USA TODAY - The news media made lots of news in 2013.
Iconic news organizations changed hands. Some outlets made major mistakes on major stories. Journalism groups challenged the Obama administration over its harsh leak investigations. Exciting new initiatives debuted. Print news organizations continued to erect metered paywalls around their digital offerings.
But the No. 1 media story of the year revolved around classified documents leaked by a hitherto obscure National Security Agency contractor.
THE SNOWDEN SAGA
The material turned over to news outlets by Edward Snowden revealed a stunning array of secret surveillance initiatives by the federal government. It led to a vigorous national debate over the monitoring of phone calls and digital communications of ordinary citizens.
Some decried Snowden as a traitor; others championed him as a whistle-blower. But there's no doubt that the journalism he triggered had a huge impact. A federal judge ruled that a massive phone data-collection program was unconstitutional, although the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to have the last word. A panel convened by President Obama recommended 46 measures to rein in the snooping.
While The Washington Post and New York Times broke some of the stories, the pacesetter on the surveillance saga was Glenn Greenwald, an American lawyer living in Brazil known for his staunchly liberal views. Greenwald's articles appeared in the British newspaper The Guardian.
Other media developments included:
NEW LIFE FOR NEWSPAPERS?
Long written off as dying artifacts in the digital era, newspapers attracted some impressive suitors in 2013, some of them lured in part by bargain-basement prices.
In a surprising development, the Graham family, longtime owner of the iconic but financially challenged Washington Post, sold the paper to Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. A billionaire entrepreneur with digital chops and a penchant for innovation, Bezos says his involvement gives the struggling Post "runway" while it charts its course for surviving in the digital age.
Another top paper, The Boston Globe, also changed hands. John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, purchased the paper from The New York Times Co.
Aaron Kushner, who acquired Freedom Communications and its flagship Orange County Register, continued to exhibit his maverick ways, betting heavily on print as others cut back. Kushner, who has added 200 journalists to the Register staff and increased its newshole, launched a new paper in Long Beach, Calif., triggering a newspaper war; acquired The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif.; and said he planned to start a new daily in Los Angeles, home of the mighty but struggling Los Angeles Times.
And investor to the stars Warren Buffett, who once famously said he wouldn't acquire newspapers "at any price," continued his buying spree, adding The Press of Atlantic City, N.J., The Roanoke Times in Virginia, the Tulsa World in Oklahoma and the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., to his growing roster of dailies. He now has 30 of them. Buffett told me in March, "It's almost unnatural how much I love newspapers."
A NEW DIGITAL NEWS POWERHOUSE
Like fellow tech billionaire Jeff Bezos, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar considered buying The Washington Post. Instead, Omidyar decided to invest a whopping $250 million to start up a new digital news organization. And he hired Greenwald of Snowden saga fame as a key player.
While the richly endowed site no doubt will feature investigative reporting and continued monitoring of U.S. government surveillance, Omidyar wants to cover a wide range of subjects so as to attract as large an audience as possible for the hard-hitting journalism he hopes to produce.
Omidyar, who will be the publisher, snared former Rolling Stone executive editor Eric Bates to help plan the ambitious non-profit news outlet.
Once again, some outlets stumbled badly as they covered major breaking news stories. In April, a number of news organizations, among them CNN, the Associated Press, Fox and the Boston Herald, ballyhooed the arrest of a suspect in the Boston Marathon massacre. Trouble was, there had been no arrest. The mistake came just four months after the error-riddled coverage of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Reddit - a social media site, not a news outlet - also came under fire after Redditors circled the faces of people in pictures of the crowd at the marathon, spotlighting them as suspects, often based on nothing more than the fact that they were wearing backpacks. This was part of Reddit users' ill-conceived attempt to play amateur detective and solve the crime.
Rolling Stone provoked a controversy with its cover photo of a Boston bombing suspect that some readers found too sympathetic.
Five months later, following a shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., CBS News and NBC News identified the wrong man as the suspect.
60 MINUTES' WOES
Speaking of mistakes, the venerable TV newsmagazine made a huge one in its Oct. 27 report on the bombing at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. Turns out the segment, reported by high-profile CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan, relied on an "eyewitness" who had been nowhere near the scene. Logan apologized, and the network placed her and the segment's producer on leave.
60 Minutes also came under fire for running a virtual infomercial featuring Amazon's Bezos, complete with totally skepticism-free coverage of his declared intention to deliver packages via drones, and for its softball NSA broadcast just before a judge concluded the NSA's telephone record gathering was probably unconstitutional.
CNN brought in Jeff Zucker, former CEO and president of NBC Universal, to prop up the pioneer cable news network's sagging ratings. But Zucker, who started work in January, has found it an uphill task.
Zucker shuffled the lineup and brought back the old Crossfire political slugfest. But not much has worked. During the week of Oct. 28, the network had its smallest audience since August 2012.
In December, Zucker said CNN needed more shows and fewer newscasts. He said he was looking for "an attitude and a take," things more associated with rivals Fox News and MSNBC.
OBAMA VS. PRESS
The Obama administration came under fire for its heavy-handed treatment of journalists in its attempt to track down those who leak classified government documents. In cases involving the Associated Press and Fox News Washington correspondent James Rosen, journalism organizations and First Amendment champions accused Team Obama of overreaching. Attorney General Eric Holder drafted guidelines aimed at preventing problems in the future.
THE PHILLY MELODRAMA
In one of the most bizarre misadventures in media management in memory, Philadelphia Inquirer Publisher Bob Hall fired Editor Bill Marimow. Hall is an ally of one member of the paper's two member management committee who wanted Marimow out. The other committee member, pro-Marimow, went to court to get the editor reinstated. That's what a judge did. The losing side appealed the decision.
YAHOO MAKES MEDIA MOVES
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer clearly sees content in general and video in particular as crucial to her efforts to turn the tech company around. Mayer hired megawatt TV broadcaster Katie Couric as the company's "global anchor." Yahoo also found The New York Times fertile ground for talent, poaching popular tech columnist David Pogue, Deputy News Editor Megan Liberman and political writer Matt Bai.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
• Al Jazeera America, a no-frills cable channel dedicated to serious news rather than pyrotechnics owned by the government of oil-rich Qatar, debuted.
• As did PunditFact. An offshoot of PolitiFact, which assesses the truthfulness of the pronouncements of politicos, PunditFact's mission is to do the same thing for columnists and commentators and the like,
• Politico, the bible for political junkies and a major digital media success story, launched a new, six-times-a-year print magazine. It also swallowed up website Capital New York, and hopes to replicate its D.C. success in the Big City.
• Talented but problem-child broadcaster Keith Olbermann, last seen leaving the late Current TV in his most recent flameout, returned to the ESPN fold, apparently having unburned that bridge, with Olbermann on ESPN2.
A PATCH OF TROUBLE
Tim Armstrong helped create Patch, a national network of hyperlocal news websites, and after he became CEO of AOL he brought Patch into the fold. Armstrong promised that the project would make money. But hyperlocal has been a boulevard of broken dreams for many, and Patch has proved to be no exception. In August, Armstrong announced major layoffs and an overall scaling back. Four months later, the executive described his long-beloved baby as an "asset of optionality" - which loosely translates as "we give up."
• Nate Silver, the stats wizard who dazzled with his spot-on 2012 presidential campaign projections on his FiveThirtyEIght blog on newyorktimes.com, left the Times Co. to launch an ambitious digital operation at ESPN.
• Tina Brown, a star magazine editor during her glory days at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, stepped down as panjandrum at the website she helped launch in 2008, The Daily Beast. Brown had presided over the uncomfortable amalgam of the Beast and Newsweek. Media mogul Barry Diller's IAC, the Beast's parent, killed Newsweek's print edition late last year and in August unloaded the once-prominent newsweekly.
• Speaking of Newsweek, new owner IBT Media announced in December that it would bring the print Newsweek back to life next year. Meanwhile, New York magazine said it would reduce its publishing schedule starting in March from weekly to every other week.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)