Sunday, February 3, 2019


Revelations that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apparently posed in blackface for a 1984 medical school yearbook photo has sparked calls for his resignation from three daily newspapers there, including the state's largest.

But most of the Virginia dailies, at least nine, have yet to urge his ouster following Friday's first reports that the photo depicting him in the racist image appeared in the Eastern Virginia Medical School annual.

Those that have called for him to step down include the largest circulation paper, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, as well as the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk and The Daily Press in Newport News.

"He is by all accounts a decent and considerate man," The Times-Dispatch editorial board wrote Friday. "And yet, his poor judgment has undermined his standing with Virginians in ways that we believe will permanently impair his ability to act as an effective governor. He should resign and return to his profession as a physician, with the thanks of those he has served as a state senator, lieutenant governor, and for the past year, governor."

The co-owned Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press in a joint editorial stated: "Unfortunately, the bonds of confidence have been broken and they cannot be repaired. This Editorial Board endorsed Northam as governor to be the steady hand on the tiller, a man in whom we could trust. But we cannot anymore. Ralph Northam must resign."

But others that stopped short or have yet to editorialize on the story include The Roanoke Times, The Bristol Herald Courier, the Daily Progress of Charlottesville, The Culpeper Star Exponent, The Danville Register & Bee, The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, The News & Advance of Lynchburg, The News Leader of Staunton, and the News Virginian of Waynesboro.

Some, like the Roanoke Times, came close, opining with the question: Can Northam still represent Virginia? Then punting when it came to their view: "Realistically, can Northam now represent Virginia in the way that people expect of their governor? Northam is a genial man who is well-liked on a personal level even by many Republicans. His low-key tone has been a welcome tonic to the poisonous politics we see on a national level. He has understood the way the economy is changing in deeper ways than many politicians. Sadly, none of that really matters now."

The News Leader called it "an unforgivable stain," but would not go all the way to urge a resignation.  

The Daily Progress has yet to weigh in on Northam and the blackface. But it might have won the bad timing award for an editorial it ran a day earlier, on Jan. 31, that advocated for a change to state law that would lift the current one-term limit on governors.

As for Northam, he hasn't helped himself much during this debacle. He first admitted that the blackface photo was his, then later claimed it was not and that he had not seen that yearbook page. But he did admit that he had worn blackface at another time, but said it was part of a costume depicting Michael Jackson.

It is this kind of divisive and offensive issue that allows those who oversee news operations to use their power and influence to call for change or improvements. If no more newspapers choose to do so, it will be interesting to see the impact.

One of the Virginia daily papers I do not expect to come around is the Star Exponent. During my research I came across an editorial that paper ran on Jan. 22 titled, "In Praise of Richard Nixon."


The Washington Post will make some history of its own today with its first Super Bowl ad, which reportedly features Tom Hanks, who played legendary Post editor Ben Bradlee in 2017's The Post film about the Pentagon Papers.

The Post revealed that: "The 60-second spot, narrated by actor Tom Hanks, will air in the fourth quarter of the game, shortly before the two-minute warning. The commercial, produced in partnership with Mark Woollen and Associates, shows scenes from major news events from World War II through the present day. Hanks’s narration describes the role of journalists as eyewitnesses and gatherers of fact, as well as the profession’s larger importance to society. The commercial ends with The Washington Post’s logo and its slogan, 'Democracy Dies in Darkness.'"

That slogan was added to the Post just weeks after President Donald Trump took office in early 2017.

The commercial, which has not been released ahead of time, also highlights the dangers reporters face around the world, including those who worked at the Post.

Jamal Khashoggi
"The advertisement will briefly show several slain and missing journalists affiliated with The Washington Post and other publications," the paper reported. "They include freelance reporter Austin Tice, who has been missing in Syria for more than six years. Tice is believed to be alive, though his whereabouts are unknown. Another freelance journalist, columnist Jamal Khashoggi, was killed at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.

"The CIA determined, with high confidence, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. A third journalist shown in the commercial, Marie Colvin, was an American war correspondent for the Sunday Times in London. She was killed in 2012 by Syrian forces while reporting in Homs, Syria. Colvin is the subject of the 2018 film 'A Private War,' and on Wednesday, a U.S. court ordered the Syrian government to pay $302 million in damages to Colvin’s family."

The ad comes just weeks after the Committee to Protect Journalists revealed that 54 journalists had been killed in the line of duty in 2018, the most in three years -- with three murdered so far this year. Since 1992, more than 1,300 have died on the job, according to CPJ. 

This is not the first time the Post took to video advertising to promote the need for a free and unfettered press. A year ago an ad pointing out the need for journalists to keep an eye on Trump was launched. See that below:

The New York Times in 2017 launched ads of its own that promoted basic journalism in the face of anti-press efforts, including one that took aim at the NFL concussion issue and ran just days before the big game. See below.

But it's not enough for major newspapers to remind news consumers of the challenges they face from anti-press attackers like Trump, and the dangers of doing the job. Other news outlets, especially broadcast and cable networks themselves, should use their airwaves for such public service announcements.

The News Media Alliance, formerly the Newspaper Association of America, recently produced a strong of video ads dubbed the "Support Real News" campaign. These ads push the point home about the need for a vibrant press. See one below:

But have you seen them on your local TV or cable station? Individual outlets need to step up and put the word out before the opposition to real journalism snuffs it out for good. 

Hopefully this starts a trend of news outlets pointing out to citizens and voters the need for a strong press, the need to support it financially, and the dangers that continue to grow for those who practice the profession.

Friday, February 1, 2019

PROPUBLICA GOING STRONG 10 YEARS IN, AND THE MONEY KEEPS COMING has ended its 10th year with an annual report out this week and a clear record of great non-profit journalism, as well as what appears to be a steady stream of financial contributions.

The non-profit outlet that launched in 2008 with $10 million in donations and a staff of 20 now boasts 120 people and revenue that exceeded $30 million last year, according to the report. It also claims more than $25 million in reserves.

See the financials below and the entire report HERE.

I remember when the non-profit news organization, which has already garnered a handful of Pulitzer Prizes, launched back in 2008. A decade-plus later, the unusual idea of an investigative news outlet that provides its news at no charge, with no advertising, and pure donations to exist seems to have been proven a success.

The annual report, titled "Ten Year's On,"states: "Our journalism spurred a host of real-world changes, including the reversal of President Donald Trump's migrant family separation plan; the first federal legislation in decades addressing maternal deaths; the end of a Facebook practice that facilitated discrimination; and the resignation of leaders from a troubled children's charity operating in Liberia."

Dozens of other non-profit news outlets have also come into the fold in recent years with great investigations from California to New Orleans. Let's hope this will spark even more profitless efforts at a time when the news industry needs strong, in-depth reporting that focuses on the news and not the need for higher profits.

Thursday, January 31, 2019


Photo: NY Times
Bravo to The New York Times, which ran a special 24-page section today on the 100th birthday of Jackie Robinson. Along with short stories on the hall of famer, it included 100 historic photos.

The section included no advertising, just reflections on the man properly praised for breaking the baseball color barrier back in 1947.  Robinson, who died in 1972, was described in the section as a "ballplayer, a change agent, a human being and humanitarian — of America, in progress."

"When we began our 2019 editorial planning, Jackie Robinson's 100th birthday stood out as a really important moment," Veronica Chambers, the paper's editor of archival storytelling said in a statement. "He's the very definition of an iconic American who continues to be relevant and inspiring, decades after his death. 

Photo: NY Times
"As we digitize the six million photos in our archives, the Past Tense editorial team has been creating stories and editorial packages with the photos we're discovering," she added. "Since Jackie Robinson stepped into history in Brooklyn, here in New York, we knew that we'd have a strong collection of images from which to begin the ambitious project of assembling 100 photos for his 100th birthday."
The photos go beyond his years with the Brooklyn Dodgers, to his time as a UCLA football player, a World War II U.S. Army soldier (who faced a court martial for refusing to move to the back of an Army bus some 11 years before Rosa Parks), and an early civil rights advocate.

Photo: NY Times
"As these photos make clear, Robinson’s decade in major-league baseball was just one act in a remarkably rich and complex life — one of vision, fortitude, dignity and endurance," editors wrote. "Shaped by the currents and contours of American history even as it recast them."

See it all HERE.

Monday, January 21, 2019


Two controversial news stories that received widespread attention in the past few days, and have since come under scrutiny, point to some of the most important issues facing the news media today: accuracy and checking all facts.

First,'s report last Thursday that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen had been ordered by Trump to lie to Congress.

Buzzfeed posted the story Thursday evening, which stated: 

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

The story drew wide-range reaction among many news outlets as the supposed bombshell gave them plenty to chew on for days, with some saying impeachment proceedings should begin.

On Friday, a spokesman for Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller issued a strong rebuke of the story, stating:

BuzzFeed's description of specific statements to the Special Counsel's Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen's Congressional testimony are not accurate

Buzzfeed has since stood by its reporting, with Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith telling CNN on Sunday that the news outlet sought reaction from Mueller's office before any story was posted and essentially received a "no comment." He had the emails to prove it.

But many have piled on Buzzfeed, which has come under scrutiny in the past, but also shown true investigative journalism. Trump supporters claim this is a sign that the president's baseless past claims of fake news are true. That is not the case, of course, and even humorous given that Trump lies far more often than any news site.

It will take some time to see how the story plays out before we know if it's right or wrong. But to attack the entire industry for what may or may not be an honest and rare mistake is unfair. 

The story is an indication of how anonymous sources, who were the origin of this story, can be both useful -- if it is accurate -- and problematic if it turns out not to be.

I address many of these issue in my new book, Killing Journalism: How Greed, Laziness (And Donald Trump) Are Destroying News And How We Can Save It (Willow Street Press). 

Another story of note is the viral video of some Kentucky high school students at the Lincoln Memorial on Friday that appears to show them taunting some Native American activists who were chanting and playing music. 

See the partial clip that made the rounds below: 

Initial reports claimed the students of Covington Catholic High School had been verbally abusing the Native Americans and shouting racist taunts at them. Many were also wearing pro-Trump "Make America Great Again" caps.

But later reporting found a much longer video that indicated the incident began when a group of what USA Today described as "Black Hebrew Israelites" confronted the Native Americans and accused them of losing their native lands because they "worshiped the wrong god."

The video shows that the high school students, who were in town for the annual Pro-Life March, entered the fray only after it had begun and, according to some, were also confronted by the Black Hebrew Israelites who made anti-Catholic comments.

See the lengthy video below:

This story is another example of what can happen when home-made video is posted online with no real explanation and a lack of context. Accusations fly, reactions are heated and misinformation gets out.

In both cases, first reactions appear to have been based on reporting that was at least partially wrong or incomplete. In the viral news world, they spark widespread misunderstanding and too often leave the well-meaning journalists with a lot of explaining to do.

Both are also reminders that first reports need to be carefully handled with efforts to fully explain a situation and give time and resources to completely report it. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


There's been lots of discussion and contention about President Trump's prime time address set for tonight, in which he plans to make his case for a border wall and the $5.7 billion he is requesting to build it. 

Should the major networks carry the address? As usual, it should be up to them to decide what their viewers want and need, and to the news departments to judge the validity of such an event.

Critics are saying this gives the president a place to lie, as he often does in public speeches. But his speech on a very newsy and controversial topic is, well, news. So much bickering and partisan views these days often creep into not only news coverage, but editorial decisions. This requires more and more that valid observations remain the most important guide.

The networks could choose not to broadcast the event and allow the cable news stations and other outlets -- including radio and online sites -- to provide coverage. No matter what the networks do, Trump's speech will be available in almost every case.

But to say the event is not news simply because the president is such a dishonest person misses the point. He is the president and what he does is news. One could argue that this address is more newsworthy than many of his tweets, which are always reported.

In both cases, they are news because of who is involved. The president simply by virtue of his position and power makes news with most of what he does. And his comments and arguments about such a controversial and divisive issue make it even more so. 

Some who oppose the networks broadcasting the speech point to a 2014 address by President Barack Obama on a similar issue, immigration, which was not carried by the main networks. A Washington Post story at the time pointed out that it was somewhat different in that it occurred during the coveted "sweeps" weeks and many thought ratings for Obama would be below those for The Big Bang Theory or Grey's Anatomy. 

"Presidential sweeps don't always ensure the exciting cliffhangers and plot twists that networks are looking for," The Post stated. But it also pointed out that many affiliates did carry the speech on their own, which drew some complaints that the regular programming was interrupted, adding "Some people were elated, while others reacted exactly as networks feared."

But one could argue that a Trump address on the border wall today will draw much higher ratings than an Obama speech on immigration four years ago. In the end, that is what many networks most want. Sure, there is a cynicism and downright greed involved in putting Trump out there because he is a ratings grab.

TV networks have no shame in putting out garbage that they know will bring viewers. Just last night the season premiere of The Bachelor filled three hours with embarrassing and vomit-making pseudo-drama that drew the expected large audience.

Still, there is an editorial reason behind the speech being shown. As stated earlier, he is the president and what he does is news, especially on such an important issue.

But it's also up to the networks and all of those who cover the speech to point out any and all inaccuracies and outright lies. Have the fact-checking systems in place that have served well since Trump's first presidential campaign announcement and put them to work. 

The public needs to see what their president says and does, but also receive clear, accurate information about what may not be true in his claims and why it affects them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Bravo! to Time magazine choosing a group of journalists as their "Person of the Year." A great reminder of what many news people go through to bring the truth out in the age of abuse, assassinations and Donald Trump. 

The deserved honorees and horribly treated news people include murdered newsman Jamal Khashoggi, who is the first deceased person to win the honor, according to editors. Also the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, where five journalists were murdered; defiant international reporter Maria Ressa; and two jailed Reuters reporters in Myanmar, Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone, each sentenced to seven years "for defying the ethnic divisions that rend that country (and) ... documenting the deaths of 10 minority Rohingya Muslims."

Read the great story HERE and see Time's insightful video on the choices below: