Opinion: Why it’s so disappointing that j-schools are panicking over Ebola

In the last week, we’ve learned that three U.S. universities have canceled invitations to journalists due to fears about Ebola:

  • Syracuse University rescinded an invitation to Washington Post photographer Michel du Cille because he had reported on the epidemic in Liberia, and even though he’d been home longer than the 21-day self-monitoring period and had no symptoms, “there have been questions raised about whether the incubation period is longer,” Lorraine Branham, the dean of Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, told Donald R. Winslow of News Photographer magazine.
  • The University of Georgia rescinded an invitation to Liberian journalist Wade C.L. Williams, who was due to speak at the university’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “It just became abundantly clear we had a risk scenario and a situation on our hands that was a little more sensitive issue,” Grady College Dean Charles N. Davis told Brad Schrade of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • The University of South Florida at St. Petersburg rescinded invitations to African journalists who are taking part in the U.S. State Department’s Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists. “We’ve cancelled out of upmost caution,” Regional Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Han Reichgelt wrote in a letter to journalism-school faculty, students and staff.

“Caution,” “questions,” “sensitive” — these are all apparently synonyms for willful disregard for facts, which is a curious fit for journalism schools, institutions that purportedly train people how to report what they know.

Here’s something those schools could have gleaned from reading some journalism: Unless you’re in contact with infected individuals’ bodily fluids, you have almost no chance of getting Ebola. The virus could conceivably change its pattern of transmission, but as Joel Achenbach and Brady Dennis reported in The Washington Post Oct. 18, “such a major change in transmission has never been observed in a pathogen that already affects human beings.”

Another fact that inconveniences panic: There have been three cases of Ebola in the U.S. so far. One of those people has died. By contrast, Max Fisher reports in Vox, 30 people die in America every year and more than 40,000 are injured from their furniture falling on them.

Fearbola” has no place at journalism schools. There’s simply too much well-reported information available to justify these jelly-spined responses. Administrators at Newhouse, Grady and USF are teaching their students a dismal lesson: If they fear criticism — or possibly lawsuits — they should back off, facts be damned.

Two-thirds of Americans say they are concerned about an Ebola outbreak, according to a Washington Post poll last week. Journalism schools should be training their students to battle such perceptions (seriously, you’re probably going to die from heart disease or cancer). Which is why it’s so disappointing to see them leading in the opposite direction.

Related: “In canceling African journalists’ program, fear trumps reason” (Tampa Bay Times) | When covering Ebola, “reports that lead to more questions than answers may also lead to harm.” (SPJ) Read more

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Gannett gives employees an extra paid day off

Most Gannett employees will get Dec. 26 off, President and CEO Gracia Martore tells employees in a memo. Anyone who has to work that day — “because as we all know, the news never sleeps,” she writes — can plan another day off before the year ends.

Martore also gives some details about what divisions will stay with each company as Gannett plans to split its publishing and broadcast businesses. Gannett Digital will stay with the publishing company, as will IT and its national sales division.

Likewise, HR will be part of the broadcast company and will provide shared services to the publishing company. Each company will have its own legal and communications teams, among others. The split, Martore writes, should occur “in mid-2015.”

Here’s the memo:

Dear Colleagues:

I wanted to share some news in case you missed today’s employee Town Hall meeting.

The holiday season is fast approaching and I want to thank you for all you have done to help this company grow and thrive. The past three years have been fast-paced and exceptional as we continue to transform the company’s business and chart a new course. Without your hard work,
this company would not be in the terrific condition it is today.

Because of this, I want to give everyone a special holiday surprise: This year, the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, will be a paid day off —
a companywide holiday.

Of course there will be some of you who, like on any other holiday, will work that day because as we all know, the news never sleeps, or
takes a vacation for that matter.

For those of you who are called upon to work that day, please coordinate with your managers and plan another day off before the end
of the year. Every employee has earned this extra day off and your willingness to work on Dec. 26 is deeply appreciated.

Best wishes to all and thank you for helping to steer a strong course for our company and for your efforts in support of this journey of
transformation. I wish you and your families a very safe and joyous upcoming holiday season.

Meanwhile, on a different note, we are taking positive steps toward what we initially announced in August: the creation of two publicly
traded companies, one exclusively focused on our Broadcasting and Digital businesses, and the other on our Publishing business and its
dynamic digital assets.

This is — and will be — a long and complicated process as there are literally thousands of decisions, large and small, to be made as we go
down this road.

One of our initial considerations has been determining where the many parts of the business would be located — in other words — which group
goes with which company. And while we do not have all of the answers today, I want to share with you some of the preliminary decisions we
have made.

Obviously — the vast majority of you already know which company you will be going with — USCP, USA TODAY and Newsquest employees will go
with Publishing. Broadcasting and Digital Ventures employees will go with the Broadcasting and Digital company.

However, there are other groups that provide services across divisions. Some of the preliminary decisions on where those groups
will be housed have been made and I wanted to share that information with you.

As mentioned earlier, Digital Ventures, including G/O Digital, will stay with the Broadcasting and Digital company. G/O Digital will be a
shared service, providing its products to both companies. In addition, Cars.com will continue to offer its portfolio to the Publishing
company through affiliation agreements. Pointroll will transition to Digital Ventures over the coming months and will become part of the
Broadcasting and Digital company.

Gannett Digital will be a part of the Publishing company, where the majority of its clients are. The digital team will continue to provide
top notch products and services to Broadcasting and Digital Ventures. Over the next several months, we will be working to ensure that the
Broadcasting and Digital company has the appropriate digital expertise on staff as well.

National Sales will be housed in Publishing at separation, given it does the lion’s share of work for them but we will continue to look at
opportunities, even after the separation, to leverage both companies’ scale and reach together.

I.T. and Gannett Supply also will be a part of Publishing and provide shared services to the Broadcasting and Digital company.

Labor Relations and HR will be a part of the Broadcasting and Digital company. They will provide shared services to the Publishing company.

The Legal, Finance, Internal Audit, Investor Relations and Communications groups will be split between the two companies at the
time of separation, as each company will need its own independent teams.

I want to make it clear — I know we have the best people and corporate functions anywhere. In fact, supporting the two companies created by the separation will generate greater career opportunities for many of our current employees as we look at how to support both businesses.

Of course, until the day of separation, we are ONE company. We need to continue to produce the outstanding, trusted content our consumers and
communities expect from us; and we need to continue to support our clients by helping them grow their businesses with our strong products
and services.

So please keep up the terrific work you are doing today throughout this process — straight through to the separation, which we expect
will occur in mid-2015.

There are many more decisions to come and we will be sure to keep you updated.

Warm regards,

Gracia

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Gannett

Gannett earnings strong, but publishing revenues continue a steep slide

FILE - This July 14, 2010 file photo shows the Gannett headquarters in McLean, Va. Gannett Co. reported Overall company revenue growth of 15 percent. The media company said, Monday, Oct. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

FILE – This July 14, 2010 file photo shows the Gannett headquarters in McLean, Va. Gannett Co. reported Overall company revenue growth of 15 percent. The media company said, Monday, Oct. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Embedded in otherwise excellent third quarter financial results reported today by Gannett are some sobering numbers on the continuing decline of revenues for its newspaper division.

U.S publishing ad revenues year-to-date are down 6.3 percent. At Gannett, that difference is more than made up by booming broadcast operations and freestanding digital ventures like CareerBuilder.  So revenues for the entire company are up a healthy 13.4 percent.

But I also consider USA Today and Gannett’s 81 community newspapers a reasonable proxy for the entire newspaper industry, which has stopped reporting its financial results quarterly.  If the rest of the year is roughly in line, newspapers are on track again in 2014 to lose $1 billion-plus in advertising.

That’s against a 2013 base of $17.30 billion industrywide in daily print advertising or $23.57 billion including all form of advertising, according to estimates by the Newspaper Association of America.

Gannett’s advertising decline to date (-6.3 percent) roughly matches the industry rate in 2013 (-6.5 percent).  So 2014 is proving no better than 2013.  Recent waves of staff cuts as companies budget for 2015 suggest that revenue growth is not expected next year either.

At Gannett (and probably most U.S. papers) circulation revenues were up slightly for the quarter and holding even for the year. The papers are now cycling past one-time revenue gains of roughly 5 percent in both 2012 and 2013 from introduction of paywalls and price increases for print and print + digital subscriptions.

Digital advertising is increasing, mostly at USA Today, but not nearly enough to offset the print losses.  And the continued growth of digital marketing services, sold to local businesses, is another plus.

In an earnings conference call, CEO Gracia Martore said another bright spot for the company has been the introduction of a section of USA Today news at its 35 largest papers.  Surveys show a positive reader response, she said, in some cities justifying another round of subscription price increases.

There is an echo of that strategy throughout the industry.  This weekend both The New York Times and Washington Post introduced print supplements which regional papers can include in their Sunday editions.  The Post had earlier made a free subscription to its digital report available to digital subscribers of partnering regional papers.

This arrangement allows papers to focus on their local news report, while offering subscribers, especially the older demographic that prefers print, a fuller report of national and international news, as was standard in better financial times.

Gannett’s broadcast revenues are up 97.2 percent year-to-date in large part because the operation is much larger after acquisition of Belo’s 20 stations. Retransmission fees paid by cable systems to local stations continue strong, up 61 percent for the quarter.

And political advertising is booming beyond expectations.  At the company’s Denver station — where Colorado has both a competitive governor’s and U.S. Senate race — this year’s revenues are even outpacing those of 2012, a presidential year, said Martore.

The different trajectories of broadcast and print have prompted Gannett to plan splitting those operations into two companies, a spinoff Martore said should be completed by mid-2015.

News Corp., Media General, Tribune and the Washington Post (now Graham Holdings) have already completed such a split and Scripps and Journal Communications plan one as part of a merger.

Other public newspaper companies, New York Times, McClatchy and Lee, do not own TV stations. So, soon there will be no combined print and broadcast operations among public companies, and some larger private companies like Hearst have separated TV and newspaper divisions as well.

In theory the print-only companies will benefit from management focused exclusively on their digital transformation, audience and advertising issues.  And they won’t be competing internally with fast-growing broadcast for capital.

All that, however, leaves the big question lingering — can the companies slow the print advertising losses, generate enough digital ad growth, increase circulation revenue and bring in enough income from new ventures to make up the difference. Read more

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Sun-Times, attacked by both sides in governor’s race, defends coverage

Chicago Sun-Times | Crain’s Chicago Business

Bruce Rauner, a candidate for governor in Illinois, tried to squelch a critical Sun-Times story, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Jim Kirk writes. The Sun-Times also endorsed Rauner, who used to be an investor in the Sun-Times’ ownership group. That move brought criticism from Rauner’s opponent, Gov. Pat Quinn.

“Those former ties mean nothing when it comes to the Sun-Times’ ability and determination to report on him and his campaign fairly and accurately,” Kirk writes, saying the paper “has been fearless in its reporting.”

The paper’s endorsement of Rauner was its first since it announced in 2012 that it would no longer make endorsements.

Sun-Times reporter Dave McKinney co-bylined on the story that angered Rauner, which reported on a lawsuit that claimed he’d threatened Christine Kirk, an executive at another company who is no relation to Jim Kirk. “There’s no ‘there’ there,” Rauner told the Sun-Times.

McKinney has hired an attorney “to investigate whether the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner tried to interfere with his employment,” Lynne Marek reports in Crain’s Chicago Business. Rauner, a Republican, complained to the Sun-Times that McKinney is married to a Democratic consultant. “Recently, Mr. McKinney was inexplicably absent from his statehouse beat for five days despite one of the hottest gubernatorial races in recent memory,” Marek writes.

Kirk tells Marek that “Out of an abundance of caution, we did review this matter and we are convinced Dave’s wife, Ann Liston, receives no financial benefit from any Illinois political campaign because of the extraordinary steps they’ve taken to establish business safeguards.”

McKinney “has been and remains our Springfield bureau chief for all the right reasons: because he continues to do great work covering both sides of the aisle,” Kirk writes in his editorial. Read more

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USF cancels on African journalists due to Ebola scare

Administrators at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg have decided to cancel a visit from Edward R. Murrow journalists from African countries, citing concerns over the ongoing Ebola outbreak, according to a letter from regional academic affairs vice-chancellor Han Reichgelt.


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The 5-day visit, which was scheduled to begin Oct. 31, was part of the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists, which brings “emerging leaders” in journalism from around the world to the U.S.

According to the letter, “faculty, students and staff” have expressed fear of the Ebola epidemic and “expressed reservations about their involvement in the program.”

In an email addressed to faculty, USF St. Petersburg journalism department chair Deni Elliott wrote “it would be helpful to me to get any input that you get from your students regarding this decision” and said “It may be that some folks think that the decision to cancel the program was over-reaction.”

The University of Georgia recently canceled on a Liberian journalist who was scheduled to give a talk on her experiences covering the Ebola epidemic. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michel du Cille was recently turned away from a speaking engagement at Syracuse University because of Ebola fears.

Ebola is “spread only through direct contact with virus-laden bodily fluids, and is not as transmissible as such airborne viruses as influenza and measles,” according to The Washington Post. Read more

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Politician won’t talk to ‘muckraking’ outlets

KPBS

Carl DeMaio is running for Congress and “prefers direct communication with the public either in person or over email, and makes media outlets that are ‘just muckraking and not interested in the truth’ low priorities,” Claire Trageser reports for KPBS.

DeMaio’s camp was unhappy with a Los Angeles Times profile last May and has refused a subsequent interview request, the paper’s San Diego bureau chief, Tony Perry, tells Trageser. He “refused at least five interview requests from KPBS,” she writes. U-T San Diego reporter Mark Walker “said he has been able to interview DeMaio when necessary.”

DeMaio has already been at the center of a couple of fairly weird media stories: Last year Voice of OC reported that a city council colleague claimed he’d seen DeMaio masturbating in a men’s room.

And a group called Spotlight San Diego paid former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Caitlin Rother $23,000 to investigate DeMaio during a previous mayoral run and compile a “200-plus page dossier of court records and other documents that was distributed to nearly every local media outlet in early 2012 on the condition of anonymity,” Craig Gustafson reported for the U-T last year.

But news outlets thought the resulting info was “old, irrelevant and an untoward attempt to draw attention to DeMaio’s homosexuality during the race,” Gustafson wrote. The group later filed a financial disclosure about its backers to end an investigation. Read more

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University of Georgia j-school rescinds invitation to Liberian journalist

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. University of Georgia panics, rescinds invitation to Liberian journalist: It canceled Wade C.L. Williams‘ invitation to speak Oct. 23. “It just became abundantly clear we had a risk scenario and a situation on our hands that was a little more sensitive issue,” Grady College dean Charles N. Davis tells Brad Schrade. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) | Williams: “A woman with a pleasant voice delicately told me that parents were panicking and the general public was against my coming to the university.” (FrontPageAfrica) | What sort of lecture was UGA planning? “Ebola in humans is spread only through direct contact with virus-laden bodily fluids, and is not as transmissible as such airborne viruses as influenza and measles.” (WP) | Related: Why Guardian journalist Monica Mark decided not to wear a hazmat suit while reporting on Ebola: “It’s really difficult to get someone to open up to when you’re wearing it.” (IBT)
  2. The ethics of the Guardian’s Whisper scoop: Was it OK for it to report on something it learned during a meeting about a potential partnership? (Re/code) | Whisper’s responses to Guardian story. (Scribd) | “Part of the problem with the Guardian‘s coverage, [Editor-in-Chief Neetzan] Zimmerman said — and that done by other media as well — is that it doesn’t distinguish between anonymity and privacy.” (Gigaom) | Sort-of related: Gawker Media mulls a Twitter policy. (Jim Romenesko)
  3. Virginian-Pilot shrinks its newsroom: About a quarter of its journalists are going, they learned Friday. “Those leaving include veterans in reporting, column writing, editing, photography and design,” Philip Walzer reports. “The company declined to publicly identify them.” (Virginian-Pilot)
  4. NYT public editor sees some progress: Margaret Sullivan looks back on her second year on the job and spies less false balance, more environment coverage, a commitment to staff diversity. “We’re not going to stop hiring — I don’t believe in hiring freezes,” Executive Editor Dean Baquet tells her. (NYT)
  5. William Luther Masingill dies at 92: The Chattanooga broadcaster “first sat down behind the radio microphone on December 31, 1940. He personally signed on WDEF Television in April of 1954, and over the decades, informed and entertained generations of listeners and viewers alike with a charm and grace unique to him alone.” (WDEF)
  6. What the Boston Herald hasn’t learned from its cartoon blunder: It won’t discuss its staff’s diversity. “In journalism, staff diversity isn’t just about soothing hurt feelings or avoiding embarrassment; it’s a journalistic value,” Eric Deggans writes. “Few quality newspapers would shrug off conditions where they published 10 factual errors a day. So its time to realize diversity is an important a tool for delivering accuracy and context to all kinds of coverage.” (NPR)
  7. Aaron Kushner says LAT is “spreading rumors about us”: The OC Register owner “emphasized last week that his papers remained on a path of success and said he stepped down as publisher of The Orange County Register — and brought in Richard Mirman, a former executive at Harrah’s Entertainment, as interim publisher — because he had too many jobs to handle.” (NYT)
  8. Rewrite that sentence! Book blurb in NYT marries Ann Patchett to her dog. (NYT) | “Sparky’s great, but they’re just friends.” (@GilbertLiz)
  9. Front page of the day, not curated by Kristen Hare: An insta-classic New York Daily News swipe at Donald Trump: “Trumpty Dumpty.” (Courtesy Newseum)

    nydn-10202014 

  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Holly Gauntt is now news director for KDVR/KWGN in Denver. Previously, she was news director for KOMO in Seattle. Sarah Garza is interim news director for KOMO. Previously, she was assistant news director there. Nick McDermott is now executive producer at KTVA in Anchorage, Alaska. He has been a producer there. James Doughty is now communications director for a San Antonio city councilman. Previously, he was a reporter for KENS in San Antonio. (Rick Geevers) | Stacy-Marie Ishmael will head up editorial operations for BuzzFeed’s news app. Previously, she was vice president of communities at the Financial Times. (Nieman Lab) | Lindsey Bahr is now a film writer for The Associated Press. Previously, she was a correspondent for Entertainment Weekly. (AP) | Janelle Nanos is now editor of Beta Boston. Previously, she was a senior editor at Boston Magazine. (Muck Rack) | Matthew Schnipper is now a senior editor at GQ. Previously, he was editor-in-chief at Fader. (email) | Terry Savage is now a contributor at Tribune Content Agency. Previously, she was a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. (Robert Feder) | Job of the day: the AP is looking for a news research manager in New York. 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.

Correction: This roundup originally linked to a story about Virginian-Pilot layoffs from last year. That planned round of reductions was targeted mostly outside the paper’s newsroom, the story said. Read more

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When writing about Ebola, what images should you use?

Lately, I’ve noticed the predominance two kinds of images with stories about Ebola — the virus itself and people in hazmat suits. I’ve used both for stories myself and wondered about the tone and message they’re sending. Unlike what we’ve seen from West Africa, in the U.S. there aren’t a lot of images of the two people with confirmed cases of Ebola. There are, mostly, press conferences, people in hazmat suits and the virus itself. It feels almost sci-fi.

Here are three front pages from Friday that show the Ebola virus super up close, via Newseum:

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On Tuesday, I tweeted this front, from the Times-Journal in Fort Payne, Alabama:

Earlier this month, I wrote about front pages from around the world that showed masked cleanup crews and health care workers.

The New York Daily News offered both the virus and the hazmat. Also Sofia Vergara sans pants.

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So, with the practical need for images online and in print, what images should news organizations show while reporting on Ebola?

Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president of academic programs and media ethicist, says to also look at the whole package you’re presenting and the message it sends.

“A blowup image of a big scary virus, people in hazmat suits, alarming words in the headline, all that can overwhelm a completely reasonable story,” she said in an email. “Pushing out mobile alerts that scream: ‘More contagion, another person falls ill,’ make people think that they have to act now. Editors have a duty to envision how a reasonable consumer will respond. What information does that consumer really need first and foremost?”

“When it comes to images, I believe journalists (writers, photographers, page designers and editors) need to be responsible – as I hope they would in any situation,” said Andrew Seaman, a medical journalist with Reuters and the ethics chair of the Society of Professional Journalists, in an email. “The images must tell the story accurately. For example, the image should probably not be that of a person suffering with Ebola in a small Liberian medical center if the story is specifically about what is happening in Texas. Instead, it would be more appropriate to show images of the patients walking onto the planes carrying them to Maryland. Or, it could be of the well-wishers outside the hospital as the patients drive by in ambulances. The experience of people with Ebola in Liberia is – for the most part – much different than the experience of patients in the U.S.”

I sent Seaman two of the front pages from Friday, the San Diego Union-Tribune and The New York Daily News, and he doesn’t think either crossed an ethical line, “because images from a microscope can be shown in different ways,” he said. “Headlines, of course, are another matter.”

Most people get that Ebola is a serious medical condition, he said.

“Journalists shouldn’t pander to that fear or anxiety by including the most shocking or ominous images they find. The SPJ Code of Ethics applies to photography as it would to any other form of journalism. The images should reflect the truth – as should the other pieces of journalism it accompanies.”

Previously: Journalists struggle to balance reporting on Ebola with HIPAA

Why AP isn’t moving stories for every suspected Ebola case

From Dallas, 5 tips on covering Ebola
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P-Cronkite-21st Century

Today in Media History: In 1967 Walter Cronkite imagined the future of online news and communications

In addition to anchoring the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite also hosted a documentary series called “The 20th Century” that was succeeded by another program titled, “The 21st Century.” The original show premiered on October 20, 1957.

Here is one of the most interesting segments from these two programs. It aired in 1967. Cronkite imagined the future of online news and the ability to work at home on a “computerized communications console.”

The program, “The 20th Century,” is described in the following excerpt from the Archive of American Television. “The 21st Century” began in 1967, which is when the segment on computerized communications was broadcast.

“From the one-hour premiere episode ‘Churchill, Man of the Century’ (20 October 1957) to its last episode The 20th Century unit produced 112 half-hour historical compilation films and 107 half-hour ‘originally photographed documentaries’ or contemporary documentaries. Narrated by Walter Cronkite, the series achieved critical praise, a substantial audience, and a dedicated sponsor, The Prudential Insurance Company of America, primarily with its historical compilation films. The compilation documentaries combined actuality footage from disparate archival sources — national and international, public and private — with testimony from eyewitnesses, to represent history.”

This is an example of how the “The 20th Century” program usually ended. According to the closing credits, the music was performed by the CBS Orchestra.

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Friday, Oct. 17, 2014

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Journalists struggle to balance reporting on Ebola with HIPAA

A medical staff member, right, watches as others in protective gear escort Nina Pham, left, from an ambulance to a nearby aircraft at Love Field, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, in Dallas. Pham, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, was diagnosed with the Ebola virus after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan who died of the same virus. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

A medical staff member, right, watches as others in protective gear escort Nina Pham, left, from an ambulance to a nearby aircraft at Love Field, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, in Dallas. Pham, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, was diagnosed with the Ebola virus after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan who died of the same virus. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Journalists covering the Ebola story are struggling to find a balance between patients’ rights, the public’s need to know what is going on and the uncomfortable feeling that innocent people caught up in this story will be “marked” for life.

A little more than a week ago, Nina Pham was a nurse who was helping to care for a Liberian man who was dying from Ebola in a Dallas hospital. This week, she showed up on a YouTube video, lying in a hospital bed recovering from the virus herself. 

Carolyn Mungo, WFAA-Dallas News Director

Carolyn Mungo, WFAA-Dallas News Director

WFAA-TV News Director Carolyn Mungo, a frequent guest faculty member at Poynter, told me that she worries about the long-term effect being linked to the Ebola story will have on Pham and so many others.

“When health officials said that Thomas Duncan (the first Ebola patient to die in the United States) could have exposed several children who attend Dallas schools, the school system alerted parents at those schools. Parents wanted to know which classes the children attended,” Mungo said. “The school system cited privacy concerns and would not identify the classrooms. But the parents pointed out that when there is a lice outbreak, the schools send home notes naming classrooms. They wanted to know why this potentially more serious alert provided less information.”

That was just the beginning of the privacy concerns that would arise.

“The police released a name and a photo of a homeless man who Duncan might have come into contact with. They just wanted to talk with the man, but we had to decide how much we would spread the man’s name and picture. Eventually we chose to show his picture and not name him, then when police found him and talked with him and found out he was not sick, we quit using the photo,” she said, but Mungo agreed that the images probably do still exist online somewhere.

“Mr. Duncan’s family is quarantined right now and will be for a few more days. We know where they are but we have chosen not to report that,” Mungo said. “There has been a lot of pressure from the public for officials to say where the family was moved. Our concern is where can this family go to start over? They have been branded, they may be forever linked with this virus.”

Then there was the tough call about whether to name the deputy who stopped by a medical clinic saying he was feeling sick and that he had been inside Duncan’s apartment. The response was overwhelming.

“People showed up at the clinic in hazmat suits. One of our people noticed the license plates of the man’s car and we traced the plates. We realized that a few days before, we had interviewed him as he complained that he had been sent into the apartment without protective gear.” Mungo said, “Because he had talked with us on camera, complaining about not being protected, we made a decision to use his name and image. He chose to go public before and that became a big part of our decision.”

Journalism v. HIPAA 

A health story of national proportions like the Ebola story pits the role of journalism against HIPPA rules. HIPAA (American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) restricts patient information to doctors, direct caregivers, insurance companies and others expressly named in the Act.

A top medical ethicist says the law allows some leeway when a national health crisis is involved, but those loopholes do not apply to journalists.

Dr. Arthur Caplan

Dr. Arthur Caplan

“There is a clause about ‘contact tracing’ that lets public officials not directly involved in the patient’s care to get information,” said Dr. Art Caplan, head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. “Even when an otherwise private health matter becomes a national concern, the medical community has to use some common sense about HIPAA. The public may need to know where the infected person went, who else may have been exposed.”

The Health and Human Services website gives similar advice, “the Rule permits covered entities to disclose protected health information without authorization for specified public health purposes.” In fact, HHS says, there are several HIPAA exemptions.

The Privacy Rule permits covered entities to disclose protected health information, without authorization, to public health authorities who are legally authorized to receive such reports for the purpose of preventing or controlling disease, injury, or disability. This would include, for example, the reporting of a disease or injury; reporting vital events, such as births or deaths; and conducting public health surveillance, investigations, or interventions. See 45 CFR 164.512(b)(1)(i). Also, covered entities may, at the direction of a public health authority, disclose protected health information to a foreign government agency that is acting in collaboration with a public health authority. Covered entities who are also a public health authority may use, as well as disclose, protected health information for these public health purposes.

When Thomas Duncan died from Ebola in Texas, the hospital where he was being treated pointed out that patients can “opt in” or “opt out” of allowing their information to be released to journalists or others who call the hospital asking about the patient’s condition. A patient can even restrict who knows if a person has been admitted at all. And even hospital employees who are not involved in a patient’s care cannot go pawing through a patient’s records. Two hospital employees in Nebraska were fired for looking through Dr. Rick Sacra’s records when he was being treated for Ebola.

MedPage Today interviewed Michelle De Mooy, deputy director for consumer privacy at the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology, who helped sort out what is an is not private in times of a national health concern:

So “when the hospital workers in Nebraska looked at the records of the doctor with Ebola, they still violated HIPAA, but when the ‘hospital’ officially announced the negative test results of a deputy sheriff in Dallas who was tested for Ebola, they did not,” she toldMedPage Today in an email. “My guess is their explanation for publicly announcing this would be to keep the community from panicking.”

HIPAA privacy rules would allow hospitals to release general information about a patient without releasing the person’s name, Caplan said.

“The public should know where the infected person traveled, who else could have been exposed, for example.”

Mungo said even when people on the periphery of the Ebola story volunteer to be named and interviewed, she urges them to be thoughtful about the long-term effect of being on TV.

“We heard from a man who was on the Frontier airline flight from Ohio to Dallas,” Mungo said. That was the flight that Ebola-infected nurse Amber Vinson flew on.

Two schools in Royse City, Texas closed Friday because the man’s kids went there,” Mungo said.

There is no proof the man or the children were exposed at all, but the schools closed to clean classrooms they attended and sent a systemwide alert out. Other school systems sent out alerts saying they too had children of parents on that flight. Three other Texas schools closed on Thursday.

“Every day we face these kinds of decisions,” Mungo said. “We want to report as much specific information as we can, but we worry a lot about what lasting damage will come to the people who get caught up in this story.” Read more

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Why AP isn’t moving stories for every suspected Ebola case

On Friday, the Associated Press posted an advisory to editors about suspected cases of Ebola, which they’re hearing of more and more.

“The AP has exercised caution in reporting these cases and will continue to do so,” the advisory reads.

Here’s the rest:

Most of these suspected cases turn out to be negative. Our bureaus monitor them, but we have not been moving stories or imagery simply because a doctor suspects Ebola and routine precautions are taken while the patient is tested. To report such a case, we look for a solid source saying Ebola is suspected and some sense the case has caused serious disruption or reaction. Are buildings being closed and substantial numbers of people being evacuated or isolated? Is a plane being diverted? Is the suspected case closely related to another, confirmed Ebola case?

When we do report a suspected case, we will seek to keep our stories brief and in perspective.

The AP issued similar guidance on October 3. My colleague Sam Kirkland wrote about it then.

Often the fact of an unconfirmed case isn’t worth a story at all. On several occasions already, in the U.S. and abroad, we have decided not to report suspected cases. We’ve just stayed in touch with authorities to monitor the situation.

Ebola is capitalized, just a reminder. You probably know how to pronounce it by now.


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While in Russia, two U.S. journalism teachers were hauled before a judge

Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Veteran Boston TV investigative reporter Joe Bergantino spent several hours in Russian police custody Thursday after authorities barged in on a journalism training session he and the Newsplex’s Randy Covington were leading in St. Petersburg, Russia. The two were teaching investigative reporting skills to 14 Russian TV, print and online reporters at the time.

Bergantino said in a phone interview that he and Covington had been contracted by the U.S. State Department to teach how to interview, report and think critically.

“We had finished teaching a workshop in Moscow and were just starting a second session in St. Petersburg, Russia when agents from the immigration service walked in,” Bergantino said from Paris. “We were taken to an adjacent room and surrounded by people asking us questions for about an hour.”

He said the officials demanded the two Americans write and sign a statement saying what they were doing in Russia. After writing the statement, the two returned to teaching for five minutes, only to be interrupted a second time. This time the agents shut the workshop down and hauled Bergantino and Covington away.

“This time they took us to an immigration service office and showed us a document that they wanted us to sign saying we were guilty of immigration law violations. We refused to sign it,” Bergantino said. “Then we were taken to a district court. The judge had already determined we were guilty. They initially provided an interpreter who was translating about one-tenth of what was going on.”

Bergantino and Covington were using “targeted tourism visas,” as they said the U.S. State Department told them to do. But the Russians said they needed business visas. “Randy has been to Russia before to train journalists and used the same visa we were using this time,” Bergantino told me.

“The judge told us we were guilty of violating immigration law and issued us a warning.”

As far as they know, Bergantino said, they weren’t fined and they weren’t officially deported.

“She told us we could take our scheduled flight home, but not knowing what might happen next, we took an earlier flight to Paris,” Bergantino said.

Russian journalists interview Bergantino (photo provided by Joe Bergantino)

Russian journalists interview Bergantino (photo provided by Joe Bergantino)

Bergantino is still unsure what was behind the disruption and intimidation.

“What we did hear last night is this is not from the immigration service, it is a higher level. Putin is trying to send a message if you make the Russian life difficult, we will make it difficult for you. They don’t want people from the journalists outside to come in and teach investigative reporting and stir up Russians journalists.”

Bergantino has partnered with Poynter and me on several occasions training investigative reporters as part of his work with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, which he heads. Before that he had a long career with WBZ-TV, WPLG-TV and has appeared on many national broadcasts including Nightline, World News Tonight and Good Morning America.

The judge did tell the Americans they could return to Russia if they get the “proper” paperwork.

“I would go back, I love the people there,” Bergantino said. “But something tells me I am not going to get the visa they say I need.” Read more

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Cue the outcry — more big Twitter changes on the way

Friday. Good morning (or good evening, if you’re reading this at night). Andrew Beaujon is back next week.

  1. Let’s freak out about Twitter changes: Sayeth Twitter: “in many cases, the best Tweets come from people you already know, or know of. But there are times when you might miss out on Tweets we think you’d enjoy.” Noooooooo! (Twitter) | Stuart Dredge weighs in: “The difference between the two social networks is that Facebook is taking stories out of its news feed – it prioritises around 300 a day out of a possible 1,500 for the average user – while Twitter is only adding tweets in. For now, at least.” (The Guardian) | Previously: I wrote about the Facebookification of Twitter and the Twitterfication of Facebook. (Poynter)
  2. More Twitter changes: Now with audio! “Notably, Twitter is teaming up with Apple to let users listen to certain tracks and buy the music directly from the iTunes store,” Yoree Koh reports. Twitter is also partnering with Soundcloud. (Wall Street Journal) | “Throughout your listening experience, you can dock the Audio Card and keep listening as you continue to browse inside the Twitter app,” product manager Richard Slatter writes in a blog post. (Twitter)
  3. The media kinda sucks at covering Ebola: Just look at how it covered #ClipboardMan, Arielle Duhaime-Ross writes. (The Verge)
  4. Liberian media really sucks at covering Ebola: The Daily Observer newspaper “has become a feeding ground of phony conspiracy,” Terrence McCoy reports. “The top three news stories on the website all allege medical professionals purposely infected the country with Ebola, ideas that have drawn the conspiratorial from across the planet.” The bad journalism is leading to a debate over press freedom in the country. (Washington Post) | From yesterday: The BBC is using WhatsApp to spread accurate information about the virus in Africa. (Journalism.co.uk)
  5. Correction of the week: Deadspin retracted its story claiming U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner didn’t actually play high school football, as he claimed, after the primary source changed his mind. “As serial collectors of media fuck-ups, we add this self-portrait to the gallery,” editor Tommy Craggs writes. (Deadspin) | Earlier, Craggs told Erik Wemple, “If you’re looking for someone to blame here, blame me for getting way too cocky about my site’s ability to prove a negative.” (Washington Post)
  6. Whisper vs. The Guardian: A damning report in The Guardian on Thursday claimed Whisper, “the social media app that promises users anonymity and claims to be ‘the safest place on the internet’, is tracking the location of its users, including some who have specifically asked not to be followed.” (The Guardian) | Whisper editor-in-chief Neetzan Zimmerman angrily denied the report, and wrote on Twitter that the piece “is lousy with falsehoods, and we will be debunking them all.” (Washington Post) | Here’s a good explainer from Carmel DeAmicis: “The two sides disagree over what constitutes ‘personally identifiable information,’ whether rough location data tied to a user’s previous activity could expose someone.” (Gigaom) | And here’s a take from Mathew Ingram, who says Whisper’s problem is that it “wants to be both an anonymous app and a news entity at the same time.” (Gigaom)
  7. American journalists detained in Russia: Joe Bergantino, co-founder of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, and Randy Covington, a professor at the University of South Carolina, are in Russia to teach an investigative journalism workshop. They were found guilty of “violating the visa regime” and will return to the U.S. on Saturday as scheduled. “Russian authorities have used visa issues in the past as a pretext to bar the entry for certain individuals to the country,” Nataliya Vasilyeva reports. (AP via ABC News)
  8. Good times at High Times: Subscriptions and advertising pages are growing for “the magazine about all things marijuana” as it celebrates its 40th birthday. Dan Skye, High Times’ editorial director, tells Michael Sebastian, “I think the legalization has everything to do with the boom.” (Ad Age)
  9. Front page of the day, curated by Kristen Hare: The Daily News (see it at the Newseum).NY_DN
  10. No job moves today: Benjamin Mullin has the day off. But be sure to visit Poynter’s jobs site. Happy weekend!

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

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‘Having trouble pooping?’ and other awful PR pitches

    We get public relations pitches pretty much all the time, right? Sometimes they’re random. Sometimes really pushy. Sometimes they lead to great stories. And sometimes they feel like they came from bots.

    Earlier this week, I asked for people’s best-worst PR pitches.

    Here’s what I heard:

    The title for that one, by the way, is “Final Advisory to Mankind Final Warning to All Human Beings.”

    On Facebook, Catharin Shepard with The News-Journal in Raeford, North Carolina, wrote this:

    Last week I received in the mail a roughly 100-page manifesto that, as far as I could tell, compared Scientology to the Third Reich and used information from various psychological institutes and authorities to make a case that it is not a real religion. However, it was difficult to tell for certain, because it was written in what I guessed was either German or Dutch. To put this in perspective, I’m a reporter for a small-town newspaper in rural North Carolina.

    And Jen Kopf, a home and garden writer for LancasterOnline in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, shared the best of the best-worst:

    “This week’s winner: ‘”Having trouble pooping?’”

    I spoke with Kopf via email, and she’s digging through her deleted files for that pitch. I’ll share more when I get it. You are now free to make bathroom jokes. And send more bad pitches if you got ‘em. I’ll keep adding.

    paper ball waste paper bin office business


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P-1989 Earthquake

Today in Media History: California’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake

On October 17, 1989, a powerful California earthquake struck the Bay Area at 5:04 p.m. The Loma Prieta earthquake, which measured 6.9 on the Richter scale, was the largest Bay Area/San Francisco earthquake since 1906.

The earthquake hit during a TV pregame show just before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series at Candlestick Park.

Screenshot from an NBC news report about the earthquake, October 17, 1989

Screenshot from an NBC news report about the earthquake, October 17, 1989

The San Jose Mercury News was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for general news reporting about the earthquake. The Oakland Tribune also earned a Pulitzer for its photographs of the quake’s devastation.

Here is an excerpt from a Mercury News story:

“The biggest earthquake since 1906 — 7 on the Richter scale and possibly higher — hit the Bay Area at 5:04 p.m. Tuesday, killing at least 76 people, injuring more than 460, setting off fires in San Francisco and sending buildings, highways and bridges crashing down on people and cars across the region.

The quake, centered in the Santa Cruz Mountains, lasted from 20 to 40 seconds and frightened millions from Ukiah to San Diego. It was as strong as the quake that ravaged much of Soviet Armenia in December.

….Between 40,000 and 50,000 baseball fans calmly evacuated Candlestick Park, about a half-hour before Game 3 of the World Series — even taking with them souvenir chunks of concrete that had fallen from the stadium. The series was delayed indefinitely while officials tried to assess the damage to Candlestick and the Oakland Coliseum.

As many as a million people from Hollister to San Francisco were without power in the hours after the quake and well into the night as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. crews scrambled to repair lines. Much of San Francisco remained enveloped in darkness at midnight.”

TV news reports about the earthquake from ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN:

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