Posts Tagged ‘Omaha World-Herald’

Finding local stories in national and international news isn’t always easy. But many big stories have local angles, and the news organizations that make the effort can tell important local stories that the community will be talking about.

The local people with personal ties to these stories don’t appear in the places you routinely find news: You won’t hear these stories on the scanner or see them on agendas or police blotters. But they are the biggest news of the day, sometimes the biggest of the year, in small circles of your community. And you often can learn of the stories with a few calls or social media inquiries. And the stories are worth the effort.

This post was prompted by Howard Owens. In an argument on Twitter yesterday that was mostly about other matters, Howard made this statement:

I knew that Howard’s statement was bullshit because for five years, a major part of my job was localizing national stories, and it was important work in other jobs as well. Localizing big stories produced lots of good stories for my newspapers, with lots of real local angles. But good localizing isn’t always easy, and some journalists or news organizations move on too quickly, missing good stories. (more…)

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CJR storyNearly 20 years ago, Bridget Hegarty gave me one of the best interviews of my career. This past Christmas Eve, she paid me one of the best compliments of my career.

Often journalists don’t learn about the impact, good or bad, of our reporting on the people we write about. A beat reporter will hear criticism or praise from regular sources. And sometimes we’ll hear some feedback right away. But journalism about personal stories is often a hit-and-run activity. Especially if you move as frequently as I have in my journalism career. I moved to another newspaper less than two years after writing about Bridget, and I never expected to hear from her again.

Generally I sort of presume that good stories have a good impact, if any, on the lives of good people I write about. And maybe I don’t want to know if that’s not true.

I interviewed Bridget for a story the Omaha World-Herald published Nov. 17, 1996. I told the stories of six women who had experienced difficult pregnancy situations, and their decisions to have an abortion or give birth. Bridget decided to have an abortion when she got pregnant after being raped.

The story stands out as one of my best and most challenging in about 15 years as a reporter. A few years ago, I was blogging updated lessons from my old stories. I’d usually post a story, with lessons sprinkled throughout, both timeless journalism lessons about writing and reporting and updated observations about how I might do the story differently today using digital tools and skills.

I had persuaded Bridget and the other women in the pregnancy story to speak for the record back in 1996. But in those pre-Google days, that didn’t mean that a story about abortion or a problem pregnancy might show up whenever anyone searched the internet for your name. So I just used initials of the women when I posted in 2013 on updated lessons from the story about difficult pregnancies.

The post didn’t get much interaction, but now it was there on the web for Google to find. Bridget couldn’t find it looking for her name and searching for your initials is pretty pointless. But this past December, she wanted to find some information about the abortion clinic where she was a patient (and later a staff member). So when she Googled that, she found my post. And she wanted to reconnect, to tell me what the story meant to her.

Soon she found my professional Facebook page. And she messaged me:

You left a permanent imprint in my mind and heart that has never left me since the day you interviewed me that I will always cherish. You helped give what happened to me a voice. It was a voice that I can now use, and do use every day of my life. You gave my voice confidence and reassurance when I thought that part of me was gone forever. I have always wanted to thank you for that!

I fought back tears as I read the message. What Bridget couldn’t know was that she wrote me on a discouraging day, my 24th straight day in the hospital, Dec. 24, and the day I learned I wouldn’t be getting out to spend Christmas at home (I got out the 26th). My stem-cell transplant had been successful, but my blood counts were not yet high enough to release me. I was pouting and petulant when the message arrived, and it immediately picked up my spirits.

Bridget and I messaged back and forth on Facebook and email and eventually chatted by Skype. When I had recovered enough to travel, I met her in Omaha in late February and interviewed her again.

That interview resulted in a story for the Columbia Journalism Review about Bridget’s voice and the journalism ethics principle of giving voice to the voiceless, which posted today.

I don’t have a lot to add here on my personal blog, except thanks to Bridget for her kind words, for sharing her story in 1996 and for today’s story about the personal impact journalism can have.

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My old company has essentially proven a point I have made at least twice in this blog: that many newspapers’ value now is mostly the value of the real estate they own.

A Ken Doctor report today does the math: Less than a month after buying the Orange County Register and Riverside Press Press-Enterprise for $51.2 million, Digital First Media, where I worked from 2011 to 2014, sold 14.3 acres of land surrounding the Register’s Santa Ana office for $34 million, two-thirds of the sale price. The developer who bought the land had purchased the Register’s building two years ago.

In posts about the Boston Globe purchase in 2013 and the Omaha World-Herald sale in 2011, I previously speculated that real estate value probably accounted for most, if not all, of the purchase prices.

I am too busy, and don’t know enough about finance and real estate, to undertake an analysis of recent newspaper sales and what the core value is after you subtract the value of real estate. But I agree with Doctor that this value is “astoundingly low.” And it’s nowhere near the first time that’s happened.

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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…)

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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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