How a small Detroit news site busted a foul-mouthed cop

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A Detroit cop who used Facebook to refer to city residents as "garbage" and came pretty close to bragging about police brutality has retired, the city's police chief announced Thursday.

And at the heart of it all is a single reporter from a small local digital news operation. At a time in which such operations face a real struggle in finding self-sustaining business models, it's reassuring to see the occasional quick impact of shoe-leather reporting.

Say what? Mark Zuckerberg, listen to this one as you strive to clean up your act as the world's favorite conduit for both joy and junk.

It all started with a very nice bit of reporting, the sort that one would hope remained a staple of local media. But this story did not come from the bastions of Detroit media, the Free Press or Detroit News.

No, it was Steve Neavling of Motor City Muckraker, an investigative site dedicated to exposing municipal corruption. Neavling reported on Jan. 3 that "More Detroit police officers are living outside the city than any time since the state banned residency requirements for municipal employees in 1999, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Motor City Muckraker."

He put together the data to show that around three-quarters of the city's officers, sergeants, lieutenants, detectives and top officials don’t live in the city. About 80 percent of those earning more than $100,000 a year live outside the city they serve.

Get this: The non-residency rate was 20 percent in 2001 and 53 percent in 2011.

But put policy aside. The story prompted police officer Daniel Wolff to take to Facebook, call city residents "garbage" and boast about having bashed them with “handcuffs in the head” and smacked little kids in the face.

Yes, he used Facebook to complain that “you can’t walk up to a kid or asshole and smack him in the face like we did” because of the growing use of cell phone cameras. Then, as Neavling reported, he bemoaned that Detroit is “just a nasty place.”

The story also inspired an internal department investigation.

Wolff — described by Neavling as a "fanatic Donald Trump supporter" — had also declared on Facebook that he’s tired of “politically correct cry-baby soft ass snowflakes” and made a “personal pledge” to “do my best to offend at least one person a day with a harsh comment. … I want to make someone cry today.”

He was just as cerebral and contrite when Neavling informed him about the internal investigation. He fired off an obscenity-laden retort saying that he’d been “trying to get fired for years.”

Wolff, surely seeing the writing on the wall, submitted his resignation Wednesday, and it was publicly disclosed Thursday by Chief James Craig.

And as is often the case throughout American government, Wolff's voluntary resignation means he'll get a full pension and benefits. Lucky guy. And he couldn't have done it without Facebook. And he wouldn't have wound up in such a fix without Motor City Muckraker.

The limits of news outlets' video mania?

There are a certain set of assumptions about the ironclad necessity of video on news sites. It's deemed the coin of the realm but a new report from Parse.ly "suggests it isn't as popular with viewers as it is with advertisers." (Poynter)

Indeed, "One of the report's biggest surprises: audiences spent less time engaging with online video, on average, than they did for short, medium and lengthy text posts."

Really? I asked Rob Barrett, president of digital at Hearst Newspapers who has significant experience with video at Yahoo and ABC News, among other places. And he's big on video at Hearst.

"There is lots of inconsistent research on the consumer appetite for online video, especially younger Internet users: You can't reach them without having mobile video, but wait — they only want text headlines because they're so much quicker to scan on the go. BuzzFeed and others didn't take long to figure out that silent video with text works better in most use cases."

For the uninitiated, as I am, be informed that "use cases" is Zuckerbergean tech speak.

"Most of this lies in the execution," says Barrett. "Pre-roll ads are tough, but better pre-roll ads and good native video content do better. It's hard to get on board with sweeping conclusions that video is a bust because people actually read more than 20 words at a stretch."

Interesting Post gambit

The Washington Post today unveils a newsletter about reader comments. "The newsletter will have three parts: one major conversation, a few popular comments from across the site, and then two or three places where you can go right now to join a discussion."

Maybe Facebook should start one, too, but on the nastiest of daily comments to grace its ad-guzzling universe.

Michelle Obama, fashion icon

"When Michelle Obama leaves the White House for the last time on Jan. 20, her fashion legacy is completely assured. We’re talking carved in Mount Rushmore granite, shined up with shea butter leg grease and co-signed by #BlackGirlMagic." (The Undefeated)

Re-running a good story

STAT has a fine profile of Brandon Chuang, a San Francisco Veterans Administration health researcher who's gone from researching schizophrenia to being a patient afflicted with it and, now, back to researching it. I read it last night, then noticed the date on the story: June 14, 2016.

Rick Berke, STAT's boss, then told me, "In our new design we have the section STAT Standouts' where we reprise pieces from earlier in the week or — in this case — early on. The thinking is there are some golden oldies that many of our readers never saw that are worthy of attention."

He thought that as a result of my outreach, maybe they'd rethink a better labeling of such pieces. Regardless, why don't more media outlets routinely re-run great pieces, especially in an age where one is inundated with content and, on any given day, miss tons of stuff?

Going out as they should have gone in

The White House held a conference call last night for reporters about the administration's decision to end "the 22-year-old policy that has allowed Cubans who arrived on United States soil without visas to remain in the country and gain legal residency, an unexpected move long sought by the Cuban government." (The New York Times)

"First, the ground rules," said the spokesman. "This call is on the record. We have on this call, for your awareness, Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor. We also have the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, along with another senior DHS official for questions."

What's unusual? Too many such calls mandate B.S. attribution, such as "senior officials" and "administration officials. Too many of us journalists get suckered into going along. Let's see how a Trump administration changes the traditions, if at all.

Acting in unison

A united press corps could decide, "Hey, these background briefings at the White House and other agencies are often self-serving, manipulative pieces of baloney" and decline to take part.

The realities of competition have always squelched such moves, but New York Times media writer Jim Rutenberg makes the case for just such efforts as he analyzes current Trump-media tensions. So when Trump dissed CNN's Jim Acosta Wednesday and declined to recognize his question, the notion is the press could have acted with greater fidelity to Acosta rather than shouting and straining to get their own questions answered.

"But they could be next. They’re going to have to decide how much they want to abide by Mr. Trump’s decision to selectively quarantine colleagues whose coverage he does not like." (The New York Times) Well, The Times, the most influential media outlet, could thus start by announcing that it will no longer take part in most totally B.S. background briefings — and see what happens when most others don't go along.

Succinctly put

A very good "The 11th Hour With Brian Williams" on MSNBC last night focused on the potential train wreck of a President Trump and the intelligence community. And a relevant, small example of the new journalism order was the chyron 12 minutes into the show, "Trump tweet wrongly implies DNI Clapper believes allegations in dossier are ‘false.’"

That was not skewed, ideologically driven, Trump-hating crooked journalism, as Trump would have it. It was the reality. As CNN's Jim Acosta, the target of Trump venom the day before, put it earlier to Anderson Cooper, the Trump camp has shown since the start of the last campaign that it just doesn't have a "command of facts."

Will it now, belatedly, matter?

Netflix seeks to conquer the world

"For the past several years, Netflix has been pouring money into Brazil. Local audiences at first met the company with skepticism, bafflement, or indifference. Over time, Netflix started to gain a following, particularly among affluent, young urbanites such as (actress Bianca) Comparato and her friends, who enjoyed the breadth and diversity of the programming delivered, for a monthly fee, to their smartphones, laptops, and tablets." (Bloomberg)

It produced a science fiction drama in Brazil called "3%." It's might be the beginning of a resounding success.

"For Netflix, this Brazilian invasion is just the start. The company wants the attention of the world’s well-off cosmopolitan consumers, and is investing billions of dollars in a multi-front effort to create a lingua franca of original programming, while also upgrading the world’s video streaming structure. It’s like a worldwide Marshall Plan for premium home entertainment."

Getting trolled

Read Washington Post homepage editor Doris Truong's "Trolls decided I was taking pictures of Rex Tillerson’s notes. I wasn’t even there." It's scary.

Nutbags saw an Asian woman near Rex Tillerson during his Senate confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State. They started posting very nasty crap on social media about Truong. She got emails and voicemail messages. They said she was spying for China

"I’m perplexed and, honestly, shocked by how quickly the narrative went from someone trying to identify a woman in a video to another person attaching a name to hordes seizing upon that information as the truth." (The Washington Post)

Vice News

"Vice News Tonight" on HBO was good on U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo's past statements on the Muslim community, associating himself with wacky and nasty anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. It's not a focus of his confirmation hearings to be CIA chief but should be a source of worry.

As it noted, the few questions on the vague topic were more about Trump's own statements on Muslims and essentially let Pompeo off the hook. As Vice underscored, "Pompeo has made statements in the past describing the war on terror as a war between Christianity and Islam."

And he's accused Muslim leaders, wrongly, of failing to condemn acts of terror. And he's going to be head of the CIA. Meanwhile, Vice did a fine job on dangerous contaminants found in the water in Newburgh, New York, just north of New York City.

The source of that mess is a National Guard base. The Vice interview with a Pentagon official is dispiriting given it's "well, stuff happens" thrust.

An early muddle

Murder and police misconduct in Chicago have become national sagas. The Justice Department came to town to investigate civil rights abuses and, now, its report is to be unveiled. Will the city and Mayor Rahm Emanuel be forced to take significant, tough actions, quantifiable, certifiable actions?

The early stories that broke yesterday might leave one quite skeptical. Read this in the Chicago Tribune. Or Chicago Sun-Times. Or the PBS station, WTTW.

And what might the actual, day-to-day impact be on an angry, demoralized and, at times, culpable police force? It's far from clear.

The morning babble

"Fox and Friends" was in high dudgeon over an Inspector General looking into Attorney General Jim Comey's actions late in the campaign and replayed these Charles Krauthammer comments: "It looks as if the Democrats, on their way out the door, are trying to leave as many landmines as they can to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the Trump victory."

CNN's "New Day" went with the thrust to repeal Obamacare, while MSNBC's "Morning Joe" opted for a broad review of the Senate cabinet nominee hearings. Amid a lot of windbaggery, the best pundit was the latter's Shane Harris, a journalist who's moved to The Wall Street Journal and made clear that Trump is increasingly "out there alone on this Russian question" as key nominees characterize Vladimir Putin as an adversary from whom we should keep our distance.

As for Trump, shortly before 6 a.m. Eastern he tweeted, "All of my Cabinet nominee are looking good and doing a great job. I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!" (@realDonaldTrump) He also got in a shot at those incendiary, unsubstantiated documents released by "Intelligence," which he placed in quotes. (@realDonaldTrump)

The Scholastic view

Chicago 7th Grader Joey Gorman was at McCormick Place for Obama's final speech, covering it as one of 39 reporters worldwide for Scholastic News Kids Corps. His own piece focuses on youth and concludes, "It was an honor for this new kid reporter to cover such a big event, surrounded by experienced journalists from all over the world. At the end of the night, I had a chance to interview CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper."

New press digs at White House

While The White House Correspondents’ Association is grousing with the Trump camp about issues like access, Breitbart News breaks a more relevant tale: "Trump unveils exclusive double platinum-level press room for only select few journalists."

"Describing the ornately decorated 3,000-square-foot space as ‘the height of luxury,’ President-elect Donald Trump officially unveiled a new double platinum-level White House press room Thursday, which he said will be made available to only a select few journalists."

“'Located mere steps from the West Wing, this magnificent, invitation-only press suite will cater to the every need of a hand-selected group of the most esteemed reporters as they cover my presidency,' said Trump, adding that individual Italian oak writing desks, ambient light from overhead chandeliers, and a bank of 12 plush seats providing unimpeded views of the lectern would help make journalists feel comfortable and relaxed while they report on the executive branch."

Oh, wait. It's in The Onion.

Well, it still sounds more alluring that the 6:30 a.m. soccer game my kid has tomorrow out in the Chicago burbs. Give me a break (or an Uber). Have a good weekend and remember (or don't) that next Friday brings the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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