Friday, December 29, 2006

Al-Hurra, part 2

I have tried multiple times linking to the Al-Hurra website. I get the same message each time -- server too busy. See my earlier posting from this evening about Al-Hurra, its ties to the United States, and its announcement (apparently first) about the death of Saddam Hussein.

The amount of attention suddenly foisted upon Al-Hurra is stunning and explains why its server is too busy when you try to access it.

There are a few other links on the Web that might help you gain a better understanding of Al-Hurra. The magazine World Press has an interesting article. There is a critical story appearing on Slate.com. There also is a Wikipedia posting, although I admit to being very concerned about the legitimacy of much of what you can read here.

Videotapes and still photos of Saddam's execution

As I continue to watch CNN and Anderson Cooper, I am struck by the care that the network is taking about offering images confirming Saddam Hussein's death. Cooper has reminded his viewers on more than one occasion that the network will take great care in deciding whether to air any of those images.

One CNN reporter in Baghdad has reminded viewers that inside Iraq the dissemination of pictures is critical -- it provides a certainty that Saddam is gone; words or claims by journalists or government figures is not sufficient. But that is definitely not the case in the United States. This raises, therefore, an interesting (and maybe troubling) question -- should the images be shown here?

The answer seems inevitable -- they will be. Considering that so much of the current war in Iraq is about the removal of Hussein and the establishment of democracy in the country, his death -- and images that can show it -- are necessary. Perhaps they provide a legitimacy to the military and political actions undertaken by the U.S. Perhaps they suggest that the tyrannical past can indeed no longer return.

Either way, this is a discussion I hope that other journalism educators can tap into. And it is one that I plan on having with my students during the upcoming spring semester. The analogy I like to use in situations such as this is "bungee jumping" -- I tell my students that just because I CAN bungee jump, doesn't mean I WILL or that I SHOULD. The dissemination of any photos or video that highlight Saddam's death, in my opinion, fall into this category. And I do not mean to take such an important question and appear to trivialize it. I hope no reader of this post sees it that way.

CNN's coverage of the execution of Saddam Hussein

CNN's coverage -- at least that which I saw -- was quite good. I'll have more on that later in this posting. But there was one moment that especially caught my attention, and it was one that demonstrates how the technology we take for granted today can cut both ways.

Shortly after 10:00 p.m. reports began to filter in that Saddam Hussein had indeed been executed. While Anderson Cooper was taking his viewers to Iraq, where two reporters were providing live updates, and discussing the situation with guests here in the United States, the crawl at the bottom of the screen remained active.

What was it showing at one point? College basketball scores. From the night before. Shortly thereafter the entire crawl came down and was replaced by CNN's typical breaking news crawl.

As mentioned, the coverage that I watched on Friday evening I thought was quite good. John Roberts -- who I contend might deserve an even larger role at CNN -- anchored the 8:00 pm hour, and then was part of a roundtable discussion during Larry King Live, in the 9:00 pm hour. He then was one of Cooper's guests in the 10:00 pm hour. Of course, the problem with covering any live story in which the critical event could happen at any point is that a news organization is forced to fill...stretch...talk, whatever term you wish to use.

What I thought was particularly interesting was:
1. the number of guests who were critical of either the trial that led to the guilty verdict against and death sentence imposition for Saddam, or
2. of the intense reporting of a man whose power was long gone and who was no longer a player (so to speak) in Iraqi governmental affairs.

I thought CNN should have provided more live pictures/feeds of television stations throughout Iraq and the Middle East. The file video of Saddam -- used and re-used -- became tiresome after awhile. In fairness to CNN, it might have chosen not to use this live coverage for fears that some kind of controversial or uncomfortable image of Saddam's execution might have been disseminated.

Something else to consider about the news about Saddam's execution -- the first reports of his death came from Al-Hurra television, an Arabic-language television station with close ties to the United States. This should be a troubling issue because it feeds the idea that the United States was either involved directly in the execution, or at least was adamant in ensuring that the news of the execution got out. It was not until 20 minutes later that state television delivered news of Saddam's death.

Friday, December 22, 2006

CBS News' Kimberly Dozier reflects on the last year

Read her personal account here, which appears at CBSNews.com

The death of a journalist...

...has once again occurred more than once this year. Read the report here, which was posted on Journalism.org.

Journalists coping with tragedies

We educators talk often about the need to be objective...to not get involved in a story, to draw sides, etc. But this story that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reminds us that we ought not forget about empathy. Journalists are after all people, too.

Watching the space shuttle land...

...on NASA TV.

NASA TV provides one of the more interesting views on the landing of the shuttle, something I confess I've always been fascinated with.

There are no talking heads, no former astronauts providing analysis or impressions, and no breathless anchors in some faraway studio attempting to make sense of the event.

Instead, one hears direct communication between Mission Control and the crew, as well as one person (not seen, not identified) providing periodic announcements and ideas of what controllers and the crew are doing.

In one sense, this is quite refreshing. On the other, it demonstrates the power of this multi-channel information television universe. Nothing like this was possible when the initial shuttle went up. And that was only 25 or so years ago.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Posturing in Pittsburgh

The city's football team is the defending Super Bowl champions, but it has almost no chance of making the postseason this time around. And its coach -- the longest-tenured in the NFL -- might (or might not) be back next year.

The city's hockey team -- a recent league doormat -- now boasts two of the top four or five young players in the league. It's future appears bright on the ice, but dark clouds are filling the team's front office.

In short, the posturing is in full swing in Pittsburgh. And although I've lived here for about 18 months, I get the sense this is a game that no one in this town enjoys playing. Now it's about to be played with and through the local media.

The aforementioned coach is Bill Cowher, who once again this week stated this week that he'll decide his future after the season. He opened the door to additional questioning after mentioning to a group of reporters in North Carolina that he was aware of how important a decision is when someone is deciding whether to return to coach the team he is so closely associated with.

But Cowher's future has now been blown off the front page of the sports section and the top stories of the news and sportscasts. That's because the Penguins are making noise about their future...and whether it will be in Pittsburgh.

I mentioned in multiple postings yesterday that a slots license was awarded yesterday to a group that has promised to assist in building a new multi-purpose facility in this city. However, it will not fully finance it, as another group had promised. Today the Penguins' owner, the legendary Mario Lemieux, announced that he was no longer interested in selling the team; however, he was now very interested in possibly moving the team.

No question what the top story on the news has been. No question what the local sports (and talk) radio has been discussing. No question what the front page of the local papers will discuss in the morning. And it's only beginning.

The posturing among the team, the NHL, local and state politicians, local business interests, and the public is just warming up. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Gambling, part 5: The Vote

The Gaming Control Board vote went this way:

PTIG/Majestic Star: Approved 7-0. This casino is planned for the city's North Shore, which for those of you not familiar with the city is the area near the Carnegie Science Center and Heinz Field, where the Pittsburgh Steelers play. One local reporter has just called the winning bidder "a long shot." This group was not the one that promised money to the Penguins and for a new arena. This also means the hockey team can exercise its opt-out from Mellon Arena, and it could announce it will leave the city at the end of this hockey season. However, local politicians have worked hard to promote the so-called Plan B, which does require the team to kick in money for any new arena. The team is expected to make an announcement before the end of the day.

Isle of Capri: Denied (no vote)
Station Square Gaming: Denied (no vote)

Gambling, part 4

At almost exactly 11:00 am local time, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board turned its attention to the slots licenses (which also will be awarded to groups in other parts of the state). All three local stations -- and I've been referring to the local ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates here in Pittsburgh -- are now covering the meeting live.

The meeting is taking place in the state capital, Harrisburg.

Why is the vote so important here in Pittsburgh?

Besides the obvious (money), there is the potential future of the NHL's Penguins. The team places in the antiquated Mellon Arena. The team has an agreement with one of the groups that requires that group to assist in building a new facility for the team. If that group gets the bid, the team's future in Pittsburgh is set. However, if another group gets the license, then what happens to the Penguins is a bit murkier. The reader is encouraged to use the archives of both local papers -- the Post-Gazette and the Tribune-Review -- to learn the abundant details about the license and the linkage to the hockey team.

Gambling, part 3

Now the first station has chosen to break away entirely (the presidential press conference is over). The second station referred to in my initial posting remains airing live pictures of the meeting, while discussing some background issues. I've flipped to this station.

Gambling, part 2

The same local station I mentioned in my previous post also was first to break away from the president's press conference. It also needed to break in rather quickly to confirm that because the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will not announce its decision until the end of the meeting...well, it was necessary to go right back to Mr. Bush.

Live television. Nothing like it!!

Gambling

Pittsburgh is going to learn this morning which casino operator will get a license to build and open a casino in this city. The local media coverage in recent months (and it has consistently picked up steam in the past weeks) has been quite good.

One local station is currently covering a presidential press conference, but is reminding its viewers (through a crawl at the bottom of the screen) that it will break into this coverage to provide the vote live, followed by analysis. Another station also is covering Mr. Bush's press conference, but its crawl is less wordy. Yet, it also will break into coverage. A third local station is airing its regular programming -- the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Three different approaches to a very important local story.

The (former, but never quite totally in my past) journalist and the (current, and enjoying every minute of it) educator approves of the first station I mentioned. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is the one I am watching right now.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

CBS and Couric -- in 3rd place

And nowhere to go...but up. This story and chart, available at Journalism.org, highlights the rapid decline in viewers to the CBS Evening News.

The question is -- should anyone be surprised? As I mentioned in a posting earlier this week the instability that plagued CBS (and to a lesser extent ABC) regarding who would replace the longtime network anchor, I believe, contributed to viewers turning to the NBC Nightly News, which had an orderly anchor transition from Tom Brokaw to Brian Williams.

Is it too early to determine that the hiring of Couric was a mistake? Of course. More importantly, and as I discussed in several postings earlier this year, Couric is facing a most difficult proposition -- increase ratings for a nightly newscast (a program she had previously never been involved in) at a network where she had no previous connection. She will be given every opportunity to succeed; the amount of money invested in her guarantees that. But for that to happen, she and CBS must convince people that CBS News is the best product available. At this time, that is not the case.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Speculation...speculation...speculation

Speculation. Something we in journalism education don't teach, but (sadly) something that journalists need to be able to engage in.

The sports media -- especially those from ESPN and all-sports radio -- are suffering from the usual ailment, and it's one because of 24-hour, all-sports formats ensure can never be cured.

Speculating.

I heard the most recent (and one that is sure to grow in intensity over the next few weeks) earlier tonight: Is Brett Favre, the great quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, going to retire at the end of the season.

The media here in Pittsburgh have been salivating over the answer to one question throughout this football season -- will Steelers' coach Bill Cowher retire at the end of the season. Cowher was dogged by the question as early as training camp, when he attempted to shut off the speculation game by saying he wouldn't have anything to say on the subject until the football season ended.

Well, that didn't happen. Earlier this week, a reporter from the Carolinas asked Cowher about his plans for next season and beyond. Cowher said that indeed it was an important decision, and one that he had to take seriously and make once the season came to a close.

That little opening was all the local media needed. The speculation is again off and running about whether Cowher will come back, or head off into retirement in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he and his wife own a home.

Of course, sports journalists aren't the only ones being asked to spew their thoughts, opinions, guesses, etc. all over the airwaves. News and political journalists also are expected to discuss the "what might be" scenarios with their colleagues.

The conversations, whether they be in the sports or news worlds, are so very predictable. There is little in the way of substantive reporting. There is little in the way of sound journalism. It's regularly "what I think" or "what might be".

Do yourself a favor. Tune out most of this verbage spewing.

The media...the Olympics...and Communist China

This Wall Street Journal report discusses how the Chinese authorities are preparing for the onslaught of Western-based (and other) journalists, who do not operate under the restraints usually seen in China.

9 1/2 hours a day???

That's the projection for the amount of time Americans will spend using media in 2007. Check out additional details in this report, which appeared in the Washington Post.

100 million blogs?

That's the estimate, and the figure is expected to be reached next year. You can read additional details here.

Of course, my question is this -- 100 million blogs? But how many of them go beyond the rants and musings of individuals scattered throughout the world?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The end of the term

The fall semester at Point Park University is coming to an end, as is true at colleges and universities throughout the country. And with it, three of our best broadcast journalism students are moving on. Their futures, at this point, appear bright.

One student is graduating, and she already has secured a reporter's job at a West Virginia television station. Another student, also a soon-to-be-alum, plans to return to New York and continue working for one of the morning news programs. A third student will finish her last semester interning at a major music and entertainment television network. In short, the future right now couldn't be brighter for these three young people.

They are confident, excited and slightly nervous. All emotions to be expected. And yet none of us knows what actually will happen to them. That's one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking parts of having to deal with the future.

I found myself thinking today about the end of my undergraduate days and what I thought the years to come would hold for me. If you had told me at the end of the 1980s that I would be an assistant professor less than 20 years later, I'd have never believed you. If you had told me that I would have had the opportunity to teach at a major university in Texas (Texas Tech), I'd have laughed. Finally, if you would have mentioned that I would be working in Pittsburgh (but not in radio or television), I'd have been left scratching my head.

The purpose of this posting -- you never know what might happen down the road. Careers that seem destined for broadcast journalism turn into something else. For me, the desire to spend more time with my family was among the most important as to why I left the broadcast newsroom for the academic classroom. Will the same sentiments play a role in the futures of the women I mentioned at the top of this message? You never know.

And that's what makes the future so exciting and tense. That's why three young women leave the university setting today full of anticipation, but not really knowing what might happen down the road.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

This Granite is not so strong

Granite Broadcasting files for bankruptcy. Read the details here.

If it seems as if you can't escape Christmas music this year...

...you might be right. Almost 400 radio stations across the country have adopted the format. See this Arizona Republic article for additional details.

A win for Brian Williams

NBC's Nightly News program wins the important November sweeps period. A few additional details are here.

I'm more and more convinced as I watch the ratings success that NBC has had in the past year or two can be traced to the way it handled the transition from Tom Brokaw to Williams. There was no secret who the replacement was going to be. Both Brokaw and Williams had to deal with none of the rampant industry rumors that come with selected national news anchors. It also ensured that Williams would have time to begin placing his imprint on the program before he ever went on the air.

Meanwhile, CBS appeared fractured by the somewhat abrupt departure of Dan Rather, and its non-stop pursuit of Katie Couric. Rather's career was fairly or unfairly cut short by the "Memogate" controversy that developed just before the 2004 elections. The network appeared to handle this problem poorly, ensuring that Rather's critics would have a field day. Then came the "replacement game", which appeared to have (at least in the minds of CBS executives) only one particpant: Couric. The consensus among media critics far better versed in that topic than I was that after a short-term blip in the ratings, the CBS Evening News would again drop into third place. It has.

ABC was in a more difficult position. The death of Peter Jennings came far too soon; I have made no secret from time to time on this blog that I considered him the best of the three anchors, and that he was the one I consistently watched. Setting that aside, Charlie Gibson should have been named his permanent replacement. But the bizarre pairing of Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff also quickly unravelled. Not good.

In short, kudos to NBC for an orderly transition. That decision continues to reap ratings rewards.