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An "Off the Wall" Media Frenzy Begins

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

An "Off the Wall" Media Frenzy Begins

"The rest of the world disappeared from television news networks Thursday as the surreal saga of Michael Jackson played out," David Bauer reports for the Associated Press.

"For more than two hours, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and Court TV covered nothing but the pop star's appearance at the Santa Barbara jail to face child molestation charges."

"But the intense media spotlight wasn't limited to 24-hour cable news," added Peter Johnson in USA Today: "The New York Times, The WashingtonPost and USA TODAY all reflected widespread media interest when they put Jackson's planned surrender on charges of child molestation at the top of the front page in their Thursday editions."

"Executives overseeing prime-time newsmagazines must be especially happy," wrote Lisa de Moraes in the Washington Post.

"They had faced the prospect of trying to mine ratings out of reports on old serial rapists, presidential turkey pardons, fad diets and eating disorders during the important November sweep period, when audience levels are used to set advertising prices. Those suits spent much of Wednesday and yesterday busily dumping those stories in favor of updates on the travails of the 45-year-old pop star, who was seen briefly surrendering at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, wearing a black velvet suit, while TV cameras zoomed in on his thin, pale, handcuffed wrists."

Media critic Howard Kurtz added in his Washington Post online column:

"In fact, the mainstream press has probably exhibited way too much tolerance for this seriously deviant entertainer (who may be innocent and has strongly denied these child-molestation allegations) because, well, he's good copy.

"Perhaps this case will put an end to that."

It looks like it will be old-home week for Jackson family fans.

"ABC said Barbara Walters was set to interview Jermaine Jackson and CNN advertised LaToya Jackson's ex-husband appearing on Anderson Cooper's newscast," wrote the AP's Bauer.

One of the most credible talking heads is likely to be Maureen Orth, who has written extensively about Jackson and child molestation charges in Vanity Fair, most recently in a 10,000-word piece in its April issue.

In one of the first commentaries by a columnist of color, the Washington Post's Donna Britt today linked Jackson with teen-age sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo in a column called, "Shielding Kids Should Come Before Reprisal."

TV One Network Announces First Cable Companies

"TV One, the new channel targeting African American adults, will be added to the lineup of Comcast's expanded basic package, the most popular level of service, in major markets comprising 2.2 million subscribers in Atlanta, Detroit and Flint, MI, as well as Comcast's entire Atlantic division, which includes Washington and Baltimore," the channel led by Johnathan Rodgers announces.

"TV One will be available to 550,000 Comcast subscribers in the city of Atlanta; 175,000 subscribers in Detroit and Flint, MI; and 1.475 million subscribers in the company's Atlantic region, which includes the cities of Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, VA and Ocean City, MD, as well as Baltimore, Montgomery, Prince George[']s, Howard and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland; Arlington County and Alexandria, VA; and Dover and Rehoboth Beach, DE."

The network debuts on Jan. 19, Martin Luther King Day.

Elizabeth Vargas Gets Carole Simpson's Anchor Job

Elizabeth Vargas is now the permanent anchor of ABC News' 'World News Tonight Sunday,'" reports Television Week. "Ms. Vargas succeeds Carole Simpson, whose 15 years in the chair ended in late October when she was named an 'ambassador' for ABC News in classrooms."

"Ms. Vargas's new assignment will not mean less work. She is expected to continue as a substitute anchor for Peter Jennings on weeknight 'World News' and on 'Good Morning America' as a co-anchor of 'PrimeTime Monday' and as a correspondent for ABC's newsmagazines.

"When Ms. Vargas left NBC News for ABC seven years ago she had her eye on succeeding on 'Good Morning America,' but for her professional fans, her newest assignment confirms that her strength is in hard news," Television Week said.

Vargas was one of the names mentioned when Journal-isms, reporting Simpson's departure from the anchor desk, asked ABC who of color was in the pipeline for anchor jobs.

Black Press News Service Cuts Back Staff

Funding problems at the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and Black Press USA Web site, the prides of the organization of black publishers, have led to a staff cutback from four to two -- at least for the time being.

Managing editor Florestine Purnell, who was deputy to editor George E. Curry, and writer Artelia Covington are gone, leaving Curry and writer Hazel Trice Edney. Purnell, who left Oct. 3, was also managing editor under Curry when he edited Emerge: Black America's Newsmagazine.

"I'm doing the day-to-day editing" formerly done by Purnell, "and using more stories from other papers" instead of those formerly generated in Washington, Curry told Journal-isms.

Brian Townsend, publisher of the San Bernardino Precinct Reporter Group of newspapers and president of the NNPA Foundation, which administers the news service and Web site, told Journal-isms that when grants funding positions expire "if we can't move them to other programs, we have to let them go. At some point the staff will be restored."

The news service feeds the more than 200 African American papers, mostly weeklies, in the organization.

Light at End of Tunnel for Jobless Journalists?

"One of the tightest job markets for print journalists in recent memory has started to loosen, with optimistic recruiters expecting so many editorial professionals to change jobs in coming months that some talent shortages may occur beginning in 2004," Perri Capell writes for the Wall Street Journal's Career Journal.

"Editors and writers who might otherwise have sought new positions have stayed put for the past two years because few media organizations were hiring. Instead, layoffs and salary freezes were the norm as employers tried to stem red ink caused by advertising lineage declines.

"Now magazines, and to a lesser degree, newspapers and editorial Web sites, are seeking professionals to staff new launches and sections or to add content. As revenues and ad lineage increase during the remainder of 2003 and are predicted to grow in 2004, more journalism jobs will be created."

FCC's Ownership Rules Dealt Another Setback . . .

"House and Senate negotiators last night defied a White House veto threat and agreed to a provision that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from loosening rules on ownership of multiple media outlets." Eric Pianin and Marc Kaufman wrote Thursday in the Washington Post.

"The decision is a setback for President Bush, who has strongly endorsed the rule change. The plan, drafted by FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, would have allowed a company to own television stations that could reach almost half the viewing public in a given area."

. . . As Musicians Take to the Road

"While many of today's rock stars are signing on with corporate sponsors, the 'Tell Us the Truth' tour is sponsored by the AFL-CIO, defenders of America's union movement," writes rock writer Steve Morse in the Boston Globe. "It's an immediate sign that 'Tell Us the Truth' is unlike any other tour this year.

"Its caravan of acts -- featuring Tom Morello (of Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine), Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, and Lester Chambers [of the '60s rock 'n' folk-blues group the Chambers Brothers] -- has come together to slam 'corporate globalization' and 'media consolidation' for its effect on the average citizen, says Morello.

"And he's proud of it.

"'There hasn't been an explicitly political tour since 1988's Amnesty International tour,' says Morello, referring to the 'Human Rights Now!' aggregation that included Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Sting, Tracy Chapman, Peter Gabriel, and Youssou N'Dour."

Gina Redmond Chooses Family Over Anchor Job

"WPXI 11 p.m. anchor Gina Redmond will leave the station after Wednesday's late news to spend more time with her children," writes Rob Owen in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"Redmond, who joined Channel 11 in May 2001, said her decision was strictly related to her family.

"'I was struggling with being a single parent to two beautiful children I don't see,' she said yesterday. Redmond's children are 4 and 6. She's separated from her husband, Ivan Thorpe.

"In October 2002, Redmond was sentenced to community service after pleading no contest to slapping a former WPXI producer, Roberta Petterson, girlfriend of former . . . 'NightTalk' host John McIntire," the story continued.

"That has nothing to do with her departure," news director Pat Maday told Owen.

Marv Dyson Out as GM in Chicago Radio

"Marv Dyson, whose leadership, vision and charisma drove WGCI-FM (107.5) to top ratings and top advertising billing in the Chicago radio market, is signing off after 35 years," Robert Feder reports in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Clear Channel Radio announced . . . that Dyson's job as president and general manager of urban-contemporary WGCI-FM, gospel WGCI-AM (1390) and adult-urban WVAZ-FM (102.7) would be eliminated, effective at the end of the year.

"The move is the final step in the corporate-mandated management consolidation of Clear Channel's seven radio properties in Chicago."

Dyson was criticized earlier this year by Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, who wrote that Dyson and his program director "have acted like PR executives in their efforts to keep indicted R&B singer R. Kelly at the top of the charts. Since Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography in Chicago, and additional charges in Florida, he has headlined concerts sponsored by the Clear Channel-owned stations."

But yesterday, Mitchell told Journal-isms she was sorry to see Dyson go. "Any time you have anybody at the very top who has given African Americans jobs in management, who mentored and provided a leg up, you should be sad about that. He was accesssible to all kinds of people in the community. As long as he was there, people felt they could go to Clear Channel and make their case."

Chauncey Bailey Seeking Bay Area Station

Veteran journalist Chauncey Bailey, who covers East Oakland for the Oakland Tribune, is seeking to take over the cable spot held by the local black-oriented cable channel known as Soul Beat. He's doing so, he told Journal-isms, with the support of the Tribune, where he expects to continue working.

"Oakland has more performing and visual artists than anywhere outside Manhattan," he said.

"Our goal is to take over Soul Beat's spot on the dial." He says he plans sitcoms, dramas, African American game shows and expects to show entries to film festivals.

Bailey was at Soul Beat for eight years as news director while at the Tribune, he said. He has been at the paper for 10 years, before that spending 10 years at the Detroit News.

Bailey's odyssey with Soul Beat was reported in the East Bay Express on Nov. 12.

FCC Reports Spike in Indecency Complaints

"Regulators reported a huge increase in consumer complaints about indecency in broadcasting during the third quarter of the year," reports Mark Wigfield of Dow Jones Newswires.

"Much of the increase to 19,920 complaints from 351 complaints can be traced to e-mail campaigns targeting two shows, 'NYPD Blue,' which airs on Walt Disney Co. 's ABC network, and 'Keen Eddie,' which has since been dropped by News Corp.'s Fox network.

"According to the FCC, 'NYPD Blue' received 14,000 complaints, and 'Keen Eddie,' more than 5,000. The FCC hasn't yet released a breakdown of which broadcasts sparked the complaints.

"But a number of groups wrote to complain about an episode of 'Keen Eddie' in which a prostitute was hired to perform a sex act with a horse. More complaints were triggered by an episode of 'NYPD Blue' featuring a shot from the rear of a nude woman standing in a bathroom, which then switched to a frontal shot artfully obscured by the profile of a young boy who walks in on her, according to Tim Winter, executive director of the Parent's Television Council," Wigfield continued.

A N.Y. Times Correction We Couldn't Make Up

An editors note from Wednesday's New York Times:

"An obituary last Wednesday about Marvin Smith, a leading photographer of Harlem who worked with his identical twin, Morgan, described the closeness of the two men ? it was said that they never used the pronoun 'I' ? and recounted an anecdote about Marvin Smith's response to the illness that caused his brother's death, in 1993.

"The article said that Morgan Smith died of testicular cancer and that his brother, in response, had his own testicles removed. That account was given to The Times by a friend of both men. It should not have been published unless it could be verified and attributed.

"After the obituary appeared, Monica Smith, the daughter of Morgan Smith, told The Times that her father had had prostate cancer and that her uncle did not have his testicles removed."

Marvin Smith, Historian with a Camera (Herb Boyd, The Black World Today)

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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 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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