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American Journalism Review
Bylines  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   April 1997


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

To Link or Not to Link

Any would-be publishers thinking about capitalizing on the World Wide Web's ability to instantly add high-profile news sources to their own sites by way of hypertext may want to think again. Roman Godzich , president of TotalNEWS , a "metasite" linking to the sites of some 1,200 news organizations worldwide, has found himself at the front lines of the battle to let online news consumers do comparative shopping. Six news Goliaths – the Washington Post , CNN , Reuters , Dow Jones , Time and Times Mirror – are suing Godzich's five-person company for repackaging their content for profit. Utilizing "framing" technology that allows a user to call up more than one site at a time, TotalNEWS is one of possibly hundreds of sites providing a direct link to other news outlets, but is the first facing what could be fatal legal troubles. "If it were just a question of TotalNews folding, we would have backed off, because we're not even profitable yet. But this is about controlling the distribution of information and whether new media is allowed to flourish," Godzich says. "We're empowering users to compare information and spin and judge the value of different sites. The only reason users would choose TotalNEWS and suffer our advertising rather than going directly to a news site is because they feel we're a better, more practical tool." But it is precisely TotalNEWS' advertising, and the revenue it generates, that bothers the six organizations. "The problem is not linking, the problem is that TotalNEWS combines linking and framing technology with a deliberate and calculated attempt to make money," says Bruce Keller , the lawyer representing the six news outlets. "If TotalNEWS is left unchecked, the ability of news Web sites to defray their costs by selling advertising will be undercut. What TotalNEWS is doing and the way they are doing it triggers a violation of intellectual property rights."

Why Don't You Write Me?

Michael Lerner , editor of Tikkun , a Jewish-oriented bimonthly, has devised a unique solution to a problem frequently faced by magazine editors. Whenever the magazine's letters to the editor page is lackluster or lacks controversy, Lerner just adds a few letters of his own, pseudonymously signed, to the mix. Only after his creative writing habits were revealed in the March issue of Harper's did Lerner realize that his effort to make the letters page less predictable might raise questions about integrity and ethics – subjects that Lerner has often expounded upon in the pages of Tikkun. So from now on the magazine's letters page will feature a disclaimer warning readers that submissions may be "dramatically shortened, edited and sometimes changed in order to bring out more fully what you seem to be trying to say." Lerner, who could not be reached for comment, explained through an assistant that the fictitious letters really aren't, that they are reflections of actual conversations he has had with people who are reluctant to have their names published in Tikkun or who don't have time to articulate their thoughts in a letter.

Internet Action

PoliticsNow , the Web site published jointly by ABC News , National Journal and the Washington Post , ceases operation. In response to the mushrooming of political sites, the partners decide to shift their focus to their individual online initiatives. Evans Witt , executive editor of PoliticsNow and a former political reporter at the Associated Press , becomes executive director of Voter News Service, the media pool that counts votes and conducts exit polls in national elections... Laura Hutchison Grant , former assistant city editor for Virginia's Winchester Star , becomes communications and Internet manager for the American Press Institute... Also moving from print journalism to online journalism is Chris Harvey , Washington bureau director of the University of Maryland's Capital News Service for the past five years. Harvey, a former congressional and statehouse reporter for the Washington Times and an AJR contributor, will be a local news developer for Digital Ink , the Washington Post's online news service... Dean Daniels , director of interactive services for CBS News for the past year, becomes the Eye network's vice president and general manager for new media... Knight-Ridder launches an online news magazine, Inkling , that will "tell America's stories on the Web."

The Brill Is Gone

Court TV founder and CEO Steven Brill is a man who is used to getting his way. Nevertheless, he recently found himself on the losing end of a power struggle with a man equally used to getting his way – Time Warner Vice Chairman Ted Turner . Brill had hoped to buy out Time Warner's share in the legal media empire he built from scratch, American Lawyer Media, in which NBC and Liberty Media also have ownership interests. Instead, he ends up selling his share of Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, a chain of legal newspapers and Counsel Connect , an online service for lawyers, for an undisclosed amount. Apparently Brill, who admits that he is hardly a victim given the significant profits he's made since he launched American Lawyer Media in 1979, had been on the verge of a deal to buy back Court TV more than a year ago, but the deal fell through when Time Warner, Brill's American Lawyer Media partner, merged with Turner Broadcasting System. Brill was foiled once again as Turner backed out of a new deal, allegedly because he didn't want NBC , which owns CNN competitor CNBC , to gain a competitive edge. Turner says he now wants to sell off all of American Lawyer Media's properties except for Court TV, which he is said to be considering merging with CNN's flailing financial counterpart, CNNfn . Brill now plans to either create or purchase a print or online publication that will cover the media. "There are all kinds of parallels between media and the law. At Bar Association meetings, lawyers all talk about how the public doesn't trust them and how their standards are going to hell. It's the exact same thing as the media," Brill says. "Of course, most journalists don't make the money lawyers make, so they don't exact the same kind of hatred."

Broadcasting Sound Bites

Former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Eileen O'Connor joins the original 24-hour news network's Washington bureau as justice correspondent... Also at CNN, Pat Buchanan returns to his post-campaign, or perhaps some would say pre-campaign, role as a designated conservative on "Crossfire."... Also doing his part to help CNN shake off Rupert Murdoch 's criticism that it is too liberal is former Newt Gingrich press secretary Tony Blankley . Blankley's revolving-door gig as an on-air contributor will have him appearing regularly on CNN's weekend interview programs as well as contributing to "Inside Politics.".. Speaking of Murdoch's efforts to combat the liberal media, syndicated conservative columnist Cal Thomas joins Fox News Channel as an on-air political contributor... CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson will be moonlighting for PBS , anchoring "HealthWeek," a weekly newsmagazine coproduced by the Washington Post Co. that will cover health, medicine and related environmental issues... Legendary broadcast newsman Charles Kuralt comes out of retirement to help launch CBS' cable effort, the Eye On People channel. Kuralt will anchor the new channel's weekly series "I Remember," which will examine significant news stories of the last 30 years and the people whose lives they touched... In other broadcast news, U.S. News & World Report tries its hand at radio, launching a new service that will allow radio broadcasters to use stories adapted from the newsweekly.

Newspaper News

The Chattanooga Times moves to a new generation of family ownership as the four grandchildren of Adolph S. Ochs , who bought the paper in 1878 and bought the New York Times 18 years later, hand the paper's ownership down to their 13 children... Knight-Ridder Washington bureau national correspondent Vanessa Gallman moves South to become editorial page editor of Lexington, Kentucky's Herald-Leader ... Lou Ureneck , who left the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram after a 23-year stint culminating as editor, joins the Philadelphia Inquirer as assistant to the editor, a position that will have him engaged in an 18-month to two-year rotation of roles, presumably to prepare him for bigger things in the future... Vivian Waixel is the first woman to be appointed editor of Hackensack, New Jersey's Record in the paper's 101-year history. Waixel, a 25-year veteran of the Record, succeeds Glenn Ritt , who will fill the newly created position of vice president of news and information... Pat Widder , the Chicago Tribune 's associate managing editor for financial news, joins the Trib's Washington bureau as a senior writer and chief economic correspondent.

Magazine Moves

Congressional Quarterly names a new executive editor to replace Robert W. Merry , who becomes publisher of the Beltway mainstay. David Rapp , a 12-year CQ veteran who was formerly editor of CQ new media and most recently assistant executive editor for development, will now direct all of CQ's editorial operations, print and electronic... Will Blythe , literary editor of Esquire , resigns from the magazine he's been with for 10 years to protest Executive Editor Edward Kosner 's decision to pull a fictional story from the monthly's April issue. Kosner feared the story by David Leavitt, rumored to contain homoerotic scenes and vulgar anatomical references, would offend the magazine's readership... Folio magazine names Lisa Phillips , formerly a senior editor at The American Lawyer , editor in chief. Phillips succeeds Anne Russell , who resigned as the magazine's editorial director in order to become editor in chief of Living Fit magazine.



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