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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Does Jared Stern Even Read Newspapers?

13

April

According to Editor and Publisher, Stern -- the fedora-wearing, aspiring clothing magnate and freelance writer at the center of the New York Post gossip extortion scandal -- is actually surprised more journalists haven't come to his defense.

Gotta say, his surprise surprised me. Revelations last week about how President Bush authorized the leaks to New York Times reporter Judith Miller have only highlighted how some journalists who have often seemed victims in scandal turn out to be much more -- and less.

And Stern is no Judith Miller. At least she has Pulitzer and notable scoops to her credit; Stern's legacy is a career spent cozying up to the rich and powerful, using technique contrary to the most rudimentary ethics policies at most reputable media outlets. The New York Post is now learning a painful lesson most of us got in J-school; ethics rules barring reports from having financial relationships with sources, taking free items of value from sources and running "blind" items without identifying source or subject (e.g. "A certain New York based gossip writer is facing prosecution for extortion") exist for a reason.

At a time when news outlets everywhere face increased scrutiny from consumers and the Internet exposes every mistake to the world at lightning speed, the danger increases from "ends justifies the means" reporting styles -- whether its anonymous, sometimes manufactured gossip columns, Dateline NBC paying $100,000 to a volunteer group to set up its Catch a Predator series or Washington-based reporters acting as stenographers to power and then hiding their sources.

No wonder the New York Times decided to kill its Boldfaced Names gossip column (Times editor Bill Keller says the decision is not connected to the Stern scandal). Considering how many mistakes it's faced recently, the Times has sidestepped a question many other newspapers will face in the wake of Stern's scandal -- Is the sizzle of a good gossip column worth the risk to our crediblity?

Forget about those who want to minimze Stern's trangressions -- because he offered to be a paid media advisor instead of taking a direct payoff, he's not an extortionist? Ultimately, his greatest achievement as a reporter may be to convince reputable news outlets to safeguard their credibility by dropping ethically questionable gossip reports.

Which, come to think of it, may be a pretty fine achievement indeed.

SHORT TAKES

-- Am I the only one creeped out by the fact that producers of the film United 93 have enlisted family members of people who died on the 9/11 planes to endorse their creepy-ass movie?

-- According to the Radio and Television Business Report, Tampa Tribune and WFLA owner Media General was hurt a bit by dipping first quarter newspaper revenues, which offset slightly higher broadcast profits. Industry watchers expect cost cutting at its broadcast stations, despite 1st quarter ad revenues which rose 7.3 percent from last year, compared to a 8.6 percent dip in newspaper ad revenues. Other newspaper owners report similarly depressing news, with Tribune Co. revenue down 29 percent and Gannett down 11.5 percent in 1st quarter.

-- I can't help hoping that the discrimination complaint by fired CBS producer Raylena Fields is false -- mostly because she says avuncular interim anchor Bob Schieffer is a racist who asked her to serve as his receptionist answering his phones, calling one black employee Brownie and another Boy. She also notes no black people hold a rank above producer on any of CBS' eight newscasts and only one black male has been promoted to a producer job in 10 years. Thanks to Richard Prince's Journal-isms web site for this report.

-- Are ABC's news woes overstated? Buried in New York Observer reporter Rebecca Dana's fine report on unrest at the Alphabet network's news division, she notes that the evening newscast beat first-place NBC among viewers aged 25 to 54, and its critically drubbed, Ted Koppel-less Nightline has earned higher ratings than its earlier incarnation, nearly beating CBS' Late Show with David Letterman. All this, with one top anchor recovering from blast wounds and another preparing to go on maternity leave. Imagine how they might be doing if their luck was actually good?

(Once again, graphics problems with Blogger -- I'm beginning to hate this service's unreliability)

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]

    

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