Thursday, May 28, 2009

UPDATE: 'Citizen' Caned

The Arizona Attorney General's Office has quietly and voluntarily withdrawn its antitrust lawsuit against Gannett Co., Inc., and Lee Enterprises, one week after U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins refused to grant a preliminary injunction that would have forced the continued publication of a print edition of The Tucson Citizen (see blog posts 5/19/09).
The lawsuit, which alleged violations of the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice, so technically, the suit could be refiled, but that's as unlikely as a resurgence of classified advertising in print newspapers.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oy, Mine Magazine!

Two issues into his limited subscription, Slate technology columnist Farhad Manjoo is surprisingly upbeat about Mine magazine, an experimental online personalized periodical from Time, Inc., backed by Toyota bucks. I'll find out in a few weeks if I'm among the lucky first 31,000 subscribers to sign up to receive the first five issues of the magazine gratis.

To create a publication just for mine, er, me, Mine cherry picks articles based on my interests from five of the magazines I choose from among Time, Money, Travel & Leisure, In Style, Simple, Food & Wine, and Sports Illustrated. To gauge my interests, I had to answer four questions, which included whether I craved sushi or pizza, sang in my car, would rather learn juggling or celebrity impersonations, and if I'd rather dine with daVinci or Socrates (that's easy, daVinci, to avoid getting Socrates' hemlock order by mistake). I suppose I'll know if I'm among the chosen 31,000 if Rich Little drives up to my house to deliver a pizza singing like Dean Martin.

According to Manjoo's column, Mine inside and back covers are adorned with Lexus ads, and some of the articles are reprinted from older issues of the selected journals. I have mixed emotions about making the team of inaugural subscribers. It can't be a good thing that our society's reading habits have devolved from Life to People to Us to Self to Mine. If the online magazine is sent directly to my bathroom, I'm pulling the plug on my PC.

International Playboy?

Playboy Enterprises, Inc., whose magazine and pay-per-view tv have been shedding readers and viewers faster than its centerfold models toss off their lingerie, may have found a White Knight to purchase them--English billionaire Richard Branson.

Playboy magazine a part of Virgin Media? You can't make this stuff up. The Chicago Tribune reports that Playboy's stock inflated to $2.98 a share yesterday, more than twice its price in March, based on Branson's rumored interest. The Trib assessed the company's worth at about $100 million, but cited a New York Post story that Playboy was being shopped to a pair of equity firms last week for $300 million.

Thus far, Hugh Hefner, Playboy's 83-year-old Viagra-popping, founder and principal shareholder, has held firm in his refusal to sell. The story will continue to unfold, vertically.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sotomayor & the 1st Amendment

As this blog does concern itself with media law and issues confronting the news media, an admittedly surface-skimming review of how President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has weighed in on First Amendment matters seems in order. Future postings will examine Judge Sotomayor's opinions on this subject in greater detail, but preliminarily, here is a thumbnail of some of her decisions on 1st Amendment cases.
In Farrell v. Burke, 449 F.3d 470 (2d Cir. 2006), she concluded that parole officers did not violate the 1st Amendment rights of a paroled sex offender when they would not allow him to possess pornography. Though conceding that court opinions concerning what constitutes "pornography" are sometimes constitutionally vague, Judge Sotomayor concluded that an illustrated book in the hands (or hand?) of convicted sex offender Christopher Farrell satisfed "any reasonable definition of pornography."
Judge Sotomayor sided with the Wall Street Journal in 1995, granting the financial daily's Freedom of Information Act request and ordering the release of the suicide note written by Clinton White House aide Vincent Foster. Regarding the 1st Amendment's free exercise of religion clause, she overturned a state prison rule that prohibited a religious sect from warding off evil spirits by wearing colorful beads (as opposed to electronic bracelets?) and in another decision, upheld the right to display a 9-foot-high menorah in a park, rejecting a municipal ordinance that barred such a display.
Bloggers beware--Judge Sotomayor joined the majority in Doninger v. Niehoff (06-0457-cv), a 2008 case involving a high school blogger who unsucessfully sought a preliminary injunction after she was denied a chance to run for senior class secretary because of a posting she made on an independent blog site that was critical of the cancellation of a school event. The Second Circuit agreed the post could potentially be disruptive to the high school.
In a nutshell, Judge Sotomayor at least seems to tolerate, if not outright, support the 1st Amendment, but certainly does not belong to the "absolutist" camp of former High Court justices, such as Hugo Black and William Douglas, who believed the "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of the press..." meant what it said.
More to come on this topic.

Sotomayor: Solid Jurist Resistant to GOP Attacks

President Obama's historic nomination of 54-year-old Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court is a shrewd choice, both from a legal and political standpoint.
If, as expected, she is confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, Sotomayor would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second female member of the nine-member Supreme Court, and would become the third woman ever to serve on the High Court. She also is being touted as the first Hispanic nominee, though Court historians might take issue, citing the late Justice Benjamin Cardozo's Portuguese/Jewish ancestry.
Unless the Obama White House sloppily vetted the nomination and she is discovered to have an aversion to paying her tax bill, Judge Sotomayor already has my much-awaited endorsement. Admittedly, my thumbs-up in part is based on her being an avid New York Yankees fan and because of the crucial role she played in resolving the Major League Baseball strike in 1995 while serving as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, when she sided with players and issued an injunction, chiding owners for engaging in unfair labor practices. A labor agreement was reached, and the Joe Torre era began the following year as the Yanks won the World Series.
Beyond that, in an era in which the Senate has kicked to the curb its "advise and consent" role regarding a President's selection of High Court nominees, in favor of a morality and social issue litmus test, I support Judge Sotomayor because I believe attacks on her by Republicans (which already have begun) not only will prove unsuccessful because of the 59-member Democratic majority, but also could boomerang against the GOP.
Radio talkmeister Rush Limbaugh today fired a salvo against Judge Sotomayor, drawing on his crack team of researchers ("She is a judge on the court of appeals...I don't know which circuit she is on...") to pronounce "She's one of these judges that allows her personal views to be a factor in the way she decides cases." Hard to fathom the critical label of "activist judge," which surely is preferable to the alternative "comatose judge," some of whom I've appeared before over the years. Anyway, here are categories subject to GOP attack where Judge Sotomayor passes muster:
EXPERIENCE-- "Under-achiever" does not spring to mind when describing Judge Sotomayor, who managed to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton University and graduated from Yale Law School where she was editor of the law journal. Judge Sotomayor has been an attorney in private practice and is a former assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. She has spent considerable time on the bench, having been nominated in 1991 by Republican President George H.W. Bush to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York where she served until she was appointed by President Clinton in 1998 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where she has remained up to now. In contrast, the resume of Harriet Miers, former White House Counsel nominated to the High Court by President George W. Bush in 2005, included private practice and a penchant for watching "LA Law" and "Matlock" reruns.
BACK STORY--The daughter of emigres from Puerto Rico, Judge Sotomayor grew up in public housing in the Bronx and overcame the death of her father when she was age 9 and a struggle with diabetes. Add to that script-in-waiting for a Lifetime movie, her initial ascension to the bench was courtesy of a Republican president and the growing political clout of Hispanic voters, whom the GOP alienated in the last election with anti-immigration rhetoric, and one can see how Republicans might want to pout sullenly, but otherwise tread lightly concerning Judge Sotomayor's confirmation. At least "W." spoke Spanish (no, English was not his second language). Given former Mass. Gov. and 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's embarrassment concerning the revelation during the 2008 campaign that he employed undocumented aliens to do yard work at his Belmont manse, you can be certain he won't be talking about Judge Sotomayor changing the "landscape" of the Roberts' Court.
HOT-BUTTON ISSUES--Much to the chagrin of Beck, Limbaugh, et al., Judge Sotomayor has never authored a legal opinion suggesting every woman of voting age be entitled to one free abortion. so there's not much here. The biggest dust-up concerns her support of the majority opinion in a reverse discrimination case, Ricci v. DeStefano (06-4996-cv), which, ironically, was recently argued before the Supreme Court. The majority backed the City of New Haven, which, fearful of the Title VII implications, tossed a 2003 firefighters' promotion exam because minority test-takers did not fare well on it. The case was brought by white firefighters and one Hispanic firefighter. She is divorced (like Ronald Reagan) and childless (unlike "Murphy Brown"), but that's a non-starter.
Republican leadership in the Senate must weigh the risks of half-hearted opposition to the nomination--a "back-at-ya" response to Democratic opposition to Justice Alito's nomination--versus a full-blown battle that they will almost certainly lose, barring a harmful disclosure concerning Judge Sotomayor's past.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Feeding the Watchdog

The Carrboro Citizen, a two-year-old weekly newspaper covering a town of approximately 18,000 people just west of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, adopted a novel approach to the financial crisis plaguing newspapers nationwide. They asked the town government for a loan--and they received one.
The Carrboro Board of Aldermen on May 19 approved a $50,000 loan--half the amount sought by the Citizen,--from a seed fund used to promote local business development. Publisher Robert Dickson plans to use the money to bolster the Citizen's press run to 10,000 copies from its current 6,000 copies and will hire more staff and expand the Citizen's office. Dickson is dismissive of any potential conflict of interest in reporting on the town government/holder of the loan, claiming that newspapers often transact business with people on whom they report.
Is he kidding? Hard to be the watchdog of government officials when those officials are feeding you the kibble. It's unlikely that aldermen would blatantly threaten to turn off the funding spigot if they read a story they dislike, but the Citizen's editorial staff might subsconsiously pause before doing town officials in for violating open meeting laws, for example. The press is called the Fourth Estate precisely so that it never becomes a tenant on the "First Estate."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Magazines Running Out of Ammo

Grim economic news is not confined to newspapers alone. At the midpoint of 2009, most magazines have experienced a seismic decline in ad pages and shrinking readership, according to the Media Daily News (
The drop in ad pages and audience is across the board in periodical categories. Among women's lifestyle books, for example, Vogue, Lucky and Allure are off more than 30 percent in ad pages, while W plummeted 44 percent, as Madison Ave. reacted as negatively to the name as Pennsylvania Ave. On the men's side, Power & Motoryacht ad pages sputtered by 63 percent, Automobile was stripped by 43 percent and Boating sank 49 percent. Among lifestyle publications ad pages, Maxim shed 33.5 percent and Vibe was all bad by 39 percent. (I can do this verb thing all day.)
Media Industry Newsletter (MIN) online tracked 118 titles and found an overall 23 percent decline in ad pages in the first six months of 2009 compared to the same time period in 2008. Circulation fell more than 10 percent among pedigree periodicals such as Readers Digest, Ladies Home Journal, Entertainment Weekly and Redbook (or in-the-Redbook, as the case may be).
So newspapers and magazines are on the skids. Fess up people--are you reading the side of your cereal boxes at the breakfast table?

Man[acle] on a Mission

Judge Arthur Spatt of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York will conduct a hearing to decide whether to prohibit Newsday and News12 from using images of seven-term Nassau County legislator Roger Corbin in handcuffs. Corbin, 62, was arrested May 6 on charges of income tax evasion and lying to federal agents.
The 84-year-old judge, who was appointed to the federal court by President George Bush in 1989, voiced concerns from the bench about the ability of Corbin to have a fair trial if prospective jurors have seen photographs or video of the lawmaker with his hands cuffed behind his back. Judge Spatt faulted Newsday and News12 in its accounts of Corbin's arrest for using images of the shackled solon instead of using other pictures from his long legislative career. Attorney David Schulz, representing the media outlets, pointed out to Judge Spatt that no decision of the U.S. Supreme Court or of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ever allowed such prior restraint of news organizations. "Courts do not get [into]telling the media what to publish," Schulz argued.
Corbin is accused of income tax evasion concerning $226,000 he allegedly received from a developer working on a federal contract in New Cassel in the form of 81 checks allegedly received between February 2005, and December 2007, as well as of allegedly lying to federal agents about receiving the money.
According to his Web site (, Corbin was elected to the Nassau County Legislature in 1995, the first person of color to win a seat in that body. He represents the Second Legislative District, which includes, among other communities, East Garden City, Hempstead, and Westbury. Corbin's Web site encourages residents to observe bike safety laws, but makes no mention of tax laws.
Judge Spatt must have missed the Constitutional Law lecture in law school on Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539 (1976), which effectively put the kibosh on judicial prior restraint of the news media. The Stuart decision, written by the late Chief Justice Warren Burger, held that before a judge could impose restraint on what the news media published or broadcast, the judge must demonstrate that the case at issue was certain to attract intensive and pervasive publicity, that no other method available to the court, such as continuing the case, sequestering the jury, or relocating the trial, would mitigate the effects of the pretrial publicity, and that any court-imposed restriction would effectively negate the effects of the prejudicial material.
Memo to Judge Spatt: Newsday and News12 used images of Corbin in handcuffs because he was under arrest, and, presumably, no other photos from his long legislative career reflect that he was allegedly engaged in illegal behavior. Perhaps there's a ribbon-cutting photo somewhere of Corbin at a strip mall dedicating a new H & R Block store, but the news outlets lack the resources to uncover it and irony has never been the news media's strong suit. Remember, Judge--it's ok for a criminal defendant to wear handcuffs, but the drafters of the First Amendment prefer that the press remain unfettered.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Attention News Choppers: Savings in Aisles 4 and 25

With sagging viewership and declining ad reveuues, local television stations in Boston--the nation's seventh largest tv market--are looking to conserve money and pool resources. Beginning June 1, WFXT-TV (Channel 25) and WBZ-TV (Channel 4) will share a helicopter for aerial news coverage. The Boston Globe today reports that the two stations also will share footage for non-aerial stories such as press conferences and commencement ceremonies. Leasing a helicopter is costly for local stations, ranging from $750,000 to $1 million annually. The respective news directors at the Fox affiliate and WBZ also can use the copter for exclusive enterprise stories.
Great; now both stations can fire up the eggbeater to do reconaissance over suburban communities in their endless quest for a moose that strayed into a home swimming pool. Too bad the stations don't pool their limited resources to cover financial skullduggery in the State House on Beacon Hill. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm afraid the product of this joint venture will be less like "Lou Grant" and more like "Whirlybirds."

Judge Dents Illinois Shield Law

Madison County (Ill.) Circuit Court Judge Richard Tognarelli has rebuffed The Alton Telegraph's invoking of the state's shield law to withhold the identities of anonymous bloggers on the newspaper's Web site.
Five bloggers, who posted comments anonymously on a Telegraph news article concerning the fatal beating of a five-year-old boy, were the subject of a subpoena from Madison County sheriff's detectives, who sought to question the individuals. The Telegraph sought to quash the subpoena, arguing that Illinois' shield law protecting journalists from disclosing their sources also screened the identities of the bloggers from being revealed. Judge Tognarelli rejected the argument in his decision on May 15, holding the shield law "does not address the applicability of the Act to online bloggers," which he said is the province of the Legislature. Posting comments on a newspaper Web site does not make a blogger a news source, attorneys for the state successfully argued. Judge Tognarelli did rule, however, that only two of the bloggers, who may have relevant information to the murder investigation, had to be named, and not three other bloggers whose remarks he deemed not useful to the murder probe.
Not a terribly progressive viewpoint from the Land of Lincoln. Courts in other states, ranging from Montana, in a case involving The Billings Gazette, to Oregon, in a case involving The Portland Mercury and Wilamette Week, have held that shield laws do protect newspapers from having to disclose the names of those anonymous bloggers who comment on news stories.

Roberts Exits Wash. Post in a 'Huff'

Lawrence Roberts, The Washington Post's investigations editor the past five years, has been tapped to head The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. The two-month-old nonprofit investigative fund, which was seeded with a $1.75 million budget, intends to produce multimedia investigations.
Roberts joined The Washington Post in 1995, and has edited numerous high-profile stories, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. A former business editor, he previously worked for United Press International and The Hartford Courant. In joining The Huffington Post, a self-described Internet newspaper, Roberts, who helped establish The Washington Post's Web site, alluded to the "financial pressures roiling newspapers." The move will doubtless engender hand-wringing by supporters of traditional newspapers, who hate to see the departure of esteemed journalists who use action verbs like "roiling." Indeed, the handwriting is on the wall, because, sadly, few would see it if it were in print.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

UPDATE: Tucson Citizen Print Edition in Tombstone Territory

Judge Raner Collins of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona today denied Attorney General Terry Goddard's request for a temporary restraining order against Gannett Co., Inc., thereby, dealing a death blow to efforts to restore the print version of the Tucson Citizen. Judge Collins said the state had failed to demonstrate the likelihood of prevailing on the merits of its claim that Gannett and Lee Enterprises committed antitrust violations and diid not conform to the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 when it discontinued the print edition of Arizona's oldest newspaper on May 16.

Will Judge OK Corralling Tucson Citizen Print Edition?

Judge Paner C. Collins of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona is expected to rule today on Attorney General Terry Goddard's request for a temporary restraining order against Gannett Co., Inc., that would force the media giant to continue publishing a print edition of the Tucson Citizen or to unload the nearly 140-year-old newspaper to an entity that would.
Judge Collins heard arguments on the motion yesterday. Goddard filed the action on May 15 at the behest of California publisher Stephen L. Hadland, Chief Executive Officer of Santa Monica Media Co., LLC, which publishes the Culver City Observer, after Gannett rebuffed Hadland's offer to buy the Citizen, Arizona's oldest newspaper.
Goddard contends that Gannett and Lee Enterprises, publisher of the Arizona Daily Star and Gannett's partner in a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA), violated the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 (NPA) when it discontinued the paper edition of the Citizen on May 16. The paper continues to publish online (,
With a goal of increased editorial diversity, the NPA exempts newspapers operating under a JOA from federal antitrust laws. Goddard alleges that the virtual version of the paper, alone, does not satisfy that requirement, and further contends that the Gannett/Lee Enterprises venture seeks only to dominate its journalism competitors and to increase their profits in violation of antitrust laws. The JOA also ended on May 16, but Gannett and Lee remain business partners, sharing in the operating costs and profits of the Tucson Citizen. Gannett plans for the Citizen entail a modified Web presence for commentary and opinions daily and a weekly insert in the Arizona Star of editorial content.

Gannett announced on January 29, 2009, that it would close the Tucson Citizen if it could not find a buyer by mid-March. The media conglomerate put a $1 million price tag on the Citizen, which debuted as a weekly newspaper in 1870 and has covered major stories, such as the pursuit of Mexican bandit Pancho Villa. The sales price was further reduced to $800,000, twice the offer made by Hadland that Gannett rejected.

The Citizen has 60 full-time employees. It published a 48-page commemorative print edition on May 16, which, depending on Judge Collins, may or may not have been its last.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Update--Woody Take the Money & Run

American Apparel, Inc., has agreed to pay Woody Allen $5 million rather than proceed to trial in federal district court on the director's lawsuit against the clothing manufacturer for the alleged misappropriation of his image for billboard and Internet advertising (see post May 18, 2009). Allen told reporters outside the courthouse that he believes the $5 million settlement is the largest on record for claims arising under New York's Civil Rights Law. To put the settlement in context, the total gross for Allen's film, "Mighty Aphrodite" (1995) was approximately $6.4 million, according to

Getting Woody in Federal Court over 'Fair Use'

Oscar-winning director and iconic stand-up comic Woody Allen is expected to testify in federal court in Manhattan today as the first witness following jury selection in his $10 million lawsuit against American Apparel, Inc.(AAI) arising from the Los Angeles-based clothing manufacturer's alleged misappropriation of Allen's likeness on billboards and in Internet ads in 2007.
The lawsuit, Woody Allen v. American Apparel, Inc.(1:08-cv-03179), was filed March 31, 2008, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and assigned to Judge Thomas Griesa. The publicity-shy Allen sued AAI, a Delaware corporation, based on billboards displayed in New York City and Hollywood in May 2007, as well as in Internet ads, using a depiction of Allen as a Hasidic Jew taken from his Oscar-winning film Annie Hall (1977). The billboards, which included Yiddish text that translated as "the Holly Rebbe," were taken down approximately one week after they appeared in May 2007.
Allen's Complaint includes counts alleging violation of the New York Civil Rights law and the federal Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. Sec. 1125(a), Sec. 43(a)). According to Allen, his likeness was used by the casual clothing maker without his permission for commercial purposes. In its Answer, AAI claimed the ad was protected by the First Amendment, and offered among its affirmative defenses, parody, fair use, and the public intereste exception contained in Section 50 of the NY Civil Rights Law.
AAI has attacked Allen's $10 million damages claim head-on, arguing that the 72-year-old Allen's value as an endorsement plummeted following his involvement in a sex scandal with former companion, Actress Mia Farrow, and her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, Allen's current spouse. The defendant has threatened to call both Ms. Farrow and Ms. Allen as witnesses.
Allen's attorneys claim he has not done commercial endorsements since his early days as a stand-up comic in the 1960s. Allen has called the billboards at issue an "appalling" and "mortifying" invasion of his privacy. Attendees expecting a reprise of the courtroom scene in "Bananas" are likely to be disappointed.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Keeping a Promissory to Yahoo

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently fired a broadside at the fortress of invincibility provided to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) by Sec. 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996. In Barnes v. Yahoo (05-36189), decided on May 7, 2009, the appellate court affirmed in part, and reversed in part and remanded, the decision of the U.S. District Court in Oregon involving Yahoo! and Plaintiff Cecilia Barnes, who was the target of a vindictive ex-boyfriend of the type featured in R-rated thrillers regularly churned out by Hollywood.
Ms. Barnes ended her relationship in 2004, prompting her jilted beau to post nude photographs of the Plaintiff (taken without her consent) on the Web site and to fabricate profiles of the Plaintiff on Yahoo! The former boyfriend pretended to be Ms. Barnes in chat rooms, talking up male correspondents, directing them to the graphic photos, and including the phone number and address of the Plaintiff's place of business. In compliance with Yahoo!'s policy, the Plaintiff submitted a photo id of herself and a signed statement denying personal involvement and requesting the removal of the offensive profile and materials. After numerous follow-up attempts proved unsuccessful, Ms. Barnes sued Yahoo! in state court, and the ISP withdrew the profile shortly thereafter. Yahoo! removed the lawsuit to federal court and sought refuge in Sec. 230(c) of the CDA. In relevant part, the provision states: "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." ISPs have benefitted from immunity provided by Section 230 most often in defamation cases. The Ninth Circuit opinion by Judge O'Scannlain afforded Yahoo! protection against the Plaintiff's claim of negligent provision of services/"negligent undertaking" for the ISP's alleged failure to remove the offensive profile in a timely fashion. "Insofar as Baqrnes alleges a breach of contract under the theory of promissory estoppel," Judge O'Scannlain wrote, "subsection 230(c)(1) of the Act does not preclude her cause of action." The appellate court determined that, notwithstanding CDA Sec. 230, Ms. Barnes should have the opportunity to prove that she was harmed by reasonably relying on the promise of Yahoo! to remove the false profile and very real photographs, and its purported failure to follow through on that promise. It remains to be seen whether the Ninth Circuit decision is a fact-specific aberation or a chink in the CDA armor that signals hard times ahead for ISPs nationwide.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Boston News Media: Misery Loves Company

In the wake of the highly publicized ongoing coverage of the financial travails of The Boston Globe under the yoke of its owner, The New York Times, and accounts of staff cutbacks at The Boston Phoenix and Gatehouse-owned newspapers, comes the report that Boston television journalists are not faring much better than their ink-stained brethren. BIA Financial Network, a financial and advisory firm in Chantilly, Virginia, claims that advertising revenues for Boston television stations declined by 13 percent last year, twice the national average. The sour economy has caused automakers and the retail and furniture industries, among others, to scale back on tv ads. Also, companies are looking to the Internet and alternative marketing outlets to get more bang for their advertising bucks. A consequence of sagging revenues has been long-time "name" tv journalists in Boston being shown the door, including sportscaster Bob Lobel and arts critic Joyce Kulhawik at WBZ-TV and Randy Price at WHDH-TV. Local television news viewership continues to drop, resulting in shrinking news budgets and staff. Sadly, that translates into more "news" stories about the stars of network entertainment programs. Cue the water-skiing squirrel story.

'Kept Woman' Kept Secret

The distinction between "journalism" and "entertainment" was made clear in the recent interviews of Elizabeth Edwards by Oprah Winfrey and Larry King. Mrs. Edwards, currently on a whirlwind "wonged woman" book tour, has set as a precondition for any sit-downs, a promise by the interviewer not to mention by name Rielle Hunter, with whom failed presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards engaged in an extramarital affair before, and during his run for the Oval Office in 2008. Thus far, no newspaper has accepted the terms that were agreed to by talkmeisters Winfrey and King. Rehabilitating a marital relationship tarnished by infidelity is a private matter between a husband and wife, except for when the unfaithful husband sought the highest office in the land and the wronged wife endorsed his election and now seeks to benefit financially from a tell-all novel. She should not be allowed to set the terms regarding any interview about the content of her book, particularly in the face of a public inquiry into the Edwards campaign's use of campaign funds. Real journalists need no proxy to ask about the doxy.

An Opaque Decision About 'Transparency"

The White House reversal of its position concerning the release of 44 photographs allegedly depicting the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan is puzzling and misguided. The Obama Administration contends that publication of the photos would "inflame the theaters of war" and jeopardize U.S. forces. Advocates favoring publication argue that the American public is entitled to be informed and educated about past U.S. policy that President Obama has rebuked, and that such disclosure is necessary to restore the nation's moral credibility on the World stage. The photos were supposed to be released on or before May 28. A lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union yielded a court order to the Dept. of Defense to release the purportedly graphic images almost three years ago that was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.. Disclosure of the photos, painful as it may be, would be consistent with President Obama's promise of "transparency" in his Administration's governance, and would reinforce the underlying purpose of the Freedom of Information Act. To keep the photos, and by extension, military and foreign policy shrouded in secrecy, would not deter such alleged abuses in the future through accountability and dangerously evokes the "too big to fail" philosophy underlying the Administration's policy toward the financial crisis. If President Obama can channel Constituional Law Professor Obama, then someday our prints will come.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

There's No Joy[stick] in NCAAville Today

A proposed class action suit has been filed against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and video game maker Electronic Arts, Inc. by a former quarterback at Arizona State University and the University of Nebraska in the United States District Court for the District of Northern California. The case, Keller v. Electronic Arts, Inc. & NCAA (cv 09-1967), was filed May 5 and includes counts alleging deprivation of the right of publicity, civil conspiracy, breach of contract and unfair competition. Keller is seeking relief against the defendants for allegedly using likenesses of college athletes in football and basketball video games without the athletes' consent. The plaintiff claims the reproduction of the amateur athletes' images circumvents the NCAA's prohibition against using student athletes in commercial ventures. If class action status is granted, star collegiate athletes nationwide will be saying "Wii" all the way home.

Hard to Spin Anderson Cooper 360

"Anderson Cooper 360," the cornerstone of CNN's prime-time programming, is hemorrhaging viewers, according to a Los Angeles Times story appearing in today's "Huffington Post." Reportedly, the "AC360" audience has plummetted by 33 percent since the beginning of the year. Worse still, "AC360" loses nearly 20 percent of the lead-in audience from Larry King (those numbers could be skewed by King's ex-wives turning off their televisions). Cooper, whom CNN touts as the face of its network, is being victimized, in part, by CNN appearing "wishy-washy" in its middle-of-the-road approach, compared to the bombastic conservative stronghold of FOX News and the left-leaning MSNBC. In fact, the latter's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" is gaining in the ratings on AC360, according to the LA Times article. Earnest and cute is only taking Cooper so far. Absent a shake-up in thinking at CNN, Cooper may soon be waxing nostalgic about "The Mole."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Announcing The Unruly of Law, a [sometimes] serious blog

Welcome to "The Unruly of Law," the product of a cluttered mind. As a member of the "Party of LinkedIn," I've decided to enter the blogosphere. Readers of the "Unruly" are invited to respond to the blog's views on developments in the law and the news media, which the author--a lawyer, newspaper/magzine journalist, and professor of media law and journalism--believes are sound, and probably correct. Because the author has diverse interests, or a short attention span, depending on one's perspective, for the time being (until I figure out how to create a separate blog), the Unruly will also be a forum to discuss old movies, new mystery novels, and "must-try" restaurants in the Massachusetts/Rhode Island area.