Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tunisian Bloggers

In Tunisia, we’re working with an impressive group of bloggers.   Emma Benji writes,  “I once had an unfortunate experience with the police when I was stopped in the street and questioned for seven hours.   But in hindsight, I think I was very lucky compared to others who have been beaten and tortured physically.”  
Being questioned for hours on end, not all that unusual in any country where police can detain and question as they wish (and you're thinking what's the problem with that?  That's just like what the Patriot Act allows the government to do.)
They all realize the crucial importance of free expression.  
Henda Hendoud’s blog is dedicated to freedom, press and revolutions.    Information is like people:  both want to be free.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Issues in Need of Solid Reporting

 When you pick up the morning paper here in Cairo, it’s a front page of real news.  Some headlines from today’s Daily News Egypt:  ‘Random’ arrests after Israel embassy attack.”   Rights groups are claiming the same abuses by police now that were prevalent under Mubarak.
“Government official resigns in protest of gag order.”   What a great quote from a public official who WANTS to talk with the media, “If I’m forced to choose between keeping my mouth shut and quitting…then I prefer quitting.” 
“Antiquities chief quits amid strike pressure.”   This is the head guy who overseas the protection of Egypt’s historical treasures.   The resigning official tells Daily News Egypt, “I refuse to be regarded as a stooge.   I felt powerless and overwhelmed especially that I had been deprived of much of my authority.”
“Teachers call for a million-man march Saturday.”  Teachers are striking, and they are angry.   But following the revolution, people are certainly freer to speak. 
“Clinton:  Women must be part of new Mideast.”    Without question, we won’t have a safe world or democratic development without full freedom for women.
Typical news day in Cairo.  Wow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What did Ohio State Investigate?

On December 7, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice sent the letter you see below to the legal affairs office of Ohio State.  It provides a long list of Ohio Sports memorabilia and a long list of student athlete names.   This is an evidence trail a junior high journalist could pursue.

How did Ohio State investigate?   Who did it put in charge of the investigation?  With Jim Tressel, Ohio State knew it had a coach with a highly questionable past regarding NCAA violations at Youngstown State.   Indeed, Ohio State's own performance evaluation of Tressel had rated him "unacceptable" in reporting NCAA violations.   Certainly, no university wanting to do a thorough investigation would put the athletic department in charge of investigating itself.

Who was put in charge of this investigation?  Ohio State University has refused to answer that question.

"I bet the chancellor's office would help," you say.   No, I checked with the chancellor's office asking if it would help get the information.  No, it would not.   Without question, someone was put in charge of the investigation.   What did that person's very first report, email or memo say and to whom was it sent?   I've made a public records request for that single public record.   Ohio State University refuses to provide it.   Guess it's time to file a mandamus action in the Ohio Supreme Court. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Failure of the Press Contributes to College Athletic Mess

The Wall Street Journal describes the current state of college football as the "grid of shame" Last spring, when Sports Illustrated investigated Ohio State, the headline read "investigation reveals eight-year pattern of violations under Tressel."  There is lots of criticism of coaches and universities, but how much of a contributing factor is the press? How could Tressel have an 8-year pattern of violations if reporters are doing what reporters are supposed to do?  

At Miami, a booster apparently was providing everything from dinners on the yacht to hookers and had been doing it for years.   How do the local reporters not notice, how do you explain local reporters not going after the obvious?    What happens when the press plays cheerleader instead of reporter?   Fired sports talk show host  Bruce Hooley provides some insight as does Sports Illustrated's George Dohrmann.  Click here to find out what prompted Sports Illustrated to investigate Ohio State and to hear what four reporters from the Columbus Dispatch told Bruce Hooley.

Why was Hooley, a highly rated sports talk show host, fired?  He gave his honest opinion and criticized Ohio State, a school Sports Illustrated found to have an 8-year pattern of violations. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Journalism Education in a Page

If you want to take a quick look at journalists doing what journalists are supposed to do, check out Radio Free Asia.   Full Disclosure:  I've done a lot of consulting work for Radio Free Asia.  But particularly for student journalists, Radio Free Asia can be a quick journalism education.  Just check a few of the stories RFA journalists are pursuing:

Newspapers (in China) Face New Controls.   Talk about government regulations no society wants.  And that's a reminder, you don't hear the presidential candidates say much about the importance of a free press to both democracy and business.   Can you imagine if the business reporters had diligently examined Enron to see what was behind its glowing numbers?  Can you imagine if business reporters had aggressively reported on the risk of securitizing liars loans?  Why would any sound financial system approve the sale of bundled loans sold to people who can't pay them back? 

Report Slams Apple Over Pollution.   I'm typing on a MAC, I have my iPad, and although I favor improved technology, I've always had a strong bias in favor of responsible corporate behavior.   And what a great story for a student journalist to follow up.  Call Apple, request a videoskype interview via your MAC.  If Apple won't talk, fine, report it.   If Apple will, fine, report it.   Either way you have a student produced story that can make some worthwhile news.   With today's technology, the world is your reporting campus.

Activist Monk Banned from Pagodas.   At Radio Free Asia, you'll find lots of reporting on activists, activists for human rights, activists for peace, activists for pollution controls, activists for religious freedom, activists for democracy, activists for workplace safety.    You probably won't find any activists for eliminating all those pesky "needless" regulations.  For that, you'll need to follow a U.S. Presidential campaign. 


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What specific regulation?

It's doubtful you'll find someone in support of "needless" regulation.    But as we move further into the political campaign season, you'll read more and more about "needless regulations" that are making it impossible for business to create jobs and the politicians who want to change that.

For the journalist, it's essential to get the specific.   What specific regulation is causing the problem?   Why was the regulation enacted?   What does the regulation do?   What does it cost?   What does it save? 

There's a lot of criticism of the EPA.   Do you remember Love Canal?  Remember the Cuyahoga River catching on fire?  Would you like to live in a country like China where you can chew the air?

So when politicians start ranting about regulations, do some fact checking and get specifics.  Has the politician who is ranting done his/her homework?  If she/he has, great, you've got worthwhile facts for your story.   If she/he hasn't, now it's time for follow-up questions and more great facts for your story.  Right now, we're seeing a lot of human microphone stand stories.   We just repeat the rants.   That's not reporting.   That's stenography.

If corporations acted in the public interest, there would be no need for the EPA or the SEC or a host of other regulatory agencies.   But we don't live on a planet where all corporations always act admirably.  That's why a river caught on a fire.  That's why OSHA tries to prevent companies from exposing their employees to dangerous, and often cancer causing chemicals.      Never has thoughtful, contextual reporting been more important as we head into the season of the political rant.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

To get better stories, ask better questions.

The great thing about journalism is the joy of simply following the facts and being in a country where you don't get thrown in jail or beaten for doing so.   Ask a great question, get the answer, check the documentation, verify that you're being told the truth or lied to and report what you find.  When you ask great questions, regardless of the answer, you'll usually have a worthwhile story to report.

As we head to another fall football season, here are some worthwhile questions to ask.  

1.  Find a couple top lawyers and ask, what do they see as the legal liability universities may face as an increasing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that playing football causes brain damage?   Indeed, research at Purdue University shows that even among players who suffer no concussions, their performance in basic cognitive tests goes down as the season progresses.

2.  A handful of universities make money on football.   But at a large number of universities, football is a multimillion dollar budget hole, a fact well documented by the Knight Commission.  With universities across the country facing incredible budget pressures, why does the president of your local university think it's worthwhile to continue to support a program that loses millions of dollars and causes brain damage?  By the way, I'm a real football fan (Go Green Bay!).   But I have realized the sad fact that in public health terms,  we are today with football where we were with smoking in the 1950's.  My grandfather suffered severe dementia, and I wonder now if maybe a contributing factor was all the football he played?   He played for Carlton College back in the leather helmet days.  

3.  During the recruiting process, are universities informing potential college athletes of the medical risks of playing football, a sport documented to cause brain damage?  Ethically, do your local university officials feel recruits should be appraised of the risk?   Sports injuries can have long-lasting effects.   Who pays for the college athlete's need for medical care necessitated by the sports-related injury AFTER the athlete leaves college?

4.  How much does the medical insurance for your college football team cost?  Does the policy provide coverage for head trauma?

5.  A couple years ago, the Post & Courier did an excellent piece on drug injections of college athletes.  It's a worthwhile topic for reporters in market after market to examine.   How many athletes are getting pain-killing injections?   What drugs are being used?  Who is making the decision to inject the student athlete?   What pressure does the student athlete face to allow the injection, and what happens to the player who objects?

As we examine the huge mess in college athletics, let's hope news management makes a journalistic decision and tells their local sports reporters to put down their pom poms long enough to pick up their pens like the Post & Courier reporters did and report stories of substance.    Ohio State University tells me that prior to this year, it had never received a public records request from any Columbus media outlet for Jim Tressel's performance evaluation.   After Sports Illustrated did a cover story on the OSU-Tressel mess, Ohio State got lots of public records requests.  It didn't take the Associated Press long to find newsworthy information, like the fact Coach Tressel had been rated "unacceptable."

Go after the records!   We live in a country where we can do that. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Question to Pursue for Fall Sweeps

Why should academic students, many of whom are working jobs and taking out loans, have to pay so the athletes can go to school for free?   Why do our universities apparently think it's more important to educate a quarterback than it is to educate a scientist or an engineer or a teacher?  My students documented the numbers for the Mid-American Conference.  At some schools, even distance-learning students, students who never set foot on campus still have to pay the athletic dept.   Students and parents don't realize where their money is going because as the reporting project of my students show, most universities in the MAC don't provide line-item detail on the bill.   Ohio University does make the information available on its web site, but it's buried so many layers deep it's unlikely anyone would ever find it. 

Why do you suppose universities aren't more forthright with their billing practices?  That's a great question for a sweeps piece, one of interest to a big chunk of the audience.