AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   October 1993


By Chip Rowe
Chip Rowe, a former AJR associate editor, is an editor at Playboy.     

Problems and Solutions

Disney launches "The Crusaders," a one-hour syndicated newsmagazine program. The gimmick: The reporters also act as advocates, working to solve the problems they report. The staff of 80 includes 16 reporters hired from stations in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco and elsewhere. "The show is based largely in great American frustration that things just don't seem to work," says Executive Producer John Butte , formerly news director at WFLA in Tampa. The September debut included a story about the dangers of blind pull cords to small children (the reporter arranged for manufacturers to meet with bureaucrats to launch a public education campaign) and another about a teen in Los Angeles who wanted to go to college (the reporter helped the boy leave his gang).

A New Face in Idaho Falls

Mei-Mei Chan , most recently acting deputy features editor at the Chicago Sun-Times , becomes executive editor of the 30,000-circulation Idaho Falls Post Register . She succeeds Roger Plothow , now publisher of the Daily Spectrum in St. George, Utah. Chan, 34, was born in China and smuggled out of that country at age 2 with her mother in the false bottom of a boat. They joined her father, who had escaped earlier, in Hong Kong and moved to Chicago when she was 7. Before joining the Sun-Times, Chan was a reporter for USA Today .

Paying the Price

Gary Whitaker , news director at KMOV in St. Louis, resigns after a controversy over the station's cooperation with a male prostitute who claimed that a local Catholic priest was among his clients. Angry church officials began contacting KMOV advertisers after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in June that KMOV had flown the 29-year-old prostitute from Kansas City to meet with the priest in a hotel room equipped with hidden cameras and microphones. Whitaker says the station insisted no sex take place but hoped the priest would reveal other church officials who might be involved in sexual improprieties. (No story ever aired.) Whitaker says the priest had contacted the prostitute and that KMOV paid the man's air fare only "because we wanted to interview him and have him work with us" by wearing a wire. "The impression was left that we lured the priest in a trap, when in fact he set his own trap," he says. A local bishop called Whitaker's resignation "an honorable and professional step"; no word from the church on the conduct of its area priests, six of whom have been suspended or removed during the past six months.

Follow-up Call

The Star-Tribune in Minneapolis/St. Paul dismisses Clinton Collins Jr. as a twice-monthly columnist. Collins, a local prosecutor and member of a state legal ethics board, had written a blistering indictment of the state's news media on August 18 for failing to promote blacks. He noted that WCCO-AM in particular "does not have any African American talk show hosts" and claimed that General Manager Rand Gottlieb had brushed off complaints. The day after the column ran, Collins phoned Gottlieb, and WCCO says the conversation "revolved around Collins' request that he be hired" as an on-air host. Collins conceded the next week in his last column that he made "a very serious mistake" in not telling readers that he had earlier contacted Gottlieb about a job. But Collins insists that he and Gottlieb never talked about a job on August 19 – he simply wanted reaction to his column. (Reported by Sam Newlund )

New York Columnist Sued

Seven months into his two-year contract with the Daily News , columnist Mike McAlary defects to the New York Post and is promptly sued by his former employer. Under court order not to write anything for the Post, McAlary instead files an affidavit-cum-column in response to the suit, a legal document which the Post then prints verbatim. "When Daily News Publisher Mort Zuckerman was convincing me to break my last contract, he repeatedly explained, 'There is no more indentured servitude in this country,' " wrote McAlary, who has worked for both papers three times. "Grand Theft Columnist has never been a crime." Zuckerman responds that McAlary "came to me when the Post was going down the tubes and now he walked away from a legal and moral obligation."

Drama Worthy of Hollywood

Reporter Dean Phillips sues Atlanta's WXIA-TV for $3.25 million after the station fires him in a dispute over a murder investigation he was covering and a production company that wanted the rights to his story. In April, Phillips received a contract from Treasure Island Productions, which he says he signed but, after thinking better of it and speaking with News Director Mark Pimentel , did not return. Three months later, after news of the contract went public during testimony in the case, Phillips was fired. He charges WXIA executives with "covering their asses" because they had earlier pitched the murder story to NBC as a possible television movie. "They saw the public reaction and knew it looked bad," he says. Pimentel declined comment. WXIA's legal response to the suit says Pimentel told Phillips in January "not to pursue any movie deal" and that he was fired "to maintain the station's integrity."

Journalism as Art

Kerri Scharlin , a Manhattan artist who recently hired 17 police sketch artists to draw her likeness using only descriptions given by her friends, tackles journalism. She recently arranged for 15 magazine writers to compose profiles of her for a spring exhibit. Among those signed on are writers for Harper's Bazaar , New York , Sassy , Entertainment Weekly , People and Vanity Fair . Scharlin says she was inspired after being interviewed by New York Times columnist Degen Pener . "The experience of distilling conversation into a short profile is what gave me the idea," she says. "It's a form of portraiture, and I'm interested in the variety of ways that people can be portrayed."

Christian Leaves N.Y. Times

Shirley Christian , the longtime foreign correspondent who won a Pulitzer for her reporting at the Miami Herald in 1981, leaves the New York Times after eight years to launch a Kansas City-based publishing house specializing in books about Latin America. Christian, 55, says she had long wanted to enter management at the Times but felt stymied. "The quota system [to be promoted] has become overwhelming, and I just didn't fit."

Ombudsman Loss

The Edmonton Journal in Canada reassigns ombudsman John Brown to the newsroom to edit readers' letters and direct readers' phone calls, eliminating his advocate position after 15 years. Brown notes that because his weekly column has been discontinued, internal criticism of the paper has been shut off. Editor Murdoch Davis has explained that the position only allowed editors to avoid contact with readers.

L.A. Weekly Editor Departs

Editor in Chief Kit Rachlis leaves the L.A. Weekly after four years because of what Publisher Michael Sigman calls "editorial differences." Sigman declined to elaborate, but Rachlis says Sigman told him the weekly was "too serious, too intellectual." Six staffers resign in protest, including two film critics, the film editor, a columnist and a reporter. Rachlis' interim replacement is Steve Buel , whom the Weekly had named to edit a new weekly in Orange County scheduled to debut this fall. That project has been delayed.

Spanish-Language Papers

The Chicago Sun-Times introduces a Spanish-language magazine in its Sunday edition. La Raza Domingo will be produced by the Sun-Times and La Raza , a 40,000-circulation Spanish-language weekly founded in 1972. The publication is the latest in a series of supplements created by newspapers to reach Hispanic readers. At the same time, the New York Times launches El Nuevo Tiempo in Santa Barbara, California, and the Tribune Co. debuts

¡Exito! in Chicago, a sister to its Miami weekly of the same name.

Newsprint East

Clem Richardson leaves New York Newsday , where he was Sunday editor, to join the Daily News as regional editor overseeing four area bureaus... The Home News in East Brunswick, New Jersey, names Tony Bersani as managing editor. He had been assistant Sunday editor at the Asbury Park Press , which purchased the Home News in July... One-time New York Post owner Steven Hoffenberg plans this month to launch the first daily tabloid aimed at women, Her New York ... John Schneidawind , formerly technology writer at USA Today , joins BellSouth as manager of media relations. "After 15 years in business journalism, I was curious as to how things work on the inside at a major corporation," he says... The Bergen Record in Hackensack, New Jersey, revamps its Trenton bureau, transferring banking reporter John Hendren and Washington correspondent Dunstan McNichol to the bureau and adding McNichol's wife, Michelle Reuss , who leaves the D.C. bureau of Cleveland's Plain Dealer in December.

Inside Magazines

Judith Shulevitz , co-editor of Lingua Franca , the 17,000-circulation journal of academia that won a National Magazine Award last year, returns to the magazine after five weeks as a senior editor at Mirabella . After Lingua Franca co-editor Margaret Talbot moved to Germany with her husband, Associated Press reporter Arthur Allen , Shulevitz says she wanted to make sure Lingua Franca survived. "I have an intense emotional attachment," she says... Time shelves plans to launch a Japanese edition, citing an advertising slump in that country.

New Tribune Editor

The Chicago Tribune names Howard Tyner , 50, as editor. He succeeds Jack Fuller , now president and CEO of the newspaper. Tyner joined the Tribune in 1977 as a reporter after a decade with UPI . He has been the Tribune's Moscow correspondent, foreign editor, associate managing editor, deputy managing editor and most recently associate editor overseeing features. Owen Youngman , formerly associate managing editor for financial news, succeeds Tyner as features editor.

Network News

Garrick Utley leaves NBC for ABC , where he becomes chief foreign correspondent based in London. Utley spent 30 years at NBC, where he was a foreign correspondent and most recently weekend news anchor. "I could have stayed, they made offers, but I just felt it was time to move on," he says. "ABC has made a major commitment to international news, greater than I think is possible elsewhere.".. Walter Rodgers joins CNN in Berlin after 12 years with ABC, where he was most recently a Washington reporter... Pierre Salinger , the former press secretary to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and more recently an ABC foreign correspondent, joins the public relations firm of Burson-Marsteller. Salinger says he continues to advise ABC on major foreign stories. Says ABC spokesperson Teri Everett , "If he goes on air, he'll be identified as a consultant. Pierre is not going to influence the editorial process, and he's not going to be pitching stories to us."

Local Television Feeds

King Broadcasting plans this spring to launch a 24-hour cable channel, NorthWest Cable News , in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. King says it will hire about 100 reporters and producers and use material from its stations in Portland, Spokane, Boise and Seattle... KBZ debuts this fall in Bozeman, Montana, the city's second station. The NBC affiliate launches a seven-day nightly newscast and hires Arthur Carlson of Miami's WPLG as news director and chief anchor... KRON in San Francisco plans to launch a 24-hour local news, information and talk cable channel next summer.

Newsprint Elsewhere

Cox Enterprises buys the 19,000-circulation Scottsdale Progress in Arizona from Cowles Media and renames it the Scottsdale Progress Tribune . Hal DeKeyser , most recently editorial page editor for the Mesa Tribune , becomes editor. He succeeds Steve Wilson , now a columnist at the Phoenix Gazette ... Retta Kelley leaves Cox Newspapers' Longview News-Journal in Texas, where she was editor and publisher, to become executive director for newspaper alliances at Prodigy. She'll work to get papers to establish interactive links to readers through the computer online service (see "The Future Is Now," page 16).