Monthly Archives: June 2009

Credit where it isn’t due

An odd assessment by the Chicago Tribune:

Gossip site TMZ.com, owned by Time Warner, was out in front with Jackson news and digital-era pipelines spread the word, as has happened before with other major celebrity news stories. But it was old media stalwarts that did the heavy lifting, with giants such as The Associated Press and the Web site of the L.A. Times, sister paper of the Chicago Tribune, reporting the fastest, most credible information on the emergency call for paramedics and ultimately his death.

In other words, TMZ broke the story. Got it? (Channeling Chris Krewson.)

Michael Jackson

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Boston Phoenix during Michael Jackson’s 2005 trial for child molestation. His death, at 50, was hardly unexpected — I think he’s probably been on the Next to Die list longer than Keith Richards, since Keef managed to crawl off of it at some point.

Jackson may be the greatest wasted talent since Elvis Presley, who could have packed it in after his Sun recordings in the early to mid-1950s. Jackson recorded his finest album, “Off the Wall,” 30 years ago. His audience-pleasing triumph, “Thriller,” came in 1982.

It has literally been all downhill since then — a sickening amalgam of molestation charges, plastic surgery, fake (or at least very weird) marriages and financial setbacks.

His was a sad life. But given the likelihood that he did enormous harm to some of the kids who worshipped him, my sympathy is limited. He was a terrific artist, washed up before his 25th birthday.

Press barred from public tour of public school

You wouldn’t think that when public officials tour a public school, anyone would be brazen enough to bar a news organization by claiming it’s a “private event on private property.” But that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday, according to the Newton Tab, which had assigned a reporter and a photographer to cover a tour of the $200 million Newton North High School construction site.

The Tab’s Dan Atkinson reports that Mayor David Cohen, a number of aldermen and members of the school’s design-review committee took the tour, but that Dimeo Construction wouldn’t allow the press to tag along — even though the event had been posted as being open to the public.

“It’s an essentially private event on private property,” Cohen spokesman Jeremy Solomon is quoted as saying. “It doesn’t entitle the media to attend.” Solomon added: “Elected officials deserve the courtesy to ask any questions without being concerned about how they’re portrayed in the Tab.”

The Newton North project — the most expensive public school in the history of the state, if not the known universe — has long been controversial. The Boston Globe’s Newton Wiki reports that the current price tag of nearly $200 million has almost doubled since 2003, when Cohen first proposed it. Newton voters approved it in a 2007 referendum.

Based on the facts as reported by the Tab, it’s unclear as to whether officials violated the Massachusetts open-meeting law, which, among other things, forbids private governmental meetings when there is a quorum present. Atkinson writes that “at least” nine aldermen took the tour — well short of a quorum, given that Newton has 24 aldermen. But if a quorum of design-review committee members was present, what took place might be considered an illegal meeting.

More important, what happened to the Tab on Wednesday was not just an affront to the press, but to the proposition that the public’s business should be conducted in public. As Tab publisher Greg Reibman said, “[I]t’s not the Tab that is being punished. It’s the taxpayers who are spending nearly $200 million on this project and they deserve to know how their dollars are being spent.”

More: Great catch by Michael Pahre, who notes that there is an “on-site inspection” exception to the open-meeting law. So, in all likelihood, no violation of the law took place. “That said,” Pahre writes, “the Newton officials were boneheaded in announcing this as a tour that is open to the public if they don’t want the press to attend.”

Still more: The Tab says that its reporter was allowed to take a tour today. But still no photos (or photographer), please.

Times Co. honchos “correct” the record

This is already floating around the intertubes. But since Media Nation obtained its own copy earlier this morning, I will post it here in full — a company-wide e-mail from New York Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and president Janet Robinson. Enjoy.

June 25, 2009

To Our Colleagues,

The month of May came and went and, contrary to the prediction of one writer, we did not stop printing The New York Times. But given all the speculation and incorrect information that has been reported about our Company, we think it is important to create a regular letter written so that you get the facts directly from us — on the record. In the first of what we expect will be frequent e-mails, we’d like to talk about recent events at The Boston Globe. Future letters will discuss financial transactions, advertising, circulation, costs and the digital challenges we face as well as other issues as they arise.

All of you know, only too well, that this has been a difficult time for the economy, the industry and our Company. The recession has amplified the downward secular trends in our business and caused steep declines in advertising revenue, particularly in the recruitment, real estate and automotive categories.

The Globe was one of the first metropolitan newspapers to be deeply affected by the secular and cyclical forces that are now roiling the entire media industry. Revenues at the New England Media Group (which includes the Globe, Boston.com, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and its Web site) have declined from $700 million in 2004 to $524 million last year.

In the fall of 2008, the Globe and Boston.com developed a strategic plan to deal with their operating loss, which earlier this year was projected to be roughly $85 million in 2009. The plan has several components to increase revenues and lower costs. Here are the strategic steps we have taken:

  • We have just completed the consolidation of printing facilities in Boston, which is expected to save $18 million a year.
  • In the last month, we significantly raised prices on newsstand and home-delivered copies of the paper.
  • The compensation of the Globe’s managers and other nonunion employees were significantly reduced in 2009/2010 through a salary reduction and elimination of their annual incentive plan.
  • The Globe’s labor contracts are being restructured in order to save $20 million in annual operating costs — essential to our turnaround plan. We had reached agreements with seven unions that provided slightly more than $10 million in savings. Yesterday we reached an agreement, which is subject to ratification, with the Boston Newspaper Guild, which would provide us with another $10 million in expense reductions.

There will be still more to come but with these steps the Globe is on a path to a more secure financial future. We are deeply grateful to all of our colleagues in Boston for the hard work and sacrifices they have made to put the Globe on a stronger financial footing. In future letters, you’ll hear from us about other things we are doing to strengthen our Company and prepare us for the future. These are tough times and we recognize that all of you are working very hard to make tomorrow better than today.

Thank you, we deeply appreciate it.

Arthur & Janet

An observation: What “incorrect information” are Sulzberger and Robinson referring to? I see nothing remarkable in here — nothing new, no correcting of errors. The Times wouldn’t run a letter accusing it of inaccuracies without specifying what they are. So what are Sulzberger and Robinson talking about?

Calling torture torture

Alicia Shepard is as sharp a media observer as they come. A longtime writer for the American Journalism Review and the author of “Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate,” she is a serious and respected voice.

That said, I’m scratching my head over how wrong Shepard gets it on NPR’s refusal to use the term “torture” to describe the “enhanced interrogation techniques” practiced during the Bush years. Shepard, now NPR’s ombudsman, writes:

I recognize that it’s frustrating for some listeners to have NPR not use the word torture to describe certain practices that seem barbaric. But the role of a news organization is not to choose sides in this or any debate. People have different definitions of torture and different feelings about what constitutes torture. NPR’s job is to give listeners all perspectives, and present the news as detailed as possible and put it in context.

Let’s forget “certain practices” and focus on just one: waterboarding, long recognized as torture. In November 2007, Sen. John McCain pointed out that the United States executed Japanese officers after World War II for waterboarding American prisoners of war.

And when McCain was challenged, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Web site PolitiFact.com investigated McCain’s assertion. Its conclusion: McCain was right — a number of Japanese officers were hanged, and others were sentenced to long prison terms, because they had engaged in waterboarding.

Shepard writes that rather than describing waterboarding as torture, it makes more sense just to say what happened: “To me, it makes more sense to describe the techniques and skip the characterization…. A basic rule of vivid writing is: ‘Show, Don’t Tell.'”

All right. Perhaps NPR can eschew the T-word and instead describe waterboarding as “an interrogation technique once considered so heinous by the United States that it hanged Japanese officers for doing it to Americans.”