WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 

Worst Week Ever!: June 26-July 2

0 Comments · Wednesday, July 3, 2013
SATURDAY JUNE 29: We at WWE! are suckers for a great gimmick — when Papa John’s offers unlimited toppings on medium pizzas we pick up the phone and dial 347-1111 with a quickness.   

'Enquirer' Takes Questionable Approach to Covering Meyers Ordination

Daily refuses to cover "illegal" ordination, but Gannett weekly covers it

2 Comments · Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Thirty-nine years ago, Enquirer editors agreed to cover a global story that still reverberates through some of Christianity’s oldest denominations: the acrimonious debate over whether women may be priests.    

Much Ado About Court Packing

0 Comments · Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Language abuse — as opposed to abusive language — is as old as language itself. After 50-plus years of reporting and editing, I should be used to it, but I’m increasingly irritated by its deliberate, partisan misuse.   
by Ben L. Kaufman 06.12.2013
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism, Ethics, News at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Curmudgeon Notes 6.12.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

• The Enquirer’s MasonBuzz.com wasn’t honest with readers about the source of its story promoting “National Heimlich Maneuver Day.” It was posted by a reporter but carried the byline of Melinda Zemper. She’s not a reporter and she wasn’t identified as a “contributor.” Zemper is public relations professional whose clients include Heimlich interests. She was helpful when I sought out Phil Heimlich for a story recently. That’s her job. So is providing copy ready for publication. With so few reporters and editors, news media are evermore open to such PR material as “news.” Traditional journalism ethics requires that we be told the writer’s underlying interest in the story if it’s not by a reporter or contributor. MasonBuzz.com failed that test.   • London’s Guardian scored its first of two coups when it reported the Obama administration is collecting our cell phone records in the name of national security. The Washington Post followed with its story about spying through Internet sites such as Google. Both relied on the same source, one of thousands of private contractor employees with top security clearances.  • The Guardian’s second coup was its interview with the American who revealed that NSA cell phone tracking: Edward Snowden, 29. The Guardian called him a “former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.” The paper said it named Snowden and published his online video statement at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, the paper said, Snowden eschewed the protection of anonymity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he told the Guardian, although he wants to avoid the media spotlight. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing." That won’t be easy, he conceded. "I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me." Still, he told the Guardian, "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in ... My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."  • Whistleblower Snowden is the civilian version of Army Private Bradley Manning, who gave military and diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. Both were low-level intelligence specialists with high-level security clearance.  Both claim to have acted according to conscience, hoping to save rather than harm our nation. There is a difference, however, that I haven’t seen or heard in facile news media comparisons of Snowden to Manning or Daniel Ellsberg, an academic defense analyst who revealed the Pentagon Papers. Manning’s military and diplomatic cables and Ellsberg’s study of the Vietnam war were in the broadest sense histories. Snowden’s revelations involve current and future data collection and analysis.  • Mother Jones magazine/online also scored two scoops in recent days. It says the Justice Department wants to hide an 86-page opinion by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court that says the government violated the spirit of federal surveillance laws and engaged in unconstitutional spying. Mother Jones’ bureau chief in Washington, David Corn, says the secrecy effort is a response to a Freedom of Information suit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  • In its second coup, Mother Jones says the FBI raided the Winchester, Ky., home of corporate cybersecurity consultant Deric Lostutter. As hacker KYAnonymous, he was instrumental in making the Steubenville rape case a national story. Mother Jones says Lostutter “obtained and published tweets and Instagram photos in which other team members had joked about the incident and belittled the victim. He now admits to being the man behind the mask in a video posted by another hacker on the team's fan page, RollRedRoll.com, where he threatened action against the players unless they apologized to the girl ... According to the FBI's search warrant, agents were seeking evidence related to the hacking of RollRedRoll.com ... If convicted of hacking-related crimes, Lostutter could face up to 10 years behind bars — far more than the one- and two-year sentences doled out to the Steubenville rapists.” • Local news media embrace an uncritical “boost, don’t knock” approach to local festivals. Even so, they ignored a great photo op at the opening of Summer Fair. Hundreds of people stood in line in the Coney Island parking lot while two people — at one table — took admission money. Some people waited more than 30 minutes to get in. Parking was free, so no one knows how many potential customers took one look and drove away.   • A recent Enquirer cover story confirms what a lot of people have known for years: Go elsewhere for sophisticated cancer care. What’s news is the admission in a proposed UC major investment to bring advanced cancer care here.  • Another Enquirer cover story made my prehensile toes curl with joy. The Creation Museum is evolving to allow us to return to tree tops ... via zip lines.  • I’m still unhappy about NPR’s decision to kill Talk of the Nation carried here 2-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday. It was the nation’s best long-format public radio interview program, sort of a New Yorker of the air.  Starting July 1, WVXU plans to fill the newly vacant 2-3 p.m. gap with an expanded Cincinnati Edition using current staff as hosts. I hope it retains long-format interviews.  With its limited resources newly devoted to the expanded Monday-Thursday Cincinnati Edition, WVXU is ending Maryanne Zeleznik’s Thursday morning long-format Impact Cincinnati interview show and the staff’s Saturday and Sunday one-hour weekend Cincinnati Edition. There were good regular segments and I hope they’ll be woven into the new format.  To fill 3-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday, WVXU is bringing in The Takeaway. WVXU says it’s is a co-production of WNYC Radio and Public Radio International, in collaboration with New York Times Radio and WGBH Boston. The Takeaway carries the tagline, “Welcome to the American Conversation.” We’ll see. Talk of the Nation set a very high standard. • Sunday’s Enquirer Forum calls on Ohio to expand Medicaid despite a shortage of physicians and others to cope. In part, the paper notes, few med school grads choose primary care. Reasons aren’t that complicated. Relatively low salaries paid to primary care physicians mean docs will spend a good portion of their adult lives repaying loans that often began as undergrads and compounded while adding med school loans. Another reason is that Medicaid pays even less than Medicare for office visits and treatments. That’s helps explain why primary care docs aren’t better paid and some practices limit their Medicaid and Medicare patients.  The Enquirer should dig still deeper into related issues. Why should taxpayers provide health insurance (Medicaid or unpaid emergency care) to badly paid workers whose major employers provide little or no health care insurance? Why do we as a nation offer such niggardly support to med students that they opt for higher paid specialties which ease loan repayments? (This isn’t a personal beef. Our daughter, whose board certifications include family practice, went through medical school on a UC scholarship but many classmates graduated with life-limiting debt.) • NPR had a long story on how jelly fish are multiplying at a rate that creates or exacerbates problems in the oceans. These prehistoric creatures survive, multiply and prosper without a spine or brain. Apt analogies encouraged.  • The cascade of information about NSA snooping has an unintended benefit. Pervasive federal intrusions no longer are “just a journalists’ thing.” Millions of Americans now know their cell phone calls and email/Internet data are being collected and analyzed by NSA computers and agents. This growing consciousness may provoke a groundswell that could provide brains and spine for Congress to correct police state legislation passed after 9/11.  • Eric Holder — still U.S. attorney general when this was written — is almost contrite about Justice Department grabbing reporters’ telephone and email records. He now says he won’t prosecute reporters just doing our jobs. Any journalist who accepts his assurance lacks the minimum skepticism required for our trade. Holder serves at the pleasure of a president whose antipathy to leaks recalls Nixon’s creation of the Plumbers. • NKU dropout Gary Webb shared the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for San Jose Mercury’s coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Then he took on the CIA in his sometimes-overreaching 1996 Mercury series, Dark Alliance, which said crack cocaine was being sold in Los Angeles’ black ghettos to support CIA-supported contras in Nicaragua. The LA Times and others — including the NYTimes and Washington Post — were embarrassed by Webb and the nowhere San Jose paper. They went all out to discredit Webb and his findings. Webb’s errors and inadequately supported assertions gave critics their opening. Irrespective of the the national papers’ attacks inaccuracies and misdirection, they ruined Webb’s career and he committed suicide. Years later, even former critics acknowledged the generally substantiated core of Webb’s series: CIA ignored Contra cocaine smuggling and its spread of crack in U.S. inner cities. A movie is being made about Webb and the CIA series, Kill the Messenger. • NPR’s Morning Edition described in broad detail an NSA data center going up outside Salt Lake City. Computers are so large and hot that they will need 1.5 million gallons of cooling water daily. I wish NPR told me where that water was coming from and where it would go after being used to cool the computers.   • With friends like this ... Aljazeera.com reports that Syrian rebels executed a 15-year-old Aleppo coffee vendor in front of his family because the killers thought a common Syrian retort was blasphemy. The youth apparently refused someone coffee on credit, saying, “Even if Mohammad comes down, I will not give it as a debt.”  • Obama’s meeting at Sunnylands, the Annenberg estate near Palm Springs, Calif., pricked my nostalgia. In the early 1940s, my father, an Army physician, was stationed in Palm Springs. A visionary local developer offered Dad some land. As our family legend goes, that friend assured my father that “after the war,” Palm Springs would boom. Headed for combat in Europe and uncertain what might follow, Dad said thanks, but no thanks. Oh, well. If Dad had taken his friend’s offer, last week’s Obama-Xi meeting could have been on a Kaufman desert hideaway, “10,000 Lakes.”
 
 

Cincinnati's 1 Percent

7 Comments · Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Rich people get to do whatever the hell they want in this city. Maybe that’s the way it is in every city and anyone surprised by it is a simpleton who clearly grew up on the wrong side of I-75. But the influence that Cincinnati's rich people have over the direction of this city and the distribution of its resources should disturb everyone.   

The Ethics of Intrusion

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Intruding is something reporters do. Intrusions can be personal, professional, financial or commercial. Or more than one of the above. And, yes, despite inexplicably loud cell phone conversations, awareness of omnipresent smartphone cameras and overly revealing Facebook posts, many Americans still assert their right to privacy.   

Cincinnati vs. The World 04.24.2013

0 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Best news we already knew: Science has confirmed that just the taste of a single sip of beer can make you happier by jump-starting dopamine levels in your brain. WORLD +2    
by Ben L. Kaufman 03.11.2013
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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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 Ben L. Kaufman 01.08.2013
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism, Ethics at 03:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Curmudgeon Notes 1.09.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

• Here’s a story for local health/medicine reporters: why is Christ Hospital reducing service at its outpatient cardiac rehab center? Recently, patients received this bizarre letter:  “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.
 
 

Appreciating Non-Mainstream Media

0 Comments · Wednesday, November 28, 2012
I value small publications with strong opinions or reporting. The small publications that I turn to live off subscriptions, a few ads, wealthy benefactors, foundations and/or myriad smaller donations.     

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