Thursday, December 31, 2009

Commonwealth to Mass. Town: Holding Back Parking Scofflaw Data Not the Ticket

1940 Parking MeterImage via Wikipedia

Score one for the Watertown (Mass.) Tab as the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office sided with the weekly newspaper in its public records battle with Watertown officials over the release of parking scofflaw information.

Watertown officials cited the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act [18 U.S.C. sec. 2721-2725] among other reasons in denying the Tab's request last May for the names, addresses and outstanding balance owed by Watertown's 10 top parking delinquents. The Tab sought the information under the Commonwealth's Public Records Law [M.G.L. c. 4, sec. 7(26)].

Alan N. Cote, the Commonwealth's Supervisor of Public Records, ordered the town to release the information in a letter dated Dec. 24, which stated that the federal drivers privacy statute was inapplicable. Under the Mass. law and corresponding public records access regulations [950 C.M.R. 32.00]: "Every document, paper, record, map, photograph, etc., as defined by law, that is made or received by a government entity or employee is presumed to be a public record." The Public Records Law includes 18 categories of exemptions, including certain personnel and medical records and law enforcement investigatory records.

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Washington Times Not Giving a Sporting Chance

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The bad news keeps on coming for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon/Unification Church-owned Washington Times [see "TUOL" posts 12/3/09 & 11/9/09], which yesterday abolished its sports department and doled out pink slips to prominent editors.

Besides the entire sports department, among those let go were Barbara Slavin, asst. ME for world and national security; Ben Conery, Justice Dept. beat writer; and David Jones, Managing Editor of the print edition.

Though some may consider the mass weddings performed by Rev. Moon a contact sport, apparently Times management considered the highly regarded sports staff expendable.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SPJ Hopes to Derail Ohio Bill Banning 911 Calls from TV Newscasts

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The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), whose ranks include more than 8,000 journalists nationwide, has fired off a letter to Ohio State Senators Tom Patton and Bill Seitz, opposing a measure the solons introduced that would prohibit broadcasting 911 emergency calls on tv newscasts.

S.B. 105, if passed, also carries a $10,000 fine for infractions.  The sponsoring senators claim the bill would protect the identity of emergency callers.  In the December 17 letter, the SPJ condemned S.B. 105, writing that banning  audio 911 calls from the airwaves would make it "virtually impossible for citizens to hear how calls are being handled and effectively hold emergency response centers accountable."

It's one thing to impede the news media's coverage of breaking news events, but forcing local tv news stations to get rid of their cheesy graphic of a tape recorder superimposed on a map while the 911 audio airs is just mean.
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Give Me a V, Give Me a D...

Ben-GalsImage by Erik Eckel via Flickr
A Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleader has sued Web site for defamation in U.S. District Court in Kentucky, alleging that the site suggested she had contracted venereal disease from her randy former boy friend.

The suit (Jane Doe v. Dirty World Entertainment, Hooman Karamian d/b/a Nik Richie) is based on a Dec. 7, 2009, posting entitled "The Dirty Bengals Cheerleader," that identifies the plaintiff as "Sarah J." and notes she is a both a cheerleader and a school teacher in Northern Kentucky. The post claims the plaintiff's former beau cheated on her with 50 women and contracted chlamydia and gonorrhea, which was likely passed onto the plaintiff. More than 100 comments followed the posting, both supportive and vulgar.

The plaintiff said the venereal disease allegations are false and caused her extreme embarrassment, though she continues to work as both a cheerleader and teacher. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based defendant's Web site includes a disclaimer that acknowledges postings may contain erroneous information and states that the site does not vouch for the accuracy of its contents.

Falsely accusing an individual of having a "loathsome disease" is textbook libel per se. However, the Communications Decency Act of 1996 [47 U.S.C. sec.230(c)] holds: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider," which may shield the defendant from liability.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TMZ JFK Photo Hoax Not OK

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Gossip-meister TMZ, the Web site and cable tv uncoverer extraordinaire of celebrity scandals, this week saw its JFK risque photo exclusive dissolve into a hoax before its star-crossed eyes.

On Dec. 28, trumpeted an "Exclusive" black & white photo ( that supposedly showed John F. Kennedy sunning himself in a chaise lounge on a yacht that was overflowing with frolicking nubile naked young women (the best kind of nubile frolickers extant). The back story was that the photo was purportedly taken in the 1950s and in the Web site's words, could have altered world events had it surfaced before JFK's successful presidential run in 1960. Supposedly, the photo came into the possession of the son of an East Coast car dealer who kept the photo in his drawer for years. TMZ  was buoyed in its belief that it had a blockbuster scoop because it allegedly consulted with two JFK biographers and a forensic photo expert.

Alas, the "blue" black & white photo was actually another version of a color photo spread (no pun intended) from the November 1967, issue of Playboy. Larry Dale Gordon, the lucky photographer who shot the Playboy yacht photo, confirmed that a paid model, decidedly not JFK, appeared in the photo along with a variety of topless and bottomless young women.

TMZ ran a "Man in Photo is not JFK" item on its Web site once its "gossamer get" disintegrated.

Best to stick with Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, et al. and leave dead Presidents be.
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Detroit Must Pay Freep for FOIA Violation

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Wayne County (Mich.) Circuit Judge Robert Colombo, Jr. has ruled for the financially strapped Gannett-owned Detroit Free Press in the Freep's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) two-year battle with the City of Detroit over the release of text messages in a scandal that sent former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to jail for 99 days and prompted his resignation.

Judge Colombo held that the Freep prevailed in about 80 percent of its requests for the release of public documents under Michigan's FOIA (Pub. Act No. 442 of 1976). Under the statute, the winning party is entitled to  reimbursement of costs and attorneys' fees.   In February 2008, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against Mayor Kilpatrick in his effort to keep the text messages from being made public. The documents concerned a police whistleblower lawsuit against the City of Detroit

The Freep sought $666,000 in attorneys' fees and costs, but Judge Colombo rejected that number. Counsel for the daily newspaper and the city are attempting to reach a settlement figure to avoid another appearance before Judge Colombo. The victory for the newspaper comes in a year that saw steep declines in circulation and ad revenues that forced the Freep drastically to reduce home delivery and cutback its size to a mere 32 pages.

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NBC News Becomes Leading Brazilian Exporter in Goldman Case

In Pythonite Terry Gilliam's film Brazil (1985), a bureaucrat in a futuristic society who tries to rectify an administrative error unwittingly becomes an enemy of the state.  In its checkbook journalism coverage of the U.S. dad  v. Brazil mom custody battle over Sean Goldman, NBC News attempted to cover the story, but wound up becoming a key component of it.

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has condemned NBC News for footing the bill for the plane on which David Goldman and his son Sean flew back to the U.S. after the father was awarded custody of the boy. NBC News was rewarded for its aeronautical largesse with an exclusive interview with the Goldmans both on the plane and after they disembarked in the U.S.

Contrary to the SPJ's ethics code that implores journalists to act independently, not bid for news and avoid conflicts of interest, NBC News made itself a part of the breaking Goldman story, and not only covered, but also helped to create the news story.
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Mediabistro: Not a Happy New Year in 2009

mediabistro meet Laurel party in BostonImage by Mediabistro via Flickr
A decline in job revenues of nearly $1.9 million compared to 2008 results made 2009 a less-than-happy year for the education/jobs site Mediabistro.

According to, the impact of the sagging media jobs market drove down job revenues to $1.57 million for the first three quarters of 2009, a sizeable drop from Mediabistro's $3.47 million figure for the corresponding period in 2008.

Mediabistro, which is owned by WebMediaBrands, reported more than 11,000 paid subscribers to its premium AvantGuild service, down from 14,000 members in 2008 and 13,000 in 2007, according to The subscription price to AvantGuild is $55 for one year or $89 for a two-year subscription.
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Ad Revenues Sank for Top 100 Media Cos. in 2009

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Advertising Age reports ad revenues for the nation's  top 100 media companies dropped 4.3 percent for the first half of 2009 compared to the same period a year ago.

Revenue growth figures for the leading 100 media cos. tracked by the advertising industry bible were the lowest since 1991 and the 2009 decline represents the first such decline since Ad Age began tracking the top 100 firms in 1981. Last year, 11 of the top 100 media entities of 2008 filed for bankruptcy, though 6 of those have since emerged from insolvency, including the Chicago Sun-Times and the Star Tribune.

On the flip side, cable networks, cable systems, satellite tv and digital tv all grew in 2009.  Indeed, five of the nation's 10 largest media firms are cable or satellite-related, including Comcast, DirecTV, and Cox Enterprises.
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Golf Digest to Play Through Without Woods' Column

Golf Digest January 2010 coverImage by allaboutgeorge via Flickr
Golf Digest, the Conde Nast-owned monthly, has suspended the monthly instructional column written by the beleaguered Tiger Woods until the golf superstar returns from his self-imposed exile from the professional circuit.

Woods has an estimated $3 million exclusive long-term contract with Golf Digest. The magazine quietly acknowledged the column hiatus in an editorial note.  Woods' name will continue to appear on the magazine's masthead as Playing Editor. "TUOL" invites readers to make their own jokes--consider it a holiday gift.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Court Rulings Thaw 'Libel Chill' in Canada

Beverley McLachlin, the Chief Justice of the S...Image via Wikipedia
The Toronto Star and The Ottawa Citizen received early Christmas gifts in the form of two unanimous court decisions that may defrost the "libel chill" heretofore caused by Canada's defamation laws that rivaled the United Kingdom's plaintiff-friendly legislation.

The two decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada bolster the rights of journalists by adopting a "responsible communication" defense on matters of public concern by shifting the focus to the journalist's conduct in generating the story of public interest that may result in false reporting that harms an individual's reputation. The court decisions do expect journalists relying on this defense to indicate whether facts or allegations have been verified, to identify sources by name, and to seek out opposing views on the stories they write.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote: "Productive debate is dependent on the free flow of information." The Citizen case reversed a $95,000 jury verdict in favor of a former Ontario Provisional Police officer's alleged exaggerations regarding an unauthorized rescue mission he undertook following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The Star story involved a forestry executive who received a $1.4 million judgment at trial over a story alleging he used his political connections to circumvent the approval process concerning plans to expand a golf course.

The Canadian high court decisions only broadly addressed the factors in determining whether a print article, broadcast report or blog posting satisfy the "matter of public interest" standard to warrant protection under the responsible communication defense.
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Sacre Bleu: French Court Socks Google With Copyright Damages

The Eiffel Tower as seen from the Champ-de-Mars.Image via Wikipedia
The Associated Press reports that Google lost a copyright infringement suit in France last week involving French publisher La Martiniere.

According to the report, a judge in Paris ordered Google to pay the publisher euro300,000 ($430,000) in damages and interest for scanning and publishing titles online. The ruling ordered Google to pay euro10,000 a day ($14,328) until extracts of French books are removed from Google's online database.

Google's plan to scan millions of books online has drawn criticism here and abroad, but this latest ruling may spark a "franc" discussion of the issue.
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Court Strips Topless Dancers of Defamation Claim

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A Tennessee appellate court has upheld the dismissal of a defamation claim brought by the owner of a topless club and a handful of exotic dancers against Shelby County (Tenn.) Commissioner Michael Ritz concerning comments he allegedly made in a story that appeared in The Commercial Appeal of Memphis.

Shelby County Circuit Court Judge David R. Farmer wrote the opinion siding with the trial court's ruling that Ritz's alleged comments: "Almost without exception, these girls were sexually abused by a family member...and have an addiction to drugs or alcohol...these clubs feed on that," did not defame the plaintiffs.

The case, Steele v. Ritz (Case No. W2008-02125-COA-R3-CV), was tossed because the complaint failed to allege that the commissioner's purported remarks either referred to the plaintiffs by name or demonstrated that a reasonable reader of the comments would know that the alleged statements were about the plaintiffs.  Judge Farmer supported the trial court's reliance on the so-called "group libel rule," under which the plaintiffs must allege they were individually named in the purported libelous statements, so that remarks that broadly include a class or group of members, but lack circumstances that specifically point to a member of that group or class, do not rise to the level of defamation.

In other words, the plaintiffs' complaint neither alleged that Ritz's purported "these girls" and "these clubs" remarks referenced the plaintiffs specifically, nor did the complaint allege the comments were directed toward Shelby County adult entertainment outlets or the female employees of those enterprises.

"TUOL" strives to keep readers abreast of developments in libel law, no matter how exotic the venue.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Federal Appeals Court Will Televise Civil Trials

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The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has given the go-ahead to an experiment that will allow the broadcasting of certain civil trials within the circuit's 15 district courts.

The unanimous vote by the circuit's Judicial Council will permit cameras in non-jury civil trials only. The chief district court judge will consult with the circuit's chief judge in choosing which civil matters will be included in the experiment.

Included in the Ninth Circuit are California, Alaska, Nevada, Montana, Idaho, Arizona, Montana, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and the ever-popular Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth. Since 1991, the 9th Circuit has allowed video and audio recordings of oral arguments in about 200 cases, which are available on the Court's Web site
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PBS Enters Nielsen Ratings Race

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After years of being content with monthly reports regarding viewership, PBS has decided to go full-bore and is subscribing to full-time tv ratings from the Nielsen Co.

The subscription began with Ken Burns' documentary on National Parks, which aired in September and October, and drew 5.5 million viewers on average per episode. PBS is not looking at overnight ratings, but rather, weekly ratings of its programming.

"TUOL" hopes PBS is not tempted to resort to "Sweeps Week" gimmicks such as partial nudity on "Sesame Street" or a Charlie Rose lookalike contest, now that it has joined the Nielsen family.

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Open Heartland Surgery: Newspaper Chain Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

A few volumes of Title 11 (Bankruptcy) of the ...Image via Wikipedia
Citing "significant liquidity challenges" and "weakened operating results," Heartland Publications LLC, which publishes 23 daily newspapers and nearly as many weekly and free papers in nine states, has filed a pre-arranged Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware.

In its bankruptcy petition, Heartland listed roughly $134 million in assets and $166 million in debts. Revenues are projected to be nearly 12 percent lower than 2008 results.  Heartland employs 800 full-time and part-time employees and vows to continue its publications in Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Oklahoma.

Heartland's principal creditor, GE Capital, agreed to reduce the debt owed it to $70 million, from $111 million, in return for a  90 percent ownership stake in the media conglomerate. The year-end proliferation of bankruptcy filings by media groups is sad, but apparently not enough to break your Heartland.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Citadel Broadcasting Corp. Fortress Breached by Bankruptcy

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Citadel Broadcasting Corp., the nation's third largest radio group, has filed a pre-arranged bankruptcy approved by more than 60 percent of its creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York.

Citadel, which owns 165 FM stations and 58 AM stations in 25 states, stated in its bankruptcy petition $1.4 billion in assets and $2.5 billion in debts. Its three largest unsecured creditors include The Walt Disney Co., JPMorgan Chase, and Wilmington Trust Corp.

Citadel syndicates ABC News Radio, "The Huckabee Report," and "Imus in the Morning," among other programming. Under the agreement with creditors, Citadel reduces its $2.1 billion in loans to roughly $762 million in return for secured creditors owning 90 percent of the equity of the re-organized radio giant. Citadel amassed huge debt in 2006 to complete the purchase of ABC News Radio from Disney, after which radio advertising began to spiral downward.

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U. Wisc. Sued for Alleged Public Records Law Violations

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The Univ. of Wisconsin's Medical Foundation's refusal to make public faculty comments concerning a proposed conflict of interest law violates the state's public records law, alleges The Milwaukee Sentinel Journal in a lawsuit filed last week in Dane County(Case No. 2009cv006372).

The lawsuit seeks to make the faculty comments public under the Wisconsin Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. secs. 19.31-19.39.).

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Nation Continues Its March Toward a 'Paperless' Society

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 30:  Newspapers are se...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
The blog "Reflections of a Newsosaur," reports that 142 daily and weekly newspapers folded (in a bad way) in 2009.

The number of newspapers that ceased publication was nearly triple the 53 newspapers that  shutdown in 2008. According to the Newspaper Association of America, there were approximately 1,408 daily newspapers published in the U.S. in 2008.

Among newspapers that breathed their last in 2009 were The Tucson Citizen, The Rocky Mountain News, The Philadelphia Bulletin and The Washington (D.C.) Blade.
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Anti-SLAPP Legislation Introduced in Congress

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U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) has introduced the Citizen Participation Act (H.R.4364), the first federal anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) measure, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Under the bill, defendants engaged in 1st Amendment protected activities would be immune from meritless lawsuits aimed at stifling public discussion. Twenty-eight states have anti-SLAPP laws in place. Under the proposed bill, a defendant who successfully quashes a lawsuit could recover costs and attorneys' fees.

Cases involving commercial speech or claims brought solely in the public interest would be impervious to H.R. 4364. 
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2nd Circuit to Decide if Fox Is F***** in FCC Indecency Case

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The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will hear arguments on Jan. 13 regarding whether the FCC's "fleeting indecency" rule violates freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

The case, Fox v. FCC (Case No. 06--1760) concerns Cher dropping the "f-bomb" during the 2002 Billboard Music Awards telecast and Nicole Richie using both the "f-word" and the "s-word" during the 2003 broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards. Both programs aired on Fox.

The Second Circuit previously ruled that the FCC had not articulated a "reasoned basis" for an indecency policy that imposes liability for a single fleeting expletive. The Supreme Court overruled the appellate court, finding that the regulatory agency offered a reasoned basis for the change in its indecency enforcement policy, but remanded the case to the Second Circuit to address whether the new policy runs afoul of the 1st Amendment.

Fox executives are probably wondering to themselves: "Why do we keep telecasting the @#*#@!!! Billboard Music Awards?"
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Goodbye Charlie

The GibsonImage by MetaGrrrl via Flickr
ABC World News Tonight anchor Charles Gibson one last time will signoff tonight by telling viewers: "I hope you had a good day."

Gibson, who has been an ABC stalwart for 34 years, departs from the anchor desk he has manned since July 2006.  The Evanston, Ill., native and Princeton grad began his news media career with the RKO Radio Network in 1966. Since joining ABC News in 1975, Gibson has been White House correspondent, and served long stints as a co-anchor of "Good Morning America" and "Primetime Thursday," Following the death of long-time World News Anchor Peter Jennings in 2005 and the brief pairing of Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas, Gibson took the helm after Woodruff was seriously injured while on assignment in Iraq and Vargas endured a difficult pregnancy.

Viewers who enjoyed a smooth Gibson straight-up may hope for successor Diane Sawyer (who takes over Monday) on the rocks.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

CNN Also-Ran Among Desired Prime-Time News Network Viewers

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According to a story by Bill Carter in today's The New York Times, viewers ages 25 to 54, the most sought-after demographic group by advertisers, prefer the prime-time opinionated offerings of Fox News Channel and MSNBC to CNN.

Not only does prime-time programming on CNN ("Crashing News Network") lag behind first-place Fox and MSNBC, but also has a smaller prime-time audience than its own sister network HLN (one-time "Headline News"). Among the targeted  age group, Fox averages 699,000 weeknight prime-time viewers to 307,000 on MSNBC and 297,000 on CNN ("Competitive Not Now"). In recent months, CNN star Anderson Cooper's show has lost in the ratings to a rerun of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, meaning that viewers would rather watch a recycled rant from Keith than go "360" with Anderson.

If it's any consolation, CNN still whips MSNBC in the ratings at all other hours of the day, with  "American Morning," for example, besting MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Also, the average number of CNN viewers in 2009 exceeds its number of viewers in 2006 or 2007.

"TUOL" is surprised that even news network ratings champ Fox, which saw a 10 percent boost in its prime-time ratings in 2009, still draws a paltry fewer than 700,000 viewers nationwide.  Perhaps the cable news honchos should consider adding either the prefix "CSI-" or "Law & Order:" to their program titles.

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A Black Day for 'The Gray Lady'

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...Image via CrunchBase
Falling short of the 100 staff positions targeted for elimination because not enough employees opted for a voluntary buyout, The New York Times yesterday began issuing pink slips to reporters, some of whose bylines are  recognizable to readers.

In a story culled from various media sources, including The New York Post, Gawker, and New York magazine, The Huffington Post reports that 26 Times employees will lose their jobs before the end of the year in addition to the 74 news staffers who accepted a voluntary buyout package (60 Guild and 14 non-Guild members).

Among those reportedly laid-off on Wednesday are business reporter Kate Galbraith, culture writer Eric Konigsberg, real estate scribe Josh Barbanel and national. reporter Sara Rimer (full disclosure, an acquaintance of "TUOL"'s devoted staff).

The New York Times Co. owns 19 newspapers, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Worcester Telegram & Gazette and The Gainseville Sun, among other holdings.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Captive Reader Not Easily Defamed

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The dedicated staff at "TUOL" was remiss in not reporting on an interesting libel decision late last month by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Michtavi v.New York Daily News, The Polish Daily News, et al. (Case No. 08-2111-cv).

Michtavi, acting pro se, sued the defendants for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress for reporting that he was cooperating with prosecutors and planned to testify against his former boss, reputed crime figure Ze'ev Rosenstein. Michtavi, a "key lieutenant" of Rosenstein, presently is serving a 20-year prison term for narcotics-related offenses.

The plaintiff, an Israeli citizen, had no problem with being branded a "key lieutenant" of Rosenstein, but believed his character was sullied by the defendants' claim that he planned to cooperate with authorities.  The district court trial judge said the statement at issue could not be construed as having a defamatory meaning and tossed the case, a position that the appellate court has upheld.

A successful defamation claimant must demonstrate that a false statement published about him harmed his reputation by subjecting him to hatred, ridicule and contempt by a substantial respectable segment of the community. Therein lies the rub for the yardbird plaintiff in this case.

Whereas Michtavi's current community of cons may look down their incarcerated noses at him for singing to the authorities, the Second Circuit noted that "right-thinking pesons" would not consider it defamatory, but rather, good form, to cooperate with authorities in the pursuit of justice.

It is believed this is the first case the jailhouse lawyer has lost.
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