Thursday, February 25, 2010

Two Perspectives, One Story

One important aspect of the editorial process is the paradigm an editor applies to a story. Age, gender, and socio-economic status can affect the tone, structure and content of a story. One of the biggest paradigm gaps is between cultures, as seen with Al-Jazeera and the The Associated Press' coverage of Akio Toyoda's apology to members of the U.S. Congress.

One of the most striking differences between the two sources is the scope of the coverage. In the AP's Feb. 25 article "Lawmakers scorn Toyota chief's apology," no attention is given to the response from Japan or the international community. Alternatively, in the Al-Jazeera's Feb. 25 article "Toyota chief apologises for recall," global impact is the story's focus.

According to the Al-Jazeera article, "In Japan, meanwhile, politicians expressed growing worries that the impact of the recalls and the investigations into Toyota could have a lasting impact on Japan's image abroad and its ability to pull its economy out of recession."

The portrayal of Akio Toyoda also symbolizes the editorial mindset applied toward the stories. Al-Jazeera puts words such as "apologize," "promise" and "commitment" in the forefront of the article, painting an apologetic and honest Toyoda.

The AP sides with the legislator's sneering perception of Toyoda. According to the article, "Toyoda's testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee got off to an agreeable start. He promised to tell the truth and gave an opening statement in clear, if heavily accented, English."

This individual case study is not isolated, as seen with the San Diego's KGTV, Transworld News, and USA Today's condescension-laden articles when compared to the BBC and The Financial Times' forgiving coverage.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Big Soda Lobbying

Big Soda (the beverage industry) is becoming as legislatively active and socially polarizing as Big Tobacco, Big Automotive or Big Pharmaceuticals. Under fire for their use of high fructose corn syrup, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Dr Pepper Snapple are fighting legislators' sin-taxes proposals, regulation implementation, and consumer restriction.

The punishment on major beverage corporations followed Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, a nationwide effort to encourage healthy lifestyles through eating well and exercising. This included the removal of sugar drinks from public schools and the taxation of fructose syrup. "Let's Move," along with The New England Journal of Medicine article, "The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages" mobilized Big Soda to lash out, responding with $18 million in lobbying funds to squelch any regulation or tax.

Having seen the media's negative response to the financial industries weak
Haitian aid, logic suggests that a media maelstrom is coming against Big Soda. America has little tolerance for an industry that is fattening the American youth and paying lobbyist to keep its unhealthy operations strong. Yet besides The Huffington Post, few publications acknowledged Big Soda's lobbying efforts.

On the national level, the only major publication to deeply pursue the topic is The Los Angeles Times in Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger's Feb. 7 article, "Beverage industry douses tax on soft drinks." While the article does present opposing views of debate, Hamburger and Geiger quickly come out against Big Soda. Shoddy Big Soda lobbying science, however, may be to blame (rather than biased reporting).

The article draws a sinister tone of Big Soda, with Geiger and Hamburger writing, "That was before the industry unlimbered its guns."

Local coverage of the issue has been far less condemning, as seen in the Feb. 14 The News Record article, "Food Fight: U.S. wages new war on junk food" by Emily Lang.

"PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have pledged their support of Obama’s new initiative and promised a new front-of-container nutritional labeling system for their soft drinks by 2012," Lang writes, showing the positive aspects of Big Soda.

Lang goes as far as to quote the chief executive officer of Coca-Cola, a person that The Los Angeles Times would have had access to, yet did interrogate. Lang presents a solid analysis of the situation, making a bias slip only once, writing "[Big Soda]'s bottom line depends on the rampant unchecked consumption of their irrefutably unhealthy product."

A last angle of coverage to explore is that of the blogosphere, specifically The Huffington Post's Nov. 4 article, "As Soda Tax Bubble Up, Food Lobby Mobilizes" by Christine Spolar. This article is a byproduct of The Huffington Post's Investigative Fund, a non-profit organization that promotes investigative journalism.

Spolar makes a unique editorial decision by approaching this article from the legislator's perspective, writing, "Washington lobbyists have been enjoying a multi-million-dollar sugar rush from the food industry."

While Spolar does approach The Los Angeles Times article in its disdain for Big Soda, it does make excellent editorial sourcing decisions, including an an interview with Nelson Eusebio, the executive director of the National Supermarket Association. This is unique in that a supermarket representative is equally divided between selling any products and selling healthy products (the same debate that Big Soda is having with U.S. Congress).

Spolar filters the complex issues into one polarizing question, by quoting Eusebio as saying, "If we eliminate soda, would people stay away from fried food, hot dogs and all other junk out there?" This is editorial brilliancy.

With many more articles likely to chastise and defend Big Soda, one issue needs to be acknowledged: Are soda taxes truly intended to promote health or fight a massive budget deficit? Whether or not newspapers acknowledge this will be a test of journalistic integrity in every editor.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Haitian Situation

(Above) A Haitian Flag with the Banker-esque Rich Uncle Pennybags.

With massive disaster in Haiti and banks flush with cash, the last few weeks should have been a golden opportunity for recipients of U.S. government bailouts to save face with the media.

Yet it seems that the press surrounding Haitian donations by banks is cynical at best. Few coverage outlets fail to mention investment banking bonus pools relative to Haitian donations. This mindset has also spawned questions as to the amount donated by the U.S. government to Haiti as a byproduct of bank bailouts.

One of the first people on the story, the The New York Times' Andrew Sorkin reported just the facts in the article, "
Wall Street Gives Millions to Haiti Relief Efforts" on Jan. 14, writing, "Banks including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have each pledged $1 million to various charities and humanitarian organizations."

His article continues in the same matter-of-fact style, touching on many topics that turn incendiary in later coverage.

"One of these banks, Citigroup, has suffered perhaps even more than others: its Haitian headquarters collapsed, and several of its employees have died," Sorkin writes, avoiding an accusatory tone.
"Citi is giving $2 million to relief efforts."

Weeks later, a Feb. 3 USA Today editorial article was the first to approach the topic of large banker bonuses in, "Should Conan, Goldman Sachs send megabucks to Haiti?" The editorial board struck the first tone against bank donation amounts, writing, "
People scoffed at the donation of $1 million by the firm, calculated to be 11 minutes of GS' 9 billion profits in 2009. Now, the National Council of Churches is whacking GS under the popular headline: GDP of Haiti: $8.5 billion. Goldman Sachs bonus pool: $20 billion."

Finally, coverage of the story turned outright accusatory as banks began reporting record earnings and large bonuses. Government officials were not immune from the finger pointing. This can be seen in a Feb. 9 Wall Street Manna blog post, "
Wall Street's Haiti scoreboard". The article's author, who chose to be anonymous, wrote, "Model and new mom, Gisele Bundchen, who received no money from the TARP, or help from the Government, gave $1.5 million. She gave more than either Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan, who collectively paid out $28 Billion in bonuses. Gisele made $35 million last year."

The author then continued to chastise government officials, writing, "Timothy Geithner donated zero...Ben Bernanke donated nothing also."

One interesting aspect of the coverage has been the charges against Citicorp. A major Haitian employer, it was the only banks with a location in Haiti. After losing its building and employees, Citicorp announced plans to rebuild. Rather than side with Citicorp for its loses and willingness to continue employing Haitians, mass media has pegged the bank as greedy for not donating more money because of its location. This seems counter-intuitive, yet negative spin seems to be the standard in financial institution coverage.

Also, note the coverage in terms of volume: Of the top ten banks, each of which received some form of bailout, two have managed to donate nothing. For disdained names like Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, donations seem to have been mandated by the media. HSBC and UBS, on the other hand, have flown far enough under the media's accusatory radar, as seen below.

Here is a look at bank donations, with
red indicating banks that have been publicly called upon for donations:

Data from The Wall Street Journal