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Jim Lehrer’s Rules of Journalism

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The long-time host of PBS NewsHour Jim Lehrer died this week at the age of 85. In this age of news as entertainment and opinion as news, Lehrer seems like one of the last of a breed of journalist who took seriously the integrity of informing the American public about important events. In a 1997 report by The Aspen Institute, Lehrer outlined the guidelines he adhered to in practicing journalism:

  1. Do nothing I cannot defend.*
  2. Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype.
  3. Do not falsify facts or make up quotes.
  4. Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.*
  5. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.*
  6. Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.*
  7. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.*
  8. Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
  9. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.*
  10. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.*
  11. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.*
  12. Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
  13. Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
  14. Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers.
  15. My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice.
  16. I am not in the entertainment business.*

In his 2006 Harvard commencement address, Lehrer reduced that list to an essential nine items (marked with an * above).

These are fantastic guidelines; as veteran journalist Al Thompkins said recently: “I would like to add a 10th rule: Journalists should be more like Jim Lehrer.”

Addendum: Even though this is a mere blog that has different goals and moves at a different pace than traditional journalism, I try (try!) to adhere to Lehrer’s guidelines on kottke.org as much as possible. I found out about his rules on Twitter in the form of a context-free screenshot of an equally context-free PDF. Lehrer would not approve of this sort of sourcing, so I started to track it down.

All initial attempts at doing so pointed to the truncated list (as outlined in the Harvard speech and in this 2009 episode of the NewsHour), so I wrote up a post with the nine rules and was about to publish — but something about the longer list bugged me. Why would someone add more rules and attribute them to Lehrer? It didn’t seem to make sense, so I dug a little deeper and eventually found the Aspen report in bowels of Google and rewrote the post.

In doing all this, I rediscovered one of the reasons why Lehrer’s guidelines aren’t followed by more media outlets: this shit takes time! And time is money. It would have taken me five minutes to find that context-free PDF, copy & paste the text, throw a post together, and move on to something else. But how can I do that when I don’t know for sure the list is accurate? Did he write or say those things verbatim? Or was it paraphrased or compiled from different places? Maybe the transcription is wrong. Lehrer, of all people, and this list, of all lists, deserves proper attribution. So this post actually took me 45+ minutes to research & write (not counting this addendum). And this is just one little list that in the grand and cold economic scheme of things is going to make me exactly zero more dollars than the 5-minute post would have!

Actual news outlets covering actual news have an enormous incentive to cut corners on this stuff, especially when news budgets have been getting squeezed on all sides for the better part of the last two decades. It should come as no big surprise then that the media covers elections as if they were horse races, feasts on the private lives of celebrities, and leans heavily on entertaining opinions — that all sells better than Lehrer’s guidelines do — but we should think carefully about whether we want to participate in it. In the age of social media, we are no longer mere consumers of news — everyone is a publisher and that’s a powerful thing. So perhaps Lehrer’s guidelines should apply more broadly, not only for us as individuals but also for media companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter that amplify and leverage our thoughts and reporting for their own ends.

Tags: Jim Lehrer   journalism   lists
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deezil
23 hours ago
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The addendum is just as important as the base part of the post.
Louisville, Kentucky
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Why Your 2020 Candidate Sucks: Mike Bloomberg

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The first in a series of candidate roasts leading up to the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, and Super Tuesday

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deezil
11 days ago
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OH BOY! He's going to do this series with candidates instead of football teams.
Louisville, Kentucky
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You Don’t Support The Troops

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If you did, you wouldn’t want them playing an endless Call of Duty game all over the world

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deezil
17 days ago
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Louisville, Kentucky
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Farmers Are Buying 40-Year-Old Tractors Because They're Actually Repairable

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When a brand new John Deere tractors breaks down, you need a computer to fix it. When a John Deere tractor manufactured in 1979 breaks down, you can repair it yourself or buy another old John Deere tractor. Farming equipment—like televisions, cars, and even toothbrushes—now often comes saddled with a computer. That computer often comes with digital rights management software that can make simple repairs an expensive pain in the ass. As reported by the Minnesota StarTribune, Farmers have figured out a way around the problem—buying tractors manufactured 40 years ago, before the computers took over.

“There’s an affinity factor if you grew up around these tractors, but it goes way beyond that,” Greg Peterson, founder of the farm equipment data company Machinery Pete told StarTribune. “These things, they’re basically bulletproof. You can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you can just replace it.”

The tractors manufactured in the late 1970s and 1980s look and run like modern tractors, but lack the computer components that drive up costs and make repair a nightmare. That’s made them popular at auctions around the American midwest. A Nebraska area auctioneer sold off 27 older model John Deere tractors in 2019. The old work horse tractors are so popular that one with low mileage can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. A 1980 model with 2,147 hours of use sold for $43,500. A 1979 model sold for $61,000.

That’s a lot of cash, but it’s still cheaper than a new model which can run between $100,000 and $150,000. The price is nice, but avoiding the computer components of the newer models saves money in the long run. “The newer machines, any time something breaks, you’ve got to have a computer to fix it,” Mark Stock, co-founder of BigIron auction told the StarTribune.

Farmers are at the center of right-to-repair, a grass-roots consumer movement that says people should have the right to repair their own stuff. When a John Deere tractor breaks down, John Deere requires its owner to take it to an authorized dealer for repairs. Apple wants the same for its iPhones and recently told Congress that people would hurt themselves if they repaired their own stuff. Democratic Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have both called for national right-to-repair laws.



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deezil
18 days ago
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This is a big thing back home. No one wants a new tractor, too many electronics that can go wrong and the resulting delays in getting to to a dealer to fix will compromise crop quality.
Louisville, Kentucky
angelchrys
18 days ago
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Overland Park, KS
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Arcade1Up’s Latest Machines Bring Nostalgia, Online Play, and New Form Factors

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A Burger Time 3/4th scale arcade machine on a riser.

Arcade1Up

Arcade1Up, the company bringing the arcade machines to your home for an affordable price, decided to start CES with a bang. The company announced cabinets for Burger Time, NBA Jam, pinball tables, and new form factors and accessories.

A Limited Edition Burger Time for Your Nostalgia

The side of a Burger Time arcade Machine, with a chef holding a burger.
The Curvy top for the chef hat is a new look for Arcade1Up. The riser is included. Arcade1Up

Burger Time is a game that released in 1982, so this is an arcade machine that’s all about nostalgia and the beginning of the gaming scene. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the gameplay was relatively simple. You control a chef who runs around Donkey Kong-reminiscent levels filled with ladders.

The object is to run across ingredients for a burger (bun, meat, etc.), which drops them to lower levels. Eventually, you complete a burger at the bottom. Each level has four potential burgers. But, enemy food characters will try to stop you, and your only defense is to drop ingredients on them from above or use a limited number of pepper shots to stun them.

Arcade1Up says this is a limited edition 3/4-scale machine, which also includes Karate Champ, Bad Dudes, and Caveman Ninja. The unit consists of controls for two players, a light-up marquee, matching riser, and a unique form factor and artwork that matches the original Burger Time machine.

An arcade machine with four red-topped joysticks, four white buttons, and two yellow buttons.
Arcade1Up didn’t have images for the other machines ready, so here’s Burger Time’s control scheme. Arcade1Up

Arcade1Up promises to ship orders placed by January 31 on March 1. And again, quantities are limited. Pricing wasn’t available, but we reached out for more information.

NBA Jam has Online Play

Next up in Arcade1Up’s lineup comes with a shocking surprise. An NBA Jam arcade cabinet with online play. If you never played NBA Jam, you missed out on one of the best basketball video games of all time. It might look like a normal enough two-on-two game at first, but the characters jumped obscene heights and could even light the ball on fire and do a flipping dunk (as in, you flipped several times, and then dunked). It was silly and so much fun.

You can play with up to four other players who also own the units around the world. This cabinet is also a 3/4-scale replica and includes NBA Jam, NBA Jam Tournament Edition, and NBA Hang Time.

Arcade1Up didn’t specify pricing or requirements for online play at this time. We’ve followed up and will update when we have more information.

Pinball Machines

A Logo featuring the words "At Home Virtual Pinball Arcade1Up Pinball"
Arcade1Up

Although details are scarce, Arcade1up announced that it’s partnering with Zen Studios to create 3/4-scale digital pinball machines. Zen Studios is a popular pinball game creator with games on iOS, Android, Xbox, and more. At this time, it’s unclear what these machines will look like or what the games or pricing will be, but we’ve asked for more information.

Other Cabinets and new Form Factors

If all that isn’t enough, Arcade1Up announced the following 3/4-scale cabinets: A Frogger arcade—which includes Frogger and Time Pilot—and a Golden Axe machine, where you can play Golden Axe, Shinobi, Altered Beast, Wrestle Wars, and Death Adder.

The company also announced a new version of the Star Wars cabinet. This one is a sit-down cabinet with a slide-out bench to give the unit a cockpit-like feel. You’ll be able to play Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

Arcade1Up says it’s also working on other factors, including handheld devices, plug-and-play controllers, at-home Jumbo Joysticks, and more.


We’ll be at CES, where Arcade1Up plans to show off some of these products, and the world’s largest arcade machine. We’ll follow up with Arcade1Up to get all the details.

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deezil
19 days ago
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Holy shit they're going to make a Zen Pinball machine. I need.
Louisville, Kentucky
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The Crazy Story of How Soviet Russia Bugged an American Embassy’s Typewriters

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Every engineer has stories of bugs that they discovered through clever detective work. But such exploits are seldom of interest to other engineers, let alone the general public. Nonetheless, a recent book authored by Eric Haseltine, titled The Spy in Moscow Station (Macmillan, 2019), is a true story of bug hunting that should be of interest to all. It recounts a lengthy struggle by Charles Gandy, an electrical engineer at the United States’ National Security Agency, to uncover an elaborate and ingenious scheme by Soviet engineers to intercept communications in the American embassy in Moscow. (I should say that, by coincidence, both Haseltine and Gandy are friends of mine.)

This was during the Cold War in the late 1970s. American spies were being arrested, and how they were being identified was a matter of great concern to U.S. intelligence. The first break came with the accidental discovery of a false chimney cavity at the Moscow embassy. Inside the chimney was an unusual Yagi-style antenna that could be raised and lowered with pulleys. The antenna had three active elements, each tuned to a different wavelength. What was the purpose of this antenna, and what transmitters was it listening to?

Gandy pursued these questions for years, not only baffled by the technology, but buffeted by interagency disputes and hampered by the Soviet KGB. At one point he was issued a “cease and desist” letter by the CIA, which, along with the State Department, had authority over security at the embassy. These agencies were not persuaded that there were any transmitters to be found: Regular scans for emissions from bugs showed nothing.

It was only when Gandy got a letter authorizing his investigation from President Ronald Reagan that he was able to take decisive action. All of the electronics at the embassy—some 10 tons of equipment—was securely shipped back to the United States. Every piece was disassembled and X-rayed.

After tens of thousands of fruitless X-rays, a technician noticed a small coil of wire inside the on/off switch of an IBM Selectric typewriter. Gandy believed that this coil was acting as a step-down transformer to supply lower-voltage power to something within the typewriter. Eventually he uncovered a series of modifications that had been concealed so expertly that they had previously defied detection.

A solid aluminum bar, part of the structural support of the typewriter, had been replaced with one that looked identical but was hollow. Inside the cavity was a circuit board and six magnetometers. The magnetometers sensed movements of tiny magnets that had been embedded in the transposers that moved the typing “golf ball” into position for striking a given letter.

Other components of the typewriters, such as springs and screws, had been repurposed to deliver power to the hidden circuits and to act as antennas. Keystroke information was stored and sent in encrypted burst transmissions that hopped across multiple frequencies.

Perhaps most interesting, the transmissions were at a low power level in a narrow frequency band that was occupied by intermodulation overtones of powerful Soviet TV stations. The TV signals would swamp the illicit transmissions and mask them from detection by embassy security scans, but the clever design of the mystery antenna and associated electronic filtering let the Soviets extract the keystroke signals.

When all had been discovered, Haseltine recounts how Gandy sat back and felt an emotion—a kinship with the Soviet engineers who had designed this ingenious system. This is the same kinship I feel whenever I come across some particularly innovative design, whether by a colleague or competitor. It is the moment when a technology transcends known limits, when the impossible becomes the doable. Gandy and his unknown Soviet opponents were working with 1970s technology. Imagine what limits will be transcended tomorrow!

This article appears in the January 2020 print issue as “The Ingenuity of Spies.”

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digdoug
23 days ago
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"A solid aluminum bar, part of the structural support of the typewriter, had been replaced with one that looked identical but was hollow. Inside the cavity was a circuit board and six magnetometers. The magnetometers sensed movements of tiny magnets that had been embedded in the transposers that moved the typing “golf ball” into position for striking a given letter."
Louisville, KY
deezil
23 days ago
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Louisville, Kentucky
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