Hard Times Ahead for Journalists and Their Customers

Judgments on the annus horribilis that ended Sunday and fearful predictions for the new year: Our government -- from Cincinnati City Hall to the White House -- will continue to obstruct reporters'

Judgments on the annus horribilis that ended Sunday and fearful predictions for the new year:

Our government — from Cincinnati City Hall to the White House — will continue to obstruct reporters' efforts to tell us what our governments are doing.

Lazy, partisan and ideological prosecutors will continue to pursue reporters' records, notes and sources in lieu of their own smart, tough investigations, and federal judges will continue to order reporters to comply with prosecutors' demands.

Recusants will continue to face more jail time than many of the criminals they write about, and journalists will continue to weigh benefits of potential stories against the risks and costs of battling hostile courts.

Some investors will continue to pursue newspapers as cash cows while others bemoan profits of 20-30 percent and the future of newspapers.

Demands for higher profits will continue to drive fine dailies into cost-saving mediocrity, and new owners will continue to prove that former corporate owners weren't so bad.

Publishers will continue to shed journalists in the belief that fewer journeymen will produce more competitive products, and budget-conscious U.S. news organizations will continue to rely increasingly on foreign reporters and photographers.

Reactionary talking heads will continue to undermine reliance on the news media, and Americans will continue to confuse opinion with news and turn to partisan TV and radio as slipping dentures reduce traditional network audiences.

Timid Washington reporters will strive to prove their mettle by savaging timid Democrats while unsated lust for the Oval Office among presidential hopefuls du jour will continue to excite irrational exuberance.

TV networks will continue to rely on 10-second sound bites, and an increasing number of Americans will continue to rely on NPR, PRI and BBC World Service for political reporting.

Right-wing commentators and crazed millionaires who bankrolled the pursuit of Bill Clinton will shift their anger and erotic obsessions on Hillary.

Some journalist will ask why Barack Obama is black if his mother is white, another will say that only a white racist would ask and still another will fret over Americans' inability to shake the "one drop" tradition and will ask Tiger Woods and Halle Berry about Obama's chances.

We'll begin grieving for The Cincinnati Post/Kentucky Post as they head for extinction by Dec. 31 and we lose the rare distinction of having competing dailies.

Curmudgeon notes:

· Enquirer editors erred when they chose to use a police mug shot with Sunday's story of the shooting death of Richard Muhammad, known for his efforts to reduce such killings among black men in our community.

The Enquirer never explained why his undefined "run-ins with the law" justified the mug shot when other, more appropriate photos were available. The Enquirer reporter spoke to people who have those photos or have access to them. Possibly Enquirer photo files have images of Muhammad trying to bring peace on the streets. On Jan. 2, more than two days after the killing, The Post also chose a mug shot without any suggestion why the victim was portrayed that way.

Whether it was stereotyping, lazy or shorthanded weekend staffing that led to the poor choice of readily available police mug shot is not important. It would have been better to have used no photo at all.

· NPR's Dec. 24 Weekend Edition Sunday examined "Fighting 'Food Insecurity' in Cincinnati." Noah Adams focused on Over-the-Rhine, including Drop Inn Center, Findlay Market, FreeStore/ FoodBank and Kaldi's. He interviewed InkTank homeless writer Melissa Mosby, profiled last month by CityBeat's Stephanie Dunlap (see "Keeping Melissa Warm," issue of Dec. 13, 2006). Mosby talked about the rent party organized by Dunlap and others to provide her an apartment for the winter and a fridge to ease her "food insecurity" (Bushism for "hunger").

· Nonpartisan FactCheck.org says, "Supporters of President Bush and the war in Iraq often quote Abraham Lincoln as saying, 'Congressmen who willfully take action during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled or hanged.' It has appeared thousands of times on the Internet, in newspaper articles and letters to the editor and in Republican speeches."

The non-quote quote was written before the 2004 election by J. Michael Waller in an article, "Democrats Usher in An Age of Treason" in Insight magazine. Challenged by FactCheck, Waller responded, "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to correct this important issue. The supposed quote in question is not a quote at all, and I never intended it to be construed as one. It was my lead sentence in the article that a copy editor mistakenly turned into a quote by incorrectly inserting quotation marks."

· Enquirer's Janelle Gelfand gracefully avoided trivializing an international event when she localized the lead tenor's walkout at Milan's La Scala. Jean-clad understudy Antonello Palombi went on stage and sang Radames' role in Aida. Gelfand knows Palombi as a Cincinnati summer opera star and reported his disappointment that family and friends missed his "debut" at La Scala.

· Gannett uses IndyMoms.com to deliver a desirable audience to Indianapolis advertisers. Look for it here. Meanwhile, the twice-weekly supplement Your Hometown Enquirer attempts the same here, excluding all but three Cincinnati neighborhoods: Hyde Park, Mount Lookout and Oakley.

· The Enquirer's Politics Extra Web site demonstrates a hazard of edgy blogging and too little editing. A story reports new County Commissioner David Pepper hiring an aide. No problem. The headline, however, says, "Pepper's already spending your money." Many reader responses damn the biased partisan headline. A week earlier, The Enquirer explained, "Each commissioner is allowed to hire one secretary and one administrative aide."

· Using criteria developed by a news media watchdog, Associate Professor Chris Martin and 24 journalism students at Miami University graded major stories in print editions of The Enquirer and Hamilton Journal-News; the 11 p.m. telecasts on WLW (Channel 5), WCPO (Channel 9) and WKRC (Channel 12); and the 10 p.m. newscast on WXIX (Channel 19) during five post-election days in November. The Enquirer starred with a C. Martin's summary is at mediacrit.com and the directions/criteria on which they relied at gradethenews.com.

· Eason Jordan is creating the Internet clearinghouse IraqSlogger.com. This is the same guy — then a top CNN exec — who suppressed anti-Saddam stories during the dictator's reign.

· In the flap over a black Muslim congressman's desire to take his oath on the Qur'an, did the news media tell you that representatives use no book when they officially swear to defend the Constitution? A Bible, Qur'an or Tropic of Cancer is for private, unofficial ceremonies later.

· Did Enquirer ignore the death of Jerry Berns, an Enquirer drama critic who became even more famous as a proprietor of New York's "21" Club?

· Recommended reading: Joe Wessels' new Saturday City Hall column in Cincinnati/Kentucky Post; Dec. 9 Economist on flaws in feel-good Fair Trade shopping; Dec. 26 editorandpublisher.com for "Crusading Kentucky Weekly Celebrates 50 years"; Monday's The Nation on Salt Lake City's liberal mayor, Rocky Anderson.

· Gallup Poll asks 1,009 adult Americans last month to "rate the honesty and ethical standards of people" in 23 fields. Seventy-four percent rate journalists "very high/high" (26 percent) or "average" (48 percent). That was better than car salesmen, congressmen, HMO managers, advertising practitioners, insurance salesmen, senators, business executives, stockbrokers and lawyers.

Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.

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