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BNM Writers

Local Journalism Doesn’t Need To Be Saved, It Needs To Be Revived

“We assign stories, interview, write and shoot the story and move onto the next day. Problem with that is, we move on, but maybe the world doesn’t.”

AngelJames

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“And, that’s the way it is.”

Walter Cronkite’s legendary sign off.

But, that’s the way it WAS.

We delivered the news. Viewers consumed it.

We lectured. They listened.

Now, the audience has choices. And lots of them. They can scroll through Twitter and Facebook and get their news when they want to in a matter of minutes or have it delivered to their inbox first thing in the morning, instead of waiting for the 5pm news.

In order to be relevant, we have to be in relevant places. We have to go to where the audience is. And, we have to ENGAGE.

Engagement isn’t a trend relegated to influencers on Instagram.

It’s what every business needs to survive, including news outlets. ESPECIALLY news outlets, who are trying to build, or in some cases, rebuild audience loyalty and trust.

And, quite frankly, news outlets, fall short in this area and I was reminded of that this week, as I was scrolling through Twitter.

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Re-tweeting links isn’t enough.

Updating Facebook feeds isn’t enough.

Many journalists look at digital as being “stupid,’ and quite frankly, a chore, an aggravation and an annoyance.

As a former local TV news producer, I remember when they first started coming to us in the newsroom and asking us to provide material for social media. The veterans didn’t take too kindly to it. I include myself in that. We didn’t get it.

But, change was knocking on the door, and we were too arrogant and set in our ways to allow it in.

Now, the door has been kicked in.

How we connect is changing and we have to change with it. We can’t just lecture. We have to listen. It needs to be a two-way conversation. It needs to be more inclusive and, most of all, relevant.

In order to be relevant, you have to show up in relevant places.

Go where your audience is. You want Millennials? You want GEN Z? You HAVE to, at the very least, be on Instagram. If newsrooms want to reach younger audiences, they should also include them in the process. Last year, The University of Missouri had its first-ever Instagram local news summer fellowship, a project from Instagram and the Reynolds Journalism Institute at Mizzou.

Smart.

Why? Because…

  • One billion people use Instagram every month.
  • 500 Million use Instagram Stories every day.
  • 200 Million Instagram users visit at least one business profile daily.

Today, I went to go look at the Instagram pages of some local TV news outlets. Not one of them had any original Stories they’d created and they hadn’t posted in their feed since 9/11.

That was 5 days ago.

In the last five days:

  • Hurricane Sally hit our shores
  • People as far east as New York felt the effects of wildfires still raging in California
  • The World Health Organization recorded its highest single-day increase in global infections since the pandemic began
  • President Trump participated in a Town Hall meeting
  • Apple took on Peloton with Apple Fitness+
  • Not to mention the soap opera of Oracle’s TikTok bid…

There really is nothing more expensive than a missed opportunity. And, that’s a lot of missed opportunity.

“If your halfhearted efforts to engage your audience amount to robotically re-tweeting story links or slapping a general “Tell Us Your Thoughts” box at the end of the story or pleading with your viewers to simply blabber on about whatever they reckon, you might as well start looking for another line of work. Authentic engaged journalism requires a human touch.

-Jake Batsell/Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences

Journalism is about people.

I was lucky enough to work on a morning show, where we were more concerned with putting a smile on the face of a cancer patient than we were an Emmy.

After producing television for more than 20 years, I can tell you with conviction that my biggest accomplishment was 50 “LIVE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD” shows. Fifty LIVE 5-hour broadcasts that started before the advent of wireless cameras.

There were a lot of live trucks, a lot of cable, a lot of different locations that were plotted out like a military operation. We didn’t stay in one spot like most live broadcasts. When we said “LIVE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD,” we meant it. We were everywhere.

It was an engineering feat. But, the biggest feat of all was that we had gone to where the audience was, acknowledging where they lived, how they lived and what was important to them.

We had done a show in Ferguson, Missouri before the summer of 2014. We had gotten to know a lot of Ferguson’s residents and business owners, including Natalie Dubose from Natalie’s Cakes & More— who had just opened her business that summer.

We had built a relationship. And, I’ll never forget waiting for her in the lobby in the early morning hours when video of her tear-stained face went viral. Two years later, we were back again in Ferguson live in her neighborhood again.

We put a lot of stock in Nielsen ratings and ad revenue. But, when is the last time we measured our purpose, our impact?

We assign stories, interview, write and shoot the story and move onto the next day. Problem with that is, we move on, but maybe the world doesn’t. Asking questions and actually reading the answers can give life to a story we thought was done and over. We created the 24-hour news cycle. In other words, we are guilty of putting stories to bed way before their bedtime. 

I don’t believe local journalism needs saving. It needs reviving. Throw out the old playbook. We need to rethink the way we tell stories and where we’re telling them.

The Washington Post gets it. That’s why they have their own TikTok guy, Dave Jorgenson, who’s one of TikTok’s most surprising breakout successes. He’s using the short form videos to entertain and inform at the same time. You might not see some of his younger TikTok followers ever holding a Washington Post newspaper, but you will see Dave in their hands, on their screens.

FOX 46 Good Day Charlotte Meteorologist, Nick Kosir, gets it. He’s danced his way to 1.6 million followers on Instagram.

Amanda Jaeger at THV11 in Little Rock gets it. She and her mesmerizing “anchor voice” has one million followers on TikTok.

“It’s not a fad—you know you have to do it,” said Meredith Artley, managing editor of CNN Digital. “The days of news organizations’ doing a story on whatever format and pushing it out there, those days are over. They’re done. The organizations that get that are the ones that are going to win.”

As Jake Batsell tells in his book Engaged Journalism: Connecting With Digitally Empowered News Audiences, he was surprised to learn Walter Cronkite never started to proactively meet with his audience until after he left the news desk.

Batsell had tentatively titled his book “Ready to Engage,” until he was told by a newsroom veteran:

“I think you’re being too kind. I think it’s Engage or Die.”  

BNM Writers

Mike Opelka Is Broadcast Professional With Two Decades of Experience

Mike Opelka currently works as a regular fill-in host on several syndicated radio talk shows heard daily across the country.

Jim Cryns

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He was born on the old Southside of Chicago, admittedly a dicey area back then. Mike Opelka’s father wanted out and they moved to Glenview, Illinois.  “The area is making a comeback today,” Opelka said of his old neighborhood. “It runs hot and cold. In the early 60s, my uncle got a brick through a plate glass window with a note telling him to get out of the neighborhood. That old Marine did not immediately leave, but my parents took us to the near north suburbs.”

Despite moving to the north shore, Opelka remained loyal to the White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks and Bears.

“We’d cut school for opening day at Wrigley Field. We’d compete to be my dad’s plus one for Bears games. In those days they played at Wrigley Field. It was a tight space and not exactly conducive to 300-pound linemen slamming into the ivy on the outfield walls. It looked like somebody put up a couple of inflatable pool mattresses to prevent players from running into the brick walls.”

He also loved Comiskey Park. “It was out of control. We’d sit in the outfield while Harry Caray did games sitting in the bleachers,” Opelka said. Caray was hammered by the third inning. They had a chair in the bleachers where they’d give you a haircut. People can’t even relate to that kind of stuff today. There was a shower in the bleachers. The kind you use when you’d need a chemical shower in chemistry class.”

Opelka’s Northside neighborhood was a who’s who when it came to professional athletes. They were just two miles from HOF player Ron Santo in Glenview. Iron-headed Blackhawk Keith Magnuson moved in around the corner from the Opelka family.

“I was a busboy at Valley Lo Sports Club in Glenview. The first time I saw him I said, ‘Hello Mr. Magnuson.’” Opelka said. “Keith smiled and that’s when I noticed Magnuson had no teeth. He’s the first guy in NHL history with 200 penalty minutes. Chicago Stadium was amazing. If you sat one row up in the balcony when people started stomping the whole place shook.”

Opelka was the runt of the litter in his family. “My older brothers and my sense of humor were the only things that saved me from getting my ass kicked all the time,” he explained. “Humor is what saves everybody. My grandfather taught me about comedy. He took me aside each New Year’s Eve and we’d watch the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields movies.”

He was an editor/writer with TheBlaze from 2011-2017, at the time, based in New York. When TheBlaze downsized in 2017, Opelka started doing fill-in work about 180-200 days a year. He built his in-home studio five years ago. 

“I was on the road for the 2012 election. I had floor credentials for the DNC in Philly. Katie Couric came up to me and thought I was Steven Spielberg. I guess I had the same glasses, a similar beard and was wearing jeans and a sport coat. She gave me a big hug. We were just two ships passing in the night when they nominated Hillary Clinton.”

When his wife’s parents were ill, Opelka and his wife moved out of NYC to Wilmington, Delaware halfway between Washington and New York. He’d take the ACELA train daily into New York, a high-speed luxury train. 

Opelka is a self-described ‘goober smoocher.’ 

“You’d run into so many celebrities on that train. It was like Studio 54 on wheels. I ran into Dave Winfield, Mika and Joe, Colin Powell. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters was on the train. He’d gotten up to go to the bathroom and I said hello to his mother. I said I was a big fan of her son, she said she was too and asked me to sit down.”

He sat down with Wolf Blitzer, ran into Chuck Schumer and Rand Paul (who were actually speaking then.) 

“They were standing around John McCain,” Opelka said. “I also talked with Henry Kissinger and asked him his opinion on Barack Obama and Kissinger replied, in his deep German accent, ‘He needs to be given some time.’”

“When Jill Biden took the train when Joe was Vice President, she’d rent out half the first class car,” Opelka said. 

Like a lot of radio personalities I’ve spoken to, Opelka is a funny guy who has done some standup and improvisational comedy.

“Those are two entirely different types of audiences,” he said. “After one of our improv shows, Bill Hicks came up and encouraged me to do more standup. I couldn’t believe it.”

Hicks could be said to be one of Opelka’s comedy idols. “He wasn’t old enough to drink and he jumped onstage as a kid. Hicks was at the top and he was fearless.”

Opelka had a great story about Sam Kinison, who would lose his mind with an audience that didn’t support him.

“He was yelling at a crowd one night. ‘Do you want a crucifixion? I’ll give you a crucifixion!”’

Kinison found a roll of duct tape backstage and a ladder, now wearing just his boxer shorts. He had the audience follow him outside to a sign on a 7-11 across the street from the club. 

“Kinison taped one of his arms to the crossbar and had a guy tape the other one, and he was just dangling there. The club owner had to beg the cops not to arrest him.”

From hosting nationally syndicated radio programs to producing network television shows, Opelka is a broadcast professional with two decades of experience in radio and television (live and recorded) on a network, national and local level, as well as digital media platforms. 

Before working in radio and TV, in the early 80s, he was in Houston. Opelka said to get a job all you had to do was fall down, the unemployment rate was so low. 

“There were people in good jobs they didn’t belong in,” Opelka said. “I was hired with a head-hunting firm with no experience. After a few months, I was hired by Houston’s 93 Q’s Morning Zoo as a writer. I also did some comedy bits and wrote parodies for them,” Opelka explained. “I did a pretty good Bill Murray voice.” 

Opelka talked about Scott Shannon, the ostensible architect of the Morning Zoo format.

“Shannon took the station from “worst to first” in the biggest market in the country in just 73 days in 1983,” Opelka said. “Nobody had done that. A buddy of mine told me I’d be good as a writer for that kind of format.”

The station flew Opelka from Houston to Newark, a place he said was not the best advertisement for New York. 

“I spent the morning with Shannon. I watched them do the show. Ross Brittan was Shannon’s co-host and he’d grown up in Glenview, the same place as me. We had an immediate connection.”

Before he left the station, he was offered an executive producer position for the show. He lived near Shannon in Montclair, New Jersey. He assisted in writing a parody song for each guest who was coming on the show. He wrote one for Elton John, the Bee Gees among many others.

He then tried his hand at television. Opelka said his first agent was a Korean-born man adopted by an Orthodox Jewish family from Brooklyn. “He sounded like Gilbert Godfried but looked like a relative of Kim Jong-un.”

The agent asked Opelka to pitch some ideas for television for the soon-to-launch FX Network that Fox was building. He pitched five and they bought three. Opelka spent three and a half years making TV for FOX and FX before returning to radio.

Between the two, Opelka said he’d take radio over television.

“Television is a less forgiving environment,” he said. “Radio is more like family. You can trust people. Hunter S. Thompson said, “You find the worst depths of humanity in television.”

Opelka worked at FX before it became the huge network it is today. He said a lot of great talent came through FX.

“I worked with Orlando Jones, who knew more about mainstream music than anybody I’d met. Tom Bergeron and Jeff Probst came through there, Phil Keoghan.”

Opelka said radio isn’t what it used to be, neither is the money. 

“I was lucky to be involved in major market radio, but the economics have changed,” he said. “I was the executive producer of the ill-fated Wake Up with Whoopi, a syndicated radio show that ran with Whoopi Goldberg for a couple of years. It was a decent idea, but there were too many managerial spatulas in the pot and they all believed they had control. In the end, the only person in charge was Ms. Goldberg.”

Opelka said Whoopi Goldberg was smart and if you were smart, you were her best friend. She refuses to suffer fools. She was always interested in making sure she had the right information.

“She could get every name in the business to be on her show, and she did. After that did ended, Whoopi was hired to co-host The View.”

Starting in April 2018, Opelka began co-hosting the Angie Austin & Mike Opelka Show. The syndicated show was in 24 markets and survived for almost four years before being retired due to lack of financial viability.

Since the end of the Angie & Mike Show, Opelka keeps busy with his gig as “America’s Guest Host.”

Mike Opelka currently works as a regular fill-in host on several syndicated radio talk shows heard daily across the country. From Chris Plante, Joe Pags and Simon Conway to local stars like Rich Zeoli in Philly, Drew Steele in Ft Myers, FL and Mike Broomhead in Phoenix to name a few. He can be contacted at MikeOpelka@aol.com

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BNM Writers

Stop Caring About Personal Lives of Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes

Relationships are relationships, they don’t always come about to suit everyone’s ideals.

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To begin with, I don’t care. As in, it does not concern me and it’s pretty much none of my business. If I was somebody watching — and I’m not — I still wouldn’t care. As in, it would not impact me or change how I view the show or the performance of the aforementioned hosts or anchors. Yes, it’s been a couple of hours since the last rag dispatch, so let’s look at the case of Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes.

These are two people with jobs. Careers, actually.

Two people whose activities and pursuits outside of their duties assigned by their employers seem to have caught the eye of a great deal of people. Probably as many or more people than watch them on the program they appear on.

Why? Why has this suddenly become a Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck story?

I am not even going to waste time recounting or examining what brought everybody here.

Also, I cannot and will not keep up on the sightings of them together, the clandestine pictures of the estranged couples doing the dog exchange (been there) or the latest comments from the ex or soon-to-be ex-partners.

I don’t know anybody involved and it is incredibly not anything I’m entitled to know.

But let me say this much: I’ve seen real-life couples paired to host shows before, we all have. Regis and Joy, Joe and Mika, George and Gracie, Lucy and Ricky.

These pairings have often resulted in great popularity, interest and even devotion by a loyal audience of viewers. But, it looks like in this case nobody is going to get the chance to find out.

Why address it if I’m saying I don’t care?

Consider it another instance of if it’s happening to others it could happen to you. Also, on its face, it just doesn’t appear to be right.

The legal issues here, if any exist, are for the lawyers to decide. The controversies concerning behavior and appearance are for whomever decides they themselves, are above board and immune to scrutiny.

Were these two people producers, writers, directors, or any off-air type, would the same attention be paid, would the same approach (notice I did not say rule) apply?

Relationships are relationships, they don’t always come about to suit everyone’s ideals.

How many couples met or began relationships at work under any kind of circumstances?

People meet on the job. Take a random survey not only of the news media but of most professions, it happens. A lot. And it’s not always a Cinderella story. But life still goes on and work still gets done.

I guess this is different because the paparazzi and the Disney people decided to get nosy and perhaps become judgmental.

An audience can learn things about the people they follow and then find themselves falling into any number of categories. They can be outraged and appalled or unconcerned and dispassionate. Or they can be somewhere in the middle enough for it to have virtually no impact on loyalty or influence.

So, why not allow the audience to decide for themselves instead of the media giants choosing to decide for them?

It looks to me like somebody isn’t giving their customers the credit they deserve.

Nothing new.

Who looks bad? Well, everyone I guess.

What I find of considerable interest is that the network and the rest of the TV overlords seem hellbent on damaging their own product in favor of casting the first and last stones of disapproval. Of course, at this point we really only know what we’re being fed but I think it’s like shooting oneself in the foot while trying to appear chaste.

The parent company here appears to wearing a Moral Majority hat and while Mickey and Minnie’s parents are known for maintaining an even strain most of the time, I’m thinking this may turn out not to be their finest hour.

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BNM Writers

KFI’s Bill Handel Is the Same Guy on the Air as Off

Barrett News Media’s Jim Cryns spoke with KFI’s Bill Handel and the two discussed various topics pertaining to the radio host’s career.

Jim Cryns

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The man is a friggin’ legend in Los Angeles. Bill Handel can’t go for a walk on Hollywood Boulevard without seeing his name below his feet–seriously. 

Handel is the 2,385th star on the Walk of Fame. His star sits in front of a tattoo parlor, next to Ernestine Schumann-Heink’s star. “She was a German-American opera star,” Handel said. “She died in the 1920s and weighed about 400 pounds. Stars on the Walk of Fame are like real estate. Mine is near a store that sold bikinis.”

He told those attending his unveiling ceremony, ‘My staff had to be here. If you were getting a star, I sure as hell wouldn’t be here.’

Born in Brazil, Handel immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was five years old. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, he learned English without the benefit of a bilingual education program and became one of the world’s leading reproductive law experts.

He can be heard on KFI Los Angeles on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and on Handel on the Law on Saturdays from 6 am to 11 am.

“My father was a Holocaust survivor,” Handel said. “My mother was a dentist in Brazil but couldn’t practice here. There was no such thing as taking the boards, and they didn’t honor her as a foreign doctor. She worked as a lab technician.”

Handel is a product of the public schools in the L.A. unified district. Later he attended Cal State at Northridge, then law school. 

“They said it was one of the best; now it’s out of business,” Handel jokes.  “Trump Law School would have been better than the one I attended. It was a very minor law school. I just think it didn’t get enough students.” 

As he graduated from law school, Handel was running his own home remodeling business. He wasn’t very good at it.

“I was remodeling a doctor’s house and I underbid the work by 400 – thousand dollars,” Handel said. “It was horrible. I didn’t know what I was going to do. So I told him he could sue me. I’d go bankrupt and have no money to give him. Then I came up with the idea of working it off. He said okay.”

The doctor was an endocrinologist and Handel said the physician had more money than he knew what to do with. 

“He liked me and I started to work with him. Any legal thing he needed.”

Handel said the doctor was an unexpected mentor. 

“He was the best legal mind I’d ever met and he never studied law,” Handel said. “ One day he says he just got a call from a patient who tried to conceive using every method possible with no luck, including several surgeries.

Handel explained this was in 1980 and that in vitro fertilization wasn’t common or even well-known. He said prospective parents would run an ad in the L.A. Times looking for a surrogate to be artificially inseminated. The doctor told them they needed some sort of contract with the surrogate. He called Handel. 

“Of course, I didn’t know anything about in vitro fertilization, but that didn’t prevent me from telling him I did,” Handel explained. “He gives me a call and I take some notes. Then I had to figure out how to write a surrogate mother contract. There was no template. How do you pay a woman to give up her child? Payment for custody is a crime. Issues went on and on. I went to several law school and talked with professors, picked their brains. All of them. My ethics professor, contracts professor.” 

His ethics professor was Harvey Levin, the same guy from TMZ. Levin taught law at Whittier College. He also wrote a column for the L.A. Times and was known as ‘Dr. Law’ on the radio.

“Harvey was a very good lawyer before he entered the world of entertainment,” Handel said. 

Handel finalized his first fertilization contract and the doctor went ahead with the procedure. The woman had the child in 1983. Two years later Morley Safer interviewed Handel on 60 Minutes about the process of handling surrogate parents. 

“What I really liked about that experience is when the 60 Minutes producer came out to California,” Handel said. “It was her first story with the show. We went to Spago and she whipped out an American Express which had CBS as the owner of the card. I thought, wow, that’s impressive. This could be good. Because of that show, my law practice broke open.” 

Handel said he backed into broadcasting. He was interviewed on KABC as an expert in vitro law, often interviewed by host Michael Jackson. 

“Michael Jackson the broadcaster, not the eight-year-old boy-loving one,” Handel explained. “Jackson was one of the great talkers. He was well-connected and nationally syndicated. In those days the host was more of a moderator for a point-counterpoint type of show. It was Rush Limbaugh who changed everything. As whacked out as he was at the end, he reinvented talk radio.”

Handel said he knew he was a good interviewer and was popular with listeners. He told engaging stories. He talked about his clients and his practice. 

“I gave legal advice. I’m still doing that.”

Handel started appearing on Jackson’s show more often and one day the PD came down the hall and told Handel he was better than half the people he had on the air. 

“I told him I was better than all of the people he had on the air,” Handel quipped. “I was half-joking.”

After all these years Handel said he’s still having a great time. “It’s a great gig,” he said. “My producer has been with me for 25 years. She knows the topics I want. If she comes across something about D-Day, she knows I’ll immediately take it. I love historical footnotes like Hitler’s dog’s name. Blondie. He tried out the cyanide pills on Blondie. Gave Eva Braun one.” 

Handel said his show is general talk. He will delve into politics, lifestyle, and interviews. 

“We bring on reporters from the station as we’re news-heavy. News stations are expensive to run. We’ve had all this crazy rain stuff and interviewed people all over the place. I work with Robin Bertolucci, who is well regarded in radio throughout the country. I’d say she’s the best PD in the country.”

Handel said he’s the same guy on the air as off. “I have to be more careful about words I choose. You’ve got the seven magic words you can’t say like George Carlin informed us. You can say a lot of stuff. You can say ‘ass****. You can’t be scatological. You can say ‘bull***’ but you can’t say a bull took a ‘s***.’”

He reads constantly and is fascinated with WWII history. He has visited Normandy and said the experience was astounding. 

“It’s a beach of 75 miles, which comprised the landing areas of D-Day,” Handel said. “Omaha Beach was the one that got nailed. The Canadians walked ashore on other beaches. There is a parcel of land given to the United States by the French. It’s Normandy American Cemetery on the bluff. The National Park Service handles the operations. It’s so meticulous, so moving. Thousands of graves. Just extraordinarily beautiful. You can see the cliffs the Rangers climbed from the beach. They still have the concrete bunkers where the German gunners were.”

Weekly, Handel does his show Handel on the Law, a nationally syndicated program. 

“I give callers legal advice. I’ve only had one specialty, the rest I just make up. I have my own malpractice insurance. I give shitty legal advice. If you have a problem, sue the radio station. I don’t give a damn. If you’re looking for real legal advice, why are you calling a radio station?”

Handel is hilarious, but he said he doesn’t have the thick skin to be a standup comic. “When people laugh during one of my talks or when I’m on the air,  it’s okay. But standing in front of a microphone telling jokes is another thing. For example, I was master of ceremonies at the Radio Hall of Fame last year. I got up and started doing some jokes. Crickets. Nothing. The audience was staring at me like you would an oil painting. Nobody was moving. It kept happening joke after joke.” 

He loves the morning drive and said he wouldn’t take any other shift. 

“I get up at 3:30 am and that’s absolutely fine. I go to bed super early. I don’t socialize. I hate my family. I’ve got twin daughters and I guess they’re okay. They don’t bring me any joy at all.”

Yup. His humor is as dry as dirt. 

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Barrett Media Writers

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