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Journalism and Opinion Don’t Mix

Those of us traveling spent a lot of time on airplanes, in hotels, and in airport lounges, often with a copy of USA Today tucked under our arms.

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About a dozen years ago, I was still racking up frequent flyer points. Those of us traveling the schlepper circuit spent a lot of time on airplanes, in hotels, and in airport lounges, often with a copy of USA Today tucked under our arms.

USA Today was ubiquitous at the end of the flip-phone era before smartphones were widespread. Most airlines and major hotel chains provided it free. So, before we could fire up our then seven- or eight-pound laptops, we often skimmed through USA Today.

I’ve been traveling again this summer. Although I have digital subscriptions to more publications than I care to count, it feels good to get a little ink on my fingers now and then. 

Much to my surprise, it took considerable effort to find a physical newspaper at an airport newsstand, but I eventually did find the day’s USA Today. More shocking was the three-dollar newsstand price, especially as the paper is perhaps 30 pages long.

As amazed as I was by the difficulty finding a paper and the cost, I was dumbfounded when I looked at the front page. Although USA Today runs marketing and non-news content above the masthead (in the ear), I don’t recall a pure opinion column under the masthead in the top right column. 

In most cases, editors reserve the top right column for the day’s most important story, while others prefer to use the left column. An event of ultra-importance often stretches across the top of the paper. 

Where I expected to find a news headline, in the top right column, I found USA Today columnist Nancy Armour and a column titled: “Deshaun Watson gets laughable suspension.” The sub-headline continued: “Retired judge imposes measly penalty as NFL lets women down again.” I did a doubletake to ensure I wasn’t looking at the editorial page; I wasn’t. It wasn’t even the front page of the sports section.

I looked online at the front page of other papers from the same day:

The New York Times: “U.S. Drone Strike Kills Key Plotter of 9/11, Biden Says” (top right column). It also ran a front-page story about Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan and Ukraine moving its first grain shipment since the Russian invasion.

The Washington Post: “U.S. strike kills bin Laden’s successor,” all the way across the top directly under the masthead.

The Wall Street Journal: Featured the Ukraine grain story across four columns in the middle and the Pelosi story in the top right column.

The Boston Globe had the drone strike story in the upper left column. It featured a two-column headline on the Massachusetts state legislature finishing a marathon session

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had a local story about hospital errors during the Covid pandemic all the way across the top. The Pelosi story was in the top right column. 

Other major U.S. newspapers also led with stories about the drone strike, Pelosi’s Taiwan trip, the Ukraine grain shipment, and other items of local interest.

USA Today had a story about Kansas voting on a statewide abortion referendum on its left column and the Deshaun Watson opinion piece in the right column. There was nothing about the drone strike, Ukraine, or Pelosi’s trip on the front page. Let’s forget about the editorial decision not to include information on the front page of most other U.S. newspapers; it’s a minor point.

USA Today, which has jokingly been called “McPaper,” may never have been the gold standard in journalism, but this seems straightforward, black and white. The news section is for information and not opinion. There is an Editorial, Op-Ed, or Opinion section where columns like Armour’s belong. It wouldn’t be so troubling even if it were on the sports section’s front page. 

Placing an opinion column in the news section is bewildering. Putting it on the front page in the top right-hand column is beyond disconcerting; it’s downright stupefying!

I asked USA Today how long they have been putting opinion columns in their news section. A spokesperson for Gannett, which owns USA Today, responded via email with the following: “USA TODAY clearly labels opinion columns as such, and it is not uncommon to appear on the front page.” 

Although I don’t recall previously seeing opinion columns in the lead news spot, Gannett’s response suggests they have done it before, although for how long isn’t clear., Gannett apparently thinks it’s “not uncommon,” however, I can’t think of another leading newspaper that follows this practice.

In this age of misinformation and disinformation, mixing opinion and news blurs the lines further. 

While USA Today has taken the leap of openly mixing news and opinion, the trend has been creeping into journalism for the past several decades. Digital and social media have changed how information is both consumed and edited. This topic requires further and deeper exploration, and we’ll continue it next week.

BNM Writers

Should The News Be Minimized on The Holidays?

“I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.”

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This is not by any means a new topic of discussion but I do enjoy bringing it up and batting it around because I think it’s worthy of regular consideration and deliberation. Perhaps it deserves even just a fresh batch of whining and complaining by those of us stuck in a newsroom, in front of a camera or microphone or standing out somewhere in the cold.

There’s no debate that what we do has a level of importance that fluctuates from time to time. There are countless professions that we cannot do without for even a portion of a single day. That said, working the holidays is not unfamiliar or even a question for many people out there.

I, myself have spent most of my adult life in professions where working on Thanksgiving, Christmas, the High Holidays, Independence Day among others was just part of the job. It still amazes me how many people would react in astonishment when I declined an invitation or mentioned in conversation that I was working that day.

Like they couldn’t comprehend the possibility. Must be nice.

Now, let’s be clear about this; covering a parade or a holiday festival or religious services on a particular day is not what I’m focusing on here. Imagine the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or New Year’s Eve or the 4th of July fireworks without reporters and crew coverage.

More people would actually have to go to these things.

No, I’m talking about regularly scheduled newscasts and field reports on these mornings, afternoons and evenings.

Why?

I don’t see it.

More specifically, who is measuring the need for this programming? I cannot identify sitting behind a desk (probably inside an office…what’s that like?) and concluding that there must be 4:00pm-6:30pm newscasts on Thanksgiving Day.

5am news on New Year’s Day is out and out sadism.

“Good morning and Happy New Year…here’s what’s happened in the twenty-three minutes since you went to bed.”

Yes, by all means, let’s open our presents with the soothing tones of morning drive news in the background or lounge in the living room after the two-ton turkey dinner and watch the daily rundown of criminal activity lovingly framed in holiday graphics.

Do people want to drive to Grandma’s house while listening to the latest in Tuesday’s home invasion- assault investigation, this morning’s hit and run fatality or the city council vote on funding a halfway house near the elementary school?

Actually, the inspiration for this semi-rant comes from a conversation I had with a woman I was speaking with about holiday getaway travel. She very innocently asked me why there is news on the holidays. “Who is watching…who is listening on a day like that?” I told her I really couldn’t say. Of course, this was someone who told me she didn’t even pick up a newspaper or peruse social media for a news update on any given holiday.

“On Christmas”, she said, “no news is good news.”

To a significant degree, I’m on board with that. I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.

This is not about those having to work although employee consideration should be part of the equation. There will always be the need to have someone in the newsroom but minimizing that requirement could never be a bad thing.

Many operations do work with reduced staff during the holidays and that’s great. Twenty-years ago the radio station group I worked for dropped most programming during the year-end holidays, simulcasting holiday music across all the stations only cutting in with station IDs, tracked greetings from staff and news updates only if necessary.

I suppose one could argue that people need to know what’s going on all the time so we are providing a necessary service but really, everything we do is on-demand whether we like it or not. Nobody is listening or watching or reading unless they make a conscious effort to do so. They have to turn the TV on and hit the channel, dial the car radio and click on the website. We have no say.

For me, somebody somewhere has to show me that there’s a need and a want for what we do on those special days and at those special times. Convince me.

In the meantime, move the turkey and stuffing closer to my side of the table and keep the cranberry sauce and yams over on your end.

And I’ll be up bright and early talking to the Black Friday shopping crowd.

Don’t get me started.

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Seth Leibsohn Expected to Move to Phoenix, Didn’t Expect Radio Show

“There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air.

Jim Cryns

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We’re all made up of a unique genetic recipe. Take a graduate student of political philosophy, add a pinch of love of contemporary politics, a dash of popular culture, maybe a trumpet, and you have Seth Leibsohn.

“I was a good trumpet player in high school,” Leibsohn said. Still, that alone wasn’t enough for him to pursue it as a career, even though his parents were fine with him chasing something he enjoyed, even supportive. “Some parents try to push you into a career, but my parents never did. I thought I might be able to play the trumpet as a career, but ultimately decided I wasn’t as good as my trumpet heroes. I’ve heard golfers have hung it up in a similar way.”

Quoting Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, ‘The finest line a man’ll walk is between success at work and success at home.’ To be truly happy you’ve got to have both. Seth Leibsohn couldn’t agree more.

“I don’t know many people who are thrilled with what they do for a living,” Leibsohn continued. “I believe you work to pay bills, not for life satisfaction. Billy Joel said there is no magic secret and everybody has happiness within themselves. If you’re truly happy with what you do, you have it all beat.”

The Seth Leibsohn Show airs live on KKNT 960 The Patriot in Phoenix from 3:00-6:00 PM weekdays. Then the show is replayed as a podcast. “The podcast is essentially the show I do,” Leibsohn said. “It’s fun. I never thought I’d be on the radio. I started in D.C. with a national show with Bill Bennett, The Bill Bennett Show, as co-host and guest host.”

You may recall Bennett was appointed the drug czar in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush.  Bennett still does a podcast and Leibsohn appears as a guest about once a month. He was Bennett’s chief of staff for many years.

Leibsohn decided to move back to Phoenix in 2011 to take care of his parents.

“After I arrived I was approached to host my own show,” he said. “I like that it doesn’t have to be relegated to a local audience. I get calls from Texas, Chicago, Ukraine. Leibsohn describes himself as a ‘different’ radio host, “I started in academia,” he explained. “There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air. The show is a vital seminar, with a bigger classroom.”

Leibsohn works hard on the show as he doesn’t have a producer. “I have to find my own guests, which I average about one each day. Television show hosts don’t have to track down and book their own guests. I start reading from the moment I wake up, searching for something interesting, a guest that can provide some insight to a topic.”

He’s long been a staunch advocate against the legalization of marijuana. He headed the group ‘Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy’, which was instrumental in preventing the legalization of marijuana in Arizona. He has co-authored several articles with Bennett regarding the dangers of marijuana, which was picked up by numerous newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and The Tampa Tribune.

Doing whatever he can to rid the streets of drugs and the pollution of our children is essentially what make’s Libsohn tick. It may be more accurate to say it drives him.

When talking about ridding streets of drugs throughout the country, I was impressed that Leibsohn wasn’t hypocritical. He said he wasn’t above having a good time with friends in college, but recognized there was a time to stop.

“I partied with the best of them,” he said. “Then I saw four of my best friends, who were both far smarter than me academically, ultimately fail in their lives. They just couldn’t give up the partying and substances and succumbed to a lot of drug use.”

Another bolt of realization about the destruction of drugs for Leibsohn stems from his sister struggling with substances her entire life. “I guess I had more of a vector about what it could do to you. Drugs cause so many problems in our society. It’s an ongoing battle to protect our children.”

Working on reducing substance abuse in America has long been a passion for Leibsohn. Working with Bennett helped fuel that desire. Leibsohn spent time working for the Higher America initiative with Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Never a fan of Hilary Clinton, Leibsohn said he agrees with the former First Lady on one thing.

“Hilary said Mexico is a problem regarding illegal drugs, but if the citizens of America didn’t want the drugs, it would be a problem. People want this crud. Since we lost the anti-drug messaging system in America, the problems have spiraled out of control.”

Remember the old ad, ‘This is your brains on drugs?’ That’s the messaging Leibsohn is talking about. Leibsohn said when Bennett was drug czar, 10,000 Americans were dying each year. Since then the death toll has increased 1,000 percent.

“We reduced drug use by 65 percent in 1992,” Leibsohn said. “I attribute that to the messaging. It was hugely important. We embedded the anti-drug message at the movies, in schools, there was a Hollywood sobriety chic. We did for drugs what mothers did for drunk driving.”

Leibsohn cites Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote, ‘Human desires increase with their means of gratification.’

“The narration in the television show Narco opens with the narrator talking about cocaine. He said they had a supply problem keeping up with the demand for the drug in Miami.”

Leibsohn intended to run for Congress in 2018, but his staff screwed-the-pooch.

“My campaign management didn’t get enough signatures,” Leibsohn said. “I made sure everyone who contributed to my campaign got their money back.” He said he has no biting need to run for office again.

Our conversation swerved into another contentious topic–immigration from Mexico. Leibsohn said our immigration problem is currently out of control.

“There are a lot of reasons for the problem,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one single answer or solution. I do know we’re giving billions of dollars annually to illegal immigrants. When the monthly numbers come out regarding the prison population in Arizona, the illegal immigrants count for a huge portion of those criminals.”

He said there have been good examples of cleaning up cities, like New York. “There are things that work,” Leibsohn explained. “We have to replicate those efforts and dump the things that don’t work. Indianapolis is another city that turned things around. There are theories that work when applied.”

Leibsohn spoke of disparate impact, when policies and rules have a disproportionate impact on a particular group.

“I think a lot of Left-wing prosecutors abhor statistics of racial minorities. In effect they turn a blind eye, a deaf ear when it comes to crime. I had hoped by now we could get beyond race, see policies enacted in my lifetime.”

We also talked about what constitutes American conservatism, which is delineated by low taxes, free markets, deregulation, privatization, and reduced government spending and government debt. Leibsohn thinks the definition of American Conservatism is more nebulous than that.

“I think American Conservatism has never had a good definition,” he said. “Perhaps the most prominent recent conservative was William F. Buckley Jr. He never wrote a book on American Conservatism as he said it was too diverse.”

Regarding pinpointing what American Conservatism actually is, Leibsohn said it’s really clay in the hands of those you ask. “Some say it’s a group that believes in limited government,” he explained. “There are some who will fold religious beliefs into that, some may add sociology.”

He said throughout his life, he’s always been in search of discovering the meaning.

“In Buckleys’ National Review Magazine, he debated this all the time,” Leibsohn explained. “He had always been in search of the meaning. In his magazine, Buckley debated this all the time. In my own view it should be a movement based on America’s founding fathers ethos–equity and liberty. There’s not a lot of agreement on these things today.”

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BNM Writers

Producers Podcast: Andrew Marsh, 101 ESPN

Brady Farkas

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Andrew Marsh of 101 ESPN in St. Louis details the unorthodox background that has helped him thrive in the producer’s chair for The Fast Lane.

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