Al-Jazeera buys Current TV from Al Gore
by RYAN NAKASHIMA
LOS ANGELES—Al-Jazeera, the Pan-Arab news channel that struggled to win space on American cable television, has acquired Current TV, boosting its reach in the U.S. nearly ninefold to about 40 million homes. With a focus on U.S. news, it plans to rebrand the left-leaning news network that cofounder Al Gore couldn't make relevant.
The former vice president confirmed the sale Wednesday, saying in a statement that Al-Jazeera shares Current TV's mission "to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling."
The acquisition lifts Al-Jazeera's reach beyond a few large U.S. metropolitan areas including New York and Washington, where about 4.7 million homes can now watch Al-Jazeera English.
Al-Jazeera, owned by the government of Qatar, plans to gradually transform Current into a network called Al-Jazeera America by adding five to 10 new U.S. bureaus beyond the five it has now and hiring more journalists. More than half of the content will be U.S. news and the network will have its headquarters in New York, spokesman Stan Collender said.
Collender said there are no rules against foreign ownership of a cable channel—unlike the strict rules limiting foreign ownership of free-to-air TV stations. He said the move is based on demand, adding that 40 percent of viewing traffic on Al-Jazeera English's website is from the U.S. "This is a pure business decision based on recognized demand," Collender said. "When people watch Al-Jazeera, they tend to like it a great deal."
Al-Jazeera has long struggled to get carriage in the U.S., and the deal suffered an immediate casualty as Time Warner Cable Inc., the nation's second-largest cable TV operator, announced it is dropping Current TV due to the deal.
"Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible," the company said in a statement.
Previous to Al-Jazeera's purchase, Current TV was in 60 million homes. It is carried by Comcast Corp., which owned less than a 10 percent stake in Current TV, as well as DirecTV. Neither company announced plans to drop the channel.
In 2010, Al-Jazeera English's managing director, Tony Burman, blamed a "very aggressive hostility" from the Bush administration for reluctance among cable and satellite companies to show the network.
Even so, Al-Jazeera has garnered respect for its ability to build a serious news product in a short time. In a statement announcing the deal, it touted numerous U.S. journalism awards it received in 2012, including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award Grand Prize and the Scripps Howard Award for Television/Cable In-Depth Reporting.
But there may be a culture clash at the network. Dave Marash, a former "Nightline" reporter who worked for Al-Jazeera in Washington, said he left the network in 2008 in part because he sensed an anti-American bias there.
Current, meanwhile, began as a groundbreaking effort to promote user-generated content. But it has settled into a more conventional format of political talk television with a liberal bent. Gore worked on-air as an analyst during its recent election night coverage.
Its leading personalities are former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Cenk Uygur, a former political commentator on MSNBC who hosts the show called "The Young Turks." Current signed Keith Olbermann to be its top host in 2011 but his tenure lasted less than a year before it ended in bad blood on both sides.
Current has largely been outflanked by MSNBC in its effort be a liberal alternative to the leading cable news network, Fox News Channel.
Current hired former CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman in 2011 to be its president. Bohrman pushed the network to innovate technologically, with election night coverage that emphasized a conversation over social media.
Current TV, founded in 2005 by former vice president Gore and Joel Hyatt, is expected to post $114 million in revenue in 2013, according to research firm SNL Kagan. The firm pegged the network's cash flow at nearly $24 million a year.
Newspaper That Put Gun Permit Map Online Hires Armed Guards
by J. DAVID GOODMAN
A newspaper based in White Plains that drew nationwide anger after publishing the names and addresses of handgun permit holders last month is being guarded by armed security personnel at two of its offices, the publisher said Wednesday.
The increased security comes as the newspaper, The Journal News, has promised to forge ahead with plans to expand its interactive map of permit holders to include a third county in the suburbs of New York City, and local officials there have vowed to block the records' release.
The armed guards — hired from local private security companies — have been stationed in The Journal News's headquarters and in a satellite office in West Nyack, N.Y., since last week, said Janet Hasson, the president and publisher of The Journal News Media Group.
“The safety of my staff is my top priority,” Ms. Hasson said in a telephone interview.
The newspaper prompted a national discussion and a torrent of rage online after it published an interactive map of handgun permit holders in Westchester and Rockland Counties on its Web site last month. The Journal News had gathered the information from public records after the school shooting in nearby Newtown, Conn.
Ms. Hasson declined to elaborate on any specific threats to the newspaper's staff, beyond saying that the permit map had precipitated the security precautions. She did not describe the number of guards or the guns they were carrying.
But an editor at the West Nyack office told the local police that the newspaper had received “a large amount of negative correspondence” related to the publication of the map, according to a police report highlighted by The Rockland County Times on Tuesday. The police report said that e-mails received did not contain threats and that armed guards from a private security firm had not reported any problems at the office.
Despite the anger at the newspaper's employees — some have had their addresses mapped by bloggers in retaliation — Ms. Hasson said the newspaper would continue to seek permit information for Putnam County.
But officials there, including the county clerk and a state senator, have said they intend to block the release of permit information.
The senator, Greg Ball, a Republican who represents the area, lashed out at the “asinine editors” at The Journal News who, he said, “have gone out of their way to place a virtual scarlet letter on law-abiding firearm owners throughout the region.”
“I thank God that Putnam County has a clerk with the guts to stand up and draw the line here,” Senator Ball said. “This is clearly a violation of privacy and needs to be corrected immediately.”
The county clerk, Dennis J. Sant, said he and other officials were meeting on Wednesday to discuss legal options for stopping the release of the permit information and would hold a news conference on Thursday.
“When these laws were conceived, there was no social media, there was no Google maps,” he said.
Mr. Sant said permit holders were “upstanding citizens” like retired police officers and doctors. “I can't put these people in harm's way like this,” he said.
Ms. Hasson said that despite the hectic atmosphere and increased security at The Journal News offices, the newspaper would go to court if necessary to obtain the public records. “Right now they're denying it,” she said of Putnam officials. “We're conferring to see what the next steps are.”
It was unclear whether the county officials had the authority to block the release. The permits are public records that were requested by the newspaper using the state's Freedom of Information Law.
Robert Freeman of the State Committee on Open Government said the officials would be breaking the law if they refused to release the records.
The name and address of any handgun permit holder “shall be a public record,” he said, reading a section of New York State law. “In my opinion,” he added, “there is not a lot of room for interpretation.”
Holyoke homicide-free last year with Mayor Alex Morse, Police Chief James Neiswanger set to praise efforts
by Mike Plaisance
HOLYOKE - The city emerged from 2012 without a reported homicide for the first time in at least a quarter century, Mayor Alex B. Morse said Wednesday.
Morse is scheduled to discuss the zero homicide rate at a press conference with Police Chief James M. Neiswanger Thursday at 10 a.m. at City Hall.
"To go an entire year without a homicide, the first year in over 25 years, is a monumental achievement that I am very proud of. I commend Chief Neiswanger and all the men and women at the Holyoke Police Department for keeping Holyoke safe," Morse said.
Holyoke had four homicides in 2011, four the year before that, three in 2009 and two each in 2008, 2007 and 2006.
Police Department records show at least one homicide each year dating back to 1987, including one in 1990, according to an email Neiswanger sent Morse.
Capt. Arthur R. Monfette recalls at least one homicide each year since he began with the department in 1978, according to Neiswanger's email.
FBI and Massachusetts State Police records show Holyoke had at least one homicide each year dating back to 1995. Stories in the archives of The Republican and MassLive.com record at least one homicide in Holyoke dating back to 1992.
Morse and Neiswanger in a joint statement said they attributed the absence of homicides to the work done by the patrol division, including community policing, as well as the detective and narcotics bureaus and "steadfast leadership" of supervisors.
Neiswanger, who began as chief here July 19, 2011, has increased community policing. A vehicle known as the mobile community policing unit gets deployed to high-crime areas.
Other steps include establishment of a building code enforcement officer and resumption of the canine unit, Morse and Neiswanger said.
Morse and Neiswanger thanked the following agencies: the FBI Gang Task Force, U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Hampden District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni, Hampden County Task Force, Massachusetts State Police and the Holyoke City Council.
Chesterfield Police Expand SRO Program to Elementary, Private Schools
The move is in response to concerns raised by school administrators about school security following the deadly massacre in Newtown, Conn., last month.
by Frank Johnson
The Chesterfield Police Department is rolling out a program to expand its presence at area schools in response to the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The new program will re-assign an officer to be a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) at all 12 of the area's public and private elementary schools and at a private high school. Individual officers were already present at Chesterfield's two middle and two high schools, so the new initiative means all educational institutions will be covered.
"The purpose of this is to provide some additional safety and security," said Chesterfield Police Capt. Steven Lewis. "The officer will work with the schools and see what their needs are."
Lewis said the new program is effectively immediately and is in response to the concerns about security expressed by local school officials following the deadly massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary where an armed gunman forced his way into the school.
It also makes Chesterfield one of the first area police departments to make a permanent commitment to placing an officer in elementary schools. The program was proposed Chesterfield Police Chief Ray Johnson, who felt it was important for the department to divert the necessary resources for the added security.
“I feel it is imperative to protect the most precious commodity in our community, our children, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure their safety and security," Johnson said.
A press release concerning the announcement described how it would work. The 13 schools would be covered by one full-time officer pulled from the department's Community Policing Unit, thereby sparring any additional costs and not impacting the number of officers on patrol. The duties previously covered by the new SRO will be covered by rescheduling and reassigning responsibilities among administrative positions.
"We don't have the ability to put an officer in every elementary school, nor do we feel that it's necessary at this time," Lewis said.
Lewis said they expect the new SRO to be able to visit each of the 13 schools multiple times per week. The individual will also work closely with school administrators to adjust his or her schedule based upon the needs of each institution.
It's also an initiative welcomed by the superintendents of the Rockwood and Parkway School Districts, who have three and four elementary schools in Chesterfield, respectively.
“The new elementary SRO pilot project sends a strong message that our community is continuing to do everything it can to keep our students and staff safe at school," said Parkway Superintendent Keith Marty.
Schools covered by the new program are:
- Parkway - Highcroft, Riverbend, Greentrails, Shenandoah
- Rockwood - Wild Horse, Kehrs Mill, Chesterfield Elementary
- Private - Ascension, Incarnate Word, St. Joseph Institute, Barat Academy, Chesterfield Montessori, Chesterfield Day School
N. Providence police to patrol schools for safety
NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — North Providence police officers have been asked to walk through schools on their patrols each day as a safety precaution.
The Providence Journal reports ( ) that Sgt. Diana Perez, who heads the North Providence Police Department's community policing unit, says the policy was put in place last month following a shooting rampage that killed 20 children and six educators in a Connecticut grade school.
Perez said Wednesday that the once-a-day school visits will help patrol officers learn the floor plans of the schools on their beats and reassure children.
She says police are trying to make sure the children know their school is safe and that police hope to build relationships with the youngsters.