Thoughts on a Twitter exchange

On Oct. 12, I tweeted a link to this story by Aaron James at Salon.com:

The article is an excerpt from James’ book, “Assholes: A Theory.” The Salon.com piece profiles the modern varieties of “assholes” in society. The headline of the excerpt is sensationalized to an extent, of course, in that it deals with only a short section from the piece dealing with cable news “assholes.” It was an entertaining read that I came across in one of my article recommendation apps.

After my tweet, this reply came through from user @foulmouthedfag:

@superjaberwocky Do you think articles like this showcase your “non-partisan”ness? Way to throw everyone calling the Comical biased a bone!

I couldn’t embed it for a reason that will become clear below.

I wanted to scream a response saying that my opinions are my own, yadda yadda. However, I realized that my Twitter profile simply identifies me as the City Editor of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Despite my non-standard online handle, I can see where someone would assume I’m speaking in an official capacity on Twitter.

So I tempered my response.

Shortly thereafter, @foulmouthedfag deleted his/her original response to me — hence the lack of a Twitter embed. Fortunately, my Twitter client at home has a longer cache and I was able to copy the message and write about it.

There’s something to be learned here, a “pro-tip” for the Internet. Your first, emotional reaction will probably cause more trouble than it’s worth. Sit back, reconsider things and remember to be polite. Represent yourself positively.

It sounds like old-fashioned advice because it is. Still valid, though.

Fact-checking Chronicle quotes in a Gillan ad

A staffer here at the Chronicle received the Kim Gillan mailing below last week and noticed that it cites the Bozeman Daily Chronicle twice.

It’s embedded below. In case that doesn’t work, here’s the link.

Let’s look at the quotes and the original stories and see how they compare to the quotes used on the advertisement, shall we?

The ad uses the following quote:

[Daines' Company] works with businesses in China … and call centers in India.

The article in question was published Jan. 7, 2006. It’s available online, though due to a computer glitch its date differs from the one on the ad.

The original article, headlined “Right Now Tech exec to join Baucus on trip to China, India,” describes how Steve Daines was to accompany Montana’s senator on an overseas trip.

Baucus is quoted in the story as saying the trip is about finding jobs for Montanans overseas and “knocking down trade barriers and opening new markets.”

The context for the ad quote is as follows, with the text used in the ad bolded:

RightNow already works with businesses in China, such as Motorola, and call centers in India, but Daines said he hopes to expand the international software company’s relationships in those countries.

“This is a great opportunity to explore new business possibilities abroad that will help boost our economy here at home in Montana,” Daines said.

RightNow sells “customer relationship management,” or CRM, tools to firms around the world. Its customers include American Express, John Deere, Nikon and British Airways. It has offices across the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Australia.

“RightNow is an example of a homegrown Montana company that has done very, very well,” Baucus said. &#8220That’s what this trip is about — creating more good-paying jobs for Montanans.”

On the other side of the ad, we find four stock photographs with four quotations underneath a header that reads “Victims of Corporate Executive Steve Daines’ layoffs in their own words.”

This side of the Gillan ads cites a Chronicle story from April 10, 2001. The article was written by Kayley Mendenhall and does, indeed, focus on RightNow layoffs.

Let’s put the four quotes into context.

  • Ad: “There was no indication it was going to happen.”
  • Story: “It was rather shocking,” [Ann Marie] Gooden said. “It happened this morning, just now, there was no indication this was going to happen … I have customers to deal with and I’ve made no preparations.”

Note the one-word difference between the quote and the original.

The second quote comes from the same woman, Ann Marie Gooden. Indeed, it comes from the exact same paragraph in the story.

  • Ad: “It was rather shocking … I’ve made no preparations.”
  • Story: “It was rather shocking,” [Ann Marie] Gooden said. “It happened this morning, just now, there was no indication this was going to happen** … I have customers to deal with and I’ve made no preparations.”

The third quote is again from the same woman, Ann Marie Gooden.

  • Ad: “The way they handled it was wrong.”
  • Story: “I can understand downsizing and all of that,” Gooden said. “But I think the way they handled it was wrong.” She said she is upset that the company didn’t give employees notice before telling them to clear out their desks.

And finally, the fourth quote comes again from Gooden:

  • Ad: “I have a family to think about… they eliminated me.”
  • Story: “I’m a single parent, I have a family to think about,” she said. “They eliminated me, the position is still there.”

The story also notes that of the 33 positions cut at RightNow, eight were in Bozeman and 25 were from an office in Dallas, Texas.

Got other examples of the Chronicle being quoted in political advertising? Send scans of them to me at becker@dailychronicle.com or drop them off at the front desk of the Chronicle. I’ll give them the same treatment.

Wilcoxson's Logo

Wilcoxson’s moving on from Facebook flap

Wilcoxson's LogoWilcoxson’s, the Livingston-based ice cream company whose president drew the fury of the Internet a few weeks ago over an insensitive comment on its Facebook page, has told its online fans that it’s done talking about the matter.

On the company’s restored Facebook page, it writes that while Wilcoxson’s has allowed discussion of the Sept. 21 commenting incident, the company is ready to move on.

“We are not going to continue to host a public discussion about this incident any longer,” the company writes on its page.

In the spirit of civility, we feel the conversation has turned into a rant we can no longer support here. We want to thank the people that emailed us questions and those that made thoughtful comments here, even though they were negative. We deserved to be criticized. We let down our fans and customers, and for this we are truly sorry.

On Sept. 26, the Chronicle reported Wilcoxson’s president Matt Schaeffer, responding to a Wyoming Muslim’s question about whether the ice cream’s gelatin was kosher, had said:

“We don’t deliver outside of Montana, certainly not Pakistan.”

The comment provoked immediate angry responses from friends of the Wyoming man, and soon screenshots and news of the comment were posted to Reddit and other online news sources.

The response was so negative that Schaeffer decided to take the Facebook page down entirely.

People posted such nasty things on the Wilcoxson’s page that he deleted it and said, “It’s no longer going to be in existence.”

In a later interview with the Billings Gazette, Schaeffer softened his social media stance, saying, “The page will be put back up soon. It will be run by somebody other than myself, who is more adept at it.”

Schaeffer originally had taken over the page from a fan after the fan said the page became too much work.

The page is back now, and whoever is running it has made sure to address the comment controversy.

UPDATE FROM WILCOXSON’S: For several days, we have been hosting a discussion on Facebook about an incident that happened in September where our president made an insensitive comment to a customer online. Our president has apologized publicly and the company has apologized as well (please see our About section). In the spirit of civility, we feel the conversation has turned into a rant we can no longer support here. We want to thank the people that emailed us questions and those that made thoughtful comments here, even though they were negative. We deserved to be criticized. We let down our fans and customers, and for this we are truly sorry. You can continue to email us at [email protected] or message us here.

We feel that it is time to give our Facebook page back to our fans and friends. Be assured we read every comment you made and will take it to heart. We are in the midst of having discussions about how to change our customer service protocol so this doesn’t happen again. This incident does not reflect the true heart and culture of our company and we are saddened to think that people might think poorly of our company because of this one incident.

Unfortunately, for the sake of our community, we will delete comments and ban users who continue to violate the posting guidelines in our About section. We wish it wasn’t this way, but we feel the conversation has run its course. Thanks again to those who have supported us—we will work hard to regain your trust.

The above posting currently has 71 likes and 54 comments. Most of those comments are positive; considering the moderation policy outlined above (and in this comment from the company), that’s not surprising.

The page has 3,279 fans.

Update – A commenter notes that Wilcoxson’s mistyped their email address in the message I relayed here. Correct, it is wilcoxsonsinc@gmail.com.

Battlestar Galactica

Fracking ban

A fun one from the Romenesko blog today: The Stamford Advocate in Connecticut has banned the word “fracking” in its comment section, citing how it’s often used as a replacement for certain versatile curse word that starts with an F.

Upset is Sharon Wilson, a Texas advocate for people negatively affected by hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. Wilson received a comment on her blog from someone named “kim feil” which contained the text of an email from Hearst Connecticut Media Group representative Brett Mickelson.

Mickelson’s email apparently is in response to Kim, who noticed that the Stamford Advocate banned “fracking” in its comments. He writes that “many of our users attempt to exploit a perfectly legitimate word as a replacement for it’s (sic) more vulgar cousin.”

Wilson goes through a convoluted theater of trying to figure out what offense the word “fracking” could possibly offer. Clearly, she is not a fan of “Battlestar Galactica.”

(For the record, the Chronicle’s comment boards allow you to frack as much as you want.)

presseal

Knoxville paper halts presidential endorsements

On the heels of my posts about newspapers endorsing candidates, another newspaper has announced that it will stop endorsing candidates for president.

The Knoxville News Sentinel’s Jack McElroy announced Oct. 14 that the paper will not endorse a presidential candidate — the first time in its history it hasn’t done so.

McElroy’s rationale:

Citizens can find plenty of opinions about the presidential candidates to weigh against their own, and there is no shortage of community dialogue — far from it.

The News Sentinel also has no special access to the candidates, and, in this age of global Internet and 24-hour news, we have no sources of information that every other citizens does not have as well.

The paper is still endorsing local candidates.

Reaction to Tester endorsement

An email received by the Chronicle on Sunday morning:

Does this mean every single employee of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle endorses Tester?

Please sign your real names to your “endorsement” and don’t try to push the agenda of a few liberal editors onto the Bozeman public. The employees of your organization can’t possibly stand united in your endorsement of Tester.

I want to see the names of those endorsing Tester if you are going to publish something like this in the future, instead of claiming your entire organization stands behind and endorses him.

By the way, your paper this morning (Sunday, Oct 14th) is full of blatant democratic bias throughout. I am very disappointed in the Chronicle as I have watched it slip farther and farther left in its reporting and become more in tune with a socialist agenda than bias free reporting over the past several years.

I guess the letter writer didn’t read my blog post about the separation between the newsroom and the editorial board. I guess the letter writer also didn’t disagree that strongly with the paper’s other endorsements because I didn’t see any similar emails on those two occasions.

To answer the questions:

  1. No, not every single employee supports Tester. The editorial board did, however, by a vote.
  2. The “real names” behind the endorsement are printed at the top of the opinion page every day. They are the members of the editorial board.
  3. I’m sorry you feel the Sunday paper was biased.

That’s about all I’ve got today.

Election-Graphic

Do newspaper endorsements matter?

On Sunday and again in today’s paper, the Chronicle published on its opinions page the paper’s political endorsements for this election year.

The first set of endorsements covered statewide races, such as the U.S. House of Representatives, Attorney General and Public Service commission. The second set dealt with House and Senate races for the state Legislature. The last endorsement, the one for U.S. Senate, is slated for this weekend.

Newspaper endorsements are a contentious matter. For one, the method by which they are decided is unclear to a lot of readers, and that lack of transparency, for some, makes all of the newspaper’s political coverage suspicious. It certainly did to this reader:

This is just our local example of people reacting to the endorsement process. Other newspapers around the country are certainly getting feedback like this on their own endorsements. After all, a lot of people wonder, doesn’t the existence of omnipresent media and social networking make newspaper endorsements unnecessary?

Background

First of all, we have to remember that there is no rule or law saying that newspapers have to be unbiased. Newspapers are private businesses, not government-sanctioned public relations houses. Many newspapers in many places around the globe are blatantly skewed toward one political viewpoint or another — the United Kingdom is a good example of this sort of media environment.

The advent of the “professional” journalist, who struggles to be fair and balanced, is a relatively new thing in America. Before about 60 years ago, the press was stained yellow with influence from politicians and powerful corporate interests; politically minded newspaper owners used their papers as bully pulpits to espouse whatever issues they felt passionately about.

This use of media was common from colonial times, when the sole aim of newspapers seemed to be making light of and criticizing the government and those in power — indeed, that seems to be the reason newspapers began operating in the first place.

The objective press arose, some say, as newspapers became larger companies that had to pass successfully from generation to generation. Some measure of institutionalism was needed to ease those transitions and sustain the business; hence, an atmosphere of professionalism arose.

I like to think too that reader demands for a breath of fresh air amid all the muckracking and mudslinging drove people to seek a less partisan middle ground. A less belligerent paper probably sold well in that media climate.

Whatever the reason for the professionalization of journalism, reporters now are expected to remain unbiased and abide by voluntarily accepted codes of ethics. The last vestiges of pure opinion in the newspaper are the editorial pages, which serve as the “sanctioned mouthpiece of the newspaper,” writes Kimberly Meltzer in the journal Journalism, “to collectively craft and publish its views on a wide range of topics.”

Normally, a strict wall exists between the newsroom — where the reporters live — and the editorial board, Meltzer writes. On one side, journalism ethics rule; on the other, things work differently:

In writing endorsements, editorial board members are in effect expected to eschew the considerations of the news divisions, and produce endorsements that emerge from subjective and personal opinions that are avoided in other parts of news discourse.

No more endorsements

A lot of debate this year has focused on whether newspapers should be endorsing candidates at all.

Endorsements are a tradition that go back to at least Civil War times. In October 1860, for example, the New York Times endorsed one “Mr. Lincoln, of Illinois” for the office of president. (I couldn’t find a detailed history of how far back political endorsements go in the news business, so if anyone has a link or ISBN number, leave it in the comments.)

However, a number of papers have stopped endorsements. The famous, historical example is the Wall Street Journal, which in 1928 endorsed Herbert Hoover for president, calling him “the soundest proposition for those with a financial stake in the country.” The paper has rarely if ever endorsed a candidate since.

More recently, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Chicago Sun-Times have given up the practice. The Sun-Times’ publisher, John Barron, commented on the decision in January:

We have come to doubt the value of candidate endorsements by this newspaper or any newspaper, especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before.

Research on the matter suggests that editorial endorsements don’t change many votes, especially in higher-profile races. Another school of thought, however — often expressed by readers — is that candidate endorsements, more so than all other views on an editorial page, promote the perception of a hidden bias by a newspaper, from Page One to the sports pages.

Also this year, Halifax Media Group, which owns 34 papers in six states, announced its opinion pages would no longer endorse candidates. The papers will, however, continue to take stances on constitutional amendments, local initiatives and public policy issues.

In Montana, the Gannett-owned Great Falls Tribune announced Sept. 29 that it was ending candidate endorsements. Publisher and editor Jim Strauss explained the decision in a column saying:

[A] growing number of readers who no longer differentiate between news coverage and opinion pages. Though Tribune news reporters have never had a voice in our endorsements, many readers don’t believe that. Once an endorsement is made, they label every story that comes after it as biased because one candidate or another has been endorsed by the Tribune.

As an example, Strauss told the story of one reader unwilling to believe in the separation between the newsroom and editorial board:

Strauss recounted this example of one reader unwilling to believe the opinion page is separated from the newsroom:

Earlier this month, our Communities Editor Scott Thompson received a call from a reader upset that she didn’t see an article on Ann Romney’s Republican National Convention speech in the next morning’s Tribune. Scott quickly directed her to the front page of that day’s paper, where a story recapping the speech ran down the side.

The caller’s reaction: “You hid it!”

When readers accuse you of hiding news on the front page, you know the hurdle to prove objectivity is a high one.

The Helena Independent Record, owned by Lee Enterprises, also made an announcement on endorsements in September. In a column describing management shakeups at the paper, the publisher said it is reexamining the way its newsroom and opinion pages work.

This reexamination has resulted in a new election content policy. Rather than endorsements, the paper will publish candidate-submitted columns that will be published as-written, a direct avenue for the campaigns to say whatever they want, so long as they don’t mention their opponents directly.

Response

Kristina Ackermann of Editor & Publisher writes that when the magazine asked in its August issue whether papers should endorse candidates, the responses from people in the news industry were fairly evenly divided.

Publishers who said they would not endorse candidates said their decisions were based on the notion that their papers were there to inform people, not tell them how to vote, Ackermann said.

The Chicago Tribune, competitor to the Sun-Times, published an editorial in January reaffirming the paper’s endorsement process, saying that newspapers “have a unique role as a public citizen.”

As the biggest newspaper in Chicago and the Midwest, we want to inform our readers and encourage them to push an agenda for a more vital community. The most direct way they do that is in choosing who will lead their government….

It would be an abdication of to say what we think should be done on an array of issues every day (in editorials) — and then take a vow of silence about who is most likely to advance those goals.

The Stuart, Fla., TC Palm — a competitor to a Halifax-owned paper — called endorsements a public service that the paper takes on because not all citizens have the time or inclination to do the same amount of homework:

While the news department, whose stories are found on other pages of this newspaper, covers developments in races and investigates candidates, our editorial board is able to review all appropriate documentation in a race, assess how well a candidate would do if elected and express our collective viewpoint.

Some voters can do the same thing, but many do not have the time to attend public forums, review candidates’ backgrounds, past campaign promises and actions, and interview candidates. Our editorial writers make an extra effort to learn everything about a candidate they can to make an informed decision. We invite candidates in particular races to meet with us jointly in an open debate/interview where we often sort out clear differences between candidates.

Montana political blogger Don Pogreba criticized the Tribune and Independent Record for their decisions, calling their decisions a “fundamental failure.” In particular, Pogreba picked on the Tribune’s rationale — that there are so many other ways for people to become informed other than endorsements — fatuous.

To suggest that editorial endorsements compromise the appearance of news fairness at the same time we’re asked to believe that advertising doesn’t compromise coverage of any number of stories is absolutely absurd.

Pogreba writes that the editors at the IR and Tribune are “lacking the courage to potentially offend a reader or advertiser.”

Moreover, Pogreba says, in today’s media climate, endorsements serve as kindling for online conversations between well-read political blogs, Twitter users and even users of Facebook — a seeming contradiction to part of the Tribune’s reasoning.

Do endorsements matter?

Various polls have shown that newspaper endorsements are both effective and worthless.

Tim Porter, writing in the American Journalism Review in 2004, pointed to numbers from the 1996 election that showed many Americans had no idea which presidential candidate their local newspaper supported — and this at a boom time for newspapers and media influence.

Porter summed up his findings about endorsements thus:

They have some value to some people some of the time in some circumstances, but no one can say how much to whom and when — for sure.

More recently, a focused Pew survey from January showed that endorsements for GOP candidates have little effect on Republican or Republican-leaning voters. Of 1,000 people surveyed, 73 percent said an endorsement from their local newspaper would make no difference in the choices they make at the polls.

Duncan Riley, writing for Inquisitr.com, has an excellent post in which he goes through a long list of quotes about the effectiveness of newspapers endorsements. He came to this conclusion:

Newspaper endorsement don’t matter, at least not that much, and not in a statistical way that would affect the outcome of a national election. They may still count for more in local communities where candidates are much more unknown than Presidential Candidates. Newspaper endorsements are reflective of the current mood of the people in each community, and they give a voice to those preferences, rather then ultimately changing how people may vote.

The Chronicle’s stance

Endorsements at the Chronicle are handled in much the same way as Meltzer describes above. The editorial board (four community members, the managing editor, the opinion page editor and the publisher) meet and interview all the candidates at length. Then they discuss their impressions and vote for an endorsement.

It’s a big job, said managing editor Nick Ehli, and is not one that’s treated lightly.

“Basically, the newspaper believes that endorsing candidates is a serious matter, important to our readership, so we treat those interviews accordingly,” said Ehli.

At no point is a member of the newsroom or reporter involved in the process, and reporters don’t take the endorsements into account when writing political stories.

That doesn’t mean the air of influence or bias isn’t a concern, even among employees who worry about our public perception. However, Ehli said, the paper sees endorsements as an important way to inform readers.

While many papers are choosing not to take a stand on political races, we believe — on the editorial page — it’s wholly appropriate for the Chronicle’s editorial board to weigh in, not only on endorsements, but on all topics we believe are critical to our readership.

counterfeit

A counterfeit presentment…

Today’s topic of discussion: counterfeit commenters.

I spoke this morning with a man who claimed someone had used his email address to register an account with the Chronicle website and post comments.

The caller had been going through his spam folder and noticed an email from the Chronicle’s site, saying his account was all set up and ready to go. Problem is, he said he never created the account.

The email he initially sent to us came from the address associated with the now-questionable account, so the charge of counterfeit account seemed valid.

However, I take all requests to have comments and accounts removed from our site seriously. You never know when someone is trying to pull a fast one on you and have a rival’s comments stricken from the record.

The investigation

Comments from the account had IP addresses that geolocated in Portland the Eugene, Oregon. When he provided me with his IP address, the caller was geolocated in Missoula, right where he had said he was.

This to me indicated someone in Oregon was posting under this fellow’s name.

Moreover, as it turns out, our website didn’t force people who register new accounts to click on a link in a confirmation email. (It does now.) So anyone could have registered any email address at all with a user account. They didn’t have to verify ownership of the address.

The caller said he worked in politics in Missoula and was concerned that this person was trying to smear his name. Internet searches pulled up the caller’s name on year-old posts on a rather conservative blog about Montana politics and as the treasurer of a Montana House of Representatives campaign.

The complication

The allegedly counterfeit account was created almost a year ago, in November 2011. Whoever was in control of it had posted nearly 400 comments — many of them somewhat “conservative” in their point of view. The vast majority of them had survived the moderation process, and I thought on this username as one of the “regulars.”

This means that whoever created the account was posting with it consistently and was, generally, behaving on our site.

So, considering that I didn’t have a content-specific cause to delete all those comments — as the caller requested — I had to wonder, who owns the comments and controls their destiny: the newspaper, the actual poster or the person impersonated?

The documentation

Our terms of service say a couple of things pertinent to this matter. First:

All of the content featured or displayed on all Company websites is owned by the Company, its licensors and / or its content providers.

And second, in the “User-Submitted Content” section:

You are solely responsible for this content, and the Company acts as a passive conduit for your online distribution and publication of such content. Such content must conform to the guidelines below. Without limiting any of its rights in law and equity, the Company reserves the right to remove any content for any reason in its sole discretion that it believes may violate these Terms of Service, or any copyright or third-party rights.

Finally, among the provisions of our “Online Conduct” section, our terms say users may not:

  • Provide any information that is false, misleading or inaccurate.
  • Attempt to interfere with any other person’s use of our websites.
  • Misrepresent your identity or impersonate any person.

The rationale

So it appears we have three conflicting portions of the terms of service.

  • Because it was posted to our website, the Chronicle claims ownership of it.
  • Because it was user-submitted content, the Chronicle claims the submittor is solely responsible for the posts and that the Chronicle is only a passive conduit.
  • If it was indeed a counterfeit account, it violates the site’s terms of service by misrepresentation and preventing someone else from using the site (with their valid email address).

Ultimately, we felt the online conduct violation was the key factor here. Given that the caller said he did not start the account and that someone else in a different state was posting under that name, we ruled that it was indeed a counterfeit account.

The account was banned and all its posts were deleted, nearly 400 of them, including one this morning.

The conspiracy theory

That might be the end of it, however, I have an outside conspiracy theory floating around my head. I have no basis in fact for it, other than a feeling.

Conceivably, since the caller is treasurer for an active Montana House campaign, the candidate may have asked him to clean up his social media posts if they could be found to be a liability for the campaign.

Yet, even if that was the case, why invent a story about someone else registering your email address? Why not just ask directly for your posts to be deleted?

Also, that theory doesn’t explain the geolocation differences, unless this person was diligently using a proxy server of some kind to post to the Chronicle’s site.

See, kids, this is why conspiracy theories are generally bunk. They make life far more complicated and sinister than it really is.

I welcome your own wild speculations in the comments, though. Just use your own names, please.