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.   


Friday, October 30, 2015

10 TIPS for Moderators to Improve Political Debates

1.  Ask a direct question about a specific issue.

     Example:  Should there be mandatory prison time for corporate executives who 
     knowingly approve for sale products with potentially lethal safety defects?  Why or why

     Example:   What specific steps need to be taken to solve the student debt crisis?

2.  Ask every candidate the same question.  It might be called a debate, but it's not possible with ten candidates on stage to have a debate.   So at least get each candidate to address specific issues.  

3.  When the candidate ignores the question and talks about something totally different as John Kasich did with his first question, cut him off.  His time to answer is done.  When candidates know they can't talk when refusing to answer a question, behavior will hopefully change.  This is an easy rule for candidates to understand.   If the candidate doesn't immediately address the question asked, the candidate's mic will be cut.    Currently, candidates know they can ignore the question and make any political speech they choose.   It's not surprising that's what they do.  The loser is the voting public. 

4.  When asked a specific question about a specific issue, and the candidate talks in generalities, ask for specifics.  Ask for evidence.

5.  Do not ask the candidate about another candidate.  Do not ask the candidate about what he said about another candidate.   

6.  Ask no questions about polls.   They have nothing to do with a candidate's position on a specific issue.  

7.  Remember the two-fold goal.   It's to get the candidate's specific position on specific issues, and to hold the candidate accountable for those positions be the issue the budget or climate change or Syria or the Iran Nuclear Deal.   If the candidate has no facts and no evidence to support his or her position, that should become apparent when the moderator asks for specifics and evidence and there isn't any. 

8.  Remember, a candidate debate is NOT about you the moderator.   You're not the star. The star is the direct question requiring a specific answer.   Ask direct questions.

9.  Invite someone from the BBC's HARDtalk to come to your network to give a seminar on how to ask questions. 

10.  For levity, if any candidate mentions the liberal media, LAUGH.   We have a status quo media, and we have a highly profitable propaganda network those who don't require facts or rational thought like to watch.  Liberal media?   Nope. 


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Jeb Bush

Jeb Schlub!

Enough said.

Ah, time to update this.   Saturday Night Live got it right.   Jebra.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Two Questions for Two Stories

Watch University Presidents Tackle Football's Future and ask yourself two questions that
can both lead to excellent stories for any news organization.  

1.  Where are the reporters?

2.  In this day of record student debt, why is there no transparency on the student bill?

Parents and students should demand transparency.   At many universities the highest fee the student pays goes to fund the athletic department.   The academic students take out loans and incur debt, and then they pay to fund the athletes who go to college for free.  Most college athletic departments lose millions of dollars every year.  

Are ethics important at a university? Is it ethical to send a bill that doesn't provide line-item detail?  

Try calling your university; call the bursar's office.   Ask for a line-item breakdown of student fees. Both parents and reporters can do this.  Good luck.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

College Sports Reporting: Time to Put Down the Pom Poms

There's no other sport like college football.   It causes brain damage, poses a high risk of litigation, it's about the only area of the university where the instructors are given free cars, and it's a sport that at most universities loses millions of dollars at a time of record student debt.  In other words, it's a sport that provides any reporter serious stories to pursue and provides serious challenges for any university president. 

That's why we asked every Division I university president "what's the future of football at your university?"   The result is a project Bobby Makar, Bob Baumann and I produced with Brave New Films:   University Presidents Tackle Football's Future

What is far more distressing than the response from the presidents is what we discovered about the nation's news organizations.

In producing this project, we wanted to know what university presidents had already said about the issues surrounding college football.   We asked a first-rate researcher to find every single news article where a reporter was questioning a university president about college football.   Guess what the researcher found?


That's right, nothing.

Not a single article, not from a sports reporter, not from a medical reporter, not from an education reporter, not from a business reporter, not from a media reporter.   NOTHING!

That total lack of reporting reminds me of the ESPN-MAC contract.   This is a 13 year multimillion dollar sports production deal involving every university in the Mid-American Conference and the MAC Commissioner confirms a copy of the contract was never sent to any of the universities, each of which approved the deal.   How does a public university agree to a multimillion dollar business deal without having a copy of the contract?   How do news organizations fail to question university presidents about doing business like that?

It's time for sports reporters to put down their pom poms and pick up their pens.   It's time for news organizations to hire sports reporters, not cheerleaders.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

U of Akron: Will It Waste Money on a Lawsuit?

Why do so many university lawyers in Ohio fail to understand public records law?  

Akron Beacon Journal reporter Rick Armon made a public records request for a slideshow administration officials at the University of Akron were presenting, a slideshow that featured a football player with a jersey showing a new name for the school, Ohio Tech.

University officials now say the university's name is not going to be changed.   But Rick got something besides a visual that documented what the university had been planning.  He got another example of how universities violate public records law.

The University refused to provide three slides.    The University claims the slides, part of a presentation made to multiple audiences, are proprietary and under attorney-client privilege.
A first-year law student could explain that's not possible.  This is a presentation made by officials of a public university to staff at a public university, donors and others.   It's a public record. 

Now, what happens when the Beacon Journal files suit?   Well, the University knows it will lose the case. Will it waste money arguing a case it knows it will lose? 

What is it with university lawyers?   

A few months ago, Rick requested a copy of a contract from Kent State University.   University lawyers redacted the financial terms of the contract.  A first-year law school student could have explained to Kent's legal counsel that the financial terms of a contract with a public agency in Ohio are public record.   A few days later, Kent State did relent and provide Rick an un-redacted version of the contract, something that should have been done initially.    

Here's a suggestion for both universities.   Call Dave Marburger at BakerHostetler, the number one expert on Ohio's public records law.  (disclosure:  I've worked with Dave for years and he and I wrote a book on Ohio's public records law - Access With Attitude:  An Advocate's Guide to Freedom of Information in Ohio.)  Ask Dave to spend a day explaining Ohio's public records law to legal counsel at the University of Akron and Kent State University.  

Then both universities can start obeying the law and providing the transparency that's required under the law instead of embarrassing themselves and fighting the public's right to know. 

Great work by Rick Armon; he's doing what a journalist is supposed to do. 


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pandering Misleading Headlines

The University of Akron is a mess.  It has a $60 million budget hole.   To address that budget problem it has eliminated 213 positions including the entire staff of the Akron community's premier performing arts center, EJ Thomas Hall.  

The headline on the front page of the print version of the the Akron Beacon Journal reads:  PROENZA SPEAKS ON UA - former president defends financial record during 15-year tenure in aftermath of current budget cuts.  

That's not a headline that holds a public official accountable.   It's an excuse.  It is also rather misleading.   

A more accurate headline would be:  Proenza refuses to be interviewed; issues self-serving statement.   My, my, he defends what he did.   Surprise, surprise.   With no follow up questions, he's able to say whatever he wants unchallenged.  Another more accurate headline for the front page would be:  Beacon Journal copies and pastes Proenza's press release for the front page.

The Beacon Journal writes, "when asked to respond to questions about the university's current financial problems, UA past president Luis Proenza issued a statement..."

Interview by email is NOT an interview.

Whenever a public official refuses to be interviewed, that needs to be highlighted.  

It's understandable public officials refuse to be interviewed.   They don't want to be held accountable.   They know they can get away with it for a simple reason:  the press allows it. 

As lots of university employees get fired, it's understandable several faculty members are upset that one area that didn't get touched is football, a program that loses 8 million a year. How come?   You don't find any accountability questioning there.  As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, Scarborough said the football program is a "marketing asset that brings in students." 

Where is the follow up question?   Who is dumb enough to believe that statement?

What evidence is there the football program with the lowest Division I attendance in the country attracts students?   The follow up question is essential.   Without the follow up question there is no accountability.

At Kent State where I teach, I give a lot of student tours.   I've never had a student say "gee, I was watching a Kent State (football/basketball) game and decided I want to go to Kent State School of Journalism where I get charged $24 per credit hour to help pay for college athletics "  

Whenever university officials refuse to be interviewed, that needs to be reported prominently.   When university officials refuse to answer questions, that needs to be reported and highlighted.   And when a university president makes a statement that is totally nonsensical, i.e, the football program is a "marketing asset that brings in students," the reporter needs to ask the follow up question.

Copying and pasting a press release is not reporting.  If you're not doing accountability journalism, it's not journalism. 


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Debate Reminders (that will probably be ignored)

Ask direct questions.   

Ask relevant questions.

That means the moderator must ask the candidate's specific position on climate change, the one issue that affects every citizen of the globe. 

When questioning the candidate's position to his opposition to the Iran deal, the moderator must ask for the candidate's specific recommendations.  The candidate saying we need "a better deal" does not suffice.   Political rhetoric does not suffice.  This will be difficult for Fox as it will have to ask for specific facts.   And this is a network that doesn't like or deal in facts.  Ideology doesn't require facts; journalism does. 

When the candidate doesn't answer the question, the moderator needs to point that out and ask the question again.

Since this is Fox News (the "who do we hate today network," and  "the cause of every problem in the world is caused by President Obama - soon to be the every problem in the world is caused by Hillary Clinton" network), the moderator should apologize to the American people for Roger Ailes, the man who has done more than anyone in history to degrade and debase thoughtful political discussion so necessary in a democracy.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.   Welcome to Fox News, the network that appears to have not followed its own requirements for determining the top 10 candidates. Had Fox followed its original guidelines for selecting candidates, it doesn't appear the Governor of Ohio would be.   

Fox - the "we really hate fact-based thoughtful reasoning" network.   


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jonathan Karl: Worst Interviews of Presidential Candidates Ever

I may have witnessed a broadcast first:  a network reporter interviewing two presidential candidates and failing to ask a single question about a single substantive issue. 

On ABC's This Week, Jonathan Karl didn't ask Donald Trump about climate change or inequality or ISIS or racism or student debt or any major issue.   He asked Donald Trump about what Donald Trump has said about other candidates.   And he asked whether Trump would select Sarah Palin as a running mate.  That doesn't qualify as asking a serious question. 

Next up on the show was Rick Santorum.   Jonathan Karl didn't ask him about any substantive issue either.   He just asked him about the polls.  

If you want to find out what a presidential candidate thinks about specific issues facing the country, don't bother watching a Jonathan Karl interview.  You watch a Jonathan Karl interview if you want a lesson on how not to interview a presidential candidate.

When journalism fails, bad things happen (and embarrassing things happen on network television).


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Trump: Masturbation Improves the Mind

If Donald Trump said "masturbation improves the mind," nearly every political journalist would do what they consistently do.   They'd ask all the other candidates the same question: "Donald Trump said masturbation improves the mind, what do you think of that?"

Masturbation Contest reported by the Tony Nwajei Post - There's No Indication if Trump is There to say "You've Fired." 

Attention political reporters:  what other candidates think of what Donald Trump says does not matter.

What matters are crucial issues facing the country.   What will each candidate do about them?

Donald Trump said schlong!   Oh my Oh my Oh my!    What does he say about climate change?   Hello reporters!   Knock Knock!   Anyone there?   Lights on, nobody home!

Why have our political reporters apparently forgotten how to ask a candidate his/her position on specific issues?  Why aren't our political reporters holding candidates accountable on specific issues?

Come on reporters; do your jobs.  Do what journalists are supposed to do.  Ask each candidate, including Donald Trump, specific questions about specific issues.  And when they avoid and sidestep the question, ask the question again.  Ask for specifics.  

What specific legislative and regulatory action needs to be taken regarding climate change? (Reminder:   any presidential debate moderator who doesn't immediately question candidates about climate change needs to be replaced, during, not after the debate).

What specific actions need to be taken to confront ISIS?  And if Donald Trump says he'd cut off their schlongs, fine, report it.  But don't ask every other candidate what they think of what Donald Trump says.  

The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not provide paid maternity leave.   Do you agree with that, and if not, what should be done? 

Why is healthcare far more expensive in the United States than anywhere else in the world, and what needs to be done about that?  (It's not because we provide better care; we don't.)

Should government officials who approve torture be held accountable?   Should government consultants who assisted with torture be held accountable?

What needs to be done with corporate executives who knowingly approve for a sale a product with a potential fatal safety defect that leads to multiple deaths?  

What specific actions do you recommend to address the current unequal justice system?

What needs to done about ever increasing income inequality?   

What specific actions do you recommend to address the high cost of college education?  Do you agree with the current priorities of Division I universities where the football team gets more full scholarships than any academic department, school or college?    Should universities save some money by eliminating a sport (football) that causes brain damage? Most likely, the only way a question like that would get asked is if Donald Trump says you could hurt your schlong playing football.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.    


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.  


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.


What a great group!