Thursday, August 20, 2009

Q: Does the Herald believe in "press freedom?" A: It depends on who's got the press

"He wanted to squish us like insects." -former Miami New Times editor Jim Mullin on a Herald executive's reaction to a 1993 story in New Times

Former Miami New Times
editor Jim Mullin

If you have a Miami-Dade County library card there's a wealth of information available to you at your fingertips.

If you go to the library's website and click on Databases & More, you'll be taken to page that has links to hundreds of research resources including encyclopedias and newspapers.

And of course there's a link to the Miami Herald. Within seconds you can look up any article in the Herald archives dating back to 1982.

So, let's say you're interested in reading stories the Herald's published on freedom of the press. If you type in the search phrase "press freedom" - as I did this morning - you'll find that the Herald publishes hundreds of articles with that contain that phrase every year. In 2008 there were 317 stories with that phrase and in 2006 there were 468.

You'd be led to believe that the Miami Herald takes press freedom very seriously.


Well, the answer to that is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Consider former Miami New Times editor Jim Mullin's experience 16 years ago this month when his paper published a "light-hearted" spoof titled "The Secret Script" that poked fun at Herald humorist Dave Barry and a new CBS TV sitcom based on his life.

The piece contained phoneyed-up documents, scripts and memos that lampooned Barry.

But Barry and some Herald executives didn't find the piece at all funny.

So they struck out at Mullin and his paper. Writes Mullin:
We have learned that at least one honcho, after perusing last week's issue, was so livid he could hardly contain himself. He ranted. He raved. He wanted to squish us like insects.

Eventually a message was conveyed specifically to me, though it arrived indirectly: I should talk to an attorney.

Think of it. Someone in a position of power at Miami's media giant threatening to drag this poor little free weekly into court over a good-natured lampoon. Now that is funny.

But what high-ranking executive could possibly be so dumb and so hilarious at the same time? Who would have the authority to instigate legal action?
Happily, those in power at the Herald never pursued legal action against Mullin. They didn't need to. Their message was clear: "Don't eff with us."

Well, that Miami Herald Corporate Stupidity has reared its lovely head again: yesterday, I received an email from Herald executive Suzanne Levinson demanding that I remove a pair of Herald photos from my blog. "Please remove these photos and any other Miami Herald content present on your site immediately. Please reply with confirmation of action taken within 5 business days or this matter will be forwarded to the McClatchy Company's legal department for further action."

Now the Herald was threatening me with legal action....just like they did with Jim Mullin.

I was stupefied.

Here was a newspaper executive, who probably makes a six-figure salary, and a newspaper, that by all accounts struggles mightily just to get out a paper everyday, wringing their corporate hands over a few low-res photos posted on a silly blog.

Good Lord; is it any wonder they're failing?

Immediately after I posted my response, I received a call from McClatchy General Counsel Juan Cornejo. Juan insisted that I remove all Herald content from my blog.

But his main concern seemed to be an unflattering photo of Levinson I posted on my blog.

He accused me of "getting personal."

Imagine that; an attorney for a newspaper company getting annoyed because someone posted an unflattering photo of one of their executives. Newspapers publish unflattering photos of people everyday. What's wrong with this picture?

A few minutes after receiving Cornejo's call, I got another call. This time it was Levinson's husband, who also complained about the photo of her I posted. He was clearly upset. He asked that I remove the photo...which I did.

As the afternoon progressed, I checked the stat counter for my blog and started noticing a considerable spike in visits, divided evenly between McClatchy HQ in Sacramento and the Herald's newsroom in Miami.

Once again, here's a newspaper newsroom on deadline owned by a media company that's sinking fast, and they're worried about what I'm writing on my nickel and dime blog.

I called Levinson this morning and had a pleasant conversation. But she's sticking to her guns....and so am I.

For the record, I feel that the posting of some Herald photos is protected under the fair use doctrine.

And it could be argued that the old archived stories that I post are now historic documents and are "public domain.

So, does the Herald really believe in "press freedom?" Or is it just a catchy phrase they like to print? The jury is still out on that one.

1 comment:

  1. Well, this is the result of the McClatchy layoffs: the good ones get fired, and the cheap ones get kept.

    It's obvious that the Herald's remnant population is succumbing to the Peter Principle in a big way.


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