Hicks drove the mile and a quarter and arrived behind the first dozen police officers. She started taking photographs through her windshield and captured her image of a line of children being led away from the slaughter. “I’m conflicted,” Hicks said about her photo. “I don’t want people to be upset with me, and I do appreciate the journalists, especially, who have commented, saying ‘We’re just documenting the news.’ It’s harder when it’s in your hometown and these are children we’re gonna watch grow up, the ones who made it. I know people are gonna be upset, but at the same time I felt I was doing something important.”
Fellow editor John Voket explained what was behind that image. “Police and school system have a protocol” for evacuation. “Children get into a conga line, shoulder to shoulder, and the only person that’s allowed to keep their eyes open is the locomotive at the front of the line, usually an adult. And every other kid has to keep their eyes closed from the minute they were exiting the classroom to when they got about a couple hundred yards into the parking lot.”
• Voket arrived about 20 minutes later and colleague Hicks “passed the baton” to him. Hicks also is a volunteer firefighter. The firehouse is next to the school. “I literally put on my firefighter gear . . . I was there as a firefighter probably for not even more than 20 minutes before my editor said he wanted me back in the office to work with him to coordinate coverage from there.”
• Voket continued reporting, but “We operate a little differently because our job is to take care of the community so we were inside helping to comfort victims and trying to provide human support without necessarily making reporting the No. 1 priority. The publisher came down to comfort some of the families a little later in the day.” R. Scudder Smith has been Bee publisher since 1973; he is the fourth member of his family to run The Bee since they founded it in 1877. The paper, which has a full-time editorial staff of eight, circulates to about two-thirds of the community of about 29,000.
• It was Friday and the weekly Bee front page was ready to print. It couldn’t be changed. “We’ve been putting everything on our website,” publisher Smith told AP.
Voket added that the traffic surge repeatedly crashed the website until the Bee acquired “an intermediary service to supersize our bandwidth . . . We got back up and running this (Saturday) morning.” The staff used social media to spread information about school lockdowns, re-routed traffic, and grief counseling. “Facebook and Twitter accounts have been a lifeline to our community and it shows because 20 percent of the community are following us.” The Bee also was “looking at doing a special extra to be on the newsstands Monday.”
• For those of us outside Newtown, Conn., we can turn to the renewed duel over gun control. If it were a song, tired and familiar gun control lyrics would be among “Worst Hits Ever.” It didn’t take long for gun control advocates to embrace the Sandy Hook massacre and the bellicose NRA to opt for rare silence. Obama renewed his unredeemed calls for gun control although he and Mitt Romney dodged the issue in the just-ended campaign. It was a hornets’ nest neither man opted to kick and reporters apparently were unable to raise with the candidates.
• After the Sandy Hook slaughter, fair and balanced Fox News banned discussion of gun control from the cable network. Maybe Fox News feared we really would decide if they really reported. New York magazine said the ban spotlights the “growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and [Fox News president] Roger Ailes.” Ailes reportedly is a gun enthusiast. Murdoch, CEO of News Corp., which owns Fox News, had tweeted a call for stricter gun control, imploring for “some bold leadership action” from Obama.
• Let me be churlish when everyone else is sympathizing with families, survivors and first responders. Slaughtering 20 children is awful, but reporters and editors are familiar with how badly Americans treat urban, suburban, small town and rural children every day. In Obama’s Chicago and many other urban areas, gunfire is an omnipresent fact of childhood. Possibly one-fourth of all American children live in poverty as defined by federal guidelines. For these kids, federally funded school meals might be more than a complement to home meals. Health care for poor and malnourished children isn’t much better than their educations. Medicaid is among the anti-poverty programs high on the GOP priorities for absolute cuts and/or reduced annual increases. And let’s not even get into continuing coverage of physical and sexual child abuse, trafficking minors and lifelong handicaps from poor or nonexistent prenatal care or maternal drug and alcohol abuse.
• Only foolish or ignorant reporters credit pious assertions that legislation can prevent disturbed individuals from obtaining guns and killing as many people as they can. There are more than 310 million people in this country. Some are or will become seriously mentally disturbed and obtain one or more of the hundreds of millions of firearms Americans own. A Columbine or Sandy Hook could happen again any day.
• Focusing on the shooting victims rather than shooters might reduce any copycat effect. Stories and photos elevating killers to celebrity have been blamed for further rampages. Even though the killer never was identified, that was the inference drawn from Tylenol poisonings 30 years ago; copycats tried to poison Tylenol capsules. When coverage began to fade, so did copycat crimes.
• NRA leaders realized years ago that traditional (and valuable) Eddie Eagle gun safety comics and courses were insufficient to motivate and keep members and their dues. Fear and anger would be more effective. Real and imagined government controls became NRA’s cause. Few modern American movements have been as durable and effective as the NRA.
• NRA is powerful because we are a democracy. It can mobilize more than 4 million members and fellow travelers as voters, donors and voices in the news media. Elected representatives who want to keep their jobs quite reasonably try to avoid the NRA’s opposition. Gun control advocates evince nothing like this single-minded devotion to their cause.
• In 1994, the Clinton administration won a10-year limit on the sale of assault-style weapons and large capacity magazines for their ammunition. I went to a gun store in Hamilton to cover a rush to beat the ban. Chinese assault-style rifles and curved high-capacity magazines were selling as fast as staff could pry open crates. As I watched, the price rose $10 with each new crate: demand and supply. Men who talked to me said they were buying because of the imminent controls on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines. A few admitted fear of civil unrest or some undefined federal assault. Most said they wanted a military-style rifle for shooting targets or empty beer cans and this might be their last chance.That 10-year ban died in 2004 when Republicans owned all three branches of federal government and didn’t seek renewal. However, recent killings that required assault-style weapons with large-capacity magazines might prompt reconsideration of the ban. Adam Lanza reportedly carried hundreds of rounds of ammunition in high-capacity magazines. No one knows why he didn’t use them.
• Any gun control measure that’s not DOA will have to respect millions of long guns — rifles and shotguns — used by hunters, farmers and others. That distinction is an important part of this story already handicapped by the paucity of journalists who hunt or otherwise own firearms.
• In addition to an unfamiliarity with firearms, partisan hyperbole also handicaps writing about guns and gun control. It can be hard to find neutral sources who share reporters’ interest in accurate coverage. Stenographic reporting giving “both sides” isn’t good enough; journalists must know enough to challenge obvious partisan misstatements. We are not obligated to report what we know to be untrue or to label it as such.
• Unfamiliarity with gun control cropped up in a recent Enquirer story about a failed armed robbery attempt inside a suburban Sunoco station. Employees with a handgun and a shotgun fatally wounded the would-be bandit. The Enquirer story said it was unclear whether the employees had conceal-carry licenses for those firearms. Unless someone somehow cloaked a shotgun’s 18-28” barrel, no conceal/carry permit is required. Unless the other Sunoco clerk carried the pistol under his clothes, he didn’t need a permit. Wearing it openly or storing it under the counter does not require a conceal/carry permit. So what was the point of that line in the story? Just because a cop might have said it doesn’t mean the reporter had to share it. That’s what I’m talking about.
• Missing in much gun control coverage is Congress’ inability to craft sensible, workable bipartisan gun control specifics that can survive NRA opposition and Supreme Court scrutiny. Firearm confiscation is out of the question. So is universal registration which raises NRA-orchestrated fear of confiscation — by ATF, the UN or some other demon de jour — to hysteria. Moreover, the court affirmed an individual Second Amendment right to own guns in 2010 but it did not rule out federal, state or local regulations governing firearm use.
• Reporters faced with new rage over shootings should remind partisans that we have gun control already. Forty nine states issue conceal/carry permits but specify where those handguns may not be carried. Illinois — State No. 50 — is under court order to replace its ban with a conceal/carry permit system. Many if not most municipalities bar gun owners from firing their weapons within city limits with the exception of self-defense. States commonly limit when hunters can use rifles and/or shotguns and they can require a certain size bullet for large-game hunting. Landowners may bar hunters from their property during state-sanctioned hunting seasons.
There are federal limits on how short a “sawed off” shotgun or rifle barrel may be. There are laws limiting ownership of silencers and fully automatic machine guns and submachine guns. Federally licensed firearms dealers must run background checks on prospective buyers and turn away those who fail or won’t comply. Dealers can deny convicted felons a gun under federal and many state laws. A legal purchaser may not buy a firearm for someone who would fail a federal background check. Mentally-ill customers can be turned away by dealers.
• Few of the roughly 12,000 Americans shot to death annually are killed with shot with shotguns or rifles. They’re shot with pistols. So when gun control is promoted, reporters should press advocates to say what they mean: handguns.
• Before reporters share the lunacy of arming teachers, ask local cops how many rounds typically are fired from their handguns in an armed encounter . . . and how many of those bullets hit their target. Not many. It's very, very difficult for someone trained even at the level of police to accurately fire when adrenaline is pumping. The teacher might end up shooting more students than the intruder. Better to count on the low probability of an armed intrusion. Think about how rare this is. Awful when it happens, but very, very rare, even in communities where other shootings are far more frequent.
• Critical thinking was in short supply at the Senate Judiciary Hearing where gun control foes testified. It’s sort of like using a faux quote by Hitler to prove gun registration leads to confiscation, which leads to socialism or worse. Gayle Trotter of the Independent Women’s Forum told senators that “guns make women safer” and a ban on assault-style weapons with high-capacity magazines would endanger women.
To illustrate her case, Trotter cited 18-year-old Sarah McKinley’s successful defense against an armed intruder near Blanchard, Okla. Police there told CityBeat that she killed him with a 12-gauge pump shotgun, a classic hunting weapon owned by millions of Americans. That was a good choice for McKinley but an unfortunate example for Trotter; no one is suggesting that shotguns be included in proposed gun controls.
Then, as if to prove that fewer Americans are hunting or serving in the military and know what they’re talking about (also see below), MSNBC mistakenly said she used a rifle. ABC News was no smarter: It had her reenact the shooting with a double-barreled shotgun.
McKinley’s single-barrel pump shotgun was taken as evidence in the homicide, probably to be returned when her claim of self-defense is affirmed. Meanwhile, Guns Save Lives, a nonprofit, sent her a similar, replacement shotgun.
Not only does Oklahoma allow lethal force for self-defense inside a person’s home, but McKinley asked the 911 operator what she could do to protect herself and her child. The dead intruder’s companion reportedly told police the intruders were after prescription painkillers that they assumed McKinley’s husband left when he died a week earlier from cancer.
• A secret shooter? After Obama’s comments to the New Republic about having fired a gun, the White House released a photo of the president on the Camp David retreat skeet range. Wearing protective glasses and ear protection, he’s firing a shotgun at the 4-5/16 inch flying clay discs (pigeons) last August. "Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time," Obama told the New Republic. "Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there." However, the AP story accompanying the skeet shooting photo in Sunday’s Enquirer mistakenly says he’s firing a rifle. I’m not sure whether Obama used an over-and-under shotgun, but it certainly didn’t look like a rifle. That inexplicable clanger escaped AP and Enquirer editing despite our unprecedented national debate over certain types of firearms. NRA pooh-poohed Obama’s comments and photo, saying it changes nothing in NRA opposition to greater gun control.
• John Kerry drew scorn in 2004 after he was photographed with Ted Strickland and others with just-shot geese in an eastern Ohio cornfield. Possibly recalling that ill-conceived effort to bond with hunters, Obama didn’t release his skeet shooting photo before the election last year. Kerry’s goose hunting was ridiculed as a dumb photo op, especially because Kerry borrowed the farmer’s hunting outfit and double-barreled shotgun for the day. Whether Kerry bagged any additional rural voters was unclear; Bush won Ohio.
• I began contributing to the new National Catholic Reporter in the mid-’60s when I started covering religion at the Minneapolis Star. I freelanced for NCR when I had that same assignment at the Enquirer. A privately owned, independent weekly based in Kansas City, Mo., NCR was a voice of Roman Catholics who embraced the spirit as well as the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
Traditional churchmen had little reason to love NCR. It was a pain in the ass and collection basket. It reported the flight of clergy and nuns, often into marriage. Jason Berry pioneered reporting of priestly child abuse. Penny Lernoux covered Latin American death squads and links between murderous reactionaries and the church. Murders of nuns, priests and bishops who embraced liberation theology and the church’s “preferential option for the poor” received extensive, probing coverage.
The bishop of Kansas City and a former diocesan editor, Robert W. Finn, recently joined predecessors’ fruitless condemnations of NCR’s journalism. In a letter to the diocese praising official church media, Finn was “sorry to say, my attention has been drawn once again to the National Catholic Reporter. … In the last months I have been deluged with emails and other correspondence from Catholics concerned about the editorial stances of the Reporter: officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial (official) teaching, and a litany of other issues.
“My predecessor bishops have taken different approaches to the challenge. Bishop Charles Helmsing in October of 1968 issued a condemnation of the National Catholic Reporter and asked the publishers to remove the name ‘Catholic’ from their title — to no avail. From my perspective, NCR’s positions against authentic Church teaching and leadership have not changed trajectory in the intervening decades.
“When early in my tenure I requested that the paper submit their bona fides as a Catholic media outlet in accord with the expectations of Church law, they declined to participate indicating that they considered themselves an ‘independent newspaper which commented on “things Catholic.” ’ At other times, correspondence has seemed to reach a dead end.
“In light of the number of recent expressions of concern, I have a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the Faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name ‘Catholic.’ While I remain open to substantive and respectful discussion with the legitimate representatives of NCR, I find that my ability to influence the National Catholic Reporter toward fidelity to the Church seems limited to the supernatural level. For this we pray: St. Francis DeSales (patron of journalists), intercede for us.”
• Rarely have I seen such a neat dismissal of creationism and defense of evolution as the following by 19th century skeptic Robert Ingersoll. It’s quoted in a review of The Great Agnostic, a biography of Ingersoll, in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard:
“I would rather belong to that race that commenced a skull-less vertebrate and produced Shakespeare, a race that has before it an infinite future, with an angel of progress leaning from the far horizon, beckoning men forward, upward, and onward forever — I had rather belong to such a race … than to have sprung from a perfect pair upon which the Lord has lost money every moment from that day to this.”
• The Weekly Standard also published “A teacher’s Plea: The GOP shouldn’t write off educators.” Eloquent Colleen Hyland speaks beyond partisanship for her vocation and colleagues in her Jan. 21 essay. Among other things, she hopes to shake Republican/conservative ideologues out of their animus toward public school teachers and their unions. Among her points: Hhateful generalizations about teachers and their desire for a living wage also degrades women.
• I didn’t know Kevin Ash and I’m not a rider but I read his motorcycle reviews in London’s Daily Telegraph for years. Details of his death in South Africa are unclear, but he died during the media show testing the new BMW R1200GS motorcycle. His informed, passionate writing was a delight for itself, even if I never thought to get on a two-wheeler again. When I was what the Brits’ call a “motoring correspondent,” my interest was cars, whether with three or four wheels. There were a lot of us writing about cars and motor racing/rallying in Europe and Britain in the 1960s; postwar Europeans were getting into cars for the first time in most families’ lives. We were read whether it was the test drive of an exquisite new Zagato OSCA coupe (built by the original Maserati brothers) or a boring Opel sedan. But getting killed during a test ride? Since most of us had some inkling of what we were doing astride a motorcycle or behind the wheel, that would have been very bad luck.
• Time Magazine’s world.time.com website posted this howler. The original Time story purported to look at Oxford and Cambridge roles in Britain’s social mobility. Appended to the online story, Time’s correction has a lawyerly tone. Here it is at length and verbatim:
“This article has been changed. An earlier version stated that Oxford University accepted ‘only one black Caribbean student’ in 2009, when in fact the university accepted one British black Caribbean undergraduate who declared his or her ethnicity when applying to Oxford.
“The article has also been amended to reflect the context for comments made by British Prime Minister David Cameron on the number of black students at Oxford. It has also been changed to reflect the fact that in 2009 Oxford ‘held’ rather than ‘targeted’ 21 percent of its outreach events at private schools, and that it draws the majority of its non-private students from public schools with above average levels of attainment, rather than ‘elite public schools.’
“An amendment was made to indicate that Office for Fair Access director Les Ebdon has not imposed but intends to negotiate targets with universities. It has been corrected to indicate that every university-educated Prime Minister save Gordon Brown has attended Oxford or Cambridge since 1937, rather than throughout history. The proportion of Oxbridge graduates in David Cameron’s cabinet has been updated — following the Prime Minister’s September reshuffle, the percentage rose from almost 40 percent to two-thirds. Percentages on leading Oxbridge graduates have been updated to reflect the latest figures.
“The article erred in stating that private school students have ‘dominated’ Oxbridge for ‘centuries.’ In the 1970s, according to Cambridge, admissions of state school students ranged from 62 percent to 68 percent, sinking down to around 50 percent in the 1980s. The article has been amended to clarify that although only a small percentage of British students are privately educated, they make up one-third of the students with the requisite qualifications to apply to Oxbridge.
“The article erred in stating that Oxford and Cambridge ‘missed government admission targets’ for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Rather, the universities scored below ‘benchmarks’ for admission of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds which are calculated by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, a non-governmental body. The article was amended to clarify the point that Cambridge continues to run Sutton Trust summer schools.
“The article mistakenly suggested that the current U.K. government had launched an ‘initiative to reform Oxbridge.’ There was no official initiative, but rather a marked push by the government to encourage change. The article referred to Cambridge and Oxford’s efforts ‘in the past two years’ to seek out underprivileged students. In fact, their commitment is far more long-standing — programs to reach out to underprivileged students have been operating at the two universities since at least the mid-1990s.
“The article erred in suggesting that Cambridge had protested state school targets, and in stating that it had ‘agreed to’ ambitious targets, rather than setting the targets themselves that were then approved by the Office of Fair Access. The article has been amended to clarify that there is debate over whether the ‘school effect’, whereby state school students outperform private school students at university, applies to those at the highest levels of achievement, from which Oxford and Cambridge recruit.
“The article has been changed to correct the misstatement that a lack of strong candidates from poor backgrounds is not the concern of Oxford and Cambridge. The article has amended the phrase ‘Oxford and Cambridge’s myopic focus on cherry-picking the most academically accomplished,’ to more fairly reflect the universities’ approach.”
• Until I read the Time correction above, I’d forgotten one in which I was involved. A young reporter covered a Saturday national church meeting in suburban Cincinnati at which denominational leaders argued how to respond to homosexuals in the pews and pulpits. This was when such a discussion was courageous, regardless of the views expressed. I edited the story. It was a good, taut story and it ran in a Sunday Enquirer. All hell broke loose. The reporter attributed exactly the opposite views to each person quoted. Instead of a forthright correction, I recall running a new, corrected story plus the apology.
“In order to continue the highest level of care for our growing patient volume, we have adjusted our office hours. Effective January 2nd, 2013, (sic) hours of operation for Phase II cardiac rehabilitation will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 6:00 AM through 4:00 PM. Hours on Tuesday and Thursday will be 6 AM to 2:30 PM. Thank you for choosing The Christ Hospital Health Network.”
That significantly shortens the afternoon/evening hours daily for a “growing patient volume.” Didn’t anyone read this Orwellian language before it went out over an exec’s signature on hospital letterhead? To continue the highest level of care Christ will provide less, especially if patients need outpatient cardio rehab after work?
If outpatient rehab has too few clients, are cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at this aggressively marketed heart hospital urging patients to work out at the Mount Auburn facility? Aren’t these docs telling us to quit smoking, lose weight and exercise more?
It’s not a question of the quality of the care by therapists and RNs at the outpatient rehab center; if it were, it would be closed.
• The Sunday Enquirer carried a valuable column on Dec. 30 on what Ohio laws passed in 2012 mean. Picked up from the Columbus Dispatch, it’s a marvel of brevity and clarity and it proves there still can be substance inside the Sunday Enquirer Local section.
• In the Good Old Days, the Enquirer would fill local pages with “evergreen” stories written before holiday slow news days. If these timeless trivia weren’t used, they could be spiked or recycled for future fallow news days. Today, evergreens apparently have been tossed on the editorial pyre while this metropolitan daily’s diminished staff is filling its shrunken news hole with staff and reader pet photos.
• God help the Enquirer photographer who brings in a horizontal (“landscape format”) photo for page A1. It won’t fit. Formulaic layout has ads and promos bannered across the top and bottom, a deep multi-column vertical photo or graphic on the left and a little bit of news beside and beneath that photo or illustration. It seems to be the same every day, regardless of events. It hardly qualifies as design. Cover pages on the Local section fare no better. My guess? The format saves thinking every day about how best to present the news (“content” or “product”) for remaining page editors at some central Midwest location.
• The Nation offers evidence-based insights into school shootings from Katherine S. Newman, coauthor of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings and dean of arts and sciences at Johns Hopkins.
For starters, teach kids it’s right, good and potentially life-saving to tell adults when other children or teenagers talk about killing, shooting, etc. Peers of potential killers are our best early warning system.
Newman’s research also rebuts NRA’s grandiose goal of an armed “guard” in every school; most schools are unlikely to become killing grounds. She wrote:
“These shootings tend to happen in small towns with no history of background violence rather than in big cities which suffer almost every other kind of brutal attack except this one. There has been only one example of a rampage school shooting in an urban setting since 1970. All the others have taken place in rural towns miles from places like New York or Chicago, or in suburbs in the Western states.”
Paducah, Ky., was one of the towns that her team studied after Goth-wannabe Michael Carneal shot five Heath High School classmates: three died, one is paralyzed and another was badly wounded.
Newman’s research reflects that of many others in describing Carneal as typical of school shooters. He was a nerdy young white male who couldn’t make lasting friendships and never fit in at school or in his football-worshiping community. He was looking for acceptance and “shooting people is drawn straight from the Hollywood playbook that equates masculinity with violence.”
Carneal talked a lot about shooting and killing but no one risked being called a snitch by alerting his parents or adults at school.
• What Were They Thinking? Gannett’s Journal News in suburban New York went online with the names and addresses of handgun permit holders in two counties in its circulation area. The paper says it will sue to force a third county to provide that information. The paper claims the list and accompanying interactive map showing permit holder’s locations are a public service. Malarkey. Horse puckey. Madness. So what if the data come from public records? So do names of men and women who claim to be victims of sex crimes. We don’t publish that. So what is a reader supposed to do with the handgun information? Cui bono?
Wingnuts spin wild fantasies about burglaries to obtain handguns from permit holders or burglars hitting homes where no one has a conceal/carry permit. My problem is different: it’s hard enough to wrest public documents from dim and self-serving officials. Decisions by the Journal News can’t help but undermine remaining public support for investigative/database reporting.
The Enquirer, Louisville Courier Journal and Indianapolis Star also are Gannett papers. I hope the Journal News' perversion of First Amendment assertiveness doesn’t become a route to Gannett corporate rings for editors and publishers. (My name will appear if the Enquirer identifies permit holders in its circulation area. I took the class, passed the exam and obtained my permit for a cover story a year after Ohio allowed counties to issue conceal/carry permits.)
• Anger over the Gannett paper’s online posting of names and addresses of handgun permit holders (above) quickly morphed into online retaliation. Some critics posted what they said was the home address and photo of Gannett corporate CEO Garcia Martore. Other Gannett execs’ home addresses have been posted and bloggers have listed home addresses and contact information for staffers at the Journal News. The paper has hired guards for its Westchester headquarters. If guards aren’t active law enforcement officers, they must have handgun permits and could be included in lists published by the paper.
• The daily Brattleboro Reformer bannered this headline across page 1 recently: “Let is snow, let is snow, let is snow.” Executive editor Tom D’Errico told romenesko.com that it was a “terrible, terrible typo. The night crew was short-staffed and we had an unusual last-minute early deadline with the storm marching in.” Later, he wrote in his blog: “I kept running over the reasons in my mind . . . of how or why a mistake like this can and does happen. But everything just sounded like an excuse. And the truth is: there is no excuse.”
• Ailing former President George H.W. Bush had one of those “greatly exaggerated” brushes with eternity recently. (That now-a-cliche expression originated in Mark Twain’s response to a reporter who confused him with ailing cousin James Ross Clemens. Snopes.com says Twain actually told the reporter, “The report of my death was an exaggeration” but added “greatly” in a manuscript.)
Back to Bush the Elder. Houston’s WBAP-AM blasted an email saying, “The Death of a President: George H. W. Bush.” Romenesko and Texas Observer reported that news director Rick Hadley blamed the error on a common practice among news media: “We get our obituaries ready to go for people who aren’t doing well.” When Bush entered a local hospital’s ICU, WBAP prepared an email blast for his death. Hadley said a problem with the email system sent the death message to about a third of the station’s subscribers. Thirty minutes later — after callers alerted the station to its misstep — WBAP quickly sent out a corrected email. Hadley said the bulletin was not read on the radio.
WBAP was typical of smart news media: It updates obits of prominent men and women to avoid being unprepared when the inevitable occurs. Unfailingly, that’s on deadlines when staff is short and sources are unavailable because of holidays or late/early hours. These advance obits have blanks for timely details: age, cause of death, where the person died and a credible confirmation of death. Then they are filed in ways meant to prevent all-too-common premature release.
That caution didn’t prevent Germany's respected news weekly Der Spiegel from mistakenly publishing Bush’s obituary in late December. AP said, “The unfinished obituary appeared on Der Spiegel's website for a few minutes before it was spotted by Internet users and removed. In it, the magazine's New York correspondent described Bush as ‘a colorless politician’ whose image only improved when it was compared to the later presidency of his son, George W. Bush.” A Der Spiegel Twitter feed said, "All newsrooms prepare obituaries for selected figures. The fact that the one for Bush senior went live was a technical mistake. Sorry!"
Years ago at UPI, we put out HOLD FOR RELEASE obituaries of leading figures worldwide. Some of our client media saved the incomplete obits to await news of the death. Others removed mention of death and often published them as space-filling weekend feature stories.
The Associated Press doesn’t send out advance obits as a practice but Dan Sewell, AP’s correspondent in Cincinnati, noted a different problem: the subject outlives the byline reporter. Last year, New York Times ombuds Margaret Sullivan wrote generally about obits after talking to obit editor Bill McDonald and touched on that problem: “Occasionally, the author of the obituary was already dead by the time the piece ran – Vincent Canby on Bob Hope and Mel Gussow on Elizabeth Taylor, for example. Mr. McDonald said that in most cases when an obit subject outlives the writer, The Times does a new piece. ‘But in select cases,’ he added, ‘we feel the obit is too fine to discard, particularly if it is by a writer who brings a certain authority to it.’ The Times assigns a live body to update the obit and, in the case of Mel Gussow, offered a note to the reader acknowledging the status of the author.”
• We’ve all won another battle to hold cops accountable. The American Civil Liberties Union sued to preempt Chicago police who object to an ACLU project on police accountability. ACLU wanted to make sure its employees wouldn’t be busted for recording officers’ words. The federal appellate court in Chicago said we all share a First Amendment right to record what police say to us. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Chicago police appeal, affirming the lower court ruling. Earlier last year, federal courts said we have a right to photograph police in public. My guess is dimmer, bolder police everywhere will continue to arrest reporters who record their words and others who photograph their actions. That’s not futile. The possibility of an arrest record — even knowing the charge will be tossed by a judge or prosecutor — can be intimidating and leave cops free of scrutiny.
• Let Congress obscure methods and goals in naming legislation but reporters should challenge any legislator who talks about “preventing” gun violence.
We can’t prevent it. With some nuts among
the 300-plus million living in this country and almost nonexistent mental
health programs, some killers will find and use firearms on other
people. We can’t prevent it. That we have hundreds of millions of
firearms makes massacres even likelier. Reporters should press
vote-seeking legislators on how their proposed restrictions will limit
casualties from inevitable firearm violence. That brings us back to the
1994 restriction on high-capacity magazines for semi-automatic weapons.
Hunting weapons and pistols for self-defense don’t need or use them.
City Council wants to do more research before it proceeds with freestanding public restrooms in downtown and Over-the-Rhine. The vote has been delayed. Critics say the restrooms are too expensive at $130,000, but supporters, particularly Councilman Chris Seelbach, insist the restrooms will not be that expensive. A majority of City Council argues the restrooms are necessary because increasing populations and growth in downtown have made 24-hour facilities necessary.
A new report found Ohio’s budget would benefit from a Medicaid expansion. The expansion would mostly save money by letting the federal government pick up a much larger share of the cost for Ohio’s population, particularly prison inmates. A previous study found Medicaid expansions were correlated with better health results, including decreased mortality rates, in some states. Another study from the Arkansas Department of Human Services found the state would save $378 million by 2025 with the Medicaid expansion. Most of the savings from the Arkansas study would come from uncompensated care — costs that are placed on health institutions and state and local governments when uninsured patients that can’t and don’t pay use medical services.
The Dayton Daily News has a wonderful example of how not to do journalism. In an article on the supposed “climate debate,” the newspaper ignored the near-unanimous scientific consensus on global warming and decided to give credence to people who deny all scientific reasoning. To be clear, there is no climate debate. There’s the overwhelming majority of scientists, climatologists and data on one side, and there’s the pro-oil, pro-coal lobby and stubborn, irrational conservatives who will deny anything that hurts their interests on the other side.
The Ohio Board of Education approved policies for seclusion rooms. The non-binding policy requires parents to be notified if their children are placed in a seclusion room, and the Ohio Department of Education can also request data, even though it won’t be made public. More stringent policies may come in the spring. Seclusion rooms are supposed to be used to hold out-of-control kids, but an investigation from The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio found the rooms were being abused by teachers and school staff for their convenience.
If the city wants to buy Tower Place, the mall will have to be cleared out, according to City Manager Milton Dohoney. Last week, the remaining businesses at Tower Place were evicted, and Dohoney said the city did not sign off on the eviction orders. Apparently, the city really didn’t agree to or enforce eviction orders, but the city’s buyout requires evictions. Dohoney said the eviction notices should signify the deal to buy Tower Place is moving forward.
Dohoney appointed Captain Paul Humphries to the assistant chief position for the Cincinnati Police Department. Humphries has been on the force for 26 years, and he currently serves as the chief of staff to Chief James Craig.
Cincinnati’s Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP) is targeting Mt. Airy and Carthage. Starting March 1, police, businesses and civic groups will begin putting together accelerated revitalization and reinvestment plans for the communities. NEP emphasizes building code enforcement, crime, neighborhood cleanup and beautification.
Good news, everyone. Cincinnati is no longer the bedbug capital.
Bob Castellini, owner of the Reds, was named the region’s master entrepreneur by Northern Kentucky University.
The Ohio Department of Transportation released a website that has real-time traffic information.
Some people really suck at political slogans.
Oh, science. Apparently, particle physics could improve Netflix’s suggestions.
With donations from filmmaker Michael Moore and others, WikiLeaks provocateur Julian Assange made bail today and was released from a British prison, awaiting extradition to Sweden on sex charges.
A judge had set Assange's bail at 240,000 pounds, which equals about $380,521. Moore donated $20,000, which equals about 12,633 pounds.
First she was elected president of the group's Greater Cincinnati chapter, and now WCPO-TV reporter Hagit Limor has been named president of the Society of Professional Journalists' national organization.
Limor, best-known for heading Channel 9's “I-Team” reports, was inducted to her new post Tuesday, on the final night of the organization's annual convention. This year the event was held in Las Vegas.
Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn’s recent note to readers assures us that the continually shrinking page will elicit readers’ joyous cries of “new and improved!”
Don’t hold your breath.
The 10-1/2 x 14-2/3 page — about the size of the Business Courier — will be printed in Columbus on the Dispatch’s new press. The tabloid should given designers greater freedom to fill the news hole with large photos, graphics and headlines. The local section is so small now that I’m almost inured to diminishing returns on my rising subscription rates.
Page size isn’t the issue; what’s on them is what matters. I’ve worked on tabloid-format dailies in three countries. Today, few papers are sold on the street and huge headlines to grab passersby are wasted space. “Headless Body in Topless Bar” and “Ford to City: Drop Dead” were perfect in New York but not here. We need smart, patient reporting. That requires space in the paper. Whether we get it has nothing to do with page size.
• Publisher Margaret Buchanan’s
subsequent page 1 note to readers last Sunday was hardly reassuring. It
repeats much of editor Carolyn Washburn’s memo (above) and reinforces my
fears: “The pages will be organized with fewer jumps so you
don’t have to turn pages to continue reading the same story. Headlines
will be bolder. The print edition will be more colorful with larger
photos and graphics to help tell the stories. Most importantly, we’ll
continue to provide unique in-depth news stories ..."
Buchanan comes from the advertising/business side of Gannett journalism, so maybe she isn’t troubled by the contradiction in her assurances: short stories burdened by big headlines, photos and graphics on tabloid pages can’t be “in-depth” unless they jump from page to page. And she’s promising “fewer jumps.” Is the next innovation with purpose a shift from “readers” to “viewers”?
• Does the Enquirer have a policy about naming juveniles accused of crimes or is it an adhocracy among editors? When Avondale kids wanted for shoplifting fled in a car, they were named in the first story. When a suburban high school student was accused of a central role in a major drug ring, the first story didn’t name him and said that discretion was Enquirer policy. “Avondale” long has been code for black at the paper. “Suburban” or identifying with a suburban high school means white even if that is no longer a reasonable assumption in many cases.
• Last Sunday, WVXU carried a fine conversation between Enquirer sports reporter and author John Erardi and WVXU politics reporter (and lifelong Reds fan) Howard Wilkinson. They talked about Barry Larkin and why he was being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. They know their stuff, they obviously enjoy each other’s company, not least because Wilkinson also spent decades at the Enquirer writing about politics and on rare occasion, Reds baseball.
I enjoyed their insights and storytelling even though I’m not a baseball fan. I think I’ve been to three, maybe four Reds games in as many decades. Blame my parents. The Twins didn’t exist when I was a kid; it was Minneapolis Millers v. St. Paul Saints at Nicollet Park in Minneapolis and I don’t remember seeing them. We didn’t have modern Vikings either and the Lakers left town. No way to nurture a fan.
• I wish I wasn’t eating when I read Dan Horn’s recent encyclopedia update on water quality in the Ohio River. His Enquirer report was well done. The photos were marvelous. My upset was personal: memories.
When we moved to Cincinnati in 1967, we moored our boat at Elmer & Jenny’s Yacht Club downriver in Bromley, Ky. Wonderful people, but “yacht club”? I don’t think so.
I water-skied in the river, aware of its water quality but in denial; it’s hard to give up the one sport I enjoyed from childhood ... in Minnesota. I only swam in the Ohio to put on or retrieve skies or to drop the rope and wait for my wife to pick me up. I didn’t swallow.
I don’t remember infections or gastro-intestinal problems from Ohio River water. After all, I had skied for years in the St. Croix between Minnesota and Wisconsin, in the industrial Upper Mississippi at the Twin Cities and downriver to the the two rivers merged. God knows what was in those pre-EPA waters then but maybe I brought immunities to the Ohio.
After three years, we left Elmer & Jenny’s Yacht Club for Rocky Fork Lake near Hillsboro in Highland County. We sought fresher breezes and a ski zone free of barge tows and increasingly wild, mindless boaters in the Ohio’s Cincinnati basin. Cleaner water was a bonus. I still didn’t swallow.
Recalling the Ohio River in the 1960s — aided by Horn’s detailed story — was the best appetite suppressant I’ve experienced in years.
• If you’re going to do gotcha journalism, do your homework. A conservative blogger challenged Cleveland columnist Connie Schultz, sure she was a liberal who gets too close to leftwing politicians she covers. “We have found numerous photos of you with Sen. Sherrod Brown. In one of them, you appear to be hugging him. Care to comment?”
Here’s part of Shultz’s response, courtesy of jimromenesko.com: “He’s really cute. He’s also my husband. You know that, right?” Shultz told her former employer, the Plain Dealer where she won a Pulitzer Prize, that she hadn’t named the blogger because she wants him to “pick better company and do better journalism.”
Romensko said Schultz told him in a telephone interview, “I don’t want to be a bully. I can say he was working for one of the larger conservative blogs, but that his name is not in the staff directory. Maybe he’s an intern, maybe an editor was playing a joke on him or maybe he was trying to get a reaction out of me. But I just want him to stop hanging around with those people and learn something out of this.”
• Jimromenesko.com (see above) also reports that elsewhere in northern Ohio, the Sandusky Register posted a voice mail message left by Erie County Tom Paul for reporter Andy Ouriel. Paul said there was a mistake in the previous day’s edition. Here is part of the relentlessly F-bombing message: “You don’t know your ass from a fucking hole in the ground. And you know what? — sorry about that but you make me mad. Give me a call back, 419-357-2985, ya shithead.”
• Louisville’s Courier-Journal chose discretion over valor by not naming two juveniles convicted of sexually assaulting 17-year-old Kentuckian Savannah Dietrich. Lots of people, however, already knew despite the judge’s gag order. She tweeted their names to protest over what she fears will be judicial slaps on their wrists. Dietrich told the Courier-Journal they assaulted her when she passed out after drinking at a party. The youths also shared digital images of the assault with others. After negotiations with prosecutors, the pair pled guilty to first-degree sexual abuse and misdemeanor voyeurism. Dietrich faces up to180 days in jail and a $500 fine if the judge convicts her of contempt.
• If you’ve followed news stories about the run-up to the London summer Olympics, you must know that security for the events and sites is a shambles, even by British standards of bumbling through. The firm that was paid to provide security failed in every way. The government minister responsible for domestic security failed to respond promptly or adequately. The badly stretched Army — already being dramatically reduced in strength and losing historic regiments — is filling roles designed for civilian rent-a-cops and ushers. One cartoon expressed its contempt for the organizers with soldiers being told they’ll be able to return to Afghanistan after the Olympics. Be grateful that Cincinnati’s bid for this colossal money pit was rejected.
• Here’s a question I haven’t seen asked by the national press: Do we want a president as detached as Romney says he was from his responsibilities as owner and CEO of Bain? He says he didn’t know if his subordinates were shipping jobs overseas. The screwed up Salt Lake City Olympics — which he did help save — were more important. I believe him. But how does that salvage his claim to being a keen businessman who can sort out our country’s economy?
• Get over it. With more than 300 million citizens and immigrants and almost as many firearms, Americans have nut jobs and a few will be violent. So I wouldn’t be unhappy if our mainstream news media suffered massacre fatigue. Maybe the latest Colorado shootings will speed that process. Similar fatigue already is evident in diminished foreign/war news.
It isn’t a question of whether to focus on the victims or the shooter or a search for “reasons.” You don’t ask mass killers for reasons. Given the utter inadequacy of mental health services and our easy access to firearms, our rational response is to accept the risk that someone else will die in irrational mass shootings. That’s a price the NRA and its pusillanimous legislative allies find acceptable if the alternative is more effective firearm regulation.
A different rational response might be a news media campaign for a costly, annual federal tax stamp for every high-capacity magazine for every firearm to which they can be fitted. This wouldn’t disarm hunters in any way. Semi-automatic hunting rifles and shotguns don’t have or require 20 or 30 cartridges to put venison or duck on the table.
The tax would include the stick-like magazines for semi-automatic pistols and submachineguns and the familiar curved magazines for civilian versions of the AK47 and its kin. Drum magazines - like that found at the Aurora theater - can hold scores of rounds and be fitted to some military and military-style weapons as well as the Thompson submachinegun and its descendants. Drums would be covered, too.
This tax wouldn’t take away anyone’s firearm or testosterone-enhancing firepower. It doesn’t limit the number of rounds shooters can load into their weapons the way the extinct Clinton-era 10-shot limit did. The sole function of high-capacity magazines is to make it easier to kill lots of people. That’s why real military weapons like the AK47, the M16 or even the World War II Browning Automatic Rifle — the famous BAR — had high-capacity clips.
The tax would not be a Second Amendment issue ... or shouldn’t be. It copies the longstanding $200 federal tax required for fully automatic weapons owned by civilians. Americans buy those firearms and pay the tax.
• Americans own more handguns, shotguns and rifles every year and reported violent crime has sharply declined. Coincidence? Absolutely. Second Amendment? When’s the last time you heard about someone with a licensed concealed firearm and an extra-high-capacity magazine stopping a crazed gunman? Believe me, the news media would be full of such a story or NRA complaints about liberal suppression of a patriotic tale.
I’m talking about a news media campaign to make it harder to kill lots of people in a few seconds or minutes. However, that throws us into the confused world of acceptable risks. There isn’t a chance in Columbine of doing more than taxing high-capacity magazines when Americans also accept as normal the thousands of daily deaths from drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse, obesity, medical errors, etc.
• There’s still another related, rational response for the news media to the Batman killings: Give less prominence to nut cases worrying whether the Muslim Brotherhood has a sleeper agent at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s right elbow, or that less than a 20- or 30-round magazine will allow Mongolian mercenaries in UN blue helmets and black helicopters to enslave us to a world government. On the other hand, while the GOP and its crazier allies promote distrust, fear and hatred of government, don’t expect such courage from the news media. That could risk being seen as partisan.
As the newspaper industry continues to suffer from declining ad revenues and a migration of readers to the Internet, The Cincinnati Enquirer is being hit particularly hard.
Dozens of newspapers nationwide reported drops in circulation, according to the latest figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. But the figures reported for Cincinnati’s only daily metropolitan newspaper were in the double-digits, well above the national average decline of 7 percent.
Gretchen Carlson continues to make Cincinnati — her one-time home in the 1990s — proud of her accomplishments as Fox News morning host. The former WCPO-TV reporter and anchor (and former Miss America) is the latest national media personality to take the brave stand of supporting the little-known and underappreciated holiday of Christmas.