Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Caught Making Up Quotes, Author Quits New Yorker

Jonah Lehrer - Pop!Tech 2009 - Camden, MEJonah Lehrer  (Photo credit: poptech) Thirty-one-year-old wunderkind Jonah Lehrer, a Columbia grad and author of three best-selling books, this week resigned as staff writer for The New Yorker after admitting to a magazine writer that he fabricated quotes in his latest book.

Michael Moynihan, a writer for Tablet Magazine, which writes about Jewish life, confronted Lehrer regarding quotes Moynihan was unable to verify that Lehrer attributed to legendary folk singer Bob Dylan in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works (2012). Lehrer admitted fabricating the quotes, according to an account in The Huffington Post. "The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes," Lehrer confessed.

Lehrer, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist (2007) and How We Decide (2009), recently apologized to New Yorker readers for re-using his own previous work without attributing it. Publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has pulled the e-version of Imagine and stopped shipment of the hardcover.

Things are not going well for Lehrer, as even fabricator extraordinaire Jayson Blair, who wrote fiction for The New York Times, unbeknownst to the paper, weighed in with an article in The Daily Beast on what may have prompted Lehrer to torpedo his own career.  The staff of "TUOL" is unsure whether laziness or just a lack of journalistic sensibilities is to blame, and puzzled as to how Lehrer could have believed his putting words in Dylan's mouth wouldn't be discovered, particularly because the quotes made sense, which would make any Dylan fan suspicious.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

St. Louis Post Journos Dispatched

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Thirteen proved an unlucky number for the Lee Enterprises-owned St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as four editors and nine newsroom staffers were pink-slipped last week, media Web site JimRomanesko.com reported.

Daily circulation at the Post-Dispatch, one of the region's largest dailies, declined from 213,472 to 191,631 last year. Lee purchased the paper from Pulitzer, Inc. seven years ago in a cash deal reportedly totaling $1.46 billion. According to Romanesko, the layoffs occurred in the same week as Lee CEO Mary Junck acquired 500,000 shares of Lee stock for zero dollars.

Economic conditions were blamed for the job reductions. Another 10 employees in the production and advertising departments, also lost their jobs last week, bringing the layoff total to 23.
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Friday, July 27, 2012

Teens Poke Classmate in Facebook Ruse; End Up in Pokey

Seal of Hood County, Texas(Photo credit: Wikipedia)The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports that two Granbury (Texas) middle-schoolers, ages 12 and 13, who allegedly created a false Facebook page about a 12-year-old classmate, have been charged with online impersonation, a third-degree felony, and face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

The target of the false page does not participate in Facebook, so the false page flourished for a month and attracted 63 friends before it was shut down, the daily reports. The defendants allegedly featured a celebrity on the fake page who purportedly resembles the victim, and according to the Hood County Sheriff, the page contained profanity and alleged threats against other students that harmed the victim's reputation.

To combat cyberbullying, the Texas legislature passed the online impersonation measure in 2009. Free speech advocates, including the Student Press Law Center, have questioned the constitutionality of the law.
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WGBH Buys PRI: Larger Tote Bags in the Offing?

WGBH studio complex, 1 Guest Street, Brighton/... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)The prospect of shared programming costs and launching new projects spurred Boston-based public broadcaster WGBH to acquire Minneapolis-based Public Radio International, the New York Times reports.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, and P.R.I. will continue to operate under its own independent flag. Already Public Broadcasting System's (PBS) largest producer of television programming such as Nova and Frontline, WGBH taking on P.R.I. is expected to bolster the former's radio presence. For P.R.I., the presence of WGBH, with whom it already collaborates (along with the BBC) to produce The World, should help address its operating deficit.
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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Social Media Onslaught Causes N.D. Daily to Rethink Same-Sex Wedding Announcement Policy

Fargo Downtown(Photo credit: DaKohlmeyer)When the Fargo (N.D.) Forum said it would return the $25 publication fee to 31-year-old Fargo native Allison Johnson and declined to print her same-sex wedding announcement of her upcoming nuptials to 27-year-old Kelsey Smith, it touched off a social media firestorm, CNN reports.

After a four-year-long relationship, Johnson & Smith plan to marry in New York on August 1 and hold a reception August 4 in Fargo (parking is easier and those meaty smorgasbords and potato dumplings are hard to pass up). Johnson forwarded a screen shot of the Forum's e-mail rejection of her announcement to an online reporter buddy who posted it on Facebook, Twitter and other digital forums, according to the CNN story. The image was shared more than 600 times and triggered a petition on Change.org.

The couple has since met with the editor and publisher of the North Dakota daily, and the Fargo Forum's Facebook page indicates that its same-sex announcements policy is under review. Johnson has posted on Facebook her open letter to the Forum and Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, which asks: "...WHY, in a city we call home, where we are days away from becoming homeowners in Fargo, where we support every person that does good for their community, are we excluded from being able to announce our wedding celebration? What makes two women or two men any different from other taxpaying married citizens of  Fargo, N.D.?"

It remains to be seen how far the Fargo Forum will go and whether it will forgo its policy which would go far toward answering the foregoing.
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Voluntary Buyouts Offered to Long-time Detroit Journalists

Detroit skyline(Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)Voluntary buyout offers have been extended to veteran reporters at the Gannett Co-owned Detroit Free Press and the MediaNews Group-owned Detroit News, the Associated Press reports.

According to the AP story, a spokesperson for the Detroit Media Partnership, which oversees the two dailies' finances, said fewer than half of the eligible 155 journalists are expected to receive the payout. To qualify, applicants must be at least 56 years old and have accrued 20 years of service at one of the Detroit dailies. Those who take the buyout will garner two weeks' pay for each year of service up to a maximum 52 weeks, and will continue to receive health insurance during the payout period.

Neither McLean, Va.-based Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper owner, nor Denver-headquartered MediaNews Group, publisher of The Denver Post and The Berkshire Eagle, among other newspapers, would address whether layoffs loom if the number of buyouts do not meet expectations, but given the current state of the industry, such a scenario wouldn't be surprising.

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France Soir Not 'Bon,' Soir, But Banqueroute

FranceSoir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)France Soir, a Paris daily newspaper that at its peak in the 1960s boasted a circulation of 1.5 million, will have its assets auctioned off per a court-ordered liquidation, The Guardian reports.

France Soir was acquired by Sergei Pugachvov, the scion of a Russian billionaire, in 2009, and converted to an online-only publication last December, before he jettisoned the paper in June, after reportedly investing more than 60 million pounds ($94 million) in it, according to the Guardian story. One-hundred eighty jobs were cut when the paper became a Web-only presence, and nearly 50 jobs, 42 held by journalists, will be lost because of the bankruptcy, according to the Guardian article.

France Soir, then called Defense de la France, launched in 1944, but had seen its circulation decline to fewer than 100,000 readers by the year 2000. It surfaced as a populist tabloid in 2006 before Pugachvov swooped in with a major cash infusion.
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Failed Cong. Candidate Loses Libel Suit

Appellate Division of the New York State Supre...(Photo credit: Wikipedia)The Supreme Court of New York Appellate Division (Second Department) has affirmed Westchester County Supreme Court Judge Sam D. Walker's dismissal of a defamation suit brought by James Russell, an unsuccessful 2010 candidate for the 18th District U.S. Congressional Seat, against journalists and politicos, the Courthouse News Service reports.

In Russell v. Davies, et al. (2012 New York Slip Op. 05507), Russell sought $1 million damages apiece from a half dozen journalists and three GOP party officials for comments they allegedly made about a 2001 essay Russell wrote for the Occidental Quarterly entitled "The Western Contribution to World History." The essay was assailed for its purported racist and anti-Semitic sentiments and prompted the Westchester County Republican Party to drop Russell from the ballot two months before the election. Specifically, Russell's essay criticized several recent Hollywood films that featured young white women involved in interracial relationships and cited T.S. Eliot's viewpoint that "reasons of race and culture combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable."

Judge Reinaldo Rivera's decision agreed with the defendants' argument that Russell could not prove malice and that their remarks were opinions that were not susceptible to a defamatory meaning. "In distinguishing between fact and opinion," Judge Rivera wrote, "the factors the court must consider are (1)whether the specific language has a precise meaning that is readily understood, (2)whether the statements are capable of being proven true or false, and (3)whether the context in which the statement appears signals to readers that the statement is likely to be opinion, not fact."  Judge Rivera found the allegedly defamatory statements were opinions and that the defendants fully disclosed the facts supporting those opinions through express reference to Russell's essay.

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Appellate Court Grounds Airlines' First Amendment Challenge to DOT Rule

250 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)In its 21-page opinion in Spirit Airlines, Inc. et al. v. U.S. Dept. of Transportation (No. 11-1219), the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided 2-1 to uphold the constitutional validity of a DOT rule that restricts how airlines can display a break down of how much of a passenger's airfare goes toward taxes and fees.

Judge David S. Tatel and Judge Karen LeCraft sided with the DOT in the opinion written by Tatel and Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote a spirited dissent. The DOT contended its rule requiring airlines prominently to display in advertised fare prices the full-cost of the ticket, including government taxes, was designed to eliminate confusion by informing consumers about their actual flying cost. 

Plaintiffs, led by Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air and Southwest Airlines, alleged the DOT rule violated their First Amendment rights of political speech by impeding their ability to discuss the onus of airline taxation. Judge Tatel, however, wasn't buying the First Amendment argument, saying the speech at issue was not political speech, which invites strict scrutiny by the court, but rather, less-protected commercial speech, which warrants only intermediate scrutiny.

The DOT rule, Judge Tatel wrote, "does not prohibit airlines from saying anything; it just requires them to disclose the total, final price and to make it the most prominent figure in their advertisements."

(Tip of the hat to the Wall St. Journal Law Blog for initially landing this case.)

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

UPDATE: Sherrod Defamation Claim Moves Forward

English: Shirley Sherrod, a Georgia USDA emplo... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Shirley Sherrod, former U.S. Dept. of Agriculture director for rural development, is getting closer to having her day in court.

The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the plaintiff's motion to affirm the trial judge's denial of a motion to dismiss Sherrod's defamation suit against the late conservative blogger/journalist Andrew Breitbart, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Web site (www.rcfp.org). The appellate court referred defendants' motion to dismiss to the merits panel assigned to the case. A year ago, United States District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Richard J. Leon, in Sherrod v. Breitbart et al. (Case No. 00015711), said defendants Breitbart, Lawrence O'Connor and their BigGovernment.com Web site could not rely on the District of Columbia's anti-SLAPP law ("Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation") [D.C. Law 18-0351]. (See "TUOL" post 8/1/11.)

Sherrod claims she was defamed by a YouTube video of a speech she delivered that she alleges was unfairly edited by the defendants to portray her as a racist. Her attorneys argue that the D.C. anti-SLAPP measure is inapplicable in federal court. The Court of Appeals ruling said the merits of the parties' opposing positions are not dispositive and do not warrant dismissal of the suit at the present juncture of the case.

The appellate court also refused to consolidate Sherrod's action with another defamation suit before the court that involves an anti-SLAPP defense.

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Globe Takes Turn for the Worst: Voluntary Buyouts Offered

English: Headquarters of The Boston Globe news...(Photo credit: Wikipedia)Forty-three Boston Globe workers, union members and management alike--including 20 newsroom staffers--have been offered voluntary buyouts, and another 10 employees were laid off, according to Globe Publisher and New England Media Group ("NEMG") President Christopher M. Mayer.

According to a report by the Globe's rival, the tabloid Boston Herald, the New York Times-owned broadsheet in May saw its daily circulation drop below 200,000 for the first time ever, fueling speculation that the Globe and another Times property, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, may soon be offered for sale. Reportedly, the Telegram & Gazette laid off one staffer and offered voluntary buyouts to another 10.

According to a report by the Poynter.org Web site, the T & G will eliminate slots and layoffs will ensue if the buyouts are not accepted.  The Globe, which boasts a work force of 1,881, does not anticipate universal acceptance of the buyout offer. As part of a cost-savings measure, the Globe reportedly plans to close its suburban bureaus.
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Monday, July 23, 2012

Sun-Times Media Photographer Exposed

Pioneer Press (Photo credit: Krista76)Sun-Times Media photographer Tamara Bell, whose work appeared in Pioneer Press publications, including the Morton Grove Champion and the Deerfield Review, has been fired for fabricating names and quotes, the Pioneer Press publisher has announced.

Sparked by a reader's complaint, the newspaper chain launched an internal probe that uncovered  43 photos and captions from the "Question of the Week" feature that proved questionable. According to Publisher Chris Krug, Bell, when confronted, admitted to 22 instances of faking names and quotes.

Hard to gauge which is more puzzling--that a professional photojournalist would engage in such conduct and not believe the fakery would be uncovered, or that, given the small-town nature of the papers that ran the "Question of the Week," it took so long for her superiors to discover the chicanery.
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Potboiler Publisher Won't Share the Pot, Romance Novelists Claim in Contract Suit

Fran├žais : Lot de romans de la collection Les ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Expect plenty of bodice-ripping, burning eyes and flaming lips, and waves crashing against the ocean in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York as three romance novelists have filed a putative class action breach of contract/unjust enrichment suit against Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. ("HEL") concerning E-book royalties.

The case, reported on by Courthouse News Service and the Wall St. Journal Law Blog, is Barbara Keiler, Mona Gay Thomas & Linda Barrett v. Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., Harlequin Books, S.A. & Harlequin Enterprises B.V. (Case No. 12-cv-5558). Toronto-based HEL, the subject of a copyright infringement suit earlier this year reported here (see "TUOL" post 4/23/12), reportedly cranks out 110 titles monthly in 34 languages reaching 114 international markets from its stable of 1,200 authors. As faithful readers of this blog no doubt know, lead plaintiff Keiler is the author of Right Place, Wrong Time and Blooming All Over, Thomas penned His Secret Duchess and The Heart's Desire, while the collected works of Barrett include Apple Orchard [not to be confused with Anton Chekhov's obvious knock-off Cherry Orchard] and Love Money and Amanda Shaw.

The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status that would cover Harlequin authors who penned books for the defendants overflowing with heaving bosoms during the period from 1990 to 2004. The plaintiffs allege in their complaint that they are owed royalties on E-book editions of their works because of a standard contract clause that pays authors 50 percent royalties on net receipts of the "publisher, from the exercise, sale or license of digital rights to their works."

The plaintiffs contend that defendants Switzerland-based Harlequin Books S.A. and Netherlands-based Harlequin Enterprises B.V. are HEL subsidiaries that perform no publishing functions and merely provide tax benefits to the parent company. HEL claims it had to obtain a license from its Swiss arm to publish the authors' E-books and that any royalty calculation should be based on the publisher Harlequin Switzerland license, or 6 percent to 8 percent of the E-book's cover price, which means 3 to 4 percent for the authors.

As set forth in the plaintiffs' complaint:

 "In 2011, Harlequin Enterprises sent written communications to plaintiffs and the other class members in which it took the position that royalties for e-books were covered by the AOR [All Other Rights] Clause in the Publishing Agreements and that the authors' 50% royalty was to be calculated based on the net amount received by Harlequin Switzerland, from a 'license' that Harlequin Enterprises claims Harlequin Switzerland granted to it to publish the e-books," the complaint states. "Harlequin Enterprises claimed in those communications that the net amount received by Harlequin Switzerland was 6% to 8% of the cover price of the e-books, and that the royalties owed to plaintiffs and to other class members were therefore 50% of that amount, or 3% to 4% of the cover price.

     Under the publishing agreements, defendants have been paying plaintiffs and the other class members e-book royalties of 3% to 4% of the cover price based on the net amount received by Harlequin Switzerland from the claimed 'license' granted to Harlequin Enterprises, far less than what plaintiffs and the other class members would have been paid if their royalties were based, as they should have been, on the net amount received by Harlequin Enterprises." 

The "TUOL" staff can't help but wonder whether the judge hearing the case wears an eyepatch and has a handsome scar.

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The Weekly Reader Is Kaput--Run, Spot, Run!

Weekly Reader 1 (Photo credit: mahlness)Scholastic-owned The Weekly Reader ("TWR"), the Pre-K to 12th grade classroom magazine whose roots date back to 1902, is no more, The New York Post reports.

All but five of the White Plains, N.Y.-based TWR staffers will be pink-slipped, as its owner plans to fold the journal into its own Scholastic News, according to the Post article. What evolved from Current Events (1902) into My Weekly Reader (1928) (to which the literate staff of "TUOL" once eagerly subscribed) fell on hard times as it never entered the digital age.

The publication once boasted 13 million subscribers, but by 1990 was down to one million, and the Post article suggests its current readership was only a third of that. Scholastic bought TWR from the Readers Digest Assn. in February 2012, for somewhere between $10 million and $20 million.

The "TUOL" staff is heartbroken by the news and wonders where it will go to try to find the spoon, hair brush and banana in the Hidden Picture.
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Friday, July 20, 2012

High Court Finds Two U.K. Dailies in Contempt in Murder Trial Coverage

English: Levi BellfieldLevi Bellfield (Photo credit: Wikipedia)In HM Attorney General v. Associated Newspaper Ltd. & Anor [2012] EWHC 2029, the High Court of Justice found The Daily Mirror and The Daily Mail violated the Contempt of Court Act of 1981 (Ch. 49) in their coverage of the trial of Levi Bellfield for the murder of Milly Dowler, The Guardian (www.guardian.com.uk) reports.

Coverage of the trial of Bellfield for the murder of Dowler and attempted kidnapping of Rachel Cowles began in early May 2011. Bellfield, convicted of the murder of two women in 2008, was found guilty of killing Dowler by the jury on June 23, 2011. While the jury was still deliberating on the Cowles kidnapping charge, the Mail and Mirror published articles on June 24, 2011, containing information not previously presented to the jury, the High Court found.

Specifically, the Mail article concerned Bellfield's alleged murder of another woman and the drugging and raping of schoolgirls, while the Mirror wrote about Bellfield's alleged mistreatment of his ex-wife and a former girlfriend, as well as the purported rape of a disabled woman.

The High Court, in a judgment by Sir John Thomas,  found both papers' articles "seriously prejudicial" as had the trial judge, who cited the prejudicial nature of the articles in discharging the jury before it decided the kidnapping allegation.

Although the High Court's decision is consistent with the strict liability provision of the Contempt of Court Act, it is arguable whether a jury that already knew of Bellfield's 2008 homicides and itself had convicted him of Dowler's murder could be prejudicially influenced against him by the Mail and Mirror articles.
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UPDATE: Change of Heart--Ill. Judge Says Tech Blog Covered by Shield Law

Image representing TechnoBuffalo as depicted i...Image via CrunchBase
Six months after deciding that a consumer electronics blog was not covered by Illinois' shield law [75 Ill. Comp. Stat. secs 5/8-901 to 8-909] (see "TUOL" post 1/23/12), Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Panter has ruled that Calif.-based TechnoBuffalo.com does not have to disclose the identity of the anonymous source who gave the blog images and instructional data about Motorola's Droid bionic smartphone before the product was released.

TechnoBuffalo, a three-year-old blog that reviews products and reports tech news, filed a motion for reconsideration after Judge Panter held it was not a news medium engaged in reporting. Pursuant to Section 5/8-902(a) of Illinois' shield law, "any person regularly engaged in the business of collecting, writing or editing news for publication through a news medium on a full-time or part-time basis" is a reporter. A news medium, as defined bySection 5/8-902(b), is "any newspaper or other periodical issued at regular intervals, whether in print or electronic format, and having a general circulation."

Judge Panter, upon further review, said under the Act, TechnoBuffalo is a news medium and its employees, reporters. '"News is defined by www.merriam-webster.com as 'a report of recent events' and 'previously unknown information,"' Judge Panter wrote. " Similarly, Dictinary.com [sic] defines 'news' as 'a report of recent events.' Under the ordinary meaning of 'news,' the article at issue presented a report on recent events, namely the upcoming release of a new Motorola smartphone. It also supplied previously unknown information. As such, TechnoBuffalo's article falls under the broad, plain meaning of 'news,'" Judge Panter concluded.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

News Media Takes a Holiday from Fact-Checking

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...Image via CrunchBaseRyan Holiday, if one were to believe HARO (Help A Reporter Out), a Web site of source listings for reporters, is an expert in topics ranging from boats and vinyl phonograph albums to insomnia. It turns out, however, according to Poynter.org, that Holiday's expertise is in the field of chain-yanking media outlets, including ABC News, Reuters, and the venerable New York Times.

Holiday, author of Trust Me,I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, who is having a book release party tonight (if one can believe him), was interviewed by Forbes and the Columbia Journalism Review about his exploits, which involved misleading nearly two dozen journalists. Holiday said he wanted to illustrate online journalism problems caused by journalists' reliance on sites such as HARO for sourcing.

Reuters interviewed him as an expert on "Generation Yikes", Manitouboats.com sought his knowledge about winterizing watercraft, while the New York Times talked to him about collecting vinyl records, which he later confessed he doesn't collect.  Most of the snookered news outlets have since published editor's notes, corrections or retracted their Holiday content.

Seems as if the Holiday involved is April Fools Day.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cincinnati Enquirer: More Portable, More 'Wallable"

English: Category:Newspaper logos(Photo credit: Wikipedia)Gannett Co.-owned Cincinnati Enquirer, which has endured newsroom cuts and shrinking ad revenues and circulation in recent years (see "TUOL" posts 2/18/11, 7/13/09), this fall will switch to a smaller format and erect a paywall to charge for online content, the business journal Cincinnati Morning Call reports.

Enquirer Editor Carolyn Washburn claims the changeover to a 10-by-14-inch format like the Columbus Dispatch, and imposing an as-yet-to-be-determined fee structure for its online edition will enable the daily to stave off financial losses and to retain its 150-plus journalists.

Apparently, Cincinnati's first-place baseball team isn't the only business in the city that sees "Reds."

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ethiopian Court Brands Six Journalists 'Terrorists'

Shaded relief map of Ethiopia, 1999, produced ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Citing their purported involvement in Ginbot 7, an Ethiopian court has imposed jail terms on six journalists for alleged terrorist activities, The Guardian (www.guardian.com.uk) reports.

Five of the journalists targeted live in exile and were sentenced in absentia, but award-winning blogger Eskinder Naga, received an 18-year prison term for his link to the U.S.-based Ginbot 7, which the authoritarian African regime has designated a terrorist organization. Press freedom advocates and human rights groups are skeptical of the purported underlying terror plot that triggered the prosecutions, according to The Guardian article.

Naga, along with fellow journalists Mesfin Negash, Abiye Teklemariam, Abebe Gellaw, Fasil Yenealem and Abebe Belew, have denied the charges.
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Monday, July 16, 2012

Ft. Worth Editorial Massacre

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Newspapers don't re-shift their emphasis to digital media platforms without bloodletting, and according to media Web site Romanesko.com, pink slips are flying fast and furiously in the newsroom of the McClatchy Co.-owned Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

A dozen editorial staffers, including several copy editors and Managing Editor Lois Norder, are the latest casualties in the daily's restructuring, according to Romanesko. Reportedly, Kathy Vetter, the paper's managing editor for digital, will be in charge of the paper's whole local news operation.
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Judge Stiffs Daily on Autopsy Record Request

English: Sumter County Courthouse in Sumter Co... Sumter County Courthouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman has ruled against The (Sumter, S.C.) Item's request for the release of an autopsy report under the state's freedom of information act [S.C. Code of Laws 30-4-30], the Associated Press reports.

The Item is weighing whether to appeal Judge Newman's refusal to order the release of the autopsy report involving the shooting death of a 25-year-old man by police. Judge Newman said the autopsy report was a medical record, which is exempt under South Carolina's public records law.
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Tribune Co. Bankruptcy Ordeal Ends: Whither Chicago Trib & LA Times?

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 07: A Chicago and a NATO fl... (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)It took three-and-a-half years and generated roughly $400 million in attorneys' fees, but Delaware U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin J. Carey last Friday signed off on the restructuring agreement that will enable the Tribune Co. to emerge from Chapter 11 insolvency (In re Tribune Co., Case No. 08-bk-13141), according to an article in the Hollywood Reporter.

The Tribune Co., which last year unloaded the NL Central Division cellar-dwelling Chicago Cubs (see "TUOL" posts 11/1/11, 3/29/10), is expected to divest itself of ownership of its newspaper division, which includes The Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and Los Angeles Times. The Chicago-based media conglomerate's holdings, valued at an estimated $7 billion, include 23 television stations, such as WPIX in New York City and WGN in Chicago, nine dailies and several magazines.

Billionaire entrepreneur Sam Zell used a $13 billion leveraged buyout to acquire the Tribune Co., which entered bankruptcy in 2008. Senior creditors are the new owners, among them, Oaktree Capital Mgt., Angelo, Gordon & Co., and JP Morgan Chase & Co. (which in recent weeks has shown us how easy it is to lose $5.8 billion). The new dream team will need the FCC's blessings to transfer ownership of the entity's radio and television licenses.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Mass.Town Won't Disclose Discrimination Suit Settlement Terms to Newspaper

West Bridgewater Town Hall, West Bridgewater, ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)The (Brockton, Mass.) Enterprise will look to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to obtain the release of the terms of a settlement agreement involving a discrimination suit brought by a police officer against the town of West Bridgewater, Enterprise.com reports.

Forty-eight-year-old Thomas Richmond, a full-time West Bridgewater police officer, sued the town in federal court in 2010, alleging disability discrimination, defamation and emotional distress, among other claims. The parties reached a settlement in December 2011, of the suit against the town, its police chief and two other supervisory officers.

The town's administrator would not disclose the lump sum amount paid to Richmond in response to a request from the daily, citing an agreement between the plaintiff and the municipality's insurance company. Likewise, Richmond's counsel would not disclose the sum to the Enterprise, noting he was bound by a confidentiality agreement.

Nondisclosure provisions are commonplace in settlement agreements, but that doesn't change the nature of the underlying claim.  When such an agreement involves a public employee, the agreement is a public record, subject to the Commonwealth's Public Records Law (M.G.L. c. 66, sec. 10). "TUOL" will be surprised if the Commonwealth rules otherwise.
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'Bought Out' Journalist Sues Paper for Fraud

The Star-Ledger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Advance Publications-owned The Star-Ledger has been sued by former deputy business editor and Essex County (N.J.) Bureau Chief Philip Read for fraud, breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing concerning his 2010 buyout, Romanesko.com reports.

Read, who joined the daily as deputy business editor in 1997, alleges that he was misled into accepting the voluntary buyout by purportedly being told editorial staffers would be pink-slipped if the paper didn't realize $10 million in savings, according to his complaint. As Bureau Chief, he was earning $109,000 in 2008 when he purportedly received memoranda from the Star-Ledger citing declining advertising revenues as the impetus for the daily needing 200 employees to accept buyouts.

According to his complaint, Read was told he would likely be laid off if he didn't take the buyout. He alleges the Star-Ledger did not achieve the $10 million cost reduction goal, yet did not layoff staff. (Disclosure: the tireless staff of "TUOL" grew up reading The Star Ledger once The Newark Evening News figuratively and literally folded.)
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Education Reporter Needs Educatin' About Conflicts of Interest

The Confederate Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia(Photo credit: DC Public Library Commons)Carla Branch, Alexandria (Va.) News co-founder and education reporter, was paid $11,000 as a communications consultant by the Alexandria City Public Schools system while covering the district for the paper, according to rival publication The Alexandria Times and media Web site Romanesko.com.

Branch reportedly was paid $75 an hour to write press releases for the school district and to advise the superintendent about improving the district's image, tallying about 150 hours of work besides her Alexandria News Web site duties, the Times reported. The Times article states Branch disclosed her consultant work after she learned a competing paper was going to write a piece about her second job.

Branch claims she avoided any conflict of interest by signing a confidentiality agreement with the school district at the outset of their contract in which she promised not to use information obtained during her consulting duties for any other purpose.

Sadly, Branch misses the point. She may not be betraying any confidences to the Alexandra City Public Schools working as a consultant, but are her Alexandria News readers getting objective "full picture" coverage of the district's performance, blemishes and all? Can the same person who is writing press releases praising the district criticize the superintendent's decision making at the risk of her $75-an-hour fee spigot being turned off?

The staff of "TUOL" isn't going out on a limb in asserting that Branch is mired in an untenable conflict of interest situation.
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