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


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

A Clean Sweep

Little over a year after former public information officer for the Museum of the American Indian Dan Agent left his Smithsonian Institution post to become editor and director of public affairs of the Cherokee Advocate , the 95,000-circulation tribal newspaper serving the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, he and essentially his entire staff are dismissed by Cherokee tribal chief Joe Byrd . According to news accounts, Byrd, a controversial figure, was on something of a firing spree, having recently ousted the three justices on the Cherokee Judicial Appeals Tribunal (the Cherokee Nation's supreme court), as well as all 14 members of the Cherokee marshal service, in response to an investigation of his spending practices. The Advocate had been following the investigation and reporting on the complex drama surrounding it, according to Agent, but it seems Byrd wasn't interested in having the editor he hired provide objective accounts of the tribal infighting and fiduciary debates that have mushroomed into the equivalent of a constitutional crisis within the Cherokee Nation. Agent and his five now-unemployed colleagues are considering taking legal action. Byrd did not return repeated phone calls by AJR .

Around the Dials

Broadcast veteran Richard Kaplan , most recently executive producer of special projects for ABC , decides to test his mettle at an all news network, becoming president of CNN/USA . Formerly an executive producer of "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings ," "PrimeTime Live" and "Nightline," Kaplan will be charged with maintaining CNN's dominance in the burgeoning 24-hour news market... Trying out the synergy thing is the New York Times , which announces the launch of a new partnership with MSNBC that will have "The News with Brian Williams " hosting a nightly segment highlighting a story from the following day's Times. The collaborative effort, dubbed "Tomorrow's New York Times Tonight," will feature Times reporters previewing articles with MSNBC anchor and managing editor Williams.

Starting Over

Twelve years ago it was just the kind of story Tacoma, Washington, News Tribune reporter Jody Roberts would have chased herself. But now, at the conclusion of a bizarre tale of a missing person, an unusually intense case of amnesia and a new identity only recently discovered, Jody Roberts is the story. Roberts, 39, disappeared from Tacoma in May 1985 and was missing until someone who recognized her photograph from news stories recently located her in Sitka, Alaska. There she is known by the name Jane Dee and operates her own Web page design company – and has a husband as well as two sets of twin girls. Roberts, aka Dee, has no recollection of her pre-
amnesia life as a hard-nosed reporter, and has declined to speak to any members of the media, including her former colleagues at the News Tribune. Tom Osborne , a senior editor at the News Trib and among the 20 or so staffers there who remember working with Roberts, says the story posed some professional challenges as the paper rallied to cover the saga. "We tried to be aggressive about reporting it, we tried to be thoughtful about choosing what to publish, we used journalistic principles as our guide, and I think that we did the best job we could of providing a full and fair account," Osborne says, adding, "It was unusual, though." One of the more intriguing aspects of the story involved the paper's effort to get to the bottom of rumors that Roberts, who Osborne says was a drinker and was somewhat unkempt, faked the amnesia to escape problems in her life. "Things end up becoming lore, and lore becomes fact. Little factoids got embroidered into a big truth," Osborne says of accounts in the national media, including an Associated Press story, that erroneously reported Roberts had taken her cats to the pound in the days leading up to her disappearance. "There's no way of really understanding what happened to Jody," Osborne says. "You can only speculate, and our paper was not interested in speculating."

Let's Make A Deal

Knight-Ridder solidifies its California presence by swapping its Boulder, Colorado, Daily Camera for two E.W. Scripps Co. papers, the Monterey County Herald and the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune . Knight-Ridder already owns the San Jose Mercury News, as well as the Contra Costa Times and three other Northern California dailies. The company also is looking to unload five of its papers – Long Beach, California's Press-Telegram ; Gary, Indiana's Post-Tribune ; Florida's Boca Raton News ; Milledgeville, Georgia's Union-Recorder and South Carolina's Newberry Observer – as a result of debt it incurred when it bought the Kansas City Star , Fort Worth Star-Telegram and two other papers from the Walt Disney Co., which acquired them from Capital Cities/ABC. Speaking of Disney, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises takes eight Oregon newspapers off Disney's hands, including the Albany Democrat-Herald and Ashland's Daily Tidings , which were part of the Pacific Northwest Publishing Group.

Loss of Independents

In his July/August AJR column, John Morton wrote that the newspaper industry was nearing the final stage of ownership concentration. The trend continues unabated, as three more independent papers are taken over by large corporations. After 118 years of local family ownership, the 160,000-circulation Asbury Park Press is acquired by Gannett, along with its sister paper, the East Brunswick, New Jersey, Home News & Tribune . "What was different about the Press was that readers could call and get [Press Editor and Publisher E. Donald Lass and Chairman Jules Plangere Jr. ] on the phone," former senior managing editor Raymond J. Tuers , a 37-year Press veteran who retired last year, was quoted as saying in the Press. "That kind of access is extraordinary for any newspaper." ... Also going corporate is California's Riverside Press-Enterprise , which becomes part of growing media empire of A.H. Belo, owner of the Dallas Morning News , Rhode Island's Providence Journal-Bulletin and six other dailies, as well as 19 television stations (see Bylines, November 1996). The move ends 119 years of private ownership for the 162,000-circulation Press-Enterprise, 67 of them by the family of Chairman Howard H. "Tim" Hays , who says, "We couldn't put our paper in better hands.".. And in New England, Lowell, Massachusetts' Sun , owned for the past 119 years by the Costello family, is acquired by Garden State Newspapers, an affiliate of William Dean Singleton 's MediaNews Group.

A Gumbel Gumbo

Former "Today" cohost Bryant Gumbel has attracted a crowd of correspondents from all over CBS ' broadcast spectrum for his newest incarnation as host of his own newsmagazine. Gumbel's prime time news anchoring effort, "Public Eye With Bryant Gumbel," is slated to debut in October and will feature 22-year CBS veteran Bernard Goldberg , CBS foreign correspondent Peter Van Sant and one of the network's newest correspondents, former MTV News reporter Alison Stewart (see Bylines, January/February). Also joining Team Gumbel are three local CBS News personalities: Maggie Cooper , a former investigative producer for "American Journal" who arrives from New York City's WCBS , as well as Derek McGinty , a "Coast to Coast" correspondent and Washington, D.C., syndicated radio talk show host. Also coming aboard is Carol Marin , who walked away from her nightly coanchor post at Chicago's WMAQ after 19 years following the station's brief hire of sleazemeister Jerry Springer (see Bylines, June). Marin is now a reporter for CBS' radio and TV affiliates in Chicago.



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