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Jul 25, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

White House ‘official’ Helsinki transcript omits key Putin question

Who are you going to believe, the president or your own ears and eyes?

I’m asking, because the White House has altered the record of the July 16 Helsinki press conference between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The White House, pressed about this for a week, has said the alteration was not intended and the record was corrected. But I just looked at th

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

e transcript on the White House website, and it still misrepresents the truth.

In real life, as recorded on livestreams of the event (and what you, like me, may have watched in real time), Reuters reporter Jeff Mason asked a key question: “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?” Putin replied: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”

Trump’s and Putin’s doctored version edits Mason’s question as if it was not asked.

Yes, the government is re-imagining the truth.

When the mainstream media cover news, they rarely report stenographer-style what occurred from start to finish. Links provide complete transcripts. The media’s job is to tell the story, selecting what to emphasize, what to include, what to leave out — decisions guided by standards of sound journalism but of course open to criticism.

In contrast, the government’s “official” version should be relied on as the unvarnished, unaltered, complete truth.

Instead, as The Atlantic spells out in an even-handed but hair-raising piece by Uri Friedman, the “official” version is missing the essential exchange when Putin replied that he acted to help Trump win.

Now, Trump has doubled-down on his denigration of the media, urging people not to believe what they see and hear. He is boasting that he is so tough on Russia that Putin wouldn’t want him in office. That’s exactly the opposite of what Putin told the world at the Helsinki press conference – unless you’re reviewing the “official” record of what transpired.

The White House said the alteration by omission was not sinister and would be corrected. So when will it be corrected? Are you scared for our democracy? I am.

Jul 19, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Are we on??! Half-hour on WAMC renews my respect for radio, TV

This morning was my debut as a fill-in on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio’s “The Media Project” — a weekly, half-hour discussion among four local news people about media coverage of current events.

I have no idea what I said, how I said it, how I will sound or how it will be perceived.

But I do have renewed respect for anyone whose job is to wing it on radio and TV.

I’m a print person from way back. If I have 15 minutes to turn around a story, I can write it in 15. If I have five hours, I’ll take all five. If I have three days, I’ll eat up all that time trying to improve the piece. You get the idea.

I love to write but I’m rarely satisfied with something I’ve written. I have yet to meet copy (written by me or someone else) that didn’t cry out to me to proofread, reorganize, rewrite, revise, tighten. Make stuffy sentences conversational. Scrap excess words. Dig up and move up buried leads and nut grafs (the sentence or paragraph that makes clear the point to the story). Massage or totally rewrite leads right up until the absolute deadline. That’s writing.

Then there’s radio.

Although “The Media Project” (airing on 90.3FM at 6 p.m. Sunday, 3 p.m. Monday and anytime on podcast) is taped, it’s basically an unrehearsed straight run.

Senior Producer David Guistina emails stories that may spark discussion. I studied, highlighted and spread the printouts before me. Alan Chartock kept his desk space spotless.

Senior Producer David Guistina, who is also the “Morning Edition” anchor, preps participants on Wednesday by sending emails of stories that could be fodder for Thursday morning’s taping. I highlighted and scrawled side notes on printouts of articles related to coverage of the Trump-Putin meeting, a study about news credibility, a report showing most Americans get their news on their phone, and three or four other items. I showed up 15 minutes early, which gave me a chance to catch up a bit in the beige green room with regular panelist Cailin Brown, head of the College of St. Rose Communication Department.

A few minutes past the 8:30 a.m. taping time, the show’s host, Times Union Editor Rex Smith, strode through the front door, WAMC President and CEO Alan Chartock strode out of his office, the four of took our seats in front of our mikes, baseball-capped Chartock mocked Smith’s crispy plaid button-down and, unbeknownst to me, we were off to the races.

I was silently congratulating myself for wearing a sweater, heeding previous guests’ on-air comments about the chilly studio, when Rex Smith asked me about the blog post I’d written about Trump, CNN reporter Jim Acosta and Spartacus. Huh? Are we on? Done with Deadlines! Oh yeah. Wish I’d re-read it!

My mouth opened and words came out.

What I said then and over the next half hour will be a surprise to you and me both. Did I misspeak? Did I make any sense? Did I speak in complete sentences? Did I avoid double negatives? Was it obvious I’d had only five hours of sleep and two cups of coffee? Is my longstanding dislike of the recorded sound of my own voice warranted? Don’t tell me.

Know this: I’ve long been impressed with the thoughtful, cogent comments of “The Media Project” regulars and admire them all the more after sitting in their place this morning. And I can’t wait to hear the show, which David Guistina will magically sandwich between verses of Pete Seeger’s snappy “Newspaper Man”.

Jul 14, 2018 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

‘I’m Jim Acosta’ should be all journalists’ retort to Trump

“I’m Jim Acosta” should be the journalists’ rallying cry in the face of Trump’s denigration of legitimate reporters.

I was heartened when reporter John Roberts told his Fox News viewers Friday that his NBC and CNN colleagues are diligent journalists, not “fake news” as President Trump proclaimed most recently that morning from London.

Then I wished Roberts had said it then and there, right to Trump’s face and to all the world. Followed by every other journalist in the room.

I’m thinking about the 1960 film starring Kirk Douglas, when the government tells the Roman slaves they will not be crucified if they simply throw that one troublemaker under the bus. Instead, each man, one by one, bravely proclaims: “I’m Spartacus.”

Journalists need to show solidarity.

Not everyone is going to get called on to ask the president a question, and politicians are free to pan the press. But I’ve concluded that journalists from every legitimate news organization must stand up, as often as necessary, against the denigration of fellow journalists.

It’s ingrained in journalists not to become part of the story, but that’s impossible when the president makes you the story. It’s dangerous to be a silent bystander as Trump bashes the credibility of reporters who dare to criticize him.

I don’t know what the rallying cry would be. How about: “I’m Jim Acosta.”

Jun 29, 2018 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Mourning Annapolis newsroom, knowing local threats are not new

It wasn’t unusual for me or another staffer to be alone in The Saratogian way after dark.

The man was angry at the newspaper and maybe crazy enough to do something terrible.

That sentence could be uttered by countless journalists, including me. But the person we’re hearing from now is Tom Marquardt, the former, longtime head of the Annapolis, Md., newsroom, where the feared but unthinkable happened yesterday: five people at the Capital Gazette were shot to death.

One of the things I loved during my 38 years at The Saratogian was working in the heart of the little city we covered in a building where people walked in off the street to bring in a news tip, a dean’s list announcement, a complaint.

That openness is one of the things that scared me, too.

After past violence, news companies barricaded the public from the community they serve, converting their walk-in newspapers into fortresses accessible with badges and keypads. I’m skeptical about security; the Capital Gazette killer blasted through a glass door. In any case, at The Saratogian and other small papers, no such protection ever existed.

You can bet I was nervous when I was the last one in the building, way after dark, after going to City Court over a man who threatened to rape me. City police made official visits to a handful of others who scared us enough to report. One man was ordered to stop contacting a reporter, to stop showing up where she was covering news (that he had no business at), to stop waiting near her car. Others were told by police that the newsroom was off limits. For a while, someone sent streams of weird and frightening astrological messages to me and, it turned out, other area journalists; police talked him into stopping.

But a talking-to by police at the request of the Annapolis newspaper wasn’t enough to stop that shooter.

I remember Tom Marquardt as a respected newsman from my long-ago involvement in a national managing editors’ group. At his newspaper, like mine (on a smaller scale), staffers wear many hats, juggling multiple beats, writing and editing for ancillary publications, putting in crazy hours. Newspapers tick people off all the time. You just keep doing your job, knowing some people will hate you but figuring the odds of being safe are in your favor.

Not publishing is never an option, as the Capital Gazette staff demonstrated.

My heart breaks for all the victims of such violence – schoolchildren, police officers, anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time, and their loved ones. Every loss is a tragedy. And I don’t want to make this political. I’m not blaming the president for the Annapolis shooter, who has been at odds with the Capital Gazette for several years.

I do, however, want the president to tell the world that, contrary to his repeated statements, journalists are NOT the enemy of the people.

Journalists are compulsive story-tellers who love their jobs — whether it’s exposing wrongdoing, raising issues or public concern, covering a game, celebrating people’s milestones — and know their work is important to their community.

Jun 22, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Ames, Google reveal the ‘reel easy’ secrets to becoming Mrs. Fix-It

Ready for business, good as new.

This spring, my sturdy garden hose reel-on-wheels sprung a leak. While I pondered how to replace it, my next-door neighbor Marketa built a treehouse, planted corn, created a patio and redid her front porch

When I apply verbs like “redid” to myself, like when I recently “redid” my living room floor, I mean called, hired, scheduled, paid. Marketa, on the other hand, literally uses her hands.

Sure, she’s a Skidmore College professor, but how does she know how to do these real things?

She Googles them.

Hey, I’m a college professor, too, even if it’s one class a semester. I can wield a Phillips screwdriver! I can Google! I’m not going to replace that reel, by golly. I’m going to fix it!

On YouTube I found a video of a guy taking apart the reel, revealing the cleverly designed inner workings. I copied his steps with minimal aggravation, removed the leaky plastic pipe and carefully saved all the screws, hoping to remember where they went. I tried to patch the leak. No luck. The part needed to be replaced.

Ames — a company in business since 1774 —  sent free replacements for worn parts. Talk about customer service!

I bought my Ames Reel Easy (“Reel” Easy, get it?) for about fifty bucks not that long ago, though probably longer ago than I think. But it didn’t take long (thanks, Google!) to find the product specs and an online order form. I entered the requested info, including my mailing address. Then the page disappeared without asking for my credit card. Arghhh! Frustration!

The next day I called the manufacturer and immediately reached a real person. Oh, your order went through, she assured me. We send replacement parts for free.

What is this, some kind of trick?

The piece arrived as promised, though when I put it together I realized the leader hose connection leaked too. But this time I knew the drill. A nice new part arrived in a few days, like magic. The repair was real easy.

I’d never heard of Ames and didn’t realize I owned something they made. I Googled the company and found they’ve been making hand-powered landscaping tools since 1774. That’s not a typo; they’re older than our country.

Here’s to another 200 years, Ames. And, Marketa, let me know if you’d like me to water the corn while you’re away. I fixed the hose reel all by myself.

 

 

Jun 20, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Forget about N. Korean nukes. Look out Earth, here come the asteroids

I was worried that I’d run out of things to worry about now that I don’t have to worry about nuclear annihilation courtesy of North Korea.

Fortunately, the Science section of today’s thriving and reliable New York Times provided something to keep me up at night pondering the end of the world as we know it: Asteroids.

More than 150,000 asteroids have been catalogued by NASA since 2011. The lead to the story reassuringly states that while “thousands of asteroids are passing through Earth’s neighborhood” at any given time, “odds of a direct hit on the planet any time soon are slim.” But, writer Kenneth Chang quickly adds, “even a small asteroid the size of a house could explode with as much energy as an atomic bomb.”

However, that’s not the news. What’s new is that some scientists are no longer laughing at a man with a physics doctorate who has insisted that NASA’s data is “flawed and unreliable” and scientists “know less than they think” about asteroids.

Thank you, Mr. Chang. I’ll be on the lookout for big rocks instead of big missiles. Meanwhile, could you let me know if “Earth’s neighborhood” is anywhere near Saratoga Springs, N.Y.?

May 11, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Survival of local news endangered by hedge fund media owner Alden

An Associated Press photo with one of many stories being written about how Alden Global Capital is killing the newspapers it owns.

President Trump’s declaration of the media as the enemy of the people and his continuous degradation of the press scare the heck out of me. But I’m worried, too, about the enemies of a free press that come from within.

Heading the list: Alden Global Capital.

Alden is the hedge fund owner of about 200 newspapers, including The Saratogian, whose newsroom I led for more than 30 years until the owners’ massive cuts made the job untenable.

They’ve been in the news for making obscene profits from their newspapers while slashing staff and funneling the money instead into their pockets and questionable investments, for prompting resignations, for firing an editor in Colorado who published a criticism of the company, and for banning its newsrooms from publishing criticism of itself without prior approval, which you wouldn’t hold your breath for.

I get why an employer wouldn’t tolerate employees badmouthing the hand that feeds them. If you’re unhappy, leave. At the same time, the story about how Alden is undoing local journalism around the country needs to be told. Those of us whose jobs are no longer at stake need to speak up.

The latest resignations, on top of huge layoffs, were from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Denver Post, Alden’s cash cow. Among them was Dean Singleton, the Post’s prior owner who until this week had been its chairman. “At the end of my career, I don’t want to be a part of it,” Singleton told media writer Ken Doctor. “The Post has been totally gutted of news coverage and of editorial coverage. That’s a fact.”

Sound familiar?

I don’t want people to give up on local news or their local newspaper. I want Alden to sell its newspapers to investors who care about news.

Apr 20, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

19 years after Columbine — isn’t it time for gun laws to change?

Erica Miller of the Daily Gazette took this picture of Saratoga Springs students and others participating in today’s #NationalSchoolWalkout on the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School.

So proud to see Saratoga Springs students among those in #NationalSchoolWalkout on today, April 20th, on the 19th anniversary of shooting of Columbine students. Keep at it! Get out the vote, nationwide. Thanks to Erica Miller of the Daily Gazette for photo. I was also was moved to learn about Columbine  survivor Austin Eubanks and how that trauma has affected his life these past 19 years at austineubanks.com.

Apr 17, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Can local news be saved? Not in the hands of Alden Global Capital

This illustration shows the original Denver Post staff members still remaining from a 2013 Pulitzer celebration photo. The Post and its sister papers, including The Saratogian, have suffered debilitating staff cuts by its hedge fund owners, Alden Global Capital.

Anyone want to buy The Saratogian? Please?

I don’t mean today’s edition or a subscription, print or online. I mean the whole kit and caboodle. The newspaper.

Local news is dying, and it’s not merely because publishing companies failed to figure out how to stay profitable in the Internet age. In Saratoga Springs and a couple hundred other cities and towns around the country, one particular owner of local newspapers is intentionally killing them.

The hope for local news, as I see it, could come in one of two forms: a buyer with big bucks and a real commitment to news, or an existing publisher who realizes that in-depth local news can be profitable as well as altruistic.

A few years ago, a hedge fund called Alden Global Capital bought the bankrupt Digital First Media. It owns about 200 papers, including The Saratogian and The (Troy) Record. The purchase wasn’t to save local newspapers from being shuttered, but to squeeze every last penny out of them.

It’s not like these papers, especially the smaller ones, were flush with resources to begin with. But Alden hasn’t simply cut staff to the bone. It has sucked out the marrow, cut the arteries and yanked out the organs. It did this to The Saratogian, which was consistently among the top-earners of journalism awards for its coverage despite its small staff, and to its Pulitzer Prize-winning papers, including its flagship, The Denver Post, and to all its papers in between.

The owners not only made a beloved job not fun; they made it intolerable. That’s why I and other colleagues took a buyout in 2015, and why others, including the esteemed editor of The Denver Post, walked away a year later. It’s why staff at the Berkshire Eagle rejoiced when Digital First sold them to new owners who truly care about local news and restored newsroom positions.

Earlier this month, the Denver staff – or what’s left of it – did a remarkable thing. The Post published a no-holds-barred criticism of Alden Global Capital and urged the owners to sell the paper. Pretty amazing for the employees to call out their owners so dramatically and publicly. I guess they figured they had nothing to lose and they were right: A Colorado civic group has responded, and investors have thus far pledged $10 million toward the purchase, CBS News reported Saturday.

Digital First Media’s staff cuts cannot be shrugged off as a sign of changing times for the media: Alden has been accused of draining hundreds of millions from its newspaper holdings to improperly prop up other questionable investments.

Meanwhile, a cadre of 10 dedicated journalists – no exaggeration, you can count them on two hands — do all the reporting, writing, photography, editing, headline writing, web posting, social media, everything for two seven-day-a-week papers (The Saratogian and The Record) and southern Saratoga County’s weekly Community News.

Who cares if no one digs into local news? Here’s one case for caring: Then-reporter Caitlin Morris took the time to review police logs and investigate an “unattended death” that turned out to be a homeless woman who froze to death – a story that ultimately led to the creation of the Code Blue shelter in Saratoga Springs.

The remaining two handfuls of staffers at The Saratogian and The Record are doing a good job against impossible odds. They believe, as I do, that local reporting is vital for providing news that people need to know and ought to know, to hold our institutions accountable and to serve as a catalyst for positive change.

All we need are people with big enough hearts and wallets to keep it alive.

Mar 23, 2018 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Young water-sellers back in business thanks to City Council member Franck

Accounts Commissioner John Franck has once again demonstrated leadership and problem-solving as a member of the Saratoga Springs City Council member, this time making it possible for kids to continue selling bottled water outside Saratoga Race Course.

Last fall, then-Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen announced a ban of the young vendors as his solution to a few problems with some of the sellers (or their parents). The ban was announced after the six-week racing season was over, in plenty of time for someone to figure out a better solution before the track reopens in July.

WAMC’s Lucas Willard explains how Franck worked with Skidmore College interns, the city attorneys, the police department and the code enforcement office. As Saratoga Springs resident John Kaufmann noted on his recent blog, Franck came up with a proposal that addressed concerns to the unanimous satisfaction of his four City Council colleagues.

I’m glad to support a youthful entrepreneur hawking bottled water for $1 – a real bargain compared to prices inside the gate. Common sense, with some rules attached, has prevailed thanks to Franck taking the initiative.