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How Media Skew Our Views of Race, Crime

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Distortions Bolster Harsher Penalties, Study Finds

USA Today Lays Off Up to 70 People, Half in Newsroom

Paper Seeks to Open Any Michael Brown Juvenile Records

N.Y. Daily News to Stop Using Redskins Name, Logo

Plain Dealer Picks Reporters for Cavs, New LeBron Beat

Story on Sam's Shower Habits an Embarrassment for ESPN

Robin Roberts Forms Production Company

Public Stations Get $6.2 Million More for Dropout Efforts

Sulzberger on Honeymoon in His Year for Diversity

Short Takes

Distortions Bolster Harsher Penalties, Study Finds

"Skewed racial perceptions of crime — particularly, white Americans' strong associations of crime with racial minorities — have bolstered harsh and biased criminal justice policies [PDF]," the nonprofit Sentencing Project reported Wednesday, outlining the role played by the news media in skewing those perceptions.

"Many media outlets reinforce the public's racial misconceptions about crime by presenting African Americans and Latinos differently than whites — both quantitatively and qualitatively," concluded the report, "Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies."

"Television news programs and newspapers over-represent racial minorities as crime suspects and whites as crime victims. Black and Latino suspects are also more likely than whites to be presented in a non-individualized and threatening way – unnamed and in police custody. . . ."

Among the conclusions of the study, written by research analyst Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D., and presented as a synthesis of 20 years of research:

  • "White Americans are more punitive than people of color. . . .

  • "Whites misjudge how much crime is committed by African Americans and Latinos. . . .

  • "Whites who more strongly associate crime with racial minorities are more supportive of punitive policies. . . .

  • "Racial perceptions of crime have distorted the criminal justice system. . . ."

"By over-representing whites as victims of crimes perpetrated by people of color, crime news delivers a double blow to white audiences' potential for empathetic understanding of racial minorities," the study said.

It also said, "Racial distortions are pervasive in crime news. A study in Los Angeles found that 37% of the suspects portrayed on television news stories about crime were black, although blacks made up only 21% of those arrested in the city.

"Another study found that whites represented 43% of homicide victims in the local news, but only 13% of homicide victims in crime reports. And while only 10% of victims in crime reports were whites who had been victimized by blacks, these crimes made up 42% of televised cases. These disparities exist nationwide and are greatest when the victim's race is taken into consideration.

"Crime coverage also betrays subtler racial differences. A study of television news found that black crime suspects were presented in more threatening contexts than whites: black suspects were disproportionately shown in mug shots and in cases where the victim was a stranger. Black and Latino suspects were also more often presented in a non-individualized way than whites – by being left unnamed – and were more likely to be shown as threatening – by being depicted in physical custody of police.

"Blacks and Hispanics were also more likely to be treated aggressively by police officers on reality-based based TV shows, including America's Most Wanted and Cops. . . ."

Among the study's recommendations is "expanding sources beyond criminal justice professionals, contextualizing crime within broader underlying social problems, providing in-depth coverage of more typical crimes rather than highlighting anomalous ones, and auditing content to compare coverage with regional crime trends. They describe practices that were adopted by organizations including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, and KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas."

It also said, "By reporting on criminal sentences that are representative, and documenting their lifelong consequences, news producers can help to educate the public about the reality of existing penalties. By contextualizing specific crime stories or policy debates within crime trends, they can avoid creating the impression of a false crisis. . . ."

It added, "the wording and formats of some survey questions should be revised to not exaggerate the public's support for punitive policies. . . ."

USA Today Lays Off Up to 70 People, Half in Newsroom

"USA Today, the Gannett Company's flagship paper, laid off roughly 70 people on Wednesday. The cuts appeared to be equally split between employees in the newsroom and other departments, and equaled less than 10 percent of the total work force," Leslie Kaufman reported Wednesday for the New York Times.

Among the journalists of color affected was Deborah Barrington, assistant managing editor for desk operations who had previously been design editor, assignment editor and news editor.

"Yes, after 25 years, I'm no longer employed at USA TODAY," Barrington messaged Journal-isms. "I'm open and optimistic about the future. I'd like to work for a non-profit OR anything that is fulfilling, improves someone's lot in life or makes the planet better. That's probably not specific enough, but that's where I am today."

Korina Lopez, entertainment reporter and assistant editor of the Life section, tweeted, "Another bloodbath of layoffs at @USATODAY. I'm one of them, along with at least 50 others. More than half the newsroom." Others said to be affected are Michelle Healy, a health and wellness reporter, and Matt Cooper of the sports department.

[Healy messaged Journal-isms on Sept. 5: "As you can image, I'm pretty much in shock about the turn of events at USA TODAY. None of this has sunk in. Certainly I've known for years that the business that I was associated with for three decades would only continue to downsize and that it was in my best interest to move on. Sadly, I hadn't figured out what that next move would, could, or should be. Guess this week I got a kick-in-the-pants to jumpstart my thinking.

"Wish me (and my wonderful colleagues) well as we figure out our options."

"Weeks earlier, Gannett announced that it was spinning its newspapers into a separate company next year," Kaufman's story continued. "Other companies, including 21st Century Fox (formerly News Corporation), Tribune Company and Time Warner, have taken similar steps to separate their more lucrative television and cable assets from their struggling print divisions. Gannett positioned Wednesday's cuts not just as a way to save money, but as part of its aggressive transition to a more Internet-focused product.

" 'USA Today is working to align its staffing levels to meet current market conditions. The actions taken today will allow USA Today to reinvest in the business to ensure the continued success of its digital transformation,' Jeremy Gaines, a spokesman for Gannett, said in a statement. . . ."

Meanwhile, "Twenty-two members of the Providence Newspaper Guild were laid off Tuesday, as part of New Media Investment Group's acquisition of Rhode Island's statewide newspaper, including the Providence Journal's well-respected longtime metro columnist, Bob Kerr," Ian Donnis reported for Rhode Island Public Radio.

Only 3.5 percent of the Journal staff were journalists of color, according to the annual survey of the American Society of News Editors. None was American Indian, 0.9 percent were Asian American, 1.8 percent black and 0.9 percent Hispanic.

Writing about the sale in the Journal, G. Wayne Miller quoted Bernie Szachara, interim publisher, saying that "some, but not all, current Journal copy-editing and page-design positions" eventually will be transferred to a center the company operates in Austin, Texas, for many of its newspapers. . . ."

Paper Seeks to Open Any Michael Brown Juvenile Records

"As a child, Michael Brown was never found delinquent of the juvenile equivalents of Missouri's most serious felony charges and was not facing any at the time he died, a court official said Wednesday," Jeremy Kohler reported Wednesday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"The Post-Dispatch filed a petition Aug. 22 asking a judge in the St. Louis County Family Court to open any juvenile records on Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot to death last month by a Ferguson police officer. A conservative blogger from California had separately requested the records be opened.

"Police had said earlier that Brown had no adult criminal record.

"The petitions went to a hearing Tuesday with St. Louis County Family Court Ellen Levy Siwak, who took the case under advisement.

"But disclosures during and after the hearing on Tuesday put to rest claims by blogger Charles C. Johnson and others that Brown was facing a murder charge at the time he was shot to death. . . ."

Alan Scher Zagier wrote for the Associated Press, "The central legal question is whether Brown's privacy rights extend beyond the grave."

Kohler also wrote, "The parents of Michael Brown were represented at the hearing by their attorney, Anthony Gray. Although he did not speak in the hearing, outside the courtroom he blasted the Post-Dispatch and Johnson for requesting the juvenile files.

"There was one reason, and one only, the organizations wanted to view the files, he said: 'The character assassination of Mike Brown.'

"Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon disputed the idea that seeking any juvenile records was designed to impugn Michael Brown.

" 'We are a news organization that pursues facts, which are the basis of coverage. Innuendo and speculation through various forms of media have raised questions about whether Michael Brown had a criminal record. We are seeking to find those facts without prejudgment or bias.'

" 'It is ironic that today's new information appears favorable to Michael Brown by stating he had no record of adult or serious juvenile crimes, yet some have characterized the pursuit of that information as damaging to Michael Brown,' Bailon said. . . ."

N.Y. Daily News to Stop Using Redskins Name, Logo

It's been a bad-news September so far for the Washington NFL team.

The Daily News in New York declared Wednesday that it would no longer use the Washington Redskins' name or image; more than 100 groups, including the NAACP and Common Cause, asked broadcasters to stop using the name; and an activist law professor said Tuesday he has filed legal opposition to renewal of a broadcast license for the team.

"The Daily News publishes its annual, best-in-the-city National Football League preview on Thursday — the Washington franchise appears without the name Redskinswith one deliberate omission," the newspaper said in an editorial.

"Similarly, its logo depicting a feathered Native American has been replaced with an image that uses the team's maroon and yellow colors to key readers to stories, columns and statistics relating to Washington.

"Henceforth, in The News' sports coverage, the team that has been known as the Redskins since 1933 will simply be called Washington. . . ."

Meanwhile, "A group campaigning for the Washington Redskins to change their name is sending a letter to broadcasters requesting that Redskins not be uttered on the public airwaves," the Associated Press reported.

"The letter was released Wednesday and is signed by more than 100 Native American, religious and civil rights organizations. It's being sent by the Change the Mascot movement headed by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.

"The letter describes 'redskin' as a 'government-defined racial slur' that has been used to disparage American Indians 'throughout history.' . . ."

Also, "Public interest law professor John Banzhaf III, of George Washington University Law School, said in a press release that he has filed a formal opposition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)," Sue Reisinger reported Wednesday for Corporate Counsel.

"The filing opposes the renewal of a broadcast license for station WWXX-FM, owned through Red Zebra Broadcasting by Daniel Snyder, who is also the owner of the NFL franchise.

"Banzhaf has indicated he might oppose renewal of all seven of Red Zebra's radio stations. The filing claims that 'repeatedly and unnecessarily broadcasting a word which has been held in many proceedings, and by many individuals and organizations, to be a derogatory racial slur is contrary to federal broadcast law which requires stations to be operated in the public interest,' according to the Banzhaf statement. . . ." The Indian Country Today Media Network was among other news outlets reporting on Banzhaf's action.

Plain Dealer Picks Reporters for Cavs, New LeBron Beat

"You know about LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the rest of a talented Cavaliers team that will try to bring Cleveland its first sports championship in a half century," the Northeast Ohio Media Group, which publishes the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, told readers.

"Now meet the Northeast Ohio Media Group team that will bring you the stories of that hunt for a championship, discuss your take and offer perspectives you will find only on cleveland.com and in The Plain Dealer.

"Chris Haynes takes over as the Cavs beat writer, responsible for coverage of the team, the games and the players. Chris comes to Cleveland from Portland, where he is the Trail Blazers beat reporter for Comcast SportsNet Northwest.

"Previously he covered the NBA for Slamonline.com. In Portland, Chris has built a reputation as the go-to NBA writer, the one who breaks the big stories. NBA reporter Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports says 'there is no NBA team beat writer that breaks more news than Haynes.' Chris has a bachelor's degree from California State University in Fresno."

Haynes is a black journalist. Four years ago, before James left Cleveland for the Miami Heat, Dexter Rogers wrote for the African American Sports Examiner, "As it stands if LBJ happens to stay in Cleveland he won't have anyone that looks like him in Ohio covering him."

In addition to advertising for a Cavs beat writer, the Plain Dealer had also sought a reporter whose sole beat was LeBron James. That job went to Joe Vardon, the news operation announced.

"One of Joe Vardon's early jobs in journalism was covering Cleveland sports, including the Cavaliers, for a wire service. His work caught the attention of the Toledo Blade, which hired him to cover a variety of sports beats and, later, investigative news projects. For the past three years, Joe has covered Gov. John Kasich and state government for the Columbus Dispatch. . . ."

Story on Sam's Shower Habits an Embarrassment for ESPN

"After viewing and re-viewing Josina Anderson's report last Tuesday about Michael Sam's showering habits — a report that produced apologies from multiple ESPN staffers including a non-apology apology from Anderson and a flood of bad press for the network — I kept thinking about the following question," Richard Deitsch wrote this week for Sports Illustrated.

"What impact does Sam's sexuality — if any — have on an NFL locker room dynamic? 

"That's a compelling avenue to pursue for a reporter, but the question is how to report it thoughtfully for readers and viewers. Furthermore, is there relevance to a gay man showering in the same place as a straight man in professional sports?

" 'In the right hands and with the right reporting, it can be a story,' said Jim Buzinski, the co-founder of Outsports.com, the country's leading gay sports publication.

"If one were to determine that Sam was in fact not showering with his teammates and that his behavior is different from the showering habits of the other Rams, that could be a legit story. But it has to be seriously reported and sourced. What Josina Anderson did was throw out one anonymous player who said Sam 'seemed' to be holding back showering, then quoted another saying there could be a million reasons why this is.

"It was junk-food reporting, devoid of journalistically nutritional value. When Jon Stewart makes you a punchline, you know you have swung and missed. . . . "

Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted in NFL history, joined the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad Wednesday after being released from the St. Louis Rams among its 53-man roster cuts during the weekend.

Robin Roberts Forms Production Company

"The 'Good Morning America' anchor Robin Roberts on Wednesday announced the formation of Rock'n Robin Productions, an independent company that will focus on creating documentaries, lifestyle reality series and live special events for ABC and other broadcast and digital networks," Brooks Barnes reported Wednesday for the New York Times.

"Although Ms. Roberts did not provide many specifics, she said her new projects include a news-driven documentary, a Thanksgiving-themed ABC special and two reality show pilots. A new Rock'n Robin website will feature behind-the-scenes footage from the various projects and a new blog called N’Courage, where Ms. Roberts — a high-profile cancer survivor — will recognize people battling extraordinary odds.

Barnes also wrote, "ABC and ESPN are both owned by the Walt Disney Company. A spokesman for Ms. Roberts said she also plans to produce shows for non-Disney networks."

Public Stations Get $6.2 Million More for Dropout Efforts

"American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen, CPB's dropout prevention initiative, announced Wednesday another $6.2 million in grants to 33 stations and unveiled plans for a third daylong national broadcast produced by New York’s WNET," Dru Sefton reported Aug. 27 for Current.org.

"The funding targets communities where graduation is especially low among students of diverse races, ethnicities, incomes and disabilities, and where students struggle with limited English skills.

"In addition, 20 stations will receive a total of $200,000 from Newman’s Own Foundation, the late actor Paul Newman’s charity, to bolster outreach for American Graduate–related donations.

"The support is the latest infusion to the initiative that CPB announced with an initial $4.4 million grant in 2011 and ramped up with $20 million and a PBS partnership earlier this year.

" 'Education is at the core of public media’s mission,' said CPB President Pat Harrison in Wednesday’s announcement, adding that more than 1,000 organizations are partnering with stations in American Graduate work nationwide. 'We are proud of public media’s content and on the ground engagement that has raised awareness to achieve 80 percent graduation rates nationally and helped America see the potential in every student.' . . ."

Sulzberger on Honeymoon in His Year for Diversity

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., the chairman and publisher of the New York Times who appointed its first African American executive editor this year in Dean Baquet, is honeymooning with his new bride. She is Gabrielle Elise Greene, a partner in an investment firm who is also African American.

The couple were married Saturday on Martha's Vineyard, the Times reported on Sunday.

"The bride, 54, is taking her husband's name. She is a general partner in Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners, an investment firm in Pasadena, Calif. She works in New York, where she manages the firm's investments in private companies. She is on the boards of Whole Foods Market and Stage Stores and is a former member of the boards of the Boston Children's Museum and the Boston Partnership, which promotes diversity initiatives. She graduated from Princeton and received a law degree and an M.B.A. from Harvard," the story said.

"Mrs. Sulzberger is a daughter of Patricia Ainspac of Wilmington, N.C., and the late Gregory F. Simms, and a stepdaughter of Robert C. Ainspac. The bride’s mother, a pianist, retired as an accompanist and vocal coach in the Department of Music at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She and the bride's father were part of a group that founded Escuela Hispana Montessori, which operates schools in New York. Later, the bride's father worked as the developer of an early reading development program that was published by Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. Her stepfather retired as a history teacher at the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J. . . ."

Sulzberger, 62, messaged that the two met at a black corporate directors conference where he was a speaker. The couple were much in evidence at the National Association of Black Journalists convention July 30-Aug. 3 in Boston.

  • Gabrielle Greene bio

Short Takes

  • Broadcaster and activist Tavis Smiley is joining the season 19 cast of "Dancing With the Stars," which debuts Sept. 15, US magazine reports. [Sept. 4].

  • "Let's launch a bold diversity initiative that brings various stakeholders (the corporate, business and news side of media, the new giant online players, the journalism academy, public education innovators, futurists, technologists and media foundations) to one table to brainstorm collaborative strategies and tools to make it happen in my lifetime," Zita Arocha, director of Borderzine, "journalism across fronteras, a web community for Latino student journalists," wrote Tuesday. "If we were able to transform journalism education in less than a decade, we can solve the diversity problem. . . ."

  • "After denying access to Miami Herald beat writer David J. Neal for the football team's opening game last Saturday, Florida International University has decided to credential him for the remainder of the season, according to Paul Dodson, the school's assistant athletic director for media relations," Michelle Kaufman reported Wednesday for the Herald. She also wrote, "FIU issued a statement last week explaining its decision to deny Neal's credential: 'We did not issue a media credential to the Herald's beat reporter because of concerns we have brought up to the Herald's reporter and editors over the past few years about the reporter's interactions with our student athletes, coaches and staff, and the nature of the resulting coverage.' The Herald examined Neal's coverage and found it to be fair and professional. . . ." 

  • "The search is over," Nellie Andreeva reported Wednesday for deadline.com. "Final details are still being worked out but I've learned that actress Rosie Perez and political commentator Nicolle Wallace are expected to take the vacant seats on The View when the ABC daytime talk show returns for a new season September 15. They would join Rosie O'Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg. Perez and Wallace would succeed co-hosts Sherri Shepherd and Jenny McCarthy, who exited last month. . . ."

  • "The students of the School of Media and Communication Study Away program in South Africa were able to share the stories of their experiences this summer through a special edition of the Philadelphia Daily News," Temple University reported on Aug. 28. "Nine of the 11 Temple University students who participated in the program wrote a story for the Aug. 16 newspaper on a slice of South African life they thought would resonate with the readers back home." The release also said, "Linn Washington, an associate professor of journalism at Temple University and director of the 2014 South Africa program, initially pitched to the Daily News the idea of publishing student-written stories about their experience to editor Michael Days. Days came back with a bigger idea. The stories made up the 'Big Read,' a Daily News section that features in-depth coverage on a particular subject. . . ."

  • Reflecting on the death of William Greaves, the pioneer documentary filmmaker who died Aug. 25 at age 87, Todd Steven Burroughs recalled public television's "Black Journal," created in 1968. There are black-oriented programs today, Burroughs wrote for The Root. "What is missing, however, is not the visibility and reach but the tone — the constant, directed anger against a white supremacist, capitalistic system; the sociohistorical perspective; and the intended audience of black people hungry for political and cultural nourishment on unapologetic black terms. . . . "

  • WNYC radio announced Tuesday that Julia Longoria has been "awarded the first-ever WNYC News Fellowship, created in an effort to cultivate early career journalists of diverse backgrounds. . . . The WNYC News Fellowship is a partnership between WNYC and The Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), an organization that advocates for journalists in public and commercial media. The Fellowship was inspired by the life and work of Elaine Rivera, a talented and groundbreaking journalist whose work reflected her commitment to social justice, and who worked in the WNYC newsroom from 2006-2009. Rivera died last year."

  • For two decades, Youth Radio in Oakland "has been training young people to report and produce news from a youth perspective that is often absent in mainstream news coverage," Tammerlin Drummond wrote Aug. 27 for the Oakland Tribune. "Youth Radio (https://youthradio.org/) sent one of its reporters to Ferguson in Missouri to find out what young people think about the police killing of Michael Brown." Drummond also wrote, "Now, in addition to learning how to produce news, youth are being taught to design and build the apps that are increasingly determining how information gets disseminated. . . . Last year, Youth Radio was awarded a $1.7 million grant by the National Science Foundation along with co-grantee — the MIT Media Lab Center for Mobile Learning — to teach youth to create and build mobile apps. . . ."

  • Patrick Coffee of Mediabistro asked Ricardo Baca, marijuana editor of the Denver Post, "What is something about your job that would surprise our readers?" Baca replied, "Many people hear about what I do and think, ‘Oh, you must have all the free marijuana you can smoke and you must get high at work.' But I only eat it; I don’t smoke it — and it’s not a regular thing. Something that might surprise them about me is that a documentary film crew follows me all the time. As journalists, we're used to asking the questions, but it's bizarre when you're on the other side." The film is a feature-length documentary. "It's called The Rolling Papers [video], and it will be released in early 2015. You can call me a central character," Baca said. Since Jan. 1, adults in Colorado have been able to legally purchase marijuana for recreational purposes. 

  • "While some U.S. citizens with Chinese and other Asian origins have embraced the 'Asian American' label, most have not," Michael Lipin wrote Sunday for the Voice of America under the headline, "US Public's Labeling of Chinese Americans as 'Asians' Poses Challenges." "A 2012 study by U.S. opinion poll organization Pew Research Center showed that only 19 percent of Asian Americans actually describe themselves as 'Asian American' or 'Asian.' It said 62 percent of Americans with Asian ethnicity most often described themselves by their country of origin. . . ." 

  • "The men who walk the runways of fashion's capital cities, who pose in photo spreads for magazines such as GQ and who hawk everything from underwear to cologne are also the men who define and sell a modern definition of masculinity," Robin Givhan wrote Tuesday for the Washington Post. "When New York Fashion Week begins Thursday, two masculine archetypes will be engaged in a lively debate on the subject of manliness: what is beloved and what is rebuked; what is romanticized and what is demonized; what is hot and what is not." Givhan also wrote, "If these two extremes have anything in common, it is this: Both types are white. After so many years, that remains the default choice. . . ."

  • In New York, "Tom Llamas, a reporter and anchor at WNBC, who also reported for NBC News, has left the peacock and is joining ABC News," Chris Ariens reported Wednesday for TV Newser. "Tom is incredibly proud of his Cuban-American roots and the sacrifices his parents and grandparents made to come to the U.S.," ABC News president James Goldston said.

  • "Lisa Ling will make her CNN debut later this month," Jordan Chariton reported Wednesday for TVNewser. " 'This is Life With Lisa Ling' premieres September 28 at 10pmET. The original series follows Ling's travels across the country as she introduces 'sub-cultures and communities that are unusual, extraordinary and sometimes dangerous,' according to a CNN release. . . ."

  • Columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee, for many years a writer for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, made Metro Jacksonville's list of 10 people who should run for mayor. "The brilliant, erudite, worldly, well-connected journalist and author knows more about the real inner workings of Jacksonville than most living people, and she has seen it from many angles," the publication said. "In particular, her deep understanding of Caribbean culture and her work in Cuba would make her a fearless and exceptional mayor. Plus it would be nice if a little beauty and sophistication came to the Mayor's office for once."

  • In Honduras, "The program 'Noticiero Independiente' (Independent News), broadcast by Radio Estereo Castilla in Trujillo, was taken off the air on 20 August as a result of pressure from the city's mayor," Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday. "In a statement issued by the Committee for Freedom of Expression on 18 August, the presenter Miguel Dubon reported the efforts of the mayor of Trujillo to censor his program. The journalist said the electricity was cut off regularly at the time the broadcast, known for its criticism of the local government, was scheduled. . . ."

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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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