Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

If you were a journalist and you stayed up to the end of the Oscars ceremony, you had to feel uplifted by the Best-Picture Oscar for “Spotlight.” After seeing the film in November, I wrote two posts on the movie about the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting on sexual abuse by priests. Those links are at the end of this post, but first a few fresh thoughts on the “Spotlight” win:

    • As I noted on Twitter after the win, many East Coast newspapers (and probably even some in Central Time) have deadlines too early to get the newspaper movie’s win into their morning editions today. (The Advocate, our local paper here, did get the Best-Picture results in a story on Page 5A and a page-one reefer.) I sure hope the Globe was able to hold its print edition long enough to trumpet the news to its print readers.advocate spotlight
    • While the much-deserved praise for the Globe’s journalism is welcome balm to a weary profession and industry, equally big news for the Globe the past few months has been its difficulty delivering the print edition to subscribers. Cost-cutting at many newspaper companies has prompted outsourcing of functions such as delivery and customer service. And often that goes badly. The Globe’s delivery issues have drawn the most attention, but I know dozens of newspapers that have dealt with similar problems, alienating loyal print readers while still struggling to make money with weak digital products.
    • However much disruption the media business endures, we need to maintain our commitment to investigative journalism. Like the Globe, news organizations need to tell untold stories and hold the powerful accountable.
    • Sunday night was a great night of recognition for sexual abuse survivors, who usually struggle privately and silently. Joe Biden’s introduction and Lady Gaga’s stirring rendition of “Til It Happens to You” were probably the highlight of the show, even though the song didn’t win an Oscar.

Here are my two posts from last year after I watched “Spotlight”:

‘Spotlight’: a generation-later echo of ‘All the President’s Men’

Responding to ‘Spotlight’: Advice for investigating sexual abuse by clergy

Read Full Post »

This is an updated version of a handout for a reporting workshop I used to present more than a decade ago. I have updated it for my Advanced News Gathering class this semester at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication. Many of the tips here came from my World-Herald colleagues, Paul Goodsell, Joe Kolman, Nichole Aksamit and Cindy Gonzalez, with whom I collaborated on the original workshop. Other colleagues, perhaps most notably former Digital First Media colleagues Tom Meagher and MaryJo Webster (who will address my class remotely Thursday), taught me things I used in updating that old handout to use now.

No competent reporter would consider doing the job without knowing how to interview or take notes or to dig for records. In 21st-Century journalism, using data is not a specialized skill. It’s an essential skill.

Even if you haven’t mastered high-level analysis and visualization skills (just as some reporters are better than others at interviewing or working sources), every reporter needs to use data at least at a basic level to find answers and tell stories. Whatever your level of ability, you should seek to learn more about the data sources on your beat and how to access and use them.

Ask for electronic records. When an agency you cover releases a report or some annual statistics, ask for the report in a digital format. We can incur significant expenses when we ask public agencies to sort data for us (though often much less than they might tell you initially). But every report already exists in an electronic file that should be easy and cheap to obtain. Whether you use the data immediately or not, you should have it on hand electronically.

Pursue the data. Ask for data as aggressively as you insist on access to any other public record. You must not be intimidated when it comes to asking for electronic information. When someone cites facts in an interview, you already are used to asking, “How do you know that?” and asking for copies of any reports the source is citing. Ask for an electronic copy as well. Often the source would rather e-mail you the report rather than find an envelope anyway. Don’t ask just for the report itself, but for the raw data on which it was based.

Consider different uses. As you learn about data sources, consider what stories you might pursue based primarily on this data. Consider how you might use this data for information to support other stories you might do. Consider how you might use the data routinely. Consider how the data might be useful to colleagues on other beats.

Use the Internet. Visit the Web sites of public agencies and private organizations on your beat and learn what data sources are available readily online. Learn what reports and statistics are posted online. Learn whether the agencies post searchable databases online or pdf files that are more cumbersome to use online. (Various tools can help you extract data from pdfs, and a pdf can also identify electronic records you could obtain to sort and search yourself). Browse the databases to learn what information they offer and consider how that information might be useful in stories.

Get budgets. Obtain the budgets and spending records of public agencies in electronic form so you can use a spreadsheet to look for trends, changes, irregularities.

Get directories. Learn what sort of basic information the agencies on your beat might have in electronic form: personnel rosters, payroll records, government board rosters.

Get an updated version of the payroll records periodically — say quarterly — and you’ll have a good way of tracking government raises. It’s searchable and, thus, a nice way to double-check a name spelling and job title and salary, a good way to know who’s been with the city the longest and who’s a newbie, an easy way to access a list of the city’s highest and lowest-paid employees. It’s particularly useful when a public employee makes other news — gets arrested or fired or wins an award — or when you are just searching for an employee who might have been around during a particular time period or has experience in a given area.

Listen for data behind statistics. When sources tell you they are tracking or studying something — a certain kind of complaint, the condition of city roads, housing code violations, etc. — chances are they are working from a database or a spreadsheet. Ask “How do you know that noise complaints have risen or that 65 percent of the streets are in good condition?” and then ask to see their work, which may prompt other stories. In most jurisdictions, the data should be public record, and you should ask for it.

Interview the data. Think of data as another source that you interview. Do you want to know how many single mothers of a particular race or age group live in a particular community? You could probably call a number of people and get some vague answers and some anecdotal sense of whether the number is growing or declining, but why not ask the Census Bureau? Think of questions you could ask the data on your beat: What bar has the most liquor-law violations? What school has the best (or worst) test scores? What intersection has the most accidents?

Study the data first. Reporters are at a great advantage when they go into an interview knowing at least something, and sometimes a lot, about the information the source deals with. If you can find some data online or in a database you already have acquired, check that before you interview a source. It helps you ask better questions and helps you catch the source in mistakes or lies.

Organize with spreadsheets. A spreadsheet helps you understand information. You spot relationships, trends, reversals, gaps. You can use a spreadsheet for something as simple as a source list or chronology, or to analyze thousands of pieces of data.

Enter data yourself. Sure, it’s nice to get data e-mailed to you, but don’t forget that you can enter data yourself. Often an afternoon at a courthouse or government office searching through paper records yields a notebook full of information you can analyze and understand better if you take a few hours to enter it in a spreadsheet.

Use Census data. Census data are not just the basis for Census stories, but provide helpful information about families, housing, economics and communities for a wide range of stories. The Quick Facts section of the site provides data about any state, city, parish, county, town or zip code in the country. For instance, you can quickly learn demographic, business, housing, income (and much more) for the city of Baton Rouge.

Census download shot

A download button at the top right of Census search results lets you download the data in various forms for analysis or display.

BLSSeek federal data. If any federal agency has jurisdiction on your beat, it probably has some data available. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a “data tools” tab that opens a number of opportunities for information on employment, productivity and other economic topics. The Bureau of Justice Statistics offers similar data sets on crime, courts and prisons. Data.gov gives a guide to federal data on a wide range of topics.Datagov

Seek state and local data. Access to data and quality of data that you can access online or through public records requests varies by state and local jurisdiction, as laws and compliance with laws varies. Sometimes you have to search for data by agency. Other times a government jurisdiction, such as the City of Baton Rouge, will provide a portal to data from all agencies. Sometimes media organizations and public interest groups have already acquired data sets and made them easily accessible online. Louisiana Sunshine, a project of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, makes many state data sets easy to access.  

Think critically about data. Former World-Herald reporter Joe Kolman had this quote from Dick O’Reilly of the LA Times taped to his desk: “The most important lessons in CAR are not which keys to push on the keyboard, but how to think critically about data. People who learn to think that way will learn which keys to push because doing so becomes fundamental to their quests. People who only learn what keys to push really haven’t learned anything.”

Other resources

National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting (lots of databases and how-to instructions for members of Investigative Reporters and Editors).

 

 

Read Full Post »

This is an updated version of a handout for a reporting workshop I used to present more than a decade ago. I have updated it for my Advanced News Gathering class this semester at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication.

Finding sources


Find new “suspects.” Seek out sources beyond the “usual suspects” on your beat. If you always find yourself talking to white men, find some women and minorities who might bring a different perspective to your stories and steer you toward different ideas. If you find yourself always talking to the professionals and bosses, spend some time talking to the folks in the trenches. If you spend most of your time talking to liberals, seek out some conservatives. If you spend most of your time talking to people your age, seek out some younger or older sources. These people with different perspectives will point you to different stories. Look around the agency you cover for the people or offices that attract the least attention. Spend some time there to see if you’ll hear some different tips. Ask yourself each week whether you made meaningful contact with a new source. If you didn’t, could you have?

Talk to consumers. If you are assigned to a government or commercial entity, make sure that your circle of sources is wider than the officials of that organization. Talk to citizens who deal with that agency or business and use its services or products. If some of these consumers or citizens are organized, you should deal regularly with leaders of those organizations. You also may need to deal with some self-appointed crusaders and gadflies. Make a point of dealing with some average, unaffiliated consumers.

Identify “gatekeepers.” Develop rapport with assistants and other “gatekeepers” who control access to important sources. These people can be important sources themselves. At the least, good relations with them are essential at times to contacting the sources.

Go prospecting. Take time to go “prospecting” for sources and stories. Take a trip or set up an interview with no particular story in mind. Visit a source you haven’t seen for a while or a community or agency you haven’t covered for a while. Go just to familiarize yourself, to take someone to lunch or chat in the office or home a while. Maybe you’ll come back with a terrific story you never would have known enough to pursue. Maybe you’ll come back without a particular story, but with some tips to pursue. Maybe you’ll just come back with a valuable source to contact in future stories. At the least, you’ll gain a greater understanding of your community and your beat. Prospecting almost always yields stories and is always time well spent. You just can’t tell the editor or news director in advance what it’s going to produce.

Learn where records are. Familiarize yourself with the paper and electronic record-keeping practices of the offices you cover. Learn which records are clearly public, which are legally confidential and which might present access disagreements. Learn which records and databases you can access online without asking for them. For records kept by someone at the agency, ask to see them frequently, whether you are using them or not. This lets sources know of your interests. Seeking records in routine stories establishes precedents when you are seeking similar records in sensitive stories. Ask for records in electronic format whenever possible. Learn who has access to the confidential records (not just in the office, but clients or members of the public who might have them).

Find experts. Learn what academic institutions, think tanks or non-profit groups might study or monitor activities in your beat. Develop them as sources, so they will notify you of reports or rumors and they will know who you are when you call for their analysis of issues and events. Learn what attachments, if any, your experts have. Biases don’t render an expert’s research useless, but you must know them and note them.

Develop national sources. Contact national associations, academic experts and government agencies to develop sources with expertise in the subject you cover. They may provide valuable perspective for a local story. Or they may know something happening locally. They may alert you to a national trend. You can search for experts by topic at Profnet and Help a Reporter Out.

Relations with sources

Be available. Let people on your beat know you’re interested in hearing tips, suggestions, complaints, whatever. Make sure they have your cellphone number and e-mail. Make rounds frequently in person and by telephone.

Be honest. Never mislead a source. Be honest about the direction a story is taking. If it’s going to be a “negative” story, don’t bill it as something else. If you’re not going to write a story about a tip, don’t indicate that you will. This doesn’t mean you have to offend or worry sources needlessly. If a source is worried about a negative story, assure him you intend to make the story fair and accurate and that you want to hear his side.

Be annoyingly insistent on accuracy. If someone gives you figures off the top of her head, ask where she got those figures, then check the original source. Call back sources to confirm spellings, figures, chronologies, etc. Ask for reports, documents, business cards, personnel directories, calendars, databases and spreadsheets that can confirm spellings, numbers and other facts. This not only ensures the accuracy of your stories, it wins respect with sources (and good will that you’ll need if an error does slip through). It puts sources on notice that they can’t slip bogus figures past you. And the materials you gather for one story often will be helpful in other stories.

Become an expert. The more you learn about the complicated issues, technology and economics of your beat, the more your sources will respect you, the harder it will be for them to BS you, and the easier it will be for you to spot good stories. Read books, articles, reports. Research online. Ask lots of questions.

Admit you’re not an expert. If you don’t know or understand something, ask. Sources will respect your honesty, and you will learn. Also, if you fake understanding, they will catch on quickly and you will lose credibility. Repeat your understanding back to the source for confirmation.

Show interest. Sources may want to bend your ear about a matter other than what you want to talk about. Listen. You may get a good news tip. Even if the source thinks it’s a story and you don’t, show interest. However boring or annoying a source may be, however uninteresting you find this alleged tip, you don’t know when a little bit of knowledge might be helpful. Even if the information is completely useless, the source will appreciate your interest and may someday tell you something that is important or interesting.

Tell sources of your interests. Tell good sources about stories you’re working on, even the ones that may not involve them directly. You may know that a source isn’t directly involved with an issue, but if you tell him about the stories you’re working on, he may steer you toward other sources who might be helpful, or he may tell you something helpful that he’s heard around the office.

Regard your sources as characters. You’re not going to profile everyone on your beat. But you might profile anyone on your beat someday. So regard them all as characters you must develop fully. Learn about their families, hobbies, backgrounds, favorite sports teams, watering holes. Note their mannerisms. Follow them on social media if they use it (and if they don’t, ask why). Even if you never write that profile, learning these things will bring some tips your way, as the character will tell you about something she heard from her husband or an interesting thing happening in a social group to which she belongs.

Establish a connection. Don’t be afraid to show your human side. If you have children the same age as the source, commiserate about car seats or car pools or car insurance, whatever stage the children are. If he hates your favorite sports team, engage in some good-natured trash talk. If she has an illness in the family, show genuine compassion. Don’t fake a connection or stretch for one, but be alert for genuine ways to make a connection. If you have little in common with the person, connect by showing genuine interest in the character beyond the narrow focus of today’s story.

Share control. Even if a source spends a lot of time with reporters, he probably doesn’t feel completely comfortable facing you and your notebook. Occasionally in an interview, give him some control. Sure, you’re asking the questions, but answer his questions if he asks any. Listen politely as he wanders off the subject occasionally. The source will feel more comfortable answering your questions if the relationship doesn’t feel one-sided.

Take control. Ask your questions directly. If the source ducks a question, ask again. Whatever niceties you engage in to establish rapport, the source should understand that your interest in the relationship is receiving information and understanding.

Track your sources. Use a spreadsheet or program such as Google Contacts or Outlook to keep track of information about your sources. Get their office phone, direct office phone, cellphone, home phone, vacation home phone. Get their e-mail addresses. Record names of secretaries, spouses, children, hometowns, former jobs, alma maters, anything you learn that might later be handy to know.

Ask for documentation. Always ask for documentation of what your sources tell you. You don’t have to do this in a challenging way (unless you’re challenging). Present it as part of your quest for accuracy. Or if the source was uneasy about discussing something for the record, say you can attribute something to a document rather than to him. Documents provide verification. They may provide details that your source can’t recall or did not know. They may lead you to other sources. In addition, they provide precedent. If a source gives you a document when it’s in her interest, it may be difficult for her to claim later that the same sort of document is not a public record.

Know public-records laws. Sources won’t always give you what you want willingly. You should know what records are public and know both the Federal Freedom of Information Act as well as state public-records laws. But use FOIA requests as a last resort. Ask sources to give you records that should be public (or some that shouldn’t). Sometimes a direct request gets you information quickly that can take months if you file an FOIA request. You might be asked to file a request for their records, but get the records quickly in a matter of minutes, hours or days, depending on your request. Always ask informally first, especially if you have good relations with the source. Formal public-records demands are an important reporting tool, but they can be slow.

Addressing and avoiding trouble

Stay on the record. As much as possible, keep your interactions on the record, especially when you’re talking about information your sources know first-hand. Your sources should always understand that this is a business relationship and your business is gathering and reporting information. When you have to go off the record, make sure it is for a good reason. For instance, if a source is telling you something he doesn’t know first-hand, you wouldn’t quote him about that anyway, but the tip may lead you to first-hand sources. If you go off the record, make sure both of you understand the terms: Is the information for publication but not for attribution? If so, try to get agreement on a description of the source that’s as precise as possible. Is the discussion not for publication (if so, make sure the source knows you will try to publish it using other sources)? Before you go off the record in any fashion, tell the source you might try to get her on the record later if she says anything you want to use. And if she does, go back later with just the information or quotes you want to use, and try to get her on the record. I discussed confidential sources more extensively in a 2013 post, and will focus on the topic in a separate class.

Face the music. When you write a story that might make someone angry, show up at her office after the story runs, or call, either to ask directly about the story, to follow up or on some other pretense. Give the person a chance to sound off. If you made mistakes, admit them. If you didn’t, hold your ground but listen respectfully. Many sources (politicians, lawyers, coaches, athletes) are used to respectful adversary relationships and they will respect you and keep working well with you if you show the respect and courage to face the music when you’ve nailed them. This also is a good time for getting news tips. If someone is upset about a negative story, ask about more positive news happening in his territory. If he says the situation in his office isn’t nearly as bad as in another office, ask for details about the other office.

Admit your mistakes. If you make an error (or if your organization makes an error on your turf), admit the mistake, correct it and apologize personally to those affected. People understand that mistakes happen and they respect people who take responsibility. If you weren’t mistaken or if it’s not clear whether you’re mistaken (such as a disagreement over emphasis, rather than a factual error), listen sincerely to the complaint. Even if you disagree, give the source her say and discuss why you told the story the way you did. Consider whether a follow-up story is warranted. If not, suggest a letter to the editor, a comment on the online story or a response in social media. Brief your editor or news director on the disagreement and how you handled it. If the source complains to the editor, you’ll be glad it wasn’t a surprise.

Beware of getting too close. If your relationship with a source moves beyond friendly to friendship, you may need to adjust the relationship. You might need to ask some tough questions that remind him of the nature of your job. You can’t and shouldn’t withdraw from community life. But if you encounter sources at church and in children’s sports and the like, you may need to establish some boundaries. If you’re unsure whether a relationship is getting too cozy, discuss it with an editor. Maybe you should discuss it with the source. The source might feel a little uncomfortable, too, and might appreciate hearing that you can cheer together at your kids’ basketball game Tuesday and still argue Wednesday over news coverage or access to records.

Social media relationships. You should seek appropriate social-media relationships with sources. Follow them on Twitter if they use either personal or agency accounts professionally. Facebook is a little trickier because of language such as “like” and “friend.” If you use your personal Facebook account professionally and your source does, too, it should not be a problem to be “friends,” especially if you are friends with people on different sides of an issue, or different political parties or sports teams. If they have a Facebook page that you have to “like,” you can do that and note in an update on your page that you have done so not because of any particular fondness, but for the professional interest of following news from the page. Of course, if a person’s individual page is public, or usually public, you can just check in occasionally, as you can do with a page if you’d prefer not to “like” it (Facebook will tell some of your friends that you “like” the page, and you might prefer not to do that). It’s always a good idea to discuss your social media relationships with sources with an editor or news director, so you are on the same page.

Read Full Post »

One of the best things about being a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald was that we were always on deadline.

Even before digital publishing gave constant deadlines to all journalists, the World-Herald had a never-ending succession of deadlines for our evening edition and four morning editions. Whenever news broke, we were always scrambling to get our best story into the next edition.

When I posted some lessons last year from my decade at the World-Herald, I double-checked to see if it still was publishing the evening edition, because that seemed kind of unlikely. It was, but Publisher Terry Kroeger announced Monday that the evening edition would end March 7.

I can’t let the announcement pass without some fond memories of the “all-day” World-Herald, other afternoon newspapers in my past and the place of afternoon newspapers in the past and future of the newspaper business.

The all-day World-Herald

I joined the World-Herald in 1993, a little leery of the fact that it still had an evening edition. The deaths of afternoon newspapers in Des Moines in 1982 and Kansas City in 1990 had caused considerable disruption in my journalism career. And in 1992, I had overseen the newsroom aspects of a switch from afternoon to morning publication as editor of the Minot Daily News. While the World-Herald didn’t maintain separate news staffs (as Des Moines and Kansas City had done), it did have two shifts of editors and two production and circulation shifts. This seemed to me another disruption waiting to happen. (more…)

Read Full Post »

I have never shared the view that a newspaper’s front page needed to be a sacrosanct opinion-free zone.

The New York Times published a front-page editorial about gun violence today, and I blogged separately about that.

As I wrote that post, my mind quickly turned to the Des Moines Register’s wonderful run of cartoonists who produced editorial cartoons running regularly for Page One. This started out as a section of that post, but I quickly decided it was worth a separate post.

I worked a decade (in two hitches, 1977-85 and 1998-2000) for the Register. During both stretches, and for decades before I showed up and eight years I left, the Register published page-one editorial cartoons by three of the greatest artists in journalism history: Pulitzer Prize-winners Ding Darling and Frank Miller, as well as Brian Duffy (who should have a couple of Pulitzers).

I’d like to see a newspaper today revive the front-page editorial cartoon (with digital animated and/or interactive versions). Innovation doesn’t have to be a tug-of-war between invention and tradition. It can mean updating and adapting the best parts of your heritage. Editorial cartoons, particularly at the Register, are a piece of newspaper heritage worth updating and adapting.

Brief reflections on each of the great Register cartoonists:

Brian Duffy

Duffy is a model for innovation and perseverance as a cartoonist.

I was disgusted in 2008 when the Register cut Duffy’s job after 25 years, losing an important voice and a valuable distinction for one of my favorite papers. I was editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and Duffy produced some cartoons for us, one of his first steps in establishing what is now a statewide network of media customers. We explored the possibility of a deeper arrangement with the Gazette, but I left in 2010 without being able to work that out.

He also draws national cartoons for King Features, local cartoons for the weekly Cityview newspaper and draws live cartoons on a Thursday morning television spot on KCW123 Great Day. An avid cyclist, he draws monthly cartoons for Momentum Magazine. Duffy published another book of his cartoons this year.

I asked Duffy this morning for an update and some cartoons to use. The cartoons he sent, from 1994 and 1999, illustrate how persistent the gun violence issue in our nation is and how long Congress has been under control of the National Rifle Association:

Duffy Golden Idol

TARGET PRACTICE

Duffy has been lampooning the Iowa Caucuses since 1984:

duffy_trump

Like Miller and Darling before him, Duffy frequently addresses issues in Iowa agriculture.

Iowa tourism brochure

As you’ll see shortly, Miller was the master of the obituary cartoon, a form in which Duffy also excels:

Duffy Schulz

Frank Miller

One of the regrets of my career is that I was too shy as a young journalist at the Register to ask Miller, a fellow Yankee fan, for the original of a cartoon he drew (alas, for the sports section, not the front page) to accompany a sports commentary that I wrote.

One of the most-heartbreaking stories of my early career was editing Miller’s obituary, masterfully written by Ken Fuson.

Miller won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for a cartoon on nuclear war:

Frank Miller 1963

No one was better at the obituary cartoon:

John Lennon

I wasn’t able to quickly find another of Miller’s obituary cartoons in the excellent Iowa Digital Library collection of his work, but will add one if I find another.

In an earlier post, I used these Miller cartoons about Richard Nixon:

Frank Miller cartoons

I liked Miller’s tribute to the Des Moines Tribune, which died in 1982, a year before Miller did:

Occasionally a huge breaking story would chase an editorial cartoon off the front page, but the Page One cartoon was such a Register institution that Miller held his place on the cover on a day with two historic stories:
Des Moines Register front page, Jan. 21, 1981

Ding Darling

Darling was before my time, but launched the tradition of cartooning excellence on the Register’s front page, winning Pulitzers in 1924 and 1943.

This cartoon won Darling the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.

This cartoon won Darling the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.

This cartoon, with the caption, "What a Place For a Waste Paper Salvage Campaign," won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.

This cartoon, with the caption, “What a Place For a Waste Paper Salvage Campaign,” won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.

In addition to his cartoons, Darling is perhaps best known as a champion of conservation. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge at Sanibel Island, Fla., is named for the activist cartoonist who led efforts to protect the area from development.

Darling conservation

Which editorial cartoonists are updating?

If you know someone who’s using editorial cartoons on Page One or updating cartoons successfully for the digital age, please share images or links. Editorial cartoons are a rich part of journalism tradition. I hope they are an important part of our future, too.

Read Full Post »

As LSU’s Director of Student Media, I occasionally fire off messages to student editors and station managers with suggestions that I usually expect them to ignore. They are independent and they are rightly in charge of their newsrooms, and I didn’t follow a lot of faculty advice when I was their age either.

I sent this message to the editorial board of our newspaper, the Daily Reveille, on Oct. 1:

Message to students

I just checked. I didn’t carbon anyone from the New York Times on the message. But the Times ran a front-page editorial this morning, calling for an end to “the Gun Epidemic in America.”

My students sort of followed my advice (or moved that direction on their own), running some opinions on the front page but more frequently than I suggested. That’s OK, too: The Reveille’s front page and editorials should reflect their judgment, not mine. I’m proud of their work, which has included excellent opinion pieces by columnists and the editorial board on page-one this semester, about such topics as mental health and racial discrimination at bars near campus.

As Kristen Hare’s Poynter piece that I shared with the student editors indicated, newspapers are increasingly responding to important issues by stating opinions on newsprint once reserved for “straight news”: the front page. The New York Times is following this trend, not leading it (nor am I, obviously). Hare’s piece was prompted by this Chicago Sun-Times cover: (more…)

Read Full Post »

Spotlight” may become this generation’s “All the President’s Men,” a riveting movie based on real-life journalism that uncovered abuse of power.

The similarities, both in the journalistic stories and in the movies, are plentiful and probably not coincidental. The Washington Post’s investigation of the Watergate break-in and its cover-up has inspired investigative reporting ever since. The Globe editors and reporters who investigated the Catholic sexual abuse scandal walked in the footsteps of Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee and other Washington Post journalists of the Watergate era.

Parallels between the journalism stories and the movies abound (and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few):

  • Both films depicted interviews with people scared to talk about what they knew.
  • Both movies depicted successful working of powerful sources with inside information.
  • Both depicted the value of teamwork, including conflict and different personalities, in successful reporting, both at the reporter and editor levels.
  • Court records provided key information in both stories.
  • Each film includes a riveting scene of a fearful reporter running in the dark.
  • The two movies used similar cinematic techniques and scenes to depict the tedious use of directories and old newspaper stories to track down important details and make connections.
  • Both films effectively portrayed the difficulty of persuading reluctant sources to talk and the painstaking task of tracking down sources and getting turned down by those who won’t talk.
  • The movies both deal with the complicated personal connections that play into journalism, however much we strive for objectivity.
  • Both stories included a Ben Bradlee as a key character: Senior as the executive editor of the Washington Post, portrayed by Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning performance and Junior as deputy managing editor of the Globe, portrayed by John Slattery.
  • Both movies accurately portrayed the rumpled look of many journalists, the newsroom banter, the look of newsrooms of their times. (As much as we hate clichés in copy, we become easy clichés on the wide screen.)
  • Both films accurately portrayed the tension between editors and reporters, each pushing from different perspectives to perfect the story.

The most important parallel between “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight” is that each portrays one of its generation’s best journalism investigations, each shining a light on shameful cover-ups of criminal activity, each succeeding in bringing down powerful figures.

Companion post: In a separate post, I share advice from my own experience covering sexual abuse by priests.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 16,020 other followers