Saturday, August 13, 2016

How news works

News doesn't happen by accident, but it does happen by routine. Let's see how many of the unwritten rules of Fox practice we can figure out from this page-turner!

FOX News announced a new senior leadership team and management structure today, naming Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy and Senior Executive Vice President Bill Shine to serve as Co-Presidents effective immediately. The announcement was made by the network's founder, Rupert Murdoch, Executive Chairman of 21st Century Fox and Executive Chairman of FOX News Channel & FOX Business Network, to whom Mr. Abernethy and Mr. Shine will report.

First off, as the ear over the hed indicates, it's a "U.S. regions" story -- thus, not categorized as economic, crime, immigration, terrorism or personal freedom news. (Fox seems to know I'm checking in from Michigan, so most of the top "regions" stories suggested for me are about Muslims Behaving Badly.) So whoever this is meant for, it's more "local" than "business."

The style deviations indicate something else. Fox is generally careless with its copy editing, so even when it misses its signature tweaks to wire copy ("homicide bomber" for "suicide bomber," for example, or "Koran" for "Quran"), it's hard to distinguish sloppiness from one-off error from layoff-induced haste from an actual policy change. The capitalized standalone titles, then, might just be a glitch, but the courtesy titles aren't. Those didn't go in by accident, and they suggest that there went out a decree: Nobody touch the story; it's been approved. Even to point out that ....

In addition, Suzanne Scott has been named Executive Vice President of Programming and Development for FNC and will continue reporting to Mr. Shine. In this position, Scott will supervise FNC’s daytime and primetime opinion shows and lead development of new programming.

... if the boys have courtesy titles, perhaps the girls should have them too? Maybe Fox is making up for all those decades during which the AP required courtesy titles for women but not for men. Or maybe a portal to another dimension opens if somebody at Fox says "Ms." As above, it's hard to tell.

Most of the story is standard press release, even when it gets to the thanks for your many years of service, and we'll send your family a bill for the bullet "embarks on a new chapter" part:

FOX News also announced that Chief Financial Officer Mark Kranz will be retiring. Throughout his tenure, Mr. Kranz was promoted from Director to Vice President of Finance, eventually assuming the role of CFO for both FNC and FBN. He joined the network from Viacom in 1997.

In commenting on the announcement, Mr. Murdoch said, “Over his 19 years with FOX News, Mark Kranz was instrumental in increasing profitability across all of our key properties. We are grateful for his many contributions to the company and we extend our best wishes to him as he embarks on a new chapter."

Wondering what brought that on? Maybe the New York Times can explain:

On Friday, Fox also announced that its longtime chief financial officer, Mark Kranz, would retire. His departure was linked to his oversight of the network’s finances during a period when financial settlements were made with women who had complained of harassment, according to two people who requested anonymity to describe internal matters.

Oh. You mean it's a story about ... how did that Times story start again?

In assuming the leadership of Fox News last month, Rupert Murdoch pledged a fresh start at a network reeling from accusations that its longtime chairman, Roger Ailes, had overseen a culture of harassment and intimidation.

But on Friday, Mr. Murdoch made clear that — for now at least — Fox’s new era will be led by its old guard.

So the Fox story is sort of like announcing that new condo development at Isengard without mentioning the property's flood insurance challenges. That's the root of the general mandate (pay attention, PR students) against running press releases verbatim. News practice requires telling you why a story is interesting. That doesn't always mean the "nut graf" of journalism lore -- at Fox, you can just drop in a mug shot of Obama to remind you that somewhere in the text is an existential threat to your constitutional freedoms. But broadly, if a story doesn't bother with you should care, there's at least an outside chance you're not supposed to know.

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