A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Odds & Ends

By Quill

Legal ads could appear on Web only

Legislatures in the Midwest, in an attempt to balance budget deficits, are discussing allowing state, county and local governments to place their legal notices on Web sites. Currently, the law requires that they be published in newspapers.

The Racine County (Wis.) Board of Supervisors voted unanimously, on Feb. 18, to request a state statutes exemption, allowing them to forgo publishing public notices in a newspaper. The exemption, the county said, would save $60,000 a year. In Topeka, Kan., the League of Kansas Municipalities recently estimated for a legislative committee that $3 million could be saved by local governments by switching entirely to online notices.

Dan Simon, publisher of The Olathe Daily News in Olathe, Kans., says hosting secure Web sites could eat up such savings for many small towns.

“It’s potentially damaging to our company, not only for revenue but on the human side as well,” Simon said. “We have a full-time person who would lose her job if this went through.”

A legislative committee in South Dakota will soon vote on a proposal that would allow school and county boards to publish minutes online instead of in newspapers. David Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, said, “This keeps coming back every year, and it gets tougher to fight.”

Judge denies Flynt’s appeal on war coverage

A claim by Hustler publisher Larry Flynt that a Hustler reporter was unlawfully denied access to U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan was thrown out by a federal court Feb. 19.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said the reporter was listed with other journalists who could travel with ground troops under special conditions by the Pentagon. Because Defense Department officials did not formally deny access to the reporter, Friedman said he did not have jurisdiction to address the case.

The issue at contention was whether journalists have a constitutional right to travel with American soldiers involved in ground combat. “The mere existence of a legal disagreement about the scope of the First Amendment does not make that disagreement fit for judicial review,” Friedman ruled.

Flynt plans to appeal. “I anticipated that they would rule against us because in time of war, the judiciary needs to defer to the executive branch,” Flynt said in an interview from his Los Angeles office via telephone. “We’re going to ask the appellate court and hopefully the Supreme Court for a definitive ruling. Do we have a First Amendment right to cover the war, period?”

A spokesman for the Defense Department, Col. Jay DeFrank, said the Pentagon is pleased with the decision.

FCC gets earful on media ownership limits

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission took its efforts to revise media cross-ownership rules to the public forum Feb. 27.

Led by Chairman Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the FCC is due to vote in May on rules that keep networks from reaching more than 35 percent of the national television audience or from owning both a newspaper and television or radio station in the same market. It also will vote on regulations determining local radio concentration and cross-ownership of television and radio in the same market. Pressure has come from the courts to change the rules, which are decades old. They must be justified and extended to new mediums, such as the Internet, or ended completely.

Such new media rules, many industry analysts say, could set off a string of mergers. Big television broadcasters, such as NBC and Fox, took time to plead with the FCC to eliminate several of the current rules. But comments at the hearing, attended by about 125 people, mostly favored keeping the existing rules. One hour was given to the public for comments, and industry officials spent five hours on presentations.

“Too few people will control too much,” said Dan Podwil, one of several attendees who wore a cardboard television set frame around his head. Podwil works at a small radio station in west Philadelphia. “Any competition is for advertising dollars, and it’s about to get worse if Chairman Powell gets his way.”

Ex-priest guilty of assaulting photographer

A former priest on trial for child molestation has been convicted of assault on a newspaper photographer just outside the courtroom.

A jury in Sonoma County, Calif., found Donald Kimball, 59, guilty Feb. 18 of felony assault, vandalism and battery. Kimball, sentenced to seven years for molestation, could face up to four more years for assault.

The incident occurred April 9, 2002, when photographer Penni Gladstone, 49, from the San Francisco Chronicle, attempted to take a picture of Kimball just outside the courtroom. According to witnesses, Kimball thrust the camera into her face. His movements broke her glasses and gashed her below the eye. He testified the move was an attempt to stop the camera from hitting him in the face.

A week after the assault, Kimball was convicted of molesting a 13-year-old girl in 1981. He was acquitted of raping a 14-year-old girl in 1977. He has not been defrocked, but he can no longer serve as a priest.

More media mergers expected

As federal bans on the cross-ownership of television, radio and newspapers are loosened, media consolidations will increase dramatically, said William Dean Singleton, publisher of the Denver Post.

“Major media companies are drawn and cocked,” Singleton said. He also is chief executive officer of MediaNews Group of Denver, the seventh-largest newspaper company in the country.

Singleton and other media executives already are planning deals due to heightened confidence that the Federal Communications Commission will relax cross-ownership rules. During a Colorado Press Association convention in Denver, Singleton said, “MediaNews is now lining up broadcast properties in our newspaper markets to add as soon as the legal barriers fall in mid-2003.”

MediaNews publishes 50 dailies and 94 nondailies in 12 states. Its flagship paper is the Denver Post, which merged business operations in 2001 with the Rocky Mountain News. The newsrooms remain competitive.

Dog’s killer claims mental anguish in suit

Andrew Burnett, who is in prison now for letting “road rage” get out of hand and throwing a bichon fris» dog into oncoming traffic three years ago, is now suing the former owner of the dead dog and the San Jose (Ca.) Mercury News. Burnett said the paper and owner caused him to suffer from mental anguish and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

Filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court in California on Feb. 19, the suit says Burnett received spinal and neck injuries when he was bumped on a rainy night in February 2000 by Sara McBurnett’s car. It was at that point that Burnett, enraged, jumped from his sport-utility vehicle to confront McBurnett. She rolled down the window, and he grabbed her dog, Leo, and tossed him to his death in oncoming traffic.

The act generated international headlines, which is why Burnett is now suing the Mercury News and McBurnett for more than $1 million. McBurnett, upon hearing of the lawsuit, was outraged, saying that Burnett’s attorney “must be a weasel.” Burnett is representing himself in the case.

Quantum makes leaps in Southeast

New radio group Quantum Comm-unications will acquire Root Communi-cations Group. The acquisition involves the sale of 26 radio stations for $82 million.

Concentrated in small, southeastern markets, the stations include Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Wilmington, N.C.; Florence, S.C.; Brunswick, Ga.; and Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.

This is the second purchase by the group, based in Stamford, Conn., in two weeks. In late February, the group made arrangements to buy three radio stations in Cape Cod, Mass., from Makkay Group Broadcasting for $32 million. If both deals go through, Quantum will own and operate 29 stations in six markets.

“These are challenging times to start a new radio company,” said Frank Osborn, CEO of Quantum. Osborn and several other former managers of Aurora Communications formed the new company last year. Aurora and its 18 stations were sold to Cumulus Media last year for $220 million.

NAA loses battle over anti-telemarketing bill

A national “do not call” list that is meant to help consumers by blocking unwanted telemarketing calls has been signed into legislation by President Bush.

The Federal Trade Commission will now be able to collect fees from telemarketers to fund the registry, which has a price tag of $16 million for the first year. Operations could begin as soon as the summer.

Telemarketers are upset with the decision, saying their businesses will be ruined. An industry group, the Direct Marketing Association, filed a lawsuit against the FTC in February, saying the registry will restrict free speech. The Newspaper Association of America also opposes the registry because many publishers use telemarketing to sell newspaper subscriptions.

The registry, consumer groups and lawmakers say, has overwhelming support from consumers, who will be able to enroll over the Internet or via a toll-free number. Telemarketers would have to look over the list every three months for new additions, and they could be fined up to $11,000 per violation. Charities, surveys and political calls are exempt.

Gannett is potential buyer of Freedom

Gannett Co. Inc. is one of the most probable buyers for Freedom Communi-cations Inc., which has just officially been placed on the market.

Freedom, one of the few remaining large private, family-owned newspaper companies, has attracted much interest. The company includes the flagship paper, The Orange County Register, in Santa Ana, Calif. Based in Irvine, Calif., the company also holds 27 other dailies, 37 weeklies and eight television stations.

“Very few properties of this size and excellence come on the market,” said London-based broker Christopher Shaw, who says several companies may be willing to pay as much as $2.5 billion for Freedom. Competition, as Atorino said, may drive up the price.

Other possible buyers named by analysts are Advance Publications, the McClatchy Co. and The New York Times Co.

Media groups slam plan on disclosure

A New York Stock Exchange proposal that may shorten free speech rights of newspapers and magazines is being questioned by several media organizations in the United States. The proposed rule would require newspapers, magazines and all other media to disclose any potential conflicts of interest of a stock or bond analyst if that person is used as a source.

The rule comes as part of a new set of strict disclosure rules being implemented by the NYSE and the National Association of Securities Dealers in compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The act is meant to instill confidence in markets after the recent corporate scandals in the United States.

In letters to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is due to vote this spring on the proposals, media groups said such a decision should be made only by reporters and editors.

Under the proposed rules, any newspaper that did not disclose an analyst’s stock ownership would not be able to get another interview with that analyst.

Hussein translator on CBS used fake accent

The man who spoke Saddam Hussein’s words in English during a CBS interview with Dan Rather in late February was an actor, and he wasn’t even Arabic.

A Los Angeles Times report found that the translator, Steve Winfield, is a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Winfield has a Web site called “Fabulous Voices,” where he claims to be an expert in using foreign accents.

CBS said the translation read on air in English was 100 percent accurate, and that they chose a voice that would go “with the piece.” A statement from the network said, “CBS News employed three independent and respected Arabic translators to provide a 100 percent accurate translation of the interview.”

The network did say that a fourth person recorded the actual audio, but added that “The ‘60 Minutes II’ report conveyed a fully accurate translation of the interview that was in complete compliance with CBS News standards.”

Web ads test surfers’ patience

A new research study found that an estimated 43 percent of Americans believe online advertising is “a nuisance because it interferes with my Internet usage.” This is a rise of 9 percent in just two years, according to a RoperASW report on consumer attitudes towards media. Those who surf the Web actively are irritated with such online ads 53 percent of the time.

The study found that online advertising isn’t the only problem, since 75 percent believe advertising is shown in “far too many places.” Advertising on television is annoying to 65 percent of Americans, while 56 percent do not like to see advertising in print publications.

What is exceptional about online advertising is that the annoyance with such ads is growing more rapidly than in traditional media, making the problem of proving the Internet’s marketing power even harder for publishers on the Web.

RoperASW, which conducted the survey in late 2002 using data collected from Americans 18 years or older, has tracked consumer trends since the 1970s.

Ex-sheriff settles with family of reporter

Greg Johnson, the former Illinois Downstate Sheriff, has settled with the family of a local newspaper reporter after they sued, saying he was responsible for the reporter’s death.

Thetis Sims died of a heart attack on Feb. 10, 2000, during an interview in which Johnson’s misconduct was discussed. A 55-year-old reporter for the Kewanee Star Courier, Sims was researching allegations against Johnson that he had taken a first-place prize of $12,000 from a 1998 raffle for his re-election campaign. The Sims family sued through federal and state court, saying Johnson either prepared or showed a letter to Sims that accused her husband of serial child molestation. Sims then had a heart attack and, according to the lawsuit, was denied medical attention by Johnson.

Though the Sims family and Johnson have reached an agreement, Bureau County and its insurer are fighting the decision. A LaSalle County judge will determine if the Bureau County and Illinois Counties Risk Management Trust, an insurer for state government entities, can be forced to make payment. The county may be forced to pay if Johnson, who pled guilty to election law violations in September 2001, was acting in the normal course of duties as sheriff when Sims died during the interview in her home.

ABC sued over use of hidden cameras

ABC’s “20/20” newsmagazine used hidden cameras last fall to catch two owners of Hollywood casting workshops conducting controversial sessions. At the sessions, job-hungry actors pay to improve skills for casting directors who may eventually hire them for movies or television. State regulators have made a move toward restricting the practice.

The two workshop operators and 14 actors, who were caught on tape, filed suit March 12. They said the Walt Disney Co.-owned network and several of its high-profile employees are guilty of violating the strict privacy protection standards found in California.

This is the latest in a number of legal disputes that have made hidden camera work and “reality” programming dangerous for businesses. Reality shows such as HBO’s “Taxicab Confessions” and the Sci-Fi Channel’s new program “Scare Tactics” have started using more hidden cameras, even though news organizations, stung by litigation, have grown shy of the practice. In February, “Scare Tactics” was sued by a subject who said she was secretly taped while being terrorized by an actor dressed as a homicidal space alien.

Hearst eyes job cuts at SF Chronicle

The San Francisco Chronicle may need to cut as many as 500 jobs from the payroll due to financial stress from the advertising downturn, said newly appointed publisher Steven B. Falk. Falk raised the possibilities just two weeks after Hearst Corp. promoted him as a replacement to John Oppedahl, the former publisher.

“We have too many employees for a paper our size. That has to change,” Falk said in an interview after a union meeting. The paper currently employs about 2,400 workers and has a circulation of 512,000 during the week.

While Falk did not say how many positions he wants to cut, he did say there were 500 employees beyond the number that was necessary. Most of those jobs, he said, are outside of the newsroom. A cut of that size would equal a 20 percent job reduction. “We are going to run, not walk” in pursuit of savings, Falk said.

Gannett raises CEO bonus by 21 percent

The country’s largest newspaper publisher, Gannett Co. Inc., according to a regulatory filing, has increased the bonus for its top executive by 21 percent for 2002 to $2.3 million.

Gannett Chairman, President and Chief Executive Douglas H. McCorkindale continues to receive a $1.6 million salary, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission filing. He realized a profit of $9.5 million in 2002 after exercising options for 200,000 shares. He was given options for another 400,000 shares in 2002, with a worth of $8.6 million, upon the Dec. 3, 2002, grant date. He received options for 375,000 shares in 2001.

Due to Gannett’s “strong performance” in such a tough economic time, McCorkindale recommended that bonuses for other top executives be increased for 2002. He commended their “extraordinary effort.”

Based in McLean, Va., Gannett publishes America’s largest daily, USA Today, and more than 100 other dailies. The company had a 12-month revenue of $6.46 billion.

SF Chronicle subscribes to Al-Jazeera network

The San Francisco Chronicle has given its newsroom a new option to monitor the Iraq War and other Middle Eastern issues – by subscribing to the Al-Jazeera news network. Beginning March 19, the newspaper, which is owned by Hearst Corp., will subscribe to the 24-hour satellite network, which some have said is a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda. The network is one of the top sources for Arab world news.

“We may have to hire a translator,” Managing Editor Robert Rosenthal said as workers installed a satellite dish on top of the Chronicle building. “We have to see if there are English subtitles.”

The paper made the decision, Rosenthal said, to learn as much about the Middle East during the war as possible.

“It’s an outside view of the world,” he said. “It is the view from the Arab world.”

Founded in Qatar in 1996, the network has about 55 million viewers.

N. Dakota bill could crush newspapers

Many of North Dakota’s almost empty rural counties may be forced to merge due to new legislation, which could also put as many as 20 newspapers out of business.

State legislators say that too much of the government is duplicated, and that some counties need to consolidate. In a recent bill – one of several over the last decade – 39 of the state’s 53 counties would form into “multicounty districts” made up of several counties. This would eliminate 20 county seats and courthouses, which means 20 newspapers would lose profitable advertising of public notices.

Publishers in North Dakota say that the loss of government advertising will hurt the papers, as well as economic problems caused by the loss of county offices and courthouses.

“We don’t want our towns to just dry up,” said Kristi Bohl, owner and publisher of the weekly Burke County Tribune. “The heart of a viable community can be the newspaper, the courthouse and the schools. Well, all three of them are threatened by this proposal.”