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Enquirer Makes More Cuts, ABC Pays Sources

By Ben L. Kaufman · July 7th, 2011 · On Second Thought

The latest Enquirer purge — ordered across scores of papers by owner Gannett — took good people. So did earlier rounds.

Because of her speciality, one victim stands out in last month’s dismissals: Peggy O’Farrell.

Management’s decision that readers don’t want or need informed, local medical news leaves me wondering if undiagnosed dementia afflicts Enquirer executives.

Yes, Cliff Peale will continue to write about the business/economics of medicine here, but he complemented O’Farrell’s coverage of diseases, treatments and research. As fine a reporter as Peale is, he can’t do it all and he’s also been covering higher education. Adding UC’s med school to his portfolio won’t compensate for O’Farrell’s departure.

Hospitals are big business. Diseases are big business. Treatment or the failure/inability to treat is big business. Access to care is big business; look at the partisan battle over President’s Obama’s national embrace of Mitt Romney’s state health-care model.

Moreover, there are few if any industries that promote themselves as aggressively as the drug industry, local researchers, hospitals and medical groups. In the battle for income, marketing is everything.

Without a savvy health/medicine reporter to bring a skeptical eye to assertions of wonders by the medical community, we’ll be ill-informed and passive targets vulnerable to manipulation by uncritical “new hope, no hope” medical news.

Curmudgeon notes:

• A wise editor told me to avoid “foreign” words when plain, common mongrel English would tell the story. It’s advice Enquirer copy editors should heed. Then they wouldn’t refer to one CCM grad as an “alumni” in a banner headline. How about “grad” or “graduate.” Those are American enough for me. Moreover, their Latin grammar failed. Alumni is plural, as in, “Nippert Stadium was filled with alumni.” The headline meant alumnus, which is singular, as in, “The new dean is an alumnus.” They wouldn’t write “men” when they meant “man.”

• Then on page 1, there was a photo of a stone arch which the caption said was so badly damaged that the road running over it had to be closed. I won’t quarrel with highway engineers and inspectors, but the photo does not show that kind of damage. Only the caption identifies it. Otherwise, the arch looks fine. Only one side at the base appears to have wooden support. A later story indicated the structure washed out. The photo contradicts that.

• Remember the toddler who drowned when his parents kayak capsized on Indiana’s Whitewater River? Apparently unskilled paddlers, they tipped trying to avoid a tree. The child’s body was recovered. The parents said they’d put a life jacket on him. It wasn’t there when he was found.

This is the drowning season. A properly fitted life jacket (known now as a PDF or Personal Flotation Device) might have saved the youngster. Partially submerged trees in local rivers can catch and hold people swept into the branches. Then the current pulls people down and under the water if they cannot pull themselves up and out of the flowing water.

That’s why rental outfits like Morgan’s do their best to keep channels clear of obstructions. They have a good safety record as a result. They also provide a PDF to every paddler renting a boat in hopes people will wear them. Good luck.

Instructors and students in our Sierra Club canoe/kayak classes on the Little Miami rarely see people wearing PDFs as they paddle or float by us, whether in rental or their own boats. We’ve even seen laughing youths trailing “Grandma” alone in a canoe without a PDF or paddle. We don’t let anyone near the water’s edge without a fitted PDF on, even if they’re just watching.

So why does The Enquirer use a large cover photo of Gary Morgan — scion of Bob and June, who created the canoe rental industry on our local rivers — paddling without a PDF?

I know, like and respect Gary. He can do what he likes but our local news media — you know, the ones that obsessively cover searches and drownings in our local rivers — should shun discretionary feature photos or images of paddlers who aren’t wearing PDFs. An exception might be a story on how few wear PDFs.

After all, feature stories and images don’t show people enjoying a smoke . . . unless it’s about smoking.

• Katherine Mickley’s recent obituary spoke repeatedly about her life as a pastor’s wife.

The Enquirer story carried a banner headline and filled the top fourth of a page. But it never mentioned their congregation — if local — or denomination. Weird.

• And then there was a story that same day about a local legislator being charged with drunk driving. I hooted when I saw the reason he was stopped by an Indiana state trooper: “for having a front headline out.” What mistake would be more natural for a reporter to make and an editor to miss? We see “headline” but read “headlight.”

• Another sign of the continuing impoverishment of The Enquirer’s local reporting staff: A news service story about an Enquirer lawsuit. The Ohio Supreme Court refused to review a decision against the paper in an effort to open a closed Cincinnati school board meeting. This inability to cover its own news recalls the day that The Enquirer credited Wikipedia with a story about the First Amendment.

The Enquirer, however, has revived Howard Wilkinson’s Sunday politics column. Smart.

The Business Courier compared local CEO compensation to the health of their companies’ publicly traded stock. Then The Business Courier used that information to rate named CEOs as overpaid, underpaid and fairly compensated. I’m sure someone will moan about the numbers but the idea and its implementation are valuable in an era of sometimes vast pay gaps between bosses and their employees.

• The other night, the Society of Professional Journalists inducted Jo-Ann Huff Albers into its local Hall of Fame. The former Enquirer reporter and editor also was a national president of Women in Communications. Praising her in a video presentation was Judith Bogart Meredith, longtime Cincinnati public relations pro. She’s also a former national president of a professional organization, the Public Relations Society of America.

Watching and listening was Hagit Limor, Channel 9’s investigative reporter and the current SPJ national president. All three, WIC, PRSA and SPJ, are major organizations in journalism.

I asked around and learned that CityBeat’s contributing editor and arts critic, Rick Pender, is a former national chairman of the American Theatre Critics Association (A long time ago, I was president of the international Religion Newswriters Association . . . )

• Be content if you missed it. Fox News’ Twitter site, @foxnewspolitics, was hacked and carried this tweet:

“BREAKING NEWS: President @BarackObama assassinated, 2 gunshot wounds have proved too much. It’s a sad 4th for #america, #obamadead RIP”

Other media reported that the tweet went to 33,000 followers about 2 a.m.

Other hacker tweets said “@BarackObama has just passed. The President is dead. A sad 4th of July, indeed. President Barack Obama is dead.”

Still another said, “@BarackObama has just passed. Nearly 45 minutes ago, he was shot twice in the lower pelvic area and in the neck; shooter unknown. Bled out” and finally, “@BarackObama shot twice at Ross’ restaurant in Iowa while campaigning. RIP Obama, best regards to the Obama family.”

Fox regained control of Twitter and deleted the false messages. London’s Guardian newspaper noted that the first three posts were directed to @BarackObama Twitter feed, “meaning only those following both accounts would have seen the messages.” The Guardian said the hacker realized his/her mistake and sent similar tweets that were more widely seen.

That more of us didn’t know about the content suggests that credulity has its limits, that Fox isn’t perceived as credible and/or that other news media checked out the tweets before posting anything on their sites.

• American TV increasingly is buying access to people it judges newsworthy. Often, the subterfuge is a “licensing fee” for some photo or video. Rarely is this done without an exclusive interview. That’s the real reason for the payments.

Among the latest to unapologetically pay for news is ABC. Poynter Institute’s Julie Moos writes that “a witness at the murder trial of Casey Anthony testified . . . that he was paid $15,000 by ABC News to license a snake photo. Meter reader Roy Kronk, who eventually found the body of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony, discovered a dead rattlesnake in the same area several months before. ABC News interviewed Kronk just after the body was discovered. The interview touched on the idea that snakes might have initially impeded a police search for the body, but it would be difficult to argue the snake photo was critical to ABC’s story. In fact, Kronk reveals the motivation behind the fee. ‘I was paid for a licensed picture of a snake but I knew there would probably be an interview involved,’ he testified.

“This is the latest revelation that ABC News has paid licensing fees for access to interviews, including $200,000 to Casey Anthony while she was under investigation but before she was charged with killing her daughter. The $215,000 paid in licensing fees to Anthony and Kronk are all that was paid by the network related to that story, according to Jeffrey Schneider, senior vice president of ABC News . . . Earlier this month, ABC paid Meagan Broussard for photos she sent Anthony Weiner as part of the scandal that led to the congressman's resignation. Though ABC told The New York Times it did not pay a licensing fee in conjunction with its upcoming interview of Jaycee Dugard, the newtwork did reportedly pay for family home movies last year." (Dugard was kidnapped as a child and held for almost two decades by a California man and his wife.)

• Paying for news is one way to obtain a scoop; the source promises not to talk to others. That can leave other reporters gnashing their teeth, but that’s not my objection. Paying for news encourages sources to fabricate or embellish their story in ways that might not otherwise occur or hold up in court later. It also invites a form of extortion, as in, “I’ll tell you more if you pay me more. If you don’t pay more, you don’t know what more you might have learned.” The entire exchange compromises the integrity of the reporting.

• What explains media obsession with the Casey Anthony murder trial in Florida? We have three wars, vicious partisan battles in Washington, still-devastating joblessness and home foreclosures . . . and a mom on trial for her daughter’s death.

Parents kill kids all of the time. If they don’t, live-in boyfriends do. Is it because the mom and young Caylee are attractive, young and white? Is this story the illegitimate offspring of the Missing White Woman Syndrome, so beloved of editors especially when the MWW is young, blonde and pretty?

• The Gallup Report says that Americans' confidence in newspapers and television news rebounded slightly in the past year, having been stuck at record lows since 2007. “The 28 percent of Americans who express a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers and the 27 percent who say the same about television news still lag significantly behind the levels of trust seen through much of the 1990s and into 2003. The findings are from Gallup's annual update on confidence in institutions . . . Newspapers and television news rank 10th and 11th in confidence, respectively, among the 16 institutions tested.”

Gallup continued: “Confidence in newspapers and television news increased across most key subgroups, with the biggest across-the-board improvements among 30- to 49-year-olds and men. The views of Americans aged 18 to 29 exhibited the most mixed year-to-year change, with this group showing a 10-point increase in confidence in television news but a 10-point decrease in confidence in newspapers. While members of this group remain among the most confident in each, their views are now on par with those of Democrats and liberals. Republicans also showed inconsistent movement in their opinions, registering a nine-point increase in their confidence in television news and essentially no change in their views of newspapers. Interestingly, considering the highly polarized nature of cable news, all ideological groups increased their trust in television news to about the same degree.”

Gallup said it based its findings on telephone interviews conducted June 9-12 with a random sample of 1,020 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

• Sic transit gloria mundi. (Sometimes, editors be damned, a foreign language is necessary: “thus passes the glory of the world” just doesn’t say it.) I used The New York Times webpage to send a compliment to the paper’s new and first female executive editor for the selection of a Page 1 photo of a bloodied Greek demonstrator in the grasp of a cop. Fine photojournalism.

This is what I got back: “A message that you sent could not be delivered to one or more of its recipients. This is a permanent error. The following address(es) failed: executiveeditor@nytimes.com User unknown”



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