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News about local media

Progress to Charge a Thanksgiving Premium

Rick Sincere shares some odd news from the Progress: the daily paper has informed subscribers that they’ll be charged more for the Thanksgiving edition of the paper. In an e-mail to subscribers, publisher Lawrence McConnell says that because “it is loaded with information you can use and valuable advertising” it is “one of the most expensive to produce and difficult to distribute,” so they “will charge a premium rate of $2.50 for the Thanksgiving Day newspaper.” Subscribers will find their subscription is somewhat shorter as a result of the unexpected charge. As Rick points out, the only thing that makes the Thanksgiving installment so hefty is that it’s stuffed full of a stunning amount of advertising circulars, advertisements that the Progress charges advertisers a handsome rate to include in the newspaper.

For reference, a Daily Progress subscription will run you $9.32/month for a Monday–Saturday subscription, or 35¢ per non-Sunday issue. (A 7-day subscription runs $17.40/month, meaning that each Sunday issue costs $2.02.)

Let’s Talk About Lunsford Media Coverage

Dear Charlottesville Journalists,

Your coverage of Commonwealth Attorney Denise Lunsford’s victimization by a vengeful ex? It’s…it’s not good. I’m being gentle here. As a refresher, prominent Missouri attorney and alcoholic David Cosgrove confessed in a court filing to posting nude photographs of Lunsford online after she broke up with him, and then had the gall to tell the court that he had every right to post those nude photographs, regardless of her wishes. So we have a powerful man publicly sexually humiliating and slut-shaming his victim. The only way that sexual humiliation works is if people know about it. That’s the point.

By writing about this matter in great detail—far more detail than was possibly necessary—you have helped to further Cosgrove’s victimization of Lunsford. When a woman files a restraining order against an abusive ex for the terrible information that he’s broadcasting about her, basically the worst thing that you can do is broadcast that information to way, way more people. And you did exactly that, apparently unquestioningly. You’re precisely the vector that he needed to humiliate her.

Perhaps the gold star for incompetence goes to the unsigned story broadcast by CBS-19. Not content to merely write about the main thrust of the story, y’all went on to write that Cosgrove was also accusing Lunsford of watching “movies” with convicted sexual batterer Chris Dumler, in her home, “with her child present.” This is an accusation made by a man who has engaged in unarguably awful, abusive behavior towards his victim, for the purpose of humiliating her. The most reasonable conclusion to draw is that he’s found precisely the right way to further humiliate her—to accuse her of endangering her child (risking that her child could be taken from her by Child Protective Services) and threaten her employment (for what could be seen as an inappropriate relationship with a criminal). In repeating this claim, CBS-19 let Cosgrove not just humiliate Lunsford sexually, but also make her fear for her child and her career. You folks showed terrible judgment here.

I talked to one reporter today who shared with me a series of late-night, semi-coherent e-mails that she received from Cosgrove last month, e-mails that included some of the photographs in question. (The reporter tells me that only one photograph was nude, and that Lunsford does not appear to know that the photograph is being taken.) The reporter had no idea of who Cosgrove was, but felt that the e-mails “suggest a very drunk, scorned man.” The claims that he made in the e-mails were bizarre, definitely libelous, and I won’t repeat any of them here. The reporter asks Cosgrove why he’s sending these strange e-mails, and he replies: “[t]o afraid f your public official to do do. There is a story or 3 if you do your job and dig.” The reporter replied, simply: “I think you need to put down the bottle of whatever you’re drinking and deal with whatever you’re upset about…” And that was the end of that. Because a responsible reporter knows that there is nothing to be pursued. As attorneys say, any claims that come from this man are fruit of a poisonous tree—nothing that he says can be believed, based on his confessed actions, so he’s best ignored.

Here’s the thing that you need to remember about private sexual matters: they’re private. Sometimes, court filings contain those private details, because they are necessary for the judge to make a decision, and those are inherently public records. But a good journalist knows where to draw the line on how much detail to provide his readers.

Apparently I must remind you that you, too, are public figures. Especially news anchors, who appear in the homes of thousands of local folks every night. I used to live in the building where NBC-29 maintained an apartment for their newest anchors to use, while they got settled. I saw a lot of literal dirty laundry, when I’d encounter these lonely, bleary eyed folks in the building’s laundromat at 1:00 AM. I respected their privacy, as fun as it might have been to post here a photo of their lingerie. Many years ago, I got an e-mail from a young local reporter, distraught after somebody had discovered a long-abandoned webpage where she had written anonymously about her embarrassing sexual fetish. Somebody had connected the dots, figured out who she was, and she needed advice, since she was terrified that she’d lose her job. I assured her I’d do what I could to keep anything about it from becoming public and, as best I know, she got through it OK. Again, private sexual matters are private.

But all isn’t lost! A form of penance is available. You have accidentally tapped into a very real, very serious, widespread problem: revenge porn. None of you bothered to do any actual research before writing your stories, because if you had, you’d have known that right now—this very week, the very day that you broke this story—revenge porn is a very hot topic. See Monday’s New York Times story, or Tuesday’s Slate story. Need the facts? Check out Mary Anne Franks’ FAQ about revenge porn. Copy this sample legislation, paste it into an e-mail, and ask Del. David Toscano, Del. Rob Bell, and Sen. Creigh Deeds if they’ll introduce that bill into January’s General Assembly session. Need some first-person stories? Check out Women Against Revenge Porn, or maybe ask on your Twitter feed whether anybody who has been victimized might want to be interviewed anonymously (anonymously).

There, I’ve almost written the story for you. Do this, say 20 “Hail Mary”s, and then ask Denise Lunsford for forgiveness. You can do it. I know you can.


Cav Daily Wins Alcohol Court Case

The Fourth Circuit Court has upheld The Cavalier Daily’s right to publish advertising for alcohol, the Associated Press reports. An Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulation (§ 3VAC5-20-40 (A)(2)) prohibits licensees from advertising in student newspapers:

Advertisements of alcoholic beverages are not allowed in college student publications unless in reference to a dining establishment, except as provided below. A “college student publication” is defined as any college or university publication that is prepared, edited or published primarily by students at such institution, is sanctioned as a curricular or extra-curricular activity by such institution and which is distributed or intended to be distributed primarily to persons under 21 years of age.

Both the Cav Daily and Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times sued, represented by the ACLU of Virginia, arguing that this served as an unconstitutional prohibition on free expression, and that it deprived them of much-needed revenue. (Both publications are independent, student-run publications, not funded by their respective universities.) It took years for the case to work its way through the court system, with a federal judge siding with the papers and the Supreme Court declining he case, but the 2–1 ruling by the Fourth Circuit may well be the end of things. The Office of the Attorney General says that they haven’t decided if they want to appeal the case back up to the Supreme Court.

In the court’s published opinion—which summarizes the very persuasive arguments in favor of the Cav Daily’s position, and the lousy arguments raised by the Virginia Attorney General’s office—Judge Stephanie Thacker finds that the prohibition does present an unconstitutional First Amendment restraint, and that it “prohibits large numbers
of adults who are 21 years of age or older from receiving truthful information about a product that they are legally allowed to consume.”

In no small part because of a lack of advertising income, the Cav Daily is a substantially smaller newspaper than when this case first started, and comes out less frequently. They’ve moved their operations online substantially, in order to deal with this. The revenue from alcohol advertising could have served them well, and surely would have left them in better financial shape today. For all of the attorney general’s talk about eliminating burdensome regulations that make it tough to run a small business, he sure has fought hard in favor of keeping this regulation, and it’s been awfully tough on these two small businesses.

Snow-Falling the Western Bypass

C-Ville Weekly has a long, lovely feature about the Western Bypass, by Graelyn Brashear. The article itself is a history of efforts to build a bypass around the 29 Bypass, presented through the lens of a driving tour of the proposed route with Supervisor Ken Boyd and Piedmont Environmental Coalition’s Jeff Werner riding in the back seat. It incorporates video, maps, per-section public comments, and audio throughout, presented not in a standard C-Ville Weekly page template, but instead as a wholly designed page. Brashear’s article doesn’t provide any new information, nor is that the goal, but instead is taking a long view on the project, sort of a “how we got here.”

This type of integrative story is known in the industry as a “Snow Fall” piece, named for the New York Times story of that title published last year, which resulted in a lot of analysis and endless discussion at conferences. (As an attendee of those conference, I’ll allow that perhaps the discussions only feel endless.) The work was done by Vibethink, the local website design shop who created C-Ville Weekly’s website. This sort of work adds a great deal of production cost to an article, not just in terms of website development, but also producing all of the supplementary multimedia materials. Some argue that snow-falling an article is a crutch, while others argue that it’s simply using the web as something more than a place to shovel material that also appeared in print. I know that when I’ll want to direct somebody to a place to learn more about the Western Bypass, I’ll send ’em to Brashear’s article.

The Hook to Fold

The Hook is being shut down by its parent company, in a decision that is disappointing, although surely not shocking. That leaves C-Ville Weekly, owned by the same company, as the city’s sole weekly. The final issue will be published on September 26.

The Hook debuted thirteen years ago, only three weeks after an acrimonious split between the three owners of C-Ville Weekly drove owner Hawes Spencer to start his own paper. Nine years later, the two publications’ owners decided to join up again, with time and experience having mellowed the former competitors. At the time of the merger, owner Bill Chapman denied plans to eliminate staffing redundancies. Finally, last December, Hook editor Hawes Spencer sold his shares and stepped down, with Courteney Stuart taking his place. (The first comment after that story was prescient: “Cue the Cville gutting the Hook in 2013 by summer if not sooner.”)

Both of the papers have maintained distinctly different identities. Post-split, The Hook quickly took on the role of news publication, while C-Ville Weekly focused more on the arts and soft news. In this way, they managed to enlarge the overall news market, so that both could have room to exist. When the two papers came under the same umbrella again two years ago, it was logical to keep both publications, since—anecdotally—each had their own fans and detractors, and presumably likewise differing bases of advertisers. If today’s news is any indicator, that simply proved not to be true. Or, at least, the benefits of maintaining two competing brands were outweighed by the cost and redundancies of maintaining two publications.

Questions remain. What will become of Hook staff: reporters, back-office staff, and ad sales? Will C-Ville Weekly expand its coverage to include the hard news that The Hook provided, or as a community will we simply lose that? When will C-Ville Weekly become a twice-weekly publication? And what of The Hook’s website? There are 12 years of vital, historically significant news coverage there, available to anybody using Google. The loss of that archive—like the once-deep web-based archives of The Cavalier Daily, WINA, and The Observer—would be terrible. What’s the plan to maintain that?

5:45 PM Update: In a statement, the company says that “several key members of The Hook’s team will remain,” that they’ll be moving publication from Monday to Wednesday, and touts that the combined circulation of 25,000 will give them the largest circulation in Charlottesville.