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FROM THIS EPISODE

Slicing and Dicing

For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

2005 was not a great year for journalism. In fact, it was bloody awful, a cauldron of conflcting interests, sudden and embarrassing revelations, and layoffs of journalists by the hundreds. We had veteran reporters who forgot they had editors and found themselves telling their stories to a grand jury. We had CNN piling on the bells and whistles even as it got rid of a thoughtful, empathetic personality like Aaron Brown, who didn't cut it in Anderson Cooper's world. At the same time, we saw a major shake-up in the ranks of network anchors, with the death of Peter Jennings and the departures of Ted Koppel and his colleagues at the other networks.

We had corporate owners of newspapers deciding they weren't making quite enough dough on Wall Street and slicing and dicing their staffs like Swiss cheese.

Readers and watchers turned in droves to the Internet, satellite radio and the various gadgets that anyone who is cool, apparently, now must have, leaving traditional media scrambling for ways to keep its dwindling audience.

Simon Dumenco, who calls himself The Media Guy, gave us some of the year's highlights in his column on AdAge.com. He said that in 2005, The New York Times "excelled at operatic internal drama, once again overshadowing the actual news with news of its own making." The first embarrassment was Judy Miller, who went to jail for protecting a source in the CIA leak case. Dumenco said that, when her source turned out to be "a scheming, dissent-quashing Dick Cheney aide, her Times colleagues, suddenly remembering her gullible Weapons of Mass Destruction 'reporting,' had second thoughts about her sainthood."

Dumenco was no kinder to Bob Woodward, the legendary Watergate reporter who "somehow neglected to tell his own bosses about his connection to the Plame scandal." The misstep earned him comparisons to Miller "for not only being a self-absorbed reportorial Army of One, but a Washington grandee compromised by his own insider status."

Referring to what he called the "slow, painful death of network news," Dumenco suggested that the nets "should just simulcast Jon Stewart every night and be done with it."

The Times came in for more than its share of abuse in 2005. Just as the Miller scandal was dying down, the paper scored its biggest scoop of the year with the revelation that President Bush had authorized domestic spying without court approval.

In Editor and Publisher magazine, Greg Mitchell wrote that The Times got "hammered from left, right and even some in the middle for holding the story for a year, and then belatedly timing publication either to the Patriot Act debate and/or an upcoming book and being less than transparent about the whole kit and caboodle."

Mitchell also criticized the media in general for downplaying, and in some cases ignoring, the 9/11 Commission's report on the Bush administration's handling of the crisis and its efforts to prevent future attacks. You would think, Mitchell wrote, that the report "would deserve banner headlines and massive and continuing television coverage especially if the grades were poor, with five 'Fs' and a dozen 'Ds' out of 41 categories."

Yet Mitchell said a survey of 40 major U.S. newspapers found that only six featured the story on their front pages. The San Francisco Chronicle had the most lavish treatment, with a huge replica of a school report card. The others were: the San Jose Mercury-News, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Houston Chronicle, on the other hand, carried the headline: "Concerns Over Face Transplant Grow."

Happy New Year.

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

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