Unpaid internships- A court victory that asks “How do you filter them?”

unpaid-internshipsA court victory for unpaid interns today and possibly a wake-up call for corporate America. Yesterday, New York federal judge William Pauley ruled in favor of  two interns suing Fox Searchlight over the internship programs of Fox Entertainment Group. The Hollywood Reporter says the court’s summary judgment was also certified as a class action  The lawsuit was filed two years ago by interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt who worked on Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan and claimed the company’s unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws.

Fox issued this statement to The Hollywood Reporter on the ruling: “We are very disappointed with the court’s rulings.  We believe they are erroneous, and will seek to have them reversed by the 2nd Circuit as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, an opinion article from the Guardian newspaper on unpaid internships prompted an interesting discussion among colleagues in our college this past month.

In the article author David Dennis notes that media companies that rely on unpaid interns marginalize the voices of low-income communities and minorities. A graduate from Northwestern University, David writes: “And therein lies the issue with unpaid internships. The practice of asking recent graduates to spend their days working for free while paying rent and living in a city like New York is a barrier for entry to students from mid- to lower-class backgrounds.”   

Specifically, Dennis wrote that unpaid internships become barriers for low-income and minority candidates access to their professional fields because they can’t afford to work for free without incurring debt. This, argues Dennis means we have less diversity in the media.

Dennis writes: “Recently, I wrote about how stories of crime in New Orleans or Chicago’s Southside are under-reported on the national level, and one of the reasons is the fact that voices from these areas aren’t making it to the national conversation to influence the direction of national discourse. Media workplaces are becoming populated by those who can afford the jobs. Those who can’t are being shut out.  How many journalists can say they have firsthand knowledge of the mentality of someone from the inner-city? Many of these voices have been muted just because they simply can’t navigate the landscape of privilege that most modern journalism encourages.”  

I agree with Dennis’ opinion on unpaid interns. The International Business Times recently mentioned a well-known 2010 report by the Economic Policy Institute whose authors argued  persuasively, that “the choice to take an internship is not only contingent on a student’s qualifications, but also his or her economic means, thus institutionalizing socioeconomic disparities beyond college.”

unpaid-intern-2I also believe some for-profit companies use unpaid interns to save labor costs. There are recent legal cases to back this observation and to disprove it.  I believe this is, in part,  due to poor Fair Labor Standards Act enforcement by the U.S. Department of Labor regarding unpaid internships. I also believe this hurts those businesses who try to compete while providing paid internship opportunities.

Something else is hidden in the unpaid intern debate. My belief is that unpaid internships are a double whammy for some college graduates. They struggle to get jobs because the services they’re qualified to provide employers are already being provided by unpaid interns.

I said I agreed with Dennis’ views against the inequity of unpaid internships. Not everyone sees it that way.  Click here to see  how Denver Fox affiliate KDVR “Everyday Show” co-hosts Chris Parente and Melody Mendez put their spin on the topic of unpaid interns.

My response to KDVR:

 “I watched your treatment of this issue from your morning show. If you think a part of an unpaid intern’s job is to fetch coffee and dry cleaning for employees at Fox31 I would advise my students from interning at your TV station. That’s an exploitative mindset. An internship should provide students the opportunity to gain real world observations, experience and contacts in a professional workplace that ties directly to their future professional interests. They’re not unpaid personal assistants. So, please keep the focus on providing interns opportunities that will make them better potential future employees and managers for Fox31 and get your own coffee and dry cleaning.”

KDVR host Parente appeared to struggle in his understanding of the Dennis article. Parente incorrectly referred to Dennis as a woman and a “journalism ethics expert. Dennis is actually creative director at The Smoking Section website and a freelance writer.

Mendez commented that she once had an unpaid internship in college AND worked a part-time job. “It is possible to do both,” said Mendez.

To opinions such as Mendez’, Dennis wrote: “All of my classmates were qualified to work in any newsroom or publication in the city, but those who could afford the lifestyle got their feet in the door with internships. Sure, it’s possible for someone to work 40 hours a week without pay while also waiting tables at night, but it sure is easier when you don’t have to worry about earning a living – or paying student loans.”      

I’ll go one step more on unpaid internships- 

According to the Department of Labor internships in the “for-profit” private sector are most often viewed as employment. This means interns in the “for-profit” private sector who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the  minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over forty in a work week.

Here’s the U.S. Department of Labor’s six criteria for-profit companies must meet in order to legally use unpaid interns:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to
training which would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern;
and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the

If all of the factors listed above are met, an employment relationship does not exist says the U.S. Department of Labor and the for-profit company may use unpaid interns. Otherwise, minimum wage and overtime provisions do apply to the intern. Or as Judge Pauley wrote in his opionion which sides with the unpaid interns in the “Black Swan” case:

After going through the experiences of Footman and Glatt on Black Swan, here’s what Judge Pauley concludes:

“Considering the totality of the circumstances, Glatt and Footman were classified improperly as unpaid interns and are ’employees’ covered by the FLSA and NYLL. They worked as paid employees work, providing an immediate advantage to their employer and perfomed low-level tasks not requiring specialized training. The benefits they may have received — such as the knowledge of how a production or accounting office functions or references for future jobs — are the results of simply having worked as any other employee works, not of internships designed to be uniquely educational to the interns and of little utility to the employer. They received nothing approximating the education they would receive in an academic setting or vocational school. This is a far cry from [the Supreme Court’s decision in]Walling, where trainees impeded the regular business of the employer, worked only in their own interest and provided no advantage to the employer. Glatt and Footman do not fall within the narrow ‘trainee’ exception to the FLSA’s broad coverage.”

The latest court ruling means a victory for those who argue against unpaid internships, particularly when they may involve doing work that other employees are paid for performing in other work settings. It may also signal the court’s willingness to limit, even end unpaid internships used as a guise by some employers to limit their labor costs as well as employment opportunities for students and other qualified workers.There will be more legal battles on this case and victory for the plaintiffs is far from certain at this point.

I’ll sum it up with the ending of the International Business Times article on unpaid internships because it captures the “anecdotal reality” many recent college grads may be living. It uses HBO’s hit drama “Girls,” character Hannah who works as an unpaid publishing intern, despite having graduated college two years earlier. After she’s told by her parents that they will no longer fund her post-collegiate escapades, Hannah explains to her boss that she can no longer afford to work for free. His reply? “I’m really going to miss your energy.”


Notre Dame Manti Te’o hoax raises serious journalistic questions

Manti Te'o Photo: US Presswire

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o (Photo: US Presswire)

It’s the dangerous side of sloppy journalism and poor independent fact checking.  Often, the size of the news organization has no bearing on who gets facts right, or in this case, gets it wrong. And some news organizations wonder why the public’s perception of their credibility keeps slipping.

It happened this week with the surprising revelation by Deadspin.com that Manti Te’o, Heisman Trophy finalist from Notre Dame University, was tied to a hoax. The hoax was that Te’o’s girlfriend died from leukemia. It was a false story amplified by news organizations who accepted fantasy as fact. The fake story played on the sympathetic emotions of millions of people.

Deadspin.com reported that it could find no record of the existence of Te’o’s alleged girlfriend Lennay Kekua.  Te’o claimed she had died Sept. 12 of complications from leukemia.

What’s unclear at this point is if Te’o was part of the hoax or victim of it.

Despite conflicting information in Manti Te'o's story, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick stands by him. Photo: US Presswire

Despite conflicting information in Manti Te’o’s story, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick stands by him. (Photo: US Presswire)

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick told the news media Wednesday that Te’o was a victim of the hoax. Swarbrick said Te’o only had phone or online conversations with Kekua but had never met her in person. There’s some confusion here, at least according to an article written by South Bend Tribune reporter Eric Hansen last October.

In the article, Hansen described Te’o’s first face-to-face meeting with Kekua  after the 2009 Notre Dame- USC football game.

Wrote Hansen:

“Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes. They could have just as easily brushed past each other and into separate sunsets. Te’o had plenty to preoccupy himself that November weekend in Palo Alto, Calif., back in 2009.” 

My question to Hansen: @hansenNDInsider Did you independently verify dead girlfriend claims when you wrote the Oct. 12 story?  I’ll let you know if I get an answer.

CBS also displayed this photo of the ficticious Kekua several times throughout the Morning Show report.

CBS also displayed this photo of the fictitious Kekua several times throughout the CBS This Morning show report. (From: Deadspin.com)

The myth wasn’t only perpetuated by the South Bend Tribune, the newspaper closest to the Notre Dame hoax story. The fake story was also given national life by Sports Illustrated, CBS, Fox Sports, ESPN, the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times.

As Deadspin reported: “Te’o’s story moved beyond the world of sports. On the day of the BCS championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama, CBS This Morning ran a three-minute story that featured a direct quote from Lennay Kekua:

“Babe, if anything happens to me, you promise that you’ll stay there and you’ll play and you’ll honor me through the way you play.””

See CBS report on Te’o

Today, CBS reporter Chip Reid appeared on CBS’ This Morning again with a story explaining the latest in the hoax story. “It turns out we were all duped,” said Reid. He didn’t explain if he had ever independently fact checked the story before originally reporting it.  (The report has since been pulled from the Internet by CBS.) 

Who knew what, when?
According to Swarbrick, Te’o told Notre Dame on Dec. 26th that he had recently learned Kekua never existed. Notre Dame sat on the news until after Notre Dame’s loss to Alabama in the Jan. 7th BCS National Championship Game. Swarbrick said the university did so to independently investigate Teo’s’ claims. Swarbrick added that a motive for the hoax was unclear.

What is clear is that, until the Deadspin report, news outlets didn’t fact check the story. If they had made a few phones calls the hoax would have been revealed immediately.  

The news media would have discovered:

  • Lennay Kekua was a fictitious name
  • She never dated Manti Te’o

According to the Deadspin article:

  • Lennay Kekua never existed
  • She was never in a car accident
  • She never battled leukemia and never died
  • She wasn’t a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when she and Te’o, according to the South Bend Tribune, “exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.”

A story as popular and widely reported as this, and no news organization flagged the inconsistencies in it until Deadspin reporters Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey started asking questions.  Their answers, with solid attribution, told them the Lennay Kekua story was false.

What Burke and Dickey did was admirable. It was also basic, solid journalism. That’s what journalists are supposed to do every day. Burke and Dickey kept digging though. I suspect they’re still digging hard today to find out the motive for the hoax. For this Burke, Dickey and Deadspin.com deserve praise for excellence in journalism.

By the way- Wednesday night it appeared the South Bend Tribune had pulled Eric Hansen’s October 12th story about Manti Te’o from its online archives. It’s been restored now and you can see it here. 

  • Or you can read Hansen’s story which also appeared in the Irish Sports Report.
  • Or you can see the full version of his story that I captured below complete with my mark-ups raising questions about Hansen’s missing source attribution or information in conflict with Te’o’s present claim that he never met Lennay Kekua in person.

What Dreams May Come Manti Te'o Article

Post script: Premature reports of Joe Paterno’s death raise questions about some news organizations

Former Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno died Sunday, but not before several news organizations erroneously reported Saturday that he had died. Photo: Associated Press

More revelations today about news organizations that failed to independently confirm unsubstantiated reports last night that former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had died. Paterno has since died, but at the time he was still alive.

Saturday night, Penn State University student website Onward State tweeted that Penn State football team players were notified by email that longtime former head coach Joe Paterno, diagnosed with lung cancer, had died at age 85.

The email was false. Paterno was still alive.  CBSSports.com tweeted the erroneous “Paterno is dead” report based only on the Onward State tweet without independently confirming the story.

The Wrap’s Tim Malloy reports that the New York Times and CNN were among the first to get a denial from a Paterno family spokesman that the 85-year-old, who was battling lung cancer, had died.

Wrote Malloy:

“By then several news outlets and reporters, including TheWrap, The Huffington Post, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Howard Kurtz, the host of the journalism standards show “Reliable Sources,” had written about the death, all after the CBS report. Even the group Poynter, a champion of accurate journalism,  tweeted that Paterno had died.”

Malloy pointed out that the reporters and organizations quickly changed their stories as the CBS account came into doubt. “So began an ugly game of finger pointing in a media hall of mirrors, where primary sources were initially hard to come by,” wrote Malloy.

The Wrap also cited the CBS death story without first contacting a Paterno spokesman. “We regret this error,” wrote Malloy.

Why did this happen?

Sloppy, lazy journalism, which really isn’t journalism at all. Misplaced values and priorities could be a culprit too. Is it possible that newsroom cultures are more easily seduced by a burning desire to be first to report news in order to build website traffic without independently vetting the story?

Eric Wemple of the Washington Post writes:

“…….the Paterno-death mistake, let’s face it — this is the way our contemporary media work or don’t work. The Huffington Post can say that its policies were violated; CBSSports.com can say its policies were violated; and we can believe that they regret what happened. However, the pressures that bear on a Saturday night aggregation team at CBSSports.com and HuffingtonPost.com point in the direction opposite of those policies. The imperative is to pounce on news when it happens and, in this case, before it happens. To wait for another source is to set the table for someone who’s going to steal your search traffic.”

Many of the news organizations that jumped the independent confirmation gun apologized. CBSSports.com, which started the major media fail to independently confirm domino effect said: “CBSSports.com holds itself to high journalistic standards, and in this circumstance tonight, we fell well short of those expectations.”

Saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough if you repeat the mistake over again. The burden of proof is on news organizations to do better. Would it hurt to have  more vetting guidelines in place. Sure, they might slow down the rush to be the first to break a story. On the other hand, they’d help remind journalists and other news employees that independent fact verification is a non-negotiable part of every news story published, tweeted, or broadcast,,,,,and every news organization’s credibility with their audience.

Wildlife refuge for migrating birds draws thousands of visitors

Barney McCoy for NET News (2011-12-02)

Click here to listen to my radio report on NET News.

SQUAW CREEK NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, MO (NET Radio) – Ten miles east of Rulo, Neb., the Missouri River floodplain gives way to Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. This week, Squaw Creek’s 7,400 acres of woods, grass and marshland is home to a several hundred thousand migrating snow geese.

“It’s just really cool to see that many in the sky at once,” said Mickey Sigmund, a National Wildlife Service intern at Squaw Creek. He said the sound of 200,000 honking geese is hard to describe.


Photo courtesy of Barney McCoy

Snow geese feeding and resting at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, just across the Missouri River from Rulo, Nebraska.

Click here for more photos of migrating cranes, geese and ducks, as well as other Nebraska nature and wildlife.

“It’s so loud that you have to turn you music down and say, Was that on the radio?’

” No, it was the birds.'”

For thousands of years, time in the Missouri River Basin has been measured by this annual migration.

“They’ve got to have a place to stop, going from Canada down to the Gulf, and we’re one of the big stopping areas,” said Ron Bell, the manager of Squaw Creek.

Missouri River floods

But it’s not as big a stop this year as in past years. The five months of Missouri River flooding wiped out food for some migrating wildlife, Bell said.

“Unfortunately, everything flooded to the west of us, so areas that would have had corn stubble or something, it’s gone,” he said.

Mike Stoekes, an Audubon Society volunteer, guides visitors through Squaw Creek’s thousands of marshland acres to see the migrating snow geese.

“The geese will stay around here until the water starts to freeze up,” he said, “and then they’ll move further south.”

That might not be long from now. Day-long freezing temperatures are in the forecast for next week, and could push this show of nature south. But while it’s here, Kansas City photographer Brad Richmond says it’s something everyone should see.

“It’s something you ought to put on your list of things that you really should do that don’t cost much, and reconnect you with the natural beauty that’s around us,” he said.


Photo courtesy of Brad Richmond

Snow geese feeding and resting at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, just across the Missouri River from Rulo, Nebraska.

Click here for more photos of migrating cranes, geese and ducks, as well as other Nebraska nature and wildlife.

A bit of history

It wasn’t that way here 75 years ago. It was the Great Depression, and one in four Americans were unemployed.

At the time, then-President Franklin Roosevelt said, “My most immediate concern is carrying out purposes of the great work program just enacted by Congress.”

Part of that economic recovery plan, called the New Deal, provided for the Civilian Conservation Corps, or the CCC.

“Franklin Roosevelt very much wanted to preserve and restore the natural habitat,” said UNL history professor Lloyd Ambrosius. He said the CCC put 3.5 million jobless men to work.

“A federal aid project to save and enjoy a country,” touted a newsreel from the period. “To keep nature unsullied and unspoiled wherever possible.”

Workers earned 30 dollars a month working on more than 1,300 conservation and nature restoration projects nationwide – projects like Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

“I’m amazed at the insight that people had 75 years ago or more, when people thought about these areas, setting them aside,” said Bell, the refuge manager. “And if they hadn’t been set aside, then they probably wouldn’t be here today, at least in the condition that they’re in today.”

Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge today

75 years after the CCC developed Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, the area attracts 140,000 visitors annually. Most come in the spring and fall to watch and listen to more than 300 bird species as they migrate through. Like Mike Stoekes and Brad Richmond, for many, a visit here evokes deep emotions.

“I still get a little choked up just talking about it, but it’s dramatic, and somebody who loves nature, you just never get tired of that,” Stoekes said.

Richmond said it’s more than just beautiful – it’s a necessity.

“We have to have nature,” Richmond said. “Especially these grand collections of nature like this, which remind people how profound life is and how beautiful this planet is and everything on it.”

As the geese depart, the endangered bald eagles have begun arriving to feast on weaker migrating waterfowl. So this weekend it’s Squaw Creek’s Eagle Days, and the public’s invited.

“We’ll have scopes set up for people to see eagles in the wild,” Bell said. “We’ll have a good number of eagles here, between 150 and 200.

“We’re preserving things for the future,” he added. “For other people to enjoy.”

Swept into 9-11-2001

I was 45 years old and reporting for WBNS-TV, the CBS affiliate in Columbus, Ohio on September 11, 2001. Photo: Chris Hedrick

It’s a collective freeze-frame in the consciousness of America. We were all swept into it.

Anyone alive on September 11, 2001 can tell you where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing the day four hijacked airliners crashed in New York, Washington, D.C. and rural Pennsylvania.

Snapshot of when I first heard the news: I was standing in my living room with videographer Chris Hedrick. We were about to leave town to report on a feature story for WBNS-TV (CBS) in Columbus, Ohio.

The terrorist attacks changed who we are and how we perceive the world. We are more wary and less secure.  For many of us, the weight of 9-11-2001 will always linger. That’s a certainty for the family and friends of the 2,977 victims who died in the suicide attacks. We didn’t ask for it. Many of us still can’t quite believe it. We begrudgingly accept it. Or do we?

Videographer Chris Hedrick and I spent six days covering the 9-11 attacks in New York and New Jersey.

I was a reporter for WBNS-TV on that day  10 years ago. That morning, good friend and videographer Chris Hedrick and I were supposed to drive to northern Ohio to work on a feature story.

Not long after we hit the road, we learned that a third aircraft had slammed into the Pentagon.  A fourth plane crashed into a Pennsylvania farm field. We got a call from  WBNS-TV boss John Cardenas. “I want you and Chris to head towards New York City.” said John. “We have a satellite truck less than an hour behind you.”

And so we went. Chris and I turned our Ford Explorer east. We drove eleven hours and some 535 miles that day across Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. We arrived that night at Liberty State Park. It’s on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River across from the World Trade Center.

Members of the Central Ohio Search and Rescue Team assisted in the search and recovery effort following the 9-11 attacks in New York City. Photo: Chris Hedrick

Along the way, we were riveted to the radio, listening to the non-stop reports that poured across the airwaves. Whenever we stopped for gas we caught glimpses of the television coverage that left people glued to their screens that day.

It was soon confirmed by federal officials that the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and two more airliners that crashed in rural Pennsylvania and into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. had been hijacked. We knew thousands of innocent people had died or were injured. Most were Americans. We wondered what other acts or terrorism could follow.

You can see the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center over my left shoulder during this live shot across the Hudson River. Photo: Chris Hedrick

That night, we did our first live shot a few miles southwest of the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center. The entire south end of Manhattan was plunged into darkness save for the white glow of the emergency lights powered by gas generators that crews erected near the collapsed twin towers.

You could see the large plume of white smoke drift through the night sky. It washed over the filtered generator lights behind us in Manhattan.

This candlelight vigil in Jersey City, N.J. was one of several we covered in the wake of the 9-11-2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Photo: Chris Hedrick

We stayed the rest of that week, working 18 hour days, reporting from New Jersey and New York on the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history:

The rescue effort that quickly turned into a recovery only effort.

The outpouring of volunteer assistance from across the country and around the world.

Candle light vigils for the victims who died and their surviving families.

There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about 9-11-2001. So many thoughts have been expressed. So many words have tried to describe what happened. I still search for words to describe what happened that day, how I felt and how 9-11 changed me . But,  I would like to share a few of my memories:

Barney McCoy reporting on search and recovery efforts at 2:00 a.m. near Ground Zero in New York City. Photo: Chris Hedrick

The Jersey City, N. J. police captain who tirelessly  coordinated the volunteer relief effort that streamed across the Hudson River to Ground Zero and back again from the Jersey City docks. The captain always had words of support and cheer for the thousands of people who arrived to do something…anything, to help in the days that followed the WTC attacks. His tireless humor and positive attitude lifted everyone around him. I shed bittersweet tears when I later learned the captain and his wife had buried their young daughter, a cancer victim, just days before 9-11.  In one of his darkest hours, he shined so brightly. Where did he get the strength?

Interviewing New Jersey firefighter Joe Titone who participated in the search and recovery efforts following the World Trade Center attacks on 9-11-2001. Photo: Chris Hedrick

The New Jersey firefighter who I interviewed,  exhausted and covered with dust and soot after spending 12 hours recovering victims from the World Trade Center rubble.  At the time, there was a real danger that several buildings damaged by the collapsed south and north Trade Center towers could still  collapse. If they had, they could have killed or injured the rescue workers who risked their own lives in the recovery effort.

When I asked the firefighter why he  risked his life he pointed towards Ground Zero. That’s where 343 NYC firefighters were killed evacuating World Trade Center employees.  He said “Because I have brothers and sisters in there who would do it for me.”

An American flag flies over the recovery efforts at Ground Zero after the 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks. Photo: Chris Hedrick

The trip under the Hudson River on a mostly vacant subway car the morning after the attacks. I’ve never seen a subway car with fewer people. It was quieter than a Sunday morning. Eerily quiet that day. One passenger, a young woman in business dress, sat across from us lost in thought. I caught her eye for a second and tried to smile. She looked back with a smile that quickly trembled and faded as tears washed down her cheek. There was no need to explain. There was no way to explain what had happened less than a day before.

Looking east across the Hudson River at the burning ruins of the World Trade Center. Photo: Chris Hedrick

The morning Chris and I left Columbus it was a bright summery day. When we returned home to our families six days later, the weather had cooled. It felt like fall.

So much had changed in these six days of my life.  So much more has changed in the 10 years that have followed September 11th, 2001.

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.

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- MediaBistro.com 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.” TheWrap.com / 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. Slate.com 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 Magnify.net 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: Magnify.net, 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 MediaBistro.com)– 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 Mashable.com: 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.


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