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In Today’s Manic Journalism World, What Would Lou Grant Do?

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In this manic age of journalism, what would Lou Grant do?

As some may have read in these pages and elsewhere, after two years Politics Daily has lost its lease with AOL and will be vacating this space soon. Some of the newspeople who work here will bring you news from other “verticals” at AOL, and some of them will report from new web addresses. I’ll still be reporting, as I always have, from various other outlets and chasing a new story sooner rather than later.
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It’s in my blood. As a kid, I was obsessed with “Lou Grant,” the CBS drama that ran from 1977 to 1982. While other kids loved Barbie dolls and GI Joe, I loved newspapers. (Yes, I was a geek.)

Crotchety Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, left a job as a television news producer (after being fired) and an ex-wife in Minnesota to return to the newspaper business at the fictional “Los Angeles Tribune” as its city editor. Newspapers were in troubled waters, and it was up to Grant, who got his journalism start in newspapers, to figure out how to increase circulation. Weekly, he had to battle a changing journalism world, the advertising department, and a bossy publisher while making sure his reporters told compelling stories.

Even the opening credits for the show that first season fascinated me. A bird chirps, a tree falls, that tree becomes newsprint, and that newsprint becomes liner in the bird cage. To me it symbolized there was another story to write the next day and the one after that.

So, if Grant was an editor these days, how would he deal with the rapid changes buffeting the industry?

First, he’d learn the lingo (while cussing under his breath) as to not look stupid. “Content” has become the new term for “copy.” “Clicks” replace “circulation.” “Content management system” is the new printing operation. “Unique visitors” is the equivalent of how many people buy or subscribe to a newspaper.

He would chortle and realize today’s news biz, even the digital aspect, is in many ways the same as it ever was. The clash between the advertising department, striving to control editorial content for dollars, and the editorial side still exists. The publications that thrive on tragedies, disasters, and juicy scandals are still out there, too, except they loom on your browser instead of at the grocery market check-out. Lazy reporters who plagiarize other reporters’ stories? Yep, they still exist, too.

One critical element remains most constant — readers’ craving for good stories.

In every episode of “Lou Grant,” Grant knew a compelling story was always worth seeking out, investigating and then clearly explaining to readers. Grant also realized that taking chances for a front-page — or these days, it would be called “viral” — story was worth the expense and the agony of dealing with higher-ups.

He was a harsh editor who put his reporters through long hours, challenging edits and tight deadlines. Journalists, cub reporters and veterans alike, all need that direction once in a while.

In the series premiere, Grant acknowledges he doesn’t know anything about the new-fangled machines — desktop computers — that have come into the newsroom since he left ten years earlier. But that doesn’t stop him from plunging in with gusto.

In the 1970s, television was newspapers’ biggest competitor. The competition was stiff. The medium could broadcast live from a breaking news story and reach thousands immediately. Radio, with the same immediacy, was a stiff competitor as were fully engaged wire services with countless reporters who moved fast to cover breaking stories with the basic who, what, when, where, why and how.

Lou Grant and his staff hardly acted like dinosaurs slugging around waiting for their extinction.

Instead, they reported the stories of their day, finding new angles on police corruption, spousal abuse and Nazi sympathizers long before it was vogue in mainstream television. Sure, “Lou Grant” was a TV show, but it won 13 Emmys, and I learned a lot about journalism from it.

My hero on the show was Billie Newman, an intrepid girl reporter with a heart. She started her career in the lifestyles pages where women were relegated back in the 1970s. But when she was sent on assignment to interview a famous author and he ended up dead, Newman took the story and ran with it. She scooped Joe Rossi, the star reporter in the all-boy newsroom, and won Grant’s heart.

Grant, Newman and Rossi would be unstoppable in the current Wild West frontier of journalism. Social media, search engine optimization, or whatever the next big technological advancement in journalism might be — it would not intimidate Grant’s newsroom. While Grant might not understand some of it fully, he would see it as a useful tool to reach more readers.

He would tell his reporters not to miss a tweet or a Facebook post by a possible corrupt politician or news figure. He would press them to excel at multimedia (360-degree photographs, audio and video) and realize that media now work across a cross-platform system that allows readers to read their stories almost anywhere (in the newspaper, on an iPad, through an app). But most of all, he would tell them not to just report, but dig deeper, investigate a story. With deadlines looming, he would stress to them to balance the brave new world while adhering to the tried-and-true rules of old-school journalism — ethics, original reporting (in the field), and fairness.

And he would see — even now — journalism as an honorable profession.

Without a doubt, over a stiff drink at his local watering hole with his staff, Lou Grant would seize the 21st century challenge. (Today, colleagues in virtual newsrooms like ours kick back in closed Facebook groups.) Hell no, Lou would say, this technology won’t beat us. We’re reporters. We tell stories. Now get to it.

[Originally posted on Politics Daily March 12, 2011]

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Written by suziparker1313

March 14, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Lara Logan Assault: For Female Reporters, the Added Peril of Turbulent Places

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Lara Logan appeared fearless and intrepid when she reported from war zones — exactly what you want in a foreign correspondent.

The reporter “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating” while covering the celebration in Tahrir Square on Feb. 11, according to CBS News, Logan’s employer. Egyptian women and soldiers rescued her from a hostile mob that had separated her from her film crew, and she is now in an American hospital recovering.

Logan’s assault is a reminder that reporting is a dangerous business. According to Reporters Without Borders, five reporters have already been killed in 2011, and 152 are imprisoned. Since 1992, 850 reporters have been killed around the world.

But for women journalists, sexual assault and harassment add a dark undercurrent to the perils of the news business.

A 2007 article in the Columbia Journalism Review exploring the threats to female foreign correspondents singles out Egypt: “The Committee to Protect Journalists, for example, cites rape threats against female reporters in Egypt who were seen as government critics.”

The CJR article states, “Female reporters are targets in lawless places where guns are common and punishment rare.” They face more sexual harassment and rape than their male counterparts. They are subjected to unwanted advances and “lewd come-ons . . . especially in places where Western women are viewed as promiscuous.”

Such risk is nothing new to Logan. A South African native, she entered Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, by begging a Russian Embassy clerk in London to give her an expedited visa for travel there. She followed up that stint with one as an embedded journalist in Iraq.

Earlier this month, Logan and her crew were detained overnight by the Egyptian army and interrogated. She told Esquire’s “The Politics Blog” that during the ordeal her captors blindfolded her and kept her upright. She vomited frequently. They finally gave her intravenous fluids and released her and her crew.

Logan’s desire to venture into danger zones mirrors the brave actions of female war reporters who came before her. During World War II, many female correspondents had to write under male pseudonyms. They were banned from press briefings and had to submit stories after their male counterparts.

Dickey Chapelle was a World War II photojournalist, posted with the Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima. She cultivated a signature look of fatigues, an Australian bush hat, dramatic Harlequin glasses and pearl earrings, but loved the grittiness of war. In 1956, the petite photographer covered the Hungarian Revolution, where she was captured and jailed for seven weeks.

In her forties, Chapelle covered the Vietnam War. In 1965, she was the first American female war correspondent killed in action. Famed war photographer Henri Huet photographed Chapelle receiving last rites. She was given a full Marine burial with six Marine honor guards.

Not much has changed in the way of training for such work. In the early days of war reporting, women wrote their own rules for covering conflict — and for surviving. Surprisingly, even in the 21st century, many women travel to war zones with little training. The BBC is the only major news organization that offers special safety instruction for female journalists that is taught by women, according to CJR.

But training or precautions noted in the Handbook for Journalists may not have prepared Logan for the situation she faced on Friday. A mob of 200 abruptly surrounded her crew, from which she quickly became separated. Such tragedies are common during chaotic events.

In the hours after news broke of Logan’s assault, many of her colleagues sent well wishes and prayers. The Committee to Protect Journalists chairman, Paul Steiger, said in a statement, “We have seen Lara’s compassion at work while helping journalists who have faced brutal aggression while doing their jobs. She is a brilliant, courageous, and committed reporter.” (Logan is a CPJ board member.)

But stupidity also flew on the Internet regarding the attack on Logan. Freelance journalist Nir Rosen, who has also covered the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, called her a “war monger” via Twitter and said she would become a martyr. He then attempted an apology but added, “I’m rolling my eyes at all the attention she will get.” He later issued a more sincere apology. (All for naught, as it turns out. On Wednesday he resigned his position as a teaching fellow at New York University. An official at the school called his comments “insensitive and completely unacceptable.”)

Good old-fashioned sexism and jealousy still rule, and it’s especially true in the still mostly man’s world of war reporting.

Lately, it’s become much too common for comedians and pundits to criticize and taunt reporters. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter joked last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that more reporters needed to be jailed. Sarah Palin often chides reporters and calls them “lame-stream media.”

Perhaps those who engage in such sneering should walk a mile or two in Logan’s combat boots.

Breaking the Sarah Palin Trademark Story: A Lesson in Journalism Ethics

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Sometimes a light bulb goes off.

One night at 2 a.m. I was reading a story by Matt Lewis about Herman Cain, a possible 2012 presidential candidate from Georgia. Pursuing the Cain story further, I discovered that he had trademarked the phrase “The Hermanator Experience.”

Trademark? Hmm. I wondered if Sarah Palin had trademarked something with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It seemed like something she would do. A quick search and voila! Indeed, her longtime family attorney, Thomas Van Flein, had filed two applications with the office for the names Sarah Palin and Bristol Palin.
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But with that scoop about Palin’s branding, a question about journalism ethics and civility in the 21st century arose. In the Internet age, does the old journalism rule of giving credit to a breaking story’s original source still apply?

In this zip-zip era of blogs, it’s easy to lose track of which outlet breaks a story first, especially as it becomes viral through social media. The Palin story was picked up by many websites, including Politico, The Atlantic Wire, Vanity Fair, Talking Points Memo and Mediaite. Those sites linked to the original story and gave Politics Daily credit.

Then something odd happened. Vanity Fair began getting credit for the story. It was as if reporters weren’t even reading the Vanity Fair piece — and noting its reference to the original source — but just copying and pasting the link into their stories. To confront or not to confront? That was the question.

In journalism, professional courtesy has been a long-standing tradition, and it still pays for reporters to check the accuracy of sources, whether they’re writing for a newspaper or a blog. In other words, search for the original source. Not to so do isn’t exactly unethical, but it is lazy and sloppy at best.

In 2008, Jeff Jarvis wrote on his “Buzz Machine” blog: “I believe it is vital that we as an industry find ways to point to and give credit to original reporting. That is how original journalism will be supported, in the end: by monetizing the audience that comes to it, whether through advertising or contributions.”

He also created a golden rule: “Link unto others’ good stuff as you would have them link unto your good stuff.”

Thankfully, ethics still exist among some reporters. When I e-mailed a Salon reporter, he immediately apologized and said he would link to Politics Daily. He did so. The same thing happened when I e-mailed a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When a reporter with the New York Daily News gave another AOL entity credit instead of Politics Daily, I sent her a nice note explaining that the two were separate sites. She apologized and changed it within five minutes.

But not everyone was so eager to please.

The Arkansas Times blog didn’t cite Politics Daily — or any site, for that matter — in the body of the post. The report did have a link to Talking Points Memo. When I questioned the editor, Max Brantley, he replied, “I linked to where I read it.”

Easy enough mistake, but I pressed for attribution, explaining that Politics Daily broke the story. He answered, “I see that now, as will anyone who opens the link. I rarely dig into the chain of sources on blog links, particularly when I use so little of the content.”

He finally gave Politics Daily credit for the story but refused to link to the original source.

Journalism professors say this is a no-no.

“I think a media outlet is absolutely duty bound to link to stuff that has already been reported elsewhere,” says Mike Lyons, a former reporter for the Associated Press and now an assistant professor of journalism at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “We would have expected them to do that in the ‘old media world,’ by giving credit where credit was due and attributing the original report. Why would that change?”

Reuters did not do so. Its reporter wrote a lengthy story but never credited Politics Daily as the first outlet to report the Palin trademark applications. The Reuters story spread quickly and landed in many print publications across the world. Reuters did add new information to the story, reporting that Palin now has a new attorney handling the trademark issue. (Van Flein now works for U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona with strong tea party ties.) The Reuters reporter didn’t reply to my e-mail.

“Even contemporary journalism ethics would require that an outlet credit another organization for a story if it is first reported there,” says Richard J. Goedkoop, professor of communication at LaSalle University. “To do otherwise might be considered plagiarism, or at the least, unprofessional.”

And now to the Associated Press. The AP always requires a citation from other publications that quote a story by the wire service. The cited reference cannot be more than a paragraph or so of AP’s original story and the wire service is a stickler for demanding credit.

But when AP reported the trademark story, no credit was given. I e-mailed the Alaska bureau chief and explained the situation. He agreed that Politics Daily should have been cited and said he would correct it in an updated version of the story.

He made the change, but it was the last sentence in the story. Later, a small victory did arrive from Traci Carl, the AP’s West Editor, wrote in an e-mail, “You are right. The Associated Press should have give you credit for breaking the Palin trademark story, and we should have put it higher in the story. We will do so in the future.”

The Internet is a big, big place and I’m beginning to feel a bit like Sisyphus. Click click click. I love the Internet, but every now and then I miss the thud of a rolled-up newspaper landing on my doorstep. It was firm and final and certainly unsearchable. What we called “tomorrow’s kitty litter box liner” was a curse, but maybe it was a blessing, too.

Written by suziparker1313

March 10, 2011 at 3:34 am

Goodbye, Brenda Starr: A Role Model to Girl Reporters Everywhere

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Brenda Starr — the original girl reporter — has lived the life.

Glamorous and brave, Starr, with her flowing red hair, basked in an adventurous career and passionate romances long before graphic novels came on the scene.

But after 70 years, the original girl reporter is stashing her notebook in the desk and writing “–30–” at the end of her story. The Brenda Starr comic strip is retiring in January, and popular culture will be without a fictional journalism ambassador.

Countless female journalists have named Starr as a guiding muse and role model in their careers, myself included. And what wasn’t there to love?

Starr traveled around the world. She landed front page stories. She saved the day many times without help from a man. She told the boys in the newsroom where to go — and it wasn’t someplace nice.

She eventually found happiness with a mystery man named Basil St. John, who wore an eye patch and sent her black orchids, which she loved. Later on, the couple had a baby girl named Starr Twinkle St. John. (Note to Starr creators: Couldn’t Starr Twinkle follow the daring path of her parents and have her own comic book? Just a thought.) Starr later divorced Basil who had a child, Sage, with a talk show host.

Starr emerged at a time when women were trying to figure out their place in society. World War II raged and women were discovering they could do a lot more than stay at home. Starr perfectly captured that independent daring streak that brewed in American women at the time.

In journalism, Starr took courageous lessons from real-life Nellie Bly — an American journalism pioneer who took a record-breaking trip around the world. She adopted the glitzy look of 1940s Hollywood movie siren Rita Hayworth. Armed with fearlessness and great hair, Starr took on the world.

The combination made for a character who wasn’t an unattainable super heroine like Wonder Woman but a real career possibility for girls who loved to write and explore.

Starr’s creator was very conscious of the realities of sexism. Dahlia Messick had to change her name to the gender-neutral “Dale” just to get her foot in the door of the man’s world of comic strips in 1940. “If I sent in my stuff and they knew I was a woman, they wouldn’t even look at it,” she said in an interview once.

Messick, like her altar ego Starr, broke barriers. She was the first woman in cartooning history to receive syndication — at first, weekly, then in 1945, daily. She also received numerous awards for the strip and the U.S. Postal Service created a stamp in 1995 to honor Starr.

But her biggest gift was to female journalists who wanted to write more than obits and cover society events.

In one of the original strips set in Chicago, Starr sits at her typewriter. “Ho-Hum. Birth and Death notices are all I ever get to supply the Globe with. What I’d really like to get my teeth in — is a story with some real meat in it!”

Two of her male colleagues approach her desk and tease her about daydreaming. “I’ve had just about enough of your wisecracks! I’m fed up on this sissy stuff.”

“Gee! The Hurricane’s headed straight for the chief’s office,” says one of the male reporters.

The other one retorts, “She hasn’t red hair for nothing.”

Brenda Starr busts through the editor’s office and says she wants a real story and she’s leaving. The editor tells her that her tantrums are wearing him down and for her to get Silky Fowlers story by midnight. “Silky Fowler, no reporter in town’s had any luck with that guy. He won’t talk.”

The editor challenges Starr to land the story or she’s fired. So her adventure as a hardcore reporter begins.

Sure, Starr found herself in situations that most reporters, even war correspondents, seldom do.

Once she was kidnapped and placed in an ice chest. On any adventure, she could be held at gun or knife point. She knew to always be prepared because as she duly noted in one strip, “A girl needs a back-up plan in case Prince Charming stumbles.” She attracted men who were attracted to her not just because of her looks but her fiery streak, but she always maintained independence with her eye on the next story, deadline and lover.

Starr chose career over housekeeping. “My house is a landfill,” she said. Starr liked drama over calm, she said in one comic strip. She knew her life was far from perfect, but it was certainly exciting.

Her fashion and hair changed with the times and so did her career. She moved from reporter to editor.

Then, in 2009, Starr found herself in the same territory as many longtime reporters across the country. Her newspaper put her on furlough because of the paper’s budget cuts. Starr’s boss, B. Babbitt Bottomline, said, “I can’t afford to pay you anymore.”

In true Starr style, she traveled to India for more escapades as she connected with an old newspaper friend who gave her a job. But she later returned to the United States to conquer more stories of corruption and crime and face the world of bloggers in the newsroom. She didn’t stay long. Once again she gathered up her passport and suitcase and headed to Belize.

Over the last seven decades, the Starr comic has had numerous writers — all of them women (no small feat in the comic world).

Messick retired in 1980 and a series of women took up the comic, including Ramona Fradon, Linda Sutter and June Brigman. It’s currently written by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich and drawn by June Brigman.

Schmich said on Starr’s retirement: “Everything comes to an end. It’s really that simple. … But I’m ready to spend my time doing something new now. And Brenda, who has a life of her own, tells me so is she.”

Maybe Starr said it best last year while on her adventure in India, “I’m getting too old to risk my life for journalism.”

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Barbie, Journalism’s New Ambassador (and Badly Needed Savior?)

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Journalism has needed a global ambassador. Now it has one — Barbie.
Yes, Barbie has transformed into a news anchor. For the first time in the doll’s 51-year history, Mattel asked consumers to pick Barbie’s new adventure from five careers – architect, computer engineer, environmentalist, news anchor and surgeon. Forget Barbie designing her own dream home or saving the planet. No, Barbie needs to be in the middle of the action, and journalism certainly provides that some days.
In her new incarnation, the doll — looking like she just returned from Malibu — wears a pink suit with black and silver accents and black pumps with pink bows. Her long, blond hair is cut bluntly with bangs highlighting blue eyes with pink eye shadow. Her accessories include a microphone, a news camera and news folder — pink, of course — with a “B” on it. (Hint to Mattel: A notepad might have been a better prop. The folder makes her look like a secretary.) She does look a tad like the “bubble-headed bleach blonde” that The Eagles’ Don Henley sung about in 1982’s “Dirty Laundry.” Still, she has a mission.
News Anchor Barbie“Barbie as a news anchor can help inspire future female journalists with interactive role play that can help foster skills like storytelling, verbal/written communication, and creativity that comes with being a journalist,” according to a release from Mattel.
Journalism certainly can welcome an ally these days as newspapers and magazines struggle to stay afloat, and Sarah Palin turning red-state America against the “lamestream” media.
This isn’t Barbie’s first endeavor as a reporter. In 1960, just two years after the statuesque doll hit the toy scene, she could be dressed as a fashion editor. In 1985, Television News Reporter Barbie hit the shelves. That same year, she worked as a business executive, dress designer, veterinarian and a teacher. Busy girl. Last year, she took a page from “The Devil Wears Prada” and worked as a fashion magazine intern. (Who has time for Ken?)
Because Barbie is cute with fashionable looks, she could easily land interviews with Sarah Palin, who herself was a television sports reporter, and Christine O’Donnell, who could double as Gidget (as my Woman Up colleague Donna Trussell wrote) or even Barbie’s modern cousin, Francie.
But I like to imagine News Anchor Barbie pushing the journalism envelope more than settling for sit-downs with Palin and O’Donnell. Mattel should create an entire line of news anchor outfits. Any good reporter worth her byline should have camouflage in her closet (in case, she’s called to Afghanistan in the middle of the night), a pair of comfortable, chic black boots, a nice black pantsuit to blend in at news conferences and a passport. Think Christiane Amanpour.
But other questions arise: Would Barbie be more at home beside Fox News’ Sean Hannity or MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann? She could play the middle ground and find a home on CNN. Perhaps Barbie, having been born in 1959 at the height of the television revolution, would be old school and kick it on one of the three original networks, as Amanpour does these days.
Barbie has certainly evolved since her inception as a teen fashion model showing her curves in a black-and-white swimsuit. Unfortunately, she still gets a bum rap for her “perfect” figure and for once saying that math was hard. But what public figure hasn’t uttered something they regret saying? At least she hasn’t admitted to dabbling in witchcraft.
For all the shallowness, Barbie broke career barriers before women in the United States did. She was an astronaut in 1963, long before women busted the all-male space club. Ten years later, she was a surgeon — a ground-breaking career in the 1970s for women. In fact, the Association of Women Surgeons wasn’t even founded until 1981.
In 1992, Barbie ran for president while Hillary Clinton bucked the old-fashioned first lady stereotype. Politics called her again in 2000 and 2004, when she made runs for the White House.
As much as journalism needs Barbie, she should push the envelope. Maybe 2012 is the year she will forego news reporting to finally sit behind the desk in the Oval Office and become President Barbie.

Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 9:48 pm