Category Archives: Blog

Rory Markas Dies

 Rory Markas  The Los Angeles Times reports that longtime L.A. broadcaster Rory Markas has died.   During his career, the 54-year-old Markas  called games for the Angels, USC and the Clippers.   He also worked for KCBS-TV (Channel 2), KNX Radio,  KTTV-TV (Channel 11), Prime Ticket and the Brewers TV and Radio Networks.    His work was honored with four “Golden Mike” awards from the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California,  two AP sportscasting awards and  the Chick Hearn Award for play-by-play on radio.   According to a statement released by MLB, Markas passed away at his home in Palmdale, California.  The cause of death has not been released.

Shales To Hume: “Apologize”

Tom Shales has piece of advice for Brit Hume in the Washington Post: “Apologize.”    Shales advice follows Brit Hume publicly advising Tiger Woods to abandon Buddhism for Christianity if he wants to solve his current domestic difficulties.  Christianity, Hume explains on Fox TV, offers greater “forgiveness and redemption” than Buddhism.

To that, Shales says, “Hume has a message for Woods; lots of people will have a message for Hume. First off, apologize. You gotta. Just say you are a man who is comfortable with his faith, so comfortable that sometimes he gets a wee bit carried away with it. If Hume wants to do the satellite-age equivalent of going door-to-door and spreading what he considers the gospel, he should do it on his own time, not try to cross-pollinate religion and journalism and use Fox facilities to do it.” -Washington Post

Amen to that.

TSA’s New Airport Insecurity?

Larry Johnson, who used to work for both the CIA and the State Department,  calls new airport security procedures“…the kind of pseudo-security that will get Americans and others killed. In fact, this bonehead move likely increases the chance that terrorists will succeed in putting a bomb onboard an in-bound commercial airliner.”

In his piece, “TSA Punts on Security” Johnson continues, ” This is half-assed security and will get people killed. You’ve been warned. You cannot have a security system based on “threat” because there is no such thing as perfect, timely threat information. If Al Qaeda adopts a new method tomorrow it is highly unlikely that our intelligence community will immediately discover this innovation and report it in time to prevent an attack. It is not because the intel community is incompetent. It is just the nature of how information is gathered and assembled into finished intel.”

Johnson points out that most of the 9-11 skyjackers began their trips from airports in Europe, “which under the new security rules would not have subjected them to added screening.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it?  Makes you wonder why Johnson, a former Deputy Director for the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism can figure it out while the feds can’t…   Mr. Johnson argues that layers of security are needed, including profiling, based upon a number of criteria.

Ten Things Every Journalist Should Know

Came across this “Ten things every journalist should know in 2010” feature by John Thompson.   It’s worth a read.  If you lean toward the traditional you probably won’t care for everything he has to say, like the need for creating your own brand, but it certainly points to how radically and rapidly the world is changing.  I especially like his emphasis on core journalistic skills and the need to act as a filter to avoid information overload.

The Networks Have A Policy For News?

 The AP is running an interesting story: “Networks blur policy of not paying for interviews.”   It points to what appears to be problems with the way three recent news stories were handled –

“Three of the past month’s accidental celebrities — Jasper Schuringa, who helped thwart an attack on a Detroit-bound plane; David Goldman, who took a custody fight for his son to Brazil; and the White House party-crashing Salahis — have either sought or received goodies from TV networks eager to hear their stories.” -AP

Schuringa, the story says, gave interviews to news outlets that agreed to buy cell phone images he had taken.   Goldman and his son got a ride home on a plane chartered by NBC and then there are the “goodies” received by the Salahis.

The Society of Professional Journalists issued a condemnation of “checkbook journalism” and the AP followed up with the story about the network’s policy being blurred.

The networks still have a policy?  I know they used to but I wasn’t aware they still did.   I thought CBS had burned all the old “Bluebooks” defining their standards and practices and that all the networks had changed their SOP to doing whatever was necessary (or whatever they think they can get away with) to get the ratings up? Particularly the demographic for 18-49 year old women.  If that means paying for an important piece of video or an interview, then get out the checkbook and do it.

It hasn’t always been this way.   Things have changed since Uncle Walter left and journalists lost control of their operations to the bottom-liners in sales and promotion.

It used to be very simple.   There was a standard response when someone asked for money.  “We don’t pay for news” we’d say and that took care of it.   Pretty much everybody towed the line, so the person in question could either do the interview for gratis or go fish.

Then the O.J. Simpson trial came along and everything changed.   “The National Enquirer” started scooping everybody by paying for interviews and information.  And the stuff they were getting was factual.

Prior to that I can’t remember anybody in the “mainstream media” using the Enquirer as a source or following up on anything they had broken.  Follow a supermarket tabloid?  It just wasn’t done.  But with the Simpson trial, that’s exactly what happened.   People in the mainstream quoted and followed the Enquirer.  I think it may have been at about that same time that some started paying for information. It was a while ago and it’s difficult to remember.   I do remember that the Simpson trial was the tipping point for the mainstream getting into practices that were once the sole domain of the tabloid “supermarket press.”

It was at about that same time, or possibly a few years earlier, that bottom-line economics became all important and tv stations learned they could save some money by hiring fewer photographers and buying video from independent “stringers” who worked in outlying areas, or who had crews cruising the streets all night long waiting for something to happen.  The stringers expanded the stations coverage without the need to send their own personnel away on long trips or hiring people to work overnight shifts.

TV stations found they could save even more by sometimes swapping video back and forth.  If one channel missed the story but another was there and their newscasts were not on the air at the same time, they could simply “borrow”  video of the event they had missed.  Union regulations were sometimes stretched, bent or broken, but the stations got away with it.  Consequently, you’d see exactly the same video on one station at 9, another station at 10 and yet another tv station at 11.  They were either all buying the same video from the same stringer or sharing video one station had shot.

The use of overnight crews would come back into vogue once KTLA-TV proved that early morning news could be a big money maker after the “KTLA Morning News” went on the air in Los Angeles and blew away the competition, including the early morning network shows.   Other local tv stations across the country followed suit.

But paying a going price for “stringer” video had become the norm.  Since you were paying for the video, why not pay for the story as well?  Why not just buy the interview?  Because once you start paying for stories, people are more likely to start feeding you false information to get their hands on the money, that’s why.  And that’s why the practice was shunned for so many years. It’s also a competition killer, when someone is given a paycheck for talking to one news gathering organization with the understanding or written commitment that he won’t share what he knows with anyone else.

There was also the very worrisome fact that the standards and practices that apply to staff reporters and photographers do not apply to stringers.   Often, a stringer is just some guy who buys a small video camera and a police scanner and goes into business with little or no training in journalism.   And so, news “wannabees” can become valid news gatherers by virtue of the fact that legitimate news operations are willing to pay for their product because doing so is less expensive than using their own people to gather the news.

It is more than coincidence, I think, that it was in the three or four years  following the Simpson trials (criminal and civil)  that the credibility of the mainstream media began to tank.  News gathering organizations that had once been the gold standard for credibility and believability, began sinking deeper and deeper into what was once the exclusive domain of  tabloid journalism as content shifted into entertainment and gossip and away from traditional journalism.   They were following the tabloid press and writing checks for video and interviews, and I was a part of it.

I was there when KTLA paid George Holliday , a plumber by trade, for the Rodney King beating tape.  I interviewed Holiday in March of 1991 in the news director’s office as part of the deal.    We were later awarded a Peabody for breaking and then following up on the story.  Would you have told George Holliday to take his video and go away?

When it comes to news gathering you sometimes have no alternative but to exercise a certain amount of flexibility.   The key lies in knowing how to do so without compromising your standards.  And that,  becomes oxymoronic, only when all the media outlets agree to stop paying for news content.  If you think that’s going to happen then you may as well take Peter and Wendy by the hand,  jump off the bed and fly away.

My old friend and former colleague, the late Hal Fishman, used to argue that journalists should be licensed, much like doctors, lawyers, plumbers and other professionals that are required to learn a set of professional standards and then pass an examination proving they know what they’re doing before being allowed to practice their craft or profession.  He may have been right.

Limbaugh Is Fine – Mud Bowl In Orlando

New Year’s Day, 2010 – In between bowl games word comes from the islands that Rush Limbaugh did not have a heart attack after all.    I can’t stand the man’s politics but I don’t wish a heart condition on anybody.  I guess that makes me a bigger man than that Republican troglodyte in the Senate (Coburn) who asked people to pray for one of the Democratic majority to fall ill, so they wouldn’t be able to muster a majority vote on healthcare reform?

In Orlando, the Capitol One Bowl turned into a mud bowl at the Citrus Bowl (confusing, isn’t it?).    My wife’s alma mater, Penn State, pulled off a win on what was one of the muddiest fields I have seen in years.    I didn’t know things could still get that out of hand, what with all the applied agricultural science and massive tarps and what not.  Whole chunks of sod were coming up in the middle of the field.   It looked like a monster truck rally had taken place.  Like the boys had a few too many beers and were out there doing doughnuts on the field the night before the big game.   Maybe the groundskeeper fell asleep?  Congrats to Joe Paterno, pulling out another win at the age of 83.

My former hometown team from Columbus then moved on to defeat Oregon in the Rose Bowl and now with the Gators taking on Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl,  I’m about to OD on college football.    I’ll need to tear myself away from this at some point or risk whole-body hives.

Just checked, and the temperature up in my old stomping ground of Minnesota stands at 5 above with a low tonight of 19 below.  That’s the actual temperature mind you and not the wind chill.    Here in Los Angeles it’s currently 64 degrees heading for a high of 74 tomorrow.   This is why we live in California folks, and yes, the feeling of schadenfreude is overwhelming.

Psychology aside, best wishes for the new year and the coming decade.   Less war and the obvious byproduct of more peace would be nice.  A little monetary stability would be good, too.  Can you spell r-e-g-u-l-a-t-i-o-n?

‘ “$500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus.” – Wall Street compensation consultant James Reda on Feb. 3, 2009, giving the New York Times a good example of just how totally out of touch the super-rich really are.’ -David Sirota in “Truthout”

Whatever happens, I’m sure we’ll all do the best we can to muddle though.  In the meantime, I leave you with the following thought from one of the giants of Journalism:

“Mother always told me that journalism wasn’t a gentleman’s pursuit.  I think at the end
there she really had her heart set on me being a … cowboy.”   -Les Nessman, WKRP Radio

God bless you Les, and Happy New Year everybody-

Ron Olsen

Canadian Reporter Dies In Afghanistan

 Michelle Lang

               photo:  the globe and mail  

Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang, has died from injuries suffered when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan.  The 34 year old Lang, was on her first assignment as a war correspondent.  She was riding in an armored vehicle when the explosion occurred.  Ms. Lang, who was engaged to be married on July 3rd, is the first Canadian journalist to die while covering the war.  Four Canadian soldiers were also killed in the blast.

Here’s a link to a video from the Globe and Mail.

On the same day Ms. Lang died, 7 CIA employees were killed in a separate attack by a suicide bomber,  while two French journalists and their translator were kidnapped north of Kabul.

“France 3 television in Paris said one of its film crews had gone missing while preparing a story about the construction of a road in the region. “We have had no news from the team for 48 hours,” a spokesman at France 3 said.” -Reuters

Limbaugh Suffers Chest Pains

 Rush Limbaugh

 photo: wiki commons

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, is reportedly “resting comfortably” at a hospital in Hawaii after suffering chest pains while on vacation.

“Kit Carson, Limbaugh’s chief of staff, told The Associated Press that he had no further information on Limbaugh’s condition.

He said the 58-year-old left for his usual Christmas vacation on Dec. 23 and is due to return to his show on Jan. 4. Carson didn’t have any information on whether that schedule would change.

Prior to the program statement, Honolulu television station KITV reported that paramedics took Limbaugh to The Queen’s Medical Center in serious condition from the Kahala Hotel and Resort.”-AP

The “Move Your Money” Project

Received a link to the following video on YouTube from an editor friend at a local newspaper.  It uses the old movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”  (1946) as an analogy to the current situation with big bankers, bonuses and home foreclosures.  The concept apparently arose at a dinner party attended by Arianna Huffington and friends.

“The idea is simple: If enough people who have money in one of the big four banks move it into smaller, more local, more traditional community banks, then collectively we, the people, will have taken a big step toward re-rigging the financial system so it becomes again the productive, stable engine for growth it’s meant to be. It’s neither Left nor Right — it’s populism at its best. Consider it a withdrawal tax on the big banks for the negative service they provide by consistently ignoring the public interest. It’s time for Americans to move their money out of these reckless behemoths. And you don’t have to worry, there is zero risk: deposit insurance is just as good at small banks — and unlike the big banks they don’t provide the toxic dividend of derivatives trading in a heads-they-win, tails-we-lose fashion. Think of the message it will send to Wall Street — and to the White House. That we have had enough of the high-flying, no-limits-casino banking culture that continues to dominate Wall Street and Capitol Hill. That we won’t wait on Washington to act, because we know that Washington has, in fact, been a part of the problem from the start. We simply can’t count on Congress to fix things. We have to do it ourselves — and the big banks are the core of the problem. We need to return to the stable, reliable, people-oriented approach of America’s community banks.” -The Huffington Post.   Here’s a link to the “Move Your Money” website.

Mr. Cheney, Whose Side Are You Really On?

 Dick Cheney

Former VP Dick Cheney, has joined the chorus of Republicans attacking President Obama on various fronts.   Some are saying he took too long to respond to the recent attempted attack on an airliner.   For his part, Dick Cheney, is now saying that Mr. Obama “is trying to pretend we are not at war.”   Mr. Cheney has taken advantage of the heightened news environment following the attempted bombing of an airliner to condemn the President for sending 5 alleged 9-11 terrorists from Guantanamo to New York City for trial as his efforts to close the p-o-w camp there continue.

Not that it matters, but the procedure of releasing prisoners from Guantanamo, began with the administration of George W. Bush, and not with Mr. Obama.  It appears that’s how some of the guys who are now planning the ongoing attacks against the U.S., got to Yemen.   Because the Bush Administration let them go.  As for criticizing Mr. Obama for waiting too long to make a statement about the recent attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight, the fact is that Mr. Obama waited three days.  Mr. Bush, waited six days before issuing a statement about shoe bomber, Richard Reid.    If Mr. Cheney and his friends are serious, if they really believe we’re “at war,” then they had better start putting the country’s needs ahead of their petty party politics.

Beyond the political game playing, disgusting though it may be,  is another and perhaps larger issue.  According to the Air Traffic Controllers Association at any given moment there are some 5000 planes in the skies over the United States.

“On any given day, more than 87,000 flights are in the skies in the United States. Only one-third are commercial carriers, like American, United or Southwest. On an average day, air traffic controllers handle 28,537 commercial flights (major and regional airlines), 27,178 general aviation flights (private planes), 24,548 air taxi flights (planes for hire), 5,260 military flights and 2,148 air cargo flights (Federal Express, UPS, etc.). At any given moment, roughly 5,000 planes are in the skies above the United States. In one year, controllers handle an average of 64 million takeoffs and landings.” -NCTA

More than 28,000 commercial flights on an average day in the U.S.   Internationally, scheduled airlines carried 1.5 billion passengers last year. 

Of course the nation’s leaders need to do everything they can to prevent fanatics with bombs from getting on our airliners.   However, the question is: Will anything  short of strip-searching each and every passenger be completely effective against the terrorist threat?   Are we at a point where we’re kidding ourselves into thinking this problem can be “fixed?”  Or are we in a new world environment, where we had better get used to a  whole new reality?

The terrorists are here.  They’re probably not going away, at least not in the near future, and we are just going to have to live with the fact that no security system is absolutely foolproof.   Every time we react with what appears to be panic or confusion to an attempted attack, every time one political party goes after another  for its failure to achieve perfection in security, every time our national leadership appears to be divided, confused or fearful,  it only lends strength to the terrorist cause.

Our enemy in this fight is serious.  It’s time for everybody to stop bickering, backbiting and playing for political advantage and get back on the same team.

Fletcher Leaving NBC

 Martin Fletcher

NBC News correspondent and Tel Aviv Bureau Chief, Martin Fletcher, is leaving the network.   According to “TVNEWSER” Fletcher says it was his idea and not the networks.   Be interesting to know the man’s age but there’s nothing about it in the article.   They do say that Fletcher has been with NBC for 32 years.