The Price of Global Journalism

My friend Dr. Chris Allen, a journalism professor at University of Nebraska at Omaha, has been working on global journalism issues from Russia, to Afghanistan, to Oman, and beyond.  I am reposting what he wrote on November 22 with his permission as a reminder of the cost our journalists pay for covering the news around the world:

Journalist Ahmed NasrDuring my time in Oman five years ago I shared an office with Dr. Hosni Nasr, who became a great friend and colleague. In July I met his son, Ahmad,a journalist, who had just moved from their native Cairo to Oman and was looking for a job. He got one, I’m not sure with which organization, and two weeks ago was sent to Iran on a story. He disappeared, and there has been a frantic search for him. Today I found out he has died, but I do not know the circumstances. My heart weeps for this young man, his father, my dear friend, his mother, whom I also love, and his brother and sisters. May God in his mercy give them strength to get through this time of grief.

I sit at my desk with tears in my eyes for my friends, but also for all journalists who have died doing their jobs. Journalists are criticized because they don’t always tell us what we believe, want to believe or want to hear. But the vast majority of journalists are accurate reporters trying to do a good job, just as we all try. They put themselves in dangerous situations to cover stories that need to be told. No one else will tell those stories. No one. No. One. Their only protection is a pen and notebook, a microphone, a camera. If there is shooting they may have a flak vest and helmet. Nothing else. They are not armed.

But they continue to report from situations the rest of us, me included, would never think of entering. They walk alongside soldiers. They search for people with information the world needs to know. And sometimes they die.

There is no war in Iran. By the accounts I read there is peace. And yet this young man has died, doing his job. Ahmad, you will not be forgotten. May you be at peace.

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Blue Hill students present challenging “Laramie Project”

Story from NTV – Nebraska TV

Blue Hill, Nebraska is a small town by most people’s standards, with a population under 1,000.  But that doesn’t stop the local high school from having a vibrant theater program.  Over the last few years, students there staged Shakespeare’s Macbeth, presented a drama about the Chernobyl disaster, and gave the U.S. premiere of Elizabeth Inchbald’s The Massacre.  

Under the direction of of Blue Hill language arts teacher Summer Lukasiwicz, this year’s one-act play was The Laramie Project. The play tells the story of the kidnapping, beating and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard back in 1998.  Following his murder outside of the town of Laramie, Wyoming, members of the Tectonic Theater Project from New York City came out to Laramie and talked with the locals about how Matthew’s murder affected the town.

The play is a challenging one, presenting everyone’s story in an even-handed manner. But at it’s core, it’s a story about a young man who was killed because he was gay.

Not surprisingly, the play faced some resistance in small-town Nebraska.  While the students and their director received nothing but support from their school and school administration, there were reportedly objections to it by both local clergy and some parents.

By the Thursday before the play’s Sunday performance, they had only sold 50 tickets for the show. The previous year’s play had sold 200 tickets.

So the word went out on social media that these kids needed support.  My wife first read about it when she found a link on UNK theater senior Jacey Anderson’s Facebook page to a local blog, Her View From Home, written by Leslie Means, who is from Blue Hill. Means asked for people to either go to the play or help share the students’ story. I then saw a post on the blog Fairy Princess Diaries, which in between very bright animated GIFs told the students’ story. (The blogger is a singer/actress/writer who has performed on Broadway.) Finally, I saw a number of posts on Facebook ranging from local Nebraska theater people to folks from New York City.

My wife and I attended the show Sunday night, along with a group of UNK theater students, and there was a crowd of more than 300 paying customers there for the play (and for the tables of fabulous desserts baked by home ec teacher Christine Brown and her assistants). I was told by people we were sitting with that this was the first time they could remember that all the tables on the gym floor were filled, forcing many people to sit up in the bleachers.

Among those in the audience were three members of the Tectonic Theater Project who wrote and produced the original staging of the play.

The students presented a 30-minute one-act version of the play that fits the needs of student play competition rules, but even in its abbreviated form the play is moving.  And these young people from Blue Hill did a great job with it.  Keep in mind, these same kids were playing football, cheerleading, and doing every other imaginable high school activity.  When you attend a small high school, you don’t specialize.

So let me congratulate director Summer Lukasiwicz along with her cast and crew:

  • Cast: Lindsey Hafer, Collin Brown, Becky Cox, Britney Toepfer, John Rouse, Bradley Morse, Jami Kirchner, Brendan Hafer, Trinity Cox, and Sadie Looters
  • Stage Crew: Yuriko Hernandez-Piel, Brock Iliff, Olivia Buschow, and Dakota Busboom

 

Thanks for a great evening of theater. (And for the cake and pie…)

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All Media are Social – alt-right figure off Twitter, death threats on Facebook & fake news ban on Google

Lots of social media in the news this week:

  • Twitter suspends prominent alt-right accounts
    Twitter has suspended a number of accounts associated with alt-right figure Richard Spencer.  Spencer is the president of a white nationalist think tank. In the past, Twitter has faced criticism for failing to suspend accounts engaged in “targeted abuse or harassment of others.” (WaPo)
  • Cybersecurity CEO fired for posting death threats to Trump on Facebook
    Matt Harrigan was fired from his job as CEO of cybersecurity firm PacketSled after he posted comments on Facebook threatening to kill the president-elect and claiming he was going to get a sniper rifle and place himself “where it counts.” Harrigan’s Facebook account was set so that only his friends could see his posts, but that didn’t keep his posts from being screen shotted and shared on social media.Harrigan told the Washington Post:
    “I said some things that I’m deeply regretful for, and I would apologize to anybody, including the president-elect,” Harrigan said. “If I could take it all back, I absolutely would, because of course I don’t mean any of those things. They’re absurd.”

    “It was intended to be funny, but it was a very bad joke in very poor taste,” he said.

    Hint: Death threats against anyone are never funny. They are especially not funny when directed against the president or president-elect.

  • Google to ban “fake news” sites from advertising using AdSense
    There’s been a big backlash as of this week about fake news being shared through social media such as Facebook. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google has responded to this by banning the sale of AdSense ads to companies that on pages that “‘misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose’ of the website.”
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“Do they still sing the blues in Chicago?”

I first became a Cubs fan back in the late 1970s in the years before lights were installed at Wrigley Field. That meant that all of the Cubs’ home games were day games.  This meant that during the long days when I was out working in the seed corn fields or trimming trees I could listen more often than not to the Cubs playing on my little AM transistor radio.

Please remember that this was before we had iPods and smartphones to bring in entertainment.  This was back when a WalkMan was brand new cutting-edge technology, priced way beyond my meager student income. So I became a Cubs fan because they were the team that met my needs.

I was also a big fan of Chicago folk singer Steve Goodman.  I even saw him in concert in Des Moines in 1981 or 82 in a show with John Prine. He was a little guy with an enormous heart who desperately loved (with a big dose of realism), his Chicago Cubs.

In 1983s, Goodman wrote a beautifully sad ode to the Cubbies called “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.”

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground

Before long he goes into a monologue outlining the perfect Wrigley Field funeral:

He said, “Give me a double header funeral in Wrigley Field
On some sunny weekend day (no lights)
Have the organ play the “National Anthem”
and then a little ‘na, na, na, na, hey hey, hey, Goodbye’
Make six bullpen pitchers, carry my coffin
and six ground keepers clear my path
Have the umpires bark me out at every base
In all their holy wrath
Its a beautiful day for a funeral, Hey Ernie lets play two!
Somebody go get Jack Brickhouse to come back,
and conduct just one more interview
Have the Cubbies run right out into the middle of the field,
Have Keith Moreland drop a routine fly
Give everybody two bags of peanuts and a frosty malt
And I’ll be ready to die

Goodman was likely talking about his own dreams here, given that he was fighting leukemia at the time – a disease that would claim his life at a much to young age of 36.

But Goodman was not done with writing about his beloved cubs. In 1984, WGN-TV’s program director Dan Fabian was looking for a new song to open up Cubs radio broadcasts to replace Mitch Miller’s “It’s a Beautiful Day For A Ballgame,” and he turned to Goodman to write a positive song about the Cubs. The result was the now iconic “Go, Cubs, Go.” And after each winning home-field game, the fans sing along with a recording of Goodman.

In honor of the Cubs finally winning their first World Series in 108 years this week, the Chicago cast of the musical Hamilton skipped their usual curtain-call number and instead launched into a rousing version of “Go, Cubs, Go.”

It’s a wonderful, rousing song. But it doesn’t have the distinctive Goodman voice that “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” does.

In a beautiful final twist, Goodman did get the final wish of his song’s protagonist, with his brother David finding a way to scatter Steve’s ashes in the outfield at Wrigley Field:

He found a guy – local singer songwriter Harry Waller — who knew some guys who knew a guy who knew a guy in stadium security who’d let them slip into the Friendly Confines with a portion of Goodman’s remains just before Opening Day of 1988.

I’ve heard argue that winning the World Series now makes the Cubs just another ball club. No longer special with their long-suffering fans. But I have no doubt that the suffering of Cubs fans is not over. As a former pastor of mine used to say: “They wouldn’t be the Cubbies if they didn’t break our hearts.”

Steve’s “Song for David,” a tribute to his younger brother.

 

 

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Election News in the News

There’s a lot of strange news about the upcoming election going on.  Here’s a sampling:

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Local TV station news operation has a bad day

So, my local NTV News television station has had a bad day covering a murder trial in Kansas.  We’ll let them tell the story:

ntvmistrial

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Washington Post reporter Wes Lowery discusses voting on Twitter

Wes Lowery at the Washington Post is a reporter I respect, and I follow his work closely.  Here’s what he had to say on Twitter today in response to a critic who claimed Lowery was likely voting for Hillary.  Read from the bottom up.

Wesley Lowery's tweets

Tweets from Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery.

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Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

  • How can Fox maintain their journalistic reputation?
    WaPo conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin argues that Trump campaign gives commentators a challenge when it comes to responding to extreme spin. And she also wonders what Fox can do to maintain their journalistic reputation. (Yes, Fox is Fox, but they do have a number of fine journalists working there.  It’s just their voices sometimes get drowned out by the evening shoutfest.)
  • Do we need to be afraid of the “speech police committee” on college campuses?
    That’s an argument coming from the president of the University of Chicago. Is there really a problem with safe spaces? And what do minority/marginalized students hope to get from safe spaces? (NOTE: Not defending safe spaces here, but if you are a wealthy white male in a position of power, you’ve probably never needed a “safe space.”)
  • How was the Fox remake of Rocky Horror?
    Quoting from the New Yorker review:
    “[Laverne Cox] doesn’t surpass, or equal, Curry—no one could. Curry was like Freddie Mercury in fishnets…”
    Kudos, Sarah Larson. That is absolutely brilliant.
  • Why does student free speech matter?
    Great column from Daily Nebraskan editor Lani Hanson
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AT&T Buying Time Warner – Which Apocalypse Will It Be?

time-warner

Oh, wow, a tech giant is buying up Time Warner, one of the big legacy media companies for an unheard of amount of money. The tech company is talking about how the purchase will help them leverage synergy in the new media marketplace, and critics are wringing their hands over whether this puts too much power in the hands of a single company.  Critics go on to worry whether  this will mean the end of media content being made available across multiple streaming networks.  Is this the apocalypse?

Of course not.

AOLIf you were paying attention, you would realize that I could very easily be talking about AOL’s acquisition of Time Warner back in 2001.  At the time of the merger, AOL was valued at $124 billion; when the companies separated in 2009, AOL’s value was below $3 billion. The goal of the merger was to have greater synergy between AOL’s online offerings and Time Warner’s older legacy media.

The only problem?

The AOL–Time Warner synergy never really worked. The new company soon cut more than four thousand jobs and sold off numerous properties, including its sports teams, its book division, and the Warner Music Group. It was, as Recode’s Kara Swisher wrote yesterday, quite possibly the worst corporate merger of all time.

Now, that’s obviously not what I’m writing about today. (Or is it?)

AT&TOver the weekend, the news went from rumors, to trial balloons, to an official announcement that telecom giant AT&T was buying legacy media giant Time Warner for a reported $85 billion.

To me, the big question here is – What does AT&T get out of the deal?  Will they get Disney level synergy or find themselves in a complicated marketplace they have no understanding of?

First, some context:

  • Amazon.com in addition to selling stuff online is also a major streaming and downloadable content provider with Amazon Video and Music, and it is also a big provider of web services to companies and organizations.
  • Google’s parent company Alphabet owns online video giant YouTube.
  • Apple, along with being one of the world’s largest corporations, also owns streaming and downloadable media giant iTunes.
  • Cable/internet/mobile giant Comcast owns NBCUniversal, along with a host of other channels they owned before buying NBCUniversal.
  • None of these companies were seen as media giants 15 years ago.
  • Here’s a link to a great history of related media/tech mergers from NPR’s The Two-Way blog.
  • The merger would have to be approved the the FCC
  • This would get Time Warner back into the business of retail delivery of programing that it has been getting out of by selling off AOL and Time-Warner Cable (which has now merged with Charter/Spectrum cable)
  • The merger is big – really big. According to AdWeek, AT&T has a market capitalization of about $230 billion and Time Warner is valued at about $70 billion.   By way of comparison, Comcast is currently valued at $154 billion and Disney at $150 billion.  With a little simple math, you can see that the new AT&T/TW would be worth approximately the combined value of the two other giants.
  • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says that were he elected, he would block the merger.

And here are some possible consequences:

  • AT&T sees the merger as a way of connecting with “cord cutters, cord shavers, and cord nevers.”
  • Anti-trust regulations would almost certainly require the new company to make their content available through other streaming and mobile providers.  (Look back to the Comcast deal for context here.)
  • The merger might not help either company much.  Comcast and NBCUniversal are both doing well, Recode’s Edmund Lee notes, but that’s because they are both well managed companies that are offering good products, not because they have merged.
  • Apple doesn’t get to buy Time Warner, but Apple might not want to have.  Apple has found enormous success by providing good ways to deliver content to their wonder (and expensive) devices. But they haven’t really gotten into the content business …. yet. (Although the Jobs family is the largest stock holder in both Apple and Disney.)

So is this merger the media apocalypse? Kinda doubt it.  More just the latest sequel to a show we’ve seen too many times before.  Only question is which ending it will get.

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News About News: Campaign money, Shep Smith & Fox, Charges Dropped for Goodman, and Death Threats at AZ Republic

There’s been a lot of news about the news coverage of politics in the last few days.  Here are several that I think we should be paying attention to:

    • When journalists give money to the presidential campaign, they give it to Hillary, not Donald
      Which really shouldn’t surprise anyone given Trump’s attitude towards journalists (“They’re scum. They’re horrible people. They are so illegitimate. … Some of the people in the press are honorable. But you’ve got 50% who are terrible people.’’) Several news organizations forbid (or come close to forbidding) their reporters and editors from making political contributions. According to the Center for Public Integrity, these include the New York Times, the Associated Press, CNN, The Dallas Morning NewsHouston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, ProPublica, San Antonio Express-News, The Seattle Times, and Tampa Bay Times. Overall, not a lot of journalists make donations, and many of those who do are not involved with reporting on politics or public policy.
    • When you think of the future of Fox News, it may be more Shep Smith and less Sean Hannity
      While I don’t typically watch a lot of Fox News, I will admit to enjoying Shep Smith, overtime I’ve either watched him or seen clips of him online. His wonderful “This is the stupidest thing we’ve ever done” story about a falling satellite is priceless. The Huffington Post ran an excellent profile of Fox’s afternoon news anchor who is well respected even by people who are not fans of Fox. I think this quote really sums things up well:“When the opinion people say things and then later we get facts that are different, and I report those, everybody would love for there to be a war going on here,” he said. “But it’s not like that. Everybody’s got a job to do. [Sean] Hannity is trying to get conservatives elected. And he wants you to listen to him and believe what he believes. And I’m disseminating facts. It’s really apples and teaspoons. What we do is so different. He’s an entertaining guy who has an audience that he serves, and I deliver the news. His is probably easier ― he knows what he thinks and just sticks with it. This stuff changes all the time.”Shep Smith spoke out against the U.S.’s use of torture on an episode of Fox News’ “Freedom Watch” on April 22, 2009. (Beware – NSFW language)
    • Charges Dropped Against Journalist Covering Dakota Access Pipeline
      A North Dakota judged has dismissed the criminal charges  raised against Democracy Now reporter Amy Goodman while covering the protests at the Dakota Access pipeline. Goodman had been charged initially with trespass and was later charged with participating in a riot. The state’s attorney who filed the charges against Goodman, told the Bismarck Tribune that her story was one-sided and that she shouldn’t be considered a reporter.“She’s a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions,” said Erickson, adding that her coverage of the Sept. 3 protest did not mention that people trespassed during the incident or the alleged assaults on guards.“Is everybody that’s putting out a YouTube video from down there a journalist down there, too?” he asked.
    • President of The Arizona Republic Responds to Death Threats Following Paper’s Endorsement of Hillary Clinton
      I noted last month that The Arizona Republic newspaper had for the first time ever endorsed a Democrat for the presidency of the United States. That endorsement has brought a wide range of threats, even death threats to reporters, editors, and even kids selling subscriptions to the paper. In a column yesterday, Republic president Mi-Ai Parrish responded to those who would silence the paper:“To those who said we should be shut down, burned down, who said they hoped we would cease to exist under a new presidential administration, I give you Nicole. She is our editor who directs the news staff, independent of our endorsements. After your threats, Nicole put on her press badge and walked with her reporters and photographers into the latest Donald Trump rally in Prescott Valley, Ariz. She stood as Trump encouraged his followers to heckle and boo and bully journalists. Then she came back to the newsroom to ensure our coverage was fair. Nicole knows free speech requires an open debate.”Here’s coverage of both the story of from this year and of the assassination of Arizona Republic legendary investigative reporter Don Bolles from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show.

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