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Media and courts failed on Ferguson

The Ferguson story of racial inequality in St. Louis and the nation was largely ignored by the media and judicial system before Michael Brown was killed in 2014. And the Missouri Supreme Court has done little to impose reform since then.

That was the consensus of lawyers, journalists and community activists who came together Sept. 14 to talk about social media and the Pulitzer Prize tradition. The panel at Saint Louis University Law School was part of the two-day Millstone lecture series focusing on the social justice tradition of the Pulitzer Prizes during the prizes’ 100th anniversary. The lecture series honors the late James C. Millstone, a senior news editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and mentor of a generation of reporters before his death in 1992.

Kevin Horrigan, the Post-Dispatch’s deputy editorial editor and a Pulitzer finalist for his work on Ferguson, said he regretted how late the media were to the story.

“One of my big regrets is that we as a newspaper didn’t become continually and consistently engaged in the Ferguson story before Ferguson happened…. This problem is not new, it’s decades old. It is a fundamental and tragic missed opportunity for the Post-Dispatch…. We got pieces of it along the way. Jeremy (Kohler) wrote some terrific stories about cops floating from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We’ve written about fire districts. We wrote editorials about restrictive covenants. But we never engaged on a persistent, crusading aspect of this story until post-Ferguson. And that’s not really in the Pulitzer tradition. The Pulitzer Tradition was to crusade against injustices. We missed it, we let it go…. And the sad fact is that we are less likely because of economic forces to be able to do the sort of loud, persistent and relentless reporting on this story that it deserves.”

Kohler, an investigative reporter at the Post-Dispatch, pointed out that he and others had written stories of police and court corruption in the years before the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. There were stories about the mishandling of rape cases and police who moved from municipality to municipality. But he agreed ArchCity Defenders was first to the story of the municipal court injustices that wrecked peoples lives.

Thomas Harvey, director of ArchCity, said the Ferguson story writ large was a “story that its been ongoing in America since its inception. It is a story we have largely sought to ignore. It is a story that that any reporter, any person, any lawyer, any law student could have just walked out to a court or a shelter or a jail and heard about any day…. And that is a story of the way the legal system systematically deprives mostly African-American…of their civil rights, creates and exacerbates poverty…. We see the results of these intentional acts right here in our back yard and we have failed to do anything about it.”

It’s a story about “folks that were stopped by one of the 67 police departments in the region, went to one of our 81 courts in the region…….were told that if they didn’t come back with the money they owed they would be arrested and jailed….They are arrested, they are jailed, they are told that to buy their freedom they’ve got to come up with the money that everyone knows they don’t have or they can’t get out. And then they call their family members and their friends and they say can you give me money….so i can get out of this cage and get back to my children.”

Families “scrape together every penny they had and try to get their loved one out of jail…then they were told at that moment that they were wanted in another town so instead of being free they were moved from one cage to another cage….. Five people in those jails have hanged themselves….”

Hand in the cookie jar

The journalists and lawyers on the panel agreed that the Missouri Supreme Court had failed to make meaningful reforms.

Horrigan said, “since the death of Michael Brown…there has been no major permanent change in St. Louis municipal courts. There have been some cosmetic changes. But the state Supreme Court has not done what it logically and morally ought to do which is to dissolve all 81 municipal courts and put them under the auspices of the county circuit court. And why is that – because there are entrenched interests, the traffic bar, the municipal court bar.”

Kohler agreed. “The Supreme Court has not done anything to change. The judges themselves, the courts themselves, the police departments themselves have been shamed temporarily…but there is not structure in place to make that permanent.”

St. Louis is a “frustrating place” for reform, he said. “St. Louis is not the kind of place that likes to admit that it did something wrong. It doesn’t seem to get embarrassed by itself . St. Louis gets stuck with its hand in the cookie jar and it says this is always the way we get cookies.”

Tony Messenger, the Post-Dispatch columnist and former editorial editor who also was a Pulitzer finalist for his work on Ferguson, described the injustice of the Ferguson municipal court that he had witnessed the morning of the panel.   http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/columns/tony-messenger/messenger-ferguson-judge-holds-naval-vet-s-reputation-in-her/article_5fd18b94-c99c-520f-9d17-79c710b3cfa7.html

Stephanie E. Karr, the former Ferguson city attorney who resigned under fire, was back in court serving as city attorney because no successor had been appointed. She insisted that Navy veteran Fred Watson plead guilty to a minor littering charge, claiming that his previous lawyer had agreed to the plea – even though there is no record of that plea agreement.

Watson’s case was highlighted in the Justice Department’s report of unconstitutional police practices in Ferguson. A police officer stopped Watson after he had finished playing basketball and insisted on an identification. When Watson refused, the officer arrested him and threw in other charges, such as the much-abused charge of failure to comply with a police order. Because of the arrest, Watson lost his security clearance and his job in cybersecurity at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Has anything changed?

Even though Messenger acknowledges that “a lot hasn’t changed,” his approach to his job has.

“One of the things I tell people is that what Ferguson did to me is that it changed the rest of my career…. A woman wrote me and told me that she is tired of me using the F-word – the F-word is Ferguson. Ferguson, the F-word is not going away…. This is the story I will write about for the rest of my career…. It is going to take us that long: It has been two years and the Supreme Court has done nothing. It’s been two years and we still have 81 municipal courts. It’s been two years and Stephanie Karr is still the prosecutor in Ferguson even though she says she resigned… We haven’t solved this in two years and we’re not going to solve it in four years or five years or 10 years. It’s going to take us 20 years.”

On the hopeful side, Messenger said that “government officials are using the lens of racial equity more than they ever have in this city’s history.”

There was evidence of change from one questioner in the audience – Marie Kenyon, director of the new Peace and Justice Commission for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The “Archdiocese hadn’t had a peace and justice commission for 20 years,” she said. “Cardinal Rigali said maybe we don’t need one of those….. It was only after the Ferguson uprising that Archbishop (Robert J.) Carlson said oh, maybe the church better looking into this too…. Now at the chancery, where I work, we’re finally talking about something other than pro-life.”

Nicole Hudson, leader of the Forward Through Ferguson group following up on the 189 calls for action of the Ferguson Commission, said she had seen activists come together in ways that hadn’t happened before Ferguson.

The goal, she said, was “a state of racial equity, which is a state where outcomes are no longer determined by race.” St. Louis is far from that, she added. Infant mortality among blacks has declined in recent years but it is now three times as great as for whites, up from twice as great a few decades ago.

Hudson and Harvey emphasized nothing would have changed without the “uprising in the streets.” But she added that many of the people of Ferguson are “emotionally spent.”

Twitter – the good and bad

Horrigan said “Twitter is as good as the person who tweets. Often it is a source rumor and innuendo and falsehood. The difference between mainstream journalism and social media is standards and my God, if we don’t abide by standards we’re really in trouble.”

Kohler agreed Twitter has its limitations because it is loaded with journalists and activists. He thinks Facebook is a better way to engage the community.

Harvey, though, credited Twitter with enabling him to “get direct access to journalists all of the country….something that couldn’t have happened before Twitter. So there are productive, important ways you get outside of the gatekeeping of decision-making about what is written about your community.”

Hudson said Twitter was “one of the places that keeps me accountable to the unvoiced…. It is really useful tool to stay accountable and keep my mind open.”

Messenger agreed that Twitter “helped drive the narrative of Ferguson,” but added, “It’s a good thing…..I connected with communities and sources I might not have connected with, specifically people of color. I found them on Twitter….I often used Twitter more than personal contact to get to know people and perspectives….

“There was an opportunity for journalists to connect with people that sometimes – to use the metaphor of the ivory tower and the editorial page – that we sometimes were not connecting to.”

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G20: The view from Chinese media

BEIJING — The 11th G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou, China, now is history. Considered a significant public diplomatic event and an opportunity to showcase China’s leadership in tackling global issues, the Sept. 4-5. Hangzhou summit became a big event for the Chinese media.

China Daily, China’s national English-language newspaper with a global circulation of 900,000, published special editions of the G20 summit Sept. 1-6. Its coverage emphasized developmental issues as an important theme on the agenda, and that China continues to be a key player in global growth.

Other government-sponsored news organizations such as China Central Television, China’s only national TV broadcaster, and Xinhua, a national news agency, prominently placed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s full-text opening remarks on their websites. On Sept. 4 a variety show – Hangzhou is most memorable – directed by Zhang Yimou, a film laureate and director of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was live broadcast by CCTV. The gala dovetailed traditional Chinese arts and modern holographic technology.

Hangzhou is known for its southern-style natural beauty, cultural heritage and silk products. In social media Chinese Internet users chitchatted about summit leaders’ Hangzhou shopping sprees, and Brazilian President Michel Temer was spotted shopping for a pair of $120 leather shoes downtown. First ladies not only went to stores, but watched exhibitions of Chinese calligraphy and paintings, and attended silk clothes shows.

Chinese media covered Xi and Obama’s unofficial talks by West Lake in Hangzhou.

Coverage of Obama’s plane stairs problem after Air Force One landed in Hangzhou was barely found in official Chinese media. On Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog service, there was a video of a Chinese official who said, “This is our country, our airport. OK?” to his U.S counterpart. His remark quickly became a hit and got some positive comments. A Weibo user remarked, “Nice job. No matter where someone is from, he needs to follow our rules while he is here. So does the (U.S.) leader.” Another user commented, “I hope there are more Chinese who have the confidence to say ‘this is our country and this is our airport.’”

However, some other internet users warned it was important to stay calm as there were potential conflicts between China and the U.S. In WeChat, another popular social networking site, some posts proposed journalists should cover more important issues on the Group of 20’s agenda, rather than make a fuss over the stairs.


Author’s note:  Dr. Fu is assistant professor at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics.

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Journalism loses staunch civil rights voice, mentor

George E. Curry, a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch, co-founder of the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists (GSLABJ) and co-founding director of the GSLABJ’s workshop for minority high school students, civil rights activist and advocate for the black press, died of a heart attack on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.

Curry began his journalism career with Sports Illustrated before working for the Post-Dispatch from 1972–1983. He went from there to being Washington, DC, correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, where he brought the workshop model to the Washington ABJ chapter with support from several other former St. Louis media colleagues who also had joined DC journalism outlets. He was served as New York bureau chief for the Tribune.

Curry became editor of Emerge magazine in 1993, after Black Entertainment Television acquired a majority interest in the publication. He worked for the National Newspaper Publishers Association, where he wrote a weekly syndicated column that appeared in 200 newspapers, leaving in 2007 and returning in 2012. At the time of his death, he working to reestablish Emerge.

Curry wrote Jake Gaither: America’s Most Famous Black Coach (1977) and edited an anthology, The Best of Emerge Magazine (2003).

To many St. Louis colleagues, Curry’s most important contribution was as founder of the GSLABJ’s journalism workshop, now approaching its 40th year, with colleagues and alumni having replicated the model in several other cities, because of its role in training young people in essential journalism skills and launching their careers.

A service will be held on Saturday, Aug. 27, in Curry’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, AL. The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are expected to present eulogies on Friday, Aug. 26, and at the funeral respectively.

The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) has added in memoriam piece about Curry to its 2016 conference in Chicago and will present an excellence in journalism award in his name.

More information will be in our September print edition.













Author’s note:  Ruth E. Thaler-Carter was a reporter for the St. Louis Argus when the GSLABJ’s Minority High School Journalism Workshop began and helped launch a similar program in Washington, DC. She has written about the workshop for the St. Louis Journalism Review. She is currently a freelance writer/editor based in upstate New York and webmaster for the GSLABJ, which will hold a 40th anniversary event on December 3, 2016.

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Ginsburg and ethics

There’s ethics, and then there’s ethics.

Ethics of the first order – legitimate ethics – have a solid philosophical basis. Ethics of the second order often have little to do with ethics, but instead are client and/or financially driven.

True ethics often center on Immanual Kant’s “categorical imperative,” or duty, to be true to one’s self — to tell the truth. This approach emphasizes action. Often included in this discussion is John S. Mill’s “utility principle,” focusing on the greatest good for the greatest number, an outcome-driven concept. Kant’s and Mill’s ethics concepts are usually at odds with one another. But occasionally they converge.

In the case of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there is such a convergence. Justice Ginsburg was impelled to tell the truth about Donald Trump for the greater good of American voters. As such she was acting with the highest of ethical intent. (She subsequently apologized Thursday for earlier being quoted in the media by saying Trump was egotistical, inconsistent and a “faker,” saying he says “whatever comes into his head at the moment.”)

While her earlier remarks produced a conflict of interest, that does not mean her comments to the Associated Press or the New York Times were unethical.

It’s not surprising “legal ethicists” might disagree. After all, “legal ethics,” a subject taught at most law schools in the United States, focuses primarily on how attorneys should represent clients, irrespective of ethics per se or the ethics of a case. Genuine ethics? Hardly.

As the Los Angeles Times said in its July 14 story, “…the prospect of a President Trump is so upsetting to Ginsburg that she felt compelled to set aside the usual traditions of justices staying out of politics.” In other words, she thought her ethical duty to warn Americans against a possible GOP presidential victory in November trumped a SCOTUS judge shying away from a political issue.

For that she deserves media laurels, not darts from “legal ethicists.”

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From Brexit to Trump

Except for a recent Rutgers University study* finding most British newspapers tended to advocate the United Kingdom exit the European Union, Gateway Journalism Review has found little if any research indicating how the media played the Brexit story.

While no social science data were apparently collected on the American media’s coverage of this issue, anecdotal evidence points to a reverse trend in the U.S., where the media seemed to lean toward coverage encouraging Britain to remain in the UK. And the American media have not been shy about examining their own coverage.

But regardless of media coverage, most political scientists in Britain, while expecting the final ballot to be close, were surprised the “Leavers” outpolled the “Remainers,” and that they did so by nearly four percentage points – 51.9 to 48.1 percent. Since then, much Monday-night quarterbacking and speculation have occurred, laying blaming “Leave” voting on everything from EU emigration policies to a rural-urban divide to voters’ age to weather in London on voting day to a growing nationalist tendency of the British population, especially the English.

And “Leavers” have been likened to Donald Trump supporters on the other side of The Pond. Much Trump coverage in recent days has centered on the candidate’s money problems, with Hillary Clinton now raising many times more cash than the New York billionaire. Trump currently is being portrayed as not only out of touch with voters, but also nearly out of cash and increasingly, it seems, being seen as an increasing long-shot, or at the very least being a candidate hard-pressed to beat Clinton come November.

But might there be a Brexit/Trump similarity the U.S. media are not yet seeing? An unprecedented number of British voters turned out to cast pro-Brexit votes. Many of these voters were older, whiter, less educated and feeling marginalized in the modern world and longing for the good old days when the Union Jack flew proudly around the world and the sun never set on the British empire.

Might there be a similar strain of U.S. voters waiting to vote in November? Might the U.S. media be underestimating the size and voice of older, whiter, less educated voters on this side of The Pond who long to “make America great again” — for a return to the 1950s? Might Donald Trump surprisingly pull the nationalist card from the deck, trumping Clinton, learned political scientists and a disbelieving media?

* Study confirms that the national press is biased in favour of Brexit

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500,000 extra copies

Sunday was a big sports day in the United States. For the first time ever, a National Basketball Association team came back in the finals after being down 3-1. That same team defeated the Golden State Warriors, which had a 73-9 win-loss record in the regular season.

And GSW were implausibly beaten in game seven on their own home turf.

And the win signaled the first win for any Cleveland men’s professional sports team –football, baseball and basketball – since 1964, the longest such drought for any American city in recent sports history. And the Cleveland Cavaliers, with considerable help from native Buckeye LeBron James, broke the hex, or jinx if you prefer. And the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the fourth largest-circulation daily newspaper in the Midwest, printed 500,000 extra editions as a result,* more than a 13-fold increase in the daily subscribers figure for the paper.

Good for the PD. Good for Northern Ohio. Good for all supporters of apparent underdogs and lost causes.

But where have all those 500,000 Buckeyes been for the past decades? They want to validate their professional sports franchises and raise the hopes of a much-maligned city by getting a piece of history in the form of a Page One of the local newspaper. Isn’t the news we all need and want something that still — even in this age of social and new media – is also the purview of daily newspapers?

Daily household penetration of U.S. newspapers has been dropping since 1910. Radio, television, Baby Boomers’ “unsettling” patterns and new media all have taken their toll. The PD clearly is part of this trend.

Still, when we want to remember a newsworthy event, few of us rush to find and keep a Googled copy of the event or make a DVD of a televised program for posterity. Instead, we seek newspaper front page to remember – for a scrapbook or for framing or for squirreling away in a drawer to retrieve at some later date and possibly share with friends, children and grandchildren.

It’s impossible to find a leak-proof moral to all this. Perhaps the best media watchers can do is to applaud the Cleveland PD and the 500,000 individuals for that front page of the Cavs’ newsworthy win. Still….


Cleveland Plain Dealer overwhelmed by demand for Cavs’ victory reprints


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Is ‘Public Journalism’ answer to Trump? Did SJR topple Campbell?

Publisher’s note: Roy Peter Clark, senior fellow at Poynter, suggests this week that “public journalism” of the1990s might offer answers for covering Donald Trump.  He suggests the late Cole Campbell, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1996-2000 and a leading advocate of public journalism, lost out to dismissive traditionalists and to a “crusade” from the St. Louis Journalism Review, GJR’s parent. Charles Klotzer, SJR founder, agrees the review, and especially contributor Don Corrigan, played a part.  Some former Post-Dispatch staffers suggest Campbell failed more because of personal leadership failings than a rejection of his philosophy. – WF


Can ‘public journalism’ reform campaign coverage?

from Poynter

At a time when America and American journalism seems befuddled by what constitutes effective campaign coverage – especially in the era of Bernie, Trump and Twitter – maybe retro is a place to look.

…We’ve been through this before, friends, and not so long ago. In 1988, journalists experienced waves of criticism, leading to defensiveness and self-flagellation, over the effectiveness of what is still derided as “horse-race coverage.”

That moment in time also happened to produce one of the most provocative reform movements in the history of American journalism. It had two common names: Public Journalism and Civic Journalism. The movement had leaders, professional (Buzz Merritt and Cole Campbell) and academic (Jay Rosen). It had experiments. It developed manifestos. It offered results. And it had many, many, shall I say, detractors.

Most of those non-believers were famous and influential editors. “All journalism is public,” they would say with a wave of the hand. The St. Louis Journalism Review made attacks upon public journalism and the late Cole Campbell, then editor of the Post-Dispatch, a crusade.

Suddenly, public journalism was gone, a tiny echo in a deep canyon, a whisper in the wind.


Echoes of Spiro Agnew: public journalists blame ‘elite’ press for attacks

Cole Campbell had a tragic flaw

The end of the line


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Post-Dispatch report on West Lake sparks social media criticism

After decades of controversy about the dangers of the West Lake and Bridgeton Landfill and nearby Coldwater Creek, the Post-Dispatch set out to ask the nation’s experts to assess the dangers of radioactivity at the site.

Reporter Jacob Barker says he was surprised by what he was told. The nation’s nuclear experts said that the danger had been exaggerated – a finding published in a May 15 story.


Environmental advocates were surprised too – and mad.

by Don Corrigan

When Dawn Chapman and other members of Just Moms St. Louis read a front page story titled, “Misplaced Fear,” they immediately went to social media to express their upset with the piece.

They were not happy with the finding of the article that perceptions of radiation risks in the area of West Lake and the Bridgeton Landfill may be exaggerated. The article also examined risks from Coldwater Creek radiation contamination dating back to the role of St. Louis in the production of atomic weapons.

“This downplays every second that not only this group has done to educate people (on the atomic legacy in St. Louis), but that the Coldwater Creek Group has done – meticulously counting every cancer and illness that your loved ones and you have ever reported,” declared Chapman on a Facebook post.

“There are so many facts and one-sided quotes and arguments used in this article that it is nearly impossible to count,” added Chapman. “I urge anyone who has lost a loved one or has suffered an illness to please call the Post and let them know what you think!”

The Post-Dispatch did get some blowback after the radiation risk story, but the editors and reporter Jacob Barker stand by their story. Barker said he was actually surprised himself by the responses from the experts he consulted for the story and who ratcheted down the risk.

“There’s tons of data on West Lake and concentrations of radionuclides that have been found in West Lake,” said Barker. “But until now, no one in local media has really tried to quantify the risk that these quantities pose.

“Because radiation has been so intensely studied, that’s doable. KMOV did do a story last year that talked to a local radiologist, one who I didn’t talk to for my article. That story was also criticized by the Moms group and other residents and activists after the doctor said he saw little risk from the radiological contamination,” Barker added.

Barker noted that when he brought the data tables to Dr. Sasa Mutic, the director of radiation oncology physics at Washington University, he was surprised by the doctor’s observations.

“Because the interpretation – we initially got – challenged our preconceived notions, we spent six months finding other scientists and doctors who know radiation,” said Barker. “All of the other scientists who reviewed the data said pretty much the same thing.”

Barker said the Post-Dispatch wanted to stay away from advocacy groups like Beyond Nuclear and stick to scientists for the article. He said if someone who works with radiation, and who isn’t part of a group with an agenda, comes to the paper with a different interpretation of the data, the Post-Dispatch will publish a follow-up

“As for the risk from the burning Bridgeton landfill, we did not deal with that in this article,” Barker noted. “This was focused solely on radiological hazards, although we did mention the measurable toxins emitted from the Bridgeton landfill.”

Setback For Moms

Chapman called the story a major setback for her group. She said Moms St. Louis has been working tirelessly to get a situation addressed in which an underground fire in the Bridgeton landfill is moving closer to the radioactive materials dumped in the nearby West Lake waste depository. The “fire” – officially called an underground smoldering event – involves chemical combustion with no visible flame or smoke.

Some scientists have suggested that a barrier be fashioned and placed between the two waste areas in order to keep them isolated. Chapman said she fears the Post article will set back months of effort to get Congress and the Missouri legislature, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to act to protect residents from a dangerous situation.

Chapman said the Post-Dispatch article diminishes the threat from exposure to radioactivity and makes irrelevant comparisons on risk. She said readers could not be blamed if they scratch their heads and ask what all the fuss is about with West Lake and the Moms St. Louis group.

“We have a fire that’s been burning for years in the Bridgeton landfill that is several football fields wide,” said Chapman. “These fires are not easy to deal with and this one is getting closer to an area where radioactive contaminants and anything and everything was dumped.

“Residents need a guarantee that this fire will never hit the radioactive waste,” said Chapman. “The heat from the fire constitutes a ‘heat front’ that precedes the fire. EPA said it does not want the heat front to reach the radioactive waste at West Lake, never mind the actual fire involved.”

No Safe Threshold

Chapman said she is floored by assertions in the Post-Dispatch article that suggest that “groundwater contamination levels beneath the landfill are low enough that someone would have to drink more than 1,000 gallons to be exposed to as much radiation as the average American gets annually from radon.”

According to Chapman, there are plenty of scientists who question whether there is any absolutely safe threshold for exposure to radiation, because exposures can be cumulative and humans exhibit varying degrees of sensitivity to exposure. She added that effects on fetal and embryo organs are especially of concern.

“I have to be honest, I took the better part of a day to read the Post story over and over again and it felt like a betrayal. It felt like a hit job,” said Chapman. “They seemed to go across the country to find critics to say what they (the Post-Dispatch) wanted to say about this issue from the beginning.

“As for me and Karen Nickel (co-founder of Moms St. Louis), we will not be going on the record anymore with the Post. They have their stance,” said Chapman. “We know where they stand. We don’t have time to sit and debate about whether there is a problem with the radioactivity. We have to put our energy into working with EPA and the federal authorities who can do something about the fire and the radioactive contamination.”

Barker said he hopes the Moms group will not put an embargo on dealing with the Post-Dispatch.

“We have diligently followed the situation with near weekly articles and always strive to be accurate,” Barker said. “The Moms group brings a valuable perspective to the efforts to find a solution at West Lake.

“If they have concerns that the experts we spoke with downplayed the risk, I invite them, or anyone, for that matter, to let us know about a scientist who isn’t from an anti-nuclear advocacy group with a different interpretation,” Barker added.

Barker said the paper will continue to cover the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills closely because “it is a major issue that is hurting the livelihood and threatening the health of many area residents. Just because some experts say the risk has been blown out of proportion doesn’t mean there is no risk, and radiation is only one of the problems at the two landfills.”

(To hear an interview with Moms St. Louis with the writer of this article, go to environmentalecho.com).

Don Corrigan is editor of the Webster-Kirkwood Times, a professor at Webster University and author of outdoor and environmental books. His work has been recognized by the Society of Environmental Journalists and Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. An earlier story on the Post-Dispatch coverage of the West Lake issue was published in the GJR last fall. http://gatewayjr.org/2015/11/04/media-cover-and-uncover-environmental-problems-in-st-louis/

One of the primary donors to the Journalism Review is Kay Drey, who has long been outspoken about dangers of the West Lake landfill.

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St. Louis Public Radio wins national awards for Ferguson coverage

St. Louis Public Radio has won two national awards for its 2015 coverage of the events that followed the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. One is a new Peabody award and the other a Silver Gavel from the American Bar Association.

The station was the inaugural recipient of the Peabody-Facebook Futures of Media Awards for its project “One Year in Ferguson.” 

The award is a new and separate award from the traditional Peabodies and is given to the top five stories in digital spaces.  The team that worked on the digital projects included Kelsey Proud, digital innovations editor, Brent Jones, data visualization specialist, Stephanie Lecci, newscast producer and Bill Raack, editor.


The ABA Silver Gavel was awarded for contributor William H. Freivogel’s series of legal analyses on “Law, Justice and the Death of Michael Brown.”  The award announcement said the series showed “in-depth legal understanding to the highly charged aftermath of the shooting of an unarmed African–American teenager by a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer.”



Editor’s note: William H. Freivogel is publisher of the Gateway Journalism Review.  Margaret Wolf Freivogel, his wife, is the retired editor of St. Louis Public Radio. 

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Free speech in Missouri may die Friday without as much as a peep

We learned Monday the New Voices Cronkite Act (HB2058) is not being put up for vote by Sen. David Pearce. If this bill is not heard by Friday, it will die.

If passed, this bill will restore the Tinker standard of student expression in public high schools. The Tinker Standard (1967) protects student speech unless it is libelous, an invasion of privacy or creates a “clear and present danger” or a “material and substantial disruption” of the school. The act would override a decision in 1988 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier which ruled that St. Louis high school students’ freedom of speech rights were not violated when the school’s principal prevented two articles, one about teenage pregnancy, from being published in the school newspaper.

There are similar bills running through legislatures throughout the country and nine states have already passed similar legislation. In fact, one is currently working through Illinois and Maryland just passed theirs last week. The bill had overwhelming support in the Missouri House (Y: 131 N: 12 NV: 1 Abs: 18) and the Senate Education Committee.

Now it just needs a chance.

Missouri scholastic journalism students and advisers need this to pass. This protection ensures First Amendment protection as students practice journalism under the guidance of a trained adviser. Much better than killing programs and kids moving their message to social media regardless. At Kirkwood High School, where I advise more than 175 journalism students annually, young adults know their voice matters. They critically think, collaborate and produce thoughtful, engaging journalism. It’s the definition of civics in action.

We need to tell young adults their ideas, their words and their speech matters. The Cronkite Act is a step toward that. Look, I do not know Sen. Pearce, but I would ask him to trust advisers and young adults. Tell them their voice matters in this world of muddled messages and lack of media literacy. Support scholastic journalism and media in an educational setting.

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European privacy notions wash ashore in U.S.

European countries have long had different notions of privacy than we do in the United States, where privacy has weaker protection than free speech.  But several recent developments are leading European privacy norms to have impact in the United States.

Article 8 of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”  Pursuant to this right, in 1995 the European Union adopted its Data Protection Directive, which generally gives individuals the right to control use of information about themselves.  In the United States, while a “right of privacy” has been recognized as an outgrowth of various constitutional provisions, it exists only because of several legislative acts and judicial decisions.

E.U. residents may now enforce privacy in U.S.

In late February, President Obama signed the Judicial Redress Act, Public Law No. 114-126, which allows E.U. residents to enforce their privacy rights in the United States.  The new law was required under the provisions of the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield” negotiated after the European Court of Human Rights held last year that the prior “safe harbor” scheme for protecting personal data was inadequate under E.U. law.

The European court held that the prior scheme was not compatible with the ECHR, including its failure to provide any remedy when the American government accessed data of Europeans, using techniques such as those revealed by former defense contractor Edward Snowden.  That ruling threatened the European operations of American technology companies whose operations include transfer of data about European residents to servers in the United States. A coalition of technology companies and industry groups called enactment of the bill “a critical step in rebuilding the trust of citizens worldwide in both the U.S. government and our industry.”

The new law will allow the resumption of data exchanges between the United States and Europe.  It requires American companies to commit to “robust” protection of Europeans’ personal data, and requires the companies to respond to complaints of misuse of personal data. The new law also allows residents of E.U. countries and other nations designated by the U.S. Department of Justice to take complaints about private companies’ misuse and insecurity of their private data to the Federal Trade Commission.

Before passing the bill, Senate Republicans added conditions on the Justice Department’s designations of countries that will be covered by the new provisions, such as a requirement that the countries reach data exchange agreements with the United States that do not “materially impede the national security interests of the United States.”  The new law also requires that designated countries provide reciprocal privacy rights to American citizens.

The statute also establishes an ombudsman to field complaints over government access to personal data.  FTC and ombudsman decisions may be appealed to federal court.

Americans may already file such suits over misuse of personal data under the federal Privacy Act.  But most of the lawsuits filed over Snowden’s revelations on behalf of United States citizens have not been successful.

When signing the bill, President Obama said that the new law “makes sure that everybody’s data is protected in the strongest possible way with our privacy laws — not only American citizens, but also foreign citizens.”

Google gives in, somewhat, on the right to be forgotten

One way that Europe has expressed its notions of privacy is with the “right to be forgotten,” the idea that individuals should be able to control what historical information can be found about them online.  The European Court of Human Rights established the right in a decision involving a Spanish lawyer who sought to repress a legal notice about the tax foreclosure sale of an apartment he owned with his ex-wife.

The court held in 2014 that while the information could remain in the online archive of the newspaper that published the notice, Google could be forced to remove links from its search results.  The ruling led Google, Bing and other search web sites to establish methods for E.U. residents to request removal of links to personal information that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive.”

But search companies have insisted that the removal from search results should be limited to their European domains, such as google.es or bing.co.uk, with the links remaining in search results on non-European domains, including the main .com domains.

While these domains are directed at non-European nations, the sites can be accessed from within Europe.  This led France privacy regulators to demand that the links be removed from non-European sites as well.  The sites resisted this demand, but in early March Google announced that it would extend de-listings to its non-European domains when the sites are accessed from the individual European country of the individual who requested the listing, using geolocation techniques.  The links will remain in the results for users outside that country accessing the non-European domains.

In a blog post announcing the change, Google global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer wrote, “We believe that this additional layer of delisting enables us to provide the enhanced protections that European regulators ask us for, while also upholding the rights of people in other countries to access lawfully published information.”

Privacy regulators of France and other E.U. nations told Bloomberg BNA that they were evaluating Google’s new plan.  But some observers indicated that the regulators were likely to accept the geolocation method only as an interim step towards total removal of the material from all search sites, accessed from anywhere around the world.

This prediction was reinforced in late March when the French agency that oversees data privacy issued a €100,000 ($112,000) fine against Google for failing to apply the “right to be forgotten” link removal requests globally.  Google announced that it would appeal.

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Still a TV news junkie


On Aug. 9, 2014, as the streets of Ferguson, Mo. erupted in protests following the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, one of the first television reporters on the scene was Betsey Bruce of KTVI, Channel 2.

Bruce updated a report on the station’s website at 3:50 p.m.  That afternoon she worked the streets collecting information.  As she stood in front of the Ferguson police station that Saturday night, she told viewers, “Police are trying to calm tensions.”

The account she delivered included interviews with witnesses, visuals of the shooting scene and comments from the police chief.  Near the conclusion, she said St. Louis County Prosecuting Bob McCulloch would end up investigating.

Months later, when the streets boiled over again after a grand jury issued a “no crime” finding, Bruce was in Ferguson again.

“It was the most compelling and the most frightening experience I’ve ever had because it was dangerous and you didn’t know who you were talking to,” Bruce recalled later. “Those are frightening times when you’re not quite sure when you should be looking over your back or taking notes.”

Many other reporters were on the scene in Ferguson, performing in the same way.  What sets Bruce’s work apart is the fact she was 65 years old when the event unfolded.

While all of her contemporaries have retired or moved on, Bruce continues to work long hours and weekends as a TV street reporter.  She prefers to cover politics and public policy, but will accept any assignment.

“I’m always fascinated by what’s going on,” she said. “I call myself a news junkie.”

Bruce’s 45 years in St. Louis television news at what was once KMOX-TV and then later at KTVI is a record.  As the first woman to work hard news TV assignments, she is a pioneer in St. Louis broadcast journalism.  And Bruce is unique in that she has spent her entire career in one market.

“I hate to say this, but when I was in college I was watching her on TV,” said Mike Owens, who covered the news for KSDK-TV, Channel 5 for 27 years between 1983 and 2010.

In September of 1970, fresh out of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Betsey Barnette started as a writer at KMOX-TV, the CBS-owned station in St. Louis. In December of 1971, she married Bob Bruce, whom she had met in college.  For a while she was known as Betsey Barnette Bruce, and then finally, Betsey Bruce.

In college, her adviser had warned her that news directors considered women “economic luxuries.”  “What he meant was that most news directors didn’t believe women were capable of handling a full range of stories,” Bruce said.

At that time, women’s roles were limited in St. Louis television newsrooms.  Pat Fontaine had done weather and features on KMOX-TV.  Dianne White, the first black weathercaster, was on KSD-TV, Channel 5.  Lee Shepherd had become a co-anchor on that station’s “Eyewitness News at Noon.”  And Harriett Woods was doing public affairs programs on KETC, Channel 9 and KPLR, Channel 11.

By January of 1971, Bruce had persuaded management she could go out in the field to report stories.  Her first two offerings were about child daycare and abortion.

“I was trying to prove to my boss that I was not an economic luxury, that I could do things that either the men hadn’t thought of doing or didn’t do or maybe were uncomfortable doing,” Bruce said.  At the time her mentor was Pat Fontaine.

“She was the only older woman on the air at my station and she was very helpful to me,” Bruce said. “One time I got some unwelcome attention from a male staff member, and whatever happened, she took care of it.  It was gone.  He was still there, but he never did that again.”

Covering her first City Hall news conference in the office of Mayor A.J. Cervantes, a photographer from another station made a big deal about Bruce breaking new ground.  She got to ask the first question.  Bruce recalls now some early comments such as “wow, you’re taking a job from a man; you shouldn’t be doing this.”

“There was a lot more focus on how I looked than what I was covering, which I always found frustrating,” Bruce said. “I was very determined, that I was not going to be distracted, and I was going to do my job and be a good journalist and be sure I didn’t spoil it for any other women behind me.  I was probably pretty intense and focused.”Jack Etzel, a reporter at KMOX-TV from 1969 to 1974, recalled that Bruce “had a maturity about her.”

“Women at that time were very rare, and it was unusual to hire someone full time essentially right out of college,” Etzel said. “Betsey was the youngest and ablest of anybody.  It was nothing for her to cover any story that happened.

Betsey Barnette was born into a family of journalists.  Her grandfather on her mother’s side was George Lasher, the founder and director of the Ohio University School of Journalism.  Her mother was the first woman reporter at Editor and Publisher.  Her father worked for newspapers in Gary, Ind., and Buffalo, N.Y.

In 1965, when Betsey Barnette realized she wanted to go into broadcasting, she chose the University of Missouri because the journalism program had a television station with a commercial license.  She enrolled in the fall of 1966, entered the broadcast sequence and edited the “Maneater” student newspaper in 1969.  As a result of a visit to MU by KMOX-TV managers in the spring of 1970, she got a job interview and was hired.

Between 1971 and 1989, Bruce made a name for herself at Channel 4, becoming the political editor and weekend news anchor.  In those days as now, success for television reporters came with either a permanent assignment at a network or a Monday-through-Friday primetime anchor slot in a major market.

Bruce harbored those dreams, too.  But her career took a different turn in 1989 when Channel 4 managers offered her a weekend-only job.

“I left Channel 4 because they didn’t want to have me any more as a full-time anchor,” Bruce said. “I always felt that was a financial reason, a salary reason.  I don’t know for sure.  But I don’t like to burn bridges.  I don’t worry about that.”

Tripp Frohlichstein, who was assistant news director during some of the time Bruce was at KMOX-TV, said he remembered her as “a hard working reporter.”

“She cultivated many sources and broke several stories,” Frohlichstein said in an email. “Even today, she represents a throwback to earlier reporting in that she continues to try to present all sides of an issue, no matter what she covers.”

Bruce moved to KTVI, Channel 2, initially doing some anchoring and reporting. In television journalism, women have always had to meet extra criteria relating to appearance and youth.  Bruce said there used to be a rule of thumb that when women turned 45, they couldn’t survive on TV news.

“Other than some of the very early national broadcasters who made a move from print to broadcast, there’s always been an expectation that women meet a different standard than men on the air,” Bruce said. “If I looked and had the weight of a Herb Humphries, if you remember Herb, was a Channel 4 reporter, I probably wouldn’t have the job.  (Humphries, a 300-pound man, died in 2003).  I do know that to me the more important thing was having a voice that was strong and clear and reasonably pleasant to listen to.”

In 1994, when she was 45, Channel 2 managers pulled her off the anchoring job.

“It had nothing to do with the quality of my work.  I decided I was going to hang in there.”

Over at Channel 5, Owens often found himself in competitive situations with Bruce since they often covered the same stories.

“I always knew when Betsey was around I was going to have to work hard to keep up,” Owens said. “She is a tough competitor.”

Bruce estimated that she has worked half of her career on the weekends, and that off and on, she held anchor posts for 16 years.  Owens said it was “incredible” that Bruce was still at it.

“If I was at her level, 45 years into a career, I don’t think I’d want to be working weekends,” Owens said. “I’d say, ‘find a kid to do this.’  She works what they give her.  I think that’s pretty impressive.”

When Betsey Barnette joined Channel 4 there were three newscasts: 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.  “It was a very relaxed schedule,” she said. “We worked afternoons and evenings.”

Things have changed.  The Channel 2 newsroom produces 13 1/2 hours of news for both KTVI and KPLR.

“It’s become a much more hectic, pressure-driven business even in the last 10 years,” Bruce said. “There is a lot of pressure to turn a 4 p.m. story for a dayside reporter now.  And you don’t get a photographer until 11 a.m. so you have a window of five hours often, not always, to get something put together and it cannot be as comprehensive as I like to do.  I have to admit, I’ve found that frustrating, but we are serving an audience with information and the real challenge is to be sure that you have covered it well enough that a. your accurate and b. you have the other side if there is another side to a story.”

Tom Heyse, a video photographer, worked many assignments with Bruce before he retired last year after 42 years.

“She is very thorough,” Heyse said. “She will dissect everything and look at both sides.  She never has felt entitled.  She’s worked for everything she’s gotten.  When her situation changed from anchoring to street reporting — a lot of talent really want to be anchors — she accepted that role and really did it well.  She’s a unique person in our industry who plugs along and does the job with no complaining.”

Some people in the news business can become calloused by the grind of daily events, but Heyse didn’t see that with Bruce.

“She didn’t look at it as a story that she had to get done for the day,” Heyse said. “She would get involved in a person’s life.  It wasn’t a put-on.  It was true stuff.”

In the four decades that Bruce has covered the news, the technology has constantly evolved.  When she began, 16-milimeter film documented events.  If a reporter was far away from the station, film was air-shipped, processed and edited.  Later, videotape replaced film, and microwave dishes mounted on satellite trucks sent signals to the station from a remote location.

Now the news can be recorded with digital cameras, edited on laptops and sent for broadcast with a special telephone, provided the reporter has a cellular signal.  Relaxed union rules now permit “backpack journalism” in which a single reporter carries the equipment, shoots the video, conducts the interviews and does the stand-up report.  Bruce managed to avoid that method.

“And I am fortunate because I had a ruptured disc last spring and had back surgery and so I’m glad I don’t have to carry that stuff around,” she said.  During her three months’ of recuperation, Bruce had time to think about what’s next.  Her husband is a semi-retired insurance broker.

Bruce said she has a basement full of files to go through as well as stacks of her grandfather’s papers that need to be archived.  She’d like to do some writing of her own, possibly about the switch from film to electronic news.

But for now, she’d like to keep doing what she’s doing.

“It would be really hard for me to skip what I have a front row seat for.”

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A call for responsible reporting of irresponsible speech

For generations, American journalists have been fooling themselves – and their audience. Unwittingly perhaps, but still fooling themselves.

On the one hand reporters – whether print, broadcast, cable, or social media – have trumpeted their U.S. Constitutional, First Amendment “right” to have the personal, individual freedom to report on and publish virtually any and every thing they like. To this end they are cheered on by living attorneys and, from the grave, by John Locke and Rosseau, practitioners of the European Enlightenment advocating a “marketplace of ideas” for all readers, listeners and viewers.

On the other hand these same journalists maintain they are gathering and reporting news and information designed to be of the greatest good to the greatest number of their audience. Such a Utilitarian approach, advocated by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill and popularized by J.K. Rolling’s Albus Dumbledore character in her Harry Potter books, justifies sacrificing individual freedom so society might be safeguarded and better served. Ethicists applaud this approach.

Exercising the freedom to produce whatever information the journalist deems important can lead to censure as it harms the greater good. Journalists focusing only on the greater good can in turn justify censorship.

And nowhere has the freedom v. harmony conflict been more noticeable than higher education, where instances of racially insensitive speech and political correctness increasingly are coming to the fore. As a result, the vigor of intellectual freedom is threatened by actions on campus and in society that stifle intellectual freedom in the name of racial and ethnic sensibilities.

Recently, the University of California system considered a proposed statement on intolerance including anti-Zionism as a “form of discrimination.” According to the Los Angeles Times, 130 faculty members signed a letter that supported naming anti-Zionism an expression of anti-Semitism, and saying students needed guidance “When healthy political debate crosses the line into anti-Jewish hatred, bigotry and discrimination, and when legitimate criticism of Israel devolves into denying Israel’s right to exist.”

Nearly twice as many faculty members, the Times reported, “expressed fear the proposed statement would restrict free speech and the academic freedom to teach, debate and research about the complex and tumultuous history of Israel and the Zionist movement.”

U.C. Berkeley Professor Judith Butler told the Times, “To include anti-Zionism as an instance of intolerance and bigotry is actually to suppress a set of political beliefs that we actually need to hear. It saddens me and strikes at the heart of the task of the university.”

In contrast to Berkeley, where the university is trying to restrict speech critical of Zionism – speech that is defensible – Oberlin College’s president recently defended academic freedom after a professor, whose speech was not only anti-Jewish but false and venomous, posted comments on social media claiming Jews and Israelis control much of the world and were responsible for the 9/11attacks and the Islamic State.

A Los Angeles Times editorial from June, 2015 began,

“It’s troubling when any institution tries to squelch debate or discourage controversial ideas, but it’s downright alarming when this occurs at a university — and even worse when it is the University of California, whose Berkeley campus was at the center of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening thanks to heavy-handed sensitivity training about so-called microaggressions.”

Nor is this something new. Nadine Strossen in 1996 discussed these issues in Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, deals with hate speech codes, which attempt to restrict bigoted or offensive speech, punishing those engaging in it. Strossen and others in this anthology argue that speech regulation designed to protect minorities is, in the final analysis, destined to be used against them. In this 20-year-old book the author maintains “it is difficult, if not impossible, to draw the line between unprotected insults and protected ideas.”

At Princeton University, for example, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson helped the university expand into a full-scale institution of higher learning. To honor him the university subsequently created The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Last fall, however, posters appeared on campus quoting some of the former president’s racist quotes, including one where he said “segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit.”

The posters, put up by a newly formed student group called the Black Justice League, led to a walkout by some 200 students, and the presentation by members of that group of a list of demands, the top of which called for the university to “publicly acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson” and to rename its public policy school.

As Atlantic magazine recently reported, “A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.”

Last fall University of Louisville President James Ramsey felt obliged to apologize for a photo of him and his staff wearing ponchos, sombreros and fake facial hair at a Halloween-themed party that turned “cultural stereotypes into costumes.”

In a November Yale Daily News article, early childhood education researcher Erika Christakis emailed why “offensive” costumes might be permissible: “Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.” She recalled that her sociologist husband Nicholas had said, “If you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other.”

This language-, costume- and racially fueled controversy at Yale University was heightened with news in March of the firing of Melissa Click from the University of Missouri. Click, who taught in the university’s Department of Communication, was caught on video calling for “muscle” to help her eject a student journalist from a protest site on campus last November. At the time, the university faced protests over the administation’s handling of racial protests

The Click episode can be seen from two First Amendment points of view.   From one perspective, the professor was blocking student journalists exercising their First Amendment rights. From another perspective, the University of Missouri was firing her without due process because her support of protesters had angered university donors and state legislators.

In either case, this episode brings the free-speech debate issue on college campuses back to the very industry most benefitting from First Amendment’s protections – journalists. While it’s true the First Amendment was ultimately penned for the protection of Americans, the most direct beneficiaries of the Amendment’s press and speech freedoms are journalists.

So how best might the media report on the apparent rash of instances of free-speech abuses on university campuses – locations where one would expect free speech to not only be tolerated, but revered? Aren’t campuses, after all, places where preconceived notions and societies’ mores are supposed to be challenged, debated and revised?

Such university free-speech issues should encourage journalists to neither blindly advocate for freedom-of-speech nor for students seeking to censure that very same speech. Instead, journalists might strive to report more on how universities are attempting to encourage and promote respectful, responsible discussions on race and other hot-button issues.

No matter how distasteful, such constitutionally protected speech deserves a constant, contextualized airing at all colleges and universities. A perfect solution? Of course not. But encouraging ethical reporting of such divisive issues, rather than sweeping them under a politically correct rug, isn’t a bad place to begin.

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Time for media to cease coronating sports stars

We thought we knew Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

We’d all seen the television commercials, we all know that Nationwide is on your side, that Peyton might be making our Papa John’s pizza and that, despite his football excellence and his March retirement after winning his second Super Bowl, Manning was everything we have come to expect from our football heroes.

Then the story changed.

It started with a long-form journalism piece by New York Post Sportswriter Shaun King, detailing a Peyton Manning no one knew. This Manning exposed himself to a female trainer, an event that eventually led to a civil suit, a settlement and Dr. Jamie Naughright’s departure from the University of Tennessee. The story continued when Naughright was working at Florida Southern University when Manning’s memoir titled The Manning’s was published, portraying Manning’s side of the argument.

Naughright sued. A settlement was reached but Naughright ended up losing her job. King’s story earned more than its share of blowback. It was a decidedly one-sided story that told Naughright’s version of the story with no mention of Manning’s version, which basically boils down to a he-said she-said story typical of this kind of incident.

The most powerful reaction to the Manning story came from sports columnist Jason Whitlock, who attacked King for writing a smear piece on Manning to protect black NFL quarterback Cam Newton, who struggled in the Super Bowl after discussing issues about being a black quarterback.

The argument between King and Whitlock gained traction when the two began discussing their level of blackness (birth-certificate records indicate King is white) and the focus of the story eventually centered on the two people arguing on Twitter.

That’s where the narrative of the story took a wrong turn since the actual focus should be on Peyton Manning. Not because of what he might have done to Naughright and not because his inability to let the incident go caused the story to be raised again years later after The Manning’s came out. No, the focus of this story should be about how sports media collaborate to construct an image of specific athletes that is not an accurate representation of who they truly are.

Sports media too often find themselves in the business of making heroes. They take an athlete’s on-field exploits and hope the athlete is just as wonderful off it. Sometimes, they even look the other way when signs of pampering, arrogance or just pure jerkiness show up. Instead, they build a brand, a human being so good, so perfect that fans start to believe this is who the person really are. Sports media did it to Lance Armstrong, protecting him from years of speculation of illegal doping. Tiger Woods was portrayed as being squeaky clean until his wife took a nine-iron to his car, opening up a can of worms that still haunts Woods to this day.

Too, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire “saved” baseball in 1998 with a home run chase that will never be forgotten. Also not forgotten is the sports media’s failure to question how much steroids abuse really drove the race. And now we have Manning. At the end of his career, allegations of performance enhancing drugs and sexual abuse are brought up and force the media to reconsider his legacy.

But should they? Peyton Manning was a great football player, definitely one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. But is that enough?

After all, sports media made him something more. They made him a television star, a shill for multiple brands on television and portrayed him as an all around great guy.

We’re now finding he wasn’t the guy we saw on television, and what he did to Jamie Naughright was wrong, even if his account is the truth. Fans shouldn’t expect more of their athletes than what they see on the field. That expectation encourages sports media to turn a blind eye to the truth – that these guys aren’t all the press portrays them to be.

Fans should stop expecting more. But more to the point, the media should stop constructing more.


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Red tape snarls drone deployment for journalists

At first blush, journalists using drones to gather information for high-risk or investigative news stories sounds like a good idea.

After all, such unmanned aircraft systems can be sent into dangerous (or geographically challenging) news situations where life and limb might be at risk. An added bonus is that drones are much cheaper to operate than either an airplane or a helicopter, both of which require a pilot, fuel, insurance, regular maintenance and hangar space.

So what’s holding back this new era of journalism? Red tape, in the form of Federal Aviation Administration regulations, as well as state legislatures and local municipalities weighing in on the subject of operating drones in U.S. airspace.

In February 2015, the FAA unveiled a set of proposed rules that classified unmanned aircraft systems as devices weighing more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds. These same rules restrict the operation of drones to a maximum height of 500 feet off the ground, at a speed of less than 100 mph.

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate, and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx at the time.

In December, the FAA began requiring operators of unregistered drones to register their devices. Information on its website noted that “effective Dec. 21, 2015, anyone who owns a small unmanned aircraft of a certain weight must register with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registry before they fly outdoors.”

The deadline for these owners to bring their unregistered drones into compliance with the FAA (and pay the $5 registration fee) was Feb. 19. The Hill’s Keith Laing, in a story posted online Feb. 22, reported that 368,472 drones were registered by midnight Feb. 19, “surpassing the number of airplanes that are on record with the federal government.” Laing’s story can be found online at http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/270297-drone-users-face-fines-jail-time-for-not-registering-devices.

Penalties for flying unregistered drones are steep. The agency’s website notes that “failure to register an aircraft may result in regulatory and criminal sanctions. The FAA may assess civil penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.”

But just getting the FAA’s approval may not be enough. Cecilia Kang, a technology regulation reporter for the New York Times, posted a story online Dec. 27 that noted how the FAA’s new regulations are conflicting with even tougher drone laws that have been passed in more than 20 states so far. Kang’s story noted that many of the state-level regulations have placed “tough restrictions on areas to fly and (are) clamping down on the use of drones to snoop on neighbors.” In addition, city councils across the country, including those in the major metropolitan areas of Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami, have approved their own drone laws. Kang’s story can be found online at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/28/technology/faa-drone-laws-start-to-clash-with-stricter-local-rules.html.

In a post from Jan. 24 on the New York Times’ technology blog “Bits,” Kang also provided additional insight on the tug-of-war raging on Capitol Hill to sway lawmakers as legislation wends its way through the halls of Congress. Kang wrote that “lobbyists have scrambled for meetings with officials at the FAA, the White House and a division of NASA that is proposing a drone traffic management system.” Kang’s blog post can be found online at http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/drone-lobbying-turns-to-captiol-hill.

The main problem is that the features making drone usage so attractive to journalists are precisely the ones raising red flags with lawmakers and their constituents.

In an editorial posted online Jan. 9, the editorial board of the New York Times highlighted the American public’s wish for easy-to-understand rules while also adding that “policy makers should not make it so difficult to use drones that they end up limiting the First Amendment rights of filmmakers, activists and journalists.” The editorial, titled “Drone Regulations Should Focus on Safety and Privacy,” noted the double-edged aspect of drone usage this way: “These machines can obviously be put to good use – say, inspecting cellphone towers, shooting movies or compiling multidimensional real estate portfolios. They can also be used to snoop on people and harass them. And they can threaten other aircraft.” The editorial can be found online at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/opinion/sunday/drone-regulations-should-focus-on-safety-and-privacy.html.

Despite the legislative hurdles and privacy concerns, there have been some inroads into drone usage by news organizations. Laing noted in a Dec. 14 story for The Hill that CNN has been tapped by the FAA to be a pioneer of sorts in the deployment of drones to gather information for news stories. The federal agency approved an application from CNN to operate drones “to conduct aerial photography, aerial videography, and closed-set motion picture and television filming.” Laing’s story can be found online at http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/263103-feds-approve-cnn-for-drone-flights.

A couple of final thoughts about the deployment of drones into the ranks of the media come from a story written by Benjamin Mullin, the managing editor of Poynter.org.

Mullin’s story strikes a hopeful note that 2016 could be the year drone reporting finally takes off in this country. He wrote that “it will be a watershed development for American photojournalism writ large, one that will put relatively inexpensive aerial photography, videography and airborne sensors in play for journalists across the United States.”

On the flip side of that optimism, though, Mullin’s story details the trials and tribulations that Matt Waite has endured since founding the “Drone Journalism Lab” at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln more than three years ago. Waite, a professor of practice at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the university, received a cease-and-desist notice from the FAA soon after founding the lab, and the federal agency also shut down a similar operation at the University of Missouri. Those two drone programs, as well as others across the country, have been grounded ever since.

But Mullin noted that, in addition to CNN’s green light to use drones in its newsgathering efforts, “television stations in Cox Media Group, including Atlanta’s WSB, Boston’s WFXT and Orlando’s WFTV have also incorporated drones into their coverage, using them to report on news, weather conditions and feature stories.”

Despite the progress, Waite struck a note of ethical caution regarding drone use by journalists.

“If you wouldn’t do it on the ground, what about a drone makes you think it’s OK?” Waite asked. “And is it the manner in which we violate people’s privacy important, or the fact that it’s been done the important part?”

Mullin’s story can be found online at http://www.poynter.org/2016/why-2016-could-be-a-breakout-year-for-drone-journalism/390386.

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Avis Meyer outlasts St. Louis U. adversary

Though he has announced his retirement, Prof. Avis Meyer will still advise student journalists putting out the U. News at St. Louis University. But for a four-year stretch earlier this decade, he was barred from the newsroom by SLU President Rev. Lawrence Biondi, who apparently saw Meyer as his nemesis.

After 43 years of teaching journalism and writing courses, Meyer will teach part-time in an emeritus role and continue to mentor students. During his newsroom exile students met with him privately for his writing and headlines advice.

Biondi, 78, is retired and reportedly has been transferred to Chicago by the Jesuits. He was lauded by his board of directors, alumni and St. Louis civic leaders as a builder for the university over his 25-year presidency and for helping to preserve the mid-city area around the campus on Grand Avenue.

But many of the school’s professors rose up against him a few years ago for the way he treated faculty and subordinates. One member of the Faculty Senate called Meyer “Exhibit A” among those who Biondi targeted.

Meyer said he usually was blamed whenever Biondi saw something objectionable in the U. News. Meyer said he never proposed articles for the students to write, including one that disclosed Biondi once delivered a personal-story homily that was very similar to one given by a priest in California.

Meyer, 73, was never officially named newspaper adviser, but fulfilled that role by invitation from students for a number of years. Meyer worked part time as a copy editor at the Post-Dispatch for 23 years. He can name in chronological order the names of 41 past student editors he has worked with. He knows where many are living and working today as they stay in touch with him. The current editor, Paul Brunkhorst, was not around for the Meyer-Biondi jousting, but once told Meyer, “He’s gone. You’re still here.”

Administrators suggested Meyer’s name not be listed as adviser in the paper, but editors left it there. A few other professors were appointed as advisers to the paper, but they either weren’t accepted by the staff or decided not to continue. When it looked as if the paper might be pushed off campus, Meyer sought to preserve the name by getting it documented with the Missouri Secretary of State. This was a mistake by Meyer, and a costly one. Biondi hired a big downtown law firm to sue Meyer over copyright infringement. The litigation drained Meyer of more than $100,000 in legal fees and U. News ran a cartoon calling it a frivolous lawsuit. A spokesman for Biondi criticized Meyer saying he thinks he “owns the newspaper.”

Meyer, who saw his salary largely frozen, has tenure and said this was the reason he was not fired. But tenure doesn’t protect against plagiarism. He learned that someone in the administration was checking in the library on his dissertation about well-known authors who had started as newspaper writers. The apparent search for plagiarism was fruitless as Meyer had attributed key elements in his footnotes.

Meyer is a film buff. He also loves old cars (he’s had 40). He has a 1949 Buick Roadmaster and recently bought a seven-year-old Mercedes Benz listed for $145,000 new. He paid about one-fourth of that. “That V-12 is the most beautiful sedan I’ve ever seen,’’ he said. “It’s my retirement gift to myself.”

Asked how he felt about the Biondi years, he responded, “There was once resentment and anxiety. Now it’s relief.”

Editor’s note:  Meyer’s retirement party will be held on Tuesday, April 30, 2016.

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This American Life distorts St. Louis school desegregation history

Last summer, one year after Michael Brown died in Ferguson, This American Life ran a powerful program on the failed Normandy school district from which Brown graduated.

Much of the program, reported by Nikole Hannah-Jones, critiqued the racially tinged protests of St. Charles County parents who didn’t want black students from Normandy to transfer to their mostly white schools.  This past February, the program received a George Polk award, one of the nation’s highest journalism prizes.

But there was an important mistake in her report — one that the PRX program declined for weeks to correct. Last weekend, when this story was about to be published, producer Hannah Joffe-Walt agreed there should be a clarification.  Still, the program’s story about school desegregation in St. Louis remains misleading.

In her initial report, Hannah-Jones incorrectly reported state officials had killed St. Louis’ city-county school desegregation program in 1999, when the Missouri Legislature had actually done the opposite. State officials passed a remarkable bi-partisan law continuing the program into the future. The transfer program still operates today.

The supposed demise of the program fit the overall narrative of the episode laid out in an introductory segment with Hannah-Jones and Ira Glass, host of This American Life.  In that segment, Hannah-Jones said America had abandoned the one educational tool that had improved educational results — integration.

State officials “killing” St. Louis’ desegregation program in 1999 fit that narrative while the true story of state officials preserving St. Louis’ model school desegregation program in 1999 did not.


The nation’s largest, most successful program

Here’s the actual story of what happened in 1999.  It is a story of how St. Louis preserved the largest, most ingenious, most successful, most costly and most long-lasting urban-suburban school desegregation program in the country.  The urban-suburban school desegregation plan began in the 1980s after an African-American mother, Minnie Liddell, sued to get a better school for her son, Craton.

NAACP lawyer William L. Taylor, one of the leading school desegregation lawyers in the country, represented Liddell and helped create the inter-district transfer program.  Under it as many as 15,000 African-American students from the City of St. Louis transferred to suburban schools in St. Louis County each year.  A smaller number of Caucasian students from the suburbs attended magnet schools in the city.

U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate, a savvy former congressman, used a carrot-and-stick approach to alternately bribe and bully suburban school districts to voluntarily join the unique plan brought to fruition by special master, D. Bruce La Pierre, a law professor at Washington University.

The stick was Hungate’s threat to merge all of the county districts with the city district, based on strong evidence that county districts had been complicit in the city’s segregation. Suburban school districts could voluntarily accept black students from the city and avoid the stick. In turn, they were rewarded by a carrot – state money that Hungate was able to offer suburban districts for each transfer student accepted. Because the courts had found the state to be the “primary constitutional wrong-doer” in segregating the schools, Hungate could force the state to pay for most desegregation costs.

For the next two decades Attorney Generals John Ashcroft and Jay Nixon — one a Republican and one a Democrat — fought never-ending Supreme Court battles to kill the transfer program.  Both used opposition to the program for political gain.  But they failed in court.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of black students from the City of St. Louis attended suburban schools.  Hannah-Jones reported accurately: “A generation of black Saint Louis residents, tens of thousands of them, remember the Saint Louis desegregation program…as a great opportunity. They’ll be the first to tell you that it was hard, but also that it was necessary. And for the most part, it worked. In the schools where white families chose to stay, test scores for black transfer students rose. They were more likely to graduate and go to college. After years of resistance, Saint Louis had created the largest and most successful metro-wide desegregation program in the country.”

So far, so good. But then, in her next sentence Hannah-Jones mistakenly said: “And then state officials killed it. In 1999, just 16 years after real desegregation came to Saint Louis, mandatory desegregation ended…This is what happened in cities all over. With Brown v. Board of Education, we as a nation decided that segregated schooling violated the constitutional right of black children. We promised that we would fix this wrong. And when it proved difficult, as we knew it would be, we said integration failed instead of the truth, which is that it was working. But we decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.”

What actually happened in 1999 was that community leaders, political officials and the citizens of St. Louis came together and decided the transfer program was worthwhile and working; they took extraordinary steps to continue it.


The Political Miracle of 1999

In 1998 Attorney General Nixon went to court trying to end the program, but U.S. District Judge George Gunn Jr. wouldn’t go along. Instead, he appointed William Danforth, former chancellor of Washington University, to find a solution. The result was a settlement, approved by the Missouri Legislature, to continue the transfer program indefinitely. This settlement was built on three extraordinary accomplishments.

First, a coalition of rural and urban legislators in the state legislature combined to pass a law approving the continuation of the cross-district transfer program, even though the program had been politically unpopular in parts of the state.

Second, community leaders of St. Louis pressed hard for continuation of the program. Danforth brought along the St. Louis business community, obtaining the support of Civic Progress, St. Louis’ most powerful business leaders. He told leaders the program had worked, resulting in much higher graduation rates for transferring black students.

Third, taxophobic citizens of St. Louis voted to levy a two-thirds of a cent tax on themselves.

In announcing the settlement of the case, Danforth called it “a historic day” for St. Louis.  Minnie Liddell, the heroic mother whose suit had led to the desegregation plan said, “All I can say is, `Yay, St. Louis.’ This has been a long time coming, yet we have just begun. I’m glad I lived to see a settlement in the case.”

Liddell’s lawyer, Taylor, wrote that St. Louis’ settlement was the best in the nation.  And nobody knew better than Taylor, who had been involved in many of the nation’s biggest school desegregation battles after having served as general counsel of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and then vice chair of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“In many communities around the nation, courts are declaring an end to judicially supervised school desegregation and to the mandated subsidies for improved education that are often part of the remedy. But in St. Louis, the state Legislature has offered a financial package that will enable educational opportunity programs to continue for 10 years or more,” he said.

“Both from a financial and an educational standpoint, the St. Louis settlement is the best of any school district in the nation. The state funding will make possible continuation of the voluntary inter-district transfer program and the city magnet program. Both of these programs have enabled African-American city students to complete high school and go on to college at far greater rates than they have in the past.”

Former Rep. William L. Clay, who had led St. Louis’s seminal civil rights protest against the Jefferson Bank, inserted remarks in the Congressional Record: “When the State sought to end its financing of the remedy in the early 1990’s many feared that the opportunities that had been afforded children would end as had happened elsewhere. But an extraordinary thing happened. The Missouri State legislature voted funds sufficient to continue the programs…for at least ten more years. The legislature insisted that the city of St. Louis contribute financially by raising its sales and property taxes. Many feared that this would not occur. But in February of this year the voters approved a sales tax increased by an almost 2-1 margin–and every Ward in the City–Black and White–voted for the tax increase.”

Clay attached to his remarks an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headlined “Voting for a Miracle.”

“Tuesday’s overwhelming vote in favor of the sales tax increase for city schools is the latest miracle in a year of political miracles. The first was getting the Missouri Legislature to pass a law to continue making extra payments to the St. Louis schools after the end of court-ordered desegregation. The second was Dr. William H. Danforth’s trick of getting the platoon of lawyers to stop squabbling and hammer out a deal. The third was persuading the people of St. Louis to lay aside their opposition to taxes and lack of confidence in the schools and, instead, to tax themselves in hopes of a better future.

“This feat makes us the first place in the nation where the democratic institutions of government found a way to preserve the gains of the era of desegregation while making it possible to improve the education of all children. Imagine. This happened in Missouri.”


Standing by the story

When I initially sent an email to This American Life pointing out its mistake, I received no response.  My email to Hannah-Jones never reached her because she had moved from ProPublica to the New York Times.

I wasn’t the only one to raise a question. The Washington Monthly quoted an expert on school desegregation, Rick Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation, pointing out the same mistake.  “The St. Louis inter-district integration program was not ‘killed’ in 1999, as reported on the show, notes Century Foundation education guru Rick Kahlenberg (who otherwise finds much to admire in the podcast). It continues to exist to this day, with some 4,500 St. Louis students transferring to suburban schools.”

After the Polk award, I brought the mistake up again because that honor ensured even more people would listen to the flawed account of desegregation in St. Louis.

Hannah-Jones responded in emails that she had not known of Kahlenberg’s or my criticism.  She added that she disagreed with it. In a February email she wrote, “…we at TAL disagree that this is an error. In the show, we say the mandatory program ended. The settlement ended court-mandated desegregation, just as we said it did. We fact-checked it and we think it is, in fact, accurate.”

Joffe-Walt, the producer who worked with Hannah-Jones, apologized for not having responded sooner.  She wrote in an email: “I did a search on our listener comments and see that you wrote in, which we regrettably missed at the time. We were overwhelmed with the response to those shows and I personally did not see this one. So first, I apologize for the delay in getting back to you.

“In terms of the content of your message, I wanted to respond as I wish I had many months ago.  The existence of the current voluntary program was something we discussed in the writing process — writing that was reviewed in edits and fact checking.  While I understand the concern you are raising, I see it differently, and I feel comfortable with the language we used.

“Here is why: We do say that the state ended mandatory desegregation. This is true….Second, we are telling the story of a modern day mandatory program, and comparing it to the original mandatory program, so it is appropriate to distinguish between voluntary and mandatory.  They are different animals entirely, as is illustrated in the very scene where these sentences appear.

“In the section you are pointing to, Nikole is giving a 60 year history of integration efforts in one paragraph.  She is highlighting the need for mandatory integration in the face of enormous resistance from white, suburban St. Louis.  In that context, it is completely reasonable to underline the long lasting consequences of the state’s decision to get rid of the mandatory program. St Louis schools are racially segregated and white suburban resistance continues.  Because of that ongoing resistance, which you hear immediately before and after that paragraph, it is clear that there is a fundamental difference between a program that is mandatory and one that is voluntary program.”


Voluntary, Not Mandatory

The problem with Joffe-Walt’s response is that the city-county program she and the program praised was always “voluntary.”  The state funding was mandatory but not the participation of the suburban school districts.  The 1999 agreement replaced court-mandated funding with public funding the people of Missouri provided through their representatives and at the ballot box.

Wasn’t it better to for Missouri to democratically provide the funding indefinitely rather than to be forced to provide it for some limited period of time?  And how does this unique democratic act figure into the narrative of the This American Life program that there was the “need for mandatory integration in the face of enormous resistance from white, suburban St. Louis.”   There was no “enormous resistance” in 1999.

When Joffe-Walt was presented with the celebratory statements of Rep. Clay, Bill Taylor and Minnie Liddell, she at first did not reply.  When pressed, she asked for more time.  When told that a story would be running, she sent an email announcing a clarification. She wrote:

“While I appreciate the details you are citing, our show goes out to a national audience and most of our listeners have little or no awareness of the St Louis case.  We did not think it made sense to go into the level of detail and context that, while interesting, shifts focus away from the larger story (which is complicated itself)!  That said, we do find that the language about the continuation of a voluntary program is worth mentioning and so will clarify the language in this way:

“The sentence will now read: ‘After years of resistance, Saint Louis had created the largest and most successful metro-wide desegregation program in the country. But from the moment it started, state officials worked kill it. And then in 1999, just 16 years after real desegregation came to Saint Louis, the desegregation order ended. Just a much smaller voluntary desegregation program remains.’”

As clarified, the show still says nothing about the extraordinary efforts of Missouri officials, St. Louis leaders and civil rights leaders to save the desegregation program.

For her part, Hannah-Jones wrote in an email that she stands by the story as broadcast. “Of course we stand by the story,” she said. “One sentence that you don’t agree with does not change that.”

There is plenty of racial history that St. Louis and Missouri should be ashamed of. That includes Ashcroft’s and Nixon’s decades-long fight to end the city-county program.  But 1999, when the urban-suburban desegregation program was saved rather than killed, is a bright moment in St. Louis’ and Missouri’s racial history.  It doesn’t fit into This American Life’s narrative of St. Louis and the country giving up on desegregation.  That’s too bad because the story would have been richer and more nuanced had it been based on the real history of citizens and politicians coming together to create better, more integrated schools.

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Hard times for the Missouri Times

JEFFERSON CITY — Scott Faughn and two of his publications, the Missouri Times and SEMO Times, owe more $17,000 on overdue bills for state taxes and commercial printing, according to creditor lawsuits filed recently in Cole County Circuit Court.

Petitions, lawsuits and tax liens show $7,842 is owed to the state of Missouri for taxes, and $9,518 is owed to the Central Missouri Newspapers, Inc. for printing. Some of the unpaid bills go back to 2014.

The largest single bill, $5,304, is owed by the Missouri Times to the Missouri Department of Labor, Division of Employment Security for unpaid unemployment insurance taxes covering the period between April 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. The agency filed a certificate of assessment of contributions, interest and penalties with the court on Dec. 17, 2015.

“The certificate of assessment of contributions, interest, and penalties is an enforceable tax lien filed in circuit court for failure to file quarterly contribution and wage reports or pay state unemployment taxes when due,” said Lauren Schad, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor. “When payment is received, the Division of Employment Security will file a satisfaction and release of certificate with the court.”

Central Missouri Newspapers, Inc. is the commercial printing company of the Jefferson City News-Tribune. It filed two petitions on Jan. 21, seeking $4,518 for unpaid bills for production of the Missouri Times between May and October of last year, and $5,000 for unpaid printing bills for the SEMO Times between September and December, 2014. Both petitions name Faughn as the companies’ registered agent. A hearing is schedule for March 30.

Myra Long, comptroller of Central Missouri Newspapers, said Faughn has made some payments.

“He is working with us, but we haven’t wrapped things up officially with the court yet,” Long said. “We will notify the court if he pays up ahead of time.”

Central Missouri Newspapers no longer prints Faughn’s publications. “He’s found a different printer,” Long said.

The Missouri Department of Revenue has filed five separate tax liens totaling $2,538 against the Missouri Times for unpaid withholding taxes beginning in June 2014, and ending in June of last year.

“If they are not paid, the taxpayer receives at least four notices before a lien is filed,” said Michelle Gleba, a spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue. “When a lien is released, a release is filed with the recorder of deeds. When an administrative judgment is satisfied, a satisfaction is filed with the circuit court.”

A reporter attempted to interview Faughn about his companies’ money troubles. The Missouri Times is headquartered at 129 East High St. in Jefferson City. A reporter found Faughn there at the top of a two-story walkup, inside a darkened room resembling a lounge.

Faughn was standing behind a bar in the room with a laptop computer in front of him. Liquor bottles stood on shelves on the wall behind him. Black and white photos of politicians covered the other walls of the room.

Faughn declined a face-to-face interview. He said he would consider written questions sent by email. Questions were emailed March 17. Faughn acknowledged receiving them March 21, but said he could not respond until next week.

Faughn, the former mayor of Poplar Bluff, launched the Missouri Times in 2013 with former Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton. Faughn was Jetton’s former campaign manager. Jetton has since severed ties with the operation.

In addition to Faughn, the Missouri Times has two employees who put out a weekly tabloid and posts state government information on an Internet web site. Faughn also hosts a weekly Sunday morning television show, This Week in Missouri Politics, on four stations.

Although some members of the Missouri Capitol News Association questioned the editorial independence of the Missouri Times last year, the press group has allocated office and parking spaces for the publication. In 2007, Faughn was convicted by a Cape Girardeau County jury of three counts of felony forgery. In that case, he was accused of forging checks for an account for a highway expansion project.

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Press move delayed

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate has delayed the implementation of a plan to move the press from the floor of the chamber to an upper gallery.

The Associated Press reported cost concerns led to the delay. Rushing to complete construction of a press section in the upper gallery during the upcoming legislative Spring break would have added $44,000 in overtime costs to the project’s estimate of $127,000. As it stands now, the move will be undertaken after legislative adjournment in mid-May.

At the beginning of this session, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to change its rule, effective March 29, removing the press from a 10-seat table on the Senate floor.

“Some of the press violated their code of ethics by tweeting out discussions between senators, and I will not stand for that so they will not be on the floor of the Senate anymore,” said Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin. He did not elaborate.

Moving the press to the upper gallery will make it more difficult to cover the state Senate, reporters say. Getting pages of amendments will be more of a problem. And since reporters will be one floor above where the senators are located, it will be harder to grab someone to ask a question.

Reporters once covered the House from its floor but Democrats moved them to an upper gallery in the 1960s.

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Journalism school wanted Click gone


COLUMBIA, Mo. — While the University of Missouri faculty appeared divided over the fate of Melissa Click, the majority of those within the renowned School of Journalism wanted her fired.

“I got emails from her side and a lot against her,” said UM Curator David Steelman in an interview. “The J-school people I heard from were unanimous. They wanted her gone. There was no hesitancy.”

Formerly a little-known communications professor, Internet videos have made Click infamous. They show her screaming at a photographer attempting to take videos of protesting students, and shouting an obscenity at a police officer trying to clear demonstrators from a Columbia street.

Steelman is one of four members of the Board of Curators that voted 4-2 to fire Click following an investigation. “Her actions in October and November are those that directly violate the core values of our university,” said Hank Foley, interim chancellor of the Columbia campus.

Click’s behavior and the official response to it have raised issues regarding the First Amendment, free speech, due process for faculty, and governance of the state’s largest and oldest public university. Click’s defenders say her actions are not much different from what the Board of Curators does to keep reporters at bay while deciding sensitive issues. And many faculty believe if Click’s conduct warranted scrutiny, it should have been handled by a faculty committee, not the Board of Curators.

But the controversy attached to Click is just one of the difficulties facing the four-campus system.

“There are a whole lot of problems out there in addition to Mizzou’s problems,” said Wayne Goode, a former member of the Board of Curators. The unsettled questions facing the university are substantial:

–The university needs a new system president to succeed President Tim Wolfe who abruptly resigned last November amidst turmoil on the Columbia campus. In the meantime, Mike Middleton is serving as interim president.

–The presidential search process could be affected by the fact that there are three vacancies on the nine-member Board of Curators. The Republican head of the state Senate has said Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, should not nominate any new curators this year, leaving it up to the next governor.

–The House has voted to cut $8.7 million from the UM System’s budget. The Columbia Daily Tribune has reported that new pledges and donations to the university fell $6 million in December, and anticipated enrollment may drop by 900 students, which roughly equates to a $20 million loss of tuition revenue.

While the university has less money coming in, it is spending more to rebuild its reputation. A reporter who recently visited the state capital found Middleton on the third floor, huddled with two of the university’s main legislative lobbyists, Martin Oetting and Stephen Knorr. Their job is to keep the university on good terms with the General Assembly.

Also involved in the meeting was Mark Schwartz, who works for Statehouse Strategies, the lobbying firm operated by Andy Blunt. Blunt is the son of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo, and also the chairman of his father’s re-election campaign this year. The university is paying Andy Blunt $10,000 a month to help patch up the university’s relationship with lawmakers.

Click’s firing should help. Before the curators voted to oust her, 117 lawmakers had signed a letter calling for Click’s dismissal.


The curators suspended Click with pay on Jan. 27 and hired a law firm to investigate what happened on the campus beginning Nov. 9 when Click called for some “muscle” to prevent a videographer from recording the activities of student protesters. Earlier that day, Wolfe and Columbia campus chancellor R. Bowen Loftin had resigned.

The report by the St. Louis-based firm of Bryan Cave found that economic, political and racial forces combined to create the Columbia campus tensions last fall. Graduate students who taught classes were told they couldn’t get health care coverage. African-American students protested during the Homecoming Parade Oct. 10, blocking Wolfe’s car and complaining about racial incidents that had taken place on campus. Later that month they criticized Wolfe for not engaging with them and finally called for his dismissal.

On Nov. 2, a graduate student named Jonathan Butler said he would go on a hunger strike until Wolfe was removed from office. Student protesters, calling themselves Concerned Student 1950, set up a tent camp on the Carnahan Quadrangle that night in support of the hunger strike. Four days later, Wolfe apologized for the unacceptable problem of racism at the university, and he apologized for not engaging with students during the Homecoming Parade protest. On Nov. 7, African American players on the football team announced they would boycott games and practices until Wolfe resigned, and the team’s head coach, Gary Pinkel, supported them. A day later, Wolfe said he hoped all sides could come together, but Butler criticized the statement.

The same day as Wolfe’s statement, a group of graduate students announced a two-day walkout, and faculty members said they would join it. According to the law firm’s investigation, hundreds of African-American alumni announced their support for the protests. Then, to the surprise of the Board of Curators, Wolfe resigned Nov. 9.

“Resigning in the way he did, the university was giving into the protesters,” Steelman said. “I take the protests seriously. It’s part of the college experience. I don’t belittle it. You just can’t give in.”

Goode thought Wolfe was a “very good president,” and had he been on the curators’ board he would have encouraged Wolfe to stay.

“That was a bad move for the university and for him personally,” Goode said. “All that has caused further deterioration of the reputation of the university. But he had good reasons for resigning. There was a real threat facing the campus.” In a letter sent later, Wolfe wrote that he feared the demonstrations could become violent not unlike what happened in Ferguson.

Loftin resigned, too. He had lost faculty support, the deans said they had “no confidence” in him and he had earned Wolfe’s personal animosity.


Melissa Click, 45, had been with the university’s communication’s department since 2003. Last fall, she was an assistant professor seeking tenure. Her husband, Richard Callahan, is a professor in the Religious Studies Department. Click also held a courtesy appointment in the School of Journalism, which meant she served on graduate committees of students seeking master’s and doctoral degrees.

The law firm’s investigation said Click was with her husband and children watching the Homecoming Parade, when about 11 African American students entered the street and blocked Wolfe’s car. According to the report, Click became frustrated by the crowd’s lack of sympathy with the protesters, and she joined the African American protesters in the street. According to the report, Click told the law firm’s investigators in an interview that she argued with a Columbia police officer as he tried to move students out of the street to get the parade moving again. The report also noted a Feb. 13 account in the Columbia Missourian that included police body camera footage of the incident in which Click is reportedly telling a police officer to “get your f—ing hands off me.”

The law firm’s report said Click called her experience that day a “life changing event.” After it, she led a group of faculty who signed a statement supporting the protesting students and condemning racist acts on campus. The report also said that through contacts of her husband’s, she was able to encourage a Los Angeles Times reporter to come to Columbia to cover the protest. The report said Click talked to the reporter, and that the reporter’s story later attributed to Click a statement that Wolfe’s car “bumped into a protester” during the parade.

The report also said Click worked with other members of the faculty in drafting a statement that called for a two-day walkout by faculty, which she posted to a Facebook page she had created called Concerned Faculty 1950. She acknowledged that she did not want to post it to her personal Facebook page because she was in the process of going through tenure review at that time, the report said.

On the morning that Wolfe announced his resignation, journalists converged on the Carnahan Quadrangle to interview and photograph the jubilant protesters. One of the journalists was Tim Tai, a photojournalist student from St. Louis, who was freelancing for ESPN. As Tai attempted to enter the tent city, three MU faculty members were shown either blocking him or interfering with his attempts to take photos. At one point, Tai said he had a First Amendment right to take photos on public property. But the protesters, led by Click, chanted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, reporters have got to go.” According to the report, Callahan raised his hands to block Tai’s camera lens. The report also said that Janna Basler, director of Greek Life, was among a group of people who formed a ring that pushed Tai back and away from the protesters.

Mark Schierbecker, a history and German student from the St. Louis County suburb of Rock Hill, recorded all of these events in a video that he later posted on You Tube. Accompanying the video, he wrote, “This is what civic-level censorship looks like at a university with the largest and oldest public college of journalism.”

As Basler and others were pushing Tai away, Schierbecker was able to get closer to the encamped protesters. As he approached Click with his camera, she yelled, “No, you need to get out, you need to get out.” Schierbecker replied, “No, I don’t.” At that point, according to the report, Click reached out and physically knocked Schierbecker’s camera ajar. She then walked towards a group of people and began to yell, “Hey who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” And then, pointing to Schierbecker, Click said, “I need some muscle over here, help me get him out, who’s gonna help me?”

When Schierbecker told her that he had a right to be in a public place, owned by the university, Click said, “I know. That’s a really good one, and I’m a communication faculty and I really get that argument, but you need to go, you need to go, you need to go.” The report said Click continued to block his camera with her hand while she was yelling at him.


If anything sets the University of Missouri-Columbia apart from other universities, it’s the Journalism School. The school’s reputation draws students from around the world, and the out-of-state tuition they pay goes a long way toward paying the university’s bills. What happened to Tai seemed like biting the hand that feeds you.

According to the report, when Schierbecker’s video went viral on You Tube and Facebook “all hell broke loose” at the Journalism School. Initially many believed Click was a member of the faculty by virtue of her courtesy appointment. Dean David Kurpius said Click’s actions were wrong and it was not her role to exclude the media and journalists from the area of protest. “Nobody should lay hands on a journalist as she did in reaching out and pushing Mark Schierbecker’s camera,” Kurpius said.

Brian Brooks, who retired as the school’s associate dean but who was still an adjunct member of the faculty, filed a harassment complaint with the school’s Title IX enforcement office based on what he saw on the video. Brooks later wrote a letter saying, Click’s actions “constituted a violation of the students’ civil rights because they had every right to be filming in a public place.”

The night of the incident, Mitchell McKinney, chair of the Communications Department, arrived home to find he had received more than 100 emails about Click’s conduct. According to the report, McKinney was not surprised. “She frequently gets upset and she can be loud in stating her opinions to faculty and students,” the report said. McKinney said he had no issue with Click being boisterous and vocal, but that he did not approve of physical intimidation and aggression. His personal reaction to the video was that Click had been wrong, and he put out a statement to that effect. McKinney later told investigators that Click and her allies believed that his statement amounted to throwing Click “under the bus.”

In the days that followed, Click, Basler and Callahan all apologized to Tai and Schierbecker. The Journalism School initiated a procedure to revoke Click’s courtesy appointment, but before that happened, she apologized to the school and resigned from that post. Basler was suspended with pay until January, and received a formal letter of reprimand from her department.

Schierbecker reported to campus police that Click had assaulted him. In January the Columbia city prosecutor charged her with third-degree assault. Under an agreement, if Click complies with community service and gets in no further trouble, no more criminal proceedings will be brought against her.

The university provost issued a formal letter of reprimand to Click. In response, she said she was sorry that her actions had negatively impacted the MU community but that she also believed the wording of the reprimand letter was “too harsh.” In December, about 100 members of the MU faculty signed a letter supporting Click. The Journalism School announced that Tim Tai had been selected as the recipient of the First Amendment Defender Award.


A Google search for “Melissa Click” generates an image of an angry woman, wearing glasses and shouting directly at the camera that has captured her at an emotional moment. Click hired a public relations firm to change how she appeared to the public, or at least put her actions into context. She agreed to be interviewed, and in mid February she wrote an op-ed column in the Columbia Daily Tribune under the headline: “Actions on Quadrangle Were Spontaneous, Instinctive and Regrettable.”

“I am deeply sorry for the mistakes I made that day and take full responsibility for my words and actions,” Click began. She described the tension percolating on the Carnahan Quadrangle and explained that “hateful and threatening incidents targeting black students” were on the minds of many people in the tent encampment. Click said she was predisposed to protect the encamped students from intruders.

“Unlike the numerous professional journalists I had met that day who introduced themselves with their names and affiliations, he (Schierbecker) introduced himself only as ‘media’,” Click wrote. “I felt concerned about why he was inside the circle when the majority of journalists respected the students’ requests for a few quiet moments.

“My regrettable call for ‘muscle’ was not a call for violence but instead a request for more experienced and taller members from the camp to come to my aid,” she added. “The temporary circle around the students was not intended to silence journalists or infringe on anyone’s rights, only to ask for a few moments of respect and courtesy while the students collected their thoughts.”

Click was given the chance to respond to the curators’ investigation. She said the videos needed to be viewed within the larger context. “While some would judge me by a short portion of videotape, I do not think that this is a fair way to evaluate these events,” she said.

But the videos and the law firm’s investigation were enough for the short-handed Board of Curators. When it issued the announcement that Click was fired, the board’s official statement said: “The board believes that Dr. Click’s conduct was not compatible with university policies and did not meet expectations for a university faculty member. The circumstances surrounding Dr. Click’s behavior, both at a protest in October when she tried to interfere with police officers who were carrying out their duties, and at a rally in November, when she interfered with members of the media and students who were exercising their rights in a public space and called for intimidation against one of our students, we believe demands serious action.

“The board respects Dr. Click’s right to express her views and does not base this decision on her support for students engaged in protest or their views. However, Dr. Click was not entitled to interfere with the rights of others, to confront members of law enforcement or to encourage potential physical intimidation against a student.”

Click has appealed the decision to the board, essentially asking it for reconsideration of its decision.

Faculty discipline is not the curators’ regular job. In fact, it’s hard to recall a time when the appointed stewards of the university interfered in the business of reviewing faculty conduct. The university has a procedure contained in its Collected Rules and Regulations, which have been approved by the curators, and which provide that administrators and faculty committees handle complaints of faculty misconduct. Many who have come to Click’s defense believe her case should have been dealt with through this procedure, rather than the extraordinary method of suspension, investigation and dismissal by the board.

Many faculty members said the curators should have given campus administrators a chance to handle the situation with the rules that were in place. The curators’ firing of Click made it appear as though the curators were caving in to outside pressure, especially from the legislature.

“By flouting the Collected Rules and Regulations of the University, the Board of Curators has caused needless injury to the University of Missouri,” said a statement issued by the MU Faculty Council.

The American Association of University Professors complained that while the curators said Click could appeal their decision to the board, “it has not provided her with a hearing before a faculty body.”

Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance, called on the board to rescind its termination notice and allow Click’s case to be handled according to the university’s rules.

John K. Wilson, an editor of Academe Magazine, which is published by the American Association of University Professors, wrote an opinion piece saying the action taken against Click was a violation of the First Amendment protections of academic freedom.

“The administration routinely keeps the media out of their spaces where they gather to plan strategies dealing with protesters, and a journalist who tried to enter their conference rooms would be quickly arrested,” Wilson wrote. “So why shouldn’t protesters have the same ‘safe spaces’ to privately discuss their plans?”

Wilson noted that Click has acknowledged she was wrong. “I can’t see how such a minor offense would deserve more than public criticism or perhaps a formal reprimand,” Wilson added.

“Let’s imagine that a campus police officer did the exact same actions that Click did, trying to prevent a student from recording the Board of Curators as they walked on campus. Does anyone imagine for a moment that these curators would impose a suspension of the campus cop? Or that prosecutors would file charges? Or that Republican legislators would demand the officer’s dismissal?”


In the field of higher education, competitors seem to be hoping to capitalize on MU’s misfortunes. One lawmaker has introduced a bill that would make it easier for Missouri State University in Springfield to offer engineering and doctoral degrees, which are now MU’s exclusive territory. Another has put in legislation making Lincoln University in Jefferson City the state’s “flagship campus.”

There was a time when the university could count on powerful friends in the Legislature to protect its flanks. At one time, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the chairman of the House Budget Committee were both from Columbia and made the university’s welfare a top priority. Those days are gone.

Now, one of the most vocal critics is Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Schaefer is seeking the Republican nomination for state attorney general. “Kurt has a new constituency and the constituency he is playing to is the statewide voters in the Republican primary,” said one former lawmaker.

Schaefer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Click’s firing is “a step in the right direction.”

According to Steelman, “legislators had lost faith in the university’s ability to govern itself.

“Whether people should be symbols or not, symbols run the world,” Steelman said. “Melissa Click became a symbol that all of the good the university does is being overshadowed. We can do some remarkable things in bio-med, engineering and plant sciences. It doesn’t change the fact that great people are doing great work.”

Goode, who served for many years as a lawmaker in the state House and state Senate, said the Melissa Click issue was just one example of how university problems can be perceived and misunderstood in the Legislature.

“There have always been those in the Legislature, and it’s true to some extent, that the faculty doesn’t work,” Goode said. “They teach a couple of classes a week, and that’s all they do. That point of view has been there a long time.

“But the majority of the faculty work hard, teaching and on research, but the legislators don’t understand that. The Legislature has always had trouble understanding that issue, and when something like this comes up, it’s an opportunity to pile on, and you see that happening.”

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“Individual, institution, ideology” – an essay on Spotlight

While watching Spotlight, one of this year’s Academy Award Best Picture nominees, I cerebrated that the greatest journalist in the history of cinema is neither Charles Foster Kane nor Bob Woodward, but lawyer turned documentarian Frederick Wiseman. Wiseman set out to replicate in the late 20th century United States what Emile Zola had done to the Second French Empire in the mid-19th century. The Naturalist novelist Zola wrote a series of twenty novels (Les Rougon-Macquart) that used aesthetic means of storytelling in order to critique the corrupt institutions of Napoleon III’s government.

Each of Zola’s novels grappled with a different institution, set amid a story of a genetically corrupted member of the Lantier family. For example, in La Bête humaine (1890), a train engineer, Jacques murders women when he is sexually attracted to them. At the end of the novel, the reprobate is thrown from the speeding train by his fireman, in retribution for the engineer having slept with his wife.

Set in 1870, the driverless train speeds to the front of the Franco-Prussian War, while drunken soldiers sing, oblivious to both aspects of their imminent doom, at the hands of the train crash, and in the war France is destined to lose. Zola positions the train as a failed ship of state, doomed to crash not only because of Lantier’s debauchery, but also because of the many social institutions (the judiciary, the military, the bourgeoisie) that have allowed him to exist. The very institution of nationalized travel, the train system, the lifeblood of the country, has its arteries clogged.

For his part, Wiseman has spent almost fifty years making similar aesthetic investigations of American institutions, using not the Naturalist novel but the documentary film as his critical tool. The first is the most infamous, Titicut Follies (1967), a scathing indictment of the inhuman care of the criminally insane inmates at the Bridgewater State Hospital. His best film is his second, High School (1968), a damning critique of Northeast High School in Philadelphia, a purportedly successful, “good” school that turns out to be a factory churning through soldiers to fight in the Vietnam War.

Although he has recently slowed his pace, Wiseman has continuously shown the inner workings of crucial yet otherwise understudied institutions that affect our lives in untold ways. Missile (1987) studies in minute detail how soldiers are trained to turn the keys to launch nuclear warheads, and thus dutifully become responsible for global annihilation. That such training works impeccably is what Wiseman, using only direct cinema methods (observing without manipulation in voice-over or music) offers as the central thesis of his films. Wiseman continues to edit his footage aggressively, extracting that which is otherwise hidden about how people do and do not function in organized groups, for example, at the State Legislature (2006) and the Boxing Gym (2010).

I thought about Wiseman the whole time I watched Spotlight, a touted film about a team of journalists investigating for The Boston Globe in 2002 the decades of sex abuse of children by Catholic priests. The film is well worth seeing, full of engaging performances by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, and John Slattery as the team of journalists breaking the story about the cover-up of the abuse by the Church. Stanley Tucci steals the show as Mitchell Garabedian, a gruff but relentless lawyer working behind the scenes for justice for the victims.

But by no means is Spotlight the great film previous commentators have led you to believe it is. The film, of course, has its heart in the right place. The filmmakers know to indict the individualistic logic of American culture, the typical Hollywood screenplay structure that only emphasizes the culpability of bad individuals in order to celebrate the inherent goodness of most people.

To its credit, Spotlight correctly captures the parochialism of Boston, fundamentally a small town whose inhabitants are affected by what foundational American Studies scholar Perry Miller once termed “the New England Mind,” an isolationism that is cold and indifferent to outsiders. The heroic lawyer Garabedian tells the principal researcher, Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) that the new editor at the newspaper, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) might be able to bring the story to light because, “It takes an outsider.” The idealized Mike, a passionate crusader for justice, likens the defense of the clergy to the good Germans argument in the wake of World War II. And, most crucially, Baron demands that his reporters “focus on the institution, not the individual.”

Indeed, the magnitude of the abuse, and the multiple mechanisms through which it was covered up, indicate quite clearly that the evil that destroys on a grand scale functions at the sociological, and not the individual, level. However, by celebrating the exquisite skill of the reporters, the film indicts the Catholic Church but only glosses the role of its own institution, journalism, in the cover-up. In the last minutes of the film, the leader of the Spotlight team, Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) comes to learn that crusaders a decade before had sent him evidence of the scandal. Oblivious to the importance of the story, Robinson allowed a small article to be buried in the Metro section, guaranteeing that it would have no impact whatsoever.

This is where a great film about this story would start, not end. What cognitive frames were in place for Robinson to not even notice that which contradicted the expected? How are such frames created, and how might journalists know how to see through them when incongruous data arrives on their desks?

If anything, Truth (2015), a largely ignored film about journalism released shortly before Spotlight, grapples with this question in a more compelling way. James Vanderbilt’s compelling film studies the failure of journalistic instincts, as Mary Mapes and Dan Rather air a critical story about George W. Bush’s National Guard service on 60 Minutes, partially relying on what would be revealed as forged evidence. While Truth is nowhere near the kind of complex film of the sort that Frederick Wiseman makes, it at least understands that to make an important film about social life, you either need to demonstrate the failures in logic that govern the institution (as does Truth and High School) or document meticulously how a well-functioning institution like the military industrial complex imperils our very existence, as we see in Missile. By never leaving the institution of journalism, Spotlight cannot properly account for the failures in logic of the Catholic Church, nor can it understand that institution’s impressive skill at covering up the truth for decades. These are the gambits Wiseman’s cinema teaches us to demand of a great film that would seek to understand an institution, whether functioning for or against the betterment of our social lives.

Spotlight at least tries to indict the institutional power of the Catholic Church in Boston, but does not even scratch the surface of how and why the industrial practices of journalism have failed us. Even Truth ends up an apology for Mary Mapes and Dan Rather whom the film insists are well-intentioned individuals. We await a truly great film about journalism—Zola-esque in its scope—that would place the institution of newsgathering amid the more general intellectual corruption of American life, a state that has led to a dangerously ill-educated and ill-informed population more concerned with Kim Kardashian than Kim Jong-un.

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Media racism writ large

Book:  Racism in American Popular Media: From Aunt Jemima to the Frito Bandito

Author:  Brian D. Behnken and Gregory D. Smithers

Publisher:  PRAEGER, Santa Barbara

147 pages, $37.

Racial stereotypes are still prevalent in much of the media audiences consume today. Whether indulging in reality television, listening to hip hop music or simply tuning in to political views on immigration policy, negative 19th and 20th century caricatures are still being depicted. To introduce readers to some of the key players in the popularization of stereotypes, authors Brian D. Behnken, associate professor from Iowa State University and Gregory D. Smithers, associate professor from Virginia Commonwealth University, who have both authored numerous books on race and racism, compiled a comprehensive introduction to issues that deserve more in-depth coverage.

The authors explore how racial depictions of African Americans, Native Americans, Asians (Chinese & Japanese) and Latino Americans reinforce social hierarchies. These depictions were used to teach adults, and children on how minority groups were to be treated in society. The publishing business, a booming industry in the 19th and 20th centuries for those who could afford to buy the books at the time, produced overtly racial non-fiction works that “purported to analyze, categorize, and better explain the “scientific” inferiority of black people.” Analyses such as these were compiled in a study by Samuel George Morton who, after long, painstaking hours in the lab measuring skull sizes concluded, “the negro is…the lowest grade of humanity.” What Morton was releasing for his audience of wealthy white people was all the proof needed in Antebellum America to enslave, deride and rape African Americans.

Native Americans in the media were depicted as primitive savages, and some of these images are still alive today. These depictions include being one with nature, getting high on peyote, getting drunk or portrayed as untamable animals set on opposing white civilization. Native Americans were also believed to be a dying race due to the expansion of white civilization. The savage metaphor was useful for framing Native Americans in works of fiction as well as for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Latino depictions were often viewed as greasy, lazy, knife wielding thieves who adorned large sombreros. The Frito Bandito (1967) and Speedy Gonzalez (early 1950s) were two depictions that used such stereotypes for corporate gains.

Asians were not excluded from demeaning depictions as The Mysterious Dr. Fu-Manchu (1913) created an intelligent, conniving threat to the white race. Fu-Manchu was famous for mixing potions and conjuring spells to “conquer and breed! Kill the white man and take his women!” Fu-Manchu was in stark contrast to Charlie Chan (1925), who was seen as “effeminate, compliant, and even subservient to white people.” Book, advertising, film and cartoon industries stereotyped these racial groups to validate slavery, capture land and ultimately make a profit. This book thus provides a basic background into these discriminatory images. However, this is done at the detriment of not having a complete historical analysis of stereotypes, the people who carried them out and the social implications inherent in minstrelsy.

The Mammy stereotype, depicted on the book’s cover, is one that has been in countless books, shows on television, films and even in American kitchens. Aunt Jemima, Hattie McDaniel’s “Mammy” and Mammy Two-Shoes from Tom and Jerry are the predominant focus of African-American depictions throughout the book. Uncle Tom (the faithful servant) and Pickaninny children (or little Negro children) were also discussed on several occasions. The remaining stereotypes, the Buck (African-American male savage), the Coon (lazy African-American male) the Jezebel (hyper-sexualized African-American woman) and the Tragic Mulattoe (mixed breed male/female, normally black and white) are mentioned only in passing, leaving the reader to wonder about the importance and reasons they became popular to portray.

The act of black, brown, red, and yellow face minstrelsy have a long history in which white actors would portray different racial groups by painting their skin different colors and adopting broken English to be seen as believable to white audiences. Such minstrel depictions were often used to “instruct audiences as to how they should regard nonwhite people or to reinforce pre-existing racial prejudices.” The authors mention that actors such as Anna May Wong (Daughter of the Dragon, 1931) and Lincoln Theodore Monroe (Stepin Fetchit) would portray minstrel versions of themselves when given the opportunity. Seldom do the authors touch on why those actors were only afforded those roles.

The detail in analysis of media content gives descriptions that enable readers to visualize each scene. Speedy Gonzales (1955) depicts a group of mice waiting at a fence guarded by Sylvester the cat. The mice know they would be killed if they attempt to cross the fence so they wait for Speedy Gonzales to zip past the guard and arrive with the cheese. Upon arrival from the cheese factory Speedy tells them in broken English “Dere is plentee more where dis cheese it come from.” This scene is then broken down to represent a real-world situation in reference to immigration. The mice waiting at the gate represent Mexicans who are attempting to cross the border and Sylvester the cat is the border patrol. Examples such as these are replete and provide a societal context audiences do not often consider while consuming media.

To end their introduction into the world of institutionalized racism the authors touch on a few activist groups that have been pivotal in combating racist images in the media. Groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Involvement of Mexican-Americans in Gainful Endeavors (IMAGE) and the National Mexiacan-American Anti-Defamation Committee (NMAADC), were noted for counteracting the works of D. W. Griffith, and Frito Lay’s Frito Bandito. Sports teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Indians were included to bring attention to some of the stereotypical images Native Americans still face.

Racism in American Popular Media is a solid introductory text for readers interested in a brief history of racialized media portrayals from the past two centuries. The authors cover a lot in this book As a result it leaves more to be desired. With the exclusion of the foreword, introduction and notes, the book is only 125 pages in length. Within those pages readers are subject to long descriptions that can be reduced to a few key quotes. The authors were very thorough in their scene descriptions, however with such a limited space, there are plenty of other options available to fill these pages. One topic could be the limitations of actors in maligned races to play stereotyped versions of themselves, and the impact it had on the way they saw themselves. If scholars new to the topic of racialized images in the media want a quick introduction, this book may appeal to them, however scholars serious in the topic should look elsewhere.

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Was Mizzou a harbinger of college athletes flexing their muscles?

The threat of a football strike by the University of Missouri’s football team created a ripple of fear that swept across the National Collegiate Athletic Association and ended with the resignation of a University president.

While the NCAA powers that be digested the loss of Missouri President Tim Wolfe, the media stoked fears of the newfound power of collegiate athletes. They worried that a blueprint had been created – one that could lead to the eventual payment of players, or to shorter practice times or to any of a number of possible outcomes. The thought of collegiate athletes striking led to a fear that change was coming. That fear has been growing for years.

The press fanned those flames with multiple stories with writers marveling at the power college athletes might have. Stories by Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press or items from the Minneapolis Star Tribune discussed the power of athletes. Rochelle Riley, another columnist from Detroit, summed up the mood of the press when she wrote:

“That those young men stood up is worth marking in time. If other athletes realize their power, take stands, demand change, we can look at the University of Missouri football team’s action as a catalyst. We might see that the match they lit caught fire, unlike other player protests over the past 70 years that were ignored or cost players their scholarships.”

The athletes even drew the attention of Gov. Jay Nixon, who released a statement saying that the university must address concerns over “racism and intolerance.”

“Racism and intolerance have no place at the University of Missouri or anywhere in our state,” Nixon said in the release.

“That the governor didn’t get involved until the players did speaks to that power. Now we watch and see whether the match these players lit yields a fire on any other campus or about any other issue.”

“Like getting paid,” the Detroit Free Press reported.

The actions of Missouri’s football players shook an already crumbling power structure concerning college athletics. For years, the structure supposedly consisted of the NCAA at the top, followed by collegiate conferences, individual athletic institutions, the coach and finally, the players. The missing link in this power structure was television networks and the corporations that owned them.

The networks supplied the NCAA and the conferences with unheard of money, enough that colleges allowed changes unheard of a few years ago. Instead of college football being saved for Saturdays, games were played on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Game times were switched to early morning in some instances and late at night in others to allow a better lineup of games. Television even changed the rules of volleyball to make the sport more television friendly.

Networks paid for these changes, especially the power five conferences. In May, USA Today reported all members of the Southeastern Conference had received $31.3 million in television revenues from the conference. That amount equaled more revenue than 152 NCAA Division I universities’ total sports revenues for 2014. The University of Missouri earned a total of $83.7 million in sports revenues in 2014.

All of this money comes from the efforts of athletes on the field, and a group of players, threatening not to play, was able to completely reverse the power structure.

The media responded — some with fear of the athletes’ new power, others hoping the changes would come quickly. The changes to the power structure of the NCAA have been slow, earned through victories in the courtroom, a slow process at best.

But the courtroom victories changed the way the NCAA treats its athletes. One was a court settlement this year compensating players such a former Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller for the use of his likeness in video games. Keller and other NCAA athletes won a $60 million settlement from the NCAA and video game makers.

In another case, former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon won a federal court decision that NCAA amateurism rules violate federal anti-trust law. Judge Claudia Wilken even ordered the NCAA to pay college basketball and football players up to $5,000 per year in image and likeness rights.   An appeals court agreed that the NCAA rules violated anti-trust, but did not agree to the $5,000 payments.

Currently, the NCAA is waiting on another case to come through the dockets. Jeffrey Kessler, the lawyer who defended Tom Brady in Deflategate, is suing the NCAA, challenging its use of only scholarships as an antitrust violation.

“The main objective is to strike down permanently the restrictions that prevent athletes in Division I basketball and the top tier of college football from being fairly compensated for the billions of dollars in revenues that they help generate,” Kessler told ESPN. “In no other business — and college sports is big business — would it ever be suggested that the people who are providing the essential services work for free. Only in big-time college sports is that line drawn.”

While lawsuits may erode the foundation of the NCAA’s amateurism rules the thought of a strike is an outright attack on Fortress NCAA. Television money, the driving factor in the popularity and profitability of the NCAA, may also be the organization’s downfall. The influx of money has led to the rise in coaches’ salaries, better facilities, etc., but it also has led to a greater spotlight on the players creating the product the NCAA sells.

The idea of college students standing up for a cause and threatening to not play, created ripples throughout the NCAA. The power is shifting.

The question becomes whether a group of NCAA athletes in a crucial situation (say the NCAA men’s basketball tournament or the NCAA football playoffs) would be able to get enough players to walk away from the competitive challenge of their lives, to stand up for an ideal.

The example of the Missouri football team worked well in this instance because the stand had to do over racism, viewed as an “acceptable” cause.

But how might the press react to college athletes refusing over lack of money to play a key game? The probability is that the press, currently friendly to the cause of the college athlete, would not be so kind. Reaction from fans likely would be downright hostile. For proof, simply search “Ed O’Bannon” on Twitter and read the tweets from fans blaming him for their being unable to play NCAA football on EA Sports.

What is unmistakable is that the issues and stakes in college sports have changed.

For years, media attention concentrated on the players’ successes and failures in the classroom or in recruiting scandals. But when the spotlight turned to the reality of the players’ situations, the NCAA couldn’t obscure the reality that billions of dollars are made off college athletes, many of whom aren’t ready for college, aren’t prepared for the real world after college and aren’t paid for their efforts.

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If the Internet is not the answer, what is?

Book: The Internet is Not the Answer

Author: Andrew Keen

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press, New York City

277 pages, $25

Communication scholars over the last decade have been unabashed in their claims of the Internet’s potential to transform society through its unique capacity to digitize, store and transmit mass amounts of information as well as its potential for the creation of user-generated content. And although both scholars and the public at large generally agree the Internet has been a good thing for the progression of the human race, Andrew Keen, an entrepreneur and columnist for CNN, vehemently disagrees.

In The Internet Is Not the Answer he argues that the Internet is creating a two-tier caste system, eroding middle-class jobs for the sake of profit. Or, as he writes in the preface, “Rather than promoting economic fairness, it is a central reason for the growing gulf between rich and poor and the hollowing out of the middle class. Rather than making us wealthier, the distributed capitalism of the new networked economy is making most of us poorer.”

While Keen’s argument is brazen, it nevertheless deserves consideration. After all, if the Internet is responsible for causing more societal harm than good, the public should stand up and take note. The keyword though is “if,” considering Keen has the daunting task of backing up his controversial stance with sound evidence and reasoning. Recognizing the scope of this challenge, Atlantic Monthly Press, the publisher, provided Keen with 277 pages to defend his position.

Keen’s writing style is frantic and the logic of the book follows suit. Relying on broad strokes to paint reality and combine distinct concepts, Keen covers an astonishing amount of ground including everything from Amazon’s and Google’s destructive tendencies on society to the demise of the music industry and Kodak. Keen’s fondness for brevity leaves little time for a thorough exploration between the ideas being presented and often forces him to rely too much on anecdotal evidence to support his claims. This can be problematic when discussing complex and abstract issues such as the economy.

The larger the claim being made by the author, logically it follows then, the greater the expectation by the audience for sound reasoning and evidence to support it. Unfortunately, this is where Keen ultimately fails, as he simply cannot meet the claim that the book’s title suggests. Keen’s penchant for brevity leaves too many factors completely unaccounted for in his frantic race to tie every economic problem to the Internet. Any fair and impartial assessment should also consider factors such as globalization, capital flight, tax havens, regional and international trade agreements, tariffs, and trade imbalances, as well as numerous financial considerations such as currency devaluation or U.S. foreign debt. Unfortunately, Keen does not address such factors.

While the book does not live up to its lofty goals of proving the Internet is responsible for most of society’s economic problems, it nevertheless should not be automatically dismissed. For example, Keen’s account of Amazon’s business practices is thought-provoking and should cause readers to question their loyalty to the company. In that regard, readers more interested in gaining an overall better picture of how many of today’s top Internet companies operate will likely enjoy this book. Those more interested in its economic considerations should take a pass. In the end, The Internet Is Not the Answer demonstrates that while Keen is a talented writer and is asking many of the right questions, he is not an economist, nor does he have the necessary answers.

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Viewers ‘second screen’ debates

The presidential primary debates have been big business this election cycle. Viewership records have been set for Fox News (24 million viewers), CNN (23 million), CNBC (14 million) and Fox Business (13.5 million), destroying old marks across the board. Viewers also have begun live-tweeting the broadcasts in record numbers, a practice sometimes called second screening.

This seems inevitable, and may be innocuous. So voters are scrolling through their Twitter timelines as politicians recite practiced lines. Is this just extra fluff on top of a largely low-substance diet of political news and entertainment? Communication technology researchers are trying to find out.

First, the good news. Second screening may prompt viewers to more closely analyze the information candidates present by way of what’s known as central route processing, according to J. Brian Houston of the University of Missouri. Because they are more actively engaged, these plugged-in voters often apply greater scrutiny to the claims being bandied about by presidential hopefuls and also-rans.

Second screeners, who are by definition already online, are also more likely to proceed with donations, petitions and other forms of engagement with the democratic process, to the relief of every civics teacher. According to a study led by Homero Gil de Zuniga of the University of Vienna’s Media Innovation Lab, the second screen can act as a bridge from television viewing to concrete involvement.

As with any technology, second screening can also play to people’s baser instincts. According the University of Tennessee’s Jaclyn Cameron, those following simultaneous reactions to live events are more likely to see performances, and their “winner,” in the same terms as the hivemind. Exposure to an echo chamber may prevent second screeners from speaking out about their opinion even if they are not swept up in the tide.

Following the live-stream of Twitter reactions also draws people’s attention to nonverbal communication rather than the verbal combat on the less-small screen, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin’s Dhavan Shah. Shah’s team merged a shot-by-shot analysis of the 2012 first presidential debate, in terms of President Obama and Mitt Romney’s body language and oratory, with real-time measures of the reaction on Twitter. The findings show second screening may put the public in the un-evolved position of choosing their leaders on pre-verbal indicators of ability.

The phenomenon can be seen as amplifying the big shift from radio to TV. The first televised presidential debate in 1960 pitted a tan, well-rested Kennedy against a sickly Nixon, and the influence of image in campaigns has been growing ever since. Color, HD and other broadcast advances have made optics more of a king-maker than ever.

When following online, Shah’s research suggests viewers may be even more likely to be swept up in physical performances.

Twitter may also exacerbate the problems commonly associated with mainstream news’ campaign coverage. While traditional news is more likely to cover the issues raised in the debate, Kyle Heim of Seton Hall found that the Twitter stream is dominated by meta-coverage — comments about the moderators, the staging and other superficial details.

Second screeners may come away even more cynical, especially if they employ Twitter as their first screen in lieu of witnessing an event. The 140-character limit of tweets makes substantive coverage more difficult, a fact that Heim says strengthens the need for traditional editorial gatekeeping.

Still, there’s hope the critical tone that pervades viewers’ Twitter commentary may be heard, and used to improve a debate format with which few are satisfied.

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Storm chasing: pushing the safety envelope

Storm chasers are a unique group of individuals who spend most springs driving across the most rural areas of the country in search of severe weather. The mentalities of such people driving thousands of miles and spending hundreds of dollars to see a phenomenon that may literally last seconds would have many people questioning their sanity. Most chasers say their passion to see such amazing weather is what fuels these quests, although a certain level of insanity plays a role.

While storm chasers come from a variety of backgrounds, all are weather geeks. A few have degrees in meteorology or atmospheric science, but most are weather geeks with cars. Their reasoning for being out is what separates them from others. Some are out doing scientific research, others are out for public safety, a few take groups of people out on “tours”, but many simply want to fulfill their desire to see the weather.

Even with the recent decline in gas prices, storm chasing remains an expensive activity. The costs of logging thousands of road miles and living out of hotels leads many to narrowing their ventures to a few weeks a year. Many take personal vacation time to make a set trip in hopes of seeing whatever they can within their allotted window of time. However, there are a few who offset those costs by selling videos to news organizations. While most will never make a living shooting weather video, many are able to recoup most of the costs, where breaking even is considered the goal.

As the popularity of storm chasing has increased, so has the number of people shooting weather video. The market has been flooded with imagery of severe weather and as a result has increased competition and driven down the price of those videos. Ten years ago, a good tornado video would easily net a thousand dollars per network whereas now that same video may only net one-third of that. Even as the quality of video has increased, the price continues to decline.

For chasers to be successful, they need to utilize the services of a video broker, someone who can do the legwork to sell the video while the chaser is in the field. A broker is usually responsible for notifying the networks of the incoming video and handles any licensing paperwork for a sale. To the broker, those chasers are called “stringers” or “freelance” video shooters. Once those stringers shoot the video, they edit it into a several-minute package and send the video over the Internet to the broker, and the broker handles the rest.

As a comparison, the movie “Night Crawler” follows an independent videographer or stringer working to sell footage to a local news station. In the movie, the pressure to make the sales is escalated when the station pushes the stringers by threatening them with the loss of their contract. While the real life weather stringers are not faking scenes, as in Night Crawler, they face an escalating need to get better, more dramatic video as storm chasers put themselves in dangerous situations to shoot high-quality video.

With the storm-chaser market flooded, competition can make selling video very difficult. While the sheer number of chasers on a single event can make the field difficult enough for any one chaser to make a sale, the other storm chasers aren’t the biggest source of competition. The general public, most of whom are unaware that their video can be worth money, will hand over their video to see their name on TV. That free video, regardless of quality, will more times than not get the airtime over any video that would cost the network a couple hundred dollars.

To stay ahead of that competition, storm chasers have pushed the safety envelope, often putting themselves closer to danger to get more extreme video footage. This has led to numerous incidents in recent years from chasers taking direct hits from tornadoes to causing auto accidents. As a result, the extreme chaser video has taken over the general market for storm video and led to criticism.

Over the last few years, extreme videos have aired publically, often sold to networks and aired to millions. These videos depict incidents of dangerous and questionable tactics by chasers. This has included dramatic footage taken of tornadoes yards away. In other cases, chasers have shown themselves taking dangerous risks such as hiding under overpasses or breaking traffic laws.

Storm chasers have a certain level of experience, usually much more so than members of the general public viewing these videos. Chasers are equipped with computers, mobile radar and various other tools that help them navigate severe weather. They also have experience and enough knowledge to make some of the calls they do. The public does not see this, but only the extreme video showing a chaser staying safe from a tornado. Without that context, it leads viewers to think they, too, can safely be close to tornadoes.

The catch-phrase these days is “saving lives,” which many chasers claim they are doing. Yet they will willingly release video that demonstrates unsafe or questionable behavior, which the public digests and sometimes imitates, unaware of the danger. As a result, members of the public continue to perform unsafe practices for the sake of better video. And the problem is compounded when such video is what producers seek.

Thus, chasers likely will continue to unknowingly endanger the public by showing these extreme encounters because that’s what gets on TV. Unfortunately, safe behavior simply cannot compete in today’s infotainment marketplace.


Photo by Tony Laubach

(Photo by Tony Laubach)

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Press exiled to bleachers

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. – In 1974, the Missouri Egg Producers Association put a hard-boiled egg on the desk of each member of the state Senate as a gift.

The morning the eggs appeared, before the session began, two senators played catch with one in the rear of the chamber. An egg smashed against a marble wall.

A St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporter wrote an account of the incident, which appeared in the newspaper the next morning. One senator angered by the story walked to the Senate press table and smashed an egg down to let his feelings be known.

But the Senate did not throw the press out.

A few years later, when Sen. Nelson Tinnin, a Democrat from Hornersville, fell asleep in his chair, a United Press International reporter wrote a story about it. Tinnin was upset and kicked the reporter in the buttocks the next time the two were together. That prompted some wags to refer to Tinnin as “the booter from the Bootheel.”

But they did not throw the press off the Senate floor.

Last week it seemed that the Missouri senators’ patience with the public disclosure of their antics was exhausted. As the 2016 session began, the Republican-controlled Senate adopted a new rule: Effective March 29 reporters would no longer be able to witness what’s happening from a 10-seat table on the Senate floor. Instead, the press would be moved to a place in the upper gallery.

“Some of the press violated their code of ethics by tweeting out discussions between senators, and I will not stand for that so they will not be on the floor of the Senate anymore,” said Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from St. Louis County, said she liked having the press close by.

“Anything they hear they’re entitled to tweet,” Schupp said. “This is a public spot.”

“Not necessarily,” Richard replied. “Not a private conversation between senators on debate and on issues, and I think that’s a violation.”

Richard did not elaborate as to what tweeted conversation caused the problem. A request to interview Richard for this story was referred to one of the Senate’s communications people, who said Richard was done talking about it and was too busy to be interviewed.

But the Associated Press reported that Richard’s predecessor, Tom Dempsey, was upset in 2014 because a reporter had sent out a twitter message disclosing that Dempsey had ordered the Senate’s presiding officer to restore order in the chamber. According to the AP, Dempsey’s chief of staff at the time said Dempsey had presumed his instructions were a private conversation. Dempsey, a Republican from St. Charles, resigned his seat last year to become a lobbyist.

Why had it taken so long, from 2014 until now, for the Senate to make this move? Some long time Senate observers said that since veterans like Virginia Young, chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch bureau, and Bob Priddy, long-time news director of the Missourinet, had recently retired, there were fewer journalists steeped in tradition who would stand up to oppose the move. Since the new capital building opened in 1919, reporters have been covering the Senate from the table on the floor of the chamber.

Priddy, in a personal blogpost earlier this week, said moving the press amounted to “pettiness.”

“The Senate is doing nothing to keep members from getting text messages on their cell phones from lobbyists in the halls who often tell them how to answer questions or what their positions should be during discussions of bills,” Priddy wrote. “Reporters are not welcome physically in the Senate chamber. But the virtual presence of special interests gets a pass.”

Coverage Obstacle

Moving the reporters from the floor to the gallery is a lot like shifting from a box seat to the bleachers. You’re still able to see the game but you might miss interesting details.

Alex Stuckey, who covers the legislature for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said the view of some senators’ desks may be obscured from the seats in the proposed new press section.

“I think it will make it more difficult to see who’s talking and that may make it more difficult to follow what’s going on,” Stuckey said.

Getting pages of amendments, which can come fast and furious during a Senate floor session, will be more of a problem. And since reporters will be one floor above where the senators are located, it will be harder to grab someone to ask a question.

Senators will like that. Many of them came over from the House, and that’s how it works there. Reporters once covered the House from its floor but Democrats moved them to an upper gallery in the 1960s.

The public couldn’t care less where reporters sit to cover Senate happenings. The senators know they won’t hear complaints from their constituents. But the Senate’s 26-4 vote to eject the press is the latest in a long series of developments limiting public contact with their elected representatives as well as the media’s opportunity to report on what they are doing.

Missouri’s open meetings law says: “It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law.” But that doesn’t prevent elected officials from erecting filters to screen what’s going on.

During budget negotiations between the House and Senate, when five members of one body horse trade with five from the other, the negotiating appears in the open. But people in the audience can’t hear what’s happening because all the lawmakers sit at a table and whisper to one another.

Senate committees hold open sessions. But more than once in recent years, chairmen have limited how television cameras may record the events.

Architects under lawmakers’ direction have played their role in limiting access to government officials. A few years ago, the Senate erected glass partitions around its chamber to keep the public at bay. People can come in only by invitation of the senators.

Attendance at Senate committee functions has been limited by the construction of smaller meeting rooms cutting down the numbers who can attend. The legislature now has fewer night committee meetings, meaning that if someone from a distance wants to come and comment on a bill, they have to take a day off of work to do so. As a result paid lobbyists provide most of the input on what’s being considered in Jefferson City.

When Priddy became news director of the Missourinet in 1975, senators were readily accessible, could be interviewed on the spot and were game to give answers. There were no hired spokesmen then to run interference.

Now the Senate has an elaborate communications operation with people hired year-round for a session that lasts five months. The majority Republican caucus has a communications director, Lauren Hieger, who is paid $67,500 annually. The minority Democratic contingent has a similar position occupied by Charles Hatcher, whose annual salary is $78,124. In addition, there are five “public information specialists” on the Senate payroll collecting a total of $177,610 per year.

At the beginning of this legislative session, Hieger sent a message to the capital press corps asking its members to wait before pestering them with questions.

“I have also had a request from many senators that they have some time upon adjournment before giving interviews,” Hieger wrote. “To help them with that request, I ask that if you have a specific senator you would like to interview to either let me, Charles Hatcher, or his or her staff member know.”

In his blog comment on Hieger’s message, Priddy wrote: “Who needs some partisan functionary to tell them a reporter wants to ask a question?”

Author’s note: Terry Ganey covered the Missouri Legislature for 35 years for the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Columbia Daily Tribune.

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Ten years after Pulitzer: Staff cuts, declining circulation, low morale

St. LOUIS – One afternoon just before Thanksgiving, a group of reporters and editors clustered around a table in the 5th floor newsroom of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as part of a farewell ceremony for business reporter Tim Barker.

There was a sheet cake to cut and pieces to distribute. Beyond that, there wasn’t much to the event. Barker said he didn’t like making speeches.

The editors who announced his departure said Barker was returning to Orlando, Fla., where his wife had accepted a job. Since joining the Post-Dispatch in 2007, Barker covered economic development, higher education and the biotech industry. His editors said he did outstanding work on complex subjects.

The sheet cake scene was a familiar one. In the decade since Lee Enterprises acquired Pulitzer, Inc., and the Post-Dispatch, more people have left the newspaper than joined it. The staff cuts — roughly a two-thirds reduction in newsroom employment — are only one component of the upheaval that has taken place at the newspaper’s headquarters at 900 North Tucker Blvd, a building now up for sale.

The newspaper is smaller. Circulation is falling, down a quarter from 2013. The staff has suffered job furloughs, wage reductions and higher health insurance premiums. The company-paid pension was frozen in 2010.

At the same time, more is expected. In addition to writing daily stories, the staff must post breaking news to the Internet, share thoughts on social media and engage with readers in online forums. On top of that, they carry more of the burden of the routine duties. Gone are the newsroom clerks who once answered the telephones and sorted the mail.

The Post-Dispatch situation reflects the industry’s convulsions. The Pew Research Center reported a drop of newsroom employment from 55,000 in 2006 to 36,700 in 2013. Total average daily newspaper circulation fell by 3.3 percent in 2014.

But despite being squeezed by Lee’s Davenport-based accountants, the Post-Dispatch staff continues to develop news stories and commentary that are meaningful to the community. The newspaper’s website, packed with news and information, is the most popular of its kind in the St. Louis area. Lee claims it has more than 83 million page views per month.

In 2015, the newspaper’s photographers won the most prestigious prize in journalism for coverage of events in Ferguson. The Pulitzer Prize commentary said the staff’s “stunning photo journalism served the community while informing the country.” At the same time, the newspaper’s opinion writers, Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan, were Pulitzer finalists for their Ferguson editorials.

The Scripps Howard Foundation awarded its first place national breaking news award for 2014 to the newspaper’s reporting staff for its Ferguson coverage.

“There are a lot of very talented people there working hard,” said the departing Barker in an interview. “It’s just harder and harder for them with everything they’ve got to deal with.”


Lee bought Pulitzer with its 14 dailies for $1.46 billion just as the print industry entered a massive Internet-fueled contraction. To cover the purchase and pay the debt, Lee cut spending, laid off workers, and bought out senior, higher-paid employees. In the first buyout, in November, 2005, 130 employees, including 40 from the newsroom, departed.

For the next decade up until this year, the trend continued. Now there are about 115 in the newsroom compared with about 295 whose names appeared in a company telephone directory just before Lee took over. About 65 of the newspaper’s 2005 staff remain, a good percentage of them in the sports department.

The Washington Bureau that had five correspondents in 2005 is down to one. Statehouse coverage has been cut back in both Jefferson City and Springfield. Editorial writers have been cut from six to three with the cartoonist eliminated. (See sidebar on new editorial editor.)

There had just been a big buyout, Barker said, shortly after he arrived in St. Louis from a job at the Orlando Sentinel. “I remember immediately thinking I might have made a mistake in making the move,” he said.

Barker, 48, has a degree in photojournalism from Oklahoma State University. He held reporting jobs in Tulsa, Evansville, Ind., the Chicago suburbs and the Sentinel. He and his wife moved to St. Louis to be closer to family in Illinois and Oklahoma.

Now Barker is heading back to Orlando, where his wife, who is a veterinarian, will take a job as director of a clinic.

Asked why he was leaving, Barker said, “I think it would be fair to say because of a growing disillusionment with journalism and the Post-Dispatch if I were honest. I don’t think the morale in any newsroom at this point is good. And I don’t think the morale at the Post-Dispatch is good.

“If I had had a happier experience there, I wouldn’t have left,” he added. “My wife knew I was unhappy, and her old boss had been trying every year to try to get her to come back. It just reached the point where I felt stupid to say ‘no.’ Why am I holding her back when I’m not getting that much enjoyment out of what I’m doing?”

Gilbert Bailon, the newspaper’s editor, said he sometimes asks people in the newsroom how things are going, but that he doesn’t use the “morale” word. “I think for the most part morale is pretty good,” Bailon said in an interview. “I think there is always some level of concern in our business because it’s changing and we’ve had things like buyouts and layoffs and cutbacks and jobs that didn’t get filled.

“For the most part, I think there is a resounding feeling that we are valuable,” Bailon added. “I think Ferguson helped with that. What we do individually matters and because of that that helps puts the focus on the right things.”

Journalists have always dealt with stress and long and irregular hours. The competitive nature of the work, the creativity involved and the meaning behind it made up for all the pressure. But there’s no fun when you can’t do the job you were hired to do.

Three former reporters interviewed for this story criticized recent newsroom management decisions. Beyond the cutbacks and the shrinking budgets, former reporters questioned the wisdom behind how journalists are deployed.

They said Post-Dispatch managers were under pressure to enforce Lee’s cost-cutting demands without clearly communicating to the staff what was happening. They considered Mary Junck, Lee’s CEO, as a nonentity who never appeared in the newsroom. Junck’s financial bonuses during the newspaper’s contractions also have been controversial.

“There are a lot of high quality reporters at the paper who really care about what they are doing and that’s what makes the paper as good as it is,” said Lilly Fowler, who was the newspaper’s religion reporter for a year and a half before she was abruptly moved to night general assignment in September.

“There could be more communication between management and the staff,” Fowler said. “The management there is under pressure from Lee Enterprises. It’s hard for the staff to be supportive when no one is explaining what’s going on behind the scenes. It can create a bad environment.”

Barker said he began considering leaving the newspaper about two years ago during the turmoil surrounding the departure of St. Louis University President Lawrence Biondi. At the time, some faculty had accused Father Biondi of cutting the salaries of teachers who had criticized him.

At the time Barker was covering higher education, and the Biondi controversy was the biggest story on his beat. But because of staff cutbacks, Barker was assigned to fill in a vacant slot on the copy desk.

“If you’re a reporter it’s sobering to watch other people having to step in and cover your beat when it’s such a major story and you’re sitting over there on the copy desk and you’re thinking ‘why am I here when this big thing is going on?'” Barker said. “They were just randomly assigning the story to whomever happened to be in the newsroom that day. It got frustrating because sources I was developing were not sure who they were supposed to talk to.”

Fowler came to the Post-Dispatch from California in January, 2014 to be the religion writer. She has a master’s degree in religious studies from the University of Notre Dame, as well as a master’s in journalism.

While at the newspaper she won a Wilbur Award from the Religion Communications Council and recognition from the Religion News Writers Association. But then Fowler was told she was told she was going to work nights.

“It was a complete change in what they had hired me to do,” Fowler said. “I wasn’t happy. If they had given me some kind of reassurance that I would eventually be put back on my beat, I would have stuck around. But it was presented to me as a take it or leave it situation. That’s what really drove me away.”

Fowler now works in Washington, D.C. for a PBS newsweekly program on religion and ethics.


Bailon, 56, joined the Post-Dispatch in 2007 as the editor of the editorial page. Four years later he moved up to become the newspaper’s overall editor. Before coming to St. Louis, Bailon spent 21 years at the Dallas Morning News, working his way from reporter up to executive editor.

People who occupied Bailon’s place in the distant past focused exclusively on the print product. When the Post-Dispatch switched from afternoon to morning publication in 1984, the editor focused on press runs for hundreds of thousands of papers printed in various editions and sections at both downtown and at the newspaper’s northwest plant.

According to the Alliance for Audited Media, the average daily circulation of the Post-Dispatch as of Sept. 30, 2015 was 124,712 and the Sunday circulation was 191,297. These numbers represent a 25 percent drop in daily circulation and a 33 percent drop in Sunday circulation from a similar Alliance for Audited Media report released March 31, 2013.

Although circulation is declining, the print product still pays most of the bills. Newspaper owners are trying to wring more revenue out of their web presence, like stltoday.com, to make up for what’s being lost on the print side.

Lee Enterprises released a preliminary report Nov. 12 covering fourth quarter operations ending Sept. 27. It said digital revenue had increased 24 percent during the quarter, but that overall revenue had dropped 4.4 percent. Total advertising and marketing services revenue decreased 9 percent during the quarter while subscription revenue increased 6 percent. For the year, Lee’s debt has been reduced $79 million, bringing the overall debt to $726 million.

Bailon remains upbeat about the situation, saying he knows the Post-Dispatch, through its various platforms, still provides a product St. Louis readers want and need: clear, concise, accurate, timely, authoritative, unbiased information.

“One thing that’s significant is that different people are using us,” Bailon said. “Before we were digital, people who consumed us were only in the St. Louis region. Now you take a story like Ferguson or the St. Louis Cardinals or a big political story that goes national, anything like that, our audience is far beyond St. Louis. So I think we have a value that extends beyond what is our core readership.”

Bailon acknowledged all the problems facing the newspaper — diminished in size, a smaller page count, a smaller news hole, and a smaller staff. “But that’s true everywhere,” he said. “But quality journalism still has value and if we focus and prioritize ourselves right we’ll be doing that for a long time. Print is still significant. Print still has the majority of the revenue attached to it. And I think there is some permanence and there is value to print.”

The Post-Dispatch does not charge for access to the news on its website, although there is a fee for a small amount of premium information. The newspaper’s strategy now is to boost readership traffic through news alerts, Twitter or other social media. The more traffic there is to the site, the more that can be charged for ads there.

“The whole issue for all newspapers, certainly not just the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is that the revenue of digital is not at the level that it is for print,” Bailon said. “What we get from 100,000 page views versus what we might get from a large print ad may not necessarily be dime for dime. And because of that, it doesn’t mean that people are not reading it or valuing it. It means the financial model is different. Yes, it’s important that we get our website and all digital platforms to have traffic.”

Michael M. Jenner, who focuses on journalism innovation at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, said newspapers are still trying to figure out how to best tap the revenue generated by web traffic.

“I think print is still a more lucrative platform than digital for many newspapers, despite what you see going on like at Advance Publications in Cleveland, New Orleans and Portland, where they are cutting the frequency of publication. They still need to keep printing in order to pay their bills. I’d like to believe at some point we’re going to figure out how to make enough money through digital publishing to pay the bills, but that’s still a challenge for the vast majority of American newspapers.”

Bailon does not see any time in the future where there will be no print editions of the Post-Dispatch. “And I think that many of us believe the Post-Dispatch and many other daily newspapers are going to be around for a long time. We will have to continue to evolve. There is no doubt about that. I can’t imagine being in St. Louis or any other metro area without a vibrant daily newspaper. It’s just part of a community.”

But for the newspapers remaining in business, they may have to do without reporters like Barker.

“I never thought the day would come that I would leave journalism,” he said. “I’m going to try freelancing. I don’t know if I want to go back to a newspaper.”


Author’s note:  Terry Ganey, long-time Jefferson City correspondent for the Post-Dispatch, left the paper as part of the 2005 buyout.

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FAA’s missed deadline on drone regulations puts journalists in limbo

The headline on the story written by Keith Wagstaff and posted online Oct. 1 at the website www.nbcnews.com couldn’t be any clearer: “FAA Misses Deadline for Creating Drone Regulations.”

With all the intricacies of the drone debate swirling through the media, this should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed this issue. But the news poses a serious obstacle for student journalists and media professionals who want to incorporate this new technology into modern newsgathering.

In 2012, Congress issued an edict to the Federal Aviation Administration to incorporate unmanned aircraft systems, also known by the acronym UAS, into the national airspace. The FAA had a deadline of Sept. 30, 2015 to get that done, but that deadline has flown past with no definite date to replace it.

On the day of the original FAA deadline, a coalition of 29 different organizations sent a letter to Michael Huerta, the FAA’s administrator, urging the agency “to use all available means to finalize the small UAS rules immediately without any further delays and move ahead with the nest regulatory steps on the path for integrating all UAS into the NAS (National Airspace System).”

Wagstaff noted in his story that an unnamed FAA spokesman told NBC News “our main, overriding goal is safety,” and that final rules for drone operators should be in place by “late next spring.”

In a related development, the FAA convened a four-day “UAS Registration Task Force” beginning Nov. 3 to focus on the following questions regarding the registration of drones weighing less than 55 pounds:

  • How do we make registration as easy as possible for consumers while providing accountability?
  • What products should we exclude from registration based on weight, speed, altitude and flying time?
  • What information should we collect during the registration process, and what should we do with the data?
  • Should every unmanned aircraft sold have its own serial number, or another way to tie particular aircraft to a particular user?
  • Should the process include a formal education component before an aircraft can be registered?
  • Should registration be retroactive and apply to unmanned aircraft that are now in the system?
  • Should there be an age requirement for registration?

In his opening statement to the task force members, Huerta noted that “we’re working on a tight timetable – Secretary Fox (U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox) has set a deadline of Nov. 20 for the task force to complete its recommendations. This reflects the urgency of the task at hand.”

Meanwhile, some institutions of higher learning are doing their best to educate student journalists and other media professionals about the regulatory dos and don’ts regarding drones.

In a memo distributed Oct. 30, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s interim vice chancellor for research, Jim Garvey, addressed the topic of “Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.” In the memo, Garvey wrote that “the use of any Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs), often called drones, by public entities such as SIUC is strictly prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) without the proper FAA approvals.” That means that employees and students of the university can’t operate drones on SIU Carbondale property, nor can they fly them “while serving as a representative of SIUC off campus.”

Garvey noted that drones will still be allowed to operate on campus “in indoor spaces under some circumstances. However, this will require coordination with University Risk Management.” He added that the university “will pursue the appropriate approvals with the FAA as quickly as possible and develop a process by which SIUC students and employees may use UASs with the proper training and within the compliance metrics set by the university to meet FAA rules. We anticipate that this process will be in place by spring 2016.”

At the University of Missouri, a story written by Scott Pham and posted online Aug. 21 noted that the Missouri Drone Journalism Program would be spending the fall semester “researching and applying for a COA” (certificate of authorization) after receiving a letter from the FAA ordering the program to cease all outdoor flight until it obtained one.

As Pham noted, “We intend to apply for a COA and we have no reason to think we will be denied. But it will significantly change the way we act as a program.”

At Rend Lake College, a two-year institution located in Ina, Illinois, that is part of the Illinois Community College System, plans are in place to offer courses that will help students obtain a UAS operators certificate.

In a press release issued Oct. 27 by the college (www.rlc.edu/pressroom/all-news-articles/5786-unmanned-aircraft-systems-certificate-coming-spring-2016), UAS instructor Chris Edwards said that the certificate program “should give students who pass the exam the ability to work with the UAS in the national airspace for profit.”

The release notes that “to become a certified UAS instructor, students must pass a criminal background check, be 17 years of age, pass an aeronautical knowledge test, and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.”

“This is going to be the next big thing in technology,” Edwards said. “The possibilities are almost endless. I see this becoming a field with high growth potential.”

Information found on the website of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (www.auvsi.org) agrees with Edwards. It notes that the drone industry could lead to the creation of 100,000 jobs by the year 2025, with an estimated economic impact of $82 billion.

But that economic impact is not what concerns the FAA bigwigs. In his Nov. 3 remarks to the FAA task force members, Huerta noted that “by some estimates, 700,000 new aircraft could be in the homes of consumers by the end of the year. This means unmanned aircraft could soon far outnumber manned aircraft operating in our nation’s airspace. … Integrating unmanned aircraft into our nation’s airspace is a big job, and it’s one the FAA is determined to get right.”

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Media moral panic about screens and teens

The results of the Common Sense Media survey this fall were reported widely in the news media. The major finding cited is that U.S. teens spend nine hours per day with media devices. Headlines declared: Teens spend nearly nine hours every day consuming media, Washington Post; Teens Spend an Average of 9 Hours a Day with Media, ABC; Teens spend an average of 9 hours a day with media, survey finds, Los Angeles Times.

Other outlets chose to quote from the Common Sense Media press release expressing surprise. CNN headlined: Teens spend a ‘mind-boggling’ 9 hours a day using media, report says. NBC stated that Teens Spend ‘Astounding’ Nine Hours a Day in Front of Screens. Digital Trends provided a more concrete illustration: Report: Teens now spend more hours consuming media than sleeping. CBS added a grain of mystery: Survey reveals surprising facts about kids’ online connections.

The well-executed and reliable Common Sense Media survey is by all accounts a respected and highly valuable documentation of cultural trends, such as use of media by tweens and teens. As an advocacy organization, Common Sense Media’s declared mission is to educate the public and provide resources for parents and educators in use of media in ways that benefit young people. The organization’s previous surveys were cited for years, not only in the media, but also in academic research. This study too promises to serve as a reference point in public debates about children and screen time.

Nevertheless, I cannot but wonder about the “surprise”, “mind-boggling” and “astounding” reaction presented in the news release and quoted by media to frame these findings.

Like most of my friends, colleagues, family members, and students, I probably spend just as much time – if not more – with media everyday than do teens: from waking up to the alarm on my mobile phone, spending good portions of my work day in front of a computer and on my smart phone, following our presidential candidates’ latest interviews on television, checking news about the events in Israel (my homeland) on the internet, Skyping with my grown children around North America, “face-timing” with my granddaughter in NY, and following the weather radar for tornado-alerts in the middle of the night on my tablet. I wonder what my score would have been had I been asked to complete that survey? And, how would the media frame the results had the survey solicited data from adults?

So what do we make of this mediated world of ours, for teens and adults alike? Research on this question finds that news coverage often focuses on the negative roles of media in young persons’ lives, such as:

  • The latest suicide of a victim of online bullying;
  • A mass-shooter who was an avid video-game player;
  • Concerns that early exposure to screen-based over-stimulation is related to growing rates of Attention Deficit Disorder and autism;
  • Pedophiles lurking on social media for young girls;
  • The connection between the amount of media consumption and childhood obesity;
  • Implications of bedtime screen-media use on sleep disturbance;
  • Declines in human interaction;
  • Irresponsible online behaviors such as sexting by impulsive teens.

The list is long, worrisome and attention-getting. Some concerns are based on anecdotal cases, projected fears or unconfirmed – or some say, yet-to-be-confirmed – research. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as media “moral panic.”

Media Moral Panic

Media moral panic is by no means a new phenomenon. From a historical perspective, ‘moral panic’ has accompanied the introduction of each new technology to our lives, from the printing press onward. This includes newspapers, movies, television, internet and ….soon, we suspect, augmented reality.

Interestingly, “moral panic” is accompanied by a contrasting “euphoric” sentiment of the new medium’s potential for human transformation and greater democratization of society. With time, neither sentiment has been proven to tip the scale of harms versus benefits.

Researchers and policy proponents who take the negative effects approach, often adopted uncritically by the media, share grounding in developmental psychology and the health professions, guided by the Hippocratic “do no harm” philosophy of medicine.

But there are alternative research and policy approaches that are more holistic, inclusive and evidence based, while still emphasizing responsibility for the wellbeing of children. They argue that there are both positive and negative effects of children’s use of omnipresent media. For example, a list of the wonderful opportunities that media provide young people includes educational enrichment, creativity, social experiences, activism, construction of identities – and just pure pleasure.

Around the world, many scholars of media and cultural studies, as well as sociology of childhood, produce fruitful research with evidence on the positive roles that media play in all aspects of children’s lives: from learning cognitive skills and second languages, to developing empathy and tolerance towards the “other”; from engaging in collaborative relationships with others in gaming platforms and forums, to finding support groups for dealing with sexual diversity, mourning, or romantic broken hearts; from being able to explore interests and hobbies to accessing endless possibilities for entertainment and information.

Toward a more balanced approach

Yet, apparently media producers have yet to find ways to frame them as exciting headlines, so most of the public knows a lot less about them, if at all. Journalists as well as editors do the media industry as well as children and parents a great disservice by not adopting a more balanced and integrative approach to reporting on and framing what media scholars have found about the effects and opportunities of media use.

Many parents today find it very challenging to navigate their children’s mediated lives and feel they are losing control of their ability to socialize them to their own family’s cultural values and life styles. These are real concerns, as are other parenting dilemmas in our highly technological and complicated world.

In my own writings and public presentations I emphasize the three Cs, as an easily understood approach consistent with the holistic research perspective: the Child – his/her gender, age, race, health, personality characteristics, interests; Content – what is the child consuming: is it valuable, is it age-appropriate, does it support your values and beliefs; and Context – the family, neighborhood, cultural, and national context in which the child is growing up.

When we consider the three Cs, we can easily realize that no “one solution fits all,” as different children, growing up in different environments and exposed to different media content, have different needs.

The advice for educators and parents we propose is reasonable: Familiarize yourself with your children’s media world; talk often to your children about their media use, about maintaining their privacy online and the footprint they leave behind; keep media out of children’s bedroom; and have clear rules about media use at home. This advice is important, but it is not enough.

Our children also need to develop media literacy, a set of skills and critical thinking abilities that allow us to access media responsibly. This means giving children the skills to evaluate media content, its relationship with reality and the social and cultural structures that are behind it. The ability to interact with it and actively participate in media creation is as important to all educational systems today as teaching basic reading/writing literacy was a hundred years ago.

It is the collaboration among all stakeholders concerned with children and young people – parents, educators, policy makers, media makers, advertisers, psychologists, pediatricians, social workers – actually, all of us – that will help facilitate our ability to guide our young generations on how to make the most out of their nine hours a day media experiences so they can maximize the media’s benefits and minimize their harms.

News media would do well to provide more balanced reporting on the roles and opportunities of media in our own, and our children’s lives.

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Three days of the candor – a review of Truth

Journalists will surely prefer the plucky success story told by Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015), about the Boston Globe’s exposure of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of priests molesting children, to the muddy failures in Truth (2015). James Vanderbilt’s film adaptation of Mary Mapes’ memoir about the firing of Dan Rather, Truth centers on CBS News airing unconfirmed documents about George W. Bush’s questionable service in the air national guard during the Vietnam War.

Spotlight relates how great investigative journalism actually makes a difference in the world, giving victims a voice when the powerful seek to deny it. Conversely, Truth not only laments the failure of such reporting (both in methodology and social effect) to fundamentally question the debilitating effects of class privilege in a purportedly free country, it also has to turn narrative somersaults to excuse the sloppy journalism employed in the Texas national guard story, which was then used by conservatives to deflect the issue away from the disgusting ability of rich families like the Bushes to protect their sons from Vietnam while poor kids, American and Vietnamese, were dying in droves.

Truth is obsessed with the materiality of television newsgathering. The film revels in close-ups of various electronic gadgets to express the transformation of American culture at the hands of the digital revolution.  Viewers watch a VHS tape sucked into a deck and see almost all of the characters working push-button telephones. But most importantly, the narrative revolves around the difference between early 1970s typewriters and early 2000 Dell computers running Microsoft Word. Such visualizations of the changing material circumstances of journalism serve as the film’s grist for milling the loss of great investigative journalism free of the capitalist influence of entertainment media.

The film’s best scene invokes a different sort of materiality, the intertextuality of the image. Late in the proceedings, after Mary (Cate Blanchett) has just blasted the right-wing lawyers hired by CBS to expose her wrongdoing, she walks outside with her solitary lawyer. For a film that is mostly about dark, interior spaces (the CBS newsrooms, the house of the lying informant, the conference room where Mary is interrogated), the street scene comes as a breath of fresh air, not only for the characters, but the film’s spectators as well.

Mary’s lawyer gently ribs her for being unable to control herself at the very last minute of the hearing, needing to chide the committee for caring more about type fonts than why the Bush campaign was able to successfully smear John Kerry’s actual military service in Vietnam, while Bush’s hiding from the draft caused him not harm, but to be elected to the presidency a second time. Mary quotes Popeye, “I am what I am.” The lawyer responds by linking Mary instead to the doddering old fool Polonius Hamlet: “I would have gone with ‘to thine own self be true’,” he jokes.

As Mary walks away, the editor cuts to a medium shot of the lawyer. He tells Mary, “I believe you.” Another reverse angle shows that this revelation consoles Mary, who will never work in television news again. The scene evokes the ending of Three Days of the Condor, a very different movie about conspiracy, but also one again starring Robert Redford. In Truth, he plays the defrocked Dan Rather. In Sydney Pollack’s 1975 paranoia film, Redford plays Joseph Turner, a worker at the CIA who unearths a murderous government plot to commandeer Middle-eastern oil fields to protect the U.S. economy. In the film’s climactic scene, Joe stands on a busy Manhattan street in front of the New York Times building. Joe tells Higgins (Cliff Robertson), a deputy director he is about to expose the CIA’s malfeasance. In shot-reverse shot, Higgins asks Joe how he knows that the newspaper will run the story. The reverse angle freezes Joe in medium shot, leaving us to wonder if indeed the cover-up extends as far as “the paper of record.”

Three Days of the Condor is a quintessential 1970s paranoid thriller, a series of films made in the wake of the public’s almost complete loss of confidence in the integrity of major American social institutions, fueled by the questioning of the 1960s. Released eight months later, in April 1976, All the President’s Men serves as the Spotlight to Three Days of the Condor’s Truth. In Alan J. Pakula’s film, the forces of hard-working investigative journalism triumph over Richard Nixon’s diabolical political games.

However, Three Days of the Condor is also the better film; more complex in its image making. As the film ends on the freeze-frame of Redford’s Joe, Salvation Army Christmas carolers sing in the background, their voices ironically distorted by the tragic events of the film, in which the CIA stands unrepentant in its political manipulation of world events.

For its part, Truth ends with Redford’s Rather in a massive close-up covering the entire wide-screen image, forcibly resigning as the anchor of the CBS Evening News, book-ended by Mary sitting at home awkwardly holding in the air her television’s remote control, delicately balanced between watching and turning off the image in disgust. The static endings of both Three Days of the Condor and Truth indicate the negative: Unchecked political power continues to abuse the nation uninterrupted.

But there’s also something more reassuring in these films’ masterful craft. For all the dismantling of the free press in the United States over the past 50 years, the bleak state of affairs in the post-Nixon moment seemed just as worrisome in 1975 as does our current situation.

As Alfred North Whitehead noted in the 1950s, almost everything we worry about in the present also obsessed Plato over two millennia ago. The Republic grappled with the problems entailed by leaders similar to Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Whatever the decline in journalism from Woodward and Bernstein to Mapes and Rather, the cinema’s ability to image today’s world clearly carries on unimpeded from Three Days of the Condor to Truth.

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Will human nature drag down science journalism?

Jesse Singal is a senior editor at New York Magazine, where he runs The Science of Us, a website about the science of human behavior. He wrote a series of articles about the Michael LaCour scandal as it unfolded.

A former science writer, Sharon Dunwoody is Evjue-Bascom Professor Emerita in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has taught science journalism and science communication in the school for more than 30 years.

Alex Berezow is the founding editor of RealClearScience. A member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, his work also regularly appears in the Economist. He holds a Ph.D. in microbiology.

Former GJR managing editor Ben Lyons recently asked each about their outlook on social science reporting today. What follows are his questions and their responses.


Q: I’m interested in where you see the state of social science reporting in general. What about its future?

JS: The future is bright, I hope! The good news is that people do seem to have an appetite for distillations of this sort of research, which can only be a good thing for society. The bad news is that a lot of that journalism isn’t fantastic, and that university press shops often distribute misleading press releases that overstate studies’ findings. All we can do is hope is that social-science journalism continue to replenish itself with talented young people who are fascinated by human nature and willing to report on it with nuance — and not fall for splashy findings that don’t hold up.

SD: A growing number of communicators/journalists see the social sciences as fertile ground for reporting, so I believe this arena will continue to expand over time.  Some reasons for that:

  • Managing the major issues of the day calls for a deep understanding of human nature and behavior. For example, doing something about a warming globe is a human problem, not a technological one.  So increasing numbers of people, policy makers among them, express a need for information about behavior.  That makes social science research newsworthy.  As a result, some social scientists — such as Dan Kahan and Anthony Leiserowitz at Yale or Daniel Kahneman at Princeton — are approaching “visible scientist” status.
  • Editors and others who make news decisions have, for decades, privileged stories about social science research. Studies that examine coverage of science in the media typically find that the most popular “genre” is social science.  Systematic study of human beings is compelling to, well, other human beings.
  • There are always a few highly visible social science journalists and other types of communicators who keep this kind of research on the public agenda. Among the current crop are Radio Lab and NPR’s Shankar Vedantam. Even columns like the NYT’s “The Upshot” delve regularly into social science topics.

AB: Science journalism, in general, isn’t sufficiently skeptical. (And by “skeptical,” I don’t mean a connotation as in “climate skeptic,” but as in proper scientific skepticism.) We need to see more questions being asked like, “Are the appropriate methods being used to address the questions the researchers are seeking to answer?” “Do the conclusions go beyond what the data says?” “What does the rest of the literature say on this topic?” I think if journalists took the time to investigate these questions, we would see far less hype and far less inaccurate science reporting.

Social science (particularly psychology) gets a lot of coverage by journalists because it’s click-baity and easy to write about. Toss in the problems I mentioned above, and you’ve got a recipe for substandard reportage. I think it’s fair to say there’s a lot of room for improvement in social science reporting.

The future for science journalism appears bright because many practicing scientists and researchers (or at least people who were trained in science) choose to write. They can apply their expertise and analyze new research in ways that many journalists simply cannot. One of the things on which RealClearScience prides itself is a staff that is entirely trained in the hard sciences.


Q: Do you think the Michael LaCour scandal reflected anything about the public climate surrounding social science research today? Or alternately, what might the LaCour scandal say about the relationships among social science, the media and the public?

JS: It’s all really, really complicated. There are countless problems in social science right now in terms of statistical trickery on the part of researchers, the proliferation of not-amazing journals, and so on. These are conversations that need to occur within the social science.

One interesting aspect is the ease with which notable findings quickly filter down to the media, and therefore to everyone else. So many major publications covered the LaCour findings. On paper, this is a good thing — more people should know about the social sciences. But it also compounds the damage when something like this occurs.

SD: I think the LaCour scandal blew right over the heads of most Americans.  The incident certainly fits within the larger arena of scientific fraud — a topic that does get an increasing amount of public attention — but I suspect that it will have little influence on public perceptions of social science research.  Those perceptions are not all that positive, by the way.

AB: There’s always a temptation to make a name for oneself, be it in the hard sciences or soft sciences. I think this is particularly true for fields that receive a lot of press coverage — usually fields that are trendy, politically sensitive, or competitive. Stem cell research, for instance, is all three, and it has had a lot of high-profile problems with fraud. Psychology also has quite a bit of fraud. I think the LaCour scandal simply reminds us of the fallibility of mankind. Researchers are people too, and they face the same temptations as everybody else.


Q: Outing scientific fraud obviously strengthens science. But outright fraud is, to our knowledge, extremely rare. Do you feel any tension in the media amplifying public skepticism of all scientific findings in doing so?

JS: Nope. I edit a website about social science — clearly I think there’s value in the enterprise overall, and that the world would be a better place if people took a more “scientific approach” — basically just shorthand for evidence-based approaches — to various problems. I think the LaCour scandal is a fascinating one and a pretty amazing story so far, and that there’s value in uncovering the details. The only people who are going to come away from this thinking that the proper response is to distrust science qua science were already predisposed to that position anyway.

SD: There is always a risk in highlighting the aberrant.  I do worry that audiences will use anecdotal information to make inferences about scientists in general. I think someone needs to write about this in “The Upshot”!

AB: Yes, there is some tension. On the one hand, we need to report instances of fraud, but on the other hand, there is the possibility that over-reporting will cause the public to think that fraud is rampant in science — which then undermines hot-button discussions on vaccines, GMOs, nuclear power, climate change, evolution, etc. Those issues are hard enough to talk about without also having to address overblown concerns over fraud.

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New editorial page editor at St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS – Tod Robberson, a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, will become the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page editor shortly after the first of the year.

Post-Dispatch Editor Gilbert Bailon said Robberson would succeed Tony Messenger, the editorial page editor who moved into a columnist position a few months ago. In Messenger’s absence, the Post-Dispatch has been using a freelance editorial service.

“We will go back to having three writers,” Bailon said. “This has been a temporary situation when Tony moved to being a columnist. We want to write our own editorials. That’s ideally what the situation would be.”

In 2010, Robberson was one of three Dallas Morning News editorial writers who were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for “their relentless editorials deploring the stark social and economic disparity between the city’s better-off northern and distressed southern half,” according to the Pulitzer Prize website.

That same year, Post-Dispatch editorial writer John Carlton was a nominated finalist for editorials on health care reform. Carlton has since left the newspaper.

Robberson, 58, has been on the Dallas newspaper’s editorial staff since 2006. He has experience as a foreign correspondent for that newspaper as well as the Washington Post and the Reuters wire service. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and journalism from Texas Tech University and a master’s in Arab Studies from Georgetown University.


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The Pulitzer Prize reporter who carried a gun

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When Taylor Pensoneau cast the characters for his novel “The Summer of ’50,” he modeled his fictional hardboiled newspaperman, Jake Brosky, mostly after a reporter Pensoneau remembered from his early days at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Straight out of the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1962, Pensoneau found himself in the newsroom with Ted Link.

“He was the Hollywood version of what a reporter looked like,” Pensoneau recalled. “He was good looking in a tough rugged way. He wore the role complete with a wide-brimmed hat.” Dark-complexioned and movie-star handsome, Link reminded some people of actor Robert Mitchum.

By 1962, Link had a reputation as a fearless investigator, a wounded ex-Marine and a man who wouldn’t hesitate to use a gun if he thought it was necessary. Reporters–especially the young ones—gave him a wide berth. Editors showed him great deference.

Appearances aside, Link was the genuine article. In the 136 years of the newspaper’s publication, Link likely ranks first among its reporters in terms of investigative production, widespread notoriety and vivid color.

Link’s stories affected national politics, won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, sent people to federal prison and changed the operations of federal agencies. The files he kept stirred action from U.S. Senate investigating committees.

“He was, perhaps, the outstanding investigative reporter in the U.S. in his day,” the late Selwyn Pepper recalled in an email in 1996. “He enjoyed the confidence of law enforcement people and gangsters in every part of the country. He was probably the most interesting reporter I have ever met.”

A colleague, the late Carl Baldwin, once wrote: “Link was probably the closest thing St. Louis ever had to a TV-type private eye. Gangsters had a certain romantic admiration for him, and he was chosen as the receptacle for their information.”

There was a dark side, too. A pistol-packing journalist, Link once was accused of first-degree murder for killing a handyman on his farm west of St. Louis. A jury acquitted Link in a case resembling the “stand your ground” scenarios that occur now.

The acquittal came after an unusual trial during which the prosecutor did not cross-examine Link and a key witness to the shooting – Link’s son – was not called as a witness. Some St. Louis police confided years later that they thought Link had gotten off because of his reputation and connections with law enforcement.


Link was born in St. Louis on Sept. 22, 1904, the namesake of his famous grandfather, architect Theodore Carl Link, the designer of Union Station. At age 20, he began work as a journalist at the St. Louis Star, where he focused on organized crime, gangland violence and the Ku Klux Klan. Reporting stints followed at the St. Louis Times and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

When Link joined the Post-Dispatch in 1938, he was one of a few reporters who could claim to have worked at all of the St. Louis dailies. Other than a stint in the Marines during World War II, Link remained there until his death.

Among his shadowy news sources, Link counted Carl Shelton and his brothers Bernie and Earl, whose gang controlled gambling and liquor distribution in southern Illinois. A territorial dispute between the Sheltons and Charlie Birger, a former ally, led to one of the bloodiest gang wars in the annals of organized crime. In 1950, the Saturday Evening Post described the Sheltons as “America’s Bloodiest Gang.”

After Bernie and Carl Shelton were assassinated, Earl Shelton and other members of the gang began sharing information with Link that led to an expose of widespread corruption in Illinois: gambling, payoffs and close relationships between politicians and the underworld.

Link’s stories accused Gov. Dwight Green and the state Attorney General George Barrett of benefitting from funds collected from crime figures. Illinois state officials retaliated by indicting Link on charges of kidnapping, intimidation and conspiracy. The trumped-up accusations were connected with Link’s involvement in an incident in which a man was questioned in a Peoria hotel room about two murders.

Link’s disclosures about Illinois government corruption overturned the Green administration with the election of Gov. Adlai Stevenson in 1948. A new state attorney general dismissed the indictments against Link, and he later received the American Newspaper Guild’s special award for distinguished public service.

In 1951, Link began getting tips about illegal payments being made to St. Louis area agents of what was then called the Internal Revenue Bureau, the forerunner of the IRS. For a price, the local agents would let the targets of tax investigations off the hook. Raymond L. Crowley, the newspaper’s managing editor, gave Link the green light to pursue an investigation, with other reporters like Pepper lending a hand. Pepper later said Link did 90 percent of the work on the investigation.

Link disclosed that the Democratic National Chairman William Boyle Jr. had accepted payments from a St. Louis company that in turn received $500,000 in government loans. Link also discovered Boyle’s connections to the local Internal Revenue Bureau, and that the local federal tax collector, James P. Finnegan, was also on the company’s payroll. Finnegan later went to prison along with Matthew Connelly, President Harry Truman’s former appointment secretary.

Link learned that a report concocted at the suggestion of Truman Attorney General J. Howard McGrath falsely claimed there had been no tax-fixing scheme. Eventually, McGrath and the head of the Justice Department’s tax division, T. Lamar Caudle, were fired. Caudle was also convicted of misconduct in a tax-fixing case. The articles on corruption in the Internal Revenue Bureau led to a reorganization of the agency and earned the newspaper the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Some of Link’s reporting attracted the attention of a federal investigating committee headed by U.S. Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. His panel was probing organized crime, and after Link disclosed the connections between the mob organizations in St. Louis and other cities, Kefauver’s investigators sought Link’s help. Kefauver later wrote, “In numerous instances, the first connections among the underworld, conniving politicians and corrupt law enforcement officers were supplied to the committee…out of Ted Link’s voluminous files.”

Little slipped by Link. His habit was to listen to and record every remark he heard. His intelligence-gathering style was to categorize and index every fact or rumor that came his way in case it might be useful later. His “Link-Memo for filing” entries found their way into envelopes in the Post-Dispatch reference library. “The reigning gang in Detroit is headed by St. Louis Sicilians who headquarter out on Jefferson Street and who saw the opportunity for bringing in whiskey from Canada about seven or eight years ago,” begins one of Link’s undated two-page memos.


Some of Link’s investigative methods likely were informed by his experiences outside of newspaper work. For the five-year period before joining the Post-Dispatch, he worked as a private investigator for the National Lead Company. He went after crooked lawyers who were filing phony injury claims in behalf of miners. Fifteen lawyers were disbarred as a result of his findings.

When World War II began, Link was 37, but his age didn’t stop him from joining the Marines as a correspondent in the Pacific. When a Japanese bomber demolished a press tent on Bougainville on Nov. 7, 1943, Link was among the five wounded. A reporter who had been filing stories for Newsweek Magazine and for an Australian newspaper was killed when hit in the forehead with a piece of shrapnel. Link was hit in the legs and back.

Years later in the headquarters of the Post-Dispatch, an aura seemed to surround him. After entering the newsroom, many would notice how before Link sat down at his desk he would take a handgun out of his pocket and place it in a desk drawer. He sat at a desk off to the side in his own little area, Pensoneau recalled. “None of the reporters, especially the young reporters, ever went up to talk to him because frankly we were afraid of him. He was never called up to the city desk like everybody else was. If someone on the city desk wanted to talk to Link, they got up and walked over to talk to him. He would not get up. Ted was never summoned. He was obviously a special case.”

Pepper recalled that Crowley, Ben Reese, the city editor, and all the other editors were impressed by Link. “I think they were all also a little afraid of him,” Pepper’s email said. “Reese, a huge part-Indian, was frightened by few people but I think he was a little in awe of Link.” Pepper said Link carried a gun for his own protection. “He told me he would never be killed or attacked by a major gangster but a minor gang figure might kill him to gain status among his gangster associates.”

Pepper wrote: “Link was pretty much a loner. He had little to do with the other staff members, although he was friendly enough. He rarely went to lunch with other reporters. Usually he had lunch with some public official or some hoodlum. He had many friends among the FBI people. They valued his information. A long time ago there was an incident in the office in which Link took offense at something another reporter had said. Ted slugged him, knocked him to the floor. I’m pretty sure that was the end of it—no one attempted to discipline him.”

Link was more reporter than writer. He disgorged his notes to rewrite men who would cast his material into a narrative. Pepper was often on the receiving end. “I was his personal rewrite man for many years and we had a good relationship,” Pepper recalled.


In the summer of 1960, the front pages of newspapers across the country were dominated by political news as John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon sought their parties’ presidential nominations. On the morning of July 12, 1960, the front page of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat contained a story out of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles speculating on the possibility of Missouri Sen. Stuart Symington joining the Democratic ticket as Kennedy’s running mate.

Two columns over was a photo of 55-year-old Theodore C. Link with a story that began: “Theodore C. (Ted) Link, a Post-Dispatch crime reporter, shot and killed a laborer Monday in a quarrel at the Link summer home in St. Albans, Mo.”      The dead man was Clarence W. Calvin. Link said he had fired five shots at the 35-year-old man using a .38 caliber revolver and a 12-gauge shotgun. He said Calvin had come after him with a knife and a pronged garden hoe.

The fatal shooting took place during an argument near the ruins of Link’s vacation cottage in Franklin County, just west of St. Louis, overlooking the Missouri River. The dwelling had been destroyed by fire a few days earlier, and Link believed it had been deliberately set. Calvin had done farm laborer jobs for Link. Accompanied by his 11-year-old son, Theodore Link, Jr., the elder Link said he gone to St. Albans to question Calvin, and found him rooting in the ashes of the cottage. Link suspected Calvin set the fire, and said he came armed to the meeting because he knew Calvin had a volatile disposition.

Link said Calvin denied setting the fire, and that an argument began. “He came at me with a knife and a hoe, and I ran for my shotgun, which was propped against a tree,” Link said. “I yelled to my son to run.” Link’s account differed from what Ted Jr. told authorities. According to the Globe report: “Ted Jr., however, said his father fired the first shot while Mr. Calvin was sitting at a picnic table and the last three as the laborer lay on the ground. The boy said he never saw a knife.”

On July 28, the Post-Dispatch front page was dominated by a story from Chicago where Nixon had won the Republican presidential nomination. A story two columns over reported that a Franklin County grand jury had indicted Link on first-degree murder charges. Link’s trial the following January was heard in Hermann, Mo., on a change of venue. Franklin County Prosecutor Charles Hansen told the jury that Calvin had been shot twice with a shotgun and three times with a revolver, and that Calvin “was shot at least once while he was seated and at least twice while he was lying on the ground.”

Defending Link was Henry G. Morris who was skillful during his questioning of potential jurors and who managed to help empanel an all male jury that included eight farmers. And as the trial unfolded, Morris erected a case of self-defense, managing to put Calvin on trial, and demonstrating during his cross-examinations that the shooting victim was a troublemaker on parole, a dangerous man who had threatened others in the community. There was testimony that Calvin had torched Link’s house. The second prosecution witness, Sheriff H. Bill Miller, testified that Calvin had twice threatened to kill the sheriff. Miller said he had to go to Calvin’s home three times because his parents said he had threatened them. On one occasion, Calvin pointed a shotgun at the sheriff. Calvin had a record of peace disturbances, especially when drinking.

Among the pieces of evidence introduced was a 28-page transcript of a coroner’s inquest in which Link said he fired on Calvin because “I was in fear of my life. I was in fear that he would shoot me, cut me or murder me and then my boy.” A St. Albans farmer, Marion Thiebes, testified that Calvin had told him the year before that he was going to “get” Theodore Link. Link testified in his own defense at one point stepping down from the witness stand to demonstrate for the jury how he fired from a crouched position. “When he moved to the end of the bench he leaped off and started toward me, raising the three-pronged fork over his head with the prongs aimed in my direction,” Link said. Link said he fired his guns as Calvin came toward him with the forked hoe and a knife he had pulled from his pocket.

“When I fired the third shot, it hit him in the head,” Link testified. “It knocked him back and he fell on his back.” The prosecutor did not cross-examine Link, and his son was never called as a witness.

In closing arguments the prosecutor said the defense had dwelt only on the character of the dead man. He said Calvin did get into arguments, but only when he was drunk and usually with members of his own family. “Clarence Calvin was not the number one citizen of Franklin County,” Hansen said. “We know that. We would be fools if we denied it. But did that give a Post-Dispatch reporter from St. Louis the right to come out there and kill a man?” Hansen described Link as the aggressor. He said Calvin wasn’t looking for a fight but that Link was, buying a shotgun during the trip earlier that day from St. Louis to St. Albans. He said Link had concluded from what he heard from neighbors that Calvin had burned down his house. “Link took it upon himself to be judge, jury and executioner,” Hansen said.

William Wessel, an attorney from Hermann assisting in the defense, told the jury in the closing argument that Link was on his own property, had shot a trespasser in defense of himself and his son. He said the only evidence in the actual killing pointed clearly to self-defense. “Ted Link has rid Franklin County of an evil nuisance,” Wessel concluded. “Calvin had it coming.”

Among the possibilities for the jury to consider were convictions for first-, or second-degree murder, or manslaughter. However, Link’s defense team managed to get other instructions included. For example, one instruction told the jury “that you will take into consideration the evidence as to threats made by the deceased prior to the killing.” Another instruction advised the jury that it could take into consideration Calvin’s “rash, turbulent and violent disposition” and whether that affected Link’s “apprehension of great personal injury to himself.” Another instruction told the jury a defendant has the right to defend himself or a member of his family to prevent injury to himself or his family.

The Evening Star of Washington, D.C. published a special section on Friday, Jan. 20. It was the newspaper’s inaugural edition and it featured a full-page color portrait of the new president, John F. Kennedy. Inside, on page A-6, was an AP story datelined Hermann, Mo. “Reporter Cleared in Slaying of Man,” the headline read. The jury had acquitted Link after two and one-half hours of deliberation. Raymond Engelbrecht, the foreman, said the jurors thought Link had a right to protect himself and that the state had not brought any evidence to refute his contention of self defense. “It’s a terrible thing for a man to have his home burned down,” Engelbrecht said.

Bill Miller Sr., the editor and publisher of the Washington Missourian, covered the trial as a reporter for his family’s newspaper. Now 85 years old, Miller said he asked the foreman about the reasoning in the deliberations. “He was on his (Link’s) property, wasn’t he?” Engelbrecht said.

“In other words,” Miller said, “Link had told Calvin to stay off his property and when he found him on it, Link shot and killed him. Link’s attorney made Calvin the bad guy, and it worked with the jury. Link had a very good attorney and he really knew the people out there. He knew these farmers. If someone is trespassing on your property, they felt strongly and still do to a great extent, about property rights and gun rights. If they told you to stay off the property, you better stay off.”

Attempts to reach Ted Link Jr., for this story were unsuccessful. He did not return two telephone messages left at his home seeking comment. Pensoneau, 74 years old, said he has attempted to interview Link about his father in the past, but that the son has turned down his requests. “I got one quote from him, ‘my dad was more like a cop than a reporter.’ He didn’t like to talk about his dad.”

Baldwin died in 1994 and Pepper passed away in 2008. Both had been retired for many years. Link died on the job. He was still working in daily journalism at the Post-Dispatch when a heart attack took his life on Feb. 14, 1974. He was 69. Reflecting on his work, the Post-Dispatch called Link “persistent, incorruptible and unintimidated.”

Pensoneau said of all the reporters he has known over the years, he has gotten more questions concerning Link than about any other reporter. In August, Pensoneau was contacted by Dennis Enrietta of Cole City, Ill., who was researching the disappearance of Amelia “Molly” Zelko, a crusading Joliet newspaperwoman. Zelko had written stories about mob activities, and she vanished on Sept. 25, 1957 and was never seen again. Link had written about the case.

Enrietta said as he studied Link’s stories on Zelko’s disappearance he came away believing Link had the best sources. “I couldn’t figure out why a guy from St. Louis had so much information on this disappearance that happened in Joliet,” Enrietta said. “He seemed to be tuned into the right grapevine. I was hoping there was a secret archive where he kept some notes.”


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A teaching moment

COLUMBIA, Mo. – At the world’s oldest journalism school, the professors for the most part are long on academic credentials but short on in-the-trenches reporting experience.

Still, the University of Missouri School of Journalism prides itself on offering “real world” opportunities for its budding journalists. It’s called “the Missouri method” which combines “a strong liberal arts education with unique hands-on training in professional media.”

Tim Tai, a photojournalist student from St. Louis, got a real education this week when protestors and some faculty members blocked his attempt to cover the demonstrators’ tent city on the Carnahan Quadrangle. Freelancing for ESPN, Tai was trying to document what was happening after the departures of two top administrators in the wake of racist events on the campus.

The story of how the football team’s boycott led to the departures of the UM System President Timothy Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin made national news. But it was the sidebar about what happened to Tai and another student that rang alarm bells in the School of Journalism.

In a video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRlRAyulN4o three MU faculty members are shown with the protestors who were blocking Tai’s attempt to photograph the protestors’ movement known as Concerned Student 1950. While Tai points out he has a First Amendment right to do his job on the quadrangle’s public property, protestors chant: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, reporters have got to go.” The three faculty members were later identified as Melissa Click, a communications professor, Richard Callahan, chairman of the Religious Studies Department, and Janna Basler, director of Greek Life.

Mark Schierbecker, a history and German student from the St. Louis County suburb of Rock Hill, recorded the video. When he posted it on You Tube, he wrote, “This is what civic-level censorship looks like at a university with the largest and oldest public college of journalism.” The video shows Basler pushing Tai, Callahan raising his hands to block the photographer’s field of vision, and Click confronting Schierbecker and calling for “muscle” to help remove him from the tent city.

If anything sets the University of Missouri-Columbia apart from other universities, it’s the Journalism School. The school’s reputation draws students from around the world, and the out-of-state tuition they pay goes a long way toward paying the university’s bills. What happened to Tai seemed like biting the hand that feeds you.

Brian Brooks, who retired as the school’s associate dean but who is still an adjunct member of the faculty, filed a harassment complaint with the school’s Title IX enforcement office based on what he saw on the video. “Dr. Click and her accomplice may also be guilty of battery as our student on one or two occasions protested being pushed by the two women,” Brooks wrote in an email.

State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee butters the university’s bread, has called for the firing of Click and Basler for violating the school’s code of conduct. The Republican from Columbia said what the two women had done amounted to at least third-degree assault.

Click has since apologized and resigned her courtesy appointment at the Journalism School, although she remains on the faculty of the Communications Department. Basler has apologized, too, and according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she has been placed on administrative leave.

Even before the confrontation between the photographer and the protestors, there were indications that media coverage on the campus was unwelcome. Matt Sanders, the city editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune, wrote this week, “The protest leaders were loudly telling students, in front of reporters, not to speak to reporters. Reporters have an agenda and don’t care about their movement, they said. The message was loud and clear—they saw us as their enemies.”

What happened to Tai was “a teaching moment” for journalism students. In the real world they can expect to be unwelcomed—or even despised–observers documenting events. Just ask Paul Hampel, a highly-regarded, 30-year veteran reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who was beaten, bloodied and robbed while covering the anniversary events in Ferguson in August. Hampel was taking photos and videos of break-ins before he was attacked.

Hampel, 54, who colleagues said put his heart and a young person’s enthusiasm into every story, was placed on medical leave suffering head and other injuries. Last month he resigned from the newspaper. On Oct. 12 he began work as a legislative analyst in St. Louis County government.

Author’s note:  Terry Ganey has a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism where he has been an adjunct instructor.

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Court isn’t crazy about Prince challenge to dancing baby

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California isn’t crazy over Universal Music’s attempts to take down a YouTube video featuring a toddler dancing to the song “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince.

In a September ruling, it agreed with a district judge who had held copyright owners must consider fair use before issuing takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Fair use is a provision of the copyright statute which allows for use of a copyrighted work under certain circumstances that have negligible impact on the market for the work. The statute lays out four factors for a determination of fair use: the purpose and character of the use; the nature of the work used; the account of the work used; and the effect on the work’s value.

On Feb. 7, 2007, Stephanie Lenz posted to YouTube a 29-second video of her children running and dancing in her kitchen as “Let’s Go Crazy” played in the background. Most of the video, which is available at https://youtu.be/N1KfJHFWlhQ, focuses on the younger child, leading it to be called the “dancing baby” video.

Universal Music, which was authorized by Prince to administer the rights to the song, discovered the video through its routine monitoring of YouTube for material infringing its copyrights, and sent a notice to YouTube under DMCA, seeking that the “dancing baby” video be removed.

Under DMCA, web sites such as YouTube that allow posts and contributions by users can avoid liability for infringement for user contributions if the site follows the DMCA process for copyright owners to request removal of infringing material. Under this process, the web site must “expeditiously” remove or disable access to the material and inform the poster, who can then challenge the removal. Upon receipt of such a challenge by the poster – known as a counter-notice – the website must restore the material unless the copyright holder files suit against the poster.

Universal’s takedown notice for the dancing baby video was one of 200 the company sent to YouTube for alleged infringements. YouTube removed the video on June 5, 2007, and informed Lenz of the removal. After Lenz objected, Universal reiterated its position that the video infringed on the song’s copyright. Lenz sent a second objection on June 27, which led YouTube to restore the video.

She also filed suit against Universal, claiming that its takedown notice to YouTube was improper because it did not account for fair use.

The district court denied Universal’s motion to dismiss the case in 2008. After discovery, both parties moved for summary judgment in the case, arguing that no trial was necessary in order to resolve the case. But the federal district court denied both motions, which would allow the case to proceed to trial. Both parties then appealed to the 9th Circuit.

The appeals court’s decision in September agreed that the case couldn’t be decided on summary judgment without a trial.  It also held that copyright rights holders must consider fair use before issuing DMCA takedown notices.

The court’s decision, written by Circuit Judge Richard C. Tallman for himself and Circuit Judge Mary H. Murguia, dwelled on a provision of the law which requires a DMCA takedown notification to include a “statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that the use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.” The court said that language included a requirement that the use of the copyrighted work be evaluated as fair use before the takedown notice is sent.  In other words, the copyright holder has to determine before the notice whether fair use is a use “authorized by … the law.”

The appeals court held that it was, affirming the district court and allowing the suit to proceed to trial. The court also held that Lenz need not show actual financial damages to proceed with her lawsuit.

In addition, the appeals court held that jury must determine whether Universal’s procedures before issuing the DMCA takedown notice were adequate to form a good faith belief that Lenz’s video infringed on the “Let’s Go Crazy” copyright.

If a jury finds that Universal had a good faith belief that the video infringed the copyright, the appellate court held, the company would not be liable for any misrepresentation in the takedown notice. The court added that “a copyright holder’s consideration of fair use need not be searching or intensive” in order to avoid this liability, noting that it may be possible to use computer algorithms, combined with human review, to conduct this evaluation.

Circuit Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. dissented in part, disagreeing with the majority’s holding that the statute’s prohibition against misrepresentation in DMCA takedown notices required a prior fair use analysis by the copyright owner. But he otherwise concurred with the majority, and in the result.

After the decision of the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents Lenz in the case, sought en banc reargument of the case before a larger panel of the Court of Appeals.  EEF argued that the appellate court should have granted summary judgment to Lenz – in other words, given Lenz the victory without a trial. Universal responded that the appeals court should not have heard the appeal in the first place.

If the 9th Circuit declines to rehear the case and its prior opinion holds, the case would go to trial before a jury. If a jury finds that Universal had a good faith belief that the video infringed the copyright, the company would not be liable for any misrepresentation in the takedown notice.

So the case of the dancing baby video may continue to trial, unless a settlement is reached. Copyright owners are put on notice that they must consider fair use before issuing takedown notices for alleged infringement online. Posters to the web are given more protection from removal of their posted material if it is protected by fair use. As babies can “go crazy” to a song in the background, and have the video posted online.

The ruling, Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., is available at http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2015/09/14/13-16106.pdf.


Author’s note: Eric P. Robinson is co-director of the Press Law and Democracy Project at Louisiana State University and of counsel to the First Amendment law firm The Counts Law Group.

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Media cover – and uncover – environmental problems in St. Louis

Twenty years ago, the Society of Environmental Journalists chose St. Louis for its 1996 Convention. St. Louis had study trips galore for its 700 writers: dioxin at Times Beach, atomic waste at Weldon Spring, river ecosystem degradation at the Confluence.

Two decades later, St. Louis can add some new field trips for environmental writers, from abandoned lead smelters south of the city to invasive Asian carp in its rivers to a smoldering landfill in Bridgeton that is too close for comfort to a radioactive dump.

Short-staffed local news media cannot begin to cover all the hazardous waste issues and environmental problems that plague the region. Residents directly affected by the environmental hazards complain that they get precious little print, and even less local TV coverage of their problems.

Then there’s the state legislature, which not only avoids addressing Missouri’s environmental maladies, but actually proposes legislation to shield companies from liability for many of the dangerous messes they’ve created. And a dearth of coverage of the legislature shields it from public scrutiny for such perfidy.

Occasionally, outside media swoop in to check up on what concoctions the Gateway City has brewing in its polluted streams, abandoned quarries and industrial wasteland areas.

In 2013, Rolling Stone took a good look at the underground landfill fire in Bridgeton. Rolling Stone writer Steven Hsieh spent time at the landfill as well as at the nearby location of 8,700 tons of nuclear weapons waste. He also met with area residents Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel, who were alarmed by cancer rates in the area.

Hsieh heard how Chapman and Nickel have issues with stinky, rotten-egg westerly breezes that waft from the landfill – and the potential for that air to be laced one day with radioactive elements from the large West Lake Superfund site of the Environmental Protection Agency.

West Lake’s radioactive waste goes back to 1942, when the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works of St. Louis began processing thousands of tons of uranium for the Manhattan Project. Over the next quarter century, huge amounts of radioactive waste from the processing were quietly dumped at sites throughout the metropolitan area, including thousands of cubic yards that ended up at the West Lake location.

Toxic time bomb

Chapman, Nickel and other north St. Louis County mothers formed Just Moms STL in spring of 2014. They said their mission is to educate the St. Louis region about the West Lake Landfill, the role St. Louis played in the Manhattan Project and the toxic legacy left behind that they say needs to be addressed.

“Unfortunately, we have witnessed a pattern with this dangerous radioactive waste,” said Chapman. “Wherever it has been allowed to sit out, peoples’ lives have been devastated. It has literally left a path of heartbreak, illness and destruction.

“It does not discriminate,” added Chapman. “It has proven deadly to whoever encounters it – not only for them, but for generation after generation of their families. It’s like some Biblical curse — popping up in children and their grandchildren and great grandchildren.”

Chapman and Nickel became especially concerned after a 2013 press conference including economist, Peter Andersen, who has studied landfills for several decades. Andersen raised the prospect of a “dirty bomb” resulting from the underground landfill fire reaching the radioactive site.

Andersen pointed out that a dirty bomb does not involve nuclear fission and is not a weapon of mass destruction. However, a reaction involving groundwater, the landfill fire and radioactive waste could cause a release of radioactive particles into the air that could travel 10 miles from the Bridgeton site.

“Both the Wall Street Journal and Rolling Stone have covered the issues occurring at the West Lake Landfill and the radioactive Superfund site,” said Nickel. “Rolling Stone’s was very accurate. I wish that they would do a followup. So much has happened. We know so much more about the seriousness of this site. Al Jazeera recently sent a team to report on it.”

Andersen’s assertions about the landfill fire and a radioactive dispersal apparently caught the attention of Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. Although he described the risk of the fire contacting radioactive waste as a “remote hypothetical,” he sued Republic Services which runs the landfill operation.

Koster underscored a list of public health concerns and odor pollution violations posed by the landfill. He said the company must address the problems or face further state action.

More local coverage 

The mothers of Just Moms STL were gratified with the national coverage that began in 2013 and   prompted local and state agencies to take notice. However, they feel there is still a long way to go with educating the public and to getting some resolution to the problems at West Lake.

“The best local news on this has actually been a tie between KMOX Radio, the Post-Dispatch and NPR,” said Chapman. “Second would be McGraw Milhaven with KTRS Radio and KSDK Channel 5. FOX-2 news has not done as much reporting recently.

“Reporters have worked incredibly hard to understand all the complex issues occurring at this site,” added Chapman. “Things change at the site every week, making it really hard to do a quick and thorough reporting. We’ve learned, unfortunately, that local TV news is heavily influenced by St. Louis and our state politics. We’ve actually had reporters come to us off the record and tell us they want to do more stories, but are told, no!”

Rolling Stone blamed inaction by state officials and Missouri’s congressional delegation on the state’s bid to bring the manufacture of small, modular nuclear reactors to Missouri. A lot of ruckus about radioactive waste from the past would not sit well with company’s interested in siting a nuclear operation in the state.

“I think the manufacturing of small modular reactors has played a small role in causing politicians to be ‘slow to act,’ but it’s not the major problem,” said Nickel. “The major problem is unlimited campaign donations being thrown around behind the scenes by lobbyists for all the financially liable parties.

“With this landfill, there are a lot of conflicts of interest,” Nickel added. “For instance, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s son Andy Blunt is a lobbyist for Exelon, and is currently running his father’s re-election campaign.  Exelon is financially liable for West Lake Landfill. Another example is Senator Kurt Schaeffer, running for Attorney General 2016, who is also a partner in the law firm Lathrope and Gage, currently representing Republic Services against the State of Missouri. These conflicts need to be reported.” 

Wheres the outrage?

Just Moms STL argue there needs to be much more coverage of the state legislature and proposed laws to cap liability costs and to quash lawsuits against companies such as Republic Services, Doe Run and more. 

“The implications of some of the proposed bills go way beyond West Lake Landfill,” said Chapman. “I think if the public understood the role and influence of big business in Missouri legislature, they would be more upset.

“The problem is that many people are like we used to be,” Chapman noted. “If they have never been forced to confront one of these issues like our community has, then they don’t get to see behind the scenes. We desperately need campaign finance reform in Missouri. Without it, the citizens of Missouri do not stand a chance against the unlimited blank checks these companies can write to their candidates.”

Another kind of outrage that Just Moms STL said is noticeably absent in the news – and from consumers of news – is “taxpayer outrage.” Not enough questions get asked about who should be responsible for paying for cleanup of contaminated sites – and not just West Lake.

“Both Exelon and the Department of Energy should be responsible for the clean up of West Lake Landfill,” said Nickel. “Exelon (formerly Cotter Corp.) knowingly illegally dumped this radioactive waste at West Lake Landfill and is listed as one of the main responsible parties.

“Our federal government appears to have not adequately supervised their licensee in the processing and in the transport of this material,” added Nickel. “The U.S. Department of Energy is already listed as a responsible party for West Lake Landfill.”

According to Chapman, the EPA has to take responsibility for botching the original assessments of the dangers posed by West Lake. She said this is because the fox was in the hen house when those assessments were made under EPA purview.

“There has been a dangerous trend at EPA of rubber-stamping documents which were actually prepared by some engineers hired by Republic Services and the other financially liable parties,” said Chapman. “The result is a history of gross negligence at this site that carries with it severe consequences for the people who have lived next to it for 40 years.

“I think we’re already seeing the consequences, such as the almost 300 percent increase in childhood brain cancers in the (63043) surrounding zip code,” noted Chapman. “I believe these statistics will continue to grow – and they’re coming to light. It’s a horrifying consequence of a federal agency mishandling the world’s oldest and most dangerous nuclear weapons waste.”

Valuable help

Just Moms STL members have high praise for environmental groups and activists who have come to their aid. Many of organizations have staged actions that have drawn news media attention to the West Lake issue.

Without the visibility of protests, the news media might not be inclined to dig into the science and the history, which are the biggest part of the West Lake story.

Members of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, including well-known St. Louis activist Kay Drey, have been outspoken about the West Lake situation. The Franciscan Sisters of Mary of St. Louis have organized demonstrations and environmental education events.

Local labor unions also have assisted Just Moms STL by hosting press conferences on the smoldering landfill and the West Lake radioactive site. A crowd of 100 gathered at the Operating Engineers Local 513 in March to hear St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s new health chief talk about a change in direction at Clayton, Missouri headquarters on the West Lake issue.

“There was a lack of political will in Clayton (on the West Lake issue),” said St. Louis County Health Director Faisal Kahn. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Faisal added, “I’m here to tell you that has changed completely.”

Chapman of Just Moms STL said the visit by Kahn indicates the area residents have finally gotten the attention of St. Louis County officials. She said they seemed to be hitting a brick wall with County Executive Stenger’s predecessor, Charles Dooley.

“We are definitely encouraged by the County Health Department’s new stance – this administration’s support is giving us hope,” said Chapman. “It also speaks to the seriousness of the impact that this burning Superfund site has on the people living, working and shopping in this community.

“We still feel that those living within a mile of this Superfund site need to be voluntarily bought out,” she added. “While we are extremely pleased to see a new health study by the county proceeding, the study by itself is not a permanent solution or relief for those people living within a mile of this site.”

Posting mixed reviews

Just Moms STL members offer mixed reviews for the daily newspaper covering the region, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Post-Dispatch remains the most comprehensive source for St. Louis news, despite dwindling pages and reporter layoffs in the last decade.

“Jacob Barker of the Post has spent a lot of time researching West Lake and attending community meetings, which gives him a good understanding of how the residents feel,” said Chapman. “His articles start out really strong and are factual, but in the end the businesses always seem to get the last word or quote in every article. By doing this it softens the message and makes it seem more pro-business.”

If there is an explanation for this, perhaps it’s because Barker is part of the Post-Dispatch’s business team, Just Moms STL says. He is not exclusively an environmental reporter, but covers the energy industry on the business side as well as the environment.

At one time, energy and environment were separate beats, but because of staff consolidations at the Post-Dispatch, they were combined. Current business editor, Roland Klose, said the merger of the beats happened before he arrived at the Post-Dispatch.

“If you have to combine beats, this one makes a lot of sense,” said Klose. “It’s good to have an environmental reporter who is comfortable looking at, and understanding, a company’s SEC filing. It’s good to have an energy reporter who understands the regulatory and consumer issues that affect a company’s bottom line. It makes for deeper, more authoritative coverage.”

Plenty to go around

Klose noted that there are plenty of environmental stories to go around at the Post-Dispatch – and reporters from different sections of the paper get in on the action.

“As for environmental coverage in general, we have other reporters who contribute,” explained Klose. “Todd Frankel, who has since joined the Washington Post, did important coverage of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways controversy last year.

“Jeremy Kohler, investigative reporter, did work on the remediation of the abandoned Northwest Plaza site. Virginia Young and Alex Stuckey cover regulatory and legislative issues from our Jeff City bureau. Freelancer Jack Suntrup did stories for my section on Coastal Energy’s tank farm near the Eleven Point River,” continued Klose.

“Tim Barker, who covers biotech for my team, also has done important environmental stories — from the rise of ‘superweeds’ to GMO labeling,” explained Klose. “Chuck Raasch, our D.C. reporter, has done work on the Monarch butterfly and Monsanto.”

All of these issues, from the use and abuse of Missouri rivers to endangered species and genetically modified organisms, might logically point to the need for a reporter focused and dedicated to the environmental beat. And not just at the Post-Dispatch, but also at radio and television stations.

“I think we definitely need more environmental reporters here,” said Chapman of Just Moms STL. “St. Louis has just so many environmental issues that the public needs to learn more about. Having dedicated beat reporters  would make it easier for the press to understand these issues.”

All the environmental issues here point to an overdue return of the Society of Professional Journalists to St. Louis holding another annual conference here and putting the region under the microscope.

After all, St. Louis has it all — from A to Z, from aluminum to zinc, with some lead, dioxin and mercury contamination sandwiched in between.


Author’s note:  Don Corrigan is a long-time journalism educator at Webster University in St. Louis and well-known weekly newspaper editor and writer for Webster-Kirkwood Times Inc. He is the author of Environmental Missouri, published in 2014, and he directs the Outdoor/Environmental Journalism Certificate at Webster University, which has brought him recognition from the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) and a distinguished achievement award from the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.   

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Ferguson – An Arab Spring moment

The Ferguson story was an Arab Spring moment when social media inspired social change. It rejuvenated the civil rights movement and started a new national conversation about race and policing.

In remarks to the Ethical Society in St. Louis on Oct. 25, GJR publisher William H. Freivogel looked back at the impact of social media on Ferguson.

I’ve been a reporter for almost 50 years, covering free speech, civil rights and the First Amendment most that time.  I’ve covered the U.S. Supreme Court, presidential campaigns, the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, police brutality in the Maplewood police department, dioxin contamination of Missouri and the successful effort to keep the St. Louis-St. Louis County school desegregation program alive.

But Ferguson is the biggest, most important story I’ve covered.

We may look back on Ferguson as the beginning of the rebirth of the civil rights movement.  We may also see it as America’s Arab Spring when it comes to social media setting the agenda and spurring political change.  It’s safe to say Ferguson would not have played out as it did had it not been for Twitter.

The subject of the Ferguson story is the most important story of this nation’s life – our effort to escape the sins of slavery and segregation and to perfect our imperfect experiment in equality.  The Justice Department’s report on Ferguson’s police and municipal court system demonstrates there are a lot of imperfections.  It found racist, unconstitutional police practice in Ferguson – practices that most likely exist in thousands of Fergusons around the nation.  Those other towns just haven’t been under the Department of Justice’s microscope.

The reform of the municipal courts in St. Louis County is also a reminder that practices fair in form – say the issuance of a bench warrant when a traffic violator fails to appear in court – can wreck poor people’s lives and turn our municipal holdovers into something approximating debtors’ prisons.

One of the main points I would like to make this morning is Ferguson is complicated, with a capital C.

It’s like many ethical questions that don’t have clear right and wrong answers.  Answers aren’t found rushing to conclusions based on ideology and group affiliation, divorced from facts.  Instead, judgments should be based on core values, historical context and a search for facts.

 Let me give you a dozen examples of how complicated Ferguson is:

1.   Social media broke almost all of the news about Ferguson but they also spread most of the myths and hate speech.

2.   Social media became a way for protesters to reach out to a national and international audience, but the national media often got the story wrong.

3.   At the same time that social media became a way to reach out for a broader audience, they also spread early, inaccurate rumors and stories spread, leading to unreliable statements from supposed eyewitnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown.

4.   The Hands Up, Don’t Shoot story quickly took hold in the nation and the world, but it turned out not to be substantiated.

5.   Although a myth, Hands Up Don’t Shoot became a powerful force for addressing a long, festering problem of white police officers shooting unarmed black suspects and of police allowing minor stops to escalate into life-or-death situations.

6.   The powerful call for civil rights that emerged from Ferguson often failed to recognize Officer Darren Wilson had civil rights too, most specifically a constitutional right of due process.

7.   Ferguson may have been the rebirth of the nation’s civil rights movement, but this isn’t our generation’s civil rights movement. This is a movement of young people who have little regard for the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons of the past.  The same is true across racial lines.  One of the most viewed tweeters about Ferguson, Sarah Kendzior, tweeted recently, “All around me people of my generation drowning, while boomers toss out useless life vests of their memories.”

8.   Ministers in St. Louis were among the most outspoken leaders in the protest, but they too may have gone overboard in chanting for police officers to “repent.”

9.   St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch inspired little confidence that the investigation of the shooting would be fair and complete; but McCulloch’s release of grand jury testimony and his inclusion of exculpatory evidence addressed the most common civil rights criticisms of the grand jury process.

10. Even though there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Wilson on criminal charges, that doesn’t mean Wilson handled the encounter with Brown properly; he didn’t.

11. Even though the killing of Michael Brown had nothing to do with municipal courts, the reforms in the municipal court system that followed are among the most important reforms that have grown out of Ferguson.

12. That said, even though the legislation passed by the Missouri Legislature last year to reform municipal courts was called the Ferguson reform bill, it has little impact on Ferguson and its greatest impact may be to put out of business the tiny municipalities with African-American leadership.

13. Just as the press was slow in recognizing the myth of Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, it also failed to recognize the magnitude of the unconstitutional policing in Ferguson until the Justice Department revealed it excruciating detail.

Ferguson – symbol for injustice

The question I’m asked most often is why Ferguson went in a few days during the summer of 2014 from being the obscure name of a quiet, residentially integrated suburb to a word known around the world as a symbol for everything wrong with America.

Here are some of the key factors that turned the shooting of Michael Brown from a small story that probably wouldn’t have made the national news or the local front page into a national crisis.

1)   Leaving Michael Brown dead on the street for four hours.  The Justice Department after-action assessment released this September stressed the role this four-hour period played in angering the crowd – although the report also pointed out that shots were fired at the police performing the forensic analysis and that the results of the forensics were crucial to the resolution to the case.

2)   The failure to immediately name the police officer who shot Brown. Did the press have a right to the name?  Probably not. But in Cincinnati officials have learned from past shooting like Ferguson and name the officer right away and release any video.

3)   The similar deaths of other unarmed black men at the hands of police, creating a critical mass of tragedies of this kind – Staten Island, Cleveland, North Charleston, Tulsa, Baltimore.

4)   Police with dogs, reminiscent of Bull Connor.  The Justice Department after action report stressed the role of dogs in angering demonstrators and urged that police departments not use dogs in crowd control.

5)   Police in military gear with military vehicles and red lasers pointed at protesters’ chests.

6)   Failure to respect the First Amendment rights of citizens and journalists.  Police tried to ban night-time protests, tried to force protesters to keep walking, overused tear gas and arrested reporters, hassling and threatening others.

7)   A whirlwind of social media, cable and national and local media, often failing to check out facts before they were tweeted or reported to the nation. #ferguson flew by on the screen faster than it could be read – and far faster than a community or nation could comprehend.

8)   Most importantly, Ferguson reminded us we haven’t solved many of the racial problems we hoped we had gotten past.  Mike Brown’s high school was broken and unaccredited.  He lived in a segregated housing project.  And the town of Ferguson was engaged in racist policing.

Violating the First Amendment

Many of the violations of constitutional rights occurred in the couple of days after Brown’s shooting. Five days after the shooting, Gregory Magarian, constitutional law expert at Washington University law school put it this way in a story for St. Louis Public Radio: “Police and officials in Ferguson have declared war on the First Amendment. Since Sunday’s police shooting of an unarmed student, Michael Brown, local officials and law enforcement have blatantly violated three core First Amendment principles: our right to engage in peaceful political protest, the importance of open government; and the freedom of the press. In the space of one evening, police in Ferguson conducted a master class in destroying the freedom of the press.”

Reporters from the Washington Post and Huffington Post had been arrested in a McDonald’s restaurant when they did not quickly obey a police order to leave.  St. Louis alderman Antonio French, whose blogs from the protests have been journalistic, was arrested for not leaving a protest that had been declared an illegal assembly. And police fired tear gas close to an Al Jazeera America crew setting up for a report.

PEN America released a report in October documenting 52 instances of infringement of journalists’ rights, including 21 arrests. The other instances of interference included 13 incidents of journalists threatened with guns or bodily harm, 7 who faced tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds, and 11 instances where police obstructed reporters. PEN noted freedom of expression and the press are not just rights guaranteed by the First Amendment but universal rights guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The main abuses of the rights of protesters and the press were:

1)    Trying to enforce a rule that required protesters to keep moving instead of stopping to assemble – the so-called 5 second rule.   A federal court ruled that policy unconstitutional after a suit by the local ACLU.

2)    Overuse of tear gas.  A federal court ruled police did not follow strict protocols for when tear gas is appropriate, failing to give proper warnings and failing to consider whether the crowd had ways of escaping the gas.

3)    Threatening to arrest reporters and demonstrators who recorded the officers’ actions. Police don’t have the authority to make that threat.  It is uniformly improper for police to stop photography, tell journalists to turn off their cameras or try to make journalists erase photographs.  The public is entitled to see with its own eyes, through media photography, whatever is happening.

Press’ Mistakes

I’ve dwelled so far on the mistakes made by law enforcement.  But there also were mistakes by the media – both traditional and social.  Here are a few examples:

–      First example: Fox misreported Brown had broken Officer Wilson’s eye socket.

–       Second example: Ferguson was portrayed as a symbol of segregation and white flight – a ring of fire around St. Louis, the New York Times said – when Ferguson actually is one of the most residentially integrated suburbs in an otherwise residentially segregated St. Louis area.

–       Third example: The New York Times committed journalistic malpractice by reporting the name of the street where Darren Wilson had lived and then refused to admit to the ethical breach.

–       Fourth example: ProPublica published an influential data analysis concluding young African American men were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts in the past three years.


 Most of the mainstream media picked up the report as gospel.  Few paid attention to the work of Peter Moskos, a criminologist at John Jay, pointing out the disparity was so large partly because of the way ProPublica sliced the data.

Looking at the bigger, 15-year picture, Moskos found black youths were about 6 times more likely than white youths to be killed by officers – still too many but far from the 21 times.


–       Fifth example:  When the press showed up at McCulloch’s press conference the night of the decision not to indict, reporters put on the most pitiful performance I have ever seen.  Three reporters asked the same unanswerable question – what was the vote of the grand jurors.  One reporter began his question with a polemic about the law not protecting African-Americans. Reporters were offended McCulloch blamed social media for distortions, but the DOJ report released in March proved him right.

–       Example 6:  I had a personal window into one of the press’ failures.  I reported for St. Louis Public Radio that McCulloch had changed the legal instructions to the grand jury at the last minute – making it easier to indict Wilson, not harder – MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell picked up the story, distorted what had happened, injected factual inaccuracies and claimed it was a reason for a new grand jury.  O’Donnell’s distortions were picked up as gospel by a liberal echo chamber.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot

Overall, much of the national media followed a narrative trail that prejudged Wilson as guilty based on initial, unreliable eyewitness accounts to the media.  The story of the gentle giant on his way to college who had his hands up in a don’t shoot surrender mode and who was supposedly shot in the back by police – didn’t hold up under scrutiny.

The same day the Justice Dept. issued its stinging indictment of the unconstitutional police practices in Ferguson, it issued another report effectively clearing Wilson in Brown’s death.  It turned out not one witness had heard Brown say “don’t shoot” and none of the 22 witnesses who said Brown’s hands were up when he was shot was found to be credible.  Eight admitted lying, another admitted hallucinating. Others said they just wanted to be part of something important for the neighborhood.


The DOJ report described the way in which the media contributed to the creation of this myth. The story of the Jefferson County contractors is a good illustration:

A month after Wilson killed Brown, CNN broadcast what looked like a blockbuster “exclusive.” It was a videotape of two white construction workers who said Brown had his hands up when killed.  CNN reported the video was taken in “the final moments of the shooting.” One worker even gestures with his hands up.


At MSNBC, Chris Hayes carried a long report and Lawrence O’Donnell followed up. Vox had a story as did the Washington Post. Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept included an account of the workers in its summary of evidence against Wilson entitled, “Down Outright Murder.”

But instead of a game changer or evidence of a crime – as Jeffrey Toobin put it on CNN – the contractors turned out to be two of a score of unreliable witnesses and the clearest example of how the media helped create the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” myth.

The video was not taken in “the final moments of the shooting,” as CNN reported.  Nor were the accounts of the contractors credible.

The man who thrusts his hands in the air told a TV station that three officers were at the scene when only Wilson was there. That was the tipoff error that convinced the Justice Department the men hadn’t seen what they claimed.  The other tipoffs were that the men’s view of the end of the encounter was blocked by a building and no one else heard Brown say over and over, OK OK OK.

It turned out that the person who shot the video of the contractors put down the Ipad and it picked up the conversation of people talking right after the incident who claimed to have seen the shooting but said things that couldn’t have happened.

The Washington Post rated the hands up don’t shoot story as 4 Pinocchios.

St. Louis’ Arab spring

Up to this point I’ve mostly focused on the mainstream media.  But that’s misleading because of the enormous impact of the social media.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say social media – Twitter in particular – had a greater impact on the public’s view of what happened in Ferguson than did the mainstream media.

Social media had many positive and negative impacts:

On the positive side:

–       Social media provided a way protesters could get their message out and not feel they were limited to what the traditional media would report.

–       Social media enabled the protesters to attract the attention of the national and international media, making Ferguson and all of the other ensuing police shootings of black men into big stories instead of small local ones.

–       Social media became the means by which a new generation of civil rights leaders began organizing and assuming power.

On the other hand:

–       Social media and citizen journalists created a chaotic scene where police couldn’t tell who was a reporter and who was a demonstrator.

–       The sheer volume of the tweets added to the chaos. Five days after the shooting of Michael Brown. Twitter users had shared 3,648,032 and another 3.5 million on the 6th day.

–       The rumors about Hands up don’t shoot were magnified by social media.

–       Although the main impact of social media was to promote the protesters’ cause, there were also many racist posting on sites like yic yack.


Anonymous was one of the most poisonous of the online media – misidentifying the shooter and then claiming to name the officers in the offending department – but naming the police in Florissant, not Ferguson.

Livestreaming video became especially important, but once again could distort.  Bassem Masri was identified by the Sunday New York Times as one of the citizen journalists most prominent in recording what happened in Ferguson.

One would think livestreaming would be the most objective way of reporting on a story – live video can’t lie – right?  The problem is the Masri and other live streamers would inject their own interpretations and sometimes diatribes.

 In one of Masri’s livestreams he is recording a shoving match at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen last winter when the board considered a civilian review board.  On the video someone is shouting a stream of profane, racist invective at Jeff Roorda, a white police union official.  It turns out the invective was coming from Masri himself.  Some citizen journalist.


In Baltimore lst spring, there was a replay of the way false rumors can spread like wildfire from angry demonstrators, careless reporters and livestreamers. Mike Tobin, a Fox correspondent broadcast having seen a police officer shoot a fleeing black man in the back.  Hannah Allam, a seasoned war correspondent, also sent out misleading tweets of what she thought she saw. Then a livestreamer, recording a chaotic Baltimore street scene, began repeating over and over on Ustream.

Baltimore police shot a man in the back and they’re macing people – Tweet it out.



Yet the police didn’t shoot anyone and the alleged victim in dire condition wasn’t shot.


Just because Hands Up Don’t Shoot was a myth does not mean there is no problem with police shooting unarmed blacks and Hispanics.

The killing of Michael Brown shouldn’t have happened.  Darren Wilson didn’t commit a crime, but he didn’t use the best police tactics either.  Many of the cases where black citizens are killed by white police officers are the result of officers confronting citizens over minor infractions and allowing the situation to escalate.

Wilson should have called for backup before confronting Brown, police experts say.  The Cleveland officers who killed the young man with the starter pistol drove up too aggressively and closely.  The confrontation with Eric Garner did not have to play out as it did.  The same can be said of the shooting in North Charleston, the confrontation with Sandra Bland and the Texas swimming pool confrontation.

I don’t believe I’m overstating things when I say Ferguson has helped revitalize the civil rights movement nationally, has focused new attention on the need for better training and discipline of police and has reminded the nation and the community that they haven’t come close to solving the problems of race.

–       The recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing are promoting more training on community policing and de-escalation and more cameras on squad cars and officers.

–       The Justice Department’s detailed studies of the way law enforcement responded to the disturbances in Ferguson provides lessons for police – don’t use police dogs to control demonstrators, don’t use military equipment to shine laser sites on demonstrators, don’t use flashbangs, warn protesters before using tear gas and allow them a way to escape it and finally have a unified command structure.

–       The Justice Department’s review of St. Louis County policing also makes important recommendations for better training in de-escalation and community policing.

–       And the Ferguson Commission’s 100-plus recommendations provide a challenge to the St. Louis community to improve more than just policing but also housing and education.

No, we’re not in a post-racial society.  I don’t think any of us here will experience such a society.  The challenges that face us in St. Louis and as a nation are monumental.  The recommendations of the Ferguson Commission aren’t suddenly going to provide students with an equal education.  Brown v. Board outlawed separate but equal education 60 years ago, but the students in Normandy and so many other school districts are attending separate but unequal schools today.  Similarly, St. Louis remains one of the five or six most racially segregated places in the country when it comes to housing.  Remedying that is the work of decades, not years.

But there is quite a bit of evidence that one very good thing that grew out of Michael Brown’s tragic death is that St. Louis and the nation have woken up and recommitted themselves to equality and justice.

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Community newspapers surviving – and thriving

Twenty-nine years ago the Woodstock Sentinel, the daily newspaper in Woodstock, Illinois, merged with another daily, leaving the city of 25,000 an hour north of Chicago without its own newspaper.

At the time, Cheryl Wormley and a friend worked for the local school district. Neither had any journalism experience.

Still, they quit their jobs, took second mortgages on their homes and launched a weekly newspaper, the Woodstock Independent, in April 1987.

“We were accidental journalists,’’ said Wormley, the paper’s publisher and co-owner. “We had had a daily here for 100-plus years and felt we needed our own newspaper. The door opened and we walked through it.’’

For its coverage of the community in 2014, the Independent won the David Kramer Memorial Trophy from the Illinois Press Association this year after receiving the most top awards in its category. For the past several years, the IPA’s winners have contained numerous entries from the Independent

Where a daily failed, a weekly succeeded. And across the country, the story of the Independent follows a pattern repeated by community weekly newspapers: They not only survive but thrive.

While the constant retreat of large daily newspapers in coverage, content and circulation creates a belief that newspapers no longer matter and journalism is dying, community papers continue to be a solid presence in their communities.

“Community papers are healthier than metro papers,’’ said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. “They have a narrower mission, to provide local news and in most markets no one is challenging that franchise. A greater share of them (38 percent) are independently owned (compared to 20 percent of dailies.) In most cases their staffs have networks that reach broadly and deeply into the communities they serve.’’

Cross said the problems with large newspapers tarnish the image of the industry overall. “Many in the general public and even in the media business believe newspapers are in worse shape than they are. That has probably made more difficult community papers’ selling job.’’

In a 2010 study, the National Newspaper Association found that the 7,000-plus non-daily newspapers in the United States have a combined circulation of 65.5 million compared to 45.5 million for the then-1,408 daily newspapers. About 70 percent of those non-dailies have a circulation under 15,000.

Wormley’s paper has 3,000 subscribers. Combining that with 5,000 connections through Facebook and a monthly newspaper published for a nearby town, total market penetration is close to 16,000, she said. In 2005 she and her son bought out the other original co-owner.

Most of her staff lives in the community, she said. “We’re a variety of ages,’’ Wormley said, noting that a longtime columnist, Don Peasley, known as Mr. Woodstock, had written and photographed his community for newspapers since 1947. He worked for the Independent up to his death last year at the age of 90.

Wormley credits the Independent’s first hire, a journalism graduate with two years’ experience at a weekly, as guiding the neophytes through the early years. “She was our first reporter/editor,’’ Wormley said. “She held our toes to the fire. She was strict about attribution and accuracy.’’

Also, the timing of the enterprise helped, she said. “We started this just when computers were starting. We were ahead of the curve because we didn’t have to transition from any other system or retrain people.’’

She joined NNA, the Illinois Press Association and the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. “I’ve found newspaper people, at least at this level, to be very sharing. We learned a lot from others.’’ Over the years, the Independent’s editorial voice has grown stronger, she said. “I think if you ask readers, they would say we’ve established ourselves as a paper for the people.’’

Tonda Rush, executive director of NNA, said daily newspapers sometimes falsely sound the death knell for all of journalism. “It’s so frustrating to have readers believe we’ve died or are dying, particularly when they read it in newspapers,’’ Rush said.

“Community newspapers are not as visible on the national scene,’’ Rush said. “But come on, guys, don’t take us down with you.’’

Rush outlined why community papers have not felt the same financial woes as have dailies, especially after the recession that began eight years ago:

  • Large group-owned newspapers faced a credit crunch for significant debt. For the most part, community family-owned or independent papers do not get that heavily into debt, she said. “Right off the bat the recession was different for our guys.”
  • Revenue streams that large papers relied on dried up, but did not have the same effect on small papers. “They tend not to have a lot of department-store advertising. Their retail is all local or mom-and-pop inserts.’’
  • Classified advertising, which found a new and free home on such Internet sites as craigslist, does not contribute as much to the revenue picture for small papers, Rush said. “Weeklies tend to run garage sale ads,’’ she said. “The digital disruption was not as devastating a blow as it was to larger papers.’’
  • The federal bailout for the big-three auto makers caused car dealerships to close or consolidate. “That had a big effect on large papers,’’ she said. “Not so much for small ones.’’
  • Consolidation of national banks also cut advertising from large papers. “In small communities the bank is often locally owned.’’

This is not to say community papers went through the recession untouched. “It was a good time to have local staffers who did not fight cost controls to keep their papers going,’’ she said. In 2013 publishers started to see the upturn, Rush said. Their papers also had to deal with a new form of competition.

The downsizing of large papers caused many unemployed journalists to hit the Internet to provide local news, sometimes competing with community papers. “No one found a model to make digital journalism operations self-sustaining,’’ Rush said. “They tend to last as long as the severance check does.’’

One looming issue for community papers, whose subscribers for the most part receive their paper through the mail, is the ongoing financial troubles of the U.S. Postal Service. “More and more the postal service is having trouble getting papers delivered on time. Weekly papers are sometimes arriving bundled with three or four issues at once. We’ve been lobbying Congress to make this a legislative issue to address.’’

NNA postal consultant Max Heath said community newspapers provide a valuable avenue of commerce for local businesses. “There is still a good bit of auto and real estate still in community newspapers, especially when compared to metros,’’ he said.

Bill Miller Jr., general manager of the Washington Missourian, represents the third generation of his family to run the twice-weekly publication. His grandfather, James Miller Sr., started the paper and his father, Bill Miller Sr., serves as editor and publisher.

The Missourian Publishing Co. includes three other weekly papers, a magazine and a commercial print operation. “We have about 120 employees with part-timers,’’ Miller said.

About an hour outside of St. Louis, the coverage area has seen significant growth, he said. That allowed the company to expand in 2008 and purchase a new press. Still, when it comes to what goes in the paper, the Millers point to their founder. “We run a lot of pictures and cover local events,’’ Miller said. “It’s similar to how my grandfather did it. The formula has not changed much. We’re still a viable part of the community.’’

While some chain-owned newspapers define themselves as hyper-local, Miller refuses to use that term. “We just cover the community,’’ he said. “That perception of going local comes from dailies. It’s what we’ve always done.’’

A few years ago the local school district surveyed people on how they learned news about their schools. “Over 90 percent said it was by reading the Missourian,’’ Miller said.

The Missourian still employs proofreaders and Miller’s father, Bill Miller Sr., 85, checks every press run. “We’re doing things we used to do 20, 30 years ago because we were doing it right then and it still works,’’ Miller said.

Tim Lyke, publisher of the Ripon Commonwealth Press in Wisconsin, also follows a trusted family formula. He came home in 1990 when his dad called to see if he wanted to join the family business. His parents purchased the Press in 1962.

He takes exception to the gloom and doom stories about newspapers and journalism. “The large papers forgot what brought us to the dance,’’ Lyke said. “Let’s pay attention to the product. They are so focused on cutting costs they do so at the expense of readers by providing less product. That causes them to lose even more readers, who find there is not enough content to make it worth their while. It’s a death spiral, but we are not part of it.”

His reporters shoot their own photos for stories and his editor writes a weekly column. He and the editor update the paper’s Facebook page each day; the Press just launched its first Twitter account. “We are aggressive in providing news as it happens,’’ he said. “The editor and I are each in a service club.’’

Paid subscribers receive an electronic newsletter the day before publication. “It gives them excerpts of stories before it hits the streets,’’ he said. The paper still prints weddings and engagements free of charge.

“Those are reasons people buy the paper,’’ Lyke said. “It’s their keepsake.’’

Bill Miller Sr., editor and publisher of the Missourian, said that sort of coverage sneered at by large dailies will drive the growth of community papers. “People are starting to realize we are the only ones who cover local news,’’ Miller Sr., said. “Patch and some of the web upstarts are not surviving.’’

At the Eldon Advertiser in Eldon, Missouri, the Vernon family has owned the weekly since 1948. Publisher Trevor Vernon represents the third generation of his family to run the Advertiser. Vernon Publishing owns five weekly newspapers in Missouri. “We like to say we only print stories with local ties,’’ Vernon said. “We also live by ‘everyone has a story’. At times we have randomly sent reporters to sit in restaurants, street corners and had them talk to the next person who came by.’’

About 10 years ago the Advertiser tried a website where all content was available. “Our subscriptions took a hit and people were telling us, ‘Thank you for putting all your content on the web for free, now I don’t have to buy a newspaper.’ We stopped doing that immediately. We now put the first paragraph for free and subscribers can read the rest,’’ Vernon said.

The Vernons illustrate one of the aspects of family owned community weeklies: working with family. Vernon works with his father, who is president of the company and publisher of three of the weeklies; his grandfather, though retired, goes to the post office and bank every day for the office.

“My father and I have a great relationship,’’ Vernon said. “At times employees say we resemble American Choppers, without throwing things at each other. We never take it personally and normally good ideas come from our conversations. We are both passionate about the communities we serve.’

For community newspapers without a family lineage, a new business model is finding success in eastern Iowa. The Cascade Pioneer, a community fixture since 1876, is owned by the Woodward Company. Pioneer Publisher Mary Ungs-Sogaard described Woodward as ‘the anti-Gannett’ — a company that is majority-owned, about 97 percent, by its 500 media employees. “It’s participatory management,’’ she said.

That arrangement allows for a number of efficiencies, such as sharing editors and reporters among her two papers. Ungs-Sogaard also serves as publisher of another Woodward-owned weekly paper in nearby Dyersville. Recently the Pioneer took home a number of awards from the Iowa Press Association’s annual contest for 2014 coverage. “Sharing resources makes it doable,’’ Ungs-Sogaard said. “The ROI on the place is tremendous and that is not typical.’’

During the recession, the company did not lay anyone off, she said. “We didn’t always hire at the full-time level or replace people, but we found other ways to save money.’’

Employees of a Woodward-owned newspaper – the company has five weekly newspapers along with a print division, six radio stations and the daily newspaper in Dubuque – become vested after five years. They accrue stock; shares have shown a consistent growth rate over the years.

“It’s false to say newspapers can’t make a profit,’’ Ungs-Sogaard said. “We have open- book management and everybody has a stake in making the business profitable.’’

Cascade and Dyersville share news and sports editors and aspects of production. Between the two papers 25 people are employed.

Publishers and newspaper association directors repeatedly said the health of community papers reflects that of their community. Doug Crews, executive director of the Missouri Press Association, said he is worried more about the future of Main Street America than he is about weekly newspapers.

“As more everyday purchases are made via the Internet, community brick-and-mortar businesses will come under more pressure,’’ Crews said. “Local communities’ tax bases will suffer and city and county services will suffer. Main Street businesses in some towns are being challenged economically today.’’

If Main Street is doing well in a community, generally so is the local newspaper, he said. “Weeklies have always been able to weather the economic storms better than larger newspapers. The smaller newspapers simply have learned to operate in a smaller universe, so their highs are not as high, their lows are not as low, as larger newspapers.” Plus, despite what has been reported, people want to read an ink-on-paper edition, Crews said. “They still want to clip out the photos and local news items and the cheese cake recipe – refrigerator journalism.’’

Weekly newspapers need to pay better attention to their penetration rates rather than just circulation, Cross said. “This data will be used against them by one of the industry’s main adversaries, local governments that are asking state legislatures to repeal or reduce the requirements for public-notice advertising.” Such advertising, known as legals, accounts for about 8 percent of a community newspaper’s revenue, but can go as high as 20 percent, Cross said.

Another problem for rural newspapers is their inability to pay salaries that attract qualified journalists, Cross said. “When we surveyed rural weeklies eight years ago, the average starting salary for a beginning reporter with a bachelor’s degree was only $21,000.’’

He also mentioned the connection to a strong business community. “Many rural communities are in economic distress or are losing population to the extent they can no longer support a newspaper focused only on their community.’’

Cannon Falls, Minnesota, population 4,000, has seen its downtown suffer as people choose to take the 35-mile drive north to the Twin Cities to spend their money. Mike Dalton, editor of the Cannon Falls Beacon, said the paper has lost about 1,000 subscribers in the last 10 to 15 years. “I wish I knew why,’’ Dalton said. “We’ve also seen our average weekly page count drop from 22 or 24 down to 18. Part of that happened when we started doing a better job paginating, but at the same time advertising went down so we cut down on our news coverage.’’

Some of the other changes for the Beacon include dropping some coverage of events that have been staples for the past couple of decades and reducing picture sizes. “We don’t cover as many meetings as we used to; we used to hit all the surrounding townships but we’ve gone to just the three or four larger ones,’’ Dalton said.

Dalton is also a director with the Minnesota Press Association. “Weekly newspapers statewide are struggling right now. Our Main Streets are drying up, which means we don’t always have a strong ad base. But at the same time, I haven’t heard too many publishers/editors who are giving up. The consensus seems to be that community newspapers will survive, while some of the mid-size dailies might not make it,’’ he said.

Local coverage that cannot be found elsewhere remains the golden ticket for readership. “There will always be a market for a newspaper like ours, where you can learn about the bake sale and who got arrested in the same issue,’’ Dalton added.

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Media surge to cover Trump’s media surge

The media have turned their attention to Donald Trump in recent weeks, and now columnists are in turn opining on Trump coverage itself.

On the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, political scientist John Sides wrote in his article “Why is Trump surging? Blame the media,” that “the answer is simple: Trump is surging in the polls because the news media has consistently focused on him since he announced his candidacy on June 16.” This attention alone has propped up his poll numbers, Sides says, but the “discovery phase” won’t last. The next phase will be “scrutiny from the news media, aided and abetted by the competing candidates.”

Last week, the Huffington Post announced it would cease covering Trump’s sideshow as politics, instead filing it under entertainment. “We won’t take the bait,” they said. Then Trump took a swipe at John McCain’s war hero status. The media cacophony became louder. In response, Huffington Post compiled a list of 162 people asked to comment on Trump’s latest bait.

Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert took a different tack, explaining “How the media missed the Donald Trump surge.” Boehlert says Trump’s ascension should surprise no one who’s paid attention to the radicalization of the right in recent years. “Yet during most of that span, the D.C. media stoically pretended the GOP hadn’t taken an ugly, radical turn. And that’s why so many seem baffled by Trump’s rise.”

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The ‘best’ and ‘worst’ of KTVI Tim Horton’s coverage

St. Louis television viewers watching KTVI Channel 2 were recently given two sharply different versions of the opening of the area’s first full-sized Tim Horton’s in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood.

Covering the opening of the first location of the chain is appropriate, but in terms of good journalism, Channel 2 provided “the best of times” and the “worst of times” with its coverage.

Horton’s is a Canadian chain that sells coffee and pastries and other food items. Staking a St. Louis area foothold with its first store at 7468 Manchester Road in Maplewood was a legitimate news story.

On the night of June 22, during the 9 p.m. newscast, Channel 2 anchor Mandy Murphey did a solid story on the event. She asked questions about Horton’s business strategy and how the company planned to compete against organizations like the St. Louis Bread Company. Murphey offered a thorough report.

But a day later, Channel 2’s Lisa Hart offered what seemed to be a commercial for Horton’s during the 11 a.m. newscast. Her first question to the Tim Horton’s representative Tina Bryan was “What makes Tim Horton’s so great?” Journalism?  No. There are many people who don’t think it is such a great brand at all. But the softball question let Bryan do a full-blown commercial.

Bryan took advantage of Hart’s questions with lines like: “There are a lot of things that make Tim Horton’s special,” and “We have such a wide breadth of menu items.”

At one point, Hart said that she loved the donut she was eating. Hart acted more like a Tim Horton’s cheerleader than a reporter. She said at another point, “You’ve got everything. It’s so great.”

While she did ask about Horton’s future plans (opening 40 stores in the St. Louis area), she failed to follow up with any questions of depth or corporate strategy such as “Why St. Louis?” or “Why 40 locations?” There were no questions posed about other competition in the marketplace from outlets like Dunkin Donuts or Starbuck’s.

Hart could have asked questions about obesity and the calorie-heavy ingredients contained in Horton’s products, but she didn’t.

While covering the Horton’s opening was newsworthy, what Hart did was not “news.” Her report appeared during what’s supposed to be a news show. But it was more appropriate for a program filled with feature content like “Show Me St. Louis,” the weekday, 10 a.m. offering on Channel 5. People often pay for their stories on “Show Me St. Louis,” and that fact is disclosed in a general way at the end of each show. “Show Me St. Louis” is a feature program not a newscast.

Channel 2 news managers have an opportunity for improvement among their reporters by comparing the two stories. Murphey showed how to do it right as a journalist. Hart showed how to do it wrong, making a commercial pitch during what’s supposed to be a newscast.

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Media ‘war’ in Buenos Aires

The media specialist at the United States Embassy in Buenos Aires was engaged in a typical diplomatic exercise: Placing an opinion article from the newly arrived U.S. ambassador in the local media as a way to greet and thank the host country.

The messages are usually the same. They go something like: “I am enthusiastic about this assignment, love the country and am impressed by its people.” In Argentina, though, nothing is typical. Amid what everyone calls a “guerra,” or war, between media and the current administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the location of such a benign article is fraught with danger.

Give it to the outright opposition media – in this case the giant media conglomerate Clarín – and the government would likely read it as a political affront. Hand it to the pro-government end of the media spectrum and the U.S. might look like a lapdog.

In this case, the Embassy chose La Nación, a large newspaper that is critical of the current government, but strives to be an independent voice that openly looks to respected U.S. newspapers as a model.

There was another layer to the decision. The U.S. and Argentina are in their own extended period of diplomatic dysfunctionality. While not outright confrontation, such as between the U.S. and Venezuela, the relationship still is far from warm. For instance, newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Noah B. Mamet was not given a presidential reception. The newly arrived ambassador from China was. Point taken.

U.S. Embassy political staff openly call the relationship “difficult” and refer to President Kirchner’s style as one of “confrontation.” The Argentine government has made the gringos to the north a regular scapegoat for myriad problems. The president went so far at to suggest last October that if someone were to do her harm, Argentines should look to the north – meaning Washington – for the likely culprit.

One local newspaper called it an “unprecedented escalation of tensions” between the two countries since 2003 when the Kirchners rose to power (Cristina’s husband Nestor was elected in 2003). The comment revealed not only what critics call the self-obsessed nature of the Argentine president, but also a warped perspective of the importance of this country, which seems a long way from any of America’s strategic needs or interests.

One might reasonably ask: Does the relationship matter? There was a time when the issues that concern the U.S. and those that concern Argentina were so far apart that a healthy relationship seemed not only a distant prospect, but almost irrelevant.

When the Argentine economy collapsed in debt it could not pay in 2001, the U.S. and the rest of the world folded their arms and watched the train wreck. When the U.S. suffered its own economic meltdown in 2008, Argentina – unlike Europe – scarcely noticed, buoyed by strong commodity prices for its key exports. Both periods seemed reflective of what historians here see as a long history of the two countries always seeming to be a bit out of sync with each other, rarely arriving at moments of mutual interest.

However, a dramatic, made-for-Hollywood political scandal has changed the nature of the relationship. The death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman earlier this year, days after he leveled explosive charges against the president and others, has not only put the country in conspiracy hyper-drive, which takes some doing in a culture that has made an art form of that, but brought the country into a nexus of issues that preoccupy Washington, namely, the Middle East and terrorism.

Those hot button issues came together in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85. Nisman claimed Kirchner was involved in a devil’s bargain to shield Iranian officials charged with the bombing from prosecution in exchange for oil. A scriptwriter could not have penned the next scene any better or more tragically. In the days before he was to appear before Congress to explain his allegations, Nisman told Clarín: “I might get out of this dead.”

The day before his appearance before Congress, Nisman’s body was found with a gunshot to the head in his Buenos Aires apartment. Was it suicide, induced suicide or murder? Nisman’s ex-wife, a judge, concluded after her own private investigation of his death that it was not suicide. Nisman’s original case against the President seems to have run its course in the Argentina justice system, with the highest criminal court refusing to hear it.

The Casa Rosada has denied the Nisman allegations and following Nisman’s death has spun suspicions about his personal life and motivations, rather than bringing any clarity to the cause of his death. The media continue to press the case, with rarely a day going by when the Nisman story does not populate the front pages and broadcast media.

But as often as not, the case seems just the latest ground on which the media and the Kirchner administration chew up each other.

The sour relationship between media and the administration is centered in the open warfare between Clarín and the Kirchners. The relationship ruptured in 2008 when Clarín sided with the farmers in their opposition to the administration’s tax plans. In 2009 the government introduced a media law that took aim at Clarín and its dominance in a range of media platforms and markets.

“It was probably the right thing to increase competition and provide space for smaller players,” said a veteran foreign correspondent who has worked here for more than a decade. “But as usual in Argentina, the context of it happening in a war with Clarín made it suspect. Right things done in the wrong context can undermine the purpose and the acceptance of a good law.” In other words, the law looked like an act of revenge.

The Argentines will elect a new president in October and U.S. officials are optimistic.  “There will be a sea change in politics that the U.S. will welcome,” said an Embassy official.

However, it remains to be seen if the media “war” will undergo its own sea change, away from perennial conflict and toward a relationship with government that will better serve the public rather than confuse and deepen its hardened sense of cynicism.

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Hollywood shines its spotlight on journalism

There’s a long history of journalists on the silver screen, from classics “Citizen Kane,” and “All the King’s Men,” to satires such as “Network,” to broader comedies such as “Groundhog Day,” and “Bruce Almighty.” Rarer are depictions of newshounds as neither heroes nor empty suits.

In the past year, three films have offered takes on the profession that alternately recreate or subvert these archetypes, or do away with them entirely: critic’s darling “Birdman,” edgy “Nightcrawler” and the farcical “Interview.” How does each cast the media of today? 

A journalist abroad

The goofiest and most simplistic of the crop, “The Interview,” holds journalism in the highest esteem. True, stars Seth Rogen and James Franco play a lowly entertainment news team that makes its nut on celebrity gossip. In two early cameos, Eminem and Rob Lowe come out as gay and bald, respectively, on their talk show. But show-runner Aaron Rapoport (Rogen)’s dissatisfaction with this state of affairs is what pushes him, and his host, Dave Skylark (Franco), to take on an interview with Kim Jung-un.

Early on, Rapoport runs into an old Columbia Journalism School peer, now a “60 Minutes” employee, who jokes that he could never make it in the world of real news. His pride is wounded. Skylark also desires professional esteem. So this respect for legitimate journalism is actually the impetus for the film’s absurd events.

Late in the plot, when the bumbling stars are deep in North Korea and have ditched the CIA’s assassination plan, they instead decide to use Skylark’s emotional manipulation skills – those same that bring celebs to tears in one-on-ones – to make Kim Jung-un cry in front of his nation. They believe the media broadcast would have a truly revolutionary power. It would pull back the curtain on the supposed superhuman leader, instead of merely leading to another succession, as his assassination would.

This is faith in journalism as world-shaker, as mightier than the sword (and of course, the film had serious real-world repercussions in the Sony email hack and subsequent pull from theaters). While “The Interview” might seem to mock today’s vapid media, there is actually a kind of golden-age reverence below the surface.

Critically panned, “The Interview” actually bears some similarities to the lauded “Birdman.” Both feature popular stars low on credibility who seek legitimacy by impressing prestige media.

A journalist on Broadway

This year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, “Birdman,” looks at the conflicted, symbiotic relationship between the entertainment industry and the press. At the center of it, Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thompson, a former comic book movie star, attempts to stage a career revival. He stars in, directs and produces his own Broadway adaption of a Raymond Carver work. His fate lies with one reviewer, the New York Times’ prickly theater critic, who reviles what he represents. He doesn’t care much for critics, either.

In a telling detail, his dressing room mirror bears a notecard with the quote, “A thing is a thing not what is said of that thing [sic].”

But Thompson is in search of validation, and thinks it must come from the old-guard media. He checks the paper (the print version, no less) for reviews after each preview and ultimately, opening night. He gets in a fistfight with his preening co-star Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who usurps his front page early in the film.

The media do not come off too well here. The Times critic threatens to kill his play before she’s even seen it. Likewise, at an early press conference held in Thompson’s dressing room, one scribe inquires if a ludicrous rumor – that he injects pig semen in his face – is true. They care little about the content of his production or its performances.

There are other sources of hollow validation, though, as the film reveals. Thompson’s daughter/assistant Sam, played by Emma Stone, gives the actors a younger outsider’s view. In one notable scene, Thompson gets locked out of the theater in his underwear during a performance and has to hightail back to the front entrance though throngs of New York pedestrians. Later, his daughter tells him his jaunt is trending on Twitter, gaining 350,000 views in under an hour. “Believe it or not, this is power,” she tells him. She realizes new media can undercut the gatekeeping role of old.

But the very next scene? Thompson has a nasty confrontation with the Times critic in a bar. “I’m gonna destroy your play,” she growls. “This is the theater. You don’t get to come in here and write, direct and star in your own propaganda piece without coming through me first.” She might as well have roared, “I am the gatekeeper.”

Reading her notepad, he says her criticisms are “just labels” – there’s nothing about technique or intention, no substance at all. “Just a bunch of crappy opinions.”

Thompson and his co-stars are wrapped up in the public’s adoration, though. While their future may hinge on the old, new media can instantly gratify them. In reference to a sort of excitement-induced wardrobe malfunction, Shiner shoots back at Thompson, mid-fight: “I’m a nobody? My massive hard-on got 50,000 views.”

“Birdman” is fascinated with the real-time interaction, or distraction, of social media in the characters’ lives. While its actors-playing-actors are somewhat self-aware of their adulation seeking – Shiner tells Thompson “popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige, my friend” – here validation is crunched down to numbers. Obsessed with enumeration, “Birdman” seems to be critiquing both the media’s and the public’s infatuation with views, shares and likes.

A broadside against journalists?

“Nightcrawler” is the most sustained look at the news media of the three, taking “If it bleeds, it leads” to an insane length. It’s a reflection on the sometimes ghoulish focus of local news – that is, its devotion to crime, accidents and fires. The audience’s desire for disaster is met by a perfect sociopath, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom.

Rather than seeking prestige, as is the case with Skylark and Thompson, he just wants a few dollars in his pocket. Nightcrawling, or stringing after police scanner incidents with camera in tow, is his means to that end.

Not only is he focused on the grisly aspects of news – where, after all, he’s just responding to the wants of the system, and his news director – he is entirely amoral about attaining sensational video.

Bloom enters crime scene homes, moves injured bodies for better framing and withholds critical information from police to stage a shot of the murderers’ apprehension-turned-shootout and car chase. He literally has blood on his hands.

He is responding to the advice of his news director, Nina Romina (Renee Russo). “Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut,” she tells him. “I’m a very quick learner,” he says at one point. So Bloom is quickly able to turn in the highest shock-value video in all of L.A. Romina in turn is responding to the marketplace. Her news station is last in ratings, and carnage, particularly brown-on-white crime, is a hit with the suburban audience.

There are only two characters with scruples in the film. One is a member of the news team, token producer Frank Kruse (Kevin Rahm) who repeatedly raises ethical objections to running Bloom’s footage. The other is Rick (Riz Ahmed), the poor young man Bloom recruits to be his “intern.” Rick eventually confronts Bloom about his inhumane practices.

But Bloom is nothing but successful. His determined, affectless approach yields ever-greater results. In the end, he introduces several new “interns” to his expanded news-gathering production company.

Spouting aphorisms about hard work to anyone who will listen, Bloom’s deeds are at times soundtracked by a subtly upbeat, inspirational score. The film is perhaps the darkest of comedies, then, if the viewer so chooses. It is also a compelling but sickening portrait of gratuitously graphic broadcast news, a satire mixing elements of “Wolf of Wall Street” and “Network.”

There’s little more to the film’s statement. We know tabloid journalism is grotesque, and that for-profit news leads to a perversion of the product. But “Nightcrawler” delves the depths of rubbernecking and ladder climbing to a new extreme. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.


Hollywood still casts the media in powerful roles, even while satirizing their tabloidization. Journalists in film are capable of bringing down regimes and crushing Broadway shows single-handedly. But changes to the news environment have not gone unnoticed. Social media competes side-by-side with the New York Times. It’s no coincidence sensationalism has seeped back on-screen, where celebrity gossip and gory crime often displace serious issues and ethics are seen as quaint.

While still incorporating our classic images of journalists, both heroes and fools, scriptwriters have updated Hollywood’s mirror to more accurately reflect today’s fragmented and sometimes troubling media landscape.

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Dudman looks back at Pol Pot

Richard Dudman, the chief Washington Correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the 1970s, almost died in Cambodia – twice. Now, at age 97, he looks back at his reporting and says he may have been too easy on Pol Pot – the murderous dictator of Cambodia.

Dudman was captured in Cambodia while covering the war in 1970 and spent 40 days as a captive of Viet Cong. Five years later, after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge took power, Pol Pot invited Dudman and two other Westerners to Cambodia to see for themselves what life was like. One was Elizabeth Becker, who had covered Cambodia for several years for The Washington Post. The other was Malcolm Caldwell, a radical Scottish lawyer. They were the first outsiders to get visas to Cambodia to interview Pol Pot.

Pol Pot wouldn’t answer questions during their session with him. But that night Dudman was awakened by gunshots outside their guest house. A Vietnamese terrorist threatened Becker, shot at Dudman, who hid under the bed, and then killed Caldwell.

Recently, a special Cambodian court organized to prosecute Khmer Rouge war crimes asked Dudman about his reporting from that era. A lawyer who was questioning Dudman said he seemed to have been easy on Pol Pot. Dudman said he just reported what he saw. But the lawyer’s question haunts him, he wrote in an op-ed in the Post-Dispatch.

Reporting in Cambodia required courage. But the hardest thing for a reporter to admit is he may have gotten a story wrong.


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Anonymous poster must be ID’d

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled this week that a northern Illinois public official must be told the name of an anonymous poster to a newspaper website who likened the politician to former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, the child sex abuser.

The decision means that the anonymous poster cannot dodge a libel suit by hiding behind anonymity.

The Illinois high court ruled unanimously in favor of Stephenson County Board Chairman Bill Hadley, who has been demanding to know the identity of the poster for four years. Under the decision, Comcast, which provides the poster with internet service, would be required to turn over the poster’s identity.

The comment from “Fuboy” was posted on a December 2011 article in the Freeport Journal Standard website about Hadley’s decision to run for the County Board: “Hadley is a Sandusky waiting to be exposed. Check out the view he has of Empire (Elementary School) from his front door.” The comment was an apparent reference to the former Penn State coach who was convicted of child sex abuse in 2012.

Because of a federal law – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – Hadley can’t sue the newspaper for the potentially libelous comment by Fuboy. The law gives websites legal immunity for the content of third party postings – like the one from Fuboy. So Hadley’s only alternative is to sue the poster and to do that he needs to know the poster’s identity.

The Illinois Supreme Court acknowledged that First Amendment issues are involved because anonymous speech is constitutionally protected. But it said that if Hadley could obtain Fuboy’s identity if he could present enough evidence to “establish the alleged defamatory statements are not constitutionally protected….

“Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case for defamation… a potential defendant has no first amendment right to balance against the plaintiff’s right to redress because there is no first amendment right to defame,” it wrote.

Even though Fuboy’s statement was one of opinion, it expressed allegations of facts that, if true, would constitute a crime. When opinions contain factual claims, they can be libelous.

The attorney for Fuboy said there may be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could put off his identification during the appeal.

Court opinion




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St. Louis media notes

St. Louis TV stations need to be more honest with their viewers. Frequently, they present stories as new that are actually a day or more old. The latest example occurred on KSDK (Channel 5) at noon on June 18. The story was about an incident the day before when two planes began taking off at the same time at Midway Airport in Chicago. Fortunately, a collision was averted. One report said the planes were within 2000 feet (nearly four-tenths of a mile) when they stopped after aborting their takeoffs. But anchor Kay Quinn read, “We have new information at this noon hour about just how serious a near disaster this was.” However, she provided no information that hadn’t aired on the news the night before. Nor did she give any indication as to “how serious it was.” She did not even tell viewers how close of a call it was (or wasn’t). Repeating the story is not the problem. Every station repeats many stories because of all the time they have to fill. The problem comes when viewers are deceived by “sensationalistic” and inaccurate writing.

Channel 5 also needs to show better judgment when severe weather strikes. The station tends to preempt programming any time there is a tornado warning. Sometimes, even severe thunderstorm warnings preempt programming. Earlier in June, meteorologist Mike Roberts said on the air that only about 450 people were potentially impacted by a tornado warning far south of the metro St. Louis area. Yet the station stayed on the air live for more than a half hour. There is no reason for this. It was not even a confirmed tornado, just indicated as a “possible” tornado by Doppler radar. Putting the information at the bottom of the screen will suffice. If many people might be impacted by a tornado, it is appropriate to stay on the air. It has to be a case by case basis. Channel 5 has gone too far. Here’s an idea. Stream weather live to the Internet so that anyone potentially impacted can watch at KSDK.com or on their mobile app. Everyone else can watch the regularly scheduled programs while staying updated with the information at the bottom of the screen.
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Leo Drey: Progressive Pioneer

Leo Drey left us at the age of 98.

It was in the mid-sixties that I first met Leo. He had heard about struggling FOCUS/Midwest magazine and wondered how it was doing. We met in his unpretentious office–no secretary. You just walked in.

The simplicity of his and his wife’s lifestyle, both in their work and in their home, was in sharp contrast to the far-reaching progressive adventure they pursued over these many decades. While Leo devoted himself to sustain an environment on the ground that would benefit generations to come, his wife Kay became a prophetess, who not only analyzed and recognized the implicit dangers of nuclear power plants, but also became an unrelenting voice informing the public and government how the nuclear industry poisons our environment. St. Louis Magazine called both “Green Giants”.

Leo encapsulated much more than being a national pioneer in land reclamation, a philanthropist who made one of the largest gifts of its type in Missouri, if not the nation, a founder of environmental groups that will outlast all of us. Moreover, he also represented a reconciliation of two lines of thought of particular concern to the Jewish community as well as to many others.

In a High Holiday, Yom Kippur, sermon, the late Rabbi Jim Diamond, then director of Hillel, a student group at Washington University, offered his evaluation of where American culture diverted from Jewish culture. Americans, he declared, have established individualism as the principal guide in shaping their lives. Jews, on the other hand, have always considered the community, whether of their own tribe or on a more universal base, as the core of their belief system.

If Rabbi Diamond would have had an opportunity to meet Leo and review his lifework exalting individual values that contributed to many communities, he would have had to amend his theories and recognize that individualism and community work can complement each other, benefiting both aspects of American life.

Leo Drey represented the best of many cultures.

Publisher’s note: Leo and Kay Drey were major supporters of the St. Louis Journalism review and chaired the most recent First Amendment celebrations for the Gateway Journalism Review.

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Good Clinton v. bad Clinton

Hillary's Southern AccentWriting about Marie Antoinette, Judith Thurman commented in a 2006 article in the New Yorker that the woman famous for a remark she never uttered (“Let them eat cake”) is “periodically reviled or celebrated.” The same could be said about the media’s treatment of Hillary Clinton since she stepped into the national limelight as Bill Clinton’s wife during his 1992 bid for the presidency.

Now that she is campaigning for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, many publications and websites devote much of their coverage to one or the other of these familiar approaches. Recent opinion pieces in the online publications of the liberal New Republic and the conservative Washington Free Beacon provide a sort of “comfort food,” the first for Clinton admirers and the second for Clinton detractors.

But neither provides much food for thought based on solid information, history and context.

“The Real Democratic Primary: Hillary Versus the Media” by Suzy Khimm was posted on the New Republic’s website on May 22. This headline suggests something new — that Hillary is running against the media more than the pack of potential Republican candidates. But in fact, Hillary’s relationship with the press is old news. Ken Auletta described her difficulties with the media in the New Yorker on June 2, 2014, observing that “the media can’t stop discussing her” and are “desperately casting about for something new.”

The “new” element in Khimm’s story includes interviews with 30-or-something-year-olds in Arlington Virginia, a Washington, D.C., suburb she labels “Hillaryland.” Her first interviewee is 29-year-old Beth Lilly, a policy lawyer who remembers the hullabaloo created by Clinton’s Marie Antoinette moment in 1992, when she said: “I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession.”

Lilly, who would have been about six years old in 1992, recalled that the coverage of the cookie escapade “was just so absurd.” In examining the questionable finances of the Clinton Foundation, Khimm also quotes Lilly as saying, “So her foundation took money. It’s kind of what foundations do.” Khimm could have suggested to Lilly that media coverage has focussed not on what foundations do, but on where some of the millions taken in by the Clinton Foundation came from and how they were doled out. (As in “Clinton Award Included Cash to Foundation,” the New York Times, May 30, or earlier, “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal,” in the same paper on April 23.)

When Khimm points out that Clinton’s young Arlington supporters view the media as “trying to drag her (Hillary) down,” she does not ask them for examples. Khimm does not tell her readers which dust-ups in Clintonian history qualify as “scandals” and which as “pseudo-scandals,” and none of the people she interviewed made the distinction for her.

According to Khimm, Clinton’s young supporters no longer blame Republicans or right-wing conservatives for the coverage she is receiving. It’s the media’s fault. One supporter says: “The media are bringing these allegations and these scandals up to see if anyone else in the Democratic party will emerge as a strong candidate and they can go head to head…That sells if you put that out, it sells. It’s them trying to tailor the election to their own needs, rather than what the election is.”

And that’s what the article is meant to reveal, that Clinton’s well-earned path to the White House is not impeded by those Republican bumps in the road, but by roadblocks put up by the media.

Khimm’s article is of, by and for Washington insiders, deeply divided, seeing the world with us v. them blinders. Khimm accepts Clinton’s climb as “the ultimate Washington success story,” never asking citizens in West Virginia or Kansas if that translates into a national success story for them.

A Clinton as Marie Antoinette piece was found in the Washington Free Beacon on May 22: “Miss Uncongenality,” by Matthew Continetti.

The headline tells you that mud is about to be tossed. “Congeniality” is the award the loser in the beauty contests receives, and Continetti is unwilling to tell his readers that Republican winners and losers in presidential campaigns often lacked the quality: Coolidge was taciturn, Ike was aloof, Nixon was resentful, and Dole was dour. Good candidates or presidents? Yes and no, but what has congeniality to do with it?

After the headline, most charges against Clinton are unsupported by facts. At a recent press conference, Continetti suggests, Clinton wanted to ward off questions by “raising her hand empress-like.” And how does an empress raise her hand in a manner different from commoners? Readers don’t know, but it sure sounds bad.

As does every comment about Clinton, without explaining the badness:

“Voting for the Iraq war was a ‘mistake,’ like the one you make on a test.” How does he know her ‘mistake’ (supporting the war in Iraq) was made the same way you make a mistake on a grammar quiz or misidentify a figure in European history? Was her mistake possibly made based on false or incomplete information or on misreading the political and cultural forces in the Middle East?

She released a “blizzard of Clintonian misdirection, omission, dodging, bogus sentimentality, false confidence, and aw-shucks populism.” It’s hard to swallow Continetti’s mind-reading verbiage. Perhaps she was confident (say about her role in the Benghazi attack). What’s “aw-shucks” about her or anyone else’s populism in our current age of greed?

Readers will not be surprised to find the article riddled with “may” and “might” phrases, suggesting the author wants them to assume: “may not work,” or “may begin to change” or “may be the wrong choice.”

Tealeaves reading is no substitute for information and insight-filled journalism.

In the next 17 months before the 2016 election, readers can expect a blizzard of articles such as the ones in the New Republic and the Washington Free Beacon. Long and fact-filled pieces in the New York Times and in other media could provide an antidote.

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Should this photo be published?

How should the media portray violent acts?

When South Africa’s largest Sunday paper, the Sunday Times, on its April 19 front page published a photograph of a man in the act of being stabbed and killed, readers took to the social media and aired their views.

Some commentators supported the move; others furiously condemned the decision claiming that the paper was only interested in sales.

It is common for photojournalists to be condemned for the job they do. Some in the industry are accused of taking photographs and walking away with Pulitzer prizes unconcerned about what became of the people in the images that earned them recognition. But that’s not the case in this instance.

Although the reporter and the photographer followed Emmanuel Sithole, the man under attack taking one bloody picture after another, they also rushed him to hospital where he later died from his wounds. Also, the newspaper established a fund to help Sithole’s family with funeral arrangements in Mozambique, the victim’s home country.

The front-page photograph helped police to identify and to capture the killers. It also humanized the horror of xenophobia. Sithole had been killed in a series of violent acts instigated against a non-South African. Also, the image, together with the story’s headline, “Kill thy Neighbor: Alex attack brings home SAs shame,” placed a mirror in the faces of South Africans to examine themselves and to recognize the brute force of their hatred for African nationals.

(The online version of the story together with the images can be found at http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2015/04/19/kill-thy-neighbour-alex-attack-brings-home-sa-s-shame1. Readers can click on the main photograph below the headline to see all the other images. Alex, where the stabbing occurred, is a poor residential area on the north side of Johannesburg.)

For most of this century, xenophobia has been a common feature dotting the South African landscape, with regular incidents of viscous violence. For instance, in 2008, a man, also from Mozambique, was burned alive at an informal settlement on the east side of Johannesburg. The graphic photographs as the members of the South Africa police force struggled to extinguish the flames can be found at http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2015/02/19/sa-s-xenophobia-shame-burning-man-case-shut

The hatred of Africans by South Africans has continued, in part because of a lack of strong leadership by the government. The government and other leaders in society have sent mixed messages about xenophobia and the accompanying violent attacks.

In a recorded interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation in February following a spate of xenophobic attacks, President Jacob Zuma defended South Africans. He said, “South Africans are not as xenophobic as people say. It’s an exaggeration…it’s not xenophobia.”

Also, in March, during a public address, King Goodwill Zwelithini, the leader of the Zulu’s a South African ethnic group, also said “We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries.” On social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, the King’s words were greeted with a mixture of excitement and shame.

Consistent with general anti-immigration sentiment and views, some South Africans think African nationals steal jobs and are a burden on the country. Also, African nationals are stereotyped in the media as dirty and as criminals who over populate residential homes.

But, when the media cover violence by publishing a foreign national in the act of being killed, people can reflect on their ideologies, help the police with arrests and organize for social change.

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In Kansas forever more

Kansas is known for more than just wheat. It’s known for tornadoes, and that started long before the Wizard of Oz. As Kansas is in the middle of Tornado Alley, an area of the central United States that sees the highest number of tornadoes annually over that of anywhere else in the world, it is also the storm-chasing center.

Earlier this year after an early season severe weather event in southern Kansas, one of the Wichita-area news stations published two stories regarding storm chasers and how they were getting in the way of emergency vehicles and over-crowding roads. Another story published online by a second Wichita station interviewed a sheriff in Barber County, Kansas who is concerned with the crowding of roads.

Both stations employ or contract storm chasers for weather coverage in Kansas during severe weather events, and both stations used in-house storm chasers to give their views. While it is unanimous among chasers and law enforcement that there are more chasers than needed on any given event, the stories seemed skewed against storm chasers.

Law enforcement members claimed traffic laws are being violated, one official interviewed going threatening arrest for those not obeying traffic laws. During a storm early last month, the Barber County sheriff drove down the freeway with his loud speaker, telling chasers to “move their cars.” This was heavily covered on social media.

But storm chasers feel cops are being too aggressive, reporting that they witnessed most chasers obeying traffic laws and not blocking parts of the roads as law enforcement indicated. Many chasers said rural law enforcement agencies overstated any hazards the chasers posed.

One storm chaser used the power of video to provide a counter-argument to law enforcement’s claims that chasers were behaving dangerously. He posted two timelapse videos of significant tornado event days from 2014 and in his video, the number of incidents he captured showed no chasers blocking roads. Several other chasers posted videos from the early April day and showed the sheriff driving down the highway with his loud speaker while passing vehicles that were fully off the highway, or in pullouts and driveways near the road.

Storm chasers are sometimes judged as reckless thrill-seekers who will do anything for the shot. And while it is true that there are incidents involving careless behavior of some, these recent video releases show there is at the very least some exaggeration in the stories depicting careless chasers.

These Kansas stations that posted the stories focused heavily on the side of the law enforcement even as they contract out their own storm chasers to go and cover the same events. It wasn’t until storm chasers brought to light the lack of incidents on video that the news stations gave the chasers a chance to voice their side of the story.

While some storm chasers have stated they will stay out of Kansas due to issues with law enforcement targeting storm chasers, most chasers say Kansas is one of the best places to follow and report on storms, and no matter what how the media depicts them or how targeted they are by law enforcement officials, storm chasers are determined to be in Kansas forever more.

Tony Laubach is a meteorologist with more than 17 years of storm- chasing experience.  He has been featured on TV programs for the National Geographic and Discovery channels and his severe- weather videos have been featured on news networks around the world. 

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GJR book review: Language evolution slays once-sacred cows in AP Stylebook

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law                                                                                      

Editors: Darrell Christian, Paula Froke, Sally Jacobsen and David Minthorn                                                          

Publisher: The Associated Press, New York, 2014                                                                                                 

Paperback: $20.95, 514 pages

Broadcast and print journalists who buy new Associated Press Stylebooks every year to keep up with ever-changing grammar rules in their chosen profession probably have grumbled at one time or another about unlearning what once seemed carved into stone.

But for the 2014 spiral-bound edition, published in late spring, the AP editors handed down style decisions that turned otherwise normal grumbling into full-throated outrage.

Consider the following five new rules:

  • For longtime AP Stylebook owners, a decision announced March 20 to eliminate the distinction between “over” and “more than” in stories was not unlike waving a red flag at a charging bull – and the news was received just about as warmly. Before that news broke, “over” had been relegated to spatial relationships (“The plane flew over the city,” for example), while “more than” was used to denote amounts of things.
  • Almost as angst-ridden was the reaction to the April 8 decision that “underway” is now one word in all uses. Previous stylebooks had told us that it was “two words in virtually all uses.” The 1987 version of the AP Stylebook went so far as to say that it is “one word only when used as an adjective before a noun in a nautical sense: an underway flotilla [italics in original].
  • Remember the practice of abbreviating state names in stories? That rule has been cast aside in this year’s stylebook, too. The AP wire noted on April 23, that “effective May 1, the AP will spell out state names in the body of stories,” while “datelines will continue to use abbreviations.” The reason given was thus: “The change is being made to be consistent in our style for domestic and international stories. International stories have long spelled out state names in the body of stories.”
  • On April 2, the Associated Press changed the “illegal immigrant” entry. In a blog post that same day, Paul Colford, the AP’s director of media relations, detailed how the AP stylebook “no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.” Colford’s source for his information was Kathleen Carroll, AP senior vice president and executive editor. Carroll, he said, added that “also, we had in other areas been ridding the stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was ‘diagnosed with schizophrenia’ instead of schizophrenic, for example. And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to ‘illegal immigrant’ again. We concluded that, to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance. So we have.”
  • On April 17, Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon took note of the new AP approach to the word “hopefully,” writing this: “Hopefully, copy editors will find another spike on which to impale sentences. Says an update to the AP Stylebook: ‘The traditional meaning is in a hopeful manner. Also acceptable is the modern usage: it’s hoped, we hope [italics in original]. Correct: “You’re leaving soon?” she asked hopefully [italics in original]. The old rule: ‘It means in a hopeful manner. Do not use it to mean it is hoped, let us hope or we hope.’ ”

One of the co-editors of the AP Stylebook is David Minthorn, who also serves as AP’s deputy standards editor. In a 2010 interview with the American Copy Editors Society, he had this to say about the ever-changing nature of the reference work, which he and fellow co-editors Darrell Christian and Sally Jacobsen update yearly: “There has to be an evolution in the language or a clear need for adding or amending terms.”

Anyone who has owned different AP Stylebook versions over the past decade or so has witnessed this evolution. The term “email,” for example, originally had a hyphen after the “e” when that term took root in the early days of the World Wide Web. (In fact, the 2000 edition was the first time the Associated Press included a dedicated Internet style guide in its stylebook.)

But even with all those previous changes in mind, it should be noted that over one journalist has uttered this line about the new 2014 stylebook rules: “More than my dead body!” As the transition to all these new rules gets underway, GJR subscribers can hopefully remember that these are not illegal changes. In fact, according to the AP editors, these sentences are (almost) entirely correct.

At least for now.

John Jarvis is a former managing editor of Gateway Journalism Review. The 27-year print journalist is a publications editor for Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s University Communications group.

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St. Louis’ forgotten espionage case

Suppose you are an investigative journalist and you have a confidential source who divulges state secrets that you print. The government hunts down the leaker, arrests this person and charges him with a crime. You, the journalist, are the only person who can verify if the leak was actually this person or not. You are subpoenaed, but you won’t give up the name of your confidential source.

Eventually, the government gives up trying to make you speak and tries the leaker without your testimony. The government convicts the person on circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors claim this a victory for the government. Since you never surrendered your source, journalists claim it as a victory as well.

Except for one thing: The person convicted wasn’t your source.

As a journalist, do you have a responsibility to exonerate an innocent man, even if by doing so you expose the true source you are protecting? Or do you remain silent, knowing that you did your job.

Now consider this: The hypothetical may be true.

Former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, a Missourian who graduated from Millikin University and Washington University Law School,  recently was sentenced to 42 months for violating multiple counts of the Espionage Act (story).

The conviction was obtained without the testimony of James Risen, a New York Times reporter. Sterling was convicted as Risen’s source in a chapter of the book State Of War, which described a botched CIA attempt to hinder Iran’s nuclear program.  The plot involved a Russian scientist, code named Merlin, giving fake nuclear plans to the Iranians.

The government pinned its investigation on Sterling, who had previously brought a race discrimination claim against the CIA.   Sterling is black and the CIA overwhelmingly white. Sterling also talked to a Senate intelligence hearing about his concerns about the Iranian project.

Sterling fits a mold – disgruntled employee out to get revenge on the organization he thinks mistreated him. One of his lawyers even suggested he’d go public with his concerns. And Sterling had multiple opportunities to talk with Risen. Risen wrote a story about Sterling’s EEOC case in the New York Times.

Sterling has steadfastly denied he was the source for Risen’s chapter. He did not take the stand to defend himself in the trial because his lawyer thought the government had not made its case. But Sterling’s case was tried in Alexandria, Virginia, where many of the people have connections to government or government contracts.

Also, on a case that started as a racial discrimination case, no African Americans served on the jury. In fact, throughout the trial, the only blacks in the courtroom were Sterling and two employees.  The venue was perfect for the government, which secured a sentence of guilty on circumstantial evidence.

Sterling has always denied being the source. In 2012 he went on record speaking to students at Millikin University.  He said he was not a fan of Risen’s silence – even though that silence was viewed in most of the media as intended to protect Sterling.

“I am innocent,” he said. Not only that, but Sterling was quick to point out that his wife was not a fan of Risen’s either.

“I wouldn’t want to put those two in a room together,” Sterling said. “She’s not happy with him.”

Sterling didn’t realize how desperately the CIA would pursue this case and how much the deck would be stacked against him. And the only person who could clear him – Risen – couldn’t.

“One thing that the trial showed me that I really didn’t realize, was that the moment I started complaining about discrimination, a sort of machine came together at the CIA and kept me in its sights from beginning to end,” Sterling wrote after the trial. “Funny how only through the trial I learned that every step of the way I took to legally stand up for myself, there was an Agency person there (the House Committee, the Senate Committee, etc.). “I could go on, but I shouldn’t…just makes my frustration grow. Particularly with regard to a certain gentleman (Risen) who I assume either is mutedly troubled or doesn’t give a damn.”

Sterling was convicted on metadata. There was no hard evidence that convicted him, only circumstantial evidence, made stronger by the theatrics of CIA officials testifying behind screens and an appearance by Condoleeza Rice. Many doubted the government’s ability to prosecute Sterling without Risen. Not only did the government manage to prosecute the case, it got a guilty verdict without Risen.

Sterling was sentenced to Federal prison, claiming to be an innocent man. He felt persecuted by the CIA and abandoned by those who could help but didn’t, especially many in the black community who failed to step up and help in the early days of the case.

“I talked with a lot of people,” he said in 2014. “I talked to the NAACP, the Rainbow Push Coalition, congressmen, senators, you name it. No one wanted to get involved in this.”

In fact, one person, with considerable political influence, a staffer for Missouri’s Lacy Clay actually advised Sterling to move to Canada. Sterling refused.

“I couldn’t do that,” Sterling said. “I couldn’t run.”

Sterling is justifiably angry with is the press, especially mainstream Washington press. For the press, the story was strictly about Risen’s battle with the government and First Amendment issues. The media never questioned Sterling’s guilt or innocence.

“At the trial, you could count the number of media outlets there on two hands and have fingers left over,” said Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute of Public Accuracy. “Once the Risen case was over, the media lost interest.”

Press members assumed Sterling was Risen’s source. They didn’t look at staff members of the Senate Intelligence committee (where the FBI was looking until the CIA changed its focus to Sterling) to see what they had to say. They didn’t follow up on Risen’s original story about Operation Merlin. And even though Risen said multiple times on the record that he had multiple sources for the story, some of whom couldn’t have been Sterling, the press never followed these leads. Rather, their actions were more in line with Randal Eliason, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and an American University faculty member.

I have no idea where the truth lies concerning Operation Merlin and Im certainly no apologist for the excesses of the CIA during the war on terror. But given the choice between believing Sterlings account (as reflected in Risens book) and that of the career CIA people who testified at his trial, I see no particular reason to believe Sterling. (Eliason story)

Eliason is an attorney who could easily think a reporter such as Risen would rely on one source for a story as big as Operation Merlin. The press should know that Risen wouldn’t take a story like that to press without multiple sources. The press should not have assumed Sterling was Risen’s main source for the story.

Instead, the press concentrated on Risen’s struggle against the government and his First Amendment stand. The press turned Risen into a hero. The press concentrated on the so called war between Obama and Whistleblowers (without paying any attention to the whistleblower in Sterling’s case) and the press concentrated on David Petraeus’s sentence compared to those of other leakers, including Sterling. But the press never did its job.

“Sterling could be innocent,” said Marcy Wheeler, who blogs at emptywheel.net, had a seminal story about Sterling in the Nation before the trial (story here) and was present through most of the trial. “He could very easily have steered clear of any confidential sources and pointed Risen in the direction of the story without giving away any details at all.”

During its closing arguments, the defense made just that claim, pointing the finger at defense intelligence staffers Vicki Divoll and Bill Duhnke. Divoll was used by Risen in another chapter of Risen’s book but testified she wasn’t the source. Duhnke never testified.

The defense painted a picture of a journalist doing his job, getting a piece of information and using multiple sources to nail down the (story). It makes more sense than Jeffrey Sterling as the sole source of Risen’s chapter. But the national press never picked up on this story. As a group, the press stayed on the Risen as hero narrative, leaving Sterling alone.

“I’m just a pawn,” Sterling said multiple times. “To the press, I’m nothing. This is all about James Risen to them.

“I’m still in shock that I may go to prison for something that I didn’t do.”

Sterling goes to jail and looks to Risen for the words that would at least make him feel better. Risen is hailed as a First Amendment hero, standing up for reporter’s privilege.  Ethically, Risen can’t say anything about Sterling without jeopardizing his true source, if it isn’t Sterling. But the press, the people who could have truly covered the Sterling case, avoided it. They took the easy way out while lauding a reporter who told an important story and made a stand against the government.  Sterling, who actually did the right things as a government employee by going through proper channels to tell of a mistake, heads to prison.

Risen didn’t fail Sterling – the rest of the press did.

Sterling goes to prison for 42 months, the longest term of any person charged under the Espionage Act during Barack Obama’s presidency. If he was guilty, it’s a fair term. If he was innocent…

Scott Lambert is a journalism/English professor at Millikin University. 

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Charlie Hebdo haunts the media

When Islamist gunmen killed 10 journalists and two policemen in January at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine firebombed in 2011 for its irreverent cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, media reaction to the massacre immediately after was best summed up by the headline of an article in Reason magazine: “I’m all for free speech and murder is wrong, but…”

In much of the media the “but” trumped admiration and respect for the slain journalists’ insistence that religions, along with other institutions and ideas, can and should be mocked and laughed at.

Now, five months and three Charlie Hebdo-related events later, the media remain as divided about the meaning of the slaughter in Paris as they were in January. Too, media are as uncomfortable in dealing with and justifying their coverage and stance expressed in their reports and analyses.

Typical of the hostility toward Hebdo and its band of satirists were the sentiments of National Public Radio’s former ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos in an interview with the Washington Examiner. He labeled the magazine’s Muhammad cartoons “intentionally provocative form of hate speech that are undeserving of protection,” and slammed First Amendment “fundamentalists” who mistakenly suggest that the United States has “absolute freedom of the press.”

He added that he didn’t know “if American courts would find much of what Charlie Hebdo does to be hate speech unprotected by the Constitution,” unaware that there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. As Eugene Volokh, professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law pointed out on his blog (the Volokh Conspiracy) in the Washington Post: “hateful ideas are as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas.”

There are narrow exceptions, which primarily relate to speech leading to immediate incitement or creating a hostile workplace environment, but “hate speech” has no “fixed legal meaning under U.S. law,” Volokh notes.

None of that stopped a barrage of media attacks on Hebdo, calling the killing of its staff members not excusable or justifiable, but perhaps quite “understandable.” As blogger Kitty Striker wrote, Hebdo’s “racist, homophobic language is not satire. I think it’s abusive, and I think it punches down, harshly and often.”

Facts rarely interfered with the hits on Hebdo. A piece on the Daily Beast pointed out what French scholars discovered; namely that “in the last decade just seven of Charlie Hebdo’s 523 covers dealt with Islam.” And as one of the magazine’s supporters, Dominique Sopo, Togolese president of SOS-Racism (France’s most celebrated anti-racism organization) tried to explain: “Every week, half of Charlie Hebdo was against racism, against anti-Semitism, against anti-Muslim hatred.”

What the magazine was really about was lost in the hullaballoo and outrage over the Muhammad cartoons, or it was dismissed, as on the left-wing website Counterpunch as an “extended adolescent revolt.”

Not surprisingly, among U.S. media, the New York Times, CNN, NBC, MSNBC and the Associated Press refused to publish any of the Muhammad cartoons. The Times said it does not publish materials that “offend the religious sensibilities” of its readers, but did not inform them which of their sensibilities, if any, it was OK to offend.

Media organizations publishing one or several of the cartoons included the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Fox News, Bloomberg, HuffingtonPost, Daily Beast and the New York Post.

Our paper of record is unwilling or unable to understand what M.G. Oprea, writing in the Federalist magazine, understands so well: “Freedom of expression is worthless if it excludes speech that offends someone.”

Coverage of Charlie Hebdo, Michael Cavna observed in the Washington Post, “pulled and polarized media on opposite sides of a kinetic dividing line.” Five months after the slaughter in Paris, posthumous publication of a book by Charlie Hebdo’s editor, exposed that dividing line once again.

On April 16 the New York Times ran a story on its website about “Open Letter to the Fraudsters of Islamophobia Who Play Into Racists’ Hands,” Stephane Charbonnier’s book (only in French, so far) and headlined the story “Book by Slain Charlie Hebdo Editor Argues Islam Is not Exempt From Ridicule.”

The headline apparently did not sit well with some editors, fearful of giving offense, so the headline of the same story in next day’s print edition read: “With Posthumous Book, Charlie Hebdo Editor Proves Defiant in Death.”  Excerpts from the book, which ran in the weekly newsmagazine L ‘Obs, show him more thoughtful than defiant: “The problem is neither the Quran nor the Bible,” he wrote, “sleep-inducing, incoherent and badly written novels. The problem is the faithful, who read the holy books like instructions for assembling Ikea shelves.”

The media, in America and abroad, chose to ignore his broadside at all fundamentalist faith and blasted away at his attacks on those of his targets who misunderstood or deliberately misstated the magazine’s satire: “Charlie Hebdo editor attacks liberals from the grave,” shouted London’s Times. Britain’s Telegraph saw the book as a “posthumous attack on left-wing French intellectuals.” And our own NPR saw “Islamophobia” as the book’s main target of attack.

Much of the coverage ignored one target, the one exposed by Matt Welch on April 17 in Reason: “He (Charbonnier) pillories the unquestioning use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ by some journalists either out of laziness or commercial interest.”  The Washington Post stood out for also exploring the book’s condemnation of “journalists, politicians and others, whom he accused of using fear of Islam for their own purposes.”  The paper earned plaudits for quoting Chardonnier’s words: “The problem is not religions, but those who practice and distort them.”

Reading the excerpts available might have brought journalists closer to understanding what Hebdo’s satire, following is about. Charlie Hebdo was seen in France as  “the scourge of post-fascist (French) political party Front National, the enemy of Papists, cheerful anti-racist activist, fellow-traveler of the French Communist party, staunch agitator for Palestine…” as readers of the publication understand and informed those journalists (as those from the Daily Beast) willing to listen.

Most media did not bother to reach for and attain such an understanding. So when PEN, the international organization of writers, chose to grant its “Freedom of Expression Courage Award” to Charlie Hebdo (in New York on May 5) the media focused its attention on the dissenters within PEN.

“A Literary Honoree Splits Allies,” the New York Times proclaimed, unwilling to decide whether or not the magazine was “a misunderstood honoree, or perhaps just a bigoted outlet.” The “bigoted outlet” fans made most of the noise and so got most of the attention.

Publications printed their protests and outcries, which made much better copy than the calm defenses of the magazine and its contributions to social and political satire.

The letter signed initially by 145 PEN members claimed that Charlie Hebdo publishes “selectively offensive material that intensifies the anti-Islam…anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.”

Individual members were even nastier. Novelist Francine Prose called Hebdo’s cartoons “gleefully racist” and suggested that they “conveniently feed into a larger political narrative of white Europeans killed by Muslim extremists, which is not the case.” Only a few (the Daily Beast standing tall among them) dared to point out that the families of the 10 Hebdo staffers and two police officers as well as the four customers assassinated in a kosher market, might beg to differ.

Prose continued her assault on the victims by claiming that she saw no difference in Joseph Goebbels’ anti-Semitic propaganda “spewing eliminationist rhetoric” and Hebdo’s “mocking religious radicals.” Similarly, novelist Deborah Eisenberg asked PEN if it would “grant the award retroactively to Julius Streicher’s Der Stuermer?” (The Nazi magazine that featured cartoons- of Jews as blood-sucking and blond –maiden- chasing sub-humans.)

No traditional media outlet asked viewers or readers to compare cartoons from that publication with any from Charlie Hebdo, which The New Yorker described as “blatantly, roughly sexual and not designed to endear them to Jews or Christians,” but not as viscerally racist or dehumanizing. Hebdo’s cartoons, cited by the magazine, showed the Pope kissing a member of the Vatican guard and an Orthodox Jew kissing a Nazi soldier.

Survivor of the Paris massacre, Hebdo’s film critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret, who missed the January 7 editorial meeting because he overslept, was invited to the PEN ceremony. When confronted with the comments of some dissenting PEN members and their comparisons of his publication’s cartoons to Nazi propaganda, shrugged and said: “They don’t really know what they’re talking about.”

It surprised few, then, that the May 2 attempted attack on an exhibit of a “Draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas,  received the usual and by now tired same-old coverage. The two gunmen, killed by a local traffic officer wanted to shout “The prophet is avenged,” as one killer did in Paris over the body of a policeman, but their path to the attack was by now an old story. The mother of one slain gunman said her son “was raised in a normal American fashion.”

A few media blamed the event’s organizer, blogger Pamela Geller, for exercising “bad judgment” and inviting a violent response. And that’s what had already been said back in 2011, when Islamists firebombed the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

The botched shooting will, appropriately enough, be used by Abilene Christian University’s journalism department as a teaching tool, KTXS-TV in Abilene reported in a brief bulletin.

There is much to find out about the media’s unease with the meaning of free speech — specifically which restrictions or constraints on the First Amendment the media accept or reject.

The media might want to reflect on what it means that nine years ago six in 10 Americans felt it was irresponsible for newspapers to run cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, but  that today six in 10 respondents say they are OK with papers doing just that.

The media might want to ask themselves if they are willing to “accept a gag order by a religion that can’t stand criticism or mockery.”

And they might want to ask themselves if the “negative liberty” granted by the First Amendment allows exceptions for legally irrelevant categories such as “bad taste” or “bad judgment.”

And finally, they might want to think about how their answers, and their conduct based on those answers, touch on the survival of an open and free society and laws designed to keep it open and free.

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Facebook v. Science

Social media have helped us cocoon ourselves into comfortable ignorance of “the other side” — so goes the prevailing notion of the last few years, since Facebook has been king.

A team of researchers at Facebook published an article Thursday that claimed to detail how much the site contributes to political echo chambers or filter-bubbles. Published in the journal Science, their report claimed Facebook’s blackbox newsfeed algorithm weeded out some disagreeable content from readers’ feeds, but not as much as did their personal behavior.

A flurry of criticism came from other social scientists, with one, University of Michigan’s Christian Sandvig, calling it Facebook’s “it’s not our fault” study.

Sample frame

Perhaps the most important limitation to the findings is the small, and unique, subset of users examined. Although the total number was huge (10 million), these were users who voluntarily label their political leanings on their profile, and also log on regularly — only about 4 percent of the total Facebook population, who differ from general users in obvious and subtle ways. Critics have pointed out this crucial detail is relegated to an appendix.

Despite the sample problem, the authors framed their findings by saying they “conclusively establish [them] on average in the context of Facebook […]” [emphasis added].

As University of North Carolina’s Zeynep Tufekci and University of Maryland’s Nathan Jurgenson pointed out, that’s simply inaccurate. The context the Facebook researchers examined was highly skewed, and cannot be generalized.

While the ideal random sample is not always available and convenient samples can tell us much about subpopulations of interest, the sampling selection here confounded the results. Those who are willing to include their political preferences in their Facebook bio are likely to deal with ideologically challenging information in fundamentally different ways than everyone else does.

In spite of this criticism, though, we now know more about that type of user than we did yesterday.

Algorithm vs. personal choice (what they really found, and didn’t)

Another troubling aspect of the study has to do with the way the main finding is presented. The authors write that Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm reduces exposure to cross-cutting material by 8 percent (1 in 13 of such hard-news stories) for self-identified liberals and 5 percent (1 in 20) for conservatives. The researchers also report that these individuals themselves further reduce diverse content exposure by 6 percent among liberals and 17 percent among conservatives.

The comparison of these — algorithm and personal choice — is what caused Sandvig to call this Facebook’s “it’s not our fault” study.

Tufekci and Jurgenson say the authors failed to mention the two effects are additive and cumulative. That individuals make reading choices that contribute to their personal filter-bubble is pretty much unchallenged. Yesterday’s study confirmed that Facebook’s algorithm adds to that, above the psychological baseline. This was not the emphasis of the comparison they made, nor of many headlines covering the study.

For instance:

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.11.44 PM

Tufecki and Jurgenson also point out the authors apparently have botched the statement of this main finding by claiming “that on average in the context of Facebook individual choices more than algorithms limit exposure to attitude-challenging content.” The findings they report are actually mixed: Self-identified liberals’ exposure was more strongly suppressed by the algorithm than by personal choice (8 percent v. 6 percent), while for conservatives the reverse was true (5 percent v. 17 percent).

Science is iterative

Amid all the blowback in the academic world, especially over the inflated claims of the conclusion, some called for a more dispassionate appraisal. Dartmouth’s Brendan Nyhan, who regularly contributes to New York Times’ Upshot, asked for social scientists to “show we can hold two (somewhat) opposed ideas in our heads at the same on the [Facebook] study.” Translated, the study is important, if flawed.

“Science is iterative!” Nyhan tweeted. “Let’s encourage [Facebook] to help us learn more, not attack them every time they publish research. Risk is they just stop.”

But there are rejoinders to that call as well. As University of Maryland law professor James Grimmelmann pointed out, “‘Conclusively’ doesn’t leave a lot of room for iteration.”

Nyhan’s point, that Facebook could stop publishing its findings given enough criticism also highlights that the study, conducted with their proprietary data, is not replicable, a key ingredient in scientific research.

Journals and journalists

Given the overstated (or misstated) findings, many have called out Science, the journal that published the article. Not only is Science peer-reviewed, but along with Nature is one of the foremost academic journals in the world.

While many of yesterday’s news articles noted the controversy around the publication, others repeated the debated conclusion verbatim. Jurgenson had harsh words for the journal: “Reporters are simply repeating Facebook’s poor work because it was published in Science. [Th]e fault here centrally lies with Science, [which] has decided to trade its own credibility for attention. [K]inda undermines why they exist.”

In the Summer 2014 GJR article, “Should journalists take responsibility for reporting bad science?” I wrote about the responsible parties in such cases. Although social media habits are not as high-stakes as health and medicine, journals, public relations departments and scientists themselves must be more accountable for the information they pass on to journalists and ultimately readers.

Although “post-publication review” is here to stay, the initial gatekeepers should always be the first line of defense against bad science  — especially when the journal in question carries the mantle of the entire Scientific enterprise.

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Periscope’s promise and peril

Live streaming is pushing further toward the mainstream, but hurdles remain.

With Twitter’s March acquisition of the mobile application Periscope (launched a few weeks after its main competitor, Meerkat), live streaming is now more accessible to both streamers and viewers.

The riots in Baltimore apparently have offered Periscope a journalistic coming out. The Guardian’s Washington correspondent, Paul Lewis, has been lauded for his powerful interviews conducted over the streaming app. Other journalists — Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell , Telegraph’s Raf Sanchez, ABC7’s Jay Korff and  D.C. Fox News 5’s Alexandra Limon have also covered Baltimore using Periscope.

Why now?

Live streaming is not new. But what’s behind its late surge? Writing for TechCrunch, Sarah Perez credits both recent technological advances and cultural shifts.

“Our cultural mindset has changed to the point where we’re ready to embrace this sort of public performance. Meanwhile, as viewers, the smartphone’s ubiquity means we all have an easy way to tap into these ongoing streams from anywhere,” she wrote on March 27.

It can’t hurt that Periscope has been integrated with Twitter, which boasts more than 300 million active users.

Sources of lag

Journalists have been accused of hyping the recent live stream boom, however. Selena Larson of the Daily Dot noted that while these tools have been used by a few members of the press in Baltimore, “[n]either Periscope or Meerkat seems to have caught on with regular citizens” and “haven’t quite lived up to the hype of being go-to sources of real-time news in conflict areas or protest zones.”

And while live streaming apps offer opportunities for immediacy and engagement, the media may need to be reminded that the content of streams are more often raw information than actual journalism.

“We need to start making a distinction between ‘news’ and ‘source material’ again,” wrote Mic Wright March 30 for technology news outlet the Next Web. “As odd as it may sound, live video of a fire, an explosion or a protest isn’t the story, it’s a catalyst for a story. We need analysis and thought to be introduced before something become[s] news. Just being present is not enough,”  Wright added.

Periscope and the PGA

In areas where journalism and the entertainment industry mix, apps such as Periscope may get media personnel in hot water.

The PGA Tour revoked the press credentials — for the remainder of the season — of Stephanie Wei on Thursday after she used Periscope during a practice round of a Pro-Am tournament earlier in the week, which was not broadcast.

Fans are free to use the app, however.

With the assumed connection of technology and youth, some fans said the Tour (whose viewership skews old) had shot itself in the foot. Paul Kapustka of Mobile Sports Report wrote on Thursday that pro golf “should embrace livestreaming apps […] to attract new fans and show ‘missing’ action.”

Wei claimed she was promoting their product. Testing Periscope on the range on Monday, Wei said she followed a group in their practice round because she was told it would be interesting, and thought she “was spreading fanfare for the Tour.”

Wei said she didn’t know the Tour’s rule. “It’s such new technology!” she tweeted. She also tweeted that there are “[l]ots of theoretical questions here. What constitutes ‘video’?” Periscope is a live streaming app, she said, “and ‘videos’ disappear after less than [a] day.”

Wei added that her punishment “[f]eels personal” and does not fit the crime. When asked by GJR if she thought other members of the media would have received the same ban, she said no. Wei’s timeline made multiple mentions of the “old boys club,” which has been a long-standing criticism of the Tour.

But regardless of any potential personal motivation behind her de-credentialing, it could set a precedent for Periscope’s place in professional golf and the sports media at large.

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Perfect storm reporting

Several tornadoes hit the state of Oklahoma on March 25 in a regional outbreak of severe weather. In addition to the well-televised tornado hitting Moore, a city hit nearly half a dozen times since 1999, another tornado hit near Tulsa in northeast Oklahoma. This tornado was noteworthy largely due to the actions of a well-known storm chaser who took shelter beneath a highway overpass when the tornado got too close and he was unable to safely flee. His video of this event was posted within a couple hours and went viral almost immediately. In addition, the chaser sold his video to several major news organizations across the country.

Highway overpasses are one of the most dangerous places to be during a tornado.  An overpass affects the winds interacting with it in such a way it creates a wind-tunnel effect, often increasing the wind speeds under the overpass to extreme levels. In addition, debris is often siphoned beneath the overpass where it collects and can trap those seeking shelter.

What is not being shown in the video are the results of these dangerous actions. Parking under overpasses creates a bottle-neck of traffic, leaving many motorists stranded in the path of potential danger. This not only leaves people out in the open, but it prevents emergency crews from using the roadways.

The most notorious video captured from beneath an overpass came in April 1991 when two photojournalists attempted to outrun a tornado along the Kansas Turnpike and eventually sought shelter beneath a highway overpass. The tornado made a glancing blow of the structure, and none of the nearly dozen people hiding there were injured. This video gave the impression to the public that overpasses are safe. This was brought to light during the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado in May 1999 when a massive tornado, the strongest on record, struck an I-35 overpass and killed one and injured nearly everyone else seeking shelter.

Since then, it has been hammered into tornado safety talks, booklets and webpages that overpasses are unsafe. Not hiding under overpasses is the second-most mentioned tip behind getting into a basement in terms of safety information conveyed to the public.

When the March 25 overpass video was posted, the backlash from chasers and meteorologists began almost immediately. While the overpass shot made for dramatic, television-worthy video, the chaser shot plenty of newsworthy footage away from the overpass that would have easily been salable. And while his decision to be close was brought into question, it was the editing of the video that took most of the criticism, particularly the inclusion of the overpass scene.

The chaser responsible for shooting the footage stated that his options were limited only to this one, mostly due to being too close and not allowing himself more chance of escape. He went on the Weather Channel the following morning to discuss the video and contradict his actions by saying overpasses are not safe places to take shelter. However, that isn’t the message people will remember.

It is essential that storm chasers demonstrate safe practices during severe weather because their footage is what is distributed by the media. Public awareness of tornado chasing has increased in the last decade due to popular TV shows and media coverage. This has inspired the public to become involved in their own chasing endeavors using the chasers’ videos as a guide to “how to chase,” even if the practices are unsafe.

Chasers have been posting close calls and “being hit” videos for years, which the public sees and digests, leading them to make similar dangerous decisions. Had this tornado, or any of the dozens that have been captured, been stronger, lives would have been lost or adversely affected by these choices. As storm chasers continue to post such close calls, the public continues to lose respect for the true danger of these events, leading them to take chances and put themselves and others in great danger.

With storm season in full swing through the end of June, more and more chasers will hit the road to document these forces of nature. Their videos will keep showing up across news sites, social media and TV specials documenting not only storms, but chasers’ own procedures. Inevitably, when something goes wrong, these chasers will be left with a choice of what to do with their video. They may not be able to fully control the circumstances around them in the field, but what they do in the editing is something they can control. That choice will be between the sale of an entertaining, yet foolhardy video, or the responsibility of keeping those unsafe practices out of the viewing of the public.

Tony Laubach is a meteorologist with more than 17 years of storm chasing experience. He has been featured on TV programs for National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel as well as had his severe weather video featured on news networks all over the world. 

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Missouri capitol reporters still trying to police their own

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri State Capitol is a very busy place in April as the annual legislative session nears adjournment and lawmakers hawk dozens of bills in frantic attempts to make them law.

Journalists sweat to cover the chaos.

But despite the pressure, the reporters who make up the Missouri Capitol News Association were not too busy to come together again earlier this month to consider problems with one of the press corps’ members, the Missouri Times, a newlyformed organ published by former Poplar Bluff Mayor Scott Faughn.

The press group, which represents about a dozen news organizations that cover state government, had put the Missouri Times on notice in late January that it had to come up with a policy that demonstrated editorial independence while at the same time giving assurances that it was no longer hosting lobbyist-sponsored parties.

While Faughn told the group the parties were a thing of the past, the policy he delivered fell short of expectations. His acknowledgement that a member of the state House had used a sleeping room for lodging in the Missouri Times business office did not add to Faughn’s credibility.

But while one member of the press corps wanted to suspend the Missouri Times from the group, the vast majority agreed to give him more time to come up with a stronger written policy that separates the financial side of the Missouri Times from the reporters who cover the news.

The policy statement that Faughn sent by email on March 30 said, in part, “The newspaper and its staff should be free of obligations to news sources, newsmakers, and outside interests. Conflict of interest should be avoided. Newspapers should accept nothing of value from news sources or others outside the profession. Gifts and free or reduced-rate travel, entertainment, products and lodging should not be accepted.”

Some reporters at Monday’s meeting said the constant use of the word “should” was too weak, and that a blanket prohibition against conflicts, gifts and political activities should be part of the policy. They also said a stronger “firewall” should be demarked between Faughn, who solicits ads and sells subscriptions, and his two reporters who cover the capital.

Question from reporters seemed to reflect a concern that some lobbyists are positioned to influence news coverage.

“If a lobbyist calls you to complain about a story, what do you do?” asked Bob Watson of the Jefferson City News Tribune.

“They do, a lot,” Faughn responded. “I have to read the story to see if they may be right, especially if it’s a factual thing. We won’t put something out that’s incorrect.”

“Is someone who bought a full page ad in the paper more likely to have a story written about them?” asked David Lieb of the Associated Press.

“No,” Faughn responded. “They wouldn’t even know that’s happening.”

“But don’t you assign stories though?” asked Virginia Young of the Post-Dispatch.

“If I get tips,” Faughn replied. “But I don’t assign stories or what to write about them.”

In response to a question from the Columbia Tribune’s Rudi Keller, Faughn admitted that state Rep. Elijah Haahr, a Republican from Springfield, had lodged in a sleeping room at the Missouri Times’ business office in Jefferson City.

“He stayed for a little bit between places, and again it was about two years ago maybe,” Faughn said. “I wasn’t there. He moved on.” Haahr did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

The Missouri Capitol News Association, founded in 1988, is responsible for allocating parking spaces near the state Capitol and offices within it for legitimate news organizations. The association’s bylaws state that members must be “editorially independent of any political party, institution, foundation, lobbying entity or business group.”

The association allocated facilities for the Missouri Times shortly after it was formed two years ago by Faughn and former House Speaker Rod Jetton. At that time, Phill Brooks, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri and the KMOX radio reporter covering the capital, asked for a written policy describing the Missouri Times’ editorial independence. He has never received an acceptable statement.

During the most recent meeting, Brooks moved that the Times be suspended from the association until it came up with an acceptable ethics policy while still keeping its access to a parking space and office. At stake, Brooks said, was “our credibility as an organization as to whether or not we will uphold the standards we espouse as journalists.”

“I feel like I tried to do what you asked,” Faughn said.

After no one would second Brooks’ motion, the group approved another Young offered that gave the Missouri Times until the end of May to produce “an updated policy that addresses concerns about establishing a firewall between financial activities of the Missouri Times with its sources and the people covering the news.”

The Missouri Times publishes a weekly print product that’s distributed free of charge and makes stories available on an Internet website. Its two reporters are Collin Reischman and Rachael Herndon, whose Republican connections and political activities raised questions during the association’s meeting in January.

Faughn said this week that the problems with Herndon’s independence had been addressed and resolved. “Anybody who works for the Missouri Times cannot be involved in partisan politics,” he said.

Jetton is no longer involved in the publication of the Times. Faughn also owns the SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff and has a show, “This Week in Missouri Politics” on KDNL-TV Channel 30 in St. Louis.

In 2007, Faughn was convicted by a Cape Girardeau County jury of three counts of felony forgery. In that case, he was accused of forging checks for an account for a highway expansion project.

Other journalists at Monday’s meeting represented the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Public Radio, the Missourinet and Politicmo.

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The Pulitzer for Breaking News Photos: Breakthrough for the Post?

There’s a line in the “first rough draft” of recent Post-Dispatch history — the paper’s own account of winning its first Pulitzer Prize in 26 years on Monday — that sounds a bittersweet note, at least to me.

“The mood in the newsroom became tense as [Pulitzer administrator Mike] Pride read through the awards for reporting,” writes Tim O’Neil. “When he started into the next-to-last category, breaking news photography, and uttered the words ‘…to the St. Louis…,’ the room erupted in joy.”

The sweet is obvious: “Photographers hugged each other to the cheers of their colleagues.” Echoes, to be sure, of 17 other newsroom celebrations held by Post-Dispatch staffers over nine decades, starting in the 1920s when the legendary Daniel R.  Fitzpatrick first won for cartooning; reporting by John T. Rogers got an Illinois federal judge impeached for wrongdoing; and Paul Y. Anderson helped bring the Teapot Dome scandal to light.

The bitter? That the remarkable, intensive news coverage by Post-Dispatch reporters and editors — of the same Ferguson nightmare of violence that led to the photography Pulitzer — received no mention, either as winner or finalist. (In one earlier contest, the Scripps Howard Awards, the P-D had been the breaking news winner, with its photojournalism a finalist.) The breaking news reporting Pulitzer Prize went to the Seattle Times, for what the Pulitzer citation called “its digital account of a landslide that killed 43 people and the impressive follow-up reporting that explored whether the calamity could have been avoided.”

Perhaps Monday’s joy in St. Louis did overwhelm everything else. “I have heard just one newsroom staffer say later that it was embarrassing not to be included among the Pulitzer finalists for breaking news reporting,” Michael Sorkin tells me. Adds the veteran P-D reporter, who in 1993 was a Pulitzer finalist for investigative reporting, as part of a team with Terry Ganey and Lou Rose: “Everyone else in the newsroom seems to be enjoying the win. That includes me — the photographers earned it, pure and simple.”

Like Sorkin, who wasn’t in the newsroom for that Pulitzer announcement, this Post-Dispatch fan shares the excitement. The Pulitzers are in my blood. Especially those 18 Pulitzers in P-D history.

In 2002 I delivered a talk to the Post-Dispatch staff about the 15 years, from 1937 to 1952, when the Post won an unprecedented five Pulitzer Prizes for Public Service—the gold medals that are America’s highest journalistic honor. (For that that talk, I researched all its Pulitzers, and finalists, too, from 1991, 1993, 2000 and 2002. There’ve been four more finalists since: one in 2009, two in 2010, and this year’s for Ferguson-related editorial writing by Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan.)

So I’m using this space to recap a bit, and put the latest prize in congratulatory perspective.

First some Pulitzer background: The prizes having been endowed through the 1911 will of newspaper pioneer Joseph Pulitzer—then the owner of the Post-Dispatch (and the now-defunct New York World)—that award-granting organization set strict rules to keep interested P-D parties out of award decisions involving their own papers. (The last related Pulitzer board member was Joseph Pulitzer III, who died in 1993.)

The run of five public service Pulitzers started in 1937 with honors for a remarkable expose of voter fraud in St. Louis, with managing editor O.K. Bovard sending out reporters—including Roy J. Harris, my late father, and his late colleague Selwyn Pepper—to check out abandoned apartment buildings, confirming that at least 40,000 names on the voter roles were phony. It was a reporting performance praised by then-P-D owner and editor Joseph Pulitzer II, who also chaired the Pulitzer Prize board.

Next (1941) came a remarkable campaign to clean up St. Louis’s air. That project started with the editor himself, who saw the filth whenever he returned home from his summer estate in pristine Bar Harbor, Maine. The third gold medal (1948) was for coverage of a Centralia, Ill., mine explosion fatal to 111 miners—a tragedy P-D reporters were able to trace to state mine inspectors who’d been paid off to let deadly conditions persist. And in 1950, public service gold medals went to the P-D and the Chicago Daily News, awarded for work by my dad, who teamed with Chicago reporter George Thiem in an unusual (for the time) collaboration exposing dozens of journalists on the state payroll.

The Post’s fifth public service Pulitzer, two years later, was largely for the work of investigative reporter Ted Link, with Selwyn Pepper on rewrite. Link disclosed widespread patronage-related corruption in what later became the Internal Revenue Service.

Outside Rogers’ and Anderson’s prizes and those five of the public service recipients, most other Post-Dispatch winners have been honored in non-reporting roles: Bill Mauldin for cartooning (1959); Robert Lasch for editorials (1966), Marquis Childs for commentary (1970) and Frank Peters for music criticism (1972.)

Then in 1989 came the Pulitzer for freelance photographer Ron Olshwanger—the last prize until this week: for his stunning picture in the P.D. of a firefighter trying to resuscitate a child pulled from a burning building.

Since then the Pulitzer competition had produced for the Post “only” finalists: celebrated work by Bill Woo in commentary (1991); Philip Kennicott, Bill Freivogel and John Carlton in editorial writing (2000, 2002 and 2010), and Robert Cohen’s feature photography (also 2010.) The sole reporting finalist was in 2009, to the P-D staff, for breaking news coverage of the city hall shooting in Kirkwood.

From my own perspective, I have followed the P-D closely at Pulitzer time ever since leaving the newsroom as a summer-replacement reporter in 1967, moving first to the Los Angeles Times and then to the Wall Street Journal. Over the years, this Post-Dispatch “brat” was cheered by its honored finalists—who illustrated that the paper was staying “in striking distance” — and then by that lone Pulitzer-winning photo. But I was saddened to see no more Post prizes.

So, was this year’s long-awaited Pulitzer for breaking news photography really a breakthrough for the Post-Dispatch?

From afar, I’m sure pulling for the paper, as are many other P-D fans. Like Kathy Best, a longtime Post staffer who left the paper as assistant managing editor/metro in 2005. (One of her memories of following Pulitzer announcements in St. Louis: Finding that the beloved Bill Woo hadn’t won for commentary in 1991. “The day he didn’t win was a really difficult one for everybody there,” she recalls.)

Best now is editor of the Seattle Times.

And watching the Pulitzer announcement from her own newsroom, “I had my fingers crossed for them to win something,” she says. “Selfishly, I didn’t want them to win at the expense of my newsroom. Still, I know what it’s like to have to keep a newsroom engaged and moving forward and enthused, day after day after day.” At the breaking news photography announcement, “I was thrilled for them. I’d been just blown away by the quality of their photography; they were putting themselves in harm’s way every day.” She was happy, too, “that such incredible work by the photo staff was honored, and, with editorial writing finalists being named, too, that the paper’s work on Ferguson was recognized in more than one way.”

In advance of Monday’s announcement, Best had prepared her own Times staff for any eventuality: “I told them the Pulitzers are a crap shoot, and win or lose we did great work.”

Here’s hoping the Post-Dispatch keeps on rolling the dice.


Harris, a veteran of the Wall Street Journal and the Economist’s CFO Magazine, is author of Pulitzer’s Gold, which tells stories behind the stories of public service prizes. Columbia University Press is publishing a new edition in time for next year’s centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes. He also follows the Pulitzers each year for Poynter Online, starting with a preview of the competition.

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Four Pinocchios for ‘Hands Up;’ Time to own up, editor says

A month after Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown, CNN broadcast what looked like a blockbuster “exclusive.” It was a videotape of two white construction workers who said Brown had his hands up when killed.  One worker even gestures with his hands up.

CNN’s analysts called it a “game changer” and its legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the witnesses had described “a cold-blooded murder.”


But instead of a game changer or evidence of a crime, the contractors turned out to be two of a score of unreliable witnesses and the clearest example of how the media helped create the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” myth.


The story began in St. Louis where KTVI had interviewed one of the workers and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the other.  The Post-Dispatch reported that the men’s accounts matched accounts from neighborhood residents about Brown raising his hands.



At MSNBC, Chris Hayes carried a long report and Lawrence O’Donnell followed up. Vox had a story as did the Washington Post. Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept included an account of the workers in its summary of evidence against Wilson entitled, “Down Outright Murder.”




But it all turned out to be wrong.  The video was not taken in “the final moments of the shooting,” as CNN reported.  Nor were the accounts of the contractors credible.

In fact, the telltale proof that the workers hadn’t seen what they claimed was contained in KTVI’s first interview with the men before any of the sensational coverage.  One of the men told KTVI that three officers were at the scene when only Wilson was there. That was the tipoff error that convinced the Justice Department the men hadn’t seen what they claimed.

In recent weeks, there have been a few mea culpas on the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” mantra.

The Washington Post’s opinion writer, Jonathan Capehart, admitted  it was “built on a lie.”  The Post’s fact-checker gave it a four Pinocchios rating for untruthfulness.  New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan recanted an earlier column criticizing the Times reporters for quoting unnamed sources who had corroborated Wilson’s account of self-defense.




Not everyone is willing to give up on Hands Up. The Post quoted one skeptic, Saint Louis University law school professor Justin Hansford, who retained Hands Up as his Facebook photo. Hansford said, “I don’t feel any way that I was somehow duped or tricked or that my picture was based on a lie. I think it is a very symbolic gesture that really speaks to the experiences of a lot of us, a lot of youth of color.”

A separate Justice Department report released the same day as the investigation of Wilson, provided plenty of proof that Ferguson police and municipal courts engaged in racist and unconstitutional practices targeting African-Americans.  As Attorney General Eric Holder said, this may have made the community more willing to believe the rumors and false accounts circulated about the death of Michael Brown.

At week’s end, St. Louis Public Radio editor Margaret Wolf Freivogel said in a column that it was time for the press to reappraise not only why it had gotten Hands Up wrong, but also why it had failed to report in the past about the racist and unconstitutional police and municipal court practices  in Ferguson.


“We journalists hold others accountable for their shortcomings,” she wrote. “But in the months since Michael Brown was shot, we’ve had trouble owning up to our own.”


Publisher’s note: William H. Freivogel is a contributor to St. Louis Public Radio where his wife, Margaret, is the editor.

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Michel Martin urges journalists to tell the uncomfortable truth

“Journalism matters because we have the responsibility to inform readers of the truth of their world, even when they don’t want us to.”

That was the message Michel Martin, host of NPR’s “Tell Me More,” and journalist of more than 25 years gave guests at Gateway Journalism Review’s First Amendment Celebration March 19.

Drawing journalists and friends of news from around the region, the event took place at the Edward Jones headquarters in Des Peres, Mo.

“We are following the story of ourselves as a nation,” Martin said of the media’s Ferguson coverage. Just as we as a people are imperfect, journalism should “hold a mirror to both flaws and beauty,” she said.

Martin said she didn’t want to give too many opinions on the shooting of Michael Brown, because she would be moderating a Ferguson community discussion again shortly and wanted to retain some neutrality.

She left the opinion to the follow-up panel. The panel consisted of Alvin A. Reid, a weekly panelist on KETC-PBS’s “Donnybrook,” and St. Louis Magazine contributor; Patrick Gauen, who has been the police and court editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch since 2000, and a weekly columnist since 1989; Tim Eby, who has been in public radio for three decades and is general manager of St. Louis Public Radio; and Craig Cheatham who has worked in broadcast journalism for 30 years. Cheatam filed numerous in-depth reports on Ferguson and led KMOV’s analysis of the Grand Jury documents.

Sorting out facts

GJR’s publisher, William Freivogel, introduced the panel discussion by asking two questions:

“How did we allow this mantra to get started — ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ — when the Justice Department has refuted that it happened?” he asked.  And “how have we allowed pervasive racism to exist so long right under our noses?”

While Gauen said the facts of the case contradicted “the narrative,” he thought Brown has become symbolic for pervasive – and real – victimization around the country.

Reid wasn’t so sure the Justice Department report fully refuted the narrative. “I am convinced we still don’t know what happened on that street in Ferguson.”

Gauen said there was “an inability to tell a balanced story on all sides.” In contrast to 50 years ago, when there were no protester accounts, now there were few police viewpoints. The police had less control of the information surrounding this case than they typically do, he said. Social media contributed to them losing the shape of the narrative.

Touching on citizen journalists’ role in Ferguson, Reid said their involvement has been “problematic.” Their contributions were marred through their antagonism of the police, he said.

“I felt very early there was a false narrative going on,” said Cheatham. “There is a difference between peaceful and non-violent protest. I reported on how some of the police went down and were scared by those protests. I was tagged as a ‘pro-cop’ reporter, and in that environment, you don’t want to get tagged as pro-anything.”

He added that he thought the media did a poor job of covering the protesters’ side early on, when they were too busy instead staying on top of the story as it broke.

“People want their own facts,” Cheatam later said. Journalists shouldn’t feel pressure to cater to them.

Looking at the big picture, “the region has permanently changed,” according to Eby. “There are a lot of people who just want things to go back to the way they were before Aug. 9. I don’t think that’s possible,” he said. It is now journalists’ job to bring the conversation the case started to the forefront, he added.

‘Tell all stories’

Before moderating their panel, Martin talked about the Children’s Crusade, the 1963 civil rights demonstration by hundreds of Birmingham school students in Alabama. Local newspapers agreed not to put the confrontation on their front pages, even though the national papers did – it was “too explosive,” Martin said. There were also no quotes from the demonstrators.

The Birmingham papers said they didn’t know how to cover the story – and wouldn’t know who to call for quotes from the protestors’ side. “I’m very confident that we are doing better than that,” Martin said. “But are we doing the best we can do? How deep are our rolodexes?”

Martin used this question to pivot to underrepresented groups within journalism, pointing out large gender and race disparities in bylines nationwide. Even the New York Times, under then-editor Jill Abramson, had the fewest female bylines among the 10 biggest news outlets. On network television, most news shows’ guest analysts remain white males.

“Are women of color only capable of talking about what they are, not what they know?” Martin asked.

“We have to do our jobs,” she said – and do them better. Journalism should “tell all stories,” and depict “the world as it is, not as we want it to be. It is the media’s honor, its duty to learn this uncomfortable world as it is, not as it was.” This is important in world of polarized media where you can now “pick your own truth,” she said.

“It’s expensive education,” she concluded, quoting former GJR fundraiser speaker John Seigenthaler, for whom she had earlier asked a moment of silence. “But we’ve tried ignorance so many ways, and it doesn’t work.”



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In Fox News We Trust — Should Walter Cronkite be rolling over in his grave?

The bad news for liberals and progressives arrived via a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University: Fox News was the news source among broadcast and cable networks Americans trusted most.

Fox beat all networks handily, garnering 29 percent as “most trustworthy” among the 1,286 registered voters called between February 26 and March 2. CNN took second place with 22 percent, CBS and NBC tied at distant third with 10 percent each, ABC followed with 8 percent and forward-leaning MSNBC was at the back of the pack with 7 percent.

The Washington Post was aghast that “for millions of Americans Fox News is the mainstream media.” Liberal blogs found the poll results “terrifying” and bemoaned the fact that the conservative network, a “Murdoch-owned scream machine” to one blogspot, had become a “ratings juggernaut.”

Should Walter Cronkite, icon of liberal or mainstream broadcast news during the 1960 and ’70s, be turning over in his grave?

Not too often. A Gallup poll conducted in late 2014 revealed that 60 percent of Americans don’t trust all news media; other recent polls have told us that “America’s confidence in news media remains low.”

But follow-up questions are rarely asked in these polls. We don’t discover if confidence was ever high, when that was, and why confidence diminished or disappeared.

The Quinnipiac poll takes a perfunctory shot at asking and gives the following results: 48 percent of voters interviewed say that the information presented on television news is “less newsworthy” than in the heyday of broadcast news, only 7 percent consider it “more trustworthy” and 35 percent consider it “about the same.”

Almost the same percentage (42 percent) is saying that the news presented on Cronkite at CBS or Huntley-Brinkley on NBC was more than or as “newsworthy” as the 48 percent who consider the news on television today “less newsworthy.”

That could be because the half hour Cronkite and others had available then rarely featured celebrity scandals or tales of crime the full hour allotted to Bill O’Reilly or Rachel Maddow permits to titillate viewers. Cronkite did not compete with the National Enquirer or PEOPLE Magazine.

But we do not learn whether or not the respondents in the poll speak from experience, from having watched nightly news on the three networks when they dominated television news, and compare what they remember to the fare on the cable channels today.

Moreover, how much do they know about stories, from political to economic or foreign news, to judge them more or less accurate, as worthy or unworthy of their trust? And, where do they get the information to shape such judgments?

Newspapers and magazines, alas, are not mentioned in these polls, nor are the young people who tend to, as they often inform pollsters, “seek out personal venues for getting information.” A Facebook message from a friend, citing a passage from a blog or comment by another friend, is such a venue, as are late night TV jokes or news as seen by stars of Comedy Central. Entertaining while sneaking in facts works.

Fox News gloated when, on March 9, the Quinnipiac poll crowned it King of Newscasts. Soon after, reports of a major shake-up and realignment at MSNBC were published. Liberals and progressives, after all, still have NPR and three biggies of daily print journalism—the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times—to carry the banner for the Democrats’ agenda and for social reforms.

Yet, they ought to take a look at what Fox News did well to perform so well on the latest poll, and how MSNBC screwed up. Personalities on the screen matter, in a way they of course never did in print or in the old broadcast news business. Edward R. Murrow was not a laugh every three minutes and reported without chatting or shouting. Hectoring, the boys and girls at MSNBC might discover, does not make a conversation.

But there is solace in the really big picture. Another poll revealed that “Americans don’t trust each other.” Only one third of respondents in an Associated Press poll believed that “most people can be trusted.”  As 27-year-old Bart Murawski of Albany, NY, put it: “I’m leery of everybody.”

Including the hosts and talking heads on the news.


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Post-Dispatch wins Scripps Howard award for Ferguson coverage

The Scripps Howard Foundation has awarded its first place national breaking news award for 2014 to the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for coverage of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the chaotic events that followed.

“A news organization is never tested more thoroughly than when a major story breaks in its backyard,” the contest judges said. “The Post-Dispatch was tested by a story that was fluid, emotional, important and not easily told with clarity and balance. It passed this test with textbook execution.”

The Cincinnati-based foundation announced the awards and finalists Tuesday. The contest entries were reviewed by industry experts who studied them during two days of judging at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Post-Dispatch entries for editorial writing and photojournalism, both focusing on Ferguson events, were finalists in the Scripps Howard competition. They were: “Lessons from Ferguson,” editorials by Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan and a portfolio of photos by Robert Cohen.

Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9 following an altercation on a city street. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson last November, and a Justice Department report released earlier this month concluded that Wilson had been justified in shooting.

The circumstances surrounding Brown’s death and the grand jury’s decision led to months of protest, sporadic violence and property destruction. News organizations from throughout the country converged on what quickly became a national story. The incident prompted an examination of police practices, racial disparities in law enforcement employment and injustice in the operations of municipal courts.

The judges who reviewed the breaking stories for the Scripps Howard contest said the Post-Dispatch editors recognized the implications of the story from the first minute they learned of the shooting. “Using every resource at its disposal, the Post-Dispatch began reporting the story and telling it, first on social media and by morning in print,” the judges said. “Its reporters and photographers stayed on the streets, with apparent inexhaustible commitment. And its editors and layout team pulled together the results in vivid and compelling packages on day one, day two and beyond.”

The newspaper’s reporting staff was sometimes exposed to physical violence in carrying out their assignments. Once about 20 people picketed the Post-Dispatch claiming it was biased against protestors. The newspaper scored news beats in its coverage such as the official autopsy of Michael Brown and surveillance video of Darren Wilson leaving the Ferguson police station after the shooting.

The award carries with it a trophy and $10,000. The other finalists in the breaking news category included the Everett, (Wash.) Daily Herald for its coverage of a mudslide that crushed a rural neighborhood killing 43 people, and the CBS Evening News’ reporting from Cuba following the surprise announcement of re-established relations with the United States.

The Scripps Howard Foundation, established in 1953, is the charitable arm of E.W. Scripps Company, which owns television stations and other media outlets throughout the country. Recipients of the journalism awards will be honored in Denver on May 21.


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Twitter explodes with invective, partisan comment after Ferguson shootings

Twitter provided the earliest reports of the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson this week. It also provided the forum for invective, hate and partisan reaction.

President Barack Obama used Twitter to condemn the shootings and conservative critics condemned Obama for relegating his response to Twitter.

Fox commentators blamed Attorney General Eric Holder’s report last week on unconstitutional police practices in Ferguson for creating the atmosphere in which the officers were shot. On Fox, Jeff Roorda, the head of the St. Louis police union said the resignation of Ferguson Chief Tom Jackson wasn’t enough for protesters, commenting, “They didn’t get what they wanted when Tom stepped down. They got it late last night when they finally, successfully shot two police officers.”


Protest leaders and the Brown family condemned the violence in press conferences and on Twitter.  But social media critics of the Ferguson police filled Twitter with invective about the police shootings being just in light of the death of Michael Brown.


Meanwhile the Twitter handle for police supporters #bluelivesmatter was trending.

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Minds open; don’t prejudge

In announcing that no federal criminal charges would be filed against Officer Darren Wilson, Attorney General Eric Holder said he recognized “the findings in our report may leave some to wonder how the department’s findings can differ so sharply from some of the initial, widely reported accounts of what transpired.”  He added that it “remains not only valid — but essential — to question how such a strong alternative version of events was able to take hold so swiftly, and be accepted so readily.”

The attorney general offered one explanation for the willingness of the protesters to accept the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” narrative that the Justice Department report refutes.  His explanation was that the blatantly unconstitutional policing and municipal court practices were so racist that they created a powder keg that exploded on the August afternoon that Wilson killed Michael Brown.

But those in the media – traditional, new and social – might also take a look in the mirror.

Ron Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund that supports cops accused of crimes while on duty, put it this way in the New York Times: “The lie got repeated over and over again. It was the headline in major newspapers and other major media publications all summer, all fall. And the subtext was: Racist rogue cop kills innocent black teen. And it was a lie.”


The Times, in quoting Hosko, seems almost surprised that the hand’s up mantra was not supported by facts.  But there shouldn’t be any surprise. It’s been clear for months that there was little evidence to support it and other details in initial media accounts.

In fact, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said it himself in his press conference in November announcing the grand jury’s decision not to indict. He said then:

“The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about, following closely behind with the non-stop rumors on social media.

The liberal online media echo chamber led by Huffington Post blasted the claim as “bizarre,” commenting that, “Media figures and social media users lashed out at the notion that cable news and Twitter were to blame for the tension in the months following Brown’s death, rather than the death itself.”


What changed with the Justice Department’s report this week is that career prosecutors went witness by witness showing how the original media accounts of unreliable witnesses were refuted by either physical evidence or inconsistencies with later accounts.

In the end, the department’s investigators concluded that all credible witnesses, physical evidence and forensic analysis either supported Wilson’s account of shooting in self-defense or failed to refute his account.

In the long run, the most important story this week was the grossly unconstitutional way in which Ferguson ran its police department and municipal courts in tandem as an ATM for the city budget, brutalizing African-Americans along the way.  But hopefully the media will take some time for reflection before rushing off with a false narrative on the next national media storm.

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Post-Dispatch’s Bailon wins Editor of the Year Award

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon has won one of journalism’s top honors—the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award given by the National Press Foundation. The foundation is a national journalism training organization that recognizes a newspaper or magazine editor annually. The award was established in 1984 but has been given in Bradlee’s name only since 2006. Bradlee, the longtime Washington Post editor, died last October at 93.

In selecting Bailon, the judges said: “If ever a newspaper and its editor faced a real-time stress test, it was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and editor Gilbert Bailon in 2014. From the shooting of Michael Brown in August through the November announcement by the grand jury, the Post-Dispatch was under pressure. But it delivered for its readers and the larger St. Louis community with a breadth of coverage that is truly impressive. Hundreds of stories, dozens of editorials, every piece of evidence – all were there either in print or on the paper’s website. Most striking were the photographs, often taken at great personal risk to the photographers. Throughout it all, Bailon was a strong presence both in the community and in his newsroom, fighting for access and striving to keep the coverage balanced and emotions in check.”

The award was given in Washington, D.C., last week at the foundation’s annual dinner. Typically, the winning newspaper presents a short video on the winner. The Post-Dispatch produced one, in which various editors sung Bailon’s praises.

In brief remarks after the award was given, Bailon credited the newspaper’s ownership for “giving us the resources and latitude to do great journalism under great stress” after the Brown shooting. He observed that he never had been involved in covering such a “volatile” story.

Bailon said that the Post-Dispatch’s journalists “are the heroes tonight.” He noted that some had been assaulted in covering the Ferguson shooting’s aftermath, including one who was chased out of a backyard at gunpoint. Many Post-Dispatch employees have been subject to racial taunts and threats to cancel subscriptions, he said.

The Ferguson episode “has reaffirmed our vital role to tell stories…and to hold public institutions accountable,” Bailon said.

Among other recent winners of the award are David Remnick of The New Yorker, Leonard Downie Jr., Bradlee’s successor at the Washington Post, and Gregory L. Moore of the Denver Post, who was cited for his newspaper’s coverage of the mass killing at a suburban Denver movie theater.

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Benjamin Israel remembered

Benjamin Israel, 65, died Monday after a lengthy period of ill health. There will be no funeral for Mr. Israel, who donated his body “ to serve science after death.”

A memorial service is scheduled Saturday between noon and 1 p.m. at the St. Louis Art Museum in the East Building in a private room of the Panoroma Restaurant.

His wife of 25 years, Virginia, said she “Just lost my boy friend.”

“He wanted to be an agent for social change,” she said, “whether it was leafleting or campaigning for one of his many causes.”

Don Corrigan, a professor at Webster University, called Mr. Israel, “A fellow of integrity that few of us can match.”

Mr. Israel was immersed in local and national media, and he had a deep knowledge of African-American history. For years, he was a frequent contributor to the former St. Louis Journalism Review and to Gateway Journalism Review.

He had recently been a writing tutor at Harris-Stowe State University. His reporting has been published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, North County Journal, Jefferson County Leader and the Columbia Tribune.

He received his B.A. at University of Missouri’s School of Journalism in Columbia and his M.A. at University of Missouri-St. Louis in history.
Besides his wife, he is survived by his sister, Sylvia Woodbury, and daughters Rosaclaire Baisinger, Zainab Smith and April Heermance; sons Josh Baisinger, Aasim Inshirah and Atief Heermance; and two granddaughters.

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Michel Martin to discuss Ferguson coverage

“Ferguson and the media” will be the topic discussed at a Journalism Review event March 19 hosted by veteran broadcast journalist Michel Martin. Martin has reported for the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and was host of NPR’s “Tell Me More.” She recently has reported on voting rights and racial justice issues.

The Thursday night dinner and program will be from 6 to 10 p.m. at Edward Jones Inc.’s corporate headquarters at 12555 Manchester Road and I-270. Cost is $150 per person. It will be the Fourth Annual First Amendment Celebration sponsored by the Gateway Journalism Review, successor to the St. Louis Journalism Review.

To attend, call Sherida Evans at 618-453-3262; or email Sherida @ siu.edu. USPS: Sherida Evans, Mailcode 6601, School of Journalism, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, Il. 62901

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Parties and the press

JEFFERSON CITY – The Jefferson City press corps has voted to give the Missouri Times until the end of March to clean up the news organization’s ethics mess or face the possibility of losing credentials to cover events in Missouri’s state capital.

Ten representatives of wire service, print and broadcast news organizations met Monday to discuss the lobbyist-sponsored parties that Times’ publisher Scott Faughn had held for lawmakers at the newspaper’s office in Jefferson City. While some press corps members appeared ready to vote to take away the Times’ allocation of capital office and parking spaces, the group approved a motion giving it the chance to draft a newsroom policy of editorial independence as well as time to demonstrate that the lobbyist-sponsored parties were no longer taking place.

Collin Reischman, the Times’ managing editor, told the group Faughn was not a journalist and was unschooled in ethics policies. And Reischman said Faughn was trying to hire a consultant to give advice on the development of a mission statement, an employee handbook and “best practices” that would prevent problems in the future.

“I do take issue with the way Scott does things,” Reischman said. “I told him fifty different times that he shouldn’t do them again. If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be any parties.”

While capital city reporters and lawmakers had been aware of the Times’ parties for months, the issue became public Jan. 4 when Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune reported details of as many as six events, including the fact they “went largely unreported to the state Ethics Commission.”

James Klahr, the executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said Tuesday that “it would be a good idea” for lobbyists who spend money on lawmakers, either individually or in a group settings like the Times’ parties, to report it to the commission.

The reporting requirements aside, several reporters present for Monday’s meeting said the parties violated journalistic ethical standards by creating an apparent, if not a real, conflict of interest.

“This has raised credibility questions for us,” said Phill Brooks, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri and the KMOX radio reporter covering the capital. “We uphold standards of editorial independence and the avoidance of a conflict of interest.”

Brooks noted that two years ago, when the press corps first accredited the Missouri Times, he requested a written policy that described its editorial independence since both the Times’ founders, Faughn and former House Speaker Rod Jetton, had been involved in politics. Brooks said he never got the policy.


The Times publishes a weekly print product that’s distributed free of charge, and makes stories available on an Internet website: http://themissouritimes.com. Reischman said the press run is usually 1,000 to 2,000 issues, but sometimes has been as large as 5,000. The publication has two full time reporters, Reischman and Rachael Herndon, whose editorial independence was questioned during Monday’s meeting.

Herndon was identified as the president of the Cole County Young Republicans as recently as June of last year. Copies of emails were distributed at Monday’s meeting showing that prior to the November general election, Herndon was going door-to-door campaigning in behalf of Bryan Stumpe, the Republican candidate for Cole County circuit judge. In encouraging others to work for Stumpe, Herndon’s email said, “The current judge is one of the last Democrats holding office in Cole County.” The incumbent judge, Patricia Joyce, retained her seat.

“Standards that we expect are not being met when a company is soliciting lobbyists for parties and a reporter working for a paper is a party operative,” Keller said.

“I’m not denying that that was problem,” Reischman responded, “But we are rectifying that now.”

In an interview, Reischman said he had been aware of Herndon’s prior political work and that he had told her she had to stop it. But he said he apparently hadn’t been emphatic enough on that point. “I should have been more clear,” he said. Since then, Reischman said, he had had a “come to Jesus meeting” with Herndon, and she remains a reporter.

Neither Faughn nor Herndon responded to a Gateway Journalism Review reporter’s requests for comment.

According to the Missouri Times web site, Herndon studied communication and art history at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and previously worked as a campaign staff member. Reischman has a journalism degree from Webster University.

The web site also describes Faughn as the Missouri Times’ publisher and president of SEMO TIMES, a weekly newspaper in Poplar Bluff, Mo. It also describes Faughn as a member of the St. Louis Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The SPJ’s Code of Ethics says journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” The code also says journalists should “refuse gifts” and shun “political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.”

Faughn is the former mayor of Poplar Bluff. In 2007 he was convicted in Cape Girardeau County of three counts of forgery.


Journalists covering state government are members of the Missouri Capitol News Association. The organization meets infrequently as the need arises, usually to allocate resources for reporters such as office accommodations, parking spaces and a spot at the Senate press table.

The organization’s bylaws require that for an entity to be credentialed, it must distribute news to a broad segment of the public, be independent of any lobbying activity and demonstrate its ability to cover the capital for at least six months. In addition to the Missouri School of Journalism, KMOX and the Columbia Tribune, journalists at Monday’s meeting represented the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Public Radio, the Missourinet, KRCG-TV, and the Jefferson City News Tribune.

After agreeing that Monday’s meeting was open to coverage by the Gateway Journalism Review, the group discussed plans by the Republican-controlled state Senate to remove reporters from a press table on the floor of the chamber and sequester them in a spot in an upper gallery. It also voted to accredit Eli Yokley, who writes for a blog Politicmo and supplies news to the Joplin Globe, KY3-TV in Springfield and the New York Times.

After airing the controversy about the Missouri Times, the group agreed to reassess the news organization’s performance at a meeting that will be scheduled some time around the legislative Spring break, the last week of March.

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Danziger on Charlie Hebdo

I knew George Wolinski, but not closely. He saw the humor in everything, and probably even the black humor in the disaster than befell his last day on earth. If he got to meet with the murderers in heaven or wherever he might have pointed out that for all their expense and fear they accomplished nothing. They gave him a famous death rather than some waning, weakening thing, succumbing to Alzheimers. He might have written a note to be passed to God or Allah or whoever, saying something to the effect, look, these guy are idiots, make them work in the kitchen for a few years, that should do it.

Political cartoonists are heartened by stupidity in government especially the kind than is provided by politicians wrapped up in their own bull. We appreciate it more than most journalists when a candidate, especially for a re-election he or she does not merit, tries to deflect press attention from their abysmal records in office by lying and smiling to the voters. Paul Conrad, one of the deans of the cartooning field, working for the Los Angeles Times for many years, said that when Nixon resigned, “I wept.” Nixon has after all provided the Conrad family with bread and shelter for many years.

This perverse pleasure, which admittedly doesn’t seem to help the nation forward toward better government, still has a use. Prompted by some goofy or evil politician, a good cartoon can quickly show that we are not fooled. Editorialists temporize and try to answer their own questions, but the cartoons, if done right, are like an ice cube down the back of your shorts, uncomfortable and surprising, embarrassing and mortifying. Meant as a joke, but just a bit too harsh to forgive.

And too many ice cubes down too many shorts will result in a reaction, so a bit of judgment is needed.

Which is the problem with the Paris killings. Men like my colleague Wolinski didn’t believe in much of anything, certainly nothing religious. He and his editors were not just irreligious, they were anti-religious, and not just once in a while, but nearly every issue. They could not understand how anyone could take the claims of  religions seriously, and so they didn’t themselves. The practices of Islam, the proscriptions against most of the physically enjoyable parts of life, especially when you live among the best wine and the most intriguing women on earth, strike men like Wolinski as illogical at best and inhuman at worst. The Puritan ethic, the idea that to find anything more enjoyable than contemplation and worship of a Supreme Being, was to insult that Being. Fundmental Islam seemed to take that to the limit.

Should Charlie Hebdo have limited their insults to the Islamic faiths? Should they have looked for more intricate ways of amusing their readers at the expense of what they thought were stupid, irrational beliefs? Should they have, as a friend said, “stooped to subtlety”? Would their message been lost if the purposely and rather childishly insulting nature of their magazine had been tempered?

Curiously, here in the land of the free, political cartoonists are well used to self-control, if not self-censorship altogether. At the top of the list of subjects to be gentle about is religion. The American attitude is to let people alone in their minds, despite the hard charging right wing sections of the current GOP. And there is an American practicality in this. Barry Goldwater used to say that you can’t legislate morality, and he was righter than he thought. Force in almost any activity generates a counter force. Forced thinking doesn’t change the mind of anyone. Thus, reason most of us in the US, why try? Living a happy life despite attempts by others to prevent your enjoyment of it is the best response, and living well is the best revenge.

Until these murders, the satires on various faiths in Charlie Hebdo were pretty much without effect. The Jews were attacked and the paid no attention. The Catholic Church went about its archaic ceremonies unimpressed. If there was a difference in the radical Islamists it was that in France, they are poor and largely unemployed. And although there is no justification for the killings, there is an argument to be made that making immigration possible as the French have done to many peoples, and then treating immigrants poorly is bound to have a reaction.

So far the discussion and review of this bloody event has been to frame it as a freedom of expression issue. Well, it’s not that simple. Freedom is a wonderful idea, but reality has always trumped ideas. And the reality of human existence in these times is that a lot of people are crazy and believe insane things. And that there are a lot of guns and ammunition about.



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Media notes

St. Louis-based freelance photojournalist Randall Hyman has won a $40,000 grant from the Alicia Patterson Foundation for his project “High Stakes at High Latitudes: Climate Change in the Norwegian Arctic.” Hyman’s project will focus on the effects of climate change on commercial fishing, technology and adaptation to environmental damage. Hyman’s work has appeared in Smithsonian, GEO, Wildlife Conservation National Wildlifeand British Heritage.


On Jan. 12, Emily Rau replaced Claire Kellett as co-anchor of “News 4 This Morning” on KMOV-TV.  Kellett moved to the CBS affiliate’s “Great Day in St. Louis,” an hour-long weekday morning lifestyle and entertainment talk show.

Rau has been at the station since 2012. She joined Andre Hepkins at the anchor desk weekdays from 4:30 to 7:00 a.m.

Kellett replaced Virginia Kerr who left to start a business and a faith-based Christian television show.


St. Louis-based FleishmanHillard named Stefan Gerard as the firm’s global strategic integration lead. In addition to this role, he will lead the New York office’s brand marketing group. Gerard, a senior vice president and senior partner, has helped lead the agency’s strategic integration practice in the Americas since joining the firm in 2010. Gerard was president and co-founder of brand engagement firm Gen Art and was director of marketing and content strategy for iFUSE, as well as a planning director at advertising shops Y&R NY and Deutsch LA.

He replaced John McNeel who left Fleishman to be chief executive of Charleston, S.C.-based marketing and advertising firm in/PACT.


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Different facts

Watching two different stations may give viewers two different takes on the same story, depending on which facts they know and report.

Such was the case at noon on January 20.  Channel 4 (KMOV) led with a live report from Robin Smith in South St. Louis where a fatal accident had occurred hours earlier.  She noted that only MoDot was on the scene repairing a damaged pole.  She mention homicide investigators had been called in saying investigators were “not sure why it happened.” Channel 5 aired only a taped version of the accident as their second story.

They began with the line “Homicide detectives are on the scene…”  Not being live, and watching Channel 4 live on scene, this was simply incorrect.  They appeared to be gone as was the wrecked car.  However, Channel 5 had a better angle, even though they were not there as they noted WHY homicide had been called in.  The station reported it was because the “injuries were inconsistent with the crash.”  Robin Smith never gave the reason for calling in the homicide detectives. Depending upon who you were watching, different views of the same story.

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Serial journalism

If you haven’t listened to the NPR show “Serial” (available for free as Podcasts online as http://serialpodcast.org), you are missing some of what may be the best journalism ever.  Serial is a spin-off of NPR’s “This American Life.”  The premise is simple.  Reporter Sarah Koenig examines a single murder case with an abundance of questions surrounding it.  Is the man convicted of the crime really the one who did it?

There are a total of 12 episodes. The introduction to part 1 is described this way on their website.  “It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he’s innocent – though he can’t exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon.”

Her goal is to see if Syed is really the killer (he was convicted) as there are so many cracks in the case.  On the other hand, there are problems with his story too.

Each episode (times vary), Koenig examines different aspects of the case in great detail.  She looks at everything from the big picture to the smallest details.  She discusses the quality of the witnesses and looks for both consistency in their stories as well as inconsistencies.

Her reporting feels extraordinarily fair as she examines every nook and cranny of the case.  She tries to talk to as many of the original people involved in the case, including some who were not called to testify yet might have impacted the outcome.  Most people agreed to be recorded.  She regularly recorded discussions with Syed posing very direct questions. His answers often leave us wondering if he is guilty or not.  Even Koenig discusses how she sways back and forth, sometimes thinking he is innocent, other times not so sure.

The extensive reporting is so thorough, she even examines evidence like what calls were made when from Syed’s cellphone and what towers picked up the signal (to help determine where he was at any given time).  She spends a good deal of time examining the credibility of “Jay,” the key witness for the prosecution.  She notes how parts of his story changed over time, yet other parts stayed the same.

Koenig’s reporting extends to herself, as she admits her changing biases and feelings along the way. As listeners, that gives us more context in evaluating her presentation of the facts.

In addition, there are lots of materials available at the serialpodcast.org website to augment the “serial” including maps, letters, pictures and relationship charts.

Serial is non-fiction, but reads like a great story and it shows that long form journalism still has a place in this short attention span world.

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Bree Smith a hit on national TV

On Tuesday, January 20, Channel 5 (KSDK) meteorologist Bree Smith appeared on the Today Show and made the people of the area proud.

Smith was invited to do the weather with Al Roker in the 8 am segment after St. Louisians contributed more than any other city to a Today Show fund raiser (for food).  The winning city’s NBC affiliate got their weathercaster on the Today Show to present the weather with Al Roker.

Her performance?  Just about perfect. She made everyone look good, including herself.  During the segment, nearly a minute and 45 seconds, she was complimentary to the people of St. Louis and others around the country for their giving as well as the Today Show for making the effort.  When she actually did the weather segment, the center of attention was on St. Louis…sort of.   The map showed the seven cities across the U.S. named “St. Louis,” one named “St. Louis Park,” an “Archville” and a couple of cities named “Arch.”  She gave the temperatures for a few of them, of course focusing on St. Louis, MO.  To top it off, she had Roker try a piece of traditional St. Louis gooey butter cake which he seemed to truly enjoy.

Smith came across as relaxed, competent and genuinely nice. She even did a great job “pitching” to the local stations’ forecasts expertly delivering the line, “That’s what’s going on around the country, here’s what’s happening in your neck of the woods.” Roker followed that with an emphatic (indicating success on her part) “Boom!” which she humorously echoed. As co-meteorologist Mike Roberts would later say, while also admitting he was jealous of her trip, she was “smooth as glass.”

The downside of this appearance for Channel 5?  If TV execs around the country were paying any attention, this might have been a very successful audition for Smith.  She could end up, just because her performance was so good, getting an offer for more money in a larger city.

Meantime, she, along with Chester Lampkin, the two youngest members of the Channel 5 weather team, offer great hope for attracting viewers.  That is not to criticize the other members of the station’s weathercasters who are all excellent in their own ways.  But these two have great talent and a tremendous future ahead of them if they so choose.  In the end, if they leave, St. Louis viewers will be the losers.

Watch her appearance: http://www.ksdk.com/story/entertainment/television/today-in-st-louis/2015/01/20/bree-smith-today-show-piper/22036537/

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With drone technology, potential pitfalls are worth the risk

Articles such as Ravi Somaiya’s Jan. 15 story in the New York Times, titled “Times and Other News Organizations to Test Use of Drones,” should come as a surprise to no one who’s been paying attention to the technology behind these unmanned aerial vehicles.

After all, what makes drones so appealing to journalists is that they give reporters access to the sky. That’s something that was not so readily accessible before these machines made their presence known. To get aerial shots used to require a helicopter, a hot-air balloon or an airplane, all of which usually are dependent on others to operate – and cost money to use, too.

But using aerial technology take pictures of the world around us is not new at all. In a May 3, 2013, Slate article titled “Privacy Concerns Shouldn’t Ground Journalism Drones,” New York media lawyer Nabiha Syed detailed how, in 1906, a commercial photographer named George R. Lawrence hoisted a 46-pound camera into the air above San Francisco (with the help of 17 kites and steel wire, no less) to take panoramic shots of the earthquake and fire devastation in that city. Syed then fast-forwarded five decades later, to 1958, to tell how television news reporter John Silva altered the media landscape even further through his use of the KTLA “Telecopter” in Los Angeles – ushering in the modern reality of live traffic updates, car chases and other aerial broadcasts to the city’s residents.

Journalists the world over always have embraced new technologies to relate the newsworthy events in our world. What’s a little perplexing for me, though, is how many Americans think drones are a sudden intrusion on their Fourth Amendment privacy rights that need to be severely restricted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

So why do drones get such a bad rap in our society? U.S. citizens have not voiced the same level of concern – or outrage – about security cameras in department stores, banks or even public streets, so is the real impetus for all this new drone legislation spurred by a fear of potential abuse by journalists and the government?

Part of the resistance to widespread drone use appears to stem from the surreptitious nature in which they can be deployed. Think about it: A person sunbathing in his or her back yard can be filmed by a cameraman flying aloft in a helicopter just as easily as by a drone – and with the exception that the aircraft cannot be less than 500 feet off the ground, where private property protection ends, there is nothing illegal about that cameraman being up in the sky. (The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1946 case United States v. Causby, ruled 5-2 that the ancient common law doctrine that land ownership extended to the space above the earth “has no place in the modern world.” Justice William O. Douglas’ opinion noted that, if the doctrine were valid, “every transcontinental flight would subject the operator to countless trespass suits. Common sense revolts at the idea.”) Of course, one downside to using any aerial device – manned or unmanned – for journalism is that it has the potential to come crashing down on the very citizens it was sent up to look down on.

Consider, too, that the use of drones by journalists already is a fait accompli – something that has already been done and cannot be undone. Reporters overseas already have produced tantalizing glimpses of the future of drone-enhanced journalism. For example, a video on CNN’s website, shot from a drone and narrated by reporter Karl Penhaul 10 days after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines in early November 2013, showed what the people of the community of Tacloban, Philippines, had to deal with in the storm’s aftermath. The video in which Penhaul appears, titled “A bird’s eye view of Haiyan devastation,” could be considered a peek into the future of journalism here in the United States.

Whether we Americans are ready for them or not, drones already are being deployed within the borders of the United States. They’ve been in use both by the Customs & Border Protection agency along the U.S.-Mexico border and by law enforcement personnel, bringing us closer to what the American Civil Liberties Union has termed a “surveillance society” government. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration, under the aegis of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act passed by Congress, has been tasked with integrating commercial drones into U.S. airspace by the end of this year. The FAA estimates that 7,500 commercial drones could be flying in national airspace in just a few years, and agency officials have reported that the number of domestic drones could rise to 30,000 by the year 2030. The FAA is not constrained by the act to address privacy concerns related to the use of commercial drones, and FAA officials said the agency does not have the authority to make or enforce any rules related to privacy concerns.

While the FAA may avoid delving into the ethical aspect of drone use, a group with a focus on the future of drone journalism has made this its core mission. The Professional Society of Drone Journalists, which formed in 2011, bills itself on its website as “the first international organization dedicated to establishing the ethical, educational and technological framework for the emerging field of drone journalism.” The organization’s founder is Matthew Schroyer, a drone expert who works for a National Science Foundation grant at the University of Illinois. In a July 2013 interview posted on the website of International Human Press, Schroyer said he has developed a preliminary code of conduct for drone journalism. His hope is that the code will be interactive at some point, so members of the society can alter the code to keep up with developments in the drone journalism field.

The code lays out the additional responsibilities that drone journalists take on when controlling these unmanned vehicles, and it also emphasizes the potential risks of operating these devices in populated urban areas as the speed, range and size of these machines undergo further development. Being able to take aerial photographs when reporting on a story makes a drone a valuable resource, but in this regard the code also warns that the chance for abuse – especially when it comes to matters of privacy and safety – also is increased.

But despite the potential pitfalls associated with this technology, what the drone movement has going for it is historical record: Many of the technological advances in cars and planes that Americans enjoyed after World War II can be directly traced to advances made in the war effort against Germany and Japan. In this same way, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped fuel the advances in the unmanned aircraft industry. Armed drones still are being used for to eliminate terrorists overseas, but the unarmed civilian versions of these machines are now available to any hobbyist (or journalist) with the money to spend on them.

The way I see it, we can’t un-ring this bell. Drones already are part of the future of journalism, and today’s students studying to be tomorrow’s reporters will have to learn how to do their jobs with this new piece of technology. I echo the sentiments of Rose Mooney, the executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech, who told Somaiya that she hopes drones “can provide this industry a safe, efficient, timely and affordable way to gather and disseminate information and keep journalists out of harm’s way.”

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Journalist imitates Sergeant Schultz: “I know Nozzink” about the Paris attacks

“It’s not the internet that is ailing journalism. We’re killing ourselves, thin in our coverage, and often intellectually lazy and shallow.”  – The Journalism Iconoclast

Right after the January 7 murderous attacks on the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” and a kosher supermarket in Paris, TV and internet commentators regaled or outraged us with immediate analyses of what these attacks might mean. Predictably enough, conservative pundits saw in them another attack on Western values by radical Islam while liberal and left ones emphasized the “blowback” element of Islamic rage against the West’s often violent interference in the politics and culture of Muslim countries.

Comments, lacking information about the attackers’ inspiration and motivation, were therefore mostly recycled hot air. But one internet journalist outdid many others in intellectual laziness and shallowness the Journalism Iconoclast decries. And that was the onetime Washington Post and MSNBC wunderkind Ezra Klein, now Editor in Chief of the VOX media website.

On the day of the attack Klein posted the following:

“These murders can’t be explained by a close reading of an editorial product (the Muhammad cartoons in ‘Charlie Hebdo’) and they needn’t be condemned on free speech grounds. They can only be explained by the madness of the perpetrators, who did something horrible and evil that almost no human beings anywhere ever do, and the condemnation doesn’t need to be any more complex than saying unprovoked mass slaughter is wrong.”

Unprovoked incuriosity and ignorance are wrong too, if not lethal, and Klein is guilty of both. How could a journalist, on the day of the Paris mass slaughter, immediately adopt a “Nothing to see here folks, now move along” stance when media had not even begun investigation of the Paris murderers and the path that led them to commit their “horrible” acts?

And how can an educated person (Klein earned a B.A. from UCLA in 2005) write that mass murder is an evil “almost no human beings anywhere ever do?” Is it really necessary to dispel his inane “ever” with pictures of skulls from Pol Pot’s killing fields, frozen corpses from Stalin’s gulags or piles of victims’ shoes from Hitler’s death camps? Is he not aware that the perpetrators of those slaughters were not “mad,” but followed the logic of a political ideology, as the Crusaders in the Middle Ages followed a religious one as they hacked up infidels—Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. (For a starter, I’d recommend Christopher Browning’s ground-breaking book “Ordinary Men,” which initiated historians’ focus on the role of “normal” Germans in the Holocaust, away from the “madness” of the bad and fanatical SS types as sole perpetrators.

But Klein insists, rather pedantically, that only “madness” can explain the Paris attacks. Two fine pieces of investigative journalism soon proved him wrong.  The first one was The New York Times’ front-page story on January 18, “From Scared Amateur to Paris Slaughterer.” In it readers leaned that by September 2004 the Kuachi brothers, Cherif and Said, “began going regularly to Mr. (Farid) Benyettou’s apartment to discuss the religious justifications for suicide attacks. There they talked about how to load a bomb into a truck and drive it into an American base.”  A decade later, they translated some of what they learned from their mentor into the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

A day later the German newsweekly DER SPIEGEL published on its English website a five-part report: “Terror from the Fringes: Searching for Answers into the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ Attacks.” The work of ten reporters, the series asks three questions that expose the mind-numbing shallowness of Klein’s simplistic response: were the attackers angry young men? Was their anger fueled largely by problems within French society? And, were they fed a misguided interpretation of Islam? Without supplying definitive answers to any of the questions, the thoroughly researched article suggests that one explanation would not suffice to provide even fragments of answers.

Or, as might have been suggested to Klein, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but at other times it’s more .

In DER SPIEGEL readers found out that “radical Islamists and terrorists have for decades been especially active in France.” And that the the two young Kouachi brothers and their accomplice “as adolescents seemed quite normal and promising.” They also learned that Benyettou convinced them “that armed conflict was the right approach and touted the martyr’s death as a path to paradise.” Moreover, “he incited his followers to engage in jihad” and quoted holy texts and Muslim scholars.” Cherif Kouachi is quoted: “It helped to convince me.”

Had Klein waited to dismiss complex answers to a complex issue and history, he might not have reached for the “madness” defense but concluded with a sentence often attributed to Voltaire: “Where people believe absurdities, they commit atrocities.”

He might also, should he touch this topic again, read the 1990 essay in The Atlantic by Bernard Lewis: “The Root of Muslim Rage.”  Its subtitle is “Why so many Muslims deeply resent the West and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified.” But if he’s too busy, here’s Lewis:

“It should by now be clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less a clash of civilizations – the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present and the worldwide expansion of both.”

Lewis’s stance is not an invitation to Islamophobia. To the contrary, Lewis insists that “It is critically important that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but equally irrational reaction against that rival.”

Klein, who promotes “explanatory journalism,” is capable of explaining all that to his readers. For his sake and for journalism’s, let’s hope he’ll come back to the explanatory journalism he advocates but abandoned in his VOX posting on the Paris attacks.


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“We’ll always have Paris…” or not. The “blah, blah, blah” response to the attack

“We’ll always have Paris,” Humphrey Bogart said to Ingrid Bergman in the 1942 movie classic. After the response, so far, to the murder of ten Charlie Hebdo journalists and two policemen by Islamic gunmen on January 7, maybe not.

There’s plenty of sadness and rage in France, but the response by world leaders and in establishment media recalled the “blah, blah, blah” made famous by Charlie Brown’s teacher in “Peanuts” cartoons.

Our president said that “France, and the great city of Paris where the outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure beyond the hateful vision of these killers.” Say what? It doesn’t help that President Obama also said that “those who carry out senseless attacks against innocent civilians, ultimately they will be forgotten.”

Why call the attack on Charlie Hebdo “senseless”? It was a well-planned act of war and likely makes a great deal of sense to those Islamists who hope to destroy or subjugate what’s left of the West.

The satirical French newspaper published cartoons, as a piece in The New Yorker pointed out, “blatantly, roughly sexual and not designed to endear them to Jews or Christians.” One depicted retired Pope Benedict XVI in an amorous embrace with a Vatican guard, another showed an Orthodox Jew kissing a Nazi soldier. The Vatican did not dispatch a squad of its Swiss guard to the seek revenge and the Mossad showed no interest in rectifying yet another blood libel.

But cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad are reported to have provoked the slaughter. Different strokes for different religions? Or, was the response triggered only among “extremists” but not within the majority of tolerant and peace-loving Muslims?

Salman Rushdie, whose “Satanic Verses” propelled Iran’s Ayatollah to issue a fatwa on him in 1989, understands the significance of Islamic response and the absence of Christian and Jewish ones to the French magazine’s irreverence:

“Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. Respect for religion has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religion, like all other ideas, deserves criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”

You wish a leader in the West had issued a statement like that. Instead, we get the responses like the one in the January 8 New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof. After listing examples of systematic terrorism in the Islamic world, against Christians and women, he blithely concedes “So, sure, there’s a strain of Islamic intolerance and extremism that is the backdrop to the attack on Charlie Hebdo.”

Some “strain.” And maybe it’s more than just a “backdrop.” Kristof is right when he writes that “the vast majority of Muslims of course have nothing to do with the insanity of such attacks…” But they are bystanders, approving or disapproving, to them. And let us remember how we judged the majority of Germans who were bystanders to the attacks on Jews in the late 1930s, before that “strain” of “intolerance” grew and turned into destruction of millions of lives.

The response to Paris must compel the Islamic world to reduce and erase that ugly strain. It must come from within Islam. To avoid “religious profiling” in the West, as Kristof urges, won’t do it. Self-flagellation, he should be reminded, is a stupid habit.

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“Blue on black’ violence statistics explained

An article of faith among those protesting Michael Brown’s death and among much of the media writing about the protests in Ferguson is that young African-American men are far more likely to be shot by police than young white men.

Much of the national media – The New York Times, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, Daily Kos, Daily Beast and Vox among others – have quoted an October ProPublica study of FBI data showing that black males 15-19 years old were 21 times more likely than white males that age to be killed by police between 2010 and 2012.


What hasn’t gotten attention is that leading criminologists criticize the ProPublica findings as exaggerated.  It’s true that black youths are killed more often than white youths, the critics agree, but the disparity over the past 15 years is much lower than over the three years featured by ProPublica.  The longer period is more statistically accurate, they add.

David Klinger, a former police officer and a criminology professor at the University of Missorui-St. Louis,  doesn’t mince words: “The ProPublica thing needs to be shut down.  They cherry picked the three years that had the worst disparity instead of being honest about the whole picture.”

Klinger says the first thing he told ProPublica when the reporters contacted him was that they should not attempt the data analysis because the figures were so unreliable. “The ProPublica analysis is absolute garbage because it is based on the FBI’s supplemental homicide reports.  I told them, don’t do it because the stats are horseshit.”

When ProPublica went ahead and then quoted Klinger, the criminologist demanded that the news organization remove his name from the story, but it refused.

Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and now criminology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice calls the ProPublica study “substantially wrong.”  In his Cop in the Hood blog, Moskos says that the 21:1 ratio is the result of the way ProPublic parsed the data – analyzing three years instead of 15, eliminating Hispanic youths from the category of whites and focusing on young victims rather than all victims.


Looking at the bigger picture of 15 years, Moskos found that black youths were nine times more likely than white youths to be killed by officers.  Including Hispanics among whites cut the ratio to 5.5:1. Including victims of all ages reduced the ratio to 4:1.  One reason that the three-year period cited by ProPublica gave such a high ratio is that only one non-Hispanic white was killed in 2010, skewing the figures.

If police are more likely to kill blacks than whites, does it matter if the ratio is 21:1, 9:1 or 4:1?

Here’s what Moskos says.  “You may wonder why I’m quibbling. What’s my point? Well, it’s important to base opinions and public policy on fact. And for starters, 4 to 1 versus 21 to 1 is a huge difference.”

Moskos also argues blacks are more likely to be shot by police because they are in places where police engage violent criminals.

“In the population examined by ProPublica — the same subset in which blacks are 9 times (not 21 times) as likely as whites to be killed by police — the black-to-white homicide ratio is 15:1,” he wrote. “We know police-involved homicides correlate with homicide and violence in the community they police. So what rate of disparity would one expect in police-involved homicides? Certainly not 1 to 1.”

A blue and black problem?

Ryan Gabrielson, one of the ProPublica reporters, denies focusing on the worst years. “We weren’t cherry picking years,” he said in an interview.  “We looked at all of the years. But we were looking at what is happening in the most recent years….The disparity is growing.”

Gabrielson agrees that “there is some relationship” between the high black homicide rate and the higher proportion of black youths killed by police.  But he said there wasn’t enough information to tease out causality.

Gabrielson also defended separating Hispanics from whites.  “I’m from Arizona,” he said. “I think you have to separate Hispanics and whites.”

One interesting finding of the ProPublica study is that black police officers also kill blacks at a higher rate than white suspects.  About 78 percent of the civilian victims of black officers are black.  “I don’t know if it is black and white problem or more a blue and black problem,” he said.

St. Louis – Race vs. dangerous neighborhood

Klinger and fellow researchers examined all 230 police shootings in the City of St. Louis in the ten years from 2003-12.  In half the cases, police missed when they fired at suspects.  In 37 cases, police killed the civilian – 30 of them African-Americans.  That means that 81 percent of those killed in police shootings were black in a city that is 50 percent black.

Klinger obtained the kind of detailed data that often is lacking in other studies.  From the police department case files, he obtained descriptive information about each incident – date, time, location, number of officers and suspects present and number of shots fired. He also obtained information about the officers – sex, race, age, years in service and weapon type.  And he got descriptive information about the suspects such as demographic characteristics, weapons possessed, the number of shots officers fired at them, and the degree of injury.

The researchers then assigned the shootings to the census blocks where they occurred to see how the number of shootings related to factors such as the race, poverty and the level of gun violence in the census block.

Klinger, in an academic paper under review, found that the single factor that correlated most closely to the police shootings was the level of firearms violence in the area where the shooting occurred.  This factor was more important than race or the poverty of the area, although the areas where firearms violence was the highest were also heavily black neighborhoods.

Pushing buttons, firing lasers

Marcia McCormick, a criminal law professor at Saint Louis University, thinks race is a key factor in police shootings of blacks.  There is extensive social science research showing that whites are more likely to use force on blacks than on whites, she adds.

“There are numerous studies that have shown in lab settings that people interpret the same conduct…differently when engaged in by black people than by white people,” she said.  “Because so many small decisions lead up to the eventual decision to use deadly force, it seems likely that the aggregate of the effects of giving members of one race more leeway or interpreting their actions more generously would lead to less use of deadly force in that group.”

McCormick cites the work of Jennifer Eberhardt, a psychology professor at Stanford.

For her experiments, Eberhardt divides white graduate students into three groups, all of which see momentary flashes of light on a screen. The flashes are so fast that they cannot be processed rationally but rather subliminally prime the students.  One group is primed with black faces, one white faces and the third with no faces.

Then all of the students are shown objects in a visually degraded form that gradually comes into focus.  Some of the objects are dangerous, such as guns and knives.  Eberhardt finds that white students primed by having been shown black faces take far less time to recognize the dangerous objects than the students primed by white faces.

Translated into the real world, this could mean that white officers are more likely to see a threat when they see a black suspect than a white one.


Klinger says these button-pushing studies do not recreate the real world of cops confronting suspects.  The button-pushing visuals are two-dimensional, not three. Also pushing buttons isn’t like pulling a trigger, he says.

So Klinger and fellow researchers created three-dimensional, full-size, high definition video to show subjects realistic scenarios where officers confront suspects on the street. The research subjects had real guns that had been modified to fire laser pulses.

The study found that the subjects were more likely to feel threatened in scenarios involving blacks but took longer to pull the trigger when faced by an armed black suspect than an armed white or Hispanic suspect. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology this year.

“What we found,” said Klinger, “was that research subjects, including police officers, are slower to shoot threatening black actors than white or Hispanic actors.”



UN Torture Committee

One other study of police shootings that has gotten media attention in St. Louis and an important international forum is the Malcolm X Grassroots movement study that found 313 “extrajudicial killings” in 2012, or one every 28 hours.


The Malcolm X study is not of the same caliber as the careful ProPublica data analysis.  It was conducted by an advocacy group that maintains the extent of black killings by police is hidden by the U.S. government and “the corporate media…permeated with white supremacist and capitalist assumptions.”

But the study got attention as part of the written brief that Saint Louis law professor Justin Hansford presented last month to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.  This month, the committee expressed its concern about U.S. police tactics and the grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y.


Hansford’s brief to the UN committee cited the Malcolm X study to show that police shootings of black suspects are widespread.  The brief said, “Among many community groups across the U.S. that have noted a pattern of law enforcement killing unarmed black persons, (the) community-based group the Malcolm X Grassroots Project found that there were 313 black people killed by the police, security guards or vigilantes in 2012 alone—or one person every 28 hours. Nearly half of those individuals were unarmed. The report notes that these numbers likely fall short of reality, due to the dearth of nation-wide statistics. The killing of Mike Brown and the abandonment of his body in the middle of a neighborhood street is but an example of the utter lack of regard for, and indeed dehumanization of, black lives by law enforcement personnel.”


But a case-by-case review of the Malcolm X study shows that only 134 of the 313 blacks killed were unarmed.  Of those 134, 55 were driving cars at a police officer when shot or were fleeing at high speeds – both situations in which police are authorized to use deadly force. Another 23 suspects were shot by security guards or private citizens, not police.  About 20 died after police used a taser rather than deadly force. That leaves 35 cases where police killed unarmed suspects; many of these resulted in prosecutions.

Hansford did not respond to an email request for a comment.

A more detailed version of this story was published by St. Louis Public Radio.

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Ferguson Coverage: News or “The Narrative”

In the hours leading up to the announcement of whether or not a Ferguson police officer would face charges for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, NPR’s Cheryl Corley listed all of the possibilities facing officer Darren Wilson.

Among them, Corley said, was the possibility he could be charged with first-degree murder or murder in the second degree. She listed other potential charges, too, and then went on to list what kind of sentence Wilson might have to serve if he were convicted.

Corley’s report ran parallel to the many narratives being repeated by national reporters that began soon after that August day when Brown was killed: Wilson was at fault, and if a St. Louis County grand jury would pursue justice, he would be brought to trial for what had happened.

Journalists are supposed unbiased and blind to their own prejudices. They are required to be guided by facts. But in the case of the death of Michael Brown, it seemed as though the view of many journalists was that the police officer would have to prove he was innocent.

The national reporters following this narrative trail raised expectations that would not be realized when the grand jury rendered its conclusion that Wilson would not be indicted. The problem with the narrative was that it failed to take into account the facts of the case, and how the law authorizes a police officer to use lethal force in certain circumstances.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens put it, the killing of Michael Brown gave the media an opportunity to “confirm an existing narrative, this one about trigger-happy cops, institutionalized racial disparities and the fate of young black men caught in between.

“That narrative, also conforming to pre-existing biases, overwhelmed what ought to have been the only question worth answering: Was Darren Wilson justified in shooting Brown? If the media had stuck to answering that, the damage inflicted on the rest of Ferguson—not to mention all the squalid racial hucksterism that went with it—could have been avoided.”

Some in the media relied on witnesses whose recollections would be disproven by physical evidence or the testimony that was presented to the grand jury. There was a claim that Brown had been shot in the back. There was an account, often repeated, that he was killed with his hands raised in surrender.

The known facts were that Brown had been involved in a strong-armed convenience store robbery. When Wilson later encountered him on the street, Brown fought with the police officer and reached for his gun while Wilson was seated in his car. A shot was fired. After Wilson gave chase Brown turned and was approaching Wilson when the fatal shots were fired.

The grand jurors weighed these facts and considered the law that allows a police officer to use lethal force when he or she believes an arrest is necessary because the suspect may endanger another’s life or may inflict serious physical injury. Police can also use deadly force in a case of self-defense.

In the end, after listening to some 60 witnesses, the grand jury concluded that Darren Wilson acted legally within his authority and did what many other police officers would do in the same circumstances.

In the news conference announcing the grand jury’s decision, St. Louis Country Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch recounted how so many of the original media accounts that generated so much attention were wrong. After McCulloch explained the grand jury’s decision, the assembled reporters embarrassed themselves with their line of questioning. Repeatedly they asked the same question—what was the grand jury’s vote on the issue of an indictment? Each time McCulloch explained he was not going to say. Then one reporter began a question with a polemic about the law not protecting African Americans.

Rather than carefully examining the legal case, cable TV news instead focused on those outraged by McCulloch’s announcement. As Variety put it: “What again emerged was cable’s near-addiction to conflict, which the unrest and looting that followed the announcement yielded in abundance. And while one can admire the long hours and bravery exhibited by on-the-scene reporters under trying circumstances, the nature of this sort of coverage yields such a narrow aperture their hard work produces heat, perhaps, but scant illumination.”

While President Obama spoke to the nation about the events in Ferguson, the cable networks employed a split-screen showing images of burning buildings and tear gas. There were even moments when CNN reporters were interviewing each other.

It was later reported that CNN, at the time the announcement was made, had attracted more than 6.2 million viewers. That’s more than the number who tuned in for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina or the Boston Marathon bombing.

A week after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision, Frank Absher, founder of the St. Louis Media History Foundation, appeared on CNN and criticized the national reporters for the mistakes they made in St. Louis. Absher said the reporters clearly didn’t know the territory, and that their inaccuracies eroded the public’s confidence in the news media.

“Six weeks ago, we were told that Ferguson police chief was on the verge of resigning.” Absher said. “It hasn’t happened. We were told three floors of the Ferguson hospital had been set aside for injuries from the riots. There is no Ferguson hospital. No hospitals in the area had done that.”

And there were comments made by reporters that seemed to disclose their own personal biases. For example, the New York Times’ Julie Bosman, appearing on the Diane Rehm Show the day after the announcement, said some believed that McCulloch was “insensitive” in the way he announced the grand jury’s decision. Bosman gave no explanation or support for how it was that McCulloch was insensitive.

The death of Michael Brown has focused attention on the distrust that exists between the black community and the police. It’s raised awareness of the shortage of African American officers on the mostly white Ferguson Police Department. And it has pointed to the need for police body cameras to videotape encounters between law enforcement officers and the public.

The event has lead to discussions about discrimination in housing and the lack of economic opportunities for African Americans. And it has prompted Gov. Jay Nixon to appoint a commission that will study the root causes of Michael Brown’s death.

Since the national media has moved on, the commission’s work will be explained and covered by local reporters. On Facebook, Lisa Eisenhauer, a Post-Dispatch editor, posted that long after the live trucks and celebrity anchors have pulled out, the newspaper will be telling the world what happened and why because “this is our community.”

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Times fails media ethics 101

Just when you thought it safe to follow the news without yet another Ferguson-related story, the New York Times and Fox News have entered the mud-fighting fray.

Fox’s Howard Kurtz, hardly an unbiased Fox News Channel journalist, accused the Times of making a “reckless move” in publishing the approximate address of Darren Wilson, the police office who shot and killed Michael Brown in August.


FoxNews.com subsequently said the Times had “endangered Darren Wilson’s life.”


While admitting its journalists had mentioned Wilson and his wife owned a house in Crestwood and referenced the street name, the Times said the full address was not published, and that the address was no longer current.

The Times added: “With the benefit of hindsight, even publishing the street name may have been unwise in such an emotionally fraught situation. But the reality of what was published bears little resemblance to what The Times and its reporters are being accused of — and pilloried for.”


This is not to deny such identifying information had already been published for the past few months in the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and all across the Internet.

So as the repetitious flood of Ferguson who said what, where and when followups drone on, one can only imagine what media-related stories journalists might have missed during the past four months.

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Pathologist challenges quotes in Ferguson leak

The killing of Michael Brown Jr. in August by a white Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, has produced a stream of controversial local and national news stories that portray the unarmed black teen as either the victim of police violence or a thug who got what he deserved in a “good shoot” by the officer.

A recent story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes a forensic pathologist, Dr. Judy Melinek of San Francisco, as viewing Brown’s autopsy report and saying that Brown was shot in the hand while struggling with the officer at his car and was “going for the gun.” She is also quoted as saying the several shots fired at Brown after he ran, did not show he had his hands up (as in surrendering) as several eyewitnesses have said.

Trouble is, Melinek says her words were taken out of context and they are inconsistent with the comments she emailed to the reporters Christine Byers and Blythe Bernhard. Melinek said their report was “misleading and inaccurate.”

The Post-Dispatch’s report was picked up by other media, including the AP and Washington Post. Melinek had to try to correct them. She appeared on MSNBC’s show with host Lawrence O’Donnell who criticized the Post-Dispatch  report saying it was aimed as corroborating the police officer’s account of why he shot Brown. O’Donnell noted that Post reporter Byers, who covers crime, had tweeted earlier that she was told by police they had a dozen witnesses defending Wilson. She did this while on family leave and her report was not used by the Post.

The Washington Post ran an editor’s note saying Melinek said she was quoted incorrectly.  The Post-Dispatch said she was quoted correctly. This week it attached an editor’s note stating that Melinek had said the autopsy “supports Officer Darren Wilson’s statement that Brown was reaching for the gun but that other scenarios are possible.”

The leaking of information by law enforcement sources has been mostly favorable to the scenario attributed to Officer Wilson. This has caused U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to say he was “exasperated” that the leaks were an apparent attempt to justify the shooting of Brown.

The growing opinion of protesters in Ferguson, and supporters of Wilson, is that he will not be charged by a St. Louis County Grand jury. Officials of six school districts, fearing violence if and when such an announcement is made, have asked the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, to announce it when school is not in session.

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How the sports world turns, and the media turn

It’s amazing to see how a single video of a man punching a woman in the face can change everyone’s perspective.

Months ago, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games for punching his now wife, Janay Palmer, after a video showed up of Rice dragging her out of an elevator.

Some media members complained then about the NFL’s leniency toward physically abusing your future wife. But, the NFL rode out the storm, claiming that the police did little about the case, so why should they?

Then the other fist landed. TMZ released the video of Rice actually punching Palmer and the approach changed. The NFL went into full defense mode, suspending Rice indefinitely and announcing an independent committee to investigate domestic abuse in the NFL, something that raises questions of its own.

Media now are in full frenzy mode. Calls for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s head are being issued. Hands are being wrung in anguish. Righteous indignation rules.

And so much more has happened since Rice’s punch was seen nationally.

Adrian Peterson, star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was suspended for a game for whipping his child with a switch. Then, after he missed that game, the Vikings reinstated him. Then, after media outcry, the Vikings deinstated him, suspending him until the matter played out in court.

Other NFL players who had been playing despite current legal charges of physical abuse were suspended. The NFL is trying to get its house in order.

The panic has even spread to the collegiate level. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for a half for screaming an inappropriate word into a live camera. Of course, Winston played all of last year with a sexual assault charge hanging over his head and was suspended for three baseball games because of an incident with shoplifting. So what’s a little more controversy?

Media have jumped on this too, making sure fans know just how little Winston “gets it” (Stories here and here with a cutting tweet here). As media have pointed out, no one gets it.

The actions of Rice and Peterson have started national conversations on topics of spousal abuse and corporal punishment.  Panels of four to six people on CNN give opinions on whether a whipping is OK. But few members of the media talk about their own role in this national fiasco.

Media are national enablers.

Media have traditionally praised talented athletes and, because football is such a violent sport, adopted a type of boys-will-be-boys mentality when covering the sport. Reporters praise the athletes. Florida State’s Winston was hailed as a hero and a wonderful athlete deserving the Heisman Trophy after leading his team to an undefeated season and a national championship. He was hailed despite a sexual- abuse charge hanging over his head.

Sports media easily become enamored with the hype that comes with the job and overlook the work. It’s work to find out if that sexual abuse story is true or if that athlete really beat his girlfriend that night. And, that might take away from the game and could draw viewers away from the channel those reporters might be working for. So many factors work against coming down on the star athlete that when it does happen, the story must be exceptional.

And then, those same media appear shocked when athletes they have privileged, become impervious to societal norms. And when the media turn on an organization, such as the NFL, those in power don’t know how to stop it.

The NFL has floundered under the media’s glare. Calls for commissioner Roger Goodell’s head are becoming louder and possible replacements (former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is one) have been mentioned. The NFL even hired women to fix the league’s domestic policy. (Perhaps they were picked from Mitt Romney’s file of women?)  All of this seems exactly what it is — poor public relations. And the media can pick up on that just as easily as they can build up a young man with extraordinary talent in a sport to the point where that individual thinks he can get away with anything.

That is, until the story becomes too good to ignore, so then they turn on him too.

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Post/Times’ stories powerful; but are they ethical?

If a piece of journalism is so powerful that it captures the national conversation and results in positive reform, should it be immune from criticism for bias and inaccuracies?

That question is raised by a potent one-two punch administered by the Washington Post and The New York Times this month following up on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo.

A few weeks into the Ferguson coverage both the Times and the Washington Post provided provocative coverage on a tangentially related issue – the way in which the multitude of north St. Louis County municipalities use traffic fines to finance city government.One of the most interesting pieces was a blog post in Washington Post by Radley Balko.  It ran to more than 14,000 words – almost a third the size of the great American novel “The Great Gatsby.”
Balko described how poor, black residents accumulated multiple traffic violations they could not pay, failed to show up in court and then were arrested on bench warrants.  Those with multiple bench warrants could be carted from one municipal holdover to another, spending days in jail for nothing more than failing to pay fines.The blog gave a big boost to a report issued before Ferguson blew up by ArchCity Defenders, a group of young St. Louis lawyers who had observed more than 60 courts in St. Louis County.  The compelling report concluded that by “disproportionately stopping, charging and fining the poor and minorities, by closing the Courts to the public, and by incarcerating people for the failure to pay fines, these policies unintentionally push the poor further into poverty.”
http://03a5010.netsolhost.com/WordPress/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/ArchCity-Defenders-Municipal-Courts-Whitepaper.pdfThe New York Times jumped in next with a lead Sunday editorial on Sept. 6 – “Justice in St. Louis County” – that focused on the muny runaround, citing Balko’s work at the ArchCity defenders study.http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/opinion/sunday/inquiry-into-ferguson-mo-police-practices-is-just-a-start.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C{%221%22%3A%22RI%3A6%22}

The Balko blog and the Times’ editorial contributed to a powerful momentum for change. Ferguson announced plans to pull back on the use of fines to fund municipal government.  And the dean of the Saint Louis University Law School, Michael Wolff, proposed a Missouri Supreme Court rule change to make it clear that it is the “obligation of municipal courts to proportion fines to the resources of offenders.”  Wolff himself is a former chief justice of the court.

Nevertheless, there are significant journalistic issues with both the Balko blog and the Times editorial.  The editorial stated, that the ArchCity study indicated that municipal policies “appear to be structured to persecute minority communities.”  Actually the ArchCity study had specifically said that the impact on poor communities was unintentional.

Also Balko’s piece, for all its power, was a one-sided piece of advocacy journalism. As the first commenter underneath his blog wrote: “Lots of tremendous research here but Mr. Balko goes off into cuckoo land with some of his statements: For example, Mr. Balko refers to ‘poverty violations’ as things like ‘driving with a suspended license, expired plates, expired registration and a failure to provide proof of insurance’. Is he suggesting we get rid of registration & insurance requirements?? The cops can’t be faulted for citing people for things like that!”

Balko also got the Cookie Thornton story wrong.  Thornton was the African-American who killed five public officials at Kirkwood City Hall in 2008 before police killed him.  Balko portrayed Thornton as a victim of the tyranny of municipal traffic violations who was made into a “community punchline” and driven insane after having collected $20,000 in fines.  What Balko leaves out is that the city offered to drop all of those fines.

The journalistic niceties may be beside the point if the result is an important reform of a system that had an unfair impact on the poor and black.

But it is important that the media and community remember there is no real direct link between the death of Michael Brown and the municipal runaround in St. Louis County.

There is a broader issue of race that plays out in segregated housing, racial profiling and substandard education in schools that largely remain separate and unequal.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for ProPublica, put it succinctly in an email: “I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that there is still a larger American story to be told out of a city and a state with such a complex history of racial and housing segregation….Particularly, what struck me was how Michael Brown was painted as a success story for somehow managing to become one of the 20 percent of black boys who graduated from the unaccredited Normandy school system – and that this is something we would consider successful for any American child.”

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The myths of Ferguson’s media coverage

If readers have the idea that Ferguson, Mo. is an angry, mostly segregated black community, they could be forgiven because that is how the community was portrayed in the New York Times and The New Republic a week after disturbances broke out. In fact, though, Ferguson is one of the most integrated places in the St. Louis area.

If people think Ferguson police shot an unarmed “gentle giant” about the go off to college, they would only have been repeating what they had heard from the media. The inconvenient accounts about Brown fighting with Officer Darren Wilson over the officer’s gun didn’t make it into many media accounts.

If viewers think MSNBC’s Chris Hayes is out with the people in the streets as he covers Ferguson, they might not realize he is set up behind an iron fence that walls him off.

If Anonymous sounds like a justice-seeking group standing up against police, people might have missed the fact that it released the names of the Florissant police instead of the Ferguson police and named the wrong officer as the shooter.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/15/us/ferguson-case-roils-collective-called-anonymous.html?ribbon-ad idx=6&rref=homepage&module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Politics&action=keypress&region=FixedRight&pgtype=article

If people wonder why Officer Wilson wasn’t arrested at the scene of the shooting, it’s because many in the media haven’t explained that investigating cases of police brutality is a long and difficult process and that police have broad authority to use deadly force.

In short, the press’s coverage of the Ferguson shooting sometimes has been misleading in important ways.

That’s not to say that Ferguson is an unimportant story or that Officer Wilson did not commit a crime or that St. Louis is without racial problems or that the media has universally failed.

St. Louis is one of the most segregated cities in the United States and it never has come to grips with race. Wilson’s firing of seven or more shots may constitute a crime.  And some of the media have performed extraordinarily well.

Some coverage excellent

Especially noteworthy has been the photo staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which has shot incredible, poignant images, sometimes in the face of threats of physical violence. Their shots are not only moving but also of the highest quality, worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.


A veteran Post-Dispatch reporter, Kim Bell, also captured a memorable video interview of a young man justifying a night of looting that ended with the burning of the QuikTrip convenience store.

One embarrassing episode, though, was the tweet by Post-Dispatch police reporter

Christine Byers that was disowned by Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon. Byers had tweeted, “Police sources tell me more than a dozen witnesses have corroborated cop’s version of events in shooting.”

Critics jumped on the tweet of an unnamed source quoting unnamed witnesses.

Bailon issued a statement that Byers was on family medical leave and that the newspaper had not reported her tweet either online or in print. Byers then tweeted, “On FMLA from paper. Earlier tweets did not meet standards for publication.”

The local TV news stations have generally performed well, initially covering the story through the evening news and well past midnight. Their coverage wasn’t always illuminating and KSDK made a serious mistake in showing the home of Officer Wilson, a mistake for which it apologized. But overall the local TV coverage was extensive and balanced.

KSDK apology: https://www.facebook.com/ksdktv/posts/10152677528929312

St. Louis Public Radio provided extensive, in-depth coverage employing its newly expanded newsroom to good effect. Kelsey

Proud has curated one of the most informative and accurate live blogs of the story and Don Marsh’s St. Louis On the Air program has delved deeply into the story. (This writer is a contributor to St. Louis Public Radio and his wife is the editor.)

Some citizen journalists, such as St. Louis been accurate and constructive. Alderman Antonio French, also provided breaking, on-the-scene tweets. French clearly has a point of view, but his information has been accurate and constructive.

Another citizen journalist who made a name for himself was Mustafa Hussein who livestreamed the confrontations with police on his independent Argus Radio. Hussein had bought video equipment to livestream concerts, but the equipment arrived just after Brown’s death and Argus became a fixture on the streets. The Washington Post reported that Hussein was threatened by police during the coverage.

Preening reporters

Still, it’s difficult as a journalist to feel proud of everything that the press has done in Ferguson.

One young St. Louis area journalist who was freelancing for Al Jazeera America, captured the sometimes exploitative nature of the mob of journalists covering the story.


Ryan Schuessler, a journalism student at the University of Missouri, wrote that he would not go back to cover the story because of the misbehavior he has seen among journalists. He wrote:

“I had been on the ground helping Al Jazeera America** cover the protests and unrest in Ferguson, Mo., since this all started last week. After what I saw last night, I will not be returning. The behavior and number of journalists there is so appalling, that I cannot in good conscience continue to be a part of the spectacle….

Things I’ve seen:

-Cameramen yelling at residents in public meetings for standing in way of their cameras…

-TV crews making small talk and laughing at the spot where Mike Brown was killed, as residents prayed, mourned…

-Another major TV network renting out a gated parking lot for their one camera, not letting people in. Safely reporting the news on the other side of a tall fence.

-Journalists making the story about them

-National news correspondents glossing over the context and depth of this story, focusing instead on the sexy images of tear gas, rubber bullets, etc ….”

Richard Weiss, a veteran journalist who was an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Beacon also criticized the St. Louis Business Journal for its shallow, self-congratulatory coverage.

In a letter to the editor of the Business Journal, Weiss wrote that he was a big supporter of the publication but “was ashamed of you for the lame coverage provided on the events in Ferguson. This was made worse by the publisher’s tone deaf victory lap in her column…on behalf of what you had done….” Weiss went on to criticize “a rather bland editorial praising the United Way and the Regional Business Council for its efforts. What we are in need of from you editorial page is a clarion call, not just pats on the back,” he wrote.

Ferguson: Segregated or Integrated

The most important part of the Michael Brown story is what it says about race in St. Louis and America. Regardless of what happened between Brown and Officer Darren Wilson and regardless of whether Wilson is prosecuted, St. Louis needs to address race head-on.

Much of America’s shameful racial history played out here – the Missouri Compromise, the lynching of Elijah Lovejoy, the Dred Scott case, the East St. Louis race riots of 1917, the restrictive real estate covenants that kept blacks like the Shelley family in a small area of North St. Louis, the University of Missouri’s refusal to admit Lloyd Gaines to its law school, the Fairground swimming pool riot, the refusal of builders to sell homes to Joseph Lee Jones in North St. Louis County, the decades-long opposition of then Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Jay Nixon to the St. Louis-St. Louis County desegregation program.

Still, The New York Times didn’t have its facts straight or the overall picture in focus in its “Circle of Rage” story on the city’s racial history published two Sundays after the shooting. To suggest there is a ring of angry black communities surrounding St. Louis is greatly exaggerated.

The Times went on to say, “These days, Ferguson is like many of the suburbs around St. Louis, inner-ring towns that accommodated white flight decades ago but that are now largely black. And yet they retain a white power structure.”

Jonathan Rodden, a Stanford professor who graduated from high school in the Ferguson-Florissant community, didn’t recognize the town of the media’s depiction. He put his social science skills to work to show that the media were wrong.


“This narrative is wrong in several crucial respects,” he wrote in a blog on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage. “For starters, while St. Louis is indeed among the most segregated communities in the United States, Ferguson and some of its North County neighbors are among the most racially integrated municipalities in Missouri and well beyond.

Rodden produced maps from Census data showing that Ferguson is one of the most integrated parts of St. Louis. Aside from the corner of the town where the Canfield Green apartments are situated, “the rest of the city is, by the standards of American suburbia, striking in its level of racial integration. Ferguson and the proximate sections of Florissant and Hazelwood are composed of modest single-family houses on streets where blacks and whites live side by side.

Ferguson as “good as it gets”

“Racial segregation is declining rapidly in the United States, and North St. Louis County is ground zero. For those who see value in the preservation of sustainable multiracial neighborhoods, the low-slung middle-class suburban houses of Ferguson and Florissant might be as good as it gets in the United States.”

Rodden does not gloss over the fact that whites remain in control of the levers of power in Ferguson and other north St. Louis County communities. In fact, he points out that the situation is worse in other towns.

“Black Jack and Jennings are over 80 percent African American, with white mayors and evenly divided city councils. Hazelwood and Florissant have all-white city councils in spite of black populations of around 30 percent. Six out of seven members of the board of the overwhelmingly black Ferguson-Florissant School district are white.

Rodden’s hope is that the shooting of Michael Brown will lead to a movement to empower the black residents of integrated communities. As he puts it, “Hopefully the legacy of August 2014 will be the genesis of mobilization among a new crop of community leaders and candidates for local office in conjunction with a movement aimed at consolidating elections in order to make governments and police squads more reflective of the increasingly diverse suburban communities they serve.”

Parachute journalism

It’s not entirely fair to blast the Times, which did some good reporting on Ferguson.

Perhaps the worst example of parachute journalism was a New Republic article by Julia Ioffe entitled, “The other sides of the tracks: White St. Louis Has Some Awful Things to Say About Ferguson.”

In her probing exploration of white attitudes, Ioffe interviewed a few people at a strip mall that included a Starbucks and barbeque joint in the nearby town of Olivette.

Here is one exchange quoted by Ioffe:

“Our opinion,” said the talkative one in a group of six women in their sixties sitting outside the Starbucks, “is the media should just stay out of it because they’re riling themselves up even more.”

“The protesters like seeing themselves on TV,” her friend added.

“It’s just a small group of people making trouble,” said another …

“This is not representative of St. Louis,” said one of the older women, back at Star-

bucks. “St. Louis is a good place. And Ferguson is a very good place.”

From this in-depth conversation with “white St. Louis,” Ioffe was able to conclude:

“If anything, the people here were disdainful and, mostly, scared—of the protesters, and, implicitly, of black people.”

One would have hoped that an editor would have asked Ioffe if a conversation with a table of white residents could be taken to illustrate the views of “White St. Louis.”


Unarmed or combative

The media have been confronted with a journalistic problem from the start of the Ferguson story. How should they frame the story in a short news report. The three words that have most often been used are “unarmed black teenager.”

Those words are true, but they may not be the whole truth. From the beginning, police have said that Brown fought with Wilson over Wilson’s gun at the police cruiser and that a shot went off before Brown started to flee. Yet this detail didn’t make it into most reports.

It’s an important omission. Police are not justified in shooting an unarmed fleeing felon.  But a police officer is justified in shooting a person who is fighting over his gun.

Other accounts painting a different picture of Brown also began to emerge. The video of the convenience store robbery that preceded the confrontation with Officer Wilson punctured the “gentle giant” image.

Late in the second week of the protests, The New York Times reported more details of the police account. The Times reported that “some witnesses” supported the police account that Brown had turned back toward Wilson and moving toward him. The supporting witnesses insisted on anonymity.

Times readers complained to Readers’ Advocate Margaret Sullivan. James Dao, a deputy national editor, defended the story noting that, “In stories of this type, it’s rare and difficult to get on-the-record what investigators are learning.”

Sullivan took the side of the readers saying the story “sets up an apparently equal dichotomy between named eyewitnesses on one hand and ghosts on the other.

But Dao is right. The story presented information that made it clear that the “hands up, don’t shoot” account of Brown witnesses may not be the entire story.

The Municipal Merry-go-round

A few weeks into the Ferguson coverageboth the Times and the Washington Post provided provocative coverage on a tangentially related issue – the way in which the multitude of north St. Louis County municipalities use traffic fines to finance city government.

One of the most interesting pieces was a blog post in Washington Post by Radley Balko.  It ran to more than 14,000 words – almost a third the size of the great American novel “The Great Gatsby.”

Balko described in detail how poor, black residents got multiple traffic violations they could not pay, failed to show up in court and then were arrested on bench warrants. Those with multiple bench warrants could be carted from one municipal holdover to another, spending days in jail for nothing more than failing to pay fines.

The blog give a big boost to a report that had been issued before the Brown shooting by ArchCity Defenders, which had observed more than 60 courts in St. Louis County. The report concluded that by “disproportionately stopping, charging and fining the poor and minorities, by closing the Courts to the public, and by incarcerating people for the failure to pay fines, these policies unintentionally push the poor further into poverty.”

The New York Times’ lead Sunday editorial on Sept. 6 – “Justice in St. Louis County” – focused on this problem, citing Balko’s work at the ArchCity defenders study.


The Balko blog and the Times’ editorial created a powerful momentum for change. Ferguson announced plans to pull back on the use of fines to fund municipal government. And the dean of the Saint Louis University Law School, Michael Wolff, proposed a Missouri Supreme Court rule change to make it clear that it is the “obligation of municipal courts to proportion fines to the resources of offenders.”

Nevertheless, there are serious journalistic issues with both the Balko blog and the Times editorial. The editorial stated, that the municipal policies “appear to be structured to persecute minority communities.” Actually the ArchCity Defender study had specifically said that the impact on poor communities was unintentional.

Also Balko’s piece, for all its power, was a one-sided piece of advocacy journalism. As the first commenter underneath his blog wrote:

“Lots of tremendous research here but Mr. Balko goes off into cuckoo land with some of his statements: For example, Mr. Balko refers to ‘poverty violations’ as things like “driving with a suspended license, expired plates, expired registration and a failure to provide proof of insurance”. Is he suggesting we get rid of registration & insurance requirements?

The cops can’t be faulted for citing people for things like that!”

Balko also got the Cookie Thornton story wrong. Thornton was the African-American who killed five public officials at Kirkwood City Hall in 2007 before police killed him.

Balko portrayed Thornton as a victim of the tyranny of municipal traffic violations who was made into a “community punchline” and driven insane after having collected $20,000 in fines. What Balko leaves out is that the city offered to drop all of those fines.

The real issue

The journalistic niceties may not matter if the result is an important reform of a system that had an unfair impact on the poor and black.

But it is also important that the media and community remember there is no real direct link between Michael Brown and the municipal runaround in St. Louis County.

The real issue is race as it plays out in segregated housing, racial profiling and substandard education in schools that largely remain separate and unequal.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for ProPublica, put it eloquently in an email: “I haven’t been able to shake the feeling thatthere is still a larger American story to be told out of a city and a state with such a complex history of racial and housing segregation….

Particularly, what struck me was how Michael Brown was painted as a success story for somehow managing to become one of the 20 percent of black boys who graduated from the unaccredited Normandy school system – and that this is something we would consider successful for any American child.”

St. Louis needs to have a conversation about race that leads to constructive steps to fully enfranchise African-Americans. It’s a conversation that will take more time than the media attention span.

Ironically, it is a conversation that does not depend on what happened between Brown and Wilson. The vestiges of race live on. St. Louisans must find a way to pull them out root and branch.

Note: An earlier version of this story stated that: “The inconvenient facts about Brown fighting with Officer Darren Wilson over the officer’s gun didn’t make it into many media accounts.” This version substitutes accounts for facts.  Witnesses supporting on both sides describe a struggle at police car during which the officer’s gun went off.  But Brown’s witnesses do not confirm the police and witness accounts that Brown was struggling for the gun.

St. Louis journalism awards

Awards and Honors

Andrew Fowler, formerly of St. Louis, won the highest graduate award from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, the 2016 Harrington Award, in the category of Videography/Broadcast. Fowler began his career interning at the St. Louis American while continuing his studies. As his graduate project, he shot a documentary in Chicago titled My Muthaland, following the journey of actress Minita Gandhi. He is currently an online lifestyle journalist with Insider in New York City. Find out more about Fowler’s work in the St. Louis American.

St. Louis Public Radio has received a national Edward R. Murrow Award for its website, STLPublicRadio.org, in the large market radio category. The award was announced last month by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). While SLPR has won multiple regional Murrow Awards in its history, this is its third national Murrow.


Metro columnist Tony Messenger received a Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, awarded by the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Ian Froeb, Gabe Hartwig and Josh Renaud won first place for digital innovation in the annual Society of Features Journalists awards. Daniel Neman took third place for specialty writing and Aisha Sultan received an honorable mention for commentary.


Bryce Gray has been hired as a business reporter, covering energy and the environment.

Jacob Barker, who formerly covered these topics, moves to the economic development beat. Gray formerly worked for the High Country News, a Colorado magazine.

Ashley Lisenby, who just finished a masters degree at the University of Illinois-Springfield, is joining metro as a digital-first breaking news reporter.

Mike Faulk, currently with the Yakima Herald-Republic in Washington, has been hired as a civic watchdog reporter.
Celeste Bott, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, is joining the Jefferson City bureau as a reporter.

Nicholas J. Pistor has resigned as City Hall reporter to work on his new book, Shooting Lincoln.

Channel 4 wins this round

The lead story on the noon news in St. Louis on May 31 on both Channels 4 and 5 was the same…but the details were very different.

It was the latest carjacking downtown to get a lot of attention, including the killing at 11th and Washington. This one was close to Busch Stadium.

Channel 5’s Jason Aubrey reported basic details on the event-but there were no references to the report the carjack victim had a gun and used it.  Instead, after a brief description, he moved on to an angle with officials showing a lack of confidence in police chief Sam Dotson.  Even though a reply from Dotson would have made the story more balanced, there was none in this story.

Channel 4’s Anthony Kiekow, on the other hand, had clearly worked harder on the story and had many details Aubry failed to find.

Kiekow told viewers specifics Channel 5 did not report about how the victim was shot in the leg but pulled his gun and returned fire.  An interesting sound bite from a police official discussed how much blood was on the scene and why that might be significant in catching the carjacker.

Kiekow also did a better job of showing where the carjacking happened and how close it was to Busch Stadium.  While Aubrey also discussed the location and mention the proximity to Busch, Kiekow understands he is on teleVISION.  Aubrey did the “tell” part.  Kiekow did the “vision” part – a far better use of the visual medium.

Kiekow did take himself down a notch by beginning his story with, “I’ve been piecing together the details of this crime all day.”  So what?  That is your job.  Saying that to let viewers know how cool you are is a fail.

Channel 5 General Manager Marv Danielski defended Aubrey saying “We only report on confirmed info.  It wasn’t confirmed information to us.”

When I said Channel 4 had more information, he said, “Bully for them.”

As I continued to press him about why Channel 4 was so far ahead, he said, “Don’t bother calling.  You clearly have a bone to pick on this story like other stories. I know what you are going to do.”

But to his credit, he called back with new information saying they got the incident report at 12:12 and that is when it was confirmed.

Channel 4 news director Brian Thourenot says the information was all confirmed by air time.  “We’d rather be right than first,” he said. He spent several minutes explaining his news philosophy focused on using multiple trusted sources to make sure what airs is correct.

So the difference is either Kiekow got the incident report first or, using multiple sources, worked harder to have the more complete story.

In this round, chalk a win up to Channel 4’s viewers for getting a far more complete story about the carjacking.



Ratings Joy at Channel 2

They are happy campers at Channel 2 since the completion of the May Nielson ratings last week.

The May Nielson rating period is one of three key four week viewer measurement periods used to set station advertising rates.  The other key months are November and February.Channel 2 reports it was the number one station overall as well as for news both on the air and in the all important social media battle.

The station looks at ratings in the key demographic (think advertising money) of Adults from 18-54.
Overall, the station says it is number one for all its programming when you measure the entire 24 hour day.
The station is number one in news from 4am to 10am11 am5pm and 6pm.  At 10pm, the stations are so close it’s a statistical dead heat. (10p-Ch 5 rating 3.1, Channel 2 rating 2.9, Channel 4 2.8).  Channel 2’s new 11pm news is doing well enough to improve upon the rating a year ago, when entertainment programming aired.  The station notes this is the #2 rated show after Channel 5’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Especially impressive is the fact that in the 25-54 age group, Channel 2’s morning news beats all three network news shows combined!

FOX  2​3.4

NBC​ 1.5

CBS​ 1.1

ABC​ 0.3

Finally, in the growing every more important department, social media.  Channel 2

contends it is the most followed newsroom in St. Louis. They are seeing significant growth.

The station news release claims, “KTVI is St. Louis’ most followed television newsroom, leading the way in social media with 625,888+ Facebook Fans (vs 496,076 in ’15), 132,612+ Twitter Followers (vs 95,203 in ’15), and 30,763+Instagram Followers (vs 5,785 in ’15).”