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A Caribbean newspaper's Herculean task
No matter the wind and water, journalists covering Harvey and Irma tend to have reassuring safety nets. Their employers pay for the best equipment, rent SUVs, pony up for helicopters, take care of plane fares and book multiple hotel rooms. Some sport designer outerwear with company logos.
It's why newspapers are usually able to operate and publish, perhaps executing emergency business plans and moving to a safer location, frequently winning plaudits from colleagues elsewhere for keeping the faith.
And then there's Gordon Snow, managing editor of his family-owned Daily Herald on St. Martin in the Caribbean. No bagels, doughnuts, pizza or booze have arrived in his newsroom with plaudits from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington or Boston. But he deserves them.
An island of 74,000 people is ravaged. At least 12 have died on either the French or Dutch sides of the "smallest land mass in the world shared by two independent states," as it's put in (typically good) country profiles cranked out by the Central Intelligence Agency. You might also be familiar with photos of large passenger jets descending spectacularly close to beachgoers as they land at Princess Juliana International Airport.
The economy, based on tourism, will be in the toilet for a long time. All the key hotels face serious reconstruction challenges. My family and a group of friends stayed in a really nice one a couple of years ago. If you're the newspaper, there's no revenue coming in and little hope of much in future months. Your advertisers don't have anything to advertise.
The 10,000-circulation daily hasn't printed since the storm. Because of security issues (looting and others), there's a 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew that's made it impossible to gather the needed late-night printing personnel at his 100-person organization (including freelance street vendors who sell on commission, as well as staffers on other islands).
Most of his 15-person editorial staff can't work. They've got other priorities, such as destroyed homes and needy families. There's virtually no gas, so they can't drive around and report, take a bus, even hitchhike. Use email and cell phones to call sources? Nope. There's virtually no telecommunications service unless you're with the Dutch or French military that have arrived on the scene (as did the Dutch King Willem-Alexander on Monday, with French President Emmanuel Macron due today).
There's no running water. Indeed, several employees sought shelter in the newsroom, sleeping there and without showers for days. One reporter on the French side of the island had a bicycle accident and got a bad infection. Antibiotics are running low. He's out of commission.
The good news is that Snow's building is basically intact. "We are fortunate to have survived." There are air conditioning problems "that we can live with." And he's got electricity via its own generators. "It's a miracle."
Still, a core group of about four have toiled hard and done a rather heroic job updating the website (special media passes let reporters get out during the curfew). Take a look. Realize what they're enduring. Writers overseas, notably in the Netherlands, supplement them.
It's not easy, says Snow. Consider just the lack of gasoline and decent communications, and then throw in inefficient local government. It's been tough to get basic information from important personnel. While Americans couldn't avoid Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn heralding the importance of competent government (every half hour it seemed), there's no such institutional savvy and responsiveness on St. Martin.
The island was badly damaged by Hurricane Louis in 1995. What's happened now is exponentially worse, says Snow. If the damage back then was around $1.5 billion, double or triple that today. "This time most of our hotels have sustained serious damage. Back then, we at least could get tourists to come back. I don't see that happening anytime soon."
"We will have serious unemployment. The restructuring will take time. Tourism is our main industry. There's nothing else. All the small businesses are dependent on tourism."
We wound up talking about the effort of those on the paper who have persevered and done what they can, some sleeping in his building just because they feel safer there.
Those are the people getting out and trying to find out what's up, dealing with the not particularly helpful government, finding human interest stories, trying to assemble the daily repercussions of tragedy. It's shoe leather reporting, literally.
When I called the main newsroom number on several occasions, Snow picked up. He'd put me on hold to take another call. Once, the line went dead after a few minutes. It's easier to call him than vice versa.
And through it all, he exhibits the predictable pride of an editor overseeing a hard-working staff on a big story. What they're enduring is perhaps less akin to what journalists covering Harvey and Irma know than to foreign correspondents riskily covering mayhem in faraway lands.
"These people are working their butts off," says Snow. "I will have to find a way to thank them when we return to a semblance of normalcy."
Before then, and when the airport re-opens to commercial traffic, maybe some American newspaper can continue a recent collegial tradition: sending pizzas to an embattled newsroom. And throw in some bottles of drinking water, too.
A dissenting take on Amazon's expansion
Lots of speculative pieces have run about which city seems best for Amazon's second headquarters. The company announcement (replete with detailed requirements) will inspire rapid-fire groveling. But this notion hasn't really surfaced:
"The list of warning signals for shareholders includes diversification into new industries, changes of business model, massive hiring programs, unfettered CEO power, distracted management, and high capital spending. But top of the list for many is the construction of a new headquarters. Hubris, meet Amazon.com." (The Wall Street Journal)
A week in the life of the drug epidemic
The Cincinnati Enquirer's "Seven Days of Heroin" involved sending out an army of reporters, photographers and videographers around Ohio and Kentucky. It opened simply:
"It’s a little after sunrise on the first day of another week, and Cincinnati is waking up again with a heroin problem. So is Covington. And Middletown. And Norwood. And Hamilton. And West Chester Township. And countless other cities and towns across Ohio and Kentucky.
"This particular week, July 10 through 16, will turn out to be unexceptional by the dreary standards of what has become the region’s greatest health crisis."
In all, 18 deaths, 180 overdoses, more than 200 heroin users jailed and 15 children born with heroin-related ills. In effective, staccato fashion, this takes you into those jails, courtrooms, emergency units, clinics and highways overpasses that figure in the epidemic. It's an impressive finale, it turns out, for editor Peter Bhatia, who's heading to Detroit to edit the Free Press.
Headline of the day
"This Wine Writer Has the Perfect Drink to Wash the Bitter Taste of Slavery Out of Your Mouth" (The Root)
Yes, the Toronto Star blew it by including "12 Years a Slave" in a feature on wine pairings for movies: "Searing cinematic discomfort" with a soothing rose. It's apologized. The Root says, "There is not a tannin or an oak barrel in the world that can offset the taste of 400 years of human bondage."
Stunning disclosure (not)
It ranks right there with a New York Times editor supporting choice, a Silicon Valley CEO bitching about government regulation or China jailing dissidents. It was Breitbart's top story last evening:
"Breitbart News editor-in-chief Alex Marlow paid homage to Andrew Breitbart, the late conservative insurgent pioneer and this site’s founder, as he explained the importance of independent news media to CBS’s Charlie Rose."
This was part of the lengthier CBS online version of Steven Bannon's "60 Minutes" interview.
Tower of Babel
"Trump & Friends" was in Orlando to assess the damage but segued quickly to President Trump holding a dinner on tax reform, heralding it as "president's bipartisan dinner" with at least three "vulnerable" Democrats up for re-election in states Trump won. It also bashed hyperbolic Chicago congressman Luis Gutierrez for an attack on White House chief of staff John Kelly (calling him "a disgrace to the uniform") for the administration's DACA policy change (and followed that story with a Republican Party commercial touting Trump's achievements). It returned to Irma with the estimable Jeff Flock driving I-75 North to Naples; yes actually driving, talking and holding a copy up of the Tampa Bay Times ("We're Lucky" as the headline). Fortunately, no texting by Jeff!
"Morning Joe" relied heavily early for a short bit on its meteorologist Bil Karins but segued quickly to, yes, Trump, with a crew and guests dominated by white males (not a single female in town besides co-host Mika Brzezinski to open with?) mulling the "60 Minutes" session with Bannon. In particular, there was his belief it was really dumb to fire James Comey and thus trigger the coming of Robert Mueller. The observers' consensus here was that, yes, Bannon's right.
CNN's "New Day" was co-hosted in Big Pine Key, Fla., with Chris Cuomo again sporting tight-fitting black T-shirt and "New Day" baseball cap. The Keys were creamed, as detailed in this comprehensive Miami Herald opus. That story and the CNN visual and interview left no doubt about the infrastructure wreckage, though amazingly the Keys' 42 bridges seem to have survived, according to Cuomo interviews with both a county commissioner and a former chief of Florida's emergency management operation (homeowners are told to not return yet).
Meanwhile, Bloomberg weighs in with "A $150 Billion Misfire: How Forecasters Got Irma Damage So Wrong."
Tagging fake news on Facebook
"Facebook touts its partnership with outside fact-checkers as a key prong in its fight against fake news, but a major new Yale University study finds that fact-checking and then tagging inaccurate news stories on social media doesn’t work. " (Politico)
"The study, reported for the first time by POLITICO, found that tagging false news stories as “disputed by third party fact-checkers” has only a small impact on whether readers perceive their headlines as true. Overall, the existence of “disputed” tags made participants just 3.7 percentage points more likely to correctly judge headlines as false, the study said."
Seeking audiences at The New Yorker
Adweek asked Michael Luo, who oversees NewYorker.com, about audience strategies, and here was part of an interesting response:
"We’re very much a subscription, consumer-revenue-driven business, so sometimes we’ll get a huge audience for a story, but that might not necessarily have that great of a long-term impact if it’s not the right audience. There is a little bit of an existential question. For example, we’ve been doing TV recaps of Game of Thrones — they’re amazing, and Sarah Larson brings New Yorker-level writing to it — but just playing in that space is an interesting question. We’ve talked about whether we’re going to do more [recaps], and I’m not sure we would."
A provocative environmental tale
What if the very efforts to increase stocks of salmon are having the absolutely opposite effect? The Idaho Statesman explores the prospect and the conclusions of two biologists "who argue that our reliance on hatcheries, our indiscriminate catch techniques, and our destruction and fragmentation of habitat are at the root of the fish’s struggles. The secret to saving the resilient, adaptable salmon might be simply getting out of their way."
A Clinton observer on Clinton book
"Trump & Friends" gave a back-of-the-hand plug to Hillary Clinton's new book, with a critique from Jonathan Allen, co-author of "Shattered," on her 2016 campaign. In sum, he believes she dwells too long on "self-exoneration" and blaming others rather than focusing on the problems with her own message and the potency of Trump.
A sign of progress
Beth Mowins was the first woman in 30 years to do-play-by play for an NFL game when she called ESPN's "Monday Night Football" contest (a good one) between Los Angeles and Denver (the last was Gale Sierens, who did a Chiefs-Chargers game).
She was just fine and no better or worse than many of the frequently generic-sounding announcers in all sports (in her case, she sounds exactly like NBC Sports' Michele Tafoya). Meanwhile, it was the first time that black NFL coaches were coaching their first regular season game against one another.
And none of it seemed all that important. So maybe we've made some progress. I remember Bill Russell, the great basketball player, saying that less important than his own hiring as the first black NBA coach was the day when firing a black coach wouldn't be news.
Laura Ingraham gets own show
In a prime time line-up change, Laura Ingraham will get her own Fox News show at 10 p.m. Sean Hannity will air an hour earlier. "Take 5," the very forced ensemble show having failed in prime time, will return to a late-afternoon slot.
The last time Ingraham had a regular show of her own was a Washington-based show long ago on MSNBC called "Watch It!" It was actually quite good and initially had a co-host, or sidekick. The New York Post's then-gratuitous TV critic reviewed the first installment of the 11 a.m. foray — there'd been about a 30-minute run-through the Sunday before, with a Georgetown law professor slated as the faux guest not appearing — and referred to the show's "co-host from hell."
The maligned co-host was not bitter. The critic was a jerk, so why get upset? Plus, the "co-host from hell" had a day job as a newspaper bureau chief during the eventful Bill Clinton years and substituted as host when Ingraham wasn't around. Senators such as John McCain were on often, and he hosted one mini-classic with a brilliant (and tanked) Christopher Hitchens that segued into a long lunch around the corner at the George Hotel.
Holding grudges is a waste of energy, so the "co-host from hell" won't succumb to such frailty. And time heals all wounds, right? Why remain bitter?
Screw that critic.