White Noise: News and information from inside the media bubble.

by Brian Clarey and Amy Kingsley

Mean green’s press critic Jack Shafer writes with a brand of journalistic piety that I alternately love and despise. Last week, his target was environmental journalism, a discipline I dabble in from time to time. As usual, he was armed with a number of good points, chief among them that journalists tend to endorse green initiatives without proper skepticism. He targeted his employer, Slate Media, for their “Green Challenge” series, but then went on to list stories that debunked carbon credits and other greenwashes. My only quibble is with his definition of “environmental journalism.” Isn’t journalism about carbon credits environmental journalism? Or does Shafer think that only pro-environmental journalism counts? – AK

Don’t mess with Texas Evan Smith, editor of Texas Monthly, admits he made an error in judgment when he gave cover treatment to a story by Sam Gwynne about the saga of astronaut Lisa Nowak, which involved a bizarre love triangle, space diapers, a marathon road trip and an attempted kidnapping. The cover bore the slug “Astronaut Sex!” and a photo of two people in space suits on a disheveled bed. It generated an outpouring of negative reactions, and Smith said of it, “It could end up being the worst” in the magazine’s history in terms of sales and negative feedback. Smith, a native New Yorker and decorated journalist who has lived in Texas since 1992, issued what he called an “astropology” to offended readers, but answered his critics by writing on his blog, “[T]his was substance – a story about the terrible state of affairs at NASA – albeit substance packaged in a way that wouldn’t put people to sleep (or so we thought).” – BC

White Lies Ken Silverstein, the Washington bureau chief for Harper’s Magazine, published an opinion piece in the June 30 edition of the Los Angeles Times defending his use of undercover journalism in a story about corrupt lobbyists. In it, he laments that the piece became more an exhibit in a long-running debate about the merits of deception in journalism than evidence that lobbying guidelines need to be reworked. In journalism school, I was taught that it is almost never okay to lie to get a story, as the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics puts it: “Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.” Journalists have shied away from undercover methods ever since ABC was sued by Food Lion. But perhaps we as an industry have been too hasty, Silverstein, after all, argues that he never would have gotten the material without deception. – AK

Bay Area brouhaha It would be a stretch to call SF Weekly, one of two alt-weeklies in the San Francisco area, a beleaguered paper. But it has been accused by its competitor, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, of predatory pricing practices. And depending on whom you believe, they may have a case. A 270-word piece in the Guardian published online July 3 briefly outlines the case and reports that a trial date has been set for Oct. 15. And on the same date SF Weekly posted a 2,400-word editorial saying that the locally-owned Guardian’s case is “light on witnesses and evidence” and that they expect their own request for summary judgment to be met on Sept. 4. SF Weekly, which is owned by Village Voice Media along with about a dozen or so other alt-weeklies, recently came under fire from John Weiner, writer for The Nation, who blasted the parent company, Executive Editor Michael Lacey and News Editor Jill Stewart for non-partisan politics and “hyper-local” coverage in another VVM-owned paper, LA Weekly, calling this new incarnation the “end of an era.” – BC

Wheels of Government On July 2, the National Security Archive at George Washington University released a survey showing that government agencies often take their sweet time responding to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. The oldest request yet to be completed dates back to 1987. Ten agencies misrepresented their oldest outstanding requests, according to the report. The ballyhooed release of the CIA’s “Family Jewels” allegedly stems from a 1992 FOIA request by the National Security Archive at the university. – AK