Top 10 Media Stories
The year in print and broadcasting
1) Statesman Numbers Do Lie: As with 2003's wannabee Barton Springs pollution series, the daily compiled dubious statistics and again manufactured a crisis that didn't actually exist. The paper's study of APD use-of-force incidents purportedly showed disproportionately greater levels of violence against minorities, but our study of their study showed that things just didn't add up at least not to headline levels. (See also "Top 10 Law Enforcement Stories.")
2) Our Editor the Mayor: Forgetting ethics taught in high school journalism, Statesman Editorial Page Editor Arnold Garcia e-mailed golfing buddy Will Wynn, assuring the mayor he would "keep the lid" on a scoop and "shoot [him] a draft" of an editorial. Exposed by an open-records request, Editor Rich Oppel acknowledged to readers that the incident "reeked of editorial favoritism and a newspaper in cahoots with those in power."
3) F*** This: In the wake of Janet Jackson's exposing her breast during the Super Bowl, the FCC started handing out big fines for anything deemed remotely "indecent," prompting a wave of piety and fear among broadcasters. Corporate giants Clear Channel and Viacom announced zero-tolerance policies, which hit a new level of righteousness when Austin's Viacom-owned KEYE-TV fired sports anchor Robert Flores after he muttered the f-bomb on an outtake that accidentally aired at 5:30am.
4) Statesman's Ethics, Take 2: Just a few months after Statesman Editor Oppel, in the wake of Garcia's ethical boner, proclaimed, "We do not share news articles or editorials prior to publication," another staffer was caught in an overly cozy relationship with an official subject. This time it was veteran (and now retired) political reporter Dave McNeely, who allowed District Attorney Ronnie Earle's office to review five different drafts of a story on the district attorney's campaign-finance investigation.
5) Bad News Belo: The news just kept getting worse for Dallas-based Belo Corp. First there was the scandal about the cooked subscription books at flagship Dallas Morning News. Then it pulled out of its cable news partnerships. Next the axe fell on Texas Cable News. Now, from the Morning News to Austin's KVUE-TV, staffers are wondering, who's next?
6) The Beat Doesn't Go On: After a year battling Hot 93.3 for the hearts and minds of Austin's Usher and Eminem fans, KQBT-FM, "The Beat," once the city's hottest hip-hop station, ran up the white boxer shorts of surrender. Corporate parent Infinity wanted to create a slot for Howard Stern's show. Goodbye Beat; hello Howard. A few months later, in a fittingly ironic twist, Stern announced he was jumping to satellite radio.
7) Darn, Not More Homework: Declaring that local college students are "begging" for a more conservative paper, the former advertising director for The Daily Texan, Evelyn Gardner, launched The Austin Student, a new weekly targeting local campuses. A few weeks later the first editor was gone, and the new managing editor was UT campus rabble-rouser Brian Ferguson, who had unsuccessfully campaigned for the Texan's editor job in the spring.
8) ACTV Blows Up: The endgame maneuvers for the Austin Music Network (see "Top 10 Local Stories") ended up setting off a revolt among producers at Austin Community Television, after the access channel was tasked with babysitting AMN. As ACTV board members began to contemplate, unwisely and too publicly, fundamental changes to the nation's oldest access-TV operation, the channels' local stars most notably the redoubtable Alex Jones manufactured enough public outrage to, maybe, put the kibosh on such grand plans.
9) Lefties Will Survive: The Texas Observer and KOOP Radio celebrated 50- and 10-year milestones, respectively, despite suffering at various points in their history the usual bugaboos of such entities: shoestring budgets and staff infighting. Both provide an alternative to the right wing in a state that desperately needs it, and despite the very public disagreements we've had with KOOP we hope both live to at least double their tenures.
10) See Ya: Many familiar faces left the scene in 2004. After 34 years on the air, Dick Ellis was dumped by Fox affiliate KTBC, and picked up for PR work by Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Weatherman Gordon Smith retired from KTBC after 36 years. Midday mainstay Peg Simmons was dropped by rocker KLBJ-FM, her employer of 22 years. KLRU president and CEO Mary Beth Rogers left after six years to write a book. Finally, longtime Statesman political columnist Dave McNeely, a local and Capitol fixture, also said goodbye.
The Scandal That Wasn't: Thanks to the Internet, astonishing word-of-mouth, and generic public animosity, the hottest rumor of the year ran that Governor Perry's house was in disorder and the immediate cause was a gay paramour in the shrubbery. When the story finally hit print and was readily debunked Ricky climbed on his moral high horse and blamed disrespectful bloggers, Democratic pols, and just for a cheap shot, Comptroller Strayhorn's political operatives (some of whom once worked for Democrats!, by God). Since Perry's private life is very much the least of our Mansion-centered worries, it was the rumor without a reason. ... Still ...