Sunday, November 27, 2011

Doing Journalism for the Right Reason

I was just sent a list to review for an upcoming project.  It's a list of journalists murdered in Cambodia, journalists who were trying to report on significant problems in their country who were killed because powerful people didn't want that.  Here is just one example from the list.

"Khem Sambo

Moneaseka Khmer Newspaper

July 11, 2008, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A journalist with the opposition-aligned Khmer-language daily Moneaseka Khmer, Khem Sambo was shot twice while riding his motorcycle with his 21-year-old son, according to international and local news reports. His son was also shot and killed. The gunmen, who were on a motorcycle, sped away after the shooting, news reports said.
Moneaseka Khmer is affiliated with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, and Sambo was among the publication's most hard-hitting reporters. An analysis of Sambo's reporting in the weeks before his murder, compiled by the Cambodian League for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights and reviewed by CPJ, found a steady stream of critical reporting on Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People's Party.
Sambo's most recent reports, written under the pseudonyms Srey Ka or Den Sorin, touched on allegations of government corruption, internal rifts inside the ruling party, and questions about the distribution of benefits from recent rapid Chinese investment in the country. Moneaseka Khmer is one of only a handful of consistently critical publications in Cambodia; the broadcast media all report unswervingly in the ruling party's favor.
Cambodian police officials said they had not identified a motive or suspects in the murder, which occurred during the run-up to general elections on July 27."


Monday, November 21, 2011

Cheerleading for Brain Damage

I confess.   I'm a football fan (Packers & Badgers).   But read the article today in the New York Times on two former NFL greats, Al Toon and Wayne Chrebet, and the lingering effects of concussions and it makes parents question whether allowing their sons to play this sport at the high school and college level is worth it.  It also makes for a great student journalism assignment utilizing basic content analysis.

The human head is not meant for bashing.  Researchers at Purdue University have found even players who receive NO concussions show declining performance on basic memory tests as the season progresses.   Smoking hurts your lungs.   Football hurts your brain.   And we are today with football where we were with cigarette smoking in the 1950's when you could see an ad that had a doctor telling you which cigarette was best.  Medical science is quickly changing what we know about the risks of playing football, and with that knowledge, parents are certainly questioning whether they want their children to play a sport that causes brain damage.

The Times reports Wayne Chrebet has three sons, ages 9, 7 and 8 weeks old.  Their future in football knowing what he knows about concussions and the risks of playing?   The Times picks a thoughtful quote.  Says Chrebet, “Knowing this stuff makes it a little harder to let the kids go out there and play football.”

So here's the content analysis assignment.   Check your local papers during this football season.  Check your local television stations.   How many substantive interviews are reporters doing with college athletic directors and football coaches and trainers about the risk of concussions?   What documents have the reporters collected about the university's concussion prevention education and training program?  What interviews have they done with student athletes and their parents about the risk of concussions?  How many university presidents have they interviewed about that risk?  How many lawyers have they interviewed about potential liability exposure to the university considering the advancements in medical knowledge?

Most likely, you won't find much because when it comes to football and the press, you don't see much reporting, just a lot of cheerleading.  

Here's an excellent story Ken Brown did while he was still a student at Kent State on what KSU players were being told to do when they got banged in the head during a game.  

The athletic department at Kent State says it did a full investigation and discovered there wasn't a problem.   If you'd like to read a copy of that full investigation you're out of luck.  The athletic department says there's absolutely nothing in writing, not a word.   Anyone taking nominations for the Penn State Ethics in Athletics Award?


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Asking Questions That Need to Be Asked

Don't you wish Bob Costas would moderate a presidential debate?  The White House press corps should take a lesson from Bob on how to ask a direct question, how to clarify and how to follow up.  For any student journalist, this is a line of questioning worth watching again.

Let's hope those investigating the Penn State mess are as thorough in their questioning.  Do you think Jerry Sandusky was being truthful when he told Costas he'd never been asked a single thing about his behavior by Joe Paterno?  The New York Times reports another ten victims have come forward.  Hopefully last night's interview prompts more to do so.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reporting v Cheerleading - the Results Aren't Pretty

I posted this video of sports commentator/reporter Bruce Hooley a while ago, but in light of the Penn State scandal it's worth revisiting.   The role of the journalist is to hold the powerful accountable, to ask questions that need to be asked.  Without question, one huge enabler that's been a key factor in the number of scandals in college sports is a press that plays cheerleader instead of reporter.

For sports reporters everywhere, it's time to put down your poms poms.    For any student journalist wanting to be a sports reporter, here's some good advice from Bruce Hooley.

At Miami, it wasn't the local press that broke a story about a scandal that had been going on for years, it was Yahoo Sports.  In Columbus, it wasn't the local media that broke the story about the Tressel mess, it was Sports Illustrated.   Bruce Hooley who has covered Ohio State most of his reporting career has an excellent description for the Columbus media and how they cover Ohio State.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Penn State - Where Was the Press?

No doubt, more victims will come forward in the Penn State sex abuse scandal.  But there's someone else who desperately needs to come forward:  any journalist who tried to bring this story out but wasn't allowed by his/her news organization to pursue it.

Without question, there are journalists who had hints, who heard something from some source, who were aware there was a serious problem with Jerry Sandusky.   Just examine the series of events.

There's an eye witness to a 10-year-old boy being raped.

There's a university police investigation where the police record phone calls between a mother of one of the victims and child abuser Jerry Sandusky.

Jerry Sandusky did not fool Joe Paterno.   Paterno was told by a graduate student what Sandusky did - the grad student witnessed a 10-year-old boy being raped. 

Lots of people knew.   Do you think the grad student's dad said nothing to his buddies?  Do you think the president of Penn State went home and said nothing to his wife?  Do you think the university cops who recorded the phone conversation said nothing to anyone about the defensive coordinator of Penn State being a child abuser?  What would you do with such information?   People talk.   Lots of people knew.  Don' t you think reporters knew?    Why didn't they pursue it?

It's not unusual for the press to fail, to play cheerleader instead of reporter.  That's what happened in Columbus.   And when radio talk show host Bruce Hooley criticized Ohio State, he was fired.

But the failure of the press in Columbus simply allowed Tressel to continue cheating.

At Penn State, the failure of the press allowed something far worse to continue:  child abuse.

For the reporters out there who wanted to do something but weren't allowed, please email ( or call me (513-646-4953).  This is a story that needs to be done.   It's not just Penn State officials who need to be held accountable.

For an example of how the press should operate,  review the Summer 2006 issue of Nieman Reports, an edition dedicated to courageous reporting.   Pay attention to the article on how the Post Register in Idaho Falls, Idaho stood up to incredible community pressure as it reported on pedophile Boy Scout leaders.   The Post Register didn't stand up for the team, it stood up for protecting children.

Where was the press in Pennsylvania during all these years of abuse? 

When journalism fails, bad things happen.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Questions for the Penn State President

In story after story about the Penn State sex abuse scandal you see the same quote from the president of the university.   President Graham Spanier says, "I wish to say that Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have my unconditional support."

But what's missing from the stories is the obvious question.   Before making that statement, did President Spanier read the grand jury report?  I've asked that question and will post the university's response here as soon as I get it. 

Did President Spanier refused to be interviewed?  Possibly, but in a quick scan of articles I'm not finding any indication of that.   What IS there in article after article is Spanier's statement of unconditional support that is simply a  university provided statement so no questions can be asked.   Why isn't this university president in front of microphones and cameras?  And if he's refusing to be interviewed, why isn't that being reported?   What did he know and when did he know it?

Today's press consistently fails to get answers to questions because it is willing to play interview by press release.  Today's press consistently fails to push public officials on the record.  

Coach Paterno claims he wasn't told the details of the abuse, just that the actions were "inappropriate."  Right.  Is there anyone dumb enough to believe that?   A graduate student witnesses this and goes to the coach and says, "Ah Coach Paterno, I think you should know I saw something that is inappropriate."  Football players, coaches and assistants don't even talk like that at Brigham Young.

Like all stories, this one demands specific, direct questions.   And when public officials and even the most highly honored and revered in American society (that would be the football coach) sidesteps the question, it needs to be asked again and again. 

Protecting children is far more important than protecting a football program.   Let's hope more than one person goes to prison for this, and let's hope anyone who had knowledge of this and failed to report it to law enforcement or child welfare either resigns immediately or is fired.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rock Center Sinks

How does a brand new NEWS magazine not include a single hard hitting interview with a single subject on a relevant topic?

How do you go to North Dakota and not shoot the man camps?

Richard Engel is a superb reporter, but he crossed the border into Syria for what?

And getting on an airplane is not all that bad unless you're an unbelievable whiner.   The overwriting on the top of this story reminds one of Dateline where everything is "incredible" or "unbelievable."

I wonder how many people staff the CAR unit at Rock Center; I'm guessing zero.   At a time when solid, thoughtful journalism is so desperately needed, this show is an incredible disappointment.