June 1, 2012

American Journalism and the “death of a thousand cuts”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:32 pm

Photographers flocked to see the Iowa pass through the Golden Gate.

[Note: This column will be a subjective report intended to proved a foundation for building an inductive logic case to support the contention that Journalism in the United States is reaching the point of no return for becoming an example of the death of a thousand cuts.]

Before posting our last column on Friday, May 22, 2012, we were informed by one of the panhandlers on Shattuck Ave. in downtown Berkeley, that an incident involving police and some homeless young folks had occurred the previous night.

After posting the column, we made a more concerted effort to ask around to get some facts and information about the news potential of the event. The street people related that the police had attempted to ticket a sleeping person about midnight and when the fellow did not wake up the Police used extreme physical methods to try to wake him up so that they could engage him in a conversation.

At that point the columnist was aware that the story had two possible ultimate conclusions; either it was a case of biased criticism of police procedures or it was a newsworthy example of police misconduct.

This writer has been posting columns asserting that Journalism in the USA is on the endangered species list, so this latest incident in Berkeley seemed like it would provide a convenient handle for another similar installment in the series of columns contending that the prognosis for Journalism in the USA is: “dead man walking.” Instinctively, we knew that there would be resistance to any attempts to submit a news tip and that such reluctance to listen would be the topic for our next column. Has submitting a news tip taken on the same karma as offering a piece of Kryptonite to Superman?

Writing about the Berkeley event itself would require a massive amount of fact gathering which could not possibly be finished in time for a column that would be posted on the First Friday in June, so we decided to render help to the panhandlers in the form of a news tip to other area news sources which might report about the event which, according to hearsay, sent a young man to the hospital. (Later we were told that the fellow was a veteran who had served in Iraq.) On Friday morning, a lawyer from the East Bay Community Law Center was interviewing the young homeless people about what had occurred the previous night.

If the event was as serious as some contend, then it might develop into a Berkeley version of the Rodney King beating. A veteran had been injured last November at an Occupy Oakland event, so perhaps police beating up indigent veterans would be a trend-spotting story. Such a trend would outrage Liberals and put conservatives in an embarrassing position because they would have to choose between approving the new anti-veteran philosophy or endorse the criticism of the police. Either way the Conservatives would look inconsistent in their beliefs.

We called the California Center for Investigative Reporting and the phone operator said they weren’t interested in news tips about local events. She suggested that I could write up a query letter offering to do all the work myself and submit that via snail mail. Apparently if our news value judgment is better than theirs, we can prove it by doing all the work and then letting them take an agent’s cut for selling it.

Since the Berkeley Daily Chronicle is defunct and since the Berkeley Daily Planet’s weekly print edition has been suspended, the UC Berkeley student newspaper, the Daily Californian, has endeavored to take up the slack in that city’s local news coverage.

This example of a decline in local commercial news coverage is not a fatal wound for American Journalism, but it is a noticeable cut and entered as evidentiary exhibit for the contention being made by this column. The fact that the Times Picayune of New Orleans has suspended daily publication is a more pertinent example of a long slow decline in local newspaper journalism.

We walked to the office of the Daily Californian and were told by a young man acting as receptionist that there was no member of the editorial staff available to listen to the news tip. A receptionist can make a news decision or block a tip from being submitted? There is another example of a non-fatal cut for our “case.”

Now since our experience has been that the editor at the Santa Monica Independent Journal Newspapers always advised that a good journalist is always open to receiving news tips and since Doug Brew later became Time Magazine’s White House correspondent; we have always assumed that his advice about Journalism was reliable.

The World’s Laziest Journalist has always welcomed news tips. Our past columns on the Pascua Lama gold mining and Germany’s Pirate Political Party were spawned by news tips.

This kid wouldn’t give his name so that we could attribute the Cal Daily news decision to him, so we used our best “don’t take ‘no’ for an answer” reporter’s assertive attitude and continued our efforts until we were speaking to the editor. The editor took down the contact information for the lawyer from the East Bay Community Law Center and promised to look into the potential trend spotting value of the news tip.

We had to use our best “refusal conversion” debating style to get the audience with the editor and assume that most other potential tipsters would be cavalierly brushed aside by the receptionist (who looked old enough to drive but too young to purchase alcohol). Now one fumbled news tip won’t be fatal to American Journalism, but if the trend in America is to disregard new tips . . . that would appear to be more like a major gash than a small nick with a razor blade type cut.

In the past, we have learned that the New York Times’ Public Editor does not want to concern himself with criticism of missed stories, and the New York Times Letters to the Editor editor does not publish letters about news that was not covered by the Great Gray Lady. They obviously have a different attitude than the one this columnist was taught by the Independent Journal’s managing editor.

If the event that occurred on the night of Thursday May 24-Friday May 25, was one of a series of examples of police brutality, then a sensationalist might put the story with a headline that offers this opinion: “Kristallnacht for Berkeley’s homeless.”

On the Memorial Day Weekend, Jalopnik, the web site for car enthusiasts, ran a story about Police in the USA seizing cash and then (like the line in the Jerry Reed song) keeping all that money for evidence. (Google hint to learn more:

Should someone call Fox News and give them a news tip about the arrest of Andy Coulson?

Why doesn’t the world’s laziest journalist do all the work necessary to write the “Are the Police in the USA out of control?” story?

The only possible motivation for such a labor intensive project would be self-satisfaction. If writing a column about potential police misconduct didn’t get a bit of police harassment in return, the best this writer could hope to get would be a noteworthy example of mass indifference to online content. Think along the lines of a soliloquy by Travis Bickel given to himself in his own home.

Do it gratis for humanitarian reasons? We can only quote a crusty old Santa Monica Outlook city editor who used to growl: “No good deed goes unpunished.” The payoff choice runs the gamut from nasty stealth political paybacks to massive public apathy and that bleak spectrum of rewards is supposed to provide the motivation? If this columnist is going to provide his own self-satisfaction, it will be by selecting assignments that are ipso facto fun to cover. It would be much easier to write a column that lived up to the headline: “Austerity measures will continue until prosperity returns.”

Getting from Berkeley to the Presidio in San Francisco takes a bit of time, but seeing United States Navy history occur, seemed worth the effort. Getting good photos was just part of the self-satisfaction aspect of the work. Doing the extra work to use photos to augment this weekend roundup column will be a “fielder’s choice” type decision.

If Freedom of the Press is actually in the process of dying the death of a thousand cuts, what’s the worst that could happen? The Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory’s R & D Department is working on just such a prediction. Here is a preview: What if the Republican front runner gives a triumphant victory cry the weekend before the Republican’s National Convention, the last week in August, and (what if) the press (like a trained seal) issues a unanimous assertion that the fellow (just like it happened to Howard Dean) has suffered a complete mental breakdown and is unfit to receive the nomination? We’ll keep you posted on future developments regarding this potential item in the Conspiracy Theory world.

If, on the other hand, Journalism in America is in robust health, what is the harm in letting the World’s Laziest Journalist post some idle speculation to the contrary?

If the Republican National Convention were happening in Great Britain, there would be a possibility that some of the delegates would be vulnerable to some extortion and blackmail via the News of the World style wiretapping, but since it is happening in the USA It can’t (as Upton Sinclair would confirm) happen here. (But if it could . . . what’s the worst that could happen?)

If Euripides was assigned to rewrite a new shooting script of Ben Hecht’s “Front Page,” would he turn in a story that portrayed America’s Free Press as being blindsided by fascism and use the word “hubris” to explain it all?

If police ever start to invade newsrooms to beat up reporters, who will the reporters call to give a news tip for that story?

William R. Hearst sent a cable to Frederic Remington, who had been sent to Cuba to provide illustrations of a war and was requesting permission to return to the USA because he couldn’t find a war to illustrate, advising the famous painter: “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

Now, since this column will be posted on June 1st, which is Superman Day, the disk jockey will play: “O Superman” (done by Laurie Anderson), “I kicked Spiderman’s ass,” and the theme music from the TV show “Batman.” We have to go check out a news tip. Have a “Kryptonite free” type week.

January 31, 2012

Press passes? Press passes? We don’t gotta show you no stinkin’ press passes.

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 9:33 pm

In the late Seventies, after a PSA jet crashed in the San Diego area, Time magazine sent a writer from their Los Angeles bureau, Doug Brew, down to San Diego to cover that news event. When he approached the wreck area, there was a police perimeter line and he was stopped and challenged. He showed the officer a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office Press Pass saying he was a reporter for the Santa Monica Independent Journal Newspapers in Santa Monica and the officer said “You’re OK, boy, you can go on through.”

The fellow had dual citizenship in the world of Journalism. He was the editor of the weekly Santa Monica Independent Journal Newspapers and simultaneously functioned as a reporter for Time Magazine’s Los Angeles bureau on a “stringer” basis. Without a Press Pass he would have been in a difficult dilemma but with it, he had no problems about getting the story for Time Magazine. Good thing he had the Press Pass.

Initially Doug Brew had been reluctant to do all the bureaucratic work necessary to get Press Passes for the news staff at the weekly Independent Journal Newspapers in Santa Monica, but one day, after being challenged by a Santa Monica Police Department officer, while riding his bicycle to the IJ office, he relented and agreed it might be good to have the Press Passes “just in case.” The other fellow on the news department staff had been very enthusiastic about getting the Press Passes and made the suggestion about getting them.

After the PSA incident, Brew was glad that he had been convinced to make the effort to secure the Press Passes and verbally expressed that sentiment to a co-worker. Little did he know that would provide the led for a column on the Internets about 35 years later.

“♫Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end . . . ♫”

The process included being fingerprinted and photographed and having the editor’s application submitted by the Publisher.

In 1973, there were three young men who worked for the IJ newspapers. One went on to become one of the people listed toward the top of the Playboy masthead; Brew went on to become Time Magazine’s White House correspondent during the Reagan administration. The third one went on to International Fame as the World’s Laziest Journalist.

According to Gavin Aronsen’s first hand account of the events (for the Mother Jones website[Click this link: that occurred in Oakland on Saturday night, a woman reporter with a Press Pass issued by the San Francisco Police Department was detained by Oakland Police Department. The OPD pointed out that she was in Oakland not Frisco before arresting her.

Initial reports state that there were six reporters who were taken to various jail facilities in the Alameda County area as part of the mass arrests in Oakland.

Subsequently the reporters were released.

Apparently the principle of “Interline Courtesy” among various Police agencies has changed since the Seventies.

Has Oakland Police Department unilaterally adopted the Las Vegas philosophy of “What Happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” or is there something else more ominous and disturbing going on all across the USA, that could form the basis for a trend-spotting story?

If William L. Shirer, who wrote “Berlin Diary,” were still alive this writer would try to contact him and see if he could provide any insights or make any comparisons to events he witnessed years ago to the events that happened Saturday night, but we can’t do that. He is dead and so we will let it go at that.

The reader is invited to formulate whatever “jump to conclusions” analysis he (or she) wants to accompany this report.

Won’t Uncle Rushbo, and other talk show hosts of that ilk, try to whip up a hysterical level of schadenfreude concerning the trials and tribulations of the reporters and then goad the rubes into voting for a Conservative?

To be continued . . .

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