Thursday, November 09, 2006
Three weeks ago I was in New York and had the rare chance to spend a little time with the legendary newsman. What a treat it was. Though, he seemed a little aloof as though his mind was on something else. Sadly, it seems to make more sense now.
It’s a little surreal for someone to die not long after you see them.
Lets not forget, however, this is a man who lived an incredible life. As a child growing up in a rough section of Philadelphia, Bradley took to heart his parents inspiring words.
"I was told, 'You can be anything you want, kid,"' he said. "When you hear that often enough, you believe it."
Not only did he believe it, he achieved it.
A career that began as a teacher, ended with use of broadcasting as an educational instrument. Bradley throughout his career remained an educator.
After working for WCBS Newsradio in New York as the only African American on its news staff, he continued as the trailblazer for African Americans in television news and on television in general. He told an interviewer: "I think that I was thrown into the soup, and someone said, 'Negro, sink or swim.'"
At age 65, we bid farewell to a journalistic icon long before we should, but thankfully after he made monumental contributions that reach far beyond television news into greater society, touching many lives today.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Bradley’s wife, Patricia Blanchet and his relatives.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The Edward R. Murrow awards ceremony was a blast with an all-star lineup including Brian Williams, Campbell Brown, Kate Snow, Soledad O'Brien, Gil Gross and many others. It was inspiring to be in a room with the creme de la creme of our industry, people who yearn to carry forth the spirit of true broadcast journalism. Unquestionably, the standards Murrow set forth are alive and well.
No doubt there are hurdles for our industry, the least of which is fragmentation with audiences getting their information in new ways, some still in their infancy. Perhaps we can view this new reality as a reminder that we in broadcast news must earn viewers' trust and interest. Otherwise, we as some scholars predict, face extinction. I'll leave you with an oft-quoted excerpt from Murrow's address to the Radio and Television News Directors Association 48 years ago. Its message is as important now as it was then in the early days our two mediums. Referring to television Murrow opined, "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Earlier this year, we were informed the documentary won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association. So to answer the question, I'm here on behalf of the station to accept that award. I am still beside myself.
The trip, so far, has been unbelievably surreal, though that could just be explained by a severe lack of sleep and full agenda. On Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting and briefly visiting with two of the most esteemed investigative journalists in our country, Ed Bradley and Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes."
I've been to New York before. But this trip, despite the jam-packed itinerary, is truly wonderful. Thank you for the interest. I intend on writing a little about the dinner and banquet tomorrow evening.
While coverage of the crisis has been solid, I've had a question bumping around in my head. Why aren't we journalists looking, not just at North Korea, but the tens of other countries believed to be enhancing nuclear capability?
The beginning of a new trend in coverage may have emerged in a startling report in today's New York Times. William Broad and David Sanger examine how as many as 40 nations may possess the ability to build a nuclear weapon. Hundreds of companies are seeking out uranium, the story reports, where only dozens did just a few years ago.
The nuclear issue on air and in print is only going to be amplified. In the coming weeks and months, perhaps we'll see a resurgence in coverage of another frightening element of our nuclear world. Since the 2004 election, we have heard little about what nations, including our own, are doing to reclaim thousands of unaccounted for "loose nukes." The story has sat idle for too long.
Friday, October 13, 2006
It’s interesting to be here now. Let me quickly share a story from yesterday. Many New Yorkers still seem jittery after the Upper East Side plane crash Wednesday. On the shuttle in-bound from La Guardia we were about to enter the Queens-Midtown Tunnel which spits out a few blocks south of the UN. We were waiting to pay a toll when there was sudden “BOOM!” The concussion shook the van I was riding in. I along with the other Super Shuttle passengers, almost in unison, began asking “what was that?” People stopped in neighboring lanes began whipping their heads around. The episode became even more jarring when our native New York driver exclaimed “that was pretty crazy!” As we inched closer to the toll, I noticed a NYPD or Port Authority officer standing by calmly. A colleague walked up beside him, and the two began laughing. ‘False alarm,’ I thought to myself, though nonetheless a testament to the nervousness that seems ever present in this city.
Meanwhile cross-town, the United Nations Security Council could vote tomorrow on a resolution regarding North Korea. There are some very major implications there and I’ll share a few thoughts on how the story has been covered so far.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
They say he may have intended to "shoot up the school and take hostages." The statement and others, about Englewood High school, which the teen attended, were made in recent days. Today, he was arrested trespassing on school grounds. The gun was in the backseat of his car. The school is five miles from Columbine High School in Littleton and 40 miles from last Wednesday’s shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo.
Across the country in Nickel Mines, Penn., five Amish families are preparing simple funerals for their slain children.
All of us should be posing the question: what has sparked this violence? A national dialogue is needed to target this problem. We in the media should be part of the conversation to ensure we do not glorify these events only to encourage more like them.
It is not an issue to only be addressed by those affected. This is a national crisis. As demonstrated by recent shootings, no community is immune and a proactive response is needed.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Four school shootings have dominated headlines on this continent in the past two-and-a-half weeks. This is the first time ever we’ve had so many school shootings in the United States, three to be exact, in less than one week. It is heartwrenching. Another day, another shooting. A new wave of school violence is upon us.
The service is one of many new technologies being rolled out to generate interest – while newspaper circulations plummet. Convergence isn't coming. It's here. Longtime-Georgia-broadcaster-turned-blogging-media-critic Dick McMichael is exploring the topic. He even suggests a book might be in order. It could be a hot seller. Outside of college texts, it is uncharted territory, probably because changes are so rapid, no one’s writing about it in-depth for fear their book will be outdated soon after a printing run. The trend is so encompassing the University of Missouri has added it as a sequence, right alongside its three historic sequences of broadcasting, print and advertisting. In a sign of the times, Yahoo! even recruited former NBC war correspondent Kevin Sites for a feature known as Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone. He now files his reports online.
The trend will undoubtedly continue and we'll follow the big developments here.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
As I write this in the final moments of the month of September, my mind is with those journalists who have given their lives not just for the story but for the concept of the Fourth Estate. It means so much to so many, but at a grave price. This year, 20 journalists' deaths in Iraq have been recorded by the Committee to Protect Journalists. At the current rate, the number of journalists killed there in 2006 could surpass the previous wartime record of 24, set in 2004.
Earlier this year, Steffan Tubbs, a good friend was sent on assignment to Iraq. Aside from his broadcasts, he posted daily web dispatches and the occasional photo, including the one above of him in the center of his security detail. He wrote of late night patrols with Ghost Troop, the same unit ABC's Bob Woodruff and crew were with when their Humvee struck an IED. After learning that, I remember praying for Tubbs' safety. A week or so later he returned with incredible stories to tell and a newfound respect for our servicemen. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Conflict has been with American journalism since day one – from eyewitness reports of the first revolutionary battle in the Massachusetts Spy – to the present. Journalists will not put their pens and microphones down until the story is told, however great the risk. Abdel Karim Hamadie knows there is never a good month for journalists in Iraq. September was terrible. We can hope October will be better.
Friday, September 29, 2006
That is little consolation to the family of Emily Keyes. She's the 16-year-old killed when SWAT teams stormed the classroom where Morrison was holding her. After firing a shot at the advancing team, Morrison turned and leveled his gun at Keyes who was trying to flee.
The impact of Wednesday's shooting will be broad. For SWAT teams, it presents new procedural questions. In 1999, as National Guard troops enveloped Littleton neighborhoods around Columbine, SWAT teams were criticized for entering the school too slowly. The question being asked now is: did they move in too fast? Was their decision predicated in part on criticism from Columbine. That siege added a chapter to SWAT team manuals on hostage situations known as active shooter situations. The concept requires law enforcement to enter a school before a SWAT team is fully readied; if the shooter or shooters is killing hostages. Before the raid into the Platte Canyon classroom, Morrison had not killed any hostages. He had released four of them. Officers and deputies were presented with a new dilemma, however, when it became apparent to them he was sexually assaulting the remaining girls.
Until now, the most high-profile case Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener had dealt with was a triple homocide carried out by two teenage gunman. A forthcoming book, "Simon Says," by Colorado Springs journalist Kathryn Eastburn chronicles that bizarre story. Wegener will now have to justify his decision for SWAT teams to enter the classroom. Wegener knew his decision would weigh heavily -- his own son is a student at Platte Canyon High School.
Wegener did have control of his decision and whether it was justified will be the target of numerous post-operational reviews. What he had no control over, however, is an epidemic of school violence over the past decade.
This week, Colorado saw it's second school shooting. Today, the nation saw it's second school shooting of the week in Wisconsin. If you include the shooting at Dawson College in Montreal, there have been three in two weeks.
In the days following April 20th, 1999, in between my radio live shots, I would walk through the makeshift memorial that took up a corner of Clement Park adjacent to Columbine. In one direction, it stretched a quarter-mile. People from around the nation sent flowers, cards and placards they had signed. They pleaded for peace and an awakening to come from the darkness of that Tuesday morning. That was seven years ago. Why does it seem we are so quick to forget?
Seven years ago, I was reporting from
On Wednesday, a tidal wave of Columbine memories flooded audiences across the nation as gunman Duane Morrison took students at
Coincidentally, moments before I learned I would anchor KOMU’s national report for the first time, I got word from a colleague on the unfolding scene in the tiny mountain town of
The same haunting question asked throughout Columbine is being posed once again: why? Who was Duane Morrison and what were his motivations? Morrison had a criminal history, but only for minor offenses. Those who knew him say they never expected this. What compels a grown man to perpetrate such a crime? Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener thinks he may have an answer. The sheriff says Morrison left a suicide note. Wegener has yet to elaborate on what it says. Like Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Morrison may have addressed his motivations. Sadly, in the end, he had to address his emotions not only with words, but weapons.
***There are more blog entries to come on this topic. They have been delayed until now due to other stories Skamenca is working.***
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
What does this mean? The answer: with 30 million regular viewers network news is not dead. In 40 years, the Big Three broadcasts have lost about 50% of their audience. Considering how the news market has fractured with many options both on cable and online, this 50% drop could, and statistically, should have cut deeper.
That the networks are grappling for the top spot is encouraging, proof positive that resources can and probably will be used to enhance network broadcasts.
Below is the AP article...
NBC pulled ahead last week in the suddenly supercharged network evening-news derby, according to preliminary ratings.
"NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" was the most-watched newscast for all five nights, ending the two-week winning streak posted by CBS anchor Katie Couric since her Sept. 5 debut, according to early Nielsen Media Research figures released Monday by NBC.
Final numbers for Sept. 18-22 will be out Tuesday.
The NBC newscast averaged 8.18 million viewers, while "CBS Evening News" drew an audience of 7.69 million, according to the preliminary ratings. ABC's "World News with Charles Gibson" was watched by 7.58 million viewers.
Last week, Couric's second on the job, "CBS Evening News" averaged 7.88 million viewers to edge past NBC's audience tally of 7.83 million.
In her debut week, Couric led the CBS newscast to its first weekly ratings win in five years with an average audience of 10.2 million, eclipsing NBC's 7.1 million and ABC's 6.9 million. NBC, the longtime front-runner, has placed first for 112 of the last 116 weeks.
CBS News President Sean McManus has reiterated that the focus of his network's new-look newscast is on "long-term developments, not the short term."
Friday, September 15, 2006
Whatever the case, the mayhem in
Monday, September 11, 2006
As promised: http://www.journalism.org/node/1839
Monday, August 28, 2006
Today was the sort of news day that sends major, major stories into competition with each other. For me the interest in this day began yesterday morning in
The network was already sending in a correspondent from
Back to the idea of competing leads...LA-based ABC News correspondent Alex Stone, who’s covering the one-year Hurricane Katrina anniversary put it this way in a phone conversation with me: “it’s going to be one of those days where were saying ‘It’s the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, but first lets turn our attention to another hurricane that’s moving into the Gulf even as we speak.’” In the news business we sometimes refer to that sort of scenario as a delayed lead.
It was one of those types of days that make one wonder: when will it end?, before a sudden reminder that news is ubiquitous and never stops. Days, however, made up of a major disaster’s first anniversary; an approaching hurricane; a plane crash; a dropped high-profile murder case; wars and other tensions are hard to come by.
Friday, August 25, 2006
The lead back in Colorado of course is the arrival of suspect John Mark Karr. And the fact he is there probably signifies something big. Colorado authorities only have 48 hours to charge him, so if his being in Colorado suggests anything, it's that Boulder DA Mary Lacy is confident in the evidence she holds against him. Given the potential for embarassment, It would seem unlikely she would bring him back unless she felt her investigators had a solid case to pursue.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Saturday, August 19, 2006
ICE or Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it has tied suspect Edgar Alvarez-Cruz to at least 10 of the 300-plus murders. The story wasn't supposed to be announced by ICE until Friday. But the Mexican Ambassador put out a press release a day early. One Denver reporter tells me the surprise announcement was made out of embarassment --something to consider given the scrutiny authorities in the Mexican state of Chihuahua have been under.
To end any speculation, someone will likely leak the results of the Karr mouth swab and sample from beneath JonBenet's fingernail . If positive, because it will end the echo chamber of skepticism; if negative, because some insider would think it an absurdity for the public to remain in the dark and/or Lacy's Office to face continued questioning about its judgment in Karr's arrest.
No matter what, the prime suspect will remain in custody. He'll can be held initially in California for an absentia conviction on 2001 child pornography charges. If Lacy lacks the evidence she needs...to buy time, it's a foreseeable move for her to leave Karr there temporarily. Once he returns to Colorado, authorities have only 48 hours to charge him. If he's there too long though questions about why the DA is not bringing him back will arise.
There has been never-ending speculation this guy is a "wingnut" seeking a attention, because there are holes in his story. Now, he claims, he didn't make statements that conflict with established facts. Law enforcement agencies often engage in disinformation to catch a criminal. They will put out bogus information so during interrogation the suspect will correct them. Then they know it's their guy. It weeds out the phonies. Is that happening with the Boulder DA's investigation?
We know this for certain, she was not bludgeoned, as he purportedly admitted.
Even though toxicology tests suggest otherwise, he also purportedly admitted to poisoning JonBenet. (This is an area a former investigator tells me, where authorities might issue disinformation).
The problem is the alibis...Not one, not two, but three. And an ex-wife who leaves a guy for sex crimes against kids is unlikely to stick up for him. Given her forthcoming nature, within 24 hours of the arrest...she probably isn't lying, liars generally aren't quick to jump into the spotlight...then again...we just don't know about Mr. Karr.
As for a little anecdotal story that could signify what's to come...I was talking to Fox's Greta Van Susteren about how it doesn't seem like DA Lacy has a strong case. Her presser lacked the tone of a DA hot on big break. Answering a question I asked about whether this took John Ramsey off the suspect list, Lacy responded: "John Ramsey is presumed innocent. John Mark Karr is presumed innocent."
Frankly that's a strange answer and doesn't seem like the attitude of a DA with a strong case. Then again, Lacy's relaxed demeanor could simply be that of a DA who has an ace up her sleeve and a poker face meant to confuse.
Should we (the media) have been more skeptical before full-blown coverage? We didn't really have a choice. The Asian press decided for us. The attention it was getting there and the video via feed overrode most meaningful editorial meetings on American soil.
Back to Greta though, she thinks the DA's case is pretty bunk right now and told me as much. She's so confident in this story, she's already left Boulder...for San Francisco. That could be a sign of things to come. Though most everyone else is still doing sidewalk duty outside the Boulder County courthouse.
Karr is expected to be en route to California tomorrow. How long he's there could dictate what comes next. An immediate trip from California to Colorado would suggest confidence in the case on the part of the DA. The longer Karr sits in a California jail cell, the more the public is going to begin to wonder about the validity of DA Lacy's case.
Friday, August 18, 2006
For years, far too many news resources have been dedicated to this story. Two thoughts about that: one, at a time of crisis oversees that speaks to the sad state of what we will pander to and what our audiences consume. Two, once a story takes a certain prominence, like the Ramsey case has, it will never go away -- except perhaps with a conviction.
When I was here for the initial investigation and then grand jury hearings in the late 90s, I was always torn on this issue. Compared with the Middle East conflict, and the Iraq war, THIS IS NOT news, nor should it be in any normal time. However exciting for the reporter assigned to a story, we should always be asking: is it newsworthy? There are many, many incredible elements to this story -- with so many twists and turns no one could imagine. But does it deserve the prominence it has been given? Absolutely not.
Who does this story effect anyway? The answer would be nobody, if it wasn't so prominent. But here in Boulder, in some way everyone is affected. Most are just repulsed that all the reporters crawling around are putting their town back under an intense spotlight.
The problem here is every little development has been covered intently. Once that happens, the circus taking its three rings elsewhere is unlikely.
In a number of my live shots and Q & As yesterday, I found myself making the point that should the arrest of John Mark Karr ultimately exonerate John Ramsey, this case will surpass the Richard Jewell case and others as a case study in media ethics gone totally wrong (in many ways it already has).
John, and before her death, Patsy, and the rest of the Ramsey family, have been put through the wringer. They were long ago convicted in the court of public opinion despite a good amount of exculpatory evidence. Should they be cleared of the crime, I only hope the way we in the media approach certain stories will change.
From day one, this case should never have received the attention it did. That said, the timing of the murder during a slow news period (Christmas 1996), coupled with the fact JonBenet looked like an angel, changed everything about what would otherwise simply be the murder of a child. What really propelled the initial television coverage, I think, was the fact there was video of her pageants. And once the Denver stations latched on, national followed and never let up.
Here in the parking lot of the Boulder County Courthouse, the 30 satellite trucks and 120 or so reporters who were at yesterday's presser demonstrate this story is not going away. Being caught up reporting the latest, I haven't been able to see much of the on-air coverage, but know it's dominating. It shouldn't, but it is.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Vacations never seem to go as planned. And this one is no exception. Back home in Colorado for a little R & R, everything was turned upside down today.
After nearly 10 years, police have made an arrest in the Jon Benet Ramsey murder. Having covered the initial investigation and subsequent grand jury hearings, I knew my vacation was over. I write this from Boulder tonight. It's 9:27. I'll be able to catch a couple of hours of sleep before an early wake up call. Then it's over to the Boulder County Courthouse to begin live hits (live shots) beginning at 4:00 a.m. mountain time for stations around the country.
Boulder County DA Mary Lacy will hold a press conference at 10:00 a.m. , I'll be there and intend on blogging this assignment throughout. Hopefully, we'll get a better answer as to who the suspect is.
Over the course of the day, those of us who have covered the case have found ourselves asking just who is John Mark Karr?
This much we know: he was picked up in Thailand on unrelated sexual assault charges, he may have taught as a 2nd grade teacher at an elementary school in either Boulder or Atlanta, or both. Aside from that it's a name were told even the Boulder Police department was unaware of before a phone call this morning from the Boulder DA's Office. Apparently, the Boulder DA's Office Jon Benet Ramsey Task Force has been handling this development without help from Boulder PD. That's an entirely different story though. They Boulder Police and Boulder DA's Office have never had a warm relationship, making the story that much more interesting.
For news observers and observers of the media...GET READY! This is just the beginning of a prolonged legal saga...and the media circus is coming to town.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
This marks August Skamenca's first blog entry. After questioning the relevancy of the cyber-phenomena he decided to embark on his own quest to get a better understanding of the allure of the blog.
Ask anyone in my field if blogging is journalism and the hard and fast answer is “no.” As I type this Microsoft Word even tells me blogging is not accepted as a word, as evidenced by correction red beneath the word itself. Blogger (and bloggers) are not recognized by Word either.
Wondering if I just have an outdated version of Word, I made a quick check of dictionary.com. It [blogger] is there, along with blog…blogging is not. Though it does turn up as a noun under blog.
While linguists may be slow to catch on, others have not been. Look online and the cyber-community is exploding with hundreds, probably thousands of new bloggers everyday. Blogging has become a sub-culture of the Internet community. But again, is it journalism? In some cases. Journalists do blog.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams has his “Daily Nightly.” The folks over at CBS have “Public Eye,” an ombudsman’s site of sorts, frequently turning a critical eye on its own news broadcasts.
Now, this journalist has taken of leap of blind faith. I’m going to blog. Sure the word seems foreign to my vocabulary, but why not? How long will I do it? I don’t know. Will I like it? I don’t know. Whatever the outcome, blogging is a new frontier. Giddyup.