Journalism Category

Maggie Thurber, a conservative blogger in Toledo, Ohio, calls attention to a seemingly petty and spiteful dispute involving the locally-owned daily paper (Toledo Blade), a successful free weekly paper (Toledo Free Press), a TV station, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In a nutshell, the TV station wouldn't allow the editor of the weekly on air to promote a benefit CD for the Make-A-Wish Foundation because he works for a "direct competitor" to the TV station's "valued partner," the daily paper. As Toledo-based BizzyBlog notes:

Here's the good news. The high and mighty Toledo Blade considers a free publication which it surely once viewed with utter contempt and ridicule as a serious competitor.

The daily paper, meanwhile, is suing the weekly because the publisher of the weekly, who once worked for the daily, signed a separation agreement upon leaving the daily, in which he promised not to disparage the daily. The daily claims that the weekly's editor, who has written critically about the daily and who commissioned an editorial cartoon depicting the daily's owners casting a shadow over the city, is a mere proxy for the publisher, who is using the editor to violate indirectly his non-disparagement agreement. The weekly's editor denies any prompting or control by the publisher as to the content he puts in the paper.

Confused? Hang in there. It's an interesting story, and Michael Miller, Toledo Free Press Editor-in-Chief, tells the story in a compelling way. Elements of the story may ring a bell.

Toledo Free Press has been named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Best Weekly Newspaper for three consecutive years and has garnered scores of industry awards for its writing and design (including my three consecutive SPJ awards in the Best Media Criticism category, for three deconstructions of the plaintiffs' work). To suggest any of that has been accomplished while I was being used as a pawn on a chessboard is to malign my abilities and achievements, a few of which clearly agitate the plaintiffs.

I am Tom's [the weekly publisher's] partner, not his puppet, and there is not one person who has worked for Toledo Free Press who could honestly say otherwise. My guess is that is one of the primary sticking points for the plaintiff; while so many community and business leaders have willingly and by choice allowed themselves to be controlled like marionettes, Tom and I have refused to allow Toledo Free Press to be cowed by the plaintiffs' threats, backroom arrangements and clear disparagement tactics.

Anyone who doubts this is the plaintiffs' attempt to silence my criticism should look at paragraph 31 of their lawsuit.

"On or about August 21, 2011, Pounds ... permitted Toledo Free Press to publish a cartoon that depicted a characterization of [Blade owners] John R. Block and Allan Block together with The Blade as casting an eclipsing shadow on jobs, tax revenue, investment and development in Toledo, Ohio."

The plaintiffs' suit describes the cartoon as disparaging and harmful....

The publication of the cartoon fairly criticized The Blade's own coverage and its owners' published opinions. As public figures at a public entity, the plaintiffs may be fairly criticized. The plaintiffs' lawsuit does not deny the accuracy of the cartoon, it just claims that it violates a nearly 8-year-old agreement that was never agreed to by myself or Lee, the cartoon's creators.

The attempt to silence this criticism should anger anyone who gives a damn about personal free speech and the rights of the press. While The Blade is quick to defend its First Amendment rights, it is telling that it does not extend that defense to others when it is the focus of criticism....

Toledo Free Press is a small company. A protracted legal fight endangers its future. But we will fight. The larger issue of free speech is more important than our business or financial concerns.

I wish the Free Press well, and I'm impressed by their growth and success: 100,000 circulation with home delivery. Pretty good for just six years in operation.

MORE: I'm informed that satirist P. J. O'Rourke hails from Toledo, which may explain any similarities (purely coincidental, of course) between the Toledo Blade and the Dacron Republican-Democrat, the subject of the brilliant 1978 National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper Parody, written by O'Rourke and John Hughes.

Daily Caller: CBS reporter: White House, DOJ reps 'yelled' and 'screamed' at her over 'Fast and Furious' scandal

Did the White House try to strong-arm a journalist in the wake of the Justice Department's "Operation Fast and Furious" scandal? CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson says government leaders took a very aggressive tack following her revelations earlier this year.

On Tuesday's Laura Ingraham Show, Attkisson said DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler and White House associate communications director Eric Schultz yelled and screamed at her over the story.

"The DOJ woman was just yelling at me," Attkisson said. "The guy from the White House on Friday night literally screamed at me and cussed at me. Eric Schultz -- oh, the person screaming was Tracy Schmaler. She was yelling, not screaming. And the person who screamed at me was Eric Schultz at the White House."...

Attkisson also said the DOJ and White House representatives complained that CBS was "unfair and biased" because it didn't give the White House favorable coverage on the developing scandal.

"Is it sort of a drip, drip. And I'm certainly not the one to make the case for DOJ and White House about what I'm doing wrong," she added. "They will tell you that I'm the only reporter, as they told me, that is not reasonable. They say The Washington Post is reasonable, the LA Times is reasonable, The New York Times is reasonable -- I'm the only one who thinks this is a story, and they think I'm unfair and biased by pursuing it.

I imagine the Nixon administration thought that Woodward and Bernstein were being unreasonable, too. Sometimes the most important story is the one that only one reporter has the guts to pursue.

On May 29, 1936, Winston Churchill, conservative backbencher, spoke in a debate about British preparedness for the coming air war (emphasis added):

Churchill_portrait_NYP_45063_235px.jpgMy right hon. Friend said the other day that you must not cry over spilt milk, and he said it to-day in other words, as to recriminating about the past, and so forth. I will tell the House the use of recriminating about the past. It is to enforce effective action at the present. It is no use recriminating about the past simply for the purpose of censuring and punishing neglect and culpability, though that, indeed, may at times become the duty of Parliament. But there is great necessity for recriminating about the actions of the past and the neglects of the past when one is not satisfied that all is being done at the present time. That is the justification for it.

THE MODERN CONTEXT: Peter Oborne and Frances Weaver, writing in the Spectator about the vindication of Eurosceptics regarding the single European currency (emphasis added):

Very rarely in political history has any faction or movement enjoyed such a complete and crushing victory as the Conservative Eurosceptics. The field is theirs. They were not merely right about the single currency, the greatest economic issue of our age -- they were right for the right reasons. They foresaw with lucid, prophetic accuracy exactly how and why the euro would bring with it financial devastation and social collapse....

Speaking in the House of Commons in 1936, Winston Churchill -- then himself a marginal and widely scorned figure -- uttered the following words: 'the use of recriminating about the past is to enforce effective action at the present'. So what are the lessons we should learn from the British argument over the euro?

First, we should cherish that very British trait, eccentricity. Study of the public discourse at the height of the euro debate shows how often pro-euro propagandists isolated their critics by labelling them cranks. Here's just one example, taken from the Observer columnist Andrew Rawnsley's column on 31 January 1999: 'On the pro-euro side, a grand coalition of business, the unions and the substantial, sane, front rank political figures. On the other side, a menagerie of has-beens, never-have-beens and loony tunes.'

Most of Mr Rawnsley's 'substantial, sane, front-rank political figures' came together 12 years ago at the launch of the Britain in Europe campaign to take us into the euro -- Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke, Charles Kennedy, Danny Alexander. So here's another lesson: be wary of cross-party alliances. Again and again it is the lonely and cussed figures who stand outside the establishment orthodoxy who are vindicated over time.

There's a good bit too about how certain self-interested large corporations co-opted the Confederation of British Industry to support European monetary union. One suspects the same thing is happening any time a Chamber of Commerce backs higher taxes, illegal immigration, or greater regulation.

Just as bad was the CBI, whose claims to represent British industry as a whole have always been dubious at best. By the mid-1990s a small clique of large corporations were firmly in control, and they had the director general they wanted in the shape of the impeccably well connected Adair (now Lord) Turner, later to become chairman of the disastrous Financial Services Authority and chairman of the Government's Committee on Climate Change. Few pieces of conventional wisdom are ever too conventional for Lord Turner. His corporate bosses (Niall FitzGerald of Unilever, David Simon of BP, British Airways' Colin Marshall) claimed that an overwhelming majority of British businessmen backed the single currency -- a vital propaganda tool for pro-euro campaigners. The figures used to support these claims were, however, very flimsy indeed: they could only be sustained by ignoring the views of small businessmen, and in due course they were exposed -- a crucial early defeat for the pro-euro cause.

Linking to the Spectator piece, David Abbott of Brits at Their Best asks, "So what should we learn from the argument over the euro?":

"The cranks", the "loons", small business people and honest people were right. Joining the euro would have been a catastrophe for Britain.

Big business, big politicians, big crooks and the big BBC were wrong.

But make no mistake, they will try to make the same mistake again because it's lucrative, and they will try to drag the British people with them.

AN OPPOSING VOICE: The Laird of Swamp Castle opposes recriminating and bickering about the past:

In a brief interview about strikes by public sector unions Labour Party leader Ed Miliband answers each question using different permutations of the same set of talking points:

I've had more intelligent conversations with a See-n-Say.

Damon Green of ITV News was the pool reporter. Green posted a lengthy account of his attempted interview with Miliband and considers how this sort of behavior by a politician harms representative government:

If news reporters and cameras are only there to be used by politicians as recording devices for their scripted soundbites, at best that is a professional discourtesy. At worst, if we are not allowed to explore and examine a politician's views, then politicians cease to be accountable in the most obvious way. So the fact that the unedited interview has found its way onto YouTube in all its absurdity, to be laughed at along with all the clips of cats falling off sofas, is perfectly proper.

Charlie Brooker, in the Grauniad, notes two other recent examples of this type of political interview, explains why this happens, and offers a hopeful solution:

The reason for the Speak-and-Spell tactic is obvious: in all three cases (Miliband, Osborne, Darling) the PR handler responsible must have figured that since the interview would be whittled down to one 10-second soundbite for that evening's news bulletins, and since they didn't want to risk their man saying anything ill-advised or vaguely interesting, they might as well merely ignore all the questions and impersonate an iPod with just one track on it....

Clearly an intervention is necessary. Next time you pass an MP being interviewed on the street, set off a party popper. Jump in and shriek. Get your bum out. Anything. Just to prompt some kind of authentic human reaction from either side.

And if you don't get an authentic human reaction, you might get something more spectacular:

Following up some email conversation about Tulsa broadcaster Hal O'Halloran, I came across an online treasure trove of radio history: Radio's Online History Resource. It consists of scans of radio industry publications beginning with the earliest years of the medium: Annual publications like Broadcasting Yearbook, Radio Annual; FCC rulebooks; and listening logs and station lists.

At the bottom of the site's main page, the proprietor, David Gleason, explains how he put the site together and why he does it:

1949RadioAnnualCover.jpgThe deterioration of the old yearbooks and magazines is just one factor in my decision to try to preserve the heritage of radio's premier publication. The other is the fact that most libraries are short on space and funding. This means that seldom used publications are sold to eBay merchants and every day that passes there are fewer places where this information can be obtained. Most of these specialized publications were not microfilmed... and who has a film reader at home, anyway?....

Since this is a free site, as it always will be, many have asked, "why do you do it?" since some of the Yearbooks have cost as much as $1,000 on eBay. Simply put, I celebrated 50 years in radio in 2009, and this endeavor is a small way to preserve the memories, the heritage and the events of that industry, particularly at a time when the death of our medium is so broadly predicted.

This site is my small contribution to the industry and profession that have given me challenges, joy, frustration and, of course, an income for half a century.

I spent some time browsing through just one of the volumes in the collection, the 1949 Radio Annual and Television Yearbook. Weighing in at just over 1200 pages, there's a wealth of information not only about the stations themselves, but about all the components of the broadcasting industry -- content producers, actors, announcers, advertisers. There are articles by industry leaders on the contemporary challenges and developments. These books, like city directories and phone books, capture irreplaceable, contemporaneously recorded details about the history of American culture.

Here's the section of the 1949 Radio Annual with Oklahoma's listings. It must have been compiled before KRMG's debut that year. Tulsa had KAKC (1570), KFMJ (1050), KOME (1340), KTUL (1430), and KVOO (1170). 1170's transmitters haven't moved in the last sixty years, but in 1949, KAKC and KFMJ had their sticks at 21st and Yale, and KOME's transmitter was at 3904 S. Newport -- now a residential section of Brookside. All but one of the stations had studios downtown -- KVOO in the Philtower, KFMJ in the Alvin Hotel at 7th and Main, KAKC at 412 E. 5th St, KOME at 8th and Main, and KTUL just south of downtown at Boulder-on-the-Park.

Further on in the same volume is a directory of radio and television artists, vocalists, newscasters, and sportscasters. It's interesting to scan through and see names that I know from TV in the 1970s. Paul Henning, creator of Green Acres, Beverly Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction, is listed as a writer for George Burns and Gracie Allen (p. 802). Mel Blanc has a half page ad, featuring a photo of himself, pensive with cigarette in hand, next to a list of his credits -- Warner Bros. Cartoons, characters on the Judy Canova and Jack Benny shows, and novelty records for Capitol (p. 805). Mark Goodson has a quarter page ad -- just his signature -- p. 808 -- he went on to produce the most popular game shows of the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Game show host Bill Cullen shows up in a photo on p. 814.

Page 841 has ads for New York Yankees announcer Mel Allen and New York Giants announcer Russ Hodges. There's a listing on p. 849 for Charlie Kuralt, WAYS, Charlotte, host of Jr. Sports Parade. Hugh Finnerty, long-time Tulsa sports broadcaster and promoter, is listed as having worked in 1948 at KBYE in Oklahoma City and KWFT in Wichita Falls.

On p. 865, in the list of newscasters, you'll find Hal O'Halloran at WHBL Sheboygan, doing a program called "Looking Things Over." (THat's probably Hal, Jr., who spent most of his career in Tulsa, not his dad, Hal, Sr., who hosted the WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago in the 1930s, before going into TV in Wisconsin.) The same page lists Jack Morris at KTUL Tulsa. Paul Harvey's on the list, WENR Chicago, in the same column as wartime newsman Gabriel Heatter.

There's a photo of a very young Joe Franklin, then a disk jockey at WMCA, on p. 873. KTUL's "Sunshine Man," Glenn Hardman, is listed on p. 881.

Want to see a list of major radio network programs of 1948 and their sponsoring companies and products? It's here, starting on p. 962.

The next part of the book is devoted to television. There were commercial TV stations in only 30 cities, few enough stations that each had a paragraph and a photo of an executive. WGN Chicago boasted 45 hours of programming a week.

The last section of the volume includes television construction permits and FM radio listings. The networks were in their infancy, with stations numbered in the dozens. Two Oklahoma stations had construction permits at the beginning of 1949, WKY-TV, channel 4 in Oklahoma City, and KOVB, channel 6 in Tulsa. In 1949, Tulsa had two FM stations: KAKC-FM at 95.5 and KTUL-FM at 97.1.

There were commercial shortwave stations in 1949: CBS had stations in Brentwood, Long Island, NY, Wayne, NJ, and Delano, CA, NBC had stations in Bound Brook, NJ, and Dixon, CA, GE had stations in Schenectady, NY, and Belmont, CA, Crosley had stations in Bethany and Mason, OH. The Associated Broadcasters, Inc., transmitted from San Francisco, and World-Wide Broadcasting broadcast from Scituate and Hull, MA. Near the end of the book there are listings of radio stations in Mexico, Cuba, and the Philippines.

All that was gleaned from just one volume in this immense collection. If you love the history of mass media and popular culture, you'll find this site fascinating.

I told a friend a few weeks ago, "I don't even like writing software anymore." That's a problematic sentiment, given that I'm a software engineer by trade. I'm happy to report, however, that in the heat of hardware/software integration and long hours of focused effort on Making Things Work, I'm back in flow and enjoying tinkering with code again.

That's not leaving me much time for blogging, so here's a selection of some really thoughty stuff from other bloggers

Erick Erickson of RedState: Slaves to Government: Constitutional Gnosticism will destroy a free republic":

Consequently, we have gone beyond a point where you can sit down and read the constitution and really understand what the heck Congress can and cannot do....

We have reached a point where we have to rely on men and women in black robes and lawyers to tell us what we can and cannot do. A society begins to breakdown when the average citizen can no longer understand what his government can and cannot do without relying on men and women in black robes and lawyers all of whom have as many opinions to that question as there are opinions.

Then you cross into the territory where we have already arrived. A Congress can pass a 2,700 page piece of legislation to do something Congress arguably cannot do by making states do it, which is arguably unconstitutional. The legislators who voted on this 2,700 page piece of legislation, when asked, have no clue what is in the legislation.

You cannot sustain a free republic when the citizens who are expected to comply with the law have no understanding of what the law is or how their government works without paying the gnostics to enlighten them and the people who write the law do not know what is in the law.

(Did you know you can't tell how many state senators and state representatives Oklahoma has and how they're apportioned by reading our state constitution? The number and method was fixed by court order in 1964 and reaffirmed in statute with every decennial reapportionment.)

RH Potfry of satirical news site The Nose on Your Face is "Quitting the Blog Thing":

That 2 guys with demanding day jobs and families could cobble together some of the work we've done, get linked by everyone from Mark Steyn to Ann Coulter, and even get featured on the Huckabee Show, says a lot about how the ambitious amateur can use the internet to chase a dream.

But that chase has its price. Over the past six months, I've been nagged by the realization that I'm watching my daughters grow up over the top edge of my laptop. That if not for my wife's bizarre appreciation of my oddness, she could divorce me for neglect....

All things considered and given the limited hours in a day, I need to choose the job that comes with a paycheck, and make sure I'm fully present in the lives of the people I love.

Will Republican leadership walk back from the call to repeal the Obamacare monstrosity? Iowahawk seems to think they've already started and predicts the future with a few words per month.

Ace: Letterman Interviews Tea Party Leader & Grand Unified Theory of Everything Political -- some brilliant analysis of how political appeal works at a sub-rational level, and why the left-stream media is working so hard to convince you Tea Party supporters are wackos:

Successful politicians are often -- almost always, really; one struggles to find a contrary example -- able to appeal to those who should be opposed to them, based on purely rational inputs (past voting history, stated positions, rhetorical priorities) to nevertheless support them based on non-rational or pre-rational inputs -- a general sense of a guy as one of your own.

Non-ideological independents are, well, non-ideological, and tend to be deeply suspicious of those who are strongly ideological. Partly due to their ideology of not having much of an ideology, and partly due to sub-rational reasons: People who are strongly ideological are "not like me" and therefore viewed with antipathy....

Newt Gingrich, back when he was Speaker, gave seminars to conservative candidates on how to win elections, and he highlighted the importance of describing one's opponent (or his ideas at least) as (and I quote) "bizarre," "weird," and alien. (Not sure if that last one was used, but that was the idea.) This is the flip-side of appealing to the "One of Us" feeling -- portraying your opponent as "Not One of You."

Now, of course, the media engages in similar political rhetoric on a daily basis in the service of its cherished liberal party. The media is heavily invested in the Weird, Dangerous, Alien narratives when discussing the Tea Party. That is the biggest reason for the constant denigration of Tea Partiers as racist, homophobic, ugly, uneducated, zombie-like, etc. The media is always trying to paint Tea Partiers as "Not One of You" to discourage people from joining in the cause or viewing their claims as legitimate.

Also remember how CNN described the Coffee Parties. Did they deploy their "Weird, Dangerous, Alien" storyline in describing this group of mutant Obama Zombies? Oh dearie me no. For groups CNN likes and wishes to promote, it employs the "One of Us" Narrative....

So that's the media's template -- the left is portrayed by using the most broadly inclusive nouns, expressing the most broadly palatable and vague ideology. (All the CNN pieces on the Coffee Party refuse to divulge the Coffee Party is leftist and insist it is a centrist group concerned only with non-ideological concerns such as fair process and clean politics.)

The right is portrayed by using the narrowest possible categorical nouns and their ideology is represented as specifically as possible (to discourage those who don't share those particular views) and the Weirdness Factor is highlighted-- just in case some of those specific positions are actually attractive to a lot of people, the Weirdness Factor ought to keep you away.

He has an extended example from CNN's coverage of the "Coffee Party" movement. He also has links to Letterman's interview with Pam Stout, a leader of a Tea Party group from Sandpoint, Idaho. It's notable because it runs counter to the narrative -- Mrs. Stout comes across as normal, likable, and sincere.

Try viewing the news through this lens for a few days. You've probably seen it done at a local level, too, with phrases like "Gang of Five" used to render the legitimate concerns of a group of city councilors unworthy of public discussion.

National Review's Jim Geraghty has a list of "The Complete List of Obama Statement Expiration Dates," including his opposition to individual health care mandates, his commitment to shut down Gitmo, etc. Some are campaign promises that have expired since he took office, some are statements made since Inauguration Day that are now inoperative, and some are campaign promises that expired during the campaign itself.

Ivy League graduate William Deresiewicz writes in the American Scholar (the journal of Phi Beta Kappa) on "The Disadvantages of an Elite Education." One of the disadvantages: It hinders intellectual activity.

Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them. But students who get into elite schools are precisely the ones who have best learned to work within the system, so it's almost impossible for them to see outside it, to see that it's even there. Long before they got to college, they turned themselves into world-class hoop-jumpers and teacher-pleasers, getting A's in every class no matter how boring they found the teacher or how pointless the subject, racking up eight or 10 extracurricular activities no matter what else they wanted to do with their time. Paradoxically, the situation may be better at second-tier schools and, in particular, again, at liberal arts colleges than at the most prestigious universities. Some students end up at second-tier schools because they're exactly like students at Harvard or Yale, only less gifted or driven. But others end up there because they have a more independent spirit. They didn't get straight A's because they couldn't be bothered to give everything in every class. They concentrated on the ones that meant the most to them or on a single strong extracurricular passion or on projects that had nothing to do with school or even with looking good on a college application. Maybe they just sat in their room, reading a lot and writing in their journal. These are the kinds of kids who are likely, once they get to college, to be more interested in the human spirit than in school spirit, and to think about leaving college bearing questions, not resum├ęs.

That ought to keep you busy while I get some sleep.

WAIT: Almost forgot about this, by Richard Fernandez, which touches in different ways on the themes in Ace's post:

Who makes monsters? Mostly the Left: because of its huge presence in the media and the arts, the Left has traditionally manufactured the most hate-objects. They've done it for so long that it has become almost a birthright. The photographer Zombie has documented dozens of calls from the left, from demonstrators to celebrities, for the assassination and murder of President George W. Bush. But that's not a crime, is it? "Threats to the president aren't excusable now, and weren't excusable in the past -- and yet death threats against Bush at protests seem to have been routinely ignored for years (and readers who have any evidence showing that the threateners depicted below [in the Zombie post] were ever prosecuted for threatening the president, please tell me and I'll update this essay with the new info). Why the discrepancy?"

The discrepancy is probably because the Left has long appointed itself the guardian of the freak-minting industry. It is a prerogative that is jealously guarded. Thus Glenn Reynolds could receive this insulting email calling for civility without the slightest irony. "I cannot emphasize this enough: your brand of public discourse is hurting our country. It us poison. So f[***] you, you GOP utensil, and f[***] your mother for bringing you forth." Get it Glenn? So too could Ann Coulter be threatened by protesters at the University of Ottawa to prevent her from making a "hate speech." S**t flows downhill. There is no mystery to that. It's Leftist physics.

But the unintended consequence of uncontrolled and systematic distortion; the unforeseen effect of shipping funhouse mirrors everywhere is that sooner or later frustrated audiences put on corrective spectacles. The most sophisticated audiences eventually have a pair of corrective spectacles to suit every context. The term for this method of fixing distortions is adaptive optics. My grandfather had a simple rule of thumb for understanding the controlled news broadcasts in the last days of World War 2. Whatever the Japanese broadcasts claimed he believed the reverse. After listening to one strident description of a vast Japanese naval victory he concluded, "the IJN is no more."...

One might argue that the explosive growth of the blogosphere has been driven by its utility as an adaptive optical appliance through which to view the media. But it's a hell of a way to run a railroad. Since the reality "out there" is first distorted by the media to the point where the discerning members of the public must apply a further distortion to make the image sensible, we inflict a huge signal loss on the viewer. There is no guarantee that the applied corrections don't do more harm than good. Back in the days of the anti-Marcos underground I asked someone why he bothered to read either the government newspapers or the Communist Party propaganda sheet. He replied, "I buy it for date, my friend. It's still good for telling me what day it is."

A better situation would be one in which billions of independent sensors gathered an image and left the end user to process the information. The terrible memetic distortions of the 20th century are partly rooted in the ill-matched marriage between news gathering and meme-minting. The phrase the medium is the message was originally intended to convey the sense of absolute divorce between content and information. In an environment dominated by the formal medium, real information content actually declines. A point is reached where all news stories become variations of a few didactic themes.

This is a rather astounding illustration of the state of the newspaper business. Earlier this week, Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev purchased the Independent, a 24-year-old nationally circulated British newspaper, for £1 (about a buck-fifty). In exchange for that small change, he gets the daily and Sunday newspaper, plus all of its liabilities and obligations, plus another £9.25 million (the seller is paying Lebedev, that is).

According to the story in the Grauniad, the paper reached a maximum circulation of 400,000 in 1989. I remember the paper being a big deal when I was first in Britain in February 1989, an alternative amongst "quality" broadsheets to the Thatcherite Times and Telegraph and the far-left Labourite Grauniad. The paper's popularity mirrored an attempt to forge a center-left political party as an alternative to the Tories and Labour; the result evolved into the Liberal Democrats. About 8 years later, Tony Blair filled that political gap with New Labour, marginalizing the Liberal Democrats. It appears that the Independent has been similarly marginalized; its latest circulation numbers are below 200,000, about the same order of magnitude as the Oklahoman.

Last year, Lebedev purchased the Evening Standard (again for £1), and to fight falling circulation, he relaunched the nation's only major evening paper in October 2009 as a giveaway, doubling its circulation. It's an interesting strategy.

If the goal is to get your advertisers in front of as many eyes as possible, if advertising is your principal source of revenue, why not give the paper away? Granted, this strategy may not work in a sprawling American city where you have to pay an army of carriers to put your paper on every doorstep, but it makes sense for a newspaper that can be handed out on street corners as millions of people rush by on the way to the Tube station for the commute home.

Have you heard about federally-funded ACORN workers in several cities advising a prostitute and her pimp (actually undercover journalists) on how to conceal underage prostitution from the police and the IRS? If not, Jon Stewart's Daily Show segment on the topic makes for a quick overview:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Even though the scandal involves an organization closely allied with President Obama and the Democratic Party, Stewart doesn't flinch from the inescapable conclusion about ACORN, but instead calls mainstream journalism on the carpet for missing this story.

Where were the real reporters on this story?... You're telling me that two kids from the cast of "High School Musical 3" can break this story with a video camera and their grandmother's chinchilla coat, and you got nothin'? They did it for $3,000. That's Blitzer's monthly beard wet-back budget. It probably costs CNN that much just to turn on their hologram machine. I'm a fake journalist, and I'm embarrassed these guys scooped me.

The reason mainstream journalists weren't on the ACORN corruption story is because they didn't want to be.

Here's what ABC's Charlie Gibson thinks:

But Gibson told a radio show Tuesday morning that he wasn't familiar with the story -- and it might be "just one you leave to the cables."

ABC reporter Jake Tapper has filed some reports on the scandal, and Gibson was asked on WLS Radio's "Don & Roma Show" what he thought of the story.

"I don't even know about it," Gibson said, laughing. "So you've got me at a loss. ... But my goodness, if it's got everything, including sleaziness in it, we should talk about it in the morning."

When one of the radio show's hosts described it as a "huge issue," Gibson said ABC had "done some stories about ACORN before, but this one I don't know about."

For the full scoop on James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles' ground-breaking undercover investigation of ACORN, visit the ACORN category at BigGovernment.com.

Remembering Bob Novak

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Robert Novak of the Evans and Novak Political Report, who spent over a half-century covering Washington politics and became a star of television debate shows like the McLaughlin Group, Crossfire, and Capitol Gang, died yesterday after a year-long battle with brain cancer.

Novak was a fascinating character. He was not a standard-issue conservative Republican. He moved rightward on social and economic issues, but he never was a party loyalist. He was friendly enough with Washington pols that they fed him all sorts of insider information, but he never succumbed to the Beltway mentality.

I almost met him once. He was sitting several chairs to my right at the 2004 Republican platform committee meeting. I wrote at the time, "I thought about asking for an autograph or taking a picture, but there's something unseemly about treating a working journalist like a celeb."

Here are several profiles and tributes worth reading:

In his September 5, 2008, column, Novak wrote about the accident that led to the discovery of the tumor, his surgery and treatment, and the many political friends and adversaries who provided advice, aid, and encouragement.

Excerpts from several tributes about only-childhood as a source of confidence, his political heroes, his impact on Cold War politics, and his character, after the jump.

Far-left-wing political cartoonist and syndicated columnist Ted Rall has been laid off from his job as acquisitions editor for United Media. (Rall's column appears in Urban Tulsa Weekly.) On his blog, Rall writes in a comment on his blog that he will continue to draw and write, but the loss of the day job will be a financial blow on top of the "political reprisals [he suffered] during the Bush years:

The cartoons and columns will go on, though they appear in far fewer places than they used to.

As for my finances, basically I used to make a great living as a cartoonist, talk show host, columnist and freelance illustrator, not to mention feature writer for magazine.

I lost the talk radio gig when Clear Channel bought my station and fired me for being liberal. I lost my feature writing gig with POV magazine when that mag went under and no other editors seemed interested in what I do. Freelance illustration dried up next. Freelance cartoons have all but gone away, especially magazine gigs like Time, Fortune, etc. That left editorial cartoons and columns, with a client list that shrunk with closures and budget cuts and political reprisals during the Bush years.

Fortunately, I landed the United Media gig in 2006. That replaced a lot of my lost income. But now that's gone.

Obviously I'll use the free time to scavenge for more freelance work, but there's precious little of it left. So I'll keep on keeping on unless and until something comes along that takes me away from it entirely. I do love cartoons so much; it would be hard to give them up. But everything ends at some point, especially if no one's willing to pay for it.

I was surprised to learn that Rall was responsible for "finding new talent--comic strip artists, columnists and writers of puzzles--to syndicate to newspapers" for one of the largest syndicators of newspaper features in the world. It may not be, as Rall notes, a good time to sell new features to newspapers, but signing on with United Media would give a cartoonist his best shot at finding an audience. It would appear that for the last three years one of the biggest newspaper feature syndicates had a left-wing extremist acting as gatekeeper.

If your aim as a syndicate is to discover new content and offer it to newspapers to help them broaden their appeal and gain readers, wouldn't you want to hire someone with mainstream views and a talent for drawing, rather than someone who equates American soldiers with suicide bombers?

I happened across a discarded copy of the paper for the Sunday before last at a restaurant. As I paged through the funny pages (officially known as the Opinion section), I came across a piece by syndicated Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., with this pull-quote prominently displayed:

No, only the local paper performs the critical function of holding accountable the mayor, the governor, the local magnates and potentates for how they spend your money, run your institutions, validate or violate your trust.

But what if your local paper is run by the local magnates and potentates? What if your local paper chooses instead to perform the function of tearing down anyone who might challenge the power of the magnates and potentates?

And I'm trying and failing to recall the last time the local paper held our current mayor or governor accountable for anything. (They regularly held the previous mayor accountable anytime he showed signs of listening to conservatives and outsiders.)

I write for (and read, of course) a weekly paper, and I used to love reading daily papers. I can appreciate the history and tradition and convenience of the newspaper form. But I fail to see what makes ink and paper magical when it comes to holding the powerful to account.

Pitts writes, in the sentence after the pull-quote, "If newspapers go, no other entity will have the wherewithal to do that." Where did that wherewithal come from? Newspapers were for many years the most efficient and convenient way to deliver both content and advertising to a wide audience. That gave them the ability to charge high rates for advertising which could then fund better content which increased readership which made ads even more valuable.

When radio came along, it created another avenue for disseminating content and advertising. But it didn't kill newspapers. Radio can't show pictures, and as a linear medium it can't convey detailed information -- whether baseball box scores, stock prices, or department store sale items -- as well as print. Except for TV's ability to show pictures, it suffers from the same restricted ability to present complex and detailed information. Radio and television are sequential; newspapers are "random access" -- you can stop, skip around, come back, re-read.

Enter the internet, and specifically, the world-wide web. Not only can the web match the "random access" capability of newspapers, it improves upon it with the ability to hyperlink related content, search content, save and organize favorite content, and mix a variety of media types together in one place. Not only can I see an ad for a restaurant on a news website, I can click on a link and visit the restaurant's website and look at the restaurant's menu. Where once a newspaper was a business's best hope of raising public awareness, the internet makes it easier for potential customers to find you and makes possible a variety of niche businesses that could never hope to find enough customers via traditional media.

What the web doesn't offer (yet) is the convenient form factor of the newspaper for reading over a meal, on the front porch, or on the airplane during those dread times when electronic devices must be stowed. And there's still a serendipity factor with a paper -- there are articles that I'd never click to read on the web that will catch my eye in print. And of course, you can't easily underline or annotate web articles. (Yet.)

If newspapers are no longer the most efficient and convenient way to deliver both content and advertising to a wide audience, then how will they maintain the wherewithal to hold the powerful to account? (Assuming they choose to do so.) Who will have the wherewithal to gather, summarize, and distribute the volume of news that we came to expect during the golden age of newspapers?

Newsgathering may not be as expensive as it once was, thanks to the internet, but whether the reporter is sitting in City Hall or watching the Council meeting over the web, you won't have a report unless the reporter (whether paid or volunteer) takes the time to watch it. You may be able to Google the Federal budget, but someone has to take the initiative to do it, to sift through the wealth of information to find the significant, newsworthy fact.

If someone discovers newsworthy information, blogs make it easier that ever to publish it in a way that interested people can find it. But it can still get lost in all the noise. And, as I noted in last week's column, in Oklahoma, publishing information that holds the "magnates" accountable may also subject you to legal action designed to drain your finances and your morale.

It's hard to see how you can have the scale of newsgathering needed to create the kind of accountability Pitts talks about without a source of money. It seems clear that the old paradigm that made newspapers possible is now broken. As Clay Shirky pointed out in a brilliant, must-read, much-linked essay, the new paradigm has yet to emerge:

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know "If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?" To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves -- the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public -- has stopped being a problem....

In craigslist's gradual shift from 'interesting if minor' to 'essential and transformative', there is one possible answer to the question "If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?" The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did.

Journalism has always been subsidized. Sometimes it's been Wal-Mart and the kid with the bike. Sometimes it's been Richard Mellon Scaife. Increasingly, it's you and me, donating our time. The list of models that are obviously working today, like Consumer Reports and NPR, like ProPublica and WikiLeaks, can't be expanded to cover any general case, but then nothing is going to cover the general case.

Society doesn't need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That's been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we're going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from 'save newspapers' to 'save society', the imperative changes from 'preserve the current institutions' to 'do whatever works.' And what works today isn't the same as what used to work.

I've only quoted a small piece of this -- you really need to read the whole thing.

Oklahoma has inadequate protections against SLAPPs -- strategic lawsuits against public participation. So argues Laura Long in the Summer 2007 issue of the Oklahoma Law Review. (Click here for a direct link to the PDF of her article.)

If you're not familiar with the term, here's the description from Wikipedia:

A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation ("SLAPP") is a lawsuit that is intended to intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Winning the lawsuit is not necessarily the intent of the person filing the SLAPP. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate.

While the term originated with reference to suits against people petitioning the government -- e.g., suing homeowners who file a suit to stop a zoning change -- the concept has been extended to comprehend both the Petition and Speech clauses of the First Amendment.

Oklahoma does have a statute, 12 O.S. 1443.1. Long writes:

Oklahoma's anti-SLAPP statute, section 1443.1 of title 12, provides immunity from libel suits upon certain conditions, but does not address other common SLAPP suit causes of action. The statute states that, with the exception of falsely imputing a crime to a public officer, statements made in or about a legislative, judicial, or other proceeding authorized by law shall not be punishable as libel. Further, the statute protects criticism of the official acts of public officers. For a plaintiff to recover in a libel or defamation suit, the public official must show actual knowledge of probable falsity prior to the publication. Short of a deliberate factual lie, a plaintiff may not sue a defendant for defamation even if there were serious doubts as to truth.

Long writes that one of the drawbacks of the existing statute is that it only applies to defamation and doesn't address the many other causes of action used in SLAPP suits, such as business interference, abuse of process, and conspiracy torts.

While the Oklahoma courts have taken an expansive view of protected speech, Long notes, the problem is that the remedies provided are "reactive." They may be helpful once a case goes to trial, but by then the damage has already been done to a SLAPP victim:

Like the statute's narrow scope, the lack of an effective court review process renders Oklahoma's statute inadequate to combat SLAPP suits and their ill effects. Without procedural mechanisms to prevent or cure SLAPP suits in their infancy, the statute fails the third prong of Canan and Pring's test. Due to the costs and anxiety associated with lawsuits, lengthy SLAPP suits discourage targets from continuing their petitioning activities and intimidate future petitioners for fear of similar retaliation. Moreover, prolonged suits often cause support for the original issues to wane, rendering the petitioning activities futile. Implementing procedures that allow for quick dispositions of SLAPP suits while discouraging future suits can mitigate many of these ill effects. Unfortunately, Oklahoma's statute does not provide a method for early review and dismissal, and is therefore inadequate to protect petitioning activity.

In addition to Oklahoma's anti-SLAPP statute, other statutory mechanisms for combating frivolous suits likewise fail to establish adequate protection for targets. A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim generally proves ineffective as a remedy because filers can easily frame petitioning grievances in the form of legitimate tort claims. Further, targets must still spend considerable time and money for pre-trial practice and discovery, and even if the court grants the motion, dismissals do little to deter future SLAPP suits. Similarly, motions for sanctions and shifting of attorney fees often increase total litigation and do little to discourage suing in the first place. Motions such as these may be difficult for targets to invoke and occur too late in the litigation process to prevent the chill on petitioning. Reactionary solutions may effectively vindicate defendants in ordinary lawsuits, but their impact is minimal when the purpose of the suit is to intimidate targets through enormous court costs and time commitments.

Long recommends California's comprehensive anti-SLAPP statute as a guide:

To cure a SLAPP suit with as little impact on petitioning activity as possible, an effective statute should include a special motion to dismiss, an articulable burden of proof for the filer that may include a requirement for more specificity in the pleading, suspended discovery, and an award of costs to the successfully moving party. To prevent future SLAPP suits, the statute should include a specific authorization for serious penalties and accompanying SLAPP-back suits. Together, these elements provide a quick and cost-effective escape route for targets of SLAPP suits and may even discourage filers from attacking the target's First Amendment Right to Petition in the future....

Courts should treat special motions to dismiss as final summary judgment motions with a time period appropriate for expedited motions. As with typical motions for summary judgment, if a trial court denies the motion or fails to rule in a speedy fashion, then a moving party should have a right to an expedited appeal. Further, all discovery should be stayed pending a decision on the motion and appeals. A method for early review and a stay of discovery greatly reduces the time commitment and the financial resources needed to combat the SLAPP suits, thereby lessening the chill effect on petitioning activity....

Regardless of whether a statute contains a probability standard for the motion to dismiss or a standard developed from the Mountain Environment or Omni decisions, every state with an anti-SLAPP statute except Delaware, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Washington, includes some form of early review. If enacted properly, special motions to dismiss are quick, cheap methods to cut off harassing discovery and ensure quick closure.

I understand that there is a move afoot to pass a comprehensive, effective SLAPP law for Oklahoma. This is something that should have overwhelming bipartisan support.

More SLAPP shots:

The Tulsa World announced today that it has laid off 28 employees, 26 of them members of the news staff. Two of the three members of the paper's State Capitol bureau were let go.

This is the second major cutback in a year. The paper closed its Community World bureaus last March, moving some jobs downtown.

The carnage included a designer for the paper who has a blog about newspaper design called Heady Goes Herey:

I was only there for four months, so I don't have the exact tally of what positions were all eliminated and I'm not sure if or how many were laid off from other parts of the company. I do know that the graphics department has been eliminated, I was the only designer, there were two photographers (one of whom was the main videographer), the advisor of the high school section, at least two copy editors, a sports designer/editor, administrative assistants were eliminated and several reporters.

In a thread at TulsaNow's public forum, member sgrizzle reports an intriguing rumor:

I heard that the Lortons were heavily invested into buying another newspaper earlier this year (likely why they cut back in March) and were close to completing the sale when the economy tanked. Now they can't secure the financing and can't complete the sale which hurt them.

Also, they had upped the individual paper cost and upped the pay to their box route carriers (retail stores and vending machines) in response to gas prices, then gas prices subsided. That had to also hurt.

New York magazine's blog had this to say:

The Times is resorting to desperate measures, but the Atlantic thinks that, like, might not make a difference. Forbes is laying off more staffers, and that dream you had of escaping it all and running away to a little publication in Tulsa? Forget it, bud....

Tulsa World, a family-owned newspaper, has laid off 28 staffers. In case you were wondering if there were still jobs in Tulsa.

The same item offers a link to this helpful list of things a reporter should do long before the security guard comes to escort him to the exit -- e.g., e-mailing all your contacts to a personal e-mail account, weeding through personal belongings, and saving your best work to a flash drive.

Another commenter at TulsaNow's public forum, cannonfodder, writes:

Anytime a paper cuts back it cuts back on its content. Which cuts back on its readership. Which cuts back on its ad revenue. A horrible spiral.

What the World needs now is to break out of the stall spin. If they want to regain readership, the World's owners and senior management need to confess and repent. They need to acknowledge that their one-sided editorial section and the bias they've encouraged on the news pages have driven away readers. And then they need to balance the paper -- add opposing views to the editorial board, hire an ombudsman to take a critical look at the paper's news coverage, convene focus groups of the paper's harshest critics. The paper's ownership and senior management need to acknowledge that they have a blind spot and then act to correct it.

It was only four years ago that Ken Neal, then editorial page editor, boasted of the lack of dissent and diversity on the editorial board. That lack of diversity is killing the paper's credibility and its readership. Perhaps the present crisis will inspire some overdue humility and soul-searching.

MORE: The AP story adds some details:

Managing Editor Susan Ellerbach said that overall, the cuts represented about 5 percent of World Publishing Company's work force.

Those laid off were informed at a meeting Tuesday morning. Cuts in the newsroom included two Capitol bureau reporters, a police reporter, photographers and employees in the graphics department, among others.

Newspaper Death Watch mentions the World in its "Layoff Log" and also links to this Editor and Publisher column by Steve Outing with 12 online money-making tips for newspapers. The World seems to be pursuing many of these avenues already. Much of the advice has to do with pursuing niche online content and selling targeted ads for those niches. As for the print edition, Outing advises: "Don't bother chasing young people... Focus on the core demographic... Guide older print loyalists to a life online... Reduce the number of print editions."

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