The Truth in the Age of Social Media
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The Truth in the Age of Social Media

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  • You pretend that everyone is disposed to act because they know the resources, how to use them, and how to gain publicity in a social media world that refuses to suffer challenges to the communist status quo. You are only talking to a small percentage of communist-afrocentric revolutionaries. Around 95% of the populace neither understands nor can manipulate social media in order to reinforce their own truth. They are victims of a machine that changes their social perception by forced feeding of one-sided propaganda paired with psychological manipulation and terror.The frightened white masses are maintained as economic serfs by a multitude of intimidatory and self concept destroying messages transmitted from every direction by a host of media and communist-afrocentric power centers who allow only one frame of reference to be recognized in their globalized police states where media terror reigns. Your dishonest bigotry allows no challenge. I accuse!
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 The Truth in the Age of Social Media The Truth in the Age of Social Media Document Transcript

  • Nieman Reports summer 2012 VOL. 66 NO. 2The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University To promote and elevate the standards of journalism TRUTH IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA @NiemanReports How journalists today expose manipulations and find reliable voices in the crowd #NRtruth
  • In This Issue Cover Story: Truth in the AgeIn an attempt to get the newsout first, CNN got it wrong. Of Social MediaMinutes after the U.S. SupremeCourt handed down its decisionon the health care law in June,CNN erroneously tweeted andreported on-air that the law’s 4 A New Age for Truthindividual mandate had been Faster distribution, more platforms, and a greater role for accuracy. By Craig Silvermanstruck down. Fox News also 7 Detecting the Truth in Photosincorrectly reported on the ruling. How a news service verifies images and videos. By Santiago LyonBloomberg News, The AssociatedPress, and others got it right 10 Inside the BBC’s Verification Hubwithin the same time frame. Technology and human intuition are key. By David Turner 14 Finding the Wisdom in the Crowd Storyful helps news organizations verify social media. By Mark Little 17 Vetting Citizen Journalism CNN’s iReport draws on newsgatherers worldwide. By Lila King 19 Doubting Amina The lessons in a case of invented identity. By Jillian York 21 Challenging ‘He Said, She Said’ Journalism Does every story really have two sides? By Linda Greenhouse 25 Be Careful Who You Quote An interview with Washington ethics watchdog Melanie Sloan. By Stefanie Friedhoff 28 Taking on the Rumor Mill Sorting fact from fiction in real time after a tornado. By Katherine K. Lee 30 The Story That Rocked the Clock A newspaper adapts to a 24-hour news cycle. By Phil Brinkman
  • Vol. 66 No. 2  summer 2012 From left: Margaret Sullivan, pageFeatures 32, photo by Derek Gee/The Buffalo News; oil pipeline in Ecuador, page 36, photo by Gustavo Jononovich; Richard Gingras, page 44, photo by32 After the Shouting, Bridging the Divide Lisa Abitbol. Are the past crimes of victims fair game? By Margaret Sullivan35 Finding Strength in Numbers Learning to mine data pays off. By John Diedrich36 Photo Essay: This Land Is Their Land Exploiting Latin America’s natural riches. By Gustavo Jononovich44 Chaos Theory How an online pioneer views the future. By Richard Gingras In Every Issue 3 From the curator 50 The Fight of His Life By Ann Marie Lipinski “  Ed Kennedy’s War” edited by Julia Kennedy Cochran. Reviewed by sounding Bill Schiller 46 Cover Stories 52 Mr. Difficult A  book critic in praise of the “  Mike Wallace: A Life” by Peter counter-narrative. Rader. Reviewed by Stuart Watson By Megan O’Grady 53 Nieman Notes books  P  lus 2013 Fellows and Bingham, 48 Secrets and Lies Taylor, Lukas, and Pulitzer prizes. “Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life” by Artur Domoslawski. 67 Nieman Journalism Lab Reviewed by Paul SalopekMegan O’Grady. Photo by Thorsten Trimpop. 68 Heard at lippmann house
  • “ hy is it just so difficult to make  W the search for truth the highest journalistic value?” —Linda greenhouse, page 21 Nieman Reports The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University www.niemanreports.org Vol. 66 No. 2 SUMMER 2012 Publisher Ann Marie Lipinski Subscriptions/Business 617-496-6299 contributing Editor nreports@harvard.edu Stefanie Friedhoff assistant Editor Subscription $25 a year, $40 for two years; add $10 Jan Gardner per year for foreign airmail. Single copies $7.50. Editorial Assistant Back copies are available from the Nieman office. Jonathan Seitz Please address all subscription correspondence to Design One Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098 2communiqué and change of address information to P.O. Box 4951, Manchester, NH 03108. Editorial ISSN Number 0028-9817 617-496-6308 nreditor@harvard.edu Postmaster: Send address changes to Copyright 2012 by the President and Nieman Reports Fellows of Harvard College. P.O. Box 4951 Manchester, NH 03108 Periodicals postage paid at Boston, Massachusetts and additional entries. Nieman Reports (USPS #430-650) is published in March, June, September and December by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, One Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098.2 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • FROM THE CURATORFacts and FrictionA recent blog post on Mashable explored designer interesting story.” The advice outlived the century. As a youngOliver Reichenstein’s suggestions for correcting errors on reporter, I was disappointed to learn that a legendary Twitter. It was illustrated with a quaint piece of art: a photo- journalist, while editing a newspaper story written by a friendgraph of lined writing paper and a red pencil, eraser end down, of mine, had rearranged a source’s quote, explaining, “Wouldn’tretracting the word “Error.” it be better if he said it like this?” “Twitter is celebrated for rapidly distributing breaking news, But human obstacles to truth are now aided by increasinglysometimes reaching vast audiences before that information is sophisticated co-conspirators. One of the great challenges forreported by the press,” wrote Lauren Indvik. “But sometimes reporters and editors is to harness technological tools and putthat information is inaccurate … and it can be difficult to them to work responsibly on behalf of news verification andcorrect once it’s saturated the Twittersphere. So how do you dissemination. Some tools much older than Twitter—photog-stop a bad tweet from spreading?” raphy, for one—are posing both new possibilities and problems The pairing of the post that posed a simple question and the for guardians of verisimilitude. Santiago Lyon, director ofillustration that offered a simple solution created its own quiet photography at The Associated Press, writes about the latestcommentary. The journalism of verification and the immediacy versions of Photoshop having the “ability to make some manip-enabled by social media can sometimes collide. The hidden ulation virtually undetectable.” The software to counteract thathand of an editor methodically confirming or correcting is is still too slow to satisfy a news organization like Lyon’s thatnot a value hardwired into the mobile phone outfitted with transmits some 3,000 images each day.Twitter. At the same time, Twitter is among the tools enabling Linda Greenhouse, a former New York Times reporter whofast and democratic correctives to falsehoods uttered in the now teaches at Yale Law School, recently spoke in Boston public square and part of an arsenal deployed in the emerging about fairness and the possibility that the symmetrical “he said,field of information forensics. The healthy questions arising she said” journalism can actually undermine the truth. Wefrom these tensions are the focus of this Summer issue of reprise her remarks not because they directly address the socialNieman Reports. media challenges central to this issue of Nieman Reports but The evidence of fact inflation and manipulation is not a because she asks the question central to our time: “Why is itunique byproduct of social media, as we are reminded in these just so difficult to make the search for truth the highest pages by the timeline documenting journalism’s long history journalistic value?”of errors and lies. Craig Silverman, who writes the Regret theError blog, recalls a 19th-century handbook that advised aspiring journalists on the legitimacy of manufacturing non-essential facts in support of the central objective: “to make an Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 3
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediaA New Age for Truth‘Never has it been so easy to expose an error, checka fact, crowdsource and bring technology to bear inservice of verification.’By Craig SilvermanIn a handbook for aspiring journalists published in 1894, Edwin L. and content, discovered, verified andShuman shared what he called one of the “most valuable secrets of the delivered in partnership with activeprofession at its present stage of development.” communities.” A reporter following Shuman’s advice He revealed that it was standard practice for reporters to invent a few today would likely find his fabricationsdetails, provided the made-up facts were nonessential to the overall story. swiftly exposed on social media. Bloggers “Truth in essentials, imagination in nonessentials, is considered a would tally offenses and delve deeper.legitimate rule of action in every office,” he wrote. “The paramount object People with firsthand knowledge of theis to make an interesting story.” story in question might step forward with photos and videos to contradict the It was easy for a reporter of the time notice or call him on it. invented details. Media watchdogs, pressto get away with a few, or even a bushel Shuman’s advice is objectionable, but critics, and others would call out theof, inventions. Information was scarce something about it—and the informa- reporter and his employer.and could take days or weeks to make its tion and reporting environment in which In the same vein, a politician orway to the public sphere. The telephone it was offered—seems quaint and charm- public figure who publicly asserts awas not yet widely in use, and the first ing by today’s standards. falsehood is likely to be called out bytransatlantic wireless transmission It also highlights how much things fact-checking organizations such as was years away. The early mass-market have changed when it comes to accuracy FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.Kodak Brownie camera was close to a and verification. “Not too long ago, Never before in the history of jour-decade from release. The machinery of reporters were the guardians of scarce nalism—or society—have more peoplepublishing and distribution was in the facts delivered at an appointed time and organizations been engaged in facthands of a few. to a passive audience,” writes Storyful checking and verification. Never has it If a reporter wanted to fudge a few founder Mark Little in his essay in this been so easy to expose an error, check adetails to make his story a little more issue. “Today we are the managers of fact, crowdsource and bring technologycolorful, well, chances are no one would an overabundance of information to bear in service of verification.4 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • This photo taken by a passenger after the London subway bombings in 2005 was one of the first images from the scene. It jump-started efforts atboth the BBC and The Associated Press to solicit and verify user-generated content. Photo by Alexander Chadwick/AP. Not surprisingly, the price for inac- But that’s not to say old values and skills The Hub employs a dedicated teamcuracy has never been higher. The new aren’t still at the core of the discipline. of journalists to verify (and debunk)world of information abundance, of “The business of verifying and debunk- content from social media. Al Jazeera’sreal-time dissemination, of smartphones ing content from the public relies far more social media team practices verificationand digital cameras and social networks on journalistic hunches than snazzy tech- as a core part of its work, as does a teamhas brought the discipline of verification nology,” writes David Turner in his article of producers at CNN’s iReport platformback into fashion as the primary practice about the BBC’s User Generated Content for citizen content. The Associated Press’sand value of journalists. Hub. “While some call this new special- photo desk also dedicates significant time It has also necessitated an emerging ization in journalism ‘information foren- and resources to sourcing and verifyingarea of expertise built around verifying sics,’ one does not need to be an IT expert photos and videos from social networks.photos, videos, tweets, status updates, or have special equipment to ask and At Storyful, Little, a former televi-blog posts, and other digital ephemera. answer the fundamental questions used sion reporter, and a team of journalistsI often call this the New Verification. to judge whether a scene is staged or not.” around the world operate a news Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 5
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediaorganization that offers verification as and verification specialists. Reporting responses to compensate for this unwel-one of its core services for customers such and checking the facts isn’t the same as come information. As a result, correc-as Reuters and The New York Times. convincing people of them. tions are sometimes ineffective and can Imagine: An outsourced verification This is one of the battles being fought even backfire.”operation, focused on vetting and curat- in the shift from information scarcity Humans resist correction and areing social media content uploaded and and tight distribution to information disinclined to change closely heldshared by people the world over. It’s a abundance and media fragmentation. beliefs. We seek out sources of informa-news organization and a business model As I’ve previously written, “the forces of tion that confirm our existing views.that would have been inconceivable 10 untruth have more money, more people, When confronted by contrary informa-years ago. and … much better expertise. They know tion, we find ways to avoid accepting it how to birth and spread a lie better than as true. We are governed by emotion,Rumors and Lies we know how to debunk one. They are not by reason. (Read more about theseThe complexity of verifying content from more creative about it, and, by the very factors in Nyhan and Reifler’s “Misin-myriad sources in various mediums and nature of what they’re doing, they aren’t formation and Fact-checking: Researchin real time is one of the great new chal-lenges for the profession. This contentcan provide critical information during Humans … are disinclined to change closely held beliefs.conflicts and natural disasters and pro-vide clarity and color to a local event. We seek out sources of information that confirm our But it also takes the form of fraudu- existing views. When confronted by contrary information,lent messages and images engineered by we find ways to avoid accepting it as true.hoaxers, manipulators and propagan-dists. Rumors and falsehoods spread justas quickly as, if not faster than, facts. In constrained by ethics or professional Findings From Social Science,” a papermany cases they prove more compelling, standards. Advantage, liars.” written for New America Foundation’smore convincing, more clickable. Researchers Brendan Nyhan of Media Policy Initiative, at “People seem to find it easier to Dartmouth College and Jason Reifler of http://newamerica.net.)believe rumors that they wish were true Georgia State University have in recent These truths about human behavioror that seem to fulfill a desire to hear the years provided evidence that those work- help explain why political misinforma-worst,” writes Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News ing to spread lies large and small have a tion is so pervasive and effective and whycity editor Katherine K. Lee in her essay distinct advantage: the human brain. myths and falsehoods take hold in soci-about the News’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Unfortunately, available research in ety. The emergence of moneyed Supertornado coverage. this area paints a pessimistic picture: the PACs promise an election year lousy with Lee’s experience speaks to a funda- most salient misperceptions are typically misleading ads, nasty e-mail campaigns,mental, if depressing, truth about humans difficult to correct,” the pair wrote on the and manufactured lies.and facts: just because something is true, Columbia Journalism Review’s website Bad actors also make use of Twitter it doesn’t mean people are more likely to earlier this year. “This is because, in part, and other networks to create fakebelieve it. Facts alone are not enough to people’s evaluations of new informa- accounts that spread untruths or injectpersuade, to change minds. tion are shaped by their beliefs. When fraudulent chatter into the conversation. Liars and manipulators are often we encounter news that challenges our In dictatorships, they create fake videosmore persuasive than the press, even views, our brains may and images and upload them towith our growing cadre of checkers produce a variety of YouTube and other websites inGetting It 1835 observatory in South Africa who hadWrong Life on the Moon used a new telescope to observe New York Sun plants, animals and flying man-batsA sampling of mistakes, The paper ran a six-part hoax, on the moon.fabrications and manipulations. supposedly reprinted from the Edinburgh Journal of Science, aboutBY JONATHAN SEITZ a preeminent astronomer at an >>>6 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • the hope that news organizations andthe public will find them and takethem for real. There is no shortage of work forfact checkers and the emerging verifi-cation experts within news organ- izations. But along with checkingand vetting, we must also make theproduct of this work more persuasiveand shareable. Spreading facts requires the useof narrative, powerful images andvisualization, and appeals to emotion.We must engage readers in ways thathelp them get past their biases. It alsorequires that we dedicate ourselves tospreading the skills of verification andfact checking within journalism—andto the public as a whole. A public with the ability to spot a Soviet leader Leon Trotsky, circled at right, at a celebrationhoax website, verify a tweet, detect of the 1917 Russian Revolution. After he fell out of favor,a faked photo, and evaluate sources he was eliminated from the photo before it was repub-of information is a more informed lished in 1967. Photos from David King Collection, London.public. A public more resistant tountruths and so-called rumor bombs. Detecting the(Think “death panels.”) This is apublic that can participate in factchecking, rather than merely be anaudience for it. Truth in Photos Fact checking and verification arehaving a moment right now. But whatmatters is whether this is a flash or aturning point—whether all the effortbeing put into fact checking and verifi-cation can have a measurable effect onthe persistence of misinformation andlies in our new information ecosystem. As technologies to manipulate images grow ever I’d hate for a journalist to dig up more sophisticated, media organizations are usingthis issue decades or a century in thefuture and marvel at our foolishness software to help determine authenticity.the way we did about Mr. Shumanand his great secret of 19th-century By Santiago Lyonjournalism.Craig Silverman writes the Regretthe Error blog about accuracy, errors Journalists know quite well that pictures can and do lie and thatand verification for the Poynter photographs have been manipulated for a long time. The Soviets under Stalin wereInstitute, where he is an adjunct masters of this, removing political figures from images as they fell out of favor. Leonfaculty member. He is the author of Trotsky and others would disappear from photos, erased from the historical record “Regret the Error: How Media Mis- as their political fortunes fell.takes Pollute the Press and Imperil More recently, the Fox public relations department handed out a photo of theFree Speech.” “American Idol” judges and host which it later admitted was a composite. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 7
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediaThe Associated Press bars photographers from altering images so a freelancer was dismissed for eliminating his shadow from the photo at right. Another image, sent to us by one of (AP), we transmit about 3,000 images had occasion to dismiss other photog-our photographers from a funeral in every 24 hours to subscribers around raphers at the AP for manipulatingNorthern Ireland some years ago, had the world. That’s a little over one million imagery—and the same has happeneda pixilated man in the background who images a year. at other news agencies and mediahad been rendered unrecognizable at the In this 24-hour news cycle, timely organizations.request of the activists controlling the delivery is essential. Yet if even one of the The question remains: what can wefuneral. images we distribute is found to be false do about this phenomenon in photojour- These are the kinds of manipulations or deliberately misleading, our credibil- nalism, and particularly what can we atthat are fairly easy to spot. Naturally, we ity and reputation are on the line. the AP do about it?don’t distribute them. One of the important steps to take in In recent years, however, things have creating an ethics code this new media ecology is to formulategotten more complicated. News produc- One wake-up call came in 2004 when a policy about what can and cannot betion is changing rapidly—from fewer one of our regular photographers sold us done to imagery. AP’s ethics code is quiteresources in newsrooms to the use of an image of flooding in China. We didn’t clear:user-generated content. Technologies notice anything wrong with the dramaticto manipulate images are becoming picture. AP pictures must always tell the truth.ever more sophisticated. There are now Shortly after, we got a message from We do not alter or digitally manipu-cameras that can make the people in the a reader in Finland suggesting that late the content of a photograph inpictures look skinnier, and in the latest something was amiss with the photo. We any way. … No element should beversions of Adobe Photoshop there is contacted the photographer and, under digitally added or subtracted from anythe ability to make some manipulation questioning, he admitted that he had photograph. The faces or identities ofvirtually undetectable. raised the water level from people’s knees individuals must not be obscured by In this environment, the challenges to their waists for effect. We immediately Photoshop or any other editing tool.for major news organizations are terminated our relationship with him. Minor adjustments in Photoshop areconsiderable. At The Associated Press Over the years we have unfortunately acceptable. These include cropping,1861 1888 1912Union Wins Battle of Bull Run Obituary for the Wrong Nobel Titanic Towed Safely to HalifaxThe Associated Press, others French newspapers, The New York The Baltimore Sun, othersThe first major Civil War battle Times, others Early reports about the Titaniclooked like a Union victory so many When dynamite inventor Alfred disaster had all passengers safe andreporters left to file stories. After the Nobel’s brother Ludvig died, many the ship being towed to Nova ScotiaConfederates won, Union censors newspapers published obituaries before the extent of the casualtiesintercepted the AP’s correction. for Alfred. and the sinking were known. >>>8 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • dodging and burning, conversion into portray what they claim to portray. grayscale, and normal toning and color We look for elements that can support adjustments that should be limited to authenticity: Does the weather report those minimally necessary for clear say that it was sunny at the location that and accurate reproduction … day? Do the shadows fall the right way considering the source of light? Is cloth- Even these statements need to be ing consistent with what people wear insupported by training and guidance, that region?as words alone cannot address every If we cannot communicate withpossible nuance in tonality, shading and the videographer or photographer, weother variables. will add a disclaimer that says the AP We currently have more than 350 “is unable to independently verify thestaff photographers and photo editors at authenticity, content, location or date ofthe AP, and in the past few years we have this handout photo/video.”invested substantially in a global train- We also frequently work with Hanying program designed to teach photog- Farid, a forensic computer scientist atraphers and editors the best practices for Dartmouth College who has developedusing Photoshop. We have provided clear software that can often detect photo An airplane passenger’s photo of the spaceguidance on how to accurately handle manipulation. But it takes time to check shuttle Endeavor after liftoff went viral, thenimages and what to do when in doubt. for a variety of possible alterations and was bought by The Associated Press. Photo by The process changes somewhat the technology, still in its infancy, cannot Stefanie Gordon/AP.when the material submitted comes yet detect every skillful manipulation,from a member of the public or a citizen such as the one that raised the floodwa-journalist. I first became aware of the the London bombings, when we had ters in the picture from China.potential of user-generated content after access to the person who could verify Another limitation is that full analysisthe London transit bombings in 2005. ownership of the images, give us original of a picture often requires a large origi-Explosions destroyed three subway cars data files, and sign an agreement. nal image file. The small, low-resolutionand, later, a bus, killing 52 people and Recently in the Middle East, for photographs distributed across socialwounding over 700. Photographers and example, we’ve repeatedly seen events media can make it nearly impossible tocamera crews were limited to above- where access has been difficult or detect manipulation.ground exit stations. The only visual impossible for professional journalists. All that said, I think such manipu-entry point to the heart of the story deep Local groups have been keen to share lation-detection software will becomeunderground came from cell phonephotos taken by passengers evacuatingthrough underground tunnels. Local groups [in the Middle East] have been keen to Seeing such an image on the BBCwebsite, we contacted the person who’d share images but tracking down who actually produced taken the photo. A price was negoti- a certain photo or video is extremely difficult.ated for the rights to that image andwe distributed it. The next day it waswidely used on front pages and across images but tracking down who actu- more sophisticated and useful in thethe Internet. At the time, some veteran ally produced a certain photo or video future. This technology, along witheditors, citing poor quality, dismissed the is extremely difficult. These images robust training and clear guidelinesvery notion out of hand. I argued that often are posted on activist websites or about what is acceptable, will enablesome image was better than none—and Facebook pages where media organiza- media organizations to hold the linewe started a sustained effort at the AP to tions are invited to use the material at against willful image manipulation, thusobtain strong citizen content where and no charge. But how do we know these maintaining their credibility and reputa-when it was needed. images have not been manipulated or tion as purveyors of the truth. that those purporting to have permissionMurky Origins to distribute them really do? Santiago Lyon, a 2004 Nieman Fellow,But the authenticity of a user-generated Like other news organizations, we try is a vice president and director of photog-image isn’t always as clear as it was in to verify as best we can that the images raphy at The Associated Press. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 9
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediaInside the BBC’sVerif ication Hub‘What everyone wanted to know, on Twitter and inthe newsroom, was this: Was the video real or fake?That is the kind of question the [User-GeneratedContent] Hub is there to investigate.’By David TurnerA group of soldiers speaking Arabic with news of the clip. Jon Williams, the has moved toward semi-conventionalshovel sand into a pit while a disem- BBC’s world news editor, had also raised newsgathering with a Web 2.0 twist.bodied voice wails. After a few seconds it at the 9 o’clock news meeting. What Staffers now use search terms, see what’sit becomes apparent that the desperate everyone wanted to know, on Twitter trending on Twitter, and look at thevoice is coming from a man buried in the and in the newsroom, was this: Was the images and footage trusted contacts aretrench; the head alone is visible. video real or fake? That is the kind of discussing on their Twitter streams. The soldiers—a number dressed, question the Hub is there to investigate. The golden rule, say Hub veterans, isincongruously, in sneakers—appear to to get on the phone whoever has postedreply with gloating taunts. But they are a fateful error the material. Even the process of settingmainly concentrating on the job at hand: Started in 2005 to sift through unsolic- up the conversation can speak volumescovering the victim’s head in earth. They ited contributions previously perused about the source’s credibility: unlessdo their grisly job well; in less than a by many different teams, the Hub has sources are activists living in a dicta-minute his head is completely buried. grown to a complement of 20 staffers. torship who must remain anonymousThe video then ends abruptly—the rest Initially, the team focused heavily on to protect their lives, people who areis silence. images, footage and eyewitness accounts genuine witnesses to events are usually One rain-swept morning in April, e-mailed to the BBC, but in the past few eager to talk. Anyone who has takenTrushar Barot, assistant editor at the years people have become much more photos or video needs to be contacted inBBC’s User-Generated Content (UGC) prone to distribute material themselves any case to request their permission, asHub in London’s rather bleakly mono- through Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. the copyright holder, to use it.lithic BBC Television Centre, was study- As a result, the number of contributions The risk of posting non-authenticateding the anonymously posted footage on proffered to the BBC has declined to images is high, as the Hub was remindedYouTube. His Twitter feed was buzzing about 3,000 a day, and the Hub’s task on Sunday, May 27. As a breaking news1918 1927 1948End of World War I Edna St. Vincent Millay Profile “Dewey Defeats Truman”United Press International The New Yorker Chicago TribuneUPI president Roy Howard was Details about the poet’s parents Editors relied on polls and thevisiting a French naval office on were wrong. (Her father was a school opinion of its Washington correspon-Nov. 7 when a U.S. commander told teacher, not a stevedore, for example.) dent to incorrectly announce in earlyhim that Germany had surrendered. York, and UPI distributed it four days The errors led to the creation of the editions that Thomas Dewey hadHoward sent the false report to New before the armistice was signed. fact-checking department. won the presidential election. >>>10 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • This fake photo of the dead Osama bin Laden was debunked by the BBC’s User-Generated Content Hub. Using TinEye, the team revealed that binLaden’s features had been digitally superimposed on the head of a dead Afghan fighter. Photo by Philip Hollis. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 11
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediastory about a massacre in Houla,Syria, unfolded, staff membersspotted a powerful photo circulatedon Twitter, showing shrouded bod-ies in rows and apparently sourcedfrom activists in Syria. “The originaldistributor of the photo on Twitterwas tracked down, we spoke to them,and they gave us information aboutits sourcing,” says Chris Hamilton, theBBC’s social media editor since 2011.“So the picture was published on theBBC News website, with a disclaimersaying it could not be independentlyverified.” Seeing the BBC News website, Gettyphotographer Marco Di Lauro almost This photo, taken in Iraq in 2003, was posted on the BBC’s homepage on May 27, 2012 to accompa-fell off his chair, he later told The Daily ny an article about a massacre in Houla, Syria. It had been distributed by Syrian activists on socialTelegraph—the image supposedly media. Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Reportage by Getty Images.showing the shocking aftermath of theHoula massacre was a photo he’d takenin Iraq in 2003. He posted on Facebook: “Posting this photo was a mistake, something we are all aware of. But it has “Somebody is using my images as a pro- there is no question,” says Hamilton. to be navigated anew each and everypaganda against the Syrian government “We should have made more checks, time we look at footage. There are veryto prove the massacre.” Meanwhile, as is normal practice, and the decision few things that can give you 100 percentalerted by users, the BBC took down the to publish should have been delayed, certainty.”image—90 minutes after it had been something we are very happy to do in anposted. But the damage was done: The environment where being right is more Raising doubtsDaily Telegraph and other publications important than being first.” He adds: Authenticating photos and video, inreported on the error, and the blogo- “But this was not a systematic error. We other words, can be a tricky business,sphere went wild over accusations that have a strong track record of stopping even for senior staff at the Hub. Duringthe BBC was pushing the anti-Syria numerous examples of incorrect material my visit in May, assistant editor Barotposition of the British government. making it to air or online.” recounted how on that rainy April morn-Interestingly, few readers or commenta- While frustrating, the intentional ing he went about vetting the grisly videotors accepted the disclaimer posted with “redistribution” of the Iraq photo illus- of the man being buried by people whothe photo—a key element to how many trates that “governments don’t have a appear to be Syrian soldiers: By 9:20news organizations today handle the monopoly on spinning the media,” says a.m. he had e-mailed the video to a col-challenge that there are few indepen- Hamilton. “There is a lot of potential for league, an Arabic-speaking Syrian at BBCdent reporters in countries activists to be faking Monitoring, which uses language special-such as Syria and that activ- and spinning things in ists to gather information from mediaists’ accounts and footage a way that puts their outlets across the world. At 10:12 a.m.often cannot be verified. cause forward. It is the colleague e-mailed back: The soldiers’1954 1972 1980Dr. Albert Schweitzer in the Congo Thomas Eagleton’s Past “Jimmy’s World”Life magazine, elsewhere The Washington Post The Washington PostPhotographer W. Eugene Smith Without evidence to back up the Reporter Janet Cooke fabricated anmerged two images to create one of claim, Jack Anderson reported that 8-year-old heroin addict for a story.his most memorable pictures for Life Democratic vice presidential nomi- She won a Pulitzer Prize, which wasmagazine. It also appeared on the nee Thomas Eagleton had a history later returned.cover of “Let Truth Be the Prejudice.” of drunken driving charges. >>>12 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • accents are Alawite, the ethnic group up their verification skills, and you’ve Responding to the tendency forwhich rules Syria and provides many of got to work out whether it’s something social media to act as a rumor mill forits soldiers. And sneakers are commonly you need specialists for,” Hamilton outlandish theories, the Hub steers clearworn in some Syrian units. However, the says. But, he adds, “in some form you’ll of tweets that ask the public whethercolleague wondered how the voice of a always need them,” if only for the sake something is true—in contrast to someman whose face is being covered in sand of efficiency. journalists who use Twitter for crowd-could be so consistently audible—unless Hamilton can, however, foresee a time sourcing. Hamilton justifies this byhe has been fitted with a microphone? when the size of the BBC’s Hub team pointing out that the mere fact the BBC Barot had noticed this too, plus might shrink as verification is “indus- is investigating a rumor “lends credenceanother cause for suspicion: Why does trialized.” By that, he means that some to the idea that it might be true.”the video end only a few seconds after procedures are likely to be carried out However, there is no question at thethe victim’s head has submerged com- simultaneously at the click of an icon. Hub about the role journalists shouldpletely? Could it be because it has to be He also expects that technological play in verifying online information withshort enough for him to hold his breath? improvements will make the automated their trusted tools and techniques. “UGC His hunch corroborated by this checking of photos more effective. and verification are no longer a sidesecond source, Barot e-mailed colleagues Useful online tools for this are Google’s operation,” says Hamilton. “They havearound the BBC within 10 minutes to advanced picture search or TinEye, become part of the journalistic toolbox,tell them the Hub had reservations about which look for images similar to the alongside agency pictures, field report-the clip. It had failed the test. photo copied into the search function. ers, background interviews. It’s critical The dubious video illustrates a point Barot used TinEye to disprove one of for any big newsroom that wants cred-made repeatedly by Barot and his boss several gory fake images of Osama bin ibility in storytelling.”Chris Hamilton: The business of verify- Laden’s head that circulated online sooning and debunking content from the after his death last year. He tracked down David Turner is a freelance journalistpublic relies far more on journalistic the original photo of another corpse’s and author based in London. He was ahunches than snazzy technology. While face, onto which bin Laden’s features correspondent at the Financial Times forsome call this new specialization in were grafted using Adobe Photoshop. 10 years.journalism “information forensics,” onedoes not need to be an IT expert or havespecial equipment to ask and answer the Vetting Informationfundamental questions used to judgewhether a scene is staged or not. “People are surprised to find we’renot a very high-tech, CSI-type of team,” Members of the BBC’s User-Generated Content Hub offered tips for determining the veracity ofsays Barot. He and Hamilton, like the videos and photographs:Hub’s other members, have conventionaljournalism backgrounds. Hamilton, for Try to talk to the original source of the material. You will quickly form an instinctive feel-example, has done stints as reporter and ing about whether the person is telling the truth. One caveat: It may not be possible or eveneditor during his 12 years at the BBC. desirable to talk to an activist whose life will be in danger if they are identified. If material seems too good to be true, be skeptical—but keep an open mind. The famousStreamlined Future shot of a woman jumping out of a burning building during last summer’s London riots, neatlyIt’s time for the Hub’s 10 a.m. news silhouetted against a raging inferno, initially aroused suspicions. However, the Hub verified it.meeting, which has the feel of any Try to determine where the material first appeared online. It could give clues about themorning confabulation of journalists at a identity and motives of the person who posted it.media outlet, including a palpable sense Consult specialists. The BBC Monitoring Service can advise on accents. Use expert localof impatience to stop conferring and get knowledge of towns to advise whether images and videos depict the purported place.on with the day’s work. Use technology to help you. Examples include Google Earth (to confirm that the features After setting priorities for the rest of the alleged location match the photo) and TinEye. But do not do so at the expense of jour-of the day, Hamilton finds a cramped nalistic instinct. Not all the faked photos of the Osama bin Laden corpse could be disprovedoffice in which to discuss the future of by technical means, but BBC verifiers decided nonetheless that no possible explanation ofverification. how a real photo had leaked was credible. Is the Hub here to stay? “We’re seeing See what other verification experts are saying about an item on Twitter. They may havecorrespondents and producers building useful information or ideas. —D.T. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 13
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediaFinding the WisdomIn the Crowd‘Journalists need to get comfortable with risk,transparency and collaboration. We need to abandonthe notion that we have a monopoly on truth.’By Mark LittleWhen I was a young TV journalist, the broadest solution. We are a news n  re A streetscapes similar to geo-locatedthe phrase “golden hour” meant the agency but also a technology start-up. photos on Panoramio or Google Streetearly evening light that bathed faces and Our engineers work side by side with View?landscapes in a warm forgiving glow. As our journalists. n  o weather conditions correspond Da social journalist, I’ve started to use the The Storyful development team is with reports on that day?term in a different way. building products that will help our n  re shadows consistent with the A I now think of the golden hour as the journalists and clients map influence reported time of day?time it takes social media to create either and connections within social media n  o vehicle registration plates or traffic Dan empowering truth or an unstoppable conversations and get an early warning signs indicate the country or state?lie, when a celebrity death trends on of changes in their speed or intensity. n  o accents or dialects heard in a video DTwitter or an explosive video surfaces on We are also working to scale the tech- tell us the location?YouTube. In other words, when journal- niques our editorial team has perfected in n  oes it jibe with other imagery people Dism can matter most. validating videos and images. At its core, are uploading from this location? When I founded Storyful in 2010, this process is built around a checklist: n  oes the video reflect events as DI imagined a news agency built for the reported on Storyful’s curated Twittersocial media age. I wanted to create the n  an C we geo-locate this footage? Are lists or by local news sources?products and protocols that would equip there any landmarks that allow us other journalists to meet the challenges to verify the This form of inquiry is as oldof the golden hour. location via as journalism itself, even if the At Storyful, we think a combination Google Maps technology is not. Our approach toof automation and human skill provides or Wikimapia? authenticating sources is also drawn1982 1983 1992Moving the Great Pyramid of Giza Hitler’s Forged Diaries Truck ExplosionNational Geographic Stern (Germany), Newsweek, “Dateline NBC”A photograph of two pyramids was The Times (London) For a segment about automo-manipulated to better fit on the Stern staff reporter Gerd Heidemann bile safety, “Dateline” producerscover. procured what were purported to tampered with a GM truck to ensure be the personal diaries of Adolf World War II were asked to that it would explode during a test Hitler but no German experts on authenticate them. crash. GM sued. >>>14 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • THE PROCESS OF VERIFICATIONIn March, Storyful’s sources in Syriatweeted that security forces were mov- CONSIDER YOUR SOURCES.ing through Idlib province. In search- The user, Darkoush Revo (“Darkoush News”), uploads exclusively froming for visual evidence, the Storyful this town and was active on the day in question. Affiliated Facebookteam found a 30-second YouTube clip and Twitter accounts are also Darkoush-centric.which claimed to show troops in theIdlib town of Darkoush. News editorMalachy Browne explains a number ofdetails that were checked to verify thatthe town shown was, in fact, Darkoush. CHECK THE WEATHER. WolframAlpha search engine doesn’t have details for the town of Darkoush, but it does note cloud cover in Idlib province on that date, which matches with the weather in the video. SURVEY THE LANDSCAPE. LOOK FOR LANDMARKS. The video shows hills in the distance, The key point is the mosque’s distinctive mina- which correspond to Google’s terrain map ret, which is visible in the satellite image from of the town. Google Maps because of the shadow it casts. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 15
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediafrom the eternal values of storytell- n  an C we find WHOIS (domain regis- verify it and what context exists, if any.ing. The Storyful team uses the phrase tration) information for an affiliated You are still a journalist.“human algorithm” to sum up its hybrid website? Storyful has advantages in adjustingapproach. Every news event in the age n  s the person listed in local directories? I to the realities of social journalism. Weof social media creates a community. Does the person’s online social circles don’t depend on ratings or traffic. OurWhen news breaks, a network gathers to indicate a proximity to the story/ mission is to help other journalists, par-talk about the story. Some are witnesses, location? ticularly those who create the real value.others are amplifiers, and in every group n  oes the uploader “scrape” videos D Storyful worked with ABC News tothere are trusted filters. from news organizations and YouTube report the death of Osama bin Laden, The problem for journalists born into accounts? discovering content and mapping keyan age of elites is that these filters look n  re video descriptions dated? Does the A locations and images. But we were in nonothing like our traditional sources, who title of the video have file extensions doubt that the person who really mat-are generally ranked on the basis of such as .AVI or .MP4? tered on that day was Nick Schifrin, thepower and authority. Authority has been n  re we familiar with this account? A correspondent in Pakistan.replaced by authenticity as the currency Has the content and reportage been When we work with clients like Theof social journalism. The key to engaging reliable? New York Times, for example, our job iswith a community is to seek out those not to take the place of its reporters butclosest to the story. They rarely have a Reporters are taught never to expose to help turn user-generated content intotitle but are people of standing within a their own ignorance but “I don’t know” something they can safely use. This maycommunity. They are guides to the wis- is the starting point in any honest inves- involve adding context to video for Thedom within their crowd and interpreters tigation of online communities and their Lede blog, building a Twitter list for aof nuance: if you are verifying video from Syria you don’t want a foreign policy wonk, you want someone who can distinguish Every news event in the age of social media creates abetween a Damascus and a Homs accent. Our approach to rating sources and community. When news breaks, a network gathers to talkthe video they upload revolves around about the story. Some are witnesses, others are amplifiers,another checklist: and in every group there are trusted filters.n  here W is this account registered and where is the uploader based, judging content. Internally we consciously use beat reporter or helping the picture desk by his or her history? the word “validation” instead of verifica- find a corroborating source.n  re there other accounts—Twitter, A tion. Our role is to provide the essential Where social journalists like us Facebook, a blog, or website—affiliated context that will allow newsrooms can provide a unique benefit is in our with this uploader? How can they help to make informed judgments about embrace of collaboration. It does not us identify location, activity, reliability, content that may never be completely come naturally to journalists to risk their bias and agenda? free of risk. reputation by engaging with online com-n  ow long have these accounts been in H This does not mean that social jour- munities. But there is no alternative in existence? How active are they? nalists should not deliver judgments. It the golden hour.n  oes the uploader write in slang or D is not good enough to broadcast a user- I would go further: all news organiza- dialect that is identifiable in the video’s generated video and then say it can’t be tions need to radically reconsider their narration? verified. You must tell us what you did to approach to each other. There really1994 1998 1999Face of O.J. Simpson Stephen Glass Fabrications Wen Ho LeeTime The New Republic The New York Times, various outletsThe magazine darkened The associate editor was found to The scientist was incorrectly identi-the mug shot of murder have fabricated at least 27 articles fied as having leaked nuclear secretssuspect O.J. Simpson that that he’d written for The New Repub- to the Chinese. He received a settle-it put on the cover. lic. In one case, he created a website ment from the government and five for a fake company. media organizations. >>>16 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • is no value in going it alone in thegolden hour. If you do, the chance Vetting Citizen Journalismyou will be consistently first is non-existent. The chance that you willoften be wrong is 100 percent. Field reporters like me grew upwith the reality of collaboration. In my days as a Washington corre-spondent, I relied on pool copy from the White House. In any war ‘It’s an emerging craft, one that combines an eye zone, my best friend was often my for a good story with a flair for connecting the fiercest rival. The very notion of the news dots and, above all, a human touch.’agency stems from collaboration ina time of disruption. The Associated By Lila KingPress was the product of an historicpartnership between New York’s five daily newspapers during theMexican-American War of the 1840s. The conversation on the desk The vetting process is rigorous and We’re at that moment again. usually goes like this: “Wow. Did you see sometimes time-consuming. It usuallyFaced with frightening disruption this iReport? Incredible.” starts with a phone call, most oftenand stunning potential, journalists “Yeah, no kidding. But how are we from the iReport desk in Atlanta, whereneed to get comfortable with risk, going to vet it?” eight full-time producers tab throughtransparency and collaboration. We The answer in broad strokes: It’s an hundreds of incoming photos and videosneed to abandon the notion that we emerging craft, one that combines an eye every day, looking for the ones we thinkhave a monopoly on truth. for a good story with a flair for connecting will make an impact. Not too long ago, reporters the dots and, above all, a human touch. About 8 percent of contributions arewere the guardians of scarce facts Vetting is the heart of iReport, CNN’s selected for vetting, a process that alsodelivered at an appointed time to a platform for citizen journalism. You alerts TV and digital producers there willpassive audience. Today we are the won’t see iReports on television or on likely be an element ready to go later inmanagers of an overabundance of CNN.com (outside the special iReport the day. Vetted iReports often turn intoinformation and content, discovered, section, that is) before they’ve been fact interview segments on air or quotes inverified and delivered in partnership checked and cleared. stories you read online.with active communities. What does that mean in practice?Technology will play its part butdon’t underestimate that humanalgorithm. We need new protocols to shape collaboration between journalists and communities. Per-haps just as important is collabora-tion among journalists, inside and outside the traditional struc-tures of news. I keep telling people we are enter-ing a golden age of journalism. Itruly believe that. But first we needto face up to the challenge of eachgolden hour.Mark Little is founder and CEO of CNN’s iReport invited viewers to submit questions for first lady Michelle Obama.the social news agency Storyful. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 17
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social media One morning in January, for example, and similar news events is like the even though CNN didn’t have a reporteriReport producer Christina Zdanowicz hit Ibadan clip: it comes from someone in on the ground to witness them.the desk to find scores of new photos and the heart of the story, with a very sub- The challenge was different when avideos showing protests over increased jective view of events. No surprise, of teenage girl posted a video on iReportfuel prices in Nigeria. Often when similar course, because iReport and most social showing her being bullied. We verified itstories pile up on iReport, they’re con- media platforms are built for sharing the the old-fashioned way—by talking withnected to a news event CNN is already moments of your life. her family and school officials and track-on top of, like a natural disaster or a big At CNN we see it as our responsibility ing down police reports.political rally. The Nigerian iReports took to add context and analysis to what we And when a South Carolina womanus a bit by surprise—CNN was not yet use from iReport and other social media started posting biting—and popular—reporting this so iReport was asked to platforms. That’s why with the Nigeria webcam commentaries about the 2012sketch out the story. protest, the iReport team continued Republican presidential primary race, to make calls all morning to iReport the vetting process wasn’t so much aboutVerifying Reports contributors who’d seen similar protests getting inside her head and verifyingOne important contribution was a in Lagos and Abuja and Benin City. whether she really thinks the things shevideo showing a protest in the streets of Then we worked with a reporter said. It was more about figuring out whoIbadan, Nigeria, earlier that morning. at CNN International who connected she is and how she got to the point ofTo investigate the authenticity of the clip, the details we’d researched with com- posting videos of her commentary andZdanowicz reached out to the Ibadan ments from the local police, the office of saying that plainly and clearly to ouriReporter, a 24-year-old pharmacist President Goodluck Jonathan, and the audience.named Boma Tai. He described when economic and historic context of fuel At iReport we use a variety of tools:and where and why the protest was hap- price subsidies in Nigeria. Together, the CNN-ers in the field, subject-matterpening and who was participating. citizen journalism, our research, and the experts, affiliate networks, and local media. We cross-check what we learn from citizen journalists with other social At iReport we use a variety of tools: CNN-ers in the media reports. We also use technology, which can’t field, subject-matter experts, affiliate networks, and prove if a story is reliable but offers help- local media. We cross-check what we learn from citizen ful clues. For example, we often check journalists with other social media reports. photo metadata to find timestamps and sometimes location data about the source photo or ask a photographer to All good and useful detail, but there reporter’s contributions formed a com- share the previous or next 10 imageswas a catch: He wasn’t just observing, he prehensive story that provided images from her camera. We also occasionallywas participating, and he shared foot- and video of the protests as well as news send an image through a service likeage of the event because he wanted “the analysis explaining the context and why TinEye to help determine whether itworld to know in raw and unedited terms this was happening. shows signs of alteration.what is going on in Nigeria … the poor In a number of ways, the Nigerian That’s the journalism part—figuringare suffering!” So we decided to see what protest story is a simple example. After out what you need to add to a video orother context we could find to fill out talking to dozens of people about the photo that you find on the Internet tothe story. same events, it wasn’t a huge leap to say make sense of it and to help someone Most of the video we see of protests that we believed they had happened, else understand why it matters.2000 2003 He also plagiarized from wirePresidential Election Results Jayson Blair services and other newspapers. AfterVarious outlets The New York Times Blair’s deceptions were uncovered,Many newspapers and media outlets In at least 36 national stories for the two top editors stepped down, cor-declared a winner before the vote Times, Blair committed numerous rection procedures were tightened,count in Florida was finalized. The fabrications, lied about where he and a public editor was appointed toelection was eventually decided in reported from and what he wit- evaluate, criticize and comment oncourt. nessed, and made up quotes. the paper’s integrity. >>>18 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Doubting AminaBuilding CommunityBut there is also the community part:Vetted iReports are a giant Rolodexof stories and people to follow up on.This March when the world markedthe first anniversary of the earth-quake and tsunami in Japan, CNN The biggest hoax of 2011 fooled activists andasked the iReporters who had sharedfootage of that event for updates on journalists alike. One writer and free speechhow they were faring. The result is as advocate explains why so many wanted to tender a portrait as you’ll read in ananniversary piece. believe in the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus.’ More than offering immediatefirsthand glimpses of breaking news, By Jillian Yorkthe community we are building maybe the real secret behind iReport’ssuccess. Our platform provides an It all began with an argument.open door to participating in the On someone else’s Facebook wall isnews to almost anyone who cares where I first encountered Amina. Sheto enter, and a growing number of was feisty, unapologetic and, though Ipeople from all over the world are can’t remember what we argued about,doing just that; as of May 2012, there I remember her apology afterward,were more than one million regis- written privately to me in a Facebooktered iReporters. message. Soon afterward, we became Outside of vetting, the iReport Facebook “friends,” though admittedlyteam in Atlanta spends the majority we rarely exchanged messages. It of its time dreaming up ways to invite wasn’t until months later when, afterthat community—both existing and reading a piece in The Guardian about future members—to take part in what a Damascene “gay girl” whose braveCNN is doing. For example, we’ve blogging had earned her accolades, I come up with new models, such as a put two and two together and realizedrecent community-driven interview that Amina was that girl.with first lady Michelle Obama or Soon after, however, things tooka mash-up video of footage shot by a turn for the worse: Amina, it was The supposed arrest of the “Gay Girl in people in various cities and countries reported on her own blog on June 6, Damascus” blogger provoked a campaign.on a single day in March. 2011, had been kidnapped by Syrian We discovered early on that it secret police forces. In a matter of justwasn’t enough to wait for news to 24 hours, the international media was anonymity when reporting from placesbreak and hope people might think in a frenzy over Amina’s disappearance. like Syria. So much of the debate hasto contribute (and set off the vetting But as a few skeptics began to search focused on citizen journalism, the practi-process). iReport today is a highly for someone, anyone who knew Amina tioners of which are often deemed pronecollaborative effort among profes- personally, her elaborate story began to errors, that we so easily forget thatsional journalists, eyewitnesses and to quickly unravel and by June 12, six professional journalists make mistakes,passionate participants to tell the full days after her supposed kidnapping, the too. Though it was indeed The Guardianbreadth of news stories as they unfold truth became known: Amina was no gay that published the story that allowed usand to reinvent the process together girl in Damascus, but instead a white, to believe that Amina was real, I don’tas we go. American man in Scotland named Tom place too much blame on the journalist— MacMaster. the pseudonymous Katherine Marsh—Lila King is participation director Throughout the past year, and even for her error. Though Marsh’s editorfor CNN Digital, where her work is before Amina’s story, there has been should have doubted the veracity of thefocused on inviting CNN’s global an abundance of discussion on social content upon learning that Marsh hadaudiences to participate in the news. media verification, as well as the need for conducted her interview over e-mail Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 19
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social media friends—mostly Arab women—to ask if imprisoned. We see the videos and the any of them knew her in real life. At first, images and hear the desperate pleas on at least two implied “yes,” a testament to social media. And therefore, when doubt how much we all wanted to believe that seeps in, we find it harder and harder no one could be so callous. to believe the next story. One need only And yet, callous is the first word that look to the conversations taking place comes to mind when I think of what every day on Twitter—and even in the Tom MacMaster did. In an interview major media of some foreign coun- with The Guardian in June 2011, Mac- tries—to see how pervasive the doubting Master attempted an apology, stating: of Syrian narratives has become. And yet, the journalistic errors I regret that quite a number of people continue as well. Following the May 25 are seeing my hoax as distracting from massacre in Houla in which 108 people, real news, real stories about Syria, mostly women and children, were and real concerns of real, actual on killed, the BBC used a photograph of the ground bloggers where people shrouded bodies that had actually been will doubt their veracity and the fact taken in Iraq in May 2003. While the that I think it’s only a matter of time photograph had gone viral on social before someone in the Syrian regime media, the BBC erroneously posting itA sampling of tweets from an effort by NPR’s says ‘See, all our opposition is fake, led to more accusations of journalisticAndy Carvin to confirm Amina’s existence. it’s not real.’ bias and more doubt.and instant messenger, I understand alltoo well why Marsh believed “Amina,”because I did, too. During the six days of the search for Amina, I was During the six days of the search for directly in touch with those doing the digging and IAmina, I was directly in touch with those admit: I at first resisted—and resented—their search.doing the digging and I admit: I at firstresisted—and resented—their search. Iwas at a conference in New York at the Setting aside for a moment how On a normal day, a journalist’stime, as was NPR’s Andy Carvin—among shallow an apology it was, I am instead mistake might cost him some respect,the first to express doubt about Amina— struck by MacMaster’s foresight in maybe even his job. But when reportingand I recall arguing with him about recognizing the damage his hoax would on conflict—especially a conflict likewhether it was the right thing to do cause. One year later, and the regime has Syria, in which journalists are marginal-when a life could be at stake. I was upset, maintained power by doing just that: ized from the very beginning—a lackangry and wanting to believe. Portraying the opposition as the real of scrutiny may, in fact, inadvertently The details about Damascus put problem, as “terrorists.” further agendas of suppression.forth by MacMaster were plausible, at And that is precisely why we want toleast enough so that my Syrian friends believe each story. We know the horrors Jillian York is the director of inter-failed to spot any errors. In fact, as my that the Syrian regime is capable of, national freedom of expression at thedoubt crept in about Amina, I began and we know that thousands of Syrians Electronic Frontier Foundation and thewriting to our many mutual Facebook have been killed while others have been cofounder of Talk Morocco.2003 suffered only broken bones and 2003“She Was Fighting to the Death” bruises. Military and government WMD in IraqThe Washington Post officials inflated her story to spur The New York Times, othersA front-page story about the capture support for the Iraq War. Articles by Judith Miller publishedby Iraqi forces of Army Pfc. Jessica in the run-up to the invasion of IraqLynch said she fired every bullet she cited reports that the country pos-had and suffered numerous wounds. sessed weapons of mass destruction.In reality, she never fired a shot and That was proven not to be the case. >>>20 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Challenging ‘He Said,She Said’ JournalismInstead of striving for balance, a veteran SupremeCourt reporter asks, ‘How about truth for a goal?’By Linda GreenhouseA 2009 story in The New York Times mainstream journalism to the goals of Loaded Wordsabout a dispute involving Fox News fairness and objectivity. It’s more challenging to question thedescribed the cable network as “a This is nothing new. Adolph Ochs, “he said, she said” norm in other con-channel with a reputation for having a the founding publisher of the modern texts. For instance, some people—manyconservative point of view in much of its New York Times, whose byword was people—consider waterboarding to beprogramming.” “without fear or favor,” believed that a torture, and they refer to it that way. Really? responsible newspaper should “report But others cling to the notion that it is That phrase “with a reputation” put all sides of a controversial issue, and let not torture. What is a news organizationthe reporter, and the newspaper, at arm’s the reader decide the truth,” according to do?length from the fact that the Fox News to a reminiscence written a couple of NPR has chosen to use “harshChannel does have a conservative point years ago for internal distribution to the interrogation tactics” or “enhancedof view, and proudly so. Times staff. interrogation techniques” instead of What was the purpose of that distanc- In this article, I will raise some “torture” when reporting stories abouting phrase? questions about the assumption behind waterboarding and other coercive A 2011 New York Times article, that credo, as well as the utility, in this practices used to interrogate terrorismtypical of many others, referred to Jared media-saturated and cynical age, of the suspects. When listeners pushed back,Loughner as “the man accused of open- siren call of “fairness and objectivity.” Alicia C. Shepard, NPR ombudsmaning fire outside a Tucson supermarket.” Inside the profession of journalism, at the time, responded that she agreedWhether the Tucson shooter is guilty there has been a lively debate going on with the network. “The problem is thatof murder is a legal question, but there for years over whether the “he said, she the word torture is loaded with politicalis no question at all about his identity said” format, designed to avoid taking and social implications,” she wrote onas the man who shot Congresswoman sides on contentious issues, impedes her blog, adding: “NPR’s job is to giveGabrielle Giffords and killed six people. rather than enhances the goal of inform- listeners all perspectives, and present theWe don’t have to say “accused of ”—he ing the reader. news as detailed as possible and put it indid the deed in front of dozens of This debate comes up most often dur- context.” Because using the word torturewitnesses. ing political campaigns, and many press would amount to taking sides, reporters I’m not picking on the Times—the critics and commentators have pointed should instead “describe the techniquesnewspaper I read most carefully as well out how superficial and subject to and skip the characterization” entirely,as the place I worked for 40 years. And manipulation that format can be in the she said.although it is attacked, most often from context of a campaign. For that reason, Again, that may be an easy example,the right but not infrequently from the many news organizations now publish because it’s binary—use the wordleft, for various kinds of bias, it actu- or post “fact-check” boxes that vet the torture, or avoid it. How about a com-ally, in both its performance and its accuracy of political ads or of candidates’ plex event or situation that requires theideals, epitomizes the commitment of assertions during debates. reporter to make a series of judgments in Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 21
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediaorder to describe adequately and assign operates as “the excuse in practice for self-reflection, “nothing replaced objec-priorities to such factors as motivation, a good deal of autopilot reporting and tivity as journalism’s dominant profes-relationships among actors, or likely lazy thinking.” What it often means, sional norm.” In fact, he notes, “a cottageconsequences. she wrote, “is a scrupulous passivity, an industry of bias police has sprung up,” Paul Taylor, a former political agreement to cover the story not as it is leading to “hypersensitivity among thereporter for The Washington Post, had occurring but as it is presented, which is press to charges of bias,” which in turnthis to say in his trenchant book, “See to say as it is manufactured.” reinforces the problematic adherence toHow They Run: Electing the President In that same year, 1996, the Society of a standard of “objectivity” that “can tripin an Age of Mediaocracy”: Professional Journalists dropped “objec- us up on the way to ‘truth.’ ” tivity” from its ethics code, a develop- Truth. How about truth for a goal? Sometimes I worry that my squeamish- ment understood to reflect the fact that “We may not have a journalism of truth ness about making sharp judgments, there had ceased to be, if there ever was, because we haven’t demanded one,” pro or con, makes me unfit for the a common understanding within the the cultural critic Neal Gabler wrote in slam-bang world of daily journalism. profession of what objective reporting response to the media’s performance Other times I conclude that it makes consists of. in covering the health care debate. He me ideally suited for newspapering— certainly for the rigors and conventions of modern ‘objective’ journalism. For I ‘We may not have a journalism of truth because we can dispose of my dilemmas by writing stories straight down the middle. I can haven’t demanded one,’ the cultural critic Neal Gabler search for the halfway point between wrote in response to the media’s performance in covering the best and the worst thing that can the health care debate. be said about someone (or some policy or idea) and write my story in that fair-minded place. By aiming for the A leading commentary on the modern noted that by simply reporting the latest golden mean, I probably land near the practice of journalism, “The Elements guided missile from Sarah Palin or Rush best approximation of truth more often of Journalism,” by Bill Kovach and Tom Limbaugh, the media “marshal facts, than if I were guided by any other set Rosenstiel, omits “fairness” and “objec- but they don’t seek truth. They behave of compasses—partisan, ideological, tivity” from its list of the 10 basic ele- as if every argument must be heard and psychological, whatever … Yes, I’m ments of journalism, described as “clear has equal merit, when some are simply seeking truth. But I’m also seeking principles that journalists agree on—and specious.” refuge. I’m taking a pass on the tough- that citizens have a right to expect.” Why Why is it just so difficult to make the est calls I face. the omissions? “Familiar and even use- search for truth the highest journalistic ful” as the idea of fairness and balance value? Jay Rosen, a press critic and journal- may be, the authors say, the very concept Well, for one thing, the notion thatism professor at New York University, “has been so mangled” as to have become there exists one Truth exists in somecalls the phenomenon that Taylor part of journalism’s problem, rather than tension with core First Amendmentdescribes “regression toward a phony a solution to perceived problems of bias values. After all, “the First Amendmentmean.” and partiality. recognizes no such thing as a ‘false’ idea,” Joan Didion, way back in 1996, But Brent Cunningham, deputy editor the Supreme Court tells us. The familiarreferred to “fairness” as a “familiar of the Columbia Journalism Review, has image of the marketplace of ideas sug-newsroom piety” and “benign ideal” that observed that despite this discontent and gests ideas competing freely for public2003 2004 2006Doctored Photo Dan Rather’s Bush Papers Sago Mine DisasterLos Angeles Times “60 Minutes II” Associated Press, CNN, variousA front-page photo, which also ran A report about President Bush’s newspapersin the Chicago Tribune and Hartford service in the Texas Air National The rescue of 13 men trappedCourant, showing a British soldier Guard was based on documents CBS underground in a West Virginia mineand Iraqi civilians, was a composite of later said it could not prove were explosion was reported. Yet 12 hadtwo photos. When the doctoring was revealed, the photographer was fired. authentic. died; only one survived. >>>22 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • favor, unvetted, unranked and unregu- possessed of “strong bias” on the part of at least 31 times in articles concerninglated by some superintending power. the judge, Anna Diggs Taylor. the detainees at Guantanamo Bay (12 For another thing, the word “truth” When another judge ruled that some times), detainees at Bagram, executivelacks a single definition. To report, prisoners held by the United States at privilege and presidential authority,without elaboration, a politician’s charge the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan had targeted killing, Iraq, Abu Ghraib,concerning the “death panels” in the the right to petition for habeas corpus, the performance of Attorney Generalhealth care bill is—assuming the politi- Rivkin “warned that the ruling ‘gravely Michael Mukasey, and the Centralcian is quoted accurately—certainly to undermined’ the country’s ‘ability to Intelligence Agency and its interrogationreport the truth. Does such a report con- detain enemy combatants for the dura- policies. The descriptions of his role andvey a more useful or meaningful truth, tion of hostilities worldwide.’ ” This time his implied expertise varied from story the contextual truth of the situation? he was identified as “an associate White to story, but the quote was always to Obviously not. But just as obviously, it House counsel in the administration the same effect: a strong defense ofwould not require a correction. of the first President Bush.” Since that President Bush and his policies. In “The Elements of Journalism,” administration had ended 16 years ear- To the extent that Rivkin has anyKovach and Rosenstiel make a dis- lier, I wondered what current expertise relevant expertise, the basis for it istinction between two kinds of truth: Rivkin possessed that led him to make not disclosed on his law firm’s website,correspondence and coherence. “For such a harsh assessment of this new which contains a lengthy biography. journalism, these tests roughly trans- decision. A partner in the international law firmlate into getting the facts straight and A check of the Times database reveals of Baker Hostetler, he is identified as making sense of the facts.” They call for that since 2006, Rivkin has been quoted a “member of the firm’s litigation, inter-a “journalism of verification” to replacea “journalism of assertion”: “A moreconscious discipline of verification is thebest antidote to being overrun by a newjournalism of assertion.” Fairness and objectivity should beregarded as tools to that end, they main-tain, rather than as ends in themselves.The ‘Other Side’The following is a case study in what Iregard as the perils of the journalismof assertion, as practiced by our finestnewspaper. Over the last few years, the nameDavid B. Rivkin started showing up inthe columns of The New York Times. Forexample, in August 2006, when a federaldistrict judge in Detroit declared that theBush administration’s warrantless wire-tapping program was unconstitutional,Rivkin had this to say in the Times:“It is an appallingly bad opinion, badfrom both a philosophical and technicalperspective, manifesting strong bias.”Rivkin was identified as “an official inthe administrations of President RonaldReagan and the first President Bush.” There was no indication of whatmight have given him the “philosophicalperspective” to criticize this court deci- © J.B. Handelsman/The New Yorker Collection/www.cartoonbank.com.sion so forcefully, or of what evidence he Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 23
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social medianational and environmental groups.” able results.’ ” I give the Post writer credit From another reporter: “I calledThe entry describes him as having for identifying Rivkin as a lawyer in Rivkin, who has been defending the Bush“in-depth experience with various private practice who simply supports one policies for so long (especially interroga-constitutional issues that are frequently side of the issue. tion) that he knows them as well as theimplicated by federal regulatory stat- Rivkin even showed up in a New York human rights folks.” Noting that theutes, including commerce clause-, Times cultural feature about the docu- article contained criticism of the policies,appointments clause-, and due process- mentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which the reporter added: “I thought it would berelated issues, as well as First and Tenth took a highly critical stance toward the unfair not to make the opposite point.”amendment-related matters.” Bush administration’s interrogation I probably don’t have to tell you what His qualifications for practicing law policies. Rivkin, introduced to readers I think of this kind of “reporting.” I findin these areas are not evident: During as “a lawyer in the administrations of it particularly troubling to use Rivkin tohis federal government service in the President Ronald Reagan and the first criticize federal court decisions. When aReagan and first Bush administrations, President Bush,” becomes the voice of federal district judge issues a decision,he worked on domestic regulatory issues, the “other side” in an account of the there is no “other side” to the story—thewith a specialty in oil and natural gas. film and interview with the filmmaker. decision is the decision. The “other side”He worked in the Office of Policy “It’s pretty clear that it’s not policy and is contained in the briefs presenting theDevelopment in the Justice Department it’s pretty clear that these things are argument that the judge rejected. Butand worked for Vice President Bush as prosecuted,” Rivkin is quoted as saying. digging up the briefs, reading them, andlegal adviser to the counsel to the vice The article goes on: “Mr. Rivkin said the summarizing them takes more work than president, later becoming special assis- military’s performance by historical stan- accepting an ad hominem sound bitetant for domestic policy to Vice President dards has been quite good in the recent from someone willing to answer any call.Dan Quayle and associate general coun- conflicts. ‘In all the good wars,’ he said, I actually don’t mean to be criticalsel in the Department of Energy. ‘we have had some pretty bad records.’ ” of Rivkin, a man with whom I have a The more I read, the more mystified How was it that Rivkin had emerged, perfectly pleasant personal relation-I became. An article on the prospect Zelig-like, into daily journalism? I ship. As a surrogate, a “go-to proxy,” hethat President Obama might transfer asked reporters who had quoted him is simply filling a role assigned to himsome Guantanamo detainees to the whether they had called him for a quote by reporters and—let’s assume—editorsUnited States included a warning from or whether he had called them. (I omit who accept unquestionably the notionRivkin that classified information the names of the reporters because they that every story has another side that itmight be made public during trials in did not expect to be identified in an is journalism’s duty to present. But therecivilian courts—“a danger that David B. article.) is another side to that story, too—oneRivkin, an official in the Reagan Justice “He reached out,” one told me, noting that calls on journalists to do their bestDepartment, calls ‘the conviction price.’ ” that “I’ve known him a long time.” to provide not just the facts, but also— I should note that Rivkin’s useful- Another said he had been referred to always—the truth.ness extends beyond the pages of the Rivkin by a conservative think tank.Times. A Washington Post analysis of the “I called him,” another said. “I have Linda Greenhouse, a former New Yorkrelease of the so-called torture memos quoted him a few times in the weird role Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prizeincluded this paragraph: “David B. of surrogate for the Bush administration. for her coverage of the United StatesRivkin Jr., a lawyer at Baker Hostetler … It was to the point that Bush adminis- Supreme Court, is the Knight Distin-who supported the detainee policies, says tration officials would suggest him when guished Journalist in Residence andthe memos’ ‘careful and nuanced legal they chose not to speak for themselves Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law atanalysis’ … produced ‘eminently reason- on Gitmo.” Yale Law School.2008 Los Angeles Times, and nytimes.com,Iran’s Missile Test it was revealed that the fourth mis-Various newspapers sile had failed to fire but the photoA photograph circulated by the had been doctored to make it lookIranian government purported like it had.to show four missiles firing. Afterthe photo ran on the front pagesof several papers, including the >>>24 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Melanie Sloan, who heads a government watchdog group, sees lobbyists using the Web to manipulate public opinion. Photo © Brooks Kraft/Corbis.Be Careful Who You QuoteSome nonprofits that claim to supply expert opinions are set up by spin doctors to further corporate agendas.A lawyer who once was a federal As her organization keeps an eye succeed in getting biased or false infor-prosecutor and counsel to powerful on abuses of power on both sides of the mation—often presented as facts andCongressional committees, Melanie Sloan aisle, Sloan has also noticed that lobby- expert advice—published in the media.now chases legal and ethical wrongdoing ists have gotten more sophisticated in How does this work?in Congress. As executive director of the pushing their agendas. Nieman Reports’s Melanie Sloan: Yes, it happens all thenonprofit government watchdog group Stefanie Friedhoff spoke with Sloan time. Every special interest imaginableCitizens for Responsibility and Ethics about how journalists are being deceived, seems to be headquartered in D.C., in Washington (CREW), she frequently how experts with no expertise end up in and some speak louder than others,follows up on in-depth reporting in the news articles, and why “he said, she said” sometimes thanks to their greater media. Her team’s investigation of reporting isn’t helping. Edited excerpts of financial backing. The proliferation U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, a the interview follow. of cyber advocacy has shown that while Democrat, for example, started with a story it may now be easier to educate the she read in The New York Times about the Stefanie Friedhoff: CREW has docu- public about important issues, thenumber of apartments he was renting mented how lobbyists, grassroots organi- potential for abuse is greater than in New York at below-market rates. zations, and other special interest groups ever. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 25
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediaCan you give us a few examples? minions push their corporate sponsors’ are both equivalent when usually oneRichard Berman stands out as the views in the media and are regularly cited is lying or misstating as much as pos-unrivaled king of manipulation. You in news articles as “experts” on subjects sible—or maybe they both are—but quitemay not have heard of Berman, but ranging from labor law to drunken frequently it sounds as though they areyou have undoubtedly—and possibly driving to childhood obesity. Their real, just two equally valid opinions. Some-unknowingly—seen his work. He runs the well-financed agenda is hidden from times there isn’t another side, like therefor-profit public relations firm Berman unsuspecting readers. actually is not another side to climateand Company. His particular gimmick Grover Norquist is another example. change. You can discuss degrees, but theis to start up so-called nonprofit orga- He is the head of Americans for Tax concept that you can have an article thatnizations—which receive favorable tax Reform, often paid for his opinion—and says “there is climate change, there is nottreatment by the IRS—financed by corpo- happy to give it. PR executives just know climate change” is ridiculous.rations with specific agendas, but which that PR folks aren’t as helpful to theirdon’t want their fingerprints on the mes- issues as having nonprofit organizations. With respect to climate change, though,sage. Berman names himself executive this is changing, isn’t it? Over the pastdirector of each organization and then Why aren’t journalists catching such decade, it has become the most fre-contracts with Berman and Company to deceptions? quently cited example of the shortcom-handle the organization’s activities. On the surface, these people look like ings of “he said, she said” reporting. By CREW’s count, he has created legitimate experts. And I think many Yes, but interestingly, we still have it. We are still having Senator Jim Inhofe tell you there is no climate change and the Heartland Institute is still funding all I now educate new reporters all the time. The amount these people to say the same thing. And they don’t know is stunning—and it’s not their fault. They they are being quoted in the media. There are smart, but there’s no experience. is a new book out [“Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power” by Steve Coll] that details how ExxonMobilmore than 25 such groups and websites, journalists don’t necessarily look at the has funded huge numbers of think tanksall of which are “staffed” by those who motivations of their sources. It’s obvious who will then put out experts’ reportswork for his PR firm, with each employee when you’re talking to a political cam- saying there is no climate change. Youholding any number of different posi- paign, but other than that I don’t think can see the same techniques used withtions. One Berman and Company staffer, reporters look closely enough. You have subjects like childhood obesity, where so-for example, at one point served as the to check the background. What can you called experts funded by the soda indus-chief administrative officer of Berman find that legitimates their expertise? try and the junk food industry say thereand Company, senior economic analyst I think the culture of reporting two is no problem with childhood obesity inand senior research analyst with the sides to every issue is also part of the America. Again, you can differ on yourEmployment Policies Institute, govern- problem. solutions but the problem is pretty clear.ment affairs director at the Center forConsumer Freedom, and director of state You mean the “he said, she said” style of Political fact checking has been on theaffairs, spokesperson and lobbyist for the reporting? rise in recent years, online and in print. IsAmerican Beverage Institute, among oth- Yes. Frequently, an article will report this that making a difference?ers. Through these alleged public inter- person said X and this person said Y, as I think that’s helpful, but I don’t knowest groups, Berman and his if, therefore, they how many people read those little2011 SOURCES: “Getting It Wrong” by W. Joseph CREDITS: p. 6, Wikimedia Commons; p. 8,Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Campbell; “Covering America” by Christopher Baltimoresun.com; p. 10, Library of Congress;NPR, others Daly; “Poisoning the Press” by Mark Feldstein; p. 14, Harvard College Library; p. 16, LosBased on information from the that the Arizona congresswoman “Journalism’s Roving Eye” by John Maxwell Angeles Police Department/AP; p. 18, Charlesoffices of a sheriff and a congress- had died. In fact, she survived the Hamilton; “Deadline Every Minute” by Joe Alex Bennett/AP; p. 20, Jacqueline Larma/AP; p. 24:man, NPR reported on air and online shooting in which six others died. Morris, Jr.; “Regret the Error” by Craig Silverman. Sepahnews.com/AP.26 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • all equal even though they don’t check sources and they’ll post almost every- thing. You really saw that at work in a terrible way in the ‘Nikki Haley about to be indicted’ case. How unfair to that poor woman. Pretty soon everybody reported it [a rumor that originated on a little- known blog and went viral on Twitter], even though there was no evidence what- soever. This was not a one-time thing. Also, so much of our Internet culture now is that drive for more content. If I went through The Daily Caller, The Daily Beast, Talking Points Memo, and all the other blogs, my day would be gone. Who can do that? So people are just picking the sources they really like. It’s giving you only the content that you’re likely to already agree with. Do nonprofit watchdogs have an impact? I think so, yes. More nonprofit groups like the Center for Public Integrity, ProPublica or the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism are picking upCREW’s Melanie Sloan in April at the signing of a bill to clamp down on insider stock trading by the role of investigative reporting. Andfederal lawmakers. Photo by Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press. you’re seeing good reporting in that they don’t have as much pressure to get outsidebars, whereas a whole lot of people the time to think through those stories. a story a day. Although another pres-see the ads in the first place. And it is Reporters are often changing every year sure they have is not insignificant eithernot like every news article includes that. or two now and it is very easy to spin a because they have donors who want toMost of the new fact checking is really reporter who doesn’t know what they are see that they’re making a difference. Aslimited to what political campaigns say. talking about. You just can’t dip your toe a donor-supported organization, [we into something like taxes or campaign know] they want to see that you’ve doneHave you had conversations about this finance. I now educate new reporters all something all the time, and so you’rewith journalists? the time. The amount they don’t know is constantly proving your worth.That’s tricky because then you are stunning—and it’s not their fault. Theyattacking reporters’ abilities and meth- are smart, but there is no experience. So You’re an expert. How do you decideods. I also think a lot of journalists these there is no long-term memory to under- when to talk to a reporter and when todays have so much pressure on them to stand that there’s a context to what’s decline?produce quickly and to produce for the happening. I get asked questions all the time, andblog every day on top of the newspaper One place where you actually see a I will frequently say I’m not really thestories, and with fewer colleagues difference is Supreme Court reporting. best person for that. But then I willbecause papers are downsizing so much, Those journalists do it for a really long sometimes read in the paper somebodythey just don’t have the time to check. time, they are careful, and they give you else’s quote on that subject, and I think,They don’t have the resources. a perspective of what really happened. ‘‘Wow, that’s really not who I would have thought of as an expert on that either.”You sound concerned about current Are political bloggers filling some of the When you are in Washington, part ofchanges in journalism. void? game is to be in the media a lot becauseYes. There is this concept of “win the I don’t know. I don’t think the blogo- you want to be the expert that people goday” in Washington; the news cycle is sphere is necessarily doing us great to. But people should say “No” when theyso short that it doesn’t give journalists favors in news right now. It’s like they’re really don’t know the subject matter. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 27
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediaWhat can we learn from traditional newsrooms that have transitioned well to coveringbreaking news on multiple platforms in real time? What happens to accuracy andverification in the process? Nieman Reports asked editors at two papers recognizedby the Pulitzer Prize Board to share their experiences.Taking on the Rumor MillIn the wake of a tornado, The Tuscaloosa (Ala.)News moved swiftly to sort fact from fiction.By Katherine K. LeeBodies in the lake. Bodies on top of one session, led by our own online unable to connect calls and electricitythe mall. Bodies hidden by city officials staff, on the basics of using Twitter and down all over the city, including in thein a locker somewhere outside of town. Facebook to disseminate information. newsroom, the public had few ways of None of those rumors, which emerged While our sports reporters were already getting accurate information exceptin the wake of the April 27, 2011 tornado proficient with Twitter, using it to update through smartphones.that hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama, killing 53 fans in real time on everything from We discovered that a disaster ispeople, turned out to be true. But that game scores to player comments, only a ready-made for social media tools,didn’t stop them from spreading and, in handful of news reporters had Facebook which provide the immediacy needed forsome cases, being picked up and per- pages or Twitter accounts. Several flat- reporting breaking news. Our reporterspetuated by other media outlets. out refused to use the new technologies, and photographers were on the street During times of crisis, news orga- maintaining that the loss of privacy was within minutes of the storm, tweetingnizations often find themselves up not worth the effort. and posting photos of the devastation.against a wall, balancing the demands But while most of us understood The simple eloquence of a photo or aof speed with a commitment to truth. the usefulness of social media in the two-sentence tweet cannot be discounted:That balancing act has never been more abstract, those methods were not seam- One reporter whose apartment wasimportant—or more difficult—than now, lessly integrated into the newsroom’s destroyed tweeted that fact, as well as awhen the competition of 24-hour news operations and were used only spo- photo of firefighters digging a girl out ofchannels and the instantaneous nature radically, usually during breaking news the rubble of what used to be his home.of social media tools like Twitter and events or to find sources for stories. That stark detail brought home to read-Facebook make newsgathering harder ers—and to others in the newsroom—justto do thoroughly and accurately. Emergency Drill how much the disaster had affected us all. Before the tornado, The Tuscaloosa Two weeks after we held our first social It was obvious that we were one of theNews had been like many other small- media session, the tornado hit. It was a few available media outlets that was bothto medium-sized newspapers in its use true test of how well we absorbed that on the ground and could accurately fillof social media. We had held at least recent information. With cell phones the information hole. Reporters’ tweets28 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • and photos were aggregated to the paper’swebsite and Facebook page so peoplecould see a continuous stream of informa-tion in the minutes immediately after thestorm hit. Within the first 24 hours, wealso created a Google Docs spreadsheeton the website to allow readers to posttheir own information, whether they wereseeking missing loved ones or hoping toreassure their families that they were safe. Such immediate information was alsoa service the public needed. People knewwhere the destruction was, what streets toavoid, and where to go for help. NationalGuard officials told editors afterward thatthey relied initially on the Twitter feedon The Tuscaloosa News website to showthem where to deploy first responders.the debunking blogBut while reporting the basics of adisaster—the number of dead, the streetsthat were impassable, available emer-gency services—is an easy task for skilledreporters, one issue cropped up that wecould not immediately get a handle on:rumors. People seem to find it easier tobelieve rumors that they wish were trueor that seem to fulfill a desire to hear theworst. That might explain why peoplecontinued to insist, days after the storm,that the city was hiding hundreds of bod-ies in a secret cooler even though the listof missing grew smaller each day, and, asthe police chief repeatedly said, the cityhad no reason to hide the dead. To that end, News editors created ablog to probe some of the more persis-tent rumors, tracking where they mighthave originated and talking with officialsto get the facts. The format fit the natureof the story well. Tracking the rumors,with their ever-changing details, in printwould have been slow and awkward, andthe blog allowed us to update quickly.We also had the freedom to adopt a morecasual tone to dispel some of the moreridiculous rumors, which made for moreentertaining reading. The blog format also gave readers a After a deadly tornado, The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News found that Twitter and other social mediaspace to weigh in with their own evidence, provided the immediacy needed for reporting breaking news and dispelling rumors.which proved very useful. One of the more Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 29
  • COVER STORY: Truth in the age of social mediapersistent rumors claimed that severalchildren died while attending a partyat a local Chuck E. Cheese’s that wasdestroyed. A manager at that restau-rant was able to debunk the rumor byposting on the blog that she herself hadclosed it hours before the storm. In the year since the tornado,News staffers have learned how tomore actively incorporate Twitter andFacebook into their jobs. Reportersnow tweet from meetings at City Hallwith periodic updates on councilmembers’ votes. They link to storieson Facebook to solicit feedback fromreaders. Several times each day, we post Demonstrators inside the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, cheer in February 2011 as the deadlineadvance versions of stories on the drew near to vacate the premises or face arrest. Photo by Craig Schreiner/Wisconsin State Journal.website, which allows us to take amore analytical, second-day approach The Story Thatwith the versions of those stories forthe print edition the next day. Ourpublic safety reporter maintains acrime blog that she updates several Rocked the Clocktimes a day with reports of criminalactivity. It has become one of themost widely read features on ourwebsite. Incorporating social media andnew technology continues to be alearning process for a news organiza- ‘With so much news breaking, just posting updatestion that still relies heavily on print toconvey information. Like most other to the paper’s website suddenly felt inadequate. media outlets, we are still having We needed to meet readers where they were …’conversations about how best to usethese tools to enhance our newsgath-ering and how to handle the unique By Phil Brinkmanchallenges that almost-instantaneousdispersal of news can pose. But newsroom resistance to usingthese tools has largely died down, now After a string of breaking news Wisconsin State Journal strained to coverthat we have been confronted with that stretched over weeks, an uneasy every development that ensued: The Sen-stark evidence of how useful they can calm had finally settled over Madison, ate’s minority Democrats fled to Illinois tobe to the newsgathering process and Wisconsin, by early March 2011. deny the Republicans a quorum. Schoolsto readers who are increasingly ingest- A month earlier Governor Scott closed when thousands of teachers joineding news in untraditional ways. Walker had dropped “the bomb,” as he the protests. Demonstrators occupied the would later call his controversial deci- state’s ornate Capitol building 24 hours aKatherine K. Lee is city editor of sion to effectively wipe out collective day, turning it into a protest village.The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News. The bargaining for public employees. Tens Each day brought a number ofpaper won a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for of thousands of protesters swamped the developments that taxed the newspaper’sBreaking News Reporting for its cov- state Capitol, and the reporters, photog- two Statehouse reporters and forced userage of the tornado on April 27, 2011. raphers and editors at the Madison-based to abandon beat coverage elsewhere to30 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • throw more bodies at the story. With I began reacting to the merest develop- down legislators and their attorneys,so much news breaking, just posting ment like a jumpy day trader, sending they continued tweeting and phoning inupdates to the paper’s website suddenly Spicuzza and fellow reporter Clay updates to a story developing online. Thefelt inadequate. We needed to meet read- Barbour down endless rabbit holes to story went viral. Within an hour, Spicuzzaers where they were experiencing the check out every rumor: No, police were could see people running toward the story: on their cell phones, on Facebook, not massing in riot gear on the edge of Capitol, and the rotunda once again began and especially on Twitter. Several of the city. No, the administration was not filling with singing, chanting protesters.us already had Twitter and Facebook sealing the windows of the Capitol shut. After a brief and emotionally chargedaccounts, but these were mostly orna- Over time, we got better at sifting out meeting, the committee chairman ments. The events of February and the chatter. We also knew we couldn’t hammered the bill through. Half an hourMarch 2011 forced us to integrate social risk the newspaper’s credibility by later, the bill passed the Senate; in themedia into everything we do. tweeting unverified information. What morning it would pass the Assembly. The We acted in part out of self-preser- emerged was a common-sense policy trick, it turned out, had been to removevation. If the Internet is the equivalent akin to the paper’s ban on writing off fiscal elements from the bill so that theof giving every citizen a printing press, the police scanner: Don’t forward tweets quorum required was smaller and it couldTwitter is like giving every person his or from unknown or unreliable sources. be passed without the Democrats.her own talk radio show: loud and highly Don’t retweet claims that haven’t been Another spasm of stories followed,charged interpretations of the news, independently verified. Stick to the facts. and the events of that winter rever-broadcast to hundreds or thousands Of course, those outside the paper berated over the next year as recallof followers. As Madison burned, the weren’t bound by any such constraints. campaigns were launched against thecacophony of voices was deafening. The With anger on both sides at a fever pitch, governor and other elected officials.paper risked being crowded out, the hard the media could not escape becoming Not everything we tried worked.work of its independent and well-sourced part of the story. There were daily Twitter Sometimes we tweeted importantreporters eclipsed by partisans. and Facebook campaigns taking issue developments but neglected to reprise We began by capturing an audience with our coverage; knowing, conspirato- those in print, forgetting that the twoof our own. Equipped with smartphones, rial treatises that only someone ignorant platforms served largely different audi-our Capitol reporters tweeted updates of the much more banal inner workings of ences. I wish that some days we had heldseveral times a day, often breaking news a newspaper could conjure. Responding back more reporters to develop meatieron Twitter even before informing their to those charges was tempting but often enterprise stories (we carved out time foreditors. When the protests started, created more trouble than it was worth. several of these, but not enough).reporter Mary Spicuzza had perhaps 500 And we continue to struggle withfollowers on Twitter. Today, some 3,600 Going Viral the balance between immediacy andpeople hang on her every tweet. By early March, everyone was exhausted, credibility. Like newsrooms across Others needed to be brought up to beat up, and badly nourished. The stale- America, the State Journal has had tospeed in a hurry. We improvised, provid- mate in the Senate at least allowed us to make considerable cutbacks in staff ining some reporters with iPod touches catch our breath. “Normalcy is return- recent years. At the same time, we’veand mobile hotspots, and setting them ing,” read one headline on March 8. severely flattened the time reportersup with Twitter accounts before sending At 4 p.m. the next day, the Senate have to formulate questions, evaluate thethem out the door. By the first weekend came back in a surprise session. Spicuzza answers, and present information in aof protests, we had nine reporters in the learned that a conference committee had comprehensible way. Our challenge is tofield, all of them tweeting and contribut- been hastily called for that day to approve keep these new tools from hijacking ouring to a live blog, which drew 24,000 the collective bargaining bill and send main purpose, which remains the time-readers over two days. (By comparison, it back to both houses for a final up-or- consuming work of cultivating sources,the State Journal’s circulation is around down vote. She immediately tweeted that, digging through records, analyzing data,83,000 daily and 118,000 Sunday.) but none of us knew what it meant. The and holding public officials accountable. As a source of tips, Twitter was indis- bill hadn’t passed the Senate due to thepensable, opening up listening posts Democrats’ boycott. How could it sud- Phil Brinkman is the city editor ofacross the state and across the political denly show up in a conference commit- the Wisconsin State Journal, whichspectrum that could quickly influence tee, which typically irons out differences was a 2012 Pulitzer finalist for itscoverage plans for the day. Of course, the between competing versions of legislation breaking news coverage of 27 days ofdownside of so much feedback is that it passed by both houses? around-the-clock protests at the statecan quickly become overwhelming. While Spicuzza and Barbour chased Capitol in Madison. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 31
  • Feature: a Controversial Storyafter the shouting,bridging the divide‘… our newsroom has made a serious effort to forge a stronger connectionbetween the paper and Buffalo’s black community. … Not for a moment do I believe the healing is complete. But we’ve made a start.’By Margaret SullivanAs I watched media coverage of the emerge—and they surely will—those By 3 a.m., eight people had been shot.racially charged shooting death of questions deserve to be thought about Four of them ultimately died; the othersTrayvon Martin in Florida earlier this and talked about in newsrooms. And were seriously injured. Among the deadyear, I found myself thinking about we can do that most effectively if we was the 30-year-old bridegroom, Danyellsensitivity and respect. Those issues were broaden the base of those in our con- Mackin. His wife, Tanisha, was unhurt.big ones for me and The Buffalo News in versations, recognizing that diversity is In the days and weeks that followedNew York two summers ago. more than numbers; it’s the power of the shooting on August 14, 2010, the As Geraldo Rivera of Fox News what happens when different voices are community’s reaction included not onlydeclared that black teens should avoid truly heard. This reality was brought grief and shock but also anger—angerwearing hooded sweatshirts and some home to me in the aftermath of the furor over deep-seated issues involving racespectators gleefully welcomed revela- that erupted in Buffalo’s black commu- and socioeconomic disparity in Buffalo,tions about Martin’s less-then-angelic nity over a story the News published in one of the poorest and most segregatedpast behavior, all of the questions came August 2010. cities in the nation.flooding back. How can we best avoid All of the victims were black, as wasblaming the victim? Doesn’t the public Out of Control 23-year-old Riccardo McCray, who washave the right to know all the facts, not The bloodiest crime in the city’s recent eventually convicted of murder and sen-just the ones that support a particular history began as a wedding party. Actu- tenced to life in prison without parole.point of view? How do placement and ally, it was a year-after-the-wedding One flashpoint for the anger was aemphasis (in newspaper terms, a front- party for a Buffalo couple who had story that ran on the front page of thepage headline versus three paragraphs moved to Texas and married there but Sunday Buffalo News, eight days afterat the end of a story) figure into media had come back to celebrate with home- the shooting and on the same day wedecision-making? How does the desire town friends. The setting was City Grill, covered the funeral of one of the victims.to be provocative (consider Rivera’s an upscale restaurant downtown. Its headline: “7 of 8 shooting victims hadMarch 22 tweet: “His hoodie killed The party got rowdy. Then it got out criminal past.” It reported that five ofTrayvon Martin as surely as George of control, so much so that the propri- the victims were convicted felons, withZimmerman”) weigh against responsible etors decided to close it down. Bouncers charges including weapons possession,commentary and reporting? shooed the crowd out onto Main Street. reckless endangerment, drug possession, As race-oriented stories continue to Gunfire blasted out. and armed robbery.32 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan drew national media attention for her handling of a controversial story. Photo by Derek Gee/The Buffalo News. The story went to great lengths to the controversial article were tossed onto Angry Crowdmake the point that no one intended a trash-can fire. He led a similar protest As the controversy raged, I made a fewto blame the victims. The first quote in an East Side backyard. The local TV phone calls to black leaders in Buffalo towas from a local criminal justice pro- media covered the criticism of their let them know that I was willing to explainfessor who, after noting that a felony competition with a certain amount of my decision and to hear complaints fromprosecution or conviction increases glee: “Outraged community burns Buffalo the black community. One of those leadersthe statistical likelihood of becoming a News” read the headline on CBS-affiliate was a prominent minister, the Rev. Dariuscrime victim, said, “It doesn’t mean that WIVB-TV’s website. Pridgen. He took me up on my offer andthe people deserved it or in any way had Soon, the national media was cover- invited me to a community meeting atit coming.” ing the controversy. I found myself on True Bethel Baptist Church on Buffalo’s But many members of the black com- CNN, among other outlets, defending largely black East Side.munity were enraged. A few days after the my decision to run the story. For it was It was not the cozy chat aroundstory ran, a former gang member turned my decision. I read it before it ran, and a table that I had envisioned. Sevencommunity activist, Darnell Jackson, discussed with other editors how and hundred angry people filled the church,led a protest outside the News building, where to display it. I thought the story some holding signs criticizing the paperwhich is less than half a mile from City was important because it helped make and me. The meeting had been wellGrill. One by one, copies of the paper with sense of what happened that night. publicized and emotions were running Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 33
  • Feature: a Controversial Storyhigh. A lectern with a sound system burn-the-News protest. Their perspec- Marie Bracely as the first black womanensured that everyone in the packed tives have helped us better understand on the paper’s editorial board and to havechurch could hear. Perhaps a dozen the community—and they’ve given us other black journalists in key roles. Inspeakers preceded me: family members some good story ideas. this era of shrinking newsrooms and littleof the victims, ministers, public offi- n  ade a concerted effort to reach out to M hiring, the push for diversity has beencials. They all had essentially the same the black community. We distributed sidetracked throughout the country, butmessage, and it was directed at me pamphlets explaining how to get sto- for many reasons it remains crucial toand the newspaper: You’ve treated us ries into the paper and how to contact our success.disrespectfully. editors and reporters. We attended Is everything all better now in Buf- “I feel that we were victimized twice,” community events to speak or just falo? Certainly not. Decades of resent-said Cheryl Stevens, whose son-in-law meet people. ment don’t dissipate in a matter ofwas the bridegroom who died in the n  ired an outside firm to provide H months. But it’s fair to say that we’veshooting. “What you did to us was you diversity awareness training for a large made progress. And the efforts havepoured salt on the wounds that had not group of editors and reporters. been noticed. A black reporter on theeven healed.” n  tarted a regular series of stories high- S News’s staff, Deidre Williams, attends When Pridgen spoke to the group, he lighting positive aspects of Buffalo’s Darius Pridgen’s True Bethel Baptistattempted to provide perspective: “This East Side. Church, the scene of my meeting withmeeting is not designed to be a combat the black community.session, but a night of progression. … Coincidentally, I named Lisa Wilson She stopped in to see me a few weeksIt is our hope that tonight will not be a as executive sports editor; she is, we ago to report that, from the pulpit oneone-stop meeting … that this dialogue believe, the only woman of color head- Sunday morning, Pridgen explained histakes us to another level of understand- ing a metropolitan newspaper’s sports decision to sell The Buffalo News in theing and unity in our community.” department. I was deeply grateful church vestibule. He held up that day’s That evening was one of the mostdifficult times of my life. The sheer dis-connect between a large segment of thecommunity and its newspaper stunned Is everything all better now in Buffalo? Certainly not.me, as did the depth and intensity of the Decades of resentment don’t dissipate in a matter ofpeople’s anger. months. But it’s fair to say that we’ve made progress. As I wrote in a News column a fewweeks later: “I can say, without exaggera- And the efforts have been noticed.tion, that I left that meeting both shakenand changed. I still believe The Newswas right to publish the story because it throughout the City Grill episode to edition, which included an extensiveexposed an important piece of the puzzle have the counsel and support of black feature story on Eva Doyle, whose life’sabout that tragic shooting. But its timing journalists at the News, several of whom work has been teaching black history.and placement should have been handled accompanied me to the church meeting. Williams related what Pridgen toldmore sensitively and more respectfully.” Among them was urban affairs editor his congregation that day: “The Buffalo and award-winning columnist Rod News said they were going to make Reaching Out Watson, now the point person in our some changes, and they have. They keptSince the City Grill crisis, our newsroom community outreach efforts. their word.”has made a serious effort to forge a There is no question that more diverse Not for a moment do I believe thestronger connection between the paper newsrooms make for better community healing is complete. But we’ve made aand Buffalo’s black community. Among coverage. I made a strong diversity-hiring start. I learned a great deal from whatother initiatives, we: push soon after becoming editor in 1999, happened—that stories are one thing increasing minority-group representation and that people’s lives and their feelingsn  egan B a diversity advisory council, to about 14.5 percent of our newsroom’s are quite another. As journalists, it’s made up of community members, that full-time employees, a significant jump hard to make peace between those two meets with key editors four times a from the 7 percent I inherited, but still competing values, but we have to try. year. Now in its second round of mem- less than the 20 percent minority popula- bers, the current incarnation includes tion in our major circulation area. Margaret Sullivan is the editor of Darnell Jackson, the leader of the I’m also happy to have named Dawn The Buffalo News.34 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Feature: Continuing EducationFinding Strength in NumbersLearning to use databases and mapping softwarehas its rewards. By John DiedrichI remember when I finally got in criminal investigations. The dealer hadserious about working with data. It was surrendered his license rather than havethe third (or was it the fourth?) time I it be revoked. The shop’s name changedhad taken a crash course in computer- and it was now being operated by aassisted reporting. Reporters who have relative of the dealer. The switch wipedgone through this training know the away all of the store’s federal violations. Idrill: You learn how to use Excel in a day, wanted to find out if other stores aroundending with something called a “pivot the country had done the same thing.table.” My moment of resolve came when Database skills were just what II was learning yet again how to make one needed. I obtained two databases, oneof those tables. I was even using the same of gun dealers whose licenses had been John Diedrich uses Excel every day. Courtesy ofdata as before: baseball players’ salaries. revoked and one of current gun dealers— Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.I thought, “That’s it. I’m sick of learning one from the Web, the other throughand forgetting. It’s time for a change.” a public records request. Through my I pitched my bosses at the Milwaukee analysis, I found about 150 stores whose any investigation. I open it every day.Journal Sentinel on attending the week- licenses had been revoked though As I continued to use Microsoft’slong boot camp hosted by Investigative they looked to still be in business. Two database program, Access, I wanted toReporters and Editors (IRE). I hoped to colleagues and I contacted these deal- take another step and learn computerfinally push past this pivot table business ers. More than 50 admitted that the mapping. I got that opportunity in 2011and learn how to draw useful informa- person whose license had been revoked when my wife, Raquel Rutledge, wastion out of databases. I didn’t want to remained close to the operation. awarded a Nieman Fellowship. As anbe the database guy at our paper. We I brought my findings to the U.S. affiliate, I took a class at Harvard andalready had one. I just wanted to get past Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms learned to use mapping software tobeing a beginner. and Explosives. The bureau had never analyze data. For instance, I examined By some accounts, at age 40, I was done a similar analysis but officials where homicides occurred and layeredlate to the data game. But I wasn’t were not surprised. They knew about other data, including other crimes, homedeterred. I figured that if I can’t learn the practice and even had a name for ownership, and income levels, on top ofnew skills, I probably am not long for it—“phoenix rising from the ashes”—but that. To round out my tool kit, I took athis fast-changing business anyway. were largely powerless to stop it. statistics class.The IRE training in Missouri sealed the “Wiped Clean,” the series about gun Back in the newsroom, I am puttingbasics for me. dealers, was recognized with a George Polk my new tools to work. They comple- Now I was thinking in database Award. I am convinced that it would not ment the shoe-leather reporting thatspeak, but I knew I had to use my skills have been possible without the database is still the best part of my job. Whileor risk losing them. I didn’t want to troll work. But the lesson was that data alone the data I come up with might accountthe Web for data. That was backward to was not enough. The numbers had to be for only a couple paragraphs in a story,me. One of the keys to getting the train- backed up by old-fashioned reporting. that information elevates my reportinging wheels off was to find a story that After the series was published, I knew beyond the merely anecdotal. That’s whyrequired data skills. For me, it was like I had to keep using the skills or lose I’m determined this time not to let myknowing that to get from here to there I them. One tip I always pass on is to use knowledge fade away.had to learn to ride a bike so I did. Excel for everyday work. I use it for my My breakthrough story grew out of my source lists and story ideas and to keep John Diedrich, a 2012 Nieman affili-reporting on a gun shop that was one of track of my requests for public records. ate, is the federal courts reporter at thethe nation’s top sellers of guns recovered I also use it to make timelines as I begin Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 35
  • header: title This Land Is Their Land Bearing witness to the fallout from the exploitation of Latin America’s natural resources By Gustavo Jononovich Latin America’s abundant natural resources are a blessing and a curse. Too often, foreign companies benefit while citizens lose their health and livelihoods. “Richland,” my ongoing documentary project, is an attempt to show how the exploi- tation of the region’s natural riches harms people and the environment. Since the early 1990s Latin America has seen significant growth in foreign invest- ment in mining and agriculture. Land has been opened up to multinational compa- nies with few protections for the people who live on it.36 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 37
  • Photo essay: gustavo jononovich I began this project four years ago one of the world’s largest lead produc- Chevron) dumped more than 18 billionwith a visit to the Brazilian Amazon, ers. Thousands of children have been gallons of toxic wastewater into the rain-where agribusiness companies bought diagnosed with lead poisoning. It is forest, polluting rivers and streams thatwide swaths of land to expand their difficult to prove that people get sick or local people depend on for drinking, cook-soybean farming operations. With the die due to industrial pollution, but the ing, bathing and fishing. The populationhope of starting a new life, many of the connection between lead poisoning in has suffered a wave of cancers, miscar-sellers migrated to the city of Santarém. children and irreversible brain injury is riages and birth defects. Earlier this yearYet their money didn’t go far. Many well established. an appellate court in Ecuador orderedhad no marketable job skills and found In 2010, I documented the destruc- Chevron to pay $18 billion in damages forthemselves living in slums. tion associated with illegal gold and polluting the Amazon jungle. Whether The next year I traveled to La Oroya diamond mining in Venezuela. Jungles the indigenous communities who are par-in the Peruvian Andes. This town is are cleared, and diamond miners blast ties to the suit will ever receive any of thatconsidered one of the most polluted mountains with water under high pres- money remains to be seen.places in the world. For 90 years the life sure, wearing them down to nothing.and economy of La Oroya has revolved In Ecuador last year, my focus was oil Gustavo Jononovich, a lifelong residentaround a mammoth smelter, now owned pollution. During three decades of drill- of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a freelanceby the U.S.-based Doe Run Company, ing in the Amazon, Texaco (now part of photographer.38 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Ecuador: Previous spread: The 300-mile-longTrans-Ecuadorian Oil Pipeline System carries crude oil from the Amazon to thePacific Ocean. Left: Natural gas is burned off next to an oil well. Above: Eleven-year-old Anthony, who suffersfrom birth defects, walks on his knees, above.The polluted river is a place to play and bathe. Photos by Gustavo Jononovich. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 39
  • Photo essay: gustavo jononovichVenezuela: A diamond miner uses a high-pressure blast of water. Years of searching likethis wears away the rock.40 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Brazil: Large areas of the Amazon have beendeforested to make way for more soybeanfarms. Photos by Gustavo Jononovich. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 41
  • Photo essay: gustavo jononovichPeru: A smokestack rises outside a window inLa Oroya, a lead mining town that is one ofthe most polluted places in the world. Photo by Gustavo Jononovich.42 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 43
  • FEATURE: Richard Gingraschaos theory An online pioneer challenges media companies to think differently.Over the past 30 years, Richard Gingras’s work has spanned it’s that page that should spawn whatever articles appear infrom broadcast teletext services, the earliest version of online your print edition, not the other way around.news, to his current role as head of news products at Google.As he puts it, he’s been online “since the day of steam-powered Transparency regarding the source, right down to the reporter,modems.” is hugely important. More important than ever. I do believe In a talk at the Nieman Foundation in May, Gingras spoke that trust in this environment is not so much about the brandabout the transformations media companies must undergo to as it is about the individual.thrive online. Edited excerpts appear below; a complete video isavailable at http://nieman.harvard.edu/Gingras/. Having the right to publish doesn’t mean that everyone has the responsibility to listen to you.Always reconsider your core assumptions. If our objective is to communicate, if our objective is to conveyI do feel these are extraordinary times. I do feel that we, in a information, then we have to think about what’s the right formsense, are in the beginnings of a renaissance with regard to for the right medium at the right time.journalism. When the iPad came out, I came out and said that I thought itThe reason why many entities don’t successfully make the was a fatal distraction for media companies. And I still thinktransference is that they’re not capable of eating their own that’s true. … Too many publishers were looking at it, wereyoung, as it were. looking at that tablet, and saying “Ahh, this is how I can get my magazine format back. This is how I can get back my glisten-The cycle of change is simply too rapid. Innovation is not a ing full-page ads that we force people to click through. This isluxury; it can’t be intermittent. … I fear that many people think how I can get back that subscription model.” The very nature ofthat we’re in this transition period from a point of stasis to a the change of a singular device does not change the ecosystempoint of stasis, and it’s just not going to be the case. under it.If there’s one thing we know about the link economy, it’s that a We need to evolve our form to meet the evolution of the underly-persistent URL builds value over time and an ephemeral URL ing audience. I will declare a very modest step of victory when Idoes not. start seeing news articles maybe even with bullet points in them.You’ve got at least one reporter and at least one editor who own I’m not suggesting that everything must change, but that weevery beat, every story. Why don’t they own that topic page? owe it to ourselves and to the objectives of what we want to doWhy would you have a rewrite person do that when, frankly, in journalism to reconsider everything as we go forward.this should be the best real-time expression of the expertise ofthat reporter and the expertise of that editor? And if anything, The bottom line is, I’ve made more mistakes than anyone else.44 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Richard Gingras, the head of news products at Google, says, “Innovation is not a luxury.” Photo by Lisa Abitbol. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 45
  • Sounding Depression, and as it turned out, they were largely apocryphal. He was his own fictional character. I also spent a lot of time in church with my parents, listening to the moral of the story. The family skeptic, I would entertain myself by trying to imagine the thought bubbles over everyone’s heads. Many children are alert to the things that aren’t being said aloud, and this is pretty much the terrain that the novel occupies. In a novel, we can measure the distance between what the characters are thinking, and what they say and do. And if it’s a good novel, there’s a magical leap of faith that happens, and we empathize with them. We feel reassured when we recognize ourselves in their thoughts. And these are people we’ve never met, and who don’t exist. When I’m asked about what I’m looking for when I confront the pile-up of books at my door, fiction or nonfic- tion, it often comes back to this idea of the thing that’s hiding in plain sight that the author is revealing to us. “Plot” is the book word for fate, and if a story feels too pat, as journalists know, it usually is.Vogue contributing editor Megan O’Grady, a 2012 Nieman Fellow. Photo by Thorsten Trimpop. For this reason, I’ve always been drawn to counter-narratives. A good novel is,Cover Stories at some level, usually subverting some- thing—often, the nature of storytelling itself. The result is that you feel the urgency in the writing: This is a story that must be told, and it must be told inA book critic in praise of the counter-narrative this way. And however “small” or per-By Megan O’Grady sonal the story, it’s a response to the big story—which is the world we all share at the moment it’s written.One lesson we learn young is that stage-plays of robes and cereal bowlsthere’s a public life and a private and crankiness, love and boredom and Childhood reading gives us anarrative, and the two don’t always sometimes despair. constellation of literary heroes. Brightlycorrelate. Walking to school on dark In my family, there was one great fixed in my own memory are Leowinter mornings—I grew up in suburban storyteller, and that was my grandfather. Lionni’s “Frederick,” a phlegmatic poetKansas City, in the kind of neighborhood Grandpa O’Grady was always the hero mouse with no useful labor skills who iswhere you don’t know your neighbors— of his own stories, and there was always ostracized from his mouse communityI was fascinated by how you could see a very clear narrative trajectory: how but then redeemed; Roald Dahl’sinside people’s windows, but that they wisdom and perseverance—his own— “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” my first crush;couldn’t see you: the dioramas of led to triumph over adversity. His stories Karana, the heroine of Scott O’Dell’sfamily life played out in slow succession, were set in Chicago during the Great “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” a Native46 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • American girl left behind on one of the of fairy tale. But at the same time, it gave or perhaps delusionally, named “VictoryChannel Islands for 18 years. She learns me a sense that there was an aesthetic Street”—from the ’40s to the ’90s. Ofto spear fish, tames one of the wild dogs world out there that was, in fact, real. course, psychically, it takes a lot moreon the island for company, and has a than a coat of pastel paint.great fashion moment when she makes a Book critics tend to agree that The poet Wislawa Szymborska wonskirt out of iridescent cormorant feath- there are many paths to the well; the the Nobel Prize that same year. Likeers. And then there’s the eponymous art is in the journey, the detours made, Kieslowski, Szymborska loved fate andspider of E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” the choice of rest stops and landmarks chance connections, the metaphysics ofwho saves Wilbur the pig from slaughter noted, the lions and tigers and bears ordinary life, the “chairs and sorrows,by making him a tourist attraction. And encountered en route. But sometimes, scissors, tenderness, transistors, violins,so, as children, we learn just how power- the parallels between literature and teacups, dams and quips,” as she wrote.ful a web words weave; they create glam- travel reach beyond the metaphoric to One of Kieslowski’s later films, “Red,”our and empathy. They can save lives. the very rudiments of how a perspective a love story in which the lovers don’t I also read a lot of other things is formed. Sometimes, one simply has to actually meet until the final frame, waslying around the house that are not get out of Kansas. inspired by one of her poems. In Szym- borska’s Nobel speech she spoke about how the work of the poet is to remind us that nothing about life is ordinary. A good novel is, at some level, usually subverting And whether you grew up amid the something­ often, the nature of storytelling itself. — strip shopping malls of the Midwest or the socialist housing blocks of post- Communist Europe, the banality of thatmeant for children, as we do. Such as In “Silas Marner,” George Eliot writes statement only serves the point.John Updike’s “Couples”: a terrifying of how “minds that have been unhinged Poles love antihero stories as muchsubstitute for sex ed. And my mother’s from their old faith and love” can find as I do. When I was there, a beloved TVmagazines: She subscribed to Redbook happiness in a “new land, where the series from the ’80s, “Jan Serce,” aboutand Good Housekeeping. Redbook was beings around them know nothing of a lonely Warsaw sewer worker and hispretty trashy, and that was my favorite. their history, and share none of their search for romance, was rebroadcast.It had articles with titles like “Would You ideas. … the past becomes dreamy Sometimes, finding beauty and meaningMarry Him Again?” and diet tips, and because its symbols have all vanished, requires a flashlight.then, a recipe for a high-calorie seasonal and the present too is dreamy because itdessert. I remember my father once is linked with no memories.” Vogue is not about democratizingcaught me reading one of these maga- Most of my travels have been about taste. The models are skinny; the clotheszines, and he said, “Be careful. If you losing myself in Eliot’s dreamy pres- are expensive. Our mandate is to choosekeep reading those, you’ll get a soft spot ent—in Belfast during marching season, the best, to tell you what you should bein your head.” in an overcrowded Tijuana orphanage, wearing, watching, reading. I’m very Of course, another important reason in a Guatemalan village traumatized and lucky to have an editor in chief who iswe read is to feel less alone. I think this starved by massacre and corruption, in deeply invested in cultural coverage,was why, for decades, magazines like Chile with a Pinochet hangover. But the and books in particular. Books findthis flourished—to make housewives feel best place I ever got lost in was Poland: their way into the magazine as excerpts,less alone. nation as counter-narrative. Obsessed, in reviews and profiles; I’ve interviewed a It was sometime in here that I read my early twenties, with the film director host of authors, from Jhumpa Lahiri tomy first Vogue. They sold it at the Krzysztof Kieslowski, I deferred gradu- Jonathan Franzen, trying to get to the selfsupermarket near my house, and it was ate school in 1996 and got on a plane, in the story, to the thing that inspires thelike a passport to another planet. Even casting myself in my own Polish movie. poetic impulse over other imperatives.as a 10-year-old I understood that it Teaching English in a grim, formerly How we choose our cultural heroes isdemanded a different kind of relation- German coal-mining town called something I’ve given a lot of thought toship with the reader than my mother’s Gliwice, I witnessed the town’s physical during my time at the magazine—whichmagazines did, and that the images in it transformation, in a series of renova- voices have authority, what stories garnerrepresented something idealized, a kind tions along the main street—ironically, attention, how certain elements of our Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 47
  • Booksfractured American identity catchthe light. In a series I’ve developedwith my editor, Valerie Steiker, called“Lives,” I look at historical women—often a writer sidelined from literaryhistory, like the modernist DjunaBarnes, or someone who isn’t wellknown in the United States, such asthe Russian poet Anna Akhmatovaor Brazil’s Kafka, Clarice Lispector—or more famous names—Cleopatra,Gypsy Rose Lee, Edith Wharton,Sarah Bernhardt, Coco Chanel—“icons” or “legends” whose complex-ity and historical importance hasblurred. These articles tend to havesimilar themes: How complicit werethese women in the making of theirown mythology? And how distantwas the reality of their lives? It’s a dystopic moment inAmerican literature right now—bookstores are crowded with vam-pires and zombies and apocalypticvisions, and on the other hand, there’sa lot of soft nostalgia, a hearkeningback to simpler times. For the Marchissue, I chose a book that confrontsthe mood head-on without resort-ing to cynicism or naiveté: LaurenGroff ’s “Arcadia,” a novel about therise and fall of one utopian society.A defense of idealism, it’s a nuancedresponse to the anger and disaffectionthat’s behind the Tea Partiers and theOccupy movement. We don’t have tochoose between the novel of ideas andthe novel of aesthetics, between socialrelevance and beautiful sentences.The challenge lies instead in the over- Accuracy was a hot topic when Ryszard Kapuscinski, right, taught journalists at the invitation ofwhelming clamor for our attention, Gabriel García Márquez. Photo courtesy of the Ibero-American New Journalism Foundation.and the limitations of empathy—not,as it turns out, a new concern. “If we Secrets and Lieshad a keen vision and feeling of allordinary human life,” Eliot wrote in“Middlemarch” more than a centuryago, “it would be like hearing thegrass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar Investigating a famed Polish journalist By Paul Salopekwhich lies on the other side of silence.”Megan O’Grady, a 2012 Nieman Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life A clumsy moment of stonewalling—Fellow, is a contributing editor at By Artur Domoslawski self-revealing in retrospect—jars anVogue, where she writes the Books Translated By Antonia Lloyd-Jones otherwise sleek 2004 documentarycolumn. She’s on the board of the Verso. 464 pages. about the fabled Polish journalistNational Book Critics Circle and Ryszard Kapuscinski: When thelives in New York. film’s interviewer asks Kapuscinski,48 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • deferentially, about the multiple death expos-, and so his revelations are gen- “How dare you, you bastard!” the writersentences he allegedly survived while tly rendered. A former acolyte of the shouted, pinning the startled official tocovering dictatorships and coups in the famed war correspondent, he describes the wall by his lapels.developing world, the famously mild, Kapuscinski’s improbable trajectory “I begin to think he was crushed byself-effacing writer grows defensive. from a childhood of genteel poverty in fear—and not merely of revelations ofHe shakes his head in annoyance. In a backwater called Pinsk to the glitter- his cooperation with the intelligenceaccented English, he cuts off the ques- ing banquet halls of Europe and the service,” Domoslawski writes of the agingtioner. “I am not talking about these Americas with love—albeit a tough Kapuscinski’s final, anxiety-riddledproblems—never. Never answer these love. He locates, for example, evidence years. “It was about far more than that.”questions,” he mutters. Following anemphatic pause, he adds stiffly, “Nextone please.” Five years after dying from complica- It appears that Kapuscinski transferred his ‘magicaltions of cancer, Kapuscinski remains realism’ to the pages of his own life.one of the most celebrated chroniclers ofhuman suffering in our time: a solitaryphilosopher-reporter who was catapulted from government files that implicates He is referring, of course, toto fame by reporting from the world’s the young Kapuscinski in intelligence Kapuscinski’s controversial habit ofdanger zones, usually on the shoestring gathering abroad. conflating journalism and literature.budget of the Polish Press Agency, and Many Eastern Bloc foreign cor- Kapuscinski himself often describedwho shaped his daily dispatches into respondents were forced to collaborate his reporting method as creative: Hebooks of luminous prose adored by mil- with communist regimes during the Cold insisted he wrote to the “essence oflions, among them literary giants such as War. But for Kapuscinski, whose oeuvre the matter.” Domoslawski records himJohn Updike and Salman Rushdie. returns again and again to ordinary explaining to a colleague how tinker- But in “Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life,” people’s struggles against power, the ing with the sequence of real eventsthe journalist Artur Domoslawski strips shame of cooperation was gutting. In is acceptable because it “sometimesaway Kapuscinski’s mythic Lone Ranger Africa, foreign ministry officials assigned helps to convey a deeper meaning. It allmask. And what emerges beneath is him to keep tabs on American compa- depends how it is done, and whether ita haunting portrait of a man who felt nies and agencies. (The Polish embassies’ sits within the particular realities, withinincreasingly oppressed by his legacy—a vaudevillian code for making contact the climate, or whether it is artificial,storyteller compelled by ultimate truths with the journalist was, “Greetings from invented, deceptive.”and deep history, yet desperate to shield Zygmunt.” Kapuscinski’s countersign This type of literary reportage, Kapus-his readers from manufactured elements was “Has he sold the car?”) In Latin cinski’s defenders have always noted, isof his own past. He died, ill and steeped America the security service handlers rooted in an Eastern European traditionin dread, still trying. “I will sell you for knew Kapuscinski by his code name that used allegory to navigate around thenothing an idea for the title of your “Vera Cruz.” By then, however, Kapuscin- culture of censorship prevalent behindbook,” a close friend of Kapuscinski sadly ski had grown famous enough to push the Iron Curtain. To be fair, Kapuscinski’stells the biographer. “ ‘Kapuscinski—the back. He pulled the freelancer’s old trick text does brim with dreamlike imageryprice of greatness.’ ” of recycling articles—in this case, by that clearly signals the imagination at presenting them as intelligence reports. work. An old Indian inexplicably cranksTough Love An anecdote from the early 1990s, an antique gramophone in the middle ofPublished two years ago in Polish, when Poland’s right-wing press was a Mexican desert. Or the inhabitants of aDomoslawski’s book ignited fierce gleefully outing intellectuals compro- Siberian town stagger about in a frozendebate in Kapuscinski’s homeland, mised by the ancien régime, reveals fog, leaving discernible tunnels throughwhere the author of “Imperium,” “The the terrible power of this kept secret. it. His books never include disclaimers.Soccer War,” “The Emperor,” “Another Kapuscinski—by all accounts a gnomish, Meanwhile, during his three years ofDay of Life” and other works of lyrical affable personality—exploded after a research, Domoslawski unearths morereportage has been elevated to the status cocktail party where a post-communist fictions that have little to do with art.of Journalist of the Century. Yet bureaucrat glibly named Polish diplo- It appears that Kapuscinski trans-Domoslawski’s book is a mournful mats he thought had been Soviet agents. ferred his “magical realism” to the pages Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 49
  • Books The Fight of His Lifeof his own life. Traveling in the greatwanderer’s footsteps, Domoslawskifinds eyewitnesses who contradictseveral famous Kapuscinski-ianincidents of derring-do. It’s unlikely,he concludes, that Kapuscinski faced Ed Kennedy paid a high price for spreading news of thedeath by firing squads in Africa or war’s end. by Bill SchillerSouth America, as his book jacketblurbs assert. (Hence, perhaps, hisevasiveness in the documentary.) Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship & “It was a terrible day for the AP. ItKapuscinski also appears to have The Associated Press was handled in the worst possible way,”grossly exaggerated his friendships Edited By Julia Kennedy Cochran said Tom Curley, the agency’s presidentwith leftist liberation icons such as Louisiana State University Press. and chief executive officer, in makingChe Guevara, Salvador Allende, or 201 pages. the apology. Kennedy, he concluded, hadPatrice Lumumba. He may have done “everything just right.”never met them at all. The former foreign correspondent Domoslawski defers to a former It should have been the apex of ended his days with his pride andNew York Times correspondent who his illustrious career. But in some ways, journalistic principles intact, puttingknew Kapuscinski to sum up such it was the beginning of the end for out a small, high-quality newspaper inmythomania: “As the years went by, Edward Kennedy. Monterey, California.he became a member of the intel- The “scoop of the century”—Kennedy’s Already suffering from cancer, he diedligentsia … but he came from a poor exclusive May 7, 1945 report on in 1963 after being hit by a car. He wentbackground, from the provinces, from Germany’s unconditional surrender and out doing what he loved to do.ignorance,” said the late Michael T. the end of World War II in Europe— “We can sell these pieces of dead treesKaufman. “He had to make a super- commanded front pages and radio only by creating the illusion that theyhuman effort and do some incredible reports around the world. It triggered are alive,” he wrote in his final editorial.work on himself to get to the top, to celebrations everywhere. “This we attempt to do, with varyingreach the position he achieved at the But Kennedy, then Paris bureau degrees of success, by headlines thatend of his life.” chief for The Associated Press (AP), grip the eye and written material that Burdened by his self-made legend, was swiftly suspended and months later clutches the heart and soul of man.”Kapuscinski died planning one more quietly let go. Kennedy was attempting to do justimprobable journey, to the islands of He stood accused by the Allied that when, after six long years of warOceania, a place he had never been. military of breaking an agreed-upon in Europe, the military was trying to Was it an escape? His last note- embargo, thereby causing a security risk. muzzle the media—not for securitybook entries, written after he was His colleagues who had agreed to reasons, but for politics.hooked up to a feeding tube, still hold the embargo accused him of the biggest News that would grip the very heartthe master’s trademark beauty, and double-cross in journalistic history. and soul of a world yearning for peacecan be read, as the best Kapuscinski Kennedy stood tall against the charges was being withheld.always will be, on multiple levels. all of his life. He contended that he had“A terrible feeling of helplessness, never put any life at risk nor had he Deal BreakerI’m losing touch with the world, double-crossed anyone. Instead, he said, The powers in Washington and Londonwith the light, with my surroundings, he had done his duty as a journalist: He wanted to delay the announcement ofwith reality, it’s all drifting away, had stood up against political censorship. war’s end for 36 hours to allow the Sovietdisappearing.” Now we have his posthumously Union to stage its own signing ceremony published memoir explaining it all in cool in Berlin and make people in its spherePaul Salopek is a Pulitzer Prize- detail, how he did it, why he did it and of influence believe that it had deliveredwinning foreign correspondent. why, finally—after all these years—the AP the death blow to Nazism, with contribu-While on fellowship at the Nieman was moved to issue an apology this past tions from other, lesser parties.Foundation, he researched an around- May. Instead of standing up for a reporter But Kennedy brought his signaturethe-world journey he’ll make on foot who had performed to the highest jour- alertness, sound judgment, and con-to tell the story of human migration nalistic standards, his bosses at the AP siderable spine to do what every goodout of Africa 50,000 years ago. not only abandoned him, they fired him. reporter should have done that day.50 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Kennedy had learned that while But after careful consideration, he stories like Edward Kennedy’s more thanhe and 16 other correspondents had knew that military security was not ever.agreed not to report the surrender they involved. He and his colleagues had been As Kennedy reminds us, truth need nothad witnessed at General Dwight D. hoodwinked for political purposes. be the first casualty in war, nor the last.Eisenhower’s headquarters until given Today, in an age when government All journalists owe Edward Kennedythe green light, a German radio station manipulation of information appears to a debt for distinguished journalismin Allied-occupied territory had broad- be growing, when the shameful spinning under fire.cast the news—with Allied approval. of tales like those about soldiers Pat The embargo broken, the news out, Tillman and Jessica Lynch are wrought Bill Schiller, a 2006 Nieman Fellow, is aKennedy approached the military, de- from whole cloth, we need inspirational foreign affairs writer for the Toronto Star.manding an explanation. Getting none,he paused to consider, then moved swiftly. He called a colleague in the AP’sLondon office and told him the news:“Germany has surrendered uncondition-ally. That’s surrendered unconditionally.That’s official. Make the date Reims,France, and get it out.” He dictated about 300 words beforethe connection broke. Then he turned tohis colleagues and said, “Well, now let’ssee what happens.” All hell broke loose. The AP wasbullied by the military, its operations inthe European Theater shut down, and itquickly backed down—even before it hadobtained the facts from its own reporter. Military leaders weren’t the only onesto condemn Kennedy. The New YorkTimes, which had used Kennedy’s storyon its front page with multi-stackedheadlines announcing the end of the war,also attacked him, decrying Kennedy’sreport as a “grave disservice to the news-paper profession.” It was, of course, no such thing. It wasone of the AP’s and American journal-ism’s finest moments and might wellhave saved lives. “The war was over; there was no mili-tary security involved, and the people hada right to know,” Kennedy told reporterswhen he landed in New York on June 4. As his memoir recounts in tellingdetail, Kennedy knew the differencebetween censorship for political reasonsand censorship for security concerns. Asan AP correspondent for a decade, hehad traveled across war zones in Spain,Italy, the Middle East, and Europe, and Ed Kennedy, center, and an unidentified AP staffer react to the bombing at Anzio beachhead inhad operated regularly under the mili- 1944. Photo courtesy of Louisiana State University Press.tary censor’s blue pen. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 51
  • BooksMr. Difficult encouraged Wallace to be a part of the boys’ lives and welcomed his presence. It led to a renewed relationship. Wallace’s own life was profoundly altered when Peter died as a young manThe personal turmoil lurking beneath the tough exterior from a fall while hiking in Greece inby Stuart Watson 1962. The loss made him rethink his career choices. He focused more thanMike Wallace: A Life ever on journalism. It’s easy to see howBy Peter Rader his career could have continued as pitch-St. Martin’s Press. 323 pages. man and game show host. But he was driven to produce more substantial and lasting work.In his waning years, broadcast Wallace learned to use his voice as a Wallace was married four times in all.pioneer Mike Wallace declined screen- skinny Jewish kid in Brookline, He was not a philanderer, but this bookwriter and filmmaker Peter Rader’s Massachusetts to compensate for pro- chronicles in some detail how he seemedrequest to be interviewed for his biog- found insecurity about his pockmarked more comfortable with the enduringraphy, “Mike Wallace: A Life.” It’s prob- face and overbearing mother. Decades marriage to his vocation, his calling, hisably just as well. Rader meticulously later, he famously reduced Barbra voice. He recognized it as a characterresearched Wallace’s unique life in and Streisand to tears on camera over the flaw. He also did not give up on mar-out of broadcast journalism and he has very same insecurities he instinctively riage, his final in 1986 was to Mary Yates,crafted a narrative that is both engag- recognized from his own experience. the widow of his former producer anding and revealing, though some readers He didn’t gain admission to the good friend Ted Yates. Two years earliermay be put off by his admission that he University of Michigan without a good she literally saved his life when shewrote some “imagined dialogue.” The word from his friendly uncle, Leo rescued him from an overdose of pills.book exposes many shortcomings and Scharfman, who was on the faculty. Wallace later spoke frequently and freelyweaknesses that the great interrogator Wallace later left a legacy there by about his own depression. He spokezeroed in on in others but never wanted donating Wallace House, home of the less often of the failed suicide attempt.to confront himself.

 Knight-Wallace journalism fellows. He He left a note, which, Rader writes, “… In the days and weeks immediately learned the real power of his voice at befitting Mike, was rather impersonal—following Wallace’s death, it was easy to the campus radio station and later at relating to financial matters rather thanwatch the highlight reels of his career WOOD/WASH radio (twin call letters his feelings.”
What is glaringly apparentand feel a warm glow, but it’s much because a furniture company owned from the rest of this book is that had hisharder to confront his character flaws off half of the station and a laundry the suicide attempt been successful, Wallacecamera. He put his career ahead of fam- other half ). His early days in broadcast- would have missed the opportunity toily and friends. He could be cruel and ing were less than glamorous. He once make peace with himself and his lovedsexist to women in the workplace. He shoveled elephant dung to clear the ones and the world would have beenwas at times consumed with self-pity. stage for the live broadcast of WGN’s cheated of more decades of tremendous The retrospectives and obituaries are “Super Circus” in Chicago. reporting.reminders of his unique contributions to His first marriage was to his college Wallace’s prickly, challenging personabroadcast journalism, but this biography sweetheart, Norma Kaphan. He wasn’t on “60 Minutes” meshed perfectly withtakes Wallace away from the glowing ready. He went off to war in a noncom- public skepticism after Vietnam andscreen and puts him on the couch. It bat role in the South Pacific and was Watergate and the exponential growth ofwas not easy to work with him. It was absent when his oldest child developed television as a news medium. He spoke upnot easy to be married to him. It was tuberculosis. Norma enlisted a family for the voiceless. And that voice said, “Awnot easy to be his child. It was not easy physician to prevail on the U.S. Navy to c’mon!” The phrase that Wallace chose toto be him. 
 send him home. But the military was apply to himself may be applied to Peter Mike Wallace’s resonant voice, his a temporary absence. Wallace’s career Rader’s fine book: “Tough, but fair.”jet-black hair, his demeanor at once made for a more prolonged absence inprickly and endearing, make him the lives of his sons, Peter and Chris. The Stuart Watson, a 2008 Nieman Fellow,seem—in retrospect—born for broad- book details how Norma’s second hus- is an investigative reporter at WCNC-TVcast. What is less well known is how band, CBS executive William Leonard, in Charlotte, North Carolina.52 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Nieman Notes1942 Sancton was Washington tor of the Nieman Foundation,Thomas Sancton, a Southern editor for The Nation before Giles is now commentary editorjournalist who wrote articles in returning to New Orleans. for GlobalPost.the 1940s advocating for racial During nine years as a featurejustice, died at a nursing home writer for The New Orleans 1969in New Orleans on April 6th. He Item, he wrote two novels set Mike McGrady, a longtimewas 97. in Louisiana, “Count Roller reporter and critic for Newsday A graduate of Tulane Skates,” later reissued as “The best known as the mastermindUniversity, Sancton began his Magnificent Rascal,” in 1956, and of a ribald literary spoof, diedcareer reporting for The (New “By Starlight” in 1960. Neither of pneumonia on May 13th inOrleans) Times-Picayune before was the financial success he had Shelton, Washington. He was 78.joining The Associated Press and hoped for but his first novel was Published in the summermoving to New York. During his optioned this year for a movie. of 1969, “Naked Came theNieman year he married Seta, While at the Item, he also Stranger” was conceived bywho died in 2007, and left taught feature writing at Tulane. Pulitzer Prize for Biography: in McGrady as a commentary onCambridge early to become man- Among his students was John 1975 for “The Power Broker,” the declining tastes of Americanaging editor of The New Republic, Kennedy Toole, author of “A about New York City planner readers. The novel would offera post that gave him a platform Confederacy of Dunces.” Some of Robert Moses, and in 2003 for little in the way of plot or stylefor his views on racial justice. his students became so devoted “Master of the Senate,” the third as it followed in graphic detail His essays and editorials to him that they held annual volume in his “Years of Lyndon a suburban woman’s sexualdenouncing segregation pro- reunions at his house. One stu- Johnson” series. conquests in the wake of hervoked outrage in some quarters, dent told Sancton’s son, Thomas In a profile in The New York husband’s affair.and a Mississippi congressman A. Sancton, a former foreign Times Magazine in April, Caro McGrady wrote the firstdenounced him on the floor correspondent for Time maga- recalled a pivotal moment chapter and drafted colleaguesof the House of Representa- zine, that the class was like “one during his Nieman year. His class at Newsday to finish the book.tives, an outburst that Sancton big church service, something to on land use and urban planning “As one of Newsday’s trulyconsidered a badge of honor. worship and treasure for life.” was discussing how traffic and outstanding literary talents, youHis role as an early crusader for In addition to his son, population density determined are hereby officially invited tocivil rights earned him a place Sancton is survived by two where highways got built, and become the co-author of a best-in books such as The Library of daughters, five grandchildren, Caro thought to himself, “This is selling novel,” McGrady wrote inAmerica anthology “Reporting one great-grandchild, and one completely wrong. This isn’t why his pitch to them. “There will beCivil Rights” and John Egerton’s great-great-grandchild. highways get built. Highways an unremitting emphasis on sex.“Speak Now Against the Day: get built because Robert Moses Also, true excellence in writingThe Generation Before the Civil 1966 wants them built there. If you will be quickly blue-penciledRights Movement in the South.” Robert A. Caro’s fourth volume don’t find out and explain to into oblivion.” about President Lyndon Johnson, people where Robert Moses gets The project was delayed “The Passage of Power,” was his power, then everything else by McGrady’s reporting trip to published on May 1 by Knopf. you do is going to be dishonest.” Covering the years 1958 to 1964, the book examines Bob Giles has been elected to Johnson’s frustration about the American Academy of Arts giving up the power he wielded and Sciences. The 220 members as Senate majority leader to elected this year will be inducted become vice president, his at a ceremony in October at ascendency to the presidency the academy’s headquarters after the assassination of John F. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kennedy, and the burst of legis- Joining Giles in the class of 2012 lation that laid the groundwork are Boston Globe editor Marty for Johnson’s Great Society. Baron and television journalistThomas Sancton Caro has twice won the Judy Woodruff. The former cura- Mike McGrady Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 53
  • nieman notesVietnam and his Nieman year, He is survived by his wife, it had published. Twelve otherduring which he and his co-edi- Corinne, two sons, a daughter, publishers also turned it down.tor, Newsday colleague Harvey and five grandchildren. After her agent suggested usingAronson, mailed chapters back a pen name, it sold in threeand forth. “We found out that 1971 days. The critically acclaimedit’s very difficult to write badly,” Daniel Rapoport, a longtime “Dressmaker” has spent severalAronson said. Washington journalist, died at weeks on The New York Times The book credited Penelope his home in East Chatham, New extended bestseller list.Ashe, a “demure Long Island York on April 11th after a longhousewife,” as its author, and battle with leukemia. He was 79. 1983McGrady had his sister-in-law Born in New York City, Guy Gugliotta’s book “Freedom’splay the role for public appear- Rapoport moved to Washington, Daniel Rapoport Cap: The United States Capitolances. But after “Naked” sold D.C. in 1959 after graduating and the Coming of the Civil War”20,000 copies in the first few from the University of Illinois From 1984 to 1996, Farragut was published in February byweeks after publication, the and serving in the Navy. He put out 20 nonfiction titles. “As Farrar, Straus and Giroux.journalists revealed themselves joined United Press International a publisher, Dan was willing and The book, his second, focusesas its creators. According to and was covering the House of able to follow his own instincts on three men who influenced theAronson, the revelation created Representatives at the time of and interests. Farragut was design and construction of thesuch a sensation that he and his fellowship appointment. like nothing before or since,” building: Union Army CaptainMcGrady were picked up by His longstanding interests said Paul Dickson, co-author Montgomery C. Meigs, thehelicopter for an interview on ranged from prizefighting and of “Baseball: The Presidents’ lead engineer; architect Thomas“CBS Evening News.” the inaccuracy of lie detectors Game,” a Farragut book. Other U. Walter; and Confederate Before McGrady’s journalism to the number of lions shipped titles included “On This Spot: President Jefferson Davis.was overshadowed by “Naked,” to Rome to engage in Coliseum Pinpointing the Past in Gugliotta, who coveredthe New York City native covered battles, according to Nieman Washington, D.C.,” and “Grand Congress during a 16-year careerthe civil rights movement and classmate John Pekkanen, who Allusions: A Lively Guide to at The Washington Post, is now athe Vietnam War as a reporter called Rapoport “the kindest Those Terms, Expressions and freelance science writer.and columnist for Newsday, and most gregarious man I’ve References You Ought to Knowwhere he worked until 1991. ever known.” But Might Not,” which was William Marimow returnedAfter John Steinbeck, writing After leaving UPI, Rapoport reissued as “Merriam-Webster’s as editor of The Philadelphiain Newsday, called for other wrote “Inside the House: An Dictionary of Allusions.” Inquirer at the beginning of May.American writers to come to Irreverent Guided Tour Through In addition to his wife, he is He ran the paper from 2006Vietnam and see the war for the House of Representatives, survived by three children and to 2010 when he was reassignedthemselves, McGrady convinced From the Days of Adam Clayton one grandchild. to the investigative reportingthe paper to send him in 1967. Powell to Those of Peter Rodino,” team. He left the paper in 2011His columns from Vietnam were published by Follett in 1975. He 1974 to head the Carnegie-Knighthonored with an award from also wrote for National Journal Patricia O’Brien’s sixth novel, News21 digital journalismthe Overseas Press Club for best and Washingtonian magazine. “The Dressmaker,” was pub-interpretation of foreign affairs, In 1983 he founded Farragut lished by Doubleday in Februaryand they were republished as a Publishing, which had early suc- under the pseudonym Katebook called “A Dove in Vietnam.” cess with a series of cookbooks Alcott.Later he was a film critic and co-written by his wife, Maxine. It tells the story of Tess, arestaurant reviewer. “He was a natural innovator,” passenger on the Titanic who is McGrady wrote a number said a Farragut colleague, an aspiring seamstress work-of novels and nonfiction books, Merideth Menken. “He offered ing for a famous designer. Sheincluding “Stranger Than Naked: profit-sharing agreements to survives the disaster only to beOr, How to Write Dirty Books for Farragut authors and created caught up in the media frenzyFun and Profit” and “The Kitchen partnerships with those who that followed.Sink Papers: My Life as a House needed Farragut’s experience to Simon & Schuster rejectedHusband.” He also was the co- ‘package’ books under their own the manuscript due to poor salesauthor of two memoirs by “Deep imprints, a forerunner of today’s for O’Brien’s previous novel,Throat” star Linda Lovelace. self-publishing movement.” “Harriet and Isabella,” which54 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • this past fall at the National Broadcasting Corporation in Kyrgyzstan, at the request of the American Embassy. The longtime broadcast journalist said it “was an extraordinary opportunity to influence and train both journalists and executives at the center of the country’s emerging democ- racy. I taught how to question authorities, find stories, and giveWilliam Marimow Roberto Eisenmann Mark Ethridge voice to people who have been quieted for so long.”program at Arizona State and Stripes and the Great United States. It was released onUniversity’s Walter Cronkite Falls (Mont.) Tribune before DVD and other formats in July. Sabine Rollberg wasSchool of Journalism and Mass becoming a technical editor The film is based on his 2006 commissioning editor of theCommunication. for the United States Forest novel “Grievances,” which was documentary “Sofia’s Last In a press release announcing Service. He retired in 2010 and in turn based on a case that Ambulance,” which receivedthe move, Marimow said, “It will now describes himself as the Ethridge covered while working the France 4 Visionary Awardbe a privilege to work alongside “North Hills Elk, Bear and Weed at The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer at the 51st La Semaine de lanewsroom colleagues who have Volunteer.” in 1970. While the essence of the Critique (“Critic’s Week”) duringcontinued to produce great film—a rich white Northerner the Cannes Film Festival in May.journalism despite the toughest 1986 brings attention to the unsolved The film, directed by Ilian Metev,economic conditions I’ve ever Roberto Eisenmann received murder of a black man—is follows a team of paramedicsexperienced.” a lifetime achievement award true to the facts, many details in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, Marimow’s return was from the Fundación Fórum de were changed. “The story’s not where 13 ambulances serve aannounced just days after Periodistas por las Libertades factual,” he said, “but it is true.” population of nearly 2 million. Itthe sale of Philadelphia Media de Expresión e Información Ethridge’s second novel, was produced in part by GermanNetwork, which controls the (Journalist’s Forum for Freedom “Fallout,” was published in broadcaster WDR, whereInquirer as well as the of Expression and Information February by NewSouth Books. Rollberg is a commissioningPhiladelphia Daily News and Foundation) in Panama. It’s what he calls “an ‘Old Man editor.their joint website Philly.com, Eisenmann, the retired and the Sea’ kind of story,” aboutto local investors. founder of the daily newspaper an editor at a weekly newspaper 1989 La Prensa who was exiled from who stumbles onto a big story. Norman Robinson will receive1984 Panama during the Noriega To promote “Deadline,” the a 2012 Lifetime AchievementBert Lindler was named a hero regime, was honored for his filmmakers teamed up with Award from the Press Club ofof conservation in the April issue long commitment to journalists’ newspapers to host screenings New Orleans.of Field & Stream magazine. rights. in 45 cities, with all of the profits A longtime broadcast For the past seven years This is the 16th year that going to local nonprofits, such journalist who is a news anchorLindler has been a volunteer the foundation has given the as the Reporters Committee for at WDSU-TV in New Orleans,caretaker for a herd of 470 elk awards. A panel of eight inter- the Freedom of the Press in Robinson will be recognized atthat winter on the outskirts national journalists, including Washington, D.C. and VOX, the organization’s 54th annualof Missoula, Montana. He has Cecilia Alvear, NF ‘89, an inde- a group that supports teen Excellence in Journalism Awardsworked with conservation pendent multimedia journalist, journalists in Atlanta. in July. In addition to Newgroups, state agencies, local made the selections. “The movie has a very posi- Orleans, he has worked forranchers, and homeowners tive message about journalists broadcast outlets in Southernto control weeds and modify Mark Ethridge wrote the screen- and journalism,” Ethridge said. California, New York, andfences so the elk can find food play for the independent film Washington, D.C., where he wasand move across the land. “Deadline,” which premiered in 1987 a member of the White House Lindler was a reporter for February and has been screened Valerie Hyman conducted a Press Corps as a correspondentthe European edition of Stars in a number of cities across the three-week training program for CBS News. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 55
  • nieman notes: New FellowsLaura Norton Amico Borja Echevarría de David Abel Chris Arnold Alexandra Garcia Jeneen Interlandi la GándaraBlair Kamin Jennifer B. McDonald Betsy O’Donovan Mary Beth Sheridan Jane Spencer Laura Wides-MuñozIn the 75th Class, a New Fellowship Takes Aim at InnovationThe 75th class of Nieman Fellows includes two members named to Alexandra Garcia, video els for community newsrooms.a new fellowship designed to generate ideas to advance quality journalist at The Washington She is the Donald W. Reynoldsjournalism in the digital age. Post, will study interactive sto- Nieman Fellow in Community The Nieman-Berkman Fellowship in Journalism Innovation is a rytelling forms and how news Journalism.collaboration between the Nieman Foundation for Journalism and organizations can create visual Mary Beth Sheridan, a newsHarvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Laura Norton Amico, experiences that engage users. editor at The Washington Post,founder and editor of Homicide Watch in Washington, D.C., and Borja Jeneen Interlandi, a science plans to study internationalEchevarría de la Gándara (Spain), deputy managing editor of El País and health journalist based in politics and economics, with ain Madrid, will be full participants in both the Nieman and Berkman New Jersey, will study the history focus on countries, particularlyfellowship communities. of pharmaceuticals, the cultural those in Latin America, moving Amico will study criminal justice journalism in the digital age, forces that shaped people’s rela- from authoritarian to demo-focusing on best practices and new models for reporting on crime and tionships to medication, and the cratic systems.courts. Echevarría will study the structural evolution of newsrooms, impact that has had on percep- Jane Spencer, internationallook for patterns among successful newsrooms, and determine if the tions of illness and health. editor at large for Newsweekpractices of digital start-ups can be applied effectively in established Blair Kamin, architecture and The Daily Beast, will studynewsrooms. critic at the Chicago Tribune, will digital tools for narrative story- seek to re-examine and revitalize telling, with an emphasis on the field of architectural criticism how emerging technologies canU.S. Fellows: fueling the modern American in print and online. He is the Arts be used to improve news cover-David Abel, staff writer at The food culture and their impact on and Culture Nieman Fellow. age of global women’s issues.Boston Globe, plans to study the way Americans eat. Jennifer B. McDonald, an edi- Laura Wides-Muñoz, His-the evolution of new media, the Chris Arnold, national corre- tor at The New York Times Book panic affairs writer for Theimpact of rising income inequal- spondent at NPR, will study the Review, will study canonical Associated Press, will study theity on the social fabric, and the reshaping of the government’s works of literature and philoso- nexus between immigrationscience as well as the potential role in housing after the collapse phy and the historical role of the and economics. She will exam-effects of climate change. of the bubble and how the crash critic in culture. ine how the global financial Brett Anderson, restaurant will shape the future of home Betsy O’Donovan, a freelance crisis affects the integration ofcritic and features writer at The ownership. He is the Donald writer and editor for The Herald- immigrants into U.S. society andTimes-Picayune in New Orleans, W. Reynolds Nieman Fellow in Sun in Durham, North Carolina, how the data can be presentedwill study the forces and people Business Journalism. will study entrepreneurial mod- in dynamic ways on multimedia56 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Karim Ben Khelifa Katrin Bennhold Ludovic Blecher Lee Chong-ae Jin Deng Yaakov KatzSouad Mekhennet Paula Molina Finbarr O’Reilly Beauregard Tromp San Truongplatforms. She is the Louis Stark reporter, Seoul Broadcasting strategies of terrorist organiza- San Truong (a k a Huy Duc)Nieman Fellow. System, will study journalism tions such as al-Qaeda and how (Vietnam), a freelance journalist related to complex trauma, Islamic law deals with human based in Ho Chi Minh City, willInternational Fellows: focusing on people who have rights, women and democracy. study public policy, AmericanKarim Ben Khelifa (Tunisia/ experienced the effects of She is the Barry Bingham, Jr. literature, and the history ofBelgium), photojournalist and periods of colonialism, war and Nieman Fellow. Vietnam, to sharpen his workfounder of Emphas.is, will military-influenced dictatorial Paula Molina (Chile), anchor as a political analyst. He is theconduct research on journalist- administrations followed by and editor at Radio Cooperativa, Atsuko Chiba (NF ’68) Niemanaudience engagement, analyze rapid economic growth. Her fel- will explore opportunities the Fellow.the behavioral economics linked lowship is sponsored by The Asia digital revolution has created for In addition to Ann Marieto crowdfunding, and study new Foundation. better development, sharing and Lipinski, NF ’90, curator ofbusiness models promoting the Jin Deng (China), senior edi- distribution of broadcast news. the Nieman Foundation, thediversification of visual story- tor, Southern Weekly, will study Finbarr O’Reilly (Canada), selection committees for thetelling. He is the Carroll Binder how the democratization and Africa-based photographer for 2013 class included StevenNieman Fellow. fragmentation of information in Reuters, will focus on under- Bloomfield, executive direc- Katrin Bennhold (Germany), the social media era will affect standing how the human mind tor of Harvard’s WeatherheadLondon-based reporter for the journalism, society and politics and behavior are affected by Center for International Affairs;International Herald Tribune, will in China. Her fellowship is sup- what happens in trauma and Colin Maclay, managing directorstudy the economics of gender ported through Sovereign Bank conflict zones. He is the Ruth of Harvard’s Berkman Center forand motherhood and explore the and the Marco Polo Program of Cowan Nash Nieman Fellow. Internet & Society; Jack Megan,barriers to and costs of gender Banco Santander. Beauregard Tromp (South director of Harvard’s Office forequality in the early 21st century. Yaakov Katz (Israel/United Africa), senior field producer, the Arts; George de Lama, NFShe is the William Montalbano States), military reporter, The eNews Africa, will study how ’92, Nieman Advisory Board(NF ’70) Nieman Fellow. Jerusalem Post, will study the the purchase of large tracts member and president of global Ludovic Blecher (France), use of censorship in the digital of land in Africa by countries development at Answers Mediaexecutive director and editor in age, especially in coverage of and global corporations may LLC; journalist Dave Denison,chief of Liberation.fr, will study Israel and the Middle East. affect trade agreements, govern- NF ’90; Alicia Anstead, NF ’08,online media business models Souad Mekhennet (Germany/ ments and local communities editor in chief of Inside Artsand explore ways to monetize Morocco), a reporter and col- concerned about possible exploi- magazine; Stefanie Friedhoff,high-value journalism. He is umnist for The New York Times, tation under a “new colonial- NF ’01, special projects managerthe Robert Waldo Ruhl Nieman Der Spiegel, and ZDF (German ism.” His fellowship is supported for the Nieman Foundation; andFellow. TV), will study how the Arab by the Nieman Society of Joshua Benton, NF ’08, director Lee Chong-ae (Korea), senior Spring influenced the long-term Southern Africa. of the Nieman Journalism Lab. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 57
  • NIEMAN NOTES: PRIZES 1990 wrote the discussion paper The fellowship, given Yossi Melman has joined the “The Case for Open Journalism annually by the Michener Israeli news website Walla after Now.” Awards Foundation, provides 27 years with the daily newspa- funding for a reporter pursuing per Haaretz. He will continue Larry Tye has written “Superman: an investigative project that writing about security and The High-Flying History of serves the public interest. intelligence matters. America’s Most Enduring Hero,” His self-published book published in June by Random 1998 “Spies Against Armageddon,” House. The book looks not just Julia Keller will join the faculty co-written with CBS News at the Man of Steel character at Ohio University this fall, reporter Dan Raviv, will be but at the creators, designers, teaching writing in the journal- available in July on Amazon.com. owners and performers who ism department. She had been It is an unofficial history of the made him a cultural icon. Tye, the cultural critic at the ChicagoJoseph Thloloe Israeli intelligence community who has written biographies of Tribune. from 1948 to today. baseball pitcher Leroy “Satchel” “It’s been an extraordinaryJoseph Thloloe received the He also recently published Paige and Edward L. Bernays, journey for me,” Keller toldOrder of Ikhamanga silver medal “Running: An Autobiography” the father of public relations, Time Out Chicago about herfrom South Africa’s President in Hebrew. In the memoir he grew up reading Superman tenure at the Tribune, whereJacob Zuma in April. reflects on his life as a Polish boy comics and watching nearly all she had worked since 1998. “I He was one of 31 people who moved to Israel with his 104 episodes of “Adventures of was given the chance to writehonored with national orders on parents and how that history Superman” on TV. He writes in about anything and everything,Freedom Day, the anniversary influenced him to start running the acknowledgements that the from a long series on traumaticof the country’s first democratic marathons at age 43. idea for the book “came from brain injury to a series on theelections. the place so many good things aftermath of the Utica, Illinois, The Order of Ikhamanga 1991 do for me, my wife, Lisa.” tornado. … Not too shabby forrecognizes South Africans who Kevin Noblet completed his a kid from Huntington, Westhave excelled in the fields of term as president of the Society 1996 Virginia.”arts, culture, literature, music, of American Business Editors Laura Eggertson has been Keller has taught at ajournalism and sport. Thloloe, and Writers (SABEW) at the end awarded the Michener-Deacon number of universities anda veteran of South African of 2011. Fellowship for Investigative written three books, includingjournalism who is currently “Past presidents warned me Journalism. A freelance journal- “A Killing in the Hills,” which isserving as the country’s press it was a lot of work, and it was,” ist based in Ottawa, Eggertson being published by St. Martin’sombudsman, was cited for his he says. “But business news plans to write about suicide Press in August. It’s a mysterycontributions to the struggle is now front-page news and among aboriginal communities set in her home state about aagainst apartheid and his role SABEW’s work has never been in Canada. She plans to produce mother and daughter with ashaping the post-apartheid more important.” a series of articles in print and strained relationship who havemedia. online and a radio documentary. to work together to solve a The relationship between 1994 bizarre murder.the government and the press Melanie Sill has been named Keller won the 2005 Pulitzerhas been strained of late, with executive editor of Southern Prize for Feature Writing for herZuma’s African National California Public Radio, a stories about the Utica tornado.Congress party proposing a network of three stations. Themedia appeals tribunal and a former editor of The Sacramento 2004Protection of State Information Bee and The (Raleigh, N.C.) News Santiago Lyon has been pro-Bill that many journalists view & Observer, she is overseeing moted at The Associated Press.as a form of censorship. the newsgathering operation He is now a vice president in Thloloe said it is “a measure across online and broadcast addition to continuing as direc-of the maturity of our democ- platforms. She previously spent tor of photography, a position heracy that they overlooked our six months as executive-in- has held since December 2003.differences and gave this residence at the University of He says that he will continue “toaward. It bodes well for Southern California’s Annenberg be involved in working closelyour democracy.” School of Journalism, where she with AP Images,58 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Every year the Nieman Foundation awards a portfolio of prizes.The winners of three major awards were celebrated this spring.Bingham prize for Investigative JournalismA centerpiece clock tower that was lop-sided. A rooftop track and field renderedunusable by design flaws. A feedingtrough set too high for the pig to reach.From major to mundane, constructionflaws plagued the $5.7 billion programthat Los Angeles voters authorized torebuild the city’s community colleges. Butafter reporters Gale Holland and MichaelFinnegan spent 18 months investigat-ing for their Los Angeles Times series“Billions to Spend,” it became clear thatthe real story wasn’t the flaws, but thecorruption, greed and hubris that hadcreated them. Los Angeles Times reporters Gale Holland and Michael Finnegan constructed a narrative of the In April the series received the Nie- corruption they discovered by piecing together e-mails they obtained. Photos by Brooks Canaday.man Foundation’s 2011 Worth BinghamPrize for Investigative Journalism. Prizejudge Walter Robinson, formerly a long- down, and a new one built, just because E-mail was really a mother lode fortime Boston Globe investigative reporter, they had enough money to do it. We met our project. They delivered a lot of thecalled it “a stark reminder of the impor- with our editors, and the conclusion was e-mail in an Outlook format so it wastance of the watchdog role the press plays that the elected trustees were basically word-searchable, which saved us tonswhen government spends scarce public invisible in L.A., allowing them to spend of organizational work. It set up thefunds. This was an important public $5.7 billion in the dark of night, without chronology of when and how things hap-works project whose biggest beneficiaries any oversight. So they set us loose to take pened. And more importantly, it createdshould have been working class com- a comprehensive look at the program. a narrative, because this e-mail was allmunity college students,” Robinson said. We went about trying to get the architects, contractors and managers“Instead, the funds were used to award public records that would detail exactly arguing over what went wrong, andlucrative contracts to politically con- what the construction problems were whose fault was it, and accusations backnected companies, with lax oversight.” and exactly how much they cost. Our and forth, so we had more of a story, with Edited excerpts of the reporters’ focus was to be very specific and to human beings talking, and we didn’tdiscussion at the ceremony follow; a full rely on public records, but for a year have to rely just on the public recordsversion is available at http://nieman. they gave us nothing. Finally, we had reports to document the problems.harvard.edu/2011Bingham/. the bright idea of asking for the e-mail We discovered that there were secre- between the public officials and these taries and PR people who were on theGale Holland: I’m a higher education contractors, architects and construc- payrolls of shell companies that werereporter, and I got a tip that the elected tion managers. When it arrived, in the owned and run by big campaign donorstrustees of the college system had fired attachments were all of the reports we for the district. They were charging verythe chancellor because he opposed these had been seeking—all the engineering fat markups, ostensibly to cover theiroutlandish renewable energy projects. reports, and even a confidential legal business overhead and a small amountMeanwhile Michael [Finnegan], who’s a settlement. So we put it all in a file of profit. In one example, the district waspolitical reporter, got a tip that a newly and called it “Nirvana,” because it was paying about $300,000 for somebodyrenovated theater was going to be torn everything we needed. who was writing press releases, but that Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 59
  • NIEMAN NOTES: PRIZESemployee himself only made about$65,000. The rest of it went to these Taylor Award for Fairnesslayers of private companies. Thatparticular employee happened to be a on the stand and was asked a series ofnephew of one of the college trustees. questions and clearly did not handle the questions well. My paper was the onlyMichael Finnegan: My first job was one who covered that hearing, but on thereporting in New Jersey and New same floor, basically across the hall, theYork, where I had done some inves- news media for the entire region weretigative work and some political covering a murder trial. If everybodywork. So my assumption when we else was sitting in the same courtroom,couldn’t get questions answered was would they have seen what I did andthat something must be wrong here, decide to go look? Who knows. But partsomebody must be on the take. Los of doing good work, in my view, is seeingAngeles is largely a Democratic Party things happen. It’s not just sources andtown where environmentally friendly records and all of that.programs are kind of a given, and it I was covering that hearing as partwasn’t unheard of for contracts to of my follow-up to another series my When J. Andrew Curliss investigated a districtgo to people as political favors in the paper had done. I could have just wrote attorney, she attacked his work and his paper.green energy world. the story, “Oh, here’s the case. It got Photo by Lisa Abitbol. It turned out, though, that it was dismissed.” But as I was sitting there andnot a standard story of public officials seeing what I witnessed, my mindset wasripping off the public. It was a much To say that the subject of reporter J. “God, there’s more to this,” you know?more interesting story. It was about Andrew Curliss’s “Twisted Truth” series And the “more to it” was about the D.A.Larry Eisenberg, who was in charge was difficult is putting it mildly. Traceyof the program. It was about his ego, Cline, the district attorney of Durham, What are your go-to techniques forpartly. He fashioned himself to be the North Carolina, repeatedly battled Curl- interviewing?Robert Moses of green construction iss and his paper, The News & Observer When I’m interviewing somebody, I’min California. in Raleigh, over the investigation. thinking about two things. One is, what- Eisenberg spent two, three, four, The three-part series is the 2011 win- ever I’m asking them about, how mightfive hours with us, trying to explain ner of the Taylor Family Award for I describe it in the paper? Let’s say thatwhat they were doing, putting up Fairness in Newspapers. Speaking I’m going to describe some fund as a slushthese solar panels and windmills all about it, judge Tyler Bridges, NF ’12, fund, right? Well, if I’m going to write theover the campuses. Somehow they said “what especially stood out for me words “slush fund” in the newspaper, Iwere going to generate so much was how the newspaper handled Cline’s want to make sure that I say that in theelectricity that they would no longer attempts to discredit its work and that of interview. I want to ask them, “Is this ahave to pay power bills, and the its reporter ... The paper’s editors demon- slush fund?” The other is that I’m tryingpower costs would go down to noth- strated considerable fairness when Cline to listen. I think a lot of times we caning. Something didn’t add up though, cast the paper in the difficult role of hav- just get so focused on, “I’ve got this listbecause renewable energy is more ing to report on her attacks against it.” of questions I’ve got to get through, oneexpensive than the traditional kind. She has since been removed from office. to 10,” and you don’t really listen to the For us, it didn’t matter how con- Nieman Reports’s Jonathan Seitz spoke answers. Maybe you’re on question three,voluted and detailed this was, any- with Curliss after the award ceremony. and it could lead you in a whole newthing—the construction of a rocket Edited excerpts of their conversation fol- direction—if you were just listening.ship, say—could be explained if you low; a longer version is available online at The other thing I’m trying to do—I’lljust took enough time to listen to the http://nieman.harvard.edu/Curliss/. just be honest here: I’m trying to shutpeople who were explaining how it up. I tape a lot of my interviews and Iwas done. They couldn’t do it—it was Jonathan Seitz: What led you to the go back and I’m listening to it and I’mAlice in Wonderland. Finally, after “Twisted Truth” investigation? just, like, “Would you just shut up?” Youhe said, “Part of the plan is such-and- J. Andrew Curliss: It was me sitting in know? And so—that’s one of the thingssuch,” I just asked him: “What plan?” the courtroom, paying attention. There that I’m really trying to do: ask short Of course, there was no plan. was a hearing where the D.A. ended up questions, and then be quiet.60 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • How do you go about recreating theparticulars of a case?As a case goes up through the appealsprocess, things can get distilled,and in the distillation, there can bedistortion. And so, as much as pos-sible, I tried to rely on the actual trialtranscripts. What happens is that one sideis arguing their point really hard,and the other side is arguing theirpoint really hard, and sometimes theappeals court just adopts one side ofit—when it’s more nuanced than that. From left, prize winners Daniel J. Sharfstein, Jonathan M. Katz, and Sophia Rosenfeld. JonathanYou might think in a court story like Alter, right, is chairman of the J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Committee. Photo by Lisa Abitbol.this that it’s like, “Oh wow! This is alljust sitting there in the court records.” J. Anthony Lukas book prizeSWell, I wish it were that easy. Youcan’t just ask, “Oh, can I pull the filefor the cases where the prosecutor’swork was questioned?” I mean, that’sthe work, and there is no central file J. Anthony Lukas’s “Common Ground” had been a “close friend and hero” of his.for that. was a model and inspiration to Daniel Ann Marie Lipinski, NF ’90, curator of the J. Sharfstein, winner of this year’s J. Nieman Foundation, said her NiemanYou told the district attorney early on Anthony Lukas Book Prize. class had had the pleasure of spending anthat she was the focus of your investi- Sharfstein’s “The Invisible Line: afternoon with J. Anthony Lukas, NF ’69.gation and shared your findings with Three American Families and the Secret “Common Sense: A Political His-her. Is that how you always operate? Journey From Black to White” tells the tory” by Sophia Rosenfeld, a professorYeah, on a story like that, I think it’s story of blacks who over the centuries at University of Virginia, is this year’shelpful to try to get to the focus of have passed as whites. Largely by mining winner of the Mark Lynton Historythe story as early as possible—“as online databases, he found enough details Prize. The judges praised the book as anpossible” being the key words. I to spin a narrative about three black “extraordinary, wide-ranging and originalmean, you have to know what you families who passed as white. work” that shows how central commonwant to ask them. But part of being A professor at Vanderbilt University, sense is to the “evolution of our modernfair is giving the person a chance to Sharfstein recalled that he became understanding of politics.”properly explain himself or herself. enamored with “Common Ground: A The Work-in-Progress Award wentThis notion of just showing up at Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three to Jonathan M. Katz for his book, “Thethe courthouse on Friday before a American Families” in the late 1980s after Big Truck That Went By: How the Worldstory’s going to run on Sunday and his brother returned home from college, Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind acatching them where they can’t really clutching it “as if it were a sacred text.” He Disaster” to be published by Palgraveexplain their position—I just don’t said Lukas’s book has long influenced his Macmillan.think that’s the right way to do it. thinking “about the complexities of race In January 2010, Katz, then a cor-I don’t want to catch them; I want in the United States and the possibili- respondent for The Associated Press, wastheir best. ties for telling stories about how we see on his computer upstairs at his home And I want their best because ourselves and order our worlds.” outside Port-au-Prince when he heardthat’s what gets you to the truth. The Lukas prize is one of three admin- what he thought was the rumbling of aWhen you’re balancing the value of istered jointly by the Columbia University passing truck. “What we were hearing“Ooh, I caught them in a moment Graduate School of Journalism and the was the first shockwave coming from theand they couldn’t explain this” or “I Nieman Foundation as the Lukas Prize epicenter [of the earthquake],” he said.surprised them,” the surprise factor, Project Awards. In remarks at the awards The awards were established to honorto me, doesn’t outweigh the fairness ceremony in May, Nicholas Lemann, the late Lukas by recognizing excellencefactor. I guess that’s the bottom line. dean of the journalism school, said Lukas in narrative nonfiction books. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 61
  • NIeman notesSantiago Lyon Eliza Griswold Kondwani Munthali Kael AlfordAP’s photo licensing arm, to Times Magazine story This is the first year that effects of erosion on Louisiana,grow AP’s photo business, as she wrote about poetry in MISA has given the award, especially in the wake of Hur-well as ongoing cross-format Afghanistan, and a book about with financial support from ricane Katrina and the Gulf oilleadership activities in AP’s the fall of manmade America the U.S. Embassy. The recipi- spill, as part of a commissionnews department.” and the nation’s collective pov- ent was selected by a vote of from the museum. Lyon has been with the AP erty. The fellowships, awarded journalists who are members According to Alford, “Likesince 1991, when he joined as by the John Simon Guggenheim of the organization. “I am proud the Lower Ninth Ward in Newa photographer based in Cairo. Memorial Foundation, provide that my peers, who form the Orleans, what is being lost on funding to writers, scholars and majority of my critics, thought the coast of Louisiana is more2007 scientists to work on projects of this was the best out of my than a neighborhood or aEliza Griswold has been awarded their choosing. Motherland Malawi,” Munthali storm buffer. It’s a piece ofa Guggenheim Fellowship. The wrote in a blog post after the our collective memory and ajournalist and poet plans to Kondwani Munthali was named announcement. unique piece of heritage thatspend her fellowship year work- Malawi’s Blogger of the Year by When Munthali started blog- defines us as a nation.”ing on three projects: a collec- the Media Institute of Southern ging during his Nieman year,tion of poems to be published by Africa (MISA) during its World he mainly posted his opinions Hannah Allam joinedFarrar, Straus and Giroux in 2013, Press Freedom Day celebrations on issues ranging from global McClatchy’s Washington, D.C.a book based on a New York in May. health to youth empowerment bureau on July 1st, covering programs. Recently he has foreign affairs as part of the focused more on news, and he national security reporting team. has occasionally faced harsh For the past nine years, Allam criticism and reprisals for his has worked for McClatchy in the writing, especially during the Middle East, serving as bureau political turmoil in Malawi over chief in Baghdad and Cairo. She the past two years, he said in gave birth to a son, Bilal, while an interview posted on Global covering the Iraq War. In a Voices Online. 2009 Kael Alford’s photographs from Louisiana are featured at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Her work is part of the “Picturing the South” exhibit on display until September. AAnja Niedringhaus, NF ’07, won first place in a spot news photography companion book, “Bottom of dacategory of the National Headliner Awards. “Shot Down” shows Boot,” has been published bya Libyan warplane moments before it crashed to the ground. Fall Line Press. She has spent theNiedringhaus works for The Associated Press. last five years documenting the Hannah Allam62 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • Facebook posting announcing Gary Knight’s photographsher new position, Allam said that are featured in the new bookher time abroad was “exhilarat- “Questions Without Answers:ing,” but that she’s “excited The World in Pictures by theabout the new beat, the chance Photographers of VII,” a retro-for Bilal to be closer to his grand- spective of work by members ofmas and cousins, and the pros- photo agency VII.pect of an occasional day off.” His photo essays are “Evidence: War Crimes inDavid Jackson and colleague Kosovo,” in which he takes aGary Marx at the Chicago forensic approach to photo-Tribune won the 2011 Medill David Jackson Lisa Mullins graphing the former YugoslaviaMedal for Courage in after the indictment of Serbia’sJournalism for their series, The series was a finalist 2010 President Slobodan Milosevic;“Across the Border, Beyond the for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Lisa Mullins received a Gracie “The Bridge,” about one of theLaw,” about how flaws in the Investigative Reporting. Award from the Alliance for first major assaults of the Iraqjustice system allow fugitives Women in Media Foundation. war; and “Amongst the Poor,”to leave the United States and Tommy Tomlinson has been Mullins was recognized as an which grew out of Knight’sevade the law. Their series hired to write for a joint outstanding anchor in the news/ journeys through India overidentified dozens of criminals venture of USA Today Sports news magazine category for her a two-year period.from Chicago, including a priest Media Group and Major League work on Public Radio Interna- Knight is director of thecharged with sexual assault, Baseball Advanced Media. The tional’s “The World,” which she Program for Narrative andwho had fled the country. partnership plans to launch a has anchored since 1998. Documentary Practice at Tufts The Medill Medal is awarded website this summer. He’ll be University’s Institute for Globalannually by Northwestern writing about all sports, with an 2011 Leadership.University’s Medill School of emphasis on college football. Hui Sui Fun’s “Misjudged Cases”Journalism to the individual or Tomlinson spent the last was one of two documentaries 2012team of journalists “who best 23 years at The Charlotte (N.C.) from Hong Kong-based TVB Jade Carlotta Gall has been signeddisplayed moral, ethical or physi- Observer, where he has been a Channel that received a 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourtcal courage in the pursuit of a local columnist since 1997. In his Peabody Award. Her documen- to write a book about what thestory or series of stories.” final column, he wrote, “When tary focuses on unjust arrests publisher calls “America’s long “In their work, Marx and I decided to leave the Observer, and prosecutions. occupation of Afghanistan,Jackson blend old-fashioned I had two main reasons: I’d The George Foster Peabody from 9/11 to the present, areporting shoe-leather, exhaus- never been part of something Awards are given annually by Vietnam-esque tragedy thattive public records searches that was starting from the the University of Georgia’s leaves behind a country inand fierce courage in confront- ground up, and I didn’t want Grady College of Journalism and turmoil.” Gall, a reporter for Theing international fugitives on to be an old man sitting on my Mass Communication to honor New York Times, has been basedtheir home turfs,” said Medill porch wondering,“What if I had excellence in television, radio in Afghanistan and PakistanProfessor Donna Leff, who led tried that?.” and the Web. since 2001.the judging. “The reporterswandered in areas known forharboring drug cartels that ruleby assassination and kidnappingand through their fearless work,showed how the Justice Depart-ment, county prosecutors andlocal police could have foundthese fugitives from justice.” On an 18-day trip to Mexico,the two reporters found eight ofthe nine fugitives they were seek-ing. Two agreed to interviews. Tommy Tomlinson Hui Sui Fun Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 63
  • NIeman notesPulitzer Prizes for Two NiemansSeattle Times investigative character and capture the culture of her for commentary, wrote about how shereporter Ken Armstrong, NF ’01, and famed city.” Her subjects ranged from got started as a columnist 20 years agoChicago Tribune columnist Mary the personal to the political, from crime and what she has learned since:Schmich, NF ’96, have won journalism’s to the installation of a cringe-worthy “On a chilly afternoon in the April Imost prestigious award. statue of Marilyn Monroe. arrived, I sat in a Coffee Chicago with a Schmich won the Pulitzer Prize for After the announcement, Schmich, yellow pad … . I wrote down things like:Commentary for “her wide range of who had been a Pulitzer finalist in 2006 Go out. Get to know people. Introducedown-to-earth columns that reflect the for feature writing as well as last year Chicago people to each other. MakeKristen Lombardi was part ofthe Center for Public Integrity/NPR investigation, “PoisonedPlaces: Toxic Air, NeglectedCommunities,” that won theSociety of ProfessionalJournalists’ (SPJ) 2011 SigmaDelta Chi Award for PublicService in Online Journalism. The series looked at hun-dreds of cities across the USwhere efforts to clean up air Kristen Lombardi Raquel Rutledge Pir Zubair Shahpollution have fallen far shortof expectations. More than 20 since 2007. She won the 2009 prit behind illnesses and deaths Pir Zubair Shah has been namedyears after clean air legislation Sigma Delta Chi award in the in hospitals, including that of the 2012-2013 Edward R. Murrowwas passed, many communities same category for “Sexual 2-year-old Harrison Kothari. The Press Fellow at the Councilare still exposed to chemicals Assault on Campus: A Frustrat- reporters discovered that for a on Foreign Relations in Newthat can cause cancer and other ing Search for Justice.” decade a Wisconsin firm had York. The fellowship provideshealth problems. frequently violated federal rules an opportunity for a foreign SPJ judges said the series Raquel Rutledge and her affili- for making sterile products, but correspondent or editor to“fully utilizes the tenets of ate John Diedrich were part of the U.S. Food and Drug Adminis- focus on sustained analysis ofonline journalism to uncover an the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tration had taken little action. events abroad. Shah, who hasimportant issue. The in-depth team that won a Sigma Delta “While the FOI effort alone reported for The New York Timesstories, photography and video Chi Award for Investigative could constitute a first-place in Pakistan, intends to work ongive readers an immersive Reporting for “A Case of Shat- award, the reporting was what he calls a “politically rel-experience on what it feels like tered Trust.” The series also won humanized and made intensely evant memoir of growing up into live near a company that is on first place in the investigative relevant when the writers intro- Pakistan.” The book will examinethe EPA’s watch list. … Upon its category of the Association of duced us to the Kothari family’s the nation’s past and present inpublication, the EPA posted data Health Care Journalists’ (AHCJ) loss,” the AHCJ judges said. an effort to predict its future.on its website. One state cracked Awards for Excellence in Health “Overall, this effort exemplifiesdown on a polluter. Other media Care Journalism and a 2012 Ger- best practices in multimediacaught on to the story and ald Loeb Award for excellence in storytelling, with graphics, To submit a note about a newpublished their own pieces and business reporting. compelling photos, and rivet- job, project or award, please reachreaction to the work.” In the paper’s investigation, ing video. This will become a us at nreditor@harvard.edu or Lombardi has been on staff contaminated alcohol wipes hallmark for how to accomplish Nieman Reports, One Francis Ave.,at the Center for Public Integrity emerged as the suspected cul- public service reporting.” Cambridge, MA 02138.64 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • the city visible. Make it feel like asmall town. Stories! … After that,one story at a time, I began to makesense of this amazing, chaotic place.It was like putting together a giantjigsaw puzzle, one you can never getentirely assembled because pieceskeep vanishing and new pieces keepturning up.” Armstrong and fellow reporterMichael J. Berens’s series “Metha-done and the Politics of Pain” wasone of two winners in the investiga-tive reporting category. The prizewas given “for their investigation ofhow a little known governmental Seattle Times reporter Ken Armstrong is congratulated in the newsroom on the day the 2012body in Washington State moved Pulitzers were announced. Photo by Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times.vulnerable patients from safer pain-control medication to methadone, a ‘Methadone and The Politicscheaper but more dangerous drug,coverage that prompted statewide of Pain’health warnings.” A week after the series was pub-lished in December 2011, the stateannounced that it would issue anemergency public-health advisory The Seattle Times series by Michael J. Berens and ers, and state employees—to methadone, ato more than 1,000 pharmacists Ken Armstrong, NF ’01, that won a 2012 Pulitzer narcotic with two notable characteristics. Theand about 17,000 licensed health Prize for Investigative Reporting began under drug is cheap. The drug is unpredictable.care professionals, warning of the the headline: “State Pushes Drug That Saves The state highlights the former and down-risks associated with taking metha- Money, Costs Lives.” Among the chilling facts plays the latter, cutting its costs while refus-done. In January the state went in the three-part series was that California ing to own up to the consequences, accordingfurther, instructing physicians to has more than five times the population of to a Seattle Times investigation that includestreat methadone as a drug of last Washington, but fewer methadone deaths. computerized analysis of death certificates,resort. The excerpt below lays out the problem: hospitalization records, and poverty data. The series also won the Selden Methadone belongs to a class of narcoticRing Award and an Investigative Map the deaths and you see the story. painkillers, called opioids, that includes Oxy-Reporters and Editors (IRE) award. Assign a dot to each person who has died in Contin, fentanyl and morphine. Within that The reporters announced that Washington by accidentally overdosing on group, methadone accounts for less than 10they would donate their $10,000 methadone, a commonly prescribed drug percent of the drugs prescribed—but morePulitzer Prize to provide IRE used to treat chronic pain. Since 2003, there than half of the deaths, The Times found.training to their colleagues at The are 2,173 of these dots. That alone is striking, Methadone works wonders for someSeattle Times. “We just wanted a graphic illustration of an ongoing epidemic. patients, relieving chronic pain from throb-to find a way to do something for But it’s the clusters that pop out—the bing backs to inflamed joints. But the drug’sthe paper and something for IRE,” concentration of dots in places with lower unique properties make it unforgiving andArmstrong said. “IRE, more than incomes. Everett, whose residents earn less sometimes lethal.any other organization you can than the state average, has 99 dots. Bellevue, Most painkillers, such as OxyContin,think of, is the group that people with more people and more money, has eight. dissipate from the body within hours.turn to when they want to learn this Working-class Port Angeles has 40 dots. Methadone can linger for days, pooling to acraft and they want to be inspired. Mercer Island, upscale and more populous, toxic reservoir that depresses the respiratoryAnd to me, those two things are has none. For the past eight years Washing- system. With little warning, patients fallequally important.” ton has steered people with state-subsidized asleep and don’t wake up. Doctors call it the —Jonathan Seitz health care—Medicaid patients, injured work- silent death. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 65
  • NIeman notesWriting Her Heart Outby mary schmichThis column by Mary Schmich, NF ’96, whowon the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary,appeared in the Chicago Tribune on August7, 2011 under the headline “Troubled daughtergrows up.”My sister Gina received her first cellphone asa birthday gift a few days ago. Until recently, Gina had insisted that acellphone was too complicated for her, aplausible statement given how many thingsshe finds hard. For years, she found bathing complicated,so she rarely stepped into a tub or shower.Brushing her teeth felt complicated, so herteeth went bad. Cleaning her room felt likeclimbing a mountain, so her room devolvedinto a jungle of junk with a skinny path tothe unmade bed. In the final weeks of her oldcat’s life, she found it too complicated to pickup the cat feces on the carpet, so she neatly Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich on the day it was announced that she had won the 2012laid a paper towel over each set of droppings. Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Photo by Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/via The Associated Press. When Gina was little, doctors said shehad an IQ of 34, and though they were farwrong, the right diagnosis has never been But after Mama died, we braced for up soft drinks, after years of a dozen a day.clear. Mild autism. Borderline personality Gina’s familiar rages. We talked about how She has gone to the dentist, and her teeth,disorder. The verdict seems to have changed to handle her when she burst into shrieks at minus several that had to be pulled, arealmost as often as her medications. the memorial. white again. What is clear is that Gina is different, so On the morning of the service, she found She showers.she always lived with our mother and our me while I washed my face. And now, thanks to two brothers, she is amother lived with the question: What will “Do you think,” she began. “Do you think modern woman with a cellphone. I called herhappen to Gina when I die? it would be OK if I don’t go? I just. I just think on it last week. Gina worried too. As Mama grew frail, the best way for me to honor Mom today is “I’m doing a lot of things I never thoughtGina often climbed in her bed in the middle to take a shower and brush my teeth and go I’d be doing,” she said with a big laugh.of the night to weep. out on the bus.” “Living alone! And a cellphone!” “Honey,” my mother would soothe And that’s what she did. I try to understand my sister’s transfor-her, “you’ll be OK,” and my siblings and I, With clean hair, in new brown capris and mation, to trust that it will last. It’s one ofunconvinced, told our mother we’d make shin-high socks from Target, she rode the bus the most mysterious and beautiful thingssure she was. from store to store that day, along a route I’ve ever witnessed, though maybe it’s no In the months leading up to my mother’s she rides for hours almost every day just for more complex than this:death, Gina began to change. She calmed fun. She visited with clerks and pharmacists When your greatest fear comes to passdown, some. She took pride in making she considers her best friends, telling them and you survive, you discover who youMother’s morning coffee. When one of my her mom was gone. really are.brothers or I bathed our mother, Gina held the “Mom would be proud of me for beingtowels. When we’d lift Mother off the portable independent,” she said when she got back. Reprinted with permission from Chicagocommode next to the sofa where she slept, In the year since, Gina has lived alone, Tribune; copyright Chicago Tribune. AllGina was quick to say, “I’ll empty it.” next to one of our brothers. She has given rights reserved.66 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • nieman journalism labAnd You Thought Your NewsroomWas InnovativeAcross the globe, journalists are finding new ways to deliver diverse content to anincreasingly mobile audience. By Adrienne LaFranceDoes your daily newspaper offer romance novels on the of contemporary photographs of the same settings. With theside? How about an interactive evening edition for the iPad? swipe of a finger, users could reveal the modern photo that cor- As media innovation increasingly targets an on-demand responded to an old painting.culture, these were among the projects that attracted interest Doria said the paper saw engagement with its tablet appat the 13th International Symposium on Online Journalism skyrocket after it introduced the edition earlier this year. O(ISOJ), where hundreds of journalists, media executives, and Globo found that the amount of time people spent using theacademics gathered in April to exchange research and ideas app jumped from an average of 26 minutes a day to 77 minutesabout disruptions in journalism and global reactions to them. a day. The conference, hosted by the Knight Center for Journalism One key factor, Doria said, is that the company assembled ain the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, reliably team dedicated to building something “not for the Web, not fordraws a mix of professional news producers and high-level the newspaper—for the tablet.” The mentality at O Globo, heresearchers. In addition to the continuing need for innovation said, is that great journalism should be distributed wherever itand entrepreneurialism, many of this year’s speakers empha- fits best, and that no single channel—print, television, tablets,sized the importance of addressing the challenges presented by smartphones—should inherently trump another.the rise of mobile devices. Mobile NetworksE-Books In some cases, people connecting to the Internet for the firstWhen it comes to finding opportunities for revenue, the atti- time are doing so through mobile devices. That’s true in partstude increasingly is “why not?” That’s the case at the Inquirer of Africa where those who missed the shift to desktop InternetGroup, one of the largest media companies in the Philippines, access are now getting connected via phones. This developmentwhere JV Rufino heads the mobile and books group. holds great promise for expanding access to news, but it also His group has tried a number of approaches in its foray into carries a risk.e-books, including publishing collections of what had already Harry Dugmore, a mobile communication expert whoappeared in the print newspaper—like a three-part investiga- teaches at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Mediative series that examined the failed promises of a fund estab- Studies in South Africa, is behind a project called Iindabalished to help coconut farmers. Ziyafika, which promotes the use of mobile phones for “interac- But some of the other genres that the newspaper com- tive journalism.” It encourages citizens to send informationpany went with for its e-books may surprise you. At Easter, it to media outlets via text message and is working to developreleased a collection of prayers that had been published over methods of distributing news directly to cell phones.time on the front page of the community newspaper Inquirer At ISOJ, Dugmore talked about the enormous importance ofLibre. It also offered a Tagalog romance novel that had been mobile networks in delivering news to consumers in Africa. Yetserialized in another Inquirer newspaper. these networks have a down side. They tend to be centralized The Inquirer Group also published books—this time in and they’re often under government control.physical as well as electronic formats—about the Supreme In nations that lack press protections, the architecture ofCourt’s decision-making process. mobile networks raises security risks for those who rely on them. As the global population shifts toward phones and tab-Evening Edition lets, innovation in the arena of mobile security will be critical toPedro Doria, digital platforms editor of O Globo, a national promoting freedom of speech and of the press.newspaper based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, wowed ISOJ witha demonstration of his newspaper’s evening-edition iPad app. Adrienne LaFrance is a staff writer for the Nieman JournalismOne feature layered 300-year-old paintings of Brazil on top Lab. Nieman Reports | Summer 2012 67
  • heard at lippmann houseOut of His Comfort ZoneBuzz Bissinger on ambition, fear of failure, and the genesis of ‘Friday Night Lights’The 2012 fellowship year ended on a bittersweet note this spring something different, not simply go back to my paper with thewhen narrative nonfiction legend Buzz Bissinger, NF ’86, came sort of glow of a great year. So that’s what I did.”home to Lippmann House to talk about his new book, “Father’s Bissinger of course went on to write the iconic “Friday NightDay: A Journey Into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream,” a narrative about highSon.” school football in Texas, and other acclaimed books. “Father’s Day,” “The Nieman year was probably the most special year of my published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is about a cross-countrylife,” he told fellows, who moments later would have their closing road trip with one of his twin sons, Zach, a 24-year-old savant.barbecue. “The intimacy, the stimulation … people say, ‘Why’d In conversation with curator Ann Marie Lipinski, NF ’90,you begin to write books?’ The reason I really began to write who was his editor at the Chicago Tribune, Bissinger talkedbooks is that after my Nieman year I felt I owed it to myself about books, newspapers and the best possible attitude for anto go and do something out of the box, and really, really do outgoing Nieman. What follows is an edited excerpt:I get excited about a lot of ideas and I just let them sit. I get a sort After your Nieman year you owe it to yourself to do somethingof pulsating feeling in my heart, my chest—this excitement. And different. Even if you’re going back to your own paper, do some-if the excitement lingered that meant I was onto something. thing different. Do a different beat. Write a book. Whatever. Just do something different.I had a passion and a feeling in my heart that [“Friday NightLights”] was the right book for me to do. And then I got lucky.As my father says, “You have to be close to be lucky.”As a journalist, all I ever do is try to get people to be honestabout themselves and open up. I felt, well if I’m gonna turnthe light on myself I have to be honest, because I think there’spurity in honesty. I think that’s where you learn about people.Did [“Father’s Day”] change me? Did the trip change me? Idon’t think it did.I’m still ambitious. I’m still frantic the book will be a failure andif it’s a success it won’t be as big a success as I anticipated.But it did make me feel closer to Zach.What was great about journalism when I enteredit, which was right after Watergate, in 1976, paperswere hot, papers were making money, but beyondthat they all wanted investigative reporting, theyall wanted long-form reporting.68 Nieman Reports | Summer 2012
  • “ he key to reporting is to zig  T while everyone else zags.” —buzz bissinger Read the transcript of Buzz’s visit at www.niemanstoryboard.org, along with an excerpt from “Father’s Day.”
  • Nieman ReportsOne Francis AvenueCambridge, Massachusetts 02138 in this issue Cover Stories By Megan O’Grady Photo Essay: This Land Is Their Land By Gustavo Jononovich Chaos Theory By Richard Gingras PLUS Linda Greenhouse on ‘He Said, She Said’ Journalism Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Secret Life Ed Kennedy’s Firing Offense