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The Whole World Is Watching Iran

By Ben L. Kaufman · July 7th, 2009 · On Second Thought
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Go to YouTube and watch Neda Agha-Soltan die. She’s on the Tehran pavement, shot by a government theological thug. Her eyes roll up and blood flows from her mouth and nose.

It wasn't a gunfight. Not even the Iranian government claims that demonstrators shot at police, soldiers or militias.

In our celebrity-obsessed era, she has achieved the ultimate: known by one name. Neda. A music student. Twenty-six. One of the young Iranians killed for peacefully protesting against suspected fraud in the reelection their president.

What sets Neda apart is the video by a still-unnamed companion, taken with a cell phone camera.

I don’t know if the video will rank with Eddie Adams’ photo of a South Vietnamese general executing a Viet Cong during the 1968 Tet offensive. Few American newspapers ran stills from the Iranian video. American TV networks also flinched, with only CNN eventually showing the whole video.

For a moment, Neda became the face of the legal opposition to the clerical reactionaries and President Ahmadinejad.

But the demonstrations diminished under police clubs and her death was eclipsed by newer stories. That’s the news business. Whether she remains the face of the opposition is in the hands of Iranians, not editors.

Had Neda remained in the news, she couldn’t have competed with Jacko.

Still, as her YouTube presence demonstrates, there is no way to block every cell phone video, every call, every story. Some will get through, further eroding the ability of governments to use traditional methods of intimidating and censoring traditional news media.

On the other hand, old news media tracked down Arash Hejazi, the Iranian physician seen trying to help Neda. The London Times’ Martin and Hannah Fletcher interviewed him after he fled Iran, fearing his momentary fame would make him a target.

Speaking in England, Hejazi said of Neda's video, “This way her blood is not wasted and she did not die in vain.”

Hejazi was nearby when Neda was shot. “I looked at Neda. She was just standing there, blood gushing out of her chest.” As she lay dying, ”I felt she was trying to ask a question. ‘Why?’ She was everything this movement was about. She was just a person in the street who was against the injustice going on in her country, and for that she was murdered.”

A postgrad student at Oxford Brookes University, Hejazi’s visa is expiring and he fears returning to Iran, according to London’s Telegraph.


Curmudgeon Notes

Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan told Cincinnati-area employees that 100 could be fired this week in response to continuing ad revenue losses across Gannett’s 85 dailies. That’s a huge share of projected staff cuts nationally, a heavy hit for Cincinnati, where Buchanan has said circulation is at least holding its own despite shrinking ads and news columns.

Readers will ask whether the core of strong local reporters, photographers and editors still will be protected. If not, Gannett will be eating its seed rice. When the daily staff can’t produce enough local news, that will be obvious instantly on The Enquirer's web site. There is a tipping point when readers and subscribers say “Whatever” and skip the fatally impoverished paper and web site.

• So far, it seems, Gannett’s USA Today is protected from the staff cuts, but people there must be looking over their shoulders. Its ad revenue reportedly is down, too, even as its reputation continues to rise on the strength of strong reporting, images and editing. Now one of the few national papers, it can’t carry the corporation.

• This is month Streetvibes goes biweekly after years as a monthly paper advocating on behalf of the homeless and others in greatest need. It’s still $1 from vendors around the central city; they pay 25 cents and keep 75 cents. Buy it not just to support them but because it’s a good read. Stories and columns often are by my former students and Enquirer and CityBeat colleagues.

CityBeat lives on ad revenues, too, and it already has imposed drastic staff reductions. If they’re going to continue paying me for these columns, it will go a long way if you choose our advertisers when you shop and tell them you saw their ad in CityBeat. Our paper is free only because of those ad revenues. No one — not The Enquirer, not CiN Weekly, not any blogger or Internet site — covers what we do or covers it in the same way.

You know that. You’re reading me now, part of the news/arts/entertainment coverage we offer weekly.

• Shrinking the comics in daily and Sunday papers is a serious mistake, Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist Jim Borgman told Liz Kersjes when she interviewed him for The Columbus Dispatch. She’d asked, “Newspapers are in economic peril. What about comic strips?” Borgman, who took an Enquirer buyout after more than 30 years there but continues to produce Zits seven days a week with partner Jerry Scott, responded: “They've been physically shrunk as newspapers have shrunk. In our newspaper here in Cincinnati, to my dismay, they actually shrink the size of the comics, which changes the drawing, changes its readability. Strips that are ambitious in nature, that have exciting drawings or try to do complex story lines, are in danger of being unreadable. It's very disappointing, but we're all trying to adapt. I understand the pressure newspapers are under. I also feel newspapers are burning the heirloom furniture to heat the house. People come to newspapers for the comics, so it's missing the point to shrink them down.”

• Cincinnati and the Northern civil rights movement before TV are a focus of a new book, Sweet Land of Liberty, by Thomas J. Sugrue. A review in the June 22 edition of The Nation is rewarding.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Pulitzer-winning columnist, Connie Schultz, is promoting an idea for helping daily and Sunday papers survive the parasitic Internet onslaught: change copyright laws to make contents the exclusive property of the original news gatherers long enough to give them an edge with readers. That would end the common Internet practice of summarizing others’ work and linking to it as fast as computers allow.

Those brief items and links are the stuff of entrepreneurs like HuffingtonPost.Com and DailyBeast.Com. If they had to wait 24 hours, they wouldn’t draw audiences away from newspapers and their web sites. It would take a change in copyright laws to protect original sources for 24 hours.

Today, the contents are offered by Internet sites under “fair use” doctrine. Schultz credits David Marburger, a First Amendment lawyer with national reputation, and his brother, Daniel, an economics professor at Arkansas State University, for the idea. A counter-argument says that these parasitic sites send zillions of readers to newspaper web pages and those newspapers draw ad revenue from the increased readership. Even if that’s true, revenue from Internet ads doesn’t approach the losses to the print editions.

• Richard Posner, a federal appellate judge in Chicago,would change copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent. He also would prohibit linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent. Otherwise, these “free riders” can irrevocably impair “the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations“ like daily papers.

• Bloggers and sites that prosper by pulling together bits and pieces of others’ work (see above) are parasites. One wonders if they consider that their sucking readers and ads away could leave them with little or nothing to write about or pulling together? When the host dies, the same fate often awaits the parasite. Whether The Plain Dealer’s Schutlz or court’s Posner have a good idea is uncertain, but symbiosis, where organisms live together, is a better model for the news media and free riders.

• Gina Smith scored a scoop when she confronted South Carolina’s philandering Republican governor as he arrived from Argentina. Smith, a reporter for The State, a daily in South Carolina, knew that someone told her editors that Mark Sanford was pursuing an affair in Buenos Aires. He’d gone AWOL the week before, and Smith had a hunch. She went to Atlanta to meet flights from Buenos Aires.

The startled governor talked with Smith. He admitted nothing except that he’d misled his staff about going hiking on the Appalachian Trail and, indirectly, the news media through them. He said he liked Buenos Aires because he could be unnoticed. “I live in a world where when I walk out of the grocery story, I try to make eye contact with everyone I meet,” he told Smith. Failure to do that leaves people with a bad impression, he added. That’s part of the “bubble” in which he lives and likes to leave behind.

As for an affair, he was silent. Smith said Sanford defeated her efforts to find out more about the trip, but her scoop forced his televised admission later about the affair.

• A few days later, The New York Times put a silly story about Sanford’s wife on Page 1 that all but admits it has no substance. Meanwhile, deep in the paper, a story reports the bribery conviction of a Detroit city council member who is married to one of the most powerful congressmen in Washington.

The Times and others call the Argentine woman in the Sanford affair his “mistress.” Unless I’m fatally out of date, that suggests he supported her financially, had a monopoly on her sexual skills and was in a long-term relationship. News stories suggest otherwise: They became sexually involved in the past year. So what do we call something more than a hookup but less than a long term sexual relationship?

• And may we have an end to belligerent or weepy admissions of sexual missteps on TV and subsequent columns of type in our dailies? Of all of the dumb, self-righteous blather this sort of thing generates, nothing tops, “If he can’t keep his marriage vows, how can we trust him to run the country?” Maybe we need prenuptial courses in critical thinking.

• Gary Schweitzer, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s journalism school and publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, has caught a screaming conflict of interest being promoted by journalism groups. Saying journalism organizations are too cozy with drug industry, Schweitzer attacked the National Press Foundation because it accepted funding from Pfizer to offer journalism fellowships on cancer issues.

As bad or worse, he read about it in a Society of Professional Journalists newsletter. SPJ said that "Fifteen fellowships will be awarded and they all include lodging, airfare and most meals." Schweitzer said he told the SPJ president, "I don't think SPJ should be encouraging journalists to take these pharma-funded all-expenses-paid trips by promoting them in the newsletter." All he got was a "Thanks for your note" response.

He added, “As an SPJ member, and as the keynote speaker at a recent SPJ ethics week event, I expected more. As a thank you gesture for my participation in that SPJ event, the national president gave me a plaque with the SPJ code of ethics on it.

“I remind SPJ that its own code of ethics includes these clauses: Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived; remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility; refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.

“If taking free airfare, lodging and meals from a drug company whose work you cover isn't at least a perceived conflict of interest, I don't know what it is. And I don't think SPJ should promote events in its own newsletter that, in my reading, invites journalists to violate the SPJ code.

“I also wrote to the National Press Foundation. ... In a nutshell, he defended their acceptance of the drug company money — just as he did when (science writer) Merrill Goozner wrote about his concerns with NPF's handling of another drug company-sponsored journalism event last fall.

“At its national conference in Indianapolis this August, SPJ will offer a tour of the Eli Lilly drug company corporate headquarters and ‘a professional development session on the reporting of mental health issues.’ SPJ invites journalists on its web site with: ‘You can participate in a networking reception with Lilly leaders to learn more about Lilly's history — and future — from the very individuals who are working to shape it.’ "

Lilly makes Cymbalta for depression and "generalized anxiety disorder" and Prozac and Zyprexa for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“Why don't journalists see any problem with these arrangements? Actually journalists did see problems with such activities at one time. The ones who wrote the SPJ code of ethics.”

• Someone at The Washington Post decided to pimp its journalists as a new income stream. The Post invited lobbyists to pay $25,000 to $250,000 to sponsor salons at the publisher’s home. There, they could influence reporters and Obama administration officials. Salons would be nonconfrontational. Reasonable persons would infer that prostituted Post reporters would be neutered before the first drink.

The promo went out, Politico.com made a big deal out of it, the embarrassed Post canceled the salons and the coverup began. The publisher and editors blamed marketing, but why did marketing think this was a good idea? Or what does it mean when the publisher, who agreed to be host, said the announcement went out without being checked.? What had she agreed to?

As some critics put it, the publisher offered to sell The Post’s integrity, which she inherited and was not free to peddle. This is a far cry from the quiet salons a former Washington Post publisher and power broker — her grandmother — convened at her home, where government and media figures broke bread.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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