Collaborative effort involves 33 newsrooms; Cleveland.com files suit; Denver wants to take it back

Your Wednesday news roundup

March 20, 2019
Category: Newsletters

Competitors banding together

News organizations typically compete against one another. But in California, 33 news outlets have done something previously unimaginable. They are joining forces. Why? To root out bad behavior by the police.

The news organizations have formed a coalition, announced Tuesday, to obtain police documents to share with each other and, more importantly, the public. They are calling it the California Reporting Project, and it includes the Southern California News Group, the Los Angeles Times, KQED, KPCC, the Press Democrat, the Sacramento Bee and other McClatchy papers, and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley. The coalition’s goal is to expose “rogue police officers” and the agencies that have tolerated such behavior. Examples include a cop stealing thousands of bullets, officers using illegal force, and officials lying on police reports and concocting trumped-up charges against citizens.

In a statement to Poynter, Los Angeles Times senior editor for investigations Jack Leonard said, “California’s history of secrecy surrounding law enforcement records has left numerous questions unanswered about policing in the state. This collaborative is an unprecedented effort to bring together media outlets that are usually in cut-throat competition with each other. We all realized that we can do a lot more to educate the public on this vital issue if we work together.”

It also helps news organizations with shrinking newsrooms.

“I think we all kind of looked around,’’ KPCC managing editor Megan Garvey said, “and were a little bit amazed that we ended up coming together like this, leaving our egos aside and agreeing to collaborate.”

The coalition was formed now that sketchy and illegal behavior by cops is being made public by a new police transparency law in the state. The San Jose Mercury News reports that at of the start of this week, the coalition had made more than 1,100 requests this year to 675 police agencies in all 58 counties in the state.

“By sharing our data, we can amplify our impact,” said Lauren Gustus, editor of the Sacramento Bee and regional editor of McClatchy’s West region. “I think the idea that news organizations are in direct competition is changing. This project is a great example. And there’s more like this to come in California very soon.”

A fight in Cleveland

The Cuyahoga County Corrections Center in downtown Cleveland has been under increasing scrutiny since the deaths of eight prisoners and the release of a scathing report by the U.S. Marshals Service that called conditions at the jail "inhumane" and unsafe for prisoners and staff. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Cleveland.com is in a showdown with Cuyahoga County in Ohio over public records involving possible use-of-force incidents between jail officers and inmates. All eyes are on the detention facility since eight inmates have died, and a U.S. Marshals Service report called the conditions inside the jail “inhumane.” The news outlet sued in the Ohio Court of Claims this week, requesting videos and disciplinary records. But the county is arguing that because the FBI and the state’s attorney general’s office are investigating the officers, the videos and documents are exempt from public disclosure.

There’s something else to mention here. The Cleveland Plain Dealer is going through a rough patch at the moment. It is in the midst of reducing its newsroom staff by 12 reporters, photographers and editors. Yet it continues to crank out excellent work.

Taking it back

Reporters pose questions to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) on his way to a vote as an 11th-hour Republican rescue mission to keep President Donald Trump from a Senate defeat on his signature issue of building barriers along the southwest border seemed near collapse, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on March 13. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In 2014, the Denver Post endorsed Cory Gardner for U.S. Senate. On Sunday, it un-endorsed him. In an editorial, the Post said that backing Gardner, who was elected, was a mistake, adding “(we) regret giving him our support in a close race against Mark Udall.”

The Post’s decision to take back its endorsement stems from, in part, Gardner’s refusal to stand up against President Donald Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency to pay for a border wall. Westword, a news outlet based in Denver, wrote that no one on the Post’s editorial board in 2014 is still on the board today.

The Post’s endorsement of Gardner was controversial at the time. Writing for Esquire, Charles Pierce said it was the “most singularly box-of-rocks dumb rationale I ever read in my life.”

One could argue that it’s admirable that the Post would publicly admit what it feels was a mistake and thus risk making future endorsements meaningless. Then again, the whole point of an endorsement editorial is to foresee what kind of job a candidate will do if elected. The Post’s too-little-too-late apology comes off more as a criticism of Gardner and simple buyer’s remorse than atonement.

On the move

The Washington Post is beefing up its political coverage with a significant hire Tuesday, naming Jeremy Bowers its director of engineering. Bowers will oversee a team dedicated to supporting the Post’s political coverage, focusing on data projects including election results, congressional votes and campaign finance.

Bowers moves to the Post from the New York Times, where he was the senior editor for news applications on the interactive desk. This will be Bowers’ second stint at the Post. He also has worked at NPR, the Tampa Bay Times and was one of the developers behind the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact, which is a part of Poynter.

Check it out

A Los Angeles Times writer interviews USC’s athletic director. The writer occasionally teaches a class at USC. Conflict of interest? Deadspin’s Laura Wagner details a Twitter brouhaha over the whole thing.

Looking for a new podcast? Writing for Vulture, Hot Pod’s Nicholas Quah lists the 100 pods worth listening to right now.

The latest Cohort newsletter from Poynter is out. Hannah Storm, the soon-to-be Ethical Journalism Network director and CEO, follows up on a column she wrote for Poynter about sexual assault. Be sure to sign up for the Cohort, which celebrates women in the world of digital media.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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