Romenesko: Punk'd?, Knight Ridder Bids, Blaming Victims and More This Week in Media
Every Thursday, we ask Poynter faculty, staff and online contributors for their impressions of the news of the week. What surprised them? What was overplayed? Underplayed? What does it mean for the media? What will they be watching for next week? You can find this week's answers below and answers from previous weeks here. To contribute your own thoughts on the week in review, click the "Add Your Comments" link at the bottom of a post. You can also subscribe to receive "This Week in Media" by e-mail: just click here.
For the week of March 6-10, 2006:
- Jim Romenesko, Punk'd?
- Rick Edmonds on Knight Ridder bids and Google's legal battles
- Scott Libin on blaming victims and untold stories
- Casey Frechette on China & the Internet, the IAEA & Iran and more
- David Shedden's daily recap: Academy Awards, abortion, Gordon Parks, church burnings and Edward R. Murrow
Senior online reporter/ROMENESKO
I thought I had been "punked."
On Wednesday, a ROMENESKO reader e-mailed me what he said was a message to TimesSelect subscribers about a "Win a Trip With Nick Kristof" contest. (I don't subscribe to TimesSelect because I read Times columnists in my print edition.) A trip with oh-so-serious Nick Kristof!? Hmmm....I saw red flags everywhere.
I've yet to post a bogus memo or announcement -- knock on wood! -- and I don't recall catching anyone even *trying* to slip a fake one by me. But I decided I'd better check out the Kristof item. I put a call in to a Times source, but got a voicemail notice that he was out until Monday. While on the phone, I put "Win a trip with Nick Kristof" into Google's search engine. Bingo! The first reference was to an old Editor & Publisher story about TimesSelect, which mentioned that the contest was coming up. I then posted the item.
An hour or two later, I worked on cleaning out my inbox and noticed that a Times reporter had sent me a message on Tuesday night that included Kristof's own description of the contest. I added that to the item.
Bloggers quickly picked up on the Kristof contest. "Now you have to hang out with nerds to get ahead?" asked one. One reader predicted in a not-for-publication e-mail to me that Kristof would get hammered for this line in his announcement: "So no war zones. And no purchases of Cambodian sex slaves this time."
I haven't received any other complaints about that, but maybe it is best that the usually serious Kristof stay away from humor.
Any Bid a Good Bid? and a Little Skirmish in a Long War
Writer & researcher
Speculation about the Knight Ridder auction will be largely eclipsed by Friday reports on Thursday's deadline for bids. See Romenesko.
As the Knight Ridder board evaluates offers, here is a thought: Even a very modest premium over the current stock price -- say $65 per share versus $62 -- may be attractive. Remember that Knight Ridder was trading at a little over $52 last Nov. 1 when thrust into play as a takeover target. If bids are rejected, the stock could easily fall back to that level or lower. Which result do you think Private Capital Management's Bruce Sherman and his fellow institutional investors would prefer? Remember: they have the controlling votes.
A Little Skirmish in a Long War
In late February, a California judge ruled that Google had infringed on copyrighted material, as its "Image Search" function linked to thumbnail porn images produced by Perfect 10 Inc.
The problem is that Perfect 10 was selling those pictures to cell-phone users in Britain. Google links to other sites that had pirated the images, and therefore provided end-users a way to get the same pictures for free. Forbes.com provided helpful background on the case last June.
The judge left it to Google and Perfect 10 to work out details of a cease-and-desist agreement and said the case had no general application to Google search results. However, as the quality and immediacy of online photo and video grows, watch for continuing fights between content producers and the search giant, which makes its money selling advertising against that content.
Several British publications covered the preliminary outcome of the suit; so did The Associated Press. I learned of the story while doing a Google search -- on the company's parallel legal fight with Agence France Presse over use of the wire service's stories and images (which Google News dropped after the lawsuit was filed in March 2005).
Blaming the Victims
Leadership & Management faculty
I think blaming victims is really the result of basic human fear. I'm not proud to admit it, but when I see or hear a story about something terrible happening to someone, I look for reasons it couldn't happen to me or my loved ones.
Fatal car crash? Speeding, seat-belt neglect, age or alcohol must have been a factor.
Carnage on another continent? Glad I don't live there.
Lung cancer? That's what smoking will do to you.
Then this week, the death of Dana Reeve forced me and millions of others to confront again the fact that, sometimes, there just is no such comforting explanation.
The scariest stories sometimes leave us no choice but to learn -- and that may be the only silver lining in such tragedy. It's also the redeeming social value of certain celebrity news.
After all, Reeve will be only one of more than 150,000 people to die of lung cancer this year, if the government's most recent statistics are any indication. She may be the most famous, and her death may have a bigger impact than that of last year's most-famous cancer casualty, Peter Jennings, because of course he smoked for many years. Reeve, as everyone knows, never did.
I think it's that fact more than anything else that accounts for the kind of coverage her death has drawn: coverage from which I learned this week that women who have never smoked are twice as likely to get lung cancer as men who have never smoked; that lung cancer kills far more women than breast cancer does; and yet that many times more money is spent on breast cancer research than on lung cancer research, relative to the number of people each disease kills.
I can think of three friends currently living with breast cancer, but none living with lung cancer. That's probably in part because we and our doctors don't detect lung cancer as well as we do breast cancer. It's almost surely also because so many more breast cancer patients survive to tell their stories, to raise research money and to keep their disease on the minds of the rest of us.
Television stations compete to sponsor breast cancer awareness campaigns and events. I'm convinced these efforts save lives. They also make a lot of money, and not just for non-profits, but also for the stations that reap revenue and demographically strategic promotional advantage -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
It's just that I don't see any comparable campaigns about lung cancer, and I never stopped to wonder why -- until this week.
I also learned this week, along with thousands of other readers of Al's Morning Meeting, that an important study will come our way within the next few days. The American Journal of Managed Care will publish research on the way local television stations report on health, and Al's early indications are that it won't be pretty. I know we'll be talking about that a lot here at Poynter, and I hope we have a lot of company in newsrooms across the country.
The Internet in China, The IAEA in Iran and Polls in the U.S.
Interactive learning producer
What coverage surprised you?
This week brought a flurry of stories about Internet use in China. Unlike typical coverage focused solely on government censorship or the practices of U.S. tech companies, this week's stories dug deeper, providing a fresh perspective on mainstream Internet usage through the lens of Chinese Web surfers. From The New York Times, we learned about celebrity blogger Xu Jinglei and early attempts to find a blogging business model with Sina.com, a major Chinese portal.
NPR's Morning Edition also ran a story about blogging in China (the country boasts about 30 million blogs, we learned), and ran another piece about the rise in podcasting. We even learned about the legal woes of Hu Ge, who's in trouble for producing a frequently downloaded parody of the big-budget film "The Promise." And another New York Times piece this week looked at the preponderance of illicit activity on the Chinese Web.
Was anything overplayed? Underplayed?
Overplayed: This might fall more under the umbrella of "misplayed," but the pervasive use of the Vaeedi "harm and pain" quote in headlines about the Iran/International Atomic Energy Agency/U.S. story felt mostly mislaid. As entrées into this complex international issue, these headlines invoke a decidedly emotional, even reactionary tone. Some cable news coverage in particular this week felt a bit too theatrical. In many cases, the actual reporting has been thoughtful, but for those whose exposure to this story doesn't move past sound bites, using this incendiary quote to represent the issue doesn't seem to set the stage well for meaningful understanding.
What will you be watching for next week?
Two noteworthy polls were recently released; I'm interested in knowing more about what's behind the numbers, and I'm curious to see if next week brings any follow-up coverage. The Washington Post reported on their poll conducted with ABC News on Americans' feelings toward Islam and Muslims. And Editor & Publisher recapped a recent Gallup poll highlighting the country's deep divide on human origins. What's especially interesting about the results in both cases is how the numbers seem to be shifting over time. According the Post, unfavorable views toward Muslims are higher now than shortly after 9/11, while Editor & Publisher suggests that belief evolution is now less popular than it once was.
Week in Review: Academy Awards, South Dakota & Abortion, Gordon Parks and Birmingham Church Burnings
Monday, March 6:
Folks woke up Monday morning to news about the Academy Awards. Many stories focused on the surprise winner for best picture: "Crash."
Tuesday, March 7:
An excerpt from a story in South Dakota's Argus Leader:
Gov. Mike Rounds signed a bill Monday making nearly all abortions illegal and putting South Dakota at the top of a short list of states challenging the 30-year-old law of the land. The bill flies in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade and is almost certain to be challenged in what could be a long and expensive federal lawsuit or a direct referendum at the polls.
Wednesday, March 8:
The Wichita Eagle's obituary about photojournalist Gordon Parks included this descriptive quote: "He excelled in photography, movie directing, movie score writing, autobiographies, poetry, painting, and the list goes on and on." (Poynter has compiled a list of links about the incredible life of Gordon Parks.)
Thursday, March 9:
An excerpt from a story in The Birmingham News:
Three Birmingham college students charged in a spree of church burnings set the first two fires at rural Baptist churches "as a joke" and, thrilled by the sound of firetrucks, torched three more, investigators say. Four days later, on Feb. 7, four more churches were burned in an attempt to distract investigators, a federal complaint says.Fifty-two years ago today…
On March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow and the CBS show "See It Now" broadcast one of the most famous programs in journalism history: "A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy."
Murrow ended this "See It Now" program with the following words:
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it -- and rather successfully. Cassius was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."
Each weekday, Poynter highlights the front page of a newspaper somewhere in the world. You can view the current ones at Page One Today / March.