Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Superb Classroom Journalism Assignment

Have your class read this piece from the Cleveland Plain Dealer that contains facts about trade and immigration between the United States and Mexico.

What the candidates aren't telling Ohioans about the state's huge economic stake in Mexico: Peter Schechter (Opinion) 

Then ask your students to check their local newspaper and/or television websites for articles on Trump, Mexico, trade and immigration.   Did your local reporters check and report facts?  

If not, call and request an interview with the managing editor/executive producer and ask why.   A primary responsibility of the journalist is to provide context.   To do that, fact-checking is essential.   How many articles do you remember about Trump and his WALL where reporters put that idea into context with the real numbers about immigration?
This Plain Dealer article comes not from a reporter but from Peter Schecter who directs the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center of the Atlantic Council.   With Trump wanting to build a wall and continually complaining about all those flooding across the border, Schecter writes:  "In the real world, more Mexicans are leaving rather than entering the United States, a well-documented, though curiously disregarded statistic. Those Mexicans who do come northward are ever more frequently doing so as tourists; in 2014, 17 million Mexican tourists spent nearly $19 billion on goods and services in the United States."

Why haven't reporters been reporting that fact in every article where Trump rails against all those pesky folks coming across the Mexican border?

What does trade look like JUST for OHIO?  Schecter reports:  "Ohio exported $6.5 billion of goods to Mexico in 2015, an 8 percent increase from 2014. Mexico is Ohio's second largest foreign trading partner, the destination for more than $1 billion of Ohio-made machinery, the state's leading foreign export."

Why have so many reporters forgotten how to check facts essential for placing a politician's comments into proper context?

Had reporters done their jobs, Trump wouldn't be the nominee.   He is the nominee for one primary reason:  journalism failed.   When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

When Numbers Don't Make Sense!

When numbers don't make sense, there's usually a story.

This is an essential story for every student journalist to go after on her/his campus and to hold the university accountable.

Here's a number that is not believable, one that cannot possibly be true:  Ninety one percent of colleges/universities report no sexual assaults.    Now it is true that 91% report no sexual assaults; that's because colleges are failing to report assaults on their campus.

Here's one powerful sentence in the HuffingtonPost piece every university administrator should print and post on his/her office wall:  "The reports that there were no incidents of sexual assault on 9-in-10 campuses “directly conflict” with a swath of peer-reviewed research that show around 1-in-5 female students will experience sexual assault by the time they graduate college." 

Here are some easy but important questions for student journalists to ask the college president at colleges reporting no sexual assaults:

1.  Do you believe that number is accurate?

2.  Why are no sexual assaults being reported on this campus?

3.  How long have you been aware of that number?

4.  When you saw a number that you know can't possibly be accurate, what action did you take?

It's time to hold universities accountable.  And when the university president refuses to do an on-camera interview, report it, post it, share it.  Then call your state's governor for comment.   What's the governor think of universities failing to report sexual assaults?   When your governor refuses to do an interview, report it, post it, share it.


Friday, June 24, 2016

A Gun Question Local TV Reporters Should Ask Members of Congress (but don't)

GUN VIOLENCE - it's the only area where knowledge has been prohibited by Congress.

With automobile deaths, we recognized it was a public health problem.   Thousands died every year.   With automobile deaths, we did the science.   We collected the data. We got the facts.   We analyzed it.  Based on our research and analysis we came up with improvements for roads, for cars, for laws and the result:  deaths went down.

With gun violence thousands die every year.  Gun violence in cities across the nation is a significant public health problem.   But Congress has prohibited knowledge.   The CDC is not allowed to study it.

There's an obvious question every local news organization should be asking their members of Congress:  are you in favor of Congress prohibiting knowledge?

If your local TV reporters aren't asking their Congressional members that question, call the station general manager and ask why not.  Do commercial television stations have any responsibility to operate in the public interest?   Should a local commercial TV station that ignores its Congressional delegation and fails to hold its members accountable have its license to broadcast renewed?   

When journalism fails, bad things happen.   


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Two Questions for Donald Trump

1.  What is your advice to parents if their child talks about her/his classmates the way you talk about people?

2.  Should we make America kind again?

Why have we devolved into a country that accepts rudeness and name calling?  

Perhaps the "who do we hate today network," the "our top anchor makes things up but it's ok with us" network, the "every problem in the world is caused by President Obama" network, the "facts and rational thought don't matter" network is a contributing cause.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.   

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In-Depth Analysis of ISIS by ABC, NBC, CBS

Now would be a worthwhile time to watch again the in-depth programs ABC, NBC, and CBS have done about ISIS.  

Oh, that's right.   There aren't any such programs.  

America's major network news corporations no longer put significant resources, time and reporting effort into complex issues that need to be thoughtfully examined.  

It's 2016.  The purpose of a license to broadcast is a license to print money.  The concern is shareholder value and stock price and executive compensation.

To find some highly informative reporting and analysis on ISIS check the BBC or Bill Moyers or the Guardian.


Bill Moyers:  


The Guardian:

What about FOX?  FOX, the communication arm of the Republican party, now has the result of its daily propaganda campaign pointing out every problem in the world is caused by President Obama.  The result is Donald Trump, a presidential candidate who believes the current president somehow, some way, had something to do with Orlando.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Question For NE Ohio Journalists

Years ago, college students going to state universities paid low tuition thanks to the fact the state provided the majority of the cost for a student to go to school.   A college student, I was one of them, could make enough with a summer job to pay for school.  No more.  The state still provides significant support, but it's been cut substantially.   Now, the largest percentage of a university's revenue comes from what the students pay.   Lose students and a university loses big money.   That's what's happening at the University of Akron.  

As the Akron Beacon Journal reports, "Administrators at the University of Akron expect declining enrollment to reduce annual revenue next year by $20 million."

Will reporters in Northeast Ohio ask an obvious question about an item that can be cut from the university budget that will save millions that won't hurt academics one bit?   Will reporters ask about an item that if cut will reduce the university's risk of litigation?   Will reporters ask about an incredibly expensive item that causes brain damage for some students?   Will reporters ask if the university will cut football?

Probably not.   

When it comes to college athletics, local newsrooms typically play cheerleader.  After all, it took a move starring Will Smith to inform the public about the risk of football concussions.  For the most part, newsrooms just waved their pom poms.  There's nothing to cheer about when a university has a $20 million dollar budget hole to fill.  

Only a handful of university athletic programs make money; most lose millions.  So how does a university that loses millions every year with its athletic program pay for that program?   The university charges fees to every academic student.  Students at universities like Akron, Kent State, Bowling Green and Ohio U  don't know the highest fee they pay each year goes to fund the athletic department because universities don't provide line-item detail on the bill.

That's another worthwhile education budget question for higher-education reporters to ask: WHY DOESN'T THE UNIVERSITY PROVIDE LINE-ITEM DETAIL ON THE STUDENT BILL?   This student project showing how much academic students have to pay in fees every semester to the athletic department is a few years old, but the problem of hidden fees charged to fund athletics hasn't changed.  Neither has the problem of news reporters failing to question the cost of a sport that medical science has shown causes brain damage, a sport that would save a university millions if cut.   Take a look at the University of Akron's athletic budget.   Just for football scholarships it spends $2,952.084.  

Why don't reporters ask the university president why the football team gets more full scholarships than any academic department?   In examining any university budget, it's time reporters put down their pom poms and pick up their pens and ask hard questions of the university president.   
The current presidential campaign shows what happens when reporters fail to do their job.  Only now are they starting to ask Donald Trump the questions that should have been asked months ago.   Trump doesn't like being held accountable; neither do university presidents.  But that's the job of the journalist, to ask the questions that need to be asked and to hold people and institutions accountable.   As Dan Rather recently posted, "Good journalism--the kind that matters--requires reporters who won't back up, back down, back away or turn around when faced with efforts to intimidate them. It also requires owners and other bosses with guts, who stand by and for their reporters when the heat is on."

When journalism fails, bad things happen. 


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Why We Have Trump

We have Trump for the same reason we had the war in Iraq:  journalism failed.

With Iraq, there was no imminent threat.   The "if we knew then what we know now" excuse is totally hollow.   We knew then there was no threat.   But the Bush Administration couldn't make the argument to Congress or to the American people that it wanted to use American military power to redraw the political map of the Middle East.   The Bush Administration knew that wouldn't work.   So it had to come up with a story to sell the war.  

As Bill Moyers points out in definitive detail in "Buying the War:  How Big Media Failed Us," the only thing that allowed the Bush Administration to sell the war was a compliant press.   By definition, a compliant press is a press failing to do its job.

The only thing that allowed Donald Trump to sell his candidacy was a press that failed to do its job.  
Instead of asking specific questions about specific issues, it played human microphone stand for Donald.   Day after day we listened to "did you hear what Donald Trump said?"   And day after day, reporters asked other candidates not about issues but instead asked, "what do you think of what Donald Trump said?"

The American viewer heard more comments about climate change by watching the Academy Awards than from watching a reporter moderated Republican presidential debate.
My apology for using the word reporter in that sentence.   An actual reporter, a journalist, would ask specific questions.   An actual journalist would hold a candidate accountable.  
A compliant press doesn't do that. 

Now we have the result.   

When journalism fails, bad things happen.   


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

60 Minutes Shocker That Shouldn't Be

Everyone who knows how Congress works was not surprised in the least by the 60 Minutes report "Dialing for Dollars."  Members spend hours every single day not working for constituents but instead focusing on their primary objective:  to raise money.   As 60 Minutes reported, the Congressional daily calendar is scheduled around fund raising.   There aren't committee meetings during the lunch hour.   That's prime telemarketing time.   Members don't complain publicly even though each and every single one of them should.   

Voters back in the district are shocked for one primary reason:  local reporters don't do their jobs.   
In every single television market, the member should have been held accountable by local TV reporters.   They're not.   

The question is simple:  why should TV stations licensed by the FCC be allowed to have their licenses renewed when their news operations don't even hold their members of Congress accountable?   Call the general manager of your local TV station and ask him/her to explain on tonight's news why the station should not have its license revoked for such a total dereliction of basic reporting.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Saturday, March 19, 2016


Finally, the Republican Party is upset with getting a candidate of its own creation.  Party Leaders now want to take action to stop Trump.   Most likely, it's too late for this election but not for the next.   With action, we can stop future Trumps from harming the country.

One solution for the future, Party Leaders should suggest to voters that journalism, not propaganda is essential in a democracy.   Guess what?   Facts matter.  

If Party Leaders are actually concerned about the country, they should get some of their super wealthy supporters to pay for a public education campaign like the ones we've done for using your seat belt and the dangers of driving and texting.   This would be a public education campaign to educate the public about journalism.  Top Republicans should privately and publicly tell Roger Ailes that Fox should do something it's never done:  journalism, not propaganda, not political talking points for the party. 

The country has lots of problems.   But every problem is not caused by President Obama.

Journalism requires verification.   What are the facts?  What is the evidence?   If journalists had done their jobs, there would not have been an Iraq war.   There was no imminent threat and the intelligence community knew that, and it was being confirmed daily by the UN weapons inspectors.  

If Fox News had done journalism instead of propaganda, there would be no Donald Trump about to get the nomination of the party.   And if voters would start demanding the same thing journalists should - facts - they will never support a candidate like Trump.   In addition, there will be no disagreement on global warming and the dire need to take action regarding climate change.   In that way, science is like journalism, facts matter.

We're now paying a national price for a party and a cable "news" network that have ignored facts.   
Ultimately, science will win.   There's no doubt of that.   Can journalism make a come back? Let's hope so or this country will be one of the shortest living world powers in earth's history.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Friday, March 18, 2016


How can members of Congress get away with not talking to reporters?   Simple.  Reporters don't talk to them, at least not the ones who matter.

As Tip O'Neill pointed out years ago, all politics is local.

What happens at the local level, where the member's voters live?   Nothing.  Local TV news operations question them about NOTHING. Local TV news operations don't question them about climate change or student debt or international trade or military expenditures or even the magnificent wall Donald Trump wants to build.  

Students in my computer-assisted reporting class contacted every single member of the Ohio Congressional delegation to get the member's position on climate change.  They also requested a 5-minute videoskype interview with either the member or the member's press aide to discuss the member's position on climate change.  

Click right here and watch what the students discovered.  

What's germane here is the second part of the students' assignment.  The student journalists also had to call the local commercial television stations to find out if their news departments had questioned their members of Congress about climate change.
Navy Veteran Christopher Freeman Calls Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson's Office Trying to Get the Congressman's Position on Climate Change.   Congressman Johnson Would Not Provide It.
Student reporters discovered not a single commercial TV newsroom in Ohio had questioned its members about climate change.

Local news no longer holds members of Congress accountable.   So when politicians get called from national reporters, they can ignore them.   Your members of Congress can refuse to comment because all politics is local.  And local TV news reporters aren't holding them accountable.

The question is why?   If a local TV station wants to improve ratings, one way to do that is to hold their members of Congress accountable, not ignore them.

Perhaps I'm wrong; maybe my student journalists missed something (I doubt it).  If so, I apologize and ask you to send the URL from the TV station where the Senator is being questioned about climate change or about whether the Senate should hold hearings and vote on the current Supreme Court nominee or about any other issue of importance.  

One great thing about technology is it saves money.   The local TV reporter in Cincinnati or Columbus or Toledo or Cleveland or Youngstown or Dayton doesn't have to fly to D.C. to do a video interview.   That can be done via videoSkype for no cost.    Right now, the only cost we have is the incredible cost to democracy because local reporters aren't holding members of Congress accountable.   Had reporters done their job, Donald Trump wouldn't even be a consideration for the nomination of president.   But then, if reporters had done their job, there never would have been a war in Iraq either.  There was no imminent threat, and we knew that.  At least reporters from the McClatchy group got that on right.   

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

How Trump/Romney Tax Returns Can Help the Country

How unfortunate during the last election, Romney did NOT provide his tax returns.   If he actually cares about the country, he could still make them available.   So should Donald Trump because both the Trump and Romney returns will most likely show precisely the same thing:

1.   Everything was done legally.

2.  Our tax system is set up to benefit the super rich.    

You'd expect nothing else in an oligarchy.   Please Mr. Romney, if you wish to help the country you don't have to wait on Donald Trump's tax returns.   Show us yours.   Do something that actually benefits what little is left of our democracy.  Show us how broken the system is.   Show us your tax returns. 

Will he be the next head of the oligarchy?


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ken Stabler - One More Sad Story.

Excellent piece by the New York Times on Ken Stabler.   Where was the New York Times a decade ago?   Just as it did for the Iraq war, the New York Times played cheerleader. Instead of questioning and reporting on a serious issue, the Times just played cheerleader for a sport that causes brain damage.  

As the story says, "he (Ken Stabler) was robbed of the last 15 years of his life."

So why oh why did the New York Times play cheerleader for a sport that causes brain damage?  Why did news organizations across the country play cheerleader? 

Why oh why do news organizations today totally fail to question university presidents and high school administrators about a sport that causes brain damage?

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Put Down Your Pom Poms - Pick Up Your Pens - Report!

With all the news about the risks posed to the brain from concussions and sub-concussive hits received by playing football, when do you suppose a university president or high school administrator will voice concern and take action about a sport that causes brain damage?

When will reporters start questioning their university presidents and high school administrators?

Concussion, a movie starring Will Smith is informing the public for one primary reason:  the press hasn't. With only a few exceptions, local news organizations across the country have ignored an obvious story year after year after year after year.  So has the national press.   It took PBS to do League of Denial because ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox certainly wouldn't want to hurt one of their cash cows.  Who cares if young men's brains pay the price.  Not the networks, not when there's lots of money to be made on America's game.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.  

If sports reporters actually want to be reporters instead of cheerleaders, they should put down their pom poms, pick up their pens, and go question their university presidents and school administrators about a sport that causes brain damage, a sport where concussions will continue. And as Jason Luckasevic, the attorney who filed the first concussion lawsuit against the NFL, predicts, so will the lawsuits.    Why you ask, when the athlete knows there's a risk of injury, should there be a lawsuit?  Click here and listen to Jason Luckasevic explain.   

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Examining Police Use of Force Can Be Expensive

As the Washington Post reports, the FBI is going to significantly improve its ability to track information on police shootings, calling the current system a "travesty."  But as my computer-assisted reporting class discovered, if a citizen wants to get information

about a police department's use of force, it can be cost prohibitive depending upon the state.  

Here's the response student Rachel Godin got from the city of Lansing, Michigan.   To get copies of the use-of-force reports it's only $21,350.   That's right, twenty-one thousand three hundred fifty dollars, and the city wants an initial payment of more than ten grand.    

The threat to democracy does not come from terrorists, it comes from government secrecy.

Michigan reporters should be holding their elected officials accountable and asking them why Michigan has a law that allows for such charges.  Donald Trump and the 1% can afford to go after public records in Michigan, the average citizen can't.   When access to public records is thwarted, accountability in government doesn't have much of a chance.    


Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Must-See Movie for the Christmas (College Bowl) Season

Every university president and every sports editor should go back and read Jeanne Marie Laskas' article from 2009, Game Brain.   What a great piece of work telling the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who first encountered and documented the damage football causes when he examined the brain of Pittsburgh Steeler great Iron Mike Webster.   In sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, Laskas makes you think about and begin to question a game you have loved (My grandfather was a college player and a lifelong football coach; one of my earliest Christmas presents from Grandpa Joe was a used football helmet - the leather helmet type). 

From her 2009 article:  

"Omalu did not like the education he was receiving. He felt he was learning something very ugly about America, about how an $8 billion industry could attempt to silence even the most well-intentioned scientist and in the most insidious ways."

"In the jar is Omalu’s fifteenth confirmed case of CTE—the most dramatic he’s seen."

"The NFL was already plenty pissed off. They had refused to acknowledge CTE or any of Omalu’s research or, really, Omalu himself. It seemed they wanted to simply pretend Omalu did not exist, and he was sick of it, sick of insisting that yes, Bennet Omalu is a real person who has discovered a real disease that is really damaging real people even as you sit there denying it. The public debate with the NFL was a distraction from his research. He would continue his work quietly, examining brains."

"Anybody still denying the disease is out of his mind."

Why newsrooms across the country didn't jump on this article back in 2009 and start questioning coaches, parents, and school administrators about what was now scientifically documented probably comes back to the newsroom battle between reporters and cheerleaders.   When it comes to football, until now the pom pom wavers have usually won.  A movie based on Jeanne Laskas' reporting of Omalu's work may change that.

Concussion with Will Smith should be mandatory viewing for every every reporter and for every university president.   

After viewing the university president should do the following: 

1.  Go to the mirror.

2.  Look in the mirror.

3.  Ask, "why am I, a university president, not concerned about supporting a sport that causes brain damage?"

Every sports editor should simply ask one question:   when will my sports reporters put down their pom poms and pick up their pens and do some reporting?

Imagine what the football world would look like today if sports reporters were reporters and not cheerleaders.  Every sports cheerleader should write Jeanne Marie Laskas a thank you note and say "thank you for demonstrating what a reporter is supposed to do."  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.