AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   December 1996


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

Free At Last

Miami Herald reporter David Kidwell breathes a sigh of relief as a federal judge releases him from jail after having served only two weeks of a 70-day sentence he received for refusing to testify against a source (see The Press and the Law, page 46). Kidwell, who was sentenced on October 7 for refusing to testify about a 1994 jailhouse interview with John Zile , a murder suspect accused of killing his stepdaughter, says he is mostly relieved because he managed to leave jail with his professional integrity and credibility intact. "I never asked to be a poster boy," Kidwell says. "But I guess this was a career move in the sense that I left the jail with my credibility, and without that I have no career." While Kidwell says he was disappointed that his editors at the Herald advised him to obey the law and testify rather than engage in civil disobedience, he is very grateful to still have a job at the Herald and grateful that the Herald has paid all his legal bills. Doug Clifton , the Herald's executive editor, says the paper resisted all efforts to force Kidwell into testifying, up until he was about to be cited for contempt. "Everyone has a different threshold for these kinds of things," he says, "but there was never a question that he would be jobless if he decided not to testify." As for how Kidwell will handle interviews with criminal defendants in the future, he says his experience behind bars has convinced him more than ever of the need to get all sides of the story, even if it means doing time again. "No matter what," Kidwell says, "they aren't going to chill me."

What's in a Name?

Tom Hoeber thought his battle against the Wall Street Journal was finally over after three California courts, including the state's Supreme Court, rejected the Journal's appeals of an injunction against using the name "California Journal" for its new regional weekly supplement. But Hoeber, publisher and cofounder of the original California Journal , a 15,000-circulation monthly that has covered California politics since 1970, apparently had no idea just how determined the 1.9 million-circulation Wall Street Journal could be. Journal spokesman Roger May confirms that the Dow Jones-owned daily will press ahead with efforts to block a permanent injunction, and it now looks as though the Journal is ready to fight Hoeber to the death – or at least to bankruptcy. "It is outrageous that the Wall Street Journal wants to usurp the name and credibility that we have worked long and hard to establish," says Hoeber. "They don't need to use our name for their new venture to succeed and are ignoring our protests because they think we do not have the ability to defend ourselves." While Hoeber is concerned that California Journal might not survive if it has to cough up the $60,000 he estimates a court battle will cost, he finds hope in the fact that California judges have largely portrayed the Wall Street Journal, which has argued against an overly litigious society in its editorial pages, as a big-league bully who won't take no for an answer. For the time being, the Journal's new West Coast supplement will go simply by the name California .

Politics & Pop Culture

James Meek and Mike Rosenberg gained fame as the first cyber-journalists in history to receive congressional press credentials. They have since founded Digital Culture Interactive (DCi News), the first interactive politics, news and entertainment bureau in Washington, D.C., and are now launching Politics: Gridlock & Load , a bimonthly political newsletter out to prove that political humor doesn't have to be an oxymoron. Meek, formerly the political editor of the CD-ROM zine Blender , says the newsletter's goal is to make political reporting on the Web both informative and entertaining. He says he plans to achieve this goal by covering politics through the lens of pop culture, while being "careful not to annoy readers to death with hip and edgy journalism."

A United Front

Scripps Howard decides not to take any chances with the wisdom of the editorial boards at its 17 papers. Instead, the Ohio-based company mandates that all its papers should endorse Bob Dole and run the same editorial explaining the choice. While other newspaper companies, including Knight-Ridder, Gannett and Media-News Group (Dean Singleton), allow individual papers to make up their own minds, Scripps Howard spokesman Tim King defends what he says was once a common practice among newspaper groups. "We like the idea of endorsing as a group with an eye to what's best for the country, not just for a particular community," King says. "I don't think this has diminished the role of the newspapers in their communities."

Maine Events

Portland Newspapers Editor Lou Ureneck resigns from the papers he has worked for since 1974. Sources close to Ureneck hint he was pushed out over differences with James Shaffer , president of Guy Gannett Communications, which owns the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram . Ureneck became editor in 1989 and is widely regarded as being responsible for transforming what had once been mediocre papers into among New England's most respected publications. He is said to have clashed with Shaffer over the parent company's efforts to institute more collaboration, or "synergy," between the papers and WGME , a local TV station also owned by the company. Portland Newspapers President Bruce Gensmer says that Ureneck resigned after doing some soul-searching and rejects the idea that discord over synergy led to his decision to step down. Ureneck declines to comment other than to say that the decision was his own. Sources in Portland, however, say Shaffer has a long history of firing newspaper executives who disagree with him. (Repeated calls to Shaffer were not returned.) No word yet as to who will replace Ureneck, who says he looks forward to completing a book on newspapering that he started during his Nieman Fellowship in 1994.

On the Infobahn

Readers of Slate , the heavily hyped online political magazine edited by Michael Kinsley and sponsored by the ubiquitous Microsoft, find that there is still such a thing as a free lunch – at least until February. Though Slate had initially planned on imposing a $19.95-per-year subscription fee beginning November 1, the plan is being postponed because of logistics. "The main reason for the delay is technology," Slate explained in a recent issue. "We haven't yet perfected a billing and registration system that is as painless as possible for our readers."... Paul Sagan , president and editor of Time Inc. new media, resigns, offering his desire to spend more time with his family as the reason for his decision.... Brock Meeks , publisher of CyberWire Dispatch (see "Net Gain," November) and a regular contributor to Wired , joins MSNBC on the Internet as chief Washington correspondent.

Moving On

Denver Post Executive Editor Neil Westergaard knew his stint as number two editor under Editor in Chief Dennis Britton wouldn't last. Eight months after Post management brought in Britton to supersede him (see Free Press, March), Westergaard says it's time for him to move on. "Britton is just a different kind of editor than I had been, and the pushing and pulling wasn't good for the newspaper or the staff," says Westergaard. "An editor has to make over the paper according to his vision, and I was impeding that process." Westergaard, a 15-year veteran of the Post who helped the paper take the lead in the circulation war against rival Rocky Mountain News (see "Showdown in the Rockies," October 1995), is enjoying the luxury of having some time off work, and says he is optimistic about his prospects for a future newspaper job. He does, however, anticipate that decisions about his future will be complicated by the fact that "Denver is such a damn nice place to live. You don't just walk away from that without some contemplation."

Moving On, Redux

After three years in what she describes as "the best job in journalism," Investigative Reporters & Editors Executive Director Rosemary Armao decides it's time to get back to the newsroom. Armao says that given IRE's success with such projects as the National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR), as well as the organization's revitalized fundraising efforts, she feels it is a good time to make a graceful exit. In her new position as Anne Arundel County bureau chief at Baltimore's Sun , Armao will remain active with IRE, which she says taught her just how important the job of the journalist really is. "IRE is all about training and enthusiasm for the craft," she says, "and boy I sure have a lot of that!" Also leaving IRE behind to return to the newsroom is NICAR training director and computer-assisted reporting guru Neil Reisner , who will be a reporter in the Miami Herald' s Broward County bureau.

Around the Dials

Michael R. Whitney , formerly Miami bureau chief of CBS News and an 18-year veteran of the network, is named senior producer of the "CBS Evening News with Dan Rather ." Also at the network, Al Berman , formerly a "CBS Evening News" senior producer, joins CBS' new cable venture, "Eye on People." In his position as an executive producer, Berman will create an hour-long prime time program for CBS' new cable channel, scheduled to debut March 31.... Author and political commentator Monica Crowley , a onetime foreign policy assistant to Richard Nixon and the author of two books on the late president, joins Fox News Channel as a political contributor.... Former O.J. Simpson defense attorney Barry Scheck joins NBC News as a legal analyst, offering commentary on Simpson's civil trial for the "Today" show and MSNBC 's "Internight." Scheck will also be a consultant for a series of reports for MSNBC and "Dateline NBC" about people falsely accused of crimes.