by Ben L. Kaufman
Media musings on Cincinnati and beyond
• Enquirer prices are going
up in a smart way. The paper is embracing a computerized system which
charges frequent users for its digital content. The more individuals
read, the more they’ll be charged. Full access will mean just that and
be available to home delivery and digital subscribers.
However, the Enquirer will
still limit unpaid access to its archives. That’s a cheapening
disservice to readers who want to know more than one day’s or one week’s
Infrequent/occasional readers still will be able to read up to 20
articles a month online content without paying. With new ways to get the
news — smart phones, tablets, etc. — the Enquirer
is adapting. As publisher Margaret Buchanan said in a note to readers
and email, it’s better than following some other dailies by cutting
print editions to three-a-week and charging for digital.
For more than a decade, online versions of print content and unique
online content have been free but that’s not a sustainable business
policy. It’s also been trendy to ask why dailies gave away online what
they charged for in print. One response involved the technological
problems involved in charging for digital content. That apparently is
largely resolved here and elsewhere but it’s taken years. Another
response was that of papers including the New York Times:
free online content except for “premium” offerings such as op-ed
columnists. That failed. It irritated more people than it recruited.
Meanwhile, we became accustomed to the journalistic equivalent of a free
I say “we” because I quit reading any number of favorite publications
when they threw up pay walls that did not include an occasional freebie.
At the head of the pack were the Wall Street Journal and British
dailies owned by Rupert Murdock. That included the London Times and Sunday Times.
The cost was too great for what I largely could find elsewhere. I still
turn to London’s Financial Times which allows me a few reads a
What publishers are learning to their glee is that readers are
willing to pay for much of that now that they can get it on mobile
devices. Surveys indicate that we have an insatiable appetite for news
so long as we can get it anytime, any place we want it. That’s good
news for all of us. Sustainable commercial news media remain vital to
our form of self-government if only because they are everywhere and no
other form of news media can do what they do.
• Maybe some of that new Enquirer
income (above) will allow editor Carolyn Washburn to restore some
traditional assignments that fell victim to years of staff purges. If
anyone needed further proof that firing or retiring specialty beat
reporters exacts a toll on credibility comes in a recent Enquirer
Healthy Living section. The paper turned the entire cover page over to
public relations people promoting their institutions in the guise of
news. At least the Enquirer
doesn’t pretend its reporters wrote those stories; UC Health and OSU got
the bylines. With newsroom staff reductions, it’s open season on
readers for public relations people. They increasingly operate without
the scrutiny and possible intervention of a savvy reporter.
• There is nothing wrong with what UC Health and OSU public relations people do when they offer free content to the Enquirer.
That’s their job; promote the best possible image for their
institutions consistent with the facts. The problem is at the paper.
This goes beyond the traditional back-scratching where reporters rewrite
news releases. That makes it the paper’s product and gives reporters a
chance to ask questions. A lot of what dailies — whether the Enquirer or Wall Street Journal — publish begins with press releases.
This symbiotic relationship can go too far. An Enquirer
journalist once took a junket, came home and put his byline on the
story prepared by the sponsor of the junket. When this
ethical/professional travesty was noted, there was, to the paper’s
shame, little or no condemnation. As one colleague put it, he thought it
was uncommonly well written.
Another time, an Enquirer
journalist put her name on a news release and ran it as a story, then
had the chutzpah to accept an award for that “reporting” from the group
that sent her the original press release.
• The planned Enquirer switch
to smaller, tabloid-like pages has been postponed until 2013; it was to
start this Fall. The paper blames problems with the new format and new
presses at the Columbus Dispatch which is to print both dailies. Meanwhile, Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn continues to tell us that small is beautiful. Or will be.
• Channel 12 made the right decision in terms of audience numbers when
they switched from the men’s final in the U.S. Open to an hour of
Bengals chatter and then the game. However, viewers got an awful
football game and missed what proved to be a riveting tennis match.
• It’s never too early for Harvard undergrads to learn the importance
of fitting into the Establishment. Reporters of the daily Harvard Crimson, the cradle of untold New York Timesmen over the decades, have agreed to clear quotes with Harvard officials before publishing their stories.
Jimromenesko.com reported this ethical blindness, saying, “Sometimes
nothing is changed. But often, the quotations come back revised, to make
the wording more erudite, the phrasing more direct, or the message more
pointed. Sometimes the quotations are rejected outright or are
rewritten to mean just the opposite of what the administrator said in
the recorded interview.”
Romenesko also quoted Crimson
President (editor) Ben Samuels’ memo to his staff. It said, in part,
“(W)e’ve seen an increase over the past several years in sources,
especially Harvard administrators, who insist on reviewing their quotes
prior to publication. When those administrators read their quotes, even
quotes that Crimson reporters have recorded, they frequently ask that these quotes be modified.
Some of Harvard’s highest officials — including the president of the
University, the provost, and the deans of the College and of the Faculty
of Arts and Sciences — have agreed to interviews with The Crimson
only on the condition that their quotes not be printed without their
approval. As a result, their quotes have become less candid, less
telling and less meaningful to our coverage . . . To increase our
striving for frank and informative quotations, we add a new policy now.
Effective immediately, no writer may agree to an interview on the terms
that quotes cannot be published without the source’s approval without
express permission of the Managing Editor or the (editor) President.”
• CNN International (CNNi) is too close to repressive governments with which it has business deals, London’s Guardian
says. “CNNi has aggressively pursued a business strategy of extensive,
multifaceted financial arrangements between the network and several of
the most repressive regimes around the world which the network purports
to cover,” the liberal British paper says. “These arrangements extend
far beyond standard sponsorship agreements for advertising of the type
most major media outlets feature. CNNi produces . . . programs in an
arrangement it describes as ‘in association with’ the government of a
country, and offers regimes the ability to pay for specific programs
about their country.” The Guardian
says these programs are then featured as part of CNNi's so-called "Eye
on" series ("Eye on Georgia", "Eye on the Philippines", "Eye on
Poland"), or "Marketplace Middle East", all of which is designed to tout
the positive economic, social and political features of that country.
The Guardian says “the
disclosure for such arrangements is often barely visible . . . To the
average viewer unaware of these government sponsorships, it appears to
be standard ‘reporting’ from the network.” The paper says that in some
“Eye on” programs, no such disclaimer is provided. CNN's "sponsorship
policy" says "'[P]arts of CNN's coverage beyond the daily news are
produced as special reports, which attract sponsors who pay to associate
their products or services with the editorial content,' but claims that
'at no stage do the sponsors have a say in which stories CNN
• Joe Biden’s acceptance speech at the Democrats’ convention reminded me
that “enormity” is a poor choice for something big enough to brag
about. If the speaker means huge, he/she should stick to that 5 cent
word and skip the 50 cent malaprop. Enormity describes something awful
or outrageous, not just big or important, as in, the enormity of a
famine or genocide. While they’re at it, speech writers should drop
“fraction” from texts they hand dimmer bosses and clients. A fraction
is anything less than the whole: 99/100 of something is a large
fraction. It’s not a synonym for small.
• Sometimes, NPR reporters have me talking back and it’s not because
it’s a “driveway moment,” when I won’t leave the car until the story is
over. It’s usually because they’ve blown a story, not matter how
balanced or detailed the broadcast. Repeated stories about the Chicago
public school teachers’ strike left me wondering: 26,000 teachers for
350,000 students. I know that’s not really 13+ students per teacher in
each classroom but the numbers still cry for explanation that in its he
said/she said reporting, NPR failed to provide.
• Here’s another approach to saving local journalism: invite the local
daily and public radio station to campus and integrate them with
journalism school. The New York Times
devoted a major business story to this innovation by Mercer University
in Macon, Ga. The story mentioned another innovation, this one in Ohio: TheNewsOutlet initiated by the daily Youngstown Vindicator
and Youngstown State University. Now, it includes Kent State and Akron
universities. Journalism students work as interns, providing news
stories to any organization. That made news when ProPublica, the
nonpartisan investigative website, joined forces with TheNewsOutlet.
Youngstown State journalism students initially will work on
investigative stories guided by ProPublica editors. ProPublica also is
an open source news organization.
• I’m willing to risk my perfect record at predicting Pulitzers: Tracey
Shelton’s stunning photo of four Syrian rebels silhouetted by the flash
of a tank shell that killed three of them in Aleppo. How Shelton
escaped is unclear. She is close enough for the men to be individually
recognizable. Her images are at GlobalPost.com: men sweeping a street,
grabbing their weapons at the sight of an advancing Syrian Army tank,
the explosion, the lone survivor running toward her through the smoke,
and his lucky minor arm wound. My previous prediction: that the Pulitzer
committee would change its rules to allow digital entries and honor the
New Orleans Times-Picayune for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina that inundated its presses.
• Poynter Online reports further proof of the nation’s partisan divide:
“In August, 31 percent of Democrats polled by the Pew Research Center
for People & the Press reported hearing ‘mostly bad news’ about the
economy. In September, only 15 percent characterized economic news as
bad. Sixty percent of Republicans and 36 percent of independents polled
said economic news was mostly bad. The poll’s authors found the gap
striking: Differences in perceptions of economic news emerged after
Barack Obama took office. But they never have been as great as they are
• I was delighted to read and hear reporters challenge Romney’s
falsification of the events in Cairo before the deadly riot in Benghazi.
Romney berated Cairo embassy staff for its attempt to defuse rising
Egyptian anger over the online short ridiculing and defaming Muhammed.
The embassy issued a statement sympathizing with Muslim anger over the
video. Romney damned the embassy staff and statement, saying it was the
worst kind of appeasement after rioting in Cairo and Benghazi. He had
to know the statement preceded either riot.
• American news media were of two minds when offered a graphic photo
of a shirtless Chris Stevens after the ambassador was killed in Libya.
Some media used it in their primary news reports. Others didn’t use it
on air or in print but offered it online to readers. I would have used
it. He was not bloody or disfigured, he was not being dragged through
the streets or otherwise abused. He was a murder victim, one of four
Americans killed in the consulate that day, and we can handle these
images and the clarity they bring to events. Our news media showed no
such squeamishness when provided photos of bloody Qaddafi.
• Being a Royal Grandmother probably has always been tough, but Queen
Elizabeth is having another annus terriblus: Prince Harry cavorts naked
with tarts in Las Vegas and the seemingly perfect Kate is photographed
topless on a vacation. Maybe the royals’ police protectors need remedial
ed: cell phone cameras are everywhere and nothing goes unnoticed,
especially if a royal prince is displaying his Crown Jewels, and
paparazzi were sured to track William and Kate and to take off her
bikini top on an outside balcony was unwittingly naive. Someone has to
explain the facts of public life to these folks. They can’t depend on
foreign news media being as deferential as those in the British Isles.
Harry’s immodesty was published in Britain largely because it was
universally available and seen online. Kate’s slip got plenty of online
attention, too. British papers, of course, had to write about the future
queen’s nipples without showing them. If there is an invasion of
privacy suit in France where the photos were published, the photos will
have to be introduced as evidence . . . and there we go again.