Sunday, December 26, 2010

Somebody smarter than I explains the fallacy of net neutrality...

Click and enjoy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What some people say about me ...

... sometimes right to my face!

When does a story become a story?

When the Blackfoot School District announced this week that it was putting Blackfoot High School basketball Coach Jonathon Packer on paid leave, it said it was doing so out of “an abundance of caution.”

That phrase also describes the Post Register’s approach to covering this story and ones like it.

Recent allegations of abuse disguised as “hazing”, most recently out of Bingham County but previously from Teton County and Shelley, create some difficult issues for journalists.

For example, the Post Register has a longstanding policy of not printing stories about the possibility of charges being filed in a criminal investigation or a suggestion that someone is considering filing a civil lawsuit. There have been very rare exceptions to this rule, but we nearly always wait until actual charges or lawsuits are filed before publishing a story.

Some other newspapers and news outlets don’t have such strict standards, often printing or broadcasting that charges “are being considered” or “might be filed.” This creates confusion – too many people assume that means that arrests have been made and people have actually been charged with a crime. In fact, one outlet mistakenly reported that additional charges had actually been filed in Blackfoot when they hadn’t.

So, while information about potential charges swirls, the Post Register waits. When someone is formally charged, we do the story. 

This isn’t a back-patting exercise. Journalists are free to operate under whatever standards they set. We’re simply explaining how we do it, and why. 

Beyond creating confusion, printing a story that “so and so says she will file a suit against such and such” opens the door to manipulation by people involved in legal disagreements. A public threat to sue can maneuver public opinion one way or another – we won’t do the story until the threatened lawsuit actually appears in a court file, thus complying with the requirements of the law.

This also illustrates why an open court system is so important. It’s tempting to want to seal any court proceedings that include embarrassing or otherwise dreadful material – like the hazing of high school students that potentially crosses the line to criminal behavior. The Post Register doesn’t print the names of juveniles (unless they eventually are charged as an adult) or victims in such cases. But court files need to stay open so the process can be observed once the legal process begins.

We still don’t know if anyone committed a crime, if those who are supposed to be overseeing sports programs were negligent, or how widespread the problem is. The Post Register and other local media will continue to cover the story as it unfolds, though we might go about it differently. We thought you should know why.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Open letter to AP staffers

Open letter to the AP staffers who are withholding their bylines to protest the latest contract offer to the Newspaper Guild, the union representing them:

Dear AP staffers:

You don’t get it. You really, really don’t.

You do great work. Your journalism is top-notch. You come out of one of the proudest traditions in journalism. But your union’s stand on current contract negotiations with the Associated Press is wrong-headed and more likely to result in a quicker demise of the AP than might otherwise occur.

Linda Deutsch, the AP’s most notable courts and crime writer, is a Facebook friend of my wife. I sent her this note via Facebook today:
Linda: I appreciate the frustration felt by AP staffers and their reaction to the latest contract proposal. It might be helpful for you to see it from the perspective of a member publisher.

I just sent the AP my two-year cancellation notice, the second I've sent in the past four years (the first resulted in a new, more acceptable contract). In the past three years, the Post Register has had to reduce its newsroom by 25 percent, cut pay, institute furloughs and increase the cost of benefits shared by employees. 

I have been a vocal and frequent critic of the AP in recent years as it has been slow to change to accommodate the needs of its members. One reason for the slowness of change, I fear, has been the Guild's reluctance to accept the reality of what's going on. If it doesn't become more flexible it risks killing the AP entirely.
You have a new competitor -- Thomson-Reuters. If the Guild doesn't think the Reuters threat is real, it is mistaken. What member newspapers need from the AP has changed drastically. The Guild and the AP's board and managers still don't get that.
Highest regards,
Roger Plothow
Editor and Publisher
Post Register
Idaho Falls, Idaho
An AP staffer called me after receiving my latest cancellation notice and among her questions was whether the quality of the AP’s work was a concern. I told her, “It’s too good. We need just good enough.”

We’re a local paper. We need the AP to fill in around the edges, to provide a sense of global happenings. I told AP managers eight years ago the same thing I tell them today: “I need 25 percent of the content you now give me for 50 percent of the cost.” That’s it.

It appears that Reuters is ready to do that. One of Thomson-Reuters' mucky-mucks is Jim Smith, a really good guy who was my boss for a time at Thomson. Jim is a former newspaper publisher. He gets it.

The AP, unfortunately, still does not.

Monday, December 13, 2010

All my work, and Dilbert does this ...

I don't really have anything new to say. I just happened to be looking through some old Dilberts and I found this one, which illustrates, yet again, why someone with a little talent can convey a message with art and humor, while a poor scribe like myself struggles mightily to convey the same message with great earnestness and too many words.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"JOA" for television

The announcement of a shared services agreement between KIFI and KIDK this week has a familiar ring to it – newspapers in some markets negotiated similar “joint operating agreements” with mixed success 25 or more years ago.

At this point only one thing is certain – in the long battle between KIDK and KIFI dating back nearly 50 years, KIFI is the winner.

The agreement essentially turns all of KIDK’s operations over to KIFI, while allowing KIDK to continue to broadcast CBS network programming plus, presumably, a lineup of syndicated programming separate from that offered by KIFI. All but a dozen or so of KIDK’s 50-plus employees will be laid off. Perhaps of greatest interest locally, KIFI will be providing the news for both stations beginning sometime in January. The exact financial arrangements have not been disclosed.

This is a huge coup for KIFI, which was the latecomer to Idaho Falls television, launching in 1961, eight years after KID (which became KIDK). KPVI, based in Pocatello, came along in the early 1970s. All three stations attempt to cover the entire eastern Idaho/western Wyoming region, but it’s long been clear that KIFI and KIDK have been seen as Idaho Falls stations and KPVI is considered the Pocatello station.

KIDK, owned by Fisher Communications based in Seattle, has been struggling for some time, both financially and in the local news ratings. KIFI, particularly by maintaining the longstanding anchor team of Jay Hildebrandt and Karole Honas, has dominated news ratings, which helped the station set and get higher advertising rates. The agreement will essentially leave Idaho Falls and Pocatello with one TV station each that produces any kind of original local news programming.

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a non-profit school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Florida, believes there will be more such agreements between competing TV stations in the near future.

“I think that is part of a trend. I think the nature of the TV business is that there is a lot of financial logic to combining news operations,” he said. “To put it another way, it’s not in the cards for a lot of markets to support three or four news staffs.”

Edmonds compares the trend to what happened in newspapers 25 or more years ago when newspapers in large markets formed joint operating agreements. Many of those agreements have since failed with the closure of one or more newspapers, but they still exist in places like Salt Lake City and Detroit.

The combining of TV operations is more likely to be successful than the largely failed experiments of five or 10 years ago for newspapers and TV stations to combine newsgathering and, sometimes, sales resources, Edmonds believes.

“At the end of the day these (newspapers and television stations) are pretty different cultures, both in a sales way and in a news way. This sort of agreement stands a better chance of working then the cross-media attempts did between TV and newspapers.”

Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member for broadcast and online at Poynter, believes there will continue to be a washout of TV stations providing news.

“Not every market needs four news stations. It’s just a fire hose of information and in some places there’s a garden hose of interest,” he said.

With sources for news, information and advertising becoming increasing fragmented, a deal like this was only a matter of time. Eastern Idaho was probably never really a three-station market (let alone four, with the addition of Fox, or even more as the local affiliates roll out digital channels). In recent years, KIDK could never overcome the solid performance of the KIFI news team. Both organizations saw plenty of comings and goings, but Hildebrandt and Honas were the constants.

(In the interest of full disclosure, KIFI was owned by the Post Company – the same company that owns the Post Register – until 2005, when it was sold to News-Press and Gazette Company out of St. Joseph, Missouri.)