fiscal transparency, the Hatchet has actually done much more coverage than anyone else on the subject.

You claim they're out of touch with students, but I really can't find much to substantiate this. On almost every edition (from what I read as an alumnus), they have articles about everything from changes in Gelman to SJS policy to groups having trouble with student org funding or censorship.

So what exactly are they missing?

My last point: The Hatchet, atleast when I was a senior last year, was remarkably open. Almost anyone could join the staff, there was abundant contact information, and they actively reached out to individuals on campus about different issues. I'm confused why you (or Colby) haven't decided to engage them besides some poorly-researched half-thoughts on the blog -- that is the true definition of spineless.

I certainly agree with some sentiments that the journalists at The Hatchet need to "delve deeper" or take a strong, clear or consistent position in staff editorials. But those two points are both tangential, and do little to support your original argument which seems to have little water.

I applaud your initiative for provoking some interesting conversation, but in the end, the comments seem to have exhaustively closed your argument. Perhaps that's the real power of Mr. Green, et. al.. to serve in a gadfly capacity.

Then again, they could also send their comments or columns directly to The Hatchet, who would likely recognize the numerous logical fallacies and lack of evidentiary support before publishing it. (Which is what you've also accused the paper of before and have directly engaged in here.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the free pass for GWTV! Much obliged!

Colby Anderson said...

@ anon two up

"I'm confused why you (or Colby) haven't decided to engage them besides some poorly-researched half-thoughts on the blog -- that is the true definition of spineless."

Whoa there, what exactly did I do?