September 8, 2022

A new day, another news cycle, another story dominating the news.

Depending on the media outlet and time of day, a major story grabs your attention.

Every day, another stunner drops in the Donald Trump-classified documents story. California is dealing with oppressive heat that is putting a strain on its power grids. The war in Ukraine continues. And there’s the usual sparring between Democrats and Republicans as we draw closer to the midterm elections.

But there’s another story, perhaps the biggest story of our generation, that continues to march along: COVID-19. For the second time this week, I bring up a depressing number I saw in the excellent Covering COVID-19 newsletter by my Poynter colleague, Al Tompkins. There are still about 500 people a day in this country dying from COVID-19.

As Tompkins wrote, “If that many people died every day from the seasonal flu, it would be the lead story on the evening news and headlines would warn people to take care. How did 500 deaths a day, day after day, become acceptable when there are vaccines that prevent nearly all COVID-19 deaths?”

It’s not acceptable, and yet it doesn’t get the news coverage you would think it warrants. Maybe there’s COVID-19 fatigue, and people have just decided to live their lives as if it was 2019. Many people are boosted and, therefore, feel safe even if they were to contract COVID-19. Many have already had it, came through it fine, and aren’t worried about getting it again. And, well, there is other news in the world.

Yet, that number: 500 a day.

It is heartening to see many major news organizations still covering COVID-19 aggressively. The New York Times still has the latest numbers on its website homepage. They’re not displayed as prominently as they used to be, but they’re still there.

And it’s also good to see a network such as MSNBC dedicated to bringing viewers the latest news about the virus. The talk now is about the updated booster shots and, on Wednesday’s “Chris Jansing Reports” on MSNBC, Jansing interviewed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Walensky told Jansing, “We are simplifying our message. The message is you need to get your fall booster vaccine, so go ahead and get it. If you’re over the age of 12, if you’ve received your primary series, if you’re more than two months out of your last shot, you can get an updated vaccine. And so, we’ve intentionally simplified the message so it’s very, very clear. It’s also very clear that those who are over the age of 50, even over the age of 60 or 70, are more at risk for severe disease, hospitalization and death. And it is especially important that people in that demographic and others who are at high risk of severe disease get that updated vaccine.”

Walensky pointed out that it’s the first time that there’s a booster that targets exactly the variants in circulation at the moment. And, she added, “what we have seen is that these boosters tend to have protection for up to three, four, five, six months and even longer against severe disease, hospitalization and death.”

Oh, one more thing. Watch out for the flu, too.

“So certainly there’s no way to know how bad a flu season is going to be,” Walensky said. “But we are hearing potential for it to be a severe season, and we would encourage vaccines. … And importantly, what I will say is that you can get your flu vaccine and your COVID vaccine at the same time. We have nearly half a million people from studies last year that have demonstrated that if you get them at the same time, you sacrifice nothing in terms of either safety or effectiveness.”

So there you have it — the latest news from the biggest story that isn’t treated like the biggest story anymore.

A chilling report

The heartbreaking and frightening story of an investigative journalist being murdered outside of his home last weekend turned even more bizarre and troubling on Wednesday. Jeff German, an investigative reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was found stabbed to death outside of his Las Vegas home on Sept. 3. Authorities believe he was fatally stabbed the day before.

On Wednesday, the Review-Journal reported police searched the home of a county official, Robert Telles, whom German had been investigating. Hours later, Telles was arrested.

The Review-Journal’s Briana Erickson, Sabrina Schnur and Glenn Puit wrote that after searching the home, police returned in tactical gear and surrounded the home while Telles was inside. “About 30 minutes later,” the story said, “he was wheeled out of the home on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance.”

The Review-Journal wrote, “The morning search marked a stunning development in the police investigation because it indicated for the first time that the killing might be related to German’s work exposing public wrongdoing. German’s investigation of Telles this year contributed to the Democrat’s primary election loss, and German was working on a potential follow-up story about Telles before he was killed.”

According to the Review-Journal, German spent months working on a story surrounding Telles’ oversight of the office. The paper wrote, “German also had recently filed public records requests for emails and text messages between Telles and three other county officials: Assistant Public Administrator Rita Reid, estate coordinator Roberta Lee-Kennett and consultant Michael Murphy. Lee-Kennett was identified in previous stories as a subordinate staffer allegedly involved in an ‘inappropriate relationship’ with Telles.”

The Review-Journal story went on to say, “German’s death came months after he reported that current and former employees alleged that Telles fueled a hostile work environment and carried on a relationship that impaired the office’s ability to deal with the public. The complaints led to co-workers secretly videotaping the two in the back seat of Lee-Kennett’s car in a parking garage. The story also included claims of bullying and favoritism by Telles.”

The story notes how Telles lashed out at German on Twitter and accused him of writing “smear” pieces.

German, 69, had spent more than 40 years in journalism in Las Vegas. He joined the Review-Journal in 2010 after two decades at the Las Vegas Sun. Executive editor Glenn Cook told his paper, “The arrest of Robert Telles is at once an enormous relief and an outrage for the Review-Journal newsroom. We are relieved Telles is in custody and outraged that a colleague appears to have been killed for reporting on an elected official. Journalists can’t do the important work our communities require if they are afraid a presentation of facts could lead to violent retribution. We thank Las Vegas police for their urgency and hard work and for immediately recognizing the terrible significance of Jeff’s killing. Now, hopefully, the Review-Journal, the German family and Jeff’s many friends can begin the process of mourning and honoring a great man and a brave reporter. Godspeed, Jeff.”

The Review-Journal has more details on the reporting that German had done, and this story is being updated, but be sure to check out the latest on the Review-Journal’s website. And there’s also this video of reporters outside of Telles’ home before he was arrested.

Leaving the Globe

The editor of one of the country’s most-respected newspapers is stepping away. Brian McGrory, editor of The Boston Globe, will step down by the end of the year and become chair of Boston University’s journalism department. He will write an opinion column for the Globe.

McGrory, 60, started at the Globe in 1989 as a reporter, and then went on to become an editor and a columnist. He took over as the paper’s top editor in 2012, replacing Marty Baron.

He told the Globe’s Larry Edelman, “This is one of the best jobs in the city and in all of journalism. I was born in Boston, raised here, weirdly spent my childhood striving to write for the Globe. For me, this was an honor on top of an honor. But 10 years is enough. I’m proud of what our newsroom accomplished, and the Globe will benefit greatly from the fresh perspectives of a new editor.”

Globe chief executive Linda Henry told Edelman that the Globe will look inside and outside the company for a new editor. McGrory will stay on until the end of the year unless his replacement is found sooner. The search is already underway.

Another big change

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Speaking of major moves among high-ranking newspaper executives, The Washington Post had a shakeup Wednesday. Axios’ Sara Fischer was the first to report that longtime tech and data chief Shailesh Prakash is leaving the Post for a new executive role at Google.

Fischer wrote, “Prakash has led The Post’s design, product and tech teams for over a decade. He has long been considered the backbone of The Post’s technological transformation.”

Post publisher Fred Ryan also announced Prakash’s departure in an all-hands meeting and, in a staff memo, wrote that Prakash will become Google’s vice president and general manager of news.

That Post staff meeting also produced this interesting nugget: Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon tweeted, “At today’s Washington Post town hall, reporter Valerie Strauss asked publisher Fred Ryan whether peoples’ jobs were at risk if they didn’t come into the office enough. Ryan got flustered and replied that managers hadn’t been asked to take roll and that he didn’t want to debate.”

Beaujon added, “I’m told Ryan left the stage pretty soon after this exchange.”

What is that all about? Well, a recent New York Times article by Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson said, “(Ryan) has also grown increasingly frustrated that some Post staff members are still not in the office at least three days a week, the company’s policy. In recent weeks, Mr. Ryan asked for disciplinary letters to be drafted and sent to employees who had not made any appearance in the office this year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions. He ultimately decided that the letters should not be sent, and that the people should be called instead. The Post spokeswoman said Mr. Ryan welcomed employee input on the return-to-office policy.”

Swisher’s new pod

Kara Swisher, one of the best podcasters and more interesting journalists in the business, has announced her latest plans. She will host a podcast called “On with Kara Swisher” for New York Magazine and the Vox Media Podcast Network. The show will come out twice a week and, according to the announcement, will “help listeners make sense of the moment through agenda-setting conversations between Swisher and some of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley, Washington and Hollywood.” (This announcement has a trailer for the show.) New shows will drop on Mondays and Thursdays starting on Sept. 26.

Swisher co-founded Recode, which was sold to Vox in 2015. Swisher was with Vox until she joined The New York Times in 2018 as an opinion writer. In 2020, she developed the superb “Sway” podcast. All along, she has co-hosted “Pivot,” a tech and business podcast, and she will continue to do so.

In a statement, Swisher said, “In a sense, ‘On with Kara Swisher’ is the show I’ve been working on since I first started podcasting in 2015. It marries some of the best parts of my past interview shows — the live journalism of ‘Recode Decode’ and ‘Sway’ with the voiciness and community aspects of ‘Pivot.’ This is an exciting new chapter for me, and I think you’ll be able to hear that in the show.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s J. Clara Chan has more.


(Courtesy: NBC News)

NBC News NOW airs an interesting 30-minute special tonight called “Unbreakable: Taken by Russia — Searching for Zhenia.”

The story, hosted by NBC News foreign correspondent Molly Hunter, follows a Ukrainian woman named Natalia and the search to find her husband, Zhenia, and bring him home. Zhenia was taken at gunpoint from his home in Bucha, Ukraine, in March of this year. Natalia pieces together clues and talks to witnesses in hopes of finding her husband. NBC News said it “details Natalia’s journey, through the heartbreak and frustration, the waiting and the unknowing, and the hope she refuses to lose sight of.”

The special airs tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC News NOW and will be available on-demand on Peacock.

In an email, Hunter told me, “We met Natalia before she knew anything. We met her when she had no reason to believe he was alive. But she did. She was dogged, spoke with anyone who might be able to give her a clue. Tracked down every lead. Waited by the phone.”

Hunter added, “Natalia’s story is gut-wrenching. It’s agonizing. And she’s one of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, possibly one of 1.6 million, according to the State Department, missing loved ones.”

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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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