Posts Tagged ‘Des Moines Register’

Headline from a 2002 story for the Omaha World-Herald

Headline from a 2002 story for the Omaha World-Herald

I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be for survivors of sexual abuse by priests to watch “Spotlight.” It was plenty uncomfortable for me as a reporter who merely had the unpleasant job of interviewing survivors and telling their stories.

I saw “Spotlight” last weekend and comment on the movie in a separate post. My point here will be to share lessons I learned in my own experience covering sexual abuse by priests and other religious leaders both before and after the 2002 Boston Globe stories that inspired “Spotlight.”

I don’t mean by any of this to compare my work to the heroic work of the Globe’s Spotlight team. While I was writing about sexual abuse by an abusive priest, and an archdiocese moving a pedophile from church to church, more than three years before the Globe’s story, I didn’t nail the story of institutional cover-up that they did. Much of my later reporting was prompted by the national public response to the Globe’s reporting.

I hope that “Spotlight” doesn’t generate a similar outpouring of stories of abuse. I hope that they’ve all been told and that the Catholic church has rid itself of the sin and crime that it was hiding.

Lasting trauma inflicted by priestFirst an overview of my experience in covering religious sexual abuse: Starting in the 1990s, I investigated sexual abuse by at least nine Catholic priests that I can recall, plus at least one Protestant minister, a leader of a Christian cult and a group-home counselor at a Catholic youth services organization. In most cases, I interviewed multiple survivors of abuse by the powerful men I investigated. I’m sure I talked to at least 20 survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and the counselor, usually in person but a few times by phone. Other survivors that I learned about would not talk to me. I interviewed two accused molesters.

I almost certainly am forgetting other clergy that I investigated. The stories run together in my memory, and I don’t have time or interest to dig through my old stories to refresh and clarify some of the most disgusting memories of my career. Watching the movie and writing this blog post were disturbing enough.

I am not going to name priests, victims or specific organizations here. To do so would require research to update their status, and I don’t want to do that, both because of the time it would take and because all the stories are more than a decade old. I don’t want to track down and bother the courageous survivors who were my sources then. My interviews disturbed many of them at the time, and I have no interest in inflicting new pain by publishing their names again or updating their current situations.

This blog post is illustrated with headlines from the stories I wrote about these cases more than a decade ago. In a couple of instances, I have cut off the last word or two of a headline to leave out the priest’s name.

Here are my lessons about covering abuse by clergy and others with power over children and adolescents (shared in the hope this topic never again needs to be as big a story as it was back then):

Find other victims of the same predator

Priest Sexual abuse was reported years ago

A key to proving patterns of abuse is finding multiple victims of one abuser. A pedophile invariably has a pattern of abuse: techniques for “grooming” a potential victim before the abuse starts; introducing sex to the relationship by use of pornography or sex talk or nudity in a seemingly non-sexual way, such as showering on campouts or in locker rooms; similar ways of starting and accelerating the molestation; favorite sexual activities; silencing the victim with rewards, conspiratorial secrecy, shaming and/or intimidation. (more…)

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My Oculus Rift selfie

My Oculus Rift selfie

Virtual reality has long been one of those things on my someday list, a list that often gets more intention than attention. Unless I get a nudge. Like a request from the dean.

I sent Jerry Ceppos, dean of LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, an email earlier this month, asking him to pass on to the faculty my willingness to guest-teach some classes this month. I was excused from teaching a regular course this semester because of my ever-changing plans for finishing my lymphoma treatment. But I enjoyed guest-teaching for a couple of colleagues early in November and had a fairly open calendar for the rest of the month (because I thought I might be in the hospital), so I offered to guest for some other faculty colleagues.

I turned down a colleague who asked about a topic on which I lacked expertise. I figure you should teach what you know. But somehow when the dean asked if I could teach something on my someday list, I decided someday was today (yesterday, actually).

So I taught a class on ethical issues in virtual reality journalism Tuesday, even though I have consumed little VR and produced none. Generally I prefer to teach matters on which I have some expertise, but I also like to continue expanding my expertise, so I agreed to lead a discussion of virtual reality issues in Jerry’s ethics class. I had about two days to learn enough about VR to teach it in a class.

Let’s back up a little: I wasn’t starting at zero here. I’ve heard speculation about VR being the future of news or entertainment or business for a decade or two, always curious. 360-degree visual technology certainly transformed video games from the flat original Super Mario Brothers games I used to play with my sons (though the boys have grown up and moved away, so I don’t play today’s 360 games). Even if video games are more virtual than reality, the concept is the same: Presenting an experience that feels real. Or “virtually” real, whatever that means.

I remember my fascination a decade ago when a real estate agent sent a photographer to the home we were planning to sell, and the photographer set a camera on a tripod, pivoting to shoot 12 (as I recall) photographs of each room of our home. Computer software would stitch the photos together into a “virtual tour” that the agent would post in a digital listing, inviting people to get a 360-degree look at each of our main rooms. I don’t know how much the virtual tour contributed, but the home sold for a good price.

I have a less detailed memory of a reporting project in the 1990s, early in the days of digital photography. I was reporting on the impact of government regulation, mandates and spending in a town, and a photojournalist shot pictures of all the businesses around the town square. A designer used some new software to stitch the pictures together into what appeared to be a panoramic photo of the town square for an informational graphic, in which I reviewed the governmental role in each of the businesses (I just looked unsuccessfully for a clip to share here, but I think my memory is accurate).

More recently, I encouraged (with mixed success) colleagues to try Gigapan panoramic photography, such as a Shanghai skyline photo stitching together 12,000 different photographs or the panoramic photograph of President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Click on the photograph to zoom in and move your mouse to pan around and you can clearly see members of the Obama, Bush, Cheney, Clinton and Biden families there, as well as recognizable members of the Supreme Court and Senate.

Improving technology moved the 360-degree viewing experience into video: advances in production technology, including wearable GoPro video cameras; video production software that stitches together moving images; headsets for viewing VR.

In a visit to Syracuse University last year, I first put an Oculus Rift headset on, as Dan Pacheco showed me where he was experimenting with VR applications for journalism. With the headset on, it appeared I was at a flooding scene. As I looked to the left and right or spun all the way around, it felt as if I were right at the scene, with water and flood damage all around me. I felt kind of disoriented wearing the headset and feeling surrounded by the scene. Some people actually feel motion sickness using VR headsets.

That summer, Dan worked at Gannett headquarters in Washington, helping produce a VR project for the Des Moines Register called “Harvest of Change,” giving the wearer of a headset the experience of being on an Iowa farm. (Well, not the full experience: VR technology is effective at providing the sights and sounds of a scene, but I’ve been on some Iowa farms, and you need at least one other sense to get the full experience.)

“Harvest” was a star of last year’s Online News Association conference, but I didn’t actually put on the Oculus Rift and experience the farm. Every time I went by the booth where it was being presented, the crowd was big enough that I decided to come back later.

Two Manship colleagues, Lance Porter and Tad Odell have been learning about VR and we have two Oculus Rift headsets at the school. Lance and Tad guest-taught a class for my Interactive Storytelling Tools class last spring.

I’d noticed other VR developments, including another story featured at this year’s ONA conference and an StoryNext conference last month, neither of which I could attend. So it was like the dean was telling me it was finally time to really learn something about virtual reality.

Jerry was prompted by the New York Times’ release of its project “The Displaced,” and Public Editor Margaret Sullivan’s column about reader reaction to VR, including some ethical issues raised by journalists.

Jerry loaned me the Google Cardboard viewer he received as a Times subscriber. I thought it would make a nice prop, contrasting with the Oculus Rift (shown in the selfie at the top of this post). Margaret noted the paradox of the Times’ invitation to readers to experience cutting-edge digital technology by unfolding and assembling a cardboard device:

The box itself (when assembled, it looked like a Fresh Direct container for three jumbo eggs) struck me as an almost instant anachronism: ready for its place on a historical timeline of the digital age’s evolution. This is what happened in 2015.

But the cardboard goggles generated some enthusiasm:

The structure of my class presentation was pretty easy to plan: I’d start with some discussion of the history and technology of VR, and its potential application in various communication fields represented in the class. Then we’d discuss some ethical issues.

I didn’t have time to produce a VR project, but I wasn’t asked to teach how to use VR, but to discuss ethics. While I already knew of some ethical issues, I knew it was a fairly simple reporting effort to increase my understanding of VR enough to lead the ethics discussion.

Margaret and Jerry (obviously trying to learn VR himself) provided some links that helped in my crash course:

A report from StoryNext, The State of Virtual Reality in Journalism, was perhaps most helpful, both filling in the recent development of VR as well as laying out some good ethical issues to discuss with the class. This is too new a field for me to present do’s and don’ts, but it’s unfolding quickly enough to raise some issues for the students to consider as they consume and potentially produce VR.

And I continued learning about VR after the class, as students told me of VR being used in athletic recruiting and in therapy for soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress.

Here are the slides I used for the class:

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Contact information on a news site is certainly a matter of customer service. I’d argue that it’s also an essential form of community engagement. But what about journalism ethics? Is easy access to journalists a matter of ethics? I think so.

Whatever factors you think should motivate contact information, I hope you’ll agree with me that many news sites make it difficult to contact them. And nearly all should do a better job.

Before I make some recommendations and examine some news sites and report on how easy it is to find out how to contact someone in the newsroom, I’ll make the case that accessibility is a matter of ethics:

Correcting errors is one of the basics of journalism ethics, mentioned in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist and Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics. We’ll correct more errors if we learn about more of our errors. And if we’re easy to reach, we’re going to be more likely to learn about our errors.

The New York Times study of the Jayson Blair case revealed that people who read his fabricated stories didn’t bother to contact the Times because they didn’t think anyone at the Times would care. As much as I believe in corrections and accuracy, I don’t bother to request corrections about every error published about news I’m involved in (and my most recent request was ignored anyway). I think news organizations need to invite access and requests for corrections, or they won’t become aware of many of their mistakes.

I think if you tried to reach many news organizations through their websites today, you might come to the same conclusion: that no one there cares. Readers and viewers shouldn’t have to work to call our errors to our attention. (more…)

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A Des Moines Register front page from 35 years ago. But we stopped the presses before any papers made it out of the building.

A Des Moines Register front page from 35 years ago. But we stopped the presses before any papers made it out of the building.

When I blog about historic front pages, I normally tell about papers that actually made it to homes and/or vending machines. This one didn’t make it out of the Des Moines Register’s building (except for the copies spirited out by a few editors for keepsakes).

Usually when editors stop the presses to update a story or dump a bad one, the papers that have already been printed go out to the early routes because the mistake is found too late. But all the papers were still in the building 35 years ago when we learned that a deal for a Republican presidential ticket of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford had fallen through.

The Reagan-Ford discussions had been the buzz all day. Ford, who was more popular after his presidency than during it, would add some heft to the ticket of a former actor at the top of the ticket who was genial and popular, but perceived as a lightweight.

As the presses started rumbling late the night of July 16, our front page proclaimed the ticket as likely. Appearing under the triple byline of three of the best journalists I ever worked with, Jim Risser, George Anthan and Jim Flansburg, was this lead:

Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan, in a stunning political move, reportedly persuaded former President Gerald Ford Wednesday night to be his running mate, after promising that Ford would not be a mere figurehead.

As I recall, Dave Westphal, who was editing the story, insisted on hedging with “reportedly.” Our three reporters, and everyone else covering the Republican convention, thought the Reagan-Ford ticket was a done deal.

A commentary by our editor, Jim Gannon, noted how the remarkable deal came together, first raised in a live TV interview of Ford by Walter Cronkite.

Eventually, Reagan decided he would be sharing too much power with his former rival.

With the newsroom floor vibrating from the fast-moving press below, Risser called with news that the deal had fallen through. News Editor Jimmy Larson called the pressroom to stop the presses. But before they could throw away all the outdated papers, I grabbed the one pictured above.

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NYT marriage front page

A photo that appeared in only one edition of the Des Moines Register in 2000.

A photo that appeared in only one edition of the Des Moines Register in 2000.

Fifteen years ago, a story I wrote about gays in the ministry was illustrated by a photograph of a former Lutheran pastor kissing his male partner.

It was the second installment of a three-part, page-one series, “Testing Faith,” so lots of editors read the stories and looked over the photos before publication. But when the first edition of the Monday paper rolled off the press Sunday night, an editor I won’t name here had a fit. We had a photo of two men kissing in the newspaper!

That apparently would be too much for Iowans to handle, in the view of this editor, and other editors had to tear up the front page, move a nice photograph from the front-page display (an excellent portrait of the former pastor) inside, place a standalone wire photo on the front page and kill the photo of men kissing, which had anchored the jump page. The before and after pages are below: (more…)

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This week I saw a post from a Digital First Media newsroom in my Facebook news feed, and was surprised to see it there. I “liked” dozens of DFM newsrooms during my time there, but don’t particularly care to follow their news that much now.

So I decided to unlike the page. And, while I was at it, I went into the list of pages I liked and decided to unlike a bunch more — at least two dozen, maybe three (it was probably an oversight that I didn’t like all 75 DFM dailies and some weeklies). And most of them, I had no idea I was even following because, well, they never showed up in my news feed. In fact, I’m not sure how that one showed up the other day because I hadn’t seen it in ages. I only recognized two or three of the ones I dropped as occasionally showing up in my feed.*

That illustrates a problem for news brands. I know every one of those newsrooms I unfollowed has staff members faithfully posting all of their stories, or several stories they think have the most appeal, to their Facebook pages daily. And most of their “fans” never see most of their posts.

The most recent estimate I’ve seen of the percentage of fans seeing a typical post was 16 percent, and that was in 2012, and the figure has certainly dropped as Facebook has made several algorithm tweaks, all designed to make it harder for non-paying brands to get their posts seen.

Maybe the number is something like 10 percent these days, but it will frequently be many of the same people, and probably 70 to 80 percent of your fans almost never see a post. They’re surprised when you show up in their news feed, as I was when my former colleagues’ post showed up this week.

But Facebook traffic is growing in importance for news sites. Parse.ly reported last August that Facebook drives 70 million page views a month to news publishers, second only to Google and more than twice as much as Twitter.

In addition, Parse.ly reported this month that stories with a higher Facebook referral rate have a longer shelf life, attracting traffic over more days than stories that don’t get strong engagement. Higher Twitter referral rates also help shelf life, but not as long as on Facebook.

So Facebook is an important source of news-site traffic, but engagement on Facebook is more complicated than simply posting links there (since most people don’t see them). (more…)

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Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen has a thoughtful take on “Good Old Fashioned Shoe Leather Reporting,” the “single source of virtue” in American journalism.

It feels like hyperbole when Jay writes about shoe-leather: “There can never be enough of it. Only good derives from it. Anything that eclipses it is bad. Anything that eludes it is suspect. Anything that permits more of it is holy.” But Jay documented the veneration of shoe-leather reporting with quotes from Tom Friedman and others. And I have to agree, too many in media have exaggerated or forgotten the role shoe leather used to play and should play in journalism.

I wore out many pairs of shoes in my reporting days, 10 years for the Omaha World-Herald, more than two years for the Des Moines Register, several months for the Kansas City Star and a few years (scattered around and during my college education) for the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel. And I’ve peppered in a little reporting here are there since then, including on this blog and others.

I spent at least as much time as an editor, and told many a reporter (long before the Internet was available) to get his or her ass out of the newsroom and go to the scene of the news we were covering or go knock on a door and ask someone the question we needed answered.

Nearly all the best stories of my career came in whole or part because I was out of the office, interviewing people face-to-face, digging through courthouse records, seeing disaster damage myself, showing empathy in a way that persuaded people to trust me with their intimate stories, seeing important details in the setting where the story took place.

I believe in the importance of shoe leather.

But I also know that shoe leather is just one of many paths to a good story. Smart, hard-working reporters also use: (more…)

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