Houston Chronicle

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The Houston Chronicle is a daily newspaper in Houston, Texas, United States. It is one of the 10 largest newspapers in the United States, with a daily circulation of more than 549,300. With the demise of its long-time rival the Houston Post, its nearest major competitors are located in Dallas-Fort Worth. It is the largest daily paper owned and operated by the Hearst Corporation, a multinational corporate media conglomerate with $4 billion in revenues. The paper employs nearly 2,000 people, including approximately 300 journalists, editors, and photographers. The Chronicle has bureaus in Washington, D.C., Mexico, Colombia, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Beaumont and the Rio Grande Valley. Its web site averages 25 million hits per month. The paper is currently the subject of multiple boycott efforts including by a Houston radio station and the Houston Republican Party over allegations of a liberal political bias.

Contents

History

1901: Marcellus E. Foster

The Houston Chronicle was founded in 1901 by a former reporter for the now-defunct Houston Post, Marcellus E. Foster. Foster, who had been covering the Spindletop oil boom for the Post, invested in Spindletop and took $30 of the return on that investment — at the time equivalent to a week's wages — and used it to found the Chronicle.

The Chronicle's first edition was published on October 14, 1901 and sold for two cents per copy, at a time when most papers sold for five cents each. At the end of its first month in operation, the Chronicle had a circulation of 4,378 — roughly one tenth of the population of Houston at the time. Within the first year of operation, the paper purchased and consolidated the Daily Herald.

Goodfellows

In 1911, City Editor George Kepple started Goodfellows (http://www.houstonchronicle.com/goodfellows). On a Christmas Eve in 1911, Kepple passed a hat among the Chronicle's reporters to collect money to buy toys for a shoe-shine boy. Goodfellows continues today through donations made by the newspaper and its readers. It has grown into a city-wide program that provides needy children between the ages of two and ten with toys during the winter holidays. In 2003, Goodfellows distributed almost 250,000 toys to more than 100,000 needy children in the Houston metropolitan area.

1926: Jesse H. Jones

In 1926, Jesse H. Jones became the sole owner of the paper. In 1968, the Chronicle set a Texas newspaper circulation record. In 1981, the business pages — which up until then had been combined with sports — became its own section of the newspaper.

1987: Hearst

On May 1, 1987, the Hearst Corporation purchased the Houston Chronicle for $415 Million. In 1994, the Chronicle switched to being a morning-only paper and is now this cities only major daily newspaper.

People

Jack Sweeney is the publisher and president of the Houston Chronicle.

As of May 2005, the editorial board included

  • President: Jack Sweeney
  • Editorial Cartoonist: Clyde Peterson (aka C.P. Houston)
  • Editorial Writer: Andrea Georgsson
  • Viewpoints Editor: Judy Minshew
  • Editorial Writer: Claudia Kolker
  • Editorial Writer: Tim Fleck
  • Executive Vice President and Editor: Jeff Cohen
  • Editor (Opinion pages): James Howard Gibbons
  • Outlook Editor: David Langworthy
  • Assistant Outlook Editor: Vernoica Bucio
  • Reader Feedback Representative: James T. Campbell

The paper employs nearly 2,000 people, including approximately 300 journalists, editors, and photographers. The paper's main political columnist is Cragg Hines, who is based in Washington, D.C. In addition, the Chronicle contracts with multiple distributors who circulate and deliver copies of the newspaper.

Awards

  • 2000: Houston's M. D. Anderson Cancer Center gave the Chronicle its Joseph T. Ainsworth Volunteer Community Award for making the newspaper available at a "greatly reduced rate" to the hospital and its patients. [1] (http://www3.mdanderson.org/news/ainsworth.html)
  • 2002: Holocaust Museum Houston (http://www.hmh.org) awarded the Chronicle its "Guardian of the Human spirit" award. The presenter, Janis Goldstein, said the award was given because “They are honored today because the Houston Chronicle embraces the causes most dear to it with a depth and scope that goes well beyond what is expected.” and "the Chronicle gives of itself to build a community that will embrace tolerance, understanding, and diversity and will speak out against prejudice and unfairness of any kind." [2] (http://www.hmh.org/article.asp?id=9)

Individual Awards:

  • 1989-1997: Carlos Antonio Rios, a Chronicle photographer since 1978, has repeatedly been honored for his photojournalism by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. [3] (http://www-new.latinosandmedia.org/jawards/awards-nahj-year.html)
  • 2003: James Howard Gibbons received 3rd place in the "Hearst Distinguished Journalism Awards," an internal contest held between Hearst's newspapers, for his editorial piece When Will the U.S. Liberate Texas? [4] (http://www.hearstcorp.com/newspapers/property/news_distinguished.html)
  • 2005: White House correspondent Julie Mason was voted by readers of Wonkette (a Washington, D.C. political blog) the tongue-in-cheek "Best to Sit Next to on the Bus (for more than 20 minutes)."
  • Leon Hale, a long-time columnist and author of 11 books, recently received the Lon Tinkle Award for Excellence Sustained Throughout a Career from the Texas Institute of Letters of which Hale is member. [5] (http://www.winedalebooks.com/books/hale.html)

Pulitzer Prize The Houston Chronicle is the only newspaper of the '10 largest' to have never won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. [6] (http://www.pulitzer.org)

However, reporters at the newspaper have several times been Pulitzer finalists, recently for international reporting:

  • Dudley Althaus - 1992 finalist in international reporting for his articles on the causes of the cholera epidemic in Peru and Mexico.
  • Tony Freemantle - 1997 finalist in international reporting for his reporting from Rwanda, South Africa, El Salvador and Guatemala on why crimes against humanity go unstopped and unpunished.

Press Club of Houston As the only publication with a circulation of 100,000 or greater papers in Houston, Chronicle has generally dominated the Press Club of Houston's annual journalism awards since the closing of the Houston Post. In 2000 the Chronicle suffered some embarrassment after the Press Club declined to issue a first place award for "Best Breaking News Coverage" by a major newspaper, despite being the lone candidate. According to the Press Club's awards judges, the Chronicle's entries did not demonstrate "extraordinary creativity in approach or execution or inspired reporting or exceptionally compelling writing" that was deserving of the first place award.[7] (http://www.houstonpress.com/issues/2000-01-13/news/hostage.html)

Quotes

Its opinion page editor since April 2005, James Howard Gibbons, has stated that "The Chronicle's editorial policy is neither liberal nor conservative, but based upon principles and pragmatism that transcend, or, less grandly, avoid partisan ideology." [8] (http://webadv.chron.com/ads/ads_i/insidestory/not_liberal.html)

"Journalism’s first loyalty is to the community and its citizens" - Jack Sweeney, Houston Chronicle publisher and president, September 18, 2002 [9] (http://www.hmh.org/article.asp?id=9)

"The White House, U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are in the clutches of politicians who are either extremely conservative or charlatans cleverly and persuasively pretending to be" - James Howard Gibbons, August 2004 [10] (http://donswaim.com/houstonchronicle.html).

Criticism

Template:SectNPOV On the political right, the paper's main critics are conservative talk radio stations including KSEV radio and an affiliated weblog entitled Chronically Biased. The paper's editorial page is often a target for satire and derision in Houston's political circles for what critics perceive as an overbearing habit of promoting light rail transit. Chronically Biased features a cartoon character named "Captain Chronicle" who espouses light rail transit as the solution to all of Houston's problems including those unrelated to traffic.

In May of 2005 the Harris County Republican Party joined a boycott of the newspaper, [11] (http://www.harriscountygop.com/sections/rulesbylaws/documents/rp050905_7.doc) which had previously been espoused by KSEV hosts. The Republican Party accused the paper of having a liberal political slant, of biased coverage of the light rail project, of supporting Planned Parenthood and of waging a "personal smear campaign" against Houston congressman Tom DeLay.

The newspaper also has critics on the political left. The Houston Press, an alternative weekly paper that often takes a liberal perspective, frequently runs a column entitled "News Hostage", which critiques the Chronicle.

Light Rail memorandum controversy

In late 2002, Chronicle website managers accidentally posted an internal memorandum to reporters on its home site, HoustonChronicle.com (http://www.houstonchronicle.com). The memorandum [12] (http://www.robbooth.net/chrnmem.shtml) outlined a draft agenda of coordinated news articles, editorials, and op-eds to be published by the paper, seemingly to promote a hotly contested mass transit referendum to expand Houston's controversial METRORail system on the 2003 ballot, which was later approved narrowly by voters. The memo's anonymous author suggested in part:

"I propose a series of editorials, editorial cartoons and Sounding Board columns leading up to the rail referendum, with this specific objective: Continuing our long standing efforts to make rail a permanent part of the transit mix here. The timing, language and approach of the paper's editorials would, of course, be the decision of the Editorial Board. But I suggest that they could be built upon and informed by a news-feature package with an equally specific focus" [13] (http://www.robbooth.net/chrnmem.shtml)

The memorandum then proposed several "investigative" news stories and editorials designed to examine "the campaign led by Tom DeLay and Bob Lanier to defeat rail expansion." DeLay, a Houston congressman, and Lanier, a former mayor of Houston, had both actively opposed light rail in the past.

The document was online for only an hour, but long enough to be viewed by some readers. Two days later the Houston Review, a conservative student publication, published the memo's full text and an accompanying commentary that criticized the paper for bias toward rail. The Houston Press, which is sometimes accused of a liberal slant, also accused the Chronicle of having a bias toward rail.[14] (http://web.archive.org/web/20021204203757/www.houstonreview.com/1102/chroniclememo.htm) They dubbed the paper Houston's "in-house light rail newsletter," described it as a "tireless promoter of rail," and mocked its editorial board's portrayal of light rail as the key to making Houston a "world class" city [15] (http://www.houstonpress.com/issues/2003-09-11/feature.html) — a claim echoed by the city's former mayor, Lee Brown, who campaigned on a platform of bringing light rail to Houston. Other local weekly and monthly newspapers, including the Houston Forward Times, a local African-American weekly newspaper, seized on the controversy, as did local talk radio stations, bloggers, and the conservative Free Republic Internet forum.

The Chronicle's response was notably muted. Its only official response appeared in the "corrections" section later the same week stating: "An internal Houston Chronicle document was mistakenly posted to the editorial/opinion area of the Web site early Thursday morning. We apologize for any confusion it may have caused."

Later, the Houston Press tracked down Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen, who gave a statement in defense of the memorandum: "I make no apologies for having a thorough discussion of the issue. We have nothing to apologize for…There was an inadvertent posting of it to the Web site, and I'm sorry about that, but I make no apologies for the contents of it."

In subsequent weeks several Houston bloggers reported writing letters to the editor about the memorandum, though none were ever published .

Consistent with the memorandum's stated "specific objective" [16] (http://www.robbooth.net/chrnmem.shtml), the Chronicle editorial page remained a vocal public advocate of the METROrail referendum in late 2003 and repeatedly endorsed its adoption. According to a content analysis of the paper by the Houston Review, the Chronicle published 5 editorials attacking rail opponents, 6 editorials promoting or endorsing light rail, 6 news stories attacking the motives of rail opponents, 3 news stories promoting a criminal investigation of rail opponents, and 1 staff editorial endorsing a criminal investigation of rail opponents during the course of the election.[17] (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1011869/posts) As the bond referendum approached rail critics argued that their fears of bias were confirmed by the paper, which they contend became a partisan participant in the campaign. During the campaign the Houston Chronicle made a request to Texans for True Mobility (TTM), the main critic of METRORail, to provide the paper with a copy of their financial contributor reports. TTM declined to do so, indicating that they did not believe the Chronicle would objectively represent their position in light of the memorandum. Among the election-related stories proposed in the memorandum was a project labelled "Ground zero for November" that proposed stories negatively portraying the "funding" behind METRORail opponents.[18] (http://www.texansfortruemobility.org/press.shtml)[19] (http://www.texansfortruemobility.org/press_news25.shtml)

After TTM refused the paper's request, Chronicle lawyers filed a criminal complaint under chapter 273 of the Texas Elections Code against TTM with Harris County, Texas District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal accusing them of fundraising improprieties. The complaint alleged that TTM had violated Texas statutes requiring PACs to make fundraising disclosures, a misdemeanor offense which, if true, is punishable by a $500 fine. The Chronicle argued that the statute applied to TTM's advertising slogan, "Metro's Rail Plan Costs Too Much, Does Too Little." However, TTM was registered as a non-profit 501(c)6 organization rather than a political action committee (PAC) and thus not obliged to submit a PAC financial disclosure under state law.[20] (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1011869/posts)[21] (http://www.texastransit.org/archives/000893.html) (The separate "Texans for True Mobility PAC" has regularly been in full compliance with disclousre requirements to the Texas Ethics Commission.) Rosenthal dismissed the Chronicle's complaint, finding it without merit on the grounds that the allegedly violated statute did not apply to the case.

Later that year, the group revealed that that their TV and radio ads were funded by $30,000 in contributions made the day before the election by two PACs controlled by DeLay. Rosenthal's involvement in the probe itself came under fire by the Houston Press, which in editorials questioned whether Rosenthal was too close to TTM on account of accepting approximately $30,000 in donations to his campaigns from TTM supporters.

By comparison with TTM, which was extensively attacked in the paper's editorials and covered in multiple news stories, the Chronicle devoted only a portion of one single article to the finances of Texans for Public Transportation (TPT), the main pro-METRORail group, according to the Houston Review.[22] (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1011869/posts) The Houston Review further alleged multiple conflicts of interest in TPT's financing. The report involved fourteen METRORail contracters and business interests who stood to gain financially from the project and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote the referendum.[23] (http://www.texansfortruemobility.com/press_news22.shtml)

Feuds with KSEV radio and Bill O'Reilly

In early 2004 the Chronicle was accused of bias and adding to the family's grief regarding its coverage of the death of Leroy Sandoval, a soldier from Houston who was killed in Iraq. Chronicle reporter Lucas Wall visited the family of Sandoval for an interview about the loss of their loved one.

After the article appeared Sandoval's family members complained that a sentence alleging "President Bush's failure to find weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq misrepresented their views on the war and President George W. Bush (the Sandoval family was supportive of the war). The next day Sandoval's stepfather and sister called into Houston talk radio station KSEV and explained that Wall had pressured them for a quotation that criticized Bush and then included the line alleging Bush's "failure" against the wishes of the family.[24] (http://www.publiustx.net/index.php?itemid=1092)

A bitter on-air showdown ensued between the KSEV radio show host/owner Dan Patrick, and an assistant managing editor at the Chronicle, who defended his reporter's story. The incident prompted Patrick to join the call for a boycott of the paper.[25] (http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/news/040904_local_boycott.html) The story was also picked up by the local Houston television stations and, a week later, the O'Reilly Factor.The issue cooled down when Chronicle publisher Jack Sweeney contacted the Sandoval family to apologize.[26] (http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/news/040904_local_boycott.html)

Patrick and O'Reilly have both been involved in subsequent disputes with the Chronicle over alleged biases and writings pertaining to each other. [27] (http://lonestartimes.com/index.php?p=575) In 2005 O'Reilly and editorial page editor James Howard Gibbons became involved in a heated exchange carried out over their respective media outlets involving a Chronicle editorial that, according to O'Reilly, seemingly advocated softer treatment for convicted pedophiles.[28] (http://www.thebluesite.com/archives/2005/05/houston_chronic.html) The Chronicle responded to O'Reilly by editorializing against the host and accusing him of misrepresenting their position and misquoting a segment of the editorial. O'Reilly retracted the erronious quotation but reiterated his criticism by quoting the correct editorial, which criticized Florida's Jessica Lunsford Act, espoused rehabilitation for sex offenders, and agrued that "counseling reduces recidivism." The incident also prompted O'Reilly to host a segment on liberal bias at the Houston Chronicle on his March 12th television broadcast, featuring criticisms of the paper by Patrick.[29] (http://www.billoreilly.com/show?action=viewTVShow&showID=269)

Planned Parenthood Contributions

The newspaper's objectivity on the issue of abortion has also been called into question following revelations that the Chronicle makes several annual contributions to abortion provider Planned Parenthood. According to an investigation by the Houston Review, an "independent, conservative, student-run journal of news and opinion", the Chronicle donated between $6,000 - $12,000 to Planned Parenthood over the period 1994 to 1998. One of its executives, Richard J. V. Johnson (together with his wife), has also donated between $5,000 and $15,000 over the period 1992 to 1998.[30] (http://www.chronicallybiased.com/index.php?itemid=35) The Chronicle additionally donated between $1,000 and $5,000 to Planned Parenthood in 2002 and is a member of the organization's employee donations program that matches dollar amounts contributed to the group by the paper's employees. [31] (http://www.pphouston.org/upload/SPRING02.PDF).

According to the Texas Alliance for Life's Dr. Joe Pojman, this activity "calls into question the Chronicle’s professional objectivity when reporting on the abortion issue." The Texas Foundation for Life, another pro-life organization, has accused the paper of taking an excessively strong pro-abortion position in its editorials. The organization also contends that the paper has misrepresented the effects of legislation that removes state funding for abortion providers by relying heavily on Planned Parenthood sources for its articles. [32] (http://www.lifeadvocates.org/html/local_news_june_july_03.html#Bias%20at%20the%20Chron)

The paper's support for Planned Parenthood has also been cited by KSEV radio and the Republican Party as a reason for their boycotts.

Purchase of Houston Post Assets

In 1995, the Houston Post ceased operations, leaving the Chronicle as Houston's only major daily newspaper, and the Hearst Corporation purchased some of the Post's assets. Houston Chronicle announced it in a way that suggested the shutdown and Hearst's purchase of the Post's assets were simultaneous events. "Post closes; Hearst buys assets," the Chronicle headline read the day after the Post was shut.

Internal memos obtained from by FOIA from the Justice Department antitrust attorneys who investigated the closing of the Houston Post said the Chronicle's parent orgnaization struck a deal to buy the Post six months before it closed. The memos, first obtained by the alternative paper the Houston Press, say the Chronicle's conglomerate and the Post "reached an agreement in October, 1994, for the sale of Houston Post Co.'s assets for approximately $120 million." [33] (http://www.reclaimthemedia.org/print.php?story=04/05/31/6064236)

No anti-trust charges have been filed against the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Post or against the Hearst corporation.

Robert Jensen/September 11, 2001 controversy

In the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks the Houston Chronicle published a series of opinion articles by University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen that asserted the United States was "just as guilty" as the hijackers in committing acts of violence and compared that attack with the history of U.S. attacks on civilians in other countries. According to an article of Jensen's published by the Chronicle only three days after the attacks, "For more than five decades throughout the Third World, the United States has deliberately targeted civilians or engaged in violence so indiscriminate that there is no other way to understand it except as terrorism." In a followup article Jensen continued, asserting "my anger is directed not only at individuals who engineered the Sept. 11 tragedy, but at those who have held power in the United States and have engineered attacks on civilians every bit as tragic." He goes on to warn of more civilian deaths that may follow retaliation, "let us not forget that a 'massive response' will kill people, and if the pattern of past U.S. actions holds, it will kill innocents." [34] (http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/editorial/1047072) The opinion piece resulted in hundreds of angry letters to the editor and reportedly over 4,000 angry responses to Jensen.[35] (http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/editorial/outlook/1215826) Among them were claims of insensitivity against the newspaper and of giving an unduly large audience to a position characterized as being extremist. University of Texas president Larry Faulkner issued a response denouncing Jenson's as "a fountain of undiluted foolishness on issues of public policy", noting "[h]e is not speaking in the University's name and may not speak in its name." [36] (http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~ulrich/RHE306fall01/RhetAnaly/analyzethis.htm)

Despite the public backlash, the Chronicle printed four subsequent opinion articles by Jensen, asserting his case. Jensen is also a regular guest writer on the opinion page and has published several dozen opinion articles on other subjects in the Chronicle.

External links

Links critical of the Chronicle:

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