Andrew Beaujon

Andrew Beaujon reports on the media for Poynter Online. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture. He lives in Alexandria, Va., with his family. His email is abeaujon@poynter.org, his phone number is 703-594-1103, and he tweets @abeaujon.


What you need to know before you see ‘Kill the Messenger’

“Kill the Messenger,” a film about former San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, opens Friday. Webb wrote a series in 1995 and 1996 called “Dark Alliance,” which plumbed a relationship between the CIA and Nicaraguan contras who brought cocaine into the U.S.

Actor Jeremy Renner, who plays Webb, attended the "Kill the Messenger" premiere in New York on Tuesday.

Actor Jeremy Renner, who plays Webb, attended the “Kill the Messenger” premiere in New York on Tuesday.

  • Webb was basically right: His reporting built on a 1985 AP report by Robert Parry and Brian Barger and a 1989 U.S. Senate report that made it clear U.S. officials were aware the contras were financing their operations in part with drug smuggling. But Webb’s pieces, Ryan Devereaux writes in The Intercept, connected “an issue that seemed distant to many U.S. readers — drug trafficking in Central America — to a deeply-felt domestic story, the impact of crack cocaine in California’s urban, African American communities.”
  • Webb’s series spread via the Web, a novelty at the time: “The wildfire-like sweep of ‘Dark Alliance’ was all the more remarkable because it took place without the tinder of the mainstream press,” Peter Kornbluh wrote in CJR in 1997. “Instead, the story roared through the new communications media of the Intemet and black talk radio–two distinct, but in this case somewhat symbiotic, information channels.” It “was accompanied by a digital library of source documents, a timeline of events and a list of characters, among other web-only features that have now become commonplace,” David Carr writes in The New York Times. “It was, by most accounts, the first newspaper series to go viral before there were even words to describe the phenomenon.”
  • His series had some flaws: Webb “wrote past what he knew,” Carr writes, and the series’ packaging was “lurid and overheated.” Kornbluh wrote that the “articles did not even address the likelihood that CIA officials in charge would have known about these drug operations” and ID’d the “overarching problem in the series” as its reliance on the testimony of drug dealer Oscar Danilo Blandón Reyes, which was inconsistent and had timeline problems.
  • The U.S. news media helped the CIA by trying to knock the story down: At an “establishment paper” like The Washington Post, former Post reporter Douglas Farah tells Ryan Grim, “If you were going to be directly rubbing up against the government, they wanted it more solid than it could probably ever be done.” The Post, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times worked diligently to try to discredit Webb’s story. The L.A. Times “assigned no fewer than 17 reporters to pick apart Webb’s reporting,” Devereaux writes, saying an internal CIA report boasted “that the agency effectively departed from its own longstanding policies in order to discredit the series.” Former L.A. Times reporter Jesse Katz called the paper’s effort a “kind of tawdry exercise” that “ruined that reporter’s career,” Nick Schou, who consulted on the movie, wrote last year in LA Weekly. “The Post (among others) showed more energy for protecting the CIA from someone else’s journalistic excesses,” Geneva Overholser, then the Post’s ombudsman, wrote in 1996.
  • The Mercury News eventually distanced itself from the story: “I would do exactly the same thing 18 years later that I did then, and that is to say that I think we overreached,” former Mercury News Executive Editor Jerry Ceppos told Carr.
  • Webb killed himself: He was 49. “Mr. Webb, who was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for coverage of the 1989 Bay Area earthquake, continued to maintain that his reporting was accurate,” a New York Times obituary said.

Here’s a trailer for the film:
Read more

Tools:
6 Comments

Washington City Paper posts Mad Libs-style ad for managing editor

Washington City Paper

Washington City Paper needs a new managing editor now that Jon Fischer is departing for Slate. It encourages applicants to fill in the blanks in this job listing:

Washington City Paper seeks a [adjective], [adjective], full-time managing editor–who, acting as the editorial staff’s [adjective] No. 2, will handle everything from breaking news to weekly columns to long-form cover stories. We’re looking for someone who will [action verb] enterprising cover packages, covering themes and topics like [theme or topic relevant to D.C.] and [theme or topic relevant to D.C.]. You’ll need to be comfortable spending a morning juggling food, local politics, housing, and cops coverage; you’ll also need to keep our website humming by [thing you'd do to keep our website humming] while working on the weekly paper and long-term projects. And you’ll work with our editor to manage our [adjective] staff of reporters and editors and a much larger collection of freelancers. We want someone eager to innovate–in terms of both the substance of the work we do as well as how we do it, in print and online. Finally, this is a job that will also involve some writing, from quick hits on the blogs to deep dives for the cover-story well. Eager to report on [important topic] and [pressing issue]? Want to edit in D.C.’s [superlative], [superlative] newsroom? Fill out the blanks in this job posting and send a cover letter, resume, and writing clips to jobs@washingtoncitypaper.com.

Related: BuzzFeed asks potential applicants to make a PB&J

Disclosures: I was once managing editor of Washington City Paper, and I helped hired Fischer. I also think one superlative is too many when writing a potential employer. A job application is no place to be obsequious. Tell them what they’re doing wrong! Read more

Tools:
0 Comments
Barack Obama

Obama joins Medium, finds another route around the press

mediawiremorningGood morning. The weekend is in sight. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. Malala Yousafzai wins Nobel Peace Prize: The former BBC blogger turned activist “has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee writes. Indian children’s advocate Kailash Satyarthi shares the prize with her. (Nobelprize.org)
  2. Back in St. Louis: During protests last night following an officer-involved shooting in the city’s Shaw neighborhood, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Valerie Schremp Hahn saw people “slamming a brick on the ground to break it in two.” One “asked what I was tweeting and I said nothing. He basically but me in a headlock and asked to get my phone. I said no,” she tweeted. Then, this: “I screamed ‘get away from me! Get away from me!’ And ran towards the crowd. My press pass fell off but I still have my damn phone.” She adds: “If it makes him feel better I didn’t get his picture.” | Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery tweeted a photo of the Ferguson, Missouri, McDonald’s earlier on Thursday: “@ryanjreilly wish u were here :( ” | I noticed some other Ferguson vets and national outlet reporters on the scene: L.A. Times reporter Matt Pearce, New York Times reporter Alan Blinder and USA Today reporter Yamiche Alcindor were among those tweeting about the protests last night. | Never stops being useful: Kristen Hare‘s Twitter list of journalists covering STL, Ferg. | The cover story of the new issue of the NPPA’s News Photographer magazine is about the Post-Dispatch’s photo staff. (NPAA)
  3. President Obama finds another route around the press: “Over at the White House, we aim to connect with people where they are and engage with citizens on the issues they care about most. That’s where Medium comes in — and why you can find us on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and more sites, too.” (@WhiteHouse) | Obama’s first post uses scare quotes! “History has dubbed you the ‘Millennials.’” (Medium)
  4. Great advice for beat reporters: Wall Street Journal fashion-biz reporter Teri Agins tells Lauren Indvik how to get big scoops on a competitive beat. “I always tell young journalists, when you’re trying to do a story, go for a story that’s doable.” Also: “People love to talk, they won’t stop talking, they’ll tell you more than you’re asking.” (Fashionista)
  5. Chuck Todd makes a good case for reporting bullshit: The “Meet the Press” host says, “We in the so-called MSM should be willing to report what is not true, rather than ignoring and claiming that ‘well, we didn’t deem it worthy’ and therefore don’t have a responsibility for debunking someone else’s rumor,” in a fascinating interview with Jay Rosen. “I’m not sure we can defend not sharing publicly what we know is true and false.” (PressThink)
  6. Deadspin wants to hire Bill Simmons: Among the incentives, according to Drew Magary: “KINJA! It makes you a better writer by erasing your posts suddenly and forcing you to start from scratch!” (Deadspin)
  7. The hazards of working in a British-American newsroom: “I use Ss almost exclusively in place of Zs, which look too harsh to me now,” Maraithe Thomas writes. “I catch myself saying ‘Give us a bite’ or ‘It was quite crowded, actually’ instead of ‘Give me a bite’ and ‘It was packed.’” (The Guardian)
  8. The economic imperatives of first-person essays: They’re multiplying, maybe because of “the slashing of budgets for in-depth reporting and the necessarily more superficial coverage that results,” Eve Fairbanks writes. “An essayist giving a personal take on an event in the news … may not result from a month of reporting with a big budget, as in the older days, but instead brings a whole lifetime of experience to the story.” (WP)
  9. Why can’t Facebook crack apps? It’s planning an anonymous sharing app, but “every standalone app Facebook has created thus far has been a flop,” John McDermott writes. “The only reason anyone downloads Messenger is because they’re forced to, and it has one star in the App Store,” Neetzan Zimmerman tells McDermott. (Digiday) | Related: Mathew Ingram on the frenmity between media orgs and Facebook. (Gigaom)
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Jonah Freedman is now editor-in-chief of StubHub. Previously, he was managing editor of mlssoccer.com. (Pando Daily) | David Plotz is now CEO of Atlas Obscura. Previously, he was editor of Slate (Washington Post) | Brie Dyas is now senior work life editor at The Huffington Post. Previously, she was executive home editor there. (The Huffington Post) | Jordan Chariton will be New York media editor at The Wrap. He’s editor of TVNewser. Mark Joyella will be a co-editor for TV Spy and TVNewser. Previously, he was a TV editor at Mediaite. Brian Flood is now co-editor of TVNewser. Previously, he had written for Sports Illustrated and RotoExperts. (TVNewser) | Job of the day: WBEZ is looking for a midday anchor. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org

Suggestions? Criticisms? Would like me to send you this roundup each morning? Please email me: abeaujon@poynter.org. Read more

Tools:
0 Comments

Providence Phoenix to close

WPRI

The alt-weekly Providence Phoenix will close, Ted Nesi reports. The paper was founded in 1979 as the NewPaper and survived the death of its sibling paper, the Boston Phoenix, which closed last year.

Phoenix Media COO Everett Finkelstein “did not mention what would happen to the third paper in the company’s stable, the Portland Phoenix of Maine,” Nesi writes.

While some alt-weeklies have adapted to the loss of traditional revenue sources like classified and display ads, many have struggled. Of the country’s Top 20 weeklies, only two saw circulation gains in 2013, Pew reported earlier this year.

Jack Shafer wrote about how alts’ fortunes eroded — many were built for a different era, when record companies stuffed their stockings with cash and before smartphones beat them “as a boredom killer.”

Related: How some alt-weeklies are innovating their way out of a crisis Read more

Tools:
0 Comments

News station lays off journalists, will play Beyoncé songs instead

Houston Chronicle

Houston news station KROI laid off 47 employees Wednesday and will, for the time being, play only Beyoncé songs, David Barron reports for the Houston Chronicle. The station “aired its last broadcast Wednesday, October 8, 2014,” its website says.

Beyoncé in Paris last month, pausing briefly from her war on working journalists.  (Photo by Mason Poole/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images)

Beyoncé in Paris last month, pausing briefly from her war on working journalists. (Photo by Mason Poole/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images)

Radio One owns the station, known as News 92 FM. Its employees “were notified shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday that the news format was being dropped and the station rebranded – for the moment – as B921, playing around-the-clock, commercial-free music by Beyoncé,” Barron reports.

The station was ranked 26th in the market as a news station. The Beyoncé gambit is not expected to last: “There was no indication how long the B921 format would continue,” Barron writes.

For a pop star, Beyoncé has had a disproportionate effect on media outlets:

Read more
Tools:
3 Comments

School board candidate says plagiarism was due to a mistake

Chalkbeat

Indianapolis Public School Board candidate Ramon Batts used material from the ACLU and two other organizations in replies to a survey by the education publication Chalkbeat.

He says it’s because he was up late, Hayleigh Colombo reports:

“That’s what happens when you’re doing things at 1 or 2 a.m,” said Batts.

Someone working for his campaign helped him compile the research before he sent in his responses, he said, and the citations to those sources were accidentally left off when he submitted the survey.

“It’s something I should have seen and caught,” he said.

However it happened, Batts’ plagiarism is a reminder that lifted text isn’t just a problem in journalism. It pops up surprisingly often at the intersection of education and public life:

Free resource: Is it original? An editor’s guide to identifying plagiarism Read more

Tools:
2 Comments

After Schiller exit, an odd tension at Twitter

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. Vivian Schiller’s exit could signal tension for Twitter and journalists: Adam Sharp, who is in charge of government partnerships, will return to heading news partnerships as well. (Re/code) | “That puts him in an oddly conflicted position of advising government officials who are seeking to influence public opinion and journalists who are trying to get past that manipulation and explain what they see as the real story.” (NYT)
  2. NBC wanted Jon Stewart for “Meet the Press”: “They were ready to back the Brink’s truck up,” a source tells Gabriel Sherman. (New York) | “The revelation also underscored just how seriously [NBC News President Deborah] Turness thought about blowing up “Meet the Press,” which has fallen from first to third place in the Sunday morning political show ratings.” (CNN) | “If it’s Sunday, it’s your moment of zen.” (@chucktodd)
  3. Readers have always lied about what kinds of stories they like: “We were always ‘Facebook readers’ long before there was a Facebook.” (The Atlantic) | RELATED: Kara Swisher says, “I still think the old media hates the Internet and hopes it will go away.” (Vanity Fair)
  4. Still missing ONA? Here are a bunch of resources to help you remember: Videos. Blog posts. A photo of Poynter’s Ren LaForme with Cookie Monster. (ONA)
  5. Lots of shaved pates at The Denver Post these days: About a dozen people “shaved their heads over the weekend in solidarity with a colleague whose chic blonde hair was stolen by chemo,” Dana Coffield reports. (The Denver Post)
  6. National Press Club defends holding off-the-record events: The “press club’s director of business development, Brian Taylor, defended the defense contractors’ decision to ban press coverage even while benefiting from the prestige of the National Press Club,” Dana Milbank writes. “Sadly, the National Press Club, once a temple to the free flow of information, has been compelled to adopt the rule that drives so much else in Washington: pay to play.” (WP)
  7. NYC school police harass reporters: School safety officers tell journalists to leave “almost every time we cover a school,” Lindsey Christ reports. One broke the lensguard on an NY1 camera and put her hat over its lens. Another refused to ID himself, saying, “Stop it. Stop it, OK? Stop it. That’s who I am.” During a transaction Wednesday, “the safety officers called the local precinct,” Christ reports. “Those officers were able to explain to school safety that public sidewalks are public.” (NY1)
  8. Who is running the Atlantic’s Ello account? “Whoever is running the account is doing a bang-up job.” (The Atlantic) | Some of us are still waiting for an invite. (Sniff)
  9. Front page of the day, curated by Kristen Hare: Health workers in Liberia tend to Ebola patients in safety suits on the front of The International New York Times. (Via Kiosko)

    INYT-10092014  

  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Frédéric Michel will be a consultant for Sky Italia. He is Telefónica’s Europe director of public affairs and communication. (The Guardian) | Bob Mason is now vice president of hosting at NewsCycle Solutions. Previously, he was chief technology officer at Digital First Media. (Poynter) | Gregg Doyel is now a sports columnist at The Indianapolis Star. Previously, he was a columnist at CBSSports.com. (The Indianapolis Star) | Mike Stamm is now a senior design technologist at The Washington Post. Previously, he led design technology at The Wall Street Journal. Jessie Tseng is an interaction designer at The Washington Post. Previously, she was a user experience designer at Adaptly. (The Washington Post) | Sheena Lyonnais will be a freelance writer. Previously, she was managing editor of Yonge Street Media. (Yonge Street Media) | Susi Park is general manager of advertising for GQ. Previously, she was assistant general manager of advertising at Wired. (Email) | Abe Cytryn is now chief technology officer for Magzter. Previously, he was chief technology officer at Time Inc. (Email) | Job of the day: The Washington Post is looking for a religion writer. Get your résumés in! (The Washington Post) | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org

Suggestions? Criticisms? Would like me to send you this roundup each morning? Please email me: abeaujon@poynter.org. Read more

Tools:
0 Comments

NYT corrects: ‘She is a performer from the show, not a drag queen from the show’

An excellent correction rides below Michael Powell’s Oct. 8 column about the San Francisco Giants:

An earlier version of this column, using information from the San Francisco Giants, described incorrectly the cast member of “Beach Blanket Babylon” who sang “God Bless America” at Tuesday’s game while wearing a giant hat depicting the San Francisco skyline. She is a performer from the show, not a drag queen from the show.

(Via J. Freedom du Lac)

Even at this early hour, this correction has competition. A correction in The Wall Street Journal Wednesday proves that journalists just cannot catch a break when it comes to math.

The Golden Beach, Fla., home bought in late September by construction executive Ronald Tutor has seven full bathrooms and two half-baths, according to Scott Hochberg, who represented his father, videogame developer Joel Hochberg, in the sale of the home and is with Keller Williams Realty in Fort Lauderdale. A Mansion article on Friday incorrectly gave the number of full bathrooms as eight.

(Via Charles Forelle) Read more

Tools:
1 Comment

Vivian Schiller out at Twitter

Vivian Schiller is no longer Twitter’s head of news. She announced her departure from the post Wednesday night.

Schiller was named to the role in October of last year. She was NPR’s CEO and chief digital officer at NBC before that.

Adam Sharp, who was head of government and nonprofits, will return to his role as the lead for news partnerships as well, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed to Poynter.

Schiller’s second tweet says Chloe Sladden and Ali Rowghani brought her to the company; both left Twitter earlier this year.

The reorg is “part of a larger consolidation across the media division by its new head Katie Jacobs Stanton,” Kara Swisher reports. Schiller “has creating a framework for Twitter’s partnership with news organizations that is now used by our partner managers the world over,” Stanton writes in a memo Swisher obtained. Read more

Tools:
0 Comments
Earns Gannett

Gannett shifts some costs of USA Today layoffs to states

USA Today laid off about 70 people last month. Those who lost their jobs received a week of pay for every year of service, health care through the end of September and the vacation pay they’d already accrued for the year.

But as they turned in their laptops and cellphones, some USA Today journalists were surprised to find out who would pay a chunk of their farewell package: their state unemployment office.

USA Today is owned by Gannett, which doesn’t always pay laid-off workers a traditional severance. Instead, as in the case of the recent layoffs, it may provide a “transitional pay plan.” In one of these plans, Gannett, through a contractor called Total Management Solutions, makes up the difference between a worker’s old paycheck and their unemployment check for a certain amount of time.

Gannett didn’t make anyone available for an interview on this subject, but spokesperson Jeremy Gaines told Poynter in an email that “The Transitional Pay Plan (TPP) is one type of severance plan that Gannett offers. It provides one week of pay for every year of service to a maximum of 36 weeks, offset by an employee’s state unemployment benefit.”

If employees take on any paid work before the transitional pay period ends, their benefits — which are not subject to FICA deductions — are either reduced or lost. If they get a new job, the payments stop. Employees have to call in every week to their state unemployment office as well as to Total Management Solutions.

“They both interrogate you: ‘Are you employed?’” one former USA Today staffer who’d worked for the paper for more than 15 years told Poynter. “If you forget to call them one week you can presumably lose everything.”

The literature Gannett provides laid-off employees says the transitional pay benefit “provides a substantial benefit to employees as they transition from Gannett to a new job. It also allows Gannett to reduce its transition costs.”

“The taxpayers are paying part of my paycheck, basically,” said another laid-off staffer I spoke with, who said she found she could easily register with the Virginia Employment Commission online: “It’s not utter humiliation.” She found one way to take on freelance work and maintain her benefits while searching for a new gig: After speaking to her accountant, she set up an LLC and will ask freelance clients to pay her company instead.

Gannett has used this type of plan, also called supplemental employment benefits, since at least 2009. The New York Times reported on how Gannett used the plans with 1,400 people it laid off in July of that year. The distinction between transitional pay and severance, Richard Pérez-Peña wrote, was “lost on employees who say that the practical effect of being paid — or not — is the same, no matter how the program is labeled.”

Representatives of other newspaper companies, including Tribune, McClatchy and the New York Times Co., told Pérez-Peña in 2009 they provide more traditional severance packages. Attempts by Poynter to poll publishers on this point in 2014 did not meet any success.

USA Today’s newsroom doesn’t have a union, which is not uncommon among Gannett papers. (The Detroit Free Press, the Rochester, New York, Democrat and Chronicle and the Indianapolis Star are among the few Gannett properties that have Guild representation.) But supplemental employment benefit plans developed in union-dominated companies in the ’50s, said Rick McHugh, a senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project. “The idea was really to have a guaranteed annual wage” at a time when layoffs were prevalent in the steel and auto industries, he said.

In many states, McHugh said, severance counts as remuneration and disqualifies workers from getting unemployment benefits: “That varies widely, but in the majority of states, say you worked there 10 years, and they’re giving you 10 weeks’ severance, you would lose 10 weeks’ unemployment benefit,” he said.

“I have to say this is a more beneficial approach than I would expect from Gannett,” said McHugh, who represented newspaper strikers concerning their unemployment insurance, including claims against Gannett, during the Detroit newspaper strike of 1995-2000. In the United States, he said, “with at-will employment, basically, there is no obligation to pay employees anything when you lay them off.” Read more

Tools:
0 Comments