Monday, February 20, 2006


Grade the News in danger of going dark after five years


PUBLISHED: February 15, 2006

Palo Alto Online
Notes & Comments - Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Our Town: Grading the news

by Don Kazak
The Palo Alto Weekly

John McManus got to design his own job all because he didn't know what to write in the last chapter of his book.

McManus is the founder and director of the Web site, Grade the News (, that has been evaluating Bay Area media since 2000. For a couple of years, McManus and assistant Michael Stoll ran the Web site out of the Communications Department at Stanford University, then moved to San Jose State University.

Soon, the Web site will not have a home, except in cyberspace."We run out of money at the end of the month," McManus said last week from his San Jose State office.

The project has been foundation-supported for the last five years. But it's an odd choice for foundations to support because foundations try to avoid controversies, McManus said. "We pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel and who speak over 100,000-watt transmitters," he said.

Grade the News has evaluated three newspapers (San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times) and the news broadcasts of five television stations (KTVU Channel 2, KRON Channel 4, KPIX Channel 5, KGO Channel 7 and KNTV Channel 11).

The newspapers and newscasts are graded A through F in seven areas. The newspapers all scored well in the latest grading, while the newscasts all scored rather poorly."Their analysis is very rigorous," Stanford communications Professor Ted Glasser said of Grade the News, which is still affiliated with Stanford's graduate journalism program. "Everyone talks about it and a lot of people use it in their classes."

The Web site has offered more than media grades, though, with critiques of news articles and news reports, including the pending desale of Knight Ridder, parent corporation of both the Mercury News and Contra Costa Times, in recent months.

Now, unless someone with $180,000 steps up — the Web site's annual budget — Grade the News is in danger of fading to black."The site will remain lit with some new things on it for a while," McManus said. But he and Stoll have to find paying jobs.

McManus, 57, is a former newspaper reporter who earned a doctorate degree in journalism from Stanford in 1988. He then headed the journalism program at Santa Clara University for seven years. And he wrote a book, "Market-Driven Journalism" in 1994 that led directly to Grade the News. His publisher told him he needed a new ending chapter for the book and wanted McManus to write about what could be done to counter the growing corporate dominance of the news business.

"My response was, 'I don't know what we can do about it. I have no idea.'" But he eventually came up with a good one."I thought someone ought to do for news what Consumer Reports does for cars, computers and cameras," he said. Grade the News was born.

Now, its days are numbered. Does McManus have any regrets? "How often do you get to design your own idea and have outsiders give hundreds of thousands of dollars to realize it?" he asked. Grade the News has proven that "shame works," he said, as some of the TV stations and newspapers have changed their practices to respond to criticisms posted on the Web site.

There is an even greater need for Grade the News today, he thinks.

McManus said he concluded the final chapter in his 1994 book by writing that "the real action in journalism ethics was a redirecting of journalistic energy towards making money rather than telling truth and empowering citizens — a problem that has gotten worse since I wrote the book."

William Briggs, chairman of San Jose State's Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, will be sorry to see the end of Grade the News. "It's been a big addition to our program," he said.

McManus believes "there will rejoicing in some of the executive suites of Bay Area media" when Grade the News goes dark.

Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak can be e-mailed at

Copyright ©2006 Embarcadero Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


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