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Archive for October, 2015

My drugs have not improved, but my earworms have.

Here’s how my stem-cell-harvest drugs work (besides supposedly stimulating release of my stem cells for the next day’s harvest): I get the shot of Mozobil at 10 p.m., then head home exhausted after about 15 1/2 hours at the hospital, ready to sleep. Depending on how long it takes me to settle in and what we need to talk about, I crash hard sometime between 11 and midnight. Then about 1:30 or so, I wake up suddenly, as if someone came into the room and shook me hard. Then I try to fall back asleep. Then the earworms invade.

Sometimes I fall back asleep (and then wake up, as if startled again, at 3 or so). Sometimes I give up after 15, 20 or 30 minutes and get up to blog until I think I can get back to sleep again.

I don’t play much music myself. But I hear songs on TV or movies or when Mimi plays her iPhone as we’re driving. From one of those sources, I get my earworms, usually songs I don’t like. I can’t recall what the song was in July, the first time we tried a stem-cell harvest, but it was an annoying song and tortured me all week.  (more…)

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Sarah Karp story

America needs skeptical, curious reporters reading through boring reports to find seeds of potential stories.

That’s how Sarah Karp of Catalyst Chicago dug up the Chicago Public Schools corruption story that produced a scandal and a guilty plea to criminal charges. I won’t detail the story here, but I encourage you to read the account by Sam Levine of Huffington Post.

I’ll just make a few points that concern me about the current and future state of journalism:

  • Metro daily newspapers, which for decades produced the best investigative reporting on local schools, government and corruption in cities across the country, missed this story. Including one that long proclaimed itself the “World’s Greatest Newspaper.” The Chicago Tribune (which dropped that boast in 1976) and Chicago Sun-Times have cut their reporting staffs so severely that, even when Karp flagged the story to their attention, they didn’t pounce.
  • Niche organizations such as Catalyst Chicago are doing important work to fill watchdog gaps as newsrooms shrink (and to shine lights in corners newsrooms traditionally missed).
  • Niche organizations face their own financial challenges. The Levine piece notes that Catalyst has cut back, too.
  • Governments at all levels continue trying to limit public access to the types of records that drive this kind of watchdog journalism. We need to be vigilant in defending sunshine laws.

Somehow watchdog reporting continues. My former Digital First Media colleagues at the Torrance Daily Breeze in California won a Pulitzer Prize this year for more investigative reporting on corruption in local schools. But one of the members of the winning team, Rob Kuznia, had left the newspaper for a public-relations job by the time the prizes were announced.

The supply of investigative journalism, especially at the local level, has never been able to keep up with the demand. And I’m pretty sure we are falling further behind.

But I have boundless admiration for the journalists who continue this important work in difficult circumstances and uncertain times. We need more reporters like Sarah Karp reading those boring reports.

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Facebook debate

My Facebook profile photo

My Facebook profile photo

Whether you regard Facebook as a beneficial, benign or sinister force in media, your vision probably rests in part on the value of all that data the digital behemoth has about us.

At least 10 Facebook posts this week by me, or posts on my wall by friends, have included some combination of the words Royals, Mets, World, Series, baseball and #TakeTheCrown. And I’ve “liked” many more posts and comments by friends who share my excitement and interest about the World Series. And my profile photo on Facebook shows me wearing a Royals hat. That’s a lot of data telling Facebook what I might have been planning to do tonight.

I do show some political interest on Facebook as well. But any posts I’ve made about the current crop of Republican presidential have been critical or sarcastic in nature and tone.

But when I went to Facebook tonight (to post something about the World Series), Facebook suggested I let my friends know I’m watching the Republican debate. Um. no.

I’m not worried or optimistic that Facebook knows what to do with all that user data it has.

Earlier posts about Facebook

(starting with one just two days ago):

Facebook sucks, except when it doesn’t, like on my birthday

Updated tips for Facebook engagement by newsrooms

Lots of precedent for media dependence on Facebook, including cautionary tales

Why does Facebook keep ignoring my choice of ‘most recent’ posts?

‘Remember when?’ photos have great engagement potential

Facebook engagement lesson: ‘It’s about community’

Community fun drives Facebook engagement

Jeff Edelstein’s Sandy engagement shows how to use Facebook during a big story

Facebook news-feed changes mean newsrooms need new engagement strategies

Facebook engagement tips already working for Register Citizen, Middletown Press

Correction on AP photos: Newsrooms don’t have rights to post them on Facebook

Why does Bill Keller write about Facebook without trying to understand it?

Facebook engagement tips: Use breaking news photos and calls to action

Engage on community Facebook pages, not just your page

Romeo and Juliet on Facebook: great fun and community engagement

Reach out through Facebook to gather information on tragic stories

 

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Many journalism ethics decisions are difficult. This one is not: If you don’t know whether the family knows of a newsworthy death, you should wait to report it.

Kansas City Royals pitcher Edinson Vólquez pitched Game One of the World Series last night, shortly after his father’s death. Reports conflicted initially on whether the pitcher learned of Daniel Volquez’s death in the Dominican Republic before the game, as reported by ESPN, citing an unnamed source, or was not told of the death until after he left the game after six strong innings, as Fox reported on its telecast.

The Royals said Vólquez’s wife called General Manager Dayton Moore with the tragic news shortly before the game and asked that he not be told until he was finished pitching.

News organizations reported the death while Vólquez was pitching, apparently before he knew the news. I think that was the wrong ethical decision. (more…)

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Facebook birthdayFB Teresa SchmeddingI whine a lot on Facebook about the user experience there. But not on my birthday.

(Well, a little the morning after my birthday, but more on that later.)

On my birthday yesterday, I was overwhelmed by the well wishes of friends, family, former colleagues and people I’ve never met who somehow connected with me digitally. It’s a wonderful experience and a challenge to keep up with just “liking” each birthday wish, let alone responding to them.

I spent my birthday in the hospital, starting my second stem-cell harvest, so it’s been doubly meaningful (I’m back for more harvest today). A hospital is a boring place to be a patient, never festive on the oncology floor, no matter how kind and attentive the staff (and the staff at Our Lady of the Lake have been terrific). (more…)

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Mimi and I saw “Rock the Kasbah” Sunday. I don’t cover entertainment much here, so I’m not going to write much about the movie itself. For that, I recommend David Corn’s excellent piece in Mother Jones.

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

The movie took me back, though, to one of the most meaningful experiences of my career. The Bill Murray character in the movie, Richie Lanz, discovers and provides an opportunity for an Afghan girl with an enchanting voice, Salima Khan, played by Leem Lubany.

As I watched Salima pursue opportunity, at risk of her own life, in an oppressive culture, I remembered the courageous Afghan women I was privileged to cover, and spent most of a month with, back in 2002, when they came to Nebraska for a teacher training program. The women taught surreptitiously when the Taliban prohibited schooling for girls. They learned more English than I learned Dari, but through interpreters and their ability to communicate passion and courage across the language barrier, they touched me as deeply as any sources I ever worked with. I think of them every time I read of a bombing at a school in Afghanistan, and hope they are all safe and continuing to teach. (more…)

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Stubbornness can lead to some outstanding journalism. But it also can cause journalists to stand by stories that need to be corrected or re-examined.

I think it’s time to say the New York Times is just being stubborn in its refusal to update or correct its inaccurate 2007 story about Pari Livermore.

Nonprofit chroniclesNearly three months after Nancy Levine, a potential client of Livermore’s, called to Times editors’ attention the failings of the 2007 story, five different journalists have investigated Livermore’s matchmaking efforts and the “charitable” donations she asks clients to make in return for her service. (And I’m not counting August and October posts on this blog.) All of the investigations, including a post Sunday by Marc Gunther in Nonprofit Chronicles, have found the same thing: Livermore’s favored “charity,” Spotlight on Heroes, has never been registered as a charity.

Unless all of these investigations are wrong, the Times should correct its story.

The technicality Times editors cite in not correcting or even re-examining the 2007 Times story by Stephanie Rosenbloom is that it did not mention Spotlight on Heroes. But the whole premise of the story was Livermore’s blend of matchmaking and philanthropy. The story referred to the 2007 Red & White Ball as a “charity event,” even though 2007 promotional materials for the ball directed ticket buyers to make out their $175 checks to Spotlight on Heroes. I don’t know of any journalism ethical code, including the Times’ Standards and Ethics, that doesn’t require correcting errors, and that “charity event” reference clearly was an error, even if you don’t think a fundamentally flawed eight-year-old story needs deeper re-examination. (more…)

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Our family gathered for the wedding, first time we were all together since Thanksgiving.

Our family gathered for the wedding, first time we were all together since Thanksgiving. Photo by Dan Buttry

Last December, when I announced my lymphoma diagnosis on this blog, I promised I would be dancing at the Oct. 10 wedding of my youngest son, Tom, and Ashley Douglass.

At that time, my hope and plan was that I would be finished with treatment by then. I needed to wait a minimum of 21 days between each of eight rounds of chemotherapy (which would damage my immune system). Then they would harvest some stem cells from me, and then I’d get them back in a stem-cell transplant that would restore my immune system. Treatment started Dec. 20 (Mimi’s birthday), so I marked all my rounds of treatment on the calendar and figured we’d finish by late June.

Well, marriage is way better than chemo (at least mine has been), so don’t take this metaphor any further than this point: In both cases, you really don’t know what’s going to unfold when you start out.

If you haven’t already read about all the delays and complications of my treatment on my CaringBridge journal, you can find details there, if you care. But they involve low platelet counts, an infection, meningitis, a weak stem-cell harvest and a brain surgery. The only thing that worked out as planned was that chemo kicked cancer’s ass. A May PET scan showed “no active disease,” so that listing of delays is not a complaint (well, not much), but an explanation that for a while we weren’t sure whether I would make it to the wedding. (more…)

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Charities make feel-good stories for journalists and too often we turn off the skepticism and verification upon which journalism is built.

Deni Elliott

Deni Elliott

This will be mostly a guest post from Deni Elliott, Eleanor Poynter Jamison Chair in Media Ethics and Press Policy at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. Elliott also was contacted by Nancy Levine, the key source for a post I wrote in August and another yesterday about weak reporting on a charity and failure to correct or even re-examine the original flawed reporting.

I told Elliott that her emails, commenting about media coverage of charities, would make a good guest post, so I use them here with her permission. You will understand the references to Pari Livermore and Spotlight on Heroes if you read the earlier posts first. But that context probably is not necessary for understanding Elliott’s points, presented here with minimal editing and some comments from me.

I think that your August 28 column on the “statute of limitations on correcting errors” was excellent in pointing out that if flawed stories, such as the 2007-08 puff pieces on Pari Livermore, continue to be live on the eternal internet, then corrections need to be attached to the original story whenever substantial errors are found.

However, I think that there is a bigger story that news media are missing here, because it is so hard for reporters and editors to break out of their formulaic and knee-jerk response when someone says, ‘Charity.’ Even in the 2015 reporting, the fact that Spotlight on Heroes was not a ‘real’ charity is included as a ‘whoops’ in the context of her giving to other charities. The attitude seems to be that if she’s giving some money to some real charities, then I guess she can’t be really bad. …

As I understand it, Livermore never accounted for thousands of dollars in donations by filing IRS Form 990s or by reporting Spotlight on Heroes income that went to The California Study. If The California Study is a charity, that organization would have needed to report donations. However you look at it, Livermore had a legal requirement to account for all of the donations she received and how they were used. But, no news organization seems to be using public records to track down where the money went or if thousands of dollars has simply disappeared with no accounting.

And, as I understand it, Spotlight on Heroes was suspended as a business entity by California in 2009 for failure to pay taxes. If that’s the case, from 2009 (when Livermore would certainly have been notified that she had overlooked the need to file a tax return) through 2015, when she asked Nancy Levine to send a donation to that organization to her home address, she was certainly breaking some state and/or federal laws with every donation she solicited. Again, no news organization seems to be picking up on this as a crucial element of the current story.

And, maybe I have my facts wrong. I haven’t followed these issues in depth, but am wondering why news organizations have not followed them either.

I’ve gotten interested in Nancy’s story and the response from various news organizations and scholars such as yourself because I’m writing a chapter right now on how legacy news organizations are responding to the digital era. (Wiley/Blackwell, Ethics for a Digital Era, with co-author Edward Spence.) The Levine-Livermore case seems a good way to start that chapter, mainly dealing with the issues you cover in your column.

Unfortunately, the problem of news media getting stuck in the ‘Charity=GOOD’ formula has gone on way longer than the information revolution. I’ve written about that over many years.

(more…)

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I am dismayed by the continuing refusal of respected media companies to re-examine and correct their reporting when confronted with documentation of their errors.

I blogged about this problem in August, calling attention to puff pieces in the New York Times, San Francisco Examiner, CBS, NBC and other media, depicting Pari Livermore as a matchmaker who paired widowed and divorced middle-aged people in return for donations to “charities.”

Nancy Levine

Nancy Levine

None of the media checked out Livermore’s charities thoroughly enough to learn that her favored charity, Spotlight on Heroes, wasn’t registered as a charity at all. The person who did the digging to learn that was Nancy Levine, a potential client. Levine reached out to me after being blown off by media organizations she approached, seeking a correction or update to their old puff pieces, which showed up in Internet searches, lending credibility to Livermore.

Before my August post, I emailed Livermore, inviting response, and I received no reply. I emailed again for this post and Livermore said she “did mess up the paperwork” for Spotlight on Heroes, sending something to the wrong address. She did not explain why the paperwork didn’t get straightened out and did not answer when I asked her repeatedly whether Spotlight was registered now as a charity. She claimed to have sent me an email (she didn’t say when), but a search of my inbox showed no messages from her. (She sent one Monday, listing work she says her matchmaking donations have supported.)

I can almost, sort of, kind of, nearly buy some media’s initial response to Levine. The stories were old and you could, in the quick read that many complaints receive from editors and news directors, conclude that the errors weren’t serious enough to demand a thorough review or a correction this long after the fact.

But I can’t get there. Levine is thorough and persistent (she would make a hell of an investigative reporter). She provided these news organizations (and me) with extensive documentation that Livermore’s charity, at the least, was not registered properly. If the lack of registration was an innocent mistake, the charitable donations that these puff pieces virtually encouraged were not tax-deductible, and that oversight certainly needed to be corrected. The story demands more investigation by any organization that published puff pieces. (more…)

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Don’t take my word that mass killers seek media attention through violence. Take the word of the mass killer who attacked this week in Roseburg, Ore.:

Seems the more people you kill, the more your’re in the limelight.

That’s what this week’s killer du jour wrote about the August killer du jour in Virginia, who sought the limelight by doing his killing on live television and boasting about it on social media.

I don’t think that media cause mass killings any more than guns cause mass killings or violent entertainment causes mass killings or mental illness causes mass killings. Our nation’s violence sprees have complex causes and require complex, multiple solutions that will involve legislation, regulation, voluntary action and effective enforcement.

I don’t blog about all of the segments of society that contribute to the causes and might contributed to solutions. But I do blog about journalism, and it’s undeniable that the limelight that journalism provides is an incentive that appeals to mass killers. (more…)

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