A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Odds & Ends

By Quill

Musical tour protests media consolidation

Wisconsin’s Historical Society Auditorium found itself hosting an eclectic collaboration in Madison on Nov. 7: the state’s lieutenant governor, a Federal Communications Commission member and a guitarist from Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, to name just a few attendees.

The diverse array of speakers and performers drew an audience of hundreds of activists, seeking to stop what they believe is the unchecked concentration of media outlets in America at the first National Conference of Media Reform.

“I don’t think there’s a more important meeting taking place in America today,” Michael Copps, an FCC member, told a packed audience in Madison, as quoted by The Capital Times newspaper. Copps was one of two FCC members who voted against relaxing federal media ownership rules late last spring.

Later that evening, Copps revved up the crowd for the kickoff of the “Tell Us the Truth” tour, a musical collaboration featuring British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, Rage and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello and Lester Chambers of the 1960s soul-rock group The Chambers Brothers, among others. The musical collaboration was setting up for a 12-city tour to raise awareness about media consolidation and globalization. More than 1,600 registered for the conference, about 1,400 more than expected when organizers thought up the idea, the Capital Times reported.

After a compromise between the White House and Congress, a Senate vote that would permanently cap national TV ownership at 39 percent of the nation’s homes was pushed to a probable January vote.

Online ad revenue grows in 2003

A recent poll of 26 media companies found that online advertising revenues in the third quarter of 2003 grew almost by half compared with similar figures in 2002.

The companies’ average online revenue grew by 45.9 percent over the same quarter a year earlier. The poll, conducted of members of the Online Publishers Association, also found that year-to-date revenues increased 38.2 percent over 2002’s figures.

OPA Executive Director Michael Zimbalist made a point in mid-November to emphasize that the growth couldn’t be attributed to paid searches alone. By snagging a greater share of brand advertising dollars as well, the companies’ sites are working toward a strong recovery, according to reports in Editor & Publisher.

Advertising-sponsored search listings are at their most popular on Google, Yahoo! and newspaper sites. Many of the newspaper sites offer paid links through revenue-sharing partnerships with Google and other search engine-type companies.

Reporter found guilty of trespassing

A Pennsylvania district court judge found Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Carl Prine guilty in mid-November of trespassing at a chemical plant and ordered him to pay a $25 fine plus court costs.

Prine teamed up with 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft and freelance cameraman Gregory E. Andracke for a story on loose security at the Neville Chemical Plant in Pennsylvania. The newspaper was appealing the ruling, according to Tribune-Review editor Frank Craig.

The three men walked throughout the chemical plant for 15 to 20 minutes “undetected and unmolested,” said CBS News spokesman Kevin Tedesco as quoted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Judge: reporter must surrender notes

A Sports Illustrated reporter was ordered by a federal judge in Alabama Dec. 8 to reveal the anonymous sources used in an article that led to the firing of former University of Alabama head coach Mike Price.

Price filed a $20 million libel lawsuit against SI parent company Time Inc. and writer and associate editor Don Yaegar, who reported in the May 12, 2003, issue of the magazine that Price had sex in a hotel room in Florida with two women during a golf event last April.

Price’s lawyers argued that the sources should be revealed in order to prove their statements false. SI lawyer Gary Huckaby said the First Amendment and Alabama shield statutes protect news organizations from being forced to reveal the names of confidential sources.

After the decision, Huckaby said Time had not decided whether it would comply with the judge’s order, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Alabama fired Price shortly after the article appeared. He never coached a game for the Crimson Tide. On Dec. 21, the University of Texas-El Paso hired Price as its head coach for the 2004 season.

Panel: Blair scandal improved journalism

A panel of editors and publishers agreed at the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association’s annual convention in November that the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal helped newspapers by forcing them to re-evaluate how reporters gather news and to focus on how to regain readers’ trust.

Newspapers were losing credibility long before Blair was accused of falsifying stories because they were perceived to be inaccurate, biased and sensational and tied to media conglomerates focused on profits, the panelists said. Sandra Rowe, editor of The Oregonian in Portland, Ore., said papers should make the newsgathering process more transparent. By holding public meetings, explaining some editorial decisions with editor’s notes and including reporter’s phone numbers and e-mail addresses at the end of stories, Rowe said, newspapers can better connect with readers, The Lakeland Ledger of Florida reported.

Blair resigned from The New York Times in spring 2003 after editors learned he embellished, fabricated and plagiarized parts of dozens of reports. Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, the paper’s two top editors, resigned amid the fallout of the scandal.

Seattle papers strike deal

Amid quiet negotiations, The Seattle Times Co. and The Hearst Corp. agreed in mid-October to a deal that will allow Hearst’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer to publish until at least 2007 – despite what happens in a fast-track court appeal in the companies’ legal dispute.

The agreement, which wasn’t made public until Seattle Times special correspondent Bill Richards reported on it in mid-December, was struck through e-mail and telephone discussions. The companies were simultaneously discussing The Times’ effort to speed up its appeal of a judge’s ruling in a Hearst lawsuit. The suit looks to block The Times’ efforts that could shut down or end the papers’ joint-operating agreement (JOA), Richards reported in The Times Dec. 11.

Once receiving Hearst’s promise not to oppose the expedited appeal, Times attorneys agreed not to start counting down on an 18-month clock toward the end of the JOA – a move that could have collapsed the P-I within a year. Previous indications in the JOA pointed at the Post-Intelligencer’s possible demise as early as October 2004. A hearing on the suit is scheduled for Jan. 21 before a three-judge panel of the Washington State Court of Appeals.

Gannett launches youth papers

The parent company of USA Today plans to launch four weekly publications in 2004 aimed at young readers, an official said in December. Gary Watson, Gannett Co.’s newspaper division president, said the weeklies would complement Gannett community dailies in Wilmington, Del.; Greenville, S.C.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Pensacola, Fla.; he told analysts at the UBS Warburg media conference in New York in early December.

The additions will make a total of 10 free weekly publications the company has begun in its local markets since the fall of 2002, according to Editor & Publisher. Gannett’s first released supplemental weekly was “Noise” in Lansing, Mich.

Watson said regional audience size is one of Gannett’s many considerations when looking to launch new publications. While the company can apply lessons from markets where youth-aimed weeklies have begun, Watson told analysts it’s also important to match the publication to differences in the young adult populations.

“If you want to talk about diversity, in some communities, more than 50 percent of them are married,” E&P quoted Watson saying.

Student reporters denied press passes

Student journalists at Boston College were denied press passes by Massachusetts State Police in early November when police contended the students were not members of the “professional” media. Students at The Heights college newspaper sought the passes in September for protection from arrest by police when covering riots and protests, the Student Press Law Center reported.

Heights news editor Ryan Heffernan said the newspaper requested press passes in reaction to the arrests of student journalists during a 2002 protest of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C.

“The State Police denied the students News Reporter Identification Cards because they did not meet the qualifications as set forth in the governing rules and regulations,” the state police department said in a statement. Heffernan has appealed the department’s denial in a letter to State Police Superintendent Col. Thomas J. Foley.

State Police Department spokesman David Parsons said there is no law in Massachusetts that regulates who may receive press passes. Parsons said, however, The Heights was denied the passes because the students don’t meet the department’s requirement of receiving a salary from a media organization.

Still, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled in the Sherrill v. Knight decision in 1977 that government agencies cannot arbitrarily decide who receives a press pass and who does not.

Arab media considered suspect

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top military adviser accused the Arab television networks Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera in late November of cooperating with Iraqi insurgents in an effort to witness and videotape attacks on American troops.

“They’ve called Al-Jazeera to come and watch them do it (attack American troops), and Al-Arabiya,” Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference, The Associated Press reported. “‘Come and see us, watch us; here is what we’re going to do.’”

About a week later, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi government raided the offices of Al-Arabiya, banning its broadcasts and threatening to imprison its journalists. International media groups said the action called into question the future of a free press in Iraq. Al-Arabiya declined to contest the ban and said it would report on Iraq from its offices in Dubai.

The Iraqi council did not say for how long the ban would be in effect.

Judge releases emergency calls

A Rhode Island trial judge Nov. 5 ordered the release of 277 telephone calls and radio communications among emergency responders made during a fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick that killed 100 people and injured about 200 more on Feb. 20, 2003.

The total length of the recordings was about three hours, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Pyrotechnics used during a show by the band Great White ignited flammable soundproofing foam, trapping many in attendance inside the club.

Under the Public Records Act, the Providence Journal requested numerous documents relating to the fire, including emergency workers’ communications.

Superior Court Judge Mark Pfeiffer ruled that the communications must be released to the public.

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch originally objected to the release of the calls because of an investigation about who was responsible for the fire and in deference to victims’ privacy, newspaper attorney Joseph V. Cavanaugh said. Lynch receded after the Journal sued.

The Boston Globe, which received the communications and reported on the calls, described a surreal scene of chaos in which dispatchers and city officials are as dazed and horrified as the club’s patrons.