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With the Corasanti case in the jurors' hands, some last-minute observations

I caught up with court reporter Patrick Lakamp in the newsroom this morning as he headed off to what he believes may be the day of reckoning in the Dr. James G. Corasanti hit-and-run and manslaughter trial.  Lakamp's story in today's News presents an overall summary of the case concerning the night of July 8 when the Getzville doctor's car struck and killed 18-year-old Alexandria Rice, skating home from work on a longboard.

 In our chat, Lakamp offered the following observations:

*  He thinks the verdict will come quickly, possibly today. 

*  Much hangs on how the jury sees and evaluates the following key elements of the trial:

1. The testimony of motorist Mark Rowland, very damaging to Corasanti if it's found believable.  Rowland testified, for example, that Rice was highly visible as she skated along the side of the road.

2.  The blood test, showing a 0.10 percent blood-alcohol level -- .02 over the legal limit -- five hours after the incident.  Lakamp noted that the defense has vigorously attacked the lab results with an expert witness who said he had no confidence in it.

3. Corasanti's actions when he arrived at home that night.  "How do they perceive that whole scenario, his wife going off to the scene, his interactions with neighbors?"  The defense has leaned heavily on the idea that he panicked and that none of us know how we would act under that pressure.  But will the jury buy that?

Although many who've been riveted by this trial believe it's an easy call against Corasanti, Lakamp says there are many ways the jury could see it.  Was it a terrible but understandable accident, followed by panic?  Or was it a case of drunken reckless driving, followed by an attempted cover-up?  How the jury sees that will mean the difference between a sentence of a year or two in prison versus 23 years.

Lakamp's coverage has been balanced, well-written and perceptive, not only the day-to-day court stories but the more analytical Sunday pieces.  Here is the most recent of those, from this past weekend, concerning key witnesses who were not called to testify.  


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After Warren Buffett's vote of confidence in newspapers, top media thinker Clay Shirky says he's wrong

Last week in this space, I wrote about Buffalo News chairman Warren Buffett's surprising purchase of 26 daily newspapers.  I included his letter to all of his publishers and editors in which he said that strong local coverage will help save papers in certain kinds of communities.  It was a rare moment of optimism for newspapers amid the general doom and gloom of a troubled industry.  Read last week's post here. 

On a far less upbeat note for all of us ink-stained sorts, a competing visionary -- Clay Shirky of New York University -- now offers a significantly more dour point of view.  He says Buffett will be proven wrong, and that strong local coverage doesn't provide an adequate business model.

You can read Shirky's view here.  Shirky is a seminal thinker, and a well respected one, on how technology affects media.  He's always provocative and often right.

Then again, Buffett is known as the Oracle of Omaha.   We have here a case of dueling crystal balls.

I don't know whose point of view will prevail when the full story is told.  But, in this case, I know who I'm rooting for.

Twitter: @SulliView
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A letter from Buffalo News chairman Warren Buffett: Newspapers must 'reign supreme' in local news

Local newspapers can and will succeed if they make themselves indispensable to their readers by emphasizing local content, according to the world's most famous investor, Warren Buffett.

The chairman of Berkshire Hathaway is also the chairman of The Buffalo News, a paper he bought in 1977.  (You can see his name on our editorial page in every day's print edition.)

Until recently, The News was his only newspaper (although he owns 23 percent of the Washington Post Co.).   In December, Berkshire bought Buffett's hometown paper, the Omaha World-Herald. And Berkshire is now in the process of buying 63 more newspapers, including 26 dailies, a move that has surprised those who think that newspapers are in an unending death spiral.

In a detailed three-page letter to all of those editors and publishers, Buffett has laid out his thoughts on the purchase and on the future of newspapers. Here's the letter, which can also be viewed below.  A Bloomberg story sums it up here.

"I believe newspapers that intensively cover their communities will have a good future," he wrote.  He also offered his thoughts about the business model of newspapers in the digital age and predicted that Berkshire will continue buying newspapers in the next few years.

In a separate email exchange today, Buffett told me that he believes The News has made itself indispensable to its readers by emphasizing local news. (We recently reassigned much of our newsroom staff to provide deeper coverage of our suburbs and have placed more emphasis on local sports, local business and the local arts scene.)

And he explained why -- as he details in the letter -- The News is not part of the newly forming Berkshire media group.

"The Buffalo News has a special place in my heart and I would not want anybody positioned between me and its publisher and editor," Buffett wrote.

News publisher Stanford Lipsey, an Omaha native, is a longtime friend and business associate of Buffett's.  And, as editor, I've appreciated the kind of owner Buffett is -- supportive but never intrusive.  

The newspaper people who are about to become part of the Berkshire media group should be buying themselves some champagne.  In the troubled world of newspapers, they're among the lucky ones.

And they should take very seriously Buffett's advice on owning local content. I know that I do.

Twitter: @SulliView
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Letter to Publishers and Editors

Buffalo News coverage of Corasanti trial has aimed for fairness and accuracy

In recent weeks, The News has given thorough coverage to the manslaughter hit-and-run trial of Dr. James G. Corasanti.

Many of the stories on the subject have appeared on our front page, some accompanied by photographs of Corsanti, of his car, of lawyers on both sides of the case.

The stories have appeared on the front page, in large part, because of the massive public interest in this case.

I know, from personal experience, that the subject of the trial has arisen everywhere I've been in the past few weeks -- at a coffee shop, at the supermarket, at the place I get my hair cut, at the post office. Everyone has an opinion; everybody is talking about it.

Now, for the second time since the trial began, an attorney for the defense has asked for a mistrial due to The News' coverage. The first time, it was because of the proximity (again, on the front page) of the trial coverage to news of other car accidents, including a fatal hit-and-run. And this morning, Corsanti attorney Joel Daniels once again asked for a mistrial, largely because of a story in Sunday's News that he called "grossly unfair" and "provocative."

In both cases, Erie County Judge Sheila DiTullio denied the request after surveying jurors who said they had not read the articles.

Given the controversy, I thought it might be useful to describe what The News is aiming for in its trial coverage.

First of all, and most importantly, we are not in any way aiming to affect the outcome of the case. News Reporter Patrick Lakamp, a seasoned court reporter, has no ax to grind in this trial. Nor do any of the editors who are handling his copy, writing headlines or planning page design.

We are approaching the coverage from a journalistic perspective -- with the interests of our readers at heart -- not as advocates for either side.

Lakamp's Sunday story used information that has come out in the course of the trial to piece together what is known about the hours leading up to Alexandria Rice's death July 8. There was no opinion expressed in the story -- only a synthesis of the facts as we know them. That kind of synthesis is a key part of our journalistic mission.

The lawyers on the case are doing their jobs, and we at The News are doing ours, as fairly as we know how.

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Hero in black turtleneck and jeans? New Steve Jobs movie to be written by Aaron Sorkin

DownloadedFileNow here's a movie I can't wait to see.  My favorite screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, has agreed to adapt Walter Isaacson's bestselling biography of Apple's Steve Jobs for the big screen, according to a report in the New York Times.

 I've admired Sorkin since his days creating TV's "The West Wing," still a favorite in my family on DVD, with its fast-paced dialogue among smart, funny people walking and talking their way through the hallways of the White House.  

And his incisive writing of "The Social Network" -- the movie about Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg -- won an Oscar last year.  Meanwhile, his upcoming HBO series, "The Newsroom," also sounds made to order for viewers like me, based on this Vanity Fair story.

So pairing him with the subject of Steve Jobs, one of the modern era's most fascinating figures, just has to be a winner.  Isaacson's book presents the good, the bad and the ugly of Jobs as a brilliant tyrant; it should give Sorkin plenty of rich material.  (Jobs died last October after battling cancer for years.)

And based on Sorkin's reputation for speed -- and with very little in the way of wardrobe challenges what with Jobs' penchant for black shirts and jeans -- it shouldn't take too long before we're buying our popcorn.

Who'll play the saturnine Jobs?  No one knows at this early stage, but Jobs was no pretty boy.  I'd bet against Brad Pitt.  Ralph Fiennes, anyone?   Another upcoming Jobs movie -- this one an indie biopic, rather than a Sony extravaganza like the one we've been talking about -- will star Ashton Kutcher.  Check out Kutcher as a young Steve Jobs here.

(Photo above of the real Steve Jobs is from the Associated Press.)

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Just how true were those dramatic details about Watergate reporting? A juicy new book kicks up a fuss

10022581H2215805Jeff Himmelman, a former Washington Post researcher, has found himself in the middle of an ugly storm over his new book about Ben Bradlee, the Post's legendary Watergate-era editor.

I'm reading Himmelman's book, "Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee," for review in The News and finding it captivating. I'm also finding it juicy, something I didn't expect in an authorized biography.  Himmelman had extensive access not only to the 91-year-old Bradlee himself but to all the people around him and to boxes of letters and papers from his long reign as Post editor.

Who knew that Bradlee had doubts about some of the Hollywood-friendly details of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's reporting about Watergate source Deep Throat -- for example, the repeated meetings in a parking garage?  (Himmelman does not, for a moment, question the substance of the Watergate stories, it should be noted.)

Who knew that Post Publisher Katharine Graham had a longstanding crush on Bradlee, whom she named as editor, or that she reacted unhappily when Bradlee told her he was involved with a Post reporter, Sally Quinn, who would become his third wife?

Here's Himmelman's piece in the Daily Beast today, defending his reporting, which is (probably unfairly) under siege. And here is the Daily Beast's quick summary of seven scoops in the new book, including the one that is causing so much angst.

 For anyone interested in journalism, Watergate or presidential history, this is fascinating stuff.  

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(Photo of Ben Bradlee from the Washington Post) 

Celebrating Mother's Day with some admirable moms (and reading suggestions from all over)

Some ideas for Mother's Day reading:

* In Sunday's Buffalo News, our Spotlight section is devoted to stories of women who made motherhood work, under all kinds of circumstances and despite all kinds of challenges.   It's good reading and I hope you'll find time to check it out.   I was happy to be asked to write the introduction, placing Mother's Day in the political context of the moment (a brief resurgence of the unfortunate 'Mommy Wars' between career women and stay-at-home moms).  Here's a look at the Spotlight package.  Be sure to see the related stories on each of the admirable local mothers featured: Elise NeMoyer, Carol Weinman, Judy Brown, Marilyn Rosiek, and Doreen Woods.  It looks great in print, too.

* In Sunday's New York Times, author Will Schwalbe's op-ed piece about reading books with his dying mother offers a worthwhile idea about strengthening mother-offspring ties, well into adulthood.

* The Daily Beast has a list of the "15 hottest books for Mom," including the latest from Anna Quindlen and John Irving.   Check it out here.  

* Alternatively, you might want to get Mom a copy of Amy Waldman's novel, "The Submission," which is the May selection in the Buffalo News Book Club.  Here's Charity Vogel's story about the book, and a replay of our live chat with the author, who is a New York Times reporter.   The book was one of 2011's outstanding debut novels -- it's well-written, thought-provoking and original.

And from the Los Angeles Times, here's a look at what six writers who are new (or expecting) mothers are reading right now.  

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On Mother's Day, I'll be thinking -- with gratitude and appreciation -- of all the outstanding mothers I know, especially my sisters-in-law, Maureen and Catherine Sullivan, and remembering my mom, Elaine Saab Sullivan and hers, Alice Saab. And I'll be spending some time with my son and daughter  --  who aren't such kids any more.  I hope it's a good one for all.

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Ask the Editor live chat: the recap

An invitation to my 'Ask the editor' live chat at 2 p.m. today

At 2 p.m. today on the home page of BuffaloNews.com, I'll be hosting my (more or less) monthly live chat, an opportunity to hear from readers and to answer questions.  I hope you'll join me.

 Since I began the chats in January, I've found them exhilarating -- if a little stressful, at times.  I try to get to as many questions and comments as possible in the hour allotted, but so far it's not been possible to recognize everyone.

The topics are entirely up to you but here are some possibilities: Defense attorney Joel Daniels' request for a mistrial in the Corasanti hit-and-run manslaughter case; the increasing number of newspapers going to paid subscriptions for online content; how The News arrives at its editorial opinions, including political endorsements; how our city desk decides whether to write an obituary about a particular person; and, of course, sports columnist Jerry Sullivan's hip replacement and whether he and I are related.  (I think this has come up at every chat so far.)

It should be fun.  See you at 2.

 

A tempest over black studies and blogging erupts at the Chronicle of Higher Education

Naomi Schaefer Riley has been kicked out of her blogging position at the Chronicle of Higher Education, after thousands of outraged readers protested, in an online petition and on Twitter, her April 30 post.

In the group blog known as Brainstorm, the author and former Wall Street Journal reporter blasted the work of some young African-American scholars which had been featured in the periodical, calling it "liberal hackery."  She went on to suggest that black studies departments be shuttered. 

Depending on your politics and point of view, you can see this dust-up as largely about:

1) blatant racism
2) political correctness run amok
3) the hazards of unedited blogging, especially when combined with lazy reporting
4) censorship
5) the power of social media mobs

Here's the blog that caused so much trouble, with such statements as: “What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap." 

Also interesting: The Wall Street Journal's chronology of events; a summary from Poynter.org that includes an interview with Riley; and New York University professor Jay Rosen's discussion  on his Facebook page.

Finally, here's the Chronicle's note of apology to readers, dated Monday, announcing that Riley had been canned. 

From blog post to firing: one week. If nothing else, this proves that Internet time is ever-faster and ever more relentless. 

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