The most dangerous beat in journalism
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You think covering the environment is just rewriting Sierra Club press releases, reporting on contaminated water in Flint or detailing plans to develop landfills on the outskirts of town? Consider: Since 2005, 40 journalists around the world have died while reporting environmental stories.
That's more than all the journalists killed covering the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
As Saul Elbein discloses, "In Cambodia and in remote forests elsewhere, a rising boom in the illegal sale of wood, land and minerals has turned the environmental beat into a new sort of conflict journalism. The dead have overwhelmingly been local reporters, covering illegal mining or logging. They are largely independent, poorly educated, untrained and despised by their nations' establishment media. Reporting on a violent, corrupt frontier, they are never sure when they'll cross a line and end up dead. Their lives in their hands, they head into the woods."
Elbein? He's a freelance reporter who went to the Washington-based Pulitzer Center, which funds overseas journalism and partners with media outlets big and small, including the A-list The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Washington Post. They all need help in covering the world during these budget-strapped days for media. In this case, they gave him $10,000 based on an initial commission from a very reputable magazine. But the magazine wound up taking a pass, forcing Elbein to unsuccessfully hawk his story to three other bigtime outlets. They said no, too.
Finally, Vice said yes. The superb story is now out. (VICE) It's exactly the sort of gritty saga that's legitimized Vice and may be on display when it begins a nightly newscast on HBO. It takes you into an ethically ambiguous world of journalists in Cambodia, a home to illegal logging and rampant corruption, whether you're a government official, Chinese speculator, warlord or cop. Journalists have taken bribes in return for their silence. Many are minimally educated, hustling to make a few bucks, and putting themselves in dangerous situations for peanuts, ultimately selling tips and tales.
In 2001, the UN got the Cambodian government to ban industrial logging. "And yet since then, neither logging nor land clearing has stopped. The forests that covered 75 percent of Cambodia's surface in 1970 now cover barely half. Much of Cambodia's old-growth primary forest is irretrievably gone. National Highway 7 passes fewer trees and many rougher frontier farms. And in every village, over the stilt houses and the middens of plastic water bottles melting, gazes the beneficent face of Hun Sen, still head of the Cambodian People's Party and de facto dictator."
Elbe recounts the death of one Cambodian journalist and then offers "just a sampling of the death count of environmental journalists in the two years before Taing's final ride: Suon Chan, a Cambodian covering illegal fishing, beaten to death; Mikhail Beketov, a Russian journalist who publicized the destruction of the Khimki Forest for the Moscow–St. Petersburg Freeway, died of injuries sustained years earlier after unknown men crushed his skull, broke his legs, and left him mangled in his front yard; Chandrika Rai, an Indian reporter who covered illegal coal mining, beaten to death in his home along with his family."
It goes on. It's jarring and worth the read.
Animus toward the press only grows
A new Gallup Poll shows faith in the press is actually declining. (Poynter) As the bastion of respected research puts it, "Americans' trust and confidence in the mass media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly" has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year." (Gallup) Here's a crux of its analysis:
"The divisive presidential election this year may be corroding Americans' trust and confidence in the media, particularly among Republicans who may believe the 'mainstream media' are too hyperfocused on every controversial statement or policy proposal from Trump while devoting far less attention to controversies surrounding the Clinton campaign. However, the slide in media trust has been happening for the past decade. Before 2004, it was common for a majority of Americans to profess at least some trust in the mass media, but since then, less than half of Americans feel that way. Now, only about a third of the U.S. has any trust in the Fourth Estate, a stunning development for an institution designed to inform the public."
You can look at this data and conclude that many conservatives don't trust much that's factual and it's getting worse. And that the democratization of media is very messy. And that objectivity is not any business imperative for many media outlets. And, finally, that a lot of Americans are totally clueless about the role of a free press in a democracy. The press is now a big fat punching bag, as CNN's "New Day" discussed with media reporters Brian Stelter and Jim Rutenberg Wednesday. (U.S. News & World Report)
Who might buy Twitter?
Recode makes the case both for and against purchases by Google, Microsoft, Apple, Verizon and Comcast of a company that one observer calls more a phenomenon than a business. And when it comes to "old media" like Disney and Fox, the best case it can make is, "Because they are still old media, no matter how hard they try to pretend otherwise. When it comes to appealing to younger audiences (also known as digital audiences), even growth-starved Twitter beats them." (Recode)
What you missed this morning
"Fox & Friends" was on Hillary Clinton's case this morning, deriding Bill Clinton as a less potent surrogate, underscoring negative comments Colin Powell made about her in emails and, yes, having Trump on (via phone). On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" ad executive Donny Deutsch chided Trump for lack of transparency and, when it came to his health, lifted our political discourse by noting how often men of Trump's age are afflicted with hypertension and erectile dysfunction. Mike Barnicle, alluding to today's airing of Trump on Dr. Oz's show (taped yesterday), said, "This is a floating con game masquerading as a presidential election." Back to earth we came via dour, acute Mark Halperin: "You know what else you can say about that guy? He's up five in Ohio." True.
Over at CNN's "New Day" it was Pollapalooza, with talk of the race tightening in battleground states as Trump leads Clinton in Ohio, Florida and Nevada, and Libertarian Gary Johnson now inching up as a potential spoiler. "Message discipline" was the analysis by David Gregory. Are things really shifting so dramatically? Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight says Clinton retains a clear upper hand. "But we can’t rule out a more acute shift toward Trump or that the “Hillary’s bad weekend” meme is a false alarm — there isn’t quite enough data yet." (FiveThirtyEight)
Best headline of the day
"Heroin, Nazis, and Agent Orange: Inside the $66 Billion Dollar Merger of the Year" (Bloomberg). It's about the Monsanto-Bayer merger and the two companies at times ethically checkered histories.
Very big Gannett cuts
The late Rodney Dangerfield knew a club in Jersey that was tough, it cost $3 to get in, $6 to get out. "They don't just killed the chickens, they have 'em run over by a truck to look like an accident." Well, such tough-mindednesss was on display in northern New Jersey yesterday at The Bergen Record, once a superior daily.
"Less than three months after acquiring The Bergen Record, the (Passaic County) Herald News and other assets of North Jersey Media Group, Gannett is trimming the newspapers' headcount dramatically." (Poynter) "In an unbylined story that was skewered on Twitter for trying to put a positive spin on the news, North Jersey Media Group announced that more than 200 employees would be laid off from sales and news departments in mid-November as part of a 'bold, ambitious vision to make North Jersey Media Group even more competitive.'"
Parting is such lucrative sorrow at Time Inc.
Joe Ripp is out as Time Inc. CEO is out after three years. As is often the case, a dry Securities and Exchange Commission filing is inordinately depressing. A man who earned more than $5 million last year will collect his base salary through 2018 and a bonus that won't be a penny under $1,420,000. So he'll make millions for doing zilch. As for his successor, Richard Battista, here's the obfuscating legalese about his impending riches in overseeing a struggling giant.
He'll get a new "three-year term employment agreement pursuant to which (i) his annual base salary would increase to $1,200,000 per annum; (ii) his target annual incentive opportunity would increase to 150% of his annual base salary and (iii) his target award opportunity in respect of annual equity incentive awards would increase to $3,000,000. The changes to be effected in Mr. Battista’s base salary and annual target bonus opportunity in respect of his 2016 service will be effective from and after the execution of the new employment agreement."
There's much more for him, such as "time-vested restricted stock units having a grant date value of $750,000 and stock options on 200,000 shares." And options on 200,000 shares. And "an additional outperformance plan (“OPP”) opportunity with a projected value, based on the methodology applied generally in the granting of such awards, of $3,000,000." (S.E.C) Imagine how many reporters, editors and digital techies Time and Sports Illustrated, among others in the empire, could corral with that check alone.
An on-the-record dispute at The Times
So you're an author who starts chatting with another author in a private authors-only gathering at a literary festival. Does one assume it's all off the record, even if you know the author is Rod Nordland, Kabul bureau chief of The New York Times? Suki Kim complained that Nordland shafted her by quoting remarks (negative about another author) in a piece about the Brisbane, Australia gathering. New Public Editor Liz Spayd disagrees with Phil Corbett, who oversees newsroom standards, and says this was "outside the bounds of good journalistic practice." She's not for yanking the quote but appending a note indicating that its was "inappropriately obtained." (The New York Times) I'll demur on that conclusion, especially since Kim concedes she knew Nordland is a reporter.
NPR's third party coverage chided
Since May NPR has run 13 stories about the whole matter of third party candidates or interviews with them. Says its ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen, "NPR can and should do more. The newsroom tells me it has plans to, but without sharing many specifics. Beth Donovan, NPR's senior Washington editor, said by email, 'We will profile each of the candidates, they will be included in our online issues matrix, and we will do a handful of news stories as they make news.'"(NPR)
Note to all: Greta on vacation
Facebook is a powerful tool, including for self-absorption. Greta Van Susteren had just posted a potent video that derided the Obama administration not criminally indicting Wells Fargo officials in its big consumer fraud case. Now, she feels compelled to tell her Facebook constituents that she won't be around for a bit — but not before praising the Fox News operation she just departed in an apparent huff. "IMPORTANT and PLEASE SHARE this post: I intend to now sign off on Facebook for a few weeks because I want to take a long vacation and get a rest. I just wanted to use the last few posts to say good bye for while. Off to new adventures. P.S. Watch the Fox News Channel — they have many great journalists and they want to bring you the news of 2016. See you later. Don't forget to SHARE this post for me. Thanks."
Footnote in the phone hacking scandal
Colin Myler, former editor of Rupert Murdoch's defunct News of the World and my former boss at The New York Daily News, was found in contempt of the British House of Commons over testimony he gave about the scandal. Myler was not personally implicated, having arrived after the dirty deeds were done, but a committee alleges that he misled the panel about evidence that hacking had taken place. Myler said, “It is profoundly disappointing that the privileges committee has chosen to act in a manner which serves to discredit parliamentary procedures rather than enhance the very authority and respect which they profess to command,” he said. (The Guardian)
Lame headline, great night ahead
"MSNBC host to throw out first pitch at Cubs game. Will it have spin?" (Chicago Tribune) Got it? Chris Hayes, MSNBC, politics, spin doctors, etc.? The show host, whose wife and father-in-law (former TV reporter Andy Shaw, now the Better Government Association chief) are from Chicago, on Thursday night will throw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field. He'd hoped that the Cubs would lose a couple of games in St. Louis this week, to raise the prospect of Thursday being the day the team would clinch a playoff spot. They won and did so yesterday. Still, the evening could bring the team clinching the top spot in their division and a pretty nice soiree for Hayes since the joint will again be packed as a very good team seeks to erase a century of ignominy.
Film criticism par excellence!
The weekly San Diego Reader has this news-you-can-use opus: "Hitler goes Hollywood: Top 10 movie Führers." No. 1 For Scott Marks? "Between 1942 and 1962, Bobby Watson was cast a record nine times in the role of Best Fascist Dictator. And please, never confuse him with Bobs Watson, the nauseating tyke who gets dragged through the streets of Dodge City in order to bolster Errol Flynn’s motivation. At the start of the war, the Hollywood propaganda machine portrayed Hitler as a comic buffoon, a target of ridicule, not abject horror. Even in these brief clips, it’s fascinating to watch how Hollywood’s depiction of Hitler changed through the years." (San Diego Reader)