Posts Tagged ‘Omaha World-Herald’

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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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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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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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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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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Steve Buttry interviewing Mikhail Gorbachev

An interview with Mikhail Gorbachev was one of many memorable stories for the Omaha World-Herald. Photo by Kent Sievers.

I left the Omaha World-Herald for the second time 10 years ago. After sharing some lessons earlier this year from my much shorter time at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, I started reflecting on my time at the World-Herald and what I learned there.

I spent longer at the World-Herald than anywhere else in my career, 10 years, four months in two hitches of roughly five years each, 1993 to 1998, and 2000 to 2005. I was a reporter the whole time, though I was also a writing coach the second time around.

Here are some lessons I learned in my two tenures in Omaha (or lessons I had already learned that were underscored or relearned):

Get back to work

This was my World-Herald file staffer mug. I  think Jim Burnett shot it. I was much younger then.

This was my World-Herald file staffer mug. I think Jim Burnett shot it. I was much younger then.

As I’ve noted before, I was fired as editor of the Minot Daily News in 1992. In terms of getting my career back on track, it didn’t matter a lot whether I was fired because I screwed up (I didn’t) or fired because the company was cutting costs to prepare for a sale (it was). I was without a job and without a paycheck and the newspaper job market was tight (newspapers were in much better shape than today, but closings of afternoon newspapers had resulted in lost jobs and it felt like a bleak time). Even though I was willing to take a step back to resume working, many employers were reluctant to hire me for a downward move. And no one was interested in me for a step forward. In my late 30s, my career was in jeopardy, and I was exploring jobs outside journalism as well as some newspaper jobs. (more…)

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Facebook logo copyI blame Facebook’s crappy iPad app for this blog post.

I actually thought of the topic for this post before falling asleep around 11 p.m. That’s when I read the New York Times story about the Times and other news organizations considering and negotiating a deal to publish content on Facebook rather than on their own sites.

I have a busy day planned today (even if I am stuck in the hospital, I’m working and I have class today, plus many other chores awaiting me). So that post might have gone unwritten.

But something woke me up around 2 a.m. If you’ve spent much time in the hospital, you understand. And before trying to get back to sleep, I tried to answer a question on my iPad in a Facebook discussion. And Facebook’s iPad sucks so bad that I had to abandon the iPad, then redo and finish my answer on the laptop. And then, I had to blog about Facebook. Piss me off in the middle of the night when I’d rather be sleeping, and I will blog about you, even if I have to finish grumpy in the daylight.

Part of my initial response to skepticism about the wisdom of getting into bed with Facebook would have been to note that newspapers have been dependent on (at the mercy of?) other businesses my whole career. Other media are dependent, too, but I will focus here mostly on newspapers. Part of my argument would have noted that the dependency on Facebook was likely to cause problems (as it has before), but I was probably going to come down on the side of saying I might be exploring or testing such a relationship myself if I were the New York Times, BuzzFeed or National Geographic, the companies apparently in such discussions with Facebook.

But then I got pissed off at the Facebook app in the middle of the night, and thought of how dependence on external carriers was a bad decision for the Kansas City Star and Times decades ago, and I had to start blogging in the middle of the night about why publishers should be cautious about increasing their dependence on Facebook. (more…)

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