Thursday, June 18, 2015

Questions to Ask Your University Researchers About Gun Violence

The Washington Post's Todd Frankel has a story that gives every public health reporter, every education reporter, every crime reporter an easy accountability story to go do.

As the Post article points out, the CDC has not examined gun violence since 1996 when Congress threatened to strip the agency of its funding if it dared to study and examine the carnage being caused by all the gun deaths in the United States.   But for local reporters, a more important point from the article is this:

     "The CDC's self-imposed ban dried up a powerful funding source and had a
      chilling effect felt far beyond the agency.   Almost no one wanted to pay for
      gun violence studies, researchers say.  Young academics were warned that
      joining the field was a good way to kill their careers.  And the odd gun study
      that got published went through linguistic gymnastics to hide any connection
      to firearms."

Gun violence kills someone in the United States every 15 minutes.   This is a country where someone with a gun kills school children, kills movie goers, kills people in a church.   What do our great research universities do?   They're afraid to study the problem.  Young academics are warned to avoid the topic.

With automobile deaths we studied the problem.  We collected facts.   Those facts allowed us to change designs for both cars and roads.   Automobile deaths went down.

For reporters, go interview the heads of any school of public health.   Go interview the presidents of those universities.   Why aren't they studying a problem that kills someone ever 15 minutes?

Go interview the members of your Congressional delegation.    Are they in favor or opposed to doing substantive, serious research on a public health issue that kills someone every 15 minutes?   Or are they too afraid to even talk about it?   When my journalism students a few years ago tried to get the Ohio Congressional delegation's positions on gun control, most members wouldn't even respond.    

When journalism fails, bad things happen.  


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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Where Journalism is Fun and Rewarding

It's not difficult for a news organization to produce great journalism.   Management simply has to hire actual journalists. Journalists by their very nature want to do great work.   Journalists want to ask the questions that need to be asked.  Journalists enjoy holding the powerful accountable.  Journalists are always going after and developing great stories. Journalists are driven.  They are passionate about their work.  

It's always a joy to work with the various services at Radio Free Asia - people doing journalism for all the right reasons.    I just had the pleasure of working with a great
group at RFA Myanmar.

video

What a great group!

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Mother's Day Story Every Reporter Should Do.

Happy Mother's Day in the only industrialized nation that does NOT provide paid maternity leave.  Read the article in the Guardian.  That's a story that reporters in every market in this country should be doing, but they aren't.  

My Mom (89) and Mia
Come on local reporters!!!   Call up your members of Congress.   Ask  if he/she is in favor of or opposed to paid maternity leave.   Ask the member why he/she thinks the United States is the ONLY industrialized nation that does NOT provide paid maternity leave.  Ask the member what not having paid maternity leave does to the family economy and to the family.

And for mothers and fathers, call the general managers of your local TV stations and ask why their reporters never hold their members of Congress accountable on any substantive issue.   Ask the General Managers why their license to broadcast should be renewed.   If their reporters aren't holding their members of Congress accountable, that license should be yanked and given to a corporate owner who understands that a television station has an obligation and responsibility to operate in the public interest.   

And we all have an obligation to act in the interest of mothers. 

Happy Mother's Day. 

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Where Were the Lawyers?

Rolling Stone got it wrong for a simple reason:   it forgot how to do basic fact checking.   Journalists are not human microphone stands.   When someone tells a compelling and riveting story (think Bill O'Reilly), a journalist doesn't just believe it.   A journalist ALWAYS wants verification.  

So if there's a gang rape at a fraternity, there are lots of people at the frat to go see and lots of questions to ask them.   The victim has friends she told.   A journalist goes to talk with them.   What were they told by the victim, when, how?   Do the stories match or are there major inconsistencies which raise questions about the truth of what the journalist has been told by the victim?

The Rolling Stone reporter didn't interview the friends.   And I won't recount the numerous basic reporting mistakes pointed out in Columbia Journalism School's report on Rolling Stone's near total lack of proper editorial oversight.  There's another question. 

Where were the lawyers?

If journalists have forgotten how to do basic fact checking,  why did the lawyers fail to do their jobs?  

At CBS, Lara Logan's story on Benghazi demonstrated the basic point:  CBS news managers have forgotten how to do basic fact checking.  The scene is described as Al Qaeda fighters everywhere.  Morgan Jones (real name - Dylan Davies) tells Lara Logan that in this incredibly dangerous situation an Al Qaeda fighter just walks up to him so Jones hits him with the butt of his rifle.  Oh sure.  It's an incredibly violent situation.  And the Al Qaeda fighter walks up to say howdie-do and just lets himself be hit in the face.  Listen to this segment of the interview and ask yourself one question:  who is dumb enough to believe this?   



video


Lara Logan's story could have been blown up with 15 minutes of checking the CBS news archive.   But let's give the news managers the benefit of the doubt.   They've simply forgotten how to do basic fact checking.   They've forgotten that a  journalist is not supposed to be a human microphone stand.   They've forgotten that journalism requires verification. The question remains:   where were the lawyers?   

Legal review is fairly basic.   You go sentence by sentence.  How do we know this is true?   How do we know it is fair?   What is the evidence?   Who are the sources?  Who witnessed this?   What documentation is there? 

If Rolling Stone and CBS have decided they won't fire the reporter and news managers who failed to do journalism 101,  they should at least fire the lawyers.  

When legal review fails, really embarrassing, brand degrading and potentially costly things happen.    


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Friday, April 3, 2015

To Find Great Stories Ask One Question: WHY?

The president of Al Jazeera America Kate O'Brian was just at Kent State to receive the prestigious Robert G. McGruder Award for Diversity.    Prior to Al Jazeera, Kate had spent 30 years at ABC including two stints working with Peter Jennings.    And one thing she said about Jennings that should resonate with all students and journalists everywhere is that Peter Jennings was insatiably curious.   He was, says Kate, always asking questions.

And as one reviews American journalism, there is a depressing absence of asking the one question that leads to great stories:  WHY?

WHY is the United States the only industrialized nation where thousands of families go bankrupt from medical bills?

Why is healthcare in America so much more expensive than anywhere else?

Why do local TV reporters not question their members of Congress on any issues of substance?

WHY do athletes get more full scholarships to college than academic students?  

For March Madness, WHY are the teams so black and the cheerleaders so white?  





A public policy question:  WHY is the highest paid public employee in state after state either a football coach or a basketball coach?

In the current reporting on Iran, WHY do U.S. news organizations so often fail to review the crucial historical context of our relationship with Iran?   When Iran's leader Mohammed Mosaddeq wanted to nationalize the oil fields and share the wealth with the Iranian people, the United States did not want that.   The CIA orchestrated a coup and an American puppet dictator, the Shah, was installed.   The Shah imprisoned or tortured or killed all political opposition.  WHY did the United States support such behavior?

WHY do we teach a sanitized Disneyland version of American history in our public schools?

WHY don't certain members of Congress believe in science?

WHY in the run up to the Iraq war when Rumsfeld and Bush and Cheney and Rice were running around the country saying, "Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destructions against his own people," WHY did reporters not ask, "and what did the United States do when Saddam did that?"   Answer:  The United States continued to support Saddam Hussein.   WHY?   

Why does CNN talk about the same damn thing all day long? 

To improve the state of journalism, we need to be asking more WHY questions.   

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


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Monday, March 23, 2015

WHY DOES A UNIVERSITY AGREE TO VIOLATE THE LAW?

In its contract with a Philadelphia consulting firm that specializes in branding, 160over90, Kent State University agreed to let the private firm hold public records hostage.  Here's the relevant portion of the contract:   
What's that black spot?   That's the number of days the private firm has to review and redact information it doesn't want the public to see.   But that's not how the law works.    

Under Ohio law, public records cannot be held hostage.  A private firm cannot have x number of days to determine when and if a portion of a public record can be released.   University counsel should review page 11 of Access With Attitude - An Advocate's Guide to Freedom of Information in Ohio by Ohio's premier 1st Amendment attorney Dave Marburger and myself. That's where university lawyers will be reminded that under Ohio law, a public agency cannot "establish a fixed period of time before the agency will respond to a request unless that period is less than eight hours."



And the university should also review the Sunshine Law Manual from the Ohio Attorney General. As it points out, "Parties to a public contract, including settlement agreements,  cannot nullify the Public Records Act’s guarantee of public access to public records. Nor can an employee handbook confidentiality provision alter the status of public records. In other words, a contract cannot nullify or restrict the public’s access to public records. Absent a statutory exception, a “public entity cannot enter into enforceable promises of confidentiality with respect to public records.”

A private firm does not have the ability to determine what is and is not a public record.   That's determined by state law.  Why did the university agree to a contract that's an obvious violation of Ohio's public records law?  Here's the timetable.  

Kent State University announced it had a hired a firm to come up with the university's strategic vision.  Akron Beacon Journal reporter Rick Armon asked for a copy of the contract.  Kent State sent Rick the contract and redacted several portions, including financial terms.  You can read Rick's story here.   

What would it cost?   How much is the public state university paying for this consultant?   Here's what the redacted contract provided by Kent State University shows.

Akron Beacon Journal reporter Rick Armon persisted, and Kent State University finally decided it should obey state law and provided the contract.   Thanks to Rick Armon, citizens of Ohio can now see the terms of a contract that had been improperly withheld from the public.   You can read his updated story here.    In the un-redacted contract, the public can now see how long (ten days) the university was going to allow the private firm to remove information from a public record.
And the public can now see the financial terms.
I've requested an on-camera interview with Kent State University's legal counsel.   So far, the university has not responded to my request.  Why would university lawyers agree to a contract that obviously violates Ohio's public records law?   I hope to post the video answering that question here.   


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Monday, March 2, 2015

A Message to Our Favorite Anchormen



video

THANK YOU to Brian Williams & Bill O'Reilly
from students in my writing for audio & video class!

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Simple Solution for Bill O'Reilly

The solution for Bill O'Reilly is simple.   It's the same solution Brian Williams had at his disposal.   Richard Nixon had it too, and had he used the solution chances are he may never have had to resign.  

TELL THE TRUTH.

There are lots of VJ's now, the one-man-bands who do it all.   Back when Bill O'Reilly was working for CBS it was always a TV crew.    The correspondent was not by himself.  

To verify what he claims, Bill O'Reilly  can simply name the photographers he was with who witnessed what he claims to have witnessed.   

The Washington Post's Erik Wemple writes what's probably slightly disconcerting for FOX News because Erik's piece contains facts and rational thought.   Will Roger Ailes take any action at all?    Erik asked Fox News for the name of the photographer, and was told it is Roberto Moreno.   Keep watching Erik's blog for an update once he finds the cameraman.

Is O'Reilly telling the truth about his "Falklands warzone" coverage?   A CBS correspondent who was there doesn't think so.   Eric Engberg describes what it was like for CBS crews covering the Falklands War on his Facebook post this way:  

         "Our knowledge of the war was restricted to what we could glean from comically 
          deceitful daily briefings given by the Argentine military and watching government-
          controlled television to try to pick up a useful clue from propaganda broadcasts. We -- 
          meaning the American networks -- were all in the same, modern hotel and we never 
          saw any troops, casualties or weapons. 

          It was not a war zone or even close. It was an "expense account zone.'"

Would any legitimate news organization take immediate action against a host, anchor or reporter
making things up?   Of course.  Will Fox?

Eric Engberg also takes issue with O'Reilly's description of an injured cameraman.

          "O'Reilly has said he was in a situation in Argentina where "my photographer got 
          run down and hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete and the 
          army was chasing us." The only place where such an injury could have occurred 
          was the relatively tame riot I have described above. Neither Doyle, who would have 
          been immediately informed of injury to any CBS personnel, nor anyone else who was
          working the story remembers a cameraman being injured that night. No one who 
          reported back to our hotel newsroom after the disturbance was injured; if a cameraman 
          had been "bleeding from the ear" he would have immediately reported that to his 
          superiors at the hotel. This part of O'Reilly's Argentina story is not credible without 
          further confirmation, and O'Reilly should identify the cameraman by name so he 
          can be questioned about the alleged injury."

Not being a journalistic organization, what Fox News will do is uncertain.   Most likely, it will take no action at all.   Bill O'Reilly's program makes money.   That's what Fox News cares about, not journalism, not ethics, not professional standards, not truth. 

When journalism fails, bad things happen. 

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Watch the Julian Bond Quote Reporters Ignored

It went unreported by local reporters, but thankfully Kent State University recorded Julian Bond's presentation in which he makes a powerful point:  Republicans Don't Want Black People to Vote.


video


And you can watch Julian Bond's entire presentation on KSUtube.

Rather than ignoring what Julian Bond says reporters should be questioning their members of Congress about it.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Want the Truth? Talk to the Photographers

Brian Williams did not misremember.    

Anyone on board a helicopter in a war zone that gets hit with an RPG remembers that.   Anyone on board a helicopter in a war zone where the helicopter in front of yours gets hit by an RPG remembers that.   Nobody confuses the two. 

Brian Williams apologized, sort of.  He didn't admit that he lied.  He did not apologize for lying. As the New York Times points out, "With an Apology, Brian Williams Digs Himself Deeper."   The question is does the main anchor of NBC Nightly News have a problem telling the truth?   Does he embellish stories?   Does he make things up?

There's one way to find that out.   Talk to the photographers.   

Nobody knows the correspondent, the reporter better than the photographers.

Maybe it's something in the photographer's DNA, the men and women who take the video, who are often better reporters than the reporters whose stand ups they shoot.   If you want the truth about what's going on in any broadcast news operation, talk to the photographers.

Any media reporter trying to find the truth about Brian Williams needs to talk to the photographers. 

And media reporters have a simple question for NBC.   NBC doesn't have an anchor who misremembered, it has an anchor who lied.   Is that ok? 

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Nationwide Death

Do a Google search for childhood deaths.   Click through the first several pages of 



the 77 million results and you'll find information from the CDC and WebMD and UNICEF and a range of advocacy groups.    You'll find quite a few stories from traditional media on the Nationwide Super Bowl ad.  What's not there are stories from major media on the problem of accidental deaths.

Congratulations to Nationwide.   It brought attention to an important issue.   Will the press do anything more than do stories on the commerial?   Let's hope so. 


Watch a commercial that's worth watching, and one that will probably prevent some family tragedies.  




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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Super Bowl Halftime Show Raises a Question Reporters Ignore

Tonight is the Super Bowl.   At halftime, we'll see a spectacular halftime show.   They may not be quite as spectacular as the Super Bowl extravaganza, but the halftime shows at college games are wonderful.  The Ohio State or Wisconsin or Michigan or UCLA or USC or Alabama bands put on a great show.   It's certainly far more interesting than a set full of football yackers. 

Why doesn't ESPN or the networks show the halftime show for college games?  

Does ESPN think it will lose audience?   Does ESPN think guys on a set yacking about the game will attract more viewers than a halftime event where viewers might see their son or daughter performing an entertaining show that has taken days/weeks of practice?

Why don't local sports reporters ask, "Hey ESPN, why don't you show the halftime show at college games?" 

It's halftime - time to yack, except during the Super Bowl.


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Saturday, January 24, 2015

JULIAN BOND'S MOST NEWSWORTHY QUOTE GOES UNREPORTED

I remember interviewing civil rights leader Julian Bond in 1975 or 1976 in Madison, Wisconsin.   I don't remember what he said.  Most likely we would have been discussing the war in Vietnam. But I don't remember.   I certainly remember what he said Thursday afternoon at Kent State University.   It was the most newsworthy point he made, and local reporters ignored it.

Julian Bond's presentation at Kent State was a reporter's dream.   He gave one great quote after another.


"Obama is to the Tea Party as the moon is to werewolves."

"Jim Crow may be dead but racism is alive and well."

"People who say race is history have it backward; history is race."

"Those were the days when politicians from both parties supported the struggle for civil rights, now they struggle to be civil."

But there was only one point he repeated.   He didn't say it a second time for emphasis.   Nor did he say it a third time for emphasis.   He said it over and over and over and over again.

"Republicans don't want black people to vote!"

Think about that.   And in the time it took for the audience to consider that statement he said it again.

"Republicans don't want black people to vote!"

He paused for just a moment and said again, "Republicans don't want black people to vote."

He said it again.  "Republicans don't want black people to vote."

He said it again and again and again.     

In the Akron Beacon Journal, the Record Courier and on Kent State University's student news website KentWired.com, there is no mention of the most newsworthy statement made by a man who has spent his life fighting for civil rights.   Republicans are now in power in Congress, and Julian Bond the former head of the NAACP does not hedge his words.   He speaks directly.  He speaks forcefully.   He states over and over again:  Republicans don't want black people to vote." 

Local reporters don't want to report it.   

They should.   

They need to hold their elected officials accountable. 

What would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. say to reporters who refuse to do so?   What would Dr. King say to the owners of news organizations?   What would Dr. King say to university student journalists?   

Anyone at Mr. Bond's presentation heard him loud and clear:   Republicans don't want black people to vote.   Anyone who read the coverage of that event in the Beacon Journal or the Record Courier or Kent Wired didn't get that quote.   Readers didn't get a chance to read the one statement and the only statement Julian Bond made over and over and over again.

Republicans don't want black people to vote. 

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Church of Self Censorship

The response to an attack on free speech should never be self censorship.  

Sarcasm and satire are not crimes.   

Opinion is not a crime.

Making fun of religion (easy to do - seer stones, burning bushes, living in a whale, virgins in heaven) is not a crime.

Killing innocent people, that's a crime.  A drone attack that blows up innocent people at a wedding party most likely generates more terrorists than it kills.   One can debate whether it's a crime.   One thing that's certain, the cartoon that addresses U.S. drone policy is not.



When innocent people are killed for what they say be it with word or drawing, the response from a news organization should never be self censorship.  

I remember a dinner years ago in Baku, Azerbaijan when one of the men mentioned his father had been in prison.   Another man at the table immediately asked, "what prison?"   After being told, he replied, "my father was in that prison too."   Both fathers had been in prison not for what they had done but for what they had said.

No society is free as long as governments can imprison people for what they say and as long as journalists are freely willing to attend the church of self censorship. That's not a church to satirize or make jokes about; it's a church that needs to close.


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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Terrorism - the Unanswered Question

Why?   To have any hope of addressing the threat of terrorism, it's the essential question to ask.  
Who were those who attacked on 911?    The key question after 911 was WHY.  It's  a question the bulk of the American press failed to ask and analyze.   

Considering those who attacked us, ask a simple question:  how aggressively did the American press question the U.S. Government about our relations with Saudi Arabia?  And why were all those "terrorists" from Saudi Arabia wanting and willing to die in an attack on the United States of America?  Here's the listing from CNN.

Hijackers by Airplane:
American Airlines Flight 11
Mohamed Atta - Egypt, tactical leader of 9/11 plot and pilot
Abdul Aziz al Omari - Saudi Arabia
Wail al Shehri - Saudi Arabia
Waleed al Shehri - Saudi Arabia
Satam al Suqami - Saudi Arabia
United Airlines Flight 175 
Fayez Banihammad - United Arab Emirates
Ahmed al Ghamdi - Saudi Arabia
Hamza al Ghamdi - Saudi Arabia
Marwan al Shehhi - United Arab Emirates, pilot
Mohand al Shehri - Saudi Arabia
American Airlines Flight 77 
Hani Hanjour - Saudi Arabia, pilot
Nawaf al Hazmi - Saudi Arabia
Salem al Hazmi - Saudi Arabia
Khalid al Mihdhar - Saudi Arabia
Majed Moqed - Saudi Arabia
United Airlines Flight 93 
Saeed al Ghamdi - Saudi Arabia
Ahmad al Haznawi - Saudi Arabia
Ziad Jarrah - Lebanon, pilot
Ahmed al Nami - Saudi Arabia

So WHY, did we attack Iraq?

Oh yes, Saudi Arabia is an ally.   How does it treat those who blog about religion in a way opposed by the government?   As the Guardian reports, Saudi Arabia sentences such people to prison and gives them 50 lashes for "insulting Islam."
How aggressively is the Washington press corps questioning the Administration and all our political leadership about our relationship with Saudi Arabia?   Why does the United States  continue to support (oil)  a country that doesn't tolerate free speech or rights for women? 
For the press to examine terrorism, it needs to ask questions that need to be asked, not play human microphone stand for the government (or corporate) line.

Why?
When journalism fails, bad things happen. 

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