#506DE- -30-

August 14, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

It’s only fitting that I headline the ending blog post in a course about writing for new media with an old media notation that is all but forgotten, hence the “-30-.”

No one really knows the origin of -30-, at least not conclusively, that I ever heard.  It’s likely a hold-over from telegraph days when the telegraph operator ended his transmission with XXX–30 in Roman numerals.  Some say it goes back to the days of writing in longhand.  X meant the end of a sentence.  XX indicated the end of a paragraph.  And XXX signified the end.  Whatever it’s origin, it’s end has come and gone in the computer age.

And now #506 has come and gone.  And I’m writing about (glorifying? pining for?) an arcane old symbol from an industry that has been decimated by the very new media that is the focus of this class and master’s program.  (It would  be politically correct to say the industry has been “changed,” rather than “decimated,” but Zinsser and Kalm have reinforced that there’s nothing to be gained from writing weakly     weakly stated thoughts are weak writing is boring and there is much to be gained for the writer and reader when positions are written strongly and with passion ;strong, passionate writing will keep your readers reading.)

The bottom line is no matter how much the the world has changed in terms of journalism and the way we all communicate with one another, writing well remains the key to success.   I fancied myself a decent writer before this class and I certainly appreciate the feedback I received (although, like all writers, I’m certain I would have benefited from more frequent feedback).

I certainly have a better handle now on what it will take to establish a personal brand online.  I remain a bit reluctant to dive in because I do understand what it takes to write well consistently.  At the moment, it’s about available time, or more precisely the lack of available time, to do my personal brand justice.

Clearly, this class has confirmed for me that if and when I find the time to establish that online brand, I could do it.  At the beginning of the term I responded to an email from you and said:  “Sometimes I even have the arrogance to think I might actually have something to say that will interest more than the few people who know me.  But not yet.  So, I’m in the ICM program to prepare for that day.”

I’m not backing away from that sentiment, which comes from a frustration and distaste for much of what is self-published on the web.  But this class, by forcing me to write, convinces me that I really could make a positive contribution to the public discussion in my niche.  As I re-read my blog entries, I liked much of what I wrote.  This class helped me crystallize my plans for my capstone project.  That’s no small accomplishment.

As your blog entries eloquently taught, writing is self-discovery.  Writing forced me to analyze and capsulize.  It forced me to fortify my musings with logic and facts.  The not-so-simple act of writing forces you to hone opinions into reasonable arguments that, one can hope, go beyond mere pontificating to perhaps adding some light on issues.  For that, this class was extremely valuable.

I will continue to write, but probably not on the blog until I can fully commit to creating and maintaining an online presence.  When I’m ready, I hope I can contact you for advice on maximizing my presence.

-30-

#506de-Pitch/Presentation

August 1, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

Not surprisingly I did a video.  You can see it here.

And here is the script:

Hi.  My name is Paul Lewis.  I want to tell you about an exciting new web site and business called TV Talent Coach-dot-com.

Quite simply, TV News Talent Coach will help you become the best reporter or anchor you can be.

If you’re ready to put in some time and effort—to invest in yourself—I will work together with you to give you the tools to become a confident, passionate and effective storyteller.

I see three main audiences for this website and business:

-Broadcast journalism college students who will soon graduate and look for employment,

-Young working journalists hoping to move to the next level,

-and print reporters who are learning how to tell video news stories.

If you’re in your junior or senior year of college or in a graduate program, TV News Talent Coach is for you!  You–and your parents–have invested perhaps as much as $200,000 on your education.

Don’t cheap out now!  Now is the time to top it off with practical advise from a veteran News Director who has hired more than 100 people.

You might ask: Why do I need TVNewsTalentCoach.com when I have my professors who are critiquing my work?

Let’s be honest…when was the last time your professors were actually in a newsroom?  How many reporters and anchors have they hired?  Some will be great, but if you are really committed to making it in this business make just a small investment in yourself through TVNewsTalentCoach.com.

You’ll get brutally honest feedback and practical tips that will help you hone your skills.  You’ll see a dramatic improvement quickly and you will be ready to search for–and find–your first job.

If you’ve already got two or three years under your belt or even 10 or 12 years, and you’re ready to move to the next level but can’t seem to make it happen, TV News Talent Coach is for you!  Sometimes it takes an outside eye to identify just a few things that will elevate your performance.  If you’re a seasoned veteran you know that sometimes you just need a little inspiration.

You also know that virtually every station has slashed its budget.  The few stations that used to have formal talent coaching just don’t do it anymore.  The bottom line is it’s up to you to invest in yourself.   I’ll work with you to maximize your skills.  I’ve got a proven track record of success.

If you’re a print reporter, struggling with new demands to tell your stories with video on your website, it can be a daunting adventure.  It’s not what you signed up for but you know you’ve got to do it to keep your job in a shrinking industry.  The good news is it’s not brain surgery.  It’s not easy but there are things you can do to make your video stories more effective.  I can show you how.

So what will the website be?  First of all, it will be simple and easy to navigate with just a few pages.

On the “About” page, I’ll talk about my background.  I’ve been a broadcast journalist for more than 30 years.  I’m proud to say I’ve won a boatload of awards, from

A-P awards to Emmys to a Peabody.  I’ve been a News Director since 1996, so I know what News Directors are looking for when they hire reporters and anchors.  I know what it takes to stand out and I can get you there.

Can you get Talent coaching elsewhere?  Sure.  But most of the time it’s either very expensive or it’s offered by talent agents—many of them lawyers—who are really focused on finding you a job so they can take 6 or 8 percent of your salary as commission.  I’m not a talent agent and don’t want to be.  I’m just a News guy who loves the business can make you better at your craft.

On the “How It Works” page I’ll lay out the simple process.

Send me your DVD or links to where you’ve posted your work.  I’ll review it and we’ll set up a meeting by Skype.

Telephone conversations are OK, but I want to see your face and you’ll want to see mine as we drill down on your work.  I can have you read scripts and practice stand ups all by Skype.  I’ll send you off with concrete suggestions and you’ll put them into practice on your next piece.  We’ll meet again by Skype to review your next piece and I’m telling you will see an improvement.

So how much is all this going to cost?

Just 100 dollars.  That’s right, only a hundred bucks for a review and two Skype meetings.

I’m pricing it so low because I know students and young reporters don’t have a lot of excess cash lying around.  Think of where you throw away 100 bucks—a couple of nights at the bars, video games, whatever.

Isn’t it worth this small investment in yourself?

You’ll be able to see testimonials from several reporters and anchors from around the country who will talk about the value of my coaching.  These reporters are in medium and large markets like Hartford, Albany, Kansas City, and Philadelphia.

TVNews Talent Coach.com will also have dozens of links to other industry websites and a blog where I will comment on current issues, trends and challenges arising about broadcast journalism.

Getting people to this site will take some work, but I am pretty well plugged into the industry and will spread the word of this new site by contacting my friends and colleagues at industry newsletters and blogs and Facebook when it is launched.  I will also work with a network of journalism faculty around the country and use my extensive contacts in the print world to spread the word of -my new service.

TVNewsTalent Coach.com will provide a service that is sorely needed at an incredibly affordable rate.

Paywall problems for London Times

July 25, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · 1 Comment 
Newspaper executives have been kicking themselves for letting the Internet steal their readers and revenue before they knew what even hit them.  If only, some say, they had demanded registration and a fee for reading their product 10 or 15 years ago, life would be very different.
Well, we’ll never know.  But it’s clear that trying to put the proverbial horse back in the proverbial barn is pretty difficult.  Check out this headline from Britain this week:

Times loses almost 90% of online readership

Less than three weeks after the Times paywall went up, data shows a massive decline in web traffic

Of course this article was written in the Guardian, which took great joy in reporting the troubles of their chief rival.  Still, it’s interesting and perhaps instructive for American newspapers.

#506de – LeBron/ESPN too Cozy

July 18, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

It’s been several days but the bad taste lingers in my mouth.

I’m not talking about LeBron’s decision but the way that decision was transmitted to the world.  Like most of the sports-loving world, I watched LeBron James reveal his big decision on ESPN’s love-fest disguised as a news event.  I’ll leave it to sports columnists to comment on the actual move, its impact on the NBA, and the bitter gut-punch delivered to the city of Cleveland.

It’s the show that didn’t pass the smell test for me.  The self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports gave up its own turf.  There was no difference between the guy making news that night and the people supposedly covering it.  Jim Gray, the interviewer, is reportedly the one who actually set the whole thing up.   LeBron would get an entire hour with a creme-puff questioner–Gray–and no other journalists, especially from Cleveland, anywhere in sight.

Yes, it was nice that the advertising revenue from “The Decision” went to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.  That’s good cover for ESPN giving up control of their own show and ignoring their journalism instincts.  And yes, I understand that the E in ESPN is for Entertainment.  Still, ESPN is a news organization and this event was treated like a game show.

The suspense was artificially extended worse than any episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire (or in LeBron’s case a multi-gazillionaire).   Gray wasn’t so much an interviewer as part of Team LeBron, not just giving him a platform but helping him to look as good as possible at a controversial moment.

It’s just sports but it still doesn’t feel right.

#506de – Elevator Pitches, etc…

July 17, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

1. Elevator Pitch for TVNewsTalentCoach.com:

If you’re ready to invest some time and effort on yourself, I will work with you to give you the tools to become a more confident, passionate and effective storyteller.

Whether  you’re a college student, in the news business for a few years or a veteran, I’ll work with you one-on-one to pump up your on-air presentation.

I’m a veteran News Director with more than 30 years as a TV journalist.  I’ve hired and coached more than 100 reporters, anchors and meteorologists. I know what News Directors want and I can help you get there.  I’ll give you brutally honest feedback, practical tips and together we’ll maximize your skills.  Take a look at my website and contact me through TVNewsTalentCoach.com.

1-sentence pitch for TVNewsTalentCoach.com:

If you’re ready to invest in yourself–to improve as an anchor or reporter, or to land a new job–check out TVNewsTalentCoach.com.

Promotional e-newsletter for TVNewsTalentCoach.com:

VETERAN TV NEWS DIRECTOR LAUNCHES WEB BUSINESS TO COACH ANCHORS AND REPORTERS — TVNewsTalentCoach.com

With all the cutbacks in TV newsrooms, the days of TV stations paying for coaching of their on-air talent are, for the most part, long gone.  Enter Paul Lewis, a veteran TV News Director with more than 30 years in the broadcast news business.

Lewis has launched TVNewsTalentCoach.com where anchors and reporters can arrange to get one-on-one performance coaching at an incredibly reasonable rate.  “If you’re ready to invest some time and effort on yourself,” Lewis says, ” I’ll work with you to give you the tools to become a more confident, passionate and effective storyteller.”

Lewis has had an award-winning career as a reporter, producer and news executive, including a Peabody and several Emmy Awards.  For 10 years he was the News Director at WTIC-TV in Hartford and for three years he was the News Director at WNYT in Albany.  “I’ve hired more than 100 people,” says Lewis.  “I know what News Directors are looking for and I can help you get there.”

TVNewsTalentCoach.com is targeting working TV journalists who want to get better in their current jobs or are ready to make the move to the next level.  Lewis also is making his coaching available to college students who will soon graduate and print reporters who now are struggling with demands to also tell their stories with video.

On his new website, Lewis presents testimonials from a dozen reporters and anchors he has coached through his career.  “Like a good coach, Paul pushed me with brutally honest feedback,” says Ted Greenberg, a reporter at WCAU in Philadelphia.  “He definitely helped me elevate my performance.”

Lewis left his News Director chair a year ago to return to school, getting a master’s degree in Interactive Communication and New Media.  He’s currently working for a philanthropy, teaching, coaching and writing.

According to the website, Lewis will review your work, coach you–giving specific tips–and then coach you again after you’ve put those tips into practice, all for just $100.  “Obviously I’m not going to make a lucrative living at this,” says Lewis, “but I want to give back.  I want to price this at a point where reporters and anchors will want to invest in themselves.”

In addition to laying out how his coaching service works, TVNewsTalentCoach.com includes a blog where Lewis comments on news and trends in broadcast journalism and gives tips for better writing and storytelling.

###

2. Elevator pitch for print reporters to come to TVNewsTalentCoach.com:

If you’re a print reporter struggling with new demands to tell your stories with video on your newspaper’s website, I can help.  Maybe you’ve been asked to appear on TV and that’s uncomfortable.  It’s not what you signed up for, but you know you’ve got to do it to keep your job in a shrinking industry.

It’s likely expectations are high but training is minimal and feedback is nonexistent.  So invest in yourself and shine.  TVNewsTalentCoach.com is for you.

I’ll show you the things you can do to make you and your video stories more effective.

I’m a veteran TV News Director with more than 30 years as a journalist.  I’ve hired and coached more than 100 reporters, anchors and meteorologists.   I’ll give specific feedback, practical tips and together we’ll maximize your skills.  Take a look at my website and contact me through TVNewsTalentCoach.com.

1-sentence pitch for print reporters to come to TVNewsTalentCoach.com

If you’re a print reporter struggling with new demands to tell your stories with video, check out TVNewsTalentCoach.com for expert coaching that will help you immediately.

Promotional e-newsletter for print reporters to go to TVNewsTalentCoach.com:

VETERAN TV NEWS DIRECTOR LAUNCHES WEB BUSINESS TO COACH PRINT REPORTERS IN VIDEO STORYTELLING– TVNewsTalentCoach.com

Reporters are now expected to produce across multiple platforms, including with video.  While most print reporters have been able to adjust to writing for the web, making the transition to using video has not been as smooth.

Enter Paul Lewis, a veteran TV News Director with more than 30 years in the news business.  Lewis has launched TVNewsTalentCoach.com where print reporters can arrange to get one-on-one coaching at an incredibly reasonable rate.  “If you’re ready to invest some time and effort on yourself,” Lewis says, ” we can work together to get you comfortable so you can effectively tell your stories with video.  I can also get you comfortable and effective appearing on-camera.”

Lewis has had an award-winning career as a reporter, producer and news executive.  For 13 years he was the News Director at TV stations in Hartford and  Albany.  “I have been involved with several cross-media initiatives,” says Lewis, “and helped several print reporters learn how to effectively present themselves and their stories with video on the web or on TV.  I’ll coach you voicing your stories and doing ‘stand-ups.’”

On his new website, Lewis presents testimonials from a dozen TV reporters and anchors he has coached through his career.   In addition, Ellen Burns, the former cross-media reporter for the Hartford Courant says: “Paul helped me grow from stiff and uncomfortable on camera to natural and effective. ”

Lewis left his News Director chair a year ago to return to school, getting a master’s degree in Interactive Communication and New Media.  He’s currently working for a philanthropy, teaching, coaching and writing.

According to the website, Lewis will review your work, coach you–giving specific tips– and then coach you again after you’ve put those tips into practice, all for just $100.  “Obviously I’m not going to make a lucrative living at this,” says Lewis, “but I want to give back.  I want to price this at a point where reporters will want to invest in themselves.”

In addition to laying out how his coaching service works, TVNewsTalentCoach.com includes a blog where Lewis comments on trends in  journalism and gives tips for better writing and video storytelling.

###

#506de–Reporting Tips…Find a Main Character

July 10, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

This is another in an on-going series of tips that will make you a better, more passionate, more effective on-air reporter or anchor.

Find a main character.

We call them news “stories” for a reason.  Tell me a story about a person and it will be more interesting, more revealing and more compelling than just a news report filled with facts.

The key is to find a main character and tell the story through his or her eyes.

Let’s say you’re assigned to cover the shut-down of a factory in town; 100 jobs will be lost.    Most TV reports, in markets large and small, will look something like this:

Over opening wide shots of the factory–”The XYZ company has been a fixture in our city for 75 years….”  Include stats about the declining revenues in the past few years, how many people worked there at the company’s height, how many now, the latest unemployment figures for the area.  Mix in a soundbite with the owner tearfully saying he just couldn’t afford to keep the doors open anymore.  Add some shots of workers hugging and saying goodbye.  Include sound with a few of those workers saying they loved their jobs and don’t know what they’ll do now.  Maybe the mayor will be good for a bite about efforts to bring jobs back to town.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that story and it might even have some emotional tug if you get good sound bites.

But there is a better way.  A way that will make your story stand out from the other stations and make it memorable for viewers.  Tell that story through the eyes of a main character.  Don’t just recite a series of facts, intermingled with a few soundbites.  Tell the big story in microcosm through one person and you’ll make me care.

The owner might be a candidate for our main character–82 years old, 4th generation to run this company, rides a motorcycle to work in his starched shirt and bow-tie.  Yup, that would work.  But those producer fantasies rarely come true.  Besides, he mumbles and can’t put two coherent sentences together. Keep searching for a main character.  Frankly, I couldn’t care less about the mayor in my package.  If he says something important, outboard it after the package.

Talk with several workers, not just one or two.  You’ll find someone with a cool story to tell.   Maybe your story will start with your main character hugging fellow workers:

“Mary Jones has worked here for the last 17 years.  She put her two children through college on this  $14/hr factory job.  SOT: I loved it here. We made a quality product. The workforce has been shrinking along with profits over the past few years and now the final 100 workers are clocking out for the last time.  SOT Mary:    I’ve been volunteering at the Food Bank for the past year and now I might need to go there for a handout…”

That’s a story you’ll remember.  It’s still about the factory closing but it’s so much more interesting.  I want to come away from each of your  stories feeling as though I’ve met someone new—a neighbor.  You can get the facts in through the side door—how many were laid off,  how far in debt the company is, etc.  Do it all in and around your main character.

You won’t know those juicy facts about your main character unless you ask, so ask!  Be nosey!  Be a reporter.  Ask those personal questions.

#506de- Midterm pitch

July 10, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

To:                 Mr. Robert Kalm/Investor

From:            Paul Lewis

Re:                 TVNewsTalentCoach.com

Date:             July 10, 2010

Mr. Kalm, I’d like to tell you about TVNewsTalentCoach.com.

Quite simply, TVNewsTalentCoach.com will help TV reporters and anchors improve their craft.  Through this web-based business and blog I will work with reporters and anchors to give them the tools to make them better, more confident, more passionate and more effective storytellers.

I see three main audiences for this website and business:

  • Broadcast journalism college students who will soon graduate and look for employment
  • Young working journalist hoping to move to the next level
  • Print reporters who are learning how to tell video news stories.

For the College Student:

By the time college students have completed their undergraduate studies, they—or their parents—have invested as much as $200,000 on their education.  That is not the time to cheap out!  That is precisely the time to top it off with practical advise from a veteran News Director who has hired more than 100 people.

Some broadcast journalism professors are terrific, but let’s be honest…when was the last time most professors were actually in a newsroom, if ever?  How many reporters and anchors have they hired?  If a college senior or recent graduate is really committed to making it in the business, they’ll give themselves a significant boost by visiting TVNewsTalentCoach.com, reading my blog and signing up for my coaching.

I offer brutally honest feedback and practical tips that will help a new reporter hone his skills.  They’ll see a dramatic improvement quickly and will be ready to search for–and find–their first job.

For the Working TV Journalist:

TVNewsTalentCoach.com will be a tremendous help for anchors and reporters who have two or three years under their belts, or even 10 or 12 years.  Sometimes it takes an outside eye to identify just a few things that will elevate performance.  Seasoned veterans know that sometimes they just need a little inspiration.  The one-on-one coaching and insightful performance-enhancing blog entries will provide that spark.

Virtually every TV station has slashed its budget.  The few stations that used to have formal talent coaching just don’t do it anymore.  The bottom line is it’s up to individual reporters to invest in themselves.   I’ll maximize skills without breaking the bank.  I’ve got a proven track record of success as a TV news talent coach.

For the Print Reporter:

Many print reporters are now struggling with new demands to tell their stories with video on their newspaper websites.  It can be a daunting adventure.  It’s not what they signed up for but they know they’ve got to do it to keep their jobs in a shrinking industry.  The good news is it’s not brain surgery.  It’s not easy but there are things they can do to make their video stories more effective.  I can show them how.

The Web Site:

The web site will explain the business concept and sell me as the one who can help.  On the “About” page, I’ll talk about my background.  I’ve been a broadcast journalist for more than 30 years.  I’m proud to say I’ve won a boatload of awards, including a Peabody and several Emmys.  I’ve been a News Director since 1996, and have coached countless reporters and anchors to better on-air performance.  I know what News Directors are looking for when they hire on-air staff.  I know what it takes to stand out and I can get them there.

Can you get Talent coaching elsewhere?  Sure.  But most of the time it’s either very expensive or it’s offered by talent agents—many of them lawyers—who really focus on job placement so they can take 6 or 8 percent as commission.  I’m not a talent agent and don’t want to be.  I’m just a news guy who loves the business and can help people get better at their craft.

On the “How It Works” page I’ll lay out the simple coaching process.  Send me your DVD or links to posted work.  I’ll review it and we’ll set up a meeting by Skype.   My coaching will provide concrete suggestions and clients will put them into practice on their next pieces.  We’ll meet again by Skype to review that next piece and together we’ll track the improvement.

So how much is this going to cost?  Just $100.  I’m pricing it so low because I know students and young reporters don’t have a lot of excess cash lying around.  I’m not looking to make a living out of this; I want to give back to a great profession and helping people get better at this craft is just what I do.

I think the extensive testimonials on the site—written and on video—will help convince any visitor that it is worth a small investment in themselves to elevate their performance.  I’ll post testimonials from several reporters and anchors from around the country who will talk about the value of my coaching.  These reporters are in medium and large markets like Hartford, Albany, Kansas City, and Philadelphia.

Blog:

In addition to the web pages I am creating to explain my coaching service, I will maintain a blog on this website where I will comment on current issues, trends and challenges in broadcast journalism.  As I have been doing on the blog OldTVNewsGuy, I’ll offer my take on local and network coverage of news stories big and small.  I’ll criticize the bad and praise the good.   I’ll use news stories as teachable moments for the reporters and anchors who want to improve as clear, effective storytellers.  And I will write how-to columns, including writing and performing better teases, tips for stand-ups, better storytelling techniques and tips for anchoring and co-anchoring.

TVNewsTalent Coach.com will provide a service that is sorely needed at an incredibly affordable rate.

#506de – Research – Cameras in the Courtroom

July 5, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

It’s likely you will remember the recent Senate Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Elana Kagan for her adept avoidance of substantive legal questions.  Or perhaps you will recall her sense of humor, like her quip about eating Chinese food on Christmas Day.  But in her endorsement of allowing cameras into the Supreme Court, Kagan was clear and serious, and good lord, it’s about time.

“I think it would be a terrific thing to have cameras in the courtroom.  When you see what happens there, it’s an inspiring sight.”

View testimony here.

Of course, Kagan acknowledges some of her soon-to-be-colleagues are not so ready to be transparent about the workings of the high court.  Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter once testified before Congress, saying “the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

Well, Souter has retired and the court looks different now.  But not so different that having cameras in court is a slam dunk.

On July 13, 2006 Chief Justice John Roberts told the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ annual conference, :

“There’s a concern (among justices) about the impact of television on the functioning of the institution. We’re going to be very careful before we do anything that might have an adverse impact.”

Translation: if TV cameras are allowed into the Supreme Court, some of my colleagues will grandstand and play to the cameras.
So?
The same argument was made about allowing cameras into congressional hearings.  Sure enough congressmen and senators do grandstand.  But that is more than offset by the light shed on how our government works…and doesn’t.  The time has come to shed the same kind of light on the workings of our highest court. Will the justices and lawyers do their share of grandstanding?  Probably so.  But, again, so what?  The people of this country are smart enough to see grandstanding for what it is.  The benefit of transparency far outweighs the grandstanding concern.
Justice Stephen Breyer has expressed concern that cameras at the Supreme Court would be an example for all courts.  At the American Bar Association Rule of Law Symposium Panel on The Role of the Judiciary, November 10, 2005, Breyer said:

“… if it were in the Supreme Court, I think it would become a symbol for every court, and therefore it would be in every criminal trial in the country. And when I start thinking about witnesses,  I don’t want them thinking how they look to their neighbors…And I do think about the O.J. Simpson case.”

Ah, the OJ argument.  There is a lot to criticize about the OJ trial but the presence of TV cameras did not make that trial the farce it was.  The TV cameras merely broadcast the incompetence of the judge, they didn’t make him lose control of those proceedings.

Yes,TV cameras at the highest court would be a signal to lower courts that they, too, should allow cameras in courtrooms.  And that’s a good thing.  While most states now allow cameras in courtrooms to some extent, in many it’s still a rarity and the presumption is against allowing cameras.  When cameras are prohibited, the people of this country are left with cartoons–artist sketches hastily drawn, rather than the reality of photographs, video and audio. Cameron Stracher wrote incisively about this in the Wall Street Journal last week after covering the court proceedings for Faisal Shahzad, the admitted Times Square bomber.

Readers of The Wall Street Journal on June 22 could be forgiven for thinking that the newspaper (finally) was printing comic strips. There on the front page was a cartoon of Faisal Shahzad, the admitted Times Square bomber.

Not a cartoon, exactly, it was an artist’s rendering of Mr. Shahzad pleading guilty in federal court to terrorism charges. Mr. Shahzad’s visage was sketched in quick strokes of black and beige, while his handcuffs were secured by a man whose face is no more than a dozen pen strokes and whose bald head looks like Charlie Brown’s.

“In the end, the banning of cameras from the courtroom serves only one purpose,” says Al Thompkins of the Poynter Institute for Journalism study. “It preserves the mystique and mystery of the court but does nothing to illuminate the citizens. That is antithetical to democracy.”

Dave Busiek, former chairman of the Radio and Television News Directors Association, says: “The public has been deprived of the benefits of first-hand coverage not only at the district court level but at the appellate level.”

Scott Libin, the News Director at WCCO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis says: “removing courtroom cameras would leave us less informed about our institutions of justice. Strangely, some people seem to think that would be a good thing.”

In the aftermath of the 1999 OJ trial the anti-media mood swing in the country seemed to be a signal that more openness in courtrooms was doomed.  But now that the Internet has made everyone a (potential) member of the media the mood might be shifting to more openness.  And with a Justice Kagan on the Supreme Court, perhaps the court really will shed light to the nation and be an example for the entire justice system.

#506de – Get Real, Lara Logan

July 4, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

lady_gaga_cover_sqMy guess is that when the editors at Rolling Stone magazine put Lady Gaga on their cover, they never imagined the inside story about General McChrystal would steal the spotlight.  But it did and we know now that the general’s loose lips sank his own career ship.

In the aftermath of the McChrystal dust-up, the reporter who wrote the Rolling Stone article, Michael Hastings, has come in for some criticism.  That, in itself, is hardly surprising.  But the source of some of the criticism is.

On CNN’s program “Reliable Sources,” Hastings was interviewed by host Howard Kurtz, who asked:

KURTZ: Do you think that McChrystal and his top aides got so used to your hanging around that they let their guard down?
HASTINGS: No. I don’t think that was the case, because some of the most talked-about parts of the piece happened within the first 24 hours that I was with his team.
One of the most — I guess people have called it inflammatory passages is when I quote a top adviser saying, “Biden — did you say ‘bite me’?” That was the second morning I was with them in Paris covering an on-the-record meeting that they were having to prepare for a speech later on.
I mean, in fly-on-the-wall journalism, you’re there to capture exactly those kinds of moments.

After playing his interview with Hastings,  Kurtz interviewed CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan, who was blunt in saying she just didn’t believe Hastings’ account:

I mean, that just doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, because if you look at the people around General McChrystal, if you look at his history, he was the Joint Special Operations commander. He has a history of not interacting with the media at all.   And his chief of intelligence, Mike Flynn, is the same. I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that.   To me, something doesn’t add up here. I just — I don’t believe it.

There’s only one problem, Lara.  Neither General McChrystal nor any of his advisers deny the accuracy of anything Hastings reported.  Sounds like Logan is a bit peeved she never was able to get McChrystal to open up around her.

If Logan can’t sell her argument that Hastings is lying, she claims that reporting such off-hand banter as the Biden remark violates some unspoken agreement that reporters who are embedded with the military won’t embarrass anyone by reporting overheard jokes and insults.  Nonsense. What Hastings reported was insubordination to the Commander in Chief, not an off-color joke to mask the fear of being on the front lines.  McChrystal and his men are savvy enough to know that if they agree beforehand that something is off the record, it’s off.  Otherwise, it’s fair game.

The problem here is not with McChrystal so much as with the instinct in some reporters who cozy up to sources and then protect them from themselves in order to maintain access.  It happens in Washington and in every state capitol and city hall and local police department.  The beat reporters depend on access.  To keep that access, they sometimes ignore comments or actions they know might be inflammatory.  Because if the news-maker survives a public relations skirmish, that reporter will be frozen out.  Or at least that’s the thinking.

Beat reporters, like Logan, are important.  Getting close and earning trust is key.  But when it comes to shedding light, it is sometimes better for an outsider, like Hastings, to parachute in, tell the story and let the chips–or generals–fall where they may.

Former Gov. Spitzer Signs On with CNN

June 25, 2010 · Posted in Uncategorized · Comment 

Stand-up comedian and emigre from the Soviet Union Yakov Smirnof is right when he talks about the United States with his signature line–What a country!

Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former Democratic governor of New York is about to make a triumphant return to the spotlight as the co-host of a new political round-table talk show on CNN.  Spitzer was New York’s Attorney General before becoming governor but most recently was known as client #9 in the hooker for hire scandal that toppled him from the governor’s mansion in Albany.

eliot_spitzer

Spitzer’s self-destructive behavior, once revealed, generated such vehement feelings of revulsion among so many that it’s barely conceivable he’s being given this chance at redemption.  The betrayal of his brilliant and beautiful wife was beyond offensive, people said at the time.  As Attorney General he preached against–and prosecuted with vigor–those involved in prostitution.  His hypocrisy was just staggering.

He is, of course, ever so grateful for the opportunity, according to the CNN press release.

So, does this say more about our country or the state of CNN?

We love to build ‘em up and then relish in their downfall, and that was true with Spitzer.  Reporters wrote scores of glowing profiles of the hard-driving, effective AG who took on the tobacco companies, consumer scammers and the crooks on Wall Street (before the latest round of Wall Street crooks).  And what a field day the media had when he imploded because he couldn’t or wouldn’t reign in a sexual appetite that reflected his superior, I’m above the law, entitled arrogance.

And now some say he’s back because we’re a forgiving nation. He’s said he’s sorry, done a stretch of keeping a low profile.  This is a story of triumph over adversity.  This is America–what a country.

Hogwash.

This is a calculated risk by a cable network that is in deep trouble.  Maybe the shock value of hiring a disgraced governor can pump energy into a ratings challenged cable network.  This is America–what a country.

Spitzer will be taking over the 8pm slot with conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker.  They will be replacing Campbell Brown, who was the fourth or fifth to fail for CNN up against Bill O’Reilly on Fox.  CNN says the Spitzer/Parker hour will be “a spirited, nightly roundtable discussion program.”

Sounds like the old “Crossfire,”  and that brought this response from Reese Shonfeld:

“As the creator of the original Crossfire, I think I’m qualified to comment on the new television program created for Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker. To be blunt, I can’t think of a worse idea.”

Spitzer is certainly smart and articulate, although he never seems quite comfortable on TV.  The shock value of bringing on the disgraced sex addict will certainly bring in some viewers–for a show or two.   What a country!

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