October 11, 2022

Monday was a grim day in Ukraine. Russia launched its biggest assault in months, going after many cities and civilian targets. At least 14 people were killed and nearly 100 were wounded in an attack that could signify another major shift in a war that is now coming up on eight months.

In a statement, President Joe Biden said he “strongly condemns” the attacks and added, “They once again demonstrate the utter brutality of Mr. Putin’s illegal war on the Ukrainian people.”

Once again, media coverage of Monday’s horrific news plays a key role in showing the world the horrors of Russia’s actions.

This story from The New York Times’ Michael Schwirtz and Megan Specia (with photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly) is tough to see, but critical for those who haven’t been keeping up with the latest in Ukraine. The same can be said with the photo at the top of this newsletter. It’s difficult to look at, but too important not to.

With so many other topics dominating the American news cycle — the midterm elections, Donald Trump and Hurricane Ian — Ukraine has been put on a back burner for many news consumers. But Monday’s news was a sobering reminder that the war has not gone away.

The Washington Post’s Missy Ryan, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Mary Ilyushina wrote, “In an attack that rivaled the day Russia’s invasion started last February, the strikes targeted critical infrastructure in cities from Kharkiv in the east to Lviv in the west. Missiles also landed in downtown Kyiv, sending civilians racing for shelter.”

The Times reporters wrote, “After the barrage of strikes, an hourslong air alert remained over the city. Subway stations that were packed just a day earlier with weekend shoppers were again full of people on Monday, but this time with thousands taking shelter, anxiously waiting underground and bracing for the echoes of the next blast.”

The Kyiv Independent’s Igor Kossov and Francis Farrell wrote that Monday gave Ukrainians flashbacks to the start of the war. They wrote, “Starting just after 8 a.m., explosions were heard throughout Ukraine’s capital, and it was soon apparent that not all incoming missiles were being shot down by Kyiv’s usually-reliable air defense. Pictures of plumes of smoke rising from the Kyiv skyline began to flood social media. Soon, it became clear that for the very first time, Russia had targeted the very center of the city.”

One Kyiv resident told The Kyiv Independent, “It’s like a horror film, you know that people have died nearby but can’t do anything,”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to address the Group of Seven nations on a virtual call on Tuesday. He is expected to ask for more support.

The Associated Press’ Adam Schreck and Hanna Arhirova wrote, “(Putin) has been under intense domestic pressure to take more aggressive action to stop a largely successful Ukrainian counteroffensive and to react forcefully to Saturday’s attack on the Kerch bridge, whose construction he used to cement his 2014 annexation of Crimea. Putin’s increasingly frequent descriptions of Ukraine’s actions as terrorist could portend even more bold and draconian actions.”

As the war takes a potential turn for the worse, media coverage remains more critical than ever.

Famous and notorious Hollywood writer dies

Controversial Hollywood journalist Nikki Finke has died after a long illness. She was 68.

Finke worked at several outlets, including The Associated Press, Newsweek, New York Magazine, New York Observer and the Los Angeles Times. In 2006, she founded the website Deadline, based on her LA Weekly column called “Deadline Hollywood.”

Deadline’s Erik Pedersen wrote, “She posted firsthand accounts of how she saw the entertainment business and was unfazed about dressing down its biggest players. Her often biting, acerbic posts called out wrongdoing and wrongdoers as she saw fit — making her a hero to many assistants and below-the-liners while irking many in the C-suites who were not used to anything less than praise.”

Some were a little more pointed in their descriptions of Finke. Puck’s Matthew Belloni wrote about Finke and the subhead said, “Finke presented herself as a no-(bull) reporter who kept Hollywood moguls honest, and we all found her copy completely irresistible. But she perverted the profession by blackmailing sources, often targeting the weak, and weaponizing the internet to push her bile — and her own agenda.”

The Wrap’s Sharon Waxman, who was once a friend of Finke, wrote that before starting Deadline, “… Nikki had an enormous chip on her shoulder that drove her infamous mean streak. She was angry at how her life was turning out. She was exhausted from battling diabetes. Angry that she no longer had the alluring looks of her youth while battling serious weight problems. Her life revolved around her and her cat and her computer, which she wielded with a vengeance. And she believed she should have been working at the top of her field, given her talent.”

Then came the internet and Deadline. Waxman wrote, “Finally she could write at her own pace, be her own boss and set her own agenda. Deadline Hollywood was born. The constraints that might have softened her tone, acted as a check on immediately writing up the last source she talked to, were also gone. She wrote whatever she wanted, and if it wasn’t always exactly accurate, it was always colorful, juicy and very well-informed. Every mogul and agency head — especially Ari Emanuel — had her on speed dial, and didn’t dare ignore her phone call. In the schadenfreude world of Hollywood, Nikki was a must-read. And she felt every inch of that power.”

Famously reclusive, Finke rarely schmoozed with Hollywood types and worked almost exclusively from her home.

Hollywood journalist Richard Rushfield wrote, “This is the story of a very troubled writer who used the megaphone of ‘journalism’ to work out her insecurities and issues in a hellstorm of performative rage, all while hiding — ailing, agoraphobic, sick — behind an online persona. An OG troll. And this is the story of the industry that enabled that, elevated it and created a monster in its own image. I’d argue no other ‘real’ industry would ever have given such a person oxygen.”

In a statement, Jay Penske, founder, chairman and CEO of Penske Media Corporation, which acquired Finke’s blog in 2009, said, “At her best, Nikki Finke embodied the spirit of journalism, and was never afraid to tell the hard truths with an incisive style and an enigmatic spark. She was brash and true. It was never easy with Nikki, but she will always remain one of the most memorable people in my life.”

Sullivan’s thoughts

Veteran journalist Margaret Sullivan has a new book coming out later this month called “Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life.” Sullivan recently left The Washington Post as its media columnist to do some teaching at Duke University and work on other projects, including books. Before the Post, Sullivan also was the editor of The Buffalo News and the public editor at The New York Times.

She is the latest guest on Mediaite’s “The Interview” podcast. She told host and Mediaite editor Aidan McLaughlin, “I actually can say, and I think without any hyperbole, that I think the United States is on the brink of losing our democracy. The core tenet, which is free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power after elections, is threatened.”

Sullivan believes journalists need to do their part to stand up for democracy, saying, “They need to rethink their practices and rethink all kinds of ways they go about their jobs and not just do it the same old way.”

Sullivan takes aim at Fox News, and tells McLaughlin that, no, Fox News isn’t just the opposite of, say, MSNBC or CNN.

“Because while it is true that people go to cable news to get their outrage on, and that’s somewhat true across the board, Fox is different in that it so often is unhinged from reality,” Sullivan said. “And if you’re looking at somebody like Tucker Carlson’s show, I mean, this is someone who basically has signed on to anti-democratic and even fascistic beliefs. This is a very destructive force. He’s got a big audience. He’s really influential. He’s also out of control. It doesn’t seem like the brass at Fox or the Murdochs have any interest in reining him in. That’s true to a lesser extent with others of the prime-time stars. So, no, I don’t think these are equal. There are different politics, different political points of view on CNN and on MSNBC. But you can’t really compare them to Fox because they’re nowhere near as extreme in their direction or as unhinged from the truth as Fox is on the right.”

Sullivan has plenty more interesting things to say, so give the podcast a listen.

Answer: Did their first joint interview.

“Jeopardy” hosts Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik, shown here in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” (Courtesy: ABC News)

The question: Who are Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings? For the first time since being named the permanent replacements for the late Alex Trebek as host of “Jeopardy,” Bialik and Jennings did a joint interview with “Good Morning America.”

Jennings said, “You realize hosting’s even harder because you basically have to do everything the contestants do, plus manage the game for them, plus manage the game for the home viewer.”

“And not make faces,” Bialik added.

“Jeopardy” fans can be a fickle bunch and there were a wide variety of opinions on who should replace Trebek. I consider myself an avid fan and think the show got it right with Jennings and Bialik. And the new hosts like the idea of having two hosts.

Jennings said, “One of the nice things about having two hosts is the focus is a little less on who is the iconic host of ‘Jeopardy’ And it’s really more about ‘Jeopardy’ as a game. Some nights it’s gonna be me. Some nights it’s gonna be Mayim. But it’s always ‘Jeopardy.’”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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