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American Journalism Review
Bylines  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   May 1996


By Suzan Revah
Suzan Revah is a former AJR associate editor.     

Laying Off a Columnist

The Oakland Tribune finds itself the target of community protest and the center of debate over maintaining newsroom diversity after laying off one of its city's favorite sons, columnist William Wong . Wong, a 17-year veteran of the paper and its only Asian American columnist, says he was abruptly fired and escorted out of the building, adding that he has a hard time believing the elimination of his position had anything to do with the paper's downsizing efforts since he was the only person laid off. But Tribune Editor Tim Graham says the decision was based solely on economics. "This wasn't a case of the position being eliminated because of his political viewpoints or his race or ethnicity," Graham says. "It was just a hard, cold, regrettable, painful business decision." Graham points out that the Tribune already has closed its Washington bureau to save money and that six editorial positions have been eliminated since last July. "Anytime you lose a voice like Bill's it's a blow," Graham says, "but he's not the only voice of diversity in our newsroom."

Newspaper Blues

The Boston Globe lays off 28 employees in its mailroom and implements reductions in part time hours, overtime, travel and entertainment. In addition, the company's top 14 executives will lose a week's pay, and employees who leave won't be replaced... The Miami Herald institutes a six-month wage freeze to offset slumping advertising sales and higher newsprint costs. Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO launches a boycott of the paper, expanding its national campaign to win a favorable labor contract in Detroit by attempting to drain the finances of Knight-Ridder's flagship.

Around Broadcasting

Fox debuts on the national news scene by introducing a Washington-based public affairs show on Sunday mornings called "Fox News Sunday." Tony Snow , a Fox News political analyst and syndicated columnist for the Detroit News and USA Today , will host the program, which will feature weekly electronic town meetings and viewer polls. Marty Ryan , a former executive producer for NBC 's "Today," will be the program's executive producer. In other Fox news, the network names John Moody , most recently Time magazine's New York bureau chief, editorial vice president.... ABC names Mark Lukasiewicz , senior producer of "PrimeTime Live" since 1993 and a seven-year veteran of the program, executive producer of programming for the network's 24-hour news channel, scheduled to launch later this year.

Parachute Time

Mark Bolton , a cartoonist at Jackson, Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger for the past nine years, resigns. Bolton says he had been butting heads with the paper's publisher, Duane McCallister , because of "differences over editorial content and censorship issues, issues that were sacred cows to the hierarchy of the newspaper," for some time. But after being told his cartoons should have a more positive effect on the community, he says he knew "it was time to grab my parachute and jump." Nate Ruffin , director of human resources at the Clarion-Ledger, says that the parting was without animosity and that Bolton simply felt stifled. "He just wanted to control his own destiny," Ruffin says.

If You Can't Beat 'Em...

Former Maryland governor and veteran media critic William Donald Schaefer launches the Baltimore News , a new neighborhood tabloid. Schaefer says the paper will be distributed for free, door-to-door, in about 20 city neighborhoods, and will feature stories on local development and zoning as well as "upbeat stories" he feels are lacking in the mainstream media. Schaefer, a former Baltimore mayor, often began press conferences by critiquing the media's coverage of him, and on occasion sent reporters clips of what he perceived as "bad stories" with his comments scrawled in the margins.

Fuddy-Duddy, Eh?

Associated Press television writer Frazier Moore gets a little more attention than he bargained for after writing a column telling "60 Minutes" correspondent Andy Rooney that the CBS newsmagazine would be better off without him. Apparently Rooney didn't take too well to Moore's description of him as a "chronic fuddy-duddy," and asked viewers to call Moore at the AP and register their opinion of his 18-year-old segment, "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney." About 7,000 calls (most pro-Rooney) later, Moore says he has learned a lot about the impact a network TV message can have on its audience. "This has turned into a referendum on a lot of things, including whether people should be forced to retire after 70, whether it is fair to pick on an old man and a lot of other things that are quite set apart from what I set out to do," Moore says. Rooney, 77, who described Moore's column as "a strangely vicious piece of writing," says the call for voters was all in good fun, acknowledging that the contest was rigged in his favor. "With the prices they charge for advertising on '60 Minutes,' " he says, "if you don't get that kind of response, the advertisers are getting cheated."

Mississippi Muzzling

In yet another example of government officials saving unsuspecting citizens from the hidden evils of the First Amendment, Mississippi legislators lash out against the state's editorial writers, passing an amendment that would prohibit newspapers that do not accept anonymous letters to the editor from printing unsigned editorials. "All too often [journalists] have no qualifications, none whatsoever, outside of the fact that maybe they're willing to work cheap to be able to muckrake, use yellow dog journalism," the amendment's sponsor, Rep. Tommy Horne , an Independent, informed readers of Biloxi's Sun Herald . "The freedom of your constitutional right to speak your piece is limited when a newspaper requires you to sign a letter to the editor and they don't sign their editorials." The bill, which died in committee, was attached to a measure expanding a newspaper sales tax exemption.

Foreign Affairs

Michael Getler , the Washington Post's deputy managing editor and a 26-year Post veteran, takes over as executive editor of the International Herald Tribune , succeeding John Vinocur , who stays on as a special correspondent... After leaving behind the Center for Foreign Journalists, recently renamed the International Center for Journalists, George Krimsky moves back to his family home in Connecticut to "become an independent player" in his continuing work in international journalism. Krimsky, 53, who cofounded the center, says he looks forward to helping the press in struggling nations "become more worthy of its newfound freedom."

Score One for Online Scribes

The panel that provides credentials to cover Congress, the Standing Committee of Correspondents, makes its first Internet-related decision. Recognizing "the emergence of electronic publications as a legitimate extension of the print tradition," the committee votes to grant credentials to reporters for Washington-based electronic publications. To be eligible, a publication must show that it provides daily news with significant original reporting, and that it either charges for subscriptions or access, or carries paid advertising.

Shake-up in St. Louis

After calling in Synectics, a Massachusetts consulting firm, to help formulate a long term business strategy designed to boost sagging circulation, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch begins a search for a new editor in chief to supercede Editor William Woo . Just a few weeks before, Managing Editor Foster Davis , appointed by Woo after a 1992 search that encouraged staff participation (see Free Press, October 1992), announced his resignation. Tensions between Davis and Woo led many to believe Davis was forced out, a belief supported by the fact that his replacement, Richard Weil , a 23-year veteran of the paper, was chosen that same day. Weil's position, however, may be less than secure with the arrival of the new editor in chief. Post-Dispatch Publisher Nick Penniman says the decision to shift to more business-oriented management involved much soul-searching, adding that he hopes both Woo and Weil remain on staff once the new editor in chief is named. "If we bring in the right person," he says, "maybe everybody wins."

Sullivan Steps Down

High-profile New Republic Editor Andrew Sullivan stuns the wonk world of Washington by announcing that, after 250 issues at the helm, he'll step down to concentrate on writing books, revealing at the same time that he is HIV-positive. Appointed editor in 1991, Sullivan, 32, will continue to contribute to the magazine as a senior editor but says he wants to devote more time to speaking out on the virtues of gay marriage.



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