February 27, 2017 Last Updated 8:11 am

Reporters get lesson at the Oscars in confirming their first impressions; Pearson loss has company looking to sell unit

Morning Brief: The global publisher also said it would look to sell its 47 percent stake in Penguin Random House as company’s debt nearlyt doubled from £654m to £1.09bn

When I was a freshman in college taking the entry level reporting class I remember an early exercise the professor had where he would say that we were to report on an incident, and that he would give us the details during the hour long class. I had four years of journalism in high school, something the others in class did not, so I had a distinct advantage.

So, when the professor said that a body had been found and that it “appears” that it had been a murder I heard “appears” while others simple heard “murder”. On and on it went like this during the hour, with everyone taking notes and writing their stories. Every five minutes more details were given and we quickly rewrote the story. At the end, the professor gave us a final detail that changed the story significantly, but many in class were committed to their own set of facts and got the story all wrong, others were a little better and got their ledes right, but the rest of the story was a mess and made little sense.

My story was fine, I’d gone through this exercise before in class and knew the pitfalls: don’t write what you think you hear, write what was actually said; if confused, ask a question; and always confirm.

Last night’s Academy Awards was a perfect exercise for many. Many journalists I follow on Twitter thought for sure they heard Warren Beatty say that the winner was La La Land. The Washington Post even tweeted it and only later tweeted a correction.

I hope those that made the same mistake and somehow missed that it was actually Faye Dunaway that said “La La Land” not Beatty, who was totally confused by what he saw on the card. Dunaway simply saw “La La Land” and ignored that it also said “Emma Stone” and that began the whole mess.

This real-life exercise in good reporting practices is important to remember when thinking about how to cover this White House and the press secretary. Don’t assume, don’t report what you think is said and speculate, report what is said – and, if necessary, review the tapes. Reality is sometimes different that your first impressions.

Oh, and don’t roll those presses too fast.

Times Free Press:

Some Times Free Press newspapers have wrong Oscars best picture winner

What a night at the Oscars.

Evidently, the envelopes got mixed up and Warren Beaty read what was on his card which was La La Land for Best Picture. However, after a lot of confusion on stage, it was announced that Moonlight was actually the best picture.

The presses had been rolling for a while, so some of our newspapers may have La La Land as winner for Best Picture, but Moonlight is the actual winner.



A big fat shout out to The Huffington Post, who ran a story on Friday that might have been seen at first a fluff, but one that many journalists quickly referred back to for the details on how the awards process works at the Oscars.

The story had big details like the fact that there are two envelopes held by PwC representatives (which is how it could happen that Emma Stone had the envelope saying she was the winner, and another was later given to Warren Beatty).

One wonders if this story had more readership late on Sunday than when it originally appeared on Friday.

The Huffington Post, Matthew Jacobs:

What Would Happen If A Presenter Announced The Wrong Winner At The Oscars?

PwC has protocol should such a glitch occur. Heading into Oscar night, only two people know the winners list: Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, who supervise the counting procedures. They’re the briefcase holders who walk the red carpet every year and often appear at some point during the show…

…Throughout the telecast, Cullinan and Ruiz are stationed on opposite sides backstage. The duo will have memorized the winners, thereby preventing the need to list them on any documentation that could land in the wrong hands. As the night progresses, Cullinan and Ruiz ensure every category’s presentation is factual. Should a presenter declare a false winner for any reason, they are prepared to tell the nearest stage manager, who will immediately alert the show’s producers.

Cullinan and Ruiz, who spoke to The Huffington Post last week, say the exact procedure is unknown because no mistake of that kind has been made in the Oscars’ 88-year history.



On Friday the global education publisher Pearson reported its year-end earnings, sending a thunderbolt through the book publishing industry (see earnings here). The publisher reported a $3.3 billion loss (£2.335 billion).

But the loss was due to an incredibly large impairment charge (£2.548 billion) which the company said was “consistent with the challenging market conditions.”

“2016 was a challenging year for Pearson, but we remain the global leader in education, with a strong market position,” Pearson’s chief executive John Fallon said.

“Our priorities for 2017 are clear. We will continue to accelerate our digital transformation, simplify our portfolio, control our costs, and focus our investment on the biggest growth opportunities in education.”

The Guardian, Mark Sweney:

Education publisher Pearson reports biggest loss in its history

A spokesman said the charge related mainly to historic acquisitions of Simon & Schuster Education and National Computer Systems, purchased in 1998 and 2000 respectively, as a “necessary consequence” of the lower profit expectations announced last month.

In January, the company slashed its profit forecast for this year by £180m and scrapped its target of £800m for next year. It also announced that it planned to sell its stake in the world’s largest book publisher, Penguin Random House, to strengthen its balance sheet.

The profit warning was prompted by the collapse of its US higher education business, which is struggling with a decline in textbook sales and the transition to digital learning. The US business accounts for two-thirds of Pearson’s revenues and profits.



Back to journalism…

As Deep Throat was reported to have said “follow the money.” I don’t know if Mark Felt really said that, but that is the line from the movie about Watergate.

And “follow the money” will be the key to cover politics in the US, and this tory from The Guardian does a good job of doing just that in its profile of Robert Mercer.

The Guardian, Carole Cadwalladr:

Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart – a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter

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