Benjamin Mullin

I write, edit, report and produce media for Poynter.org as one of the institute's first Google Journalism Fellows. Before that, I was the editor in chief of my college newspaper, The Orion, a freelancer for USA Today and an intern at a variety of publications throughout Northern California. I love to talk media and journalism! Tweet me @benmullin or email at bmullin@poynter.org.


Tonawanda News to fold in January

The Buffalo News | The Tonawanda News

Twenty employees at the Tonawanda News will lose their jobs in January after the paper closes, the Buffalo News reported Thursday.

The Tonawanda News, a 134-year-old newspaper serving north suburban Buffalo, is closing after revenue from advertising and circulation failed to keep pace with expenses, the paper reports.

The paper belongs to the Greater Niagara Newspapers group, which includes two other papers in the region: the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal, according to The Tonawanda News. Neither paper is closing. Read more

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Only 1 in 5 college newspapers updates its website daily

College Media Matters | Student Media Map

Just 21 percent of student newspapers at public, four-year universities update their websites five days a week, according to an interactive tool launched Thursday.

Student Media Map, a project by University of Texas senior Bobby Blanchard, compares rates of online publishing at student newspapers nationwide, Dan Reimold writes for College Media Matters.

The map works by mining RSS feeds at 485 student newspapers throughout the United States and representing each with a colored dot based on their publishing frequency. A green dot means the site is updated at least five times per week, purple means the site is updated less frequently and red indicates the university does not have a newspaper. Private universities and some colleges in New York are missing from the map.

The project shows that publishing frequency tends to skew in favor of larger schools — only 4 percent of newspapers at universities with fewer than 10,000 students enrolled published content five-days a week, compared to 81 percent of student newspapers at universities with between 40,000 and 50,000 students.

The idea for the project came from a conversation that arose when the student newspaper at The University of Texas, The Daily Texan, was faced with reductions to its print frequency, Blanchard told Reimold. The newspaper vowed to maintain a steady flow of copy to its website, which made Blanchard wonder: how many papers did the same?

You can check the map out for yourself here. Read more

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How the AP busted Nazi suspects receiving Social Security payments

After three years of on-again-off-again investigation, David Rising finally sighted his quarry this summer. He was a small man, bespectacled and balding, peering over a second-story window ledge to survey his surroundings.

Rising, a Berlin correspondent for The Associated Press, had traveled a long way to see this man — all the way to Osijek, a mid-size city in Croatia nestled along the banks of the Drava River. The man, Jakob Denzinger, was one of the last living subjects of a story the AP had been chipping away at for years, a story about a decades-old policy that connected American taxpayers to individuals suspected of Nazi war crimes.

On Oct. 19, the AP moved that story, a 4,320-word investigation into a loophole that allowed Nazi suspects, including Denzinger, to receive monthly payments from the United States Social Security Administration.

The tale behind the investigation — a ponderous project that required three reporters spread out over two continents — gives a look at how the AP is leveraging its year-old international investigative team and its global network of correspondents to bring ambitious stories to term.

The story that would eventually lead to Denzinger began in 2011. That year, AP investigative researcher Randy Herschaft was digging through declassified documents at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Herschaft was trawling for information on Nazi suspects, specifically evidence related to a man on trial for committing crimes while allegedly working at a concentration camp in occupied Poland during World War II.

But during his search, he ran across a State Department report from 1984 analyzing the practice of “Nazi dumping,” a policy that included the Justice Department’s use of Social Security payments as leverage to persuade suspected Nazis to leave the United States.

When Rising discussed the report on the phone with Herschaft from Berlin, they both knew the implications were huge. If living Nazi suspects were still receiving these benefits, this decades-old report could be the beginnings of a high-impact story.

“I think maybe ‘holy shit’ was the reaction,” Rising said.

Although the two journalists had a big story on their hands, deadline pressure and daily assignments slowed the investigation. Rising had to juggle reporting and writing with leading the news cooperative’s text operations in Germany. Another obstacle intruded: the Social Security Administration changed the scope of a FOIA request seeking documents that might reveal the extent of the program.

In the meantime, Herschaft and Rising shared bylines on three other investigations into Nazi activity — two about a former Nazi commander, then living in Minnesota, who they discovered ordered a massacre on a Polish town. They also finished the story they were working on when Herschaft discovered the State Department report on Nazi dumping, an article that showed the FBI had concluded evidence used to prosecute a suspected Nazi was probably fabricated.

By February of this year, the two reporters had made significant progress on the story, but they were still missing key pieces of evidence. Rising and Herschaft hadn’t confirmed specific cases where suspected Nazis received Social Security benefits after leaving the United States. And they hadn’t yet documented whether the program was still ongoing.

Enter Richard Lardner, a reporter assigned to the AP’s international investigations team based in Washington, D.C. Trish Wilson, Lardner’s editor, sent him an email from Europe enterprise editor Joji Sakurai that laid out the foundations of the story: evidence of bargaining with Nazi war crimes suspects, deals cut by the U.S. to avoid messy deportation proceedings. Sakurai wanted help from a reporter in D.C. who could push the project forward.

In the coming months, Lardner conducted about 20 interviews and pored over records at the United States Holocaust Museum library and the National Archives. He also tried — unsuccessfully — to schedule on-the-record interviews with officials from the Social Security Administration and the Justice Department. He wasn’t discouraged by the lack of response, though.

“It just makes you want to pursue this even more aggressively,” Lardner said. “It’s the nature of what you do. If you gave up all the time, you’d never get anywhere.”

With Lardner aboard, the investigation was nearing the finish line. But as it drew to a close, the team still wanted to find a face for the story, a living person to show the impact of the decades-old policy. They got a break when Rising got in touch with one of his sources, who provided the whereabouts of Denzinger.

“Denzinger, as a former death camp guard who was removed from the U.S. and was still alive and receiving Social Security, was the ideal way to illustrate the story,” Rising said in an email to Poynter.

On July 27, Rising flew to Zagreb, Croatia, and drove about three hours east to Osijek. He and Darko Bandic, the photographer assigned to the story, took position at a café near Denzinger’s apartment, hoping to catch him on the way out.

As stakeouts go, it wasn’t too bad — the journalists moved between the café and a restaurant, so they had plenty to eat and drink. But after a day of waiting, all they had to show for their efforts was a glimpse of Denzinger through the window and a report from a waiter who said he was a good tipper.

So, knowing they couldn’t stay in Croatia forever, the pair decided to head to Denzinger’s apartment for the interview. They were buzzed into the building without a word. When Rising arrived at Denzinger’s door, his nurse answered, speaking Croatian. Rising fetched Bandic, who could speak to the nurse — but when they got back to the door, she wouldn’t answer. Two hours later, a lady from a downstairs apartment arrived and let Rising in.

“There was the natural apprehension of stepping into someone’s apartment not knowing exactly what awaits, but even more a rush of adrenaline knowing this was my chance and that persistence had paid off,” Rising said.

When he stepped into the apartment, Rising got his first up-close look at Denzinger. He was round and short, wearing a cardigan even in the heat of the summer. Rising identified himself in German, but Denzinger refused to comment for the story. Eventually, he asked Rising to leave.

Although he weren’t able to persuade Denzinger to go on the record, taking the trip to Croatia was worth it, Rising said.

“From the visit we were able to paint a picture of the life that Denzinger was leading in his retirement in Croatia, which helped put a human face on the story,” Rising said.

Even after the interview, the team still had much to do — reporting and writing and fact-checking the article to make sure it was bulletproof, Rising said. That took an additional three months.

When it finally moved over the wires, the article was a hit. It was published on 68 front pages over two days; it was republished by Mashable, CBS News and Der Spiegel; lawmakers announced they would introduce legislation to close the loophole.

“That’s very satisfying,” Lardner said. “You want to write something that’s good, that’s accurate, that people read, that has impact. And I think that story did.”

This story and others like it, exclusives that have come through the AP’s international investigations team, are part of a strategy to produce original content, said John Daniszewski, vice president and senior managing editor for international news at the AP.

“I think as the news has become more of a commodity, more ubiquitous because of the Internet, you need more special stories to make you stand out and make people feel like the AP is going to have a distinctive range of stories — and they’re going to be missing those stories if they didn’t have AP,” Daniszewski said. Read more

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Career Beat: Arianna Huffington to get new chief of staff

Good morning! Here are some career updates from the journalism community:

  • Elise Hu will be NPR’s Asia correspondent in Seoul. She covers tech and culture at NPR. (Poynter)
  • Mitra Kalita is now executive editor-at-large for Quartz. Previously, she was ideas editor there. Paul Smalera will be Quartz’ new ideas editor. He is editor of The New York Times opinion app. (Poynter)
  • Donald Baer is now chairman of PBS’ board of directors. He is CEO of Burson-Marsteller. (PBS)
  • Jessica Coen is now a contributing editor at Marie Claire. She is an editor-at-large with Jezebel. (Fishbowl NY)
  • Stephen Lacy is now chairman of the Association of Magazine Media. He is CEO of the Meredith Corporation. (Email)
  • Dan Katz will be chief of staff to Arianna Huffington. He’s currently a chief researcher for David Gergen. Maxwell Strachan is now senior editor of business and tech at The Huffington Post. Previously, he was business editor there. (email)
  • Emily Yoshida will be entertainment editor at The Verge. Previously, she was culture editor at Grantland. (Muck Rack)

Job of the day: The Virginian-Pilot is looking for a digital news editor. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs)

Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org Read more

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NPR to open Seoul bureau

NPR | Fishbowl NY

National Public Radio Wednesday revealed plans to open a bureau in Seoul, South Korea, naming culture and technology reporter Elise Hu its Asia correspondent there.

In addition to being at the heart of a technological and economic force, the bureau is strategically placed near multiple countries of interest to NPR, including Japan and China, Hu said. From there, she’ll be able to coordinate with NPR bureaus in other cities, including New Delhi, Islamabad and Beijing.

The opportunity to report overseas is a huge privilege, she said. Her family — including her husband, Wall Street Journal data journalist Matt Stiles — will make the move with her.

“I obviously had to talk it over with my family,” Hu said. “This is indeed a cross-planet move, but my husband is on board. He’s an incredibly talented journalist in his own right, so I’m confident that something will work out for him.”

The bureau, which will open in 2015, will consist of Hu and a translator-assistant, who she’ll hire.

Hu came to NPR in 2011 to help develop StateImpact network, a government reporting project, according to the announcement. Before that, she was a founding reporter at The Texas Tribune, a journalism non-profit based in Austin, Texas.

Hu wrote about the move on her blog:

I don’t know what to do with our house yet. I am panicked about getting to see the final episodes of Mad Men without too much time delay. I worry about my 16-year-old dog surviving a cross-planet move. I am unsure of my own abilities to cover a place where I am illiterate.

But I’m also filled with excitement and wonder and gratitude for the chance to do this. I know how rare a privilege it is these days to get a chance to work overseas, supported by a large, well-funded news organization. As my friend and mentor Kinsey said, it’s invaluable experience that will change and shape our lives.

She also tweeted about it:

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Mitra Kalita is Quartz’ executive editor-at-large

Quartz Editor-in-Chief Kevin Delaney announced Wednesday that ideas editor Mitra Kalita will become executive editor-at-large for Quartz, charged with “spearheading projects” that “build up our readership and journalism globally.”

In a memo to Quartz staff (below), Delaney noted Kalita — who was recently named an adjunct faculty member at Poynter — played a “central role” in the creation of the business vertical’s Ideas section and the launch of Quartz India.

In an interview with World News Publishing Focus, Kalita said Quartz is considering expanding to cover other subjects:

We are looking at other markets and other niches but a part of our ethos is driven by this idea that you and I have a lot in common, and might be harried by some of the same factors of life and work. Does that story need to come from a place of geography? Probably not. In some cases geography will be where we expand but in others it’s going to be by obsession or theme areas.

Kalita will be replaced by Paul Smalera, editor of The New York Times opinion app, which is slated to be discontinued at the end of the month. Smalera was also the founding editor of the Times’ Op-Talk site, according to a memo from Delaney announcing his hire (also below).

Hello Quartz -

I’m happy to announce the appointment of Mitra Kalita as Quartz’s executive editor at large, with special responsibility for global expansion and Ideas.

This move reflects Mitra’s central role from Quartz’s beginning through the present, including building up Ideas and launching Quartz India. As many of you know, her contributions extend far beyond that to touch pretty much all aspects of Quartz, including identifying and bringing on many of our talented colleagues.

Since the beginning, Mitra has focused on the people and “the story.” She’s helped us deliver on being a news organization that truly covers the world, while tackling some of the most intimate and challenging issues in our lives and workplaces. Mitra’s wide range of interests is partly what makes her so effective—she knows international news for us to pursue ambitiously when she sees it, such as Modi’s appearance in NYC, and hot button issues that hit home on Facebook, such as the ubiquity of one company’s baby blankets. It goes without saying that Mitra specializes in keeping all of us on our toes.

In her new role, she will spearhead projects that stretch Quartz further and build up our readership and journalism globally. These include new initiatives focused outside of the US. She’ll also continue to work with the Ideas team as we build on its success.

Mitra will continue to work part-time for Quartz and report her (fourth) book through the end of this school year, and return full-time after that.

Please join me in congratulating her.

Best,
Kevin

Hello Quartz –

I’m happy to announce that Paul Smalera will join us as Quartz’s Ideas editor as of November 5.

Paul comes from the New York Times, where he was the founding editor of its Op-Talk site and led the editorial team for the NYT Opinion iPhone app.

Paul is an entrepreneurial, tech-savvy journalist with hands-on experience editing the sort of global commentary that is the core fare of Quartz’s Ideas section. One former colleague describes him as “the real deal” and “very astute about reader platforms and social media, very curious about the world, very savvy as to what readers want.” Since before the launch of Quartz, I’ve hoped for an opening to bring him on to join us.

Paul earlier worked at Reuters, where he was technology editor, product manager for a new content management system, and deputy opinion editor. He also was a senior editor for technology coverage at Fortune and spent seven years as a professional web developer.

Paul’s mandate is to be bold and creative in approaching Ideas, experimenting with the form, approach, and outside contributors we work with. His efforts will build on the work that Mitra, Lauren, and Annalisa have done to make Ideas pieces among the most lively, impactful, and well-read content that we publish.

Please join me in welcoming Paul.

Best,
Kevin

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Career Beat: HuffPost names Lilly Workneh Black Voices editor

Good morning! Here are some career updates from the journalism community:

  • Leigh Weingus is now trends editor at The Huffington Post. Previously, she was TV editor there. Carolyn Gregoire is now a senior writer for health and science at The Huffington Post. Previously, she was an editor at Healthy Hiving and The Third Metric there. Lilly Workneh is now Black Voices editor at The Huffington Post. Previously, she was lifestyle editor at thegrio.com (Email)
  • Rich Ross is president of the Discovery Channel. Previously, he was chief executive of Shine America (The New York Times)
  • Monique Chenault is now executive producer of “The Insider”. Previously, she was a senior producer at “Access Hollywood”. (Mediabistro)

Job of the day: BuzzFeed is looking for a news fellow. Get your résumés in! (BuzzFeed)

Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org Read more

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UGA decides to host some African journalists

The University of Georgia, which canceled on a Liberian journalist earlier this month for fear of spreading the Ebola virus, will host 14 journalists from Africa, the university announced Tuesday.

The journalists, who will visit the university as part of a three-week trip that will include a visit to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, are not from countries currently affected by the Ebola virus, according to an announcement from the university. During their visit, they will will discuss “media election coverage and the role of social media in the U.S. society.”

During the program, the journalists will attend a social media discussion and tour Grady Newsource — a student newsroom — while the staff covers Election Day, according the announcement. They will also take part in a conversation on social media hosted by several of the university’s professors.

RELATED: Hysteria or proper precaution — a conversation with Michel du Cille

The journalists are visiting as part of the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists, a U.S. State Department-sponsored program separate from the one it abruptly rearranged earlier this month due to Ebola panic. In that instance, UGA canceled on FrontPageAfrica Editor Wade C. L. Williams, who was scheduled to give the university’s McGill lecture.

RELATED: Why it’s so disappointing that j-schools are panicking over Ebola

In addition to Georgia, two other universities bailed on journalists who spent time in Africa since the Ebola epidemic began. Syracuse University rescinded an invitation to Washington Post photojournalist Michel du Cille, who was slated to participate in a journalism workshop there. And the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg canceled on a group of Murrow fellows from Africa, which the Poynter Institute later agreed to host.

Here’s the announcement from the university:

Athens, Ga. – For the sixth consecutive year, the University of Georgia James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research has been selected to host traveling journalists through the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists. The visit, sponsored by the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, will take place Oct. 30-Nov. 5.

Fourteen journalists from French-speaking countries including Burundi, Chad, Comoros, Mali, Mauritania and Togo will come to the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication to discuss media election coverage and the role of social media in the U.S. society. None of the visiting journalists hail from countries currently affected by the Ebola outbreak.

“Across the years of this program, University of Georgia students have learned a lot about the media and political systems in a variety of countries,” said Tudor Vlad, associate director of the Cox International Center. Fellows in the past have come from Russian-speaking countries, Chinese-speaking countries, and the Middle East and North Africa. This is the second time the Murrow Program Fellows visiting UGA are from French-speaking Africa.

“We welcome the delegation from French-speaking Africa and are honored to be selected as one of only seven programs to host journalists as part of the prestigious Murrow Program,” said Lee B. Becker, director of the Cox International Center.

The Murrow Program sponsors more than 80 journalists from around the world to participate in the three-week visit. The program is designed as an exchange of best practices, an overview of free press in a democracy and the opportunity for the Murrow Fellows to gain insight into the social economic and political structures of the U.S.

While they are on UGA’s campus Nov. 3-4, the Murrow Fellows will meet with Grady College Dean Charles Davis and participate in discussions about social media led by Karen Russell, Jim Kennedy New Media Professor and associate professor of public relations, and Itai Himelboim, associate professor of telecommunications. They will observe the college’s digital and broadcast journalism majors in the newsroom of Grady Newsource as the students cover Election Day—a session coordinated by David Hazinkski, Jim Kennedy New Media Professor and associate professor of telecommunications, and lecturer Dodie Cantrell-Bickley. The visiting journalists will also discuss U.S. elections with Charles Bullock, Richard B. Russell Chair in Political Science at UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs, and attend a session at UGA’s African Studies Institute.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students, for our faculty, for faculty elsewhere in the university, and for media professionals in the state to get to talk to such a diverse group of visitors about the challenges of journalism in the countries represented,” Becker said. “The Department of State calls the Murrow Program its most important international journalism program, and we agree that it is a tremendous value to all involved.”

The traveling journalists will be visiting the U.S. for three weeks. For the first week, the group will be in Washington, D.C. On Oct. 30, the Murrow Fellows visiting Grady College will arrive in Atlanta and spend the next day meeting with editors from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and CNN. After visiting Atlanta and Athens, they will travel to New Mexico and ultimately conclude their trip in New York on Nov. 14.

For a complete list of host schools and more information about the Murrow Fellows Program, see http://eca.state.gov/highlight/edward-r-murrow-program-journalists.

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Washington Post announces award named for legendary editor

The Washington Post

The Washington Post announced Tuesday the creation of the “Ben Bradlee Award for Courage in Journalism,” honoring the “courageous pursuit of truth by an individual or team of Washington Post journalists,” according to an announcement from Post editor Marty Baron and publisher Fred Ryan.

The award, named for the Post editor who oversaw the expansion of the newsroom and the coverage of the paper’s famous Watergate reporting, will first be awarded in 2015, according to the announcement. It will include a cash prize.

Bradlee died last week at 93. Read more

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Career Beat: Fred Santarpia named chief digital officer at Condé Nast

Good morning! Here are some job moves from the journalism community:

  • Sarah Lumbard is now senior digital curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s National Institute of Holocaust Education. Previously, she was vice president of content strategy and operations at NPR. (Poynter)
  • Fred Santarpia will be executive vice president and chief digital officer at Condé Nast. Previously, he was executive vice president at Condé Nast Entertainment. (Poynter)
  • Hassan Hamdani is editor-in-chief at HuffPost Morocco. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of TelQuel’s multimedia division. (HuffPost)
  • Bernardo Chévez is now vice president of technology at Hearst Magazines International. Previously, he was director of engineering at Condé Nast. (Fishbowl NY)

Job of the day: The Washington Post is looking for an editorial copyeditor. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs)

Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org Read more

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