A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Odds & Ends

By Quill

Chicago Defender sale finalized

The Cook County, Ill., probate court has approved a $10.9-million deal to buy Sengstacke Enterprises Inc., which includes the daily Chicago Defender and three black weeklies.

Since the death of John Sengstacke in 1997, the court has overseen the company, which was left with a $3-million estate-tax bill and a family divided over its future. Former Defender editor and John Sengstacke’s nephew, Tom Picou, leads the Real Times Inc., which will pay $8.5 million for 91 percent of the publishing company and take on $2.4 million in debt.

Wall Street Journal axes 23 reporters

Dow Jones & Co. has laid off 23 Wall Street Journal reporters, while another eight are taking voluntary buyouts. Two Journal reporting teams were being eliminated: the New York law group and the regional economics team.

Tom Lauricella, newsroom director for Dow Jones’ union, the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, said coverage of stories such as the Worldcom, Enron and Martha Stewart scandals will be hurt.

“These are people who have been at the center of reporting on some of the biggest stories of the past year,” he said. “This is a core area of coverage for any national newspaper, and they’ve just sent these people packing.”

Brigitte Trafford, a spokeswoman for Dow Jones, said the Journal’s coverage would not be affected. “We still have the resources to cover legal affairs and regional economics without maintaining a separate stand-alone group,” she said.

Reuters cuts 150 jobs in N. America

Reuters PLC announced in November that it will cut 150 jobs from its North American operations to control expenses. The cuts will affect only North America and are not centered on editorial jobs.

As the economy has worsened, many Reuters customers have cut back on the services they use. Reuters decided to cut 650 management jobs globally last June and had previously ended 1,800 other jobs. In July, the company announced a probable 5 to 6 percent drop in revenues from regular operation for the year’s second half.

NYT publishes rejected sports columns

The New York Times chose to publish revised sports columns that had been previously rejected. The two columns, published Dec. 8, dealt with the Augusta National Golf Club’s men-only membership policy.

According to executive editor Howell Raines, editors at the paper asked writers Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton to resubmit their work and assured them their opinions were not the problems with the articles.

The Daily News reported earlier that the columns were killed because they went against the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board. The editorial board has historically criticized the club, which hosts the Masters tournament, and suggested that Tiger Woods sit out in protest during the next Masters.

Anderson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, has argued that Augusta should admit women, but that Woods is “not obliged to take a sociological stand. It’s not his responsibility.”

Berkeley mayor admits to Daily Cal theft

University police investigators have recommended that the city mayor be charged with petty theft. The recommendation came a month after 1,000 copies of the University of California at Berkeley’s student newspaper were stolen.

Berkeley mayor Tom Bates has admitted that he was involved in stealing and disposing of copies of the Nov. 4 issue of The Daily Californian. The issue included an editorial endorsement of his opponent, incumbent Shirley Dean, and the copies were stolen the day before elections.

Several students witnessed Bates throwing the papers into the trash, and they immediately contacted police officials, according to Rong-Gong Lin, editor in chief of the Daily Californian. For the first month of the investigation, Bates denied any involvement.

Police officials from UC have recommended that Bates be charged by the Alameda County District Attorney, but district attorney officials say the investigation is ongoing.

Warden can’t sue Conn. papers in Va.

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond decided in December that a prison warden in Virginia cannot bring a libel suit in that state about articles appearing on two Connecticut newspaper Web sites.

Articles published by The Hartford Courant and the New Haven Advocate covered the Connecticut practice of sending overflow inmates to prisons in Virginia. The papers reported on conditions in these prisons, including comments from transferred inmates that force was used unnecessarily and that racist attitudes were prevalent.

Stanley Young filed the suit in Virginia federal court, saying that he had been defamed by the implication of racism of abusiveness. A trial court in August 2001 said the trial could proceed in Virginia, even though all reporting activities occurred in Connecticut. The court ruled for Virginia jurisdiction because the Web sites were “accessible twenty-four hours a day in Virginia.”

The reversal by the appeals court said that the Connecticut papers had too few contacts with the state of Virginia for a libel suit to be brought there. Both papers have a local, Connecticut readership and are intended for residents of that state, the court found. The Courant had only eight subscribers in Virginia, while the Advocate had none.

Protesters invade newspaper office

About 50 chanting people entered the Chicago Defender’s newsroom Dec. 17 in response to the black-oriented daily’s story on a police shooting. Furniture was overturned and at least one person was punched.

“The physical damage was not that serious,” Defender Publisher Eugene Scott told Editor & Publisher. “There was more psychological damage than anything else, people saying, ‘Are we safe here?’ “

The group took issue with the story about a Dec. 7 shooting of a 24-year-old man in a public-housing complex by police. The story included a police version of the shooting, but no statements from residents. Residents say the man was trying to surrender when shot.

Scott said he publicly offered to hear protesters’ views in an editorial-board meeting but that no one had responded. He added that some protesters he recognized belonged to a political faction in opposition to the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The paper generally supports Jackson. “This was related to the whole resurgence of protest. It was orchestrated.”

Alabama paper plans to go nonprofit

The Anniston Star publisher Brandt Ayers has announced that the small northeastern Alabama newspaper will transition into a nonprofit organization. The move will allow the paper to remain locally owned.

The change also will help the paper gain advantages comparable to other independent, nonprofit papers such as the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. According to Judith F. Todd, the Birmingham lawyer who helped Ayers to develop the plan, the paper now will be able to offer a journalism training program through a partnership with the University of Alabama. The school’s graduate students will use The Star as a teaching forum where they will earn credits for the master’s degrees in community journalism.

The paper, which has a circulation of around 28,000, has been a training instrument historically for journalists.

Gannett may launch a cable news channel

A nationwide cable television network may be in the works for Gannett Co., which is in talks with major cable companies. The network would carry local news broadcasts and could expand the media empire beyond television stations and newspapers.

The channel, which would be called America Today, will repackage local news at Gannett’s 22 television stations across the country.

“The basis for the channel is on the theory that we are a nation of nomads, people who move around with frequency from city to city and state to state but who don’t lose their interest in where they had been or where they have family and friends,” said Roger Ogden, senior vice president of Gannett’s television division. “This is not going to have as broad appeal as a live general news channel. This is going to be a unique product, not designed to compete with CNN or MSNBC. Admittedly, it isn’t going to be a ratings play so much as a concept sell.”

The system would work on a grid, much like CNN Headline News, so that news from the Chicago station, for example, would appear at the same time every day, Ogden said.

Seattle Times hires outsider to cover JOA

A freelance business reporter has been hired by the Seattle Times to cover changes in the 20-year-old operating agreement that the Times shares with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Bill Richards, who lives in Kitsap County just west of Seattle, will cover possible developments – including any efforts to close the Post-Intelligencer – for up to three years.

Neither group has said it will change anything under the joint operating agreement, which was made in 1983 and amended in 1999. Production, advertising and circulation are handled by the Times for both papers. The Times receives a larger share of profits, and news and editorial operations are kept separate between the two.

Times Publisher Frank Blethen has hinted, however, that an effort may be made to change the agreement. If either group loses money three years in a row, then a “stop-loss” clause may be invoked. The Times has shown losses in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Once invoked, the clause will give the two groups 18 months to close one paper, but they will continue to share profits until 2083. They could also terminate the agreement. The Justice Department must review any changes made to the agreement.

Study: Most election polls were accurate

Polls were generally accurate, according to a National Council on Public Polls analysis, in the races for governor and Senate in 2002. The group monitors polling and how the news media covers elections.

The study, which took into account 159 polls in the races, found results to be mostly reliable. This report contradicted others that said there were problems finding accurate results due to fewer response rates. According to the most recent study, earlier reports were based on a few inaccurate polls and did not reflect the whole system.

Of the polls reviewed, 14 percent chose the wrong winners. Four out of five differed from final results by a smaller amount than the margin of error. Pollsters who experienced problems suspected they were caused by late Republican support from President Bush’s campaigning in several battleground states during the final campaign days.