Tag Archives: media

Media ‘war’ in Buenos Aires

The media specialist at the United States Embassy in Buenos Aires was engaged in a typical diplomatic exercise: Placing an opinion article from the newly arrived U.S. ambassador in the local media as a way to greet and thank the host country.

The messages are usually the same. They go something like: “I am enthusiastic about this assignment, love the country and am impressed by its people.” In Argentina, though, nothing is typical. Amid what everyone calls a “guerra,” or war, between media and the current administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the location of such a benign article is fraught with danger.

Give it to the outright opposition media – in this case the giant media conglomerate Clarín – and the government would likely read it as a political affront. Hand it to the pro-government end of the media spectrum and the U.S. might look like a lapdog.

In this case, the Embassy chose La Nación, a large newspaper that is critical of the current government, but strives to be an independent voice that openly looks to respected U.S. newspapers as a model.

There was another layer to the decision. The U.S. and Argentina are in their own extended period of diplomatic dysfunctionality. While not outright confrontation, such as between the U.S. and Venezuela, the relationship still is far from warm. For instance, newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Noah B. Mamet was not given a presidential reception. The newly arrived ambassador from China was. Point taken.

U.S. Embassy political staff openly call the relationship “difficult” and refer to President Kirchner’s style as one of “confrontation.” The Argentine government has made the gringos to the north a regular scapegoat for myriad problems. The president went so far at to suggest last October that if someone were to do her harm, Argentines should look to the north – meaning Washington – for the likely culprit.

One local newspaper called it an “unprecedented escalation of tensions” between the two countries since 2003 when the Kirchners rose to power (Cristina’s husband Nestor was elected in 2003). The comment revealed not only what critics call the self-obsessed nature of the Argentine president, but also a warped perspective of the importance of this country, which seems a long way from any of America’s strategic needs or interests.

One might reasonably ask: Does the relationship matter? There was a time when the issues that concern the U.S. and those that concern Argentina were so far apart that a healthy relationship seemed not only a distant prospect, but almost irrelevant.

When the Argentine economy collapsed in debt it could not pay in 2001, the U.S. and the rest of the world folded their arms and watched the train wreck. When the U.S. suffered its own economic meltdown in 2008, Argentina – unlike Europe – scarcely noticed, buoyed by strong commodity prices for its key exports. Both periods seemed reflective of what historians here see as a long history of the two countries always seeming to be a bit out of sync with each other, rarely arriving at moments of mutual interest.

However, a dramatic, made-for-Hollywood political scandal has changed the nature of the relationship. The death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman earlier this year, days after he leveled explosive charges against the president and others, has not only put the country in conspiracy hyper-drive, which takes some doing in a culture that has made an art form of that, but brought the country into a nexus of issues that preoccupy Washington, namely, the Middle East and terrorism.

Those hot button issues came together in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85. Nisman claimed Kirchner was involved in a devil’s bargain to shield Iranian officials charged with the bombing from prosecution in exchange for oil. A scriptwriter could not have penned the next scene any better or more tragically. In the days before he was to appear before Congress to explain his allegations, Nisman told Clarín: “I might get out of this dead.”

The day before his appearance before Congress, Nisman’s body was found with a gunshot to the head in his Buenos Aires apartment. Was it suicide, induced suicide or murder? Nisman’s ex-wife, a judge, concluded after her own private investigation of his death that it was not suicide. Nisman’s original case against the President seems to have run its course in the Argentina justice system, with the highest criminal court refusing to hear it.

The Casa Rosada has denied the Nisman allegations and following Nisman’s death has spun suspicions about his personal life and motivations, rather than bringing any clarity to the cause of his death. The media continue to press the case, with rarely a day going by when the Nisman story does not populate the front pages and broadcast media.

But as often as not, the case seems just the latest ground on which the media and the Kirchner administration chew up each other.

The sour relationship between media and the administration is centered in the open warfare between Clarín and the Kirchners. The relationship ruptured in 2008 when Clarín sided with the farmers in their opposition to the administration’s tax plans. In 2009 the government introduced a media law that took aim at Clarín and its dominance in a range of media platforms and markets.

“It was probably the right thing to increase competition and provide space for smaller players,” said a veteran foreign correspondent who has worked here for more than a decade. “But as usual in Argentina, the context of it happening in a war with Clarín made it suspect. Right things done in the wrong context can undermine the purpose and the acceptance of a good law.” In other words, the law looked like an act of revenge.

The Argentines will elect a new president in October and U.S. officials are optimistic.  “There will be a sea change in politics that the U.S. will welcome,” said an Embassy official.

However, it remains to be seen if the media “war” will undergo its own sea change, away from perennial conflict and toward a relationship with government that will better serve the public rather than confuse and deepen its hardened sense of cynicism.

TV station’s school ‘test’ story was worth doing, despite lockdown


Editor’s note:  This story appeared in the spring 2014 print issue of Gateway Journalism Review.

In late February, NBC’s “Today” show hired two teenage-looking actors (both aged 21 or older) and sent them to a liquor store in New Jersey. The actors loitered outside, asking customers entering the store to buy beer for them. All male customers refused, but several women took their money and purchased their six-packs.

This was not a huge story and probably proved nothing. It did, however, stimulate discussion about the adult role in underaged drinking, especially when the “Today” staffers interviewed the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving about the implication that women were more willing than men to provide teens with alcohol.

Television newspeople love this kind of story – and, because of their visual dimension, can do it very well. But news stories that involve reporters as active participants in making the news also raise ethical questions, as can be seen by the controversy resulting from KSDK’s investigation of security at five St. Louis-area schools. KSDK, an NBC affiliate, was not alone in this caper. According to a report in the New York Times, WNBC in New York and the “Today” program did similar investigations of school security.

Were they wrong to do so? What ethical principles did they violate in producing these stories? Is this a case in which the ends – an investigation of security in our public schools – justified the means the reporters used?

Investigative journalism has a time-honored place in the U.S. media system. Since Nellie Bly had herself admitted so she might examine conditions in lunatic asylums of the 1880s, reporters have gone undercover to discover the truth about the meat-packing industry, child labor, prison life, drug rings, supermarkets, airport security and a host of other disturbances in the American dream. Actually, Bly was not even the first; New York Tribune reporter Julius Chambers had arranged his own commitment to an asylum 15 years earlier. And just as the power and popularity of investigative journalism has grown with advances in computing and surveillance technology, so has the debate over the methods of investigation that are appropriate for reporters to use.

The first question to consider is whether the KSDK story was worth doing. Unfortunately, names such as Newtown, Columbine, Arapahoe and Roswell, and many others, have been hammered recently into the American consciousness because of tragic events in these communities. Gun control and school security have become matters of public concern and debate. While it might be questioned whether sending reporters to open school doors is the best (or only) way of reporting this story, it nevertheless is a story of public importance, and it might well be significant that the KSDK reporter found that four of the five schools he visited had effective security systems in place. Parents and pupils from these schools must draw reassurance from this.

What about the method KSDK used? In Tripp Frohlichstein’s accompanying article, this is referred to as an “undercover investigation.” In fact, it was nothing of the sort. Some years ago Edmund Lambeth of the University of Missouri published a fine article on the ethics of investigative reporting. Lambeth used the phrase “passive deception” for what KSDK did: the reporter appeared as a public citizen might, sampling a restaurant (food critic) or film or auto repair garage – or, in this case, checking to see if anyone could walk into the school unimpeded. At Kirkwood High School, he could – and so could anyone else. Lambeth distinguished “passive deception” from “aggressive deception,” which involves role-playing (pretending to be someone else) or a form of lying. The “Today” program experiment described at the beginning of this article is a form of aggressive deception, which can be less acceptable in an ethical sense. The KSDK reporter was not in disguise and acted as could any member of the public, armed or not.

Lambeth also discussed the notions of “benign” and “invasive” deception. Benign deception refers to cases in which the reporter gathers information without altering the context of the situation, performing mainly eyeball surveillance. He distinguished this from “invasive” deception, in which the reporter misrepresents his identity or provides falsified information, such as incorrectly filling out a job application so the reporter might obtain a position. These invasive acts change the context – and, in doing so, might alter the story that is reported, and therefore raise a new set of ethical questions. Again, using Lambeth’s ethical standard, KSDK’s benign reporting did not alter the context of the situation in the schools, and therefore was not, on its face, unethical.

Frohlichstein castigates KSDK for failing to meet the standard of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code that suggests “undercover and other surreptitious methods” should be avoided except in exceptional circumstances, such as when there is no other way of reporting the story. The SPJ code is only one ethical system available to journalists, among many – and, as shown above, it does not apply in this case, as the KSDK reporter was not “undercover” or using surreptitious means.

Ethicist Sissela Bok suggested that a “test of publicity” might be used in determining whether investigative methods are ethical. According to Bok, this is an issue of transparency: to what extent is the reporter or news organization willing to assert and defend publicly the methods used in generating information? In this case, KSDK explained quite explicitly what its reporter had done in approaching the schools, seeking entry, identifying himself to authorities, and leaving the scene. This worked in four of the five cases. KSDK’s procedures broke down when the reporter encountered the one school with no apparent security system in place. But this does not mean the station’s work fails Bok’s test.

In Frohlichstein’s article, KSDK is taken to task for what happened after the reporter left the scene at Kirkwood. This is a purely consequentialist argument, trying to make the reporter responsible for what happened after he reported the story – a classic case of blaming the messenger. Is it the reporter’s fault that the principal put the school on lockdown? That a teacher incited his students by promising to stand at the door and sacrifice himself in protecting them? That another teacher told a student to arm himself with scissors and be prepared to kill the person if it came to that (the student’s mother reported this on Facebook)? That another student spent 40 minutes thinking she was going to die? Clearly, the school administration and faculty were caught unprepared, just as they were unprepared earlier when the reporter was able to enter the school, walk past several occupied classrooms, ask a teacher for information without being questioned, and the school was unable to locate the security officer when the reporter finally reached the main office. In this circumstance, should parents and students be angered by the television station that exposed this remarkable level of unpreparedness, or the school officials who failed to provide them with better protection?

KSDK probably was guilty of one error of judgment: selecting Kirkwood High School as one of its five schools. Kirkwood lies in the heart of middle-class St. Louis, the comfortable home of many members of the city’s media industry. Frohlichstein himself previously has been employed by KHS, and two of his children attended Kirkwood schools. Putting this obvious conflict of interest aside, one is left with two thoughts:

  • We are given the impression that KSDK’s reporting of this story led to a storm of public disapproval, but why do we not hear about the parents and pupils at the other four schools? Were they unhappy with the station and its reporting in the same way?
  • Would the media establishment be attacking KSDK if it had substituted a high school in South County or North St. Louis for Kirkwood in checking on school security?

Then again, given the value of public attention to ratings, maybe KSDK knew exactly what it was doing.

Walter Jaehnig is the retired director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He was a reporter and editor with the Louisville Courier-Journal, and taught reporting and media ethics at Indiana, Wyoming and SIUC.

Media notes: St. Louis Media History Foundation inducts 21 new honorees

The St. Louis Media History Foundation has inducted 21 new honorees.

They are:

  • Russ Carter started out as a singer with the Ted Weems Orchestra but is best known in St. Louis as the host of the “St. Louis Hop,” a local, weekly “American Bandstand” program on KSD-TV, the St. Louis area’s first racially integrated television program.
  • Robert Coe began operating an amateur radio station at age 15 and co-founded KSD in 1921 at the age of 19. At 22, he was assistant manager and chief engineer. During World War II, Coe built the military communications network for the Asia-Pacific theatre and returned to help establish KSD-TV before moving on to the national ABC network television in New York.
  • Chris Condon joined KSD-TV in 1961 to anchor the station’s 10-minute news broadcast and stayed for 23 years as an anchor and reporter.
  • Sally Bixby Defty joined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch staff in 1965 with no newspaper experience, spent three years in the “Women’s” section before becoming a general assignment reporter and the first permanent female member of the city desk staff. She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for a series on landlords and arson.
  • Cathy Dunkin, founder and chief executive officer of Standing Partnership, has been in public relations for more than 30 years. The St. Louis Business Journal recognized Dunkin as one of the “Most Influential Business Women in St. Louis.” She has held management positions in St. Louis, Chicago and Dallas with multinational public relations firms and Fortune 500 companies.
  • Native St. Louisan Eugene Field, best known for his children’s poetry, was a reporter for the St. Joseph (Mo.) Gazette in 1873, where he worked his way up to city editor. He went on to work for the St. Louis Journal, the Kansas City Times and the Denver Tribune. In 1883, he accepted an offer to write a humor column for the Chicago Daily News. He stayed until his death at 45 in 1895.
  • Jim Fox spent 65 years in print journalism. After retiring from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Fox wrote a column for the Suburban Journals that continued even after a stroke kept him from typing. He then dictated his columns to his wife and daughter. Fox began his career at the St. Louis Star-Times.
  • Andre “Spyderman” Fuller rose from an intern reading morning news at radio station WESL, where he became program director in the 1980s. Fuller was the first disc jockey in the market to play the founding fathers of hip-hop. Later, he joined the new black-owned station Z-100 FM as program director.
  • In 1940, St. Louis Post-Dispatch staff artist Ralph Graczak originated “St. Louis Oddities,” later known as “Our Own Oddities.” Graczak’s also drew caricatures of celebrities, often featured in the Post-Dispatch’s “Everyday” section.
  • In 1953, local radio newsman Bruce Hayward was named director of news and special events at WTVI, the market’s first UHF-TV operation and the second television station in St. Louis. As the news anchor on all of the station’s newscasts, Hayward also went door-to-door helping viewers install and adjust their ultra-high-frequency antennas. When the station switched dial positions, Hayward remained with the newly named KTVI (Channel 2) as news announcer and public affairs director.
  • Don Hesse was the Globe-Democrat’s editorial cartoonist from 1951 to 1984. The Freedoms Foundation, the American Legion and the National Headliners Club honored Hesse, whose work was nationally syndicated by the Los Angeles Times and the McNaught syndicates.
  • During his 20-year Anheuser Busch, Inc. Bob Lachky oversaw development of several famous beer ad campaigns and helped the company build a 50 percent share of the U.S. beer market. He was named the 1994 Adweek “Top Marketer of the Year,” 2001 Brandweek “Marketer of the Year,” and 2009 Advertising Club of New York “Advertising Person of the Year.” He currently is president of RCL Group.
  • Jeremy Lansman brought listener-sponsored community radio to St. Louis in the form of KDNA-FM. As a teenager, he built a radio station in Hawaii, then joined Lorenzo Milam to found listener-sponsored KRAB in Seattle in 1962. With Milam’s backing, Lansman built and ran KDNA, which played an eclectic blend of music, aired live political rallies, government hearings and board of alderman meetings, news and phone-talk shows. Lansmsn and Milam sold the station in 1973 to pay off its debts and used the proceeds to fund community radio stations across the country, including KDHX in St. Louis. Lansman now owns KYES television in Anchorage, Alaska, and does engineering analysis for radio stations around the world.
  • Erma Perham Proetz, executive vice president at Gardner Advertising in St. Louis, was the first woman elected to the National Advertising Hall of Fame in 1952, eight years after her death. Perham Proetz was the first person to win the Harvard Advertising Award three times. In 1935, Fortune magazine named her one of the nation’s top 16 outstanding business women. She was elected president of the Women’s Advertising Club of St. Louis in 1936.
  • Pete Rahn created one of the first newspaper television guides. Rahn spent 49 years at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, moving from junior financial copy editor to editor of one of the television guides. Over several decades he wrote more than 7,000 columns, interviewing scores of celebrities.
  • Clif St. James worked at KSD-TV and KSD-AM from 1956 to 1988. He was a radio and television host best known as a weatherman and as “Corky the Clown.” As “Corky,” St. James played host to what may have been the first local children’s show to be broadcast in color with a live studio audience. It ran from 1954 to 1980.
  • Wilma Sim took over “Homemaking with KSD-TV” through most of the 1950s. She appeared on the first local color television broadcast and was active in American Women in Radio and Television. She moved on to become a columnist for Farm Journal Magazine and was recognized as one of the Top 10 Women in Advertising in America in 1972.
  • Robert G. Stolz founded Stolz Advertising Co., which became the third-largest advertising agency in St. Louis. Before he started the agency, he served 20 years as advertising director of Brown Shoe Co. At Brown Shoe, he helped to produce the national children’s television show “Smilin’ Ed’s Gang,” which was sponsored by the Brown Shoe Co.’s Buster Brown brand. Stolz became president of the Ad Club of St. Louis at age 29.
  • Glenn Tintera originated advertising’s use of “focus groups.” Tintera started as a research analyst in 1966 at D’Arcy Advertising Agency, and retired as executive vice president and manager of its St. Louis operation. He was named Ad Man of the Year in 1991 by the American Advertising Federation.
  • Richard Weil retired from the Post-Dispatch in 2004 as its editor for investigative projects after serving as an assistant managing editor, managing editor and executive editor. Weil co-founded the St. Louis Beacon with Margaret Wolf Freivogel and Robert W. Duffy and served as its chairman. He joined the Post-Dispatch in 1973 after 11 years at the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.
  • Clyde Skeets Yaney was an early live radio entertainer who became a disc jockey. Yaney, the “Golden Voice Yodeler,” began performing on KMOX Radio in the 1930s. He soon achieved star billing as part of the “National Champion Hillbillies,” a group featured on KMOX and the CBS Network into the 1950s. With the end of live radio entertainment, Yaney reinvented himself as a disc jockey, first on WEW and then on KSTL.

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Saint Louis University communication professor Mary Gould’s fall semester undergraduate “Digital Storytelling” class gave the Sweet Potato Project’s website a makeover, a new logo and other upgrades. The Sweet Potato Project, operated by the North Area Community Development Corporation, teaches inner-city youth to grow sweet potatoes on vacant lots in North St. Louis and sell the tubers and sweet-potato cookies. Every fall semester, Gould’s class works with a nonprofit community organization to help produce multimedia material that supports the organization’s mission.

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Sinclair Broadcast Group reported net broadcast revenues of $382.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, a 33.2 percent increase compared to the year-ago quarter.

Operating income for the quarter was $103.3 million, a 13.3 percent drop compared to the fourth quarter of 2012. The decline was caused by the absence of political revenue in the non-election year, as well as one-time acquisition costs and a loss on the sale of WSYT in Syracuse. Local net broadcast revenues were up 58.1 percent and national net broadcast revenues were down 14.2 percent because of the drop in political advertising.

“2013 was a historic year for us, including growing broadcast revenues 32.3 percent to a record-breaking $1.2 billion, and once again leading the industry on station acquisitions,” Sinclair president and chief executive officer David Smith said in a statement. “During the year we closed on the purchase of 63 television stations and added more than $1 billion in assets, which contributed $148.4 million in revenues in 2013.”

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The Alestle staff at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recently won eight awards during the annual college media conference of the Illinois College Press Association.

At the conference, which took place in Chicago Feb. 21-22, the Alestle won second place for general excellence, a category in which the staff had not placed since 2009.

“It was exciting to see the Alestle recognized in all the categories in which they were, but especially in the in-depth reporting and general excellence categories,” Alestle program director Tammy Merrett-Murry said. “It’s a testament to the seriousness in which the staff approaches its work.”

Lifestyles editor Karen Martin and online editor Ben Ostermeier shared a second-place award for in-depth reporting for their series on campus wildlife, published last summer. Copy editor John Layton won a second-place award for headline writing.

Former sports editor Roger Starkey won second place for sports news story for his reporting on former wrestling head coach David Ray’s resignation. Former editor-in-chief Michelle Beard won second place for an editorial cartoon she designed on the board of trustees members’ ongoing disagreements last year.

The Alestle’s recent lifestyles series, “Metro East Eats,” won a third-place award in the entertainment supplement category.

Layton and former photographer Andrew Rathnow both received honorable mentions at ICPA for news story and sports photo, respectively.

The entries in the competition were judged for excellence by members of the Illinois Press Association, as well as other working journalists in Missouri and across the country.

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David Nicklaus of St. Louis Post-Dispatch won the top award for commentary by a newspaper columnist for newspapers with an average weekday circulation of between 100,000 and 200,000 from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

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St. Louis-based FleishmanHillard was a big winner at the 2014 PRWeek Awards. It won “Large PR Agency of the Year” honors. FleishmanHillard chief executive officer Dave Senay won “PR Professional of the Year – Agency.” And its “It Can Wait” campaign to end texting while driving won “Cause-Related Campaign of the Year.” Fleishman worked with AT&T on the campaign.

FleishmanHillard also has been named to the “Top Companies for Executive Women” list by the National Association for Female Executives for the fifth consecutive year. Results are based on factors such as succession planning, profit-and-loss roles, gender pay parity, support programs and work-life balance, and the results appear in Working Mother magazine.

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Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch won the 2013 Walker Stone Award for Editorial Writing for deeply researched editorials that exposed political hypocrisy. Judges said their work “embodied a spirit dedicated to public welfare.” They will receive $10,000 and a trophy from the Scripps Howard Foundation at a dinner May 22 at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati.

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Sean McLaughlin, executive news director of KMOV since July 2007, left in February to become vice president of news for the Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Co.’s television division.

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Kavita Kumar, retail and consumer affairs reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, left the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to return to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, where she was a reporter from 2000 to 2003. Kumar joins former Post-Dispatch business editor Todd Stone at the Minneapolis paper.

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Jacob Barker has joined the business desk of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as its environmental reporter. Barker has been a business reporter and columnist at the Columbia Daily Tribune for three years. He previously wrote for the Columbia Business Times.

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Jennifer Blome retired from KSDK to join the Animal Protective Association as its director of humane education. Blome had been with KSDK since 1979 and anchored its morning newscast since the early 1980s.

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Native St. Louisan Alissa Reitmeier has joined KMOV as a news anchor and traffic reporter. She previously worked at WINK-TV in Fort Myers, Fla., And KFLY in Lafayette, La.

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Talia Kaplan has left KSDK to be a reporter for WKRN-TV in Nashville, Tenn. Kaplan had been with KSDK since 2011, where she had been a reporter/anchor.

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Local architectural historian and historic preservationist Michael Allen is now a contributing writer for Next City, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities by creating media and events around the world.

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Radio One Inc. has named Jeffrey Wilson has been named regional vice president of the Midwest radio stations overseeing all six of the Midwest markets: Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis and St. Louis. Radio One is a diversified media company that primarily targets African-American and urban consumers. The company owns and operates 54 broadcast stations located in 16 urban markets in the United States. Wilson previously managed Radio One’s operations in Columbus, Ohio, and Cleveland.

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Don Sharp is the new president of Coolfire Solutions. Sharp came to Coolfire from miSEAT in Chicago, where he was interim chief operating officer after spending more than five years at Navistar.

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Robert Cohn, editor-in-chief emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light, has been re-appointed to the St. Louis County Human Rights Commission.

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Geile/Leon Marketing Communications has hired Randy Micheletti as vice president, director of account service. As a veteran of several St. Louis marketing agencies, Micheletti has more than two decades of experience as a strategic marketing professional, including working for Geile/Leon from 1999 to 2004.

Power of one pen

Adam Nagourney of The New York Times demonstrated the power of one reporter and one video this week with his story about defiant rancher Cliven Bundy’s racist remarks suggesting blacks were better off as slaves picking cotton.

The New York Times was late to the story of Bundy’s refusal to follow federal grazing laws and the armed support he got from people calling themselves “patriots.”

By last Saturday when Nagourney made it to Nevada, he was apparently the only reporter present to hear Bundy’s hateful speech.  As soon as the story and the video got out, the conservative politicians who had supported Bundy began running for the hills, as did conservative radio hosts.

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.


Guild leader says Lee Enterprises’ workers deserved bonuses

The head of the union that represents reporters and other workers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says employees of Lee Enterprises – rather than its chief executives – deserved bonuses.

On April 4, Lee Enterprises filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing the board’s executive compensation committee had approved bonuses of $700,000 for chief executive officer Mary Junck and $400,000 for treasurer Carl Schmidt. The bonuses were “related to the company’s successful completion of its long-term refinancing.”

Shannon Duffy, the administrative officer of the United Media Guild in St. Louis, said the labor organization was pleased that Lee Enterprises was able to successfully refinance its debt.

“We continue to root hard for that company to be successful,” Duffy said. “We and our members are obviously tethered to it. That being said, I was disappointed their first reaction, almost reflexive on their part, was to give more money to the people at the top when the people further down the ladder had been working, pulling double and triple duty, for less money. And my first reaction, were I in their shoes, would be to reward those people.”

In March, Lee Enterprises refinanced $800 million of its debt relating to its 2005 purchase of Pulitzer Inc., owner of the Post-Dispatch, extending the time in which its loans must be repaid. In 2013, the company repaid $98.5 million of its debt, and during the first six months of its 2014 fiscal year through March it paid off another $34.5 million.

Employees at Lee’s 46 newspapers shouldered a major share of that loan repayment through layoffs, furloughs and buyouts, frozen wages, elimination of some benefits and higher costs for others. Michael Sorkin, a reporter at the Post-Dispatch, laid out the details of what had been happening at the newspaper in a recent posting on Facebook.

“Memo to the board of directors at Lee Enterprises – could you live today on less money than you made six years ago – and pay more for fewer benefits?” Sorkin asked.

He wrote that Post-Dispatch employees hadn’t had a raise since June 6, 2008. Since then, employee costs have increased “for the worst company health insurance we’ve ever had.” Sorkin went on to point out that retiree health and life insurance were gone, pensions frozen, and for new employees there are no pensions.

In a 5½-year contract, negotiated in 2010, guild members gave up wage concessions of 6 percent and took unpaid furloughs. The recent bonuses for Junck and Schmidt came on top of substantial pay raises and bonuses they previously received.

“The top people at Lee get big bonuses while we sacrifice,” Sorkin wrote.

Duffy said the guild would be negotiating a new contract with the company next year.

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

Circuit attorney responds to Post-Dispatch’s letter to the editor of GJR

Dear editor:

I am writing to offer my thoughts in response to the letter you recently received from the [St. Louis] Post-Dispatch regarding your publication’s analysis relating to the Post-Dispatch’s “Jailed by Mistake” articles. I believe Mr. Freivogel worked diligently to capture the perspectives of this complex situation in the Gateway Journalism Review (GJR). I am troubled by the response of the Post-Dispatch editors to this piece as it seems to be based on some substantial inaccuracies.

My position regarding the items included in the March 7, 2014, letter sent to the GJR by Messrs. Gilbert Bailon and Adam Goodman of the Post-Dispatch have been well documented over the past several months with both the Post-Dispatch directly and with the GJR.

• In a letter to the Post-Dispatch dated November 26, 2013, I shared the findings of my sample review of 10 percent of the cases reported in their article.

• I have clearly outlined the confidentially restrictions and closed-records laws that prohibit me from sharing with reporters specific documents they dismissively refer to as “too secret to reveal.” Violating the law in an effort to prove the Post-Dispatched published inaccurate data is not on my agenda, as the accuracy of their publication is not my responsibility.

• I also offered to discuss this matter and the legal obstacles Post-Dispatch reporters face if Mr. Bailon was so inclined. I have yet to hear from him.

• Last year, I dedicated more than 100 hours of taxpayer resources (at no charge) to assist reporters in researching data for this story because I believed the issue of mistaken arrests is an important challenge to the criminal justice system. I certainly wouldn’t characterize this amount of effort as “stonewalling” or uncooperative.

• Contrary to claims, my office provided accurate information within the legal and ethical restraints placed on our system.

• I will not dedicate any additional resources to correct or clarify the Post-Dispatch data – most of which concerns matters outside of my office.

• In our office, we are constantly reviewing our policies and procedures to ensure the right people are held accountable for the crimes they commit. It is my understanding that other agencies, specifically those that arrest and jail suspects, are conducting their own review.

Over the last 13 years since I became circuit attorney, my office has provided substantial data, information and cooperation for Post-Dispatch stories at various reporters’ requests. It certainly doesn’t appear as though editors questioned my “bias” when using data from my office as a source in the hundreds of stories involving crime in the city. It is only when I offer criticism of their research methodology that I suddenly become a “biased” source.

In hindsight, if I could go back to when reporters first asked us to verify the data in their spreadsheet of over 100 people they claimed had been wrongly arrested, I would politely decline. We made a good-faith effort to cooperate and contribute to this story like we do with other reporter inquiries. Unfortunately, I now find my office in a position where our efforts to assist – rather than leading to accurate coverage of an important topic – have largely been misrepresented.

As I’ve stated many times before, the issue of mistaken arrests is an important challenge to the criminal justice system that should be taken seriously.


Jennifer M. Joyce

Circuit Attorney

City of St. Louis