This Week in Media: Podcasting, Plagiarism (Again) and More

Our impressions of this week (April 24-28, 2006) in news coverage:

  • Keith Woods on the optimistic spirit raised by NAB, RTNDA and ASNE
  • Scott Libin reports from RTNDA@NAB, focusing on the podcasting trend
  • Chip Scanlan examines the latest ethical standards in book publishing
  • David Shedden on moments that made history and highlights of current media issues that will leave an impact

The Fourth Estate Strikes Back
By Keith Woods
Dean of the Faculty

The industry conventions this week -- The Radio-Television
News Directors Association
and the National Association of Broadcasters in Las
Vegas and the American Society of Newspaper Editors in
Seattle -- offered journalists something
that's been hard to find, even on the industry's home turf: optimism.

Rocked as the media has been of late by self-inflicted
scandal, a fickle and hyper-critical audience, destabilizing technological
shifts and the dire, near-daily predictions of mainstream journalism's demise, it's
been invigorating to spend a week watching the industry rise from its knees.

When NAB's new president, David Rehr, took the podium on
Monday morning, his bold rallying cry, urging broadcasters to "go on the
offensive" seemed to catch the crowd by surprise. They applauded his five-point

but it was his chutzpa that energized the audience. Two days later, outgoing
ASNE president Rick Rodriguez, who made "Watchdog Journalism" the buzz phrase
of his presidency, called for newspapers to "step forward to lead as never

Where recent conventions have been overrun with panels that
picked at the sores of the year's misdeeds or explored ways of fending off the Internet juggernaut and wooing an audience back to appointment viewing and the
morning paper, this year's offerings included sessions like ASNE's "Embracing the Web: Doing better journalism in
the 21st century," and RTNDA's "Citizen Journalism:
Embracing the New Power of Your Audience."

Book-ending the week were profiles in vital, courageous
journalism emerging from coverage of New Orleans
and the Mississippi Gulf
Coast when Hurricane Katrina
struck. RTNDA's convention opened with the stories of reporters, news
directors, network and chain leaders, and a helicopter pilot who all recognized
that everything from competition to the bottom line had to go out the window
when public need met journalistic purpose. The National Association of Minority
Media Executives recognized print and broadcast journalists for their courage
in covering the carnage of war and nature. ASNE’s last panel would be about

We've spent a great deal of time and energy in recent months
and years bemoaning our shrinking circulation numbers and ratings shares,
worrying about how the blogosphere is dissing the so-called legacy media and
joining sometimes giddily in the indiscriminate bashing and degrading of
journalism when things have gone wrong. So it was heartening this week to be
somewhere where people spoke for a change about staring down the economic and
technological challenges, embracing new modes of delivering news, and fighting
to protect journalism's democratic birthright.

Podcasting Perspective from RTNDA@NAB

By Scott Libin
Leadership & Management Faculty

you think kids are doing the darnedest things with iPods these days,
you should see what some of their college professors are doing. 

moderated an educators' breakfast session on podcasting at this week's
RTNDA@NAB convention. I began packing an iPod myself just within the
last couple of months, prompted by the opportunity to lead this week's
session. That made me not only the least knowledgeable person on the
podium, but probably in the room. 

The panel was a rich
mix of academics and professionals, offering insight on podcasting's
potential, its limitations -- at least so far -- and the differences in
the way newsrooms and classrooms are using the new medium. 

Here are a few highlights:

Sasha Norkin of Boston University
pointed out that, despite the
iPod-inspired name, podcasting consumption occurs these days mostly at
desktop and laptop computers, rather than with MP3 players. The ratio,
Norkin said, stands about 80-20, computer to iPod. 

Riley, managing editor of at WMAQ-TV in Chicago
, said his
station was one of the first in the country to podcast on a regular
basis, beginning a year ago. Riley said's podcast content is
all original
and designed to supplement WMAQ's on-air product, rather
than to repurpose that product. (Conversely, some stations represented
in the room, including KCRW-FM in Santa Monica, California, podcast
only broadcast material.)

Riley said he first heard about podcasting in a report on National Public Radio

encouraging, said Jay Brodsky, director of digital media at NPR Online,
because NPR didn't begin podcasting for another six months after airing
that report. Brodsky said in the six months since then, listeners have
downloaded 25-million podcasts. 

Larry Gillick,
assistant professor at American University in Washington, D.C., is
responsible for at least a few of those 25 million. He told the
room how much he enjoyed the public radio programs "On the Media" and
"The Business," and how he heard each of them only a couple of times a
year when he happened to be in his car at the time they were on the

"As much as I enjoy the programs," Gillick said, "I
am not going to schedule my life around them."  However, since the
two shows became available as podcasts, he says he hasn't missed a

Gillick and Al Stavitsky,
professor and associate
dean at the University of Oregon, use podcasting to complement
their classroom lectures and as an outlet for their students' work.
Stavitsky said he has had strong student response to his weekly "Alpod"
-- a podcast he produces himself and assigns as homework for his

Shortly after assigning his first "Alpod,"
Stavitsky says a student who found the production values lacking
provided him with an original music mix for the open of each week's
podcast, with a music bed to run under the professor's verbal

Stavitsky buries bonus information in each week's "Alpod," such as questions he will include on the class's next test. 

In Whose Words?

By Chip Scanlan
Senior Writing Faculty 

another ethical implosion from the world of book publishing surfaced
this week: the case of Kaavya Viswanathan, a 19-year-old Harvard
undergraduate who snared a $500,000 two-book contract, as well as a
DreamWorks movie deal.

Unfortunately for the author, a reporter for Harvard's student daily, The Harvard Crimson, exposed
a case of serial plagiarism. The young literary hotshot -- who was
gloried in puff-piece profiles by mainstream media -- is now at the center of a dispute between rival publishers and reams of negative publicity. Sadly, she seems to suffer the same self-delusion of James Frey,
the fabricating memoirist whose "Million Little Pieces" shattered on
the "Oprah" show. Her only crime, she says, is "inadvertent" and "unconscious borrowing."

The only positive news to come out of
this story so far: an impressive piece of enterprise reporting by
Crimson reporter David Zhou, who provided side-by-side comparisons, revealing Viswanathan's blatant word theft from author Megan McCafferty.

Then and Now, Media Moments with an Impact

By David Shedden
Library Director

Monday, April 24:

Babe Ruth was back in the news Monday. Here is an excerpt from a story in AM New York:

Are Yankees courting their own curse?

house that Babe Ruth built by hitting balls out of the park now has a
date with the wrecking ball, and demolition plans have set off a
backlash that has little to do with the loss of parkland or increased
traffic, and everything to do with nostalgia.

Having cleared all
but a few financial and legal hurdles, the Yankees are planning to
build a new stadium across the street from their 83-year-old home. The
structure should be finished for the 2009 season, and the most tangible
symbol of four generations of Yankees fans will be eradicated soon

"If there are baseball gods the Yankees will be
punished for this," said Jim Bouton, a Yankees pitcher from 1962 to
1968. "The curse of Babe Ruth is going to come visiting on them,
saying, 'You've paved over my hallowed ground for a few bucks.' "

Tuesday, April 25:

26 years ago today:

On April 25, 1980, all of the major television networks broadcast an address by President Carter about an abortive attempt to free the American hostages
in Iran. The mission was called off after problems developed with the
rescue helicopters. Eight U.S. servicemen were killed and several
injured during the withdrawal. (1980 CNN Video)

The Washington Post said the following:

Series of Mishaps Defeated Rescue in Iran

aircraft and the charred bodies of eight servicemen smoldered in a
remote Persian desert yesterday, sad symbols of a new American
humiliation in Iran.

A bold operation to rescue the 53
hostages in Tehran had ended in disaster 12 hours after it was launched
with the highest hopes of success. The survivors of the clandestine
American military force escaped from the desert at dawn, leaving dead
comrades and equipment behind. They had been defeated, not by the
Iranians, but by the mechanical failure of their own aircraft.

Wednesday, April 26:

The Reuters news service reported on the 20th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident:

Flowers and tears mark Chernobyl anniversary

Ukraine (Reuters) -- Mourners laid red carnations -- symbols of grief --
in the shadow of the ruined Chernobyl power station on Wednesday as
they marked the 20th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident.

Hundreds filed past a memorial wall engraved with the names of
the local fire crew. They were among the first to perish when
Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 blew up on April 26, 1986, spewing
radioactive dust across Europe.

One old woman in a headscarf made the sign of the cross as she stooped to lay a single carnation at the foot of the wall.

Ukraine's President Victor Yushchenko said it was time to start healing the scars left by the disaster.

Thursday, April 27:

The next chapter in the Knight Ridder / McClatchy deal was announced. Here is a story excerpt from the San Jose Mercury News:

Buyer Steps Up for Mercury News

MediaNews' agreement Wednesday to acquire the Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and two other Knight Ridder newspapers in a $1 billion deal would transform the Bay Area media landscape.

that is ultimately good or bad for journalistic competition in the
region is being debated by everyone from readers and reporters to
advertisers and competitors.

Denver-based MediaNews is acquiring the papers, including the Monterey County Herald and St. Paul Pioneer Press
in Minnesota, from McClatchy. The Sacramento company decided to sell 12
Knight Ridder newspapers after agreeing March 13 to purchase Knight
Ridder for $4.5 billion.

The details of the MediaNews deal are fairly complex: MediaNews will purchase the Mercury News and Contra Costa Times, and Hearst, which owns the San Francisco Chronicle, will acquire the Monterey County Herald and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. For tax reasons, Hearst has agreed to trade the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Monterey Herald to MediaNews in return for an investment in MediaNews' assets outside the Bay Area.

Friday, April 28:

Each weekday, Poynter highlights the front page of a newspaper somewhere in the world. You can view the current ones at Page One Today / April.

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    Keith Woods

    Keith Woods is NPR’s vice president for newsroom training and diversity.


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