The Media Today

In one day, the good, the bad, and the iffy for local news

August 30, 2018

First, some good news: In a decision welcomed by newspapers across the country, the International Trade Commission overturned President Trump’s tariffs on Canadian newsprint. Instituted earlier this year, the tariffs raised the price of the paper on which newspapers are printed by as much as 22 percent, leading to concerns that increased costs would hasten the decline of the print news business. The New York Times’s Catie Edmondson called the ruling, “a win for small- and medium-sized newspapers, which have struggled to absorb the cost of higher newsprint and engaged in cost-cutting, including layoffs and reduced pages, as a result.”

As Edmondson noted, the damage has already been done at some outlets, where increased costs led to layoffs. Papers from the Tampa Bay Times to the Janesville (Wisconsin) Gazette began cutting staff as they felt the bite of Trump’s tariffs. Other papers have announced that they will cut back on the number of days they print physical copies. The decision doesn’t solve local news’s economic woes, but it does offer a reprieve from what would have been a difficult autumn.

RELATED: Who suffers when local news disappears

Second, footage was released yesterday of a bad scene in Colorado. What happened to Susan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent, raises concerns about police treatment of journalists. Body-camera footage shows Denver police handcuffing Greene as she attempted to photograph their response to a call on a public sidewalk. Greene said she was driving down a city street on July 5 when she saw police standing around a naked African-American man who was sitting handcuffed on the sidewalk. When she pulled over and began taking pictures of the police response, officers told her she had to stop. Greene then began photographing the officers’ badge numbers, at which point she was placed in handcuffs, told to “act like a lady,” and placed in the back of a squad car. Greene was later released without being arrested, and police said the man on the sidewalk was taken to a hospital and the officers involved won’t be charged with any wrongdoing.

Corey Hutchins, a CJR contributor who also reports for the Independent, writes that Greene “has covered criminal justice in Colorado for years—including the cases of Marvin Booker, a homeless black street preacher, who was killed in 2010 by officers in a Denver jail, and Michael Marshall, a mentally ill, homeless black man, who died in 2015 after officers restrained him.”

The officers’ response to her attempt to document their actions echoes numerous instances from around the country in which journalists have been intimidated or detained as they attempt to do report on police actions. With the rise of smartphone technology, filmed encounters with law enforcement—by both journalists and civilians—have played a huge role in the conversation about police behavior, especially toward minority individuals. In a press conference on Wednesday, Greene stressed that the incident was only getting attention because she was a journalist, and added, “It is all of our jobs as journalists…to stop when they see something questionable.”

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And, finally, the forecast is unclear for Tronc. NiemanLab’s Ken Doctor reports that the company, which owns 10 daily newspaper including the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and New York Daily News, is “on the brink of being broken up.” Nothing is set in stone, but Doctor has the details of how a deal could come together. Essentially, Tronc would be purchased by Donerail Group, an investment firm whose interest was reported by Reuters earlier this month, and taken private. The newspaper titles would then be sold off to individual buyers.

Doctor raises the possibility of Rupert Murdoch owning the Daily News, a McCormick being back at the helm of the Tribune, and companies like Hearst and GateHouse Media snapping up properties that fit with their strategies. At this point, anything seems better than Tronc’s chronic mismanagement, but the worst-case scenario involves Alden Global Capital–like companies snapping up Tronc properties and stripping them for parts.


Other notable stories:

  • President Trump continued his attacks on big tech, erroneously claiming that Google didn’t promote his State of the Union address. “Here’s the truest conundrum of the social media age: Those who complain loudest about being silenced never ever shut up,” writes Kara Swisher for The New York Times. She adds that, “rather than attacking techies, [Trump] should send them a gold-embossed thank you note.”
  • After Michael Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis admitted he misled reporters and then lied about it on national television, Politico’s Jason Schwartz asks: “How should journalists handle sources who are in powerful news-maker positions, but who are also known to be dishonest?” It’s a complex issue, and one that demands nuanced handling by journalists who can’t avoid asking questions of influential people, but who also need to inform their audience of the context in which statements are being made.
  • For CJR, Emily Bell uses Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to ban reporters from a pair of public events as a jumping off point to discuss the rise in closed groups in the digital space. From the pro-Brexit campaign to the populist Bharatiya Janata Party in India, private groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, and other platforms have allowed for largely journalist-free zones. Bell suggests that reporters recognize this new trend and modify their practices in finding ways to report on it.
  • Bob Costas, long the face of NBC’s sports broadcasting division, is in negotiations to leave the network, reports the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand. ““Sometimes you get to a point where it is not a fit anymore,” Costas tells Marchand. “It doesn’t mean that anyone is angry or upset.”
  • Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis became the latest guest to offer an offensive comment on a Fox News broadcast, saying that voters should not “monkey up” the election by voting for Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of Tallahassee who will be his opponent in November. America’s Newsroom anchor Sandra Smith didn’t push back immediately, but later addressed the comments, saying, “We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement.”
  • Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo reports that Meredith’s sale of former Time Inc. properties is dragging on. The company is searching for buyers for Time, Fortune, Money, and Sports Illustrated, and the process is taking longer than initially expected. Still, as one source tells Pompeo, “Thank fucking God they didn’t sell to Pecker,” referencing the American Media Inc. CEO who was recently granted immunity to testify about his catch-and-kill practices that benefitted Donald Trump.

ICYMI: Should Google, Twitter and Facebook be worried about Trump’s threats?

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.