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 AJR  The Beat

From AJR,   January/February 1998  issue


By Debra Puchalla
Debra Puchalla is AJR's associate editor and deputy editor of Martha Stewart Living.      

Untangled Webb

Gary "Dark Alliance" Webb , who in August 1996 wrote the quickly feted, then much maligned San Jose Mercury News series suggesting links between Los Angeles' crack cocaine epidemic and the CIA, resigns from his slot-in-exile at the paper's sub-suburban Cupertino office. Webb's 15-month investigation juiced conspiracy theorists, talking heads and even U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters before and even after the Washington Post , the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times weighed in with charges of inaccuracy, overreaching and failure to explore conflicting evidence. Early on, Mercury News Editor Jerry Ceppos defended the series. But in a mea culpa last May, Ceppos conceded that the series fell short of the Merc's standards. "Good journalism requires us..to deal in the 'grays,' the ambiguities of life. I believe that we should have done better in presenting those gray areas." Webb, who had worked for the Merc since 1988, stood behind his reporting and filed a grievance with the Newspaper Guild when the paper transferred him from the Sacramento bureau to Cupertino last July, claiming the Merc was trying to force him to quit. Webb and the paper agreed not to disclose the terms of his departure.

Too Responsive

Newsday Editor Anthony Marro didn't expect to eat crow when he stopped by a Brazilian restaurant on December 2 to boost the confidence of some of his workers. The reason for their low spirits? Newsday columnist Lawrence Levy , who has two children in special education classes, had written three articles for the Viewpoint section, the first of which called parts of the paper's eight-month, multipart series about special education on Long Island "simplistic" and "statistically unsound." "I told them it was a groundbreaking series, and that they ought to be proud," says Marro. When a waiter passed by carrying a roasted pig, Marro suggested in jest that the staffers offer it to the dissenting Levy. But they took him seriously. Much to Marro's chagrin, Levy found the carcass in a box on his desk the next morning with a note that said "From Tony Marro and all your friends at Newsday." Afterwards Marro circulated a memo calling the prank "unacceptable." Marro and the staffers involved apologized and Levy accepted. "I hope that everybody has learned something from this, including me," says Levy. If he were to rewrite his columns, Levy says he'd soften the first, particularly harsh one. "Next time am I going to fight? I doubt it," says Levy, who adds, "I would if I really thought it was wrong. And I would encourage others to do so if the paper does a series on who knows what... They ought to be able to stand up. There's got to be an avenue for internal dissent."

Baby Steps into Cyberspace

Even the traditionalists on the Pulitzer Prize board are going cyber. Kind of. Though original online content remains too progressive for the board, newspapers' online work will be considered when the board picks the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Of the 14 Pulitzers, the Public Service award is the one that takes into account all of a publication's resources when considering its journalism. "The board has taken what it regards as a significant step in recognition of the growing importance of the work being done by newspapers in online journalism," says Seymour Topping Pulitzer Prize administrator.

Acquired Taste

To decrease its debt and to help pay for the 67,000-circulation Post-Tribune in Gary, Indiana, which it bought from Knight-Ridder, Chicago-based Hollinger International unloads more than 160 papers. Hollinger, owner of the Chicago Sun-Times and London's Daily Telegraph , sold the papers about 40 percent of its U.S. community newspapers group for $310 million to Leonard Green & Partners. The Los Angeles investment firm plans to use the papers, mostly weeklies with a total circulation of 900,000, as a base for a community newspaper company.

Big Shoes

The Washington Post snags Susan B. Glasser , 29, from her editorship at Capitol Hill's Roll Call newspaper, to fill the muckraking shoes left empty when Brian Duffy departed this fall for the Wall Street Journal (see Bylines, December 1997). As deputy national editor for projects and investigations, Glasser, whose first gig at Roll Call was as an intern the summer after her freshman year at Harvard, says she'll continue the drumbeat on money and politics. "It's going to be an election year," says Glasser. "I'm hoping to be doing a lot of very newsy things." And though the Post's audience dwarfs Roll Call's 17,500 circulation, Glasser calls the twice-weekly paper a good training ground. "It's given me an excellent base on which to expand," she says. As for any snipers, Glasser's not worried. "If the complaint about me is my age and gender," she says, "there's not a damn thing I can do about either of those things."

Chain Reaction

Knight-Ridder crowns John Walcott , 48, formerly foreign and national editor at U.S. News & World Report , as foreign editor in its newly Washington-based central command for seven of its foreign bureaus, including Beijing, Tokyo and Warsaw. Joyce Davis , 44, former deputy senior foreign editor for National Public Radio , becomes deputy foreign editor. "Over the past six months, the decision was made that the bureaus needed to be centralized, that it would benefit especially the

small papers," says Davis. Some

of the heftier papers, though, are keeping reins on some bureaus: The Philadelphia Inquirer still has its outposts in London, Rome, Cairo and Johannesburg; the Miami Herald retains its bureaus in Latin America; and the San Jose Mercury News maintains its Hanoi presence... Up the road at Cox Newspapers, Andrew Alexander becomes Washington bureau chief. Alexander, 49, takes the helm from the 62-year-old Andrew Glass , who, after 20 years as Washington bureau chief, will continue to write a column for Cox. "In a general sense, we're going to do what we've done and do more of it, and hopefully do it better," says Alexander, who has been Glass' deputy since 1994. "The bureau will be consumed by good reporting and good writing."

Back in the Saddle

On March 1, anchor Ron Magers , who after 16 years quit Chicago's NBC affiliate WMAQ last spring along with coanchor Carol Marin when the station hired slime- master talk show host Jerry Springer , will join ABC affiliate WLS -Channel 7 as co- anchor of the 5 p.m. newscast. "I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with a group of people who, from top to bottom, represent the best broadcast news operation in Chicago," says Magers. "I eagerly look forward to being a member of the team, rather than a competitor."

Home News

AJR founder Roger Kranz , who has also worked for the Washington Star , National Public Radio and National Journal , becomes publisher of The Business Press , a weekly report on business in the Inland Empire region of Southern California... And the Newspaper Network, a division of McClatchy Newspapers, scores a huge coup by luring six-year AJR veteran Amy Krohn , the magazine's advertising coordinator, production assistant and all-around wunderkind, to Atlanta. Krohn will be an advertising sales assistant. Our loss is, to be sure, McClatchy's gain.