Legacy newspapers still dominate democracy on digital frontier

By William H. Freivogel

The title of the conference in Mountain View, Calif., was Legal Frontiers in Digital Media, convened appropriately at the Computer History Museum in the heart of Silicon Valley. But every few hours during its sessions last week, the crown jewels of legacy media, The New York Times and the Washington Post, published bulletins with new disclosures about President Trump.

  • Trump told Russians that firing ‘nut job’ Comey eased pressure from investigation — Times
  • FBI investigates close Trump White House adviser as person of interest as the Russia investigation ramps up — Post
  • Comey practiced how to keep Trump at bay during meetings, worried president wouldn’t respect legal and ethical boundaries — Post
  • Comey to testify publicly — Times and Post

Sure, these bulletins came into the conference on phone apps. No one waited for the next day’s newspaper. But it was impossible to miss the anachronism of legacy newspapers driving the nation’s biggest story the way the Times drove the Pentagon Papers and the Post drove Watergate almost half a century ago.

However, this time everything was in hyperdrive, with bulletins arriving on cell phone screens a few minutes or hours apart. Instead of the day-long news cycle, there was a new deadline every second. Sometimes the Times would have a bulletin and an hour later the Post would match it or top it. Or the Post would have the disclosure and the Times would match it.

This doesn’t mean media are going back to the old days. But it is a reminder of how important it is for legacy news organizations to find ways to sustain the big, professional news staffs that have connections with top government officials and can bring in scoops. For the time being, the jump in digital subscribers at the Times and the infusion of Jeff Bezos’ money at the Post have reinforced the power of those newsrooms.

Still, today’s media bear only a passing resemblance to the media of the Watergate days. Presenters at the Legal Frontiers conference weren’t lawyers for the Times or the Post, but from Google, Twitter and Facebook.

And the legal and moral questions they addressed were uniquely 21st century issues.

  • If a person has a gun to his head on Facebook Live or Periscope, what should the internet companies do? Cut the feed to protect viewers from the trauma or keep the feed going in hopes users can talk him down? “We leave livestreams up as long as we thing there is a chance of engagement,” says Facebook’s Monika Bickert.
  • When should hateful posts be taken down because they are calls for terrorist acts and when are they merely extreme commentary on the state of the world worthy of continued publication and debate?
  • Should a website called ModelMayhem — “where professional models meet model photographers” — be responsible for sex predators using the site to pose as photographers to lure young children to Florida for sexual exploitation?
  • When is Backpage responsible for sex trafficking resulting from its classified ads?
  • What should Twitter and Facebook do about the silos of truly fake news centered around InfoWars and Breitbart? Brittan Heller of the Anti-Defamation League said its year-long study from 2015 to 2016 found the universe of online accounts spreading fake news and attacking journalists was relatively small and self-described as supporting white nationalism, America and Trump.
  • Should a U.S. contractor shot by ISIS in Jordan be able to collect damages from Twitter, which had to know that ISIS fighters were instigating violence against Americans with their tweets?
  • Must U.S. law enforcement officials go through difficult international channels to get information for a terrorism investigation when that information is probably in a computer in Mountain View?
  • Are European countries conducting a war on U.S. technology companies such as Google and Facebook by trying to enforce European values on U.S. firms — values like the “right to be forgotten” and laws against hate speech. How should the U.S. platforms react when European rulings or laws collide with First Amendment values?

The clash between the dominant European view of privacy and America’s First Amendment values is one between different views of democracy, said Jonathan Kanter, a Washington antitrust D.C. lawyer.

“From the perspective of Europeans it is a desire to protect democracy not damage it…. There is a disconnect between us and Europe on privacy and speech. Privacy is the essence of freedom in Europe. Europe is concerned about private companies (such as Google) making decisions, but we feel competition is essential to democracy.”

Robert Post, the retiring dean of the Yale Law School, agrees that democracy is at stake. “If each person could control information about them in the public sphere, we could not have a democracy,” he said.

Representatives of Twitter and Facebook described elaborate outreach efforts they have made to counteract hate speech with positive speech. These included organizing 80 civil society groups in Germany to promote positive speech. In the U.S., Facebook is working with university faculties to train students on how to use Facebook to counter extremism in their communities.

Post said Google should be treated like a newspaper, not as some private entity outside the public sphere. He quoted the famous French philosopher Alexis De Tocqueville, who wrote in “Democracy in America,” that “nothing but a newspaper can drop the same thought into a thousand minds at the same moment.”

Last week, that 19th century wisdom never seemed truer as the two great U.S. newspapers of the 20th century delivered breaking stories every few hours over their 21st century platforms. Each disclosure dropped into the minds of millions of Americans and each will have an impact on the way voters and their elected representatives view the days ahead in this troubled democracy.

Confidential source stories check presidential abuse of power

Commentary

by William H. Freivogel

Confidential sources are the lifeblood of reporting about abuses of power by high government officials. Source reporting provides a vital check on presidential power.

If the Washington Post hadn’t relied on confidential sources to report about Michael Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador, Flynn might still be the National Security Adviser. President Trump had known about the discussions for two weeks but fired Flynn only after the public disclosure in a source story.

If the Washington Post hadn’t relied on Deep Throat – Mark Felt, the associate director of the FBI – President Nixon’s Watergate abuses of power might never have been fully disclosed.

So this week, the Post acted properly in reporting the information from unnamed “current and former U.S. officials” that Trump had jeopardized an important intelligence source providing information about ISIS. In a boast, Trump reportedly disclosed to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador the city in the Islamic State from which an allied intelligence agency was getting this “code word” intelligence.

And The New York Times acted properly this week in relying on an unnamed source who read them a memo written by fired FBI Director James Comey describing how Trump asked him to shut down the FBI investigation of Flynn.

It is in the public interest for the American people to know how carelessly the president is handling top secret information. It is in the public interest for people to know that Trump may have taken steps to obstruct justice.

The stories are two of many disclosures from confidential sources that have painted a vivid picture of a president out of control. The unnamed sources took extraordinary risks in providing the information to the Post because they may be committing a crime.

This doesn’t mean that all confidential leaks are good. The Bush administration leak that Valerie Plame was a spy did not blow the whistle on wrongdoing by the powerful – it was the powerful trying to punish the whistleblower – in this instance, Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson who debunked President Bush’s false State of the Union claim about Saddam Hussein getting yellow cake uranium from Niger.

Nor were Judith Miller’s stories about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction – sourced to unnamed government officials – in the public interest. They primed the pump for war.

And more recently, the publication by WikiLeaks of secrets apparently hacked by Russian intelligence from the Democratic National Committee helped our major adversary destabilize our presidential election. Russian agents stealing secrets online is worse than former CIA agents burglarizing the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate.

Journalism ethics properly urge news organizations to try to get information on the record. But when writing about secrets or the powerful, that’s difficult. Prominent whistle blowers whose identities became known – Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden – were charged with espionage for their leaks – even though the Pentagon Papers and NSA data-mining leaks were in the national interest.

Publishing national security secrets is one of the ways in which the press checks the power of the modern presidency. Justice Potter Stewart said as much in the Pentagon Papers decision opening the way for publication of the top-secret history of the Vietnam War. Stewart wrote: “In the absence of the governmental checks and balances present in other areas of our national life, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the areas of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry — in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government. For this reason, it is perhaps here that a press that is alert, aware, and free most vitally serves the basic purpose of the First Amendment. For, without an informed and free press, there cannot be an enlightened people.”

The notion that an alert, aware and free press helps create an enlightened citizenry may seem old-fashioned these days when partisans and the president label news they don’t like fake news. But the professional press’ role in informing the people has seldom been more important.

 

From Deep Throat to WikiLeaks

 

Publishing national security secrets

Trump’s explanation of Comey firing provides ultimate test of press’ fairness and truthfulness

by William H. Freivogel

President Trump’s entire presidency, his entire political career in fact, has provided the severest test to the mainstream media’s mission of presenting the news fairly and in context.  No previous president, not even Nixon, has lied so frequently and campaigned so vigorously to delegitimize mainstream journalism.

But Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey provided the toughest challenge yet for journalists trying to be objective while still reporting the truth.  The reason: The White House’s official explanation of Comey’s firing is almost certainly not the real explanation.

The official explanation by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein might have made sense if issued last July.  Rosenstein based his recommendation on Comey’s announcement that the FBI didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her email indiscretions.  Rosenstein is right in saying this generally is not the FBI’s job.  The FBI investigates and submits its findings to lawyers in the Justice Department who make the decision on prosecution. Comey, who himself was once deputy attorney general, took on the role of making the decision because Attorney General Loretta Lynch said she would accept his judgment and that of career prosecutors after Bill Clinton’s foolish visit to her on an airplane during the campaign.  It is debatable whether Comey should have made the final decision or whether he should have submitted the evidence to the highest ranking Justice Department official not conflicted.  Probably he should have done the latter.

But when the decision to fire Comey comes 10 months later, in the middle of the FBI’s investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election, the press could hardly report Rosenstein’s explanation and leave it at that.  Every journalistic instinct tells reporters and editors – and probably most Americans – that Trump fired Comey because the FBI director was ramping up the Russia investigation, which Trump claims is fake news propagated by fake news outlets like The New York Times.  (There are echoes of “third rate burglary” in those Trump tweets.)

Charles Krauthammer, the conservative analyst on Fox, remarked on the implausibility of Trump’s explanation.  “Here is what is so odd about it. This is about, according to the letter by the Deputy Attorney General,… something that occurred on July 5. So we start out with something that is highly implausible. If that was so offensive to the Trump administration, What you would have done, in the transition, you would have spoken with Comey and said we are going to let you go. That’s when a president could very easily make a decision to have a change. That’s not unprecedented. But to fire him summarily with no warning in the middle of May because of something that happened in July is almost inexplicable. Second, the reason ostensibly is, as you read in the letter, for doing something that you are not supposed to do, to usurp the Attorney General. Second, to release all the information which was damaging to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump’s opponent. Do we really believe that Donald Trump come after all these months, decided suddenly he had to fire this guy because he damaged Hillary back in July? Another implausible conjecture….”

Eric Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago, put it this way: “In an ingenious bit of Machiavellian jujitsu, Trump fired Comey for incompetence, simultaneously: (1) eliminating an independent official who might act as a check on illegal behavior, (2) paving the way for the appointment of a stooge, and (3) enhancing Trump’s tough-guy image.”

Is this a replay of the Saturday Night Massacre? There are ways to distinguish Trump’s action from Nixon’s.  But there is a fundamental similarity: In each case the president moved to fire the law enforcement official who posed the greatest danger to his presidency.

Print journalism: don’t erect the tombstones just yet

by Don Corrigan

The “print is dead” mantra has been around for some two decades. That message was brought home to me as a professor at Webster University in St. Louis when my journalism department met to hire a new professor in social media. Also on the agenda were revisions to the curriculum for journalism majors.    Those revisions were needed to better reflect the inevitable move to digital technology in delivering journalism. When I protested that it might be too early to write off print newspapers, despite the encroaching new technologies, a colleague upbraided me severely. He supposedly was just trying to help me get it through my thick skull that we had entered a new media paradigm.

“Don, I like print journalism as much as you do. I used to enjoy getting up in the morning and reading a newspaper with my coffee, but it’s over. I can get it all online now. Print is dead,” he scolded, hammering his fist on his desk to drive the point home. When I tried to debate the issue further, I received some sympathetic glances from other colleagues – the kind of glances reserved for grandma as she tries to hold onto a few keepsakes before being moved from her old home to the retirement center.

I soon stepped down from advising the college student newspaper, the Journal. The departure turned out to be a great excuse for a 2010 retirement party – an old-school happening for an old-school journalist. Rather than leave journalism tutelage altogether, though, I continued to teach media law and started an outdoor/environmental journalism certificate. As for the revised journalism major, two of my favorite required legacy courses were summarily jettisoned: History and Principles of Journalism and Community Reporting. My work down the street from the university at Webster-Kirkwood Times, Inc., publisher of three local newspapers, had been serving as a great resource and inspiration for teaching about covering communities as well as about print journalism operations.

Alas, the “buggy-whip factory” known as Webster-Kirkwood Times continues to prosper to this day. And now, almost a decade after I had to confront the reality that “print is dead,” comes an article in Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) that insists print is not dead with a subhead entitled, “The Revenge of the Real.” The article in the 2016 fall-winter issue notes that it may actually be digital that is dying on the electronic vine after years of newspapers trying to find a business model that will make digital news profitable, or at least self-supporting. According to the CJR article by Michael Rosenwald, digital may be working for a few large national newspapers, but for regional newspaper businesses all the Facebook, tweets, apps and websites are a bust. In the future, digital may just involve “add-ons” for the base print products, included as a benefit for readers, but definitely not “profit centers” meant to sustain the franchise.

As the 2016 CJR article notes: “The reality is this: No streamlined website, no ‘vertical integration,’ no social network, no algorithm, no Apple, no Apple Newsstand, no paywall, no soft paywall, no targeted ad, no mobile-first strategy has come close to matching the success of print in revenue or readership. And the most crucial assumption publishers have made about readers, particularly millennials – that they prefer the immediacy of digital – now seems questionable, too.”

CJR goes on to quote Iris Chyi, a University of Texas professor and new media researcher. Chyi observes: “The (supposedly dying) print edition still outperforms the (supposedly hopeful) digital product by almost every standard, be it readership, engagement, advertising revenue, and especially willingness to actually pay for the product.” Chyi examined data collected by Scarborough, a market research firm owned by Nielsen, for the 51 largest U.S. newspapers, finding that the print edition reaches 28 percent of circulation areas, while the digital version reaches just 10 percent. (And it is a business model that still pays the bills, including salaries.)

‘Thriving’ print

There’s no question that the big guys in the newspaper world have been weathering tumultuous times. Some have been saddled with debt from acquisitions made when newspapers were at their peak. Others have more recently been sold at bargain basement prices to new owners without journalism backgrounds. Many of these owners have continued to hack away at the print product; continued to cut remaining staffers; and, continued to put resources into digital platforms that have yet to produce significant revenue after years of experimentation with pop-up ads, paywalls and digital-first strategies. It’s a formula that has failed to stop the decline in readers and loss of circulation. The trade and general media focus on these “big troubles” at big newspapers has obscured the fact that print as a whole is thriving.

“Far too much emphasis has been placed on digital and national media,” said Tim Bingaman, president and CEO of Circulation Verification Council (CVC). “And very few companies have been able to produce meaningful regional or local editorial content on a digital platform and monetize it for significant profit.  However, local and niche print continues to be very profitable.  Interestingly, much of the digital content we analyze is actually sourced back to traditional media sources.  Much like radio stations were famous for reading the newspaper as their news content, we see the same thing in the digital world (where original print stories now become the content). Print is not dead.”

Bingaman and other industry observers note that people need to keep in mind that 97 percent of all U.S. newspapers have circulations below 50,000, and about 85 percent of all newspapers are weeklies. Collectively, the “community newspaper” sector accounts for more than 70 percent of total print newspaper circulation in the U.S. and 97 percent of newspaper titles. Two-thirds of U.S. weeklies have circulations below 10,000 (as do 45 percent of U.S. dailies). Any analysis of the “newspaper industry” that overlooks the community-newspaper sector, especially the weekly newspaper sector, is going to be inherently flawed and grossly misleading. And analysis that overlooks 97 percent of newspapers may miss the fact that print is holding its own and in many sectors is actually thriving.

“Trends vary greatly depending on the type of print measured,” said Bingaman.  “Daily newspapers and large national consumer magazines continue to lose significant print circulation and those losses receive a majority of the attention in the media industry.  However, a much larger segment of print – community newspapers, shoppers, city & regional magazines, business publications, and niche publications like parenting, 50+ lifestyle, ethnic, and special interest publications are thriving and have very stable or even growing circulation numbers.

“For instance, community newspapers, typically free weeklies, have lost less than 1 percent of their circulation in the last decade.  City and regional magazines, and business publications have also fared the poor economy well with less than 2 percent circulation loss.  Most of these losses come from publishers simply trimming expenses on less valued circulation types.  Niche publications have fared well overall with a 1.5 percent circulation increase in the last decade.  The most important item I take from these numbers is that intensely local community based print is thriving. The ‘print is dying’ message is so prevalent because of the high profile of major losses from large metropolitan daily newspapers and national consumer magazines,” Bingaman stressed.

Guy Bergstrom, a writer for About.comMarketing, continually declares,  “Don’t Believe the Hype: Newspapers Are Alive and Kicking.” Community papers have negotiated the new digital era and America’s economic downturn quite well. Newspaper trade organizations such as the Independent Free Papers of America (IFPA), the National Newspaper Association (NNA) and the Inland Press Association (IPA) are all working to get that message out to readers and advertisers: “We’re Just Fine And We’re Not Going Away.” These groups say it’s vital to get this information out, because the drumbeat about the demise of print can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if not countered.

                            READOUT: Is digital “dying”?

Perhaps newspaper trade groups need to go on the offensive and declare: “digital is dying.” There’s plenty of evidence for such a new mantra on digital. A number of attempts have been made to challenge the dominance of the hyper-local, print fare of community newspapers with internet products, foremost among the challengers is AOL’s Patch sites, which have practically disappeared after losing tens of millions of dollars. Jock Lauterer, a community journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, makes the important point that print newspapers are retro and after a day of working in front of video screens all day, many readers want a return to retro. They want “the old portable, clippable, hold-and-fold legacy media,” according to Lauterer.

Digital news advocates and the so-called “technological utopians” will argue that print does not have a future because the kids are all on their smart phones and many don’t know what a print newspaper looks like – they regard it as a relic of some bygone era. Bingaman of CVC insists that young people may rely on smart phones now for information, but they will take up the dependable print newspaper habits once they settle down in a community and want to know what is going on in their schools and at the city council. Bingaman said CVC has the data to prove his contention.

“In 1999 CVC audited 516 community newspapers and shoppers in North America.  In 2016 we audited 2,976 papers and 463 of those original publications are still with us from 1999. In 1999, 7 percent of their audience was made of readers under the age of 25.  In 2016, that number for those same 463 papers is 6 percent. The under-25 age category has never been a large consumer of print, and never will be,” Bingaman said. “However, for community-based publications, young people begin to read these publications as they become involved in their communities.”

“As they buy cars, get married, buy homes, and have children they are drawn into reading about their community,” Bingaman continued.  “In 1999, 17 percent of readers were between the ages of 25-34. In 2016, that 25-34 demographic is 18 percent. This leads me to believe that community-based publications continue to replace their aging demographic with a young audience as they have in previous decades.  As a matter of fact, readership of community-based publications has increased from 74 percent in 1999 to 77 percent in 2016.  Overall, a larger percentage of households are reading this form of print than they were in 1999.”

Bingaman is echoed by Bill Reader, an associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University and a longtime member of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper editors (ISWNE). Reader said millennials may be digital natives who prefer digital delivery when available, but they are not as print-averse as many media experts would have us believe. Offer them a good print product, and they’ll pick it up.

“The best model for reaching young people today is digital-only for routine daily news, sports scores, and other ‘hot news’ items,” said Reader. “However, they will use higher-quality print news offerings for long-form reporting, analysis, and opinion. Special sections are still going to thrive in print with young people, if they are done well. Getting a new generation of talented, trustworthy journalists to embrace and work on community newspapers will be the key for the print future.”

No one makes a stronger case that print newspapers are in the catbird’s seat, while digital is dying as a sustainable news technology, than Iris Chyi, who is heavily quoted in the 2016 CJR article. In her 2015 monograph, “Trial and Error: U.S. Newspapers’ Digital Struggles toward Inferiority,” Chyi provides plenty of data to show that digital news products have fallen far short of expectations. Companies that hoped to move their news content from print to only online during the past two decades are finding that 85 to 90 percent of their revenue still flows from the old, legacy print product.

The problem is that most assumptions on the all-digital future have never had any reliable empirical support, according to Chyi. The result is that during almost two decades of trial and error, bad decisions were made and unfounded strategies adopted. The audiences for news were totally misunderstood and the original print product deteriorated through all the attention and experimentation with digital products that no one would pay good money for. Part of the problem is readers viewed the digital products as available, but inferior. And they were conditioned not to pay for them.

In the conclusion of her study, Chyi contends that newspaper managements have been wandering in “a digital jungle” for 20 years with no sense of direction, doing what everyone else is doing rather than doing what is best for the print newspaper, the anchor for their operations. She offers newspaper managers a number of directions for finding the way out of the confusing and unprofitable digital jungle. Among her points:

  • Accept the fact that online display ads are not effective and may never be very effective, no matter how obnoxious and annoying newspaper businesses make them.
  • Acknowledge that print newspapers don‘t have to die, unless they are mismanaged or ignored for the new shiny things out there. In many communities, readers still will pay $300 to $500 a year for the “dead tree” format.
  • Realize that consumers view the digital news product as inferior, much like fast food or ramen noodles. Not many are interested in actually paying for digital news products.
  • Concede local newspapers are never going to benefit from the economies of distribution of a Google or a Yahoo operation. Chasing readers with multiple platforms will wear down your journalists, erode your print product, and can be a waste of valuable resources.

READOUT: Academics need to be more responsible

Chyi argues that newspaper owners need to listen to their managers, editors and reporters who increasingly lament: “All the effort that is going into the website is hurting the print edition. Could we just not do it?” She insists that newspaper owners, who get upset looking at all the young digital natives on their mobiles, need to realize that they are using their phones for entertainment and not for news. To retain or attract younger readers, newspapers need to focus on noteworthy and essential content – and not fret about the means of distribution.

Chyi and other media observers, such as Marc Edge, author of ‘Greatly Exaggerated: The Myth of the Death of Newspapers,” have clearly seen the beacon of light through the dense digital jungle. To use another such metaphor, they can see the forest through the trees, and they can actually see that the dead-tree media still prosper. Newspapers have an important place in the media mix when not burdened with all the illusions about their supposedly inevitable digital future.

Journalism academics can be forgiven if they have fallen under the spell of the digital utopians. Academics generally are not “bottom line people” who worry about the business model as they embrace and explore the new media technologies. Also, journalism academics are continually attending webinars, seminars and conferences where the media high priests preach the gospel of digital distribution. At the annual Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conventions, I’ve listened to the experts tell us for years that if news companies were not on a website within two years, they would die. Five years ago, I listened to the experts tell us that if news companies were not on mobiles within two years, they would die. In both presentations, I asked the experts what the business model is for these platforms. The answer in both instances: “The business model will come. The important thing is that you have to be there when it arrives.”

Obviously, journalism academics are as lost in the digital jungle as are many newspaper managers. They’ve all been warned over and over about the coming print apocalypse lurking out there in the bush, but it has yet to materialize. So what should academics be telling their journalism students? Tim Bingaman of CVC suggests that courses in the new media should not discount the old media. A course in history and principles of journalism should show students that newspapers survived radio in the 1920s, television in the 1950s, and now the Internet with the arrival of a new century.

Rem Reader at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University believes that far too much journalism instruction ignores or is dismissive of the community press. Journalism students who are not exposed to the community press are often surprised to learn about the diversity of local and niche media that exists today, the important roles they play in society – and the jobs that are available with this legacy media.

“Journalism professors really do have to get their heads out of their … sand boxes,” said Reader. “Too many J-school profs are just as ignorant about the community newspaper sector as their students. The irony is that most J-school students work in community journalism while on campus – student newspapers, student-run magazines and websites, student-run radio and TV news shows – but don’t even realize it. Many do their internships with community media and community newspapers continue to be a steady source of entry-level jobs. There is digital innovation in the community press, too, and lots of success stories to share.

“There are plenty of examples of ‘best-practices’ coming from the community press in terms of reporting, editing, visual and multimedia journalism, professional ethics and more,” added Reader. My advice for J-school profs is to contact their state press associations and ask them to name the five best “small newspapers” in the state, and then for the profs to get to know those papers and their staffs. Invite them to campus to talk to classes.  They will attest that print is not dead.”

READOUT: Community and daily journalism differ

Jock Lauterer, who wrote the book on community journalism with the book, “Community Journalism,” contends that students need to know successful community journalism differs markedly from the troubled big city journalism. Community journalism works because it involves relentless local coverage that helps a community define itself. Community journalism works because it’s extremely personal as the reporters live among those whom they cover and feel a special accountability to them. Community journalism works because the wider-frame national and global issues are localized.

Although Chyi, Reader, Lauterer and other journalism academics are adamant that print is not dead, they would certainly not counsel students to ignore the news successes of the digital age. Digitalization does seem to be working for larger, national news operations. Digitalization has allowed for interesting websites that aggregate news and features for reader convenience (although sometimes violating original copyrights). Digitalization has provided useful add-ons for newspaper operations, from websites to Facebook to the tweets that provide a heads-up for late-breaking stories. Above all, digitalization can improve reporting. Computer-assisted tools allow reporters to gather more data, contact more sources, check more facts and write better-researched stories. There is, however, a flip side to all this, as Reader points out.

“The flip side of digitalization is that there has been a proliferation of fake news, advertorial, and crassly ideological garbage on the web. The culture war in the U.S. also has led to an across-the-board “dumbing down” of the general population, to the point where they only believe media messages that confirm their own personal biases. They are openly hostile toward media that challenge their beliefs,” Reader said.

“This is not new in human society. Francis Bacon lamented such willful ignorance and narrow-mindedness in the Novum Organum, first published in 1620: superstition, stubbornness, dismissing ‘difficult” information,’ gravitating toward entertainments and trivia, etc. The Internet has empowered those who would exploit such willful ignorance using the trappings of ‘real news,’” Reader contended. “The challenge for journalists today and in the future will be to stand, always, with integrity, bravery, and tenacity. That is how real journalists will stand apart from charlatans, and how community newspapers will stand apart from the putridity of cable television and crassly ideological websites.”

Former P-D editorial writer’s Facebook challenge to Rep. Wagner on Obamacare @STLinquiry

by Eddie Roth

As I sit down to write this piece mid-February, top news organizations are reporting a potential watershed in the years-long march by Republicans in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature national healthcare program, also known as Obamacare.

Except this time, things are different. The GOP controls the presidency and both houses of Congress. Votes no longer are theater offered to placate the political base. Rather, the votes likely will result in grave consequences to millions of people, including hundreds of thousands in the St. Louis community who depend on Obamacare for access to healthcare.

Repeal efforts now sit menacingly off-shore, like a tropical storm steadily gaining hurricane strength. Its precise path remains uncertain. It may move out to sea. But should it make landfall at full strength, it may devastate the lives of many.

At least that’s how Obamacare repeal should be covered as news. Such coverage should reflect the impending crisis of a potentially deadly storm. It should be the lead daily news story. Reporters should press responsible local officials and community leaders for details and constant updates on contingency plans – focusing attention on those who have the greatest capacity and responsibility to protect the public.

That’s how I have been trying to cover it at my modest social media page on Facebook – “The Office of Special Inquiries and Reports | @STLinquiry,” a page devoted to “timely, independent, non-partisan investigation and analysis of St. Louis questions & controversies.”

Repeal not inevitable

Repeal of Obamacare and resulting hardship are not inevitable.

Enrollment is measured in the tens of millions and has driven down numbers of the uninsured to historic lows. The program’s advent has coincided with one of the nation’s longest sustained periods of job growth. The rate of healthcare costs, meanwhile, has slowed to an extent that actuaries calculate significant savings to entitlement programs.

But not everything about Obamacare has worked out well. Participation of private health insurers has been uneven, market to market. Premiums have risen and become unaffordable to some people who earn too much to be eligible for subsidies.

Political opponents of the Affordable Care Act have seized on these shortcomings and, rather than work to correct them, have done all within their power to undermine the program and poison its reputation in the minds of the public. Many now claim Congress must act to “repeal and replace” because the program is in a “death spiral.”

Still, in the early weeks of the new Congress, practical action to repeal Obamacare has not matched the bloody-shirt political brio. The Obamacare killers have been slow to get out of the gate. Repeal and replace strategies of Congressional Republican leaders have been met with resistance and worry among some of within the Republican caucus who understandably think eliminating Obamacare could cause a major political backlash as millions of Americans lose access to health care.

Impact of repeal on St. Louis residents

Should repeal come, it likely will come suddenly. It will be hustled through with a series of late night votes shrouded in an opaque cloud of alternate facts.  Thus, news organizations should sound an alarm. Conventional news gathering approaches provide many opportunities to do so. I have marshaled data describing the scope of risk to this community, such as by noting, county-by-county, congressional district-by-congressional district, where for the more than 100,000 St. Louisans enrolled in Obamacare reside.

I have explained how sudden loss of health insurance at that scale would look (It is about the same number of people as are employed at BJC (24k), Boeing (15k), Washington University (14.5k), Scott AFB (13.k), Enterprise (6.8k), Express Scripts (6.4k), Monsanto (5.4k), Wells Fargo (5.3k), Edward Jones (5.2k), AB-InBev (4k), and then some, combined).

I have written and linked to information about potential long-term damage to the well being of hundreds of thousands of other St. Louisans who have health insurance but who suffer from or are at risk of chronic disease, and whose access to healthcare, even under high-quality employer provided insurance, depends on Obamacare protections that prohibit insurers from excluding coverage for pre-exisiting conditions and lifetime caps on coverage amounts.

I have tried to define the economic stakes to a community whose local economy has such a high concentration of healthcare related business enterprises, starting with world class hospitals and medical research.  I also have tried to introduce my “small but influential” readership to key local players – people this community will be counting on to help avert disaster.

My focus has been on U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner. I have coined my Obamacare coverage as the #TheAnnWagnerProject. Ms. Wagner is the most influential House member representing the St. Louis region. She is a part of Republican House leadership. Under my #stormwatch metaphor, she’s the equivalent of the St. Louis region’s director of Emergency Management with direct responsibility for protecting the community from potentially disastrous effects of Obamacare repeal.

I regularly email Ms. Wagner’s press secretary. I request information on her plans for “repeal and replace” legislation. I seek comment from Ms. Wagner on steps she plans to take to ensure the St. Louis region is protected.  So far I have received no reply, not even an acknowledgement.

But as part of my coverage, I also have reviewed Ms. Wagner’s Federal Election Commission campaign contribution disclosures. I have sought to identify contributors well known in the community and with reputations for thoughtful moderation in civic matters. I have written to a number of Ms. Wagner’s campaign contributors, inviting their comment on the community stakes involved in Obamacare repeal and what community consultation they would like to see from Congressional leaders such as Ms. Wagner.

Dr. Danforth’s response

One of Ms. Wagner’s most significant campaign contributors, Former Washington University Chancellor William Danforth, accepted the invitation.   Danforth graduated from Harvard Medical School, received his medical training at Barnes Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital and, since 1967, has been a professor of internal medicine at Washington University Medical School. He has served as Vice Chancellor of Medical Affairs and president of Washington University Medical Center. From 1971 to 1995, he was Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis.

In a letter to me, Dr. Danforth wrote:

“You asked for thoughts on national health insurance that might be helpful in talking with Congresswoman Ann Wagner. My reply is probably different from others you might receive.”

“To start with, insurance for health care is very complicated. Health care is complicated with steadily advancing technologies, changing diseases, aging population, evolving private coverage, varying rates of employment, new diseases, new therapies and better prevention.”

“An objective look would conclude that financing health care in the United States has been improved by Obamacare; expenditures have risen slower than expected. Nevertheless, it is clearly imperfect, but to improve it will be hard and complex with possibilities for many mistakes. To throw Obamacare away rather than to learn from it and try to improve it would show very bad judgment, probably cause major decline in insured Americans and add to the burdens, likely including costs of disease.”

“The problem is that there is no tested alternative plan, perhaps no alternative plan at all. To try to write a new plan is risky and likely to be worse. A politicized Congress is the wrong place to try to devise alternatives. Congress could better decide the amount of money it is willing to spend on the health of the American people and then charge a panel of experts of various persuasions to develop the best improvements they can. The plan could allow states to experiment. The panel should also recommend a time to review it. One should not be thrown off by complaints; there are bound to be some. Complaints should be taken seriously, analyzed and used to help in future improvements.”

“Humans learn to improve complex systems by having people argue, debate, compromise and never stop trying to adjust it and make it better. No person or group can do it once and for all. What are necessary are imagination, trust, trial and error and patience. That is the way humans develop their best arrangements.”

“I hope these thoughts are helpful.”

Impact of local news coverage

Local news coverage can have an impact on impending Obamacare repeal, but only if it focuses sharply on local effects and if it pointedly brings accountability to local leaders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not following St. Louis needs or sentiment regarding access to health care. Neither is House Speaker Paul Ryan.

But both would be interested in what U.S. Rep. Wagner has to say. Wagner’s party cannot ignore her if she puts loyalty to this community ahead of loyalty to her party on access to healthcare. Wagner’s campaign contributors, in turn, bear a special responsibility for the leadership she exercises – or fails to exercise. They are fair game for news coverage in an impending crisis. That’s because repeal of Obamacare is life-and-death matter for this community. Urgent and sustained local news coverage of local people of influence may determine whether ordinary St. Louis voices – those who stand to lose the most – are heard in Washington.

Getting the final word right

by Pat Louise

William F. Buckley, Jr. Edited by James Rosen, A Torch Kept Lit. Great Lives of the Twentieth Century, Crown Forum, New York, 2016, $22, 323 pages.

Over the course of 53 years — from when he founded the magazine National Review in 1955, hosted the television show Firing Line (1966-99), until his death in February 2008 — William F. Buckley Jr. spoke or wrote the definitive words on the conservative viewpoint.

He also, over this time, wrote the last words on 250 historical figures he had met during his lifetime. His obituaries, most of which ran in the National Review with the standard headline of the deceased’s name followed by RIP, give an intimate, honest – sometimes brutally honest – portrait of many influential people of the last century.

The best of these essays have been collected into the New York Times bestseller, A Torch Kept Lit, chosen and edited by Fox News chief Washington correspondent James Rosen. Published in October 2016, the book delves into Buckley’s thoughts on the famous of the famous, mostly those who were leaders in government, journalism, music and entertainment. In one section he shares his thoughts after the deaths of his parents and his wife Pat, who predeceased him the year before.

Another section covers some of the movers and changers who become personal friends. The final section, to perhaps illustrate that WFB truly did have the last word at this, covers his nemeses.

Rosen refers to these works as eulogies, but Buckley’s thoughts made public would hardly be acceptable by any funeral forum standards. Three weeks after the death of John F. Kennedy, one of five presidents included in the book, Buckley criticizes the national outpouring of grief.

 

READOUT: Extinguishing the flames of Camelot

 

“The rhetoric has gone quite out of control. The symbol of our emotional, if not neurotic excess, is the Eternal Flame at Arlington.… The lovely and tormented Mrs. Kennedy needs a gentle hand lest in her understandable grief, she give the air of the Pharaoh, specifying his own magnitude.’’

His essay about author Truman Capote includes the story of when then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan joked about using Capote as bait to see if there were any homosexuals working for him.

Buckley opens his column about the death of Jerry Garcia with, “If I ever heard a song played by the Grateful Dead I wasn’t aware of it.’’ Buckley then goes on to criticize Garcia for not going public with his addictions to drugs and alcohol. “If he had done so, how many would have had better prospects for health, love and longer lives?’’ Buckley concludes.

And none of these even falls under the Nemeses category.

To show just how far Buckley could go in landing a death-blow punch to the dead, here is his opening for the essay about Ayn Rand, one of six nemeses in the book: ”Ayn Rand is dead. So, incidentally, is the philosophy she sought to launch dead; it was, in fact, stillborn.”

He also shows no love for former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. “She treated all the world as her own personal slum project; and all the papers, of course, remarked on that fabulous energy – surely she was the very first example of the peacetime use of atomic energy. But some publications went to far as to say she had a great mind. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of Euclid.”

Not everyone receives such call-it-as-he-sees-it treatment. Buckley’s four family members receive the sort of glowing obituary routinely found in newspapers that encourage such glowing praise as they bill by the word. Buckley treats Johnny Carson with a bashful tenderness, a comment about how many of Carson’s ex-wives would have attended his memorial service aside.

Receiving such gentle treatment is rare, though, and a good thing. That Buckley candor makes this book a delightful read, a combination of intimate glimpses of some of the century’s most well-known figures, before – bam — Buckley skewers them, not just bringing them down to ordinary levels, but making readers recalculate their own high opinions of the dearly departed.

It is difficult, though, to feel sorry for the subjects. To have one’s death come to the attention of WFB rivals today’s stage of being mocked on Saturday Night Live. Yes, it is mockery in front of millions, but to be mocked on SNL is a sign one has reached the upper ranks of People Who Matter.

Buckley honestly acknowledges that what he is offering comes strictly from his viewpoint. Many of the essays begin with “I first met” as Buckley spins an opening anecdote from his perspective; none of them contain the usual facts required in an obituary, such as birth and death dates, lifetime achievements or honors.

Buckley seems to assume with these essays that his familiarity with the deceased parallels that of his readers, since he jumps in with his thoughts without much introduction of the subject. For each one Rosen provides an opening note that helps frame Buckley’s connection to the subject and provide background not contained in the essay. That adds significantly to the depth of enjoyment of the stories.

These 52 essays provide not just a quick character sketch of the subjects, but a more complex review of Buckley’s life, one well lived and peppered with interesting people. The title suffices for both the subjects to find a short resurrection to their glory days in these pages, but also a reminder of the joys of a journalist’s clean and pointed writing style.

Buckley’s death might have caused relief in some who feared what his tribute would say about them. But they, after all, wouldn’t be around to read them anyway. For those still earth-bound, A Torch Kept Lit provides a pleasurable way to confront the demise of others.

St. Louis Media History Foundation Hall of Fame event is Saturday

ST. LOUIS, March 15, 2017 — The St. Louis Media History Foundation, a nonprofit organization that researches and compiles artifacts and memorabilia related to the St. Louis area’s rich media history, will hold its 2017 Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremonies on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at the St. Louis City Center Hotel downtown, 400 South 14th Street, near Scottrade Center.

The dinner and ceremonies will begin at 5:30 p.m. There will be a cash bar and free indoor and outdoor hotel parking for attendees.

Tickets for the dinner entrees — Grilled Salmon with a Citrus Orange Gastrique, Sautéed Chicken Picatta in a White Wine Caper Sauce, or a vegetarian Eggplant Stack — will be $55 for individuals or $550 for a table of 10.

Tickets can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite, or at the door. Discounted hotel rooms for guests also are available through the St. Louis City Center Hotel. Rooms must be reserved by March 31.

  • John Beck – Senior Vice President of Emmis Communications, who oversees all four Emmis radio stations in St. Louis: KSHE, KIHT, KPNT, and KFTK. He’s been general manager of KSHE since 1984.
  • Jim Brady – Pioneering news director at KTVI-TV. He later held the same position at KMOX Radio before becoming executive secretary of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners.
  • Dennis Clancy, Art Dwyer, Ron Edwards, John McHenry, and Tom “Pappa” Ray – Jazz/blues producers for listener-supported KDHX when the station began broadcasting in 1987.
  • Peggy Cohill – Executive producer of “The Charlie Brennan Show” on KMOX Radio, and a program producer at that station for more than 40 years.
  • Jack Dorsey — @jack is a computer programmer and internet entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, and founder and CEO of Square, a mobile payments company.
  • Bob Dotson – Emmy-winning correspondent for NBC News, where he spent 40 years, including 25 with “The Today Show.” He’s a six-time recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for news writing.
  • Mary Edwards – Senior producer of KWMU-FM/St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on the Air” call-in program and its live broadcasts of the St. Louis Symphony. She has been with the station since 1974, and has been responsible for helping to shape KWMU’s innovative programming.
  • David Erich – Public relations executive for several St. Louis-area companies, including Pepsi and United Van Lines. He was the first ad executive for Six Flags when it opened in 1971.
  • Dan Forrestal – Longtime public relations executive with Monsanto who helped guide the company’s communications strategy as it maneuvered from a chemical company into one of the world’s leading agricultural companies. He also mentored many communications practitioners throughout his career.
  • Don Francois – Pioneering TV engineer who helped launch KACY-TV, one of the first UHF stations in St. Louis. He later helped other local stations transition from black-and-white to color broadcasts.
  • Margaret Wolf Freivogel – Award-winning St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and editor. She also was founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a non-profit digital news startup that merged with KWMU-FM/St. Louis Public Radio in 2013.
  • Roy Harris – A Post-Dispatch reporter from 1926 to 1967, Harris won a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for investigating election fraud in Illinois. He also helped the newspaper win three other Pulitzer Prizes in 1937, 1941, and 1948.
  • Rick Hummel – Longtime St. Louis Cardinals beat writer for the Post-Dispatch, Hummel – nicknamed “The Commish” — is a former president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, a J.G Taylor Spink Award recipient in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and a Pulitzer Prize nominee.
  • Sid Savan – A major figure in St. Louis advertising, Savan also was a longtime instructor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His Savan Advertising also helped many ad execs get their start.
  • Clarissa Start – Gardening columnist for the Post-Dispatch from 1938 to 1972. Her column was serialized in Ladies Home Journal. After retirement, she wrote her column for another 30 years.
  • Jack Thorwegen – Co-founder in 1985 of the Zipatoni marketing firm, known for its creative work. His Proof Agency, founded in 2014, helps craft brewers and distillers compete against larger rivals.

The St. Louis Media Hall of Fame has recognized St. Louisans who have made a major contribution, in their work here or elsewhere, to their respective media in four different fields: Radio, Print, Television, and Advertising/Public Relations.

The Foundation also maintains an exhibit at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, 3524 Russell Avenue, in South St. Louis. Admission is free. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

The Foundation accepts tax deductible contributions to develop and expand its St. Louis media history collection, its website, local archives and repositories, oral histories, and the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame. For more information, visit the foundation’s Facebook page or www.stlmediahistory.com.

Mike Mike: a mother’s view

Lezley McSpadden with Lyah Beth LeFlore, Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil, Regan Arts, New York, 2016, $26.95, 254 pages.

By Pat Louise

Since Aug. 9, 2014, much has been written about Michael Brown, shot that day by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. In Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil, Brown’s mother tells her son’s life story before his death became a national story.

Author Lezley McSpadden, with author Lyah Beth LeFlore, takes up much of the story talking about her own life, including pregnancy at age 16 and then raising son Mike Mike and her other children before her oldest was shot on Canfield Drive. For those looking for a mother’s rant against police and government amidst racism in her town, this book deals up a surprisingly little of that. Instead, readers get a better understanding of the people behind the national news event.

The book opens with a punch to the heart of a mother’s learning her son has been shot and is lying in the street a few blocks away. As she races to the scene, McSpadden leaves us there, going back to telling the story of her childhood and then Mike Mike’s 18 years, before circling back to the shooting and its aftermath.

McSpadden seems to be exploring the questions of how did we get here and what happened. While she thoroughly answers the first, she says at the end she has yet to learn exactly what happened that day, as two of the three witnesses refuse to talk to her and the third is dead.

With a candor that doesn’t always put her in the best light, McSpadden chronicles her childhood, including disappointments with her father and her struggles to keep going to school and work once she has her son at age 16.  Her choice of writing styles with slang and incorrect grammar can be jarring, especially as she writes in a prose as if talking to the reader over coffee at the kitchen table.

She and Mike Mike bounce around living with her mother, on their own and with the Browns, parents of her son’s father. Her son – nicknamed Mike Mike to distinguish between his father Mike — is raised by an assortment of family members, but always with plenty of love around him, McSpadden says again and again.

Who the world would come to know as Michael Brown from Aug. 9, 2014, on is described as a laid-back kid, always too big for his age and the target of bullying because of his size. He is not a good student, forcing his mother to try a number of tactics to keep him in school and obtain a high school degree, something she was unable to do. Brown does earn his diploma, becoming a high school graduate who turned 18 just weeks before his death.

That kid who, according to his mother, might have given her grief in the home but never outside of it, becomes the counter character to the Michael Brown police originally said had a weapon, tried to harm an officer and had just been involved in a robbery.

McSpadden does not attempt to fill in the gaps leading up to the shooting; instead she details her quest to talk to the man Brown was with at the Ferguson Market and who saw him get shot. An attempt to talk to him – a person McSpadden said she never heard mentioned by her son – resulted in nothing truthful being told, she writes.

Whatever one’s views of the shooting – justified or police brutality – the description of McSpadden and her family racing to the scene and forced to see Brown’s body lying on the street for hours, unable to even touch him, makes for painful reading. But this is where McSpadden’s story makes the most impact, as she strips away the controversy and questions and flashes back to standing for hours wanting to get to her dead son lying on the street.

McSpadden skims through her appearances at press conferences and talk shows in the days and weeks after the shooting and then the grand jury report. She touches briefly by name on those in law enforcement and government in Missouri who made promises, offering her view of whether they were sincere or not.

She spends more time on problems between her and Brown’s father regarding the funeral and meetings with Missouri leaders to update them on the case. While the question remains of what it felt like to get pushed into the national spotlight and see the devastation in the city of Ferguson over the shooting, McSpadden sets all that aside to focus on her grief over burying her son.

It works because what the reader gets is not a national spotlight view but something more intimate.

McSpadden wraps up her story by saying she shook out of her depression by starting the Michael O.D. Brown We Love Our Sons and Daughters Foundation. The Foundation brings together mothers of other males shot by police, a group known as the Rainbow Mothers. The Foundation offers a variety of ways to help them adjust to their new normal of life.

She says as her book went to press late last spring that she has yet to learn the solid truth of what happened in her son’s final moments. “This isn’t a black versus white issue. This is an issue about Right versus Wrong,’’ she states at the end.

Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil might roil those convinced Brown deserved his fate, as McSpadden’s view is most definitely that he did not. But her opinion comes strictly as that of his mother, and that is what mothers do. Readers are given fair warning on the cover with the description of The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son, Michael Brown. Anyone expecting a balanced outlook from Wilson’s perspective will not find it. Instead, what you get is a detailed look into one family’s life in the face of losing a loved one to a cop shooting.