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Where Did the Fun Go?

By Ben L. Kaufman · January 30th, 2008 · On Second Thought
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Today a scoop usually means stumbling on a story or digging through data to piece together a picture no one has seen before -- in short, luck or grunt work.

In the old days, scoops meant an adventure, beating the competition although everyone knew what might happen.

The recent death of Sir Edmund Hillary moved the London Times to recount how its James (now Jan) Morris outwitted "ruthless and unremitting" competitors to report the 1953 conquest of Everest.

The Times co-sponsored the expedition, and bought exclusive rights to the story. Morris was the sole journalist on the mountain. Other reporters lurked in Katmandu to intercept his dispatch and spoil any scoop.

Morris' code confounded them; reported failure meant success. His message said, "Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned may twentynine stop awaiting improvement stop all well." London knew that meant, "Everest Climbed -- Hillary Tenzing, May 29." That scoop shared Page 1 with Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

The Times also purchased exclusive rights to the 1922 discovery and opening of Tut's tomb. Competitors' failed to spoil its scoop. As the Times says, "Behind that familiar story lies another, untold tale worthy of Evelyn Waugh's (satirical novel) Scoop: a story of newspaper skullduggery in a foreign land, chequebook journalism, feuding, drunken hacks, secret codes and fantastic expenses claims. It is a story of archaeologists working underground to unearth the most beautiful and sacred treasures, while above ground journalists slugged it out in an unholy media scrum."

Similarly, everyone knew Dr. David Livingstone was in Central Africa but no one had heard from him for years. Henry M. Stanley's 1871 discovery of the missionary provided a scoop for The New York Herald that hired him to find him alive or dead.

Curmudgeon notes:
� Sunday's Enquirer stories from Mexico about murdered illegal migrant workers provide some context to a local unsolved crime. It shows what a talented veteran reporter and editor -- Eileen Kelley and Joe Fenton, respectively -- can do with sufficient resources. Carrie Cochran's images are similarly fine photojournalism, and the range of op-ed responses enhances the entire effort.

� Even The Enquirer -- with its female publisher and decades of female news executives -- joins the misogynist pack misrepresenting that now famous Hillary moment in New Hampshire. An opinion-page cartoon, representing Enquirer policy, refers to Hillary weeping. Look at ABC clip on the Internet.

No crying. No weeping.

� The initial Enquirer Page 1 story about Prosecutor Joe Deters badmouthing urban safety and Main Street lacked vital data. Is crime up? Two days later, an Enquirer opinion piece recounted Deters' comments. Still no numbers.

� University of Cincinnati News Record Page 1 banner headline: "Policy penalizes cheaters." Yee-haw!

� Hamilton County Department of Jobs and Family Services publishes names, photos, emotional problems and medications of youngsters ... to enhance their adoption.

Today a scoop usually means stumbling on a story or digging through data to piece together a picture no one has seen before -- in short, luck or grunt work.

In the old days, scoops meant an adventure, beating the competition although everyone knew what might happen.

The recent death of Sir Edmund Hillary moved the London Times to recount how its James (now Jan) Morris outwitted "ruthless and unremitting" competitors to report the 1953 conquest of Everest.

The Times co-sponsored the expedition, and bought exclusive rights to the story. Morris was the sole journalist on the mountain. Other reporters lurked in Katmandu to intercept his dispatch and spoil any scoop.

Morris' code confounded them; reported failure meant success. His message said, "Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned may twentynine stop awaiting improvement stop all well." London knew that meant, "Everest Climbed -- Hillary Tenzing, May 29." That scoop shared Page 1 with Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

The Times also purchased exclusive rights to the 1922 discovery and opening of Tut's tomb. Competitors' failed to spoil its scoop. As the Times says, "Behind that familiar story lies another, untold tale worthy of Evelyn Waugh's (satirical novel) Scoop: a story of newspaper skullduggery in a foreign land, chequebook journalism, feuding, drunken hacks, secret codes and fantastic expenses claims. It is a story of archaeologists working underground to unearth the most beautiful and sacred treasures, while above ground journalists slugged it out in an unholy media scrum."

Similarly, everyone knew Dr. David Livingstone was in Central Africa but no one had heard from him for years. Henry M. Stanley's 1871 discovery of the missionary provided a scoop for The New York Herald that hired him to find him alive or dead.

Curmudgeon notes:
� Sunday's Enquirer stories from Mexico about murdered illegal migrant workers provide some context to a local unsolved crime. It shows what a talented veteran reporter and editor -- Eileen Kelley and Joe Fenton, respectively -- can do with sufficient resources. Carrie Cochran's images are similarly fine photojournalism, and the range of op-ed responses enhances the entire effort.

� Even The Enquirer -- with its female publisher and decades of female news executives -- joins the misogynist pack misrepresenting that now famous Hillary moment in New Hampshire. An opinion-page cartoon, representing Enquirer policy, refers to Hillary weeping. Look at ABC clip on the Internet. No crying. No weeping.

� The initial Enquirer Page 1 story about Prosecutor Joe Deters badmouthing urban safety and Main Street lacked vital data. Is crime up? Two days later, an Enquirer opinion piece recounted Deters' comments. Still no numbers.

� University of Cincinnati News Record Page 1 banner headline: "Policy penalizes cheaters." Yee-haw!

� Hamilton County Department of Jobs and Family Services publishes names, photos, emotional problems and medications of youngsters ... to enhance their adoption. Cincinnatibeacon.com appears to be the first to challenge the practice.

� Story ideas: Who apologizes to half a generation of children failed by Taft Elementary School? Who takes back exhausted mercury-laden compact fluorescents that energy-conscious Americans are adopting? Or will one scrap heap suffice for kids and bulbs?

� Snarky media monitors to enjoy: the monthly liberal Progressive magazine's "No Comment" and Rupert Murdoch's neo-con Weekly Standard's "Scrapbook."

� The Jan. 8 New Republic documents Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's ties to the racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic Right. Jan. 28 Nation describes subversion of campus academic integrity in the name of our expanding National Security State.

� Kenya is suffering its predictable homicidal response to a stolen presidential election. Hundreds have died. Ruling Kenyan kleptocrats have not gagged local or foreign reporters, and news of inter-ethnic violence proliferates. Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe terrorizes millions with violence, mass evictions and hunger. Zimbabwe's news media are gagged or government-controlled. Foreign reporters generally are banned. Few troubling images or stories trickle out.


CONTACT BEN KAUFMAN: letters@citybeat.com


 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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