Soundbite: The Secret Life Of Obama’s Golf Game


“And where Mr. Obama’s basketball game is showy and often televised, his golf is furtive and off-the-record. He plays with junior aides and discreet longtime friends. There’s no press allowed onto the course with him, no cameras — and few witnesses. A foursome of loyal staffers often plays out ahead of him, clearing the way and trying to ensure no one spies.”

Now that the ‘President plays sexist golf’ meme has been so ably snatched up by the NYT, the WSJ is apparently attempting to turn President Obama’s fondness for golf into some sort of John Le Carre thriller. Is it possible the president just likes privacy and golf is more relaxing? Eee gads! Life in the White House is never that simple! Some more tidbits from the article below (mostly because it’s hard to resist a Mark Knoller mention when one presents itself).

On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama played a mean, frequent and public game of hoops. He played outdoors and in, with pols, pros, troops in Kuwait and university kids half his age. “For people our age, it was like watching Clinton on ‘The Arsenio Hall Show,’ playing the saxophone,” says Alex Podlogar, a 34-year-old sportswriter at the Sanford Herald in Sanford, N.C.

But as president, Mr. Obama has neglected the court. He has played only seven known games of basketball since taking office, compared with 25 rounds of golf, a sport he picked up about a decade ago when he was an Illinois state senator. That’s more golf than former President George W. Bush played in two terms, according to CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller, who tracks presidential trivia. (In 2003, Mr. Bush quit golf, saying he did so out of respect for the troops serving in Iraq. Since leaving office, he has returned to the sport, an aide says.)

Why Glenn Beck Could Be The Next Oprah Winfrey

gbowLet the games begin! Now that Oprah Winfrey has officially decided to end her talk show the race is on to find her daytime replacement. Brian Stelter pens a speculative piece in today’s Times about the possible contenders for Oprah’s crown:

Already, she has groomed another decade’s worth of new talk show hosts. She ordained Mr. McGraw in 2002, and his talk show, “Dr. Phil,” now ranks second behind her own hour. She followed up with “Rachael Ray” in 2006 and “The Dr. Oz Show” this fall. “Dr. Oz” is already a hit. And now she is developing a program for Nate Berkus, her favorite interior designer, for fall 2010…The shake-up may also make more room for lower-rated talk shows by Martha Stewart, Tyra Banks and Bonnie Hunt, among others. Looking farther afield, Ms. Couric, whose CBS News contract is up in 2011, has long been mentioned as a possible syndicated star.

All great ideas, and it would certainly be interesting to see Couric try and rekindle her daytime fan base. That said, it’s hard to envision any of these people filling Oprah’s shoes. While she certainly started out as merely a popular talk show host, Oprah became in the last decade or so, evolved into a sort of national mentor around whose ideas and beliefs people (the country, one might argue) shaped their outlook on life. Probably it’s safe to say no one is taking life advice from Katie Couric, or Ellen, or Tyra Banks. Know who some people are taking life advice from these days? Glenn Beck.

Yes, granted it’s a different sort of life advice — I’m fairly certain that Oprah never went on a weeks-long diatribe comparing anyone to Chairman Mao — but different times call for different media stars! And Glenn Beck is nothing if not a media star to fit our politicized, polarized times. Instead of the Oprah life philosophy, which taught us to take responsibility for our own actions, Beck wants us to take responsibility for our politics (I think…sometimes his theories are difficult to keep up with amidst all the chalkboard razzle-dazzle).

Beck has already drawn Oprah comparisons from the New York Times, no less, for his Winfrey-like effect on book sales. However, this weekend’s much-covered announcement of his 100 year plan elevates him to the realm of (potential) movement leaders. I still don’t think Beck has his eyes on the presidency (and in the words of James Poniewozik, “I don’t believe that I have done anything to deserve being that lucky as a columnist”) but read the following statement from Beck regarding his ‘plan” and then swap in diet, or food, or ‘best life now’ (or the Secret) for freedom, or values, or founders…and voila! You have a somewhat scary successor to the 90’s Oprah phenom.

I have begun meeting with some of the best minds in the country that believe in limited government, maximum freedom and the values of our Founders. I am developing a 100 year plan. I know that the bipartisan corruption in Washington that has brought us to this brink and it will not be defeated easily. It will require unconventional thinking and a radical plan to restore our nation to the maximum freedoms we were supposed to have been protecting, using only the battlefield of ideas.

- All of the above will culminate in The Plan, a book that will provide specific policies, principles and, most importantly, action steps that each of us can take to play a role in this Refounding.

The question (or one of them) obviously remains: Will Beck still have the media clout necessary to summon crowds of people at “the feet of Abraham Lincoln on the National Mall for the unveiling of The Plan and the birthday of a new national movement to restore our great country” come August 28, 2010? Who knows. Oprah benefited from a media cycle that was mostly under her control. Also, she has years of success under her belt before launching into movement-like undertakings such as the Angel Network, or Living Your Best Life Now, etc. Glenn Beck has only actually been a national media phenom since roughly August; next August is a ways away in our current media and political cycle. Also, love her or not, Oprah was not perceived by much of the population as being unhinged. However, that said, judging by the current ratings a certain cable news channel enjoys (not to mention the pop stars du jour) the public apparently prefers their media figures as unhinged as possible.

Oprah Winfrey To End Talk Show In 2011

tom-cruise-on-oprahThe New York Times is reporting that Oprah Winfrey will announce tomorrow that she is ending her syndicated talk show in 2011 at the end of her 25th season. Earlier this month Nikki Finke reported that Oprah would close up shop and move to cable in early 2011. From the NYT:

The media mogul Oprah Winfrey will end her iconic daytime talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” in 2011 as she prepares to start a cable channel of her own.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Winfrey’s production company confirmed Thursday evening that Ms. Winfrey will make the announcement on her program on Friday. The plans were first reported by WABC, the ABC affiliate in New York City.

“The sun will set on the Oprah show as its 25th season draws to a close on September 9, 2011,” WABC said.

Profiles in Courage: Social Media Editors at Big Media Outlets

During a recent trip to see an editor I work with at The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper in Canada, I passed by the newspaper's cafeteria. My editor looked in and pointed at a man who was sitting with his back to us.

"There's Mathew Ingram, doing his office hours," he told me.

Ingram is the Globe and Mail's communities editor, a job he took on after being a technology reporter, columnist and blogger for the paper. My editor explained that Ingram's "office hours" consist of him making himself available in the cafeteria so that anyone can come see him and talk about Twitter, user comments, blogging, or anything thing else that falls under the social media/community banner.

Five years ago, there was no such thing as a community manager or social media editor at large media organizations. Today, this role exists at places such as the New York Times and NPR, among others. To get a sense of the role of these new social media editors at big media organizations, I spoke with four people currently filling these positions.

Mathew Ingram

Name: Mathew Ingram

Title: Communities editor, The Globe and Mail.

Time in the Position: Close to a year.

Previously: Technology reporter, columnist, blogger for the paper.

What the Job Entails: "There was never really a job description so we have been making it up as we go along," he said. "The general idea was to have someone who was thinking about how we interact with readers online, and all the ways of doing it and ways we could be doing it."

Biggest Challenge: "To be blunt, complacency is the biggest danger, the biggest risk," he said. "The biggest challenge is raising awareness of these tools, and convincing people that they are worthwhile. That's something that has been easier with certain people than with others. There's a wide spectrum of awareness and openness to trying new things. Let's face it: being a newspaper reporter hasn't really changed in a huge amount [over the last few decades]. You use a computer rather than a typewriter. So the change taking place right now is maybe harder to deal with if you've been doing that for a long time."

Best Initiative So Far: Using CoverItLive for discussions and liveblogging. "For certain things, like our swine flu discussion, we have gotten 10,000 or 15,000 people, and hundreds and hundreds of comments, along with interaction between editors and writers and readers," he said. "To me, that is a magical thing that never would have happened if we hadn't used that tool. We can also wind up making what we do better. In the swine flu discussion, we were feeding news into the live discussion and we had a Google Map that an epidemiologist had created. Someone said in the discussion that the map was not up to date. Our editor asked if anybody knew of a better map, and three minutes later a guy posted a link to a better map that we never would have found."

Lesson He's Learned About the Globe Community: "We get surprised daily by the things that people are interested in, and the things they want to read about or talk about," he said. "...For me, the big benefit of using these tools is getting a better idea of what readers want. Before, we kind of just had hunch and found out long after the fact. Now we can watch in real time."

Biggest Mistake: "I'd love to say we haven't made any, but I wish we had gotten involved in Facebook earlier on, and built an audience there or made better use of it."

Final Words: "Focus on the small victories. It's quite easy to get overcome and disillusioned when people are not interested in what you think is valuable, or when the things you try don't work."

Shirley Brady

Shirley_Bradysmall.jpgName: Shirley Brady

Title: Community editor, BusinessWeek.

Time in the Position: Close to 18 months.

Previously: Editor of the website, and a reporter at CableWorld magazine. Previously held editorial positions with Time Inc., among other media organizations.

What the Job Entails: "I spend a lot of time in the comments observing the trends, featuring people across the site, and trying to connect with our writers and say, 'Hey, there's this really interesting conversation going on, you may want to chime in.'" She also works on their blog, "What's Your Story Idea?":, and was brought on to help manage the magazine's Business Exchange community.

On Interacting With the BusinessWeek Community: "We've done things that feature our readers on the site by using their comments or contributed articles," she said. "Our audience is business professionals and they are on the front lines of all the stuff we're writing about. They are doing what we're just observing."

Best Initiative So Far: "We had a reader dinner and invited 10 really avid readers to come in and tell us what they like and don't like," she said. "The big takeaway was that our comment system, which is pretty basic, needs to get better... We got to sit face-to-face with these people, some of whom we only knew from their user names."

Biggest Lesson Learned: The need to manage expectations for new initiatives. "It's been interesting watching our Business Exchange platform launch because there were very aggressive expectations for it internally," she said. "As a user, I know the demands on people's time are really intense, and to expect people to adopt another social network is a lot to ask."

Next Big Challenge: Integrating with the magazine's new owner, Bloomberg. "We've been acquired by Bloomberg and are waiting to find out what their strategy is," she said. As this article was being finalized, Brady announced on Twitter that her "role isn't continuing with Bloomberg," and her last day at BusinessWeek will be December 1.

Andy Carvin

andycarvin.jpgName: Andy Carvin

Title: Senior strategist for NPR's social media desk.

Time in the Position: He's been the social media/community guy at NPR since September 2006.

Previously: Ran the non-profit Digital Divide Network.

What the Job Entails: "I work with a team called the social media desk, which is an editorial unit that focuses on ways for our reporters to interact with the public," he said. "The way I look at it is NPR has this large, loyal community of more than 26 million listeners around the country who tend to see us as more than just a content producer. In some ways, being involved with NPR is almost a lifestyle choice for them. We've had a long history of reaching out to the public and having hem contribute ideas and content. But there's never been a platform before social media that enabled us to interact with the public and give them tools to interact among themselves."

Biggest Lesson Learned: "The key thing is to come up with a variety of ways that people can interact and work with you," he said. "On one end you might have people contribute long stories and put together thoughtful narratives, whether in text or video or audio. At the other end, you may have some who are just wiling to share a quick snippet and move on."

Best Initiative So Far: "Last fall when Hurricane Gustav was approaching, we asked for volunteers on Twitter to come together and list hurricane-related resources. Over 48 hours we had over 500 people signed up to build a wiki called," he said. "They built Google Maps with evacuation routes and shelter information, and some people listened to ham radio and scanner traffic for information and transcribed that." He also notes that Scott Simon and the team at NPR's Weekend Edition have done a good job using Twitter.

What He's Learned About the NPR Community: "These are communities that love us and our mission and what we do, they want to help us succeed and prosper -- and we ignore them at our peril," he said. "Thankfully, we are not ignoring them. It's about understanding that people who use social media and are fans of NPR are our most powerful supporters. They can be advocates, soldiers, messengers. They can assist in editorial matters as well."

Final Words: "There's no edict here saying that every person has to be on Twitter or Facebook. We do it somewhat organically because we want to make sure the staff that are using social media understand why they are using it, and have editorial goals in mind."

Jennifer Preston

jennifer_preston.jpgName: Jennifer Preston

Title: Social media editor, New York Times.

Time in the Position: Close to six months.

Previously: Edited the Sunday suburban section of the paper. Has also held other editing and reporting roles at the paper, along with jobs at other media organizations.

What the Job Entails: "I don't really have a typical day. I would say one of the challenges is not doing things on a piecemeal basis, and I'm sure my colleagues would share that concern. We know we have to put effort into getting more people to begin using these tools."

What She's Learned About the Times Community: "Surprise, surprise they like us. I tell anybody who is having a bad day around here just to go to the Twitter search field and look at what people are saying about our work," she said. "People are sharing and recommending the work... One of the really cool, fun, powerful things about social media is that, through the power of recommendations, your loyalists can share the stuff they like. We produce a lot of great stuff, and it's been heartening just to see people share that with enthusiasm."

Best Initiative So Far: New York Times Twitter Lists. "One initiative that helped us move forward quickly, and in an area where there is tremendous potential, is Twitter Lists," she said. "It was an opportunity to go across the newsroom desk-to-desk and talk with different editors and reporters and explain how the feature works and say, 'Hey, how about giving me a list?' I'm mindful that the landscape changes rapidly, and we will change with it. But I do think the Twitter Lists project for the newsroom has helped us get more people interested in Twitter." Preston noted that the paper built new Twitter Lists as reports rolled in about the Fort Hood shootings. "I sit in the middle of the newsroom with the continuous news desk, and so we were all jumping on the story and trying to figure out what was going on," she said. "I walked over to Jenny 8 Lee and said, 'Jenny can you help me put together a Fort Hood list?'"

Biggest Lesson Learned: "One of the most important lessons learned is that much of the best ideas, and the really creative approaches and innovations, come from the developers, many of whom work here in newsroom," she said. "This job is also a public role, and I was unprepared for that. Some people were very kind and helpful and welcoming, but there was a group who were not. I had to figure out what my role is on Twitter because every broken link I sent out was seen as a crime. In any event, you have to be resilient and have a sense of humor."

Final Words: "The New York Times did not discover social media with my appointment, and vice versa," she said. "For the last two years we have had more than a couple hundred accounts on Twitter, and we now have 2 million followers on our main feed. We have half a million fans on Facebook...We're going to be doing something interesting very soon with Tumblr. The really fun part of this whole moment is that you can really play in the space and have fun and figure out what works. And if it doesn't work, that's okay, you can try something else."

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author and an associate editor at MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is the founder and editor of Regret The Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a weekly columnist for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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Last NYT Reporter In Iran Flees To Canada

0624iran2Here’s some news that has nothing to do with Sarah Palin. We’ve mentioned a couple of times on this blog before the New York Times reporter Nazila Fathi, who during the protests over the Iran election this past June was often the only reporter on the ground reporting for the Times.

Last month Fathi penned a piece for the NYT about how Iran journos were fleeing the country in droves and we noted that “judging by the byline on the dateline (Toronto), the NYT’s own journalist in Iran may have been part of the mass exodus.” Turns out she was. The Toronto Star has picked up the story.

Understandably, Fathi didn’t want to insert herself into the story. In fact, it’s a story she never wanted to write. But in many ways, hers is the story of Iran’s recent spiral into lawlessness and, perhaps worse, hopelessness. It’s also the story of how, with depressing regularity, Canada is becoming a safe haven for the world’s exiled journalists. It’s not easy monitoring events from 10,000 kilometres away. But covering Iran from Toronto is still easier than it was in Tehran when Fathi was holed up in her apartment, watched by security agents, her phone and Internet connections compromised.

The article also details the circumstances that lead to Fathi’s departure from Iran:

Fathi was the last Times reporter left on the front lines as activists and dissidents were rounded up, interrogated and tortured. Among them was another Iranian-Canadian dual national, Maziar Bahari, Newsweek’s reporter in Tehran until he was picked up in late June at the height of the unrest. Bahari, 42, was released a month ago after his family posted bail. He remains in exile in Britain.

And who can forget the torture and death of yet another Canadian dual national, photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, in Tehran in 2003, which has strained bilateral relations ever since. Against that backdrop, Fathi took the warning signs seriously. A surveillance team took up position outside her family’s apartment, as Basiji thugs and Revolutionary Guard enforcers wrested control of the streets from idealistic protestors.

Whenever there were protests, “I kissed my children” before going out, Fathi told me. Later, one of Fathi’s old government sources alerted her that a sniper would take her out if they could ever identify her in public. “I stopped going out … I was practically under house arrest.” One day, the surveillance team followed her husband and children in four vehicles, then cut him off suddenly and approached their car. It was time to go.

Hard news comes at a hard price, and with the departure of Fathi (among many others) it would appear that both the public and major news outlets are now even more dependent on the sort of citizen journalism we saw last June for first hand accounts of life in Iran.

Maureen Dowd Sides With Palin On Couric Interview Story

426-dowdpalin--124686715051361900This is interesting. In a column mostly devoted to detailing the similarities she shares with Sarah Palin (tongue firmly planted in cheek), Maureen Dowd appears to side with Palin on the events surrounding her problems with McCain campaign adviser Nicolle Wallace and the disastrous Katie Couric interviews:

I must be somewhat American because I agreed with Palin that she was undercut by Nicolle Wallace, one of the aides sent by John McCain to do the “My Fair Lady” makeover.

Wallace had had a contract at CBS News and was determined to get the big interview for Katie Couric, even if it meant leading the lamb to slaughter, telling Palin that “the Perky One,” as Palin called Couric, was insecure (presumably because of her low ratings) and that she would do a short-and-sweet chat about balancing motherhood and a career.

But Palin should have been smart enough to know that Couric has had a reputation for decades for being a tough interviewer, and that she wasn’t going to whiff on a chance like that. And despite Palin’s all-American paranoia, it is common practice to ask presidential candidates what they read.

I also agree with Palin that the McCain high command should not have barred the Palin kids, including media darling Piper, from the stage the night of McCain’s concession speech.

Nobody puts Piper in a corner.

The plot thickens. How long do you think until Katie Couric lands the Nicolle Wallace interview?

Nation’s Fascination With First Couple Reality Show Worth Seven Figures

the-first-coupleThere is still money to be made in book publishing, apparently. Sort of. Last year we saw the temporary effect the Obamas had on the print world when one or both of them graced practically every magazine cover known to man, and newspapers sold out the day after both the election and the inauguration. Apparently the publishing world feels there’s still enough juice to be squeezed out of the first couple that they are willing to cough up seven figures for it. Per the New York Observer:

New York Times Washington correspondent Jodi Kantor has secured a stunning seven-figure book deal this week with Little, Brown to write a volume on the Obamas.

The deal was the result of a heated citywide auction, and was brokered by independent lit agent Elyse Cheney. It comes on the heels of the 34-year-old reporter’s New York Times Magazine cover story on the Obamas’ marriage, which argued that “the Obamas mix politics and romance in a way that no first couple quite have before.”

According to several sources, Ms. Kantor’s book will draw on the three years of reporting she has done since giving up the editorship of The Times’ Arts & Leisure section, in 2005. During the campaign, Ms. Kantor produced a number of biographical stories about the president and his inner circle, including one on his time at the head of the Harvard Law Review, one on his career as a law professor, one on his basketball-playing and one on how his friends were bracing themselves for his presidency.

So basically this sounds like more of a cult of Obama personality book than it does a recent history. A good decision based on recent poll numbers which suggest the personal will the country feels toward Obama has not bled over into support for his policies.