Investigation by golf publication helps free wrongfully convicted man

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It’s not every day that Golf Digest helps free a wrongfully convicted man from prison.

That’s what happened Wednesday in Buffalo, New York, when Valentino Dixon, incarcerated for 27 years, walked free.  

Dixon wrote Golf Digest in 2012 about his collection of dreamlike, peaceful drawings of golf courses. The inmate drew them from his 6- by 10-foot cell in the Wende Correctional Facility.

"I've never hit a golf ball," he told the publication's Max Adler back then. "I've never set foot on a golf course."

Dixon, 48, had been serving time for the 1991 killing of Torriano Jackson at a street party. He’d lost 12 appeals in prison, where he began the colored-pencil drawings after a retiring warden gave him a photograph of the 12th hole at Augusta. The art sustained him, Dixon had said.

Adler, convinced of Dixon's innocence, began an investigation and six-year effort to get evidence before authorities. The effort gained momentum with other news reports, a project by Georgetown University students and another inmate’s confession to the crime. Lastly, and most importantly, a new district attorney reconsidered the evidence, Adler told me from the Buffalo airport.

Golf drawing
One of Valentino Dixon's drawings. (Golf Digest)

“I just left him at a Red Lobster 20 minutes ago,” Adler said Wednesday evening.

Dixon's first full meal after his release came amid family and others who supported his cause, Adler said. The former inmate said he will dedicate himself to helping free other wrongfully convicted inmates.

"He has so much strength to make it through 27 years," said Adler, now editorial director at Golf Digest. He called Dixon's release the "most satisfying moment of my career as a journalist."

"It's the greatest feeling in the world," The Buffalo News quoted Dixon, surrounded by family, as saying upon his release. He said he was beginning his first full day of freedom on Thursday by cooking breakfast for his 90-year-old grandmother.

What's next? On Adler's return to Buffalo, the editor said, the two of them are going golfing.

Quick hits

EDITOR OUT: Ian Buruma left the New York Review of Books amid outrage over his publication of an essay with a disgraced Canadian broadcaster accused of sexually assaulting and battering women. It was unclear whether Buruma, who took the editor’s job last year, quit or was fired. Critics were appalled at Buruma’s judgment for publishing onetime CBC star Jian Ghomeshi’s lament of outcast status. “Wanna know how male abusers get their comebacks?” tweeted Jessica Valenti on Friday. “By having sexist male editors feel bad for them!”

SPEAKING OF #METOO: No one at Harper's was in favor of giving space to accused sexual harasser John Hockenberry, a former senior editor said. The magazine's editorial staff "was sidelined and dismissed," Hasan Altaf, now at The Paris Review, tells the HuffPost.

MOVING TO THE AZALEA ROOM: The ceiling tiles began falling. The power already was taxing backup chargers. Some generators had failed. They had only so many buckets for the water. After Hurricane Florence passed through Wilmington, North Carolina, the StarNews had to move. Some staffers went to a TV station's conference room. Six now are working from the home of a parent's in-laws. And others are working from the Hampton Inn's Azalea Room 2, writes Pam Sander, executive editor of the 151-year-old newspaper. 

FAREWELL, PODCAST TEAM: BuzzFeed has laid off the last three staff members from its in-house audio team and is scrapping most of its podcasts, including “See Something Say Something,” “The News” and “Reporting To You.” The company said it will be developing podcasts like it does video productions for Netflix or other outlets, with teams brought as needed. That means freelancers, say podcast veterans. Panoply and Audible have laid off audio personnel in recent months as well. Your morning columnist will have more on podcasts in the next few days. One veteran tells me: "Everybody hit a wall with advertising. There's not enough advertisers — and not a way to prove people were listening. It’s not easy money.”

SUSPENDED: A California TV anchor after defending Brett Kavanaugh, saying that the accusations of sexual assault by the Supreme Court nominee amounted to "lesser miscreant behavior." Kris Long, an evening anchor at Coachella Valley's CBS Local 2, took down Saturday's Facebook post and wrote an apology at the behest of station management, he said. “Perhaps I may have broken our social media standards by putting my article a little bit too far to one side,” Long said.

DEBUNKED: Five viral rumors about Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. By the NYT's Kevin Roose. Also: Videos and messages of support to the accuser trended on Twitter with the hashtag #DearProfessorFord.

WHEN RAPE ISN'T PUNISHED: When an 16-year-old cheerleader reported she was raped in a shed in her Texas hometown by two boys, a movement arose — to punish the accuser. Pre-#MeToo, "the rot was always there — even in smaller and less remarkable places, where power takes mundane, suburban shapes," writes Elizabeth Bruenig, a grade behind the victim in the same high school at the time, in re-examining the 2006 case.

SUBSCRIPTIONS: Why do U.S. metro newspapers often peak around 35,000 digital subscriptions when European publications often do so at 100,000 or more? That's a question from Earl J. Wilkinson of the International News Media Association. His thought: "There may be gaps in best practices, but my best guess is it has to do with each news brand’s relationship with its reader base dating back decades." He also believes U.S. publications are too focused with new subscribers and not enough about "churn."

L.A. TIMES BULKS UP: Susanne Rust is joining the paper's Metro staff as an investigative reporter focusing on the environment. Matt Stiles, formerly a general assignment reporter in Seoul, will become a data reporter for Los Angeles County. Taryn Luna, formerly of the Sacramento Bee, will join the LAT's Sacramento bureau. B.J. Terhune moves from multiplatform editor to morning Metro breaking news editor. Hannah Fry joins Metro as a morning general assignment reporter after five years at Times Community News.

THE READ: Javier Valdez covered the splintering El Chapo drug cartel for his publication in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. After one ominous meeting with cartel deputies, followed by representatives buying up every copy of his next issue so the public couldn’t read it, Valdez sought the help of the Committee to Protect Journalists to discuss relocating him. He decided against it. It was a fatal mistake, writes his friend Ioan Grillo for Esquire.

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Have a good Thursday.

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