Posts Tagged ‘The New York Times’

Because you have been such supportive and loyal readers, today I’m going to give you a chance to make some money.

There’s a golden egg out there, and I want all my friends — personal and digital — to get a piece of it.

It’s called New York Times stock. (NYT on the New York Stock Exchange.)

Most of you have heard, I’m sure, about the two big newspaper sales the last week or so. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is buying the Washington Post for $250 million, and The Times announced last week that it will sell The Boston Globe and a couple of other properties for $70 million.

Now, The Times took a terrible loss on the sale of the New England Media Group, having bought The Globe and other New England newspaper properties for $1.1 BILLION in 1991. A real bath. However, The Times has been able to absorb that and other “strong headwinds,” as the stock analysts like to say, and it is standing strong today.

With the sale of the Post, The Times will be the last of the big, family controlled newspapers. The Ochs-Sulzberger family has owned or controlled the paper since 1896, and it continues to control the paper through a dual-class stock structure.


Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.

Sale of the Post immediately raised the specter, in journalistic and business circles, of a potential sale of The New York Times Co. A company spokesman said as recently as yesterday that the family has no interest in selling the paper. The only slightly worrisome thing to me is that the company does not appear to have in place a clear-cut plan regarding who might succeed the fourth generation leader, 61-year-old Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.

(As a side note, I don’t think that either of Sulzberger Jr.’s children, Annie Sulzberger and Arthur Gregg Sulzberger — who was The Times’ Kansas City correspondent a couple of years ago — is a likely candidate to take over. She’s not interested, and he didn’t strike me as if he’d be interested in becoming a titan of anything.)

But keeping in mind that a sale is always possible, here’s a little background that should help explain why owning (or buying) New York Times stock seems like a really good deal and potential moneymaker.

While the $250 million that Bezos is paying for the Post sounds like a steal, it is actually a handsome price, relative to other newspaper sales in recent years.


Jeff Bezos

On a Web site called Business Insider, reporter Jennifer Saba of Reuters said that Bezos may have paid more than four times what the Post’s financial results suggest the paper is worth.

Stick with me, now, as I dip into a little financial speak…Saba said the average sale of a metro U.S. newspaper has brought a valuation of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2  times earnings before interest, taxes depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

Saba said a Morningstar analyst had estimated the Post had an EBITDA of $15 million last year, meaning that its realistic sale value was $59.5 million to $76.5 million. (That’s $17 million multiplied by 3 1/2 and 4 1/2).

Saba wrote:

Such a large premium, which essentially pays for intangible assets like the brand name, may mean that any future sellers of prestigious newspapers will raise their price expectations. Other major newspapers that are in the sights of potential buyers include the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.

Analysts and bankers said that when it came to newspapers such as the Washington Post, the usual financial metrics did not apply. The price, as in the case of other trophy assets like sports teams, depended on what a buyer was willing to pay.

So, here’s the Washington Post, essentially a regional newspaper — albeit a great one with a remarkable history — selling for 17 times its 2012 EBITDA.

What does that mean for The New York Times, a national newspaper with the highest name identity of any newspaper and the best news-gathering team on earth?

Saba said that if The New York Times commanded a similar premium (17 times EBITDA), it could be worth nearly $5 billion. (The Times Co.’s current market value is $1.8 billion, she said.)

Yes, it’s a thicket of numbers and what-ifs, but here’s how I see it:

Times stock is selling at about $12 a share today. That’s up 49 percent over a year ago. In fairness, it’s also down 7.6 percent over the last five years. But I’m thinking about now and next year and the year after that. I’ve owned a significant amount of NYT stock for a couple of years, and after the sale of the Post, selling NYT stock is out of the question for me.

Just guessing here, but I think that if somebody like billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg went to Arthur Sulzberger saying he was interested in buying the paper, he’d have to start at about $20 a share just to get Sulzberger’s attention. Recall what Saba said: A trophy asset is worth whatever a buyer is willing to pay.

Let’s see, at $20 a share, that would be a 66 percent premium over today’s stock price of $12…That’s a 66 percent profit for stockholders, before taxes.

To appropriate a 1969 line from the Friends of Distinction, “Can you dig it?”


Editor’s note: Julius Karash, a good friend and former KC Star business reporter, sent me an e-mail today, putting the demise of the print-journalism business in perspective…He said:

“If you write something about the sale of the Washington Post and The Boston Globe, it might be interesting to note that Capital Cities Communications shelled out $125 million when it acquired The Kansas City Star Co. way back in 1977…According to a CPI (consumer price index) calculator I found at inflationdata.com, that would amount to $481.65 million in 2013 dollars.”

Today, The Star would be lucky to draw a bid of about $20 million, in my opinion.

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Hey, Brother, I’ve got a favor to ask…a few, actually:

Would you stop lying to us about attacks on our embassies? Would you start telling us exactly who you are killing with these drone strikes? Would you stop harassing nonprofit organizations whose names you don’t like? Would you stop seizing the telephone records of reporters? Come to think of it, would  you stop scooping up records of all telephone calls made in the United States?

Holy shit! What the fuck? (Sorry, this is a situation, it seems to me, that calls for extreme language.)

In a May 23 post, I said, half facetiously that I was shocked and appalled at “the imploding presidency of Barack Obama.”

No longer is it half facetious; I’m completely shocked and thoroughly appalled.

Even though this all-inclusive phone-call sweep has been going on, incredibly, for seven years — before Obama became president — wouldn’t you think that a president who values civil liberties would look at that and say:

“Why are we doing this?”

I’m a lifelong Democrat, but this is a case in which I think it’s appropriate to ask, “What Ronnie do?” I’m talking about the late President Ronald Reagan, who, above all else, was a champion of civil liberties, of American being a nation where you should be able to live without government poking around in your private life.

I can’t help but think that if he were alive and Alzheimer’s free, he would look at the current government wasteland and say, “What the fuck?”

Yesterday, when I first heard about the general, phone-call-records sweep, I thought maybe my gut reaction of repulsion was an overreaction. I’d better wait, I thought, to see what my reliable political compass, The New York Times, had to say.

Thankfully, The Times affirmed my revulsion. The leading editorial in today’s Times is titled “President Obama’s Dragnet.” It is twice as long as the average editorial, and it is so strong that it appears to me it could signal an overall shift against the Obama administration.

Here’s how that editorial begins:

“Within hours of the disclosure that federal authorities routinely collect data on phone calls Americans make, regardless of whether they have any bearing on a counterterrorism investigation, the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.

“Those reassurances have never been persuasive — whether on secret warrants to scoop up a news agency’s phone records or secret orders to kill an American suspected of terrorism — especially coming from a president who once promised transparency and accountability.”

The editorial goes on to finger the Patriot Act, enacted during the Bush administration, as the basis of the last two administrations’ overreach into Americans’ lives. The Times has long railed against the Patriot Act (what a misnomer, huh?), which, today’s editorial says, “was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.”
Still, it falls, as it should, at the feet of the Commander in Chief. He knows what’s going on…So why doesn’t he use some common sense? Examine some of this stuff and say, “This doesn’t add up. Why are we doing this? Isn’t it an unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion in?”
Should this nitwit know who we are calling?

Should this nitwit know who we are calling?

If we can’t rely on the President, who can we rely on? Certainly not that clown James Clapper, the national’s chief intelligence officer, who three months ago told a congressional committee that the National Security Agency was not collecting data on Americans.

Here’s how that exchange went with Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat:
Wyden: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
Clapper: “No, sir.”
Wyden: “It does not?”
Clapper: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly.” 
My first reaction to that is that anyone who uses the term “wittingly” should not be in any position of authority. That’s someone who’s overly impressed with himself and likes to slice and dice words, instead of being straightforward and telling the truth.
Second, the person is a nitwit. Unfortunately, I’m starting to think that Clapper is one of many nitwits in top government positions, perhaps including the Oval Office.

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My sharp-eyed, 23-year-old daughter Brooks, who has the makings of a good editor, called my attention to a Sunday New York Times story that had an unusual number of glitches, mostly related to missing and misused words.

It was a 17-paragraph story, inside the front section, about how a 340-ton, 21-foot-tall boulder was transported 60 miles from a quarry to the downtown Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Borne on a 196-wheel-transport truck, the boulder arrived at its destination at 4:35 a.m. Saturday and was greeted by a boisterous crowd of more than 1,000.

Within the next month, the boulder will be placed over a cut trench and opened to the public as an exhibit.

The story was fascinating and carried a catchy headline:

“Lights! Cameras! (And Cheers) For a rock Weighing 340 Tons.”

The writer was Adam Nagourney, a very well-known Times reporter. Nagourney, 57, was chief national political correspondent for The Times from 2002 to 2010, when he was appointed Los Angeles Bureau Chief.

The first 10 paragraphs of the story were free and clear of problems, as far as I could tell, but the last seven paragraphs were marred by six glitches.

Take a look:


Paragraph 11: “Los Angeles is not a particularly late-night city, and people who made it there at 4:30 in the morning either found a new use for the disco naps of their use or stayed up all night.”

Huh? Try this…”either found a new use for disco naps or stayed up all night.

Sound better?


Paragraph 12: “Jeff Miller, 32, (blank) to a Guns N Roses show at the Hollywood Palladium that lasted, he reported, until close to 3 a.m.”

The missing word? “Went.”


Paragraph 12 (continued): “At that point, he figured he would just make a night of it and headed over to (blank) museum.

Yes…”the museum.”


Paragraph 13: “By the end, the convey traveled 100 miles of road to cover 60 miles of distance…”

“Convey?” No comprende. How about “convoy?


Paragraph 14: “And in any event, this did not appear to (blank blank) routines of people who are accustomed to late nights.”

If you guessed “disrupt the routines,” you get a gold star.


Against that backdrop of screw-ups, the last paragraph of the story began like this:

“Mr. Miller, who stayed up all night, said he had rarely witnessed events like this here.

Now, had the story been otherwise glitch-free, I would have construed the italicized words to mean that Miller had rarely witnessed events such as this taking place in Los Angeles.

But in light of the mind-boggling word jumble that had gone before, I tended to interpret them this way: “Mr. Miller who stayed up all night, said he had rarely witnessed events like this here event.”

When a writer and a newspaper throw junk at the reader, what they get in return is disgust and even contempt from readers. That’s when you start hearing people say, “That paper contains so many grammatical errors that you can hardly read it!”

And that is exactly the kind of attitude that newspapers can no longer afford. Readers now have 340 tons of options for where they can go to get their news without having their intelligence insulted.

Editor’s Note: The errors were corrected in the online version of the story — the version that is linked above…”This here” stayed as is…or was, or whatever.

Editor’s Note, No. 2: I’ve got an e-mail in to Art Brisbane, The Times’ “public editor,” asking him essentially, “What the hell happened with this here story?”

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I want to preface this piece by saying I’m no fan of Mitt Romney. In fact, I think he’s the most opportunistic and malleable of the candidates for the Republican nomination for President.

He will say just about anything to get elected, which, fortunately, probably isn’t going to happen. President Obama is the only candidate on either side who is consistently logical and reasonable when he opens his mouth. Plus, Romney probably won’t get the vote of a single black person.

Like most people, I enjoy humor at the expense of some of the gaffes that politicians make, but I don’t like cheap shots. Especially cheap shots that are fashioned into a running joke.

And that’s exactly what liberal columnist Gail Collins of The New York Times is guilty of. Collins is often funny, and I look forward to her columns, but she has gone way overboard on the subject of Romney and a nearly 30-year-old incident involving his family’s Irish setter, now deceased.

Every time she writes about Romney — and I mean every time — Collins works in a line about the time that Romney “drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the station wagon.”

When I first read it, sometime last year, I was horrified. With subsequent references, however, I started wanting more details. A few months ago, I sent an e-mail to Collins, asking her if the dog was strapped bodily to the car or if he was in a crate. If he was in a crate, I asked, was he protected from the wind?

A few weeks later, Collins wrote back, saying that the dog was in a crate and protected from the wind, but she noted that the dog must have been in distress because he got diarrhea during the trip.

A week or so after my e-mail, Collins included the first and only reference I have seen her make to the dog having been in a crate. Thereafter, it was back to the dog being strapped to the roof.

Take these recent references in Collins columns, for example:

Jan. 12: There is nothing Gingrich won’t do to get Mitt. At the end of the video, there’s a clip of Romney speaking French! And now Newt’s Web site has a video that basically asks whether America will elect a president who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. Which is, of course, an excellent question.

Jan. 5: Did I ever mention that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car? The dog’s name was Seamus. New Hampshire Republicans, if you can’t think of anybody to vote for on Tuesday, consider writing in the name Seamus when you go to the polls. Maybe we can start a boomlet.

Dec. 15: …the odds are very good that no one has ever called Mitt zany in his entire life. Unless it was when he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the station wagon.

Dec. 1: And maybe we could get over his driving to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car if he’d just admit it was because he was too cheap to hire a dog-sitter. Maybe.

That’s at least four mentions in the last six weeks. In my opinion that’s beating a dead horse.

And the horse doesn’t deserve to be beaten. Here’s why…

Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum did some reporting on the Seamus situation recently and, in a Dec. 29, column set the record straight, doing so deftly and humorously, without taking a sledgehammer to Collins.

Daum’s column begins:

“In 1983, a 36-year-old Romney and his wife and five young boys piled into the family station wagon for a 12-hour drive from Boston to Lake Huron in Canada. As was the custom, Seamus, their Irish setter, rode in a crate strapped to the top of the car.

“Somewhere along the way, the dog began to experience, shall we say, digestive trouble that made its presence known via, uh, streaks on the back windshield. Ever the efficiency enforcer, Romney pulled into a gas station, hosed the dog off, put him back on the roof and continued the trip.

“The anecdote was first relayed in a Boston Globe article in 2007, the last time Romney ran for the Republican presidential nomination. Since then, it’s endured a long telephone game of exaggerations and misconstruels. (Gail Collins likes to write about it in her New York Times column.)

“Many versions of the story imply that the dog was not in a crate but rather tethered to the luggage rack in the manner of a silent movie damsel tied to railroad tracks. Others seem to conflate it with the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation…in which Chevy Chase inadvertently (and supposedly hilariously) drags a dog to its death after forgetting to untie it from the car after a picnic.”

Daum goes on to say that “the truth is considerably less cartoonish than the myth.” Not only was Seamus in a crate, she said, but Romney had fashioned a windscreen that protected the crate.

“Look,” Daum continued, “I’m not suggesting that Seamus’ rides on the roof were ecstatic journeys akin to Snoopy piloting his doghouse in the spirit of the Red Baron. But let’s try to think objectively. Assuming his car sickness was an isolated event, would Seamus really have been better off crammed into a station wagon with seven humans than up top in a secure, enclosed crate with a windscreen? Moreover, if Seamus had been, say, a Texas dog in the back of a pickup, as opposed to a Massachusetts dog on top of a car, would anyone have batted an eye?”

Excellent observations, especially about the Texas dog in the back of a truck. For example, if George W. Bush drove across Texas with his dog (if he still has one) in the bed of the pickup, would anyone other than a card-carrying SPCA member voice concern?

In conclusion, Daum suggests it’s time to give Romney a break on his idea of proper pet transportation.

“Sure, his judgment may have been lacking when it came to canine transportation,” she said, “but if this is the extent of his personal baggage, he’s been traveling light.”

That’s for sure.

Seamus -- RIP

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Being a news-business junkie, I was very surprised at a business-front story in today’s New York Times announcing that Janet L. Robinson, chief executive of The Times the last seven years, was “retiring.”

Robinson, who will long be remembered as the person who oversaw The Times’ conversion from a regional to national newspaper in the 1990s, didn’t seem like a candidate for retirement.

She is only 61, and there had never been any talk of a succession plan, as far as I know. Also, her “retirement” and its imminence — effective in two weeks — caught nearly everyone, even Times employees, by surprise.

It wasn’t until the ninth and tenth paragraphs that the veil of puzzlement was lifted.

“Last Friday, Mr. Sulzberger called a meeting with Ms. Robinson on the 15th floor of the company’s Manhattan headquarters. He raised the issue of installing a different type of leadership at the company, according to people familiar with the meeting who declined to be identified discussing confidential company business.

“Both Ms. Robinson and Mr. Sulzberger declined to comment.”

Mr. Sulzberger is Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Co. and Times’ publisher.

So, Sulzberger fired Robinson; it’s that simple.

Today, the Internet is full of speculation about why she was let go.

The Wall Street Journal, a competitor of The Times, said:

“The company’s struggles during the worst of the (newspaper industry) downturn had prompted some members of the Sulzberger family to question whether Ms. Robinson was the right person to guide the company in a digital world, according to people briefed on the family’s thinking.”

Adam Clark Estes of The Atlantic Wire (part of The Atlantic magazine) said The Times “needs a technologist” instead of a chief executive steeped in print journalism.

“You’d be hard pressed to find a media pundit who wouldn’t agree that the Grey Lady needs a kick in the pants from someone who understands technology,” Estes wrote.

Still, as The Washington Post (with Bloomberg) reported on its website, The Times, under Robinson, has had an excellent roll-out of its online pay wall.

The Post said: “In March, the company began charging users for full online access to the paper’s content. By the end of September, it had 324,000 paying digital subscribers, bringing Times’ combined paper and online subscribers to 1.2 million. Digital advertising now makes up 14 percent of total revenue, up from 8 percent in 2006.”

Those are impressive numbers, and many media analysts think The Times set up a very smart pay-wall system: People who go to the site (NYT.com) can read 20 articles a month without paying. After that, they have the option of buying one of three digital news packages.

The “first-20-free” system is intended, The Times has said, “to draw in subscription revenue from the most loyal readers while not driving away the casual visitors who make up the vast majority of the site’s traffic.”

Despite the many achievements in Robinson’s portfolio, the main negative factors — the ones that probably most affected “the family’s thinking” — were significant drop-offs in advertising and circulation in recent years.

As a Women’s Wear Daily web story said, “For the first time in its history, the Times had to cut from its newsroom, which resulted in more than 200 job losses in the last three years. Additionally, the Times had to eliminate sections in the paper…close a printing press, take out a mortgage on its new skyscraper and take an onerous loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.”

The fortunes of virtually every major U.S. daily also fell off a ledge, however, so it’s hard to see how Robinson could have been held responsible.

Who knows? Whatever the case, she had a great run at The Times; hers was an exceptional career. She started at The Times in 1983 and worked her way up the business and advertising side until reaching the top, or at least very near the top.

And here are a couple of things about her that warm my liberal-arts heart: Before joining The Times, she was a public school teacher in Newport, Rhode Island, and Somerset, Massachusetts.

Furthermore, she received a B.A. degree in English from Salve Regina College, Newport, RI, where she graduated cum laude in 1972.

I tell you, it’s hard to top those English majors.

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By now, many of you know that I have a keen eye for unusual corrections in newspapers.

That’s mostly because, as a reporter for 25 years and and editor for almost 12, I lived in fear of winding up on the correction page. (It happened more often than I care to admit.)

Occasionally, I would wake up in the night and either fear or realize that I had made a mistake in a story and that it was too late to correct it. Sometimes, before going to bed, I would call the copy desk and make sure that my mind was not playing tricks on me and that I had written something the way I remembered having written it.

Then, there was one nightmarish correction — like one I’m going to tell you about — where I had to write a correction to a correction. That night, I’ll never forget, the night city editor said, “Fitz, I bet you’ll be glad to get this one behind you.”

No shit.

But it happens. It evens happens to The New York Times.

A correction that ran in The Times on page A2 yesterday was a doozy. It started out like this:

“An article on Thursday about a push to ban horse-drawn carriage rides in Central Park misstated part of the name of an organization to which an upstate New York veterinarian belongs…”

After correcting the organization’s name, it went on to the more embarrassing mistake: The original story had referred to the carriages as “hansom cabs,” and that, as it turned out, is a misnomer.

As the correction noted, “…the carriages have four wheels, and therefore are not ‘hansom cabs,’ which are two-wheeled. An accompanying picture caption, as well as a subheading in some editions, and a correction in this space on Friday repeated the error about the cabs.”

So, there’s the correction to the correction. But there’s more…

The last line of the correction, in parentheses, went like this:

(A reader pointed out this inaccuracy in a letter published in The Times in 1985, but this is the first correction of numerous such references through the years.)

Think about that…The Times had referred to carriages as hansom cabs “numerous” times over the last 26 years, despite a reader’s best effort to get the paper on the right path in 1985.

Well, at least The Times was big enough to acknowledge a 26-year track record of screw-ups on the same subject.

To its credit, The Times is anal about accuracy, and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

And one thing I can guarantee you is that Emily B. Hager, who wrote that front-page story, is now an authority on the distinction between horse-draw cabs and carriages.

Now, as I trot off to bed, I’ll leave you with what a hansom cab looks like…

And its cousin, a horse-drawn carriage…

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At least one person in the state of Pennsylvania was not intimidated by Joe Paterno and the high-on-a-pedastal Penn State football program.

The residents of Pennsylvania can thank Republican governor and former state attorney general Tom Corbett for the firing of Paterno and university president Graham B. Spanier.

I don’t know about you, but I was surprised and impressed with the quick and decisive action by the school’s board of trustees.

The story about former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky and two senior university officials being charged in connection with a long-running child-abuse scandal broke last weekend. Almost immediately, Paterno’s failure to do anything more than report a 2002 sex-abuse incident to former athletic director Tim Curley was called into question.

On Wednesday morning, Paterno announced that he would retire at the end of the season. That probably would have satisfied a lot of people, especially the student body, most of which rallied behind Paterno.

But it wasn’t nearly enough — thank God — for Governor Corbett, who this week fiercely lobbied the board of trustees to oust Paterno and Spanier immediately.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett

Now, let’s take a step back. Here’s how Corbett’s involvement in the case unfolded, according to a great, front-page story yesterday in The New York Times.

In 2009, officials at a Pennsylvania high school reported that Sandusky had molested a boy at the school. However, the county prosecutor cited a conflict of interest and referred it to the attorney general’s office.

“Here, he (Corbett) had a wildly popular football coach and a program which in Pennsylvania was revered, and this case lands in his office and without flinching he went down that path,” Times’ reporter Jo Becker quoted a Republican lobbyist as saying.

Corbett convened a grand jury and prosecutors took testimony. As the case proceeded, more victims turned up, and Corbett and his investigators became appalled at the university’s lack of action.

“We talked about how this would be a real shock to people, and how shocking it was to us,” Becker quoted a former assistant attorney general as saying.

Corbett went on the win the governor’s race. After he left the attorney general’s office he had to adhere to grand-jury secrecy rules that prohibited him from talking about the case, other than with a few people he had brought with him from that office.

One person who stayed close to the case was Frank Noonan, whom Corbett had appointed state police commissioner. Before that, Noonan had been chief of investigations in the attorney general’s office.

Periodically, The Times’ story said, Corbett would ask Noonan how the sex-abuse investigation was going, and Noonan would tell him it was going well, although he couldn’t share details.

Finally, after the story broke last week, Corbett, who is a member of the Penn State board of trustees, was free to roll into action.

“Privately,” The Times’ story said, “he worked to move the board in what he believed was the right direction. He called multiple members, including Vice Chairman John P. Surma, the chief executive of U.S. Steel, and told them that the country was watching, that a change at the top was needed, and that the issue was about more than a football program.”


The board called an emergency meeting on Wednesday night, just hours after Paterno had announced his retirement plans.

The board exhibited no forbearance and summarily removed Spanier and Paterno.

“Afterward,” The Times’ story said, “the trustees said they had acted independently. But they conceded, without being specific, that the board had received some unsolicited encouragement about what action to take.”

Bravo, Governor Corbett!

Here’s my final thought on this: If Gov. Corbett announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for president, he would immediately jump to the top of the list.

He won’t do that, of course, but I hope we hear more from him on the national scene in the future; the country needs more politicians who move decisively instead of wetting a finger and holding it up in the breeze.

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Many of you may recall the stories I wrote July 21 and 29 about Jason Noble, The Star’s former Jefferson City correspondent.

Noble made four significant errors in an attempted “gotcha” story about a Republican state senator from St. Joseph.

Noble wrote the story on the way out the door, apparently after he had accepted a job with The Des Moines Register, where he started early last month.

If it’s any solace to Jason, he’s not alone in the multi-correction arena.


Even the very best reporters sometimes manage to litter their stories with errors. Take, for example, John F. Burns, The New York Times’ London bureau chief.

Burns, 66, has won two Pulitzer prizes. He appears frequently on PBS, and Wikipedia says he has been called “the dean of American foreign correspondents.”

If Burns was flying high lately, he came crashing down to earth recently after the Times published a 781-word story by Burns about CNN talk show host Piers Morgan’s possible involvement in the telephone-hacking scandal in England.

The story ran on Aug. 5.

Yesterday, Aug. 31, The Times published a 271-word correction that consumed 6.5 column inches. That’s a half inch less than Noble’s infamous correction.

Actually, the printed correction should have been longer than it was because the online version of the correction tacked on yet another screw-up in the story. (Maybe the final error was discovered after Wednesday’s paper had gone to press.)

If I’m reading the correction — the online version — correctly, Burns made seven errors in the story.


The errors ranged from incorrectly naming the newspaper (The Daily Mirror, not  The Mirror) that Piers Morgan once worked for to reporting incorrect details about an alleged hacking of a phone message from Paul McCartney to his former wife, Heather Mills.

Burns, whose name I’ve seen in The Times but whose work I’m not particularly familiar with, has some controversy in his background.

He was awarded the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for his “courageous and thorough coverage of the destruction of Sarajevo and the barbarous killings in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

However, the Wikipedia article about Burns says: “Some of Burns’s reporting in Bosnia and Herzegovina was later put in doubt for using questionable sources. Within the book “Media Cleansing: Dirty Reporting Journalism & Tragedy in Yugoslavia,” Burns is criticized extensively, accused of journalistic malpractice by its author Peter Brock.”

Burns won his second Pulitzer in 1997, that time for “his courageous and insightful coverage of the harrowing regime imposed on Afghanistan by the Taliban.”

Burns joined The Times in 1975 as a metropolitan section reporter. Wikipedia says he “has been assigned to and headed several of The Times’ foreign bureaus.”

It’s pretty disturbing, don’t you think, that a reporter with that much experience and such lofty credentials could be so casual and careless?

You know, I love The Times, and this doesn’t change my opinion a bit. But it goes to show you that even the best, when they “mail it in” — as Burns obviously did — can fall in the deepest of mud puddles.

Today, Burns has mud caked all over him, and it’s going to take him a long time to clean up.

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I was shocked when I opened Sunday’s paper and saw, on the front of the Local section, that a stunt pilot working the control stick of a biplane had crashed and died during an airshow Saturday at Wheeler Downtown Airport.

I hadn’t paid any attention to the news Saturday, so photographer Rich Sugg’s fiery, section-front photo really took my breath away. The headline was excellent, too: “Thousands see crash that kills veteran pilot.”

With my attention riveted, I proceeded to gobble up the story, written by Mike Hendricks and Glenn E. Rice. Appropriately, the story took up more than half of the section front and included a photo of a couple embracing after witnessing the tragedy.

One or both of the reporters did a good job of trying to profile the pilot, Bryan Jensen, who had been a stunt pilot the past 15 years. About six inches of text was on the section front, under a sub-head that said, “Air show closes for day after biplane spirals to ground, bursts into flame.”

Bryan Jensen and his plane

More information about the crash and quotes from witnesses took up the first two columns of the jump.

Then, out of the blue, the story took an odd, sharp turn. After an awkward transition recounting an earlier rain delay, the story proceeded to describe some attractions that people attending the show had seen earlier Saturday. That material consumed the final eight inches of the story, which ended with no further mention of the crash.

The story was totally bifurcated: The fiery crash and tragic loss of death on one hand, and, on the other, an account of people cheering the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team hours before the crash…followed by more drivel.

It was incongruous and inappropriate.

What happened, obviously, is that  Glenn Rice, whose name followed Hendricks’ on the byline, was dispatched to the airshow in the morning to write a feature story. Then, immediately after the crash, Hendricks probably was called in from home — or perhaps he had drawn a Sunday shift — to cover the aftermath of the crash.

So, both reporters came back to the office, each with divergent material. The next step — again obvious to anyone who knows how a newsroom works — is that an editor asked each of them to write up their material. Then, the editor made Hendricks’ material about the crash the “lead” or top part of the story and dropped in Rice’s material after the awkward transition.

In my opinion, the decision to include the mundane material about what had transpired earlier in the day was ridiculous. It was disrespectful to Jensen, his family and the other, grieving airshow participants. The crash rendered everything else irrelevant.

Airshow officials had the good sense to shut the show down immediately after the crash. Star editors should have had the good sense to shut down their story at the conclusion of the crash account.


Now here’s a mystery for you.

In Sunday’s New York Times, two section fronts carried stories with almost identical headlines and similar, large photos.

Leading the Styles section was a picture of young people partying at a nightclub under multicolored lights. The accompanying story was about the summer party scene in the Hamptons, a seaside resort on Long Island. The headline on the story was “The Night is Young.”

A section or two removed from Styles, the Business section was led by a story about how the good times are rolling in Silicon Valley, despite the overall economy.

The lead photo, also stripped across the top of the page, was of young people dancing under red-tinted lights in a tent that had been transformed into a nightclub setting. The headline said: “In Silicon Valley, the Night is Still Young.”

Were the mirror-like sections intentional or a blunder?

At first, I was convinced it was a big screw-up; that the weekend editors missed seeing the forest for the trees.

But later, my wife Patty, who often picks up subtleties faster than I do, said the sections fronts were too similar not to have been coordinated. She liked it. She also pointed out the wording of the headlines, with one saying, “The Night is Young” and the other saying, “The Night Is Still Young,” as if one played off the other.

I sent an e-mail to Art Brisbane, public editor of The Times and former Kansas City Star publisher, to see if he had the answer to the mystery. Brisbane, who is not involved in day-to-day operations at The Times, replied last night that he didn’t know.

On Sunday afternoon, I picked up one indication that the parallel presentations could have been accidental: On its website, The Times had substituted a different photo with the Silicon Valley story than the one that appeared on the section front. The new photo showed three young entrepreneurs, standing on chairs and talking to people attending the party. But the guys were the only people in the photo, making it very different than the original party pic.

I asked Art to let me know if he solved the mystery today. I’ll keep you posted.

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What a scandal in Britain.

Here’s the gist of it, in case you haven’t been following it closely. (And there’s a good reason that Kansas City area residents might not be following it closely. More on that in a minute.)

The revelations of cellphone hacking and police payoffs by reporters and editors at The News of the World, Britain’s top-selling newspaper, are probably going to bring down Prime Minister David Cameron.


Cameron is chummy with media baron Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. holdings provide a significant portion of the world’s flow of information, print and electronic.

Today, Andy Coulson, former editor of The News of the World (which is printed only on Sunday), was arrested in connection with allegations of phone hacking and paying police for sensitive information when he was editor of the paper.

The problem for the government’s Conservative Party, which is in power now, is that Coulson had most recently worked as chief spokesman for Cameron, the prime minister.

Anticipating Coulson’s arrest, a front-page New York Times story today said: “His arrest…would be a huge blow not just to Mr. Murdoch, but to the government and to Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party. The prime minister has always vouched for Mr. Coulson’s  integrity and said he believed Mr. Coulson’s assurances that he had cone nothing wrong (at The News of the World).”

This story is one that cries out for wall-to-wall coverage, and The Times is delivering. Today, it had five stories that covered more than two full pages.

The story has it all: corruption, outrage, political entanglement and, yes, an attractive and bodacious woman.


The bodacity comes in with Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corp. Yesterday, rather than heed calls to fire Brooks, who was editor at The News of the World when a lot of the phone hacking was taking place, Murdoch and his son, James Murdoch, opted to close The News of the World.

(Sunday will be its final edition; its 200 employees have been cut loose to try to find jobs at other Murdoch papers or elsewhere.)

The Times’ coverage today of the scandal included a 48-column-inch story on Page A8 about Brooks. The story says, in part:

“Her closeness to Mr. Murdoch, who is said to regard her as a kind of favorite daughter (although he has four actual daughters), has protected her during the recent scandal engulfing the company, even as legislators called on her to resign.”

The story quoted an unnamed source as saying, “Rupert Murdoch adores her — he’s just very, very attached to her. To be frank, the most sensible thing that News Corp. could do would be to dump Rebekah Brooks, but he won’t.”

So, yesterday, when Brooks called a staff meeting in offices of The News of the World, many staff members assumed Brooks would be announcing her resignation.

“Instead,” the front-page Times story said, “she announced that she was to stay and they were to go.”


I mentioned at the top that there was a good reason that many Kansas City area residents might not be following this explosive story closely.

Today’s Kansas City Star devoted exactly one paragraph to the story, on Page A3. Here it is:

“Paper Folds: The Murdoch media empire abruptly killed off the muckraking News of the World tabloid Thursday after a public backlash over the illegal tactics used by Britain’s best-selling weekly newspaper to expose celebrities.”

Oh, my. Oh, my. I am ashamed for my former paper, which I still love in spite of its downhill spiral.

Is it any wonder people have been dropping the paper by the thousands for several years?

As a side note, I couldn’t tell what kind of coverage Thursday’s print edition gave the story because my paper was absolutely soaked from the morning rain, even though the paper was in a thin plastic bag.

Yesterday morning I went online to report a wet paper and was informed that I would get a replacement today, along with today’s paper.

Well, I got today’s paper, but yesterday’s was nowhere to be found…Patiently, I wait.

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