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by Ben L. Kaufman 04.17.2013
Posted In: Government, Media Criticism, Media at 09:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Curmudgeon Notes 4.17.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

• Tuesday’s Enquirer abandoned its traditional timidity and published bloody color images of victims of Boston Marathon bombings. Good. I’m sure also there were images too ghastly for the breakfast table, but the shift is welcome. The inside image of an elderly runner knocked down by the blast and framed by Boston cops running toward the explosion was another good decision. He collapsed as the blast surge hit him in the midst of other runners. We saw that on TV/online. It was one of the earliest viral images. NPR said the 78-year-old man stood and walked to the finish line, saying he hadn’t run 26 miles to quit.

HuffingtonPost.com quickly repeated this potential calumny: “Investigators have a suspect — a Saudi Arabian national — in the horrific Boston Marathon bombings, The (New York) Post has learned. Law enforcement sources said the 20-year-old suspect was under guard at an undisclosed Boston hospital.”

About the same time, Massachusetts and Boston officials were telling journalists they had no suspects.

I recall how authorities initially sought someone who looked like an Arab after the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in 1995. How do I know? It was all over the news media. As the current FBI website puts it,  “Coming on the heels of the (first) World Trade Center bombing in New York two years earlier, the media and many Americans immediately assumed that the attack was the handiwork of Middle Eastern terrorists.” 

Two white non-Arab Americans were convicted of the bombing. The only “Arab” link was murderer Timothy McVeigh’s military service in the first Iraq invasion, Desert Storm, where he won a Bronze Star. Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists continued to weave elaborate links between the Oklahoma City bombers and Arabs.  

Everyone with a microphone seems to be telling us the investigation of the Boston bombings will be complex and unhurried. Many recall how long it took to abandon suspicion of security guard Richard Jewell as the Atlanta Olympics bomber. It took two years to identify Eric Rudolph as the bomber and another five to arrest him. False leads will abound and forensic evidence will be sought, collected and analyzed. Some will be helpful, some will be misleading. With so many journalists present, initial coverage largely was self-correcting. The rumor of seven more bombs or a bomb at the JFK library was quickly spiked. The story that local officials blew up a third bomb lasted a little longer. That was half-correct: They blew up a package/backpack but it was not a bomb. There were only two bombs as of this writing. 

Everyone with a microphone seems to be saying the Boston bombing investigation will be complex and unhurried. Many recall how long it took to abandon suspicion of security guard Richard Jewell as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber. False leads will abound and forensic evidence will be sought, collected and analyzed. Some will be helpful, some will be misleading. 

• If bombers hoped to create terror, the Boston Marathon was a smart choice: there would be lots of images from cell phones and the news media. It fits my theory of 9/11: the initial 2001 attack on the World Trade Center tower was timed to assure the news media would get full coverage of the jetliner flying into the second tower. 

• Moving on from bloodshed, Rachel Richardson’s Enquirer story about dogs in the workplace was a smart story, especially part about socialization being vital to a dog fitting in.  

And she pushed my nostalgia button. My first job out of college was night editing a daily paper in Italy. I bought a Belgian Shepherd (Groenendael) pup and named him Loki for the Norse trickster. His mother was a part-wolf/mountain shepherd's companion and father was an Italian ex-Army K9. With long, silky black coat, a plume of a tail, alert eyes and ears, Loki was an unbeatable chick magnet.  

His socialization comprised strolling Rome, riding and waiting in my car, joining me in bars and restaurants, and lying under my desk at the Rome Daily American at night when I was the only journalist. I didn't know the breed is famous/infamous for one-person loyalty and instinct to protect: person, possessions, etc.

Loki didn’t approve of anyone approaching my desk when I was in the back shop where type was set, pages were composed and the press run. Anyone else would bring him to his feet, ears back, shoulder blades up, teeth bared . . . but silent. Even as a pup, he could be menacing. “Lupo siberiano,” or Siberian wolf, was the Roman nickname for the breed. 

Night messengers who brought engraved zinc plates — photos for every edition in that ancient era of hot type and flatbed press — quickly learned to avoid the newsroom and come directly into the back shop. Loki was a force to be accommodated. 

Away from the office, he’d curl up on my Sunbeam Alpine’s passenger seat and bite anyone who was silly enough to reach into the car in hopes of a quick theft.

He rarely let go before I returned and that could create Roman opera buffa. Loki’s victim typically threatened to call police about my vicious dog and — without telling Loki to let go — I offered to help by shouting for police. We never did call for police. When released, the would-be thief unfailingly walked away, cursing me for enticing him with an open sports car into what he hoped was a crime of opportunity. 

When I worked days, Loki stayed home nearby. His socialization didn’t accommodate the chaos of a small, crowded newsroom with strangers coming and going. 

Again, thanks for the reminder: fun, smart and god help us, mindful of Enquirer watchdog obligations.

• As anticipated here, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is following other Newhouse dailies by reducing home deliveries to three days a week: Sunday and two days to be named later. The PD says it will print seven days a week for street sales. It also plans to fire about a third of its newsroom staff.  It’s a sad demise of what long was Ohio’s best daily. 

• The Enquirer business section headline was “Survey: Downtown seen as more positive.” That’s also what the story said, based on what Downtown Cincinnati Inc. told the paper. The accompanying photo showed people playing in Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. People feeling positive downtown just weren’t photogenic. 

• Read Gina Kolata’s April 7 New York Times story on a new understanding of the role of red meat in heart trouble. It’s among the best story telling in a long time. It’s a complicated subject but she draws us in with researchers sitting down to sizzling sirloin breakfast “for the sake of science.” It gets even better as she explains that the science involves  “a little-studied chemical that is burped out by bacteria . . . “ Talk about imagery. Send photos.  

• NPR is killing its Monday-Thursday afternoon call-in show, Talk of the Nation, and we’ll all be poorer for it. Talk of the Nation involves civil, lengthy discussion of timely topics. NPR is working with Boston’s WBUR to create a program for Talk’s 2-4 p.m. time slot. NPR says member stations wanted a program more like Morning Edition and All Things Considered in the afternoon and evening. Too bad. Expect lots of canned (and cheaply produced) interviews that seem to be the promise of the new show. 

• Journalists should refuse to name sources to whom they’ve promised confidentiality. The corollary, of course, is to ask first whether we’re willing to serve time for contempt of court if we reject a judge's demands that we break our word and name our source(s). In that sense, we probably don’t think it will happen to us and almost mindlessly promise confidentiality to encourage sources to talk to us. 

So when there is a court confrontation, the refusenik journalist typically is cast as the hero and the judge as a mindless apparatchik and/or tool of the prosecutor. That’s too simple. Reporters are free to ask their sources to release them from their promise of confidentiality. Judges should compel testimony only when prosecutors have used every other way to identify reporters’ sources and silence could pervert justice. Judges are on the hot seat as much as reporters. 

The latest unresolved contest involves Jana Winter who quoted unnamed law enforcement personnel when she reported that Aurora, Colo., gunman James Holmes sent an incriminating notebook to his psychiatrist before massacring moviegoers. FoxNews.com’s Winter said the notebook was filled with violent notes and drawings. Now that the apparently accurate information is out, I don’t see how the sources’ identities matter to a fair trial if there ever is one. 

Rather, I like what Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, told the New York Times: “If you required reporters to disclose their sources every time there was a minor leak in a high profile criminal case, the jails would be filled in America with journalists.”

• London’s Daily Mail reports the auction of a log book kept by the RAF navigator whose “bouncing bomb” breached a vital German dam during World War II. The raid was portrayed in the film, The Dambusters. The Daily Mail’s story was spoiled only by a photo of the unique bomb being dropped by a twin-engine plane; Dambusters flew four-engine Lancaster heavy bombers. 

• Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is loathed to degrees that W and Obama cannot imagine. Her death last week sparked national demonstrations of joy even as the government and palace hoped that her almost-state funeral in London could be protected from demonstrators. Haters danced in the street, daubed “Rust in Hell” about the Iron Lady, and sang “Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead.” That forced BBC to decide whether to play that song from the Wizard of Oz movie on BBC radio shows dedicated to hit songs or on news programs about Thatcher’s life and death. The song reportedly became No. 1 on iTunes before the funeral and it was headed for the top of the pop charts, pushed by Thatcher haters. At last report, BBC’s director general said only a 5-second snippet would be allowed on the main radio channel. New to his job, he pissed off everyone. 

• Patrice Lumumba was the Congo’s first prime minister after Belgium granted independence to the huge, potentially wealthy and criminally unprepared colony. He was murdered not long before I began working on the Congo border in Northern Rhodesia. He already was a martyr-hero of the Left when I studied African anthropology in London.

Lumumba’s abduction, torture and murder were popularly assumed to be a CIA operation, working with Belgians, rebels in copper-rich Katanga province, and others who coveted the Congo’s mineral wealth and mines.

Now, a curious news story in London’s Telegraph says Britain’s worldwide Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) engineered Lumumba’s death. More curious is the weight it gives to a second-hand source. It quotes Lord Lea of Crondall quoting Baroness (Daphne) Park of Monmouth, who was the senior MI6 officer in the Congo then, as saying  she "organised it.” 

Lord Lea told the Telegraph, "It so happens that I was having a cup of tea with Daphne Park – we were colleagues from opposite sides of the Lords – a few months before she died in March 2010. She had been consul and first secretary in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, from 1959 to 1961, which in practice (this was subsequently acknowledged) meant head of MI6 there. I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba's abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it. 'We did,' she replied, 'I organised it.'"

The Telegraph said Lord Lea claimed Baroness Park reasonably was concerned that Lumumba might be a communist siding with Soviet Russia. After all, African and Asian independence leaders like Lumumba, South Africa’s Mandela and others often found their most active Cold War support mainly in Moscow and the wider Communist movement. 

Initially blaming the CIA wasn’t irrational. By Lumumba’s death in 1961, the CIA had engineered the overthrow of elected governments in Iran and Guatemala and botched the Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Cuba’s Fidel Castro. 

Belgium apologized in 2002 for failing to prevent Lumumba’s death. In 2006, the Telegraph said, “documents showed the CIA had plotted to assassinate him but the plot was abandoned.”

 
 
by Ben L. Kaufman 03.11.2013
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
enquirer2

New 'Enquirer' Tabloid Out Today

Ben Kaufman says it looks nice, arrived on time

Enquirer reporters and editors should be satisfied with their initial tabloid effort. Today’s inaugural edition — smaller and printed in Columbus — is a curious hybrid. It arrived on time. It feels and looks like a tabloid, but it reads like a familiar Enquirer rather than something exciting and new. 

That might not be bad. Others — who haven’t spent 50-plus years in the newspaper and wire service trade and worked on two tabloids — will decide whether the tabloid Enquirer works well enough to buy. That’s important because print ads bring in many times the cash of online ads.

Page 1 is a showcase. Catch the readers’ attention to turn them inside to highly promoted stories. That’s tabloid. Enquirer designers have been refining this for months on larger pages last printed yesterday.

Page 2 is weather and other stuff. My question: Will older readers complain about the small type? Readers who need glasses probably are the majority.

The organization of the rest of the paper is familiar and most stories are short. Good. Few stories today require more than that, especially one that continues for days and weeks. Regular readers will learn enough. Readers who are unsatisfied can learn more elsewhere without abandoning the Enquirer. It would be no crime if longer versions appeared on Cincinnati.com. That could be a productive synergy.

If there is a problem in the news pages, it’s the black/white inside news photos. Sports suffers most. Too many are too small, too dark. That could be an inking problem on the new Columbus Dispatch presses. If not, it would be ironic if the new Enquirer format meant fewer inside color photos and photographers having to relearn black-and-white photography.

And small news photos. Here’s where the format cramps. A large photo doesn’t leave much room for type and there is a limit to how many times readers will go to another page to learn more about the pictured event.

The special promotional section about the paper — with names and images of the staff — is a keeper in addition to the existing online contact list. It was good to see old colleagues and friends looking well and to put faces to new names. 
My one complaint is that the shift in headline type. Now, news stories and ads that imitate news stories now have the same or similar bold black headlines. That’s bad. Previously, news and ads had starkly different type faces. That was an honest effort to alert readers to the difference. I hope the Enquirer will find a new type face for ads since the bold, black headlines work for tabloid news.

Having nursed a new daily to life years ago, I still can recall the pleasure of holding that first edition. I hope Enquirer journalists know that feeling today.
 
 
by 01.05.2011
Posted In: Media, Financial Crisis, Business, Community at 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

More Furloughs at The Enquirer

The new year already is looking a lot like the old one for employees at The Enquirer.

Workers at Cincinnati's only remaining daily newspaper got some bad news Wednesday: They can expect to take another five-day furlough during the first quarter of 2011. Robert J. Dickey,  who is U.S. newspaper division president at The Gannett Co., The Enquirer's parent firm, announced the latest round of furloughs in a memo sent to workers.

Read More

 
 
by German Lopez 01.03.2013
Posted In: Media, News at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
al jazeera

Time Warner Pulls Plug on Al Jazeera

Cincinnati's largest cable provider to drop Current TV

Time Warner Cable will not be taking up Al Jazeera’s newly acquired channel. The Associated Press reports Cincinnati’s largest cable provider will no longer carry Current TV after its sale to the Pan-Arab news network.

After the buyout, Al Jazeera announced plans to gradually transform Current TV into Al Jazeera America by adding five to 10 new U.S. bureaus and hiring more journalists. But immediately following the acquisition by Al Jazeera, Time Warner released a statement: “Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible.”

As AP reports, Al Jazeera has faced an uphill battle reaching American audiences. In 2010, Tony Burman, managing director of Al Jazeera’s English branch, blamed hostility from the Bush administration for reluctance among cable and satellite companies to carry Al Jazeera. 

But at least part of the reluctance is due to the perception from some that the Qatar-based network is anti-American. Dave Marash, a former “Nightline” reporter who worked as Al Jazeera’s anchor in Washington, D.C., left Al Jazeera in 2008, saying he sensed an anti-American slant.

Despite problems establishing a foothold in the United States, Al Jazeera has built a substantial following for hard-hitting news, and it earned multiple U.S. journalism awards in 2012.

Al Gore confirmed the sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera Wednesday. The former vice president cofounded the left-leaning Current TV in 2005 to provide what he saw as an alternative perspective in media through user-generated content. But the network always struggled, making multiple programming and personnel changes in its quest to become relevant.

TheBlaze, Glenn Beck's media company, also tried to buy Current TV. But the network declined, reportedly saying, “The legacy of who the network goes to is important to us and we are sensitive to networks not aligned with our point of view.”

 
 
by 12.27.2010
Posted In: City Council, Media, Republicans, Government at 05:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Two Big Decisions Coming Soon

Some major decisions are expected in the next few days, and we're not referring to how the dithering, ineffectual Cincinnati City Council will finally close a $54 million deficit.

Rather, the decisions coming soon are who will replace Republican Chris Monzel on City Council, and who will replace Tom Callinan as editor at The Enquirer.

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by 01.11.2010
Posted In: News, Media, Republicans at 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

Palin Joins Fox: Stating the Obvious

The New York Times is reporting today that Sarah Palin has been hired by Fox News to be a regular contributor to the cable news channel.

Uh, didn’t she work there already? This is like reporting “Dog bites man.”

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by 11.04.2010
Posted In: Media, Financial Crisis, Business at 02:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

More Layoffs at The Enquirer

Jim Hopkins' Gannett Blog and some local sources are reporting The Enquirer has laid off between 5 to 7 people this week.

Two of the casualties were the person in charge of the incessantly promoted Moms Like MeWeb site and the assistant managing editor of operations, who performed the administrative functions in the newsroom.

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by 12.26.2010
Posted In: Censorship, Media, Internet, Government, Courts at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

Frost Interviews WikiLeaks Founder

For all the rhetoric about the United States' right to freedom of the press, the best reporting on the governmental secrets revealed by WikiLeaks, and the deeper issues they raise, has been done by media outlets in other nations. And the best and most in-depth interview with Julian Assange has been done by a British journalist for Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite news channel.

David Frost, who famously interviewed President Nixon a few years after his resignation following the Watergate scandal, now has a program on Al Jazeera, entitled Frost Over the World.

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by 01.03.2011
Posted In: News, Media, Community, Business at 09:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Enquirer Publisher Hires Old Pal

Carolyn Washburn has been hired as editor and vice president at The Cincinnati Enquirer, the newspaper announced today. A Greater Cincinnati native, Washburn currently is editor at The Des Moines Register in Iowa.

Washburn, 48, previously worked with Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan while both were at The Idaho Statesman. Buchanan will be Washburn's new boss and made the selection. Washburn begins her new job Jan. 10.

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by 01.04.2011
Posted In: News, Media, Republicans, Congress at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Letterman: Boehner Needs Counseling

Leave it to TV talk show host David Letterman to tell it like it is.

Broaching a topic that is on most political junkies' minds these days, Letterman questioned the psychological stability of House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) on his CBS show Monday night.

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