Archive for August, 2007

Parallel Universe
August 29, 2007

The idea that media can be managed has spawned an entire industry.

The idea that media can be managed is fairly amusing to most news people I know, who refuse to be managed (except by the newsroom boss, of course).

Does the term “free speech” ring a bell?

Today in the Dade County Courthouse, I actually had an employee for the Department of Children & Families tell me to stop talking to a private attorney opposing the state on a case I’m covering. Not that it was any of her business, but that attorney had stopped to tell me she liked my suit, and then was perfectly willing to clarify some of her client’s positions for me.

I’m thinking, that’s due diligence. The state employee was no doubt thinking that I was getting the wrong side of the story.

I (respectfully) explained that I can engage in conversation with anyone I darn well want (and had done so with her hours before!). The rest of the rant I saved for here.

Who ran amok with the notion that information, video images should be carefully crafted, managed, spun – to achieve a desirable message?

I call that advertising (which, by the way, in its proper form, funds our salaries.) But the news is – what it is. And a conscientious news gatherer always looks beyond the “talking points” and spins, confirms and balances information.

Today was certainly not the first time someone tried to manage my work.
There was the police supervisor who asked me to edit out something an officer said on camera because it might make the department look careless. There was the p.r. guy who arranged a tour I didn’t want, to put off an interview that I did want.
And oh so many more …

Sure, there are reporters who participate in the “sell” because it’s easy, because it makes them friends, whatever. Eventually they lose credibility, I think (I hope).

Me, I won’t be managed.

My husband calls it my rebellious streak.

I prefer to just think of it as reporting.

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Noir, Nightly
August 27, 2007

I had a bloody good time last night. Torture, shootings, mutilations, rivers of red – horribly entertaining.

It was the Gablestage production of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, noir-dark and pointedly funny.

Plenty has been written about the production locally and on Broadway, so I’ll leave the critique to the critics. But less is written about this gem of a theater (so intimate, even the back row feels inside the actors’ space), symbiotically attached to the east side of the Biltmore Hotel. Presiding over the magic is Artistic Director and loveable guy Joseph Adler.

I’m drawn to people with a passion. Joe is just plain passionate about how theater can elevate a community. Every production I’ve seen at Gablestage (some more enjoyable than others) provokes, challenges and lures you ever-so-subtly out of your comfort zone.

Joe isn’t content to merely push the envelope. He propels it over the edge.

I usually pass on violence – even the “artistic” sort a la the Coen Bros. or Tarantino. Frankly, I see enough of the real thing in this line of work.
But The Lieutenant of Inishmore is mortifyingly fun, right down to the “blood” smeared, spattered and sloshing all over the set. (Hello, housekeeping?)

It’s Gablestage’s season finale, playing another two weeks. The new six-play season opens in October.

I can’t wait.

Teach-onomics
August 24, 2007

Is there anyone out there who thinks South Florida teachers are paid enough?
Who wouldn’t think it divine justice if salaries for teachers and pro football players were switched?
My email inbox filled with letters from teachers from Broward County this week, as their union battled for more in their contract. No doubt, the people in the position to teach and inspire young minds (and play parent, at times, when the real thing doesn’t exist) deserve more than they make. Much more, really. But that frustration has been around since I was sitting in one of their classrooms.
Here’s what I haven’t seen: crowds of teachers, parents (and, well, people in general) descending on Tallahassee. They were there to yell about high insurance rates. They were there to protest high property taxes. Where are the shout-outs and sit-ins demanding Florida’s budget-makers to put more into the teacher salary column??
I have at least three friends and relatives, all bright, engaged professionals committed to kids, who quit teaching careers. They felt overworked, overstressed, underpaid and underappreciated. What if every teacher made that decision, switched careers, started businesses? What if the supply of quality teachers went away? Wouldn’t the demand go up? Wouldn’t salaries go up to lure in candidates? Where would that more money come from, the state?
Wouldn’t the best and brightest teaching professionals clamor for one of those highly-paid positions?
Oh, and memo to the Teachers: most of your emails had at least one, sometimes more, mistakes in spelling and/or grammar. How do I explain that one to my kids?

Into the Storm
August 19, 2007

Dean is ugly. Big. Already a killer. And just getting started.

Every hurricane expert and public safety professional, without exception, preaches preparedness, and if so ordered, evacuation. You will never hear any one of them suggest heading to an island or sliver of coast where a Category 5 is projected to hit head-on.

In the newsroom, the rules are a bit different.

As I write, seven of my colleagues are planted in front of Hurricane Dean, one crew in Jamaica, two in Cancun. I spoke with one of them on the phone this morning. They are focused on reporting the story. They have staked out (what they think will be) a safe place to hole up for the worst of it. But there is no denying the uncertainties. We have been humbled by the effects and deadly results of uncertainties over and over again in the last few hurricane seasons.

Two years ago, weeks before Katrina & Wilma defined the treacherous 2005 storm season, I was dispatched to Key West where Hurricane Dennis was projected to hit as a Category 4. Mandatory evacuation of the Lower Keys was already underway. My sense of dread was already underway… and growing. I focused on gathering stories, filing, “going live” as much as possible, as long as our connection held. Our crew signed waivers so our hotel’s managers would let us keep our rooms absolved of liability for what might happen to us. City leaders warned us that first responders would be unavailable if we were hurt or desperate. Viewers emailed, wondering why we tell people how to be safe, then ignore our own advice.

Dennis weakened, then took a last minute shift in direction.
Dean may not be so accommodating.

Full disclosure: there are times I eagerly volunteer to be the first to go.
Sense of duty? Lure of adventure? Ego? Yes, all of those.

I explain to those who love me that a reporter’s unwritten job description includes the possibility (probability) of sometimes working in dangerous places and risky situations.

Mom is tough to convince.

And sometimes, so am I.

Satan, Maybe?
August 15, 2007

After spending most of the last 20 years in newsrooms (in Miami no less), I truly didn’t think there was much left that could surprise me.
Wrong.
Today I received an email from the High Priestess of the Church of Satan.
Honest.
The concern was a report we’d done on a murder trial I’m covering this week. Some background: a man named Lazaro Galindo is a accused of killing and dismembering another man who loved the same woman as he – done, say prosecutors, as a human sacrifice. They found satanic drawings in his home, recounted a confession during which he said a spirit inside him directed him to kill, etc. Galindo, for the record, says he didn’t do it. He did, sort of, explain to the jury what he believes and what he worships; I must admit I’m still not clear what his “religion” involves… I just do my best to present the facts and context of the court proceedings on our evening newscasts.
In her email to me, the High Priestess informs that the Church of Satan is an Inc. – “a legally-incorporated religious organization established in 1966”. There are “strict records”, that do not include any Lazaro Galindo as a member. There is an “ethical system and a code of behavior that does not include the acts of which Mr. Galindo stands accused.”
Whew!
I responded to the HP by assuring her our reports are based on testimony and evidence presented in court, not about the actual Church of Satan, Inc. Still concerned, she wrote to ask that we mention Galindo is not affiliated with her law-abiding organization. So done.
And you know my curiousity was so peaked.
So tonight I spent some time perusing the Church of Satan, Inc. official website. Interesting reading. After all, good reporters should know a little bit about a lot of things. So I’ve officially added to my repertoire.
After 20 years in newsrooms, I still love surprises.

Airline Idiocy – Part Deux
August 14, 2007

The American Airlines counter at Miami International Airport was our first stop on vacation. The agent weighed our suitcase and informed us that it was six pounds over the 50 pound limit.

“But since you are two people with one suitcase, that’s fine,” he said.

That made sense to us. Every flyer is allowed to check a bag. We congratulated ourselves for fitting eight days of clothing for two people into one suitcase. We boarded the plane and had a vacation.

Fast forward, eight days – the airport in San Francisco for the flight back.

American Airlines counter agent: “Your suitcase is six pounds over the limit. You’ll have to pay a $25 heavy luggage charge.”

Me: “Yes, but in Miami, the agent said since we are two people traveling with only that one suitcase, we’ve actually saved on weight, so it’s fine.

AA Agent: “No, it’s not fine, the bag is overweight. But I have an option for you. I can give you a box and some tape and you can empty some of the contents into the box and check that as your second bag.”

Me: “So, American Airlines would rather we add extra weight with another box and take up more room in cargo with two checked items, rather than one compact suitcase on wheels for two people?”

AA Agent: “Those are the rules.”

Me: “But that makes no sense.”

AA Agent: “That’s the rule.” You have the option. Do you want the box?”

Uh, no thanks. We chose to pay the $25 heavy luggage fee rather opening the luggage, transferring items to some box, then lugging around a carton with no wheels.

The way I see it, American Airlines owes $25 to the charity of my choice.

Do airline managers lay awake at night thinking up ways to make traveling more difficult?

A Few Good Journalists
August 10, 2007

One of the things I love about our newsroom: we can laugh at ourselves.
And trust me, there is NEVER a lack of material.

The following is a twisted little news take-off on the defining scene of “A Few Good Men”, written by my friend and colleague Robert Alpizar eight years ago during a slow night on the assignment desk. I share it with you here, with his permission … It’s as timeless as the movie it mimics.

ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: You want answers?

REPORTER: I think I’m entitled.

ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: You want answers?!

REPORTER: I want the truth!

ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: You can’t handle the truth!
Son, we work in markets that have stories. And those stories need to be covered by men with cameras.
Who’s gonna do it? You? You, you’re an anchor wannabe!
I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom.
You lust after the interns and make fun of the competition; you have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: The Lohan story, no matter how stupid, probably got us ratings. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, gets stories. You don’t want the truth, because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me for those stories, you need me for those stories.
We use words like “swing by”, “check out” and “just get me a quick VO”. We use these words as the backbone of a life trying to cover stuff. You use them as a punch line.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of news I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said “thank you,” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest that you pick up a camera and shoot something.
Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

REPORTER: Did you order the LIVE SHOT?

ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: I did the job I had to do.

REPORTER: Did you order the LIVE SHOT?!

ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: You’re God damn right I did!

Vote by Remote
August 5, 2007

This little item didn’t appear on many (if any) front pages this week, didn’t make top headlines, so I will share here – in case you missed it:

“Public Blames Media for Too Much Celebrity Coverage”

(Stop here for a moment and consider that statement)

That’s the title on survey results released late this week by the venerable Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Some details: 87% of those polled think celebrity scandals receive too much news coverage. More than half blame news people for deciding to cover it all.

Now, here’s the view from the newsroom:
The public wants too much celebrity coverage, watches for it incessantly. We have to provide it to them or they will turn to our competition to look for it.

What an interesting disconnect.

Oh, and also this week, Diane Sawyer (prominent network anchor, Wellesley-educated, award-winning journalist) unearthed the scoop that NR (who is about to be jailed, just like PH, for DUI) is pregnant.

This is MY column. I will not write about PH, NR, LL, OJ, ANS (may she rest in peace) or any sell-ebrities unless and until they cure cancer, broker peace, end poverty or at least say something charmingly witty and smart. I’m not holding out hope.