March 3, 2022

The headlines on Wednesday continued to paint a grim picture in Ukraine.

CNN’s website blared, “Ukraine reels from brutal Russian onslaught.”

Similar headlines could be seen on the homepages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, and on and on.

It has now been a week since Russia invaded Ukraine, and no end appears in sight. On Wednesday, Kherson became the first major Ukrainian city to be overtaken by the Russians. Disturbingly, it might not be the last city to fall.

To open today’s newsletter, I look at some of the notable journalism I came across on Wednesday.

Disturbing interview

CNN’s Jim Sciutto interviewed Tata Marharian, a member of the Ukrainian Volunteer Medical Battalion. Marharian told Sciutto, “What am I seeing? I’m seeing dead children. I’m seeing hospitals being bombed. I’m seeing churches being bombed. It’s difficult. I don’t know what to tell you. What am I seeing? I’m seeing my people die.”

That’s just a portion of what Marharian had to say.

Leaving the country

Last Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” host Brian Stelter interviewed Ekaterina Kotrikadze, the news director and anchor of TV Rain, the last remaining independent station in Russia. She told Stelter that the Russian government was already putting pressure on the station for its Ukraine coverage. She said, “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be on the air.”

On Wednesday, Stelter and CNN’s Bianna Golodryga reported that TV Rain editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzyadko announced on Telegram that he and his family, along with the editorial staff, have left Russia for their own safety. CNN wrote, “TV Rain’s YouTube channel is still accessible outside Russia, but its website is not loading for Russian internet users, according to GlobalCheck, a service that tracks internet censorship.”

Earlier this week, Dzyadko told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that “they don’t want us to spread real information about deaths among civilians, about deaths among Russian soldiers.”

It would appear most Russians are getting their information from state-run TV, but The Hill’s Dominick Mastrangelo writes, “Millions of people in Russia are turning to the BBC for independent information about the country’s assault on Ukraine as an alternative to Russian state-sponsored programming.”

Mastrangelo reported that the weekly audience for the BBC’s Russian language news site has more than tripled following the invasion, reaching a record 10.7 million last week. In addition, visits to the English-language BBC website in Russia were up 252% to 423,000.

Mastrangelo wrote, “The new figures come as the Kremlin seeks to crack down on media sources critical of the invasion within its country and control the message Russians are hearing. State-sponsored outlets have been instructed to avoid terms like ‘invasion’ and ‘war’ and have painted the military operations in Ukraine as liberating rather than aggressive and violent.”

But the BBC’s Simona Kralova and Sandro Vetsko wrote, “Never was there a better illustration of the alternative reality presented by Russian state media than at 17:00 GMT on Tuesday. As BBC World TV opened its bulletin with reports of a Russian attack on a TV tower in the capital Kyiv, Russian TV was announcing that Ukraine was responsible for strikes on its own cities.”

Kralova and Vetsko then went through some snapshots of what Russians are seeing on their TV stations, which are clearly controlled by the Kremlin and its corporate allies.

On assignment in Ukraine

Veteran journalist Katie Couric interviewed Lynsey Addario, a photographer on assignment in Ukraine for The New York Times.

Speaking over her laptop, Addario was in Kyiv when sirens outside her hotel went off, and she quickly scrambled to the bathroom and put on a protective helmet and flak jacket while continuing to talk to Couric.

Addario described safety precautions, and what she did the first few days covering the invasion, including deciding where to go to avoid being in the line of fire. “Those decisions are constantly taking up our time,” she told Couric.

The piece had many of Addario’s photos, including people whose homes were destroyed. Many have evacuated the big cities but, Addario added, “Some people just don’t have anywhere to go.”

An insightful conversation

On Wednesday, Washington Post columnists Josh Rogin and Max Boot answered online questions from readers about what has happened and, more insightfully, what might happen next with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine. Here’s the transcript. (This kind of thing is superb when you have journalists who know what they’re talking about.)

Rogin and Boot talked about the impact of sanctions against Russia, what the U.S. and NATO should do next and what they shouldn’t do.

Boot wrote, “We should not involve US troops in direct combat against the Russians, which risks an escalation toward WWIII. That means we should not announce a no fly zone because that would require the US to shoot down Russian aircraft. But we should supply the Ukrainians with weapons and use economic sanctions to cripple the Russian economy — if we can. Tougher questions include whether we should push for a war crimes prosecution of Putin or try to encourage the Russian opposition to overthrow Putin at home. There is a fine balancing act between applying maximum pressure on Putin and still giving him a face-saving exit strategy so that he doesn’t feel compelled to destroy Ukraine.”

The questions from readers were excellent, and the responses were informative.

What about Russia’s economy?

CNN’s Allison Morrow had a story with this headline: “Russians are bracing for a dramatic shift in their standard of living.”

Morrow does a good job explaining the impact sanctions are having on Russia, but writes, “If the latest sanctions persist, Russia is far more likely to double down on domestic substitutes and tell its citizens to simply adapt than it is to negotiate with the West.”

Meanwhile, Slate’s Henry Grabar wrote, “How to Seize a Russian Billionaire’s Penthouse.”

Grabar writes about what it’s like to take away the fancy homes and yachts and various toys of Russian oligarchs. He writes, “It’s easy to see why snatching fancy boats was appealing policy even before Russian artillery started bombing Kiev last week. While broader sanctions hurt everyday Russians, it’s surprisingly simple to bring the hammer down specifically on the country’s richest and most powerful citizens, because they store an astounding amount of their wealth abroad.”

It could be an effective plan, but not necessarily easy to implement, as Grabar explains in a story you should check out.

Turning art into survival

ABC News’ Matt Gutman did a story on an art gallery in Lviv that has been turned into a makeshift workshop where volunteers piece together camouflage netting to protect Ukrainian soldiers and equipment.

Gutman said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.”

Other pieces of note

State of the State of the Union

President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address on Tuesday. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)

According to the initial TV numbers from Nielsen, more than 33 million people tuned into President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Interestingly, Fox News had the most viewers with 6.9 million. ABC had the most among the networks with 5.9 million.

A CBS News/YouGov poll showed that 78% approved of Biden’s speech, compared to 22% who disapproved. In addition, 67% said it made them feel “optimistic” and 53% said it made them feel “proud.” That’s compared to 13% who said they felt “angry” and 9% who said they felt “scared.”

It should be noted that of those who watched the speech, 49% identified as Democrat, 28% said they were Independent and 21% said they were Republican.

Boebert’s interruption

One of the controversial moments of the State of the Union was when Colorado GOP Congresswoman Lauren Boebert heckled Biden while Biden was talking about American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who developed cancer from exposure to toxic smoke from massive burn pits. Biden called it a “cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin.” Boebert yelled out, “You put them in, 13 of them” in an apparent reference to 13 American military members killed in a bomb attack in Kabul as the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan last year.

Biden then mentioned his late son, Beau, who died of cancer.

CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote, “Consider that: An American president was speaking about the need to help veterans when they return from the battlefield — and sharing his own loss of a son to cancer — when he was jeered by a member of the other party.”

Boebert clearly didn’t regret what happened. She tweeted Wednesday, “The left is pissed because I called out Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan that left 13 of America’s finest in a flag-draped coffin. They are mad because a speech was ‘interrupted’. Ask the the families who lost their loved ones how interrupted their lives are now.”

That drew a sharp rebuke from CNN anchor Brianna Keilar, who tweeted:

“You heckled remarks about burn pit exposure, an urgent health issue for post 9/11 veterans. You can’t honor the memory of 13 service members killed in action by disrespecting the memory and suffering of countless others who have and will be affected by burn pit exposure. They’re being deprived health care and disability coverage. There’s a bipartisan burn pit bill currently making its way through the House. You are not a sponsor of it.”

Keilar continued: “But since we’re now talking about burn pit exposure, let’s talk about it. Because it’s going to cost veterans and taxpayers a lot. Burn pits are flaming piles of trash, some football fields in size, that blanketed bases in Iraq and Afghanistan with carcinogenic clouds of smoke.”

Keilar then linked to a story she did last summer about 35-year-old retired Staff Sgt. Wesley Black, who had terminal colon cancer that his doctor said was linked to breathing in toxic fumes from burn pits used while serving in Afghanistan. Black died last November.

Keilar then closed by tweeting to Boebert, “This is his story. This is his legacy. That is what you interrupted.”

Lee vs. Alden — the NewsGuild weighs in

For this item, I turned it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

A week out from its annual meeting, Lee Enterprises appears to have locked up the reelection of veteran board members Mary Junck and Herbert Moloney. Still, Lee has picked up two other endorsements this week in its effort to repulse a hostile takeover by hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

The NewsGuild filed a brief on Lee’s behalf Wednesday. Besides seconding Lee’s contention that it is making strong gains in digital, the Guild slammed its archenemy Alden.

“The NewsGuild … knows Alden,” union president Jon Schleuss wrote. “We have bargaining units at 24 (of its) MediaNews Group newsrooms and 13 Tribune newsrooms. We have monitored Alden’s behavior. We believe that Alden Global Capital has done more harm to the news industry than any single factor, including the online platforms. Within a few years of acquiring a news organization, Alden quickly hollows it out, taking a liquidation approach of selling off historic offices, shutting down printing plants and slashing staff, while hiking subscription prices.”

Earlier in the week, Institutional Shareholder Services, a proxy advisory firm, said that Alden had failed to make a case for its campaign urging “no” votes against Junck and Moloney. An ISS report commented, “Alden’s reputation precedes it. Unlike most activists, Alden is not in the business of improving the operations of public companies so that it can then trade its shares for the funds of other public investors attracted by the enhanced prospects of these companies.”

Alden has twice lost legal challenges to the election procedures. In November, it bid $24 a share to acquire Lee, which publishes 77 daily newspapers and their digital sites. However, Lee’s shares have since risen in value about 40% above that bid.

Media tidbits

  • The Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Battaglio reports that CNN will charge $5.99 a month for its CNN+ streaming network expected to launch this spring. Those who sign up early can get it for $2.99 a month and that price will be locked in as long as the account remains active. Battaglio writes, “CNN also has plans to eventually offer a lower priced version of CNN+ that will be advertiser-supported. CNN+ will also be available in a package deal with HBO Max, just as Disney offers its flagship streaming service Disney+ with ESPN+ and Hulu.”
  • Stacia Deshishku has been named executive editor and senior vice president of ABC News. She had been vice president and general manager of ABC Radio. In its announcement, ABC News said Deshishku will “lead the editorial, strategic and creative cross-platform direction across the news division.” She also will collaborate with leaders of such shows as “Good Morning America,” “World News Tonight with David Muir,” “The View,” “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” “20/20,” “Tamron Hall” and “Nightline.”
  • The New York Times and The Washington Post continue to swap big-time talent. The latest is Hannah Dreier going from the Post to the Times as an investigative reporter. Dreier also has worked for The Associated Press and ProPublica. Here’s the Times announcement.
  • For the Columbia Journalism Review, Savannah Jacobson with “WNYC sought change. It got turmoil.”
  • NBC News’ Lester Holt has interviewed former Attorney General William Barr for an hourlong special that will air on Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern. It is Barr’s first TV interview since resigning as attorney general under the Trump administration. The first highlights from Holt’s interview will air tonight at the “NBC Nightly News.”

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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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