A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Odds & Ends

By Quill

Reporter pulled off story after complaint

When Karen Lee Ziner, a police reporter for The Providence Journal, was assigned a story in May about a domestic violence case, she tracked down a police report and summarized what it said: that a woman had been hit repeatedly with a hammer and found naked on the floor of her apartment. But when a second police report clarified the situation, saying that the victim had only been partially unclothed, the victim demanded that Ziner be removed from covering the story. Executive Editor Joel P. Rawson gave in to those demands. He told Ziner she was off the story, and on July 26, the Belo-owned newspaper printed a correction. “Karen did a good job on this piece,” Rawson told The New York Times on Aug. 20. But, he added, “We don’t want to get into a public fight with the victim of a crime.” A public clash like that, he said, could provide the state legislature an opening to start limiting public access to police records. Ziner disagreed. “I don’t think you yank a reporter from a story based on the fear that someone would sue based on groundless allegations,” she told the Times. “I felt completely sold out.” Shortly after the decision was made, Rawson received a letter from 79 staff members at The Journal who disagreed with taking Ziner off the story. “This sends a dangerous message to the public,” the letter said. “… Subjects of stories can call The Providence Journal and intimidate management into removing reporters from a story, regardless of the story’s validity.”

AOL-Time Warner to cut 1,700 AOL jobs

AOL Time Warner Inc., the world’s largest Internet and media company, announced plans Aug. 21 to lay off about 1,700 workers; the third major round of layoffs at the company since finishing its $106.2 billion merger in January. The media giant said that it would also take a third-quarter charge of $100 million to $125 million. The unit, which employs about 16,000 people, also said it would scrap another 500 jobs as part of an alliance between Netscape and Sun Microsystems Inc. Analysts had forecast the cost-cutting effort.

Study: Online ad revenue to hit $15 billion by 2006

A new study from Jupiter Media Metrix predicted that the shortage of online advertisements in the tech industry would ease by 2006, reaching $15 billion. The rebound is nowhere in sight this year, however; the study, released in August, says ad sales will increase a meager 5 percent in 2001. To reach that $15 billion, ad sales will have to increase at “a rate of 22 percent over the next five years,” according to Editor & Publisher. Jupiter also predicts that spending on e-mail, promotions and coupons will balloon to $19 billion by 2006. “Marketers’ inability to evaluate online advertising effectively has led to the current hiccup in spending,” said Jupiter senior analyst Marissa Gluck in the study, according to Editor & Publisher. “Online advertising, when fully measured, remains a strong impetus of consumer action, including increasing traffic and sales, inspiring loyalty, and promoting referrals. While reduced financial resources is still a key factor inhibiting the growth of online advertising, the primary online advertising industry stimuli are still around and will be.” The study also forecasts that online advertising will account for 7 percent of all advertising in 2006, up from 3 percent in 2001.

Court: Sellers should not pay for ad mistakes

The California Supreme Court ruled on July 30 that if a newspaper publishes the wrong price for merchandise in an advertisement, sellers aren’t obligated to honor the mistake when making transactions. The case’s outcome disappointed an Orange County lawyer who had tried to purchase a Jaguar for $26,000, $12,000 less than the price listed in other newspapers. In his ruling, Chief Justice Ronald M. George said Lexus of Westminster did not act in bad faith when it declined to sell the blue 1995 Jaguar XJ6 for the price erroneously printed in the Costa Mesa Daily Pilot in 1997. The Los Angeles Times and the California Newspaper Publishers Association supported the car dealer in the case. “It was decided that we needed to support our advertisers here,” Megan E. Gray, attorney for the news outlets, told The Associated Press. “There’s not liability every time a mistake happens. That’s life. Mistakes happen.”

Judge rules journalists need not reveal sources

An editor and a former reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer aren’t obligated to reveal the identities of the confidential sources used in stories about the Chiquita banana company that the paper later retracted, a federal magistrate ruled in early August. Magistrate Jack Sherman ruled Aug. 7 that Cameron McWhirter and David Wells could take shelter in an Ohio law that lets reporters shield the names of their confidential sources. In 1998, the Enquirer printed stories accusing Chiquita Brands International Inc. of alleged improper business practices in Central America. The Enquirer later printed a front-page apology to the company, retracted the stories and paid Chiquita $14 million. George Ventura, a former Chiquita lawyer, had requested in July that Sherman order the two journalists to disclose that Ventura was a confidential source for their stories. Ventura believes the information is important in winning a lawsuit he has filed. He argued that the law allowing reporters to protect confidential sources didn’t apply because his identity already had been exposed by another former Enquirer reporter. However, Sherman ruled that Ventura couldn’t know for sure that he was the only confidential source, and that a shield law can be waived only by a newsperson.

Newsroom joke results in complaints, apology

The Mariposa Gazette, which proclaims itself to be California’s oldest weekly newspaper, ran a small blurb in early August announcing a meeting of the Mariposa Democratic Club. The routine item would likely have escaped public comment, except for its colorful conclusion: A list of phone numbers where readers could get more information, “or tap any tree-hugging, egg-sucking, fern fondling local liberal on the shoulder, because they know everything there is to know anyway.” Gazette Publisher R.D. Tucker wrote an apology the following week, explaining the controversial terms were “meant to be a good-natured barb between two employees who have differing political views,” according to a column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Tucker said the style in which the item was written was “a violation of public trust,” “an unfortunate, irresponsible action,” and “totally inappropriate,” and said, “Our readers can be assured that we find no humor in what was printed, and in fact are inexplicably embarrassed by it.” Predictably, the Mariposa Democrats were not happy. Fifteen of them went to the county board of supervisors’ meeting after the story ran, requesting that the Gazette’s contract to print legal ads be revoked.