News Hostage

After suffering through one of the more embarrassing moments in Houston journalism history at last year's Press Club of Houston awards, the Houston Chronicle has apparently decided to take its ball and go home.

Well, almost. Actually, taking its ball and going home would mean the paper would forfeit the opportunity to trumpet winning more journalism awards that no reader cares about, so the Chron is taking a more...ummm...thoughtful... no, a more, that's not it... ah, there it is: a more half-assed method of throwing its hissy fit.

The reason for the alleged pouting occurred last April at the annual Press Club awards dinner. Unlike the Dallas Press Club's awards, which are open to publications statewide, the Houston awards are restricted to local outfits. So the award for best breaking-news coverage by a paper with circulation over 100,000 is pretty much a gimme for the Chron, it being the only daily paper around here with those numbers.

Sure enough, the paper won the third-place award for breaking news. And it won the second-place award. But then -- to the shocked silence of the Chronicle portion of the dinner crowd -- the announcement came that the judges had deemed no entry worthy of a first-place award.

None of the Chronicle entries showed "extraordinary creativity in approach or execution or inspired reporting or exceptionally compelling writing," the judges wrote.

That decision apparently didn't sit too well with the folk at 801 Texas. According to a Press Club source, the paper has decided to exact some kind of revenge for its public embarrassment.

While submitting its usual horde of entries for the upcoming contest, the paper has reportedly told the Press Club it won't be paying the entry fees. Instead, it will donate an equivalent amount of money to the Club's separate fund for scholarships.

Take that, you so-and-sos.

The formal deadline for entries is January 26, so things might change. The paper might decide not to follow through on its threat.

Technically, the reporter pays the entry fee ($10 for Club members, $20 for nonmembers), but almost all publications pick up the tab for their employees. It remains to be seen whether the Press Club would have any problems with entries that don't actually include the fee.

This isn't the first time the Chronicle, which takes journalism awards very, very seriously, has grumbled about the Press Club. Most local press clubs have such awards, and they trade out the chore of judging entries with their fellow organizations.

One year, when the San Diego Press Club was judging Houston's entries, the Chron apparently got upset that too many awards went to The Houston Post.

Management types from the Chronicle called several former Post reporters who had moved to San Diego, ever so casually inquiring whether the former Houstonians had played any part in the judging. They hadn't, as it turned out.

In one of the least surprising developments of the new century, the Chronicle spokesperson, executive Lainie Gordon -- the person who's supposed to handle reporters' inquiries about the paper, the person to whom a reporter is directed to by antsy Chron employees who don't want to answer questions themselves -- did not return a phone call.

Chronicle assistant managing editor Walter Johns, who is the Press Club's contact person for questions on print entries, refused to comment.

Mike Cinelli, immediate past president of the Press Club, said he expected Chronicle staffers to participate as usual in the contest. "I don't know if the Chronicle will pay the entry fees or the reprters will, but that's an inside-Chronicle question," he said.

Radio, Radio

We've gotten several notes from people wondering just what the hell is going on at KTRH, the city's dominant news-radio operation. Here's one: "I'm struck by how often [reporter] Screamin' Steven Dean says he talked to some official or other 'in a live interview earlier,' then plays tape. What other kind of interview is there? And if it's tape, is it... oh, never mind. Also... I nearly had a wreck the first time the new sound effects erupted during my rush hour drive home. What is that? Bullets whizzing, cars crashing, horns honking, industrial equipment toppling?"

We don't know either, but apparently this person isn't the only one who has furiously whipped his head around searching for the truck that sounds like it's just about to smack into him. Our only guess for why they're using the ominous intro is that they wanted their traffic reporters to have more accidents "in the clearing stages" to report.

And then there's the other new customer service at the station: the Idiot's Guide to Telling Time. "KTRH newstime" is no longer 3:45, for instance, it's always "3:45 -- 45 minutes after three."

Coming soon: informing listeners of the exact locations of the Big Hand and the Little Hand.

Meet the Press

The Chronicle has offered its annual package of meet-the-editorial-board pieces, and as always it beggars description.

Cartoonist CP Houston, whose efforts are usually limited to urging readers to support the Astros, or portraying a cowboy-hatted everyman wondering skeptically about all that hot air a-comin' out of the state Legislature, claims he's sometimes guilty of wielding "a sudden stiletto slipped to the ribs of a sacred cow." (Must be in the bootleg collection of unpublished 'toons.)

And senior editorial writer James Howard Gibbons, in a piece headlined "Not Liberal, Not Conservative: We Transcend," says the Chron's editorials are fiercely independent.

For instance, "the Chronicle believes that violent, dangerous criminals should spend longish periods of their lives behind bars," he thunders, and the costs be damned. "On the other hand, the Chronicle also supports public and private efforts to prevent crime," like education.

Not liberal, not conservative: Just dull.

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