Kelly McBride

Kelly spent 14 years covering saints and sinners in Spokane, Wash. Now she's at Poynter, searching for the soul of American journalism.


costoflife

Egg donation, first conceived as personal essay, becomes investigative report

When Sarasota Herald Tribune business reporter Justine Griffin set out to donate her eggs, her editors asked her to consider doing a personal essay. What she discovered during the year-long journey is that fertility industry has some serious conflicts of interest and that nobody advocates for the health of egg donors. As her approach morphed from a personal essay to an investigative package, Griffin had to deal with her own conflict of interest. She was part of the story.… Read more

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9 best practices for publishing provocative opinions in a polarized world

Clashes between professional provocateurs and the masses, like the recent criticism that rained down on Washington Post columnist George F. Will over  #survivorprivilege, are on the rise.

See #checkyourprivilege. Remember the reaction to the equally appalling Richard Cohen column that suggested a gag reflex is a normal reaction to learning the white mayor of New York is married to a black woman and they have biracial children.

As more voices crowd the opinion space, some writers might become more shrill and provocative to garner attention. Certainly Will deserved the outrage he received for his recent column where he argues that the increase reported sexual assaults on college campuses is a ploy by women seeking to gain a status of privilege.

The ire over Will’s opinions on rape likely intensified the howling over PostEverything’s guest column two days later suggesting with an incredibly flip headline that marriage is the best way to protect women from violence. That interesting argument had its own guest appearance on #survivorprivilege, particularly when Post editors changed the headline from: “One way to end violence against women? Stop taking lovers and get married” to “One way to end violence against women? Married dads.”

Opinion editors are looking for the sweet spot in social debate.… Read more

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Two students comfort each other during a candlelight vigil held to honor the victims of Friday night's mass shooting on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif. Sheriff's officials say Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, stabbing three people to death at his apartment before shooting and killing three more in a crime spree through a nearby neighborhood. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The right way to publish a killer’s deranged manifesto

There’s a democratic value to publishing and referencing Elliot Rodger’s manifesto. The 22-year-old mass murderer left us a 141-page window into his deranged thinking.

But don’t just publish it, add context. Perhaps the most valuable thing journalists can do would be to get psychiatrists and psychologists to annotate the document. (Though perhaps you wouldn’t want to annotate it like this.)

Art Caplan, head of the bioethics division at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, advocates the same approach when considering the publication of medical research produced by Nazi doctors. By explaining the flaws behind information, we contribute to an improving body of knowledge while neutralizing the potential of perpetuating harm.

“Make it clear this is the raving of a devious and delusional mind,” Caplan said of Rodger’s manifesto. “Help us understand what compels someone to be so hateful and mysogonistic.”

Also, help the audience see what hate and misogyny really look like. You can do that the way the New York Post did, by labeling the killer’s ravings as those of a lunatic. Or you can point out the many places misogynists turn to reinforce their hate, the way the Soraya Nadia McDonald did for The Washington Post in this piece.Read more

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Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. attends Marina Abramovic's "The Artist is Present" exhibition closing party hosted by Givenchy at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tuesday, June 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes

The New York Times owes the audience an explanation

Jill Abramson’s departure as the executive editor of The New York Times and Dean Baquet’s appointment as her replacement was abrupt.

Times Company Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told senior editors at a 2 p.m. meeting and the rest of the staff and the world found out around 2:30 p.m.

Abramson had been in the position since 2011, a relatively short time. She won’t stick around for the transition. For now, Times leadership is not answering the question: What happened?

The Times’ own story was cryptic. Reporter Ravi Somaiya wrote, “The reasons for the switch were not immediately clear.” In a later version he wrote that Sulzberger declined to directly address the question he said was “’on all of your minds’ – the reason for the sudden switch. Citing newsroom management, he said it was not about the journalism, the direction of the newsroom or the relationship between the newsroom and business sides of the paper.”

Capital New York reported it this way: “And that’s all I’m going to say about it,” said Sulzberger, according to two sources who were present. “It was an issue of newsroom management.”

That answer isn’t just frustrating to journalists. It’s dismissive of the audience with whom the Times presumes a relationship of trust.… Read more

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Can journalists prevent suicide clusters?

Suicides sometimes happen in clusters. Epidemiologists and suicide prevention experts have often claimed that media coverage is partially to blame for this. Thus that old-fashioned and often ignored rule: Don’t cover suicides.

Of course that rule came with a couple of caveats. Celebrity suicides were fair game. So too were suicides that happened in public places. Because of those carve-outs and others (if it’s really interesting, or if people are talking about it) the rule never really worked. The news media have always covered suicides, sometimes badly.

While suicide prevention advocates cite the potential for contagion in their effort to get newsrooms to change their standards, journalists, including me, have responded with skepticism. That’s because there has never been a conclusive study in a peer-reviewed journal that specifically tied contagion to media coverage.

Until now. This month a study published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal confirms that certain types of media coverage do indeed make suicide contagion more likely to happen, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

The author, Dr. Madeline Gould, professor of epidemiology in psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, conducted the statistical analysis as part of a larger autopsy study, then compared suicides associated with a cluster, to suicides that were not part of a cluster, and media reporting.… Read more

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Eagle huntress photos by 24-year-old documentary photographer go viral

 

You know those stunning photos bouncing around the Internet of the Mongolian children hunting with eagles? The 24-year-old photographer who took them self-financed his expedition and at first had a hard time selling the images at all.

Asher Svidensky told me in a Skype interview Thursday that he got three offers from magazines in his home country of Israel. One offered him $80 and a byline. The other offered to run the photos for free along with a credit. A third suggested that he pay them $200 to publish the photo essay, because it would help his tour guide business.

Svidensky said he trained as a documentary photographer during his service in the Israeli Army. Since his release, he’s wanted to strike out as a freelance travel photographer. He’s done a lot of commercial and PR work, and served as a tour guide for Israelis traveling through Mongolia and Kazakhstan. “I took a lot of pictures of things I didn’t want to photograph,” he said.

In 2013, he packed his Canon gear, two shirts and a bag and set off on an open-ended trip to Mongolia.… Read more

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AP Stylebook update: A sign of our times

People are freaking out over an update to the AP Stylebook, the equivalent of canon law for journalists. AP Style now tells us that “more than” and “over” are interchangeable. It’s as if Big Brother has just suggested that what was true yesterday, is no longer true today.

Not all people are freaking out, of course. But a lot of people are, especially journalists, and also English majors. The people who love word craft are visibly upset. You can tell by tracking #ACES2014 on Twitter.

For the uninitiated, until this update, “more than” was used when referring to numbers. “Over” was appropriate when talking about the physical relationship of two objects.

On this issue, you could divide the world into three categories of people. There are those who believe that words are tools and that if you are going to craft something substantial you must use the right tool. You wouldn’t pound a screw in with a hammer, would you?

Then there are those who are aware of these nuanced differences, but they believe that words are flexible and democratic. I count myself in this category. While I prefer to build something eloquent, I don’t always get there. And I’m not above using a blunt object when I can’t find my drill.… Read more

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Lessons learned from a Twitter storm

Poynter is a school. We teach journalists new and better ways of informing the public. And so it makes sense that I would share what I’ve learned from the recent Twitter uproar over a column I wrote last week.

First the background: Twitter user @steenfox started a powerful conversation last week when she asked her followers who had been sexually assaulted to share what they were wearing at the time they were attacked. After BuzzFeed posted this piece aggregating the responses from a few of the many women who responded, there was a discussion on Twitter questioning whether BuzzFeed violated the privacy expectations of the participants in the conversation.… Read more

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BuzzFeed reporter’s use of tweets stirs controversy

BuzzFeed’s Jessica Testa noticed a unique thread on her Twitter timeline Wednesday. Twitter user @steenfox asked her followers who were rape survivors to share what they were wearing when they were attacked. The results were rather spectacular. Some were in college when they were assaulted. Others were children. The precise details of their memories – pink pajamas, or peep-toe flats – provided a window into the insidious nature of rape.

Seeing an opportunity to tell an interesting story, Testa asked some of those same Twitter users for their permission to aggregate the tweets, then organized them by themes, drawing out the trends, adding her observations and sprinkling in some statistics about sexual assault. The result was this BuzzFeed news item that went up Wednesday evening.

It was an effective device to counter many of the myths about rape.… Read more

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n this Wednesday, March 9, 2011 photo, photographer Brandon Stanton, left, prepares to photograph a man on a New York City sidewalk as he works the streets of New York City seeking photos of people he finds interesting, for his project entitled “Humans of New York.” The photos go on his website, at humansofnewyork.com, and are linked to the neighborhoods in which they were taken. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Seven lessons from Humans of New York’s Brandon Stanton at SXSW

Standing in line to see Brandon Stanton, the man behind the Humans of New York blog and book, was like discovering his blog for the first time.

Because Stanton was scheduled to speak at 11:15 a.m. on the stage inside in the SXSW trade show, which didn’t open until 11 a.m., it seemed like something big was about to happen.

“Is this the line for Humans of New York?” people kept asking. “Yes,” someone in the line would say. Then three other people who were standing in the line would say, “What’s Humans of New York?”

Then someone would explain the simple concept behind the blog turned book: Some guy takes simple portraits of people in New York, tells a small story about them and people love it. Now it’s a book that’s “on the way to becoming the most widely sold photography book of all time,” which Stanton explained to his audience.

Stanton sat alone on the stage as the crowd filtered in, wearing jeans, a sweater and a green baseball cap turned backwards. He shared a little of his backstory during his packed session Sunday at SXSW Interactive.… Read more

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