Saturday, July 15, 2006


Driving Ms. Helen: A "giraffe" intern gets losts, collects wisdom and coffee while ferrying Helen Thomas from Amherst to a Boston TV studio

OPINION, By Sean McHugh

The author is a journalism/English undergraduate at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who lives in Williamstown, Mass. He was among interns who staffed the Media Giraffe Project's first summit conference at UMass Amherst June 28-July 1, 2006, where Hearst newspapers' White House columnist Helen Thomas was a speaker.

Driving Ms. Helen.

I am driving Helen Thomas, legendary White House correspondent and journalist par excellence, and I am totally lost. I need to get her to NECN TV studios in Newton by 3:15 and I can’t, for the life of me, find the goddamn Mass Pike. The rented Ford Explorer I’ve been saddled with isn’t helping, it’s unfamiliar bulk makes me yearn for my (t)rusty Geo Prism waiting for me at the conference in Amherst. I think the side-view mirrors are off but I can’t figure out how to adjust them while driving.

I’m trying to keep the conversation going, partially to hear her fascinating war stories but equally to keep her distracted from the road. I ask her how the current conflict in Iraq compares with the one in Vietnam, two unpopular wars. The biggest difference she notes the attitude toward the war held by the administration. Johnson felt trapped in the war, he desperately wanted to pull out but felt he couldn’t leave without making the US appear weak, dishonouring JFK’s legacy, and opening southeast Asia to communism. The Bush administration by contrast was gung ho from the beginning and never let contrary opinions sway them. Angry demonstrators constantly barraged LBJ, and Nixon after him, anywhere he went. Bush by comparison is kept in a bubble of supporters and yes-men, safely away from dissenting opinion. She adds that while Johnson was giving himself sleepless nights worrying over ways to escape the quagmire, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the cabal of Neo-Cons that run the White House today were obtaining draft deferments, or using their fathers’ influence to land cushy National Guard gigs.

I note that today those same National Guard positions are now on the front lines, not sidelines; patrolling the streets of Fallujah and the US/Mexico border when they could be much more useful in New Orleans.Having mentioned the Neo-Cons, Helen goes on to tell me about The Project for the New American Century. It involved taking Iraq and replacing the government with an America-friendly regime. Then Syria would suffer the same fate, followed by Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and finally Egypt. This would ensure US containment of China. The grand design for this megalomaniac scheme more befitting a Risk board than international politics was to preserve American dominance in the world. I resolve to research it later, or, at the very least, look it up on Wikipedia.

I see a sign for the Mass Pike and breathe a sigh of relief. I am slightly concerned to note that we have somehow managed to arrive west of our starting point, which is odd considering I had been trying to go east. Still, I left early enough to afford myself so slack. I head out towards the miraculous strip of asphalt I have been searching for. We enter the Pike and speed off down towards Newton. I’m eager to make up for lost time, but I never ever break the speed limit. Never.

We begin to discuss to the death of rational argument in America and the culture of Talking Points. “Shouting Points,” I quip. (Note: the phrase “Shouting Points” is copyright Sean McHugh 2006, if you steal it I will find you). In the last few years fact and evidence have given way to opinion and volume; “Truthiness” in the words of modern sage Stephen Colbert.

We hit the high points. Global Warming. What was once an acknowledged problem is now back on the table for further review (the Explorer’s external thermometer reads 83 degrees). Intelligent Design. Did I miss the part where we as a society regressed a century? Anne Coulter. Our consensus: freaky.

Needing fuel for my lumbering behemoth I pull off the interstate to one of the ‘Pike’s various gas’n’food plazas. An unholy union between a McDonalds, a TigerMart and a gas station greets me with a convoluted pattern of traffic directions that would do M.C. Escher proud. I drop Helen by the rest area and maneuver my way through the gas pumps. My hungry beast slurps down 20 gallons of the precious, precious fluid. I adjust the side-view mirrors, and, completely forgetting to collect my receipt, follow Helen into the rest area. Inside I discover that the rest area is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Eisenhower interstate highway system. They have cake. Deciding not to chance the McDonalds fare, Helen gets a coffee, we grab some cake, I take a picture for one of the anniversary workers who recognizes Helen, and we leave. We pause a moment to enjoy our cake before resuming our trek.

"Hillary can win if Democrats stop saying she can't"

Back on the road again, I ask her who she thinks could take the presidency in 2008. I’m slightly surprised when she responds "Hillary. She’s smart, she does her homework, she figured out how to win upstate New York, a traditionally Republican area. The Democrats just need to stop saying that she can’t win, because she can, and get behind her. Also she needs to stop pandering, it doesn’t help."

I get that, her recent stance against violent videogames hasn’t won her any real support, it just made her sound like an out of touch luddite. I may be a little harsh on that point, but I need to defend my core values. You can have my controller, ladies and gentlemen of Congress, when you pry it from my cold, clammy, carpal-tunnel afflicted hands. I digress.

Conversation shifts toward me as Helen inquires about the political climate of college campuses today. I mention the pervasive apathy that tends to hang about the hallowed halls of education. I do note that there is still some passion for politics among my peers. Then I go on to tell my funny story about the student production of Romeo and Juliet in which radical liberal me played Romeo opposite the vice president of the Conservative Student Union (Ask me about it some time, it’s a pretty funny story (Actually, come to think about it, that’s 90% of the story right there, never mind (On second thought, there are some amusing anecdotes related but not directly part of it so ask anyway))).

I realize I never got the receipt for the gas. Drat, that was $59.We wend our way down the perilous outer rings of Boston traffic and make our way into Newton.

In no time flat we have located the television studio, and, with plenty of time remaining before Helen’s TV appearance, we decide to look for somewhere to have lunch. Unfortunately we soon find this to be a fruitless endeavour. Newton, it seems consists of nothing but country clubs, residential districts, cemeteries, and the occasional office park. “Where do these people eat?” we wonder. I think I see a Pizzeria Uno but it turns out to be the corporate office of the chain. They don’t have any food. The one restaurant we come across is closed for the Fourth of July Weekend. Defeated, we turn around and head back to NECN, whose employees we figure must brownbag it every day, or run up a fortune in take-out.

In the lobby of the New England Cable News studio we wait for a gubernatorial debate, which is running long, to finish. As we sit there I can almost feel the current flowing through the building: Helen Thomas has arrived, THE Helen Thomas. People passing through the lobby stop to introduce themselves and say what a hero she is to them. A communications director takes the initiave and seats us in her office.

NECN staffers are tripping over each other to make sure we have everything we need. We get more drinks then we could possibly handle. I tear through the reheated (delivery) pizza they offer. The current has grown stronger and more and more journalists pour into the office to meet the great Helen Thomas. I end up taking a few more pictures for distinguished men in expensive suits and attractive women with suspiciously perfect hair. They thank her for her role in women’s empowerment.

They ask her who her favorite president is, she doesn’t hesitate before saying JFK. They ask her least favorite, she thinks for a moment and answers “This one.” “Worse than Nixon?” someone asks, a little incredulously. She stays adamant. “The Nixon administration was a microcosm of the abuse of power, but this present administration has taken it further.” She goes on to say that Nixon was checked by principled people in Congress and the courts, and hounded by an attentive press but the Bush administration has done everything to silence opposition. It has blockaded the press wherever possible. Where the press hasn’t been opposed it has rolled over for the administration, often because of corporate ownership. The journalists assemble nod in agreement, though the say NECN is largely free from corporate control.

They’re ready to start prepping Helen for her interviews, one live, one taped for the next day. We say good-bye and she heads off into the studio. I receive a tour of the newsroom and the TV set and I talk to the internship coordinator before returning to the long and lonely road to Amherst.

OWNERSHIP: Chicago Tribune column reviews newspaper ownership models

ORIGINAL URL:,1,391884.story
Published July 2, 2006

Newspapers: Profits versus public trust

By Alicia C. Shepard

The author writes about the media. Her book, "Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate," is due out in October

It has been an explosive couple of months for the newspaper industry.
First, a hedge fund managed to unravel Knight Ridder, once the nation's second-largest newspaper chain. Now one of California's wealthiest families seeks to do the same with Tribune Co. Tribune, too, may soon find itself headed to the Wall Street chop shop. Both events suggest that it might be time to explore an alternative to publicly owned newspaper companies, a model that no longer seems to work.

Consider this. Newspapers are public trusts, and they continue to play a critical role in society: setting the agenda in big cities and small towns, acting as a watchdog on government and, even still, providing school lunch menus.

Some visionary newspaper owners have found a way to preserve their independence and protect themselves from feeling under siege if they don't make 20 percent (or higher) pretax profit margins, an extraordinary figure that has become Wall Street's minimum expectation for newspaper companies, although it would make oil companies swoon with delight.

One of the more enlightened newspaper owners is H. Brandt Ayers, whose father founded The Anniston Star in 1912. Ayers has said he could have sold the small newspaper in northeastern Alabama for $50 million to a hungry, acquisitive newspaper chain.Instead he found a way to guarantee long-term local ownership and independence, while still doing the kind of quality journalism that is possible only when not myopically focused on the bottom line.

Ayers created a non-profit foundation to use the newspaper's earnings to keep the paper afloat, and then take the profits to run a degree-offering journalism program. The Star's experiment starts next month with the arrival of seven graduate students from the University of Alabama who will use the newsroom as their classroom to practice community journalism."We anticipate that other publishers will see what we are doing and recognize the wisdom and replicate it," said Chris Waddle, who will run "the teaching newspaper" with the help of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

What The Star and at least two other newspapers--the St. Petersburg Times in Florida and the New Hampshire Union Leader in Manchester--have done is effectively turn their newspapers over to a non-profit school that trains journalists. Instead of after-tax earnings going to insatiable shareholders, family members or faraway owners, these newspapers put their profits into educating journalists at the high school, college or professional level. The concept allows the newspaper to do its best journalism for the community rather than be beholden to the bottom line.

These newspapers still need to make money. But their unusual partnerships allow them flexibility to plan for and invest in the long term. Companies such as Knight Ridder became so slavish to satisfying Wall Street that they lost that option.

Courses for more than 1,000

In Manchester, The Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications owns the Union Leader, a paper once well-known because of former publisher William Loeb's fiery conservative editorials. Long after he died, his wife set up a non-profit school that offers media courses to all in New Hampshire, but to young people in particular. Since its inception, the school has taught courses in media skills and 1st Amendment law for more than 1,000 students.

Nelson Poynter first saw the beauty of setting up a tax-exempt foundation partnership in 1978, when he turned his newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, over to the Poynter Institute, which now owns the 330,000-circulation, highly regarded paper."There is a famous Nelson Poynter quote," said Poynter Institute attorney George Rahdert. "`I've never met my great-grandchildren and I might not like them.' He felt a newspaper was better served by being placed in the hands of highly competent journalists than left in the hands of his heirs."

The prestigious Poynter Institute, one of journalism's jewels, educates hundreds of professional journalists from around the country each year with weeklong seminars and training programs.

"The St. Pete Times . . . puts the dividends into the non-profit Poynter Institute, which uses the dividends to run the school," explained Andrew Barnes, who was editor of the paper for 15 years. "The Washington Post, as an example, pays taxes and then turns over its dividends to shareholders. Since they are a public company, they have to tell everybody what they are doing. I don't have to tell you how much our profit margin is."

"The school was not rapacious in its demands," said James Naughton, Poynter's president from 1996 to 2003. "It was eager for a good return to continue the work of the school, but it was able to abide single-digit profits, if necessary, which most of the big media companies would never do."

Other protective models

A few other papers have similar arrangements that protect them from being gobbled up if they don't make eye-popping profits. The Day in New London, Conn., is owned by a charitable trust that prevents it from being sold unless it loses money two years in a row. All the paper's earnings are put back into the newspaper and then distributed through the trust to civic groups and charities.

Independent Newspapers Inc., which owns the daily Delaware State News in Dover and other weeklies, and the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo also have arrangements whereby they are protected by non-profit holding companies that keep the papers independent. The Daily Journal then shares its profits with the community.

The downsides to this kind of arrangement seem small compared to the long-term security the staff and community feel. Independent newspapers don't get the price breaks a chain can demand on everything from paper clips to newsprint. They also don't get the advertising advantages and other synergies that come when an owner clusters newspapers geographically.

"I don't see the trend as the wave of the future," said newspaper analyst John Morton. "You have to be fairly altruistic to engage in something like that. Nelson Poynter was. The Loebs, even if you disagree with their politics, were too. The same thing with the family in Anniston."

In that case, if some rich person is looking for a legacy and immortality, what better way than to buy a newspaper and set it up so that it will always be independent? Hey, it could be more rewarding than owning a local sports franchise.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

The article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


PROSPECT: Dan Rather joints Mark Cuban's HDNet for weekly, hourly long investigative show


Rather: I'm in "Control" at HD Net
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/11/2006 11:03:00 PM

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather has paired with Mark Cuban's HD Net
because he will have "complete, absolute and total creative and editorial
control" of his new investigative program, Dan Rather
Reports . news, "like you've never seen it before," he told critics at the
Television Critics Association press tour today.

Rather is aiming for the hour-long weekly show to bring to the
high-definition platform the "hard-digging, no-holds-barred reporting and
excellent writing" on pieces reported with "accuracy, fairness and guts,"
he said. The show is slated to debut in Oct., when the veteran newsman
will turn 75.

Admittedly not a heavy HD Net viewer before his talks with Cuban, Rather
said he became "damned interested" in working with the network when Cuban
offer to supply him whatever funding he needed to do kind of journalism he
wanted to do (the two declined to answer what Rather would be paid for the

"This is a situation unprecedented in my own career," he said of Cuban's
proposal to give him total control of the show.

"CBS is a large organization.with a chain of command that looks like the
wiring of a nuclear plant or something," he said, adding later, "the
difference here is that the chain of command begins and ends with
me...It's having the ultimate responsibility and accountability of the

Staffing has not yet begun for the series, but Rather said he will likely
recruit former CBS colleagues for many of the roles.

Asked whether he felt he was "leashed" while at CBS News, Rather employed
the colorful speech he is known for, saying he "wouldn't touch [the
question] with a 17-foot pole, which is reserved for the things I wouldn't
touch with a 12-foot pole," but took pains not to criticize CBS and make
clear that he is "always pulling for the people of CBS News."

Rather and Cuban each stressed their new show as one of journalistic merit
and criticized TV news organizations and the media that cover them for
focusing too much on ratings and on the money
behind the programming.

Calling ratings "one wee small flag waving in the breeze," Rather said the
kind of news I want to do with HD Net will emphasize quality reporting
over quantitative ratings data and strive to avoid "media group-think."

"So much of journalism . particularly television journalism . has become
a focus on the sound bytes and spin," he said. "What we're dedicated to
focusing on is news that really matters.

For his part, Cuban stressed that the alliance with Rather was not simply
to bring notoriety to his up-and-coming channel, or make money by latching
onto newfangled digital media applications with news programming, but to
put together a respectable news program.

"We've got such a bad case of Internet and broadband-it is where everyone
thinks the Internet is the cure and we've forgotten about what journalism
is about and it is to tell the story," Cuban said.

Rather said he was exclusive to HD for the sort of reporting he will be
doing for the show and that HD Net was his first priority now, but allowed
that he was "very interested" in broadband applications and would like to
take on other projects if he could.

Industry speculation about where the notoriously dedicated newsman would
channel his devotion to the field after he left CBS earlier this summer
before his contract was due to expire in November.

After 24 years leading the CBS Evening News, Rather stepped down as anchor
in March 2005 after a 60 Minutes II piece he did about the President's
National Guard service was discredited.

Repeatedly invoking the work of Edward R. Murrow (Mark Cuban was one of
the executive producers of the highly acclaimed theatrical release Good
Night, and Good Luck, which told Murrow's story) Rather responded to
questioning about whether he is biased, Rather slammed reporters who bow
to public pressure to report news one way or another, saying he is
"prejudiced toward reporters who want to do the right thing."

Downplaying his professional accomplishments thus far, Rather told the
critics he didn't feel he had anything to prove at this stage in his

"Sometimes you're not the best judge of what motivates yourself," he said.
Mark thinks I have something to prove. Perhaps I do, but I don't feel that
way. What I feel is that I want to do work that matters. I want to do
great work and if my health and Mark's money holds out, maybe I can give
that a chance."


The article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


CLIPPING: News council seeks to resolve media disputes


POSTED: Friday, June 30, 2006

News council seeks to resolve media disputes

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, Mass.

AMHERST - A new group at the University of Massachusetts wants to bring a cool breeze into the media hothouse.

Fueled by a grant from the Knight Foundation, the nonprofit New England News Council will position itself between companies that report the news and people who feel they have been treated unfairly by that coverage.

The $75,000 grant is one of two awarded nationally today. The UMass-based council, and another in California, join a handful of news councils around the country that claim to bring an independent quest for accuracy and fairness to a crowded media marketplace.

The council, operating from within the journalism program at UMass, will field complaints about news coverage from all six New England states.

Its director, Bill Densmore, acknowledges the council must convince New England journalists it can play a useful role, at a time when bloggers and new media outlets offer limitless opportunities for expression.

''We know this is a challenge, to win support from editors,'' Densmore said today. ''They might feel it would be nice to have a partner in helping to resolve these things.''

The project is still taking shape, Densmore said. Norm Sims, a long-time professor at UMass, will be a lead investigator of complaints that the council takes on.

The venture will seek participation as well from journalists and consumers of news. To qualify for a hearing by the council, a person making a complaint must waive the right to bring a lawsuit.

Eric Newton, director of journalism initiatives for the Knight Foundation, said a news council seeks to reveal the actual facts underlying media complaints.

That purpose, he said in a statement, ''is better than a blogger working from opinion alone, and vastly superior to the talking heads on cable TV with their pre-fixed political menus.''

Tim Blagg, editor of The Recorder newspaper in Greenfield, said today he believes publications like his own are not viewed as part of ''one amorphous mass called the 'news media.' ... I insist that independent, local newspapers like The Recorder and the Gazette are viewed by their readers with affection
and respect, and that when they err, which of course they do, they are quickly called to account by their readers.''

''They participate, sometimes vociferously, in the day-to-day operation, story selection and correction process,'' Blagg said in an email message. ''They don't need a 'council' to make their views known.''

The Recorder is owned by Newspapers of New England, the privately held company that bought the Daily Hampshire Gazette early this year.

Densmore said he plans to work at first to explain the venture to media companies around the region. Participation by media companies is voluntary. He stressed today that the council he envisions will seek to do more than hold editors' feet to the fire.

''This has moved rather quickly. We want to consult a lot with New England media about how to implement this,'' Densmore said.

Rather than focus on fault of blame in how a story was reported, Densmore said the council will work to improve the overall relationship between news outlets and news consumers. Densmore said the council will seek both to resolve conflicts and to engage in public education, through forums and Web site materials. The grant will support a year of work, he said, and the council will need to win new financial backing as it takes shape.

Blagg, the Greenfield editor, agrees that people are increasingly suspicious about the worth of the information they receive. ''It is true that public opinion of the 'news media' and its credibility is slipping, and it should be,'' he said. ''Blogs are mostly baloney, most TV and radio news are rip-and-read operations and network news operations have long blurred the line between entertainment and news.''


The article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


GRANTS: Sunlight Foundation offers up to $5K to better connect with Congress

One of the leaders of the Internet presidential campaign strategy of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean -- Zephyr Teachout -- has become national director of the Sunlight Foundation's "Sunlight Network." Sunlight Network is offering "mini-grants," in the $1,000 to $5,000 range, for local orregional nonprofit organizations and non-affiliated groups that haveinnovative approaches to strengthening the relationship between membersof Congress and the citizens they represent. Grants will be made available on a rolling basis starting July 15 based on a one-page summary application which should be sent to Teachout at For hypothetical examples of what Sunlight is looking for, go to:

The Sunlight Foundation is a 501 (c)(3), according to its website, is "aiming to use the Internet and new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing, and thus help reduce corruption, ensure great transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy. it has funded The Institute on State Money and Politics,, Room Eight,, the Congresspedia project of the Center for Media and Democracy, the Center for Responsive Politics, OMB Watch and the Project on Government Oversight.


VIDEO: In rural America, 4-H youth adopt videoblogging

The national 4-H website has posted a feature story about the use of video blogging by rural youth. It reports that you are sharing breaking news, event coverage and educational information with their community. For example, the 4-H Network News technology club inJefferson County, Wash., provides on-the-spot reportsthrough video clips and podcasts posted to their 4-HNetwork News Web site. Club members have covered a fire in a historic hotel and a Red Cross disaster training exercise and conducted interviews with local business leaders.

Read More

4-H Network News

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?