Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Katie Couric reflects on her life and future

Normally, I don't read AARP The Magazine (at least not yet), but this month's issue has a cover story on Katie Couric in which the Today Show anchor fires back at accusations made last spring in the New York Times that she was a "mercurial diva" whose "pereptory voice and clickety stiletto heels" sent her staff members into hiding. Couric calls such depictions "malarky," but does admit that she was unhappy with the direction of the broadcast until the network hired a new executive producer last spring.
"I was objecting to things and I was frustrated. Frankly, when we get away from talking about issues that are important, I'm gonna be a pain in the neck. I do speak up when I think the show is doing things that are weak journalistically, or tabloidy. That makes me a target internally and externally."
In addition to defending her reputation, the 49 year-old anchor made some remarkably candid comments about her personal life and speculation about her future.

Among the highlights:
  • Couric has had discussions with CBS about becoming the anchor of the CBS Evening News when her contract with NBC ends in May. Couric says that "there are some appealing things" about the job, but she finds the constraints of a 22-minute broadcast to be "unappealing."
  • While Couric and co-host Matt Lauer are "not exactly social buddies," Lauer said he "deeply appreciates their on-camera chemistry, which is real."
  • Seven years after the death of her husband, Couric said that while she is "open" to remarrying, she's still not through grieving.
  • While admitting she's not as involved as a parent as she would like, Couric says her main focus is raising her two daughters, nine year-old Carrie and 14 year-old Elie. The magazine reports that Couric and her girls live in a "lovely but not lavish apartment" because, "although she enjoys living well, she has an aversion to overly conspicuous spending."
  • Raised a Presbyterian, Couric said she is now "interested in exploring a more spiritual side" of herself and is "in the process of doing that, both formally and informally." (Memo to the Manhattan Mormon missionaries: there's your cue!)
  • When Couric started her career as a desk assistant at ABC's Washington Bureau, she wondered if the "endless churn of grunt work" would amount to anything and she almost gave up. She stuck with it and her career exploded when then-executive producer of the Today show (and now president of NBC) Jeff Zucker recognized her as a talent. Zucker tells the magazine: "You can teach interviewing skills, you can teach journalism techniques, but you can't teach how to be yourself on camera."
Earlier: Campbell to replace Katie?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

David McCullough visits BYU

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough was on the Brigham Young University campus this morning. After visiting history students and faculty he gave an address at the Marriott Center, then a question and answer session. Professor McCullough spoke on the topic of his latest book, 1776.

McCullough said that the most enjoyable part of historical research is the research itself. The hardest: the thinking required before the writing.

He also said the latest generations of Americans are "historically illiterate," which has a negative effect on contemporary politics.

Professor McCullough, who also hosts Public Broadcasting's American Experience was kind enough to pose with me after he interviewed with BYU Broadcasting (thanks, Mark!) and KSL-TV.

Reports of post-Katrina violence were exaggerated

Reports from New Orleans earlier this month of rampant violence were exaggerated, according to an investigation by the Times-Picayune.

Early on there were reports of killings and baby rapes inside the Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center. Subsequent police investigations show those reports cannot be substantiated, according to the Associated Press.


Monday, September 26, 2005

New Beltway Games

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes that there are two new Washington games: "Find the Brownie" and "Two Degrees of Jack Abramoff"
The objective in Find the Brownie is to find an obscure but important government job held by someone whose only apparent qualifications for that job are political loyalty and personal connections. It's inspired by President Bush's praise, four days after Katrina hit, for the hapless Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." There are a lot of Brownies. As Time magazine puts it in its latest issue, "Bush has gone further than most presidents to put political stalwarts in some of the most important government jobs you've never heard of."
The object of the other game is to find how many people in Washington are connected to Jack Abramoff by employment. Abramoff is a prominent Republican who was indicted last month on charges of fraud.

Related: "Cronies at the Till" (New York Times editorial, 27 September)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

New rule: Ball not needed for touchdown

It was bad enough watching a 41-29 lead melt away, but BYU fans had an even harder time losing in the end to Texas Christian because of a muffed call.

In one of the most exciting BYU football games of the past few years, TCU "scored" a touchdown in overtime to beat the Cougars 51-50. It was a pretty neat trick, considering TCU didn't even have possession of the ball. As television footage and photographic evidence (such as this photo) clearly show, TCU's Cory Rodgers lost the ball before crossing the goal line. The game should have ended with a touch-back and a Cougar victory. Apparently Mountain West Conference refs and instant replay judges were not able to see what every television viewer and many in the stadium could plainly see and TCU escaped with a hard-fought, although ill-gained win.

Good football teams find a way to win and the Horned Frogs -- despite the goofy name -- are good. BYU showed flashes of brilliance -- including 641 yards of offense, 517 yards through the air, and 32 first downs -- but the team didn't play well enough to keep the win out of the hands of the men in stripes.

Most people understand that referees are not perfect -- they're always the goats in the minds of the losing team's fans. However, thanks to the Mountain West Conference's new instant replay policy, BYU had two previous boneheaded calls reversed, suggesting that this referee crew needs to be sent somewhere for remedial training.

Game Coverage:

Friday, September 23, 2005

Times critic says See It Now

New York Times critic A.O. Scott likes the upcoming movie on Edward R. Murrow's battle with Joseph McCarthy. In today's Times, Scott writes:
"Good Night, and Good Luck" is a passionate, thoughtful essay on power, truth-telling and responsibility... The title evokes Murrow's trademark sign-off, and I can best sum up my own response by recalling the name of his flagship program: See it now."
The film is entirely in black and white and includes actual footage from the period. David Strathairn plays a good Murrow, if the trailer is any indication.

Murrow admirers can download some cool wallpaper from the official site.

And RTNDA put out a reminder today that you can read Murrow's famous "wires and lights in a box" speech that he gave to the organization's convention in 1958.

The film's U.S. premiere is tonight; it opens nationwide on October 7.

Earlier: Murrow movie opens soon

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Breaking News: plane circles over LAX...for hours

When I tuned in at about 6:20 last evening, KSL-TV was broadcasting live pictures of a JetBlue plane circling over Los Angeles International Airport. The plane, an Airbus A310 (flying from who-knew where--I assumed Salt Lake--because I did not hear those facts from anchors Bruce Lindsay and Nadine Wimmer for the first 15 minutes), was preparing for an emergency landing because its front landing gear had not properly engaged. KSL reported that the plane was to land around 6:20 p.m. However, in an apparent effort to burn excess fuel, the plane kept flying. And KSL stayed with it. Until 7:04 p.m., when it finally joined Martha Stewart's "Apprentice" premiere in progress. And the plane still hadn't landed.

It's one of those tricky calls for television news producers in this day of live coverage -- whether to stay with a developing story or not. Cut away and something happens and you're in trouble. One maxim of television news producing: No decision is the worst decision. KSL may have made the next worst decision by staying with a circling plane during the opening moments of an anticipated network broadcast, only to interrupt it later for the safe landing. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. I wonder how many complaints they received.

Viewers could have also watched the landing drama unfold on CNN. Turns out, even the passengers did, as the Los Angeles Times reports. The airline provides DISH satellite television service. Oddly, the flight crew left the television on, which may have added to some passengers' apprehension. But, there would have been complaints had the service been turned off, too.

This morning, the Today Show aired exclusive video it obtained from a passenger on board the flight. Very compelling stuff.

New video camera with a hard drive

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue calls it an "aha moment": JVC has a new video camera that records directly to a hard drive in the camera itself. This innovation allows the camera's user to skip a step in loading the video onto a PC. Instead of playing video in real time from a tape, video can now be shifted to a computer in the same way audio is quickly transferred to an iPod.

The camera, the JVC Everio G series, sells for about $800 and has a 20 gigabyte hard drive. (That's the GZ-MG20 model; the GZ-MG50 model has a 30 gigabyte drive.) The camera does not use tape.

Spanish newscasts for Southern Utah

A small television station in St. George, Utah is broadcast news in both English and Spanish. The Deseret Morning News profiles the small station, KCSG-TV, which is currently owned by a local car dealer. The move to give the news in Spanish is in response to a growing Hispanic community in Southern Utlah. The station is also party to a "media convergence" arrangement with the Deseret Morning News.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

ABC weighs anchors for Nightline

The New York Post reports that ABC News is considering three individuals as possible replacements for Ted Koppel: Cynthia McFadden, Terry Moran and Martin Bashir. All three are already in-house; Bashir, who is best known for his documentary and interview with Michael Jackson, joined ABC two years ago.

Kopell leaves Nightline in November.

Fake Newsman Colbert "oddly normative"

This Sunday's New York Times Magazine will feature a brief interview with Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, who launches his own fake news show next month. Colbert tells the Times that his three children are not allowed to watch the Daily Show and that he is "oddly normative."
"I go to church. I would say that there would be plenty of Catholics in the world who would think of me as not that observant, but for the world I move in professionally, I seem monastic."
Related: New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" (July 9, 2005)

Jennings memorial

Peter Jennings's memorial service yesterday drew an eclectic crowd. According to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, everyone from "Royal Canadian Mounties to Yo-Yo Ma, from Bob Schieffer and Brian Williams to Jon Stewart and Alan Alda," as well as ordinary people -- 2,000 in all.

Earlier: Remembering Peter Jennings

How low will Bush go?

USA Today reports even lower approval numbers for President Bush. The paper's poll, taken over the weekend, put's the president's approval rattings at 40 percent, his disapproval ratting at 58 percent.

According to USA Today, Bush's approval rating is "lower than any other post-World War II president at this point in his second term except for Richard Nixon, who was battling the Watergate scandal."

Earlier: Bush drops in polls

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Dan Rather cites "climate of fear"

Reuters reports that former CBS News anchorman Dan Rather gave an emotional address at the Fordham University School of Law on Monday, in which he said there is a "climate of fear running through newsrooms stronger than he has ever seen."

According to the report, Rather said politicans are better than ever at applying pressure on corporate media owners when they don't like the media companies' journalism. He called it a "new journalism order."

Holding back tears at times, Rather also blasted television news for "dumbed-down, tarted-up" coverage.

Earlier: Anchors honored with Emmy

Murrow movie opens soon

The new George Clooney-directed movie about Edward R. Murrow makes its U.S. debut Friday at the New York Film Festival. The rest of us will have to wait a few weeks more: it opens in theaters nationwide on October 7.

As the New York Times reported over the weekend, the movie focuses on Murrow's fearless reporting of Joseph McCarthy's excesses.


A history of BYU Blue

The Deseret Morning News traces the history of the BYU football team uniform. As Cougar fans know, the team has changed its duds four times since becoming a Nike school in the late 1990s. Now, we're back to the classic style, but keeping the deep blue. Rise and Shout!

Related: Cougar alum Omarr Morgan saves game for CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders

Monday, September 19, 2005

Campbell to replace Katie?

US News and World Report is claiming in its Washington Whispers column that NBC News correspondent Campbell Brown may be in line to replace Katie Couric as Today anchor. The magazine reports that Brown impressed NBC executives with her reporting from the Gulf Coast over the past few weeks. NBC hopes Couric stays, but realizes she is a top candidate to become an evening anchor at either CBS or ABC. Brown is currently a correspondent for NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and a co-anchor for the weekend edition of Today.

New Blackberry?

Lost Remote has posted a link to a report what may be a new Blackberry, the 8700. Apparently this thing will have GPS and high-speed data capabilities.

Second look at the Public Eye

Earlier I noted the entry of the new CBS News blog, the Public Eye. My first visits to the site left a favorable impression, marred only by my inability to get the video to work.

Dick Meyer, the editorial director for left a comment on that entry, encouraging me to try again. I have and, Eureka, it worked!

According to Meyer, Eye has received numerous complaints, but not about video. It's possible I was the only one having a problem, but what made me suspicious was that I could get video to work on sites other than CBS's. In any event, it works for me now, so I take back my earlier comment about the video.

Meyer adds:
"I'd suggest that Public Eye goes way further than any network or cable outfit in openness and transparency, not just via blogging, but in all regards."
To the extent that that is (and remains) true, CBS has my admiration.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Emmy for departed anchors

This past year has marked the end of an era, with turnover at the anchor desks of ABC, CBS, and NBC. Last night the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences noted this by honoring Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and the late Peter Jennings.

Meanwhile, a memorial service is scheduled for tomorrow morning at Carnegie Hall for Peter Jennings.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Leaking Bush's bathroom request

It's tougher than you think being president. Sure you have your own special song and people to read the newspaper for you -- but, try leaving a meeting unnoticed to use the bathroom. President Bush needed to go while he was in a UN meeting this week. Probably not wanting to offend anyone by suddenly leaving to answer nature's call, he passed a note to Condi Rice. That note was captured by a Reuters photographer.

The note -- which read, "I think I MAY NEED A BATHroom break? Is this possible. W." -- has provided fodder for the blogosphere and the foreign press. Newsday, from whom I stole the tasteless headline you see above, reported the headline used by the Times of London ("Excuse me Condi, can I go to the bathroom?"). A writer on a liberal blog expressed "concern" about Bush's placement of a question mark ("Is he unsure whether or not he has to go potty?")

Reuters confirms to Editor and Publisher that the photo is legit and denies it was taken malicioiusly. In fact, Rick Wilking, the photographer who snapped the note, knows the president and even worked for a time as a White House photographer. According to Gelf Magazine, Wilking hasn't heard yet from the president's staff and while he is "curious to know what the White House thinks,” he's not worried about getting into trouble for taking the picture.

And yes, the president did receive Condi's permission to use the bathroom.

Related: Amid the Ruins, a President tries to Reconstruct his Image (New York Times, September 16.)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

KTVX best in Utah

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the best television newscast in Utah is the one that is watched the least. Clear Channel-owned KTVX, which brands itself as "News 4 Utah," took away the Best Newscast Emmy for the Rocky Mountain region. That same newscast is the least watched 10 p.m. newscast in the Salt Lake City DMA, according to Nielsen ratings. The station also won best team news coverage and best live field reporting.

Bush drops in polls

The New York Times reports that President Bush's poll numbers are as bad as they've ever been. The president's latest approval ratings have apparently been affected by skyrocketing gas prices, turmoil in Iraq, and the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina.

The New York Times poll suggests that even the president's strong point -- handling terrorism -- is losing the country's support. According to the Times: "More Americans now distrust the federal government to do the right thing than at any time since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon."

Meanwhile, Tina Brown wonders if the president's political problems will lead to Fox News toning down its partisan leanings. No sign of that yet, but, as Brown writes in the Washington Post, Rupert Murdoch has been known for "bending with the political wind."

Roberts on media access

In his Senate confirmation hearings, John Roberts, the nominee for Chief Justice of the United States, appeared to defend the right of the news media to have access to public events.
"If it's a situation in which the public is being given access, you can't discriminate against the media and say, as a general matter, that the media don't have access, because their access rights, of course, correspond with those of the public."
However, Roberts said there were "some perfectly valid reasons for excluding media." Characteristically, he did not name what those reasons might be.

Roberts appears to be sailing through his confirmation hearings. It's hard not to be impressed. Even though I'm not a lawyer, I have the impression that he is very, very bright. He speaks easily and without notes. He is unruffled, even as Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee grow visibly frustrated by Roberts' ability to avoid answering most questions. Senators Biden and Schumer are doing their jobs, but are likely being perceived as behaving badly by interrupting and badgering Roberts.

There have been a few moments of levity. At one point, Senator Grassley asked Roberts for his stand on cameras in the courtroom. Roberts, referring to former Senator Fred Thompson, who plays District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC's "Law and Order" and is now sheparding Roberts through the confirmation process, answered: "My new best friend, Senator Thompson, assures me that television cameras are nothing to be afraid of."

Brownie speaks out

Ex-FEMA head Michael Brown is now talking about the government's reaction to Hurricane Katrina. In his first extensive interview since resigning, Brown told the New York Times that he does not blame the White House for a slow federal response to the disaster. Instead, he says Louisianna's governor is to blame for the situation going, in Brown's words, "to hell in a handbasket." However, Brown's description of his repeated, frantic calls to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and to White House chief of staff Andrew Card seem to suggest "that Mr. Bush, or at least his top aides, were informed early and repeatedly by the top federal official at the scene that state and local authorities were overwhelmed and that the overall response was going badly."

Earlier: President tells "Brownie" he's doing "a heck of a job."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Paying for the New York Times online

The New York Times is moving further into the pay-for-content model for its online site. Last year the paper started charging users for its "Newstracker" service, which sends e-mails to alert readers of stories pertaining to their interests. Starting September 19, readers will have to cough up $49.95 a year to access certain columns and multi-media features. The paper is calling the service "Times Select" and is offering a 20% discount ($39.95) for readers who sign up before Sunday, September 18.


President Bush has done something he's never done before -- admitted fault. Yesterday the president said that "the extent to which the federal government didn't do its job right" in response to Hurricane Katrina, he takes responsibility.

This rare admission is undoubtedly an attempt to stem plummeting poll numbers and a continuous barrage of criticism that the president was slow to react to the disaster.

The most unmerciful example of the beating President Bush is taking in the press is this week's Newsweek: "How Bush Blew It." Newsweek ranks response to Katrina as a "national disgrace" and asks: "How could the president of the United States have even less 'situational awareness,' as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst disaster in a century."

Newsweek portrays a White House in which aides are afraid to give bad news to a "cold and snappish" president who trusts his guts and boasts that he doesn't read newspapers: is not clear what President Bush does read or watch, aside from the occasional biography and an hour or two of ESPN here and there. Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street.
According to Newsweek, Bush's staff had to assemble a DVD full of network news coverage of Katrina before the president realized how serious the disaster was.

Since that epiphany, the White House has launched an all-out public relations campaign. The president has practically moved into New Orleans. He'll be giving a televised address from Louisianna tomorrow night. And the administration even tossed FEMA Head Michael Brown overboard.

Then, there's this administration's hallmark: news management. Earlier, NBC got into a battle with authorities on the ground. Now, there are reports that authorities threatened to pull credentials from a San Francisco Chronicle reporter. Despite such heavy-handedness, Fox News and NPR Commentator Juan Williams says the White House's efforts to manage the news are "not working."

CBS News Public Eye

CBS News has launched a new behind-the-scenes blog. It joins NBC News, which has been publishing Brian Williams' "Daily Nightly" blog for the past month.

CBS's entry, the "Public Eye" goes a step further and offers video of story meetings. Although, I must wish you "luck" in getting the video to stream. (Please see my update to this comment.)

Today Public Eye offers up a blast from the past: a 1978 behind-the-scenes look at the production of the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite." CBS News makes the offering with the suggestion that the blog is not the first time the network has opened up its inner workings to public view.

Liberal bias at NPR is "urban myth"

The notion that NPR is liberally-biased is "urban myth," according to Kevin Klose, NPR's president and CEO. Klose and NPR executive vice president Ken Stern are quoted in today's Chicago Tribune.

Stern blames the perception problem on Ken Tomlinson, Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting:
"The problem with Tomlinson isn't that he disrupted funding or affected our journalism, because that will never happen, but he created smoke," Stern said. "It's smoke and people who don't know us fanned the urban myth."

According to Stern NPR listenership is "self-identified as one-third liberal, one-third conservative, one-third independent," and he cited a study by CPB that "showed that we're one of the most trusted media outlets in the country."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Yahoo hires Kevin Sites

An interesting development in the online world: Yahoo has hired former NBC News correspondent Kevin Sites. You may remember Sites from his coverage in Iraq. He's actually a freelance who is known for operating on his own and maintaining a blog about his coverage.

According to the Los Angeles Times:
The program, "Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone," is the clearest evidence yet that Yahoo feels ready to compete with TV networks for viewers and advertisers. A decade after the launch of the first commercial Internet browser, the medium is maturing rapidly enough to pit its biggest players against the giants of other media.
Sites will begin filing text, video and audio to Yahoo News on September 26.


Rumor: Kaplan on thin ice

According to the New York Post, MSNBC President Rick Kaplan may be on his way out. Kaplan was reportedly passed over to replace Neal Shapiro, who stepped down last week as president of NBC News.

Kaplan, former president of CNN and producer at ABC News, has only been on the job at MSNBC since early 2004.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Andrea Mitchell's new book

Andrea Mitchell's has a new book out. It's called Talking Back Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels. The book has been two years in the making. The fact that Mitchell was able to write it while serving as NBC News foreign affairs correspondent further solidifies her reputation as the hardest working reporter in the business.

The Washington Examiner marks the occasion by interviewing Mitchell.

Answering Moonves

Orville Schell, the dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism offers an intelligent response to CBS chair Les Moonves. Last week in a New York Times Magazine profile, Moonves articulated his goofy idea of reformatting the CBS Evening News to be "somewhere between" two "boring" news anchors and "Naked News."

Schell writes in the Los Angeles Times: "It is increasingly difficult to discern the vision of Madison in broadcast news today, even though most of it comes over airwaves owned by the public and licensed to commercial outlets for a few hundred dollars a year."

Moonves and many viewers abhor what they see is a prevalence of negative news. However, Schell points out:
...if avoiding "dark" becomes the criterion for broadcast, how will Americans learn about such stories as New Orleans and Iraq, never mind Sierra Leone, Kosovo, the melting polar ice cap or the dying oceans? If only perky, upbeat stories and shows make it onto the air, who will inform the public and play the watchdog role?
Good question.

Earlier: The man who will destroy CBS News

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Jon Stewart weighs in

Conservatives are using the "Blame Game" talking point to complain that the mainstream media has unfairly targeted Bush. It's a criticism Daily Show anchor Jon Stewart has a succinct reply: "Shut up." Stewart characterized Bush's performance as an "inarguable failure."

The show actually aired on September 7, but I finally got to watch it tonight on my TiVo. Following Ed Helms's hilarious, must-see lead story, Stewart played a soundbite of Bush praising FEMA head Michael Brown: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," Bush was heard telling the beleaguered FEMA official. Responded Stewart: "Blackie... I've seen you in better shape."

NBC News anchor Brian Williams appeared on the same night. Fishbowl provides a complete synopsis of that interview.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

BYU posts a win

BYU posted its first "W" in a long, long time, walloping Eastern Illinois State, 45-10. Some may joke it took having a high school team as an opponent, but it counts as a win, nonetheless.

I had to sit this one out to help at a Boy Scout camp, arriving in front of my TV set in time for a very ugly third quarter.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Jennings memorial service scheduled

The Canadian Press is reporting that a public memorial service will be held for Peter Jennings on September 20. Jennings died August 7 of lung cancer. His funeral was attended by family and no details were released to the public.

Update: CNN's Aaron Brown thinking of Jennings during Katrina coverage (Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept 13)

Earlier: Remembering Peter Jennings

"Big Surprise:" Big Media Sells Sex

A report out this week states what I've thought for long was obvious: media consolidation has led to increased indecency in the media. The Center for Creative Voices in Media has made its report available online.

The report also suggests that political speech is being repressed by broadcasters who are afraid of government reprisal. (Well, the government may be okay with that.)

There is a certain irony in this situation: As the Los Angeles Times points out, the politicians who are now trying to crack down on mediated indecency are the same ones who voted to relax broadcast regulations that allowed the current conditions to exist. Guess what, guys? You want a free market, you get one -- warts and all.

(Warning: Rant ahead)

I would be fine with broadcast deregulation if -- and only if -- these businesses were not so heavily subsidized by the government. Think of it: by assigning broadcasters a piece of the electromagnetic spectrum, the government is creating a monopolistic business environment for broadcasters. All broadcasters had to do in return was to operate in the public necessity, interest, and convenience. For years that meant that network news divisions and local TV and radio news departments were not expected to make money -- that was the cost of doing business. So, broadcasters lost lots of money on news, but more than made up for it by raking in an obscene amount of money on entertainment. And that was when Congress was concerned about anti-trust issues and didn't allow big mergers.

All that went out the window during the Reagan administration, when FCC chair Mark Fowler dismissed radio and television as appliances of no more significance to the public sphere than toasters. Then, the Clinton administration and the Gingrich Congress practically allowed the National Association of Broadcasters to write the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The result: more shock jocks, less local programming; less news, more entertainment. And -- lest we forget -- Janet Jackson's breast, brought to you by MTV by way of CBS. (That's called synergy -- both networks are owned by Viacom.)

So, I have little sympathy for those who cry about obscenity on television. You wanted broadcast deregulation, you got it. Stop whining.

And, one more thing, broadcasters. Get off the public dole. You want to do business in an unfettered market, fine. But stop taking corporate welfare and start paying fair market value for use of the public's airwaves. If cell phone companies have to pay for it, why shouldn't you? After all, television is nothing more than a toaster.

Related: Columbia Journalism Review's "Who Owns What"

Neal Shapiro steps down

NBC News president Neal Shapiro resigned yesterday. He said he "wants a new challenge" and that he misses creative work. However, his resignation has been rumored for months. (Sunday's New York Times Magazine reported the announcement would take place this week.) Criticism of Shapiro sharpened as Today was challenged by ABC's GMA. According to the Baltimore Sun:
...there has been a growing sentiment within NBC that Shapiro was the wrong person to lead the news division. After eight years producing Dateline, he had trouble adjusting to the high-profile, fast-paced demands of a management post, according to network sources familiar with the news division. Known for his reserve and a deliberative manner, the news president had difficulty measuring up to the effusive personality of his predecessor, Andrew Lack, who now runs Sony BMG.
No successor has been named yet.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

So, you want security?

The calvary has finally arrived in New Orleans.

Nearly ten days after the storm, now that the city is almost entirely evacuated, the Big Easy is bristling with military and law enforcement.

As Brian Williams' Daily Nightly blog describes, that means conditions have actually worsened for journalists:
An interesting dynamic is taking shape in this city, not altogether positive: after days of rampant lawlessness (making for what I think most would agree was an impossible job for the New Orleans Police Department during those first few crucial days of rising water, pitch-black nights and looting of stores) the city has now reached a near-saturation level of military and law enforcement. In the areas we visited, the red berets of the 82nd Airborne are visible on just about every block. National Guard soldiers are ubiquitous. At one fire scene, I counted law enforcement personnel (who I presume were on hand to guarantee the safety of the firefighters) from four separate jurisdictions, as far away as Connecticut and Illinois. And tempers are getting hot. While we were attempting to take pictures of the National Guard (a unit from Oklahoma) taking up positions outside a Brooks Brothers on the edge of the Quarter, the sergeant ordered us to the other side of the boulevard. The short version is: there won't be any pictures of this particular group of Guard soldiers on our newscast tonight. Rules (or I suspect in this case an order on a whim) like those do not HELP the palpable feeling that this area is somehow separate from the United States.

At that same fire scene, a police officer from out of town raised the muzzle of her weapon and aimed it at members of the media... obvious members of the media... armed only with notepads. Her actions (apparently because she thought reporters were encroaching on the scene) were over the top and she was told. There are automatic weapons and shotguns everywhere you look. It's a stance that perhaps would have been appropriate during the open lawlessness that has long since ended on most of these streets. Someone else points out on television as I post this: the fact that the National Guard now bars entry (by journalists) to the very places where people last week were barred from LEAVING (The Convention Center and Superdome) is a kind of perverse and perfectly backward postscript to this awful chapter in American history.

Hold the phone, crank the music

I've had a Treo 600 for a little over a year now and while I like it a lot I wish I would have waited for this: an iPod-cell phone combination. Apple announced this little beauty yesterday. It's made by Motorola, serviced by Cingular (thanks, Z!) and costs $250 with a two year contract. It holds about 100 songs, plays in "shuffle" mode and music automatically pauses when an incoming call is received. iTunes songs cannot be purchased directly from the phone, but must be transferred from a computer.

Apple also announced a ridiculously small version of the iPod, the "Nano" which I would be afraid of losing.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Isaac's Storm and predicting the Big Uneasy

It's "the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets the uncontrollable force of nature."

It sounds like another story about the disaster that has befallen New Orleans. But, it is a publisher's description of a 1999 best seller that chronicles a monster hurricane that wiped out Galveston, Texas in 1900. The storm precipitated what was -- until last week -- the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Isaac's Storm is told through the eyes of Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau, who, according to the book's cover, "failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds" that preceeded the hurricane.

Adding to the chorus of unheeded warnings is an October 2004 story in National Geographic, brought to our attention by Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute. The detail of this article's predicition is absolutely eerie:
It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn't—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

"The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five at 24 hours—coming from the worst direction," says Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who has spent 30 years studying the coast. Suhayda is sitting in a lakefront restaurant on an actual August afternoon sipping lemonade and talking about the chinks in the city's hurricane armor. "I don't think people realize how precarious we are,"
Suhayda says, watching sailboats glide by. "Our technology is great when it works. But when it fails, it's going to make things much worse."

The chances of such a storm hitting New Orleans in any given year are slight, but the danger is growing. Climatologists predict that powerful storms may occur more frequently this century, while rising sea level from global warming is putting low-lying coasts at greater risk. "It's not if it will happen," says University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland. "It's when."

Earlier: Did it have to happen?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bester and the babe on the bus

I finally went out and got pictures of a UTA bus with my wife's picture on it. And wouldn't you know it, the very same day her co-host, Kurt Bestor, snapped one in Salt Lake City and posted it on his excellent Bester Blog. The sign advertises their morning show, "Wakin' Up with Rebecca and Kurt" on Utah's new AM 820.

Earlier: Rebecca's on the air

Journalism versus Public Relations

Journalism is "in danger of losing its next generation of idealists to PR." So says an article in today's Miami Herald. The piece, written by Edward Wasserman, a professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University, says that public relations is offering something journalism isn't:
A role in contemporary affairs that's way beyond message creation, brand maintenance or advocacy. The PR professional is proposed as a senior counselor not just on what is persuasive and effective, but on what is right -- as chief integrity officer.

If enrollment numbers are any guide, there's some truth to this troubling development. Until about ten years ago, more students were applying to get into journalism. Now, at BYU, most students want to get into our advertising program, followed by public relations, then broadcasting journalism, and finally, print journalism.

More public relations and less journalism? This does not bode well for our nation.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Journalism in the eye of the storm

The harrowing and heroic story of how the Times-Picayune worked through the hurricane and its aftermath can be found in today's New York Times. The paper kept working through power and telephone outages, an evacuation, and staff members' worries about their own families.

Meanwhile, Romenesko is reporting that the Times-Pic's publisher denies rumors that the paper will shut down. "We just resumed publication so thoughts on ceasing publication at some later date are ridiculous," said Ashton Phelps Jr., the paper's publisher.

Finally, Howard Kutz writes in the Washington Post about television journalists showing their emotion and becoming somewhat activitist in its coverage of the disaster.

Too much for textbooks?

The New York Times on Sunday reported about the cost of textbooks. The story cites GAO figures that the price of college books has risen 186 percent over the past twenty years. The average student is now spending $900 per year (although the story also notes that the Association of American Publishers disputes that, offering $600 as a more accurate figure).

The story notes that the increase doesn't quite match tuition, which has risen 240 pcerent, but is still higher than the 72 percent increase in consumer prices.

Nevertheless, the GAO is sharply critical of the frequency of new editions (texts now replaced on average every three to four) and the publishers' practice of building into the cost of each book the expense of developing and producing CD-based software.

What the story doesn't report, but I know happens, is the practice of professors selling back review copies of text books that they received from the publisher. Those costs are also built in.

The Times reports on a number of ways students are reacting to the expense, including:

= Using the library or reserve library;
= Driving to Mexico to photocopy the books, then return the originals for a refund;
= Buying international books, which -- like prescription drugs -- are sold cheaper abroad;
= Buying from web based sellers;
= And, renting books.

One good idea: Senator Charles Schumer of New York has proposed tax deductions for up to $1,000 in textbook purchases.

State of Network Television News

The Los Angeles Times has a wrap up on the current state of television news in this time of change. The real news in the piece is that Neal Shapiro reportedly intends to resign as president of NBC News. The Times says Shapiro has been planning his departure for months.

The piece also includes nervous reaction at CBS News to yesterday's New York Times Magazine article in which network chairman Les Moonves suggested a revolution leading to a more entertainment-based broadcast and ABC's continued efforts to cope with the loss of Peter Jennings.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The man who will destroy CBS News

This week's New York Times Magazine cover story is about Les Moonves, the chairman of CBS. The profile is complementary, describing Moonves' prowess in television programming which has resulted in the network going from third to first place.

At least a few paragraphs in the piece should scare the socks off journalists, however. They describe Moonves' efforts to re-invent the CBS Evening News, including orders that CBS News President Andrew Heyward shoot alternative format pilots. Reportedly, the pilots have not impressed Moonves. According to the article, although Moonves likes Heyward, he reportedly said the news president may not be prepared to "lead a revolution." Moonves wants to blow up the newscast and start over, something Heyward cannot very well resist since he owes his job to Moonves. (Many critics thought Heyward should've taken the fall for "Memogate," but Moonves kept him on.)

According to the piece, Moonves thinks the new broadcast should be "somewhere in between" two "boring people behind a desk" and Naked News.

Former CBS News great Edward R. Murrow once noted that journalism and show business were incompatible. And he hadn't even met Mr. Moonves.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Season opener another loss

The new-look/old look BYU Cougars ended up with the same look in the win-loss column: a loss. Boston College is a good team, mind you. But BYU still didn't live up to expectations. New Coach Bronco Mendenhall offered refreshing mea culpas regarding some of his playcalling (ie. punting on fourth and two from BC's 36 yard line). No excuses about inexperienced players from this guy!

And the offense looks better than last season. It can actually move the ball -- at least until it got near the, blue zone.

That BYU got beaten by a better team is not overly upsetting -- that the Cougars hurt themselves with miscues and penalties is. It didn't help that the officiating was absolutely attrocious. Apparently these ACC refs were sight-impared, as evidenced by a bad ball spot, frequent no-calls for pass interference, holds and and a face mask pull so violent that a helmet was yanked off a Cougar's head. Somehow, their eyesight improved when the Cougars committed an infraction. I couldn't help but to notice the officials left LaVell Edwards stadium surrounded by armed guards.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Did it have to happen?

Even as President Bush says that nobody knew the levies would break in New Orleans, there's plenty of evidence to the contrary. The Los Angeles Times is reporting today that in 2002 news organizations, including the Times-Pic and NPR, and the New York Times sounded the alarm. Apparently, the fed's cost-benefit analyses concluded that it could not afford to reinforce a levy system that was only designed to withstand a Category 3 storm. Some reports assert that the Army Corps of Engineers simply could not afford to beef up flood control measures in New Orleans and keep up operations in Iraq.

The Bush administration is already under fire for the apparent inability to restore order and evacuate New Orleans. The N.O. mayor slammed the federal government as "clueless." Others are asking, how does musician Harry Connick Jr. get food and water to evacuees at the N.O. Convention Center, even as federal authorities cannot?

Perhaps feeling the pressure, President Bush told reporters that the response has been "unacceptable."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

From Bad to Worse - N.O. Hits Bottom

Every day this week, like many others, I've asked myself, "Can it get worse?" Painfully, the answer continues to be "yes." The Times-Pic headlines that the city has bottomed out.... but things may get worse yet.

Even from a distance, it appears that New Orleans has ceased to exist as a city. It's hard to know which pictures are worse: the absolute collapse of law and order, corpses unnumbered, or the refugees literally begging for a promised, yet still undelivered rescue.

Tonight, Ted Koppel paddled the backside of FEMA director Michael Brown for the federal government's inability to take control of relief efforts in New Orleans. Aside from Nightline, I am most impressed with NBC's coverage: Broadcasting live from New Orleans, thanks to the Bloom-mobile, Nightly News and Dateline on Wednesday were superb. So was tonight's hour-long Nightly News (at least the half-hour that KSL allowed me to see) which reported the growing anger at the inability of authorities to answer the question: "Where is the help?" Martin Savage's reporting has been especially (and disturbingly) good. NBC's blog, the Daily Nightly is worth looking at for its added detail. Earlier today it was reported that NBC saw fit to send a private security detail to protect its journalists in New Orleans. By the time Nightly News went on the air the situation in New Orleans had apparently deteriorated enough that Brian Williams and crew picked up and left, broadcasting instead from Metairie, just outside of New Orleans.

I wish it didn't take a story like this to knock Natalee Holloway out of the headlines.
The opinions stated here are my own and in no way reflect those of Brigham Young University, its students, faculty, or sponsoring institution.