Friday, December 30, 2005

Big, Bigger, Biggest

The year in numbers: So you think you know the news?

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Numbers are the stock in trade of news junkies, but they have gotten absurdly large. A million of anything, especially dollars, isn't much anymore, and the word billion is creeping into more and more stories. We are getting into the realm of astronomers.

For one reason or another, these numbers caught my eye this year. If you know all the answers to this quiz, you should quit that blog and start writing a column.

1) Corporate compensation has a new wrinkle in addition to eight-figure salaries, country club memberships, and stock options: payment of income taxes. How much is Regions Financial CEO Jackson Moore getting from a merger buyout of Union Planters Bank? A) $5 million, B) $15 million, C) $27 million.

2) The biggest trial of the year in Memphis, at least in terms of publicity, was the federal trial of Alabama football booster Logan Young, which was the subject of more than 400 newspaper stories in 2005. What was the total combined prison term of Young and co-conspirators Lynn Lang and Milton Kirk? A) seven years, B) three years, C) six months.

3) In its busiest day ever, December 19th, FedEx handled how many shipments? A) 2.6 million, B) 8.9 million, C) 21 million.

4) Which corporation's stock price recently surpassed $100? A) FedEx, B) International Paper, C) AutoZone.

5) Market capitalization is the stock price of a company multiplied by the number of outstanding shares. The ratio of the market capitalization of General Motors to the market capitalization of Google is: A) 3 to 1, B) 1 to 3, C) 1 to 11.

6) The term PILOT appeared in a lot of local news stories in 2005. PILOT stands for payment in lieu of taxes. In short, it's a tax break for 595 local companies. The total annual value of the PILOTs is: A) $12 million, B) $48 million, C) $150 million.

7) The approximate bond debt of Shelby County is: A) $100 million, B) $500 million, C) $1.8 billion.

8) The Pyramid cost approximately $62 million. AutoZone Park cost approximately $72 million. FedExForum cost approximately $250 million. What is the estimated cost of a new baseball park in Washington, D.C.? A) $667 million, B) $1 billion, C) $90 million.

9) Not that long ago, a house in Memphis that was worth more than $1 million was enough of a novelty that it merited a story in Memphis magazine. According the Shelby County Assessor's Office, the number of houses in Shelby County that are currently appraised at $1 million or more is: A) 26, B) 112, C) 638.

10) The median price of a new home in Memphis is: A) $100,000, B) $150,000, C) $200,000.

11) Tennessee taxes are often in the news because reporters like to look serious once in a while and readers will bite on an occasional tax story if it reaffirms their views or makes them mad. According to the Tax Foundation, the combined state and local tax burden in Tennessee puts the Volunteer State in which position among the 50 states? A) 1st, B) 23rd, C) 47th.

12) Where does Mississippi rank in the Tax Foundation survey? A) 1st, B) 26th, C) 50th.

13) Northwest Airlines is in bankruptcy but, fortunately for Memphis air travelers, still operating. The highest 2005 quarterly loss reported by the company before it took bankruptcy was: A) $1 billion, B) $210 million, C) $450 million.

14) There are two kinds of people: lottery players and nonplayers. The Powerball Jackpot in the Tennessee Lottery in December was: A) $100 million, B) $7 million, C) $25 million.

15) If a high school student has a 29 or better on the ACT and goes to a Tennessee college or university, the maximum HOPE Scholarship award this year from lottery proceeds is: A) $2,000 a year, B) $4,300 a year, C) $6,500 a year.

16) The number of felons in Tennessee prisons and jails is: A) 26,000, B) 50,000, C) 90,000.

Answers: 1) C; 2) C; 3) B; 4) A; 5) C; 6) B; 7) C; 8) A; 9) C; 10) B; 11) C; 12) B; 13) C; 14) C; 15) B; 16) A

Friday, December 23, 2005

Terrorism or Scare-orism?

An engagement in Casablanca led to an indictment and guilty plea for a bogus fiancée.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 23, 2005 at 4:00 AM

"The average American," says criminal defense attorney Clifton Harviel, "has no idea of the concept of conspiracy."

Tamela Bracey, a down-on-her-luck single mother, and her cousin Martha Jane Diana, a former employee of the Center City Commission and the Shelby County Assessor's office, learned the hard way. In federal court last week, they pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy, linked to a marriage and engagement scam involving Middle Eastern men entering the United States illegally. Alleged mastermind Rafat Mawlawi, a Syrian-American living in Memphis, has been in prison without bond for nine months because of possible terrorist connections and flight risk.

Bracey and Diana declined to be interviewed. But Harviel, who represents Bracey, says she had "no idea what she was getting into" and got involved because she was strapped for cash after an ex-boyfriend poured sugar into the gas tank of her car three years ago. Mawlawi and Memphis singer Janet Netters Austin initiated the scheme in 2002, according to the indictment. Austin and Mawlawi are set for trial on February 6th.

According to Harviel, Bracey's luck went from bad to worse the day she took $2,000 from Mawlawi to travel with him to Morocco in May 2003. They flew to Casablanca, the fabled port of romance, corruption, and intrigue that is the subject of one of the most popular movies ever made. Harviel says Bracey had no intention of marrying her "fiancé" and figured she could back out by saying she had changed her mind.

She knew almost nothing about Africa, Muslim culture, or foreign languages. After landing in Casablanca, she was driven to a village an hour outside the city. Moroccan culture was a shock. There were no other Americans, and no one spoke English. The women in the village dressed in headscarves and traditional Muslim clothing, ate communally without flatware, and were expected to wait on the men day and night. Bracey felt they were gossiping about her in an unfriendly manner. Her fiancé had a name like an eye chart, which she could not even pronounce: Elablaoui Marouane. They posed together for pictures as "proof" of their engagement, and Bracey's hands, face, and feet were painted with a natural dye called henna in accordance with local custom.

After four days, Bracey had had enough. She demanded to leave and flew back to America. At customs clearance in Detroit, she was ill at ease and still had henna on her hands. Immigration officials questioned her but did not detain her. But a few months later she was questioned again by the FBI and agreed to cooperate in their investigation of Mawlawi.

In addition to conspiracy and immigration counts, Mawlawi also faces weapons charges in a separate indictment. At detention hearings in April and July, prosecutors and FBI agents produced pictures of Mawlawi shouldering a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and linked him to Osama bin Laden via a mutual associate named Enaam Arnaout. Attorneys for Mawlawi have indicated he will change his plea to guilty on the weapons charge in January. Meawhile, Harviel says attorneys for defendants in the marriage-scam indictments have been told they need high-level national security clearance because of sensitive information that might be disclosed in the process of discovery.

An FBI agent has testified that the FBI learned about the scam from an inmate at the Shelby County Penal Farm named Andre Dotson, who said Mawlawi tried to recruit him. Mawlawi visited the prison twice in 2002 and 2003 to assist Chaplain Dawud Beyah in conducting Muslim services. Andrew Taber, director of Shelby County Division of Corrections, said there are about 200 Muslim inmates.

"According to Beyah, he was present on both occasions and at no time did he witness Mr. Mawlawi being unethical or unprofessional in any way," Taber said.

He said Dotson is "as close to a career criminal as we have."

Bracey and Diana will be sentenced March 23rd. They face up to five years in prison plus fines and will have to testify if Mawlawi and other defendants go to trial.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

CITY BEAT: Terrorism or Scare-orism?

An engagement in Casablanca led to an indictment and guilty plea for a bogus fiancée.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 21, 2005 at 4:00 AM

New Page 1

 

“The average American,” says criminal defense attorney Clifton Harviel, “has no idea of the concept of conspiracy.”

 

Tamela Bracey, a down-on-her-luck single mother, and her cousin Martha Jane Diana, a former employee of the Center City Commission and the Shelby County Assessor’s office, learned the hard way. In federal court last week, they pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy, linked to a marriage-and-engagement scam involving Middle Eastern men entering the United States illegally. Alleged mastermind Rafat Mawlawi, a Syrian-American living in Memphis, has been in prison without bond for nine months because of possible terrorist connections and flight risk.

 

Bracey and Diana declined to be interviewed. But Harviel, who represents Bracey, says she had “no idea what she was getting into” and got involved because she was strapped for cash after an ex-boyfriend poured sugar into the gas tank of her car three years ago. Mawlawi and Memphis singer Janet Netters Austin initiated the scheme in 2002, according to the indictment. Austin and Mawlawi are set for trial on February 6th.

 

According to Harviel, Bracey’s luck went from bad to worse the day she took $2,000 from Mawlawi to travel with him to Morocco in May 2003. They flew to Casablanca, the fabled port of romance, corruption, and intrigue that is the subject of one of the most popular movies ever made. Harviel says Bracey had no intention of marrying her “fiancé” and figured she could back out by saying she had changed her mind.

 

She knew almost nothing about Africa, Muslim culture, or foreign languages. After landing in Casablanca, she was driven to a village an hour outside the city. Moroccan culture was a shock. There were no other Americans, and no one spoke English. The women in the village dressed in headscarves and traditional Muslim clothing, ate communally without flatware, and were expected to wait on the men day and night. Bracey felt they were gossiping about her in an unfriendly manner. Her fiancé had a name like an eye chart, which she could not even pronounce: Elablaoui Marouane. They posed together for pictures as “proof” of their engagement, and Bracey’s hands, face, and feet were painted with a natural dye called henna in accordance with local custom.

 

After four days, Bracey had had enough. She demanded to leave and flew back to America. At customs clearance in Detroit, she was ill at ease and still had henna on her hands. Immigration officials questioned her but did not detain her. But a few months later she was questioned again by the FBI and agreed to cooperate in their investigation of Mawlawi.

 

In addition to conspiracy and immigration counts, Mawlawi also faces weapons charges in a separate indictment. At detention hearings in April and July, prosecutors and FBI agents produced pictures of Mawlawi shouldering a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and linked him to Osama bin Laden via a mutual associate named Enaam Arnaout. Attorneys for Mawlawi have indicated he will change his plea to guilty on the weapons charge in January. Meawhile, Harviel says attorneys for defendants in the marriage-scam indictments have been told they need high-level national security clearance because of sensitive information that might be disclosed in the process of discovery.

 

An FBI agent has testified that the FBI learned about the scam from an inmate at the Shelby County Penal Farm named Andre Dotson, who said Mawlawi tried to recruit him. Mawlawi visited the prison twice in 2002 and 2003 to assist Chaplain Dawud Beyah in conducting Muslim services. Andrew Taber, director of Shelby County Division of Corrections, said there are about 200 Muslim inmates.

 

“According to Beyah, he was present on both occasions and at no time did he witness Mr. Mawlawi being unethical or unprofessional in any way,” Taber said.

 

He said Dotson is “as close to a career criminal as we have.”

 

Bracey and Diana will be sentenced March 23rd. They face up to five years in prison plus fines and will have to testify if Mawlawi and other defendants go to trial.  

            

 

 

 

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Fear Factor

The public is getting an incomplete picture of domestic terrorism threats.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Acting U.S. attorney Larry Laurenzi says anti-terrorism is the "number-one priority" of his office.

Memphis Police Department director Larry Godwin says "it's a matter of time" before suicide bombers begin attacking targets in the United States. "It's going to hit. I know it."

My Harrison, the head of the local FBI office, says, "You don't hear of the terrorist acts that are preempted. There are some. There are many."

And Willie Hulon, a former Memphis police officer who is head of the FBI's worldwide counter-terrorism operations, says, "We have to focus now on the potential for home-grown terrorists."

All four law enforcement leaders spoke to an auditorium full of prosecutors, cops, sheriffs, and special agents from Tennessee and Mississippi at a meeting last week in Bartlett. But after raising the regional threat level -- verbally, at least -- to orange, they ran off the media and held the rest of their meeting in private. The reason given by FBI spokesman George Bolds was that agencies needed to be able to speak candidly to each other and clear the air about any concerns.

A hint of what those concerns might be came from a rural sheriff who asked Hulon if he and his men should be concerned about the influx of Hispanic workers in his area. Clearly, he already was. A Shelby County sheriff's deputy asked about convenience stores operated or owned by Middle Eastern men and whether these might be sources of cigarette smuggling, which could in turn be a source of terrorist funds.

"I would not say just because a Middle Easterner is running a convenience store that it should come up on our scope," said Hulon.

What a ringing defense of the Bill of Rights.

Hulon and other speakers blamed media reports for presenting a misleading picture of terrorist threats. Then they booted the reporters.

The public is getting shortchanged on the terrorism story. We're getting the scary predictions, the shady connections, the suspicions, and the indictments of Middle Eastern men in Memphis who may or may not have terrorist connections. And we can expect to hear and see more of this in 2006, which will be the first year that Tennessee and other states have to compete against each other for federal anti-terrorism funds.

Can you say pork barrel? Can you say guns and ammo, surveillance equipment, travel allowances, jobs, and SUVs and Hummers in the name of Homeland Security?

Obviously, there is a need for secrecy in any criminal investigation, especially terrorism. Memphis, because of its location and the headquarters of FedEx, should make a strong claim for its fair share of the state and federal anti-terrorism budgets. It's reassuring and impressive that Hulon and James Bolden of the local Homeland Security office are former Memphis cops, that Laurenzi is an experienced career prosecutor, and that his two assistants specializing in terrorism cases -- Fred Godwin and Steve Parker -- are also career prosecutors and former police officers with broad experience.

But there's a need for accountability on spending on every level to avoid overlap and waste, and the public deserves more openness about ambiguous terror threats. A starting point is the two pending Joint Terrorism Task Force cases in federal court that involve Middle Easterners. Mahmoud Maawad, a U of M student with an unusual interest in pilot gear, has a hearing this week. Rafat Mawlawi, a Syrian-American held without bond on immigration and weapons charges since April, has a change-of-plea hearing in January. If they're terrorist sympathizers, we need to know all about it. But if they're not, it is just as important that we know that and exactly why they were held so long without bond.

If Director Godwin's prediction comes true in the Mid-South, diversity gets a downgrade. Then I would not want to be an Indian hotel owner, a Mexican construction worker without a green card, an Iranian convenience store clerk, or an Egyptian graduate student in a country which gets its ideas about terrorism from television programs like 24.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Mayor for the Millennium

Another holiday season and another party honoring Mayor Herenton.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 9, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Friends, and some former foes, of Mayor Willie Herenton have donated $85,000 for his 14th annual holiday party December 8th, suggesting that hizzoner will not be giving up his job anytime soon.

The "host committee" for the invitation-only party at the Memphis Cook Convention Center includes 85 people, which is slightly bigger than in previous years. It is studded with names in the news, including Jack Belz, Sidney Chism, John Elkington, Richard Fields, Marty Grusin, Russell Gwatney, Dick Hackett, Pitt Hyde, Kevin Hyneman, Rusty Hyneman, Rick Masson, Charles Perkins, Arnold Perl, Gayle Rose, Karl Schledwitz, Gary Shorb, Fred Smith, the late William B. Tanner, Ron Terry, Henry Turley, and Spence Wilson.

Each host or couple gave $1,000 at the urging of special mayoral assistant Pete Aviotti, co-chairman of the event. The donation is not a campaign contribution, and it doesn't mean the giver will necessarily support Herenton if he runs for reelection for a fifth four-year term in 2007, as he has indicated he will.

Disclaimers aside, however, a $1,000 donation beats a "no thanks" any day. Anyone who hopes to derail Herenton in 2007 -- there are no term limits for Memphis mayors, and the election winner only needs a plurality of the vote, not a majority -- has a lot of work to do.

"I expect he will be reelected," said Perkins, a former Shelby County commissioner and a Republican. He made the donation because he and Herenton had "a good working relationship" when they hammered out an annexation agreement several years ago.

The news from City Hall has not been very good this year. The city's bond rating was lowered, and its reserve funds have dwindled. A new team was installed to oversee the division of finance and administration. There was a cutback in trash pickup, since restored. Utility bills are expected to go up as much as 70 percent this winter. The grass didn't get cut in a lot of public places. Several Memphis police officers were indicted.

But the news wasn't as bad as it could have been. Operation Tennessee Waltz has not indicted anyone at City Hall so far. Downtown is thriving. Public housing projects have been replaced with new, lower-density housing. An indicted bad cop is better than an unindicted bad cop. Some categories of violent crime are down.

The larger lesson of Herenton's 14-year reign is inevitability: Absent a credible challenger, neither bad news nor good news or mayoral objectives met or not met matter enough to a substantial portion of the electorate that would just as soon Herenton remains mayor for life. For the record, here are the highlights of Herenton's proposals at the start of each of the last six years.

2005: Consolidate government and schools. Reduce city expenditures and citizens' expectations of local government. "You will see the mayor and City Council work hand-in-glove to address the fiscal challenge."

2004: Consolidation. Better relations with suburban mayors. A strong reserve fund and good credit and sound money management. "I want to say to the political establishment, don't bring me no mess and there won't be no mess."

2003: Consolidation and shift all funding for schools to Shelby County. Run for a fourth term. City school board is "a disaster." City reserve fund has increased. "I came here to put my gloves on and draw battle lines."

2002: Consolidation of governments but not school systems. A state income tax and a lower sales tax. "This city, fiscally, is in a stronger position than it was when we came into office 11 years ago. I'm proud of that."

2001: Downtown development. Praise for Northwest Airlines and Memphis International Airport's new World Runway. Touts Memphis per-capita income of $34,317. Extend trolley from downtown to Overton Square. "We've got to have a light-rail system."

2000: A "renaissance" of strong neighborhoods beyond downtown. Minority business development. Good relations with the county mayor. "You're going to see this administration focus more on neighborhoods."

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

CITY BEAT: Mayor for the Millenium

Another holiday season and another party honoring Mayor Herenton.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Friends, and some former foes, of Mayor Willie Herenton have donated $85,000 for his 14th annual holiday party December 8th, suggesting that hizzoner will not be giving up his job any time soon.

The “host committee” for the invitation-only party at the Memphis Cook Convention Center includes 85 people, which is slightly bigger than in previous years. It is studded with names in the news, including Jack Belz, Sidney Chism, John Elkington, Richard Fields, Marty Grusin, Russell Gwatney, Dick Hackett, Pitt Hyde, Kevin Hyneman, Rusty Hyneman, Rick Masson, Charles Perkins, Arnold Perl, Gayle Rose, Karl Schledwitz, Gary Shorb, Fred Smith, the late William B. Tanner, Ron Terry, Henry Turley, and Spence Wilson.

Each host or couple gave $1,000, at the urging of special mayoral assistant Pete Aviotti, co-chairman of the event. The donation is not a campaign contribution, and it doesn’t mean the giver will necessarily support Herenton if he runs for reelection for a fifth four-year term in 2007, as he has indicated he will.

Disclaimers aside, however, a $1,000 donation beats a “no thanks” any day. Anyone who hopes to derail Herenton in 2007 — there are no term limits for Memphis mayors, and the election winner only needs a plurality of the vote, not a majority — has a lot of work to do.

“I expect he will be reelected,” said Perkins, a former Shelby County commissioner and a Republican. He made the donation because he and Herenton had “a good working relationship” when they hammered out an annexation agreement several years ago.

The news from City Hall has not been very good this year. The city’s bond rating was lowered and its reserve funds have dwindled. A new team was installed to oversee the division of finance and administration. There was a cutback in trash pickup, since restored. Utility bills are expected to go up as much as 70 percent. The grass didn’t get cut in a lot of public places. Several Memphis police officers were indicted.

But the news wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Operation Tennessee Waltz has not indicted anyone at City Hall so far. Downtown is thriving. Public housing projects have been replaced with new, lower-density housing. An indicted bad cop is better than an unindicted bad cop. Some categories of violent crime are down.

The larger lesson of Herenton’s 14-year reign is inevitability. Absent a credible challenger, neither bad news nor good news or mayoral objectives met or not met matter enough to a substantial portion of the electorate that would just as soon Herenton remains mayor for life. For the record, here are the highlights of Herenton’s proposals at the start of each of the last six years.

2005: Consolidate government and schools. Reduce city expenditures and citizens’ expectations of local government. “You will see the mayor and City Council work hand-in-glove to address the fiscal challenge.”

2004: Consolidation. Better relations with suburban mayors. A strong reserve fund and good credit and sound money management. “I want to say to the political establishment, don’t bring me no mess and there won’t be no mess.”

2003: Consolidation and shift all funding for schools to Shelby County. Run for a fourth term. City school board is “a disaster.” City reserve fund has increased. “I came here to put my gloves on and draw battle lines.”

2002: Consolidation of governments but not school systems. A state income tax and a lower sales tax. “This city, fiscally, is in a stronger position than it was when we came into office 11 years ago. I’m proud of that.”

2001: Downtown development. Praise for Northwest Airlines and Memphis International Airport’s new World Runway. Touts Memphis per-capita income of $34,317. Extend trolley from downtown to Overton Square. “We’ve got to have a light-rail system.”

2000: A “renaissance” of strong neighborhoods beyond downtown. Minority business development. Good relations with the county mayor. “You’re going to see this administration focus more on neighborhoods.”

Friday, December 2, 2005

Break the Chains

For a new model for newspapers, start with local ownership.

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2005 at 4:00 AM

The Commercial Appeal has decided that it should concentrate on local news. But that doesn't go far enough. It should break the chains of its corporate masters and become locally owned.

Excepting the Christmas decorations of Peanuts characters, Memphis gets very little out of having its only daily newspaper owned by the E.W. Scripps Company in Cincinnati. In the big picture, Scripps newspapers are as old-fashioned as founder Edward W. Scripps' custom of smoking 40 cigars a day. After closing the Birmingham Post-Herald in September and selling its assets to its rival for $40.8 million, Scripps has 20 daily papers. The company's most profitable and cutting-edge media operations are its six cable networks, 10 television stations, and online shopping subsidiary Shopzilla.

Consolidation was the trend in the newspaper business in the 20th century. Now competition from the Internet and declining circulations are forcing editors, publishers, and investors to scramble. The CA announced another round of employee buyouts this month. The Knight-Ridder newspaper chain is up for sale, as a whole or in pieces.

Gannett is the newspaper industry giant, with 99 papers, including USA Today, the Nashville Tennessean, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the survivor of a circulation war with Gannett that ended in 1991, is locally owned by WEHCO Media.

Contrary to popular belief, the newspaper business is quite profitable. Scripps' newspaper division earned a profit of $167 million through the first nine months of 2005. The stock price has tripled since 1996. General Motors and Northwest Airlines are laying off employees and making cuts to try to regain profitability. The CA is buying out senior employees and cutting the size of the newpaper to maintain a profit margin that is anyone's guess. The last reliable figure, 36 percent, came out inadvertently in a 1991 lawsuit.

Scripps spokesman Tim Stautberg said the company does not release financials for individual papers or comment on potential acquisitions or sales. The CA wouldn't be cheap, assuming Scripps would sell it.

When I bounced the idea off of Morgan Keegan chairman Allen Morgan Jr. and business consultant John Malmo, both of them were skeptical that anyone would pay the price. But I wonder. Memphis and Memphians overpay for lots of things, from former Grizzlies hoopster Bryant "Big Country" Reeves to the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. A daily newspaper is endlessly challenging, entertaining, influential, and new. Memphis prides itself on being an entrepreneurial, major-league city. A bigger and better home-owned newspaper would distinguish it as much as an NBA team.

Scripps doesn't seem to have its heart in Memphis. Its annual report and Web site tout the wonders of food, home decorating, HGTV, the Food Network, Internet shopping, and shopping on television. It's unfair to blame CA editor Chris Peck and his shorthanded staff for the shrinking newspaper. The corporate decisions are made in Cincinnati. It would be better if the blame, the credit, the profits, and the decisions about the paper's future stayed here.

The Tennessean, Clarion-Ledger, and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette are in capital cities and aspire to be statewide newspapers. The CA is in the difficult position of serving a sprinkling of readers outside Shelby County, which has more poor people and non-readers than any county in Tennessee.

So local ownership is a long shot. It's expensive. It's a tough business. But where is it written that newspapers must have a 20 to 30 percent margin? The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo) is owned by a nonprofit. The Wall Street Journal puts out a daily primer in great newspapering, independent of the editorial page. Temper that with Elmore Leonard's advice to aspiring writers -- "leave out the parts readers skip" -- and you have a good start. In 1948, journalist H.L. Mencken was asked about the new media: "The way for newspapers to meet the competition of radio and television," he said, "is simply to get out better newspapers."

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