By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Author: Dan Kennedy Page 4 of 30

A third plaintiff sues over an illegal raid at a Kansas newspaper last summer

A third employee of a weekly newspaper in Kansas has joined a federal suit against a local police department over an illegal raid conducted at the newspaper’s office and the publisher’s and the vice mayor’s homes, according to The Associated Press. Cheri Bentz, who was the office manager at the Marion County Record, claims she was illegally detained and questioned, and that her cellphone was taken from her as well.

The case set off a First Amendment fury last summer after a home security camera captured the paper’s 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Meyer, berating the officers who had invaded the home she shared with her son, publisher Eric Meyer. Joan Meyer collapsed and died the next day following a sleepless, stress-filled night.

The raid led to the resignation of Police Chief Gideon Cody, who initially defended the action. Despite the official line that the raid was linked to a convoluted situation involving private driving records, it turned out that the Record was investigating possible wrongdoing by Cody at his previous job.

Earlier coverage.

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Israel must be held to account for the targeting and killing of journalists

Protest in Tel Aviv against the Netanyahu government last June. Photo (cc) 2023 by RG TLV.

CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy wrote an important analysis last week about journalists who have been killed by Israeli forces in the the Gaza war. Citing figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Darcy observes that at least 95 journalists have been killed since Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel last Oct. 7, and that all but five of those journalists are Palestinian — the highest death toll for members of the press since CPJ began tracking such casualties in 1992.

In addition to deaths that might be attributed to the fog of war, there have also been killings that Israel carried out despite what appear to be clear indications that it was targeting media workers. Darcy writes that the United Nations recently finished a report showing that Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah had been killed in southern Lebanon after a tank fired at a group of “clearly identified journalists.” Israeli officials responded to the U.N. that it “does not deliberately shoot at civilians, including journalists.”

In addition, The Washington Post last week found that a Jan. 7 missile attack resulting in the deaths of two Al Jazeera journalists and two freelancers in southern Gaza may have lacked any military justification. The Israeli military claimed it had “identified and struck a terrorist who operated an aircraft that posed a threat to IDF troops” — but the Post found that the “aircraft” was a drone apparently being used for reporting purposes.

Darcy includes accounts of Palestinian journalists who have alleged been abused by Israeli forces as well — a topic that is the subject of a new report from CPJ, which “found multiple kinds of incidents of journalists being targeted while carrying out their work in Israel and the two Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank” as well as the deaths of journalists’ families.

CPJ has posted an open letter signed by 36 leaders of top U.S. and international news organizations calling Israel to end its attacks on journalists. Among the Americans the letter are Julie Pace, the executive editor of The Associated Press; Mark Thompson, the chair and CEO of CNN; A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times; Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of The Washington Post; Kim Godwin, the president of ABC News; and Rebecca Blumenstein, the president of editorial at NBC News. Significantly, the international news leaders signing the letter include Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The letter includes this:

Journalists are civilians and Israeli authorities must protect journalists as noncombatants according to international law. Those responsible for any violations of that longstanding protection should be held accountable. Attacks on journalists are also attacks on truth. We commit to championing the safety of journalists in Gaza, which is fundamental for the protection of press freedom everywhere.

This weekend, as NPR reports, tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netananyu, calling for a deal with Hamas to release the more than 100 hostages the terrorist group is still believed to be holding.

The horrendous situation in the Middle East began with Hamas’ attacks, claiming some 1,200 lives and leading to Israel’s invasion of Gaza, which have killed more than 30,000 people, mostly civilians. Starvation looms. President Biden has been ever-so-slowly been backing away from the Netanyahu government, allowing a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire and the release of the hostages to take effect.

Israel’s targeting of media workers is a small part of a much larger picture — a horrendous problem that would seem to have no good solution. But let’s start with this: Journalists are the world’s eyes and ears. They need to be able to tell us what is taking place on the ground without fear of being killed.

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Mike Reed, Gannett’s $3.9 million man, claims union ‘lies’ to his employees

It’s that time of the year when Gannett has to report how much it’s paying Mike Reed, the CEO of Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the U.S. and the publisher of USA Today. Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal looked up the company’s annual proxy filing for 2023 and found that the answer to that question is $3.9 million, an increase of 14% (but still down from the $7.7 million he received in 2021).

A couple of other notable tidbits in Seiffert’s story:

  • “Median employee compensation fell last year by $179, a fraction of a percent, as inflation rose 3.4% over the same period.”
  • Although Gannett has been touting an upsurge of hiring, including some 500 newsroom positions, the company reported employing 3,200 journalists at the beginning of January 2024, down 100 from a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Gannett’s $3.9 million man has been blasting the NewsGuild, the union that represents many of his underpaid, overworked employees. “I think the Guild, unfortunately, plays dirty and lies to our employees,” Reed told Axios last week. And check this out: “Reed also accused the Guild of lying about the company cutting jobs ‘to increase profitability.’ He said that’s not true — ‘they’re designed to keep a newsroom in the market itself,’ he said.” Huh?

In response, Axios quoted from a statement by NewsGuild-CWA president Jon Schleuss, who said in part: “It’s a shame that Mike Reed is attacking journalists again instead of listening to them. If he did, he’d understand that the only sustainable future is to invest in the talented reporters, photographers and others who drive the company’s success — not enriching corporate executives and shareholders.”

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Bring him home

Via CNN

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Kyle Munson on how nonprofit dollars are keeping for-profit Iowa newspapers alive

Kyle Munson leading a workshop at the Okoboji Writers’ Retreat in 2023. Photo by Doug Burns.

On our latest podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Kyle Munson, president of the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation. The foundation was launched in August 2020, during the heart of the pandemic. It was a challenging time for newspapers. As we write in their book, “What Works in Community News,” the Storm Lake Times Pilot saw a real collapse in local advertising. Art Cullen, the editor, was worried about survival.

The foundation is set up as a nonprofit, so it can receive tax-free donations and philanthropic grants. In turn, it has doled out grants to small papers in western Iowa, including the Carroll Times HeraldLa Prensa and the Times Pilot. These grants were critical because the crisis in local news has hit rural areas hard.

I’ve got a Quick Take on The Associated Press, which is the principal source of international and national news for local newspapers around the country — and in many cases for state coverage as well. Two major newspaper chains, Gannett and McClatchy, have announced that they are going to use the AP a lot less than they used to, which will result in less money for the AP — and either higher fees, less coverage or both for their remaining clients.

Ellen looks at Outlier Media, a woman-led team of local journalists in Detroit. They formed a network called the Collaborative Detroit Newsrooms network to produce and share news for underserved populations. They’ve won a major international award from the Association of Media Information and Communication. Executive editor Candice Fortman traveled to Barcelona to pick up the juried prize.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

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It’s worth saying again: Let’s stop paying partisan political hacks to bloviate on TV

Reporting for double duty: Donna Brazile was a paid bloviator for CNN while she was also deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. Photo (cc) by Tim Pierce.

I’ve been arguing against hiring partisan political commentators for years, including three times (here, here and here) in the past week. Now NPR’s media reporter, David Folkenflik, has written a smart analysis questioning the practice, which has come under renewed scrutiny following NBC News’ hiring and firing of the election-denying, Trump-enabling Ronna McDaniel, former chair of the Republican National Committee. Folkenflik writes:

The networks — not just NBC — want to be able to rely on a stable of people to show up and be lively and informed on the air, often with little notice. They want to make sure they have voices reflecting an array of views from both parties. And they want exclusivity, which means they want to prevent the same high-profile figures from appearing on their competitors’ shows.

The hiring of McDaniel made conventional sense under this rubric.

We do not live in conventional times.

Indeed we do not, and if there’s a reason to have someone like McDaniel on the air, surely that can be accomplished without paying her $300,000 a year. After all, “Meet the Press” host Kristen Welker pointed out that McDaniel had already been scheduled to appear this past Sunday, as she had previously. One of the first rules of journalistic ethics is that we don’t pay sources, except, apparently, party hacks.

In fact, as Folkenflik reminds us, CNN actually stooped even lower than NBC by paying Democratic operative Donna Brazile while she was deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. As he asks: “There are more than 330 million Americans and thousands of political professionals. Why pay for the right to interview them? Does anyone think Newt Gingrich will boycott television appearances if he’s not paid?”

The problem, of course, is that television news outlets, particularly cable, have endless hours to fill, and talk shows are a lot cheaper than actual journalism. But I would argue that the McDaniel fiasco offers an opportunity to revisit the whole practice of hiring political figures, Democrat or Republican, to come on the air and offer predictable talking points, all while keeping one eye on their next chance to get back in the game.

You can simultaneously believe (as I do) that hiring McDaniel was many bridges too far because of her election denialism on behalf of Donald Trump — and that the time has also come to stop throwing money at any political operatives.

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GBH becomes the latest public media outlet to eye layoffs

Given what’s going on in public media in general and at WBUR Radio in Boston specifically, this seemed inevitable. Aidan Ryan of The Boston Globe reports that GBH, the television and radio powerhouse, is considering layoffs in the face of shrinking revenues.

“Like many other media outlets, GBH is facing financial headwinds,” GBH chief executive Susan Goldberg told the Globe in a statement. “We are looking at a variety of ways to address this, including eliminating end-of-year bonuses across the organization. While final decisions have not yet been made, layoffs are not off the table.”

Disclosure: As many of you know, I was a paid contributor to GBH News from 1998 to 2022.

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McDaniel is out. But don’t get your hopes up that network execs have learned a lesson.

Ronna McDaniel. Photo (cc) 2018 by Gage Skidmore.

Ronna McDaniel is out at NBC News. Veteran media critic David Zurawick writes for CNN, “It was two days of the most aggressive, public and passionate pushback by employees against a decision by their bosses that I have seen in 35 years of covering the media.” His lead:

As wrongheaded as it was on so many levels, NBC’s decision to hire former Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ronna McDaniel as a contributor might actually have done the nation a favor. The highly controversial move has helped drive a crucial conversation about the role of media in our political life at this moment of democratic crisis.

The NBC executives who thought this was a great idea really had no choice. Hosts on MSNBC from Rachel Maddow to Joe Scarborough said they wouldn’t have her on, and she was finished on NBC itself after she was eviscerated on “Meet the Press,” first by Kristen Welker, then in a post-interview commentary by Chuck Todd. It will be interesting to see whether anyone at the network will pay the price for this boneheaded move.

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As I’ve said before, I’m trying to balance two impulses. On the one hand, I don’t think the networks should hire any partisan players to bloviate on their airwaves, Democrat or Republican. Let’s hear from journalists. On the other hand, since they’re going to continue making such hires, I think it’s useful to differentiate someone like McDaniel, who amplified Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, from your run-of-the-mill Trump-friendly commentator. Several observers have pointed out that CNN once hired the loathsome Corey Lewandowski, but that was during the pre-insurrection days when Trump was merely a racist sociopath rather than a budding authoritarian dictator.

Rather than learning the lesson that Zurawick is hoping for, my guess is that NBC executives are probably now going to feel pressured to hire a less toxic Trumper, someone like Marc Thiessen (currently on Fox News) or Byron York (ditto). And no, no one at Fox feels similarly pressured to bring in a liberal Joe Biden supporter. That’s not the way it works.

Earlier:

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WBUR offers buyouts to staff members

Cuts have begun at WBUR Radio (90.9 FM), with CEO Margaret Low announcing that the station needs to reduce spending by $4 million, or about 10%, in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Employees are being offered a voluntary buyout, although it’s not expected to be enough. “We anticipate that we’ll still need to freeze some open roles and do layoffs, but we’re hoping to eliminate as few jobs as possible,” Low wrote on the WBUR website. Aidan Ryan of The Boston Globe has more.

Earlier:

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When The Associated Press failed to stand up to the Nazis

A new book, “Newshawks in Berlin,” by Larry Heinzerling and Randy Herschaft, details the shameful coddling of the Nazis before and during World War II at the hands of The Associated Press’ Berlin bureau. Tunku Varadarajan reviews it (free link) for The Wall Street Journal. There are echoes of my Northeastern colleague Laurel Leff’s book “Buried by the Times,” about The New York Times’ playing down of the Holocaust.

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