By:
March 29, 2019

Happy Friday, but it hasn’t necessarily been a happy week in journalism.

Lots of hand-wringing. Lots of forehead rubbing. Lots of second-guessing.

And certainly lots of attacks as we all try to take stock of how the media handled (and continues to handle) the story of the Mueller report.

Has the criticism of the media been fair? Or has the media been mostly responsible in its coverage? The answer to those questions might depend on your political affiliation — or the political leanings of the cable network you watch (or work for!). It also might depend on how you define the word “media.”

Coverage of the Mueller report continues as we wait for the report to be released, if it ever actually is released.

But, already, this is a time to reflect. So I did a Q&A with Poynter president Neil Brown about how the media has done covering this story.

Among Brown’s comments to me: “I’d say 80 percent of the argument about coverage of Trump goes to the unabashed partisanship of various commenters from both the right and left in ways that are deliberately provocative. That’s been going on for years. The latest scorekeeping of whose predictions on Mueller were right or wrong is largely about the pundit class and shouldn’t be confused with questions of journalism ethics or excellence.”

There’s plenty more, including the use of the word “reckoning” and what lessons can be learned going forward.

The Seattle Times’ women’s project

About a year ago, Seattle Times video journalist Lauren Frohne was, in her words, “bummed” that the Times didn’t have any active video projects. Then she started thinking about all the amazing stories the Times had done about women, just as the world was in the midst of the #MeToo movement.

Thus was born the “Her Story: Our Story” project, a collection of impressive and mostly evergreen videos and short films highlighting the female experience.

Viewers can choose what kind of videos they want to see by clicking on such emotions as defiant, powerful, heartbroken, inspired, joyful, proud and resilient.

For example, one story tells of a woman dying of cancer.

“She was an artist and she directed her friends in this kind of kooky water ballet,” Frohne said. “They performed it after she died. It was a gift she left for them to help them grieve in a different way and left her legacy.”

Frohne said the reaction to the project has been extremely positive since it debuted on Monday. There are currently 36 videos posted, and Frohne said over time videos will be added and removed in a constantly-changing rotation.

“We’re going to continue to make stories that are applicable to this platform,” Frohne said.

Making a difference

Students (left to right) Aliciah Willis, Promi Dasi, Linda Williams, and Jarhonda Jones study on the Five Keys Self Determinations Project bus while it is parked in the Double Rock neighborhood of San Francisco, California. (Chris Shurn/The California Sunday Magazine)

I love everything about the latest project from Elizabeth Weil for The California Sunday Magazine. Her piece, ”You Got Your High School Diploma?”, looks at a mobile classroom in a bus parked in some of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhoods and that offers GEDs. Weil looks at the lives of the adults who have failed educationally but are now getting another chance.

Photographs for the story were shot by Chris Shurn and Eugene Riley, two photographers who attended San Francisco State University through Project Rebound, a program that helps the formerly incarcerated get a college education.

In a companion interview that ran with the story, Shurn told California Sunday Magazine editor-in-chief Doug McGray, “People don’t look at Eugene and me as journalists. They look at us with curiosity: ‘Who are these guys with cameras?’ Once they realize this is no police sting, that I’m not trying to profit from your life story, they loosen up.”

Riley said, “I’ve been given a camera and the opportunity to try and change my life.”

Open records not so open in Alabama

Lucille Sherman is a national reporter for GateHouse Media, which owns about 150 papers nationwide. She wanted to do a story on midwives delivering babies in rural areas where OB/GYNs are not easily accessible. So she set her sights on Alabama, which recently issued licenses to five midwives.

But when she went to file a public records request just to find out where the midwives were located (a pretty essential part of the story), she was given a complete runaround by the Alabama attorney general’s office.

In a column for AL.com, Kyle Whitmire wrote:

“ … in Alabama, access to public records has little to do with law and everything to do with the whims of one capricious bureaucrat over another.

“Here’s the thing I’ll record on tape so, with a little help, I can keep saying it even after I’m dead: Public records are the only tools the public has to hold its public officials accountable.

“And when public officials are keeping those records from you — the law be damned — they aren’t serving your interests.”

Sherman’s editor, Emily Le Coz, told AL.com, “For them to throw that much resistance and red tape our way is concerning.”

Check it out

This 2015 file photo shows Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, speaking at the Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco. In 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed charges against Holmes and her company for defrauding investors. The Wall Street Journal failed to win a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the company's rise and fall. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark writes about Elizabeth Holmes and the name of her dog.

More from Poynter: Kristen Hare turns over her latest Local News newsletter to Malick Mercier, a journalism student at Ithaca College. He writes about what worked and what didn’t at Facebook’s local news summit.

Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams is back to reading the comment sections of stories after swearing them off for seven years.

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

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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