December 12, 2019

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Thinking on Time’s Person of the Year

Let’s get something straight.

Time magazine’s Person of the Year is just an honorary title. Other than publicity, the “winner” doesn’t actually get anything. Those who don’t “win” don’t miss out on some big trophy or cash prize.

It’s just something for fun — like a list of the top 10 movies or TV shows of the year.

It’s also the perfect topic for debate, and there’s plenty of that following Time’s announcement Wednesday that Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is its “Person of the Year.” At 16, she is the youngest person to be recognized.

Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal wrote, “Thunberg has become the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet — and the avatar of a broader generational shift in our culture that is playing out everywhere from the campuses of Hong Kong to the halls of Congress in Washington.”

The person of the year is supposed to go to “the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse.” Today — on Dec. 12, 2019 — you might look at the choice of Thunberg as a flawed, but safe selection. Not because she isn’t deserving, but because there are others who feel more important and newsworthy at this very moment.

Specifically: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Donald Trump and most of all, someone known simply by a vague name — The Whistleblower.

For just the fourth time in the history of our country, a U.S. president is undergoing impeachment proceedings. That has dominated the news for months and will end up being, by far, the biggest news story of the year.

At first glance, it might feel as if choosing Thunberg is Time’s way of staying out of the fierce political fray. The impeachment is splitting the country in two and choosing anyone directly involved likely will draw ire from at least half of Time’s audience.

Choose Pelosi or the whistleblower and it looks like Time is favoring the president’s removal from office. Choose Trump and it looks like the magazine is siding with the president. By choosing Thunberg, Time can avoid the political mess and potential backlash.

When we look back years from now, might it seem ridiculous that the impeachment process had nothing to do with the person Time chose as the most newsworthy person of 2019? Perhaps, although you could easily argue that the President of the United States, whoever that is, will always be the most newsworthy person of the year. For the record, Time’s readers chose Hong Kong protesters in an online poll as their 2019 Person of the Year.

I see all these points, but I will make the argument that choosing someone like Thunberg is long overdue. When we look back years from now, it would have been preposterous to NOT choose someone who is a leading voice in the most important issue facing our planet.

Detractors ask what Thunberg has actually accomplished. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin wrote, “I find it preposterous to assert that Thunberg had a unique, transformative impact on public opinion in a way no other person has.”

Yet Thunberg’s defiant, how-dare-you speech to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit was a game-changer, the most relevant and far-reaching speech on climate in recent memory. It revitalized and greatly publicized a topic that needed to be revitalized and publicized. Thunberg’s age and influence on others her age make her the perfect figure to lead future generations who will be most impacted by the cause she is speaking out about.

Thunberg shared her honor with climate activists from around the globe. Her selection is a boost for them, as well.

So go ahead and have your debates about whether Thunberg was the right choice. Whether you agree or not, it’s notable that we are talking about Thunberg today. Most of all, we’re talking about her cause.

Hmm, maybe the title of Time Person of the Year means something after all.

So I guess you gave it zero stars?

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch is blunt: Don’t go see the Clint Eastwood movie “Richard Jewell.” Bunch tweeted:

“I saw ‘Richard Jewell.’ With ‘alternative facts’ and a plot twist around fake news that smears a dead female journalist, Eastwood dangerously amplifies Trump’s ‘enemies of the people’ rhetoric. Stay away and spend your $$ on your local org.”

In his lengthy column for the Inquirer, Bunch wrote, “Rarely have I seen a film that was so ‘of the moment’ — but in the worst possible way. In the time of a reality-TV president, Eastwood seamlessly blends facts with outright fiction to create a narrative that transcends truth.”

He also wrote, “Whatever their artistic intentions at the outset, Eastwood, (writer Billy) Ray and Warner Bros. just made an $100 million contribution to Trump’s 2020 campaign.”

Fox News on top for the fourth year

The Fox News primetime lineup of Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity. (AP photo)

These may be divisive political times, but it’s good for business at Fox News. In 2019, the network had the best primetime viewership in its 23-year history. Its 2.5 million primetime viewers also means Fox News is the most-watched basic cable station for the fourth consecutive year. ESPN was next with an average of 1.78 million primetime viewers.

In a joint statement, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and Fox News Media President and Executive Editor Jay Wallace said, “FNC continues to exert its dominance in cable television as the country experiences what may be one of the most fervent news cycles in history and we are proud to provide our audience with news and opinion they can trust across a variety of programming.”

Fox News’ 2.5 million primetime viewers is up 2% from a year ago. MSNBC, third among cable stations, averages 1.75 million viewers in primetime, which is down 3%. CNN averages 972,000 in primetime, down 2%. All three networks are way down among adults 25 to 54. CNN is down 21%, MSNBC is down 20% and Fox News is down 16%.

Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News is the most-watched primetime program on cable news with 3.1 million viewers, followed by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson (2.8 million) and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (2.7 million).

Speaking of zero stars …

While Fox News can brag about its solid ratings, it should be embarrassed by the comments made on air by Jesse Watters. The Fox News host said on “The Five” that women journalists sleep with sources “all the time” and “a lot” to get scoops. It was part of a discussion about the movie “Richard Jewell.” In the movie, a female reporter, based on a real-life person, sleeps with a source to get a story. There is no evidence that ever happened in real life.

You have to wonder how Watters’ offensive and irresponsible remarks will go over with female reporters at Fox News, although Dana Perino was sitting two feet away from Watters and did not argue back. Neither did Katie Pavlich, who was on the panel.

A change of direction for Sinclair?

The Sinclair Broadcast Group will move away from company-wide political commentary to concentrate more on investigative journalism. In a story first reported by NBC’s Claire Atkinson, part of the new direction means cutting ties with chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn — the former special assistant to Trump. In addition, Ameshia Cross, who offers an opposing (read: liberal) point of view to Epshteyn’s conservative commentary, also will be dropped.

In a statement to staff, the company said, “We have to shine a light on our value proposition every quarter hour, in every newscast. Therefore, we will be expanding our local investigative journalism footprint in our daily newscasts. We are excited to dedicate more time in our newscasts to report on critical and relevant issues.”

Sinclair owns 193 TV stations across the country and has the reputation of being right-leaning. The company has been criticized for having anchors from across the U.S. read the same script about fake news, among other topics. Epshteyn made news with critical comments about immigrants for which Sinclair distanced itself. Epshteyn also once defended the use of tear gas against immigrants, including children, at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Please stop saying local news is dead

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter’s Kristen Hare, who covers the transformation of local news.

There’s a lot to be alarmed about with local news right now, particularly at chain-owned newspapers. But that doesn’t mean local news is dying. There is promising growth and innovation at both for- and non-profit online newsrooms, national and local partnerships deserve more attention, local public radio is growing, and local TV doesn’t know what to do with all the money it’s about to get from political ads. So please, stop writing local news’ obit.

The ‘byline strike’ at a troubled paper

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

There’s something missing from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette these days: bylines. Last month, reporters at the paper went on a “byline strike,” in part to protest what they believe is a hostile work environment at the P-G. That includes what the Guild calls 14 years without pay raises, stalled contract talks, unfair labor practices and attempts to break the union.

In a release, Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh president Michael Fuoco said the paper’s publisher and owners and top editor have “declared an unprecedented scorched-earth war on their employees and culture of the PG newsroom.”

Fuoco, who also is P-G reporter, was especially critical of Keith Burris, who took over as executive editor in February. Fuoco told Pittsburgh City Paper’s Ryan Deto: “He is driving people out, he’s driving younger people out. We believe it is a coordinated effort.”

Deto’s story paints a pretty bleak picture at the Post-Gazette. While the website is running 24/7, the actual paper is down to printing just three days a week. Twenty Guild members have left the staff this year and nine managers have either taken buyouts, been fired or forced out. In addition, Deto said that he has talked to current and former Post-Gazette staffers who say there is a divide over coverage and Burris’ ability to lead a newsroom.

Deto wrote, “Sources give Burris some credit for initially trying to mend fences with individual reporters, but the situation has gotten more chaotic and contentious over the last several months. Remaining staffers are starting to believe the P-G will keep losing experienced and award-winning journalists at a continual rate. In addition to putting journalists out of work, these changes can mean that important stories don’t get covered and corruption can go unchecked.”

Hot type

  • Infants die in their sleep. Is it SIDS? Are the parents to blame? Another exceptional piece of work from one of journalism’s best feature writers: Tampa Bay Times Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Lane DeGregory.
  • I am a fan of ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. I’m also a fan of writer Drew Magary, the longtime staffer at Deadspin. And I’m a really big fan of Magary’s profile on Smith for GQ.
  • Columbia University’s Journalism School announced its Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards on Wednesday for excellence in journalism. Here’s the full list of winners.

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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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  • Good gawd. Wading through the endless Smith story, though it had its moments, was almost as torturous as watching an endless (which applies to all of ’em) First Take episode. Six graphs on someone farting? Really? Then there is this redundancy: “He limits himself to two drinks a week and never more than that.”