Monday, June 19, 2017

MAKING NATIONAL NEWS LOCAL NEWS -- OR NOT

As it turns out, one of the seven sailors killed aboard the USS Fitzgerald when a Japanese freighter ran into it off the coast of Japan on Saturday is a local man from Weslaco, Texas --Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Petty Office Noe Hernandez.

During my 12 years as editor of The Monitor one of the things I learned was that it seemed that whenever there was an announcement from the Defense Department that three or more US service men and/or wormen were killed at one time -- whether in combat or in an accident -- at least one of them would very likely be from the Rio Grande Valley.

And when that happened, we always got the news staff moving very quickly to localize the story by contacting any local family members, friends, former teachers, ministers, priests, anyone local who could help us put a human face on the tragic death of Valley native killed while serving his or her country. The staff would update the story online throughout the day and for the morning print edition would usually craft and excellent profile of the deceased service person with photos of family and friends, etc.

After a while, particularly as the death tolls mounted in Iraq and Afghanistan, the staff's quick reaction became almost automatic and The Monitor's reporters and photographers produced some outstanding -- an in many instances award winning, well read and greatly appreciated by the community -- work detailing the lives of servicemen and servicewomen who had sacrificed all for their country.

I think every member of the staff felt it was the right thing for us to do to honor the local fallen members of our armed forces for what they had done for us.

I fully expected this tradition -- which is followed by many American newspapers -- would continue because it is expected by and respected by the local community. It is just one of the ways a local newspaper keeps faith with its readers.

I have, however, been quite dismayed with the way my former newspaper has thus far handled the death of Petty Officer Hernandez.

Sunday evening -- several hours after the U.S. Department of Defense put out a news release giving the names and hometowns of those killed aboard the USS Fitzgerald -- The Monitor, under the headline "Navy: Weslaco man among 7 killed aboard USS Fitzgerald," posted an Associated Press story online that read, in it entirety:

YOKOSUKA, Japan (AP) — The U.S. Navy says a 26-ear-old Weslaco man is among the seven sailors who died in a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship off Japan on Saturday.
They are:
— Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia
— Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California
— Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut
— Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas
— Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlosvictor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California
— Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland

— Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio

Apparently, someone at least thought to rewrite the lead so that it emphasized the fact that one of the dead was a local man. However, the person who handled the rewrite committed an uncorrected typographical error saying Petty Office Hernandez was a "26-ear-old." Whatsmore, the rewrite failed to give his name in the lead. That was left for the list that followed and even then Hernandez's name was left at the No. 4 spot on the list.

Even KRGV TV-5 did a better job with it's online story, posting this:

Weslaco - The U.S. Navy has confirmed a Weslaco native was killed when a ship container off the coast of Japan hit the U.S.S. Fitzgerald.
The collision happened around 2 a.m. Saturday Japan time.
Commander Ron Flanders, Spokesperson with U.S. Naval Forces in Japan, tells CHANNEL FIVE NEWS Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez is one of the 7 sailors killed in the collision.
Commander Flanders says Hernandez was in the birthing space of the ship when it was struck by a 30,000 ton Philippine cargo ship. The cargo ship's bulbous head hit the crew's living quarters, giving sailors just minutes to escape.
"The crew shined in this moment and kept the ship afloat. Unfortunately, two of the ships crew birthing spaces where the sailors were sleeping were flooded and 7 sailors were trapped inside and were lost at that time." said Commander Ron Flanders.
Officials are questioning what that Philippine container ship did just moments before hitting the U.S.S. Fitzgerald.
Multiple maritime trackers show the ship made a U-turn minutes before the collision.
Commander Flanders says the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and Japanese Coast Guard is investigating.

The U.S. Navy is planning a memorial service in Japan next week.

At least in it's online story, Channel 5 didn't bury Hernandez' name half way down on a list of people from elsewhere and it appears that someone from the TV station at least made the effort to actually talk to a Navy spokesperson

There was a story on the front page of The Monitor's print edition this moring under the one-column headline:
Navy: Valley
man among
7 sailors who
died on USS
Fitzgerald

But no one bothered to rewrite the AP lead to reflect that a local man was among the dead. Despite the headline, the interesting local angle on the Fitzgerald story was left until 8 to 10 column inches into the story (in the eight paragraph which appeared on the inside "jump" page). The subject of the lead was the mother of one of the surviving sailors who was from Raleigh, N.C.

It has now (10:40 CDT) been about 14 hours since The Monitor's online story was posted and, as yet, no attempt has been made to update it, not even to correct the "26-EAR-old" typo.

This makes me wonder if anyone on the news staff is busy working to profile Petty Officer Hernandez to update The Monitor's online presence today or even a for tomorrow morning's print edition.

This is not a good exampe of keeping faith with the readers and if a newspaper does not keep faith with its readers, it can hardly expect readers to keep faith with it -- this explains, at least in part, why the circulation of many newspapers is in decline. I've said if before and I still believe it to be true: Newspapers are not so much dying as they are committing suicide.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

"IT'S NOT STEVE FAGAN'S PAPER ANYMORE"

Four years ago today -- on April 30, 2013 -- I retired from newspapering after a 45-year-career that began with a post-Navy reporting job at the New Albany (Ind.) Tribune in 1977 and ended with an 11-year and 8-month run as editor of The Monitor here in McAllen, Texas. Along the way I worked at reporting and various editing jobs at nine newspapers ranging from major metro to mid-sized dailies in seven different states.

This morning, it seems somehow fitting the fourth anniversary of my retirement comes the day after the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington that was boycotted by America's so-called president, Donald Trump. It was an event keynoted by speeches by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward the two Washington Post reporters whose Watergate reporting led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. They were introduced as two reporters whose work inspired a generation of American Journalists.

I was one of them.

As they spoke, I could not help but reflect on where American Journalism rose to in the wake of their Watergate work and where it has descended to today, something that has troubled me seriously since well before I retired as I watched the newspaper industry withering.

Many of my former newspapering colleagues along with newspaper industry critics and analysts say the newspapers are dying because they are an outmoded medium that readers are abandoning. I, however, have long disagreed with that assessment, contending instead that newspapers aren't dying, they are committing suicide and continue to lose readership not because readers are abandoning them but rather because they have abandoned readers.

Proof of my theory is quite evident with this morning's edition of the final newspaper that I had been editor of, The Monitor.

As editor, I always felt that the Sunday edition -- the highest circulation paper of the week -- should be a showcase with a front page featuring at the very least one well-planned, primary story package that was investigative or interpretive or analytical in nature and always an in-depth piece with photos or illustration or graphics and always of real and serious importance to and impact upon readers. It was a philosophy my staff always shared and executed throughout my tenure as editor even as the company that owned the paper -- Freedom Communications -- slipped into bankruptcy and was taken over by investment bankers interested only in profits who gutted our budget and forced me to reduce staff by nearly half -- fortunately, mainly through attrition rather than any large layoffs. In the end, the paper was sold -- along with Freedom's other Texas papers -- to its current owners.

Today, only seven members of the news staff that was at the paper when I departed remain and only one staffer remains who was there when I arrived for my first day at the Monitor on August 27, 2001. At its peak that news staff numbered 53 people, many of whom -- because of their talent and hard and outstanding work at The Monitor -- have gone on to bigger and better things at some of the nation's top major metro dailies or highly respected, and REAL online news sites and at least one having a piece of two separate Pulitzer Prizes.

Some my former staffers, who have now no longer with The Monitor, told me a couple of months after my departure that after they mentioned to my successor that something wasn't being handled the way it would have been while I was editor, he told them (quite correctly) that "this isn't Steve Fagan's paper anymore."

And that was quite evident in today's fourth anniversary of my retiring from newspapering edition of The Monitor.



The main story package was not an in-depth investigative, interpretive or analytical piece, but rather at five-paragraph, five-inch-long, "Staff Report" story revealing that a float normally featured in the McAllen Christmas Parade had been carted up to San Antonio for the 2017 Fiesta Flambeau Parade. The story -- which read pretty much like a press release -- was accompanied by three really bad (and badly reproduced) handout photos provided "courtesy of McAllen Parks & Recreation" department. In Steve Fagan's Monitor, this would have been a single photo and cutline probably inside the Valley & State section, but certainly NOT on the main package on Page 1.



One of the other three Page 1 stories -- also bylined as a "staff report" -- announced that former San Antonio Spurs forward Robert Horry would be the keynote speaker at the 2017 All-Valley Sports Awards Banquet, an even sponsored by The Monitor and its parent company AIM Texas Media, which also owns the Brownsville Herald, El Nuevo Heraldo, the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen and the weekly Mid-Valley Town Crier.

A third story was a piece headlined "Island LGBT celebration wraps up with parade today." This  story had some promise particularly if it had dealt, at least somewhat, with the issue of LGBT discrimination in Texas -- which has long been pretty rampant -- and where it stands as we rapidly descend into becoming Donald Trump's bigoted America. It could have featured, maybe, some interviews with actual participants in the event and their feelings on where things are headed with LGBT rights, etc. It, however, didn't and ended up reading more like a South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce press release.



The last story on the page, headlined "Valley businesses joining May 1 strike," had the most potential. In fact, in terms of its topic, it could have been the main story package for the Sunday paper. But it fell woefully short because, apparently, no one recognized its potential for being something better than it was or, if they did recognize that potentially, they simply didn't care enough to push to develop it. Hispanic organizations across the United States are calling for a nationwide "Day Without Immigrants" (Una dia Sin Immigrantes) strike to call attention to the importance of immigrants in the United States' society and economy and to decry the immigration policies and attitudes of Donald Trump, his administration and the Republican controlled Congress. This could have been a meaningful, Valley wide story that took a serious look at immigrants and the roles in America. This area, after all, is something like 90+ percent Hispanic in population and tens of thousands of people here are immigrants both legal and undocumented and hundreds of thousands are descendant of immigrants. Here, a strike by a significant number of immigrants and their supporters who grind everything to a complete standstill. This story could have explored how many area businesses are going to support their employees' participation in the strike and how local government officials, chambers of commerce, schools, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, South Texas College, etc. view the strike. The story could have included interviews with workers, students, etc. who are planning to participate in the strike and what message they are hoping it will send and what good they think it might actually accomplish. It could have been a very strong Sunday package including photos of the anticipated participants, perhaps with strike placards they are making or have already prepared. But to have carried that off would have required that someone be awake at the switch, which didn't happen. The story instead was simply coverage of a press conference in which two businesses said they are supporting their workers who might want to participate in the strike -- a disappointing piece full of unrealized potential.

Essentially, the Sunday edition of The Monitor, published on the fourth anniversary of my retirement from newspapering had a front page that gave readers absolutely no reason to pick it up off the lawn and certainly no reason to buy a single copy newspaper off a rack. And a such is unfortunately way too representative of what's wrong with too many newspapers today.


Yep, "it's not Steve Fagan's paper anymore."


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Friday, June 24, 2016

A 45-YEAR NEWSPAPER CAREER IS CHOCK FULL OF SOUVENIRS, MEMORIES THAT CAN'T BE BOUGHTEN

In his song "Souvenirs" the late, great Chicago folk singer, songwriter Steve Goodmam came up with this in his lyrics:
   
     Memories, they can't be boughten
     They can't be won a carnivals for free
     Well, it took me years
     To get those souvenirs
     And I don't know how they slipped away from me

Well, I was in the garage earlier this week weeding through boxes of sourvenirs from my 45-year career in newspaper newsrooms -- with the intent of getting rid of stuff I really didn't want -- when I came across a picture frame containing a white name tag enclosed in a clear, plastic sleeve with a swatch of red ribbon attached and a purpling with age 3 x 5 photograph of three guys in tuxedos, each with a name tag and red ribbon pinned on them. The ribbon has gold leaf on it reading "DSA (Distinguished Service Award) Winner." Here is the photo: 


The three tux-clad mokes are (from left to right): Me, then assistant managing editor; Mark Thompson, then Washington Bureau reporter; and the late Jack Tinsley, then executive editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The photograph was shot in 1985 in Salt Lake City where Mark, Jack and I had just picked up the Society of Professional Journalists national Distinguished Service Award for Public Service in Journalism. The newspaper won the award, one of American journalism's most prestigious, for Thompson's incredible five-part series detailing a design defect in the Cobra and Huey helicopters that Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter built for the U.S. military. The series revealed that the company had known about the design defect for years and had a fix for it but did not correct it even though it had apparently been responsible for the loss of many choppers, costing the lives of numerous GIs, particularly during the Vietnam War. As a result of the work by Thompson, who now reports on the military for Time Magazine, all of the U.S. military's Bell Cobra and Huey helicopters were grounded and retrofitted with a device that corrected the design defect.

Naturally, finding the the picture frame with this souvenir ribboned name tag and aging photo kicked off a wave of memories.

During my 45-year newspaper career, the Bell Helicoter series was one of the finest pieces of journalism I was ever associated with, had the privilege of editing and, as it turned out, defending in the face of demands from Bell's top officials that the series be halted and that Thompson and I be fired -- him for pursuing and writing it and me for being responsible for its oversight and publication. Ahhhhhh, yes, those were the days. Incidently, the series went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service and several other major national awards that year.

The first part of the series was publish on Sunday, Mar. 25, 1984. By the time Monday morning rolled around, after publication of the second part, the angry phone calls from officials and employees at Bell -- then Fort Worth's single largest employer -- had reached a fever pitch. When I walked into my office shortly after 9 that morning, I was greated by phone and written messages inviting me to Jack Tinsley's office immediately.

Jack informed me that Jack Horner, the president of Bell Helicopter, had called him after trying unsuccessfully to contact Publisher Phil Meek, who was, I think, out of town on business. Tinsley told me that Horner was demanding that the series be halted immediately and that the paper issue an apology to Bell and that Thompson and "the editor responsible for publishing" the series be fired. Tinsley told me that he had left a message for Meek to call him ASAP so they could consult on Horner's demands and he said there was certainly chance the I might lose my job.

Meek finally called back and Jack -- with his phone on speaker and me sitting there across from his large cluttered desk -- told the publisher about the rising storm from Bell and its employees and about Horner's call and demands. Phil assured Jack that he did not want to halt what might be one of the paper's best-ever jounalism efforts and that neither Mark nor I would be fired.

"Well, what do I tell Jack Horner," Tinsley asked. Without hesitation, Meek replied: "Tell Horner to go fuck himself."

So, moments later, and still on speaker phone with me sitting there, Tinsley called Horner back.

"I talked to Phil Meek about your demand that we halt the series, publish an apology to Bell and fire Mark Thompson and Steve Fagan, the editor responsiblefor publication of the series," Tinsley told Horner.

"Well, what did Phil have to say," Horner asked with icy smugness.

"He said for me to tell you to go fuck yourself," said Tinsley. A Loud click came over the speaker followed by the dial tone. Tinsley hung up his receiver, and turned toward me with a big grin on his face and suggested I get back to my office because I was probably going to have a lot of phone calls to answer.

Before I could get back to my office, however, Circulation Director Jim Tingle -- an ex-paratroop officer who stood about a head and a half taller than me -- cornered me in a hallway and angrily backed me into a corner.

"What the hell do you think you're doing? Do you now how many cancellations we've had this morning already," he asked with a glaring red face. "More than 300 and that's just for starters."

He then informed me that officials at the Bell plant had pulled all of our circulation boxes off the property and tossed them outside the main gate and the off-work Bell employees were planning to show up and picket outside the newspaper building after lunch (which they did).

Tingle then demanded to know "why the hell are we running this story and did anybody consider what kind of problems it would cause" for his department.

I blurted out that we were running it "because it's a great piece of Journalism."

"Oh, yeah," he responded. He then drew the thumb, index and middle finger of his right hand tightly together and used them to pound on my sternum with each word as he growled emphatically: "Well, if it's such a goddammned great piece of journalism, why wasn't it in the New York Times or Washington Post first." With one final snort, he stormed off leaving me shaken and my sternum bruised.

Once the flood of memories subsided, I decided to post the photo on Facebook. It almost immediately started drawing "likes" and comments -- lots of them -- from my, Mark's and Jack's mutual and individual friends.

Among the comments, the one that surprised and touched me most came from Phil Meek, who has Mark as one of the select few people he has friended on Facebook. During my newspaper career I was fortunate to have worked for several pretty good publishes including Barry Bingham Sr. and Barry Bingham Jr. at The Louisville Courier-Journal and Times, and Olaf Frandsen and Ray Stafford at The Montior here in McAllen, Texas. But I think, perhaps, the best publisher I ever worked for was Meek because unlike the others who came up with a newspaper background, Meek come to the business from the automobile industry. However, he seemed to have an innate understanding of the role and responsibility of the press in general and newpapers in particular.  As publisher he seemed absolutely fearless and was 100 pecent supportive of his newspeople, putting his full faith and trust in their work until they were proven beyond doubt to be wrong. He seemed to truly believe that the purpose of a newspaper was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

In his comment, Phil wrote regarding the photo:

"It was so appropriate that by his presence Steve was recognized for his largely unheralded work behind the scenes that helped Mark's four part (actually five part) investigative series lead to the awarding of the Granddaddy of the Pulitzers, the Gold Medal to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for Distinguished Public Service in May 1985."

Appreciating that sort of comment from a publisher I greatly admired, it replied with this:

PHIL: Editor's seldom get publicly heralded for their behind the scenes work and editing of fine pieces of reportage. That, rightfully goes to the reporters who have to bust their butts and often even put their personal safety on the line to piece together the information that makes up a good story or series and then write it in a form an editor can grasp and hone. Editors, the good ones, take their pleasure from seeing the people they supervise doing good journalistic work and knowing that, in part, their directing, influence and encouragement have an impact on that work. As far as the Bell Helicopter series was concerned. I felt I got all the heralding I needed from the people whose heralding really mattered most to me -- you, Mark, Jack, my colleagues at the Star-Telegram and from those who had worked for or with me at other papers who knew and understood that this was one of the finest examples ever of the kind of journalistic efforts I tried to promote and encourage my staffers to engage in.


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Thursday, May 26, 2016

LIBERAL MEDIA? BAH, HUMBUG!

If I ever hear the term "liberal media" again after this presidential election I think that, despite my advancing age, I will have to throttle the son of a bitch who says it.

The "media" today is largely corporate owned and in the case of the print media largely owned by investment bankers or companies heavily indebted to investment bankers who are nearly all, by definition, very conservative.

And if you don't think the money is calling the shots on the way things are covered and that that money is anything but either right leaning or flat out right-wing sympathetic you're crazier than an outhouse mouse.

As a result, March-Hare-mad billionaire Donald Trump is allowed, particularly in the electronic media, to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants without question or challenge. Not only is It positively disgusting, but it is enabling the bigotry, hate and fear that he spews to already alter the character of the nation and a large number of its people.

If today's media moguls think that some how after the election they will be able to control Trump and keep him from carrying out his ego-based, insane, fascist agenda that will destroy this country and likely lead to a third -- and this time nuclear -- world war and possibly a second civil war, they are dead wrong and 65 to 80 percent of us will wind up just plain dead.

For nearly 45 years, I was proud to be a member of -- and for many of those years a leader, as the editor of three different daily newspapers, of a small segment of -- the U.S. media.

Yes, throughout that time I was, and still am, a liberal, but I kept my personal politics out of the way the newspapers I was in charge of covered news. (It should be noted that I worked for nine newspaper during my career and only one, the Louisville Courier Journal & Times, was owned by liberals.)

As an editor, I also struggled -- for the most part effectively -- against the efforts, even then, of conservative owners and/or publishers to bend the news to their liking.

When it comes to the term "liberal media," let's be totally honest. Even when print media was largely privately owned, the owners were wealthy and mostly conservative. Then, they started selling off their newspapers to corporations, which were/are mainly conservative. The electronic media has pretty much always been under conservative corporate ownership. Essentially, "liberal" has played an almost non-existent role in media ownership in this country for decades.

During most of my nearly 45 years in the daily newspaper business, most of the top news executives that I've known of being fired for political reasons were let go not because they were too conservative, but rather because they were regarded by those whose money controlled their medium as being too liberal.

Now, with all of the nation's "mainstream," traditional media in general in financial decline, and newspapers in particular suffering, it seems to me that the money interest that are in control of most media outlets -- particularly electronic -- are being allowed by job scared news executives to dictate, subtly or even overtly, the manner and nature of political coverage for this election. It seems that virtually every network news cast begins with the words "Donald Trump today..." And what follows is video and/or audio of Trump rattling off a litany of hate, racism and bigotry unfettered by questions.

From that manner and nature of the coverage, it seems quite obvious, at least to me, that the money behind the media has settled for and is embracing the idea of Donald Trump, who appears to be as certifiably nuts as Adolf Hitler, as America's president/fuhrer.


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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

TV NETWORK PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY COVERAGE: All Trump, All The Time?

NOTE: This marks the return of The Ancient Newspaper Editor, which has been on too long a hiatus, which was due in part to my having been through an extended hospital stay in connection with a heart attack and bacterial spinal cord infection. I'm doing better now, thank you, but will be having back surgery next week. My apologies for the hiatus.



A story on Huffington Post Politics this morning (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-networks_us_56df9346e4b0860f99d72720?section=politics) makes in it's headline this interesting observation:

Networks Didn't Cut From Donald Trump's Speech Once To Air Hillary Clinton

Instead, America got to watch Trump promote his line of steaks


The story by Jennifer Bendery, White House and congressional reporter for the Huffington Post, goes on to say: "Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton gave a stump speech Tuesday night, but chances are you didn't see it, since none of the major TV networks covered it. They were all glued to GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump's rambling speech/press conference/self-promotional event happening at the same time."
 
It seems to me that this has gotten to be a really serious problem with all of the networks and not just when providing live primary election night coverage.

This morning, for instance, ABC's Good Morning America allowed Trump to drone on unchallenged, and virtually uninterrupted for way more than 5 and probably closer to 10 minutes -- which is an exceedingly long and unusual amount of time to devote to a single "news" interview -- about his win in Michigan. Meanwhile, George Stephanopoulos sat there largely staring into the camera slack jawed, particularly after Trump verbally slapped him around for "making a negative out of a big win" after the GMA anchor pointed out that exit polls showed Trump had "lost" with late deciders -- a valid point considering 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney's recently launched "Stop Trump" campaign.

On the other side, how long was the GMA interview with Bernie Sanders regarding his stunning upset win in Michigan?

Yeah, that's right, what interview with Bernie Sanders. Or, what interview even with Hillary Clinton for that matter.

Yep, you've got it, the ONLY candidate from either party actually interviewed live or even recorded on GMA this morning was Trump.

This has become the disturbing reality thus far during this presidential primary election season. It's been my feeling for months now that for all practical intents and purposes when it come to viewing political news on the TV networks, Trump almost appears from the frequency, the coverage time devoted and the extent of coverage to be the only candidate running. Certainly, he's the only candidate given so much network time to just run his mouth. It's gotten so bad on Good Morning America, an about 25-year viewing habit that my wife and I just can't seem to break, that we refer to the show these days as the "Morning Trump Hour."

The all-Trump, all-the-time coverage by the networks has gotten so pervasively bad in at least my view that is has me wondering -- against my normally better judgment -- if it's not time to employ some provisions of the Equal Time rule to help retool and bring back the Federal Communication Commission's Fairness Doctrine, which died in 2011.

Between them, the Equal Time rule and the Fairness Doctrine recognized the advantage that excessive TV time/coverage could give a politically charged issue or political candidate and required the networks to provide fair and balanced coverage and/or to give all political candidates equal time on the air.

Granted, living by and complying with an FCC rule that would combine aspects of the Equal Time Rule and the old Fairness Doctrine would be burden on the networks, but I think it would insure equitable and responsible coverage -- something the networks seem to have totally tossed out the window this election season.

It's my feeling that they have done so in favor of fawning over Donald Trump and giving him whatever his bullying heart desires and demands to the detriment of the kind of fair, balanced and inquisitive political coverage they should be providing. In essence, the networks -- intentionally or not -- have been helping Trump sell a rotten bill of political goods that is based on hatred, bigotry, jingoism and Fascist/Nazi philosophy -- all things that are supposed to be totally un-American.

I'm sure the current crop of network news department "leaders" justify to themselves the excessive Trump coverage by telling themselves that they want to be careful to avoid being accused of being "liberal media," which is a myth anyway.

Once upon a time, TV network news operations were run, or heavily influenced, by the likes of  Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings -- journalists with an inbred sense of fairness and balance and the intestinal fortitude and character to challenge bullshit no mater how powerful, wealthy or well-placed the source or politician it was coming from. In their day, network news programming was regarded almost strictly as the coverage and passing along of vital information. Electronic news media leaders with their character and keen sense of journalistic ethics didn't need the Fairness Doctrine or the Equal Time Rule to ensure fair coverage or equal time and treatment.

Today, network news is run by the likes of Fox's Roger Ailes and has become way too heavily regarded within the industry as entertainment and -- particularly in the case of Fox and to a slightly lesser degree MSNBC -- point-of-view propaganda that are passed off as news.

It's as if all of the TV networks have lost any and all sense of journalistic responsibility at a time when their influence is extremely powerful, particularly as the usually much more inquisitive, hard-hitting, fair, balanced and in-depth print media continues to fade from public consumption.

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(As a footnote and for the sake of transparency, let me point out that during this primary season I have personally supported Bernie Sanders because he is the one person running who I regard as a progressive idealist of the John and Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey variety.)

 
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Thursday, May 7, 2015

ARE COWS BECOMING TOO SACRED FOR TOO MANY OF TODAY'S TROUBLED NEWSPAPERS?

My friend Michael H. Price, who I worked with many years ago at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, posted this provocative early 20th Century cartoon, by socialist editorial cartoonist Art Young, depicting the newspapers of the time as brothels:


With the posting, Mike wrote: "The newspaper racket as a brothel. True enough at the start of the 20th Century, when Art Young published this cartoon, and truer in the Great Here & Now. Exceptions all along, of course, but fewer and fewer exceptions. Too much Bread & Circuses, and nowhere near enough provocative substance."

I really wish I could disagree with Mike, but, frankly, I think the sentiment expressed in this cartoon is just as accurate today -- with newspapers continuing to suffer financial hardships due to declining advertising revenues -- as it probably was then. Perhaps even more so.

I've touched on this topic before, in my Feb. 13, 2015, post "NEWSPAPER ETHICS: MAINTAINING (OR NOT) THE LINE BETWEEN DOLLARS AND SENSE," which you will find still available among my older blog posts.

Many of today's papers have seemingly accorded "scared cow" status to large local advertisers -- who seem to have no qualms about using the weight of their advertising dollars to bully publishers and editors -- and to prominent local people, business leader and particularly vocal groups in their communities who raise objections to certain kinds of content.

Once upon a time, back when newspapers were making higher profits than almost any other industry in the United States, most reputable newspapers took great pride in contending they had no sacred cows.

Prominent among those newspapers was afternoon Louisville Times -- where I took my first, post-college reporting job in 1970 -- and its morning sister publication, The Louisville Courier-Journal. But even then and even there, the "no sacred cows" contention wasn't exactly true as I learned when I wrote a story about Democrat Louisville Mayor Dr. Harvey I. Sloane not paying several years worth of a state tax (the exact title of which I can no longer recall) that applied only to those who, like Sloane, were extremely wealthy.

I knew Sloane was good friends with the also very wealthy Bingham family, owners of the papers at the time, who had thrown their full and the newspaper's full support behind his bid to become mayor.

By the time I turned in the story to the city desk the evening before it was to be published in the next afternoon's paper, I had all of my facts confirmed and double checked and even had the mayor acknowledging that he'd "overlooked" the payments due under the tax and his promise that he would immediately make good on what he owed.  My editors and I figured that with all of this nailed down, the cozy relationship between the Binghams and the mayor wouldn't matter when it came to publishing a story about him being significantly delinquent -- we're talking many tens of thousands for dollars delinquent (over the intervening 40 some years I can't recall the exact amount, but I think is was something like $72,000 and change) -- in the payment of any rightfully owed tax.

We were wrong.

When my story was published in the day's first edition, it appeared stripped six-columns across the top of the front page under a large headline that said something like "Mayor fails to pay $72,000 in taxes."

When copies of the first edition hit Publisher Barry Bingham Jr.'s desk, our managing editor, apparently got a call from Barry Jr. raising cain over the story.

As a result, in the day's second edition, the story was moved to the bottom of the page, with the same headline. But that apparently didn't salve Barry Jr.'s state of pisstivity. He didn't want the story on Page 1, period. In addition, Bingham contended that the story was minimalized by my high-up sentence explaining that the particular tax Sloane owed only applied to the very wealthy.

So, by the day's final edition, the story had been moved to a page deep inside the local section under the headline "Mayor fails to pay obscure tax."

As a reporter and then editor at other newspapers where I worked throughout most of the rest of my more than 44 year career, I encountered similar experiences, even though most of those papers also took great pride in saying they had no sacred cows.

Of course, I did enjoy and number of instances where advertisers or prominent individuals and/or business leaders were told that their dollars or their influence were not going to interfere with the publication of valid news stories.

One such instance occurred while I was assistant managing editor for news and projects at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in connection with the Bell Helicopter series that went on to win the 1985 Public Service Pulitzer Prize. The series dealt with a design flaw in some of the helicopters that Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter built for the U.S. military. In the five-day series, Washington Bureau Reporter Mark Thompson revealed the design flaw -- which led to an in-flight phenomenon called "mast bumping" -- had caused the deaths of nearly 250 service men between 1973 and 1984 and that it had gone uncorrected even after Bell's chief attorney brought it to the attention of company executives in 1979 and recommended the problem be fixed immediately.

The series, which began its five-day run on Sunday, March 25, 1984. enraged Jack Horner, president of Bell, which was the city's single largest employer. On Monday morning the furious Horner called to speak to Publisher Phil Meek, who was out of town. So he settled for screaming over the phone at Executive Editor Jack Tinsley, demanding the series be immediately halted, that the people responsible for it be immediately fired and that a top-of-the-front-page apology to Bell Helicopter be published across six-columns of the Tuesday paper, or else.

Tinsley called me -- as the editor responsible for overseeing those who produced and did the primary editing on the series and for actually putting it in the paper -- into his office. Frankly, I fully expected to be fired.

However, Tinsley told me he had reached Phil Meek by phone and informed him of Horner's demands.

"I asked him what I should tell Horner and Phil told me to tell Horner to go fuck himself. So, that's pretty much what I did," Tinsley told me. Although, by that afternoon, all of our single-copy sales boxes on Bell property had been ripped up and tossed outside the plant gates and a group of Bell employees had begun picketing outside the newspaper, the series continued and my job, Thompson's job and job of State Editor Roland Lindsey, who directly oversaw Thompson, were safe. Here is a link to the stories that were part of the series, which I still think is one of the finest examples of quality American journalism: https://sites.google.com/site/mthompsondc/star-telegramseries.

Considering the financial condition of most newspapers, I wonder how many of today's publishers would come up with that sort of response to livid complaints from an important advertiser, business leader or heavy hitting employer.

I fear the answer is not very many.

Certainly, during the waning years before my retirement as editor of The Monitor in McAllen, Texas, and departure from the newspaper business, I experienced several incidents in which important local advertisers where allowed to directly browbeat me, call me unethical and irresponsible and even accuse me or one or more of my reporters of taking payoffs during meetings called to let them bitch about things published in the newspaper that they didn't like.

And, as I communicate with editor and reporter friends who still are employed at other newspapers around the country, I hear more and more tales of such incidents in which outside influencers are allowed to successfully interfere with what gets published in their papers. The main reason usually being cited is fear of lost advertising revenue. The consequence, valid and important news stories with, as my friend Mike Price put it, "provocative substance" -- and even online comments from readers on some stories that do get published -- are being thwarted.

The result: As more of these sorts of things happens, readers lose faith and trust in their newspaper, which loses relevance for them. And we all know what happens when people no longer feel their newspaper is relevant in their lives.

-30-

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

WHERE DOES THE BLAME BELONG FOR THE ABORTED GARLAND, TEXAS, TERROR ATTACK?

Although I sometimes lapse into the belief that just because I spent more than 44 years in the newspaper business I had pretty much seen it all, there are still occurrences almost daily in the news that befuddle and amaze me.

Such is the case with today's latest "revelation" regarding last weekend's shooting incident in Garland, Texas, in which two home-grown, wannabe, Islamic terrorists got themselves killed in a botched attempt to wreak Charlie Hebdo style mayhem.

So, let's see if I have this right.

According to CNN (and other media outlets), ISIS is claiming "credit" for the two assault-weapon-wielding nincompoops who -- after wounding a security guard at an ill-advised “Draw Mohammed” cartoon contest in Garland put on by a group whose only purpose is to hate and inflame all Muslims -- got themselves killed by a sharp-shooting traffic cop armed with only a pistol?

Seems to me that ISIS should be running from the blame/credit for this one, especially since it's questionable whether anyone in the Islamic terrorist organization had ever even heard of the two fools before they got themselves dispatched to collect on their virgins.

In case you haven't already seen it, here is the link to CNN's report on the claim of "credit": www.cnn.com/2015/05/05/us/garland-texas-prophet-mohammed-contest-shooting/index.html

For what it's worth, I think that in this story, CNN does a reasonably good job of trying to not play into the "we're all gonna die at the hands of Islamic terrorists" hysteria. However, I shudder to think how this is being handled by Fox News, which specializes in ginning up fear of everything. Despite my better judgment, I guess that, out of morbid curiosity, I am going to have to check on how Fox is playing this latest "development" and how far back into their "news report" it pushes Mike Huckabee's announcement that he is launching yet another costly and futile bid for the GOP's 2016 presidential nomination in an already overcrowded field.

To me, the bigger question in all of the latest media buzz over the two Garland moron "Muslim martyrs" is how in the world did the FBI lose track of them, especially since it had been keeping tabs on at least one of the two, Elton Simpson of Phoenix, since apparently at least 2011 when he was arrested and convicted on federal charges of making a false statement involving international and domestic terrorism.

According to various news reports over the past few days, Simpson had recently been posting all sorts whacked out tweets on Twitter that one would expect just might seem suspicious to the FBI. I suspect, of course, that when it comes to tracking head cases like Simpson, the FBI has its hands more than full.

Getting back to the issue of who really deserves the "credit" for the Garland attack, it seems to me that Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, co-founders of the far-right-wing, Islamic hate group the American Freedom Defense Initiative -- which organized the contest for artists to draw demeaning cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad -- are a pair of good candidates. It's hard to believe that Geller and Spencer didn't have a clue that such an "event" might be the equivalent of tossing a can of gasoline onto a burning fire.

Although to most American's Geller has, at least until now, been a fairly obscure figure outside of far-right-wing circles, the Garland attack has propelled her into some prominence. A May 4, CNN opinion piece by Haroon Mohgul turned an interesting spotlight on her and her hateful stand against all Muslims. Here is the link to that report: http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/04/opinions/moghul-texas-shooting-gellar.

Although there seems to be lots of blame -- or "credit," if you want to call it that -- to be shared for the Garland attack, it's fortunate that the only people to die were the two men most deserving of being sent off to their just rewards.

-30-


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