Posts Tagged ‘Newspapers’

A Legendary Columbus Journalist Leaves Us

August 4, 2013

I just read on my old friend  John Cornett’s Facebook post where former Columbus  Ledger-Enquirer reporter Connie  Johnson died.  John was an executive at the L-E and worked with Connie for a long time. My old sailing buddy and former Columbus  Councilor Jack Bassett tells me she died in an automobile accident in her home town in  Mississippi a week ago. She was 89 years old. Her late husband Carlton was an editor. Both were top-flight journalists. The word that comes to mind is integrity.

Connie and I covered a lot of stories together, she for the paper and I for WRBL-TV.  Naturally, I usually broke the story before  she did because of the immediacy  of TV news, but she would always do a much  longer comprehensive report that contained things I wished I had the time to report.

People like Connie and Carlton represented responsible journalism at its best.  Not only did I admire and respect them, I liked them a lot.

A Way to Fight Junk Information Addicition

January 16, 2012

Eating junk food can make you unhealthily fat. And ingesting too much junk information can make you unhealthily uninformed.  Way too many of us fit in both categories.

“Who wants to hear the truth when they can be affirmed and told they are right,” Clay Land – a cousin of mine, by the way – said on Weekend Edition Sunday morning. Being interviewed about his book The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, Clay said that we can be better informed if we seek factual information instead of opinions that confirm our beliefs.  His book tells us how we can do that.

He is addressing a big problem. We are feasting on texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets. Some experts think our attention spans have become unhealthily short.  We can change that by changing our information consumption habits.

One can’t blame the providers for the problem because they are giving us what they think we want, content that confirms our beliefs. But, just as Wal-Mart started carrying fruits and vegetables and lower salt and fat content in order to stop losing high-end customers, information providers could start providing more fact and fewer opinions. But we have to reward good information providers by becoming good customers.

I think he has picked a subject is quite timely, one that needs our attention. And I plan to read the book. And it’s not just because he is the son of my cousin Ray Johnson, who is an Albany, Georgia psychiatrists.  Ray gave me the heads-up on Clay’s scheduled interview on PBS. I’m glad he did.


Rupert and William Randolph

July 25, 2011

Being a retired broadcast journalist, it’s de rigueur that I comment on the News of the World fiasco in the UK.  No doubt it adds even more tarnish to the news industry, but it’s certainly not the first time that a news corporation put profits above ethics.

Time put Rupert Murdoch in the same category as William Randolph Hearst,  and that makes a lot of sense. Controlling information is the source of great power and influence.  And making a lot  money is a part of that  equation. Hearst, in large part,  achieved his power through yellow journalism with his  New York Journal. That paper was credited with playing a role in starting the Spanish-American War in 1898.  He ended up, like Murdoch, owning a lot of papers, magazines, a movie production company, and added broadcasting when it came along.  He basically lost control of his empire when he greatly over-extended it.

Murdoch’s power is basically the same as was Hearst’s, though on a global basis, it is probably much larger.  Just as Hearst relied on sensationalism with his New York Journal, Murdoch did the  same with News of the World.  Murdock’s biggest money-maker is not his papers, though, but his movie studio, 20th Century Fox.  His Fox network, with shows like American Idol, is very lucrative, and so is his  Fox News cable channel.  His problem is not the same as Hearst’s, though. It’s not that  he overextended, it’s that one of his high-profile newspapers got caught being unethical and illegal by allegedly hacking phone calls.  It may not be his downfall, but it has  definately damaged his brand’s reputation, and the value of News Corp has dropped since the scandal broke.

What does all of this do to the credibility of the journalism business?  Probably not much.  Its credibility had plummeted before this ever happened.  I suppose it has always been about the money, but there was a time when it was also about a lot more, especially doing the right thing for the common good.  Actually, though, it is also about more than the money, because, in my view, especially with people like Murdoch, it’s about influence.

There is  hope, though. There are still some old-fashioned, dedicated, ethical, and committed journalists. Name one, you might say. The first to come to  mind is Bill Moyers.  

A View on How Newspapers and TV Differ on “Bean Counter Cannibalism”

March 30, 2011


My friend of many years, John Cornett, who worked in the newspaper business for a long time and ended up as publisher of two papers before he retired, put his interesting comment about yesterday’s post on Kurt  Schmitz’s departure from WTVM on Facebook. In case you don’t read Facebook, I’m posting it here because it gives an interesting perspective on the differences between TV and newspapers. We really don’t know why Kurt no longer works at WTVM. He says the station said he quit, but he denies that. Station management won’t discuss it publically. That leads to speculation, of which there is a lot on Facebook. John’s is based on his many years of newspaper administration.

  Sounds very much like bean counter cannibalism to me. The television world, as opposed to newspapers, and even radio, is vastly different in that regard. In the visual world, age-maybe a few wrinkles, a little too much paunch, maybe a younger, more twinkly personality(male or female), even ethnic considerations and certainly ratings-come into play. The written world knows none of those boundaries. It’s all based on the quality of the writing and the breadth and depth of knowledge, which is usually associated with education, age and on-the-ground, hard-knock experience. In the visual world, sometimes “Hi, I’m Suzie (or Freddie or Jose)-here’s the weather picture tonight” is all it takes to displace good people that don’t meet ratings(bean counter) standards. 

John Cornett


 I’m sure I’m telling Noah about the flood here, Richard. You’ve experienced, dealt with, and overcome those kinds of mercenary standards to reach prominence, even dominance, with a station that recognized the merits of experience, news savvy and trust-importantly TRUST- which only comes with age, experience and depth of knowledge-over the latest fresh out of J school show horse qualities. 

I suppose, John,  I should point out that I also had very good ratings over the years, and they climbed steadily when I worked at WTVM.  It was interesting that even though I was 55 years old – Kurt is 55 –  when I switched from WRBL to WTVM in 1986,  that the young demographics that advertisers love stayed high, and if I remember correctly, even got better.  A lot of people were surprised when the Ledger-Enquirer took a poll of teenagers on their favorite local TV news anchor and it turned out to be me.  I had one lady write me to request an autographed picture for her two-year-old granddaughter, saying the little girl would tell everyone in the room to be quiet when I came on the screen. Incredible, but true.  

How Newspapers Can Survive

March 22, 2011


John Cornett

My old friend John Cornett – we’ve known each other for more than 70 years – responded to yesterday’s post about changes at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer via Facebook.  Because not everyone who reads this blog reads Facebook, I decided to pass his comment on to you.  He has credibility when it comes to observations about newspapers because of his professional background.  He started at the Ledger-Enquirer as an employee in the promotion department.  He ended up there as National Advertising, Promotion and Personnel Manager, and administrative assistant to the publisher.   He became publisher of the Boca Raton News in Florida, then the Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune in Gary, Indiana. After retiring from Knight-Ridder,  he became Publisher of the Sports Classics Magazine in Camden, South Carolina, and now operates the sports travel agency Sports Classics International in Columbia, South Carolina.

He commented on  Ledger-Enquirer Executive Editor  Joseph Kieta’s  statement in Monday’s L-E print edition about the newspaper’s goal. 

Joseph Kieta wrote, “We want to create a daily newspaper that is an oasis from the noise of the daily news cycle – a deep breath and exhale that adds depth, relevance and context and answers the questions ‘why’ and ‘how.’ If we do our jobs the right way, we’ll probe deeply into local affairs and thoroughly explain community issues.”

John Cornett wrote: “An ambitious but fitting goal for any newspaper, and one that can be the difference in survival as an essential reflection of the heart beat of a community, and the kind of demise that many newspapers that fail to meet that standard will ultimately suffer.

“I just hope they put the resources and the personal and financial commitment behind the words. It will be the salvation for many fine journalists, employes of the support groups in production, circulation, accounting and advertising and for the community at large.”

The Oasis Goal Sounds Good to Me

March 21, 2011

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Executive Editor Joseph Kieta (File photo by Jim Cawthorne, Camera1)

  Now we know how the new management of the Ledger-Enquirer is changing the paper.  Proclaiming the changes with the lead article on today’s front page – incidentally, that’s where it should be, in my view, since a daily newspaper still has a tremendous responsibility to and influence on a community – Executive Editor Joseph Kieta  explained the changes are in response to reader calls for an improved paper.

Instead of commenting on the details of the changes, because you can read that story for yourself easily enough, I will just lift out the one paragraph that is the most significant to me: 

“We want to create a daily newspaper that is an oasis from the noise of the daily news cycle – a deep breath and exhale that adds depth, relevance and context and answers the questions ‘why’ and ‘how.’ If we do our jobs the right way, we’ll probe deeply into local affairs and thoroughly explain community issues.”

If the paper can accomplish that, it will indeed provide an extremely important service that is sorely needed.  There is a big problem though. The public’s attention span is probably its shortest ever.  In-depth analytical writing that is succinct, incisive, insightful, and easily and quickly read has always been a daunting challenge, and it still is. 

The L-E folks have my best wishes in meeting that challenge because for many years I have been troubled by the egregiously superficial news reporting so common to  TV,  which, according to Pew Research, is still where the largest number of people get  their news.  That’s why I have always said that newspapers are extremely important because of their ability to report in-depth.  Still, being in-depth is no substitute for being clear.  

New Ledger-Enquirer Excutive Editor Promises a “Better Paper”

January 6, 2011

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Executive Editor Joseph Kieta speaking to Columbus Rotarians (Photo by Jim Cawthorne, Camera1)

 If first impressions mean anything, and according to the book Blink, which gives scientific evidence, they definitely do, I have to say I am feeling good about the future of journalism in our area. 

Based on what he told Columbus Rotarians today, the Ledger-Enquirer’s new executive editor, Joseph Kieta, is my kind of journalist, one who understands that a free press has a responsibility to do more than make money, though, of course, it must also do that to survive..

 What a lot of people who run today’s media, especially local TV stations,  don’t seem to realize is that doing a first-rate job of investigative reporting  is not only responsible journalism, it can be quite profitable. Back in the old days, I did some investigative reporting, and the ratings were boffo.  If a paper or TV station wants a truly impressive exclusive story, it digs, goes beneath the surface, and comes up with  news that no one else has. Yes, it takes capable reporters, and you get what you pay for…well, sometimes. Hey, it takes money to make money. How’s that for a run of clichés!

 He promised a paper that will “probe, illuminate, compel and not be boring.”  He also promised to “shine light into dark corners,” saying he agrees with the statement that “sunshine is the best disinfectant.”  Amen.

 There will be changes. He plans to reorganize the paper’s newsroom, but gave no details. He praised Dusty Nix for his editorial page work. During audience question time, someone asked if he was going to check with other members of the community about keeping Dusty. That got a big laugh, but Kieta said, with a smile, that a reader might not agree with everything that Dusty writes, but that what he says will provoke thought.  As I told him after the meeting, Dusty is intelligent and does a good job. I stand by that. Besides, I like him. He has no problem speaking truth to power.

 Kieta acknowledged that the media ball game has changed drastically over the years, and that newspapers have changed and will continue to do so. Since papers can now break stories on their websites at any time, which lets them better compete with electronic media,  in the future, the print edition will concentrate more on reflective reporting rather than printing “yesterday’s news.” Makes sense to me. I look forward to it. 

We didn't get to hear from the Ledger-Enquirer's new President and Publisher Rodney Mahone, but since Joseph Kieta works for him, I suppose we can assume that they share the same journalistic philosophy. Good.


November 8, 2010


When I took a picture of the Ledger-Enquirer press in September, 2009, I had in mind not only the subject of that blog post, but also of the one to come, this one.

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer presses

I figured it was just a matter of time before the Ledger-Enquirer’s press would join a lot of others around the country in passing into history. I must say it came a little quicker than I thought it would.

The L-E’s sister McClatchy paper,the Macon Telegraph,had already shut down its production department, being printed by the Ledger-Enquirer. Starting in January,  the L-E, according to the story in the paper Friday, will be printed by the Montgomery Advertiser in Montgomery.

A lot of people still like to hold the paper in their hands. I think it is probably mainly older people, people like me. Well, I’m 80, and I read it online every day but Sunday. The Sunday paper isn’t offered online so I read the hard copy.

Former President George W. Bush isn’t as old as I am, but at 64 he is old enough to collect Social Security, and he gets his news online, saying he watches no television, and the only newspaper he reads is the Wall Street Journal, and he reads that online. He told NBC’s Matt Lauer on Nightly News that he has an iPad. He surfs the web and reads political websites, with the only one he named being Politico which he thinks is good.

Naturally, I have to reflect on my past association with a Ledger-Enquirer press. I first came in contact with one when I was 12-years-old in 1942. I got a Columbus Ledger route on 2nd Avenue. It was the afternoon paper. I would watch copies coming off the press being swooped up by a circulation department worker, who passed them through a window to me. Then I would have to fold each one, put it in the bag on my bike’s handlebars, and then push the bike up the steep 12th Street hill, and then hop on and start peddling when I got on level ground on Broadway.

People had porches on 2nd Avenue then, so I could throw most of the papers from my moving bike. That was the fun part. But, I had to stop and climb three flights of stairs at an apartment building that had previously been the Southern Bell building, and I also went upstairs at boarding houses, and the YMCA to deliver papers there.

The paper wasn’t published on Saturdays so that was collection day. Most people paid by the week… when they paid. Sometimes they just wouldn’t come to the door, and sometimes they would come to the door and ask if I could wait until next week. Most of 2nd Avenue was not affluent. There were some old- money families still on the street, and they paid by the month. I decided to cut one of them off when no one would answer the door for a whole week. Back then, the paper boy bought his papers and if subscribers didn’t pay he would have to eat the loss. When I turned in the cancellation notice, the circulation manager almost had apoplexy and urged me to continue delivering the paper, saying that the problem was the rich old lady had been out of town, and that he would personally collect from her and give me the money. Eventually he did, but I got fed up with the whole thing and, after I broke my leg in a playground accident, I quit.

I’m thinking about getting an iPad. Have they come down in price yet?

Is Paper for Communicating on the Way Out?

March 29, 2010

It is obvious to me that paper used for communicating is on the way out, but not everyone agrees.

Bobbi Newman, Digital Branch Manager, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries

  Bobbi L. Newman, Digital Branch Manager of Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, is one of those who doesn’t.  Though her job is to provide digital services for the library system, she doesn’t think e-books will edge out paper as the primary medium for storing and disseminating knowledge. 

She does admit, though, that “we will see more of it, but still there are a lot of problems with e-books. For one thing, you can’t pick up an e-book, read it and give it to the Friends of the Library bookstore, or pass it along to someone else.”  Toward the end of our conversation she did say that no one really knows how the media model will change in the future.

Are these on the way out?

While the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries system has about 220 computers for public use, including some laptops, there are no e-readers available. 

Amazon's Kindle e-reader

The library only has two each of Amazon’s Kindle,    Sony’s Reader, AT&T’s Netbook (which is really a small laptop computer), and Apple’s iTouch. Apple’s  iPad, the reader that some call a big iPhone (it’s not, because it won’t be a phone), is not available yet, and Newman isn’t sure about buying even a couple of them because of the library’s budget crunch.  None of the readers they do have is in circulation. It hasn’t been decided yet on how they will be used.

Now, as far as being able to check-out a digital book for your own computer or e-reader, you definitely can.  Over 3,000 titles are available for you to download.  She says about 20 a day are checked out.   These include all types of books, including some new novels. For instance, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol is available online. To learn how to download online books just go to this website and watch the video.

What if the library had thousands of e-readers to loan to patrons?  Would that cause a big shift to e-books? My guess is it would, but that’s just my guess. Sure, people over age 40 resist giving up paper books. They are conditioned to paper books.  They don’t want to read books from a computer screen.  That includes me.  However, it seems to me that young folks have less of a problem reading from computer screens. Besides, the new e-reader screens look more like paper. You don’t get the computer screen backlit effect. Also, you can “turn the pages” by moving a finger across the screen.

Offices are going paperless more and more.  Magazines and newspapers are going paperless more and more. It’s happening.  There will probably always be a niche for paper, but it will grow smaller and smaller, I believe.  I know this has to be unnerving for those who manufacture and sell paper, but change is an inevitable part of life.  There will still be plenty of uses for paper. I don’t forsee anything electronic replacing toilet paper for instance.  And neccessity may inspire paper manufacturers to find new ways of using paper.

Media in Transition: Reading the Paper Online

September 21, 2009
The only hard-copy paper I read regularly is the Sunday edition of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.  That’s because it’s part of the e-Edition deal.  I get both by paying for the Sunday paper. Daily, I read the e-Edition.  I like it because it’s an electronic copy of the hard-copy paper.  I also like it because it’s a lot cheaper, and because I don’t have to worry about recycling it.   

I am part of the solution for the paper.  Newspapers all over the country have been trying to find out how to make the same amount of money with their websites that they make with their print editions.  One of the answers is getting people to pay for the online editions.  Still, not many papers do it.  One of the big reasons is that readers might just go to other websites that are free. Advertising is the other way, but, for some reason that I don’t understand, papers have not been able to get enough bucks that way.  

The Ledger-Enquirer’s free online edition has features that you don’t get with the e-Edition.  It’s really one huge blog.  People can and do comment on the stories.  For that reason, and because the paper has some video coverage of stories, I sample it, too.  The comments are sometimes puerile, uncivil, and, well, lies – you get more of those when people can comment anonymously – but there are some entertaining, intelligent, thoughtful ones, too.

The websites operated by traditional news providers are getting the majority of the online audience, according to  From what I can gather – I haven’t been able to get the information formally from Ledger-Enquirer management – the Ledger-Enquirer follows the national trend with a much larger online audience than its print audience.   

Even though online operations at papers have gathered larger audiences, and, according to, are turning a profit,  the overall loss of revenues  has caused papers to cut staffs drastically. The Ledger-Enquirer is no exception.  This concerns me a lot.  Newspapers are extremely important. The really good ones – and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer has a proud legacy, winning two Pulitzers – have been an important check on powerful interests, government and private.  It takes seasoned, experienced, talented reporters who are given the time to do the digging needed to get the job done. Small staffs don’t provide a lot of digging time.

 We all know what President Thomas Jefferson said about the press, but, it’s so good, I’m going to repeat it:  “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate any moment to prefer the latter.”  

  Next, we’ll take a look at how TV stations are dealing with the online phenomenon.