United States

A major piece of unfinished business for press freedom advocates in this period continues to be passage by Congress of the federal "Free Flow of Information Act", also known as the shield law. More than 70 media groups and companies have endorsed it. The bill would protect journalists from having to identify confidential sources in federal courts in all but a handful of cases. It overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 but has been stalled in the Senate. In late October, the White House, key senators and media representatives announced a compromise. Essentially, the compromise bill provides a "qualified privilege" for journalists to protect confidential sources in cases where the government or others cannot demonstrate the information sought is essential to the investigation or prosecution. Advocates now say this should ensure passage in the coming months. As newspapers in the United States continue searching for new business models to address the worst economic downtown since the Great Depression, one number is especially striking -- 20,000. That is the number of Newsroom jobs lost in the last decade. With revenues plummeting, layoffs and other cutbacks have become routine for most U.S. news organizations. Today, an estimated 40,000 work for U.S. Newsrooms compared to a peak of 60,000 in the early 1990s. In recent months, there have been some mildly positive signs compared to year-ago performance by major media companies. Still, several face huge uphill struggles by attempting to work their way out of bankruptcy, most notably The Tribune Co. with newspapers in Chicago, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. In October, The New York Times Co. announced it is no longer seeking bidders for the Boston Globe since major wage concessions were agreed to by unions and other cost-saving measures were adopted. In the same month, The Times announced its Newsroom would eliminate about 8 percent of its staff, or about 100 jobs. Earlier this year, that paper announced 5 percent pay cuts. Even with the latest round of cuts, The Times Newsroom remains by far the largest in the country with a staff of 1,150, or 400 more than the next largest. Other important developments during this semester: In testimony before a Congressional committee in September, officials with the Newspaper Association of America said newspapers do not require any financial "bailout" or other special subsidies. Further, the NAA said newspapers "must adjust their business models to find a way to monetize online content in a way that contributes to local journalism." Solutions are being explored, the NAA said, to "make it convenient for users of newspaper-generated content to license and pay reasonable fees." A former handyman pleaded guilty in Oakland, Calif., in May to the 2007 killing of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey. The handyman testified he did it because he was promised financial rewards by the owner of a business Bailey had been investigating. The business owner now also has been charged with the murder. The work of a group of San Francisco-area journalists disclosed flaws in the original case, resulting in additional murder indictments and an apology from the police chief. Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather's lawsuit against CBS was dismissed in a unanimous ruling by the New York State Supreme Court in September. Rather claimed his reputation was unfairly tarnished by the network's handling of an investigation into his report on "60 Minutes" into President George W. Bush's service in the National Guard. A CBS lawyer said the ruling essentially ends the case, but Rather's lawyer said it would be appealed. A fight is brewing between officials at Northwestern University's journalism school and local prosecutors over records relating to the school's acclaimed Medill Innocence Project. The project, which uses students to re-examine old crimes, has helped lead to the release of 11 inmates because of questionable evidence or procedures. Prosecutors have subpoenaed students' grades, grading criteria, expense reports and e-mail messages. The Defense Department's inspector general in May issued a highly unusual report repudiating its previous report defending a Pentagon public relations program that made extensive use of retired officers who worked as military analysts for TV and radio stations. The reassessment concluded the original report was filled with flaws and inaccuracies, and it was removed from its Web site. News articles about the program disclosed the largely hidden military campaign to transform TV network military analysts into "surrogates" and "message force multipliers" for the Bush administration. The public relations campaign has ended, a Pentagon spokesman said. The Obama administration has singled out Fox News for exclusion from some news events in what some believe is its dissatisfaction with the network´s content. It refused to include a Fox News reporter in a group to be briefed by a key White House official, but was forced to relent when the others invited refused to take part if no one from Fox was present. Also, when the president gave a rare round of Sunday television interviews, Fox was the only major network prominently left out. A top White House official said afterward that the administration felt that Fox News was not really news. Much of the network´s commentary is very critical of the administration, but its news reports are generally recognized as being in the mainstream.