Michael Massing, a former Executive Editor of The Columbia Journalism Review, frequently writes about the press.
 (January 2016)

How to Cover the One Percent

Billionaires Bill Gates and Carlos Slim at the opening of a new research facility for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Texcoco, Mexico, February 2013
As the concentration of wealth in America has grown, so has the scale of philanthropy. Today, that activity is one of the principal ways in which the superrich not only “give back” but also exert influence, yet it has not received the attention it deserves.

Digital Journalism: How Good Is It?

Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of <i>The Huffington Post</i>, talking about the baby boom generation at the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Wales, June 2014
That digital technology is disrupting the business of journalism is beyond dispute. What’s striking is how little attention has been paid to the impact that technology has had on the actual practice of journalism. The distinctive properties of the Internet—speed, immediacy, interactivity, boundless capacity, global reach—provide tremendous new opportunities for the gathering and presentation of news and information. Yet amid all the coverage of start-ups and IPOs, investments and acquisitions, little attempt has been made to evaluate the quality of Web-based journalism, despite its ever-growing influence.

The War We Aren’t Debating

A soldier guarding a marijuana plantation discovered during military operations in northern Mexico, January 30, 2012

It’s a social policy that, many experts agree, has failed miserably since it was introduced more than forty years ago, tearing apart families and communities across the United States, consuming tens of thousands of lives abroad, and squandering huge sums of money. Yet hardly any national politician is willing to challenge it, and it’s been completely ignored during the 2012 presidential campaign. I’m speaking of the war on drugs.

What Do Swing-State Voters Think? Why We Don’t Know

Steelworker Steve Jones in downtown Steubenville, Ohio to check his voter registration forms, September 20, 2012

Even when venturing into the field, most reporters stay inside the bubble. They follow the candidates, speak with their handlers, interview consultants, quote think-tank analysts, pore over polling data. Looking over a recent week of coverage in the Times (September 19-26), for instance, I found plenty of stories on PACs, campaign strategy, political operatives, Romney’s tax returns, and the polling data in Ohio and other battleground states. Only one featured extensive interviews with ordinary Americans, and, while helpful, it provided little more than a snapshot.

It’s Time to Scrutinize Fox

Glenn Beck's progressive

Last year, the New York Times sent three investigative reporters to London to dig into the hacking practices of the News of the World. After five months of reporting and writing, they produced a story that, together with the tenacious reporting of the Guardian, helped set off the current outcry. Why not devote similar resources to Fox, a far more influential outlet on the home front?

The News Crisis: What Google Can Do

“How Google Can Help Newspapers,” ran the benign-sounding headline atop an Op-Ed column by Google CEO Eric Schmidt in the December 1 Wall Street Journal. In it, Schmidt sought to rebut claims that, as Les Hinton, the CEO of Dow Jones, has put it, Google is a “digital vampire” that is “sucking the blood” out of the news business. Quite to the contrary, Schmidt argued, Google wants to turn that business around. He wasn’t very convincing. In fact, his article shows how inept Google has been in responding to its critics. I’d like to suggest a better way.

A Public Bailout for News?

It was with much curiosity that I opened The Reconstruction of American Journalism, the latest entrant in the great race to save the news in America. Commissioned by Nicholas Lemann, the dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, the report was written by Leonard Downie Jr., the highly respected former executive editor of The Washington Post, and Michael Schudson, a leading historian of American journalism who is also at the Columbia J-School. The two spent months crisscrossing the country and interviewing scores of editors, reporters, bloggers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and citizens. In the end, the 21,000 words they produced can be boiled down to this: Columbia, the leading journalism school in the country, has placed its imprimatur on the idea of government funding of the news. What sort of impact might that have?

A New Horizon for the News

The American news business today finds itself trapped in a grim paradox. Financially, its prospects have never seemed bleaker. By some measures, the first quarter of 2009 was the worst ever for newspapers, with sales plunging $2.6 billion. Last year, circulation dropped on average by 4.6 percent on weekdays and …

The News About the Internet

Talking Points Memo, the blog started in 2000 by Josh Marshall, July 14, 2009
Of all the dismal and discouraging numbers to have emerged from the world of newspapers—the sharp plunges in circulation, the dizzying fall-off in revenues, the burgeoning debt, the mounting losses—none seems as sobering as the relentless march of layoffs and buyouts. According to the blog Paper Cuts, newspapers lost 15,974 …

Is It a Great Victory?

General David Petraeus, right, and General Raymond Odierno testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Washington, D.C., May 22, 2008. In September 2008, General Odierno succeeded General Petraeus as the top American commander in Iraq, and General Petraeus became head of Central Command.
Three years ago, Thomas Ricks, in his book Fiasco,[^1] provided a searing indictment of the US military and the grave errors it had committed in the initial stages of the Iraq war. As The Washington Post’s senior Pentagon correspondent, he documented, in unrelenting detail, the military’s use of overly aggressive …

Obama: In the Divided Heartland

“How many Joe the Plumbers are there out there in Middle America?” Rush Limbaugh fumed on my car radio as I drove down Interstate 75 from the Detroit airport toward Toledo. “How many of you are tired of people running down the country?” For the last six years, he declared, …

Embedded in Iraq

“0900: Link up with 2-4 IN patrol at Cross Sabers in IZ,” read the message from the press center of the Multi-National Force–Iraq. That meant that at nine the next morning I should show up at the crossed-sabers monument— the giant pair of arched swords erected by Saddam Hussein on …

The Volunteer Army: Who Fights and Why?

In 2003, Colby Buzzell, then twenty-six, was living in a small room in a renovated Victorian house in the Richmond district of San Francisco, doing data entry for financial companies. Raised in the suburbs of the Bay Area, Buzzell had hated high school and, deciding against college, ended up in …

As Iraqis See It

When it comes to covering the war in Iraq, McClatchy Newspapers has always done things a bit differently. The third-largest newspaper company in the US, it owns thirty-one daily papers, including The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee, The Kansas City Star, and The Charlotte Observer. (It became the owner of …

Iraq: The Hidden Human Costs

In House to House: An Epic Memoir of War, Staff Sergeant David Bellavia—a gung-ho supporter of the Iraq war—casually recounts how in 2004, while his platoon was on just its second patrol in Iraq, a civilian candy truck tried to merge with a column of our armored vehicles, only to …

The Storm over the Israel Lobby

Not since Foreign Affairs magazine published Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations?” in 1993 has an academic essay detonated with such force as “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” by professors John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of …

The Press: The Enemy Within

The past few months have witnessed a striking change in the fortunes of two well-known journalists: Anderson Cooper and Judith Miller. CNN’s Cooper, the one-time host of the entertainment show The Mole, who was known mostly for his pin-up good looks, hip outfits, and showy sentimentality, suddenly emerged during Hurricane …

The End of News?

In late September, the Government Accountability Office—a nonpartisan arm of Congress—issued a finding that the Bush administration had engaged in “covert propaganda,” and thereby broken the law, by paying Armstrong Williams, a conservative commentator, to promote its educational policies. The GAO also faulted the administration for hiring a public relations …

Iraq, the Press and the Election

In the end, the war in Iraq did not have the decisive impact on the election that many had expected. In the weeks before the vote there were the massacre of forty-nine Iraqi police trainees; a deadly attack inside the previously impenetrable Green Zone in Baghdad; the refusal by an …

Unfit to Print?

Buried deep in Bob Woodward’s new book, Plan of Attack, is a revealing anecdote about how the press covered the runup to the war in Iraq. By mid-March 2003, Woodward writes, three separate sources had told him confidentially that the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction “was not as …