Tag Archives: coverage

Embattled L.A. Clippers owner has a right to privacy, too

Editor’s note: This is an opinion article from William A. Babcock, editor of Gateway Journalism Review.

For anyone spending the past few days in a cave, the person in the eye of the latest media storm is Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.

Sterling ignited the race card, and the media suddenly have diverted their eyes from the Ukraine, a missing airplane and a South Korean ferry. Race is America’s trump card. It’s the nation’s third rail: touch it and you die.

Sterling’s racist comments recently were recorded by his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, and released by TMZ on Saturday. Three days later, NBA commissioner Adam Silver called for NBA owners to force Sterling to sell the Clippers, banned him for life from any association with the league and fined him $2.5 million.

Now Sterling’s remarks were inappropriate, racist, odious, vulgar and hurtful. But they were made in the privacy of his own home, and recorded without his knowledge or consent. So go ahead and throw the first stone. Everyone who has never said something stupid and hurtful in the privacy of his or her own home – everyone who would be comfortable having any and all of his or her utterances broadcast publically in this new-tech world – please stand up.

A truly strange assortment of voices already has been heard on this subject – many speaking out against sanctions against Sterling – and more likely will hit blogs, tweets, newspapers and radio waves in coming days. Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, Libertarians, members of the American Civil Liberties Union from the Skokie-march days and a number of First Amendment free-speech advocates all have offered their commentaries. What strange bedfellows they are.

The public and members of the media should speak out against, and chastise, a public figure’s insensitive, unethical remarks, even though such remarks were made in private. But do remarks uttered in private justify Silver leveling such a punishment?

As former African-American NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote earlier this week: “Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizens’ privacy in such an un-American way?”

Jeff Jacoby, writing recently in the Boston Globe, pointed out it’s illegal in California to secretly record a private conversation. In a free society, he wrote, “private lives and private thoughts aren’t supposed to be everyone’s business.” But, as Jacoby adds, such intrusions, made possible by modern technology, are eroding this value, and the presumption that what people say in their personal lives will stay personal, is all but gone.

In the 1965 U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, William O. Douglas wrote about a “penumbra” right of privacy. Justices Hugo Black and Potter Stewart countered that the Constitution contains no such right.

Today, some notable First Amendment activists who usually side with Douglas on issues of privacy are comfortable supporting the commissioner’s punitive sanctions against Sterling, even though such sanctions would not have been leveled had his privacy not been violated.

Privacy, new technology and the U.S. race card; what a toxic brew. It’s regrettable Silver has drunk so deeply from this draught.

Two wrongs were made: Sterling said something ugly, and these comments were broadcast by the media. But two wrongs don’t mean professional basketball’s commissioner was right in leveling sanctions against the Clippers’ owner. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

When the ends are seen to justify the means, media ethics and media law both suffer. And race once again is able to rear its ugly head.

Slacking election night coverage exposes other website flaws

Many people now rely on the Web to get results on election nights. Such Web-savvy folks likely were frustrated with St. Louis’ local TV election-night website coverage.

Viewers would have been unable to find anything on KSDK Channel 5’s website. There was no reference to the election on the station’s main page. A search provided unrelated stories and election results from March 19. A search just for “today” uncovered nothing.

Channel 4’s main page had a big banner, making it easy to get to election results. Unfortunately, there were missing races on the website. The two races Channel 2 referred to, Kirkwood and Ferguson-Florissant, were not listed.

Channel 2’s main page also made it easy to get to results with the large banner at the top. But once the page was accessed, it loaded very slowly.

It’s hoped the TV stations’ Web departments will get their acts together.

Speaking of websites

Whoever designed Channel 5’s new website needs a lesson in what works for ordinary people. It is hard to figure out. Finding stories is nearly impossible. The organization is odd.

At 2:30 p.m. April 9, the top items included:

  • A vigil planned in Effingham for a Fort Hood victim.
  • A promo for Mike Bush’s “Making a Difference” series.
  • News that Missouri Medicaid may restore adult dental care.
  • A junk food study.
  • Where NFL Pro Bowls will be played.
  • A promo for a show about surviving tornadoes.

Below that section is one called “Headlines.” The very first of 12 items was that St. Louis was picked for a hot-dog-eating contest. Next to it, a contest to win my mortgage for a year. By that item was one asking if Albert Pujols can break the all-time home-run record.

Headlines? This was on the same day 20 people had been stabbed at a Pennsylvania high school. Readers had to be lucky to even find that story. It scrolled by in the “featured video” section halfway down the page (requires scrolling). And it was eight of 10. What was the No. 1 featured video on KSDK’s page? “Bella Twins don’t know each other’s favorite apps”:

“Twin models and professional wrestlers, the Bella Twins, can finish each other’s sentences, but do they know each other’s favorite apps?”

Someone there needs to rethink the page, because Channel 5 may bill itself “where the news come first” – but not on the Web, where many people turn to today. There, it is hard to even find the news. (See http://www.ksdk.com.)

Lampkin shines

Channel 5 has a real winner in their newest meteorologist, Chester Lampkin. The St. Louis native has been on the air since February 2013, and he just shines. He has the ability to be serious when the weather is bad and light when the weather is good. He is an excellent conversationalist with all of the anchors. And he can adapt well to whatever might happen on set, such as the wrong graphic showing up on screen. No matter what ad lib an anchor tosses to him, he handles it with style. He displays the kind of approachable personality many people can relate to as they watch him on television. Lampkin has quite a future. Unless he wants to stay in his hometown, he will have his pick of jobs in the future, whether it is a larger market or the Weather Channel. Of the many talented weather people in St. Louis, he is already one of the best.

KMOV weathers the storm nicely

Channel 4 has an often breathless style of news, in which almost every story appears to be vital to viewers. The stories and associated teases are read in an overly dramatic way, and the writing sensationalistic. So that is why the Channel 4 weather department gets kudos for its performance during recent bouts of severe weather. They did not overhype the situation, even as storms became severe. They were professional in their approach – and, while concerned about people’s safety, never tried to panic the audience. When tornado warnings were issued, they did their best to track where it might be and reported it with appropriate urgency. The responsible way they handled the storms added immense credibility to their weather folks. The news department should take notice.

The factoring of race into Stand Your Ground legislation

Editor’s note: This is an analysis by Evette Dionne.

Several prominent Stand Your Ground cases in Florida are raising questions about how the American media are covering race and intimate-partner violence.

Michael Giles, a former Air Force member, who is black, shot and wounded three patrons outside a nightclub on Feb 6, 2010. Marissa Alexander, 34, a black mother of three, fired a warning shot at her husband on Aug. 3, 2010. George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic volunteer neighborhood watchman, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 21, 2012. Michael Dunn, a white male, shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis on Nov. 23, 2012.

These four cases serve as flashpoints for examining Stand Your Ground legislation, and, more specifically, how media are covering these cases.

In 2005, Florida became the first of 22 states to enact a Stand Your Ground law, an extension of the “castle doctrine.” The law states that deadly force is justifiable when an individual believes he or she’s in danger. Initially, this justifiable force was reserved for private property, but the law extended the “castle” to include public spaces, like sidewalks.

Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, published a study that finds most Stand Your Ground laws have been adopted in the Southern and Midwestern States. Mother Jones attributes the rise of Stand Your Ground laws to the first election of President Barack Obama.

Dr. Sabrina Strings, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California-Berkeley, agrees. In an article for Truthout, Strings writes that “the discourse among politicians in many of these states, like Florida and Texas, was that Obama’s election would lead to explosive growth of “entitlements” (a curious linguistic inversion) for the poor and elderly. Ultimately, the fear that the various institutions of the government simply could not or would not effectively protect the (imagined potential) white victims and their property was an impetus behind the adoption of these new laws.”

Liberal publications and writers contextualized Stand Your Ground legislation as a political and a racial issue, making the media coverage of the Giles, Alexander, Zimmerman and Dunn cases particularly worthy of mining.

George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn

Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis shared much in common. Both were 17-year-old Floridians who were unarmed when they were killed. Both of their shooters were indicted and tried for killing them. Both of their killers were acquitted on their actual murders. Lastly, both of their deaths received massive media coverage.

When Zimmerman shot and killed Martin on Feb. 21, 2012, he invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in his defense. The Sanford, Fla. police did not detain or charge Zimmerman with Martin’s death until swarming media pressure forced action, according to three researchers at the MIT Center for Civic Media.

Multiple media outlets devoted entire sections of newspapers and websites to Martin’s shooting and Zimmerman’s case. ABC’s central Florida affiliate, WFTV 9, Fox’s Orlando affiliate Fox 35, CBS News, the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times and others began covering the incident since it happened more than two years ago.

In their study titled “The Battle for ‘Trayvon Martin’: Mapping a Media Controversy Online and Offline,” researchers Erhardt Graeff, Matt Stempeck and Ethan Zuckerman trace the Martin case through five specific phases. The second phase of media coverage in the Zimmerman case was sponsored by “race-based media” and activist outlets, including Global Grind, Color of Change and the Black Youth Project.

The third phase was a reaction from the political left. The researchers note that conservative news outlets suddenly were “putting Martin on trial.” On March 25, 2012, Dan Linehan, lead blogger at conservative site Wagist, referred to Martin as a drug dealer. According to Graeff, Stempeck and Zuckerman, “this reframing of Trayvon as dangerous, not innocent, was then amplified by a number of right wing blogs.”

Mainstream news outlets followed Wagist, leading to the Miami Herald publishing a story on Martin’s school records, which included a suspension for carrying a bag of marijuana.

In shifting the focus from Zimmerman to Martin, media reframed the narrative. The same trend is seen in coverage of Dunn’s case. Media’s coverage of Davis’ shooting and Dunn’s trial echoes that of Martin’s killing as Davis also was subjected to being examined as the catalyst for his own death.

According to court records, when Dunn approached Davis and three of his friends, they were listening to rap music in a car. In his testimony at his trial, Dunn claimed that he asked Davis to turn down the music, and felt threatened when Davis refused.

“My eardrums were vibrating,” Dunn said when asked about the music during trial. “I mean, this was ridiculously loud music.”

News outlets such ABC’s Good Morning America, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, Fox News, CNN and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution referred to the Dunn trial as the “loud music trial.”

The editorial decision to focus on the music Davis and his friends were listening to instead of Dunn’s decision to shoot him “trivialized the case,” according to Jedd Legum, the editor-in-chief of the Center for American Progress’ ThinkProgress blog. Cultural critic Alyssa Rosenberg, previously of ThinkProgress, agreed.

In a blog post dated Feb. 19, Rosenberg wrote, “The fact that Jordan Davis and his friends were listening to hip-hop, specifically to Lil Reese’s ‘Beef,’ seems to have predisposed Dunn to look at the boys in the car as dangerous in a way he might not have had they happened to be bumping country, or dance music, or the Rolling Stones.”

Jurors in the Dunn trial affirmed Legum’s claim. In an interview with ABC News, a juror, identified only as Valerie, said she believed Dunn was guilty of murder because he conflated musical preference with violent tendencies.

When asked about Dunn’s characterization of hip-hop music as “thug” music, Valerie replied, “That was a big deal for me, because he testified he wouldn’t say or use the words ‘thug,’ but he said he would use the words ‘rap crap.’ However, in his interview, he did say ‘thug’ a few times.”

White victimhood is a common thread between the Dunn and Zimmerman trials as well, according to NBC’s theGrio. Writer John Nolte amplified theGrio’s claim in a blog post for Breitbart.com, a conservative web site.

“As you will see below, by hook and crook, the mainstream media did everything in its still-potent power to not only push for the prosecution of Mr. Zimmerman (the police originally chose not to charge him) but also to gin up racial tensions where none needed to exist,” Nolte wrote.

Other ideological outlets were extreme in their coverage as well. Doug Spero, an op-ed columnist for the Christian Science Monitor, reported that Fox News aired Zimmerman interviews while MSNBC averaged six hours of coverage of the case per night, even after Zimmerman was acquitted.

Using the deaths of Martin and Davis as ideological rallying cries can lead to a failure to highlight important issues, such as  the role of intimate-partner violence in the Marissa Alexander case.

Marissa Alexander

Court documents state that on Aug. 3, 2010, Marissa Alexander fired a warning shot into the ceiling of her Jacksonville, Fla., home during an argument with her husband, Rico Gray.

Gray, who was 36 at the time of the incident, told digital news site Politic365 that “Marissa is not portraying herself as she is.”

He added, “I was begging for my life while my kids were holding on to my side, the gun was pointed at me.”

Alexander, then 31, was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault. Alexander attempted to enact Stand Your Ground as a defense, but the judge dismissed it, citing that her decision to leave the home and then return with a weapon didn’t show justifiable fear for her life.

Additionally, both Gray and Alexander had been arrested for domestic battery against each other before this incident, according to Jacksonville.com.

In an unrelated 2010 hearing, Gray said, “I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know, they never knew what I was thinking … or what I might do … hit them, push them.”

As with the Davis and the Martin killings, there was a clear split in the national news media’s coverage of Alexander’s case.

Traditional outlets such as the Associated Press, CBS News and ABC News reported the case without departing from the facts.

In juxtaposition, digital-first outlets with progressive leanings, such as Gawker, Slate and BuzzFeed, questioned whether the justice system served or harmed Alexander – and if her case was a complete reversal of what happened in the Zimmerman trial.

In an article dated April 23, 2012, Connor Adams Sheets, a reporter at the International Business Times, compared the Zimmerman and Alexander cases. In the concluding paragraph, Sheets wrote that the Florida justice system’s treatment of the Alexander and Zimmerman cases proved that Stand Your Ground statutes are “unevenly-applied.”

Sheets’ statement was echoed in other articles at the Center for American Progress’ blog ThinkProgress and MSNBC.com among others.

However, most mainstream and digital publications overlooked the impact of intimate-partner violence on women of color, particularly black women, and how this factors into the Alexander case.

The Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that researches gun violence, found black women are disproportionately slain by their male partners. The Violence Policy Center concluded that 2.61 per 100,000 black female victims are killed in single-offender incidents, and that 94 percent of black women are killed by someone they’re familiar with.

Few news outlets examined intimate partner violence. MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris Perry” show devoted two segments to the role of intimate-partner violence in Alexander’s case. Irin Carmon, a reporter at MSNBC.com, detailed how Stand Your Ground, politics and intimate-partner violence are related.

In an article published March 20 of this year, Carmon used data from the Urban Institute, a nonprofit organization that collects data on America’s social issues, to prove that women can’t stand their ground if their target is male.

The Urban Institute found that just 5.7 percent of black women who kill black men are found to be justified, while 13.5 percent of white women who killed black men are found to be justified.

The Tampa Bay Times conducted similar research and found that Stand Your Ground was enacted in 14 Florida cases involving a female killer. Of those 14 cases, eight were found to be justified. Carmon noted that of those six cases that were tried, several of the women were victims of rape or physical abuse – and in most of the cases, the victim was a white male.

The lack of national reporting on intimate-partner violence as it relates to Alexander and Stand Your Ground is a critical oversight that is only reinforced when both the victim and the shooter are black males, as in the case of Michael Giles.

Michael Giles

Giles was stationed in Tampa, Fla., as an active-duty member of the Air Force. He was at a Tallahassee nightclub with friends when an argument escalated into a fight between 30 to 40 men, according to theGrio. Giles was not involved in the fight, but went to his vehicle to retrieve his gun.

He alleged that he was attacked, punched and knocked to the ground. Giles pulled his weapon out of his pants and fired at his attacker. In total, three men were wounded. Giles was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Like Alexander, Giles attempted to evoke Stand Your Ground, but also was denied. In August 2011, Giles was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

No mainstream news outlet covered Giles’ case, and overall print and broadcast coverage is scarce. Niche publications and civil rights organizations have rallied for Giles. NBC’s theGrio, UPTOWN Magazine, PolicyMic, News One, VICE and the New York Amsterdam News have all published articles about the Giles case.

Most publications mirrored PolicyMic’s coverage. In an article dated Dec. 27 of last year, PolicyMic writer Rachel Kleinman asked, “Why did Giles lose his case?”

The other news outlets that covered Giles’ case asked similar questions. NBC’s theGrio interviewed Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Florida democrat, about the Giles’ case.

Bullard pointed to Florida Gov. Rick Scott as an impedance to justice, as it relates to Stand Your Ground cases that involve black shooters.

“His lack of intervention on behalf of Marissa Alexander and lack of compassion for the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have not gone unnoticed by Black Floridians – and all Floridians,” Bullard said.

“So it comes as no surprise that he has been noticeably absent in the case of Michael Giles. Nonetheless I will continue pressing his office and others to take notice of cases like Mr. Giles, Ms. Alexander and others.”

The same statement can be extended to the overall media, which has failed to cover Giles case as heavily as the deaths of Zimmerman and Dunn.

In his closing arguments, Giles’ defense attorney, Don Pumphrey, again used the terminology of Stand Your Ground.

“He doesn’t have to think he’s going to get killed, even though people looking in from the outside thought someone could get killed,” Pumphrey said. “If the defendant was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, where he had a right to stand, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”

So what went wrong?

Some media outlets have attributed the disproportionate (and sometimes unfair) coverage of the Zimmerman and Dunn trials to a need to protect white-identified males.

In her research, Dr. Strings, connects Stand Your Ground to law professor Cheryl Harris’ article, “Whiteness as Property.”

As Strings explained, “Through an historical analysis of legislation that has been enacted over the past 200 years, Professor Harris demonstrated how the law has protected the rights of white citizens. This effectively made whiteness itself a right to be defended. The law has, moreover, ‘legitimized benefits that accrued to citizens just because they’re white.”

Given this analysis, String concluded that Stand Your Ground is similar to lynching, as it serves as a way to “safeguard whiteness against all presumed threats.”

Critical analyses of race as it relates to Stand Your Ground haven’t been prevalent in national news outlets, but smaller Florida papers have tackled the issue.

The Panama City News Herald commissioned research on Stand Your Ground statistics based on the race of the shooter and the victim. Researchers found that 44 African-Americans have used the Stand Your Ground defense in Florida. Twenty-four of those defendants have been successful, while 11 of the 44 were found guilty.

John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, connects these statistics to the perceived lack of victimhood available to black men.

“In any situation where a black male is perceived as being the aggressor, you are much more likely to have the homicide considered justifiable,” Roman said to MSNBC.com. “If they’re involved in a homicide, the finding is likely going to go against them.”

These Stand Your Ground cases in Florida are helping reinforce the idea that American post-racialism is a fallacy. These four separate Stand Your Ground cases reveal that news coverage shifts when the shooter is a person of color, or a woman. Though this feeds partisan posturing, it also leads to the under-reporting or exclusion of systemic social issues, such as intimate-partner violence. It also leaves Alexander, Davis, Giles, and Martin without justice.

 

St. Louis acts to address wrongful arrests

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated.

The St. Louis Police Department has instituted a new mobile fingerprint identification system in its North, South and Central Area Stations, as well as at the St. Louis City Justice Center, to help avoid wrongful arrests, according to Chief Sam Dotson.

The new fingerprint technology was put into the stations after a series in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year maintaining that about 100 people had been arrested mistakenly over a seven-year period, serving a total of 2,000 days in jail.

Robert Patrick and Jennifer Mann, the Post-Dispatch reporters on the series, wrote that modern fingerprint identification could have prevented some wrongful arrests.

Among the cases cited in the series was one involving a city bus driver who was arrested in front of her crying children and jailed because her name was similar to another woman who had died months before. This was the result of a clerical error, but she lost her home, savings and her job, temporarily.

On March 4, without fanfare, the department launched its new Mobile Automated Fingerprint Identification System at its three area patrol stations and prisoner processing at the city’s downtown jail.  The mobile units allow police to take fingerprints on a small wireless scanning device that returns prompt results from the Missouri Highway Patrol and FBI fingerprint records. Dotson said a few mobile devices are being used by officers on patrol and more will be added so prints could be taken, on a voluntary basis, from persons at crime scenes, disasters and on the street.

Chief Dotson said he had been working on a new electronic fingerprint I.D. system even before the Post articles came out. Planning and pilot stages occurred prior to the stories and the system was fully implemented after publication, he said.

“People lie to us on occasion,” and use aliases,  he said. “We always want to make sure we know who we have,” and that means to check fingerprints “at the very front end of the incarceration process.”

While the Post and city disagree about the accuracy of some of the cases cited by the Post-Dispatch, mayoral aide Eddie Roth says improvements have been made and will continue to be made to reduce risks of error. Roth, a former police board president and Post editorial writer, has criticized the Post stories on Facebook, Twitter and in stories in GJR.

“The mis-identifications are rare. Our goal is to get to zero,” Roth said. “Our system is not perfect, but it is strong.” He said the reporters rightfully pursued an important cultural issue (wrongful arrests) but he didn’t think the stories were fair.  Roth thought the numbers of misidentifications were exaggerated, most of the cases were old and that reporters did not heed warnings that their research methods were flawed because they did not have access to all relevant records.

Patrick said the mayor’s office and circuit attorney mounted “a successful PR campaign” to downplay any harm done and “it changed the discussion to – is the story right?’

In one case the Post said a man was jailed when he had not been. A brother used the man’s name and it was the brother who was jailed. The Post corrected the mistake that had been based on city records that were incorrect. Patrick accepted the blame for not having interviewed the man.

The Board of Aldermen, state legislature, civil rights groups and many judges didn’t urge new rules to curb the wrongful arrest problem. The Post editorial page has been silent on it, though the paper’s editor Gilbert Bailon has strongly defended the stories. Lawyers are working on a federal class-action suit, but class certification initially was denied.

Media coverage of Ukraine’s crisis: War for people’s minds

It now is evident that Ukraine has been noted on the world’s map by a vast majority of Americans. From “somewhere near Russia,” it has moved to “between Russia and the European Union” – and this awareness happened thanks to coverage in all renowned national and local media in the United States and beyond. Since December, Ukraine’s political crisis has shown how some media play with information and how journalism is dependent on geopolitics.

Journalists’ work

Being a Ukrainian native, I was monitoring media from different parts of the world in terms of how they have covered the Ukrainian crisis, paying special attention to those countries involved in resolving the issue: the United States, Europe, Russia and Ukraine itself. Ukraine became a newsmaker ever since unrest grew at Euro-maidan (Kiev’s main square) from what started as peaceful protests against delaying the EU-Ukraine- associated membership deal by pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in November. The unrest converted evolved into a bloody anti-government conflict, with more than 100 killed, thousands injured and pre-war relations between Ukraine and Russia (de facto Russian military aggression) over the Crimean peninsula annexation.

From December to February, Kiev was dangerous place for journalists to work. The first journalist to suffer injuries was Tetiana Chornovol, who worked for the anti-government online publication Ukrainska Pravda. She was beaten by unknown attackers in late December. In January, tension and street violence rose. It seemed that attacks by special police forces were aimed against the least protected and most vulnerable people because of their work conditions: journalists and paramedic volunteers. Ukrainian Espreso.tv provided videos, where police and snipers’ weapons purposely targeted the word “press” and red crosses on protective waistcoats. Forty-six journalists were reported injured, and two dead, after clashes in Kiev.

The journalists’ most recent work has become entangled in controversy and obstacles as the Crimean conflict escalates. A Ukrainian journalist from the weekly magazine Ukrainsky Tuzhden and a freelance photographer were kidnapped and tortured in Crimea. A group of journalists from Ukraine’s national TV network 1+1 was deported from Russia after shooting video in North Ossetia, a territory annexed by Russia from Georgia in 2008. A similar story happened with journalists of the channel Ukraine in the unacknowledged republic of Abkhazia, which has been controlled by Russia since 1993. Journalists still are doing their jobs, but now very differently.

U.S. coverage and the European angle

Among the first media that started covering Ukrainian events were the U.S.newspapers the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, and the broadcast network CNN. Attempts to localize news and give pointed opinions prevailed over “pure” informing. As the conflict spread beyond the Euromaidan protests to Ukraine as a whole, with a major hot spot in Crimea, the United States stepped in as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine. American media exploded with all kinds of stories, ranging from very supportive and positive toward Ukraine to negative ones as well. The New York Times’ leading opinion pieces, as well as CNN’’s news and commentaries (including Anderson Cooper’s first-hand reporting from Ukraine), mostly expressed neutral and supportive positions. For example, the New York Times ran an opinion column from Nicholas Kristof in which he deliberately explained why the “villains” are the Russian troops in Crimea. The Washington Post published Condoleezza Rice’s opinion story urging a stronger U.S. position in this conflict. Opinion pieces challenging U.S. involvement and support of Ukraine appeared in the Los Angeles Times, including those by Paul Whitefield, who contrasted American internal financial needs with providing monetary support to Ukraine.

European media, not surprisingly, showed more in-depth coverage on Ukraine’s crisis, as geographical closeness is still is a crucial factor for world media to involve their foreign reporters into first-hand coverage. The BBC created a special section on its web-site, with live updating on events via Twitter, Facebook, other media, and its own correspondents. The same kind of attitude to covering Ukrainian events was expressed by the Guardian in Britain and Germany’s Douche Welle. In an edition for non-stop Ukrainian coverage Poland’s most influential newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, had special issues published in the Ukrainian language, showing its support in that way.

Despite the different angles in coverage, a general message sent by Western media is that Ukraine is divided within the framework of Ukrainian versus Russian languages and ethnic issues. In fact, this generalization was a case in pre-revolutionary Ukraine. Events from recent months have dramatically influenced people’s views and self-identifications. Newscasts and analytical articles on the nation’s uniting during the conflict are missing in Western coverage, while it is widely shown by Ukraine’s media. This notion of national division has been played for centuries by politicians and historians. Now it is being widely exaggerated by the Russian government to justify that country’s intervention into Ukraine’s sovereignty in Crimea.

Russian propaganda

The portrayal of Ukraine in Russian media cannot be called anything else than propaganda. The majority of Russian television networks (with the only possible exception being Dozhd’ [Rain], which is an opposition TV channel) shows an alternative reality to the coverage from the rest of the world.

The recent facts of pro-government propaganda and press freedom persecution in Russia include a series of resignations from well-known media. The first occurred when Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl quit her job on-air because of unfair coverage of the Ukrainian crisis. A week later, 39 staff members including 32 journalists – and all of the photo editing staff – resigned from Lenta.ru, the oldest liberal online newspaper in Russia. The staffers quit in a show of support for chief editor Galina Timchenko, who was fired from the paper’s independent position and replaced by a pro-Kremlin editor.

Misleading and unfair reporting prevail throughout Russian media, regardless of whether the platform is print, broadcasting or online. Until recently, Russian media on the Internet stayed the least controlled by the government and the most open to publishing diverse opinions. But now it also is being repressed by the government: oppositional web-sites are banned, as well as blogs and live- journal accounts of prominent oppositional leaders Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov, the website of radio station Echo of Moscow and more.

Since March 1, when thousands of unidentified troops (in uniforms that resemble those of Russian troops) appeared in Crimea, Russian TV channel Russia 24 reported that thousands of refugees from Ukraine were on the Russia-Ukraine border. In fact, however, they provided archival video that showed cars lined up at a Polish-Ukrainian custom check-point. Officially, just 89 Ukrainians have asked for asylum in Russia during the first two weeks of March. Later, other television networks, while reporting devastating clashes between pro-Russian forces and Ukrainians in Simferopol, used archival video from Kiev’s February protests instead.

The most recent evidence of Russia’s goals to invade and monopolize Ukraine’s informational space includes the military capture of Crimean Tatar’s TV channel ATR, dumping Ukrainian channels from cable networks and replacing them with Russian ones, and the closing of Ukrainian radio stations in Crimea. All this happened at the same time as preparations were made for the illegal referendum about the annexation of Crimea by Russia. While officials in Moscow refuse to take responsibility for these actions their origin are more or less obvious.

Inside view from Ukraine

Staying fair, objective and transparent has been the hardest task for the Ukrainian media. In this situation, when media conglomerates comprising major television networks and publishing houses are controlled by billionaires that were close to Yanukovych’s administration, obeying the duty of objective journalism is hardly achievable. For instance, during the riots in Kiev’s, the reality of Yanukovych’s official position was presented by the TV channel Inter (which is controlled by pro-Kremlin oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who recently was imprisoned in Austria as a result of Interpol and FBI’s investigations). Nevertheless, the majority of national media remained fairly balanced in covering the events. Moreover, the newest positive processes in Ukrainian journalism occurred.

First, almost immediately after the beginning of the clashes at Euro-maidan, the special television online channels Espresso.tv and UkrStream started streaming around the clock from the epicenter of the events. This is a new phenomenon for Ukrainian television, and most of the Ukrainian networks borrowed and retransmitted videos from these channels to cover the events in Kiev.

Second, after 20 years of useless discussions and lost attempts to create public media, self-organized public service broadcasting online channel, Hromadske.tv, was created. Indeed, the boundary conditions of the new revolution forced journalists into this unprecedented step in Ukraine’s history. Prominent journalists from mainstream Ukrainian print, broadcast and online media share their free time after their full-time work assignments to contribute to this public service initiative. So far, it works only in a form of online streaming from one self-maintained studio, combining studio interviews and analytics with onsite web-cams streaming by journalists, and Skype interviews/video conferences. Perhaps, the most- viewed streams were those from ousted President Yanukovych’s residency Mezhihir’ya, where journalists were picturing the royal-like wealth of its former owner. Besides the ethical nuances of this reporting (along with the fact that the majority of national, and some international, media did stories on the treasures of corrupted officials by invading their outcast private residencies), it generated huge social interest. The special public website YanukovychLeaks was created by journalists and civil activists for investigating the corrupt schemes of the former president and his government.

The booming popularity of this long-awaited initiative led to the recent development where Hromandske.tv started broadcasting as a joint project of the television channel First, which is the oldest national TV network (it has a penetration rate of 95 percent of Ukraine’s territory and is the “mouthpiece” of the Ukrainian government). This example of cooperation has been followed by another project of Ukrainian television that aim to unify Ukrainian society.

Social media: So who controls the people’s minds?

The Ukrainian revolution happened with great help from (or because of) social media. Social media are widely used as informational sources now, since it already has been accepted practice for major media players across the globe to disseminate news through them. But person-to-person interaction made Facebook and Twitter, along with Ukrainian and Russian local social media (Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki) key platforms for negotiating the public gatherings at Euro-maidan protests in November. They were used for further coordination of protests.

Dozens of pages that supported and confronted the protests, and that followed the Ukraine-Russia conflict, were created in social media in recent months. Politicians and public figures post comments and tweet about events online. YouTube also is a main platform for the newest streaming videos and the output of public television channels, which shortly after appearing online become widely known in Ukraine. Such use of social media for the needs of mobilizing and influencing people cannot have stayed unnoticed by those interested in information manipulation. The signs of informational war have already been seen in Ukraine, as constant denial-of-service attacks on some of Ukraine’s most-viewed news sites (such as Channel 5, Hromadske.tv, and Ukrainska Pravda) and their YouTube channels are reported. Traditional media are not the main players in this war any more. One should be very picky in choosing sources of information to get the sense of the truth. This might be one of the most obvious inferences about role of Ukraine’s crisis in today’s media world.

 

Missouri film wins Chinese ‘Oscar’

A film that recounts the Joplin Globe’s coverage of the deadly tornado that devastated that southwestern Missouri city in May 2011 has won the China Academy Award for Documentary Film in the Foreign Language category.

The Missouri film, “Deadline in Disaster,” beat competition that included a National Geographic project that focused on the decade of the 1980s and a BBC documentary on the history of the world.

More than 160 people were killed in the Joplin tornado, including an employee of the newspaper. The documentary recounted how the newspaper staff overcame personal hardships to help the community cope with the tragedy.

“Deadline in Disaster” was funded by the Missouri Press Association Foundation, and was directed by Beth Pike and Stephen Hudnell, both Emmy-award winning journalists. Also assisting in the project was Scott Charton, a former Associated Press correspondent.

More information about the film can be found at the website http://www.deadlineindisaster.com

Student paper at Webster University faces cuts

The longtime student newspaper at Webster University, the Journal, was facing an uncertain future this spring as the administration’s budget ax was about to swing.

The weekly Journal, reporting on its own chances of survival, said its 30 issues a year might be cut to four or five in the 2015 budget, and the number of student staffers receiving pay could be cut from 10 to two.

Some students and faculty believe the administration is upset over controversial stories the Journal has done, and one way of putting a clamp on the upstart newspaper is through the budget. But this is disputed by Webster’s public relations spokesman, Patrick Giblin.

Eric Rothenbuhler, dean of the School of Communications, said in an email to Gateway Journalism Review March 31 that “the budget plans are still under discussion.” He added that when the university’s board of trustees finally approves the cuts in May, the story will be about “what we are doing to improve our journalism program and the student media here at Webster.”

The Journal has reported that Webster has predicted a budget shortfall for the second year in a row, and that the 2015 budget needs to be reduced by $6 million from last year’s budget. Webster’s total budget for the 2014 year was $221.4 million, with 95 percent of revenue coming from tuition. Webster has struggled with declining enrollments over the past few years, according to Journal stories.

Cuts also would be made for the Ampersand student magazine and the Galaxy student radio station. But the Journal cuts have aroused the most opposition among students, faculty and media advisers, causing a large turnout at a Student Government Association meeting in March.

Rothenbuhler told the Journal that when students heard about the proposed cuts, “it was unfortunate, but it happened.” He said his plan was to make the School of Communications “more digitally oriented” so as to follow other universities that are moving to digital student media.

“It is possible to save a little money on printing and shift some resources from print to digital,” Rothenbuhler was quoted as saying.

The faculty adviser for the Journal, Larry Baden, said the budget cuts proposed by Rothenbuhler would cut the Journal’s printing budget, going from about $30,000 a year to $5,000 a year, thereby reducing the number of issues to four or five.

“I’m greatly concerned,” Baden said. “It’s important there be a printed newspaper, and that people have access to it.”

He said he was not in favor of switching the Journal’s reporting to mainly digital media, because he believes not as many readers would go online. He also said he thinks the newspaper provides a better opportunity for the student journalists to learn about reporting, editing and layout.

Gabe Burns, a junior, will become the Journal’s editor-in-chief next year, but he wonders how he will be able to put together a staff if the budget cuts are made.

“It will severely hurt the program,” Burns said.

He noted that the Journal pulls in about $27,000 a year in advertising, with 70 percent going back to the university. He said he’s also concerned that most of the paid positions will be eliminated.

“It’s more than just the money,” Burns said of his newspaper experience. “It helps my education.”

He said the Journal is respected by students, faculty and university employees, and it keeps the campus community informed and entertained.

When asked if he thought the cuts might be less severe, Burns replied, “I’m hopeful, but not optimistic.”

Some believe the Journal’s aggressive reporting have made it a target. Here are some stories that may have rankled school officials:

  • The university bought replacement homes to house its president, Elizabeth Stroble, and its provost, Julian Schuster, costing $935,000 and $385,000, respectively.
  • The university spent heavily to establish a chess team by luring grandmaster Susan Polgar and her team from Texas Tech.
  • Funding was found for two associate dean positions in the School of Communications.
  • A professor at the Geneva campus of Webster University was charged, along with three others, in the slaying of a man in California. She is in custody awaiting trial.

Some observers think the Journal is quick to shine an unfavorable light on the administration, but they add that administration officials are too thin-skinned and can’t tolerate criticism. Rothenbuhler, who students think is not well-versed in newspapering, and Baden have been at loggerheads, with Rothenbuhler coming to the Journal office to voice his concerns regarding stories.

Baden said there often is contention between university student newspapers and school officials.

“I’ve been assured that this (controversial stories) has nothing to do with what’s being proposed,” he said. “I’m hopeful that’s the case.”

The news on April Fools’ Day: Joke or no joke?

April Fools’ Day is getting harder and harder for readers of the news. Which story is meant as a joke of the day and which tells real news? This year, a look at stories in England and the United States reveals just how tough it has become to tell them apart.

Take these stories from the April 1 edition of London’s Daily Telegraph:

  • “Logo is a tool of Satan” claims a Polish priest with an unpronounceable name. The Polish element might push you to smell a joke, but then you recall pronouncements made by some of our own televangelists and you’re not so sure.
  • “Why Zebras Have Stripes” is presented in this story as one of nature’s stubborn secrets that now is unlocked by scientists. “Because stripes repel tsetse flies intending to bite” is the answer you wish you had thought of yourself, of course. Only zebra-hating bigots will laugh.
  • “British sniper kills six Taliban with one bullet” reveals this tale from Afghanistan. Those Brits, they’re still trying to show up the superheroes from their former colony. But then, it’s possible if …

A look at April 1 stories on the AOL/Huffington Post website told us:

  • “Experts claim they’ve found the Holy Grail.” Probably in the same place they’re about to discover Jimmy Hoffa? Haven’t the boys and girls watched the Monty Python movie about the Holy Grail? The joke’s been done.
  • “Kim Kardashian wades into Syria war debate” will not be well received in the White House. Can she do any worse than the president did on this issue? Her smiley face will get a better reception than the dour one of secretary of state, John Kerry. But be careful, or the earnest culture critics at our colleges will not have Kardashian to kick around anymore.
  • “Man sets new record for backward bowling with an almost perfect game” will not get a laugh from the liberal elites on either coast. They just can’t grasp that backward bowling is another step forward in the progress of our civilization as we know it. Or that it’s supposed to be funny.

After reading these stories, you’re hungry for something real, something that really concerns Americans. Thank goodness for Show-Me State Missourians. In the April 1 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, we found the following reader’s letter:

“Our nation has the technology to capture the telephone calls of an entire nation for a year, and the technology to retrieve and listen to any call it wants. It can listen to key words in any call and highlight that call for further analysis. Why can it not stop Rachel from Card Services?”

Because, as readers know, the joke in the letter’s story, not just an April Fools’ Day joke. It’s a joke on us on every other day of the year as well.