Good morning. Here's our morning roundup of all the media news you need to know. Want to get this briefing in your inbox every morning? Subscribe here.
The state of press freedom worldwide is lousy and getting worse. The most ignominious culprits include Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Russia and other usual suspects.
"Media freedom has never been so threatened," says Reporters Without Borders in its annual World Press Freedom Index.
"Syria, where a bloody civil war has entered its sixth year, was the deadliest country for journalists, according to the watchdog, known by its French initials RSF," said Al Jazeera in its report story.
"Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey, which has jailed 81 journalists after a failed coup attempt, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's Egypt, where Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Hussein has been detained, were branded the world's biggest prisons for journalists."
But wait. No surprise that Norway is No. 1 as far as the freest press. But there is also, somewhat oddly, a rather negative mention of Canada, which rates relatively well in general but is chided. That was especially so in Washington at one of several gatherings to promote the report.
This was co-hosted by The Washington Post, with the moderator Post reporter Dana Priest and the panelists including Ben Makuch, the national security reporter for Vice in Canada.
"That's what I keep getting all morning," said Makuch to Priest, who was a bit surprised at a Canadian rating a presence at the affair. "'Canada? Why is Canada there?'"
He did a piece that used an alleged ISIS fighter from Calgary as a source. He was actually in Russia, reporting, when the government tried to get him to reveal his source. He's refused and been on the losing end of the court battle so far.
He's now going to the Supreme Court in a country with no shield laws and that, he noted, has been confirmed to have spied on journalists in recent years.
He was under a top-secret court gag order for nine months. He thus couldn't even broach the subject with his family or friends (his editors knew the answer) and is convinced that he, too, has been spied on (he's doesn't have proof).
But he's one of several reasons Canada has slipped sharply in the annual index and is now at No. 22 of all the world's nations (it was No. 18 last year). That said, Canada is not Syria or Turkey.
As Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim reminded the assembled in Washington, being "disappointed" with Canadian government actions is a luxury to her. The Syrian regime wants her killed.
As for what most struck moderator Priest, she looks at the world map and discerns "a spontaneous combustion event just within the last year that has resulted in a worldwide war against independent media. Canada? The United States? Fake news?" But, to turn the tide, "we've got to move faster and more deliberately."
ESPN layoffs (part 1)
Richard Deitsch, Sports Illustrated's media writer, was working social media Wednesday to report on the ESPN layoffs. About 100 employees, including on-air folks, were dumped in what inevitably was deemed insensitive fashion by employees (it's hard being warm and fuzzy with this stuff, having myself passed out such news). Culling employee disclosures on social media, he listed those given bad news.
Here's one reality not fully grasped in any of the stories I've seen: a bunch of folks were canned precisely because their contracts were up for renewal. Few intelligent companies (perhaps outside of professional sports teams) like the notion of paying somebody for several years who's not doing any work.
So some folks surely got a reprieve, albeit a temporary one, because ESPN is still on the hook for a chunk of money. Those who were let go probably shouldn't read Bloomberg's coincidental "Why Getting Fired Is Worse Than Divorce."
Trump supporters hatred of the press
A poll out this morning for the University of Virginia's Center for Politics surveyed 1,000 Trump voters online and in part concludes, "Respondents were deeply suspicious and distrusting of media. Nearly nine in 10 respondents (88%) said that media criticism of Trump reinforces that the president is on the right track, and the same percentage agreed with Trump’s assertion that the press is 'the enemy of the American people.'"
Quiet history (again) in Pittsburgh
The Chicago Cubs announcers knew last night that when Gift Ngoepe entered the game at second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it was historic. He's the first African-born player in the majors.
What they might have also noted, if they even knew it, is that it was also in Pittsburgh that the first all-Black team was fielded. It was by the Pirates, too, and got precious little mention the next morning. Indeed, there's no mention in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story about Ngoepe being first from a continent with 1.2 billion residents.
"1971," confirmed David Maraniss, the journalist-author whose work includes a terrific biography of the late great Pirate Roberto Clemente.
"It was a measly crowd — under 12,000 (11,278 to be exact), as I remember it. Doc Ellis pitched. Clemente in right. Slugging first baseman Bob Robertson was on bench for some reason. Team would go on to win World Series. But Pittsburgh was becoming a football town by then."
Chicago's gun and gang violence
Trump and Cleveland minister Darrell Scott have talked the talk about ending gun and gang violence in Chicago. If you needed confirmation of the challenge, check "Vice News Tonight" reporter Antonia Hylton's look at Scott's fumbling early efforts, a key rivalry with another minister and the combatively dissolute gang members on the ground. (Vice)
This includes an interview with "Birdman," a gang member, who takes off his shirt to reveal the unceasing oozing and blood from his 13th gunshot wound, which resembles a two-inch-wide vertical gorge down his chest. "I wish each one of my bullets could bring back one of my dead homies."
The Pope gives a TED talk
A TED talk? Yes, it happened by videotape at a Vancouver conference, and he spoke to the moral responsibilities we all have. And get this, according to The Verge:
"According to Bruno Giussani, TED’s International Curator, organizing the talk was a huge undertaking. While Pope Francis is on Twitter and Instagram, many at the Vatican weren’t aware of the series, and it took a number of meetings to arrange the speech, which was recorded in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis’s home in Vatican City. Filmed in April, the talk was then edited and translated by a group of 40 translators. (The talk is currently subtitled in 20 languages.)"
Comedy Central takes over Times, Post!
"Comedy Central is taking over The New York Times, Washington Post and other sites with ads that blare slogans like 'failing' and 'fake news' in the middle of articles. The spokesperson in the digital ads is an uncanny Donald Trump impersonator, Anthony Atamanuik, who is getting his own parody show on the network." (Ad Age)
"The President Show" premieres on the network Thursday. "To herald the debut, The New York Times' homepage will feature a takeover ad with the presidential doppelganger dropping down in a banner ad and pointing at the website while mocking it with one of President Trump's signature insults: 'Failing.'"
ESPN layoffs (Part 2)
I wondered what Art Cullen, the editor of the Storm Lake, Iowa Times and a new Pulitzer Prize winner for editorials, thought about the layoffs from a town that's seen havoc in the meatpacking industry.
"We sure have witnessed enough of them (layoffs) across the Midwest."
"And, in the newspaper industry. Not many stories have been done on the destruction of an entire national legion of copy editors nobody ever heard of. They get fired every week all across America but they never had a byline. They just write the headline that makes somebody want to read Jim Warren or Art Cullen’s boring property tax story. They’re all gone. I’m sure Poynter held a wake but who else?"
"It generally fits into the theme of nobody really cares that much about a guy covered in blood with a knife in his hand on the kill floor. Unless you want to deport him."
Business story of the day
No, it doesn't involve Trump and tax cuts. It involves further evidence of the decline of western civilization: a four-story Starbucks.
Four stories. Newspapers are going down the tubes. Our public education system is a mess. There's no confidence in most major institutions. State and local budgets are in the toilet. But we're building a Starbucks cathedral on Michigan Avenue in Chicago to replace an existing Crate & Barrel.
The nation is conflicted over Trump but it is apparently in sync when it comes to traditional drip coffee, espresso based drinks and, now, pour-over and French press coffee. (Crain's Chicago Business)
Dumbest story of day
There is no close second. From Breitbart News:
"Breitbart has reported extensively that ESPN suffered huge subscription losses over the last few years. Many believe much of the loss can be attributed to viewers being fed up with network personalities espousing liberal political views."
Yes, don't you get tired of sportscasters linking the latest Golden State Warriors win to urgings that we nationalize major industries? Or inserting into Tiger Woods surgical updates the need to raise capital gains taxes to 90 percent? No wonder the cord-cutters are cutting.
Perfect for millennial narcissists!
"With the addition of a camera, Amazon’s new Echo Look device can now see and hear all. The device is a sort of standalone selfie machine so users can take full-length photos and videos of themselves specifically for the sake of checking their fashion choices in the morning." (TechCrunch)
Mike Royko and the Correspondents’ Dinner
During a January event at Harvard, Huffington Post chief Lydia Polgreen evoked the memory of Mike Royko, the late Chicago columnist, who has no counterpart today as far sensibility, variety, quality and prolific nature (five times a week) of his output.
"Who is the Mike Royko of today?" she asked, wondering where are the journalism voices with a true blue-collar sensibility.
Much of what Royko disdained about the increasingly effete nature of journalism will be on display Saturday at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. By coincidence, friends will gather at that same time at Chicago's Billy Goat tavern to mark the 20th anniversary of his passing.
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends" praised Trump for being willing to renegotiate NAFTA, not dump it as he long claimed. Remember his campaign pledge that it “had to be totally gotten rid of?” Now, says his fans, he's being Mr. Pragmatist.
CNN's "New Day" looked at a few polling numbers that are half-decent, not stirring, as it also analyzed his data-deficient tax plan. "This is not a piece legislation, this is not even close to that," said its David Chalian during a serious dialogue among him, Ron Brownstein and David Sanger of The New York Times.
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" plopped on the screen New York Times and Politico pieces on a new Republican healthcare plan, prompting dissection of the complicated, shifting GOP politics on the whole matter. And Sarah Westwood of The Washington Examiner discussed her Trump interview yesterday that included his reviving conservatives' old notion of splitting the San Francisco-based appeals court that just ruled again him on immigration enforcement.
ESPN layoffs (Part 3)
It had more important things going on yesterday and got beat on this on the eve of the NFL Draft tonight:
"Seeing the rolling corkboard in a way he never had before, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. reportedly shrugged off amorous feelings toward his 2017 NFL Draft Big Board while working late one night in his office, sources confirmed."
Well, they confirmed it at least to The Onion.