Truth&Trust

Crime coverage in Chicago may be too good

Chicago is widely known as “Chiraq” or the “murder capital” even though its murder rate is much lower than in past years and in many other cities. Ironically this may be a function of local media’s attempts to do a better job reporting on homicides and crime

There was a time when reporters just didn’t cover many crime – or other — stories in the city’s low income, Black and Latino neighborhoods, noted veteran reporters at Poynter’s “Truth & Trust in the 21st Century” forum in Chicago Thursday. Now the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, DNAinfo and other media outlets make it a point to cover every murder in the city. But that means a lot of negative coverage about the city’s South and West sides, even as there are still relatively few other stories being reported on in these neighborhoods.

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When you have 10 crime stories for every uplifting story like the Jackie Robinson West Little League team, noted DNAinfo reporter Darryl Holliday, “that’s not a good ratio.” “It says that’s all that’s happening, when that’s not the case,” continued Holliday, who is also co-founder of The Illustrated Press, which does journalism through comics.

But there are not necessarily bright lines between “good” and “bad” stories, countered author Alex Kotlowitz, pointing to the “This American Life” documentary on Chicago’s Harper High as an example.

The “centrifugal force of journalism,” as Kotlowitz described it, is to “understand why kids make the decisions they make … to understand what pushes and pulls people.”

Asiaha Butler  (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Asiaha Butler (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

But panelist Asiaha Butler told Kotlowitz she was unable to listen the Harper High documentary all the way through, since she felt it portrayed an unrealistically negative and “dramatic” view of the neighborhood where she has lived most of her life and leads the Residents Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.). She said the many untold stories in Englewood include the role of grandparents and great grandparents and the strong intergenerational structure that underpins the neighborhood.

“I’m not dodging bullets all the time,” said Butler, who with R.A.G.E. airs news on a website and a public access TV program. “You tell your own narrative, you don’t wait until the media comes.”

Like Butler, audience members at the Truth & Trust event implored reporters to do more to find and tell a wider range of stories.

“There are people who help people take out their garbage, who clean up the community … who help elders cross the street,” said Rondayle Sanders, a fifth-grader at the Bradwell School of Excellence whose class wrote an op-ed published in The Chicago Tribune presenting a fuller view of their neighborhood. “We want you to know more positive things about the South Side.”

When Sanders asked for advice in reporting, Butler suggested he start at his school “talking to the janitor, the lunch lady, hear their stories and highlight them.

In some ways it should be easier than ever for journalists to find and report a wide range of stories in different neighborhoods, since social media and new media have turned journalism from a specialized profession into an act practiced by the masses, as Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president of academic programs, put it.

McBride noted that these days rather than acting as gatekeepers of information and finding stories on their own, mainstream journalists are more often picking up on the stories being reported in blogs, community outlets and social media, “sorting through and magnifying” them.

But the financial crisis and budget cuts that have rocked the journalism world mean that even reporters with the best intentions struggle to get the time and space to tell the rich, multi-layered stories that do justice to a neighborhood.

“There’s no lack of these really great groups,” said Holliday. “But there are only so many journalists who can only do so many things.”

Linda Lutton (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Linda Lutton (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Kotlowitz noted that WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton, who was in the audience, was lucky to get substantial time to work on the Harper High story, a luxury relatively few full-time journalists are granted. Meanwhile from the audience veteran reporter Sally Duros pointed out that “good news stories are not news” or are viewed as “P.R.” by many.

Panelist Lolly Bowean, a Chicago Tribune reporter, noted that media outlets are financially and otherwise obligated to cover stories that draw readership and hence revenue. She said people often complain about the paper’s extensive coverage of rapper Chief Keef, but those are the stories that draw high numbers of views and comments.

“There has to be an appetite from the audience, from the public saying we need these stories,” said Bowean. “If there is no one paying 50 cents for that paper or going online to get it, then there is no us!”

Meanwhile panelists and audience members stressed that even as technology opens up possibilities for new and innovative ways to tell stories, there is still a crucial role for old-fashioned watchdog, accountability journalism. Reporters noted that police officers are often reticent with information about cases, and that in Chicago only about a quarter of murders are ever officially solved. The “triangle” of relationships between police, community members and journalists — as audience member David Schaper of NPR put it — is typically tense and fraught.

Reporters need to scrutinize official statistics and reports, the journalists noted, applying the old adage “if your mother says she loves you, check it out” to information from the police.

There is clearly no easy answer to the myriad of challenges and contradictions discussed at the Truth & Trust gathering, which was hosted by CBS 2 Chicago anchor Jim Williams and also featured Tracy Swartz, reporter for the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye tabloid edition and Michael Lansu, an editor of the Chicago Sun-Times’ Homicide Watch project.

But the bottom line is that in order to achieve nuanced, rich coverage of neighborhoods that goes beyond the latest crime statistics, key factors are just that — truth and trust. Read more

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Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014

Police Shooting Missouri Autopsy

What to look for in dueling autopsies of Michael Brown

This column originally appeared on ProPublica’s website and is being republished with permission.

Former New York City chief medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden, right, speaks as Brown family attorney Benjamin Crump, left, holds a diagram produced during a second autopsy done on 18-year-old Michael Brown.   (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Former New York City chief medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden, right, speaks as Brown family attorney Benjamin Crump, left, holds a diagram produced during a second autopsy done on 18-year-old Michael Brown. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

In the next few weeks, separate teams of doctors will issue autopsy reports about Michael Brown, the unarmed African American shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. If history is any guide, they will differ, perhaps significantly, on how to interpret the gunshot wounds on his body. Michael Baden, the veteran medical examiner chosen to autopsy the body by Brown’s family, has released the preliminary results of his autopsy and both the St. Louis County Medical Examiner and U.S. Justice Department have announced plans to conduct or commission separate post mortems.

As a journalist, I’ve read roughly 1,000 autopsy reports and spent much of my career reporting on fatal encounters between police officers and civilians. Here’s some of what Baden found and what experts will be looking for as they examine Brown’s corpse:

  1. Evidence that Brown was fleeing from the officer who shot him, Darren Wilson. Shots to the back are a red flag, indicating the victim may have been running from the officer rather than attacking. The basic law on use of force turns on whether a police officer acted from a “reasonable belief” that he or she was facing a lethal threat. Baden — who was hired by Brown’s family — believes Brown was shot at least six times with all the bullets striking him from the front.
  2. Signs of a physical altercation. Forensic pathologists study the exterior of the body for bruises, scrapes and lacerations which can be signs that a scuffle preceded the fatal shots. Witnesses have said Brown and Wilson wrestled in the moments before the killing. On Baden’s diagram of Brown’s body, the doctor does not appear to have noted any significant injuries other than the gun shot wounds. Baden did not find gunpowder residue on Brown’s hands, one piece of evidence that would likely be present if the two men were struggling for control of a gun discharged at close range.
  3. Bullet trajectory. Shots fired at a downward angle may indicate the officer fired while the victim was on his knees or laying on the ground. A person in those positions generally poses less of a physical threat. Baden said a shot to Brown’s head appeared to have come from above; he believes this was the fatal shot.
  4. Number of shots. Baden voiced concern over the fact that Brown was hit by at least six shots. The doctor, who served earlier in his career as chief medical examiner for New York City and as an expert for the New York State Police, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “In my capacity as the forensic examiner for the New York State Police, I would say, ‘You’re not supposed to shoot so many times.’” The number of shots may or may not be significant. Training on lethal force varies from department to department. Many forces train officers to continue firing until the suspect has been completely subdued. Some experts say that incidents in which a civilian has been hit with a single shot are more suspicious than those with multiple shots: The lone bullet could have been fired accidentally or in a moment of rage.
  5. Gunshot residue. The presence of gunshot residue (GSR) on the skin or clothes of the victim may mean that the person was shot at very close range. Baden found no GSR on Brown’s body, but said he did not scrutinize his clothing. Additionally, bullets fired from a few inches away leave distinct wound patterns on the flesh. Baden’s report suggests the shots were fired from further away.
  6. The presence of alcohol or drugs. Baden has not reviewed the toxicology tests, but results of those tests should be available soon (though it could take the authorities months to release them). Forensic pathologists typically fill vials with bodily fluids — urine, blood, or vitreous humor, the fluid within the eyeballs — and send them off to outside laboratories to be screened for alcohol, prescription drugs, and street drugs. If drugs or alcohol are discovered Brown’s system, that information might provide some additional context to the fatal events.

In some police-civilian clashes, the evidence discovered during an autopsy turns out to be crucial. In the case of Michael Brown, it’s not clear how useful this trio of autopsies will be. As the nation tries to understand what happened on Aug. 9, the autopsy results may well not prove conclusive on the key questions. Read more

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Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014

Police Shooting-Missouri

During protests, police may balance journalists’ rights with public safety

Without being at the scene of the arrests it is difficult to say if anyone did anything illegal last night when two reporters were detained at a McDonald’s in Ferguson, Missouri. The reporters were covering the protests and riots that broke out after an 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown was fatally shot by police there.

The tension here lies with allowing the police to do what they need to do to protect public safety and conduct a complete investigation and balancing that with journalists’ right to report.

The police can regulate the time, place and manner of speech to a certain degree as long as it is not a content-based regulation. Meaning, they can clear an area of everyone if they think they need to do that to keep the peace, but they can’t single out a journalist and tell him he cannot be there.

The First Amendment provides safeguards that allow people to gather and disseminate information about government officials. A question to consider in this instance is: Why did the police arrest the reporters? Were the police trying to control the scene or to stop the journalists from doing their jobs?

A journalist has the same rights as the general public to access public property. And, generally, it is legal to record video of people where they would reasonably expect to be seen. However, journalists are not granted special rights to disobey police orders, nor are they allowed to interfere with police work.

Journalists have potential recourse if they believe they are unlawfully arrested. If journalists can prove that they were specifically detained because they were covering news, not just because they were suspected of breaking the law, they can potentially bring a civil claim against a police officer for unlawfully interfering with news gathering.

When journalists are covering demonstrations or public events, they should at all times carry a press credential and government-issued identification (like a driver’s license or a passport) to make it visible that they are members of the media. Also, they should carry money or a credit card to post bond, if necessary.

If a journalist is arrested, he should let the officer know that he is a member of the media and let the supervising officer be notified that a reporter is being detained. The arrested journalist should ask to contact his or her organization’s lawyer.

When reporting in a private property, like a McDonald’s, to minimize risk you should seek consent from the property owner. If you are asked to leave private property, you can explain why you believe you should be able to stay on the property. However, you can be charged with trespassing if you remain on the property and the owner or government officials determine that you do not have a right to be there.

Related: News University Course on Newsgathering Law & Liability: A Guide for Reporting

Related: How journalists can protect themselves & the news they’ve gathered if arrested on the job Read more

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

EW SCRIPPS HEADQUARTERS

Scripps and Journal is just the latest in a series of mega broadcast mergers

There is an underlying fact that makes the Scripps and Journal deal make sense: Broadcasting is still profitable. Second quarter earnings have been strong and topped last year’s numbers.

Wall Street loves broadcasting, and bigger broadcast companies do better than smaller ones these days. Bigger companies have more leverage to negotiate retransmission deals with cable companies. Once this deal is approved, Scripps will be the powerhouse owner of ABC stations, which gives the company leverage to influence the network. Scripps stock hit five-year highs Thursday in response to the news that the company was spinning off its newspapers from the broadcast and online properties.

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Wednesday’s  deal is part of a mosaic of mega-media mergers that have produced super-sized broadcast owners that are more than twice the size of what they were only a decade ago. These giant companies include Sinclair, Nexstar, Media General, Gannett, Gray and others all of whom have grown considerably even while newspapers retreat.

All have seen stocks soar to at or around five-year peaks.

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Scripps is not new to the spinoff play. In 2008, riding on a wave of popularity with its food and lifestyle cable channels, the company created Scripps Networks Interactive, which includes Food Network, The Travel Channel, HGTV and the Cooking Channel. The new company’s value has been steadily rising since the spinoff.

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Last year, Scripps paid $110 million cash for ABC affiliate WKBW in Buffalo and WMYD, a MyNetworkTV affiliate in Detroit, where Scripps owns WXYZ as well. In 2011, Scripps bought up the McGraw-Hill group for $212 million cash.

This year, Scripps made news by adding staff and launching a paywalled broadcast news website at WCPO in Cincinnati. The group said it intended to produce Web-exclusive material that would be worth paying for and if the gamble worked, it would expand the idea to other markets. It has not expanded yet.

Look at this chart Pew Research published in May, which showed how the biggest owners have grown even before the Scripps-Journal deal. (With stations in 27 markets, the Scripps/Journal deal will make that company the fifth-largest holder of television stations in the country.)

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1-TV-News-ViewingAnd local television still is the main source of local news for Americans.

Local broadcasters also are rising a wave of favorable Supreme Court decisions. Broadcast stocks rocketed after the Supreme Court struck down Aereo’s attempt to pass along local station signals without paying for them, and the court’s Citizens United decision virtually assures the windfall from political ads will continue.

Some of the biggest broadcast players, including Scripps, Sinclair, Gray and Nexstar are heavily invested in states that have the most heated midterm political elections this year. Early forecasts predicted a $2.6 billion spend on midterm races this year, rivaling the $2.9 billion spent in the last presidential election.

Scripps stations also have a history of being deeply involved in community affairs. The Scripps Howard Foundation contributes millions to local causes and educational institutions in markets where it has properties. (Disclosure: The Poynter Institute received $20k in support from SHF in 2013 and 2014 and Poynter hosts the Scripps Howard National Awards judging each year.) Read more

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PDLayoff.jpg

How mass layoffs in 2013 changed the lives of former Plain Dealer staffers

On July 31, 2013, after the layoff calls came, some of the current and now-former staff of The Plain Dealer got together for drinks at Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland. Newsrooms around the country called in and bought drinks for those gathered — $4,933 worth of drinks, Eric Sandy reported the next day for Cleveland Scene.

That day, more than 50 people had been laid off from The Plain Dealer.

“We drank for free all night,” John Horton remembered.

“It was bittersweet because we were together, we were supporting each other but we knew that so many of us, myself included, were not going to be going back to the building ever again,” Ellen Kleinerman said.

Plain Dealer staff gather on July 31, 2013, layoff day. (Photograph by Lisa DeJong)

Plain Dealer staff gathered on layoff day: July 31, 2013. (Photograph by Lisa DeJong)

Kleinerman and Horton were there. So were Donald Rosenberg and John Mangels. One guy, Harlan Spector remembers, drove up from Pittsburgh just to lend a shoulder if needed. “It’s so touching that somebody would feel compelled to do that,” he said.

“It was strange, I guess it was sort of like a wake in a way, but everybody was very compassionate about everyone else’s situation,” Rosenberg, who covered arts and wine for the paper, said. “The people that survived were very empathetic of the people who were leaving. The people who were leaving were very concerned about what was going to happen next.”

“Our emotions were pretty raw, as you can imagine,” Mangels said. Although he said the night was “a bit of a blur, unfortunately,” he, too, remembers that it “felt like a wake,” but also a graduation. And more notable: “We didn’t talk shop, which was the normal topic when journalists gather. We talked about ourselves and our families, our fears and hopes for the future. I remember talking to one of the graphic artists, a talented guy who was hoping to reinvent himself as a long-haul trucker.”

“I think everyone realized that things were changing,” Horton said. “In a way you’re saying goodbye to a lot of people and the way things were and going into an unknown territory.”

“I think we all were aware that it was the last time we’d be together as newspaper journalists, but that we’d always share that bond,” Mangels said.

One year later, we’ve caught up with some of those journalists who were laid off from The Plain Dealer. We couldn’t get every story, and we’d like to hear more: Email tips@poynter.org if you have one to share.

John Horton: ‘I was making a long-term decision’

John Horton (submitted photo)

John Horton (submitted photo)

Being a reporter was John Horton’s dream job. In elementary school, he delivered the paper for three years, lugging the heavy bag with newspapers up and down Cleveland streets. He worked at The Plain Dealer for 14 years. During the last five years, Horton wrote a column called “Road Rant,” writing about people’s complaints about issues including bad roads and potholes. One year ago, Horton took a voluntary buyout.

“I was making a long term decision,” he said.

“I was going to bet on what they were doing, or I was going to bet on my ability to transition into another career.”

A few weeks later, Horton started his current job in media relations at Cuyahoga Community College. Now, he still works with journalists and looks for good stories. Horton didn’t leave with hard feelings, he said.

“I loved every day that I was there.”

After the layoffs, Horton started running with his 13-year-old son. It cleared his head. He still runs nearly every day, has lost 20 pounds in the past year and ran a half-marathon. He truly enjoys what he’s doing now, he said, but “to be honest, there aren’t a lot of of jobs that are cooler than being a reporter. I mean, that’s what Superman was.”

“I miss the daily challenge that you had, the feeling that you were doing something larger that made a big difference, fighting that fight every day,” Horton said. “I think journalism is one of the few jobs that really has that aspect to it.”

He doesn’t miss the situation at The Plain Dealer or the stress, though. No job comes with guarantees, but for him, the day-to-day worries about what was coming next were too much.

“Leaving that was a relief.”

Ellen Kleinerman: ‘It was a calling’

(Ellen Kleinerman, submitted photo.)

(Ellen Kleinerman, submitted photo.)

Ellen Kleinerman didn’t realize how stressful the months leading up to the layoffs were until it was all over. Kleinerman, who worked for The Plain Dealer for 14 years, did not volunteer for the layoffs.

“I was just an emotional mess,” she said. “It wasn’t just a job for me. It was a career. It was a calling. It was something that I would get up every day and feel like, this is what I want to do. It just was more than a job.”

Kleinerman, who covered medical issues when the layoffs happened, did a lot of networking after she recovered from the news. She freelanced. Then, in February, she drove for an hour through a snowstorm to get to calling hours for a friend’s mother. The whole time she thought, “I’m really crazy to do this. I should just turn around. She’ll understand if I don’t attend. But it’s the right thing to do.”

There, Kleinerman bumped into another colleague who was starting a new job at a chain of weekly newspapers. That chain was looking for a new editor.

One month after applying, Kleinerman went in for an interview.

“So now I’m in newspapers again,” she said. “It’s different, but it’s exciting.”

Kleinerman is the editor of the Chagrin Valley Times, the Solon Times and the Geauga Courier.

Kleinerman has seen a lot of change in 30 years as a reporter and editor. She still reads The Plain Dealer, and she misses it. But she doesn’t miss the stress.

“I guess there’s life after The Plain Dealer,” she said. “And it can be an OK life.”

Bob Fortuna: ‘I don’t miss it. How sad is that?’

About five months after high school sports reporter Bob Fortuna left The Plain Dealer, he was selected for the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame alongside his former colleague, Tim Rogers.

A story about the honor ran at Cleveland.com, but no reporter at the newspaper reached out to him for it. Still, said Fortuna, who covered high schools for 36 years and worked at The Plain Dealer since 1990, “It was a nice way to finish.”

Bob Fortuna

Bob Fortuna

Now, Fortuna’s a one-man interior painting and landscaping business. A realtor friend has set him up with clients, and he’s getting work from former Plain Dealer colleagues, too.

“Since I was at The Plain Dealer, I haven’t seen the chiropractor once,” he said. “I used to go once a month.” His headaches are gone, and he dropped 25 pounds. “Mentally and physically, this is the best I’ve felt in 15 years.”

Since volunteering to leave, Fortuna has turned 60 and celebrated 30 years of marriage with his wife. “There is life after The Plain Dealer, believe it or not,” he said. “And that life ain’t too bad, either.”

Fortuna misses the athletes and the coaches from his beat, but says he doesn’t miss dealing with parents and the media frenzy around National Signing Day.

And when it comes to painting, Fortuna immediately knew that was the path forward after ending his career at a job that was increasingly demanding. He always enjoyed painting — “I just never had the time to do it,” he said. “With the social media thing, they want you 24/7. You don’t have a life.” His wife “saw what it was doing to me. She said, ‘you gotta get outta there.’” So he volunteered to go.

“People ask me if I miss it, and I don’t miss it,” he said. “How sad is that?”

John Mangels: ‘I think we had some success’

John Mangels

John Mangels

“I’m still kind of coming to terms with the fact that I’m not and probably never will be again a newspaper journalist,” John Mangels said. Mangels found a job as a communications manager for the Cleveland Clinic after a couple months of looking.

“I was fairly fortunate,” Mangels said. The time off “was tough psychologically, but I was fortunate to go back,” he said. At the new gig, he oversees production of more than 10 print products.

“I use a lot of the same muscles that I did as a newspaper journalist,” Mangels said.

Mangels volunteered for the layoffs list but said he found the job market to be “grim.”

“For someone who has skills that I thought would be translatable … people weren’t beating a path to my door, let’s just say it that way.” He said he was “really lucky to thread the needle. I found a job in Cleveland,” one he not only likes but that lets him continue to write.

Mangels was a science writer for the newspaper and helped organize a campaign called Save The Plain Dealer, a preemptive strike against any plans to cut staff at The Plain Dealer. The paper’s owner, Advance, had made wrenching changes at many of its other properties as it prepared to become a digitally focused organization.

“We’d known, deep down, from the beginning of the campaign that the odds of preserving the paper as it existed were long, probably impossible,” Mangels said. “But it was important to us to try — to alert the community to what was happening, and to try to mitigate some of the more drastic things Advance was planning. I think we had some success.”

John Luttermoser: Working on projects with meaning

John Luttermoser

John Luttermoser

John Luttermoser worked at The Plain Dealer for 21 years as a copy editor. Before that he worked at the St. Petersburg Times. Now he’s “working part-time as business administrator for the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, a regional group of Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations in the Cleveland area,” he writes in an email. “I’m also doing some free-lance editing and I’ve continued my volunteer work as secretary of the board for the Dougbe River Presbyterian School, which opened in 2012 in a remote region of eastern Liberia that didn’t previously have a school.”
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Peggy Turbett: ‘Photography has never been more important’

Peggy Turbett (submitted photo)

Peggy Turbett (submitted photo)

Peggy Turbett worked for 13 years as a staff photographer at The Plain Dealer. Her first plan, after learning she’d been laid off, was to work as a reading tutor at an elementary school once a week, “to decompress, I guess, and then figure out the rest as it came along,” she said in an email.

That tutoring gig turned into an after-school camera club that met twice a week for four months. During the time, she said, she got a call asking if she’d teach photojournalism at John Carroll University. A colleague from The Plain Dealer who also taught there suggested Turbett.

“That kind of networking has been crucial,” she said. “If someone asked me to lunch or dinner, I went. Invited to join a local professional women’s group – I did. I also filled out my camera gear with an additional camera body and long lens to handle professional freelance assignments. In the past year I’ve photographed weddings, anniversaries, holiday portraits, high school sports programs, and magazine stories.”

Now, she has several photo projects and continues teaching as an adjunct. Turbett misses the salary and benefits, but not the schedule.

“The interesting dichotomy is that photography has never been more important – visuals are needed in every industry and social media outlet,” Turbett said. “But the prospect for veteran photojournalists to find jobs at daily newspapers is grim to none, from what I’ve seen. The New York Daily News just laid off David Handschuh, with three decades of experience, a former president of NPPA, and who was gravely injured while covering the 9/11 World Trade Center attack for the paper. I mean, really, how can any staff photojournalist feel safe?”

Scott Shaw: Business is booming

Scott Shaw worked at The Plain Dealer for 23 years. He writes in an email: “I’ve been very busy working on my wedding and portrait photography business. I started about five years ago on the side in anticipation of the industry issues. I volunteered to be laid off and it has been a fun challenge! I plan on doing more commercial and photojournalism work in the future but right now I don’t have spare time for that.”

Margaret Bernstein: Making a living ‘while doing good’

(Margaret Bernstein, submitted)

(Margaret Bernstein, submitted)

Margaret Bernstein was a few weeks away from her 24th anniversary with the Plain Dealer when she took the voluntary buyout. Bernstein wrote a column twice a week that was “solution-oriented,” she said in an email, informing people how they could make a difference in the city, “particularly with helping people get out of poverty.”

Her job led to research on issues such as literacy and parent mentoring, and Bernstein thought with all she knew, she could make a living while “doing good.”

“I am now a self-employed consultant, and my ‘call to action’ style has become my brand,” Bernstein said. “I helped design and am currently promoting a ‘Top 10 Ways You Can Improve Literacy In Greater Cleveland’ campaign for a local organization, The Literacy Cooperative. I’m also facilitating the spread of the Little Free Library ‘movement’ in Cleveland.” She’s also working to finish a book she has spent 12 years working on about Cleveland activist Yvonne Pointer. Read more

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sochi Olympics Pussy Riot

Could the c-word soon be finding its way into news headlines?

If orange is the new black, then the c-word may be becoming the new f-word? It certainly seems that way. With the f-word drifting to more common usage, we need another word for its shock value.

When I write c-word, I do not mean “cable.” But it is on cable television where the c-word is creeping out of the shadows. Tony Soprano and his cronies used it. I hear it on episodes of the popular fantasy drama Game of Thrones, sometimes used to describe a body part, more often as a corrosive epithet against women and men.

Surprisingly, the c-word has taken on a political connotation. In his comedy routines and on his HBO show, Bill Maher has described Sarah Palin as a c—. He defends the use on First Amendment grounds: that Palin is a public figure and that nasty name calling is as old as the Republic.

In a recent episode of HBO’s True Blood, a Palin-type character is referred to as a “Republic–t” by one of the heroic vampires. In the series, vampires are allegorical representations of gay men and women. Many have “come out of the coffin” and into the mainstream, seeking tolerance from humans. The enemies of the “fangers” include religious bigots and conservative politicians. Hence the verbal assault in “Republic–t.”

As we watch the c-word inch away from deviance, it will help to understand the nature of this semantic shift from a historical and literary perspective. Let’s start with a definition from the American Heritage Dictionary: “Vulgar Slang 1.The female sexual organs. 2. Sexual intercourse with a woman [this was new to me]. 3a. Offensive Used as a disparaging term for a woman b. Used as a disparaging term for a person one dislikes or finds extremely disagreeable.

I think there’s something missing here. When used against a woman, the term is offensive enough and more than “disparaging,” more loaded than “bitch.” It’s one of the ultimate language weapons, a word designed to reduce her to the most basic objectification, defining her by the part men can use for their pleasure. I’d prefer not to elevate it by placing it in a rhetorical category, but it’s a form of synecdoche, in which a part represent the whole, the way we call a sailor a “hand.”

Men might be objectified as “dicks” or “pricks,” but those words are derringers vs. the c-bomb. When used against a man, c— takes on a powerful emasculating homophobic connotation, defining him by a body part he doesn’t have. Crude, nasty, and then some. A fighting word.

The etymology of the c-word goes back at least to the French Middle Ages. In English literature, versions or analogues of the word can be found prominently in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare.

In 1972 medieval scholar Thomas Ross compiled Chaucer’s Bawdy, a lexicon of the poet’s sexual and scatological words. One of the longest citations is for queynt (pronounced quaint), which was the Middle English equivalent of the c-word, but one that could be used with much more subtlety.

In addition to being the “normal if crude” synonym for vagina, explains Ross, in other contexts it could mean: “strange, curious, elaborate, ornamented, neat, artful, sly and graceful.” These multiple meanings allowed Chaucer to describe the way that the clever and handy clerk Nicholas grabs the lusty young Alison (I will modernize the language a bit): “As clerks know how to be quite subtle and quite queynte (sly), he in private caught her by the queynte (her privates).”

An earlier lexicon is Shakespeare’s Bawdy by the great British slang master Eric Partridge. He explains that a French version of the c-word is coun, and that one of Shakespeare’s characters mispronounces “gown” as “coun,” causing embarrassment and laughter. A more memorable usage occurs in Hamlet where the young prince torments the fair Ophelia with punning accusations. He tells her to “get thee to a nunnery,” when that term meant both convent and brothel. At one point, when Ophelia seems shocked by his reference to her “lap,” Hamlet asks her “Do you think I meant country matters?” That double-meaning places emphasis on the first syllable of country. In her book Filthy Shakespeare British scholar Pauline Kiernan has an entire chapter with the title C—.

Let’s move ahead 400 years to a recent overheard conversation among four men drinking beers in the clubhouse of a municipal golf course. They took turns complaining about the women in their lives, including girlfriends and wives. The complaints included repetitive use of the c-word. “You know what C— stands for?” asked the loudest of the bunch. “It stands for Can’t Understand Normal Thinking.” (I had a fantasy that the woman warrior knight from Game of Thrones, Brienne of Tarth, would appear, take names, and kick ass.)

There have been feminist efforts to reclaim the word, not unlike the habit of some African-American’s to reclaim the n-word. The most notable of these is a 2002 book by Inga Muscio with a one-word title, spelled out: C—. The sub-title is “A declaration of independence.”  The dedication speaks to its aspirations: “To everyone with C—love in their hearts, especially my Sacred Mother. I thank you for giving me life.”

Who knows to what extent the word will experience what semanticists would call “amelioration.” It remains one of the most powerful weapons of hate and de-humanization, used by both men and women, against both men and women. Yet if it continues to be used in the culture and political wars, we may find ourselves wanting to use it in places we haven’t used it before, perhaps in news stories, even in headlines. “Never,” you say?

There is a recent precedent for this shift in the experience of the c-word’s younger and more playful little sister, the word pussy. Ian Fleming let that cat out of the bag decades ago with one of the most memorable “Bond girls,” Pussy Galore, played in the film by Honor Blackman. Bond you may remember turned this lesbian into a has-bee-an.

But now there is Pussy Riot, the Russian girl punk band whose members have suffered the consequences of proving to the world that the Emperor Putin has no clothes. Their political courage has put the word Pussy on the map – and on the pages of all the big newspapers – and on the lips of all the respectable news anchors. As 007 once reminded us with that inimitable gleam in his eye: “Never say never.” Read more

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Monday, July 28, 2014

feedback conceptual compass

Help Poynter improve its website

My top priority as editor of The Poynter Institute’s website is to find the best online method for delivering media news and education. I think listening to our readers is the best way to do this. That is why we are conducting a website user survey to better get to know our readers and figure out how to best serve them.

In addition to the survey, we plan to have one-on-one conversations with people interested in talking to us, and you can send an email to sliss@poynter.org at any time with ideas and suggestions.

It can be a real challenge to manage a website with the amount of content we have. Keeping up with ever-evolving Web technology and trends presents another challenge. That’s where you, the user of our website, come in; we need your input to help guide and shape Poynter.org’s design, look and feel. If you can find the time to take this short survey, we will show our appreciation by entering you in a drawing for a grand prize of a 64GB iPad Mini, a second prize of a 10-pack of NewsU webinars or a third prize of an autographed copy of Roy Peter Clark’s book “How to Write Short” (contest rules).

We appreciate your taking the time to help us continually improve the site. Read more

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.42.55 AM

Essay: Hey, Publishers: Stop fooling us, and yourselves

For an industry built on a foundation of truth-telling, the newspaper business sure has trouble telling the truth about itself.

Last month at the World Newspaper Congress in Turin, Italy, the chief spokesperson for U.S.-based dailies, Newspaper Association of America President Caroline Little, gave publishers, editors and educators from around the world a presentation on “the current state of newspaper media in the United States.”

Little’s PowerPoint show was a work of art. With her palette of selective statistics, context-less trend statements and stock photos of smiling, young news consumers, she painted an uplifting masterpiece worthy of the Italian master Botticelli. His cherubic angels were Little’s news-hungry Millennials; his dancing nymphs were her nimble publishers.

David Boardman, Dean, Temple University School of Media and Communication

David Boardman, Dean, Temple University School of Media and Communication

If I hadn’t known better – knowledge gained through years as the editor of The Seattle Times and in my current role as the president of the American Society of News Editors – I’d have thought U.S. papers were thriving. I might have walked out of the auditorium, Skyped my financial advisor and said, “Forget waiting on that Uber IPO; put my money in Lee Newspapers stock.”

Luckily for my family and my financial future, I know spin when I see it. The NAA and the companies it represents are spinning far too often these days.

Here’s what Little and her PowerPoint said – and what she didn’t say:

What she said: “Total revenue for the multiplatform U.S. newspaper media business amounted to $37.59 billion in 2013.” What she didn’t say: It was a billion dollars more than that in 2012, $2 billion more in 2011, and $12 billion more in 2006. In other words, it’s dropped by a third in seven years and continues to fall with no end in sight.

What she said: “The printed newspaper continues to reach more than half of the U.S. adult population.” What she didn’t say: But the percentage of Americans who routinely read a printed paper daily continues its dramatic decline, and is somewhere down around 25 percent.  “Reaching” in Little’s reference can mean those people read one issue in the past week; it doesn’t mean they are regular daily readers of the printed paper.

What she said: “This is not an audience that will be abandoning newspapers anytime soon.” What she didn’t say: But they may soon be reading pass-around copies in the nursing home. I recently learned from internal sources that for one major newspaper, the average age of its daily readers moved from 55 to 60 in just 18 months. What will it be by 2020?

To her credit, Little did address the need for newspapers to find new sources of revenue, especially digital. She pointed out, correctly, that newspaper content is drawing significant readership online. But she portrayed a fiction where papers could invent a new future while holding on tightly to the past.

I was once a member of this flat-earth society. Briefly, I believed, like Orange County Register owner Aaron Kushner, that if we restored the papers to their pre-recession levels of quality and size, subscribers would come back. I no longer believe that (and neither, based on the massive layoffs at Kushner’s paper, does he).

There is no doubt that newspapers accelerated this decline with the astounding, quarterly-returns-driven decimation of their products over the past decade. But to pretend that the profound shift from fiber to cyber is anything short of a revolution in news consumption is a disservice to journalism and to the democracy that depends upon it.

We don’t need access to newspaper circulation and revenue figures, spun or otherwise, to see the reality. Get on a commuter train, go to a coffee shop, go to an airport, go to any of the places where people used to devour printed newspapers, and see how few are doing that now.

Let’s get real. The seven-day-a-week printed newspaper – particularly in metropolitan areas – is terminally ill. Working to sustain it is not only futile, but ultimately destructive to the very values its champions espouse.

In a recent post titled, “Nostalgia and Newspapers,” New York University professor Clay Shirky, nemesis of the NAA, wrote, “We don’t have much time left to manage the transition away from print.” I agree – to a point.

Yes, on a Tuesday morning at Starbucks, laptops and tablets outnumber newspapers, dozens to one. But go on a Sunday morning, and you’ll see latte-sippers of all ages perusing that day’s paper, sections spread out over tabletops. For years, newspaper publishers and editors have known through market research that the Sunday paper is a different, more intimate experience for consumers. A good Sunday edition, with a mix of investigative journalism, profiles, cultural reporting, perspective pieces, sports analysis, photography, comics, crosswords and coupons, is an experience many people value and even love. My twentysomething daughters and their friends can’t imagine buying a Tuesday paper, but love the Sunday morning paper-and-pajamas party.

And for most papers, the Sunday edition already accounts for more than half of their total revenue. For some, it’s around 60 percent. It’s a proven, effective vehicle for advertisers.

So, I say to publishers: Invest in a superb, in-depth, last-all-week Sunday (or better yet, Saturday) paper, a publication so big and rich and engaging that readers will devour it piece by piece over many days, and pay a good price for that pleasure. Get together with each other and consolidate your printing operations, creating one independent print-and-deliver contractor in each geographic region who can shed the outdated and outsized costs of your legacy operations.

Then turn your attention and your resources where they belong now: Creating meaningful, engaging and sustainable news products for emerging technologies, where most of you are already woefully behind such innovative rivals as Vox and Vice.

Move deliberately to one weekly, “lean back” printed paper and an array of quality, interactive, “lean in” digital products, especially for mobile devices, to which your readers are moving far faster than you are.

(One tidbit Little did reveal in her Italy PowerPoint: Newspaper advertising on mobile platforms, by far the fastest-growing vehicle for news consumption, amounts to less than 1 percent of the industry’s total.)

Use that money you’re spending now on newsprint, ink, pressmen, trucks, drivers and gasoline and hire more reporters, photographers, videographers, data journalists, software developers, mobile designers, social-media experts, workflow architects, marketing strategists and digital advertising pros. Recognize, like the big tech companies do, that the most valuable thing your digital readers can give you is their data, not their dollars.

Turn your attention, now so inwardly focused, outward. Build your community connections, especially with minority groups that will soon become the majority.

Don’t worry about your remaining loyal print readers. Most will readily pay you whatever you ask for that quality weekly, perhaps even what you charge them for the full week now.

Finally, make this transition in a brave, bold, confident – and candid – way. Go seven days to one in a fell swoop, avoiding the confusion Newhouse has created in its cities with four-days-a-week publication.

Pick a date certain – say, January 1, 2018 – and tell your readers and advertisers unapologetically that that’s where you are headed, why you are headed there, and that you want their help in figuring out how to get there in a way that will serve them and the community best.

They – and the 38,000 journalists still working for American newspapers – deserve the truth. They can handle it. Can you?

David Boardman is Dean of the Temple University School of Media and Communication. He is also president of the American Society of News Editors and chairman of the Poynter Institute’s National Advisory Board. His views are his own and he is not speaking for those organizations.

Caroline Little Response: We need to embrace all media including print Read more

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Monday, July 14, 2014

John Seigenthaler

John Seigenthaler: You couldn’t choose a better journalism hero

“Mr. Seigenthaler is on the phone, “ I was told. It had to be important. Why else would John be calling me in the middle of the day?

After greetings the conversation went something like this:

“John, what can I do for you?”

“Well, Gregory, you know that cologne you wear? Dolores [his beautiful wife] loves it and she wants me to start using it. I was wondering if you could tell me how I can get some.”

Seigenthaler in 1994. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Seigenthaler in 1994. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

He got it, and every time we met afterward, we sniffed each other and laughed, leaving bystanders wondering if we had misplaced our marbles.

Now, John Seigenthaler is gone. And everyone he ever touched, up close or far away, deeply mourns his passing but will never forget what he did in a life that was truly well-lived.

“Choose your heroes and go and do likewise.”

That was the simple, but eloquent, advice given once to a group of journalists by a wise man, the late Gene Patterson, who like John was a powerful voice for the voiceless in the South.

None of us could have chosen a better hero than John to observe and study and attempt to follow his footsteps. The only problem, we knew none of us could come close to duplicating what John accomplished, as a reporter, editor, battler for civil rights, unrelenting protector of the First Amendment, inspiring leader and caring friend.

He was a man of courage and compassion, a man who fit in backstage at the Grand Ole Opry or up front at Carnegie Hall, a man who could captivate an audience with his lyrical prose and always left it with some gems of wisdom to take home, as well as some laughs to remember.

A man to mimic, if only we could be that good.

So long, old friend.

Related: Former Poynter President Karen Dunlap writes that Seigenthaler was “a man who stood for news media freedom, who worked on things that mattered and helped a community bridge its differences.” | The Tennessean’s Seigenthaler package Read more

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Katy Perry

How Katy Perry, Elvis and Springsteen can change the meaning of your video

It seems that everywhere I turned online this weekend, somebody was flying a quadcopter with a camera through fireworks.

Leaving the wisdom of doing that out of this posting, I wanted to play with how music and special effects would affect the viewer’s experience with a fireworks video shot via drone and published in May. In the original, a classical score and slow drifting shots add drama and elegance to the piece.

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