The Keystone XL pipeline: Missing the point

Alaura Luebbe was overcome with emotion as she described her concerns that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would threaten her family's Nebraska ranch. Luebbe's comments came during a U.S. State Department hearing last Friday. Photo: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg News

The controversy surrounding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline reached new heights Friday when the U.S. State Department hosted the last in a series of public hearings on the 1,700 mile pipeline. It would carry tar sand crude oil from Canada to Texas.

Graphic: New York Times

The Washington, D.C.  hearing drew the national news media’s attention.  In turn, the news reports that followed missed the most important point behind the controversial project.

They suggest the proposed pipeline is a trade-off pitting environmentalists against new jobs, lower oil prices and a dependable foreign oil supply.

 NPR reports: This one pits potential job growth versus environmental concerns.

The Washington Post reports: Hundreds of members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America filled the auditorium at Friday’s hearing; Brent Booker, who directs the union’s construction department, said the project will provide “thousands of jobs” to his members….Shortly afterward, two Nebraska women broke down in tears as they testified. Alaura Luebbe, a rancher’s daughter, sobbed as she spoke of her ranch being threatened by the project, while activist Jane Kleeb declared, “We are the Sand Hills lovers. We are the Ogallala Aquifer lovers. And we are begging you — not asking, we are begging you — to deny this pipeline permit.”

The real story: The Keystone XL pipeline is a litmus test of President Obama and our political leadership’s resolve to make a true commitment to alternative energy in America and ween ourselves from foreign energy reliance? It’s also a test of the American consumers’ ability to consume less energy and create less waste.

It won’t be easy. If our leaders, as well as and you and I are sincere about America’s  security, energy independence and guiding our own national destiny we can do this. A sustained move to alternative energy sources is a commitment we’re better off making today, before we deplete traditional energy sources, cause more pollution and burden future generations of Americans.

Dust hangs in the sunset sky above the Suncor Millennium mine, an open-pit north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Canada's oil sands are layers of sticky, tarlike bitumen mixed with sand, clay, and water. Around a hundred feet of soil must be stripped off to reach many deposits. Photo: Peter Essick, National Geographic

To be sure, other concerns have been expressed by opponents and supporters of the project. Supporters say the Keystone XL project could create 20,000 pipeline equipment and construction jobs, and give us lower oil prices courtesy of a more dependable foreign importer. Opponents say the costs will be  the pipeline’s “dirty” extraction process, human health problems, permanent damage to Canada’s forests and a pollution threat to places like Nebraska’s Sand Hills country and the Ogallala fresh water aquifer.

The mowed strip across Nebraska's Sand Hills counrtry is what plaintiff groups claim is evidence of Keystone XL pipeline construction before federal approval is granted for the project. Photo: Bruce McIntosh, Center for Biological Diversity

Conflicting jobs message: If the pipeline is approved, most or all of those 20,000 jobs will end when the construction’s complete. It should be noted that according to TransCanada data supplied to the State Department, the project will only create between 2,500 and 4,560 construction jobs in the U.S. A recent Cornell University report says “[the pipeline] will not be a major source of US jobs, nor will it play any substantial role at all in putting Americans back to work.”

Instead, lets get back to Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan of two years ago. It envisioned creating about 500,000 jobs by making new investments in clean energy, doubling the production of alternative energy over three years and improving the energy efficiency of government buildings and homes.

Lower oil prices? Maybe not. Here’s another reason Mr. Obama, the State Department and politicians from  both parties might be better off denying a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline-  Many pipeline supporters suggest it would lead to more stable or lower oil prices due to the new influx of up to 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada.

CNN reports: “For the Obama administration, having an answer to high prices will be much more important in 2012 than it is today,” said Kevin Book. managing director at the research firm ClearView Energy Partners. “We think it will get approved.”

According to a CTV report, the Keystone XL pipeline might actually increase oil prices. It would do so by reducing the crude oil over-supply problem in Cushing, Okla., one of the largest crude storage facilities in the world. Industry analysts say this has driven prices down.

Via CTV:  “We have a unique problem now with North American supply,” said Mike Ming, Secretary of Energy for the State of Oklahoma. “We’ve brought on more oil supply than we really have outlets to get it to market and it’s tended to bottle up at Cushing.”  Cushing is the prime delivery point for New York oil futures contracts and helps set the value of West Texas Intermediate, North America’s benchmark oil price.”The problem is, we’ve got too much oil in Cushing relative to our pipeline capacity to get it out to the Gulf Coast mainly, because that’s where the majority of the United States refining capacity is,” said Mike McDonald, the former Chair of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association… If it is approved, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline would link Cushing to refineries on the Gulf Coast with a 500,000 barrel-a-day spur line, helping to relieve the glut and the pressure on West Texas Intermediate.

Conflict of interest? Finally, the proposed pipeline permit should be denied because of the real or perceived conflicts of interest involved in this project.

On October 7th, The New York times reported: The State Department assigned an important environmental impact study of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to a company with financial ties to the pipeline operator, flouting the intent of a federal law meant to ensure an impartial environmental analysis of major projects…The E.P.A. has criticized two prior draft environmental impact statements prepared by Cardno Entrix on Keystone XL as “inadequate” and providing “insufficient information,”

A few days earlier-

The New York Times reports: The State Department has also faced charges of political conflict of interest over its handling of the Keystone XL application because TransCanada’s chief Washington lobbyist, Paul Elliott, was a top official in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Beneath a green sweep of fen and forest in northern Alberta lies a promise of wealth—vast layers of hydrocarbons that can be refined into petroleum products like gasoline. Undisturbed until now, these trees may soon fall: This land has already been staked out by prospectors. Photo: Peter Essick, National Geographic

What is the state of our nation’s political accountability and transparency? Can we create sustainable energy policies that support our economy and democracy while, at the same time, provide America greater control of its destiny? These are real questions. The decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project will tell us if the Obama administration is truly willing to act in the best interests of our country and set us on a new course of self-reliance and energy sustainability.

What are your thoughts on the Keystone XL pipeline proposal? I’d like to know.

Bevo Francis will get Hall of Fame recognition

Bevo Francis remains college basketball's all-time signle game and season average scoring leader. Photo: Rio Grande University Archives

From February, 2, 1954 to March 13, 2012.

Any way you look at it, it’s a long time to wait.

  • 58 years, 1 month, 12 days
  • 3032 weeks (rounded down)
  • 21,225 days
  • 509,400 hours
  • 30,564,000 minutes
  • 1,833,840,000 seconds

That wait is almost over for Bevo Francis.

Next March 3rd, Francis will be inducted into the The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) 2011-12 Hall of Fame. I was thrilled to get the news this month from NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Director John McCarthy. Francis will be recognized for meritorious service, including the 113 points he scored for the Rio Grande (Ohio) College Redmen in a basketball game against Hillsdale College (Michigan).

Bevo’s scoring mark remains the highest single game scoring effort of any college basketball player. Francis also holds the NCAA and NAIA records for highest average points scored per game. He averaged more than 47 points a game during the 1953-54 season.

Most surviving members of the Rio redmen team remain close as friends today, gathering each year for a team reunion at Rio Grande University in Rio Grande, Ohio. Photo: Rio Grande University Archives.

The Rio Redmen helped restore the game of college basketball after a point-shaving scandal in 1950 and 1951 involving many of America’s top college basketball teams. “College basketball was playing to a sea of empty seats,”  former ABC Sports Anchor Dave Diles told me. “Nobody cared about it. It had been stained so badly.”

Criminal charges were filed against dozens of  players and the point shavers themselves. The scandal sent fans running for the exits and sent college basketball into a tailspin.

The Rio Redmen helped bring the fans back. They did it by playing hard and winning against opponents with a style that was all their own. They proved that pedigree matters little if you outplay your opponent.

If you ask Francis, he’ll tell you his scoring record wasn’t the most important thing in his life.  It didn’t then. It doesn’t now.

“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” said Francis in an interview for the documentary I produced a couple of years ago about his amazing team. “What matters to me is my family and my friends.”

Francis and his teammates came from impoverished backgrounds. They and their families survived by working the farms, mines and the steel mills that dotted the Appalachian hill country of southeast Ohio. A century ago the editors of the New York Times described the people who lived in Appalachia thusly: “The majority of mountain people are unprincipled ruffians. There are two remedies only: education or extermination. The mountaineer, like the red Indian, must learn this lesson.”

In reality, then and now, Appalachians are one of the most misunderstood, exploited, impoverished and politically disfranchised groups in America.

“If you’ve never had dirt under your nails. If you’ve never heard your belly growling,” Diles said. “There’s a hunger that comes from that, that privileged people can’t understand.”

All the former Redmen players I met have stayed married to the same women they met, or were already wed to in college.

They helped raise their families. They had productive careers as steelworkers, coaches, teachers and businessmen.  Through good times and bad, they’ve also stayed in touch with each other and the college they attended.

Mostly, they all understood there are no shortcuts to success…or happiness. Their success came through hard work and perseverance both on and off the basketball court.

Less than 100 students enrolled at Rio Grande College when Clarence “Bevo” Francis first strolled onto the southeast Ohio campus in 1952.

Rio Grande was about to go bankrupt. It would have had not the Redmen barnstormed across the region, playing any team they could that first season to raise money to pay the faculty.

In 1954, Rio Grande College's Bevo Francis set the all-time single game scoring record in college basketball. He scored 113 points in a 40 minute regulation game against Hillsdale College of Michigan. Photo: Rio Grande University Archives

The team went 39-0. Francis obliterated almost every existing NCAA scoring record.

The Redmen brought in 25 percent of their college’s revenues during the two years they played together. It was enough to keep Rio Grande College open and faculty paychecks from bouncing.

“I think it helped make enough money to help the professors so that they didn’t close it down,” former Rio Redman guard Jim McKenzie told me. “They were in the process of doing so.”

After the first season was over, skeptical NCAA coaches met in Kansas City, Missouri and passed a new rule.  The new rule only recognized scoring records against four year degree granting institutions.

Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande College teammates and classmats in 1953. Photo: Life magazine

Before the rule’s passage, the NCAA had accepted scoring records against two year junior colleges and technical schools who made up many of Rio Grande’s traditional rivals.

For the first time in NCAA history, the new rule was retroactively applied to Rio Grande. It stripped the college of 27 of victories and Bevo Francis of almost all his  scoring records.

“We were the hottest thing in America,” said former Rio Redmen coach Newt Oliver. “Nothing compared with us and the big schools they resented that.”

It wasn’t fair, but it was reality.

Bevo Francis, under the watchful eye of coach Newt Oliver, practice in Rio Grande College's gymnasium. Dubbed the "hog pen" the gymnasium was so broken down, the Redmen played almost all their games on the road. Photo: Rio Grande University archives.

The Redmen channeled their anger into something they could control. The next season, the Rio Redmen scheduled all but one of their 28 games against colleges that met the new, tougher NCAA rule.

The team played almost every game on the road because their college gymnasium, dubbed the “hog pen,” was too small and broken down to accommodate paying spectators.  All of the Redmen’s college competition came from larger colleges and universities.

That didn’t stop the Redmen from winning, or Bevo Francis from reclaiming his scoring records. The Redmen went 21-7 that 53-54 season. They beat  the likes of Providence, Bradley, Creighton, Miami of Florida and defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion Wake Forest.

The ticket revenues the team earned allowed Rio Grande College to continue giving poor Appalachian students an educational path out of poverty.

The Redmen might have done even better had Francis not finished the season playing on a badly sprained ankle. Francis still averaged 47 points a game that season and torched the nets for that record setting 113 point game against Hillsdale College.

The Redmen won through hard work and hours of practice. Four and five hour daily shooting, passing and scrimmage sessions were the rule under hard nosed coach Newt Oliver. You shoot, you miss, you lose.  Make a pass, hit the shot, play better defense, you win.

"I couldn’t tell you if there was 10 people or 10,000 people," saod Francis. "I was never a grandstand player. Went out there to play the game to win. And to win that made me feel like I was free." Photo: Associated Press

Bevo Francis was never comfortable with the idea of overshadowing his teammates. But when he stepped on a basketball court, his talent couldn’t be ignored or stopped.

“Whenever I was out on the floor I couldn’t tell you if there was 10 people or 10,000 people,” said Francis. “That’s one thing. I was never a grandstand player. Went out there to play the game to win. And to win that made me feel like I was free.”

Former Redmen coach Newt Oliver put it best: “You can be well known and they forget about you in a year of two.  If you’re legendary like we are, they’ll never forget you.”

Bevo Francis will be be inducted at the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship in Kansas City, Mo. next March 13th.

After 57 years,  Newt Oliver’s finally been proven right.

Remembering the Kansas City skywalk collapse

The July 17, 1981 Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse killed 114 people and injured more than 200 others in Kansas City, Missouri.

It was an honor to wrap-up several months of research and reporting for a television news special last Friday on the 30th anniversary of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency hotel skywalk collapse.

I worked on the special for KCTV5, the Kansas City CBS affiliate.  It’s  where I once worked as a reporter and anchor.

Photo: Kansas City Star

The skywalk collapse was the worst structural failure in U.S. history.  On that July 17th evening 30 years ago, 114 men, women and children died.  Another  216 people were injured.

This KCTV news special,  reporting by the Kansas City Star, and a partnering City in Shock website by the Star and KCTV5 devoted to the skywalk collapse gave surviving victims of the disaster  an opportunity to heal further and come to terms with a tragedy that shocked an entire city.

Click below to see portions of the KCTV special.

Had not so many talented reporters, videographers, producers, editors and news managers worked so hard on this project, younger generations may never have known about or seen video of the night of the skywalk collapse.

More than 1,000 emergency responders worked the Hyatt Regency skywalk disaster on July 17, 1981. Photo: Kansas City Star

Historic videotape reports of that disaster night may not have been located, cataloged, digitized and saved for future generations.  A local television station and newspaper may never have had the opportunity to serve its community and viewers by taking a historic look at one of Kansas City’s most important news events.

Barney McCoy, age 25, reporting at the 1981 Hyatt Regency skywalk disaster.

Truth be told, I’ve spent the last three decades of my life researching, reporting and reflecting on this tragedy. I was the first reporter on the scene that terrible night as a young reporter for Kansas City’s CBS television affiliate.

The KCTV5 Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse news special was a highlight project of my career.  After all, it’s rare that we have an opportunity to work on journalistic endeavors that defined an entire community,,, and us so personally and professionally?

It was a labor of love and respect for those whose lives were so profoundly changed by the skywalk disaster.

Missouri River turns Midwest areas into Waterworld

A flooded motor home is stuck along the Missouri River in Holt County, Mo. Photo: Barney McCoy

Heavy rains this week have compounded historic flooding on the Missouri River in parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa and Kansas, rendering many towns, villages and rural areas a Midwestern version of Waterworld. 

As I write this update tonight, the National Weather Service reports the Missouri River is running at record flood stage in Rulo, Neb. The Missouri River there is more than a foot higher than when the massive 1952 flood struck and 9.66 feet above flood stage.

Rulo’s not alone. Brownville, Plattsmouth and Nebraska City, Neb., have also broken flood stage records this week along the Missouri River.

A home in Rulo, Neb., is flooded by the Missouri River which may remain at flood stage through the summer. Photo: Barney McCoy

Across the river in Holt County, Mo., more than 150 residents in Big Lake and 300 more in Craig, Mo., have been evacuated from their homes after levees broke Monday and over the weekend. National Guard troops are providing security for evacuated homeowners in the rural area.

Holt County Commissioner Bill Gordon told the Associated Press Craig had already been losing businesses and residents and more doom could follow in the aftermath of the flooding.

“This is probably going to destroy Craig,” Gordon said. “The bank has moved out, the hardware store, the restaurant is closed. The post office has moved its service to Mound City. There was a seed store there, and a couple small mechanic shops. Craig is probably going to be a ghost town when this is done, all thanks to the Corps of Engineers.”

Missouri River flooding near Blair, Neb. Photo: Nebraska Emergency Management Agency

There’s a strong possibility residents may not be able to return home until the flood waters subside in August or September- By then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believes six upstream dams filled to the brink with water from an abnormally wet winter and spring will finally be able cut back the 160,000 cubic feet or more of water a second being released into the Missouri River.  That’s roughly equal to 1.1 million gallons of water a second cascading over dam spillways from Montana and down across the Dakotas.

Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota will begin releasing 160,000 cfs of water into the Missouri River on Thursday. Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Tonight, the U.S. Army Corps announced releases from the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota will increase to 160,000 cubic feet per second by Thursday because of continued wet weather throughout the Missouri River Basin.

“Since the end of May, we have been slowly ramping up releases from our reservoirs to buy time for communities and local and state governments to be able to prepare for high water,” said Brig. Gen. John McMahon, commander of the Northwestern Division of the Army Corps of Engineers. “We thought we would be able to hold at 150,000 cfs for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, recent rains have reduced our flexibility, and we must evacuate these flood waters to manage the remaining flood control storage in the reservoir system. As we’ve stated all along, heavy rain storms could result in major revisions.”

The U.S. Highway 159 bridge over the Missouri River in Rulo, Neb. has been closed by severe flooding. The bridge closing means motorists must drive 108 miles north to Omaha or 50 miles south to St. Joseph, Mo. to cross the Missouri River. Photo: Barney McCoy

The flooding is also a costly headache for truckers and motorists. According to Departments of Transportation in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, dozens of roads and some major highways in the region are under flood water and closed for the foreseeable future.  Detours that reroute vehicles more than a hundred miles around flooded roads and highways aren’t uncommon.

BNSF crews work to raise a railroad bed against approaching Missouri River floodwaters near Big Lake, Missouri. Photo: Barney McCoy

Before Missouri Highway 111 into Big Lake was closed by flooding from Missouri River levee breeches, I caught up with Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad crews  raising and fortifying a main rail line against the rising flood waters.

The BNSF line that runs through Holt County, Missouri is a major east-west shipping route for the railroad. Photo: Barney McCoy

BNSF had a massive operation underway, raising the railroad’s track bed and adding tons of stone rip-rap to fortify about 3.4 miles of line near Big Lake by as much as 20 inches. This was an effort to keep the main line between Kansas City and Lincoln, Neb., above floodwaters.

According to the Associated Press, Big Lake sought an injunction against BNSF Railway and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, claiming the railroad’s raising of its lines in the village is contributing to flooding.

Big Lake, Mo. filed a court injunction to stop BNSF railroad from raising its track near the northwest Missouri village over fears the project would back-up flood waters into Big Lake. Photo: Barney McCoy

Almost all the nearly 150 residents of the village have now evacuated their homes as high waters along the Missouri River have flooded their village with three or more feet of water.

Village residents believed the raised railroad creates a “bathtub effect” by trapping water, Big Lake attorney Creath Thorne told the A.P. Big Lake also claims BNSF did not follow a city ordinance that requires anyone building in the village to conduct a hydraulic study to determine the construction’s effect on flood control, the St. Joseph News-Press reported Friday.

Flooded croplands like these near the Missouri River in Holt County, Mo. are underwater and lost for the season. Photo: Barney McCoy

A few miles southwest of Big Lake, farm fields were already inundated by flood waters. Hundreds of thousands of acres of corn, soybean and wheat crops up and down the Missouri River are underwater and lost for the planting and growing season.

Royal wedding asks: Is U.S. TV news out of touch?

The second worst tornado in U.S. history devastated six southern states this week.  At least 343 people were killed. Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed. The lives of millions of American have been plunged into crisis mode.

TV News anchors Katie Couric of CBS, Diane Sawyer of ABC, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Fox News Channel’s Shepard Smith were all there.  No, not the tornado ravaged south. They were in London, making whoop-de-do over the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

London’s UK Mail reports: “ABC has vowed to devote 20 hours to the Royal Wedding starting at 4am ET with a special edition of ‘Good Morning America.’ Robin Roberts will be live from Westminster Abbey before handing over to Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters who will anchor the wedding itself. CBS News will have Katie Couric in London two days before the wedding and she will anchor the footage on the day itself. That night the network will broadcast a one-hour special called: ‘The Royal Wedding: Modern Majesty.’  CNN has unveiled its ‘global, multi-platform coverage’ of the big day with Piers Morgan, Anderson Cooper, Richard Quest and Cat Deeley presenting.”

The Wrap reports:  “Fox News Channel’s coverage will be anchored by Shepard Smith and Martha MacCallum and begin at 4 a.m. (ET) from Buckingham Palace — and will run commercial free from 5:30-8:00 a.m.”

The death toll from this week’s storms rose to 343 Saturday, according to an NBC News count. In Alabama alone more than 238 were killed by the storms. Four hundred and forty six others remain missing in Tuscaloosa alone. “I would classify it as a nightmare,”  Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox told the Los Angeles Times.  Today, Maddox said the confirmed death toll in his devastated college town had risen to 38 — a number he said he believed would continue to grow as search teams set out.  Maddox told disaster relief officials that their designation of his town as a “disaster” area was inadequate.

Video: In hard-hit Tuscaloosa, survivors take stock 

True, ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox News have reporters covering the tornado aftermath. (There were a reported 137 tornadoes in Wednesday’s storm system.)  These network’s anchors though, and most of the network’s resources, have been firmly committed to the royal nuptials.

After all, the networks dedicated weeks and millions of dollars promoting coverage of Kate and Will’s wedding.  I suspect the ratings will justify it even if the news network’s journalistic credibility suffers.

What’s wrong with this picture?  Nothing really.

It’s a crystal clear example of an inability by many TV network news executives to  distinguish  news from infotainment- Flash over substance.

Call me old school. I believe the TV networks should dedicate their talent, resources and priorities covering the still unfolding natural disaster in Alabama and five other states.  It’s what television does best;  cover important news that impact the lives of viewers.

Shouldn’t the networks and their marquee anchors prioritize coverage of the tornado aftermath rather than the pageantry and puffery of a royal wedding thousands of miles  away.  What message does this send to TV News audiences?

Here’s a check list of what makes a stories newsworthy:

  • Proximity- Where an event happens is important.   C.A. Tuggle, Forrest Carr and Suzanne Huffman elegantly state in their Broadcast News Handbook;

“An old maxim in television news says that one local death is worth (in terms of news interest) five elsewhere in the state, 20 elsewhere in the country and hundreds elsewhere in the world.”

  • Timeliness- What’s more important? Live coverage dedicated to search efforts to locate missing victims of tornadoes in the south or the royal wedding?
  • Impact- Which story impacts the greatest number of viewers, whether directly or indirectly?
  • Prominence- A person’s standing in society plays a role in making stories about that person(s) newsworthy.
  • Conflict- Disagreement makes for good copy and even better video.
  • Simplicity- Don’t dismiss stories automatically if they don’t seem simple: Make them simple. Relate difficult concepts to common things.

Kudos to NBC News and Brian Williams. According to TV Newser, Williams had arrived at London’s Heathrow airport on Wednesday, picked up his bags and was on his way to NBC’s Royal Wedding encampment when the damage and death toll from last night’s southern storm began to sink in.  “I never got to see our infrastructure in London,” blogged Williams, “or any of my colleagues beyond the confines of my car. We had a magnificent setup — the result of months of planning — to cover the big day in London, and we still will, live and wall-to-wall.  But for now, for us, for this story, one of us had to go back and lead a separate coverage team—as the death toll grows.”

I think NBC’s move was good journalism and good strategy. The network still devoted wedding coverage via its Today Show anchors.  NBC’s primary news anchor though kept the focus on the on-going southern tornado story.

Robert J. Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

Robert J. Thompson,  founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University wrote about this week’s TV news coverage of the royal wedding: “Whether or not you care—or admit to caring—about the royal wedding, I suppose it can be acknowledged that the event does offer some things of interest, though perhaps more in the way of entertainment than news. There’s the distraction theory, which argues that in a time of war, economic uncertainty, natural disasters, and other bad news, we’re looking for stories of frivolous escape.”

Former CBS News Anchor Dan Rather: "What bothers me is the hypocrisy. The idea that we can't afford to throw resources at an important foreign story, but can afford to spend this kind of money on a story like the royal wedding is just plain wrong." "

Former CBS News Anchor Dan Rather also blogged today:

“Remember the millions of dollars, hundreds of staff and hours of coverage spent on a wedding in London when crises around the globe and here at home festered. Remember the unseemly pas de deux between the press and a reality TV show huckster peddling racially-fraught falsehoods, as both interviewers and the interviewee seek a bump in ratings…The networks couldn’t ignore the devastating storms that killed hundreds in the South, but you had the odd juxtaposition of that news being delivered by anchors sitting in front of Buckingham Palace.  There’s always the question, is the audience chasing the news or the news chasing an audience? I have nothing against the royals or their wedding. It is a legitimate news story, a big event for one of America’s most stalwart allies. We have had a lot of bad news lately, and if you are someone who finds this diversion interesting and exciting, then I think that’s great.  What bothers me is the hypocrisy. The idea that we can’t afford to throw resources at an important foreign story, but can afford to spend this kind of money on a story like the royal wedding is just plain wrong.”

What do you think? Would you prefer the news networks prioritize coverage on the tornado aftermath or the royal wedding?

J-notes and such: April 25-29

Some passing notes from the journalism, new media, advertising/PR landscape-

OMG: It’s the Katie Couric gab and speculation fest- reports: Katie Couric: I Am Leaving CBS Evening News (People / TV Watch)
After weeks of widespread speculation about her future, Katie Couric is finally ready to go on the record. “I have decided to step down from the CBS Evening News,” Couric tells People exclusively. “I’m really proud of the talented team on the CBS Evening News and the award-winning work we’ve been able to do in the past five years, in addition to the reporting I’ve done for 60 Minutes and CBS Sunday Morning. In making the decision to move on, I know the Evening News will be in great hands, but I am excited about the future.” TVNewser: In the wake of Couric’s announcement that she’ll step down at the completion of her contract in June, Rome Hartman will return to CBS in his former role as executive producer of CBS Evening News, TVNewser has learned. B&C: CBS News is expected to announce Couric’s successor next week, after she anchors the network’s royal wedding coverage in London Friday. 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley is likely to be named to replace her. Business Insider / The Wire: Both CBS and ABC want the services of the star, but they are trying to distance themselves from her in the press. As the front-runner, CBS does not want to look foolish if it loses out on its current anchor, while ABC is hoping to avoid raising expectations. TVNewser: This could get very interesting at ABC News. Diane Sawyer, Couric, and Barbara Walters under the same roof? TVNewser: On their respective newscasts, both Brian Williams and Sawyer made note of Couric’s decision. TVNewser: Couric to PBS’ Tavis Smiley: “While it was such a privilege to sit in that chair that once was occupied by Walter Cronkite…you know…it’s a pretty confining venue.” / Media Alley: That Couric would decide to make her first official statement on her exodus to People magazine — and not, say, on the CBS Evening News — is telling.

  A hacker stole the names, birth dates and possibly credit-card numbers for 77 million people who play online videogames through Sony Corp.’s PlayStation   The Wall Street Journal reports that in what could rank among the biggest data breaches in history. A week after taking down its PlayStation Network, Sony said its popular online network had been hacked, affecting 77 million users.  Sony, whose gaming network has been offline for six days, disclosed Tuesday that an “illegal and unauthorized intrusion” between April 17 and April 19 resulted in the loss of a significant amount of personal information that could be used in identity theft.

Un-bear-ably bad news story from WJW-TV in Cleveland– Thanks to colleague Rick Alloway for tipping me off to this “so bad it’s actually funny” news story from Fox affiliate WJW-TV in Cleveland, Ohio. That’s just the local news reenacting a bear sighting, so that viewers will know what a bear looks like if it is two-dimensional and has to be held up by the person creeping along behind it. Click below to play.

Keith Olbermann resurfaces in June- Huffington Post reports Keith Olbermann finally announced what his new Current TV show will be called, and when it will air. The new name? “Countdown With Keith Olbermann.” “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Olbermann joked in a video announcement posted to his “Fok News Channel” site on Tuesday morning. Previously, Olbermann would only say that the show would air in “late spring.” In the video, he at last gave a specific date: Monday, June 20, at 8 PM Eastern. Olbermann’s show has been in the works since he abruptly left MSNBC in January.

Speaking of the royal wedding- The See-Through-Dress Incident: Sampling the investigative journalism inspired by Will and Kate’s wedding. Pardon that gagging sound. The broadcast and cable networks are sending more people to cover Will and Kate’s royal hitching than they assigned  to cover Japan’s devastating ( 14,400 are dead and 11,000 are still missing) earthquake and tsunami. reports Last night’s edition of

Photo by Mario Testion/Clarence House Press Office via Getty Images

Dateline NBC swanned onto the tube bearing the title “Kate Middleton: Her Royal Journey” and proceeded to devote considerable semi-journalistic energies to telling the story of a young woman from the provinces who will be marrying into a “good” family this Friday. Here was Meredith Vieira on the banks of the Thames, threatening to make her network’s weeklong march down the aisle feel like a monthlong trot through every princess fantasy Western culture has to offer.

(Bulletin: Guard Dismissed After Calling Kate Middleton “Stuck Up Cow” on Facebook)

CNN Presents also dwelt on Kate’s humble origins last night, necessarily so. She is, after all, “a commoner destined to be a queen,” as Soledad O’Brien intoned, in one of many resorts to talking about “fate” and such. But CNN’s stab at treating the royal wedding as a Meaningful Story—as opposed to the highly entertaining meaning-free one that it is—arrived under the title “The Women Who Would Be Queen.” It tasked Soledad O’Brien with teasing out psychodrama, talking over split screens, and drawing as many comparisons between William’s mother and his bride as she could without actively rooting for a ghastly horror to befall the latter.  NBC News Exec: Royal Wedding Is ‘Biggest International Technical Buildout Ever’– The Hollywood Reporter notes: “Yes, we’re moving to London. Where else would you be?” says Chris Hampson, NBC News’ director of international news. “Everybody wants to be here. You can’t sit in New York and tell this story. You have to be right in the thick of it.”

Digital Overload- From the Center for Media Research:
According to new The Digital Lifestyle survey by in April, consumers and web surfers are facing a torrent of data growing faster than ever before. 78% of respondents were Technologies, Journalists, Entrepreneurs, Executives, and Professionals, with 48.5% saying that they where connected to the web: “from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed.”

Connected To The Web
Connecton to the Web (% of Respondents)
Wake up to bed time


9am to  9pm


Most of the work day


Source:, April 2011

64.2% said that the Information coming at them today had grown by more than 50% compared with last year. 72.7% described their data stream as:  “A roaring river”, “a flood”, or a “massive tidal wave.”

People are missing important news, information, and appointments; friendships and family suffer, says the report.

  • 76.7% read email and respond evenings and weekends
  •  43.2% answer texts or emails on date/social occasion
  •  57.4 % never turn off phone
  • 33.0% check email middle of the night
  • 35.2% answer work emails while with children
  • 46.9% unable to answer all email
  • 41.4% miss important news
  • 39.9% ignore family and friends
  • 16.9% miss appointments
  • 62.5% wish they could filter out the flood of data

1Q Reports Show New Year Brings New Earnings Slump For Newspapers  The Poynter Institute- It’s not new, but it’s a slow downward trend leading to the end of newsprint. If 2011 is to be a turnaround year financially for newspapers, business needs to pick up briskly. Returns from the first earnings reports for the first quarter are familiar and distressing — lower revenues driving lower earnings compared with the period a year ago. E&P / NAA: Newspaper publishers drove tremendous traffic to their websites in this year’s first quarter, attracting an average monthly audience of 108.3 million unique visitors — nearly two-thirds (63.9 percent) of all adult Internet users.

Meanwhile- The Incredible Shrinking New York Times (Business Insider / The Wire/MediaBistro)- The New York Times has righted its ship after a near-death experience during the last recession. Thanks to sharp cost-cutting, the company has returned to profitability. And thanks to frantic debt restructuring, the NYT has also removed its creditors’ foot from its throat and bought several more years to figure out a long-term plan. But this happy escape has not alleviated the company’s long-term problem: Its core business, the print newspaper, is shrinking, and its digital business, however successful, cannot replace the lost revenue and profitability of the print business.

Apple & Google Summoned for Senate Hearing on Mobile Privacy- The Mac Observer reports:  Senator Al Franken has convened a Senate hearing on mobile privacy to be held on May 10th, and tops on the list of invitees are Google, maker of the Android operating system, and Apple, maker of the iPhone and iOS. Titled, “Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy,” the hearing was announced as controversy about the ways in which both companies might be collecting data about their users has mounted. Google reportedly collects data from Android-powered smartphones every few seconds, with Android devices transmitting that data back to Google “several times an hour.” That data includes location information for the device, as well as the name, location and signal strength of any nearby WiFi networks. Google has said the information is anonymous, though one researcher said that a unique identifier is gathered and transmitted.Apple told two U.S. Representatives last Summer in a letter that it was collecting data through its iOS devices on WiFi networks for use with location services. In that letter, Apple said that the data was transmitted via WiFi back to Apple once every twelve hours, and that the information was not tied to user (i.e., that it is anonymously collected).

Al Jazeera Journalist, Held At Guantanamo So He Could Be Questioned About Network- The Huffington Post reports: An Al Jazeera journalist was held at Guantanamo Bay for six years partially so he could be interrogated about the network, according to one of the files on the prison released by WikiLeaks and newspapers around the world.  Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese national, became one of the more high-profile detainees held at Guantanamo during his many years of captivity.  Click below to listen to interview

A cameraman for the network, he was captured in Pakistan in late 2001. However, while the classified file released late Sunday says that U.S. authorities thought al-Hajj had Al Qaeda ties, his lawyer has long asserted that al-Hajj’s interrogations were almost exclusively focused on al-Jazeera.  The file says that he is being held in part because the interrogators want to find out more about “the al-Jazeera news network’s training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network’s acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL.”

The New York Times "Project Cascade" tracks the impact new stories have as they cascade through social networks.

A fascinating glimpse into tracking the flow of a news story (They call it “Project Cascade.” ) being developed by the NY Times. (For more on the group’s doings, check out the series of Nieman Lab videos.) Nieman Journalism Lab writes:

Some of the most exciting work taking place in The New York Times building is being done on the 28th floor, in the paper’s Research and Development Lab. The group serves essentially as a skunkworks project for a news institution that stands to benefit, financially and otherwise, from creative thinking; as Michael Zimbalist, the Times’ vice president of R&D, puts it, the team is “investigating the ideas at the edges of today and thinking about how they’re going to impact business decisions tomorrow.”

Hey Kids, Stop Asking Me to Do Your Homework: LA Times columnist Meghan Daum is sick of ‘entitled’ children who don’t think for themselves: 

Here are excerpts from Meghan Daum’s column — exactly as written — from just a few.

I have to write a paper about your article about Facebook. One thing I don’t understand though is what you think about Facebook. Can you please explain?

Hi, my name is ___ and i am the editor in chief of my school newspaper, and i am having so much trouble writing my column, i was wondering if you had any tips please help …

The teachers write in too.

I have a student, ____, who is writing a reasearch [sic] paper on your artiles She will be sending you three to five questions that she would very much appreciate you answering …

Couric expected to say she’s exiting CBS News this week (NYT / Media Decoder via– This is one of the worst kept secrets in TV news:  This week, Katie Couric is planning to acknowledge one of the worst-kept secrets in television: that she is leaving the CBS Evening News after five years. Then, as soon as she returns from London, where she will be anchoring the network’s coverage of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton Friday, CBS will announce her successor during the first week of May. Let the speculation continue (That’s also been going on for months now) of who Katie’s successor will be.

“Don’t you track me.”  Online Media Daily reports:  The Internet guidelines group World Wide Web Consortium, which helped create standards for HTML, XML and other technologies, is gearing up to tackle online privacy. A W3C committee examining online privacy will meet at Princeton University on Thursday and Friday to discuss some of the key issues raised by proposals for universal do-not-track mechanisms. Topics up for discussion range from fundamental matters like the definition of do-not-track to operational questions like how cookie-based opt-outs can work in conjunction with browser tools to communicate users’ preferences. Almost 60 Web companies, academics and others — including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook — submitted position papers in advance of the conference.  Currently, three major browser developers — Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple — have said they intend to offer a do-not-track header. When activated by users, the header will inform Web sites that users do not wish to be tracked as they surf the Web, but won’t block content.

HOW TO: Find and Land Freelance Work- Good advice from Though freelance work is plentiful in many areas, especially creative professions like design and writing, actually finding jobs, writing proposals and negotiating with clients often took up more time than the actual work. Based on one free lancers own experience, plus that of three current freelance professionals, this article presents five tips for finding and landing freelance work.

Meanwhile: The New York Times gets faked out by fake Obama Tiger Beat Cover  Mediaite reports: The New York Times admitted that it made the mistake of treating a fake creation from The Onion as something legitimate. Last week the Times printed an article documenting the history of the squeaky-clean teen magazine Tiger Beat, and included a retrospective of past magazine covers. Unfortunately (or humorously depending on one’s perspective), in the collection they also included a parody cover created by The Onion, which featured President Obama.

Hopefully the New York Times won’t fall for this one either: (Click to play) 

Tweet This: Agencies Get 28% of Revenue From Digital: Ad Age reports:   Madison Ave Better Take Note — You Are Digital, or You Are Very, Very Unimportant.  Digital services accounted for an estimated $8.5 billion (28%) of the $30.4 billion in 2010 U.S. revenue generated by the 900-plus advertising and marketing-services agencies that Ad Age analyzed for Agency Report 2011. Digital’s share of agency revenue rose from 25.8% in 2009. In dollar terms, agencies’ digital revenue jumped 16.9% in 2010.

Who’s your daddy? Demand Builds For TV Ad Time  Adweek reports:  When the last trumpet sounds, the Big Five networks will ring up around $9.5 billion in 2011-12 upfront commitments, a remarkable feat considering that: (a) broadcast television is dead; (b) the 30-second spot is dead; and (c) the upfront itself is dead. NOT! On the cable side of the ledger, Adweek reports the national nets are expected to boost their total take by 15.3 percent, landing $9.23 billion in business––on par with the broadcast estimate. If this holds true, cable will also enjoy its most lucrative late-spring sell-off.

Koran-Burning Pastor’s Gun Goes Off Outside Detroit’s WJBK Following Appearance with Muslim Leader– TVSpy reports:  Controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones, who gained national notoriety last year for burning a Koran in protest of radical Islam, almost literally shot himself in the foot last Thursday following an appearance with a local Muslim leader on Detroit’s WJBK.  Jones, who had to pass through a metal detector upon entering WJBK’s studios, returned to his car following the taping and a gun, which Jones owns legally, accidentally fired a bullet into the vehicle’s floor. Jones was in the Detroit area for a planned demonstration in front of Dearborn’s Islamic Center of America.

Robert De Niro gets somewhat chatty about his love for the news … and ‘SNL’ The New York Daily News reports: Robert De Niro was willing to give more than one-word responses to NBC News anchor Brian Williams at Saturday’s “Directors Series” talk as part of the Tribeca Film Festival’s opening weekend. “Do you consider yourself an introvert?” Williams asked as one of his lead-in questions.  “I guess I am in some ways and in some ways I’m not,” De Niro mused, not bothering to expand on his cryptic answer.  When asked if he likes rewatching his old movies, De Niro clarified that he doesn’t ever browse through HBO in high hopes of catching himself in a replay of “Taxi Driver” or “Raging Bull.”  “I don’t do that, Brian,” the actor admonished Williams’ eager questioning. “I watch the news and I watch the ‘Today’ show.  I’m very set in my ways.”

Bloomberg News Crew Mistaken for Robbers- KTLA-TV in Los Angeles reports:  A Bloomberg news crew was surrounded by police in Hollywood Thursday after their SUV was mistaken for a vehicle involved in an armed robbery.  The robbery happened in the 8900 block of Shoreham Drive, according to the LAPD. Two male suspects took an ID, a gold watch and a ring from someone on the street. One of the suspects was carrying a semi-automatic handgun, police said.  About an hour after the robbery, an LAPD air unit started following a vehicle that matched the description of the suspect vehicle — a dark-colored Yukon.  Police said it turned out to be the wrong car.

Online video ads come up short in England- WARC reports: Online video advertising is largely failing to make a mark with UK consumers, a study has revealed.  Consultancy Deloitte and research firm YouGov surveyed 2,000 people, asking respondents what types of internet ads exerted the strongest impact on purchase decisions.  Just 17% mentioned pre-roll video clips within their top three on this metric, down from 28% two years ago, and 3% afforded them the highest weight overall.  Scores rose among 14-17 year olds, 22% of which awarded pre-roll a position in the three best-performing kinds of web advertising.  “The group we might expect to be most responsive – teenagers – are only marginally more open to pre-roll,” said Andrew Haughton, a Deloitte media analyst.

J-notes and such: April 4-10

Some passing notes from the journalism, new media, advertising/PR landscape-

Larry King Returns to TV — as Infomercial Pitchman: Ad Age Daily reports that Larry King is getting back in the endorsement business nationally less than a year after his CNN talk show ended, appearing in an infomercial for BreathGemz breath fresheners alongside his wife, Shawn Southwick, and a recent ad shoot for Walmart. (Click on the photo on the left to watch the commercial)
Mr. King said in an interview he was limited for most of his 25-year career as a CNN talk-show host by restrictions on pitching products by the news network’s hosts. Until the early 1990s, he continued to do radio ads under contracts linked to his radio show, launched in 1978 and syndicated through the Mutual Broadcasting System. CNN ultimately became concerned enough to reach a “suit to suit” deal with Mutual ending his radio ads, he said. So during his quarter century with CNN, Mr. King said he turned down offers to do ads for Bayer aspirin and a Super Bowl ad for American Express.

Later this year he’s beginning a comedy tour, where in some cases he will appear alongside his wife, who will sing during casino appearances. The comedy part, he said, will be a lot more like Billy Crystal’s “700 Sundays” than Charlie Sheen’s recent effort. “I’ve always tried to be funny over the years, working at sales meetings and conventions,” he said, so the routine is already road-tested in a sense.

Where in the World is Matt Lauer going?- Entertainment Tonight reports that Matt Lauer has notified his NBC bosses that he will be resigning from the “Today” show when his contract expires on December 31, 2012.  Could he be thinking about re-teaming with his former “Today” show co-host Katie Couric and his former “Today” show executive producer Jeff Zucker? It has been widely speculated that Couric is expected to leave the “CBS Evening News” and launch her own talk show with Zucker. The “Today” show released a statement Wednesday, saying, “There seems to be an awful lot of speculation around news anchors these days, and it’s not our practice to comment on any of it. Matt Lauer has a long term contract with NBC News and ‘Today.'”

Glenn Beck will end his daily Fox News Channel program- The New York Times Media Decoder reports that a statement did not specify an end date for Mr. Beck’s show, called “Glenn Beck,” which has been telecast at 5 p.m. on Fox News since early 2009.   Beck’s contract with Fox ends in December. The statement said Fox News and Mercury Radio Arts, which have clashed over the making of “Glenn Beck,” will “work together to develop and produce a variety of television projects for air on the Fox News Channel as well as content for other platforms including Fox News’ digital properties,” the companies said in the statement.

Was there an FBI mole in the hole at ABC News? –The Center for Public Integrity reports on a once-classified FBI memo that reveals that the FBI treated a senior ABC News journalist as a potential confidential informant in the 1990s, pumping the reporter to ascertain the source of a sensational but uncorroborated tip that the network had obtained during its early coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing.  The journalist, whose name is not disclosed in the document labeled “secret,” not only cooperated but provided the identity of a confidential source, according to the FBI memo — a possible breach of journalistic ethics if he or she did not have the source’s permission. According to the report:

  • The ABC employee was assigned a number in the FBI’s informant database, indicating he or she was still being vetted for suitability as a snitch after providing “highly accurate and reliable information in the past” and then revealing information the network had obtained in the hours just after the 1995 terrorist attack by Timothy McVeigh.

Former ABC investigative news producer Christopher Isham, now a vice president and Washington bureau chief for CBS News, issued a statement Tuesday evening denying he ever agreed to be treated as an informant after the blog Gawker speculated he was the journalist mentioned in the FBI memo. FBI officials declined to identify the reporter, but confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that the bureau did in fact treat the reporter as a potential confidential source for a limited period of time as it tried to ascertain the validity of the information suggesting Iraqi involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Tim McGuire, a journalism professor at Arizona State University, believes the fact the reporter was assigned an informant number and had contributed information in the past precludes any argument that he was sharing this information in the public good.  “I mean, he’s not only a rat, he’s a really huge rat” says McGuire. “He’s obviously decided that helping the government on an ongoing basis is more important than being a journalist.”
McGuire also warns that journalists acting as agents can have a harmful — even dangerous — impact on the profession. “We’re all endangered by him playing these silly games,” he says. “I think when you’re an agent for the government, you’re putting your fellow journalists in harm’s way.”

Is your head in the cloud?- A new GfK Business & Technology online survey finds nearly half of consumers are aware of the “cloud,” but only 9%  fully understand it. Cloud computing is used to describe applications and services hosted and run on servers connected to the internet that end users do not have to maintain or support. Consumers are increasingly in need of cloud-based services with data spread across multiple devices, including laptops, cell phones and tablet computers. IMS Research says there will be a greater need for consumers to move their data to cloud-based services as the growth of connected devices is expected to reach 22 billion within the next decade. Concerns among consumers about moving their data to the cloud include:

  • 61% of the consumers surveyed by GfK say that they are concerned about the security of their content if they were to store it in the cloud
  • 47% of consumers surveyed say they would never use the cloud unless they have a simple and easy way to store their content
  • 39% say they are concerned about the ability to play content on different devices from the cloud

Going, going…..

Spin it any way you want- The Associated Press reports Katie Couric is leaving the CBS Evening News Anchor Chair. Couric is leaving her anchor post at CBS Evening News less than five years after becoming the first woman to solely helm a network TV evening newscast.

Jeff Greenfield Leaving CBS News- TVNewser reports that CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield is also leaving the network. In an email to staff Monday night, Greenfield said he will be departing CBS at the end of April.  TVNewserr notes: “It does not sound like the decision to leave was his own, if the email was any indication.”

Meredith Vieira leaving NBC’s Today?TV Guide reports Meredith Vieira is expected to leave NBC’s Today when her current contract expires later this year, according to a source familiar with her plans. The NYT’s / Media Decoder adds: Vieira’s contract ends in September, and she has made no secret that she dislikes the early morning wake-up calls and the stress of the position.

Prince William and Kate Middleton will be showered with attention. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Here Comes the Wedding Hype: How Media Landscape Has Changed Since Diana- Advertising Age reports that in the three decades since the last (big) royal nuptials, Charles and Diana’s July 1981 wedding, U.S. TV households ballooned by more than half, the VCR grew up and fell to the DVR, the web gave us a second screen and mobile devices birthed a third. Secondly, the public appetite for royal weddings is as rabid as ever. “These things are so rare and few and far between, and there’s going to be so much hype, it’s going to be wall-to-wall Will and Kate,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media.  (Of course, not everything is different. It turns out that royal weddings of this magnitude must always be accompanied by that era’s iteration of “Arthur” in movie theaters.)

A screen grab of House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt's Facebook wall on April 1, 2011.


State GOP Leader Apologizes For ‘Pedophile Pimp’ Comment–

Politician Calls Bishop A Pedophile Pimp On FacebookAll Facebook reports Catholic Bishop John McCormack spoke at a the New Hampshire State House rally last Thursday, criticizing the state budget proposed by the House of Representatives.  How did House Majority Leader D.J. Betterncourt react? By insulting the bishop over Facebook. On Friday, Bettencourt sparked a fire when he posted on his personal Facebook page that Bishop McCormack is a “pedophile pimp” with “absolutely no moral credibility to lecture anyone,” according to the Concord Monitor.

William Cronon is a professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Photo: Hilary Fey Cronon

Holding the high ground- The New Yorker’s Anthony Grafton writes about the William Cronon affair in Wisconsin. He notes” “Universities don’t seem to breed much civil courage these days. But the University of Wisconsin is a glorious exception to the rule. When the Republican Party of Wisconsin demanded e-mails sent by and to William Cronon, it was the university—which serves as the official “record holder” for this purpose—rather than the individual professor that had to answer the request. It has now done so, with two lucid documents that show scrupulous concern for the rights of all involved.”

Photo: Good Morning America

Something’s not working here- TV Newser reports that Good Morning America has hit a new low with younger viewers. The first three months of 2011 saw the lowest delivery ever for GMA in the lucrative adults 25-54 demo. Numbers for Q1 2011:

  • Total Viewers: NBC: 5,610,000 / ABC: 4,880,000 / CBS: 2,800,000
    • A25-54 viewers: NBC: 2,600,000 / ABC: 1,860,000 / CBS: 1,200,000

Pardon me ma’am, are these your “first-party software tools?”- Advertising Age is out with its first “Highly Unofficial Glossary of Online Ad Space” terms.  Why? A year ago, it seemed like online advertising was going the way of Wall Street with the emergence of the exchanges, DSPs and SSPs — turning into a sort of obscure acronym soup.  What will 2011 bring? Even more acronyms and fluidity — but all of it focused on data, segmentation, movement, attribution and management. This glossary has everything from advertising option icons to yield optimization.  Better yet, you’ll be so cool if you can speak the online ad space lingo.

OK Journalists- What Is Quality?- SocialTimes says Mitch Gelman, the vice president of quality for local content network, (talk about long titles) released a white paper Tuesday, Identifying Quality Content Online — Efficiently and Effectively. The paper’s goal is to answer the question: How is it possible to identify and promote the best news, information, and advice pieces on sites that empower the general public to contribute?

Burnt Meatloaf- The Toronto Sun reports that Things heated up on “Celebrity Apprentice” when singer Meat Loaf lost his cool on the show. Meat Loaf became infuriated when he accused “Point Break” actor Gary Busey of stealing his art supplies during a group fundraising challenge. Busey described Meat Loaf’s outburst, saying, “Meatloaf excelled to the level of dancing on the rainbow with no fear.” Meat Loaf later apologized to Busey, saying, “I’m so embarrassed by it, and I’m so upset by it. I truly am very sorry.”

Tweeting up and Tweeting down: The Top 25 Newspapers On Twitter- / Media Alley says At 3,062,437, The New York Times remains the only American newspaper with more than 1 million followers on Twitter.  (Click on the image to the right for the full list.) The Chicago Tribune, at 829,742, is number two, followed by the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.  In terms of growth, both the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Newsday more than doubled their follower counts in the five months since the initial list was compiled. (The Chronicle, with 21,075 followers, is up 121.6 percent, Newsday 118 percent.) The Washington Post, with 88 percent growth, added more than 180,000 followers.

7 Ways to Network more Effectively on Twitter- AllTwitter offers this great advice: So you’ve signed up for a Twitter account and started following a few people. You’ve set up your bio and profile picture, customized your background, and you’re tweeting pretty regularly. You’re doing everything right, but you’re not getting the level of engagement you expected. Instead of turning your nose up and figuring that Twitter must really be about sharing what you had for lunch, try these tips to network more effectively.

Cable TV/Internet war spills onto iPad- The New York Times reports that the iPad, which went on sale a year ago, is becoming the latest battleground in a long-running fight over how TV programs will be delivered in the digital age, and who will deliver them. SocialTimes: Pressure from some television content providers forced Time Warner Cable to remove 20 channels from its new TWCable TV iPad in-house-only streaming video app last week. However, less than one day later, it was able to add five different channels to the mix: Bloomberg Television, Sprout, Hallmark Movie Channel, Current TV, and TruTV. Meanwhile, Cablevision entered the fray on Saturday, releasing its own iPad app that carries all TV channels the same way a customer’s cable box does. By Sunday afternoon it was ranked No. 1 among all apps in the entertainment section of Apple’s iPad app store.

And then there’s this- Time Magazine reports Cablevision has launched a new iPad app called Optimum Live TV, which provides subscribers streaming access to around 300 live channels, with an additional 2000 VoD options available.

TV Advertising: “I’m not dead yet.”Adweek reports that rumors of the death of TV advertising have been greatly exaggerated. Researcher eMarketer now predicts that U.S. TV ad spending will account for over 39 percent of all major media spending by advertisers in 2015, fractionally higher than its share this year. EMarketer forecasts that total media spending will hit $174 billion in 2015, up from $155 billion this year. Over the same period, U.S. spending on TV advertising is projected to rise from $61 billion to $68 billion. But what of the great shift to online? Rest assured that will continue apace, with U.S. online ad spending expected to grow pretty spectacularly from $29 billion this year to $46 billion in 2015.

Center For Public Integrity launches investigative journalism website- The New York Times reports the Center for Public Integrity will start a new website on April 12th dedicated to investigative journalism. iWatch News will be updated daily with 10-12 original investigative pieces and aggregated content from other sources. The center will continue to collaborate with other media outlets like NPR, ABC and The New York Times to distribute and produce content.  The center is also experimenting with new revenue models and will sell advertising on the new site. Readers who do not want to see ads will be able to subscribe to a digital edition for tablet computers and smartphones that will be free of advertising, but will cost $50 for a yearly membership.

Rupert Murdoch and Robert Thomson. Photo: Business Insider, the Wire.

Can we talk?- WWD Media / Memo Pad reports, Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson won’t do an interview for a profile about him in this week’s New Yorker. BTW: The article has been put behind the New Yorker’s paywall.  I suppose they expect enough interest in the article that people would be willing to pay for it. The magazine’s media writer, Ken Auletta, also was denied interviews with Rupert Murdoch and Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton.  In a 1995 New Yorker piece, Auletta referred to Murdoch as “coldly amoral” and a publisher who “has rarely elevated taste or journalism.”

Facebook Gets New Friends- The Wall Street Journal reports that more than a dozen firms have emerged to help large companies navigate Facebook Inc.’s advertising system. Facebook said it welcomes the specialized agencies because they bring in new customers and can handle large-scale campaigns.

Brands line up bid to grab Olympics outdoor ad space- Marketing Week reports that the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (Locog), the 2012 organizers, has kicked off an online auction today which will allow brands to bid for media space worth $403 million. The media space will run across 10 cities where events are being held, including London, Cardiff and Birmingham.

Open records requests drive new controversy

Two interesting open records cases are unfolding in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Both raise important questions about access to public documents, the concept of academic freedom, vigorous public discourse and the motives of those seeking public records.


William Cronon is a professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Photo: Hilary Fey Cronon

The Wisconsin Republican Party is requesting emails from history professor William Cronon who blogged about Wisconsin’s new law that prohibits collective bargaining for public employees in the Cheese State.

On March 22nd, Cronon also wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times. Among other things, Cronon wrote:

“Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well.”

Wisconsin’s GOP responds

Cronon’s words struck some type of chord with the Wisconsin Republican Party. On March 17th,  Cronon received an open records request from the Republican Party under the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The request asked for:

“Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon’s state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.”

Cronon said it is this fear of intellectual inquiry being stifled by the abuse of state power that has long led scholars and scientists to cherish the phrase “academic freedom.” Photo: Jeff Miller

Cronon has since blogged, calling the Wisconsin GOP records request an assault on his academic freedom. He added:

When should we be more cautious about applying such laws to universities?

Answer: When FOIA is used to harass individual faculty members for asking awkward questions, researching unpopular topics, making uncomfortable arguments, or pursuing lines of inquiry that powerful people would prefer to suppress.

If that happens, FOIA and the Open Records Law can too easily become tools for silencing legitimate intellectual inquiries and voices of dissent — whether these emanate from the left or the right or (as in my case) the center.

It is precisely this fear of intellectual inquiry being stifled by the abuse of state power that has long led scholars and scientists to cherish the phrase “academic freedom” as passionately as most Americans cherish such phrases as “free speech” and “the First Amendment.”

Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Photo: Mike Devries

On March 25th, Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, declined to explain why the records request was made.  Jefferson said:

“Like anyone else who makes an open records request in Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason for doing so.

I have never seen such a concerted effort to intimidate someone from lawfully seeking information about their government.”

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin said the university respects and complies with public records law but that compliance involves a balancing test.

In a statement, University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin said the university respects and complies with public records law.  Martin added that compliance with public records requests involves a balancing test. Wrote Martin:

“There are many cases in which the university must balance the need, for instance, to protect proprietary research against the public’s right to know.

In this instance, we will need to consider whether disclosure would result in a chilling effect on the discourse between colleagues that is essential to our academic mission.

Academic freedom is one of the university’s greatest contributions to a democratic society. No other institution is charged specifically with protecting the pursuit of knowledge, wherever it may lead.

Individual faculty, staff and students inevitably consider and advocate positions that will be at odds with one another’s views and the views of people outside of the university. It is the university’s responsibility both to comply with state law and to protect our community’s right to explore freely and freely  express their points of view.”

Meanwhile, in Michigan

In Michigan, the New York Times reports the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative research group, has filed a public records request to the labor studies departments at three public universities in the state. The request also seeks e-mails involving the Wisconsin labor turmoil. Said the New York Times:

“The group, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, declined to explain why it was making the Freedom of Information Act request for material from professors at the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State University. But several professors who received the records request, which was first reported by Talking Points Memo on Tuesday, said it appeared to be an attempt to intimidate or embarrass professors who are sympathetic to organized labor.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the Mackinac Center’s open-records request was sent by a research associate at the direction of Ken Braun, managing editor of one of the center’s newsletters.

Mr. Braun refused to discuss exactly why his center had sent the letter, saying it does not comment on its investigations in progress. But, he said, “there is a very specific type of discussion that I am looking for, and that is why it is targeted at these three unique departments at these three universities.”- The Chronicle of Higher Education

My view

As a journalist and scholar, I understand and accept that university email may be fair game for open records requests.  Open records laws exists to promote the free flow of information and to insure that public employees are accountable to the tax payers they serve.

As a reporter, I have used open records requests on dozens of occasions to gather information for stories designed to promote discussion and to inform the public.

If anything, FOIA laws should be used more often because they’re a great free speech tool.

Having said this, I would be concerned if the motive for an open records request was perverted to intimidate or embarrass someone from exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.

If that were to be the case, a tool meant to promote the free flow of information in our democratic society could be grossly abused to censor speech and divergent views.

I’m not simply referring to the chilling effect such activities may have on scholars should they say things political parties or others don’t like. I’m talking about the effect such abuses may have on every American.

What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d really like to know.

J-notes and such

Some passing notes gathered from the journalism, advertising and PR landscape-Trash talking unfolds in the media landscape this week:

And you thought it was only about the NCAA Basketball Tournament- SportsNewser:  Columnist Says Jay Bilas Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About

OMG!Lawrence O’Donnell Goes After Glenn Beck’s Religious Beliefs Again (HUFFPOST Media) -O’Donnell and Beck have been trading attacks ever since O’Donnell took Beck to task last week for wondering if the Japanese earthquake was a sign that the apocalypse is coming.

I broke that story first- Conservative blogger claims “pro-Muslim, liberal, self-hating Jewish reporter Simon Shaykhet,” aka: Detroit FOX TV reporter,  stole her exclusive story about a bomb in the McNamara Federal Building.

Conservative media watchdog Newsbusters eats Corn, er, uh, crow- Newsbusters Apologizes To Matthews And David Corn For Anti-Semitism Accusation (Mediaite)

Cable newsers at CNN and FOX lob verbal grenades in coverage of Libyan fighting- Steve Harrigan To Nic Robertson: ‘It’s Unfathomable That A Journalist Could Go On The Air Without Getting His Facts Straight’ (TVNewser)
Denying Fox News’  claims that ghe and other media were used as human shields in Libya, CNN’s Nic Robertson goes after Fox News’ correspondent Steve Harrigan.   Now Harrigan accuses Robertson of fudging the truth.  TVNewser: TVNewser talked with Fox News Pentagon correspondent Jennifer Griffin about the battle that has broken out between CNN and Fox News over Griffin’s reporting of a Libyan government-sponsored trip to the ruins of Muammar el-Qaddafi’s compound Sunday night.

The NYTimes Bill Keller writes: “The queen of aggregation is, of course, Arianna Huffington, who has discovered that if you take celebrity gossip, adorable kitten videos, posts from unpaid bloggers and news reports from other publications, array them on your Web site and add a left-wing soundtrack, millions of people will come.”

Bill Keller adds a postscript:

“I love aggregation. Aggregating, as I wrote, is what editors do. It is, to repeat myself, “plugging one another into the bounty of the information universe.” Readers come to The Times not just for our original reporting, but for our best judgment of what else is worth reading or watching out there, and for the comments posted by all of you. As I write, our Lede blog has been linking our readers to a profusion of information about nuclear accidents, earthquakes and tsunamis. But:

A. Aggregating the work of others is no substitute for boots-on-the-ground journalism.

B. There’s often a thin line between aggregation and theft. Sending readers to savor the work of others at the sites where they publish — that’s one thing. Excerpting or paraphrasing at length, so the original sources doesn’t get the traffic or the revenue, that’s something else.”


J-notes and such

Some passing notes gathered from the journalism, advertising and PR landscape-

  1. The New York Times reports that four of its journalists were released into the custody of Turkish diplomats and crossed into Tunisia.
  2. Best news organization to monitor Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, nuke plant triaster:  Kyodo News Agency
  3. 10,000 Words The Best Infographics For Understanding The Crisis In Japan
  4. The Detroit News apologizes for suggesting reviewer change wording of Chrysler review.
  5. By several measures, the state of the American news media improved in 2010. That’s the assessment from the annual report State of the News Media 2011 by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Thumbnail of the report:

  • Most sectors of the media industry saw revenue begin to recover.
  • With some notable exceptions, cutbacks in newsrooms eased.
  • While still more talk than action, some experiments with new revenue models began to show signs of blossoming.
  • Among the major sectors, only newspapers suffered continued revenue declines last year — an unmistakable sign that the structural economic problems facing newspapers are more severe than those of other media.  Newspaper newsrooms are 30% smaller than in 2000.
  • A more fundamental challenge to journalism became clearer in the last year. The biggest issue ahead may not be lack of audience or even lack of new revenue experiments. It may be that in the digital realm the news industry is no longer in control of its own destiny.

{} The Guardian newspaper reports: Der Spiegel has published three photographs showing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan posing with the corpses of their alleged victims. The photos were taken by a U.S. unit that called itself a “kill team”; twelve of the men are being charged in relation to the murders of three Afghan civilians.
{} Newsweek’s take on What’s Killing NPR

{} PRNewser Study: PR Gets Higher Marks Than Advertising for Social Media Use