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Few Media Outlets Were Brave Enough to #NeverForget Both Sides

Tony Cartagena

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Saturday marked 20 years since Sept. 11, 2001.

Everyone has a 9/11 story. Where they were. How they reacted. What they remember about that treacherous day in America.

Consuming media coverage and memorials over the weekend, there was one very common theme.

Unity. Unofficially the word was said 42,365,789 times this weekend.

Listening to the radio, I heard one newstalk host romanticize about how the entire country came together as one, and he didn’t feel we did the same fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before the NFL kicked off on Sunday, both Fox and CBS aired extended memorial video montages. The New York Yankees and New York Mets played the Subway Series and on Saturday wore hats representing the Fire and Police Departments of their city.

Netflix, Hulu and Peacock dropped streaming documentaries.

All of this coverage focused on the heroism, the devastation that destroyed 2,996 families, and the unified aftermath. Stats were dropped about the sales of United States flags hitting all-time highs. The patriotic shirt and bumper stickers industry was booming for months.

Let’s be clear – this aforementioned coverage was extremely important.

The following might be controversial, so I unfortunately feel obligated to include the following disclaimer:

I think 9/11 memorial coverage is necessary. #NeverForget is important. I’ve often thought that we don’t talk enough Pearl Harbor where 2,403 Americans also died, maybe that’s a generational coverage thing. So, in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, we should keep these stories prominent and always celebrate the heroes of that harrowing day.

Now that my stance on 9/11 coverage is very very clear…

We should also talk more about the racist hate-crime filled society we created for Muslims, Arabic speaking Americans, Sikhs, and anyone who appeared middle eastern or had dark brown skin. We should also never forget those innocent people whose lives were extremely affected during the aftermath.

Their stories are important. Acknowledging the ugliness can assist in learning from those mistakes.

Although the coverage wasn’t front page, there were news outlets brave enough to hit on those topics over the weekend. I wanted to take time to highlight them, quoting some excerpts that may be tough to read:

Anita Snow and Noreen Nasir of Associated Press for ABC News: “Sikh entrepreneur Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed at his Arizona gas station four days after the Sept. 11 attacks by a man who declared he was “going to go out and shoot some towel-heads” and mistook him for an Arab Muslim.”

Sodhi’s brother spoke with Kimmy Yam of NBC News and reflected on the hate crime.

Kiara Alfonseca for ABC News: “Mosques were burned or destroyed and death threats and harassment followed many Muslims in the weeks following the attacks, according to congressional testimony from the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2011. Some victims were beaten, attacked or held at gunpoint for merely being perceived as Muslim, the organization said.”

Maria Lisignoli of NBC 15 in Madison, WI spoke with a local principal:

“But, you know, as often as you will speak to other Muslim and millennials especially, they feel like we feel like we’ve had to answer for the crimes of other people,” Warsi said.

He says linking the Islamic faith with these attacks was damaging mentally and physically.

“I myself have been discriminated against been a victim to hate crime with physical assault, just because I’m Muslim,” Warsi said.

Dorothy Hastings for PBS: “Since 2001, Muslims have been the second most frequent target for religiously motivated hate crimes, according to the federal hate crime data.”

Newstalk program directors, news directors and journalists should always strive to tell both sides of the story. It’s not the feel-good unified story, but nothing about journalism is easy. The industry isn’t for propaganda.

There are tough truths that need to be told. It’s part of the job.

The stories are important. The coverage is necessary.

BNM Writers

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.

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BNM Writers

Marty Lenz Was Shaped By The Gridiron

Lenz said his participation in football has helped him develop a strong work ethic and understanding.

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After talking with Marty Lenz for about an hour, I don’t know if Halloween is his favorite holiday. I’m not even sure if Halloween is his favorite movie.

“I interviewed Jamie Lee Curtis when she was promoting her podcast, Letters from Camp,” Lenz said.

“You would think the daughter of Hollywood royalty Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh would be talking about Hollywood things. I liked her because she was willing to show her insecurities.”

Lenz said Curtis is still lovely.

“People only see the star. We were talking about Letters from Camp, and I asked her about things that matter to her and she answered candidly. I was blown away.”

Lenz said in his experience, there are times in an interview when the conversation goes places he never imagined.

“I have a great producer. We’ll have some questions in preparation in case I get stuck. I do like to approach my interviews generically, see where they go.”

He said smart people know the questions that are coming. Curtis knew the Halloween questions were coming. But Lenz said he likes to disarm his guests by asking them questions they may not have been expecting. Something apart from what they do for a living. He eventually got around to what Curtis is best known for.

“Turns out she was glad I asked about the movie. I had to know how she felt about the iconic character.”

Lenz said his all-time favorite interview was with Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers, among other musical incarnations.

“We were having a lovely conversation about his background in Missouri, the art of music, the Doobie Brothers, working with Kenny Loggins. He got caught up in it and enjoyed the conversation. His PR person interrupted on the phone and told him it was time to stop. McDonald told the PR person ‘no’, he was having a good time.”

His father was a pharmaceutical salesman and taught Lenz an appreciation for many things, including respecting women.

“He empowered my sisters,” Lenz explained. “This is what was great about my late father. He told his girls they could do anything a guy can do. I learned from my sisters how to treat women. My sisters would say, ‘don’t ever treat a girl this way, or that way.’ We talked about sexual harassment in the workplace. I knew at an early age what is and is not appropriate and respectful in the workplace, and beyond.”

Born in Pennsylvania, his family were die-hard Steeler fans.

“My dad was friends with Art Rooney Jr. They went to school together at St. Vincent’s, a small college. When the Steelers had training camp, we’d always head out there. When St. Vincent had reunions, we’d go down there too. Those are the days with Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swan.” Lenz said whenever the Steelers came to Denver, they’d get tickets to old Mile High Stadium and cheer on the Steelers.

Lenz was also a Pirate fan as the Rockies hadn’t been formed yet.

“When I was a freshman at Colorado State, I was a long-suffering Boston Red Sox fan. We were watching the 1986 World Series game in our football dorm. I was literally crying when the ball went through Buckner’s legs in 1986 for the Mets and Red Sox World Series game.”

He should know “there’s no crying in baseball”.

In his job, Lenz uses his charm and personality as co-anchor and co-host of Colorado’s Morning News on KOA Radio 850AM/94.1FM in Denver. He has been with KOA Since 2018.

Lenz is a 1986 graduate of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, and received his B.A. in 1990 from the Speech Communication/Broadcasting department at Colorado State University where he played wide receiver for the Rams from 1986-1990.

Few of us know what it feels like to get hit over the middle when catching a pass. My body hurts just to think about it.

“Surprisingly, it has little to do with the size of the defensive back,” Lenz explained. “It’s more of the angle they get on you, where they’re coming from.”

Ron Cortell was a free safety at Colorado State, and Lenz said you’d never see him coming.

“He’d be looking at the sky on his way in and hit your right in the middle of your chest. He was a great tactical hitter and could elevate his body.”

When you’re in that position, you have to gauge where the pressure is coming from. When you get extended, your arms up in the air, that’s when you’re most vulnerable.

Fortunately for Lenz, he has a high threshold for pain.

“I could take a certain amount of punishment. Toughness is being able to take abuse and get it up. I did have a high level of tolerance.”

He grew up appreciating some of the old-time players, those that played for the love of the game rather than for huge dollars. Not that they had a choice. Players like Mike Curtis with the Baltimore Colts, or Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Dick Butkus of the Bears.

“They didn’t know the threats and risks the game posed, as we do today. Players earned peanuts and the game was all they know. It was physical for them and that was part of the appeal, the machismo thing to show they were meaner than you were.”

We’ve evolved. The game has evolved. “I have a real reverence for a lot of those guys,” Lenz said.

Quarterbacks took a ton of punishment, receivers were pummeled downfield.

“My idols were Lynn Swan and John Stallworth. They played in an era when the ‘chuck rule’ didn’t exist and didn’t get the cushion and rules of today’s wide receivers get.”

Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw didn’t have the best statistics, about 50 percent in completions. Lenz said he accomplished those completions while getting his brains knocked out every other snap. It was difficult to concentrate on accuracy because he had maniacs on the Raiders coming across the line, intent on putting him in a coma.

Lenz said his participation in football has helped him develop a strong work ethic and understanding.

“You learn to work with diverse thought, people of different backgrounds,” Lenz explained. “You realize you have people around you. Colorado State was a great school. I learned as much on the football field as I did in the classroom.”

Lenz said as a player, you learn quickly that every player on the team has immense talent, not just you.

“Then you see kids brought in from Texas and California, some real talent and it gives you some perspective. It’s about earning your spot, not where you’ve been or what you did. All those lessons add up. Some days you have to grind and do the best you can. It’s cliche, but every day you either get worse or better.”

Lenz loved football, and radio. He became interested in radio when he was in the 8th grade.

“I wanted to be one of those crazy FM jocks,” he explained. “I was a music nerd. One of those guys who walked around with a Walkman in the 80s.”

After doing the crazy jock thing for 10 years, the industry started to change. There were fewer jobs.

Lenz began looking for something more intellectual. His approach on the radio has been the philosophy of award-winning talker Christoper Gabriel; discourse, not discord.

“You need good conversation to advance dialogue to evolve. You don’t need to beat people over the head. It’s not a great idea to spend too much time talking to politicians. They’re intractable. I always try to find how I can cover old ground in a new way. I’m naturally curious. I advocate for my listeners. What would they ask, what would they want to know.”

As an example, a recent guest on Lenz’s show was a military guy, a tactical specialist.

“I asked him what it was like killing a terrorist, how you go through with something like that.”

There is no way for us citizens to even comprehend that kind of assignment, and Lenz wasn’t afraid to ask the question.

“He was a Lieutenant Colonel, and I just wanted to get his response on a visceral level. His emotions about something so emotional. Or if emotions even entered the equation.”

Since he attended Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Lenz said people are always interested in his thought on Columbine and the Aurora shooting.

“My coverage on those types of coverage on horrific tragedies is similar to other coverage. At the same time, I try to figure out the mistakes we’ve made in society, figure out what we’ve learned, and whether the gun issue is really mental health issue.”

He’s not trying to win any converts to the way he thinks, it’s not going to happen. Lenz said he’s not an expert on guns or why people go on a rampage.

He leaves that to people who are more knowledgeable.

“When something like Uvalde happens, I bring in Frank DeAngelis, who was the principal at Columbine. He’s my old coach. He has a particular understanding. He’s somebody people seek out. I try to seek out people who bridge for solutions.”

In many situations, Lenz said he avoids bringing in politicians to weigh in on extremely sensitive topics like Uvalde or Columbine.

“They’re only interested in building their brand,” Lenz said. “That permeates a lot of our leadership roles. People have a disconnect with Congress. On the one hand they hate Congress, but love their Congressman.”

He loves his job on KOA, and the people he works with. But there are some fundamental divides.

“Where I work, I’m dealing with residue of having Rush Limbaugh (and some conservative talk) that plays ‘footsie’ with some that deny or refuse to acknowledge ‘easily and readily accessible observational reality’. It makes my job a little harder. ”

Lenz believes if you turn out to be wrong on a topic, own it.

“Many times in interviews, I’m not an expert. I’m asking questions based on what I understand. If I’m wrong, tell me if I’m wrong. I don’t know what I don’t’ know. And I’m okay with that.”

If more people admitted when they were wrong, like Marty Lenz isn’t afraid to do, we’d be in a better place.

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BNM Writers

Vin Scully Weaving Conversation Made Him Well-Rounded

Scully was part of the best broadcasters that know how to use that extra pause for added emphasis and let a story breathe for a moment.

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By now, you’ve likely read many tributes to legendary broadcaster Vin Scully, who passed away earlier this week at 94 years old.

When you’re the voice of one of Major League Baseball’s most famous franchises (Dodgers) in the two biggest media markets in the country (New York and Los Angeles) for multiple generations (1950-2016), there are so many different angles and stories to tell. What he meant to baseball, to Los Angeles, and to broadcasting, in general, have all been covered incredibly well.

But what can talk hosts of any format learn from Vin Scully? Plenty.

The beauty of YouTube is being able to type in the “Vin Scully broadcast” and get everything from the 1957 Dodgers vs. Giants game to the 1977 All-Star game to his final sign-off in 2016.

I spent time this week listening to some of these games and realized there was plenty that broadcasters, not just those who call baseball games but talk show hosts as well, could learn from Scully.

First off, Vin Scully was not afraid of silence. There were times when he would let the sounds of the stadium tell the story for him on the radio. TV broadcasters are used to this, but in radio, there’s typically less silence, understandably so.

However, the power of silence works, regardless of the format. While talk shows don’t have that background noise of a stadium that can become part of the “show,” the carefully placed and wisely chosen moments of silence can tell a story. The best broadcasters know how to use that extra pause for added emphasis and let a story breathe for a moment.

Let the audience digest what was just said. It can be overdone, but it can be incredibly effectively used. And in an era of overdone, overhyped, hot takes, this broadcasting quality seems to continue to fall by the wayside.

Vin Scully’s breadth of knowledge exceeded baseball. Sure, Scully was a baseball nut; it’s what he did for a living. But his ability to weave history, pop culture, and everything in between into his broadcast was a reminder that being well-rounded as a broadcaster on air makes you a real person.

For news talk hosts, in particular, being the person hosting four hours in a row on nothing but Washington D.C. politics gets repetitive, boring, and eventually, all starts to sound the same. Similarly, I think about Rush Limbaugh when he talked about technology, his iPhone iOS update, and sports. This all takes us, the listener, under the hood into a broadcaster’s interests and builds an even stronger connection with an audience.

Then, there was pure joy. Imagine going to the same job every day for 66 years and maintaining the same enthusiasm for nearly 10,000 games. I’m sure Scully had his bad days like the rest of us, but to keep that kind of enthusiasm, passion, and joy for that length of time is unmatched.

That remains arguably the most important reminder to all of us who are fortunate enough to do what we do for a living. We got into this because we love it. We love communicating. We love story-telling. We love creating content.

And whether your content is a baseball broadcast, football broadcast, news talk show, sports talk show, or all-news format, we can all learn plenty from listening to a Vin Scully broadcast.

Now go check out YouTube and thank me later. You won’t regret it.

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