Gannett fires Vermont editor after uproar over gender-related tweet

Live by the tweet, die by the tweet. Donald Trump should knock on wood that he's merely president of the United States, not editor of a Vermont newspaper.

Gannett quickly canned Denis Finley, executive editor of the Burlington, Vermont, Free Press after a justifiable uproar over tweets, including his raising doubts about Vermont planning to join Oregon and Washington, D.C., in offering drivers a third option in listing gender on licenses.

So it will be M, F or X for Vermonters and a D (for dismissed) for Finley. As chronicled here Monday, he ran the paper in a liberal city where Bernie Sanders was mayor. So it constituted either a premeditated act of provocation or tone deafness — or perhaps both — to respond to one citizen's tweet about the move being "awesome" by tweeting, "Awesome! That makes us one step closer to the apocalypse."

The uproar was substantial and quick. The episode in the Green Mountain State will stand as a case study in self-defeating reader engagement and the perils of social media for journalists, all the more so for managers who oversee newsrooms striving to be fair-minded in covering communities. If Trump were held to the same standards of online decorum, cable ratings and digital subscriptions would now be imperiled in a Pence presidency.

The Free Press covered the tale straight and indicated that "Gannett leaders fired Finley Monday evening after meeting with him."

"Randy Lovely, vice president for community news for the USA TODAY NETWORK, said the company's journalists strive for accurate and unbiased reporting, and Finley's tweets failed to adhere to the company's code of conduct and ethics policy. "

“'We encourage our journalists to engage in a meaningful dialogue on social media, but it’s important that the conversation adhere to our overarching values of fairness, balance and objectivity, Lovely said."

"Planning editor Emilie Stigliani has been named interim editor while the search for a replacement editor begins."

Finley arrived in 2016 after a brief tenure working in publicity for a Norfolk, Virginia, museum but, more relevant, following 10 years as editor of the Virginian Pilot in Norfolk. It seemed a bit of an odd pick to some from the start, and ultimately, "Finley was just a bad fit. You wonder what goes into corporate decisions to hire a specific editor for a specific community," says Tom Kearney, deputy managing editor of the Stowe Reporter, Waterbury Record and News & Citizen of Morrisville, and executive editor of the Shelburne News and The Citizen, which serves Charlotte and Hinesburg.

It’s perhaps reassuring to know that private industry can be more efficient in undoing what can appear to be hiring mistakes than a representative democracy.

Michael Wolff, 24/7

Wondering about the attentiveness of cable news viewers, I once swapped neckties during a commercial break with the host of a well-watched CNN program, just to see if anybody noticed. Nope.

So it's unlikely that anybody noticed that Michael Wolff went from white shirt and blue pin-dot tie in the morning to white and blue-striped shirt and burgundy and pale blue-striped tie at night on MSNBC Monday. Then, again, he's surfacing so often on cable that he might need Liberace's old wardrobe, or Elton John's current one, if he wants to routinely change for these book-burnishing exclusive sessions. It was three times alone on MSNBC Monday, and going to bed with America on Stephen Colbert's show on CBS, among others.

An appearance with Katy Tur in the afternoon was bookended by a gig on "Morning Joe" and on Lawrence O'Donnell's show at night. And while Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough made their interview as much about them as Wolff, and O'Donnell was as solicitous as one could be, Tur was persistent in raising the basic questions about Wolff's modus operandi in writing his book, "Fire and Fury" (Colbert articulated doubts but didn't forcefully inquire about them).

Why not release tapes of conversations that people are contesting? Why not go public with the evidence of his handiwork being flawed? "I am not in your business. My evidence is the book. Read the book. If it makes sense, if it rings true, it is true!"

Yes, yes, Tur said, she read the book. "There were a lot of factual errors." Wolff pooh-poohed the premises of her queries, as if bringing up errors was even vaguely relevant to his great undertaking. And, anyway, what might surface were the kind of mistakes "you will find in any book, including yours (also on Trump)."

I've got big-time author friends, whom I've occasionally helped a bit with editing, and that's baloney. 

"I am up to a particular scrutiny because I am threatening the president of the United States," Wolff said, sounding as if he were a journalistic Archibald Cox, the independent special counsel fired by President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal (part of the "Saturday Night Massacre").

He at least offered Tur a self-serving rationalization. By comparison, there was the response to Brzezinski when she 13 hours earlier noted that an anecdote about Trump and daughter Ivanka is flat wrong. In reality, the particular interaction he purports to describe involved Trump and Brzezinski, not Ivanka, at a particular function.

Oh well, said Wolff with cavalier nonchalance, sometimes you just rely on your sources and are wrong. Sheesh. On this day he seemed rather more prudent about his neckwear than the genesis of his gaudy revelations.

News quiz

As Alabama tied Georgia, 20-20, late in last night's college championship (which they later went on to win), I found this leading a major website:

"Donald Trump Named Top Global ‘Press Oppressor’ by Committee to Protect Journalists"

Was it A) Mother Jones b) Bloomberg c) Breitbart d) Salon or e) The New York Daily News?

Bing.

It was Breitbart. A bit of a surprise.

Sex harassment in the media

The Newseum in Washington is the setting for today's day-long "Power Shift Conference" to be live streamed and focusing on sexual harassment issues as they pertain to media organizations. It includes how newsrooms are looking at their practices, reporters discussing their reporting on the topic and HR managers assessing their departments' performances on this score. How does one change systems that have enabled misconduct, and what are the connections between harassment and discrimination?

A-list reporters, editors and news executives will take part. It's live at 9:30 a.m. Eastern. #powershiftsummit 

The gender debate at Google

As noted by The Wall Street Journal, "Former Google female employees last week sued the company for allegedly discriminating against women. On Monday, former male employees sued Google for allegedly discriminating against conservative white men."

"The dueling lawsuits illustrate the increasing tensions over differences in how men and women are treated in the workplace, an issue that has exploded as revelations of inequality and sexual harassment have rocked industries ranging from tech to entertainment to media."

The new suit alleges, "Google employs illegal hiring quotas to fill its desired percentages of women and favored minority candidates, and openly shames managers of business units who fail to meet their quotas — in the process, openly denigrating male and Caucasian employees as less favored than others.”

A most unlikely muckraker in Philly

Wendell Potter was a well-compensated health care executive who cynically undermined moves to expand insurance for Americans by overseeing dubious white papers about health care reform, authoring talking points for executives going on TV and seeking to smear Michael Moore and his movie, "Sicko," about the industry. 

Then he had an epiphany after seeing a health exposition that was helping the most destitute and helpless of citizens in Appalachia. As Philadelphia magazine recounted last month in a Potter profile, "The scene that greeted him at the Wise County Fairgrounds was staggering: hundreds and hundreds of sick and ragged waiting in line for one of the animal stalls to come open so they could get badly needed medical attention for ailments that prayer and faith healers couldn’t fix. It was like a giant MASH unit pitched in the middle of Appalachia, one front in America’s ongoing civil war between the have-everythings and the have-nothings." 

Fast forward: He's said farewell to the industry and is about to launch Tarbell, a crowd-funded public interest journalism digital startup named after pioneering muckraker Ida Tarbell, "whose hard-hitting exposé of Standard Oil in the pages of McClure’s Magazine in the early 1900s led to the breakup of the oil giant’s monopoly. " Here's the site

Don't send a bookmobile to the White House

The Atlantic's David Graham does a nice job on the depressing lack of intellectual curiosity of Trump and the downside of being such an aggressive non-reader, almost promiscuously averse to the written word. It concludes:

"While most problems faced by presidential administrations are incredibly complex, the solution to problems caused by a president who does not read is fairly simple: He ought to start reading. Simple and easy are very different matters, though, and expecting a man who has always preferred chatting and watching television to the printed word to become a reader at 71 would be foolish. There’s no Trump pivot, especially not to the bookshelf."

'The Kardashian of the NBA'

Steve Kerr, the coach of the Golden State Warriors and a thoughtful guy, went off on press coverage of LaVar Ball, the self-aggrandizing California dad who's yanked one kid out of UCLA and another out of high school to play pro basketball in Lithuania. It's the father's middle finger to the world after UCLA suspended one of three talented basketball sons (one's already in the NBA) for shoplifting during a China tour by UCLA. Kerr cited ESPN layoffs and an unceasing penchant to cover what he deems "sensationalized news," seeking to place it all in a context of ESPN criticism rather than one of the culture in general. Calling the dad the "Kardashian of the NBA" was a way of asserting that coverage of sports has now taken on the air of certain coverage of politics and entertainment.

A media tree grows in Brooklyn

On Dec. 6, as Poynter's Kristen Hare reports, Liena Zagare, the editor and publisher of Bklyner, told readers that the 10-year-old hyperlocal site covering Brooklyn couldn’t make it on ads alone anymore. It needed 3,000 people to become subscribers and pay $5 a month.

"It was one last try to save something she’d built and believed in." There have been some early stumbles but now it looks as if a corner is being turned and it may wind up being at least a small example of people being willing to pay to see their community covered.

Wheeling and dealing

You might think it's digging in the ruins, but 80 daily newspapers changed hands in 2017 in 31 transactions worth $347.97 million, according to Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, which is a merger and acquisition firm. That's the highest number of deals since 2000, and eclipsed the record year of 2007. A lot involved smaller independently owned or family-owned operations having a hard time competing; others involve a thrust toward regional clusters.

New Media Investment Group made four acquisitions involving dailies, including the year's biggest, which involved spending $120 million to buy 11 dailies from Augusta, Georgia-based Morris Communications.

An evolving business model in Detroit

Ron Fournier, a longtime Washington, D.C.  journalism fixture, is now publisher-editor of Crain's Detroit Business and unveiling the sort of effort incumbent for media: trying to go beyond getting a check from readers and delivering news to them. 

Crain's will now offer any array of distinct added benefits at three different tiers, but making it less the traditional transaction by giving readers "a chance to potentially shape how he operates and stop to get a more intimate understanding of how his group delivers news."

"Classic Membership" is bottom level and will give "access to all print and digital editions, members-only webinars, and discounts on events and Crain's List data." "Enhanced Membership" also brings "free data services, discounts on other Crain's publications, and a growing roster of exclusive 'Insider' newsletters written by our top reporters."

"Premier Membership" bring the extra of the two other tiers "plus VIP treatment at events (including premier seating and lead-generation lists) and exclusive access to Crain's reporters and editors."

Dennis Prager vs. YouTube

Conservative blabber Dennis Prager has previously sued YouTube in a dispute over placing some Prager videos into a restricted area to keep them from younger viewers. For TechDirt, the case is "strange for many reasons, including Prager asserting his lawsuit on First Amendment grounds, his insisting that YouTube is a public forum and not a private company, and his belief that the Section 230 protections that protect YouTube from every last bit of this somehow don't apply."

"But now he is upping the ante, requesting the court grant him a preliminary injunction against YouTube to keep it from operating its filters on its own site when it comes to his video content."

The Morning Babel

CNN's "New Day" was all Trump — his fitness, the Mueller investigation and clips of its own Don Lemon session with Wolff (the blue pin-dot tie for that one). Co-host Chris Cuomo was in pedagogical overdrive on the contours and potential troubles of any Robert Mueller interview of Trump. One unrelated new topics that briefly surfaced was the status of talks to get North Korea into the Winter Olympics next month in South Korea.

"Fox & Friends" was in far more supportive mode, opening with his appearance at the national championship football game and the cheers he received in "standing tall" for the national anthem. Any jeers were chalked up to tightened security that might have cause some hassles for spectators. "They don't want this president or the Republicans to get any wins," Steve Doocey said about congressional Democrats, with no recollection apparently of the Republican intransigence toward Barack Obama, which included Sen. Mitch McConnell famously saying, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president" and going out of his way to see that Obama didn't get many wins.

MSNBC's "Morning Joe" cited "growing excitement" among Democrats amid speculation of an Oprah Winfrey run. Joe Scarborough is nonplussed by the whole notion and along the way wondered (if somewhat haltingly and meanderingly) why Americans reflexively look for the best neurosurgeon or best dentist but can elect neophytes for the job of president, namely people who don't necessarily really understand Washington and actually may ride to victory by articulating an animus toward the capital.

In one fell swoop he lumped together George W. Bush, Obama, (whom he derided as a "glorified state senator") and Donald Trump. And, it seemed, sainted Oprah, as the former Washington insider (as a young Florida congressman) went on (and on) about electing people "overmatched by the job." Some mornings he's not a producer's dream.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

 

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former chief media writer, The Poynter Institute.

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