book ’em.

Catch22This is another Facebook meme, brought to you by my friend Jacob, who asked for an almost stream-of-consciousness list of ten books that have stuck with me over the years. Without much thought, here you go:

Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut: Sort of ties together nearly everything else Vonnegut wrote. And I’ve read them all.

The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills: Has a lot to do with my political leanings.

Catch-22, Joseph Heller: There is no better portrait of the military (and, by extension, government).

A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving: Delves into questions of faith vs. religion.

The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers: We’re all related. Our myths say so.

Grateful Dead Gear, Blair Jackson: I have dozens of Grateful Dead-related biographies; this one, which tells the story of the band through its guitars, sound systems and recording studios, may be my favorite.

High Fidelity, Nick Hornby: I see myself all over this book.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Hunter Thompson: I still want to do this.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe: When I first read this decades ago, it tied together all kinds of interests in one place for me.

Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck: Picking one Steinbeck book is tough; this might be my favorite because it’s the funniest.

4. i’m a freak.

Image

It’s one of the reasons I’ve always known I chose the right profession: I love working on election night.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a municipal election — as is the case tomorrow — or a presidential race. It doesn’t matter if I’m updating the site with the latest results and stories — as is the case tomorrow — or covering two or three races live. And it doesn’t matter that there is a lot of sitting around and waiting — there is always a rush in working election night.

I’m predisposed to enjoy working on a deadline, and the deadlines on election night are generally the tightest we come across all year. If I’m writing a story — or a couple — I love the challenge of tracking down comments from those involved in the race and getting the story to the desk on time.

That won’t be the case for me tomorrow night, but we’re doing some pretty ambitious stuff in terms of tracking results and updating them for the site. And that stuff is all mine.

There are some ancillary trappings to election-night duty that I don’t mind as well. I’ll be able to sleep in a little bit tomorrow, something that I feel like I still need after Sunday’s stroll. Mrs. Crappy and I will be able to vote at our leisure and then maybe get a nice lunch in town. And there will be either pizza or wings in the evening, the traditional election-night dinner in newsrooms everywhere.

There is no question that that stuff makes election-night duty enjoyable. But don’t get me wrong — the best part of election night doesn’t happen until the polls close and the results start coming in.

And I can’t wait.

that’s the news.

Given that it was never supposed to happen, I guess I can’t be too unhappy that it’s over.

I wasn’t ever supposed to be the host of Newsbreak, the daily webcast we’ve produced at my paper for nearly as long as I’ve worked there; I was just going to fill in on occasion. And I don’t think anyone — especially not me — anticipated that Newsbreak would morph from a fairly straightforward news cast into … uh … whatever it was that I changed it into.

Regardless — Newsbreak the show, along with my six-year run as its primary host, is over.

I did my first Newsbreak on June 4, 2007, filling in because its regular host was on vacation and the fill-in host was off sick. It was … OK (that’s the first one above). We used a studio and a green screen back then, a set up that I was never really comfortable with. It didn’t take me long, in fact, to ask the producer at the time if we could tape my clips at my desk, a format that I largely stuck with for the rest of my time as host. Jen, the show’s original host, had already started to move away from the straight-news approach of the show to something that was a little snarkier, a change that I embraced wholeheartedly.

Jen and Kristen, the other Newsbreak hosts, eventually moved on, but I saw no reason to not continue doing the show. Jacki, easily my favorite producer in that six years, was moved out of the newsroom, so I started working with our then-new video guy. And when he quit abruptly, I was left with a snap decision — give it up, or learn how to do it myself. Jacki had already given me some crash courses in video editing — something that has continued to serve me very well, professionally and personally — so I jumped in, writing, shooting, editing and posting, nearly every day.

It was hard. It burned up a lot of time every day. And it turned out to be one of the most fun things I have done — or ever will do — in my professional life.

I was fortunate that my colleagues in the newsroom have been mostly willing to participate when I’ve had ideas that really required their participation. For example:

Twinkie crisis.

And, the best one we’ve ever done — Steel vs. Cheese.

Why is Newsbreak done? If I’m being honest with myself, I’d have to admit that the show was for a relatively small group of people — my colleagues, my friends and family and, uh, me. In an era where my industry must do whatever it can to maximize its revenue, Newsbreak would be kind of a tough sell. We’ll do a daily newscast again at some point, but someone else will be doing that show.

How do I feel about this? I’m nursing a slightly bruised ego, but mostly I’m happy I had the chance to do this for as long as I did. I can’t really be angry at an employer that gave me the time, the resources and nearly total freedom to do these shows for six years. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity anywhere else.

That’s the last one. I probably shouldn’t have even done the episode, but we’ve done those Pirates picks for such a long time that I thought this fall I should definitely close the loop.

And that’s it. I should thank Jen and Kristen for letting me serve as a fill-in host while they were away in June 2007, Jacki for serving as the greatest producer ever and Evan, our current videographer, for giving me a hand when I got in over my head.

And you guys. Thank you for watching Newsbreak. I’m Mike Pound.

sunday funday.

For the first time in something like eight years, my Sundays are free.

Back in the middle of the last decade, the editors at my paper asked me to start a Sunday through Thursday work week. Having Fridays off was awesome, but it was kind of a drag on Sundays to haul myself out of the house and get up to work while everyone else was having fun. The Sunday shifts themselves weren’t bad — they were actually pretty quiet, usually — but having to work a night shift to start my week and then get back to the office first thing Monday morning? Ugh.

I missed a lot working on Sundays, mostly time with Mrs. Crappy; we always felt like we had to pack a lot in on Friday nights and Saturdays, because that was the only weekend time we had available together. Taking a pre-work nap certainly didn’t help any of the tepid efforts I’ve made to get back into some kind of regular NFL fandom (although, yes, the perpetually pathetic state of the Browns has also contributed).

And, apparently, I’ve missed a bunch of excellent television, something I’m keenly aware of when I read my Twitter feed on Sunday nights. Because of my work schedule, I’ve never seen a single episode of Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Downton Abbey or any of the other series that regularly aired on Sunday nights. Not a single one.

(And yes, I’m aware that there are plenty of non-broadcast ways to catch up with each of those shows. But I’m far enough behind that I’m not sure I want to make the effort.)

A couple weeks ago, my schedule changed, at my suggestion. I’m actually in charge of a couple people at work, and between that responsibility and the insistence of the people in our corporate office that some Big Decisions be made at the end of the week, I felt like I was missing too much as I started my early weekends.

So. Here I am. Home on a Sunday night. The television is available, but I feel more like sitting on my kickass front porch with a beer — a Stone Imperial Russian Stout, to be specific — some music — a hippie bluegrass mix I recently assembled, to be specific — and my blog.

This is great way to spend an evening, but I’m still sort of feeling like I’m missing something. So. You guys have any suggestions? Is there one or more of these shows (or others) I should be watching? What is it about that series that makes it so good?

porch

I’m willing to listen, people, but make sure your reasons are pretty compelling. Because this kind of Sunday evening is pretty tough to beat.

unforgivable.

Although we have three televisions in the newsroom, I wasn’t watching any of them at 10 a.m. on June 28.

We knew the Supreme Court was set to announce its ruling on President Obama’s health care law around 10, and I was reading through the rapid posts at the SCOTUSBlog and refreshing the Associated Press feeds so I could be ready to post the first write-through AP moved.

It took AP just a couple minutes to move its first few paragraphs after Chief Justice Roberts announced the 5-4 ruling; I grabbed the story and a couple pictures, posted them on the paper’s site, and then took a look at Twitter to see what the reaction was.

I found some discussion about the opinion, sure, but most of the talk was about how CNN had butchered the announcement. The network had jumped on Roberts’ first few words — which said the individual mandate didn’t meet the tests necessary to be constitutional under the commerce clause — and reported that the individual mandate had been ruled unconstitutional.

A few paragraphs later, though, Roberts’ opinion states that the mandate is, in fact constitutional, but CNN was in enough of a hurry that its on-air folks apparently couldn’t wait to get it right.

Hooboy. I checked CNN’s site and found the above (the green highlights are mine). CNN continued to bury themselves for minutes, even going as far as letting Wolf Blitzer start consulting with the network’s mind-numbing array of talking heads about the impact of the devastating political loss for Obama.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, I found out later that CNN’s chief rival, Fox News, hadn’t fared any better. I didn’t see the broadcast, but the screen cap above pretty clearly illustrates that the Fair and Balanced team screwed it up as well.

By themselves, the errors were bad enough. But one of those networks made their mistake infinitely worse later in the day. CNN — which apparently hung with the erroneous report longer than Fox did — issued a correction and an unattributed apology:

CNN regrets that it didn’t wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate. We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error.

Fox, as it does, took a different tack in addressing its error. Michael Clemente, the network’s executive vice president of news, issued this statement:

We gave our viewers the news as it happened. When Justice Roberts said, and we read, that the mandate was not valid under the commerce clause, we reported it. Then when we heard and read that the mandate could be upheld under the government’s power to tax, we reported that as well.

That noise you just heard was my head exploding. But we’ll get to that in a second.

First, let’s talk about the mistakes themselves. I’ve never worked at an organization anywhere near the size of CNN or Fox News, but the basic principles of journalism are the same whether we’re talking about a television news network or a medium-sized newspaper: Be right. And if you can, be first.

Note the order there. If you’re in such a hurry that you screw up the facts, it doesn’t matter how quickly you got it on the air or on the site. You’re wrong. Period.

Working with the paper’s website has made me more aware of the importance of timing, but it’s also made more aware of the caution necessary when we’re rushing. If I can confirm that there’s been an accident and that the coroner has been called to the scene, it’s safe for me to report THOSE TWO THINGS ONLY. It’s a pretty good assumption that someone is dead, but it’s still an assumption; I’m not writing that someone is dead until somebody — a cop, the coroner, one of our photographers — tells me there’s a body or until I see it myself.

After hearing Roberts say the mandate wasn’t valid under the commerce clause, CNN and Fox both made assumptions as well and those assumptions bit them both. If the reporters in Washington had continued listening rather than making those assumptions, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

The next thing has to do with a pretty basic tenet of journalism ethics. When you make a factual error, you correct it, and when you make a correction, you do it in a way that is transparent. CNN, to its credit, not only corrected its error but recognized that it was significant enough that it also issued an apology. It’s still irritating to me that the network made such an egregious — and avoidable — error in the first place, but once it happened, fixing it and moving on is really the only public course to take (I assume there are things going on behind the scenes to ensure something that stupid will never happen again). CNN swallowed hard and did what it had to do. Good.

Mr. Clemente, on the other hand, comes off looking like a kid whose hand was caught in the cookie jar and then denied it was ever there. Let’s repeat that basic tenet of journalism ethics: When you make a factual error, you correct it.

Fox didn’t do that. In his statement Clemente said his network reported the facts as they happened. Take one more look at the headline in the above screencap. At no point did anyone connected with the court say the legislation had been ruled unconstitutional, and that makes the headline wrong. Period. If the headline had read that the individual mandate was invalid under the commerce clause, it would have been accurate, maybe — MAYBE — Clemente’s stunningly arrogant statement would have been appropriate.

It didn’t. And when the executive vice president of Fox News had an opportunity to simply, quietly correct the error his network made and move on, he failed. Badly.

You guys are more than capable of drawing your own conclusions about the ideologies and motivations that drive our cable news networks; that’s not the point of this post. But on a day when the two biggest cable networks each made what had to be one of the biggest errors in their histories, only one of them handled the mistake as a serious news organization would.

The other? If I needed a reason to write it off, what it did on June 28 would be it.