Media Musings From Cincinnati and Beyond

The killing of 18-year-oldMichael Brown moved news media to recall similar lethal encounters between copsand unarmed black youths and men.

Repeat something often enough and it becomes a fact because other people uncritically cite it. The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown moved news media to recall similar lethal encounters between cops and unarmed black youths and men. Usually, the police in these confrontations were white; most cops are. 

CityBeat isn’t immune. We resurrected our local activists’ old mantra of the 15 African-American youths and men killed by Cincinnati police. 

However, The Enquirer and CityBeat shot down the substance of that allegation years ago. Many attacked police or were so violent that deadly force was justified. You can find details of their cases and deaths here from April 15, 2001.  

 

• When allegations of excessive force arise, I still wonder why police don’t use an anesthetizing dart like we see on wildlife TV shows? Can it be more dangerous than a Taser or 9 mm? I was still at The Enquirer when I pursued the dart issue into a dead end. It was after a mentally ill walkaway from University Hospital threatened officers with a brick and Cincinnati police shot him to death. 

I think I even tried to reach people I’d seen on TV “shooting” wolves from helicopter. No one anywhere would talk about the potential of non-lethal anesthetizing darts rather lethal force or serious injury to police if they grappled with a suspect. 

My mind wandered further. Why not equip police with nets like those given to some gladiators? (Skip tridents used to stab tangled opponents.) 

 

• Will videos and photos of militarized police responses to protesters after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., become this generation’s “Bull Connor Moment”? Not Brown’s killing but the way civil authorities reacted to initially nonviolent protest marches. Connor was the public safety commissioner of Birmingham, Ala., during the height of the 1960s civil rights protests. Images of vicious police assaults on peaceful marchers helped make the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Acts possible; the Kennedy/Johnson White House could no longer kowtow to Southern Democrats and other segregationists.  

 

• The assault on the First Amendment by militarized police in Ferguson, Mo., continues unabated, and the press is not spared, according to Noa Yachot, an ACLU media strategist, on HuffingtonPost.com. “Since the start of protests against the August 9 killing of Michael Brown, journalists in Ferguson have been arrested, fired on, threatened and assaulted.

“After more than a week of heavy-handed police violence — through the use of tactics and weapons better suited for a warzone than an American suburb — freedoms of speech and the press were dealt a major legal blow (when) a federal court denied a motion from the ACLU of Missouri for an emergency order to prevent police from enforcing a ban on standing in place for more than five seconds. 

“The ‘keep-moving mandate’ — also known as the five-second rule — remains in place, criminalizing constitutionally protected activity and placing a dangerous barrier on the ability of the media to bring us stories from this city under siege. As Tony Rothert, the legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, told MSNBC, ‘In many ways, the First Amendment has been suspended in Ferguson.’ ”

• Remember when Obama said he wouldn’t put American forces into Iraq in the battle against ISIS. Well, to quote the Nixon administration when the president was caught prevaricating, “That statement is no longer operative.” Obama sent in special forces and others to ascertain conditions on Mt. Sinjar where religious minority Yazidis fled from ISIS. Not quite Gulf of Tonkin or WMD lies, but something to remember next time Obama says he won’t put “boots on the ground” or soldiers wearing them.  

 

• There’s something ironic about Obama, the persecutor of insufficiently deferential American reporters at home, weeping crocodile tears over the decapitation of American photojournalist James Foley. 

 

• Some cliches are too good to abandon. NPR usually described members of the national champion Little League team as coming from some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods.

One Chicago public radio reporter obviously didn’t get the memo. She covered the welcoming celebrations and pointedly noted that most of the boys’ families lived on quiet middle class streets. Apparently, she knew the city better than anchors in Washington or California. 

 

• Chelsea Clinton was paid $600,000 a year by NBC to be a special correspondent, according to Politico quoted by the New York Times. After three years of that Clinton-style poverty, she’s quitting to be a philanthropist. If her dad wanted to play reporter, maybe he’d be worth that kind of money. She wasn’t. 

But Chelsea wasn’t hired for her journalistic experience or talent. It was the kind of money that other celebrities — think Paris Hilton or a Kardashian — get for drawing paparazzi to promotional parties and openings. 

 

• Coming to dailies near us? To quote the Republican Sage of Alaska, “You betcha.” 

Poynter.org says Gannett — owner of the Enquirer, Louisville Courier-Journal and Indianapolis Star among others — is reorganizing newsrooms, job and pay scales “to better attract an (online) audience of 25- to 45-year-olds.” 

Emphasis will be on reporting, Kate Marymont, Gannett’s vice president for news, told Poynter. “We’re going to invest the fewest resources necessary in production.” 

That’s Gannettspeak for further staff cuts among newsroom editors and designers. Each paper will have fewer staffers overall after the reshuffling of job tiles and descriptions, Marymont said.

Changes start at dailies in Nashville, Asbury Park, N.J., Greenville, S.C., Pensacola, Fla., and Asheville, N.C. 

Tennessean executive editor Stefanie Murray told Poynter, “I don’t expect many of my staff members’ pay to drop unless they specifically opt to apply for a lower-paying job. Folks who go into higher-level jobs could see raises” and there’s an “entirely new compensation structure for the new jobs.”

All five sites will require staffers to reapply for jobs in the newsroom, Marymont confirmed, but “reapply” isn’t the right way to look at it, she told Poynter. “No one is reapplying for an existing job, because all the jobs have been redefined.”

“We’re giving our employees first crack, of course,” Marymont added. “Some may look at it and not see a role — I hope that’s a small number. Some may interview for the new jobs, which are very different, and may not have the skills — I hope that’s a very small number.”

Gannett isn’t looking to gut print, which still draws loyal audiences, Marymont said, but some editing and design work will move from local newsrooms to Asbury Park and Nashville design centers. The idea is to determine whether more work can be moved to Gannett design centers, Poynter added.   

Coverage at the test sites will be determined by listening to readers and gaining a deep understanding of audience analytics, the Tennessean’s Murray told Poynter. “We’re going to use research as the guide to make decisions and not the journalist’s gut.” 

Reporters at Gannett are outfitted with “audience dashboards,” Marymont said, allowing them to look at “real-time and long-tail data.” Reporters must pay more attention to audience feedback with short-term changes to underperforming stories, like adding interactive elements or tweaking headlines, and with long-term tailoring of beat coverage.

At The Tennessean, Murray said, the newsroom will have more “self-sufficient reporters producing publication-ready copy.” That resembles the philosophy at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where there’s “a little more expectation that the reporters are more independent and produce stories that are in better shape,” Executive Editor Neil Budde said in June.

Added Marymont: “We are not removing copy editing from the local sites. Most of the copy editing has to be done locally because they have the experience and the knowledge.”


CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]



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