A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Odds & Inns

By Quill

Newspapers run nine of top 20 news sites

Audience statistics from Nielsen/ NetRatings have found that nine of the top 20 news Web sites in the U.S. for the month of July were newspaper sites.

Topping the list in terms of audience members were CNN.com, MSNBC.com, Yahoo! News and NYTimes.com, in that order. ABCNews.com was next, followed by Gannett’s online properties and washingtonpost.com. The statistics were based on a grouping of 60,000-plus Americans accessing the Web from both work and home.

Groups new to the top 20 were Internet Broadcasting Systems Inc. (which runs Web sites for local TV affiliates nationwide), Hearst Newspapers Digital and AOL News, although the additional three groups made it to the top 20 due to a different reporting system at Nielsen/ NetRatings.

Newspaper-affiliated sites also showed up in the top 20 directories/local guides category, including Yahoo! Yellow Pages, Superpages.com and Citysearch.

CNN exec claims war coverage is ‘censored’

CNN senior executive Rena Golden claims that U.S. news organizations “censored” their coverage of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, hoping to be in line with public opinion figures after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Golden, the executive vice president and general manager of CNN International, said coverage was decided by the amount of public support for U.S. action. Speaking at Newsworld Asia, a conference for news executives in Singapore, Golden said: “Anyone who claims the U.S. media didn’t censor itself is kidding you. It wasn’t a matter of government pressure but a reluctance to criticize anything in a war that was obviously supported by the vast majority of the people. And this isn’t just a CNN issue – every journalist who was in any way involved in 9/11 is partly responsible.”

Senior officials from Afghanistan and Pakistan have criticized Western news groups for the invasion by journalists after the attacks, most of whom knew nothing about the politics and history of the area. General Pervez Musharraf told delegates that at one stage there were more than 3,500 foreign journalists in the country, “many of whom knew nothing about the country or its problems.” So many journalists caused “serious difficulties for a government determined not to impose press restrictions on the media,” he claimed.

Salary, benefits dropping for J-grads

A report released by the University of Georgia has found that getting a job in journalism, and getting paid to do that job, is harder for graduates than it has been in years. Salaries have fallen, benefits aren’t plentiful and there are fewer jobs in the industry, the report found.

The university has run the report since 1997, when it took over for Ohio State University, which began the survey in 1987. Currently, the survey includes around 2,900 graduates from 103 universities.

According to the survey, the average starting annual salary for a 2001 graduate with a bachelor’s degree was $26,000, which is down from $27,000 for graduates in 2000. Students graduating with a master’s degree averaged a starting salary of $30,120, which dropped from $31,304 in 2000. After adjusting for inflation, salaries are the lowest they’ve been since 1998 and are below the average starting salary of $28,667 from other liberal arts programs in 2001.

Lagging salaries aren’t the only concerns that journalists entering the market have to contend with. About 90 percent of the 2000 class found work, while only 82.4 percent of 2001 graduates had jobs. Medical insurance benefits were offered to 78.2 percent of those surveyed, in comparison to 82 percent in 2000.

For those who did find work, job satisfaction declined. About 29 percent said they were “very satisfied” with their jobs compared to almost 35 percent in 2000.

Shock jocks fired for sex incident

Shock jocks have gotten away with almost anything in the hunt for ratings in past years, but two disc jockeys have found that the joke can go too far. Opie and Anthony, co-hosts of WNEW-FM’s popular afternoon drive-time program in New York City, were fired after persuading a pair of listeners to have sex inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The pair broadcast a live, eyewitness account of the couple having sex in the landmark Manhattan church. The incident was part of a regular contest for couples who have sex in risky public places on the air.

In response to the broadcast, a 350,000-member Catholic group pushed for the station’s license to be revoked. A day after the broadcast, Ken Stevens, vice president and general manager of WNEW, and Jeremy Coleman, program director of WNEW, were indefinitely suspended.

The DJs originally were allowed back on the air, but they were removed permanently after public outcry reached parent company Infinity Broadcasting. The show was nationally syndicated in 17 markets outside New York City, including Cleveland, Dallas, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.

This isn’t the first incident that has landed the radio personalities in hot water. Ads for the program were pulled from Westchester County buses a year earlier after it was discovered by officials that the logo encouraged women to take off their tops. Three “indecent” pieces that appeared on the program from November 2000 to January 2001 – one of which involved incest – resulted in Infinity being fined $21,000 by the FCC. The team brought in the best ratings for WNEW, which is 22nd among stations in New York, with a 1.7 share of the audience.

Reporter should not surrender notes

A subpoena filed by a Hunterdon County couple for a reporter’s interview notes and documents has been thrown out by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Edward Coleman.

The judge ruled that New Jersey’s shield law protects newspapers from such disclosures unless information cannot be obtained from another source and is vital to an investigation. The documents came from a yearlong investigation by a Star-Ledger reporter into the hypothermia death of the couple’s 7-year-old adopted Russian son.

Coleman said attorneys for Robert and Brenda Matthey of Union Township, who have been charged with manslaughter in the death of Viktor Matthey, did not attempt to find the information through their own investigations.

The article, which was published a year after the boy’s death, detailed the neglect of Viktor Matthey by his alcoholic birth parents and the subsequent trip to an orphanage during his first six years of life in Russia, before he and his twin brothers were adopted by the Mattheys. The story also outlined the year he spent with his adoptive parents before his death.

Star-Ledger attorney Keith Miller argued that giving the defense access to this information would affect future investigations by the media. “Forcing Mr. Reilly to become an unpaid investigator for the defense would have a very strong chilling effect,” Miller said.

AP acquires Capitol Wire news service

The Associated Press has acquired Capitol Wire, a news and information service that covers state governments for a professional audience.

The Web-based group, which has a subscription site at www.capitolwire.com, provides in-depth news from the state capitals of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Virginia. Terms of the purchase have not been disclosed.

Subscribers tend to come from sectors interested in state legislation, regulations and contract bids in several industries, including education, health care, the environment and transportation.

Links to state news stories on other sites are available through Capitol Wire, which was founded in 1998 and has its headquarters at Middletown, Pa. Its news bureaus are in Harrisburg, Pa.; Albany, N.Y.; Trenton, N.J.; Columbus, Ohio; and Richmond, Va.

The Associated Press, founded in 1848, has a daily reach of 1 billion people worldwide and provides news and graphics to more than 15,000 news outlets.

Citizens see freedoms as obstacles to terror war

The annual State of the First Amendment survey has found that 49 percent of respondents believe the First Amendment allows Americans too many rights, which accounts for a 10-percent increase from the 2001 result of 39 percent.

The survey has left many journalists fearing that this may be seen as a public mandate for the federal government to further restrict journalists.

“The stakes have risen for the First Amendment in the wake of Sept. 11,” said Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center. “The results of our 2002 survey suggest that many Americans view these fundamental freedoms as possible obstacles in the war on terrorism.”

About half of respondents believe the U.S. news media is too aggressive when trying to cull information from government officials, while more than four in 10 believe academic freedoms of professors should be limited and criticism of U.S. military policy should be barred.

Half of those surveyed said the government should monitor religious groups even if it denies some groups their religious freedom. Four in 10 said the government should have greater freedoms to monitor Muslims.

The least popular First Amendment right was freedom of the press, as it has been in the past. Forty-two percent of respondents said the news media have too much freedom.

Newspaper releases audio of confession

The audio version and transcript of a murder confession taped by an Orlando Sentinel reporter has been posted on the paper’s Web site at www.orlandosentinel.com/lake. The move comes after the prosecution and defense in the case demanded the judge force the Sentinel to turn over the tape of 25-year-old Quawn Franklin detailing the murder.

An article that included the confession by Franklin, in which he admitted having fatally shot a security guard in Leesburg and beating an elderly Leesburg civic leader who almost died, appeared in a January issue of the newspaper.

David Bralow, attorney for the newspaper, said state law protects journalists from being forced to give authorities information from sources. “The Sentinel now believes that it’s vital that the public have full access to the entire contents of this newsworthy interview, so that it can draw its own conclusions,” said Tim Franklin, editor and vice president of the Sentinel.

Bralow said the paper does not want to seem to be an agent of either the state or the defense.

FCC begins review of cross-ownership rules

The Federal Communications Commission says it will undertake a comprehensive review of broadcast ownership rules.

The agency plans to research whether it should keep limits on radio and television station ownership, if networks should be allowed to purchase each other and if daily newspapers should be able to purchase local broadcast stations. The rules, the FCC says, should be completely updated by spring.

Years of attention from federal judges prompted the review, attention that involves questions about whether the FCC’s complex rules have enough legal basis. Interest groups have said that these rules are necessary for diverse programming, news content and local input, but media companies have said the rules come from the early days of television and are now unnecessary.

Loss of independent papers debated at conference

A conference in Urbana, Ill., about the state of independent newspapers in America brought to the forefront concerns that high-quality community journalism will be left behind as large chains juggle companies for profits. Others argued, however, that outside ownership may be just as likely to heighten the quality of journalism in previously independent and family-owned papers, where aggressive reporting is many times sacrificed for neighborhood loyalties.

Publisher Brandt Ayers said newspaper chains employ fewer reporters, have less coverage and leave big decisions to managers who know nothing about the community. “It’s not about counting beans. It’s about information. It’s about journalism. It’s about ideas,” said Ayers, who publishes the Anniston Star in Alabama.

The conference – “The Independent Family Newspaper in America: Its Future and Relevance” – was sponsored by the University of Illinois journalism department and the 150-year-old, family-owned newspaper The News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana.

Only about 250 of the nation’s 1,500 daily newspapers are still independently owned. Frank Blethen, publisher of the Seattle Times, said that corporations could become even more powerful if the Federal Communications Commission loosens rules that now restrict companies from owning newspapers and television stations in the same area.

Ex-reporter sues paper over buyout package

After retiring from a 35-year career with the Boston Globe, Gerard M. O’Neill is suing the paper and its parent company, the New York Times Co.

O’Neill claims the company tricked him into taking a buyout package that was a great deal less generous than those given to other employees just months later. The amount of money at stake is as much as six figures.

“This is a dispute over severance I was deprived of,” O’Neill, 60, said in an interview. In September 2000, the Globe was ordered to cut costs. O’Neill and 16 other employees were offered early retirement, with a deadline to accept of Oct. 30. He agreed to the deal, but included an extension until January 2001, at which point he retired from the company.

Between the time he accepted the contract and his retirement at 58, a more financially attractive package was offered to all employees with 10 or more years of service.

So far, O’Neill appears to be the only retired Globe employee who is suing over his severance package.

Anthrax found in copiers

FBI investigators have concluded their search of the American Media Inc. headquarters, which was quarantined last year after anthrax spread throughout the building. It is believed that photocopy machines were the catalyst for the anthrax, since every one of the more than two dozen copy machines in the building tested positive for anthrax in the three-story building.

The anthrax may have gotten to the copiers from reams of paper that had trapped airborne spores while being stored in the company mailroom. This is why, the FBI says, anthrax was found throughout the 68,000-square-foot building. Officials first believed the anthrax was spread by a rolling mail cart that delivered mail to AMI departments.

The building originally was closed after AMI photo editor Bob Stevens died last October and AMI mailroom employee Ernesto Blanco was hospitalized. The discoveries, the FBI says, will help in future investigations dealing with anthrax dispersal in buildings such as the AMI headquarters.

Anthrax has been studied only as a livestock disease or on battlefields as a weapon, not in public buildings.

Newspapers protected from ‘false light’ suits

A state Supreme Court ruling in Colorado will protect newspapers in that state from invasion-of-privacy lawsuits.

The 4-3 decision specified that newspapers cannot be sued if subjects are portrayed in a “false light.” Previously, plaintiffs had to prove only that what had been written about them was “highly offensive.” Writing for the majority, Justice Rebecca Kourlis said it was too difficult to define wrongful conduct in false light cases, and that the area was “fraught with ambiguity and subjectivity.”

The decision outraged several justices, including Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, who said that only three states have allowed such protections, while 29 others and the U.S. Supreme Court believe that “false light” cases are still valid claims.

The decision made null a jury verdict that gave $106,506 to Manuel Edward “Eddie” Bueno on a claim against The Rocky Mountain News. In August 1994, the News published “Denver’s Biggest Crime Family,” which detailed the family of Pete and Della Bueno. Fifteen of the Bueno’s 18 children had arrest records, which the article declared made them “Denver’s biggest crime family.” Eddie Bueno sued after saying this placed him in a false light, since he had always stayed out of trouble and had no criminal record.