Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Oregon

Propaganda, Cowboy Style

with one comment

Shot Up Flag

I am working on a project that I don’t really have time to interrupt.  Except here I am doing it because I have found a quote that so exquisitely explains what is happening in Malheur county near Burns, Oregon, that I just have to share it.

As you may know, armed militants, protesters, occupiers or patriots (depending on to what degree you agree or disagree with their intentions) have taken over a Federal Wildlife Refuge.  Their trigger was the arrest of a father and son for setting fire to federal lands and being sent to prison a second time after a court ruled the time they initially spent in jail for the crime wasn’t sufficient.

And their ultimate goal may be to go out in a blaze of glory; a combination of Waco, Texas and Timothy McVeigh with the intention of starting a new Sagebrush Rebellion to sweep across the west.  But their stated reason, today, for remaining at the refuge, today, includes convincing local farmers and ranchers that the land upon which the refuge sits belongs to them, the true owners, not the federal government.

There are many tangents to that line of thinking, including how, if you want to get technical, it is the Paiute Indians; the 13,000 year prior residents who may have the ultimate, bonafide claim.  Another tangent is how, an armed group of white men can commandeer a federal facility with police, sheriffs, marshals, FBI and military within spitting distance and nobody gets shot.  But an unarmed and innocent black man in any one of a dozen U.S. cities can be shot by police because the officers feel their lives “were in danger”.

And then, there is the Constitutional interpretation, which unfortunately, like the Bible, can be interpreted to mean anything by those believing they are the chosen ones to interpret it.

But I digress.

Back in 1961, during a seminar hosted by the National Educational Association of Broadcasters, University of Illinois, Urbana faculty member Harry Skornea told a story about his work in East Germany just after the Berlin Wall went up:

“This reminds me of 1948 when I struggled a good deal with the organization of a news department for RIAS (Radio In The American Sector) in Berlin. The blockade was starting and our people were trying to set up a good news department that would cause the people to listen to RIAS instead of the much more powerful East Berlin station. And one of the things that I thought they were doing wrong and which we finally were able to put a stop to was that, good as our news department was, the communists were using us, or manipulating us. When one of the East German leaders, Grotewohl or someone else would speak, or when there would be an enormous rally in Leipzig, our newsmen would be real proud of the fact that they were able to cover it.  And I said, “Don’t you realize that in a great many cases these meetings are being staged precisely so you will cover them and report them?  And that you’re being used time after time?  You’ve got to have the courage not to cover certain things which have propaganda implications, because unless you’re extremely perceptive, you may be lending yourself to their nefarious ends.  And I think that in a great many cases, we fail to recognize the extent to which things we relay are “managed” in some way or other by people who are a little bit more skillful than we are, and I think we are going to have to begin to screen more carefully ourselves”.

The news cycle is such a circular heroin injection and any news porn that fills the seconds is considered to be serving the highest standards of the Society of Professional Journalists, or at least the drooling demands of advertisers.  But does telling the public all about it all the time make them informed such that they will solve the problem without, as Oregon Governor Kate Brown lamented regarding the Malheur situation, “tearing themselves apart”?  Can it make the perpetrators think about the philosophy of the matter at a depth deeper than their ego without making them laugh so hard that they piss themselves?

Or does it just make journalists punks?

Mike Murad Update

leave a comment »

Mike Murad

This is a real quickie.

There is life in TV after TV.  On May 23, 2015, Mike Murad was still looking for work.  By August, he was the evening anchor for WLUK Fox 11 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.   It’s likely everyone at KOIN Fox 12 knows about the new job, but the many people in the Portland market who liked Mr. Murad might not.

He’s OK.

Written by Interviewer

January 7, 2016 at 05:12

Don’t Forget the X Factor

leave a comment »

Female terrorist

Oregon Governor Kate Brown said Oregonians have a moral obligation to accept Syrian refugees despite reports that one of the Paris attackers had a Syrian passport.  According to NPR, this has led 23 governors to say they do not want any Syrian refugees and that the President should reconsider his policy of admitting up to ten-thousand refugees.

In a subsequent OPB story, emphasis was placed on the number of single, combat aged men, who assumedly are most capable of conducting such terrorist operations.  However, the story ignored the number of single, combat aged women.  Jayne Huckerby, an associate professor at Duke University law school who advises governments in counter-terrorism strategies told the Los Angeles Times that female terrorists have a long history of exploiting gender stereotypes to avoid detection, and through counter-terrorism measures, have become more effective.  She says women account for about 10% of those joining Islamic State from Europe and about 20% of those joining from France.

Female terrorist ranks include 57-year old grandmother Fatima Omar Mahmoud Al Majjar.  She attempted to kill two Israeli soldiers in 2007.  Also, Samantha Lewthwaite, the infamous “White Widow” for her involvement in a case in Kenya in 2011.  According to Philip Perry of Liberty Voice, female acts of terrorism have skyrocketed since the 1980s, taking place in such countries as Palestine, Iraq, Israel, Chechnya, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Sri Lanka. Half the suicide bombings in Turkey, Sri Lanka and Chechnya since 2002 have been perpetrated by women. In 2008 Iraqi female bombers had detonated themselves 21 times before the year was even halfway over.

The moral obligation of the United States to help people fleeing for their lives remains unchanged.  And as these stories are told, the media must continue to struggle to not profile.  But newsworthy statistics that are part of the equation should also be part of the story.

Women are equally deadly.

Photo by Hanna Kozlowska of the Chauthi Duniya newspaper

Written by Interviewer

November 18, 2015 at 06:31

Cecil the Lion and OR-7

leave a comment »

wolf in scope

What do lions and wolves have in common?  Canus lupus and panthera leo aren’t exactly close relatives.  But yesterday, biologists with Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended removing wolves from Oregon’s endangered species list.  The new rules to be voted on, will let the state kill more of the predators based on conservation targets in the state Wolf Management Plan.  It also lets farmers kill wolves that are chasing livestock.  And the announcement reminded me of something.

Up until two years ago, wolves were the darling endangered predator.  State residents heard wall to wall coverage on the movement of OR-7, a radio tagged wolf that wildlife officials labeled as the key to helping the recovery of Oregon’s discimated wolf population.  But recent news reports speak of the existence of other wolves thought dead who have sired more wolf pups in heretofore unknown packs as well as those by OR-7 and other wolf breeding pairs.

It is interesting to see how the narrative shifts as circumstances change.  Of course, life is a fluid situation.  But stories that sound initially mythic can plant the idea in people’s minds that once something is, like a hero’s journey, (even if that hero is a wolf), that story never can or should change.  Removing those same wolves from the endangered species list and making them subject to be shot by hunters and farmers crashes hard into what we were hearing in 2013 about how OR-7 was practically the last of his kind struggling to survive.  And as we heard more stories of how he was suceeding, the fairy tale of the heroic and anthropomorthized wolf grew.

If any of Oregon’s radio tagged wolves, and especially OR-7 is killed, will we experience our own Cecil the Lion moment?  How will journalists tell the new story and how will the audience reconcile it with the old one?

It’s an example how life continues even in fairy tales after “The End”.

UPDATE: OR-23, a female from the Shamrock Pack was shot by a farmer in mid-November 2017, while nearly half-a-dozen other wolves have died under suspicious circumstances since 2015.  Some were admittedly shot by farmers or “de-predated” by Oregon Fish and Wildlife as part of a Wolf Conservation and Management plan – http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wolves/wolf_program_updates.asp

Written by Interviewer

October 30, 2015 at 23:26

Pronounciation Guides

leave a comment »

Pronounciation Guide

When I was a reporter for the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), pronounciation guides were a necessity. AFRTS facilities were scattered around the world.  Local military broadcasters presented the news to military and their families serving at those bases and posts.  And the last thing commanders wanted was for one of their people to embarass the command by mispronouncing the name of a host nation dignatary.

A pronounciation guide is a list of hard to pronounce words that occur in the major stories of the day.  It’s purpose is to help news readers say the word as correctly as possible.  Sometimes, that means as a company or country or group decides they want it said.  Remember the problem the media was having with ISIS versus ISIL versus DASH?

Sometimes, pronouncing a word correctly means as a community had decided it will be said no matter what “proper” pronounciation says it should be.  For instance, In Cincinnati, there is a main thoroughfare called Reading Road.  Most people might pronounce it as “Read” with “ing” at the end.  But Cincinnatians say it like “Red-ing”.  A pronounciation guide would be very helpful there.  A new hire at a hometown station that says “REED-ING” instead of “RED-ING” is instantly pegged as not a local.

By contrast, sometimes a name is just a nightmare to pronounce.  But anchors and hosts have to speak with authority and if they continually stumble over words, they start to lose their credibility.   Besides, it’s distracting for the listener because they start paying less attention to the story and more attention to the next time the anchor stumbles.  And that stumbling can take a few forms.  As a reader, you see the word coming in the copy with the horrible realization that you have no idea how to say it.  So you crash into it, trying not to break your pace as you butcher way through it and hoping no one will notice.   Or, you start to pronounce it, realize you are pronouncing it wrong and try again, and again, and again.  Somewhere in there, a part of your brain realizes another part of your brain just isn’t getting it.  So you slam another word in place and jerk yourself to another part of the sentence.

U.N. Secretaries General are especially hard.  There was Dag Hammarskjöld.  There was U Thant.  There was Boutros Boutros Ghali.  Without a pronounciation guide, how many anchors fell into those phonetic pits.

Sometimes you think a pronounciation guide is necessary when it really isn’t.  For example, in the U.S., the word “aluminum” (AHH-LOO-MIN-NUM) is pronounced much differently than how the British pronounce it, which is AYL-YOU-MIN-E-UM.  This is sort of similar to the Cincinnati example except it’s really the difference between homophones (words sounding the same but with different meanings) versus homographs (words spelled the same but sounding differently).

I miss pronounciation guides, and it seems some broadcast outlets are missing them too.  For instance, I recently heard a local commentator call the Oregon community of YOU-MA-TILLA, UH-MA-TILLA.  But this isn’t just something small outlets do.  Earlier this week, a reporter on CBS called the Oregon based sportsware manufacturer N-EYE-K, rather than N-EYE-KEE.

But pronounciation guides can be a pain too.  When you’re writing and producing stories, you’re constantly up against the clock.  When airtime is looming, scanning through a pronounciation guide is a luxury and the last thing you have time for.  So many of us in the business assume we know how to say something.

ASS-U-ME

A Viewer’s Perspective on the Greenpeace Protest Coverage

leave a comment »

St. Johns Bridge

I watched drama under Portland’s St. John’s bridge unfold yesterday.

At 7 a.m., the CBS Morning News began as usual. But at 7:05, local affiliate KOIN cut in with breaking news about a protest by activists to prevent the Fennica, a ship owned by Shell Oil, from moving northward on the Willamette River. Apparently, as the ship left dry dock around 2 a.m., protestors were already positioning themselves to dangle themselves in front of it. The ship is an icebreaker and has the ability to cap blown out oil wells.  The US Government gave Shell permission to drill in the Arctic only if that capability is on site.  By blocking its passage and preventing the ship from leaving, activists were preventing the drilling.

The protest was clearly illegal, but it was also quite elegant. Thirteen protestors suspended themselves in hammocks from climber’s ropes beneath the deck of the bridge. They hung low in the shipping traffic route of the Willamette. Their intention was to prevent the high masted Fennica from passing by daring the ship to endanger them in an attempt to pass them. As the Fennica approached, the protestors lowered themselves another 50 feet to make it even more difficult for the ship. And, connecting each protestor was an even lower hanging cable that looped from one to the next to the next. Long and colorful red and yellow streamers waved downwind of many of them.  Over the next hour, the Fennica would stop, turn, retreat and advance as authorities tried to figure out what to do.

I soon realized that this was an great chance to see how all of Portland’s TV news teams covered an event with international appeal. So I started switching between all four stations; KGW Channel 8, KPTV Channel 12, KOIN Channel 6 and KATU Channel 2. It was hard to pay attention to all of the nuances of each station’s coverage considering the story was fast developing and had lots of moving parts. But I had some overall impressions.

  • CBS affiliate KOIN’s video feed from the river shoreline was intermittently terrible. Perhaps it was because the microwave signal for the camera operator was in a bad location. Or maybe they were using a technology other than microwave. But the picture was frequently pixelated. However, Ken Boddie in studio, Brent Weisberg on the river, and Elishah Oesch at the street level were professional and comprehensive in their reporting despite technical difficulties. KOIN did get some beautiful shore level video of protestors hanging from the bridge.
  • NBC affiliate KGW relied heavily on their helicopter, as did KATU and KPTV, although I couldn’t tell if KGW had a reporter in theirs. The footage they shot gave excellent perspectives on kayakers, protestors hanging from the bridge and the moving Fennica thanks to anchor Russ Lewis and reporters Stephanie Stricklen and Rachel Rafanelli.
  • ABC affiliate KATU’s Mike Warner was their reporter in the air. His reporting personalized what was happening on the water and made me appreciate that his play by play was just as if not more important than an aerial view with no commentary. I counted four and maybe five KATU staff on this story including reporters Katherine Kisiel, Matt Johnson, and Warner as well as anchors Lincoln Graves and Natalie Marmion.
  • KPTV provided the most long lasting coverage. As each network affiliate left Portland’s local coverage at 8 a.m. PST to rejoin network programming, channel 12 stayed and continued to follow events. Anchors Pete Ferryman and Kim Maus, along with reporters Anthony Congi and Debra Gill worked it for at least another hour.

One takeaway for me was the advantage a helicopter provides to a station’s coverage. For example, both channels 8 and 2 seemed to report on a hang glider dangerously manuvering amongst the suspended protestors from their choppers at least a minute before 6 did. But KOIN had some impressive water level shots of the Fennica. And using its long range lens, the ship looked massive and imposing. Plus, KOIN’s Carly Kennelly seemed to be the only one I saw using ODOT traffic views of the St. John’s bridge.

By afternoon, U.S. Coast Guard and Portland Police had cleared a path for the Fennica ending a nearly 40 hour standoff. Portland’s fire and rescue team rappelled off the bridge and managed to remove three of the 13 protestors who hung over the center of the river channel.

Overall, the coverage by all of the locals was outstanding. And this kind of unique protest is what Portland is known for. Although opponents could argue that the protest was illegal, supporters can also argue that it was both ethical and necessary. If there is a positive, it is that worldwide attention was focused on something other than a mass shooting.  Here, both sides can claim a degree of victory with no injuries or loss of life.

Written by Interviewer

August 1, 2015 at 03:25

How to Be Wrong

leave a comment »

Red X

KBOO is a community radio station here in Portland that has occupied the far left politically and on the radio dial for almost 50 years.  I conduct interviews for KBOO’s news and public affairs.  So I assumed that because KBOO champions LGBTQ issues, the news director would be interested in new Governor Kate Brown’s view on human rights issues as they affect that group.  Ms. Brown is the nation’s first bi-sexual state executive.  I had been trying to secure an interview since shortly after she assumed the governorship.

Chris Pair, the Governor’s spokesperson was, at all times, prompt in his replies to my requests and cordial in explaining the governor’s schedule and the difficulty in getting an interview for anything except in response to specific issues, i.e. bill signings, policy statements, etc.  But today, he was specific by saying focusing on anything other than Ms. Brown’s work in office is not where they want to take the messaging.

Jenka Soderberg, KBOO’s news director concurred with Mr. Pair.  She said she didn’t understand why the mainstream media, including the Oregonian, had latched onto Ms. Brown’s personal life while there were many more pressing issues that she felt deserved public attention.  Among them, what Ms. Brown can do as Governor to prevent the EPA from forcing the city to cover its reservoirs.  Or learning her views on preventing Nestle’ from setting up a bottling plant in Cascade Locks and using ungodly amounts of water while Oregon is suffering through its worst drought in decades.

At that moment, I felt like I had missed a meeting.  And I remembered again why they’re called news “directors”.  I guess it’s one thing to assume something is important, but it’s another for it to actually be as important as you assume.  And we all know what happens when we assume.  Reporters need directors and editors because reporters are not always right.

Maybe later, the messaging will line up and make that other conversation happen. Maybe not.  But pressing business is the headline today.

I get it.

Written by Interviewer

May 22, 2015 at 09:47