Category: news

Introducing The Sage Leopard Facebook Group

Looking for a constructive discourse around current events, news and politics? Me too.

Wonder how a lot of mis- and disinformation spreads on Facebook? A certain so-called documentary with false information easily made the rounds via FB groups. We also can utilize FB groups to spread valid information, share ideas on improving our communities and thoughtfully engage on current events.

Many discussions surrounding COVID-19, the upcoming election in the U.S. and other major events lack nuance. It’s all or nothing. For example, some people want unrestricted economic activities (see complaints about wearing masks in stores), but that’s missing the point: we can reengage in retail and other economic activities by taking precautions to mitigate the spread.

Another all-or-nothing mindset surrounds whether we support a political candidate: some seek an ideal that doesn’t exist. There is no candidate for anything that will check all your boxes, unless you are simplistic about pretty much everything.

Much of our society has become bifurcated and devolved to name-calling. What if you are neither an all-out liberal nor a diehard Trump supporter? There is plenty of room in between. I certainly am not one or the other of that binary choice.

What if you’re curious about what makes someone else’s worldview tick? What if you could persuade them to reconsider some aspect of their perspective?

I can’t help but notice in various community and neighborhood groups how self-righteous and wrong-headed some of the comments are. Hopefully, The Sage Leopard news group can foster a better discussion. Join and be a part of something we hope will be more meaningful.

Note: A few simple guidelines to get started. Do share ideas and articles you believe are true, well-researched and well-edited. Do not paste in propaganda; I’ll call out nonsense. Do try to listen and ask questions. Don’t curse out or otherwise engage in name-calling. We’re here to learn.

Join The Sage Leopard News Group here.

The Sage Leopard,

Katharine Fraser, moderator of The Sage Leopard news group

Real News: Coffee, Bagel Recycling Bins and People Who Aren’t Spouting Political Views

The traditional press has taken a beating in recent years given the demise of their print ad-based business model, the budget cuts to newsroom staffs and, of late, the demonization of bad news as fake news. For the uninitiated who want to know what it’s really like in these dens of iniquity (or dens of inequity, for those concerned about fair and balanced news), I want to relate what it’s like to work in real news.

I’ll start my musings on my past life in business news (very real news) by relating the collegial environment at the Baltimore Business Journal, circa 1993-94, where I got my first job out of college as a researcher/reporter. There were about of dozen editorial people and we had enormous, ancient desks that were pushed together so that you had to be mindful your papers didn’t slide into your neighbors’ stuff (more on this later). I don’t remember hearing a partisan political discussion about the local politicians. We did have a government reporter whose role was more focused on how policy affects businesses. He didn’t reserve any criticism for any particular party.

There was some initial confusion about the possibility that I might engage in identity politics. At the end of my first week, I asked two guys if anyone was going to happy hour and they looked surprised. We decamped to the bar down the alley and they again looked surprised when I ordered a bourbon and Coke. Finally, one of them asked me about my internship at the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and my attendance at Liberty University in Virginia. Errrrr, I had no exposure to either. There had been some game-of-telephone misunderstanding when they previously heard my bio; I then related I had done an internship at CNBC, the financial news network, and graduated from Washington and Lee University in Virginia. I don’t know if they were relieved I wasn’t a fundamentalist Christian, but they seemed to understand at that point why I would consider bourbon a cultural touchstone.

Entry-level journalism is a low-paying endeavor. For this reason, I loved our weekly news meetings, where we were served free bagels. One morning I missed the meeting to go retrieve some record copy from the courthouse (tax liens, new business licenses, etc.). I came into the newsroom famished and asked if there were leftover bagels. A reporter said the paper bag with the remaining bagels had been tossed in a bin. I looked in and the bagel bag was the only item in there, so I reached in, grabbed a bagel and took a bite. Just at this moment, the publisher was walking through the hall with an advertiser and they looked horrified. The No. 1 reason not to ever allow an advertiser near a newsroom is to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest because news must be independent from the ads. The second reason is like unto it: don’t let on how poor the reporters are.

At one news meeting, the editor had a treat besides bagels. He offered to let us pick out new office furniture and we were pumped. We selected desks with low shelf barriers so that we could see each other and easily confer yet still keep our things separate. The day the furniture arrived was devasting for morale. Our decision was overridden by a pennywise business manager who arranged for us to obtain used, ugly cubicles with very high walls. From his new confines, I heard the government reporter bemoan, “I used to work at the [Baltimore] Sun. Now, I work in an outhouse.” The real estate reporter opened a cubicle drawer and found a fresh pink slip from a major employer in the region. This was the impetus for his big scoop about a big layoff. Initially, the flak questioned how the reporter could possibly have gotten the idea that this big company laid off anyone and the response was priceless: because I am calling you from a cubicle that was just removed from your offices and holding a pink slip from its top drawer.

Later, I moved to New York and worked for American Banker, which has a huge newsroom overlooking New York Harbor. Because it is a daily, every day was a crunch and sometimes the stress was intense. During a garbage strike in the city, we had the added duty of bringing refuse to the kitchen rather than leave lunch remnants to rot under our desks. For some reason, the mailroom guys were tasked with emptying out our recycling bins. As my editor and I ruminated on the best approach to a story, the mailroom chief scoffed at us, saying something like, all you guys do all day is drink coffee and talk. I wish! That would be a dream come true for many journos, who tend to be chatty people. The reality is you have get the information, separate fact from notions and then write well.

And, it is not always fun. At McGraw-Hill, I worked for an energy newsletter in an office a few blocks from the White House. The morning of September 11 was a mix of shock, horror and phone calls. I was reaching out to people whose businesses own and operate critical energy infrastructure, including power grids, natural gas pipelines and hydropower dams – all of which could be in the crosshairs of terrorist attacks. An eerie lull arrived and the reporter next to me asked if I had any alcohol in my office. No such luck.

A few years later, two of my editors were debating the competency of then President George W. Bush. It was not a partisan discussion. I could not tell you if these guys are Republican, Democrat or independent. That wasn’t the point of their debate. It was more along the lines of who is driving the bus in the administration, with the counterpoint being don’t knock the guy about the head while he’s trying to drive the bus.

By contrast, the caricature of the “liberal news media” is that reporters and editors are a bunch of partisan hacks out to get Republicans. That’s funny when you consider the media wringer Bill Clinton went through as president (see Whitewater to Ken Starr report).

I never saw or heard anyone conniving how to make politicians look bad. Frankly, the bad ones usually do that quite well all by themselves without any interference by the press.

What Exactly is Your Problem? The Pointlessness of Attempting to Regulate Free Speech

Good morning. We awake to the president of the United States grousing that Google search results about him are full of negative news stories. Well, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, etc. certainly had their share of bad press.

Before looking at Google, let’s be clear: the role of a press in a free country is not to sing the praises of elected officials. The job of those covering government is to find out what it is doing, what its challenges are, who its opponents are, how it is spending taxpayer money, how it is keeping us safe, what is its efficacy, etc. The Founding Fathers were clear-eyed about ensuring the people and the press could not only question the government, but freely complain about it.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

OK, back to a regularly scheduled POTUS Twitter feed. After the rant, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, who previously earned a living as a CNBC financial news commentator, said that “we’re taking a look” at regulating Google.

Google is a search engine and does not pretend to be an Oracle or the Gospel. The search results are based on an algorithm that captures, in part, what sites are the most visited. The term of art in search engine optimization is “authority.” It stands to reason that news sites, including Fox or the New York Times or Yahoo, are going to rise to the top of the search engine results page (SERP) because they all received a lot of visitors, which gives them “authority” for the algorithm to recognize them.

Well, at the moment, if you search “Trump news” on Google, the top results are news stories about his complaint about Google’s search results being “rigged” against him. The next set of stories relate to the legal entanglements spinning out from the special counsel’s investigation, including Michael Cohen’s lawyer backtracking on an allegation against Trump, which certainly could be construed as positive for Trump. Of course, another prominent story in the results is about the Trump Organization’s top financial executive being granted immunity to testify about Michael Cohen, who is Trump’s former lawyer.Screenshot of Google SERP

The next set of stories is about Trump looking to replace NAFTA and his tentative agreement with Mexico on a new trade deal. That is surely what he wanted to be the top story yesterday, but his talk with Mexico was overshadowed by his own flub: raising the American flag over the White House ahead of John McCain’s burial. He was chided by the Senate leadership and the American Legion. He now has no leg to stand on when criticizing NFL players for kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner.

If he did not enjoy the criticism, he should avoid appearing to disrespect the military. The news stories that covered the criticism are certainly negative, but they are simply holding up a mirror to reality.

Reality cannot be regulated.