Power, the president, and the press: The political press’s frustrations with their treatment by President Obama became a lot more public this week, after Fox News’ Ed Henry issued a statement on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association complaining that no reporters got access to Obama’s golfing trip last weekend. Henry clarified the next day that the complaint wasn’t about golf specifically, but about the broader principle of transparency and access.
Politico’s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen then published a long piece detailing Obama’s efforts at “limiting, shaping and manipulating” the press’s coverage of him, largely by limiting press access and releasing plenty of information directly to the public instead. The reaction was quick and critical — not of Obama, but of the Washington press corps. The gentlest critique came from former White House reporter Matthew Cooper at The Atlantic, who noted that the White House press has always complained about the press tactics of whichever administration is in office, adding that the access they’re losing isn’t that crucial anyway.
Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum was perplexed at journalists’ anger over Obama’s releasing information directly to the public, writing, “why is this a problem? It’s 2013, guys. Why shouldn’t a president communicate with the public using whatever mediums the public happens to consume?” Gawker’s Tom Scocca argued that if Obama weren’t managing the press so thoroughly, the press would criticize him for that, too. Gawker editor John Cook (via Greg Mitchell) pointed out that Allen’s questions the last time he got full access to President Bush weren’t exactly hard-hitting.
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple broke down the golf grievance and noted the theme of powerlessness in the press’s clashes with the president: “It’s all another way of saying that the White House is obligated to do essentially whatever it pleases when it comes to media access.” The American Prospect’s Paul Waldman also emphasized the White House’s structural power over the press corps, describing the White House press as working “in a gilded cage.” And The Post’s Carter Eskew proposed that the press fight back against that equality by sending interns or using pool feeds to cover staged White House events, refusing to be used by the president.
A quixotic redesign?: Seven months after former Google exec Marissa Mayer came on as Yahoo’s CEO, she unveiled her first significant change — a redesign of the site’s homepage. As The New York Times explained, the new design does away with low-quality ads and focuses on its most popular properties, rather than trying to jam everything onto the page. It also includes a Twitter-like news feed and a stream of content recommendation from friends. Bloomberg went deeper into the rationale behind that news feed and the integral role sharing is playing in the company’s strategy.
The initial reviews were mixed. Wired’s Mat Honan was impressed with the news feed, particularly its personalization. “For a company that developed a reputation for moribund products, the re-engineered newsfeed is one of the smarter news delivery systems in recent memory,” he said. Others, such as CNET’s Dan Farber and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, said the redesign was superficial change that wasn’t going to alter much of significance. Ingram likened it to “adding a new coat of paint and some racing stripes to your old Chevy.”
Quartz’s Christopher Mims argued that homepages just don’t matter anymore, because browsing has changed from the days when Yahoo ruled the web. (As he pointed out, Mims’ own site has no real homepage.) Others pushed back against that idea: ReadWrite’s Taylor Hatmaker said Yahoo’s homepage still draws in loads of traffic, and Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily said the crucial importance of every inch of space on Yahoo’s homepage is what makes Mayer’s overhaul so important — and what makes it so sad, because it’s taken all her might just to catch up to what everyone else has been doing for a while now. “Even making Yahoo current is a monumental task, but still one that solves nothing at the end of the day,” she wrote.
The Times tries to unload the Globe: The New York Times Co. announced this week that it’s planning to sell The Boston Globe, which it bought in 1993. As the Globe reported, the Times also tried to sell the Globe in 2009 after first threatening to shut down. Since then, it’s sold its other newspapers, its stake in the Boston Red Sox, and About.com, as it attempts to narrow its focus to its core newspaper. Bloomberg also noted that where the Times has tried (with a good deal of success) to shift its revenue toward circulation, the Globe still makes most of its money from advertisers.
The Lab’s Ken Doctor had the most thorough breakdown of the situation, listing the Globe’s strengths (strong leadership, paid digital content innovation, big newsroom) and weaknesses (dropping revenue, entanglement with the Times). He saw the Times Co.’s sale as the final step of seizing the global opportunity that the Times has become. Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review saw an additional significance: “By putting the New England group up for sale, the Times is drawing a bright line between the prospects it sees for a national paper and for regional papers.” Chittum put some of the blame on the Globe’s two-site paywall design, which its editor told Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon it would try to untangle.
Both Poynter’s Rick Edmonds (in an Andrew Beaujon post) and Northeastern j-prof Dan Kennedy (in addition to Doctor) brought up Aaron Kushner as a potential buyer. Kushner attempted to buy the Globe the last time around and later bought the Orange County Register, for which, as Kennedy noted, he’s drawn some attention for a counterintuitive approach built around print.
Hacking on several fronts: There were several developments in the ongoing hacks against American companies this week: Two weeks after Twitter announced that it had been hacked, Facebook said it, too, had been hit by a sophisticated attack. Then, a few days later, Apple said some of its employees’ computers had been infected with the same malware that infiltrated Twitter and Facebook’s systems, reportedly by hackers who may have been looking for access to apps on Apple smartphones (unsuccessfully, thus far). All Things D’s Mike Isaac found the site that had been the source of the malware.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on a new study that reveals the identity and location of the Chinese group that is carrying out hacking attacks against numerous other American companies (not including the attacks on The Times — those are believed to be by a different Chinese group). The group was reported to be a military unit, though the U.S. government won’t formally tie it to the Chinese military for diplomatic reasons. The Chinese government denied the report, while All Things D’s Arik Hesseldahl and ReadWrite’s Dan Lyons both looked at the political and practical realities of this relentless Chinese hacking.
Reading roundup: A few other stories to catch up on this week:
— An update to last week’s Tesla-New York Times snafu: Times public editor Margaret Sullivan issued her ruling, with censure for both the Times’ John Broder and Tesla’s Elon Musk. CNN and a group of Tesla owners recreated the Times’ trip to show it could be done, and several commentators weighed in with thoughtful takes — The Tow Center’s Taylor Owen on the importance of trust and context with data, Dave Winer on handling public integrity in journalism, PandoDaily’s Hamish McKenzie on wielding data like a hammer, and paidContent’s Mathew Ingram on the shift in the media balance of power.
— The popular conservative rumor that Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel gave a speech to a nonexistent “Friends of Hamas” group was revealed as false, as New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman explained how he accidentally started it, and Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro, who first reported it, insisted that the story as he reported it was correct. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple asked a few critical questions about the episode, and The Daily Beast’s Ali Gharib chastised Shapiro for not doing any actual journalism. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf and The New Yorker’s Alex Koppelman both called for more self-criticism on the part of the conservative media, but Wemple countered that this screwup was just abnormally bad.
— Twitter introduced an advertising API, which lets its advertisers (just a handful at launch) to allow adverisers to manage their own ads within the platform. Ad Age explained what it means for advertisers, and PandoDaily looked at the implications for other social networks.
— Reuters reported that the tech blog All Things D and its owner, News Corp., are considering parting ways at the end of the year. In an insightful post, j-prof Jay Rosen took the opportunity to list some of the shifts in power in contemporary journalism.
— Three final recommended pieces on online media: Reuters’ Felix Salmon on the economics of online advertising and media use, The Financial Times’ Robert Cottrell on what makes for valuable blogging and how to capitalize on it, and French digital media exec Frederic Filloux on the need for a rethink on how newspapers are written in the digital era.