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Morning Media Newsfeed: Separatists in Ukraine Seize TV HQ | CNN Raises Ethical Questions | Gregory Slams Report

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Separatists Seize Control of TV HQ in East Ukraine City (Reuters)
Pro-Russian separatists on Sunday seized control of the offices of regional state television in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk and said they would take it off air and broadcast a Kremlin-backed Russian channel instead. Sky News Four men wearing masks and armed with truncheons were standing at the entrance to the building in Donetsk, while more separatists could be seen inside wearing camouflage fatigues. The regional governor’s office and the city hall in Donetsk have already been seized by separatists. NBC News About 15 police officers were standing a short distance away but were not trying to resist the separatists. A crowd of around 400 people surrounded the building and shouted “Russia!” and “Referendum!,” a reference to a vote the separatists want to hold on seceding from Ukraine. The protesters later drifted away, but the separatist guards on the doors remained. One of the masked men at the entrance, who asked why the building had been seized, said: “They show lies; they try to influence the people and they broadcast misinformation.” The Guardian The station’s shaken director, Oleg Dzholos, emerged soon afterward to say that the separatists had brought with them a technician who was turning off Kiev television and replacing it with Rossiya 24. The Russian state channel calls Ukraine’s pro-western leaders “fascists” and frequently runs montages of them with footage of the Nazis. “We hope to continue broadcasting,” Dzholos said. His staff of 250 would be back at work on Monday morning, he said. WSJ Sunday’s incident marked an escalation in the struggle between pro-Russian protesters who want to turn Ukraine’s industrial heartland into a sovereign republic and Kiev’s interim government, which has tried, without success, to defeat a separatist rebellion that threatens the unity of the country. Ukraine accuses Russia of stirring up the separatist unrest by broadcasting strident anti-Kiev views on Russian television channels and by sending covert operatives to help organize the insurgency, particularly in Slovyansk, a city north of Donetsk that has been taken over by heavily armed gunmen. Moscow denies any role.

Chicago Mayor Helped Coordinate Scenes on CNN’s Chicagoland (Chicago Tribune)
If it seemed as though some scenes of CNN’s documentary series Chicagoland were coordinated by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Hall and the show’s producers, that’s because they were. More than 700 emails reviewed by the Tribune reveal that the production team worked hand in hand with the mayor’s advisers to develop storylines, arrange specific camera shots and review news releases officially announcing the show. TVNewser The emails between CNN producers and Emanuel’s office reportedly show producers seeking more on-air involvement from the mayor to showcase him “as the star that he really is.” Some emails show the mayor’s office preparing to send CNN storyline ideas for the series; the emails also suggests Emanuel’s office requested a private pre-screening of the series ahead of its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. HuffPost / Backstory A CNN spokeswoman said Friday that “the mayor’s office was never granted editorial control over the content or the press communications for Chicagoland, and no agency was ever granted authority to offer the mayor’s office editorial approval for the content or the promotional materials for the series.” Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin, the team behind Brick City, the Sundance Channel’s series about Newark and its mayor at the time, Cory Booker, gained access to Emanuel in February 2013 through the assistance of a Chicago public relations firm with ties to the mayor. In May 2013, CNN announced that it was collaborating with the filmmakers on Chicagoland, with Sundance Productions’ Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn serving as executive producers. Deadline Hollywood Featuring an appearance from Windy City native Michelle Obama, the Chicagoland finale drew 325,000 total viewers Thursday — a series low — and 132,000 adults 25 to 54 in its 10 p.m. slot. Those numbers are well behind the 1.22 million total viewers and 244,000 in the demo that Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity drew in the time slot and behind the 648,000 total viewers and 202,000 adults 25 to 54 that MSNBC’s Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell pulled in.

David Gregory Calls Psychological Consultant Report ‘Utter Fiction’ (TVNewser)
During his weekly appearance on WTOP radio Friday morning, NBC’s David Gregory called a Washington Post report claiming NBC brought in a psychological consultant to work with him “complete fiction.” Mediaite Earlier last week, the Post reported that NBC hired said consultant to interview Meet the Press host David Gregory’s friends and family in an effort to address the program’s lackluster ratings. NBC later denied that claim. HuffPost Author Paul Farhi said that he had double-checked the matter with NBC News before publishing the piece. NBC said it had hired a “brand consultant” and not a psychological expert. The firm the network hired was Elastic Strategy, which describes itself as a brand strategy business. In his statement Friday, Gregory added: “There was never any psychological consultant hired. That’s utter fiction, that’s gossip reporting gone wild.” Politico / Dylan Byers on Media Gregory told WTOP a marketing strategist worked with Meet the Press to help develop the program’s branding, which involved speaking to people around Gregory.

Judge Orders Philadelphia Inquirer’s Ownership Be Sold by Auction (Poynter / MediaWire)
Vice Chancellor Donald F. Parsons Friday ordered that Interstate General Media, the partnership that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, be dissolved and sold via an “English-style” auction among partners. New York Post Parsons also set a minimum bid price of $77 million and a May 28 deadline for the auction. The ruling is a victory for New Jersey Democratic power broker and insurance magnate George Norcross, who pushed for the private auction. His rival, parking lot magnate and former New Jersey Nets and Devils owner Lewis Katz, and his ally, H.F. Lensfest, wanted to open the sale process to outside bidders. NYT It is the latest legal milestone in a battle between Norcross and Katz, who formed a partnerships to buy the publications in 2012 but have since fallen out over accusations of inappropriate influence exerted on the newsroom, and thrown them into turmoil. Norcross was accused of installing his daughter at the head of Philly.com and of influencing the dismissal of The Inquirer’s editor, William K. Marimow. He has denied any inappropriate behavior.

Star Wars Rewrites History: Books, Comics No Longer Official (Mashable)
Lucasfilm has announced that all of the books and comics that filled the empty space in the Skywalker story after Return of the Jedi in 1983, hundreds of titles collectively known as the Expanded Universe, will no longer play any part in official Star Wars canon — and they won’t stand as precursors to the upcoming movies. Variety While George Lucas had built a world around Star Wars through movies, TV shows, comic books, novels, video games and other forms of entertainment, storylines were developed by separate teams, which veered away from what was seen onscreen by audiences. As a result of the plethora of Star Wars-related characters, creatures, spaceships and worlds created for those properties, Lucasfilm has formed a new story group to oversee all Star Wars creative development, according to Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, that will connect all aspects of storytelling moving forward. THR / Heat Vision The statement on the official Star Wars website clarifies that the official canon for the franchise consists of the six movies to date, as well as the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series. The upcoming new animated series Star Wars Rebels is also identified as canon. Some existing Expanded Universe material will be kept in print, Lucasfilm said, under a freshly established Star Wars Legends banner.

Four U.S. TV Shows Ordered Off Chinese Websites (The Associated Press)
Chinese authorities have ordered video streaming websites in the country to stop showing four popular American TV shows, including The Big Bang Theory and The Good Wife, representatives from two sites said Sunday. Deadline London Leading site Youku confirmed that it had received notification from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, a Chinese watchdog, that the shows could no longer be streamed. No reason was given for the clampdown. Online streaming has traditionally been less hindered over its content as compared to state television and movies, which are routinely censored. However, sites that license hundreds of shows that are streamed with ads are sometimes ordered to remove content that is deemed unsuitable. THR The popular show The Blacklist has also had episodes that criticized the Chinese government cut recently. It’s long been baffling how the government allows a show like House of Cards to be seen in China, particularly the second season, which had a storyline critical of Chinese government corruption. However, it was generally suspected that the Kevin Spacey­­-starring depiction of sleaze, debauchery, graft and general malfeasance in Washington chimed with an acceptable message on the dangers of democratic institutions.

Coming Soon to Microsoft: AOL’s Videos (Re/Code)
AOL and Microsoft compete for advertisers’ dollars. But they’ve figured out a way to cooperate, too: The two rivals have struck a deal that lets Microsoft distribute AOL’s videos on some of its properties. FishbowlNY Microsoft will now be able to share any AOL video, including original programming — like what you see on HuffPost Live — and videos it distributes for companies like ESPN. The AOL videos will be featured on MSN.com and Windows and Windows Phone Bing apps. Microsoft will handle ad sales for the videos, with both companies sharing the ad revenue.

Cosmo.com to Cover Hard News and Politics (FishbowlDC)
Cosmopolitan announced Friday that it will start covering hard news, politics and women’s rights issues on its website. Jill Filipovic has been hired as a senior writer to cover the hard news beat. She is currently a weekly columnist for The Guardian and edits the website Feministe. She has also written for Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera America, The Nation, New York magazine and Salon, among other outlets. Filipovic will be based out of Cosmo’s offices in New York and will report to work May 1. Capital New York Cosmopolitan.com editor Amy Odell said she has made it a priority to expand her website’s coverage of political issues affecting its readership since she arrived from BuzzFeed last September; the editorial strategy certainly hasn’t hurt Cosmopolitan.com’s traffic, which, according to internal metrics supplied by Cosmopolitan.com nearly doubled from 13 million unique visitors in August to more than 25 million in March.

Spotify Says It’s ‘a Matter of Time’ Before it Overtakes Apple’s iTunes (The Guardian)
Streaming music service Spotify has added more than 1 million active users in the U.K. in the last four months, as it tries to overtake Apple’s iTunes as the biggest digital music service in Europe. Spotify’s head of label relations in Europe, Kevin Brown, said that a “significant amount” of the new users are paying for a subscription, rather than listening to its free, advertising-supported version. The growth has been sparked by marketing partnerships with Vodafone and the Sunday Times. With these numbers, Spotify is likely to surpass iTunes as the largest market for digital music listening. Billboard iTunes stands to lose consumers as more people pay for subscription services instead of paying for track downloads, especially after the U.K. closed the tax loophole that kept digital song prices at £0.99 ($1.63). Despite the competition with iTunes, Brown sees YouTube as Spotify’s primary rival.

Former Tumblr President John Maloney Is Now Circa’s New President (Re/Code)
John Maloney, the Web veteran who spent four years running day-to-day operations at Tumblr for founder David Karp, has a new gig. He’ll be running day-to-day operations at Circa, the mobile news service, for founder Matt Galligan. Maloney’s brief at his new job sounds similar to his last one: Figure out how to grow the company, raise money and eventually generate money as well, so the CEO can focus on product. Maloney was an early investor in Circa, after being introduced to the company by Karp, its first investor.

Christiane Amanpour to Be Inducted into Cable Hall of Fame (TVNewser)
On Tuesday, Christiane Amanpour will be inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame, which honors leaders who have made a lasting contribution to the advancement of the industry. Amanpour is the only on-air talent and only woman in the 2014 class. Others include executives from Suddenlink Communications, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications. Amanpour adds this honor to 11 News and Documentary Emmys, four Peabody Awards and nine honorary degrees.

Media General Cuts 45 Jobs (TVSpy)
A month after announcing a $2.6 billion merger with Lin Media, Media General is cutting 45 corporate and shared services jobs. In an email sent to staffers, CEO George Mahoney said the cuts are meant to decentralize operations and give greater control at the local level. When the merger is complete, the new Media General will be the second largest station group in the nation with 74 stations in 46 markets, reaching 23 percent of U.S. TV households. Mahoney is among those leaving the company when the deal is completed. Media General chairman Stewart Bryan will stay on in that capacity, while LIN CEO Vincent Sadusky will be the CEO of the combined entity.

Attack on Journalist Starts Battle in Pakistani Press (NYT)
A vicious gun attack last weekend on Hamid Mir, Pakistan’s most famous television newscaster, seems to have set off a divisive media battle in which the truth itself has become bitterly contested. At issue are claims aired by Geo News, Mir’s employer and the largest station, that the military’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, was behind the April 19 attack in which Mir was shot six times as he traveled to a Karachi television studio. Rival stations took the controversy a step further, using it to cudgel Geo and question Mir’s motives — one station even suggested he engineered the shooting as a publicity stunt — at a time when the ISI was formally trying to have Geo shut down for good.

Comcast, Charter Poised to Agree on $20 Billion Cable Subscriber Deal (Financial Times)
Comcast and Charter Communications are close to agreeing an intricate deal that would reshape the U.S. pay-TV market and draw a line under a lengthy power struggle at the top of the cable industry. The transaction, which has a total value of about $20 billion, is contingent on Comcast being granted regulatory approval for its proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable, the country’s third largest cable company with about 12 million subscribers. The three-part deal, which could be announced as early as this week, involves Comcast, the country’s largest cable operator, divesting 3.9 million subscribers, or about 18 percent of its 22 million subscriber network, according to people familiar with the matter.

Warner Bros. Buys Stake in Digital-Video Startup TV4 Entertainment (Variety)
Warner Bros., fresh off its investment in YouTube multichannel network Machinima, has taken a minority stake in TV4 Entertainment, a startup building a portfolio of special-interest broadband television networks. The size of the investment is not being disclosed. TV4 Entertainment was founded in 2012 by Jon Cody, previously senior VP of digital for Fox Digital Media and the general manager of Hulu’s launch in 2007. For Warner Bros., the investment is another move to stay plugged in to the evolving digital-video ecosystem.

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