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Gail Shister

Howard Kurtz’s ‘MediaBuzz’ Projects ‘Authority, Energy and Pace’

It’s been a rough year for Howard Kurtz, but you wouldn’t know it by today’s launch of “MediaBuzz” on Fox News Channel.

After his sudden departures from CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, Kurtz appears to have made a seamless transition to Fox News. “MediaBuzz” projected authority, energy and pace.

Clearly, Kurtz was in his comfort zone. Most of his guests were familiar faces from his 15-year run at “Reliable Sources” – David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson, media entrepreneur Lauren Ashburn.

In fact, Ashburn, a Fox News contributor, had so much face time, she served as a de facto co-host. Along with appearing in the opening two segments, she co-hosted “Digital Download,” and was on set with Kurtz for his sign-off.

Kurtz has a complicated history with Ashburn. His involvement in her new venture, Daily Download, a Daily Beast competitor, did not endear him to Brown, who later fired him. Ashburn showed up regularly on “Reliable Sources” and followed Kurtz to Fox News.

I couldn’t help but notice that Ashburn, like so many Fox News females, is blonde.

Ditto for guest Michelle Cottle, Washington reporter for The Daily Beast, and Fox’s Jamie Colby, who anchored a news break during the show. The only non-blonde was the Post’s Henderson, who is African American.

“MediaBuzz” opened with a lively panel discussion on media criticism of President Obama’s handling of Syria. Kurtz used the opportunity to take a shot, albeit a mild one, at his new employer. (Since joining the network in June, Kurtz had been criticized for avoiding negative assessments of Fox.)

After MSNBC contributors Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod, both former Obama officials, were lambasted by a panelist for being mouthpieces for the President, Kurtz said it was “fair to question” whether Fox regulars Karl Rove and Rick Santorum were also “pushing an agenda.” At Fox, that passes for napalm.

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Alison Stewart’s Path from Anchor to Author: ‘It’s a Little Bit Art, a Little Bit Archeology’

When it comes to career paths, Alison Stewart prefers jungle gyms to ladders.

“Instead of ‘climbing the ladder’ and going straight up through the ranks, you zig zag your way up, like on a jungle gym” says Stewart, referencing Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller, ‘Lean In.’ “I could never explain it before. I just kept getting good offers at places, so I took them.”

After zig zagging from MTV to CBS to ABC to MSNBC to PBS, Stewart’s latest incarnation is as author. ‘First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School,’ her inaugural book, was released earlier this month. Both her parents graduated from the Washington, D.C. school.

Stewart began working on ‘Dunbar’ in 2006, while at MSNBC. Five years later, she left her job as cohost of PBS’s ‘Need to Know’ to focus fulltime on the book, and to care for her ailing parents. They later died.

“I always wanted to write a book,” says Stewart, 47, a Brown alum. “I had been offered a ‘Hey, I was at MTV, then at the networks, what did I see?’ deal, and maybe I’ll write that book someday, but I wanted to dig into something that would have some kind of lasting value beyond being entertaining.”

Stewart found herself in a race against time, since many of the early Dunbar grads were in their 80s and 90s. She recorded their memories of the legendary school, which in its prime produced the first black member of a presidential Cabinet, the first black general of the U.S. Army and the first black federal judge.

“I loved talking to people, going into their homes, spending hours with them,” says Stewart, who often traveled by bus from New York and crashed on friends’ couches to minimize expenses. “The research was my favorite part. You discover things. It’s a little bit art, a little bit archeology.”

The writing process, however, was an altogether different experience. “It was a lot lonelier than I expected,” says Stewart, who is married to Bill Wolff, VP of MSNBC primetime and executive producer of “The Rachel Maddow Show.” They have a five-year-old son, Isaac.

“I had to go from being part of a TV show I really liked, to having very little human contact. I hung out with my kid a lot. I took guitar classes. I had to be a lot more proactive about being with other moms — I was ‘class mom’ for two years in preschool.”

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Eric Deggans Ready to Talk TV, on the Radio

When Eric Deggans stopped by NPR’s booth at the National Association of Black Journalists convention three years ago, the last thing on his mind was a job.

“I just wanted to say how much I love NPR,” says Deggans, 47, veteran TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times.

A friendly conversation with NPR executive Steve Drummond led, a year later, to freelance commentaries. And that led to Deggans’ hire last week as NPR’s first full-time TV critic and correspondent. He begins Oct. 1.

“I’m ecstatic,” says Deggans, author of last year’s ‘Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation.’ “I’m a huge NPR fan. Doing freelance was so much fun, and the people were so cool. This is an amazing thing.”

Leaving the Tampa Bay Times won’t be easy, Deggans says. He joined the paper in 1995 as pop music critic, moving to the TV beat in ’97. In ’05, after a year’s stint on the editorial board, he returned to the arts desk, as media writer. He added TV critic to his title in ’06.

“I really love working here,” he says. “The Tampa Bay Times is the reason I’m the journalist I am now. Everything I learned about the finer points of the job has come from them. They’ve always backed me.

“Ultimately, NPR was such an amazing opportunity to be heard on a national stage, I couldn’t turn it down. I wish I could cut myself in half, and do both jobs.” He is also talking to CNN about a guest-hosting shot on “Reliable Sources,” on which he frequently appears.

Deggans, raised in Gary, Ind., and graduated from Indiana University, says his plan is to remain in Tampa for the next two years so that the youngest of his four children can complete elementary school. At that point, the family will relocate to L.A., he says.

Deggans’ new role will not affect that of David Bianculli, longtime TV critic for Terry Gross’ ‘Fresh Air,’ according to Deggans, nor that of media correspondent David Folkenflik.

“We’ve reached the point as a society where TV is crucial to popular culture,” Deggans says. “NPR realizes that. They’ve slowly built up their critical resources to make sure they were ready to go into that realm.”

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Why Nate Silver is Such a Hot Commodity

Nate Silver’s migration from the New York Times to ESPN represents more than a new URL – it augurs a sea change in the news business itself, experts say.

Silver’s acclaimed political blog, fivethirtyeight, will expand to sports, weather and entertainment, among other areas, as part of its analytics-driven venue at espn.com, he told reporters yesterday in a conference call.

Though the focus at this point is the blog, expect to see Silver on ESPN and ABC News, especially at election season. Regardless, the blog itself has the muscle to alter the paradigm in news reportage, says Jane Hall, an associate professor in American University’s School of Communication.

“The new buzzwords in the future of journalism are ‘data driven’ and ‘visualization of data,’” Hall says. “Silver brought tremendous credibility and proved himself with his political blog. To branch out to other areas could be very exciting.

“You can do a lot of analysis of data that is credible, if you do it right. A new paradigm could be a very good thing, but I still believe in shoe-leather reporting. You still need to talk to people, face to face, to see what’s on their minds.”

Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy – and a loyal Timesman – says Silver’s methodology will become a trend because “he’s not the only genius in the world. There will be a lot of people trying to out-Nate Nate.”

Using metrics for weather is a great thing, Jones says, but applying it to sports would be “depressing. If you knew, at the beginning of the season, that the Yankees would lose, it takes away the mystery, the uncertainty.”

Moreover, if Silver, a former baseball numbers wonk, is as accurate with sports prognosticating as he is with politics, “he’ll make it impossible for bookies to make a living,” Jones warns. “People will be less likely to make stupid bets.”

Bryant Gumbel, host of HBO’s “Real Sports,” isn’t convinced that Silver, whom he labels as “a smart guy with a lot of talent,” will be an actual handicapper.

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How Real is ‘The Newsroom?’ Real TVNewsers Speak Out

No one expects total realism from HBO’s “The Newsroom,” but a scene in Sunday’s Season 2- opener would be virtually impossible in real life, technically speaking, say numerous network professionals.

In the segment, an off-site reporter for cable news network ACN dictates a few words of important corrected information – via cellphone — for his package, which is then instantaneously re-tracked in the control room just in the nick of time on Will McAvoy’s (Jeff Daniels) show.

“Any suggestion you can drop new audio into a package a few seconds before air is definitely unrealistic; make that impossible,” says Candy Crowley, anchor of CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’

“I’ve seen some very exciting things happen in the control room,” says David Westin, ABC News president from 1997 through 2010, “but I never saw anything like that, or even heard about it. I can’t imagine running that kind of risk.”

Ditto, says CNN weekend anchor Don Lemon. “I’ve never seen nor heard of anyone adding audio via cellphone. Some people do narrate on their iPads, but it sounds like crap.”

Rand Morrison, executive producer of  ”CBS News Sunday Morning,” argues that the “huge” difference in audio quality would be “a small price to pay for accuracy.” He describes the ‘Newsroom’ scenario as “far-fetched, but not inconceivable. “

Sue Green of Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism, formerly executive director at New York’s WABC, agrees that it can be done, but it shouldn’t have to be. “If the reporter had done his job correctly in the first place, the fix would not have been needed. That’s what is important here.”

Regardless, Green is a ‘Newsroom’ fan, particularly of executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer.) “I can relate to having an anchor who doesn’t listen, and the frustrations an EP has to go through in dealing with feelings and egos” of a newsroom.

Speaking of egos, any similarities between McAvoy and the late, great Peter Jennings, David Westin?

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‘New Day’ Review: CNN’s New Morning Family Grills, Overdone

The debut of CNN’s “New Day” this morning can be summed up with my favorite Oscar Wilde quote: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

As promised by senior executive producer Jim Murphy, the hyper-promoted 6-to-9amET broadcast – sorry, Soledad O’Brien — had tons o’ news and, at times, a “comfy and conversational tone,” but both were presented in wretched excess.

With gray-suited Chris Cuomo sandwiched between Christmas co-anchors Kate Bolduan (green dress) and Michaela Pereira (red dress), segments ran at a dizzying pace. That’s heavy voltage before breakfast.

Moreover, CNN dragged out practically its whole roster of correspondents for live talk backs. By my count, there were eight in the first eight packages alone. It was overkill, even for network boss Jeff Zucker.

The lead story was about a new CNN poll that showed Pres. Obama’s plummeting popularity. Cuomo chatted up John King. One story later, “New Day” went to that well again, this time with Dana Bash as Cuomo’s partner. Let’s hear it for moderation.

Lest we forget, HLN’s Nancy Grace popped up at about 8:20 to rant about two missing-child cases. She did not disappoint. In her usual high dudgeon, she acted like a “Saturday Night Live” parody of herself. I hope she never ups her meds.

As for the “comfy and conversational” aspect, that, too, was overdone. While Bolduan and Pereira gabbed like girlfriends around the glass table, the uber-intense Cuomo seemed uneasy and out of place. Face it, the guy can make a lost-kitten story sound like a mass murder.

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Who’s NOT in the Running for AJA Chief?

Cross off the name of former ABC News president David Westin from the list of possible chief executives for Al Jazeera America, to launch in late August.

Westin says he’s had “some discussions” with the new network , but he doesn’t want the job. “They asked me for advice, for some names,” he tells TVNewser. “I told them what they’re doing is very interesting, very worthwhile, and worth following very closely, but I don’t think that it is for me.”

Work-wise, Westin is doing “about six things” these days, including advising a digital media company, making speeches and pro bono work. As for his next move, “I’m taking my time,” he says. “I’m interested in a fulltime position, but only if it’s the right one. I’m very fortunate that way.”

As Journalists Become the Story, Will the Rules Change?

Will news organizations’ boycott of the Attorney General’s ‘off-the-record’ background sessions last week change the rules of the game between government sources and media?

On the record: Doubtful, at best.

“It won’t change anything,” says Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. “In Washington, media will continue to deal with administration sources, brokering access and information for pledges of confidentiality.

“It’s a pernicious practice, and very widespread, but it’s how business is done.”

Embattled AG Eric Holder held meetings with top Washington journalists Thursday and Friday to discuss concerns about Department of Justice guidelines for dealing with journalists in investigations of possible security leaks.

The New York Times, CNN, CBS News, NBC News and the Associated Press, among others, passed on Thursday’s meeting because of its off-the-record requirement. At that gathering, however, the DOJ blinked, and news outlets were told they could report on ‘general’ topics of discussion.

Thursday attendees included The Washington Post, Politico, New Yorker, Daily News and The Wall Street Journal. ABC News, the lone network representative last week, met with Holder Friday, along with USA Today and Reuters, which had initially said no to Thursday.

David Westin, ABC News president from 1997 through 2010, agrees with his alma mater’s decision to attend and says it was “smart” of the DOJ to modify its rule.

“News organizations are in the business of reporting news, not keeping it secret,” says Westin. “This happens from time to time. It’s part of a larger issue with the White House itself. It’s part of the normal give-and-take, back-and-forth of the press covering the administration.”

In Westin’s view, Holder’s sessions presented a particular challenge in that the news outlets were also principals in the story. “They were asked not as reporters, but as people being affected by the Justice Department.”

Going further, Harvard’s Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the New York Times, says the meetings served as de facto press conferences, regardless of Holder’s intentions, and that Holder was “naïve” to think otherwise.

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Double Mastectomy Isn’t Slowing Down Shelley Ross

Add Shelley Ross’ name to the growing list of disciples of the Sisterhood of St. Angelina.

Ross, former executive producer of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CBS’ “Early Show,” underwent a double mastectomy last month after discovering that she, too, carried the BRCA gene, which greatly increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

Ross says it was Jolie’s stunning Op Ed in the New York Times last Tuesday that convinced her to go public, the same day, via her blog, daily Xpress.

“I was literally shocked when I read about her,” Ross, 60, says. “I thought what she did was so smart. It’s an opportunity to expand the dialogue. Like her, I was able to write down all the details. Nobody can interpret this as if I’m dying.”

In this case, “nobody” is Ross’ code for media, which over the years has run some brutal (mostly anonymous) slams against the producer. Still, it was common knowledge that Ross’ uber-intensity had alienated her from many of her coworkers.

Says Ross: “I got the shit end of the stick from the media. It was like a feeding frenzy.”

With her mastectomy, Ross was determined not to repeat that experience, so she told no one outside a small group of friends. They kept her secret, she says.

“My real concern, to be perfectly honest, was with outlets … that have printed false, libelous, damaging, actionable reports, regardless of what I tried to correct,” says Ross.

“If it [mastectomy] got out to what is certainly a small handful of detractors, I would have read about some anonymous person ‘hearing a death rattle.’ I’m not dying and I’m not dead.”

In fact, after six months’ chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy and an infection that hospitalized her last week, Ross is so not dead that she’s juggling several major projects.

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How Howard Kurtz Came to be Interrogated on His Own CNN Show

Howard Kurtzmea culpa on his own “Reliable Sources” yesterday made for an extraordinary 15 minutes of live television. (Full disclosure: I am an occasional guest on the show.)

Kurtz’ apology for his most recent journalistic transgression – his “inexcusable” erroneous report last week about openly-gay NBA player Jason Collins — extended from his personal statement of contrition to a bracing interrogation by two excellent media reporters.

NPR’s David Folkenflik and Politico’s Dylan Byers grilled Kurtz about Collins as well as other mistakes from the past that Kurtz admitted he had sometimes waited too long to correct. It was riveting, powerful, and frequently uncomfortable to watch.

The backstory: In a Sports Illustrated piece that broke April 29, Collins became the first active male pro athlete from a major U.S. sport to come out. Kurtz wrote in his Daily Beast blog that Collins had not disclosed he had been engaged to a woman, and chastised him for it. He repeated the assertions in a video on The Daily Download, where he is a paid contributor.

In fact, Collins had written of the engagement. Kurtz had missed it, he said yesterday, because he had read the piece “too fast” and “carelessly.” On May 2, Kurtz left the Daily Beast. He said it was by mutual agreement; HuffingtonPost, among others, said he was fired.

The live interrogation on CNN was not Kurtz’ idea. He made that clear in his opening statement when he said the network had invited the questioners.

Folkenflik confirmed this in an interview with TVNewser. (Byers declined an interview because he said he was writing his own blog about the show). Folkenflik was pitched by a CNN executive “who doesn’t directly oversee the show,” he said, not naming names. “He’s a respected figure within CNN.”

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