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There were 20 members of the press who died in Monday's Colombian crash of a charter plane carrying a Brazilian soccer team, journalists who fought through obstacles even a Trump-besieged press can't imagine.
Five were part of RBS Group, a family-led company serving the state of Rio Grande do Sul, an area that most Americans know little about.
It's way south and borders Argentina and Uruguay, with a population of 11 million. This is cowboy country, with folks known as gauchos, a term rife with conflicting meanings, ranging from outlaw denizens of old to the rural working class of today. As noted by Ken Doctor, a California-based industry analyst, the RBS Group is the top multimedia dog in the state but "despite its leading standing has struggled mightily with the same kinds of challenges as all newspaper companies: declining print advertising, Google-Facebook competition for digital ads and more." Yes, more.
Throw in Brazil's awful recession and the economic duress has been great. The company is owned by the Sirotsky family and, like others, has made some big moves to embrace the new digital realities, while dealing with bottom-line necessities as it's passionately dedicated to serving the many smaller communities in Rio Grande do Sul.
"Importantly, RBS, especially led by top editorial leader Marcelo Rech — who currently serves as president of the Brazil Newspaper Association and has served as president of the World Editors Forum, a part of the global World Association of Newspapers — has been a leading advocate of press freedom in the western hemisphere and worldwide. "
Press freedoms means a whole lot more for people who confronted brutal dictatorships for several decades, into the mid-1980s and just doesn't have a similar tradition as the U.S. As Doctor notes, "Prior restraint of publishing remains a concern for publishers, and is still fought in courts."
In 2014, three Brazilian journalists were killed on the job, with two gunned down as they worked on an investigative piece. Five months ago, two gunmen murdered a reporter for pugnacious new website. (Committee to Protect Journalists) Since 1992, 39 Brazilian journalists have been killed.
It's no more a tragedy than the crash but a reminder of daily on-the-ground professional perils exceeding those we all confront at 30,000 feet.
How quickly we forget
The waiting and waiting at Trump Tower in New York City continued and at one point Chris Geidner, legal editor at BuzzFeed, tweeted, "'Kellyanne Conway returned to Trump Tower at 1:47 p.m. accompanied by an unidentified man," per pool. [Later ID'ed as former VP Dan Quayle.]"
Ah, yes, Dan Quayle. If there I might have referenced Quayle's famous Commonwealth Club of California speech when he chided Murphy Brown for deciding to have a kid out of wedlock. But the pool might not know of Murphy Brown. Or Candice Bergen.
Stengel's new job
Rick Stengel, the former very strong editorial boss at Time magazine, is departing a top State Department job to be chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Most people have never heard of it but it's an important entity if not without problems as it overseas the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and several other government broadcast entities. Together they employ about 3,500 people and reach more than 200 million worldwide each week at a modest cost to taxpayers of about $750 million a year. Recent administrations haven't been very attentive.
Stengel was picked by President Obama to fill the term of a departing board member whose term expires next August. He'll also succeed Jeff Shell, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment, in the chairman's post. Stengel's many State duties included overseeing social media strategy against terrorists.
Obama and Wenner
President Obama's many post-election interviews include a valiant if rather melancholy one with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner the day after. (Rolling Stone) It's inescapable to contrast the subtlety of his intellect with that of Donald Trump, even if his strongest responses don't include one on the media future. Might the news business, which Wenner says "is being destroyed by Facebook, need subsidies?"
"The challenge is, the technology is moving so fast that it's less an issue of traditional media losing money," says Obama. "The New York Times is still making money. NPR is doing well. Yeah, it's a nonprofit, but it has a growing audience. The problem is segmentation. We were talking about the issue of a divided country. Good journalism continues to this day."
Yeah, but the problem's money. The business models have crumbled. Let's see how many of his daughter's generation will pay for quality online content, segmentation or no segmentation.
The death of cable boxes
Jon Steinberg, the founder of Cheddar, the excellent digital sort-of-CNBC for millennials, writes in The Hollywood Reporter about attending the DIRECTV Now launch event the other night. "The product like the one from our partner Sling is the future."
Why? "It is full TV on every single device. Every channel, rendered perfectly, on Apple TV, Roku, Android, iPhone, Amazon Fire, Le Eco etc. The prices are crazy low. AT&T has Spotified themselves in a way the music industry never did. The product is better and cheaper. The interface is 2017."
Cable boxes? "The only reason people will keep cable boxes is inertia. No one new will get a cable box unless they are confused. And education and time will correct this confusion. Certainly no one graduating college will even consider getting a cable box." (Hollywood Reporter)
Getting new flicks a lot quicker
"Warner Bros., one of Hollywood’s biggest movie studios, joined calls for the industry to allow new films to be released sooner for home viewing, a stand that’s led to fights with theaters operators in the past." (Bloomberg)
"The studio is in talks with cinema owners to shorten the typical 90 days of exclusivity that they have over new releases, Kevin Tsujihara, chief executive officer of the Time Warner Inc. subsidiary, said at a Credit Suisse investors conference Tuesday, without providing additional details. That could allow for a new release window for home-video customers willing to pay a premium for earlier access."
Trading Wired for Apple
"One of Wired’s top editors has left the company to join Apple. Billy Sorrentino, the publication’s creative director, announced his departure. A Wired rep says Sorrentino will be joining Apple’s design team, but wouldn’t offer more detail." (Recode)
Last night's "Vice News Tonight" on HBO again proved more eclectic and informative if way more subdued than broadcast counterparts.
It touched upon the plane crash in Colombia, wildfires in Tennessee, Mosul's most vulnerable victims, protests for a higher minimum wage, the Haitian presidential election, new rules to restrict abortions in Texas (a fine piece), a steel shield being placed over the abandoned Russian nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Japanese response to its Fukushima nuclear plant catastrophe, the ongoing world chess championship, and Trump's latest Cabinet picks ("53, White, male," it described his Treasury selection).
It's a window onto a much bigger world than one finds with the Big Three.
The Times' Castro obit
I wrote about how its 7,900-word, masterful Fidel Castro obituary was very much the handiwork of Anthony DePalma, who left the paper in 2008 and now teaches at Seton Hall University. (Poynter) Now the paper is offering an obituary of an obituary in the form of an inside look at a piece whose origins date to 1959, including any drafts. (The New York Times)
Sixteen individuals who worked on it at one time or another, including DePalma, offer memories. For example, there's Jeffrey Henson Scales, photography editor of The Times’s Sunday Review. Searching the paper's photo archives in 2008, he "was startled to find more than a hundred 35 mm contact sheets teeming with vivid images of Fidel Castro. The Times staff photographer Jack Manning took the photos in 1964, and my colleague Sergio Florez had scanned some of them in 2001 in preparation for Fidel’s 75th birthday."
They included "photos of Castro in the front seat of a 1960 Oldsmobile, riding across the Cuban countryside to visit campesinos, in Castro’s house, chatting with Manning and the Times correspondent Richard Eder. (Some of the photos showed Manning and Eder in the backseat of Castro’s car — with a Kalashnikov tucked neatly into the seat pouch in front of the reporter’s knees.)"
They were far more intimate than Hanson had seen of a world leader and were part of a 2008 multimedia piece (spearheaded by Eder since Manning had passed away) that the paper updated in a video format the other day upon Castro's death. (The New York Times)
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends" was in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to speak to "real people," not "the pundits," then seamlessly segued to video of real person Mitt Romney (estimated net worth: $250 million) dining with Trump last night.
CNN's "New Day" went over the latest Cabinet picks, first with Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin. Co-host Chris Cuomo singled out him and Commerce pick Wilbur Ross as rather short of being blue-collar heroes, with Ross a master of bankruptcy and Mnuchin having run what some called a "foreclosure machine." The Wall Street Journal says:"Despite his successful Wall Street career, Mr. Mnuchin has no experience running a massive organization—the Treasury Department has 86,000 employees—or in economic or financial policy making." (The Wall Street Journal)
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" was in pro-Romney State Department campaign mode. Mika Brzezinski said "there were times I was very upset about things that happened during the campaign but in the beginning everybody should try and root for it (Trump) to succeed, not the media, but I mean people like Mitt Romney are doing the right thing." Joe Scarborough, Willie Geist and Mike Barnicle, too, made the Romney case.
About that chess match
The lack of press attention is striking; it's sure not the worldwide extravaganza of Bobby Fisher vs. Boris Spassky. Norwegian prodigy and world champ Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Sergey Karjakin are tied after 12 matches and now "will go to tiebreakers, 25-minute 'rapid' games, beginning Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET. There will be four of those. If there's still no winner, the 2016 World Chess Championship goes to five-minutes blitz games." (Business Insider)
Baron, Hitchens and Trump
In receiving the second annual Hitchens Prize, an as-yet not widely-known honor named after the late, irrepressibly provocative and brilliant Christopher Hitchens, Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron recalled receiving a letter from Father Thomas Doyle not long after The Boston Globe's initial 2002 story on abuse in the Catholic Church.
Doyle, who had waged "a long and lonely battle within the Church on behalf of abuse victims," wrote Baron that, “This nightmare would have gone and on were it not for you and the Globe staff. As one who has been deeply involved in fighting for justice for the victims and survivors for many years, I thank you with every part of my being."
Baron cited the letter in part as he castigated Donald Trump's many outrageous, even despotic comments about the media. "There is a lesson in Father Doyle’s letter: The truth is not meant to be hidden. It is not meant to be suppressed. It is not meant to be ignored. It is not meant to be disguised. It is not meant to be manipulated. It is not meant to be falsified. Otherwise, wrongdoing will persist."
He kept the letter on his Boston desk until he left for Washington four years ago. It reminded him of his and colleagues' professional mission. "It is the work that occupied Christopher Hitchens over a lifetime and that still animates so many in the profession to which I’ve dedicated 40 years." (Vanity Fair)
I read this while watching a kids chilly soccer practice last night and remembered a last back and forth with Hitchens, when I told him that Rod Blagojevich, the then-impeached (now imprisoned) former Illinois governor, was going to teach an ethics class at Northwestern University.
"By all means let Mr. Blagojevich teach ethics to the young: it is high time that they learned that life is ironic (and thus unfair)."
Yes, it's ironic and very unfair, as Hitchens' passing reminded, but it's good that an award carries his name and guys like Baron maintain his legacy.
Correction: An earlier version of this post contained the wrong photo. We apologize for the error.