Curmudgeon Notes 7.10.13

'Business Courier' redesign, Quebec rail disaster and more media musings

click to enlarge More exclusives, less editing
More exclusives, less editing

I’m undecided about the value of the redesigned Cincinnati Business Courier print edition. Previously, the weekly was helpful to a general reader who wanted to follow corporate doings and influence in Cincinnati. Now, I’m less sure of its usefulness. It didn’t help that veterans Lucy May and Dan Monk quit to join the online staff at WCPO. The newly flashy Business Courier is evermore a niche publication and I’m clearly outside its desired print audience. I’m only a shareholder, a taxpayer and a voter. Oh, and a subscriber. 

Which brings me to another question. With the Business Courier and others going online with their first journalistic efforts, if not their best, who has the time to spend at work reading all that online stuff ... and do what they’re paid for? It takes far longer to scroll through a website than to flip through print pages, reading stories that draw the eye. Or are aspiring Americans mistakenly imitating Japanese salarymen who seem never to be away from the job or their smart phones, laptops and tablets? 

In the meantime, I have suggestions for whomever writes Business Courier headlines. Quit using “inks” to report someone signed something. It’s so, I don’t know, maybe 1930s without managing to be charmingly retro. What’s next: "P&G inks deal to tan gams?" And Business Courier editors spelled the wrong word correctly over a recent editorial: “Cincinnati’s Getting To Old To Depend on Father Figure”. How old? Too old.

[Read Ben L. Kaufman's July 10 column, "Enquirer Takes Questionable Approach to Covering Meyers Ordination" in On Second Thought here.]

NPR’s Diane Rehm had a spirited exchange the other day among specialists on the Middle East and, especially, Egypt. It was, however, another example of Rehm in thrall to her guests. Not once did she challenge their assertions that “most Egyptians” are pro- or anti-Morsi. Who knows what “most” of 82 million Egyptians want? It’s loose thinking that screams for the challenge, “How do you know?”

Following events in Egypt on English-language Middle Eastern news sites offers a view often not available in U.S. news media. A disturbing video on showed two men being tossed off a building in Alexandria. The caption said the victims were anti-Morsi protesters. The video was credited to Each man was beaten after he fell. One reportedly died. says anti-Morsi social networks are accusing CNN of promoting events as a coup rather than a revolution and adopting the Muslim Brotherhood’s emblem as a logo for its broadcasts.

• Before you let anyone use the rail disaster in Quebec to prove the best way to move crude oil cross country to refineries, look at the map of Canada. Most Canadians live near the border and their communities are connected by transcontinental rail lines as well as east-west highways. Towns and cities grew along tracks which often run through their communities. Trains, not pipelines, make sense. That’s certainly true in the northern Ontario village where we have our fishing cabin; tracks parallel the transCanada highway with homes on both sides and the entire business district within yards of the rails. Accidents happen, albeit rarely as awful as that in Lac Megantic, where most of the victims were in a night club near the tracks. Accidents can be mitigated; safer, modern rail tanker cars; better brakes and/or brake-setting routines, etc. The disaster proves nothing. 

Endorsements and celebrity/fashion magazines and websites have accustomed us to lithe young blondes on the women’s professional tennis tour. Some have parlayed tennis moments into seemingly endless paparazzi feeding frenzies. So there was no way to avoid comparisons between the stocky 28-year-old brunette women’s champion at Wimbledon last week and increasingly common tall, slender and fair competitors. It was unspoken until this year. 
When French winner Marion Bartoli rushed from Centre Court to her father in the guests’ box, BBC’s Radio 5 Live presenter John Inverdale
asked, "Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little, 'You're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a [Maria] Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight'?"

British listeners, viewers, readers and bloggers exploded with anger. Bartoli is popular with the tour and reporters for her smarts and humor; her life and interests embrace more than her devotion to top level tennis. Told of Inverdale's comment, she responded, "It doesn't matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I'm sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes. And to share this moment with my dad was absolutely amazing and I am so proud of it.”

She told French reporters that Inverdale should see her at the traditional end-of-Wimbledon ball in London. "I invite this journalist to come and see me this evening in ball gown and heels, and in my opinion he could change his mind."
She handed Inverdale his professional scrotum with class. 

The women's champion’s father and longtime coach, Walter Bartoli, added, "The relationship between Marion and me has always been unbelievable so I don't know what this reporter is talking about. When she was five years old she was playing like every kid and having fun on the tennis court. She's my beautiful daughter."

Inverdale’s stupidity was compounded by his sort-of apology and more than 24 hours of verbal stumbling. First, he claimed that he had tried  to "poke fun, in a nice way, about how she looks." Great. That’s an apology? An excuse? A day later, Inverdale added, "Before we start I probably ought to return to yesterday and a clumsy phrase I used." How about offensive? Degrading? Dismissive? 

Inverdale said it was his
"ham-fisted way" of saying that "in a world where [players] are all 6  feet tall," Bartoli is 5-7.

"I have apologised to Marion by letter if any offence was caused and I do hope we can leave the matter there." He just doesn’t get it. “If any offence was caused?" BBC really didn’t care. He’s a star. At least he’s a BBC star who hasn’t been arrested for sexually abusing colleagues and youngsters for decades. 

Caught off-guard where its star broadcasters often are snarky or worse, BBC finally apologized to the Bartolis: "We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologise." However, BBC left Inverdale in place as commentator for the men's final.

If you watched Wimbeldon, you saw spectators waving a flag with a white-on-blue diagonal cross of St. Andrew. That’s the Scottish saltire. Scots are touchy about such things. That’s why they’re planning a vote on whether to leave the United Kingdom and resume independence lost in the 1707 Act of Union. So why did the New York Times celebrate Andy Murray’s victory with a tweet and online story, “After 77 years, Murray and England rule"? A correction followed: “After 77 years, Andy Murray and Britain rule.” How about Scotland?

Lest I overstated the case last month about press cards and shield laws being de facto licenses for journalists, Sen. Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, inadvertently rushed to my defense in a recent column in the Chicago Sun-Times. He wants Congress to define who is a journalist worthy of protection by a federal shield law. And who isn’t. Here’s part of what he wrote: 

Everyone, regardless of the mode of expression, has a constitutionally protected right to free speech. But when it comes to freedom of the press, I believe we must define a journalist and the constitutional and statutory protections those journalists should receive.

“The media informs the public and holds government accountable. Journalists should have reasonable legal protections to do their important work. But not every blogger, tweeter or Facebook user is a ‘journalist.’ While social media allows tens of millions of people to share information publicly, it does not entitle them to special legal protections to ignore requests for documents or information from grand juries, judges or other law enforcement personnel.

“A journalist gathers information for a media outlet that disseminates the information through a broadly defined ‘medium’ — including newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, magazine, news website, television, radio or motion picture — for public use. This broad definition covers every form of legitimate journalism.

No, it doesn’t.

“To those who feel politicians shouldn’t define who a journalist is, I’d remind them that they likely live in one of the 49 states, like Illinois, where elected officials have already made that decision.”

To Durbin, that’s precedent. To the rest of us, it’s the bandwagon fallacy.

“The leaks of classified information about the NSA’s surveillance operations and an ongoing Justice Department investigation into who disclosed secret documents to the Associated Press have brought this issue back to the forefront and raised important questions about the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and how our nation defines journalism.

“It’s long past time for Congress to create a federal law that defines and protects journalists.”

Note that Durbin does not mention online sites other than “news” but broadly includes “television, radio or motion picture” without requiring them to be news media. Bloggers are ignored. His “every form of legitimate journalism” is typical of efforts to exclude journalists who don’t fit his criteria. That would deny them his “reasonable” protection in federal courts and investigations if they chose to honor promises of confidentiality to their sources. 

In short, a license to be Durbin’s kind of journalist.

OOOPS. It’s a rare reporter who hasn’t awakened with the fear we’ve made a mistake. My latest nighttime sweat involved a paragraph from June 26 Curmudgeon Notes about the trial that sent Nelson Mandela and his comrades to prison for life in mid-1964. I wrote: “Our weekly Zambia News and then daily Zambia Times — hundreds of miles to the north — were able to report with freedom unknown in South Africa. We benefited from the freest journalism in Southern Africa, including Southern Rhodesia, Southwest Africa and Portuguese Mozambique and Angola.”

That requires a clarification. I implied that the Zambia Times, of which I effectively was the editor, reported the trial. I don’t think so. The weekly Zambia News did but the daily Zambia Times started publishing later that year. 

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