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38 Journalist’s Trade39 In Sports Reporting, When Does the Personal Become News? ..... By Tom Witosky41 Muhammad Ali Was a Rebel. Michael Jordan Is a Brand Name. ..... By Michael Crowley44 Who Were You, Joe DiMaggio? ..... By David Halberstam45 Restricting a Photojournalist’s Access ..... By Stan Grossfeld47 Women Sportswriters Confront New Issues ..... By Claire Smith49 Can Anybody Find News Here? ..... By Melissa Ludtke52 The Missing Voices in Coverage of Health ..... By Bernice Buresh55 Nursing Stories Journalists Fail to Cover ..... By Jean Chaisson57 What Happens When Journalists Envision a Web Site and Techies Try to Build It?..... By Edward M. Fouhy59 Is ‘New Media’ Really New? ..... By Kevin Noblet62 Words & Reflections63 The Inestimable Value of Family Ownership ..... By Alex S. Jones64 Excerpt From “The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times”..... By Alex S. Jones and Susan E. Tifft67 A Woman at Odds With Her Times ..... By Maria Henson69 Media’s Role in Changing the Face of Poverty ..... By Sharon Green71 The Cold War Generation of Patriotic Journalists ..... By Michael J. Kirkhorn73 A Journalist Reveals Himself in Letters ..... By Elizabeth Leland74 Reporting on Child Welfare and Adoption Policies ..... By Elizabeth Bartholet76 Reporting on Reproductive and Genetic Technologies ..... By Lori B. AndrewsNieman Notes79 At Unity ’99 the Topic Was Journalism ..... By Sam Fulwood III80 Class Notes83 End Note: An Urban Eye Looks at Rural Life ..... By Frank Van Riper


Watchdog ConferenceWatchdog ConferenceReporters Wrestle With How to Use SourcesName them? Socialize with them? Trust them?On May 15, 1999, journalists met at Harvard University to talk about the relationshipsthat reporters have with their sources and to examine the potential consequences posedby changes in how sources are treated by reporters and how sources treat reporters. Thisconference was convened as the second in a series of conferences sponsored by theWatchdog Journalism Project at the Nieman Foundation. Reporters whose investigationshave garnered many awards shared insights, concerns and advice about ways inwhich members of the press can work more effectively with sources and thereby avoid theloss of journalistic credibility that many in the profession believe is related to the rise inuse of anonymous sources.This section of Nieman Reports contains excerpts from observations made byparticipants at this Watchdog Journalism Project conference and an article about presscoverage of Whitewater. This article exemplifies some problems that arise when reportersare misled by an anonymous source’s information. What follows is a guide to these topics:Introduction: Reporting on government, national security, nonprofits and business.List of conference panel members.Naming SourcesFalse Sources and Misleading Information“In Reporting on Whitewater, an Anonymous Source Misinformed the Press,” an articleby Gilbert CranbergReporters’ Relationships With SourcesHow the Real Story Gets Told in PicturesThe Role of Reporter’s JudgmentWhen Reporters are Shut Out By SourcesStages of Reporting: Finding and Using SourcesVerifying What Sources SayWorking With Key SourcesThe Roles Editors PlayImpact of Investigative StoriesNieman Reports / Fall 1999 3


Watchdog Conference‘Watchdog journalism is the only function ofjournalism that justifies the freedom thatjournalists enjoy in this country.’Bill Kovach, Curator, Nieman FoundationBill Kovach began the conference with introductoryremarks focused on coverage of the Clinton/Lewinsky storywhich, in his view, epitomizes many of the consequences ofa shift in how sources are used.This year, the Clinton/Lewinsky story has highlighted theextraordinary degree to which American reporting, especiallyin Washington, has put itself in a position to bemanipulated by those who have a vital interest in the outcomeof the story. One impact of the new technology hasbeen to shift the power relationship toward the sources ofthe information and away from the news organizations thatcover them. Increasingly, sources usurp the gate-keepingrole of the journalist to dictate the terms of the interaction,the conditions under which the information will be released,and the timing of publication. This is a power shift sodramatic that I believe it can destroy journalistic independenceand certainly it changes the whole notion of journalisticdistance.If you think this is a radical conclusion, we now have thetestimony of Michael Isikoff in his book, “Uncovering Clinton,”in which he says he realized that he stepped across the linefrom being a reporter to a participant. “I was trying toinfluence the action of the players,” he wrote of trying topersuade Lucianne Goldberg and Linda Tripp not to negotiatea book deal that would compromise the credibility ofhis sources. “As a reporter, that’s not my job,” Isikoff goes onto tell us. “But I didn’t realize something else. I was at thispoint too involved to avoid influencing the players of thestory.”Some argue that the ultimate outcome of the story—President Clinton’s ultimate admissions—is a vindication ofthe press’s role in the unfolding story. But this “ends justifythe means” argument is, as former Washington Post reporterMurrey Marder has reminded us, too self-serving for any selfrespectingjournalist to make….For those who are convinced that watchdog journalism—the monitoring of the institutions of power—is the centralpurpose of a free press, it is vital that we examine thereporter/source relationship and how it shapes our reportingtoday.• How much socializing among reporters and sources isacceptable?• How much information trading is acceptable?• What about giving advice to a private source?• What about helping a source financially?• Can a reporter deceive a source, expose a source? If so,when and why?It is questions such as these that we hope to explore andexamine today. We do so in the hope that with enoughthought and enough discussion we can begin to find ways toredress the imbalance of power between reporters andsources that the competitive atmosphere of the new technologyand the new economic organization of the journalismbusiness have created.As moderator of the discussion about reporting onnonprofits, Kovach also explained why it is increasinglyimportant that journalists retain their role as vigilantwatchdogs of these organizations at a time when the socialservice work of large public agencies is diminishing.Most news organizations do not and have not coverednonprofits. But as the power of government devolves, andit’s devolving rapidly to state and local government in termsof social programs, those aspects of public life are, in manycases, being picked up by or left to nonprofit organizationsto handle. And in this time of enormous wealth creationduring the past decade, an awful lot of money has movedinto fewer and fewer hands at the top of the economicstructure of our country. More and more of those peoplewho are collecting more and more personal fortune arechoosing to withdraw their support from government byinvesting their profits in nonprofit organizations targeted tothings in which they are personally interested.As broad-based support for public programs dissipates,the power of nonprofits again is becoming more and moreimportant to how our society is structured….Since 1970, this area of nonprofit organizations has grownfour times faster than the overall economy, which itself has4 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Watchdog Conferencegrown pretty steadily. For the last two years, the IRS reportsthey have been granting new tax exemptions to 75 organizationsper day. That’s on top of nearly 1.5 million nonprofitorganizations that have federal exemptions from taxes. In1997, the federal tax exemptions alone withdrew $21 billionfrom the national treasury. State and local tax exemptionsadded another 30-plus billion to that….All sorts of aspects of our social and political activity takeplace at the direction of private money through nonprofitorganizations. And the journalistic problem attached to thatis that these are private organizations and private money andjournalistic access to those precincts is not nearly as clear asit is to government organizations.Jim Tharpe, an editor who has led several lengthyinvestigations of nonprofits, echoed Kovach’s admonitionof the need to report on nonprofits but also described theeffort to do so as one that demands enormous tenacity fromreporters.“I’d never done any reporting on nonprofits. I thoughtthey were all good guys. They were mom and pop, bake sale,raise money for the local fire department types. I had no ideahow sophisticated they were, how much money was raised,and how little access you have to them as a reporter….Wehad access to 990’s [mandatory financial records filed to thegovernment by nonprofits] which tell you very little, but theyare a good starting point…. If I had advice for anybodylooking into a nonprofit, it would be this: It’s the mosttenacious story. You have to be more tenacious in yourpursuit than anything else I’ve ever been a part of…. We [atthe Montgomery (AL) Advertiser] were accused of attackingessentially the Mother Theresa of Montgomery, that beingMorris Dees in the Southern Poverty Law Center.”Being a watchdog on national security issues requiresits own set of strategies to get past some of the bureaucratichurdles put up by military and diplomatic organizations.And it requires that journalists find ways to work aroundthe hurdles to avoid being “handled” by sources in waysthat stifle their abilities to monitor the events of their beat.Several reporters recalled times in which their judgmentand/or persistence had to prevail in order for them—orothers—to develop and publish important stories.Susanne M. Schafer: “In order to cover a bureaucracy aslarge as the military, as large as the Pentagon, what you’vegot to fight for is that ability to get out there and interview thesoldier in the trench, the lady in the cockpit. It’s very hard todo, but that’s the only way you’re going to get beyond whatI call death by briefing. You can waste hours and hourslistening to those people, and that’s exactly what they wantto do. They want to entrap us there…. [there is a need to] getbeyond what people in Washington are telling you the storyis to the reality of what it is on the ground.”Murrey Marder: “I got a call one day from Dick Dugginfrom the St. Louis Post Dispatch, who was a first-classreporter during the Vietnam War. It was on a Sunday. Dicksaid he had just gotten a call from the White House. ‘One ofthe presses in the White House is telling me if we print a storyI’m working on, it will jeopardize national security,’ Dicksaid. ‘Has this happened to you?’“I burst out laughing. He said, ‘What’s so funny?’“I said, ‘Dick, you don’t realize the advantage you have inappearing in the St. Louis Post Dispatch: The White Housedoesn’t see your copy. It happens to me all the time.’“He said, ‘What do you tell them?’“I said, ‘I generally tell them if they can prove it willjeopardize national security I will consider it, but until thenI won’t even think about it.’“He said, ‘What happens if they prove it to you?’“‘They never have,’ I replied.”Roy Gutman: “The Balkan conflicts that we’ve seen from1991 to now were an example of an event that the establishment,both in government and the elite of the East Coast,preferred to ignore. NATO itself decided that the war againstSlovenia and Croatia in 1991 was beneath its field of vision.I once went to see the U.S. Ambassador to NATO. I had justreported for Newsday that the Croatians had repelled aninvasion attempt over part of their territory on the Adriatic.I had it down to the last detail of just how it happened, whichofficer changed sides at which moment, and how they savedbasically the middle Adriatic coastline of Croatia.“The Ambassador told me, ‘We really are not followingthis matter. What’s your next question?’“I said, ‘Don’t you want to at least see it? I think this haschanged the entire course of the war.’“‘Well, if you want to leave the article, you can. But this isnot something that NATO is following,’ he told me….“And I think the intention within the U.S. government wasto let it happen and to hope that it would happen quickly.Our editors at Newsday who were aware of this had a difficultdecision to make. I was the reporter for all of Europe: Whyshould we justify covering a war that is not seen by anybodyin the national security establishment as being of nationalsecurity concern? How do you get the interest of your editorsin something that you feel is really central?”Business reporting, when it’s done from the perspectiveof journalists being watchdogs, poses difficulties in terms offinding credible and identifiable sources. These problemsare magnified when a story must be told on television, aspanel moderator Paul Solman, business correspondent for“The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” described.“[Business reporting is] a unique beat…[with] uniqueproblems with regard to sourcing implicit in what we do….There are two kinds of problems with sources…. One is theNieman Reports / Fall 1999 5


Watchdog Conferencenature of TV itself, and I separate that into physiology andegomania…. The second is the nature of the beat itself, thebusiness and economics beat….“If you’re doing TV, you are stuck with the sources whoare going to appear on camera…because how long can yougo on paraphrasing somebody else?“…of course, there’s the issue of accessibility and my flipuse of the word ‘egomania.’ The fact is that if you’re in ourbusiness, TV, and particularly reporting on business andeconomics where people have no obligation or even incentiveto talk to you most of the time, then you go with peoplewho are articulate and accessible and are willing to talk toyou. Well, who is willing to talk to you? As often as not, it ispeople—maybe it’s a gross characterization to call them‘egomaniacs,’ exhibitionists might be a little milder—but itis certainly people who want to be out there, like to hearthemselves talk, like to be heard. And in the world ofbusiness and economics, where people are being paid tomanage this process, their clients, that is to say the CEO’sand spokespeople from the corporation, they’re given TVtraining now and have been for years, to do this well. Soviewers are seeing again a subsample of a subsample….“So there’s this entire issue of source management thatwe all face, but we face it particularly within our beat.” ■Panel Members:Byron V. Acohido: Investigative reporter, The SeattleTimes. Since 1998, a specialist in covering the aerospaceindustry and aviation safety. His five-part series detailingproblems with the 737’s rudder system won 11 journalismawards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting.David Barstow: Reporter, The New York Times. Formerlya reporter with The St. Petersburg Times where his investigativereporting on Rev. Henry J. Lyons and the National BaptistConvention made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.Doug Frantz: National correspondent, The New YorkTimes. Was a Pulitzer finalist for a series of investigativearticles he wrote about the Church of Scientology.Alison Grant: Reporter, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland). Hascovered City Hall since 1996. Previously she reported fromthe suburbs where, in Beachwood, her one-year investigationof corruption in the awarding of city contracts resulted in aPulitzer Prize nomination as a finalist in the Beat Reportingcategory.Roy Gutman: Correspondent, Newsday (Long Island).While European Bureau Chief in the early 1990’s, his reportingon Serb atrocities in Bosnia was awarded the Pulitzer Prizefor International Reporting.Susan Kelleher: Reporter, The Orange County [CA] Register.In 1995, she and another reporter broke the story of afertility treatment clinic that was stealing eggs from infertilepatients and giving them to other infertile women. Thisreport won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.Bill Kovach: Curator, Nieman Foundation.Murrey Marder: Sponsor, Watchdog Journalism Project atthe Nieman Foundation. Formerly a reporter at The WashingtonPost whose investigation of Senator McCarthy’s claimsabout Communist infiltration led to hearings which destroyedhis credibility and whose reporting on the JohnsonAdministration’s manipulation of news regarding Vietnamled to accusations of the U.S. government’s “credibility gap.”James McNair: Reporter, The Miami Herald. Covers largecorporations in South Florida and white-collar crime, includinginvestment scams involving penny stocks, commodityfutures, sweepstakes and psychic hotlines.John McQuaid: Special Projects Reporter, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans). Reports on science, politics and theenvironment. He was lead reporter on a series about globalfisheries that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service.Lars-Erik Nelson: Washington columnist, the New YorkDaily News. As a foreign correspondent for different publications,he covered the start of the dissident movement inRussia, the Prague Spring, and Middle East shuttle diplomacyby Henry Kissinger.William Rashbaum: Reporter, the New York Daily News.He covers crime and criminal justice issues, focusing on theNew York City Police Department and organized crime.Susanne M. Schafer: Chief Military Correspondent, AssociatedPress (currently on leave). Since July 1989, she hascovered the Pentagon and military operations, and in 1996became the first journalist to attend the National War Collegeand obtain a master’s degree in national security studiesfrom the National Defense University.Paul Solman: Business correspondent, “The NewsHourwith Jim Lehrer.”Pete Souza: National photographer, the Chicago Tribune.He was official White House photographer during fiveand one half years of the Reagan administration and has wonnumerous awards for his photojournalism.Jim Tharpe: Deputy Metro Editor, The [Atlanta] Constitution.While he was Managing Editor of the Montgomery[AL] Advertiser, the newspaper was a finalist for a PulitzerPrize for its reporting on the Southern Poverty Law Center.Mark Thompson: Defense Department Correspondent,Time. He has reported on some of the magazine’s biggeststories in recent years, including United States’s confrontationswith Saddam Hussein, the explosions in OklahomaCity and aboard TWA 800, and various White House scandals.Loretta Tofani: Reporter, The Philadelphia Inquirer.Since 1997, she has covered gambling. While at The WashingtonPost in the early 1980’s, her series of stories aboutmen getting gang-raped in a jail in Prince George’s County,Maryland, won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. ■6 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Watchdog ConferenceNaming SourcesIncreasingly reporters cite anonymous sources ratherthan provide readers, viewers and listeners with actualnames. At this conference, journalists, whose work demonstrateshow information was gathered from sources whoagreed to be named in the story, told how they had donetheir reporting to achieve this end and why it mattered thatnames were used. Excerpts on this topic from discussionsamong panel members follow. (A space between quotesindicates that this material was taken from different sectionsof their presentations.)Doug Frantz: Investigation of the Church of Scientology.“I wrote a 5,000-word story about a very controversialsubject and in it I had one unnamed source. That was aperson who was identified as a senior government officialwho was involved in the decision-making process. That isbecause the person was an IRS official who couldn’t underlaw speak about the internal deliberations of the IRS. But Ispelled that out in the story, so I think that that provided thetransparency that meets one of my [reporting] rules.”“We have to tell our readers where these sources arecoming from…. Even if you use their names, I think you needto provide some background…. One of my key sources wasa private detective named Michael Shomers. From the outsethe was on the record. I could use his name, and he providedme with enormous documents…. The third or fourth time Isat down with him, I asked him, ‘Why are you talking to me,because Scientology is known for going after its critics withgreat vigor?’ He knew this as well as anyone, having been onthe attack side of it. He said, ‘Well, I don’t trust Scientologyanymore, and also I had a financial dispute with my formerpartner at the private detective agency.’ It was good for meto know that. I also put that in the newspaper because it’s notenough that I know it, my readers have to know it, becausethey need to evaluate what this source is saying, not just tome, but to them in the newspaper. Even though his name isattached, I think you need that kind of transparency.”Loretta Tofani: Investigation of rapes in jail. “The serieswas unusual at the time [1983] because all the victims werenamed and the men who raped them were also named andquoted. The series consisted of about a dozen case studiesof men who had been gang-raped: Within each case studythere was the victim’s story corroborated by the rapist’sstory. Also, there was medical evidence for those rapes, andthe Post published the photographs of both the rapists andthe victims.”“With the rapists, I used a somewhat different approach[than I did in interviews with the victims]. I felt I didn’t haveto read them their Miranda rights or warn them there was achance of being prosecuted. I went in there and talked aboutjail conditions and asked them about how they had done therape. If they said they didn’t rape someone, then I’d find theother gang rapist in the same rape and get somebody thereto describe it and go back to that person with new informationand the story would come out. I just used their names.I didn’t feel I was talking to somebody in the State Departmentwhere it was understood that everything was confidential.I was a reporter. They knew it. I had written to them onPost stationary and I used their names. It was simple. [Andwhen I was with them] I was writing in my notebook.” [SeeTofani’s additional comments in section “Stages of Reporting:How to Find and Use Sources.”]“This story was given to the government basically on asilver platter. It had the names. It had everything. It hadmedical records. It had victims’ names. It had rapists’ names….[The government] convicted all the rapists.”Roy Gutman: “I think it’s essential that to keep ourcredibility strong we have to make it clear in our coveragejust where we get this stuff from and whose agenda we arepushing or whose agenda is being pushed by virtue of thisstory. In the last couple years there’s been a real decline inthis transparency and all I can do is point to it.… It’s a terribletrend, and it’s a disastrous trend in a free society. People willstop believing us if we don’t start telling more about wherewe get our stores and why we’re running them.”Bill Kovach: “The journalists who cover national securityand think they have a tough time ought to look at some of thiswork [of reporters who investigate nonprofit groups andorganizations], journalists who are putting everything onthe record. These are not source stories, 5,000 words, onesource. These reporters get some of the toughest informationin one of the toughest areas to cover on the record….[And] one of the results of increasing journalistic interest innonprofits is that lawyers have talked about this kind ofreporting at Bar Association meetings, and there are now lawfirms that specialize in calling news organizations that areinvestigating nonprofits and offering their services.”Jim Tharpe: Investigation of the Southern Poverty LawCenter. “We did not publish anything in the series unless itwas attributed to somebody. But we went beyond that. Ithink if we had stuck with that tack as the only thing we didin the series, we would have ended up with people at theCenter easily dismissing them as disgruntled employees….But by looking at 990’s [financial records of nonprofits],what few financial records that were available we were ableto corroborate much of that information, many of the allegationsthese former employees had made….”Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 7


Watchdog Conference“Initially they [the people at the Center] would answerour questions in person, as long as they could tape record it.After we asked about finances, they wanted questions writtendown and sent to them in advance. Then they finally said,‘We’re tired of you guys. We’re not answering anything else.’And they completely cut us off…. [When] we asked to lookat their financial records [at the 23,000 checks the Centerwrote over two years], they hired an independent attorneywho began threatening me, then my editor, then the publisher,and told us, ‘You’d better be careful of the questionsyou ask and the stories you come up with,’ and cited libel lawto us. So we were under threat of lawsuit for two years,basically during the research phase of the series.”A new twist regarding the involvement of outsiders inmonitoring the actions of reporters and their use of sourcessurfaced in a front page story, published on July 28, 1999 inThe New York Times and written by Watchdog conferenceparticipant Doug Frantz. In his story, “Journalists or Detectives?Depends on Who’s Asking,” Frantz revealed ways inwhich former journalists work as “investigators” for peopleinvolved in legal cases. To “gain access to sources whowould be unlikely to speak to a private investigator,” these“detectives” posed as reporters. The article focused on thispractice during the legal fight involving Koch Industries.Susan Kelleher: Investigation of an infertility clinic. “Mynewspaper has a policy that we have to quote everybody onthe record. No one is allowed to be quoted anonymously inour paper. I am enormously grateful for that [policy] becauseit has made me a very hard-working reporter. Had Ibeen allowed to use anonymous sources a lot, I probablywould have gotten myself into some trouble, especially earlyon when I was not really wise to the ways of the people whotried to manipulate. Also I think that the stories were muchmore solid. They had much more credibility, and I think thepeople also felt good about their participation in them.”“Before anybody participates with me in a story, in thesense of a source, I tell them how I work. I tell them they haveto go on the record. I tell them I am going to be asking otherpeople about them, that even though I find them really nicepeople, I am still going to have to check them out. I ask themwhat their concerns are. I tell them what my concerns are. Itell them I don’t like to be lied to and that if I find out thatI’m lied to I get really upset. I tell them basically everythingthey ask me. If they want to know anything about anything,if I have an answer to it, I’ll give it to them.“I basically give them a choice of whether to be a part ofthe story as opposed to controlling the content. I say tothem, ‘Once you agree to talk to me, that’s it. You don’t reallyhave control, but you do have control to the degree you wantto participate. And once you are on the record, if there’ssomething you don’t need me to know, then don’t tell mebecause it’s going to be on the record, and we’re not goingto be playing games.’”Journalists at the Watchdog conference agreed that thepractice of relying on anonymous sources is becoming morewidespread. No group of reporters uses them more oftenthan members of the Washington, D.C. press corps. Onepanel member commented on troubling aspects of thispractice:Murrey Marder: “I was absolutely horrified to find out,when the Committee of Concerned Journalists was doing itsconference in Washington, the explanation given by theWhite House press about why they’re being entrapped bytheir sources into non-identification. [They don’t give] evenremote identification, not just inability to identify the person,but inability to identify whether they were coming fromthe right, left, center, upside down, or what. That, to me, isinexcusable, to have an absolutely blank source out there.There is no reason to get entrapped in that.” ■False Sources and Misleading InformationJournalists put the public’s trust in peril when theypublish stories in which a source has either given false leadsor misleading information. Yet some journalists at theconference worried that this is happening more frequently.Roy Gutman: “The worst kind of sourcing is the falseindependent source. We had that all last year through theKen Starr investigation, where he was identified in a lot ofpapers as ‘a lawyer close to the case’ or ‘sources close to thecase’ or ‘lawyers familiar with the investigation’ without[reporters] saying which side he was on. I don’t mind peoplewho quote anybody as long as they identify which sidethey’re on. But when Starr, who is the prosecutor, is identifiedsimply as ‘a knowledgeable attorney,’ and then he putsforth an accusatory quotation, to me that’s unforgivable onthe part of the reporters who bought that. But that was hisground rule: ‘You can quote me, but you can’t identify me,even which side I’m on.’ I think that’s a deal that shouldnever have been made.”The article that follows presents an even more troublingsituation. It illustrates what can happen when informationis provided by an anonymous source, then presented againand again by reporters as a fact to support an allegation.In this case, the public wasn’t given the opportunity to beskeptical about its authenticity because there was no indicationof how reporters had received the information orwho provided it.8 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


In Reporting on Whitewater, an AnonymousSource Misinformed the PressBy Gilbert CranbergWatchdog ConferenceSavvy newspaper readers know to be on guard wheninformation in stories is attributed to anonymous sources.But what if a news organization relies on an unidentifiedinformant and withholds that fact from readers? The publicthen is robbed of a precious opportunity to be skeptical.A glaring case in point: Whitewater.The 1996 prosecution of James and Susan McDougal byIndependent Counsel Kenneth Starr featured testimony byFBI agent Michael Patkus. According to news stories at thetime, Patkus testified that nearly $50,000 of a fraudulent$300,000 loan from David Hale to Susan McDougal wasdiverted to benefit the Whitewater Development Co., i.e.,the Clintons. The “fact” of a tainted $50,000 benefit to thePresident dogged him thereafter in the press and became amajor focus of attention in the Whitewater saga.One small problem: There was no such testimony byPatkus. [For a detailed description of how major newsorganizations wrote “carelessly, or incompletely, or justplain falsely” about the facts, see “Getting It Wrong onWhitewater,” Nieman Reports, Winter 1997.]In a nutshell, the so-called nearly $50,000 benefit to theWhitewater Development Co. was in two chunks. One chunkdid not come from the corrupt $300,000 loan, nor did Patkussay it did despite press reports to the contrary. It came fromanother, apparently legitimate, bank loan to James McDougala year earlier. The second chunk was only briefly inWhitewater’s name and did not benefit the Clintons.So how did news organizations come to put words inPatkus’s mouth? They did it, I’ve recently learned, becausethey gave credence to what they were told privately by Starr’sdeputies about the so-called benefit during the 1996 trial.This information was then incorporated into stories withoutinforming readers that anonymous sources were at work.More than two years later, Starr himself went public withthe same erroneous recital in his impeachment testimony tothe House Judiciary Committee. “Based on our investigation,”he told the Committee, “we now know that some$50,000 of that [$300,000 fraudulent] loan went to benefitthe Whitewater corporation.”When the Office of the Independent Counsel was proddedby me and Iowa’s Senator Tom Harkin, at my request, toexplain the basis for Starr’s testimony, Deputy IndependentCounsel Edward J. Page replied to Senator Harkin on April13, 1999: “The testimony in the first McDougal trial servedas the basis for Judge Starr’s testimony,” Page wrote. Sent acopy of Patkus’s actual testimony and asked to square it withhis letter, Page was unable to offer a coherent explanation.The rationale for use of unnamed sources is that it servesthe public’s need for information it would not get otherwise.In this instance, the public was served up misinformation.Worse, the misinformation was given spin, by one party to adispute, and presented as fact. Worse still, the press continuouslyconcealed the existence of a confidential source, thuscompounding its flimflam of readers.If you are keeping score, score one for the Office of theIndependent Counsel, which succeeded in spreading itsslanted version of the facts widely; score one also for thepress, which had another juicy scandal story. The losers: adeceived and deluded public.Now, when the press is awash with concern about credibility,seems a good time for news organizations to levelwith the public about how they mishandled this story.However, such a confession would require members of thepress to disclose that Starr deputies were confidential sources.And breaching a promise of confidentiality, of course, isconsidered a journalistic no-no. But it isn’t always.The rock-bottom reason for source confidentiality is tobenefit the public. It would be perverse if the promise ofconfidentiality became, instead, a device to hoodwink thepublic. Implicit in the press-source bargain is that newsorganizations will protect identities in return for trustworthyinformation. When sources fail to live up to their end ofthe bargain, the press ought to blow the whistle. Besides,when the Independent Counsel’s office went public with thesame information it had earlier given reporters privately, itwaived confidentiality for all practical purposes.Anthony Lewis recently disclosed in his column the nameof a confidential source in Starr’s office who had misled himregarding an unrelated matter. Lewis did it both because ofthe deceit and because he learned that the source had toldthe same distorted story, on the record, to Bob Woodward.The Gannett Newspaper Division’s principles of ethicalconduct put it this way: “All sources should be informed thatthe newspaper will not honor confidentiality if the sourceshave lied or misled the newspaper.”Whether the expectation of honesty is implicit in thepress-source relationship or whether it is spelled out explicitlyto the source at the outset, it’s imperative that the pressexpose deception whenever possible. Otherwise, anonymoussources will enjoy a shield for duplicity. All the morereason, then, for journalists to come clean about theirshoddy reporting on Whitewater. ■Gilbert Cranberg, former Editor of The Des MoinesRegister’s editorial pages, teaches journalism at theUniversity of Iowa.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 9


Watchdog ConferenceReporters’ Relationships With SourcesNo topic consumed as much of the conversation at theWatchdog conference as that of reporters’ relationshipswith sources. How are these relationships established? Howcan and should they be maintained during the course ofreporting a story? Where should reporters draw the line interms of their interactions with sources? Can reporters get“too close” to their sources? How can a story not be compromisedby a source’s own agenda? These and many otherrelated questions were interwoven into each of the day’sfour panel discussions.Doug Frantz set forth three rules that he abides by in hisrelationship with sources.1. “I never socialize with sources. I worked for fiveyears in Washington and I never went to a party withsources…. Particularly for the five years I spent in Washingtonfor the Los Angeles Times, it was vital to my independencethat I not be on a first-name basis with my sources, thatI not go to parties with them. That was important.”2. “Transparency. We have to tell our readers wherethese sources are coming from. Even if you use their names,I think you need to provide some background.”3. “Don’t give advice to sources. People often call upand ask you, ‘What do I do now? Should I talk to thegovernment? Should I talk to the prosecutor? Should I blowthe whistle to the IRS?’ I just have a flat rule not to tell themanything…. You can’t be pure enough on that point.”Loretta Tofani: “In the end this relationship I had withthe rapists came back to haunt me because there was animplicit understanding. I told them I am a reporter. It’s okayto talk with me, and they believed me. They talked. Theyadmitted their crimes. So it was very chilling some monthslater when, after the series came out, the rapists wereindicted for the rapes and I was given a subpoena to testifyagainst them…. Maryland has a shield law, and reporterswere protected from speaking against their sources only ifthe source was unnamed. But I had named them all, so I hadto testify.”“I really had to think a lot about what was my relationshipwith them [the sources who were rapists]. I knew this much:I was not going to testify against them. There was no way. Ifelt I could not continue doing work as a reporter, or at leastthe kind of work I found meaningful as a reporter, if I wereto testify against my sources. For me it was really a matter ofconscience…. I had an implicit understanding with thesesources, the rapists, that I was not acting as an arm of thegovernment. It would hurt the view of myself as a reporterto start testifying for the government against people I interview.I’m not sure how I could keep going on being areporter doing that. It’s a role I don’t envision myself havingas a reporter. I feel like my job is, you get the story, you putit in the newspaper, and then the chips fall where they may.But then you don’t keep sticking it to them. It didn’t matterto me whether the victims were men or women. I wouldn’thave testified.”“People at the newspaper felt differently: Ben Bradlee[the Post’s Editor], surprisingly, was one of them. He felt Ireally should testify. At that time, he said reporters had goodcitizen responsibilities. We argued about it, but it was clearhis mind was made up…. Bradlee was forceful, and he hadother editors in the newsroom calling me and telling me Ireally should go along with it. But in the end, I didn’t testify.I stuck to my guns, and the paper really was forced to backme up…. So I ended up explaining in court why I wouldn’ttestify, and then I was cited for contempt of court. The jailrapists were all indicted, and I’m sure they feel quite badlyabout me today. But I still feel I have some sense of honorbecause I didn’t testify against them.”William Rashbaum: “The relationship between reporterand source is a delicate one…. The same can certainly be saidfor the relationships between management and ownershipof the newspaper in the subjects of the stories that appear or,sometimes more importantly, don’t appear in their publications.While many people argue that reporters have insufficientindependent oversight, some might say there’s lessscrutiny of owners and publishers….”“New York City is a tough, incestuous town when it comesto reporting on police departments and law enforcement ingeneral, and the beat reporters who write about the policedepartment usually cover both crime in the city and thedepartment as an agency. So one day you can be writingabout management failures that preceded the recent[Amadou] Diallo shooting, corruption, or the Police Commissionertaking a freebie junket to the Oscars. The next dayyou are chasing desperately sought after details of a highprofilecrime that’s captivated your editors, if not the city.“Some could argue you’re not biting the hand that feedsbut cannibalizing it. This is a town where one reporter at amajor daily writes for the police union newsletter and sellsT-shirts for a group that benefits the families of slain cops.Another was called ‘Bratton’s Boswell’ in print because acolumnist felt that his relationship with the former policecommissioner was too close. Another columnist deftly killeda young reporter’s story about a top police official’s drugaddicteddaughter. She was a regular in Lower East Sideshooting galleries and roamed around there in his departmentcar, complete with police radios, phones and lightsand sirens. The columnist and the official, needless to say,were good friends. At the other end of the spectrum is a man10 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Watchdog Conferencewho wrote a laudatory column about the priest who baptizedhis son and later turned the cleric into column fodderwhen he felt he kept black youngsters off a local Little Leagueteam.“But there’s a lot of room between, and that’s where mostof us work…. I think a lot of beat reporters do a very goodjob holding the department’s feet to the fire…. We work ina highly competitive environment where we face the competingobligations to our readers on the one hand and ourloyalties, professional and sometimes personal, to the peoplewho provide us with information, sometimes very importantinformation, on the other side.”Alison Grant: “Perhaps this is a simple idea but one wayto get closely held information yet not compromise yourselfis to demonstrate your usefulness to the people that youwant to have as sources. My relationship with the twodetectives [in Beachwood, a suburb of Cleveland] was symbiotic.Over the course of the year it became more and morethe case that the detectives and I appeared to be workingtoward the same end. At times we did trade information.Some people would say that you should never deal with lawenforcement officials in this way, but I think some exchangeof information is all right…. It was only in retrospect that Irealized I had provided a shield for the police, to an extent,at least to get their investigation launched, too…. I think youcan happen to provide that function to a source and yet notcompromise yourself in dealing with that source. I also feltin Beachwood from the beginning that the cops were honest.So I didn’t feel like if we happened to fill that need forthe cops that it was any kind of compromise on the part ofthe Plain Dealer.”“I also had to be careful that the newspaper was not beingused by my sources merely as a foil for their agenda….Purists may not agree with this, but I think you sometimeshave to deal with minor characters who did bad things inorder to get to the people higher up who are orchestratingthe corruption…. The prosecutor was also very talkative andhe was a friendly source, but the caveat with him was that hewanted to run for judge. He is a municipal judge now inCleveland. That was one reason he sought publicity for thecase, so it helped to be aware of his future ambitions. Wetraded some information. We gossiped about Clevelandpolitics and kept the relationship oiled….“It does help to understand the subtext and agendas asmuch as possible, because there are naturally many agendasunder foot. It helps, too, to be as candid as possible withsources on how you expect the story to play. Despitesources’ agendas, the reporter is writing for the reader andshaping a story that may not be what the sources expect,unless they are told….“Despite the sources’ agendas—the cops’ need for cover,the prosecutor’s political ambition, the City Hall source’sanger over losing out on a promotion, the anger of DominicCalabrese [her initial source] over his brother’s contractwith the city—almost everything they told me was borne outby reporting…. [And] despite their individual grievancesand aspirations, these sources were also interested in sheddinglight on the corruption…. This is one way for reportersto draw information from sources: by having a shared sensethat an injustice is happening.”Susan Kelleher: “It was really telling their [patients whowere inappropriately treated by infertility doctors] stories. Ilooked at them as sources as well, and yeah, I did get tooclose to those people. [And] I got very angry at the doctors….I really did get attached to those people. I also felt a little tooclose to the whistleblowers, my initial sources. There werethree of them, and they had settled a lawsuit for about a halfmilliondollars because they were fired, they said, for blowingthe whistle on it before we had even written about it.”“[When the story was published] I felt conflicted when theeditor would use the words ‘hush money’ to describe thesettlement [that the whistleblowers had received]. I wouldhave preferred writing that ‘they signed a settlement with theconfidentiality agreement.’… I did feel the need to argue[with my editor] that we should have used the longerexplanation as opposed to the more sexy ‘hush money.’”[And each time “hush money” ran, Kelleher’s source wouldcall and scream at her.] “I really felt for her and I did feel badbecause I think the words did mischaracterize [her actions].”David Barstow: Investigation of Rev. Henry J. Lyons andthe National Baptist Convention. “We penetrated closedentities through the use of sources, which immediatelythreatens to put the source, who has access to that closedentity, in the driver’s seat…. [But we focused on finding]ways of leveling the playing field when we dealt with thesesources so that we were not constantly the supplicants tothem and therefore susceptible to spin, to their agendas, andso forth….“[As a reporter] you have to be clear, constantly, everyday, about what your agenda is and make absolutely clear tothese people that your agenda has nothing to do with theiragenda. If interests overlap, great. So be it. But never, ever,ever give anybody [who is a source] a name of a lawyer. Youdon’t give them advice. You don’t tell them what your nextstory’s going to be. You’ve just got to play it completely bythe book, so that you are never in a position of feelingcompromised…. You have to be willing to be beat on a storyif it means that not getting beat is going to require you tomake a decision with a source that could compromise thatpower relationship with them or, in other words, put you indebt to them in some way that is going to affect yoursubsequent coverage. And it’s a painful thing to do. I did ita few times in this story but I’m glad I did it. I think I sleptbetter for it.”“Sometimes we would call different members of theConvention and they would begin to ask our advice: ‘Do youthink we should have a press conference?’ ‘Do you think weshould mount a protest of some sort?’ ‘Should we have aNieman Reports / Fall 1999 11


Watchdog Conferencepetition campaign of some sort to get rid of this guy?’ I was,‘I don’t care what you do. I just want to know, Are you doingsomething?’….Very early on I committed to myself [to theview of] I don’t care what happens. I don’t care if they don’tdo a thing. I don’t care. The only thing I care about is tellingthis story. I do not have a horse in this race. Making that vowto myself very early on kind of relieved me of any expectationor pressure or anything of the sort. I think it’s also just aclearer way to go about your business as a reporter, not tohave a horse in the race.”Byron Acohido: Investigation of the crash of TWA 800.“[We had] to learn how to avoid getting sucked into thisdynamic or this corporate force which is powerful and smartand very motivated to manipulate whatever it can. First of all,it manipulates the government agency that is supposed to bethe public’s watchdog and, along the way, if we’re notvigilant, we get manipulated as well….”Acohido described several steps reporters can take toavoid being manipulated in the midst of reporting suchstories.• Seek out the stakeholders involved.• Try to use experts, the people affected directly by whateverissue you are covering.• Seek out the plaintiff lawyers: “A lot of them are doing thesame thing we are doing, trying to connect the dots to getto a point.” [When he uses lawyers as sources, Acohido“tries to corroborate and check out their information likeeverybody else…it’s no different than dealing with othersources, but they’re better in the sense that they comefrom this industry where they have to be careful aboutgetting the foundation set up under facts. That is whythey’re most useful. And they’ll point out where you areweak as well.”]• Make use of powerful technology: Tap into the Internetand E-mail.• Look at the historical record.• Take the time to pause and check the clips.• Check the developing coverage, see what doesn’t makesense and what does make sense, and try to figure outwhere you want to go next.James McNair: [As a business reporter] I’d love to havethe dilemma of being chummy with sources. We businesswriters don’t hear enough from sources other than corporatespokespeople or what moves on the news wires. It’s inpart because corporations really have no obligation to reporters.You can’t walk into a corporation…. We’ve got noright to set foot in a corporation. They have pretty much putout the word to their executives and their employees thatthey’re not supposed to be talking to the press. CEO’s haveno obligation to talk to the press. How often do we get aCEO? Half of what you read from a CEO in the press, unlessyou’re The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, is acanned quote. You just can’t get the CEO to come to thephone. You can’t ask him tough questions. At annual meetings,the public relations people will head you off as youmake your way to the CEO, so they play that little game.”“If anything, business reporters need to thrust themselvesmore frequently into situations where getting too close tosources is a possibility. I’d love to hear from employees, butthey’re so insulated; from the shareholders, but how do youfind a shareholder? How do you find these people? At a timewhen many business sections have been dumbed down intohow-to manuals for choosing a mutual fund, picking theright computer, and running a small business, Americannewspapers could stand business reporters who cover corporationsto actually leave their offices and develop firstname relationships with sources.”“Some corporations, weary of being at the mercy of areporter’s pen, try to steer reporters to analysts with favorableopinions. This is a new tactic. Not only that, they lean onanalysts to return the phone call. They know that thereporters have a hard time getting the analyst to the phone….[And] corporations browbeat reporters for calling analystswith negative points of view, and some reporters, eager toensure their continuing access to the company, play along.This, of course, deprives readers of opposing viewpointsnecessary to help people decide whether to invest in acompany or not.”Mark Thompson: “It’s important also to realize thatthere isn’t a source. I’ve been doing this [reporting onnational security] for 20 years, and every year it’s likeplowing a field: you’ve got to leave one field alone and let itgrow back. It’s an ever-changing constellation of sources. Ifyou get too wedded to one, you’ll run dry pretty soon.”Lars-Erik Nelson: “There’s a way of making accusationsnow also using sources that troubles me, and I see this in thepress frequently. A source will make an allegation, and thereporter takes it to the person who is being accused and hefumbles with it. Then a story is written saying, ‘So-and-so hasbeen slow to respond to charges that….’ And now you’ve gota new scandal. It doesn’t matter whether the charges are trueor false. Look at the Whitewater coverage. The Clintons wereaccused of being slow to respond to allegations from sourcesthat they were crooks in Whitewater. It turns out the chargeswere not true…but still it’s a stain on the Clintons that theywere slow to respond to these baseless charges.”“Now we [reporters] go with the allegation. We make thecharge. We accuse the victim of being slow to respond orimply that there’s a cover-up. To me, that’s adopting anagenda from sources that we should be treating much moreskeptically. I’m a columnist now. I’m out of the business [ofreporting], and I’m watching it from afar. And I must say I’mwatching it with great dismay.” ■12 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


How the Real Story Gets Told in PicturesWatchdog ConferenceFor five and a half years, Pete Souza was the official White House photographer during the Reagan Administration.His intimate access to the President provided him with an ability to produce pictures that captured authentic expressionsthrough which real stories can be told. Now, as the Chicago Tribune’s national photographer based in Washington, hestruggles to deliver a photograph that he can truly say captures the authentic expression of the current President.“In a lot of ways I think that I was more a journalist covering Reagan, as an employee of the government, than I wascovering Clinton as a newspaper photographer for the Chicago Tribune,” said Pete Souza. “I felt when I covered ReaganI did it journalistically and presented the right photographs of him. With Clinton, I really don’t know if I did a journalisticjob or not.”“I am going to show you twophotos that were taken 30 minutesapart. This is the Tower Commissionpresenting their report to PresidentReagan, and there are 10 peoplein the Cabinet Room and me. Youtalk about being a fly on the wall.That’s what I was. I swear to God,when I pushed the shutter button itwas like a cannon going off. This isthe moment when John Tower istelling Reagan, ‘Our commission hasconcluded that it was an arms forhostages deal.’ This is a real picture.I’m a government employee.”“The second photo is what thepress got. Now this is the differencebetween having access and not havingaccess. And I will argue that thisfirst one is a photojournalistic picture,even though I was a governmentemployee. And this one isnot.”Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 13


Watchdog Conference“With Clinton, he’s a guy on stage. This is the way I look at it. He could show you five different facesduring any one appearance. I transmit my photos digitally to Chicago every day, and the most difficult thingI do is figure out which one to send because I don’t know which one is the true moment. I can make himlook anyway you want to match a story of the day. Do you send the pensive look? Which look do you send?“Towards the end of the year, when it looked like he was going to get impeached, he sort of changedhis game face. When he appeared publicly it was more showing that his staff is behind him. It’s the happyface, kind of a little smirk, almost. But whether it’s a true moment, I don’t know. It’s so hard to tell.” ■All photographs by Pete Souza.14 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Watchdog ConferenceThe Role of Reporters’ JudgmentA question from the audience elicited discussion aboutwhether there can ever be truly “independent sources.” Thewhole notion of independent sources, this questioner posedto the journalists, “is an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp oreducational TV.” “Is there,” he wanted to know, “such athing as an independent source?”What follows are excerpts from the Watchdog conferencethat were either made in direct reply to this question oremerged out of other related discussions:William Rashbaum: “There’s no way to maintain completeindependence from your sources and still be reallyeffective as a watchdog. But I think that we have to continuallywork to limit our dependence. And I think we have to dothat in obvious ways, such as having many, many sourcesover as wide a range of areas and disciplines as possible,sources at the top of institutions as well as at the bottom inthe trenches. Read absolutely everything you can get yourhands on so you become as expert and knowledgeable aboutthe area that you are covering, and just use your eyes, ears,and mind, rather than relying on what you’ve been told.”Murrey Marder: “No, there is no such thing as an independentsource, and the first thing a reporter should askhimself when he is talking to anyone whom he thinks may bea source is, ‘Why is this source talking to me? What is in it forhim?’ First, I have to find out what is in it for him before I findwhat is in it for me….“Now, some source may be discovered one day in Washingtonwho comes in virginal robes and with a halo. But Icertainly have never encountered him and I would neverassume that any source is telling me the whole truth, becauseI don’t think the source knows the whole truth….“I work from a premise which may be old-fashioned, andI hope it will become new-fashioned: that the source I amtalking to does not know everything about the subject he’stalking about. Second, if he knows a great deal about it, whyis he talking to me, and what is his point of view, and why ishe selling it to me?”“With all the emphasis we have given to sources [at thisconference], it may very well create the impression that thereporter functions best when he is collecting informationfrom various people. I would say on the contrary, he’sfunctioning best when he’s collecting information fromvarious people and thinking it through for himself. I know ofno solid story that I’ve ever written that was simply drawnfrom either a single individual or even a group of individuals.It’s something that I had to piece together in my own mind,with my own resources, essentially, and present in that way.”Loretta Tofani: “No one really had an overview of the jailsystem, a system that didn’t work. Everybody had a limitedview and some people just had plain incorrect knowledge,and so it was really my task to try to make the view completeand make all these different parts see why the other partsweren’t working.”Roy Gutman: “The only way that a reporter could sortout what was really going on [with Serbian atrocities inBosnia] and hope to be at all factual was to find real peoplewho were real victims and ask them to speak. It’s kind ofanathema to a lot of us who cover governments, who arediplomatic reporters, to go to individuals who have suffered.And I think back to Loretta’s story, going to victims and tocriminals. Frankly, [going to talk with victims] gave me asense of independence [because] I acquired enough of adatabase in my head or in my notebooks. I would talk to oneperson alone, fresh, for as long as it took to get the entirestory. Then I would start checking it out with other people,independently. I would not go to anybody who had beeninterviewed by any other reporter. I was able to put togethermy own picture that way. Through that I was able to build upa record of what the crimes were, and there was nobody whocould gainsay me at the end of the day because I wasconvinced it was true. And it just turned out that the factswere correct. Few reporters used that method. So I thinkthere is a way that we can have our independence and do ourstories and be confident of them.”“It strikes me that we shouldn’t be looking for independentsources but for independent judgment. It has to comefrom journalists. Look at Loretta’s story: Who was the independentsource there who gave her the full picture? She puttogether sources, going in fact finally to the perpetrators, thecriminals themselves, and so her story became the independentsource and her work became the independent facts.There was no single source who could put her in thepicture…. The only independence has to come from us.”Susanne M. Schafer: “This is the essence of journalism.The difference between the Internet and what we’d like tothink of as solid journalism is judgment calls.”Lars-Erik Nelson: “I don’t have to be independent of mysources. I am a columnist; I find people who will help me orpeople whose stories intrigue me, and I can advocate theircause for them. So I have less need to keep independent ofsomebody’s agenda than a straight news reporter….”“[When I covered Prague in the early 1970’s], for all thatthey were wonderful democratic people fighting the goodNieman Reports / Fall 1999 15


Watchdog Conferencefight for freedom, they had their petty intrigues and theirromances and their conspiracy theories and they would takethings too far and would over-dramatize them. You’d have tosay [to them], ‘Look, I’m basically on your side. You don’town me, but I’m basically on your side. However, I am notyour mouthpiece.’ And you do have to keep that distance,even when you know they’re fighting the heroic struggle.”“There’s certainly no pure independence, but there isrelative independence of a source…. There are academicswho don’t have a financial interest in the situation who haverelatively greater independence on a story than, say, if it’s anarms control story, than an arms manufacturer or a diplomator somebody whose livelihood depends upon the situation.You can find people who do have a distance and who do nothave the financial stake and that gives them a relativeindependence.”Mark Thompson: “True independence is impossible,and I think Lars’s suggestion of relative independence definitelyhas its merits.”David Barstow: “By gathering at every step as manystupid documents as we could possibly find—old agendas,old budgets, anything and everything under the sun—wewouldn’t become the dumb reporter scraping for the mostbasic information. Actually we would become an authority.We would become so knowledgeable about the inner workingsof this entity [the National Baptist Convention] and thepolitical jockeying among the various players who weretrying to wrestle control of this organization away from thepresident that we could come with our questions from aposition of strength, not from a position of weakness withthese folks.… This is an organization whose public relationsdirector’s main purpose was to try to have us arrested atevery turn and not give us any information whatsoever.”Byron Acohido: “We’re dealing in a complicated society,trying to cover complicated sources under deadline andcompetitive pressures, and what Murrey Marder said reallyrings true: The best thing we can do [in the midst ofreporting on these stories] is to pause and think. I’m abeliever in public service journalism, in serving thereaders…and my belief is that what we can bring to bear onbehalf of the readers is our intelligence, the ability to sift allthis stuff and at the end of the day connect the dots and helpthe readers make sense of it.”In reporting the TWA 800 story for The Seattle Times,Acohido began to suspect that “politics” were at work inhow the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board(NTSB) acted as sources for this story. Each organizationacted as a key source—and usually an unnamed source—for reporters at selected newspapers. Acohido surmises thatthe FBI provided its information to The New York Times;NTSB worked closely with reporters at The Washington Post.And, as always happens with stories about airline crashes,the corporation who built the plane also wanted to providereporters with “its spin.”“[The FBI and NTSB] had different agendas for differentreasons and wanted to put out different spins. What happenedwas really amazing. These two leading publications,chasing these two competing spins, drove the coverage….ithappens at every crash that you get red herrings and the onlyentity that benefits from these red herrings is the corporation.[On] July 27th, an unnamed source tells The WashingtonPost the center tank was 20 degrees too cool. That’sBoeing all the way. That’s their corporate product liabilitylawyers. That’s wrong, dead wrong. They know that’s wrong,but they still plant it.”“[As the story continued] it was bomb, bomb, bomb.Every story was about this bomb for months, which turnedout wrong.”James McNair: “This is where I have a problem with themotives of sources. In 15 years on the business desk, I haveto say that reporters’ independence is under attack constantlyby corporations that aim to have news slanted in acertain way, if not ignored altogether…. Material gains awaita reporter who’s going to go bad any day, but payoffs oftenarrive in more latent and unexpected ways. I remember onceVolvo, out of the blue, I didn’t even cover Volvo or automanufacturing, called me up and asked me if I wanted to testdrive some new car for a week…. I took a pass, but one of thesportswriters jumped on that one. It was a pretty gooddrive….“But business reporters give away their independencemost often without accepting any forms of gratis or good willthat shows in their stories. These are often nothing morethan rewrites of a corporate press release, which is a carefullycrafted, heavily lawyered statement, notorious for itsomissions and distractions. Emphasis is often placed on socalledoperating earnings that don’t take into account thecost for plant shutdowns or inventory write-offs that in mybook have everything to do with operations. But manyreporters who are thrust on the business desk without anyfinancial training don’t know any better, and when corporationsspeak of ‘rationalization of operations,’ reporters don’talways know to ask, ‘How many workers are going to be laidoff?’ When corporations hire investment bankers who examineoptions to enhance shareholder value, that item mightbe buried or omitted in the story when it’s probably the lead:The company is for sale.”John McQuaid: Investigation of global fisheries. “Ultimatelywe wrote a story which basically no segment orsource would totally agree with, neither the regulators northe fishermen, but which I think described the situationpretty accurately….” ■16 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Watchdog ConferenceStages of Reporting: Finding and Using SourcesSeveral reporters devoted much of their presentations todescribing how they went about finding sources and gatheringinformation from them. In all cases, these reportersdid not use anonymous sources and worked hard to ensurethat information would be attached to named sources,whenever appropriate. What follows are stages of reportingthat show the ways in which sources were approached,interviewed and used in putting the story together.Loretta Tofani’s inquiry into the topic of jailhouse rapesbegan after she heard an attorney during a sentencinghearing for a young man about to be sentenced for breakingand entering tell a judge, “Your honor, my client was gangrapedin the county jail.” She asked this judge how often heheard such things. “Oh, it happens all the time,” the judgereplied.1. She began her reporting by asking other judges the samequestion. They gave her the same answer. But she remainedcautious since the judges couldn’t remembernames of men who had been raped. She did not tell hereditor about her queries to these judges. “I really neededto develop this a while before I broached the subject in thenewsroom and started asking for time to do this projectwhen I was supposed to be turning out daily stories.”2. She checked police records: No charges had been broughtfor rape in the county jail during the previous four years.The sexual assault center said the same thing. Jail spokesmanalso said there had been no rapes.3. Through a source in the sheriff’s office, she was able to getjail guard names and started to contact them at night bygoing to their homes after putting in her regular hours atthe Post. (This source also provided her with their homeaddresses.) She targeted specific guards who had beeninvolved some years before in a lawsuit against the jail forpoor jail conditions. The guards were able to explain toher why the rapes were occurring: They cited understaffingproblems, poor jail design, lack of enforcement of rules.These guards told her that rapes and sexual assaults werehappening at a rate of about a dozen times a week. Theyalso remembered the victims’ names.4. She looked up victims in the courthouse documents andfound their home addresses and started to visit them athome. “Getting the victims to talk to me wasn’t so difficult,”Tofani said. “The hard part was using the names. I’dgo to their homes, and I went about this a little gingerly.I said I was doing a story about the conditions in thePrince George’s jail. I didn’t say rapes in the first sentence.I was younger then. I looked a little timid and shy myself.They all felt sorry for me and let me in the door. So thenwe’d talk about the horrible conditions in the jail, the badfood, the horrible toilets, the overcrowding. Then, becausethe paper had a policy against using victims’ names,I always asked them if I could use their names. Again Iappealed to their consciences, and with that appeal, intime I was allowed to use their names.”5. After receiving permission from editors to report thestory, she initially concentrated on the guards, the victimsand medical records. She visited jail medical workers intheir homes, after she got their addresses from jail guards.“They did not want to talk to me,” Tofani explained. “Iactually visited their homes many times and got doorsslammed in my face, so I had to try different ways ofreasoning with these people who would slam doors in myface. I’d just go back another night and say, ‘Look, if youknow these things are happening, this is a matter ofconscience.’ I basically appealed to their consciences asmedical people.”6. Eventually she got the medical records of men who wereraped: “Getting these really was tremendous credibilityfor this story; it really backed up the victims’ accounts.”7. Also, she continued to visit the rape victims at theirhomes. “I was tremendously moved by the victims’ accounts.I could see their pain and their humiliation, andit was very slow going,” Tofani recalled. “I was a youngwoman and very sympathetic. And there was really nodoubt in my mind that they were telling me the truth.”8. She went to the courthouse to look up where the rapistswere; they were located in prisons throughout Maryland.“I used different approaches in talking to these men. A lotof it depended on my sense of the person as they walkedin the room,” Tofani said. “Dwight Welcher was a youngman in the prison in Jessup, Maryland, and when he camein the room his eyes were very stern and direct, so I gotright to the point. I told him, as he knew, I was doing astory about the Prince George’s jail and I was very interestedin why he had raped Ralph Bunch Gordon inSection 3A on a specific date. At first he refused to talk tome about it. He just laughed and looked at me. Then Isaid, ‘Look, I’m a reporter. I’m writing a story. I’m not apoliceman.’ I just reassured him I wasn’t only writingabout this rape. I was writing about the whole jail and howthis was the normal phenomenon. I talked and talked,and gradually he became comfortable and ended uptalking about his rape of Ralph Bunch Gordon and withgreat specificity and the kind of detail that let you knowthat, yes, he really did it. And he was proud of it, too.”18 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Watchdog ConferenceSusan Kelleher teamed up with an experienced reporter,Kim Christensen, to try to document informationfrom sources regarding unethical practices by infertilitydoctors. The doctors were placing eggs from one infertilewoman into another, thereby setting women, unknowingly,on a course to give birth to children who were notbiologically their own.“I first got the tip [about this story] from a senior administratorat the hospital who called me sort of out of the blueto talk about some financial shenanigans that were going onthere…. It was a pain in the neck to report. A lot of things shewas saying weren’t really checking out paperwork-wise. ButI did notice that the University of California, Irvine had areally hostile response to my initial inquiries, which waspretty interesting since the health beat is usually a fairly noncontroversialbeat and they had been very cooperative. Somy alarm bells sort of went off…. Then at the end of onemeeting with this source, this woman says to me, ‘Would yoube interested if there was a case where the woman got thewrong eggs? They were taken.’ I was like, ‘absolutely.’”Kelleher began talking with people from the clinic “at sortof strange times and in strange places.” She explained topotential sources how she worked. “I can’t go with the storyjust with what people tell me,” she told them. “I’m going toneed records.” [See section on “Verifying What Sources Say”for more on Kelleher’s reporting.] She taped all of herinterviews and gave a copy of the tape to the person whomshe had talked with to allay their fears of being misquoted:“You’ll have a record of what you say and I’ll have a recordof what you say,” she would say. “And if there are questions,I can call you.” Also, bringing the copy of the tape to sourcesshe had interviewed—and with whom she wanted to stay intouch—gave her an excuse to go back to their homes.Tracking down clinic workers was difficult, as was persuadingthem to talk. “It was really slow trying to find people.It took about five weeks, trying to find people and going backand getting rejected again and again and again. I hate beingrejected. It bugs me. And I hate bothering people at theirhouse, but I would go there and say, ‘Oh, sorry,’ and I thinkafter a while they just saw me as this really pathetic personwho was just not going to be going away.”In time, their reporting reached a point “where we hadpretty much confirmed that this had happened.” But theydecided to keep working on the story “until we found all thepatients this had happened to.” But the University was awareof their work on this story and filed a lawsuit [against thedoctors] that, in Kelleher’s mind, “made it look like theywere doing their job in just trying to ferret out this informationand that the doctors were just so uncooperative.”Once a lawsuit was filed, and due to competition with theLos Angeles Times, the reporters decided to “move aheadwith what we’ve got.” They wrote the story the next day andfigured “we would go and contact the patients.” Instead, thereporters assigned to this story were called into their editor’soffice and told that they were going to contact an ethicist totalk about whether the story should be published.The ethicist helped the reporters to set up ground rulesfor how to approach those people who didn’t yet know whatthese doctors had done with their and others’ eggs. The ruleswere as follows:• “We’re going to always go with two people.”• “We’re going to make sure there’s somebody else at homewith the patient.”• “We’re going to find out as much about the patient [as wecan] to see if they have a health condition that might freakthem out because basically what we’re telling them is, ‘Hi,you have a child.’ We had records that showed some ofthese illegal transfers or these egg thefts had resulted inchildren for other women. And it would be upsetting topeople to see that reporters had their medical records.”With the first patient they went to interview—a womannamed Barbara Moore—Kelleher explained that “there wouldbe no article unless she told us whether she had consentedor not to this transfer…we basically outlined everything, andthey [the couple] just freaked out. We knew that they didn’tconsent, but we couldn’t write a story at that point. And wemet with them about two days later, and they told us that, infact, they did not consent to the donation. So we had a bigstory in that and they had written a letter to the child basicallysaying, ‘We love you even though we’ve never met you.’ Itwas incredibly heartbreaking.“Our next step was to go to the recipient’s house, thepeople who were raising the child. And to this day, thisremains the spookiest thing I’ve ever done because thepeople were very nice people. They lived maybe about 10miles away and, as I’m interviewing the father, there is thisthree-year-old boy playing in the background who lookedexactly like the woman I had just interviewed the day before.“They didn’t believe it and they banished me from thehouse; they said these people were out to get money fromthe doctors. I was very respectful of that and left.“What happened is it wasn’t a story about the egg theft atall; this really was a story about a family, and until we hadsomebody on the record, with a face, that story was not goingto take off. So the families really became the hardest sourcesto deal with because after a while you get fatigued. Youwould call people up and listen to their emotional reactionsto things—time and time again you would talk to 20, 25, 30people and tell them this happened, explain the records,and then hear their stories about family and what this meantto them. These weren’t some little eggs in a dish. These weretheir hopes and dreams for the future.”David Barstow: “What we attempted to do is to penetratethis story through the use of sources, but to do so in a waythat wouldn’t make us beholden to those sources or susceptibleto their kind of spin. What we did, essentially, was an alloutassault on every single person that we could possiblyfind that was connected to this entity. It involved a hell of alot of knocking on doors and calling people cold and justgetting on the ground. Finding the ex-secretaries [of theNieman Reports / Fall 1999 19


Watchdog ConferenceNational Baptist Convention]. Finding the ex-deacons. Findingthe guy who ran for president of the organization andlost a couple of years ago. Understanding the politics of thisorganization. Exploiting the political differences within theorganization.”Byron Acohido: “We have these hard drives where youcan stack six years’ worth of work, or more. Divide up yourfiles and log all the stories that everybody published chronologically,or whatever system works for you, so that you getthis feel of what is out there. If you are not aware ofsomething, then it’s like quicksand. The corporate forcesand different agendas take over again. It’s amazing how thepress will repeat spin…. If reporters would just track what’sbeing written, go into other Web sites where they can getinformation that helps them piece together what the truth ismore likely to be, then we would better serve readers andpreserve our credibility.” ■Verifying What Sources SayAs helpful or reliable as sources might seem to be, no reporter should accept their version of events withoutfinding documentation to back up what they say. None of the investigative reporters at the conference couldhave published their stories without searching for records to support what their sources had said.Susan Kelleher: “People [sources] would always ask,‘Are you going to have to tell anybody that I gave you theserecords?’ And I would say, ‘Yeah, if we get sued and I base thestory on these records, then yeah, I’m going to have todisclose where they came from. However, if they come to meanonymously in the mail in an unmarked envelope, which Ihave a habit of throwing away, then it’s up to me to validatethem, and I will have no idea where they came from becauseI really don’t know.’” [Document below is an example of oneKelleher used in herstory.]Kelleher used anotherreporting technique ingathering documentationfor her story fromreluctant sources. “I’dtell people where I washaving lunch, and I had areally distinct car at thetime, a blue Toyota Tercelwith cow-covered carseats and I’d tell them Ihad a really bad habit ofleaving the truck open.That really paid off becauseI got a mother lodeof documents one timethat way. I did have to eatat Sizzler, though.”Loretta Tofani:“Check your source’s information;find out if thestatement is true. But youalso have to preserveyour initial gut feeling of, but this is wrong, it shouldn’t beroutine, rather than accept the source’s more cavalier viewof ‘This is what happens in life.’”Doug Frantz: “I’ve been an investigative reporter foralmost 20 years, and I couldn’t have done my job duringthose years without relying on sources, on people who tookrisks to themselves, who risked going to jail. People on theScientology story risked something worse than jail, which isthe wrath of Scientology.But, also, I could not havedone my job if I had onlyrelied on those sources. Itis essential that you use asource, particularly whenyou are dealing with a nonprofit,as a point of origin;it’s the beginning place, becausethey are most likelyto be disgruntled formertrue believers, whether theyare ex-members of the RedCross or formerScientologists. And you’llfind no person in the worldmore zealous than a formerScientologist, believe me….You have to take what theysay only as a starting point.You cannot rely on a singleword of a single sentencewithout checking it outyourself.” ■Image courtesy of The Orange County [CA] Register.20 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Watchdog ConferenceWorking With Key SourcesIn most reporting assignments—perhaps most often injournalists’ roles as watchdogs—following leads usuallyresults in finding a key source, someone who can help tobuild the story’s foundation. How reporters work with thesesources who often want, at least in the beginning, to revealwhat they know in secret, was a topic of interest at theconference.Alison Grant: “It became apparent after a while that mykey source inside City Hall, who spoke to me only onbackground, was also helping the police. Without either ofus ever naming the source, it was clear it was the sameperson. So for me, it was a way to check what I heard againstwhat they heard…. I met this source in the women’s bathroomat City Hall after the first few stories were out. I hadnever noticed her before, and I didn’t know her name. Heronly words to me then were, ‘You’re on the right track,’ andthen she disappeared into a stall. It was like out of a movie.“I began calling her at home, and she more than anyonetold me where to look, what questions to ask, what recordsto get. We never met privately in person until after theinvestigation was over, by which time she had retired and wemet just once for lunch. It was totally a relationship bytelephone. I would see her at City Hall when I went there butwe didn’t acknowledge each other…. Having contact withher by telephone made it pretty easy to maintain goodindependence. It was an arm’s length relationship to beginwith, and since everything she told me was not for attribution,it had to be verified through documents and on-therecordinterviews with other people.”Susan Kelleher: “I think my first big break came when Ifound the former manager of the [infertility clinic] practice,and unbeknownst to me she was pretty freaked out at thetime because the University had its own secret investigation.This is when it was trying to squeeze the doctors out. So sheasked me a lot of questions about what I was doing, and Ireally got uncomfortable. It was like, I don’t know if I wantto tell this woman the things that I’m looking at.“Without compromising other sources, I did tell her. Andover a period of probably about three weeks, she finally justcracked. We would meet at a park by her house where herkids would play soccer. And finally one day I had a singlerecord that somebody had sent me anonymously in the mail,and I said, ‘Could you tell me what this means? I have no ideawhat this means. I know it involves this patient here.’“So she said, ‘I don’t know why you keep pointing to thatpatient because there’s a lot of patients on there.’ I’m like,‘What? I can’t even read this thing.’ Then she told me thatthere were hundreds of patients involved.”Doug Frantz’s initial source for his Scientology storieswas a private detective, Michael Shomers, who had beenhired by the Church of Scientology to “dog several IRSofficials.” His experiences and recollections were invaluablein shaping the story and leading Frantz to othersources, but his documentation was critical to being able toverify that what he was saying was accurate.Doug Frantz: “Fortunately for me and for the readers ofmy newspaper, he [Shomers] had maintained copies ofalmost all of the documents he generated for the Church ofScientology. So here I had the perfect source, it seemed tome, to start this story. I had a guy who was willing to go onthe record, who ultimately disclosed what his agenda was,and who had the documents to back up everything that hesaid. It was a wonderful find and the best possible way tobegin that story…. The next batch of sources I dealt withreally were the Scientology defectors…. Their motives wereas suspect to me as those of any source or any official withinthe Church of Scientology because they clearly had an ax togrind. They had their own agenda. It was vitally importantthat I hear what they had to say and then that I be able to goout and corroborate that…. It’s a matter of using the sourcesas a beginning point and finding out what you can do tocorroborate that information. For me, it was essential on thatstory. It’s that essential on every story.” ■The Roles Editors PlayReporters often mentioned the roles editors played inhow they reported the story or how the story appeared in thepaper. At times their input was helpful; other times it wasn’t.Loretta Tofani: “[When I began writing my story] itwasn’t coming together. I felt like something was missing.My editors meanwhile were really pressing me to get thestory in the paper. Months were passing. They had a differentidea for what the story should say. They wanted me to writeabout jail rapes nationally, with Prince George’s as part ofthe problem. To me, Prince George’s was the universethrough which we saw everything. So there was a basicdifference.”[Tofani sought out another reporter to talk to about thesedifficulties.] “I told him everything I had collected, and hewas very quiet the whole time. He just listened. At the end ofNieman Reports / Fall 1999 21


Watchdog Conferencethe day, he said, ‘You have to talk to the rapists.’ I found thisastonishing at the time. ‘Talk to the rapists! They’re going toadmit their crimes? These crimes that they weren’t chargedwith? Why would they admit their jail rapes to me?’“He said, ‘Oh, they’ll say something. They’ll say they werebeaten. Otherwise, people might think the victims are lying.’”[After six weeks of initial reporting on the story, Tofaniwrote a memo to her editors mapping out the major pointsthat would later appear in the series.] “I developed thememo and brought it one morning to the Assistant MarylandEditor, who I hadn’t had a great track record with. This wasan editor who was mostly interested in suburban zoningdisputes and seemed to me to lack guts and passion. But Ijust hoped for the best, and I made my best case. I told himit was really important, and he just wasn’t interested. Hesaid, ‘Let’s put it on the back burner.’ I protested, ‘Look,what else is so important? This is what we’re here for.’ Hesaid, ‘No, let’s put it on the back burner.’“I couldn’t accept that, and I think this is also part of the[reporting] equation: In the newsroom there are obstacles,too, it’s not just sources. There are times when it’s necessaryto find the next editor. And it’s uncomfortable because youhave to work with the lower editor, but sometimes there aretimes when you need to do that…so I went to the MetropolitanEditor, who was Bob Woodward, and made my caseagain, and he said ‘yes,’ of course. And he told the AssistantMaryland Editor to give me some time to do the story, not fulltime, but he had to spring me sometimes from the dailycoverage when I asked.“Woodward then wrote me a memo. I still have it. He said,‘The judges can really blow the lid off jail rapes.’ …but thiswasn’t really what I had in mind. I wanted a story that ofcourse quoted the officials but also had the human textureto it, the human dimension of what was going to be the effectof the jail rapes. How were these policies really affectinghuman beings? I really imagined a lot of interviews with thevictims.”“Looking back, I sometimes think it was a miracle that thestory was published, both because of problems with sourcesand problems also in the newsroom, because the editorssimply weren’t interested. So I think any sense that we haveof reporters having to maintain some independence in termsof their sources, they also need to maintain independence inthe newsroom to get the job done…. It’s all about maintainingindependence both outside the newsroom and alsoinside…. The series also could have been derailed manytimes by well-meaning editors whose instincts or values orsensibilities were somewhat different than mine…the key toovercoming such problems is to maintain one’s independencemainly by developing more sources and more friendsin the newsroom.”Murrey Marder: “The best stories that you look at areones in which the reporter, most of the time, was responsiblefor pushing editors, publishers, make-up men, intogreater focus on a story.”Roy Gutman: [He faced the dilemma of how to interesthis New York editors in the story of Serb atrocities in theBalkans, at a time when neither the U.S. government norNATO was concerned about what was happening there.]“How do you get the interest of your editors in somethingyou feel is really central, that you get obsessed with? In thecase of the Balkan wars, what got to me the most were a fewexperiences early on in the war in Croatia. I became awareof a slaughter of policemen that had taken place in a town ineastern Croatia by Serbian paramilitary troops…. The securityestablishment had no interest in the story, and yet Ithought, crimes are happening right in front of me. I figuredout that there was one way I could attract the attention of myeditors and the public and maybe even the East Coastestablishment, and that was by reporting the crimes. Thecrimes were something that people could and would relateto, even if the Balkans, as Bismarck once said, were a placewhere nobody wants to sacrifice a single Pomeranian grenadier….“When I started writing stories early in the Bosnia conflict,I failed, we all failed, all of us reporters who covered Croatiafailed to attract the attention of the world to the war crimesthat were going on there. When Bosnia began, I think manyof us were fairly depressed that there was yet another war,one that had been predicted.”Susanne M. Schafer: “I recall several years ago we wenton a trip with Defense Secretary Perry to about 10 Balkan andEastern European nations in about eight days…. He was thefirst U.S. Secretary of Defense to get into Albania, and Iremember I did a story about one officer there who hadtrained with special forces in the United States and wascoming back and training 600 Albanians in being able to usetactics that special forces did in the United States…. It was anamazing chance to take a look at what was going on in thatpart of the world. And, of course, very few people wereinterested in the story, let alone printing such a thing.‘Albania? Who cares?’“We ran into that periodically. One of the points that Perryhad made was trying to formulate a grouping of Balkandefense leaders and to try to get them to understand how theUnited States worked and what the idea of a civilian-runmilitary was all about because, of course, that was foreign tothem, totally.“Even when you had the chance to go on a trip with theSecretary of Defense, where you could go to a meeting ofthese defense ministers and talk to people there who weretrying to learn those things, many times the editors wouldn’teven pay for you to go. ‘Why? I mean that’s just an inconspicuous,silly part of the world. It means nothing.’22 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Watchdog Conference“As a reporter, fighting to even try to tell that kind of storyand try to get access to places like that, I think, yes it’s comeback to bite people and haunt editors terribly because theydo not have the background. They don’t have the understandingof what that part of the world is all about.”Byron Acohido: “The first thing I asked [myself] was,‘Orange fireball? Lockerbie? What’s up with that?’ I went toseek experts who knew this stuff, who were on the level ofindependence detached from this. And I found out thatorange glows, which were established [in the TWA 800crash] didn’t happen when you blew up aircraft. In fact, atLockerbie, there was no orange glow. [The bomb] broke theaircraft structurally and then it hit the ground. You have tohave fuel ignite to get this orange glow.“So I had to push against the editors who wanted to runthe wire stuff [about how there was a bomb involved] uphigh and not mention this because [at that time] nobody wastalking about fuel tanks. But I did, with my editor’s help,three days later, get a lead that said orange flames are moreconsistent with fuel tank blasts. As a result, that led me toother sources who helped me run with a string of storiesabout another crash similar to that, and I broke the storyabout this Iranian aircraft that actually was a sister aircraftthat blew up 20 years earlier. In the end, it wasn’t on target,but it was in the right direction.” ■Impact of Investigative StoriesReporters sometimes devote months, if not years, toworking with sources, researching and compiling informationto prepare it for publication. Though what their storiesreveal can be explosive and damaging to the parties involvedand provide a basis upon which others can makechanges in policy or practice, several journalists at theWatchdog conference described how their articles actuallyhad little effect. Of course, there were exceptions.Loretta Tofani: As a result of her series, Tofani said thatthe jail changed its policies, separating convicted criminalsfrom the legally innocent and violent from nonviolent andalso hired more guards and enforced rules about guardshaving a clear view. County residents approved a bond issueto build a new and larger jail. “Many fewer rapes happenedas a result,” she said.[After the story was published,] “It’s like people finallysaw it. They all kind of knew it, but they really saw it. It’s likea frame was put on a picture that they didn’t quite get before,and once the people in the community saw it, they startedcalling up the jail, calling up the county executive, saying,‘Do something about this. My son was arrested for drunkdriving. My husband was in there on trespassing.’ Everybodywas afraid suddenly for their husbands and their sons.Before nobody really made the connection. They thoughtthe jail was for these murderers. That part was incrediblygratifying, that people woke up.”Doug Frantz: “I don’t think they’ve [members of theChurch of Scientology] changed at all…. Nobody in Congressis willing to pick up the issue and go with it and ask thenecessary questions about this tax exemption, about thecircumstances behind it…. I could have made a career out ofwriting about Scientology, and I chose not to, and myeditors, bless them, agreed…. Not much happened to me.There were private investigators poking around my houseand photographing my wife and children…but it wasn’tanything I didn’t expect and it wasn’t anything that hadn’thappened in spades to lots of other people, including IRSofficials.”Susan Kelleher: “I was surprised because nobody reallypicked up the story and we thought it was an incrediblestory. The silence around the country was deafening.”[However, after the story broke, the accused infertilitydoctors were both indicted and fled the country. Both stillpractice infertility medicine, one in Chile, the other inMexico. New laws against the theft of genetic material wereenacted.]Jim Tharpe: [The investigation of the Southern PovertyLaw Center revealed that the Center never devoted morethan 31 percent of money raised on its programs andsometimes spent as little as 18 percent, whereas mostnonprofits devote closer to 75 percent to their charitableefforts. No blacks held top management positions at thenation’s richest civil rights organization, and 12 out of 13current and former black employees cited racism at theCenter.] Despite this, Tharpe said, the story “had very littleeffect, actually. I think the Center now raises more moneythan it ever has. The story really didn’t get out of Montgomery[Alabama] and that’s a real problem. The Center’s donorsare not in Montgomery. The Center’s donors are in theNortheast and on the West Coast. So the story pretty muchwas contained in Montgomery where it got a shrug-of-theshouldersreaction. We really didn’t get much reaction at all,I’m sad to say.” ■Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 23


InternationalJournalismJournalismFrom Russia—Yevgenia Albats, an independent journalist in Russia, describes what it is like to try to be aninvestigative journalist in Russia amid forces—applied by both government and business—thatwork to make this kind of enterprising reporting less and less possible. As she writes, “mediaoutlets become controlled by the elite and powerful who don’t want their power and prosperityto be threatened.” The consequence: For journalists such as Albats, there are fewer and fewerpublications that will print what they report.Two other perspectives on what is happening to the Russian media come from professors whohave closely observed changes during the past few years. Ellen Mickiewicz, the author of“Changing Channels: Television and the Struggle for Power in Russia,” and Director of the DeWittWallace Center for Communications and Journalism at Duke University, echoes many of Albats’sobservations as she examines what is broadcast as news on Russian television, who controls thedecision-making and how viewers respond. Then, Virginie Coulloudon, a former Frenchjournalist who directs the research project “The Elite and Patronage in Russia” at the DavisCenter for Russian Studies at Harvard University, expands our look at the media in Russia byassessing the situations faced by local regional news outlets. Her conclusion: Russia’s 1998financial crisis provided an opening for powerful provincial leaders to assume greater controlover local newspapers. She writes that, “One thing is certain: The local political leadership willtry to assert greater control over the press in an attempt to secure their governing positions.”About China—Webster K. Nolan, the former Director of the East-West Center Media Program in Honoluluand a frequent visitor with journalists in China, describes the rapidly changing circumstances forChinese journalists. Marketplace pressures, such as the unstoppable increase in advertising, area force that editors must now consider in deciding what to cover and how to report it. Nolancompares much of what is happening now in China to similar trends taking place in U.S.journalism. He finds similarities but also points out contrasts that are rooted in political andcultural differences.From Spain—Dale Fuchs, who is reporting in Spain while on a Fulbright Fellowship for journalists,explains why that country’s reporters are so “starry-eyed” in their coverage of the euro. Whilereporters in other European countries include in their coverage some skepticism about the newsingle European currency, Spanish journalists rarely touch on this aspect of the story. Fuchs helpsus understand why press coverage in Spain is so different. ■24 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


International JournalismReporting Stories in Russia That No One Will PublishThose who own and control the media want to secure political influence, not touncover political corruption.By Yevgenia AlbatsAfter Watergate and the workof The Washington Post’s BobWoodward and Carl Bernsteinthat led to President Nixon’s resignation,young reporters dreamt of emulatingthis kind of investigative journalismfeatured in the movie “All thePresident’s Men.”However, quite often in many othercountries—including Russia, where Iwork as an independent, investigativejournalist—the situation can turn outvery differently. The upcoming movie“The Insider,” rather than “All thePresident’s Men,” often turns out to betrue. “The Insider” tells the well-knownstory of CBS’s “60 Minutes” famouscorrespondent Mike Wallace, whosebosses refused to broadcast a piece onBig Tobacco. Those who owned themedia outlet were fearful of losing advertisingrevenues and of getting embroiledin a costly lawsuit with tobaccocompanies. In short, an investigativescoop was held because of the owner’sfear about consequences if the storywas broadcast.In my recent experience, unfortunately,this is a very familiar script. Thereasons for this reside in Russia’s historyand its current political situation.Despite the new democratic elections,Russia has failed to create strong democraticinstitutions, but succeeded inbecoming one of the 10 most corruptcountries in the world, according tothe Transparency International CorruptionPerception Index. This oughtto provide plenty of fertile ground forinvestigative reporting. However, at thesame time, the notion that “free speech”and “uncensored media” create thefoundation for the practice of democracyis still not well understood. Sowhat happens is that media outletsbecome controlled by the elite andpowerful who don’t want their powerand prosperity to be threatened.Let me share a few examples of whatI’ve experienced in my reporting:November of 1996. It was just fourmonths after Boris Yeltsin’s overwhelmingvictory over his communist competitor,long-time communist partyapparatchick Gennady Zyuganov.Izvestia, then the biggest and the mostrespectable national paper which Iworked for, asked me to write a pieceon my long-time “heroes”—the KGB,the Russian secret police who werenotorious for their violations of humanrights. The essence of the Russian secretservice had changed little after theSoviet Union ceased to exist. I wrotethe piece—but 15 minutes before thepaper went into printing, the articlewas called back from the page. Twohours later, my story somehow foundits way to my “heroes” on Lubyanka(the place in Moscow where KGB headquartersare located). What had happenedbecame clear a couple of monthslater. Izvestia had been put up for sale.(In the Soviet Union the paper hadbeen owned, as all media were, by thestate; since autumn of 1991 it had beenowned by its own journalists.) One ofthe major investors in Izvestia, for somereason, did not want to attack the secretpolice. I went public about thecase, because when one writes storiessuch as this on the KGB publicity is theonly protection a journalist has from acontract killer. Izvestia fired me. I fileda lawsuit and won, but the newspaper’spages were closed to me.May of 1997. I am the anchor andauthor of the TV magazine on pressand politics—something like NBC’s“Meet the Press”—produced by NTV(Non-government television), Russia’sfirst—and still the very best—independentnetwork owned by the MOSTmedia.A person whom I interviewedon the air spoke harshly of the chieflieutenant of one of Russia’s most powerfulmedia moguls, Boris Berezovsky,who was then an ally of the owner ofNTV. Six days later my TV magazineshow was cancelled by the network’sbosses, and I was out of a job.September of 1997. I did an investigativeseries on the Moscow MayorYuri Luzhkov, who is currently a presidentialcandidate in the upcoming 2000presidential election in Russia. Theseries, written soon after Americanbusinessman Paul Tatum was killed inMoscow, was far from complementaryof the Mayor. In my reporting, I duginto Luzhkov’s connections with someRussian businessmen who were subjectsof Interpol’s interest. (My investigationof this aspect of the case wasmade with the help of colleagues fromtwo other countries.) I took my story tofour major Russian newspapers andweeklies before I was able to get itpublished in a then-new and independentweekly, Novaya Gazeta. The reactionof the editors at the four otherpublications was almost hysterical: “Areyou crazy? The day after we publishsome negative story exposing Moscow’sMayor or his closest entourage, ourbills on electricity, water, office rentwill double or even triple. We are notsuicidal by any means!” They were beingbrutally honest. Novaya Gazeta didget into trouble as a result of publishingmy series: The renovation of itsnew office space was stopped, apparentlyunder the order of the Moscowcity government. I also received a letterin my mailbox—“You deserve a bullet”—along with some nasty phonecalls.March of 1998. I was trying to publisha story that was the result of athree-month investigation I’d done thatexposed Russian government and semi-Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 25


International Journalismgovernment bodies’ scandalous anddirty deals in trading highly sensitivetechnologies to Iran. I called it “OurMen in Teheran.” Three major newspapersrejected this story. Their argumentscan be characterized in this way:“This story is against Russian nationalinterests.” “Why?” I would ask. And theeditors would say, “Prime Minister VictorChernomyrdin, during his 1998visit to the United States, said publiclythat Russia was not and is not involvedin any illegal technology trading withIran and Iraq.” Yet my investigationpresented hard evidence that the PrimeMinister either didn’t have proper informationor just lied, I argued. “Nevermind, the story is damaging to theRussian interests.” “Whose interests doyou have in mind?” I would then ask, inwhat was becoming an obvious failureto get any newspaper to publish mystory. “Are they the interests of bureaucratswho are putting big bucks intotheir own pockets because of thesedeals? Or the interests of the Russianpeople who are about to lose $50 billionas a result of sanctions that mightbe imposed by international financialinstitutions because of those illegaltrades?” There was no response.September 1998. January 1999. April1999. I produced stories about differentinvestigations. I took them to thesame publications. I had many of thesame conversations, resulting in thesame outcomes.I tell these stories not to be pitied,but to offer specific examples of whatinvestigative journalists are up againstin Russia these days. But the sad fact isthat even exposure of this situationlikely does no good. My colleaguesrecognize that journalism is a highlycorporate industry that dislikes—if notto say, rejects—those who expose suchdetails of our profession. After my lawsuitagainst Izvestia was publicized,executives at other news outlets toldme the following: “You are dangerousto deal with. You write the story andyou want to publish it.” “Oh, really?” Iwould say. “What about other reporters?Don’t they want to publish theirstories?” Their answer: “Others knowthe rules of the game and obey them.”The price for such candidness iswell known: You become the onlyreader of your stories. As a popularsaying among Russian journalists goes,“He (she) is the author of unread andunseen (by anyone but the author)famous stories.”I have, however, made my choice: Ichoose to seek my freedom as an independentjournalist.To me, the continuing erosion ofindependent media outlets means Iam free to do my investigations and towrite stories but I am likely to becometheir one lonely reader.As much as it sounds paradoxical,the Russian media lost the freedomthey had long been seeking as a resultof the 1996 presidential elections. Thiswas the election when Boris Yeltsin,Russia’s first democratically electedPresident, beat his Communist opponentand communism, as the ideologyof the totalitarian state, was pronouncedforever dead in Russia.Officially censorship was abandonedin the Soviet Union as early as 1989,during Glasnost. However, in reality,the press remained under strict controlof the weakening totalitarian stateuntil late autumn of 1991, when theSoviet Union collapsed. The chaos ofthose first years of the reforms madejournalists poor but gave them unprecedentedfreedom. Both print and electronicmedia, while struggling for survival,were admired by the public, whichitself was seeking freedom from theconstraints of a totalitarian state. Reportersdid a decent job in exposingdirty deals of the collapsed Soviet stateand of the new/old Russian bureaucracythat inherited both the wealthand the troubles of the no longer existent“evil empire,” as President RonaldReagan once called the Soviet Union.By 1995, however, the first of Russia’snew rich had started to invest in media.It turns out that these new ownerswere looking to make both financialand political profits out of their investmentsin the Russian media. In 1996,the presidential campaign clearlyshowed that those who had dared toinvest in media were gaining powerand political influence. Thus, by late1996 and into 1997, Russia’s so-called“oligarchs”—a half dozen or so superwealthytycoons who, before last year’sfinancial collapse, dominated thecountry’s economy—went hunting fornewspapers, magazines, TV and radiostations to buy.By late 1998, independent nationalmedia accounted for 1.42 percent outof all national print and electronicmedia. Now, one year later (and a yearprior to the next presidential electionand six months before the parliamentaryelections), independent media(those media institutions owned bythe public, predominantly journalistswho work there) account for a very tiny0.7 percent.Since 1996, the Russian oligarchswho acquired the major national mediaand concentrated ownership in justin a few hands have learned how to usetheir newspapers, magazines, TV andradio stations to undercut competitorsand further their influence in the Kremlincircle, which is led by the sick andunpredictable Boris Yeltsin. Politicalinfluence in Russia leads to money: bigmoney, very big money. It allows thesepowerful people to acquire profitablecompanies, to receive low-interest creditsfrom government-owned banks, toget insider deals and commercialbreaks, i.e. privileges that others withoutaccess to the media do not get. Ingeneral, political influence that isgained because of media ownershipbrings millions, if not billions of dollars,that are often channeled into offshoreaccounts outside of Russia. Andmaintaining control of the media hasbecome a powerful instrument in obtainingsuch political influence.Meanwhile, the price journalists andtheir profession must pay is a clearone: Journalism, as it is known andrespected in democratic countries, isnow on death row in Russia.■Yevgenia Albats is an independentjournalist in Russia. She is the authorof four books, including “TheState Within a State: The KGB and ItsHold on Russia,” Farrar, Straus &Giroux, 1995. She is a 1993 NiemanFellow.26 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Russian Television News: Owners and the PublicOwners jockey for political advantage. The public spots bias.International JournalismBy Ellen MickiewiczIt’s election time in Russia again.This is when the Russian televisionindustry experiences the greatestpressure and when the fragile but enormouslyimportant institution of informationpluralism is most at risk.That there is a genuine—thoughimperfect—pluralism on the nationaltelevision networks is a profoundlyimportant accomplishment of a badlyflawed transition. There are no realguarantees of press pluralism in today’sRussia, no watchdogs with teeth. Thereis only a wobbly market (much weakenedby the August 1998 crash) thatsupports commercial stations competingwith and challenging governmentallymanaged news. When the stateand the private owners collude—asthey did in support of Boris Yeltsin’s1996 presidential campaign—the competitiveinformation market is powerfullyundercut.Television and PluralismFirst, a roadmap of the Russian televisionlandscape. Four Moscow-basednational networks, in order of popularity,dominate the market:• ORT (Russian Public Television,Channel 1), heir to the largest Soviet-erastation, is currently a public/private hybrid (51 percent of itsshares belong to the government)whose most prominent private investor(and real decision-maker) isBoris Berezovsky. Berezovsky, oneof Russia’s richest new tycoons, parlayeda car dealership into hugewealth. A close friend of the Yeltsinfamily, he has served as secretary ofthe President’s defense council andas coordinator of the organizationlinking former Soviet states.• NTV, the biggest commercial station,reaches about 70 percent ofthe country and is owned by VladimirGusinsky, who rose from amateurtheater impresario in Soviet times tofounder of MOST bank, the chiefsource of capital for his media investments.Specializing in news, thestation routinely sweeps news andpublic affairs awards. Its subsidiary,THT (TNT in Russia) is acquiringprivate stations in the provinces fora locally based network.• RTR (Russian State Television, Channel2), a state-owned and operatedstation, has almost total penetrationbut falling ratings and continualshifts of leadership.• TV-6, the country’s first commercialstation, now has roughly 60 percentpenetration and is building a newscapacity. Berezovsky’s recent purchaseof a controlling interest giveshim a commercial property that thegovernment and Duma cannot soeasily claim.Across Russia, some 1,200 stationshave acquired licenses to operate, andabout half of these are on the air at themoment. Even so, the national networksabsorb 83 to 85 percent of theprime-time audience. Especially duringthe frequent crises (e.g. the war inChechnya, the August ’98 crash) thereis near-total dependence on the nationalnetworks.Virtually every Russian householdhas at least one television set. However,despite attracting huge audiences,the television industry has not escapedthe devastating effects of the nation’s1998 economic crash. Since then, advertisingrevenues have fallen by 70percent, and even the most competitivestations have been pushed intonegative growth. Foreign programsbecame prohibitively expensive; staffswere downsized or not paid; advertisingtime was deeply discounted, andprofits went up in smoke.Though Direct Broadcast Satelliteand cable are in the Russian market,over-the-air Moscow-based nationalnetworks are still what attract the lion’sshare of the viewing public. It is for thisreason that control of television hasbecome a hotly contested prize. ThePresident and parliament battle overwho calls the shots at Channels Oneand Two. So far, the content “monitoringcouncils” installed by Channels Oneand Two to propitiate the Communistnationalistparliamentary majority havebeen desultory, ineffectual time-wasters,prompting new calls from the Dumafor higher-level councils.In the run-up to elections, the Russiangovernment has restored the pressministry, which controls licensing. Thepress ministry also moved to assertcontrol by trying to bring the 100-plusregional state-owned stations backunder a tight regime, a step many regardas thoroughly unrealistic sincemany of these stations are now controlledby regional politicians who dependmore on their local constituenciesthan on Moscow. Besides, thesestations, like others, must compete forviewers with local commercial stationsand the national networks. Thus, evenif local state-owned stations were inclinedto follow orders from Moscowabout what their news programs shouldsay, they can no longer count on acaptive public.On the commercial side, concentrationof ownership poses the biggestthreat. Cross-ownership of media propertiesis practically unregulated; broadcastlicenses—for the powerful—haveNieman Reports / Fall 1999 27


International Journalismbeen granted without effective competition.Still, despite such dubious proceduresand in a very short time, televisionsucceeded in enabling the post-Soviet Russian public to access multiplesources and contending points of viewin the news. NTV did it with greatestcredibility, and during each crisis itsratings climbed. In our 1998 Russiannational survey, 59 percent said thebest journalists work at NTV; 29 percentgave OKT as an answer, and only12 percent said RTR. 1Television allowed viewers to seewhat Soviet rulers long had feared andprohibited. Viewers learned that theirown dissenting opinions were also heldby many others, some in prominentpositions. During the war in Chechnya,viewers saw some military officers condemnthe action, while others supportedit, and some elected deputiescriticized the President, while cabinetministers defended him.The reverse occurred when the nationalnetworks coordinated their coverageduring the 1996 presidential campaign.The first order of theadministration’s business was to provethat Yeltsin was physically fit to be acandidate, and television was the key.sidelined by a series of heart attacksconcealed by the networks and describedas merely a cold. Yeltsin cameback on television only just before thefinal vote.The networks’ partisan collaborationdid not nullify some fair-campaignrules. All candidates got free time inrandomly assigned slots. Paid politicaladvertising spots were purchased bythe President’s campaign and most ofhis competitors in the first round. CommunistParty leader Gennady Zyuganovdid live interviews on NTV, answeringreporters’ hostile questions, but a similarsearchlight was never turned onYeltsin’s abundant campaign promisesor his precarious health.Yet it would be a mistake to ascribetoo much influence to television andtoo little to the capacity of voters tomake their own evaluations. Sweepingstatements that exaggerate the persuasivepower of television in this electionare wrong except on a critical dimensionthat probably will not apply tofuture campaigns: Television presentedvisual evidence to the nation that BorisYeltsin really was a “live” candidateand almost killed him in the process.Owners’ AgendasRussian President Boris Yeltsin dances at a rock concert after arriving in Rostov onMonday, June 10, 1996. This AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko won a 1997Pulitzer Prize.For many months, he had been anabsent or remote figure, cordoned offby officials, and obviously out of touch.Suddenly he was portrayed as the modelof a vigorous incumbent, dominatingthe news with a new initiative everyday. The newly energized Presidentled an impressive campaign, and ittook its toll. In the two weeks after thefirst round of the election, Yeltsin wasIn anticipation of the 1999-2000 electionseason, television outlets are increasingin value to candidates andtheir backers. If they do not controltheir own properties, they often lookfor alliances with managements of commercialor state-run stations.At the national level, the politicallyambitious Mayor of Moscow, YuriLuzhkov, converted the city’s televisionstation into a new channel, TV-Center (the city also has a piece of theMoscow radio station and a newspapergroup), and has made some allianceswith politically compatible regionalstations. He also put on TV-Center’sboard some of the strategists from the’96 Yeltsin campaign, including the1These findings are drawn from a national survey of urban (including very small communities) Russians. I directed the survey, together withthe Public Opinion Foundation, under the direction of Alexander Oslon and Elena Petrenko. It was fielded from June 1-10, 1998.28 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


International JournalismWhen [Russian viewers] encounter bias innews reporting, they usually watch to theend. But their trust has curdled.murky figure of Sergei Lisovsky, rockentrepreneur, ad agency director, andsuspect in gross (as opposed to ordinary)financial misconduct.Even though Luzhkov and othermedia barons can and do use theirproperties to push their agendas, theirprograms now have to compete forviewers. Similarly, local officials whoare moving to control programmingon regional state-owned stations facecompetition from movies, soap operasand a range of entertainment choiceson other channels. Not only do viewershave a choice, but they have also becomehardened to the spin doctors’blandishments.Different owners seek to influencethe news to different degrees. It is tooearly to tell if, in the end, the seamlesscollusion of 1996 will be repeated inupcoming elections or if the currentwar between Gusinsky and Berezovskywill escalate. This latter scenario is adistinct possibility if Berezovsky followsthrough on his stated intention ofrunning for parliament and he and theYeltsin government maintain theirfierce hostility to a possible Luzhkovpresidential candidacy.On the national news networks,owners’ bias is seen most openly onweekend “news analysis” shows, featuringopinion and commentary andhosted by each station’s most popularanchor. One striking example of thiscan be observed in the results of ourcontent analysis of network bias (definedby either skewed selection ofmaterials or opinionated newswriting)in coverage of then-presidential contenderGen. Alexander Lebed’s 1998run for Krasnoyarsk governor.Berezovsky’s Channel One supportedLebed. The Russian government’s RTRopposed him. This content analysisfound bias on 100 percent of the weekendshows on those two channels.Daily news programs, on the otherhand, tend to be less personalized,cover a far greater range of subjects,and provide a much larger universe ofnews stories. In the content analysisstudy, bias was found in daily newsprograms much less frequently onChannel One than on Channel Two.(On Channel One bias was determinedto exist in roughly one-fifth of thatstation’s news coverage, whereas onChannel Two, it was found in almosttwo-thirds of the stories.) NTV’s campaigncoverage did not display apparentbias on either daily news or weekendnews analysis programs.The weight of election coverage andthe economic crunch are falling hardon television. In their straitened circumstances,and with little fear of gettingcaught, many television stationsand correspondents are increasinglywilling to “sell” the news. This meansthat they will deform news intoinfomercials for corporate or politicalinterests. Some stations are more tolerantof the practice than others, butthe likelihood of success of such attemptsto “buy” the public outright hasto be considered in the context of theway Russians watch the news.Viewers’ StrategiesIt’s one thing to point out instancesof owners’ manipulation of news andpublic affairs programs. It’s quite anotherto assume the bias works as intended.As I learned from work withfocus groups in Russia, viewers exhibitan extraordinary degree of skepticalengagement with news messages. Thiscomes as something of a surprise, giventhe dismissive or even contemptuousview of the public heard from someRussian television officials, journalistsand politicians.But we should not really be surprised.During decades of Soviet rule,outsiders remarked on how ingeniouslyordinary people could wring from thesparse news a trove of information.People needed information to survive.The news was scanned for hints ofplanned official actions, loomingthreats, or widening corridors of thepermissible. Viewers dissected eachframe to see what unintended cuesmight have crept in. For example, visualsof a moribund Soviet leader couldcontradict the words he uttered, andfootage of foreign locales could inadvertentlydisplay a reality Soviet doctrinesought to conceal. Watching thenews became like putting a puzzle together,and viewers worked hard to fillin the missing pieces. These habitssurvive.Russian viewers are thus wellequipped to spot bias, and they don’tneed a college education to do so.Because the national news networksstagger some of their news programs,viewers dissatisfied with one channelmay not find another newscast at thesame time. But this means they are ableto watch different news programs andcompare them. Especially during timesof crisis, that is exactly what they do.Russians devote a lot of time and passionateconversation to comparing differingtreatments of events. They talkabout how television coverage stacksup against the reality they experienceon the street and they check out coverageof other Russian regions by talkingto friends and relatives. When theyencounter bias in news reporting, theyusually watch to the end. But theirtrust has curdled. Two focus groupmembers explain:• Evgeny: “I do not switch, if there’s atheme that interests me…. I’m interestedin how they do it…. Do they liewell or skillfully; will they lie dazzlingly;will they lie disgustingly,vilely?”• Katya: “Even if you don’t like something,you have to know your en-Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 29


International Journalismemies; that is, you have to knowhow the other side is presented.That’s why it pays to see it and stayabreast of things.”These viewers are angry, but theydon’t switch channels and ratings arenot affected. This disconnection addsto the misperceptions that Russianelites hold about ordinary citizens.These elites apparently do not understandthat the public brings to its consumptionof news and public affairsprograms the willingness and ingrainedhabit to engage actively with the news.They may not change the channel andtherefore the ratings. Nonetheless,behind this passive strategy is a veryactive challenge to the news.Television cannot remake Russia; itcannot eliminate the profound cleavages,solve the unanswered constitutionalquestions, or alleviate the economichardships. However, it can anddoes alter in substantial ways the informationenvironment of ordinary peopleand elites alike by affording them agenuine, if limited, choice in news coverage.Even in its much-weakened condition,the narrow and imperfect televisionmarket has been the main propof news diversity. Keeping such choicesalive is the most important public serviceRussian television can perform. ■Ellen Mickiewicz is the author of“Changing Channels: Television andthe Struggle for Power in Russia,”revised and expanded edition, DukeUniversity Press, 1999. She directsthe DeWitt Wallace Center for Communicationsand Journalism atDuke University.Russian Regional MediaThe nation’s financial crisis threatens journalists’ independence.By Virginie CoulloudonSeeking survival in a fracturedeconomy, many regional newspapersin Russia tried to establish relationshipswith local businesses and regionalbanks. They did this in an attempt toavoid succumbing to the dictates oflocal authorities and powerful industrialgroups.This might have seemed a prudentstrategy before the nation’s financialcrisis in August of 1998. But what happenednext worsened their plight.Banks now faced enormous difficulties,including collapse. And in the midstof this economic chaos, political leaders—manyof them provincial governors—whofavored the return to anoligarchy were able to strengthen theirexecutive power both in terms of governanceas well as in the oversight ofbusinesses in their region, includingnewspapers.Today, with poor distribution of thenational press in Russian provinces,regional newspaper journalists willassume a major role in the coverage oflegislative and presidential electionsscheduled for December of this yearand June of 2000, respectively. Onething is certain: The local political leadershipwill try to assert greater controlover the press in an attempt to securetheir governing positions. For journalistswho work at these regional papers,how they perform under this pressureand during these elections will providea test of whether local journalism inRussia will be able to perform as anindependent press. Should they followtoo closely the propaganda of the localauthorities, they will be perceived as“full members” of the political eliterather than be seen as representativesof a civil society. And by doing so, theywill run the risk of losing the confidenceof their readers.Political Pressures onJournalistsAlready there are numerous examplesof political pressure being exertedon local journalists. Provocations—andeven murders—are nolonger uncommon in the provinceswhere local leaders act in authoritarianways. The Moscow-based Foundationfor the Defense of Glasnost regularlypublishes reports about attacks onRussian local journalists and tracks insystematic ways the human rights issuesthat arise.In the northern Caucasus autonomousrepublic of Kalmykia, the Editorin-Chiefof Sovetskaya KalmykiaSegodnya (Soviet Kalmykia Today), anewspaper opposed to local PresidentKirsan Ilyumzhinov, was killed in June1998. The murder of this journalist,Larisa Yudina, who was consideredclose to the Yabloko democratic partythat is represented in the Russian parliament,was immediately perceived asbeing politically motivated. A year later,it has become clear that the only motivefor the murder was Yudina’s investigativereporting concerning illegaluses of the government’s budget inKalmykia. For a brief time, the Presidentwas suspected of ordering the30 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


International Journalismmurder and two of his closest advisorshave been arrested by the federal police.During the 1998 election campaign,another incident involving one of themembers of the regional press tookplace in the autonomous republic ofBashkortostan, located in the southernUrals. All of the regional mediaexcept one sided with incumbent PresidentMurtaza Rakhimov: The Ufa-basedTitan radio station kept its doors opento Rakhimov’s rivals. By doing so theradio’s Director, Altaf Galeev, exposedthe ways in whichindependent candidateshad beendenied registrationby the regionalelectoralcommission.Galeev’s stationalso elaborated onhow the Moscowpress was covering the political situationin Bashkortostan.A month before the first round ofvoting was to take place, the local authoritiesstarted to exert increasingpressures on Titan. They sent the taxpolice both to the radio station and tothe businessmen from whom the stationwas receiving funds, and theyspread the false rumor that the radiofacilities would be burned down.Galeev reacted by urging his listenersto demonstrate in front of the radiostation. That was precisely the responsethat the local authorities expected.When the police then tried to scatterthe protesters and storm the building,Galeev fired several shots into the air toattract the attention of the crowd. However,by doing this he provided theauthorities with the pretext to arresthim.Galeev was accused of calling forviolence and is now facing a prisonterm of up to seven years. In November1998, the radio station was closeddown. Galeev’s lawyers claim that ifthis incident had occurred in any otherRussian region or autonomous republic,their client would have been forcedonly to pay a fine.The Federal RoleThe regional authorities’ ability torule in such authoritarian ways comes,in part, from regulations passed by thefederal government. The FederationCouncil, the upper chamber of theRussian parliament that is comprisedof local governors and heads of theregional legislatures, voted to set up aso-called “Morality Council.” This “MoralityCouncil” consists of 12 senatorswhose assignment it is to monitor journalists’“ethics.” But of even greaterOne thing is certain: The local politicalleadership will try to assert greater controlover the press in an attempt to secure theirgoverning positions.importance is an order Russian PresidentBoris Yeltsin issued last July, establishingthe Ministry of the Affairs ofthe Press, TV and Radio Broadcasting,and the Mass Media. This, as Russia’sPrime Minister has put it, should contributeto the “elaboration and realizationof the state policy in all mediaservices.” In a period of electoral campaigns(at the federal as well as thelocal level), this new body not only canbe used as a political tool for personalinterests of the candidates chosen bythe Kremlin. But, more importantly, itserves as a bad example for local authorities,who are eager to manipulatethe press in their region.At the regional level, this tendencybegan last year, in May 1998, whenYeltsin mandated that the All-RussianState Television and Radio Company(RGTRK) should be transformed into aholding company in order to develop acoherent information policy on thenational level. Coming as this does atthe start of the 1999 and 2000 electioncycle, Yeltsin’s order essentially createsan information network whoseobligation it will be to support thestate’s policy and ideology.This change will be significant. Sincethe fall of the Soviet Union in 1991,RGTRK regional branches had stoppedabiding by the orders issued by thegovernment, even though they still acceptedfederal subsidies while at thesame time make additional profits byselling broadcast times to local businessmen.During the intervening years,some journalists at these regional outpostsbecame progressively more independentfrom the central and localauthorities, sometimes harshly criticizingand openly opposing the regionalgovernors. Now the state is attemptingto regain control over what it regardsas its “property,”and it is being assistedin this effortby regional executives.The recent dictatestates that theheads of RGTRKregional branchesshould be appointedonly after consultation withthe governors. This sets up an obviousdilemma for local television companies:Either they abide by decisions tochange their leadership, thereby jeopardizingtheir political and (quasi) financialindependence or they opposethese changes, thereby forfeiting theirsubsidies from Moscow.The appointments of the new headsof RGTRK local branches—with thebacking of the governors—have alreadyled to a series of scandals in variousregions. As a rule, the regional bosseshave used this opportunity to regainideological control over the local media.By doing so they hope to bothsecure a renewed mandate for governingin the forthcoming regional electionsand maintain good relationshipswith the federal political leaders whoare most likely to run for president inthe year 2000.One example of this approach occurredin Krasnoyarsk. In return forauthorizing the national network toregain control over Tsentr Rossii(Russia’s Center), the local RGTRKbranch in Krasnoyarsk, GovernorAlexander Lebed was promised accessto broadcasting time and the removalof the Director of the station, KonstantinNieman Reports / Fall 1999 31


International JournalismProtopopov, whom he disliked.A similar situation happened in theFar Eastern Maritime Territory(Primorye). RGTRK chairman MikhailShvydkoi sacked Boris Maksimenko,the General Director of the station’sVladivostok branch, and replaced himwith Valeri Bakshin. Maksimenko protestedthe move, claiming that his successorwould serve the interests of localGovernor Yevgeni Nazdratenko.Shvydkoi eventually decided to appointMaksimenko Chairman of the station,while Bakshin wouldremain in the job ofGeneral Director.Not surprisingly,this happened on theeve of the December1999 gubernatorial localelection whileNazdratenko was tryingto strengthen hisgrip over the local media.Although the regionis one of the poorest of the RussianFederation, Nazdratenko has beenasking the local parliament to providegreater subsidies to local newspapersand TV channels. His tactics are reminiscentof those applied under manyauthoritarian regimes. The regional authoritiesproduce numerous free leafletsfilled with weather forecasts andother politics-free information, mailthem directly to the residents, and subsidizethe entire information channels,thus diluting the effectiveness of theopposition’s message.Financing RegionalNewspapersUnfortunately, the local Russianmedia appear to be trapped in this newcircumstance. Alternative funding isextremely difficult to find and, for theregional media, the 1998 crisis hasdashed all hopes of financing theirown enterprises through advertising.As a survey by the Russian NationalPress Institute found, many advertisingcontracts that had already beenagreed to in the fall of 1998 were cancelledafter the financial crisis. In theimmediate aftermath of the crash, advertisingwas reduced by 30 to 50 percent.But the crisis also produced an unexpectedconsequence for the media.The newspapers found themselvesforced to adapt to the new economicenvironment. And this often meantplaying by the rules of the marketplace.Those that owned their ownpresses could delay an increase in pricewhile continuing to print from oldstocks of plates, films and ink. TheseThe financial crisis brought aboutanother difficulty for regionalnewspapers: No longer could they affordthe cost involved with maintaining accessto information.newspapers appear to have been ableto secure several contracts that theircompetitors could not.Another example reported by theRussian National Press Institute is alsovery instructive. The StavropolskieGubernskie Vedomosti (Stavropol RegionalNews) newspaper owns a barterretail store. Since 1995, this southernRussian publication has accepted barteredgoods in return for advertisingspace. Then these goods are resold inits store. This business tactic offers aninvaluable service in an economy wherecash is scarce. During the banking crisisof 1998, the StavropolskieGubernskie Vedomosti was able to offeradvertising space to the enterprisesthat were suffering from sudden moneyshortages and thus increased their ownvolume.The financial crisis brought aboutanother difficulty for regional newspapers:No longer could they afford thecost involved with maintaining accessto information. Most of them wereforced to cancel their connection tothe Internet and Russian and internationalnews services. They are nowfacing the risk of remaining uninformedabout what is going on outside theirregion.Not surprisingly, some of the newspaperowners advocate the creation ofa nationwide lobby group in order toobtain tax exemptions from the federalgovernment so they can increase theirability to circulate information amonglocal media and resist political pressurefrom the regional governors. Thismay seem like a utopian perspectivegiven the worsening economic situation,the end of small-scale industrialproduction, and the increasing dependencyon political patronage.But if the 1998crisis strengthened theregional oligarchies thatdeveloped around thegovernors, the localnewspapers, and the regionalindustrial giants,then this assertive reactionon the part of thelocal media seems to bethreatening their strongholdfor the first time since the collapseof the Soviet regime. Behind the politicalscene and its endless struggles forpower, Russia’s local media havelaunched a new struggle for independence.Should they continue to develophorizontal links among themselvesand transform their associationinto an influential lobby group, theywould challenge the arbitrariness ofthe state and eventually contribute tothe building of a civil society.■Virginie Coulloudon is directing theresearch project “The Elite andPatronage in Russia” at the DavisCenter for Russian Studies, HarvardUniversity. She lived in Moscow forseven years (1990-1996), where shewas permanent correspondent forseveral prominent French media,including the radio station Europe1, the newsmagazine Le Point, andthe quarterly journal PolitiqueInternationale. She is the author ofthree books, published in France, onSoviet society and is co-author of adocumentary filmed in Russia andin Uzbekistan.32 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


International JournalismIn China, a New and Profitable Journalism EmergesWith profit comes change and questions about future direction.By Webster K. NolanRemarkable changes are takingplace in the news media in China,but they are not getting muchattention elsewhere in the world. Journalistsin China grow up in a culturethat expects the news media to servethe interests of the government. Traditionally,they have seen their job interms not only of reflecting governmentpolicy—they would call this “educatingthe public”—but also helpingmaintain social stability and promotingeconomic growth.Whether or not in their privatethoughts they are concerned about thearrests of political dissidents, manyjournalists have lived through the horrorsof the Cultural Revolution, or theyhave heard their parents talk about themisery it brought. They do not want tosee their country go through that kindof turmoil again. In other words, theirconcerns about the need to maintainstability are real and ingrained.What does this mean to Chinesejournalists? For them, getting to thescene of a flood or a plane crash as fastas possible is not as important as reportingwhat is being done by the governmentto battle the flood or improvethe safety of air travel. Journalists inChina are not trained to seek out thedramatic, controversial, suspect or contradictoryelements in a story.But this tradition is slipping away.Listen carefully to a growing number ofjournalists in China and you’ll hear arecurrent theme, expressed cautiouslyand variously, but the thrust is prettymuch the same: “We want to be goodjournalists. We don’t want to overthrowthe government or start a revolution.We just want to report the news.”Where do they get these new ideas?Well, a lot of them have traveled andstudied in the United States, the UnitedKingdom, and elsewhere in the West.Others frequently read American, Britishand other newspapers and magazines,or they spend time on theInternet. Over the years a considerablenumber of Western journalists havealso gone to China to train writers,reporters and producers. All of theseactivities have produced some lastingfriendships between American andChinese journalists. Finally, and perhapsmost importantly, many of thetop Chinese journalists are eager tosend their staff to the West for training,and this certainly implies some kind ofendorsement, perhaps even admiration,of the Western approach to news.But admiration is certainly not universal.Like many Americans, manyChinese are troubled about certain aspectsof American news reporting, particularlysensationalism, invasion ofprivacy, ambush journalism and so on.It’s equally important to note that theChinese see what has happened to thenews media in Russia, and they want toavoid the blatant partisanship and tabloidmentality that plagues so much ofjournalism in that country.In China, some journalists, particularlyin the south and the coastal areas,chafe at restrictions imposed by Beijing,especially the requirement that theymust wait for the Xinhua News Agencyversion of certain kinds of stories, evenbreaking stories like the devastatingfloods last winter in southern China.(Xinhua is the government-operatedwire service.) What’s interesting aboutthis is that their complaint is not somuch political as professional, that isto say, they think they can do a betterjob, get better quotes and details andpictures, than Xinhua.A Marketplace Press EmergesBut for all their desire to “just begood reporters,” it’s unlikely that journalistsin the People’s Republic of China(PRC) could pull it off on their own.The really fascinating aspect about thenews media in China is that the strongestimpetus for what we might call a“marketplace press” is coming not from‘We want to be good journalists. We don’t wantto overthrow the government or start arevolution. We just want to report the news.’the newsrooms but from the businessside, from the publishers, and fromadvertising departments. And it’s notthat publishers and the advertising salesforces are burning with a desire for aChinese version of the First Amendment.It’s simply that they want tomake a profit and, to do that, they needadvertising; and to get more advertising,they need bigger circulation andaudience numbers.In fact, you might say that advertisingis the driving force for change inthe news media in China and, in myopinion, it’s unstoppable. It’s one thingfor the government to throw a fewrebellious journalists into prison, butit is quite another challenge—in manyways, a more difficult one—to dealwith the huge and increasing numbersNieman Reports / Fall 1999 33


International Journalismof very aggressive ad salespeoplethroughout the country. As one mightexpect, advertising is creating mediacompetition, particularly in the printpress. Consumers are becoming moreselective about the publications theyread and this, in turn, compels editorsand publishers to pay a lot more attentionto the demands of the market.Comparing Chinese andAmerican JournalismOne way to assess the changes takingplace in the news media in China isto make a few comparisons with thecurrent state of American journalism.(Of course, not everything aboutchange in China coincides with theAmerican experience.)• Mergers and Acquisitions: In theUnited States we hear and see a lotof commentary about how large corporationssuch as Disney, GeneralElectric, Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorporation, Gannett, Knight Ridderand others dominate the news media.Something similar is happeningin China but on a much smallerscale. Government-owned and partyownednews organizations are absorbingsmaller papers and startingnew ones. They’re forming what theycall “groups,” organizations that publishmorning and afternoon newspapersas well as specialty publications.They’re also going intorevenue-producing businesses thathave little or nothing to do withjournalism. Xinhua recently openeda “mega-bookstore” in Shanghai offering150,000 titles and two coffeebars. The Guangzhou Daily, whichoperates citywide kiosks at whichnewspapers, candy bars and sundriesare sold, is planning to establisha chain of convenience stores.• Tabloid Journalism: They’ve got itin China, too. But, of course, theyare not as sensational or sexy as weare. Yet. This is a recognition by thepowers that be that the public is notvery interested in the dull, gray,party-line journalism of the past.Readers want more informationabout fashion, about celebrities,about music and movies, sports andso on. They are also eager to knowabout the latest corruption scandals.So afternoon tabloids are startingup and flourishing. You can buythem on street corners, which maysound unremarkable to us, but it’sonly in the past few years that readersthemselves actually paid fornewspapers in China. The customwas for the work unit or the partycell to make the purchases. That stillgoes on, but less and less.• Marketplace for News: The newphenomenon of readers buyingnewspapers shows how marketforces are working to change journalismin China. The readers wantvalue for their money. Hence competition.The odd thing, of course, isthat it’s Communist party or governmentorganizations that are creatingthese new, flashier publications.• Censorship: Another comparisonbetween the United States and Chinawould be in the area of censorship.We, of course, have the First Amendmentto protect the public’s right toknow. In China, the party and thegovernment, central and local, stillexercise strong control over the newsmedia, make no mistake about that.In day-to-day practical terms, forjournalists it is more a question ofguessing howfar one can go.Journalists inChina sometimesjokeabout this:They ask eachother, for example,whatthe party lineis today on Japan, deforestation,bank policy and so on. And, ofcourse, journalists are also carefulabout coverage of unrest among thejobless and demonstrations by politicalor, more recently, religiousdissidents. Few writers want to be…there’s a strongelement of selfcensorshipin theChinese news media.seen as instigators of political movementsor mob violence. So there’s astrong element of self-censorship inthe Chinese news media. In our owncountry we have some of that, too.Of course, the consequences forgoing over the line might not be assevere. But I think many of us haveeither experienced the displeasureof a publisher for offending an advertiseror a prominent member ofthe community or have known colleagueswho have paid a high pricefor challenging a sacred cow.• Civic Journalism: Another rathercurious comparison is so-called civicjournalism. It is a question in myown mind whether there is a growingtendency in our own news mediatoward adopting the sense ofcivic responsibility as practiced bythe Chinese press. That may seem afar-fetched notion here. Still, whenyou hear American editors talking atconferences about going beyond traditionalnews coverage to help set acommunity’s agenda, you wonderwhether they’re moving into therealm of what the PRC media call“ensuring the rectitude of publicopinion.”• Journalism’s Watchdog Role: Finally,to me, one of the most interestingcomparisons between ourmedia and the Chinese media iswhat some call the watchdog role.Most Americans expect journalistsin our countryto keep asharp eye onpoliticians,business, laborand government.Americansare accustomedtocriticism of the establishment, toinvestigative reporting, and to pressexposés about corruption. Is thiskind of press reporting possible inChina? It may come as a surprise thatone of the most popular nationaltelevision programs in that coun-34 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


International Journalismtry—broadcast on China CentralTelevision, the nationwide government-owned-and-operatednetwork—isa nightly feature called“Focus” that pretty much followsthe format of the CBS newsmagazine“60 Minutes.” To be sure, “Focus” isnot as doggedly aggressive, cleverand irreverent as “60 Minutes,” andit doesn’t use the slick productiontechniques we see on “Dateline,”“20/20” or “60 Minutes.” But its reportson smuggling, environmentalproblems, kickbacks to governmentbureaucrats, police brutality andother skullduggery draw an estimatedaudience of300 million, a figurethat would make anAmerican networkexecutive drool.What’s more, PremierZhu Rongji hasencouraged governmentofficials towatch the program,a powerful endorsement that hascreated a multiplier effect throughoutthe country. The success of “Focus”has stimulated local televisionorganizations to create similar programs.It has also inspired onceunthinkablethreats against powerfulbureaucrats. “I’m going to tell‘Focus’ about you” is becoming apublic tradition. Sometimes, I’mtold, you can see a long line of angrycitizens outside the “Focus” office inBeijing, waiting to lodge their complaints.Watchdog journalism in theChinese media is still sporadic. Thenationally distributed SouthernWeekend has acquired a reputationfor pursuing what in China might beconsidered unorthodox stories, suchas coverage of the high number ofsuicides among women in rural areas.A senior editor at that newspaperworries that the traditional CommunistParty practice of putting thepositive spin on news can give riseto a public optimism that might notbe warranted and raise hopes thatmight be unrealistic. In Tianjin, theeditors of The Evening News newspaperidentify specific problems ofpublic concern, then ask appropriategovernment officials to come totheir office and explain how they aredealing with the problem.The Next StagesEarlier this year, Strategy and Management,a journal that is widely readby thousands of officials and scholars,carried a long, detailed article aboutsocial and economic problems relatedto the construction of Three GorgesDam, a project started and stronglysupported by the still very powerfulThe media still pretty much reflect thegovernment view.…certainly no newspaperis going to attack the PRC hierarchy, atleast not under current circumstances.former Premier Li Peng. In Chongqingin January, the local media were providingbanner headlines about a majorcorruption story that involved the collapseof a pedestrian bridge that killedsome 40 people. Shoddy constructionand payoffs to bureaucrats were involved,and the media were unrestrainedin their reporting on this tragicscandal.None of these observations shouldbe taken to mean that freedom of information,as Americans understand it, isflourishing in China. The media stillpretty much reflect the governmentview. There is still a ban on satellitedishes. Outsiders are not allowed toown and publish independent newspapers,much less start television orradio operations. And certainly nonewspaper is going to attack the PRChierarchy, at least not under currentcircumstances.Still, significant changes are takingplace. The government has cut Internetaccess rates in half and is offering freeinstallation of a second phone line inresidences. Why? The Ministry of InformationIndustry said the changes weremade because “of increasing complaintsfrom consumers.”As for access to the World WideWeb, the government operates thecountry’s Internet Service Provider systemsand filters out selected material,though on a somewhat puzzling basis.For example, it’s difficult to get the onlineeditions of The New York Timesand The Washington Post through theofficial ISP’s but easy to call up the LosAngeles Times or the Chicago Tribune.Most British newspapers, including theFinancial Times, are accessible. In anycase, a group of American journalistswho recently visited China was told byAmerican technical experts in Beijingthat anyone withbasic knowledgeabout the Internetcan get access tonews from the outsidewithout muchtrouble. And accordingto an editor atone of Shanghai’slargest newspapers,by using a government operatedInternet service provider called ShanghaiOnline he can access “any on-linenewspaper in the world.”As any number of editors, producersand writers in China will privatelyacknowledge, their country has a longway to go in the transition toward whatthey call “marketplace journalism.” Butthe media barons in the PRC persist intheir drive for profits, which they knowdepend on attracting big advertisingnumbers and big circulation numbers,in much the same way that their Westerncounterparts have built press empires.Meanwhile, access to the diversityof information on the Internet isgrowing rapidly. These two powerfulforces, a market driven media insideChina and the increase in news comingfrom the rest of the world, may falter attimes, but in the end they seem unstoppable.■Webster K. Nolan is former Directorof the East-West Center Media Programin Honolulu, Hawaii, and hastraveled frequently in China.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 35


International JournalismSpanish Journalists Adore the EuroWonder why? The roots of this love affair go back a century.By Dale FuchsFrom the starry eyes and excitedtones of these Spanish journalists, youknow they are talking about much morethan a new coin:“It symbolizes democracy and modernity,”gushes a business writer withColpisa, Spain’s national news agency.“It anchors Spain to Europe,” chimesanother journalist.“It means we’ve caught the train ofhistory,” declares Mariano Guindel, abusiness editor and columnist at LaVanguardia, one of Spain’s leadingnewspapers. “We have the opportunityto end the century in the rich folks’club, to belong to the group in charge.”The object of their praise is the euro,the new single European currency,which went into effecton January 1 for stocktrades, bank loans,credit card transactions,and all othernon-cash currency exchangesin 11 countries.1 Euro noteswon’t begin to circulateuntil 2002.This fledgling currency isn’t accustomedto such royal journalistic treatment.Over the years, the prospect ofmonetary union has sparked considerablecontroversy in the western Europeanpress, from “Say No” campaignsin England to periodic bouts in Germanyof Deutschmark-separation anxiety.But in Spain, there has been nopublic debate, no threats of a referendum,not even a squabble for influencein the newly created European CentralBank. A combination of factors—includingunanimous support by conservativeand socialist parties—havepushed the issue of monetary union farfrom the sphere of cost-benefit analysisand into the fuzzier realm of statussymbol and national pride.While the media in other countrieshave grappled with issues such as theloss of national sovereignty—for example,political leaders in “Euroland”can no longer devalue their currenciesor play with interest rates to quick-fixnational economies—members of theSpanish press have breathlessly told apretty tale. Spain, the poor underdog,triumphs against the odds to fix itseconomy and, in the end, gets to jointhe euro club. The cost of that economicmakeover, involving rapidprivatization of almost every industry,doesn’t fit into this version of the story.…philosopher Ortega y Gassett,foreshadowing today’s ‘euro-phoria,’ isknown to have declared: ‘Spain is theproblem, Europe is the solution.’“Spain comes out in front,” boaststhe headline of an article publishedJanuary 1 by the national newspaperchain El Correo. “Against wind andtide, the euro zone sets sail, and for thefirst time, Spain is among the 11 countriesthat begin this unprecedentedadventure.”Why is the euro so important toSpain, or at least to its media and therest of its intellectual elite? The mainreason, any journalist, academic or eventhe local bartender will tell you, is thatSpain has an inferiority complex. Thisis a century-long inferiority complexthat goes back to 1898, when Spain lostits last colonies and gained a nationalidentity crisis (along with its betterknowngeneration of great writers).The handwringing got so bad that philosopherOrtega y Gassett, foreshadowingtoday’s “euro-phoria,” is knownto have declared: “Spain is the problem,Europe is the solution.”And Spain did have problems, themost memorable of which, it seems,was its bad image. In the words ofveteran journalist Jose AntonioMartínez Solar: “Spain was seen by therest of Europe as a Third World countryfilled with a bunch of poor superstitiousfarmers, not even real Christians,who spent all day playing the guitar.”Northern sophisticates dismissed theirsouthern neighborswith five words: “Africastarts in thePyrenees.” Thephrase, Martínez says,still stings.It is no surprise,then, that Diario 16,the magazine Martínezfounded and the firstindependent journalistic attempt of thepost-Franco era, debuted with a cartoonof King Juan Carlos saying “Europe,yes!” If anything could aggravatean already low national self-esteem, itwas 40 years of dictatorship underFranco. Here was the rest of the continent,rebuilding its economy and enjoyingits liberty after World War II, andwhat was Spain doing? It was strappedto a dictator, getting religion and conservatismforced down its throat, andwallowing in the same poverty it hadsuffered since the Spanish Civil War.“Isolated” and “abandoned by the restof Europe” are the phrases many use to1Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.36 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


International Journalismdescribe the feeling during that period.Like the baby boomers in America,the movers and shakers in today’s Spainbelong to the generation that rememberswhen you had to travel to Franceto buy censored books. They lookednorth for models to writetheir constitution, designtheir newspapers, and ignitetheir economy. Forthis generation, Europesymbolized what Spaindid not have underFranco: freedom of expression,prosperity, democracyand socialism.And now the euro, thelatest badge of an idealizedEurope, symbolizesall this as well.But in regions such asthe Basque Country andCatalunya, the euro hasextra meaning: independencefrom Spain. Whatwe now know as Spain,you see, is really a conglomerationof several“countries,” held togetherby 500 years ofcentralized, Castiliancontrol. Over the centuries,Spain’s centralizedgovernment would oftenrepress the regional cultures,prohibiting thespeaking of local languages.Now, enjoying thefreedom of Spain’s youngdemocracy, these socalled“nationalist” regionstake great pains toassert their non-Spanishidentity, even strugglingto break away altogetherfrom the state, in the case of the BasqueCountry. The peseta, here, is just onemore reminder of Spanish domination.The euro, on the other hand, is unblemishedand a sign that these regionaleconomies are tied not to Spain,but to the protective umbrella of Europe.And so, from Barcelona to La CoruñaThis headline reminds Spaniards there are only 30 days until the euroarrives and offers them “everything you have to know,” including anemergency guide.to Seville, Spanish newspapers churnout bank- and government-financedspecial supplements celebrating theeuro, the more pages the better. Theyprint colorful inserts on special themes,such as “how to get your business readyfor the euro.” They design cute graphicsshowing the price of a meal atMcDonald’s (3.56 euros) and the costof a color TV (966 euros). They addagony columns to business sections sothat banking experts can assuage thefears of ordinary readers who ask downhomeyquestions like, “Will the euromake prices rise?” And they give thebest play to articles with feel-good headlines,such as “The euro: panacea forthe euro-jobless,” and “The euro breaksthe dollar’s world hegemony.” In thesearticles, nobody loses a job; businessesjust become “more competitive.”For every dozen or so such articles,one appears with a critical voice, quotingone of Spain’s few socalled“euro-skeptics.” Thisis a derogatory term, and ordinaryjournalists do notwant it applied to them. Eventhough perfectly solid democracieslike England andSweden have rejected theeuro for the time being, inSpain such a position is unacceptable.To show skepticismin Spain is thereforeregarded as “undemocratic.”“Coming out with an articlehighly critical of the eurois like, in the United States,coming out in favor of socializedheath care and hightaxes,” says the businesswriter Ramón Muñoz of thenational daily El Mundo. “Ifyou say something, your colleaguesdismiss you with acondescending smile, likeyou’re weird. No one wantsto go against the current.”Don’t ask what happens ifthe economic current shifts,the economy takes a dive,and the euro has to swimupstream. The usual answer:“Only an American wouldthink of such a question.” ■Dale Fuchs went to Spainin September on aFulbright Fellowship forjournalists to study howthe Spanish press coversthe euro, and she is nowwriting features for a Spanish daily,El Mundo. In the United States, shecovered politics and education andwrote features for a Florida daily,The Palm Beach Post.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 37


Journalist’s TradeJournalist’s Trade“Today it is difficult to pick up a sports section or watch a sporting event on TV without findingsome athlete’s privacy being invaded.” This observation rests at the center of Tom Witosky’sarticle that takes a close look at ways in which sportswriters make decisions about what aspectsof an athlete’s life merit publication. Witosky, sports projects reporter for The Des MoinesRegister, sets forth questions that reporters should consider when probing into personal aspectsof a sports figure’s life. Witosky’s article leads off a package of stories about sports reporting.Michael Crowley, a reporter at The Boston Globe, complicates this issue of how journlistsmesh what athletes do in their sport with what they do in their personal lives. Crowley dissectscoverage of basketball great Michael Jordan and discovers that being a “sports hero” acts as ashield, protecting him against reporting that might show unflattering aspects of life off the court.In an introductory essay David Halberstam wrote for “The Best American Sports Writing ofthe Century,” he reacquaints us with Gay Talese’s extraordinary portrait of Joe DiMaggio, who wasthe most celebrated athlete of his time but also a private man about whom little was known. Hedescribes how Talese approached his task of reporting about this “icon of icons.”Stan Grossfeld, a photographer at The Boston Globe, shares photos of a different sort of icon,Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. And Claire Smith, a sports columnist for ThePhiladelphia Inquirer, updates the situation for women sports reporters and finds that issues suchas locker room access have been replaced by concerns about balancing work and family.Melissa Ludtke, a former Time correspondent, meshes personal and professionalperspectives to raise questions about “news” coverage of John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s plane crash.Bernice Buresh, a former Newsweek correspondent, points to the continuing absence ofnurses’ voices, experiences and research in the coverage of health care, and describes theconsequences of such inattention by journalists. Jean Chaisson, a nurse, raises some of the vitalquestions which reporters should be asking nurses about patient care.Edward M. Fouhy, a former top TV executive and now Editor of stateline.org, tells us what it’sbeen like for a long-time journalist to hook up with a much younger generation of “techies” tocreate a useful Web site for journalists covering state issues.Kevin Noblet, Deputy International Editor at the Associated Press, reminds us that in this eraof “new media,” not a lot has changed in the way news agency reporters do their jobs. Thetechnology might be changing, but how the job gets done isn’t so different from years ago.■38 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Journalist’s TradeIn Sports Reporting, When Does thePersonal Become News?Boundaries seem much harder to find and a lot easier to cross.By Tom WitoskyIwill never forget that morning backin April 1992 when the old masterlooked at me like I was nuts. BillKovach was telling me that USA Todayhad no business pushing the late ArthurAshe into disclosing that he was dyingfrom AIDS.That’s right. Kovach, the Curator ofthe Nieman Foundation and one ofstrongest defenders of hard-hitting,deep-digging reporting, told me thatUSA Today had gone too far. Funny,isn’t it? I guess all of us have our limits.To this day, it doesn’t take much to getme feeling teary-eyed when thinkingabout Ashe. This man was an icon ofwhat is good about sports at a timewhen money has trumped integrity andsuccess has become more importantthan excellence.Born black and poor, Ashe foughthis way over every kind of adversity tobecome one of the world’s most recognizedtennis players and a diplomat ofthe world. Then he became HIV positive—aresult of a blood transfusionduring surgery in 1983. He died onFebruary 6, 1993, from complicationsthat resulted from AIDS. It is ironic thatAshe’s greatest legacy might be thedignity he displayed as he was dyingfrom AIDS and his ability to convincemany who were reluctant to regard thisdisease as a public health issue to viewit as such. Ashe forced powerful people,including then-President George Bush,into looking at the disease as somethingother than the “gay plague.”It is worth asking whether any of thiswould have happened had USA Todaynot pushed Ashe into a situation inwhich he publicly disclosed his illness.Like other arenas of journalistic coverage(most notably politics), issuesinvolving privacy have been a part ofsports reporting for several decades.One of the most significant legal casesin the history of American journalisminvolved football coach Wally Butts,then the head coach at the University ofGeorgia. The U.S. Supreme Court heldthat The Saturday Evening Post libeledButts when it accused him of throwinga football game.The Post’s story had been based onsomeone thinking that he’d overheardButts discuss this at a pay telephone.Butts didn’t do it, but still the Postdidn’t have to pay Butts a dime. Buttswas determined to be a public figure,according to the Court. FootballToday it is difficult to pick up a sports sectionor watch a sporting event on TV withoutfinding some athlete’s privacy being invaded.coaches, it seems, are immune to libel.But should sports reporters probedeeper into a player’s or coach’s lifeaway from the athletic arena? Are thereacknowledged limits to coverage of thepersonal lives of sports figures at a timewhen President Clinton’s affair withMonica Lewinsky was front-page news?Gene Policinski, who was Sports Editorat USA Today when the Ashe storybroke, feels strongly that there areboundaries, but defining just wherethese boundaries are can be difficult.Policinski would set the boundary lineas being at a point that is as far asreporters can go in obtaining “a goodstory with legitimate news value.”“Arthur Ashe was a public figurewho was sick and was going to die,”said Policinski, who is now with theFreedom Forum. “The fact that it wasfrom AIDS really didn’t enter into thenews judgment. We would have goneafter it if it had been cancer.”Today it is difficult to pick up asports section or watch a sporting eventon TV without finding some athlete’sprivacy being invaded. During thisyear’s Wimbledon tennis coverage, thestory a lot of viewers will rememberwas not one that took place on thecourt, but rather the “news” being reportedabout Alexandra Stevenson’sfather. Turns out that she had beenraised by her mother, former Philadelphiasportswriter Samantha Stevenson.But it was not until she reached thesemifinals of Wimbledon that the mediarevealed that her father was formerbasketball star Julius Erving.Here’s how it happened. The FortLauderdale Sun-Sentinel found a birthcertificate that listed Erving as her father.Eventually, he confirmed he washer father, had provided financial supportto her and her mother, and methis daughter just one time. Not so longago these kinds of stories were grist forthe tabloid mill, but nowadays theyquickly surface in the mainstream press.When this “news” became public,Stevenson’s mother angrily denouncedNieman Reports / Fall 1999 39


Journalist’s Tradethe disclosure as “an unethical piece ofjournalism” and declared that “it shouldnot have happened.”Stevenson’s reaction appears a bitincredulous given her own forays intobreaking similar stories. Only onemonth earlier she had broken a story inThe New York Times about DamirDokic, the father of top tennis playerJelena Dokic. Stevenson reported thathe had been arrested for drunk anddisorderly behavior at a tennis tournamentin Birmingham, England.Did the Stevenson coverage represent“a good story with legitimate newsvalue” or does it provide another exampleof the sort of voyeurism that hasbecome all too prevalent today?Given how some tennis parents seemincapable of remaining in the background,it’s an easy judgment call tosuggest both stories were inside theline of legitimate news. Both DamirDokic and Samantha Stevenson haveused their children’s athletic prowessto draw public notoriety to themselves.To claim a privacy right after you participatein news conferences toutingyour daughter’s abilities or subject othersto boorish public behavior is almostlaughable.Some athletes, such as NBA bad boysDennis Rodman and Allen Iverson, invitescrutiny of their personal lives becauseof their behavior off the playingfield. Rodman, one of the bestrebounders in the game of basketball,has always willingly put himself in thepublic spotlight, whether it has beenon the basketball court or holding anews conference dressed in a weddinggown. Similarly, Iverson, now one ofthe top point guards in the NBA, hasnever refused to shake off his “gangsta”image that began when he playedcollegiately at Georgetown. Admittedly,other athletes are pulled into the notso-pleasantlimelight by events that takeplace in their personal lives, such as anathlete who “fathers” several childrenout of wedlock, another who is arrestedfor drunken driving, or a coachwho abuses his wife or girlfriend.There are other circumstances wherethe question about whether coverageis deserved is not so clear. An athlete’ssexual orientation is one of those areas.Sports Illustrated, in one of itsmany stories on the world championU.S. women’s national soccer team,couldn’t resist raising the questionabout lesbians on the team by quotingdefender Kate Sobrero’s wonderfullyoblique retort to a male follower whoasked if she was a lesbian. “No,” shereplied. “But my girlfriend is.”While a great quote and insightfulabout Sobrero’s poise and grace, thequestion about her sexual orientationseemed gratuitous.Another is private behavior thatnever becomes part of the publicrecord. Julius Erving didn’t deservehaving his relationship with SamanthaStevenson disclosed because he fulfilledhis responsibilities to support hisdaughter. Unfortunately for him,Samatha Stevenson made herself partof her daughter’s story. Her willingnessto throw stones while living in aglass house is what made her daughter’sstory fair game for other reporters topursue.Then there are the “rumor stories.”Several years ago, Wisconsin footballcoach Barry Alvarez had to deal withpublication on the Internet of scurrilousrumors about his personal life.These rumors resulted in a situation inwhich nearly every news outlet in thestate set out to determine if they weretrue. No reporter was able to confirmthem, but for weeks journalists delvedinto every part of the coach’s privatelife searching for anything to substantiatethe rumors.Alvarez won’t talk about this episode,but these kind of situations arebecoming more and more common asInternet sports bulletin boards are becomingmore infested with gossip andinnuendo. There isn’t a sports editoror reporter who doesn’t read thosebulletin boards, fearful that somethingvicious and personal will be postedand force them to investigate, eventhough the “news” has more likelihoodof being a snipe hunt than it doesof producing a legitimate story.How should sports reporters andeditors deal with these kinds of decisions?What follows is a series of questionsthat I think would be useful to ask.1. Would failure to report the storyindicate a bias on the part of thenewspaper or outlet?For years, writers and editors seemedmore interested in recounting the legendsabout sports figures than reportingthe more complicated stories aboutthe real people who played thesegames. Often they would look the otherway when athletes misbehaved. Clearlythat attitude has changed, even thoughthere remains criticism from readersand listeners who don’t like their “heroes”to be portrayed with their humanfoibles. Yet it is my firm belief that nosports reporter should place himselfor herself in the position of having toexplain why he or she did not write apotentially embarrassing story aboutan athlete if the news was judged to berelevant, important and legitimate.Simply put, athletes, coaches, sportsfigures and owners who play at topcompetitive levels are public figures.As a result, in today’s media marketplacewhat they do on and off the fieldseems likely to find its way into thestream of news. And this will probablyhappen whether or not the “news” hasany direct bearing on how these peopleperform in their jobs. This circumstanceis bemoaned by those who worry aboutwhat happens when more and morepeople’s privacy seems senselessly jeopardized.But in such a highly competitivenews environment, expect more,not fewer, such revelations.2. Is this a good thing?This question seems no longer relevant.With myriad media outlets, thereare always going to be reporters andeditors who believe strongly that disclosureis important either because itwill enhance ratings or circulation orbecause it merits journalistic scrutiny.Some newspapers and electronic mediaaren’t ever going to shy away fromthese kinds of stories. The rest maywait a day or two, but eventually thepressure to match what has been dis-40 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Journalist’s Tradeclosed becomes too great even for thosebothered by the intrusion into the privacyof a sports figure’s life.If reporters and editors shy awayfrom their tough job of striking a balancebetween fair reporting and legitimateinvasions of privacy, then theircredibility as gatekeepers of the newswill be damaged. The most importantobligation we have to the public is tobe an objective observer of the sportsindustry and its participants, ratherthan to act as a cheerleader for them.3. Is the “news” about a sports figure inthe public record?Private behavior becomes publiconce the cops are called or a lawsuit isfiled. However, reporters and editorsneed to assume their responsibility forilluminating the various sides of thestory instead of rushing to judgment bypublishing a headline that might sellmore papers but unfairly injure theathlete’s reputation. Given the hugeamount of money many professionalathletes make, it is more than possiblethat they are being set up or falselyaccused.4. Is the behavior or incident of suchsignificant importance that it providesan indication of the person’sjudgment and character?NBA star Charles Barkley has insistedfor many years that he is not arole model for any youngsters excepthis own children. The problem is thatBarkley’s insistence doesn’t alter thefact that top athletes have always beenviewed by children as heroes and probablyalways will be.Given the press scrutiny that theirpersonal lives and decision-making aresubjected to these days, the challengefor sports figures will be to perform aswell outside the playing arena as theydo in it. One thing is clear: In this newera of sports journalism—particularlywith the Internet playing such a pivotalrole—it will become “news” when theydon’t. ■Tom Witosky is sports projects reporterfor The Des Moines Registerand 1992 Nieman Fellow.Muhammad Ali Was a Rebel.Michael Jordan Is a Brand Name.In celebrating Jordan as a hero, are we merely worshipping capitalism?By Michael CrowleyMichael Jordan’s retirementfrom the NBA in January wasnot just a sports story but aninternational news event. His farewellpress conference was carried live onCNN, his face graced the front page ofThe New York Times, and when a WhiteHouse event overlapped with Jordan’sannouncement, even Bill Clinton notedthat “most of the cameras are somewhereelse.”Obviously, the hysteria had a lot todo with Jordan’s unrivaled mastery ofthe game. But the Jordan phenomenonis much bigger than his scoringtitles and six championship rings. Jordanhas transcended his on-courtachievements to become somethingmore: a ubiquitous corporate pitchmanwho hawks for giant companies likeCoke, McDonald’s and Nike, an entertainerwhose role in the movie “SpaceJam” helped it gross $450 million—insum, he is the world’s biggest celebrity.But he is even more than a celebrity.He is something much rarer: a hero.Jordan is almost universally adored,not just as a great player but as a manof honorable character. In a recentsurvey of Chinese students Jordan tiedwith Zhou Enlai as “the world’s greatestman.” The old Gatorade slogan “BeLike Mike” may be out of circulation,but the sentiment remains: Jordan isthe ultimate role model.Yet it might be worth pausing, in themidst of all this adulation, to ask justwhat kind of hero we have chosen.Some sports legends—Muhammad Ali,Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe—wererespected as much for their personalitiesand ideals as for their athletic prowess.And while he can match and perhapsexceed the athletic accomplishmentsof men such as these, Jordandoesn’t even compete when it comesto having a lasting, noncommercialimpact on society.The truth is that Jordan’s is not anespecially interesting personality. Hetends to be bland, never spontaneous,sometimes petulant, and often arrogant.He is ruthlessly competitive, althoughnot in the same comically endearingway as Ali. And Jordan has sofar been utterly disinterested in discoveringthe potential that a man of hisfame, wealth and stature possesses tomake the world even a slightly betterplace.Ultimately, what Jordan representsaren’t so much values as the capitalistprinciples of relentless competition andNieman Reports / Fall 1999 41


Journalist’s Tradethe bounty of total victory. He is amonument to the self. And with thestock market soaring and political participationplummeting, perhaps he isthe icon of our time.With virtually no dissent, the Americanmedia—and not just sportswriters—haveunquestioningly acceptedthe Jordan mythology. Dozens of newscommentators have proclaimed Jordanthe greatest basketball player of alltime, hands down, as if Wilt Chamberlainsomehow doesn’t count becausehe played before the advent of ESPN.But the hagiography extends beyondthe question and coverage of Jordan’sathletic abilities. It often seems thatJordan’s consistent ability to win hasworked to inflate our estimation of hischaracter.Because Jordan was nearly perfecton the court, there seemed to be adesire to find perfection in his characteras well. “What made Jordan specialwas his demanding code of personalexcellence,” The New York Times declared.Even a writeras wise as DavidHalberstam, for instance,can’t resistcalling Jordan the“most charismatic”player the game hasseen—apparently ignoringthe affable likes of CharlesBarkley, Magic Johnson, Walt Frazierand others, and embellishing Jordan’sbland persona.When Jordan flashed a less amicableside—when he reportedly called NewYork Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy a“fucking hockey puck,” for instance—the press tended to chuckle and dismissit. Critical assessments of Jordanseemed to be off-limits. And why was itthat only Time magazine and one Milwaukeenewspaper ran a story about awoman who filed a paternity suit againstJordan last year?Admittedly, Jordan has taken hislumps in the media, most notably whenstories emerged several years ago abouthis gambling habits. But it’s plainlyevident that members of the medianever really questioned whether Jordanis everything an American heroshould be.42 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999Looking Beneath Jordan’sCommercial PersonaAlthough he was deservedly praisedas a decent guy with a common touchwith lesser mortals, Jordan’s personalityhas always been rather bland. Farless colorful than several of his contemporaries,Jordan inevitably spokein throwaway clichés and hollow jockjargon. At his brief retirement pressconference, Jordan was his typicallybanal self, using variations of the word“challenge” 20 times. He may have illuminatedour understanding of the sportwith deeds, but never with words.And although the NBA and his corporatepatrons, including the Disneycorporation, created a gentle, smilingand gracious persona for Jordan, thiswasn’t always the case. Jordan was,undoubtedly, polite to the media andhis fans, graceful and composed inpublic. But he had a darker side, oneexplored in Sam Smith’s 1992 book“The Jordan Rules” (Pocket Books).Because Jordan was nearly perfect onthe court, there seemed to be a desire tofind perfection in his character as well.Smith depicted Jordan as selfish, arrogant,obsessed with statistics, and disparagingto his teammates, whom heonce referred to as “my supportingcast.” Over the years he never hesitatedto yell at teammates who failed to passhim the ball. As recently as a 1998 NBAFinals game, Jordan shouted at Bullsforward Scottie Pippen for not passinghim the ball—after Pippen had draineda game-tying three-pointer.His Airness is also a famously thinskinnedfellow. Criticism is often causefor massive retaliation, as Sports Illustratedlearned after it published a 1993article mocking his ill-fated stint as abaseball player. Jordan stopped talkingto reporters from the magazine foryears; some editors even believe thatJordan intentionally leaked word of hisretirement just after that week’s editionof SI had gone to press.Jordan’s sharp edges seem to growfrom his intense competitive drive,which has been the object of muchawed admiration. But it was often excessiveby any standards. Never famousfor sportsmanship, Jordan was one ofthe nastiest trash-talkers of his day, andhe loved to humiliate his rivals. As hisformer coach Doug Collins once said,“He wants to cut your heart out andthen show it to you.” Nor was he graciousin losing. He was known to petulantlysweep the pieces off a boardgame when things weren’t going hisway. Halberstam writes that in collegeJordan frigidly refused to speak to anassistant coach who had beaten himrepeatedly in pool and even cheated atgolf. “If you challenge him,” TorontoRaptors coach and former player DarrellWalker told The Toronto Star last year,“he can be a very vindictive person.”This apparent pathology may explainthe taste for high-stakes gamblingthat is the one real blotch onJordan’s sterling reputation. Jordan admittedin 1992 to paying$165,000 in poker and golfdebts to a pair of unsavorycharacters, one of whomwas later murdered. And aformer golfing partnerwrote a book claiming thatMichael had lost $1.25 millionon the links in 10 days.(A penitent Jordan admitted bettingwith the man but said the figures hadbeen exaggerated.) Rumors still lingerthat Jordan’s debts were a factor in hisstartling first “retirement” in 1993—some suggest that the league insistedhe lay low for a while.Jordan’s obsession with victory—however meaningless, be it in golf orcards—is hailed as an inspiring exampleof his personal excellence. Yet even hisfather wondered about this side of Jordan.“My son doesn’t have a gamblingproblem,” James Jordan once said. “Hehas a competition problem.”Keeping His Distance FromSocial IssuesDespite his ever-growing wealth andinfluence, Jordan has never shown


Journalist’s Trademuch interest in shaping the worldthat lies at his feet. He carefully dodgedany political issue that might have jeopardizedhis family-friendly image. Whenasked in 1992 about the Rodney Kingriots in Los Angeles, for instance, Jordanlamely replied: “I need to knowmore about it.” He refused to take aside in the tight 1990 North CarolinaSenate race in which Jesse Helms, despisedby many blacks, was challengedby a black man, Harvey Gantt. Approachedby Gantt’s campaign, Jordandeclined to get involved, reportedlyoffering this explanation: “Republicansbuy sneakers, too.”That statement is quintessential Jordan.Jordan has remained devoutlyapolitical. He has never used his platformto pursue social or politicalchange; indeed, he’s gone out of hisway to play it safe. This is, of course,precisely how the corporations he endorseswant it. Politics and successfulmarketing don’t mix. (Jordan has recentlybeen quietly supporting Democraticpresidential candidate Bill Bradley,but that appears to be a favor toJordan’s former coach and Bradley palPhil Jackson.)Informed punditry may be too muchto expect of pro athletes. Yet Jordanhas also dodged matters over which hehas a more direct influence. As innercityleaders decried the $150 price tagon his Nike Air Jordan sneakers, whichare targeted at the kids who can leastafford them, Jordan never spoke up.By contrast, in 1996 NBA forward ChrisWebber publicly feuded with Nikeabout the cost of shoes it sold in hisname.Better known is Jordan’s shouldershrugover Nike’s allegedly exploitativelabor practices in Southeast Asia. Jordanfirst said it wasn’t his problem, butlater said he would travel to Asia, explainingthat “if it’s an issue of slaveryor sweatshops, [Nike executives] haveto revise the situation.” Yet even afteracknowledging the specter of “slavery,”Jordan never made the trip.Yes, he has done his share of goodworks. Jordan has donated millions tocharity and to his alma mater, the Universityof North Carolina. Every year hevisits with dozens of dying childrenwhose last wish it is to meet him. Ifthere’s a heaven, he will surely be rewardedthere. But there are still placesof hell on Earth and much more Jordancould do with his money and power.Yet he has made no deeper effort totake advantage of his unique culturalpedestal.Jordan’s avoidance of social issueshasn’t escaped criticism. Several wellknownpro athletes—including suchblack champions as Arthur Ashe, JimBrown and Hank Aaron—have knockedJordan for being politically aloof. “He’smore interested in his image for hisshoe deals than he is in helping hisown people,” Brown said of Jordan in1992.Asked in January whether he wouldbecome more politically active nowthat he’s retired, Jordan answered: “Ican’t save the world by no means.” Butthere’s plenty of room between savingthe planet and doing nothing. Jordanmight, as Brown has, insist on moreblacks in sports management. Or, asJesse Jackson does, he could press formore corporate hiring and investmentin black communities. Or he couldJust as Ali was a symbol for the social andpolitical energy of his day, so Jordan stands forthe apathy and commercialism of our times.sponsor ads reminding kids that schoolis a safer route to success than basketball.Or he could speak out againsthandguns with the moral authority of aman whose father was killed by one.In fairness, Jordan is no exceptionamong his contemporaries. His equivalentsin other sports—Tiger Woods,Ken Griffey, Jr., Mark McGwire—aren’tknown for their political engagement,either. But it’s not unheard-of for modern-dayathletes to take political stands.His outspoken Bulls teammate CraigHodges once showed up at a WhiteHouse ceremony in a dashiki with aletter for George Bush on the plight ofthe inner cities. “I can’t go and just bein an Armani suit and not say shit,”Hodges later told The Village Voice.In 1993, NBA forward OldenPolynice staged a hunger strike to protestU.S. policy toward his native Haiti.Though they were second-tier players,both Hodges and Polynice drew nationalmedia coverage nevertheless.Imagine what Michael Jordan could dowith a single television ad or pressconference! As Jesse Jackson told TheWashington Post in 1996: “If [sportsstars] can sell these wares with thepower of their personas, they also cansell civic responsibility with the powerof their personas.”And the fact remains that Jordan isnot the same as Tiger Woods or MarkMcGwire. No one else has achieved hisglobal stature, his corporate clout.In the end, perhaps Michael Jordansimply reflects our times in much theway that Muhammad Ali epitomizedthe values of the 1960’s. Just as Ali wasa symbol for the social and politicalenergy of his day, so Jordan stands forthe apathy and commercialism of ourtimes. Ali was a rebel. Jordan is a brandname. After all, a recorded message atJordan’s personal office informs callersthat “the majority of Michael Jordanfan mail and autograph requests willbe acknowledged by Nike, Inc.”So perhaps in worshipping MichaelJordan we are celebrating nothing lessthan capitalism itself. The winner takesall, and we cheer wildly. Perhaps societywill never idolize underpaid idealistsand clumsy altruists the way it elevatessports titans like Michael Jordan.But whatever happened to the oldmaxim that winning isn’t everything? ■Michael Crowley is a reporter for TheBoston Globe.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 43


Journalist’s TradeWho Were You, Joe DiMaggio?He was an ‘icon of icons’ about whom little was known.By David HalberstamIn October 1965, Gay Talese, a youngwriter recently departed from themore confining pages of The NewYork Times, suggested to his editors atEsquire that the next piece he wantedto write was about Joe DiMaggio.DiMaggio was by then the mythic baseballhero to two generations of Americans,a figure of epic proportions, albeitan almost completely unexaminedone, and Talese wanted to do a portraitof DiMaggio some fourteen years afterhis last game. What happens, Talesewondered, to a great figure after thecheering stops, and what kind of manwas DiMaggio anyway? He knew thelegend but not the man, and DiMaggiohad always been treated by writers as alegend rather than a man. Off he set forSan Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf, andthe DiMaggio family restaurant. Itwould turn out to be the perfect unionof reporter, magazine, and subjectmatter at a critical time in the history ofnonfiction journalism….What came through in Talese’s workwas a kind of journalism verité, reportingprofoundly influenced by cinemaverite—the reporter as camera. Americannonfiction journalism was changingat an accelerating rate in thosedays, and Esquire in the early sixtieswas very much the leader in the changestaking place, the magazine where youngrestless writers wanting to challengethese archaic professional formulaswere coming together under the talentedleadership of two exceptionaleditors, Harold Hayes and ClayFelker….In addition the subject, DiMaggio,was perfect—because of the almostunique degree of difficulty he presentedto the writer, for in truth he was a manwho could not be reported on with anydegree of accuracy under the old rules.The premise of what both Talese andHayes were pushing at, and what wouldeventually be called the New Journalism,demanded a new journalistic realism,and at its best it stripped away thefacade with which most celebrities protectedthemselves as they presentedthemselves to the public. In this newkind of journalism just coming of agethe journalist was able to see thesecelebrities as they really were, not asthey had so carefully presented themselvesover the years.And perhaps no celebrity was a bettersubject for that kind of reportingthan Joe DiMaggio. At that moment heremained not merely in the world ofsports, but to all Americans, a kind oficon of icons, the most celebrated athleteof his age, the best big game playerof his era and a man who because of hisdeeds, looks and marriage to the actressMarilyn Monroe, had transcendedthe barriers of sports in terms of thebreadth of his fame. But in journalisticterms, he remained a man about whoma great deal had been written but also,about whom very little real reportinghad ever been done, and about whomvery little was known.Because the Yankees almost alwayswon and because DiMaggio was thebest player on those dominating teamsand played with a certain athletic elegance(in the media capital of theworld no less), and because it was adecidedly less iconoclastic era, he hadalways been treated with great delicacyby an adoring New York and thus nationalpress corps. The essential portraitof DiMaggio which had emergedover the years was of someone as attractiveand graceful off the field as hewas on it. DiMaggio had rather skillfullycontributed to this image—he wasextremely forceful and icy in his controlof his own image, as attentive andpurposeful in controlling it as he wasin excelling on the field, and he quicklyand ruthlessly cut off any reporter whothreatened to go beyond the acceptedjournalistic limits. Those limits were,of course, set by Joe DiMaggio. At thesame time he was deft at offering justenough access—access under whichhe set all the ground rules—to a fewfavored reporters and he was particularlygood with a number of columnistswho were unusually influential in thosedays, most notably Jimmy Cannon, thenof the New York Post, who often hungout with him. If you were influentialenough, you were on occasion allowedto pal around with him, but if youpalled around with him, you could notwrite about what he did or said whenyou palled around together. Over theyears Cannon and a handful of othershad created an image of a graceful,admirable, thoroughly likeableDiMaggio. No one had ever been allowedenough access to dispute thatimage.Yet the truth among those who knewhim relatively well was somewhat different:he was said (privately by peoplewho did not want to go on the record)to be an unusually self-absorbed man,suspicious, often hostile, and largelydevoid of charm….Talese in time showed up to meetwith him. DiMaggio, it turned out, wasnot happy to see him despite his earlierpromise, and for several days did notreturn his phone calls. After almost aweek of waiting, his calls still unanswered,Talese set off for the DiMaggiofamily restaurant. What happenedthen—DiMaggio’s almost lethal rejectionof him—is what makes the pieceso powerful—DiMaggio, dodging himin the restaurant and then calling himon the phone—both of them still insidethe restaurant: “You are invadingmy rights. I did not ask you to come. I44 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Journalist’s Tradeassume you have a lawyer, you musthave a lawyer, get your lawyer!” All ofthis was shouted at him by one of themost famous and most admired men inAmerica. It is the reader as well as thewriter who feels buffeted and beatenup at this point, the reader who, likethe writer, has dropped in on a muchadmired hero, ready to like him evenmore but finds that he is a very ordinaryand not particularly likeable man;it is the reader who has his face slappedin the piece. The particulars seem toflow from that first scene, DiMaggioangrily handing back the letter he hadwritten about an interview they hadagreed on, the letter still unopened.Talese, it should be noted, did notbend under DiMaggio’s assault. Hemanaged to ask for permission to hangout with Lefty O’Doul, an old DiMaggiopal and the most independent of themen around him. DiMaggio assented,and through O’Doul, Talese finallybegan to connect to DiMaggio and hisinner group. What we end up with is anevocative portrait of a great ballplayerlong after his last game is over, and wehave a powerful sense of his lonelinessand his essential separation from almosteveryone around him….…I still believe this is the best magazinepiece I ever have read….Talese’s…impact on his contemporarieswas simply stunning, and here Ispeak not merely for my generationbut for myself. I can remember distinctlyreading the DiMaggio piece—itwas the spring of 1966 and I was stillworking in the Paris bureau of TheNew York Times after being expelledfrom Eastern Europe—I simply devouredit. By the time I finished readingit I had decided to get out of dailyjournalism. That one piece, it struckme, was worth everything I had writtenin the past year. Within a year I had leftthe Times to become a contract magazinereporter for Willie Morris atHarper’s, an editor who was trying toemulate what Harold Hayes and a numberof other editors were then doingwith what had been up until then arather stodgy magazine.It strikes me that the Talese piecereflects a number of things that weretaking place in American journalism atthe time—some twenty years after theend of World War II. The first thing isthat the level of education was goingup significantly, both among writersand among readers. That mandatedbetter, more concise writing. It alsomeant that because of a burgeoningand growing paperback market, theeconomics of the profession were gettingbetter: self-employed writers weredoing better financially and could takemore time to stake out a piece. In theprevious era, a freelance writer had toscrounge harder to make a living, fightingconstantly against the limits of time,more often than not writing pieces heor she did not particularly want towrite in order to subsidize the one ortwo pieces the writer did want to do….The DiMaggio piece took some sixweeks of legwork. By contrast some ofhis lineal successors picked up the formbut not the substance of what he did;they did not put in the man hours, andas such their work was always notablythinner, and seemed to lack the densityand thus the grace of his work. ■From the book “The Best AmericanSports Writing of the Century,” editedby David Halberstam, serieseditor Glenn Stout. Introduction© 1999 by David Halberstam. Reprintedby permission of HoughtonMifflin Company. All rights reserved.Restricting a Photojournalist’s AccessThe Red Sox tried to stop pictures of Fenway Park from being published.By Stan GrossfeldFenway Park, the oldest ballparkin the major leagues, is borderedby five Boston streets, and onecould make a case that the ball clubthinks of its house as the Pentagon ofBoston sports. Perhaps that is why thosewho own the team—the Red Sox—thatplays inside its walls were so protectiveof it, to the point of taking away accesswe normally have as journalists.“Fenway—A Biography in Words andPictures” initially was conceived as anarticle for The Boston Globe’s SundayMagazine. Under those conditions, theRed Sox granted considerable accessso that with my camera I could recordunique views. However, when theproject became a book for HoughtonMifflin, Red Sox management decidedthat they were uncomfortable with an“unauthorized” biography of theirhome and asked the publisher not topublish the book. They argued that thecommercial sale of images of the parkbelong to them. And they didn’t wantany sentimental reminder of Fenwayaround at the time they announcedplans for a new ballpark.To its credit, Houghton Mifflin—aFenway Park luxury box client of theRed Sox—went ahead with the project.This meant that I had to figure out waysto take photographs despite restrictionsput on my ability to take picturesinside the park.Upon publication, the Red Sox refusedto allow any book interviews totake place inside the ballpark. Even ifwe couldn’t talk about the book atFenway Park, the Sox management did.The Red Sox use an excerpt from ourbook in their official pamphlet to promotetheir proposal for a new ballparkto replace Fenway Park. Red Sox CEOJohn Harrington also quoted from theNieman Reports / Fall 1999 45


Journalist’s Tradebook when addressing the nationalmedia at an All Star press conference atFenway Park. This event took place onthe day his public relations staff told“CBS Morning News” that its reportersand cameras would not be allowed inFenway for a book interview.Although the Red Sox objected to aphotograph of catcher Scott Hattebergusing the ancient urinal in the runwaybetween the dugout and the clubhouse,and at least one star player wonderedwhy he didn’t receive money for havinghis picture in the book, the Red Soxmanagement purchased copies andgave them out as gifts.■Photographer Stan Grossfeld andsportswriter Dan Shaughnessy bothwork at The Boston Globe and arethe authors of “Fenway—A Biographyin Words and Pictures,”Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Grossfeld isa 1992 Nieman Fellow.Photos by Stan Grossfeldfrom“Fenway—A Biographyin Words and Pictures.”46 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Women Sportswriters Confront New IssuesNo longer focused on locker room access, work and family challenges prevail.By Claire SmithJournalist’s TradeThe sports world, which likes itsentertainment untainted by realworldissues, seldom acceptsprogress without a prod. Its participants,frighteningly disconnected fromthe world around them, too often don’teven realize the currents, issues andchanging times roiling society.This is why I had to smile at the wayin which a handful of black baseballplayers wrestled with baseball’s recordof intolerance after Al Campanis exposedthe game’s dirty little mindseton race in 1987. Campanis, then theGeneral Manager of the Dodgers,shocked the sports world by opiningon national television that blacks lacked“the necessities” to hold certain managementpositions much the way theylacked buoyancy, ergo no black JohnnieWeismullers.The ’87 season that was to serve as aplacid but benign celebration of JackieRobinson’s breaking of baseball’s colorbarrier was awash with controversyfrom day one. This much I knew as Istood in a major-league baseball stadiumwaiting to begin my sixth yearcovering the New York Yankees forThe Hartford Courant.Dave Winfield, the Yankees’ all-starright fielder and future Hall of Famer,called to me prior to the season opener.Whispering conspiratorially, Winfield—an African-American—informed methat he and the other black players onthe team had been discussing theCampanis incident when they reachedwhat apparently was a startling conclusion.The players realized, Winfield said,that not only was I a woman, but African-Americanas well! The newly discovereddistinction would assuredlyearn for me a greater degree of cooperationfrom “the brothers,” not tomention a scoop or two, Winfield declaredwith great solemnity and solidarity.I had to smile. For the first time ever,being African-American had finally overshadowedmy other lonely outpost:standing sentry as one of the fewwomen reporters to work in the majorleaguepress boxes. In 1987, there wereprecious few women covering majorleaguebaseball; you could count themon one hand. When I left the nationalbaseball beat in 1998, my departurebrought the number of women holdingthat job to zero. However, womenin increasing numbers do cover Olympicsports, college athletics, tennis andmen’s and women’s basketball.I have never claimed to be in the firstwave of either African-Americans orwomen to cover professional teamsports in America. Wendell Smith, SamLacy and other members of traditionallyAfrican-American news organizationsstarted the long, torturously slowjourney from the colored sections ofthe bleachers to the press boxes themoment Robinson took the lead on thefield for the Brooklyn Dodgers.As for women, the walls came tumblingdown in the 1970’s when thecourts agreed with the contention thatprofessional sports teams had no rightto deny women journalists equal access.Pioneer reporters such as MaryGarber had covered sports for decadeswhile handicapped by arcane rules limitingtheir contact with male athletes.Syndicated columnist Elinor Kaine andMelissa Ludtke of Sports Illustratedwere the first to successfully argue fortheir right to walk through locker roomdoors in order to fully do their jobs.Tracy Dodds, Diane K. Shah, Jane Gross,Melanie Hauser, Mary Schmidt followed,trailblazers who, like Robinson,changed perceptions in the workplaceand in life in extraordinary fashion justby insisting they be treated in ordinarybut fair fashion.Today, there are by some countswell over 500 women working in theonce male-dominated worlds of sportsmedia as well as for pro teams, leaguesand sports-related industries, thoughstill relatively few of these women arebeat reporters covering major leagueteams. Each year hundreds attend thenational convention of the Associationfor Women in Sports Media (AWSM),which was founded in 1987.The fact that women have come ofage in these traditionally male industriesisn’t so much seen in the fact thatan organization such as AWSM exists,but rather that locker room access (andthe attitudes and behavior of the athletes)is no longer the dominant subjectat AWSM gatherings. The recedinghot-button topic of the 1980’s has beenreplaced by issues such as jugglingwork and family responsibilities, managingfinances, and attempting to securequality of life in the midst of whatthis line of work demands.The career path of a sportswriterusually means traveling with teams andspending more time in hotel roomsthan at home. And for young womenwho enter this profession there canalso be the culture shock of learning tosocialize and coexist in a male-orientedworld without losing their sense ofself.I found that insisting on the right toretire to one’s room on the road oftensaved my sanity, even when it came atthe expense of scoops such as when Imissed one of Billy Martin’s many latenight barroom incidents. Just as I madeit clear early on that I didn’t hang out inbars, later in my career I’ve made itobvious that my family life comes first.Male beat writers with families usuallyhave built-in child care in the formof a wife. Working mothers, especiallythose of us who are single, have twofull-time jobs, both rewarding, bothdemanding. The job and the childrenNieman Reports / Fall 1999 47


Journalist’s Tradecontinually pull in opposite directions,a tug-of-war without end. Many womenleave the more arduous beats, if notthe profession completely, because theycan’t fight this battle any longer. Manyof my peers chose a route similar tomine, striving to write a column or domagazine work—jobs with more downtimefrom travel and night games, theenemies of normal life and families.AWSM’s forums give women achance to explore such issues and acceptwithout guilt career choices thatothers might not ever understand; mymother still wonders what went wrongbecause I left The New York Times forThe Philadelphia Inquirer. Nothingwent wrong. Everything went right,because I have more quality time withmy 11-year-old son, something muchmore important than location of mybyline at this stage of my life.Unfortunately, the complex issuesof today have not completely replacedthe other lingering issue: life on thesports beat for women reporters. Thedifficulties first faced by the pioneerfemale reporters who were literallybarred at the door still exist in somelatent forms. Still, press boxes too oftenremain a mostly male bastion. Thereare still pockets of resistance amongathletes despite the fact that leagueshave long-established access policiesthat allow for designated interviewtimes after cooling-off (read that disrobing)periods. Just this past spring,Reggie White, a former defensive linemanwith the Green Bay Packers, wrotein The Wall Street Journal that femalejournalists should not have access tothe locker rooms of male athletes.His article gained notoriety when itreached all the way to the NationalBasketball Association. New YorkKnicks guard Charlie Ward seeminglyquestioned the long-established policiesof one of the most traditionallyopen-minded leagues when he passedout copies of White’s comments to histeammates. Ward later denied he wascampaigning for a change in the NBA’saccess policies. Rather, he said, he felta need to discuss the issue during aplayers’ prayer meeting because, Wardsaid, as a Christian he felt uncomfortabledressing in front of any womanwho was not his wife.Ward, who has access to areas oflocker rooms that are off-limits to reportersand is also the beneficiary of allthose cooling-off post-game minutes,nonetheless fed a misconception asold as the issue of women in the lockerroomdebate. He attached a sexualconnotation to journalism assignments.(Sleeping with sources is no more thegoal than it should be an issue.) Theday the first reporter left the press boxto seek the raw emotions of athletesfollowing victories or defeats, lockerrooms ceased being just changingrooms and sanctuaries. Rather, clubhousesbecame a common groundwhere teams, players and the mediaconspire to sell a product, be it a game,a newspaper or a broadcast, by puttinga human face on sports.Women reporters, simply stated,want and demand the opportunity toreport on human dimensions of sportsjust as their male counterparts do. But,do women reporters bring a differentapproach, whether covering the WashingtonRedskins or the White House? Isevery affront gender-based or wouldthat politician, pitcher or big-screenstar be just as likely to blow off a maleas he would a female reporter? Arethere different rules for professionalconduct then those that apply to “TheBoys on the Bus?”Any attempt to supply absolute answersto such questions flirts with stereotyping,something that should beanathema to women who have had tofight such prejudices from the momentwe stepped into the clubhouse.That said, two subtle differences havealways fascinated me: the greater cooperationreceived from minority athletesand the good working relationshipsthat are often found amongreporters and the athletes’ wives.When I first began covering baseballI always assumed that the good rapportwith the Dave Winfields of the sportmight be because I was black. Toomany women of all hues have sincepointed out this greater degree of cooperation,leading me to suspect thatthis has less to do with my race. No onecould really explain this feeling untilthe former football great, Ronnie Lott,addressed the issue at the first AWSMconvention. Many black athletes commiseratedwith the female reporterswho covered them, Lott said, becauseblacks understood what it was like towalk into a room and be instantly hated.As for the wives of athletes, GretchenRandolph, wife of former Yankees secondbaseman Willie Randolph, oncedispelled the notion that players’ wiveswere all resentful of the women whocovered their husbands’ teams. Rather,she said, she found more understandingfor the players’ family and for herselfamong women. Men, she said,would call at all hours, often withoutapology, whereas women reporterswho called would often inquire as towhether they were disrupting dinneror apologize about the lateness of thehour. Most important, Gretchen said,were the questions about how she andher children were faring, an indicationthat they mattered to the reporter.Gretchen Randolph’s explanation saida lot about self-worth and how othersinfluence it.Just as girls growing up today canenvision themselves as world championsoccer stars so, too, more andmore aspire to sports writing jobs thatwere not imagined as possible by previousgenerations of women. But evenas they dream, the realities of this job—the travel, the constant deadlines, theunpredictable hours, and workplacedemands—continue to challenge thissecond tier of women pioneers. Theseissues might not make headlines, aslocker room access did, but they arethe same challenges women confronttoday in all professions. In fact, what issomewhat comforting is that unlikethe 1970’s, when our male colleaguesdidn’t wrestle with the issues we did,nowadays many of the men are searchingfor some of the same answers thatwe are in trying to balance family lifewith professional obligations.■Claire Smith, the mother of one son,joined The Philadelphia Inquirer asa sports columnist in 1998 aftercovering major-league baseball for17 years for The Hartford Courantand The New York Times.48 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Can Anybody Find News Here?In Hyannis Port, nobody could. But ‘news’ was delivered, anyway.Journalist’s TradeBy Melissa LudtkeWhen I was a child, PresidentKennedy and his family livednearby. In the summer, Icould always tell it was Friday night bythe sound and sight of a fire engineroaring down the street to prepare forthe President’s arrival. I knew that in afew minutes the helicopter carryinghim would touch down on the lawnoutside his parent’s house. Many times,even if my dinner was on the table, I’dhead out the door and run down thestreet so I could be there when hearrived.Sometimes the President would tossa football to children gathered behindthe short white picket fence that markedthe closest spot from which we wereallowed to watch. Or as he came up theprivate road he’d be driving a golf cartloaded with kids from his extendedfamily and we’d run alongside as theywent to the candy store a block away.I can remember that as a child thesemoments seemed special, even onthose occasions when all we did waswatch his helicopter touch down.This past July, when that President’sson, along with his wife and sister-inlaw,died on their way to this destination,this short white picket fence againbecame the boundary for those whowanted to witness what was happeningat the other end of this small privateroad.This time, however, those who cameto bear witness arrived not on bicyclesor foot. These witnesses arrived in hugetrucks displaying enormous satellitedishes and towering antennas. Out ofthe trucks came portable video cameraswith powerful telephoto lenses,and big fat microphones, and miles ofcolored wires that followed the humanoccupants like snakes as they foundtheir way to a spot at the side of theshort white picket fence.In all, about 50 of these giant trucksHuge TV trucks parked near the Hyannis Port pier to transmit words and images to theworld. Photo by Melissa Ludtke.set up business on the narrow streetsof this village, their engines hummingloudly and their lights blaring brightlyas days kept turning into nights. Theirsize made it difficult for the peoplewho lived in this village to pass by. Andalong the short white picket fence,hundreds of people with badges danglingfrom around their necks to signifymembership in the community ofjournalists kept 24-hour-a-day vigils asthey waited for something to happen atthe other end of this road.On Sunday afternoon, the day afterthe plane disappeared, my usual midafternoonwalk to the pier unearthedanother cluster of cameras, lights andmicrophones. Dug in on the beach—asclose as it was possible for them to beto this private pier—were people holdingvideo cameras jockeying for spotswith photographers dangling multiplecameras, some with lenses that musthave been as long as my arm. As Iwalked back from the end of the pier,I could not avoid staring into this sea ofcameras and imagining what it mustfeel like when they are raised in unisonand their loud clicking motor drivesswitched on as photographers strainedto get “the picture.”It didn’t take long for me to see theresults of this pier-side vigil. Back in myliving room, on the TV, was video ofseveral members of the Kennedy familywalking up the pier, their headsdown, eyes averted from the cameras,returning from a sail. The next daynewspapers had photos from the walk.I am not sure what any of this told anyof us except perhaps that these familymembers were sad.And so it went in Hyannis Port fornearly a week while news directors andeditors back home decided there wouldbe news emanating from this road. Butwhat “news” would their on-site reportersfind here when family mem-Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 49


Journalist’s Tradebers made it abundantly clearthat grieving would be done inprivate? From early on, it shouldhave been apparent that therewould be no personal testimonialsrecorded near this shortwhite picket fence. And whenword did come from the family,the statement was widelycirculated by SenatorKennedy’s office. If there wasnews to be had about the rescue-turned-recoveryoperation,then that information was goingto surface about 20 milesaway, where the National TransportationSafety Board andCoast Guard held briefings toexplain what their search wasrevealing.But still the cameras, producersand revolving cast ofon-air “talent” remained nextto the short white picket fence,now crowded behind policebarricades on a public streetthat their presence made impassable.Network news “stars”came and went so they, too,could use, as a backdrop fortheir words, this silent roadwhere Kennedy homes nowhad window shades drawnagainst spying eyes of telephoto lenses.Impressive as this technology mightbe that can transport an audience directlyto a scene such as this, if whatviewers take away are impressions fromreporters who have no news to impart,then is having this technology reasonenough to use it and pretend its productis news? Or are pictures of Kennedyhomes, and occasionally their occupantscoming and going in cars orgathering for a private mass under atent in their yard, enough in this era ofcelebrity journalism to qualify as anemerging definition of “news”? Or isthe unquestioned commercial successof instantaneous voyeurism enough toconvince reporters that “the people’sright to know” (or more accuratelythese days, “the people’s right to see”)always trumps “the individual’s rightto privacy”?In her book, “The Right to Privacy,”(co-authored with Ellen Alderman)50 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999Members of the press set up camp next to the short whitepicket fence. Photo by Melissa Ludtke.Caroline Kennedy helps us to at leastunderstand what it is that we, as journalists,pit our Constitutional right tofree speech against when stories suchas this one surface. In her book shewrites about a Harvard Law Reviewarticle, written by Louis D. Brandeisand Samuel D. Warren. It put forth arevolutionary legal concept, the originsof which were prompted byWarren’s outrage when details from afamily wedding appeared in the gossipcolumns. The arguments these two menset forth, Kennedy informs us, are creditedwith creating “the right to privacy,”a legal right that can be used instate courts but should never be confusedwith any Constitutional right.Warren and Brandeis defined their newlegal term as “the right to be let alone.”Prophetically, what these two menworried about in this article as the 19thCentury was ending has come to passduring the 20th. Society, they warned,would become more complexand technology more intrusiveand, as these two things occurred,the need to protect individualprivacy would becomeeven more urgent.Certainly this is so. We feel itin every aspect of our lives. Weare concerned when we hearabout someone’s financial andmedical records landing in unscrupuloushands. Or when welearn that private messages sentelectronically have been readby a strange set of eyes. Orwhen someone steals from uswords spoken on a telephone.These circumstances alert us tothe fact that something wemight not have realized was soprecious might be in the processof being taken away.Maintaining what is personalas private is becoming one ofthe huge challenges each of usfaces as technological advancesthreaten to obliterate walls thatonce seemed secure around us.And this challenge exists as wellfor those of us whose job it is torecord the events of our timeand convey images and newsabout them back to viewers andreaders. Part of having the freedomswe do—those rights that the press inthis country should and do possess—means that professional judgmentshould be applied so that we demonstratewisdom and responsibility inprotecting the precious from what can,too quickly, turn pernicious.Writing in Nieman Reports in 1948,the First Amendment scholar ZechariahChafee said, “The press is a sort of wildanimal in our midst—restless, gigantic,always seeking new ways to use itsstrength.” Responding to those wordsnearly 50 years later, Caroline Kennedywrites, “When the [press] uses itsstrength to uncover government corruptionor lay bare a public lie, it is thecountry’s watchdog. But when the animalroams into our cherished privatesphere, it seems to turn dangerous andpredatory. Then we, Americans, turnon the press. We want a free press, wesay, but not that free.”


Journalist’s TradeAmericans already inform pollstersthat they are turning on the press.Trust in it is eroding. Even journalists,when asked, reply that standards areslipping. In a 1999 survey by the Committeeof Concerned Journalists, morethan two-thirds of the journalists querieddescribed as a “valid criticism” thebelief that there has been serious erosionof the boundary between reportingand commentary. Most membersof the press agree, however, that whatdistinguishes their profession is its contributionto society, its ability to provide“people with information theyneed,” according to the Committee’sreport.But in today’s marketplace—wherenews competition comes from cableupstarts which have no journalistic heritageand managementat every stationkeeps watchfuleyes on the newsdepartment’s bottomline—workingjournalists privatelylament news decisions,but follow orders to set up campat places like the short white picketfence. Then they talk, even when theyhave no information to pass along thatpeople need to know.Nevertheless, the bosses back homeare heartened when ratings come in.People watched, the numbers tell them,in greater volume than might ever havebeen imagined. Switch away from thisscene, with its quiet backdrop of oceanand the occasional glimpses of famous,sad faces, and viewers turn to findsimilar images somewhere else. Suchwas the lesson once again learned duringthat week’s coverage.Yet not everyone thinks that thislesson, taught by numbers, is the onemost essential for news executives tolearn. Letter writers to The BostonGlobe provided a different teachingtool. “It is now time for the media toleave the famous compound,” one observed.“There is no news there to behad. Repair the damage, depart thegrounds, leave the Kennedys alone.Their private moments, now and forever,are by definition not newsworthy.”Another correspondent linkedblame to cause: “The networks willhide behind the people’s right-to-knowargument, but the truth is that theyhave exploited a tragic accident fortheir own benefit. And why should webe surprised?… For them, it’s just anothersensational day at the office.”And a third wrote, “According to thepress, there is a vested public interestin camping out en masse in front of theKennedy family home and in usingtelephoto lenses to capture privatemoments.”So how is it that journalists who careabout what they want to be and do canreconcile what their profession mightbe becoming in its willingness toquench the public’s thirst for celebrityand do so in the name of “news?”Clearly, individual journalists, when…at those many moments when there isnothing to say, resist the urge to talk and,consequently, say nothing.faced with such an assignment andbills to pay at home, are unlikely toargue that “news” lies elsewhere andthat is where they want to be. For eachone who might try, 10 others would beon their way to the short white picketfence to take his or her place.Perhaps the way to reconcile theunpleasant but seemingly mandatoryencampments of the press is to workharder to separate in this coverage whatcan accurately be called news from allthat is otherwise broadcast. For lack ofa better term, call it “entertainment.”For despite its portrayal of sadness, ina strange way that is exactly what themedia’s visual intrusion into privatemourning has become. And at thosemany moments when there is nothingto say, resist the urge to talk and, consequently,say nothing. As poet AndreiCodrescu observed on “Nightline” onMonday evening of that week, “Yes,I’m sad, but I wish they, we, could justbe quiet.”And quiet it was at the other end ofthat road in Hyannis Port until onemorning when the sound of a helicoptercould be heard as it prepared todescend onto the lawn in front of thathome where the President’s landednearly four decades ago. Suddenly,video cameras were turned on and thesatellite dishes on trucks to which theywere tethered were put into action.Reporters jockeyed for position so theycould talk as the helicopter landedbehind them. Soon Senator Kennedyand his sons were walking across thelawn and into the helicopter and asquickly as it had come, it was gone.But where was it going? Why had itcome? Reporters near the short whitepicket fence didn’t know. But that absenceof knowledge didn’t stop themfrom talking, turning speculation intowhat during this week had been, toooften, confused with news. On onelocal station, journalists seeing thisimage from HyannisPort sparred mildlyover the exact natureof this trip. Later, afterreporters madecalls to verify information,we’d be toldthat this was takingthe President’s brother and nephewsto the place where they’d be given thebody of his son.One mourner in New York told a TVinterviewer, “The media brought usinto their family.” Certainly that is true.Arguably, no family has as skillfullyemployed the media as a way to communicateideas and shape their legacy.And out of that use surfaces awarenessthat there might be, at times, a price tobe paid in return, a price that mightinvolve loss of privacy and an exploitationof their images. And throughoutthis week, that seemed a price that thisfamily knew that it was paying, even asthey found ways—with a burial at sea,a private memorial mass—to restoresome of the protective walls that all ofus should be wary of taking down. For,in the end, these walls protect us all. ■Melissa Ludtke is Editor of NiemanReports and a 1992 Nieman Fellow.Her book, “On Own Own: UnmarriedMotherhood in America,” waspublished in paperback this year byUniversity of California Press.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 51


Journalist’s TradeThe Missing Voices in Coverage of HealthNurses’ experience and research is vital to, but absent from, these stories.By Bernice BureshEarlier this year a University ofPennsylvania research group reportedthat a noninvasive interventioncould prevent the repeatedhospitalizations of high-risk elderlypatients, improve their overall care,and save taxpayers millions of dollars.Sound like a candidate for a goodhealth story? The editors of The Journalof the American Medical Associationthought so. They chose it as thetop item for the packet of news releasessent out to reporters about articlesin the February 17 issue of JAMA.But this story didn’t get the kind ofplay JAMA studies often do. It did notgo entirely unnoticed—it went on theAssociated Press wire, National PublicRadio did a report on it, and a handfulof newspapers gave it a paragraph ortwo. The Philadelphia Inquirer’sMichael Vitez developed the JAMA studyinto a piece on the care needs of therapidly expanding number of elderswho live with multiple chronic illnesses,and the Inquirer ran the piece on thefront page. By and large, though, themedia were uninterested.There may have been several reasonswhy other journalists ignored thestudy. Perhaps old people aren’t anappealing subject even though theircare has a tremendous impact on healthcare costs, the allocation of social servicesand the demands on familycaregivers. Maybe there was a lot ofcompeting news that day. But as someonewho has watched this happen timeand time again, I can’t help but thinkthat the determining factor was thatthe university researchers were nursesand the intervention they tested wasnursing care.This conclusion stems from manyyears of writing about nursing andmonitoring the coverage of this profession.Nurses are so consistently over-looked in news coverage about healthand health care that it is hard not tothink that prejudice is at least partlyresponsible. In a study I led nine yearsago, my colleagues and I found nursesand nursing to be all but absent in thehealth coverage of three of the nation’stop newspapers. Not surprisingly, physiciansaccounted for almost one-thirdof 908 sources who were directlyquoted in the stories we analyzed.However, sources from government,business, education, nonprofits, evenpatients and family members as well asnonprofessional hospital workers alsowere quoted more often than nurses.The voices and views of nurses camethrough in only 10 of the 908 quotes.A broader study commissioned in1997 by the nursing honor societySigma Theta Tau International foundlittle improvement. Named for the lateNancy Woodhull, a news executive andexpert on women and the media, therecent study, like ours, found numerousexamples of nurses being passedover in favor of other sources—evenwhen it is clear that nurses would bethe most logical sources. For example,a Chicago Tribune article (September14, 1997) focused on lay midwives andthe legal prohibitions which preventthem from practicing in Illinois if theydon’t have a nursing degree. Thearticle’s sources included lay midwivesand a physician but no practicing certifiednurse midwives.Nurses’ invisibility in the news isnoticeable in all aspects of health coverage.My analyses indicate that onefourthto one-third of health news reportsare devoted to coverage ofresearch findings. That’s a conservativeestimate if you also count thespinoffs—backgrounders, columns andfeatures—prompted by research studies.It is very difficult, if not impossible,to identify a column, television healthprogram, or health section that regularlyincludes findings from nursingstudies in its reportage.Lack of attention to nursing researchis a serious oversight because much ofthis burgeoning field is devoted to themost significant health care issue ofour time—the care and treatment ofthose with chronic illness. Thanks tothe many biomedical, surgical and acutecare advances of the last half century,instead of being quickly killed by seriousillness, large portions of our populationlive for lengthy periods and intoadvanced age with chronic diseases orconditions. These include cancer, heartNurses are so consistently overlooked in newscoverage about health and health care that it ishard not to think that prejudice is at leastpartly responsible.disease, arthritis, high blood pressure,birth abnormalities, osteoporosis, diabetesand so on. Increasingly the “diagnosisand cure” medical model is inadequatein this environment. Ongoingcare and management of these conditionsis needed, and that care is thecrux of nursing research.A case in point is the JAMA study.Penn nursing researchers randomly52 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Journalist’s Tradedivided 363 sick and frail elderly hospitalpatients into two groups. The controlgroup received routine dischargeplanning and, if referred, standardhome care. Those who were in thesecond group were visited within 48hours of being admitted to the hospitaland then every 48 hours during thehospitalization by an advance-practicenurse who specialized in geriatrics.Once the patient was discharged, thesame nurse visited him or her at homeat least twice and was available in personor by phone for the next month.These nurses focused the patients’medications, symptoms, diet, activities,sleep, medical follow-up and emotionalstatus. They collaborated with physiciansto adjust therapies, obtained referralsfor needed services, set up supportsystems, and helped the patientsand their families adjust to life at home.The outcomes tell us a lot about theefficacy of this approach. Six monthsafter discharge, 20 percent of the groupwith master’s-degree nurses was hospitalizedagain compared with 37 percentof the control group. Only 6.2percent of the group monitored bynurses had multiple hospital readmissions,compared with 14.5 percent ofthe control group. When they occurred,hospital stays were much shorter forthe first group—1.5 hospital days perpatient compared with 4.1 days for thecontrol group. Health care costs forthe group with transitional care were$600,000 less than costs for the controlgroup. Medicare was saved an averageof $3,000 per patient. At a time whenthe mounting costs of health care areroutinely covered on the business pagesand on television news, the fact thatevidence such as this was ignored ispeculiar.Patients and their families know howdevastating cycling in and out of ahospital can be. As Mary D. Naylor,associate professor of nursing and thelead author of the study said, “We’restill relying on hospitals to respond towhat we know are, in many cases, preventablereadmissions. Our system ofcare is not responsive to the needs ofthe older community.” Nursing researchidentifies responsive care. Yethealth writers seem to have little acquaintancewith nursing research. One25-year veteran of the medical andhealth beat who reads several medicaljournals told me he couldn’t think ofthe name of a single nursing journal.Another health editor responded to acolleague of mine who raised the subjectwith, “Nursing what?” Even whennursing research receives the imprimaturof medicine by appearing in a topmedical journal, it is still likely to beignored.As journalist Suzanne Gordonpointed out in her recent book, “LifeSupport: Three Nurses on the FrontLines,” when coverage focuses exclusivelyon medicine, it reinforces thenotion that illness is an event ratherthan a process. When journalists coverhealth innovations only as medical interventionsthey create a simplistic andinaccurate picture of health care. Ifjournalists were to ask nurses how newtreatments really affect patients theywould have a truer picture of not onlythe efficacy of these treatments, but ofthe needs that patients have for carebefore, during and after medical encounters.While medical researchersand physicians develop these new treatments,nurses administer many of themand monitor their immediate and ongoingeffect on patients. Nurses are theones who know what impact thesemedical advances have not only onpatients’ cells, tissues and organ systems,but on their lives.For patients and policymakers, agaping informational hole remains evenfrom the vigorous coverage of managedcare. As a recent Kaiser FamilyFoundation study confirmed, reportershave brought the denials of treatments,medications and experimentalprocedures under managed care to thepublic’s attention. They have exposedthe HMO’s that have tried to preventphysicians from candidly discussing apatient’s condition and appropriatetreatment options. They have attendedto the patient backlash as well. Evennursing won a moment in the news aspart of managed care coverage. A rashof stories reported that hospitals were“downsizing” and “deskilling.” But fewjournalists examined what these cutbacksmeant in terms of patient care.Pittsburgh Post-Gazette medicalwriter Steve Twedt is one who did. Hespent a year researching this questionand talking to nurses, nursing researchers,patients, families, aides, physicians,attorneys and policymakers. “In hospitalafter hospital across the country,”Twedt wrote in his resulting 1996 fourpartseries, “nurses with years of experienceare being replaced by unlicensedaides who get only minimal trainingbefore caring for patients.” His investigation,he wrote, produced “exampleafter example of hospital patientsthroughout the nation who were injuredor killed by the mistakes or negligenceof aides performing duties theyweren’t equipped to handle.” His mosttroubling conclusion was, “Despite theprofound impact on patients, no one issystematically monitoring this sweepingchange in health care.”It has similarly escaped the notice ofjournalists that proposed remedies tothe problems of managed care do notaddress nursing care. The so-calledpatient bills of rights in state legislaturesand Congress focus on medicalcare. With limited exceptions (childbirthand mastectomies), these bills donot constrain insurers and hospitalsfrom restricting patients’ access to nursingcare. The bills that do address nursingcare—those that mandate minimumlevels of nurse staffing in hospitals andnursing homes—have gotten very littleattention.Reports on the effects of Medicarecuts in the Balanced Budget Act of1997 are also too narrowly focused.For example, Bob Herbert in his NewYork Times column (April 15, 1999)discussed the disastrous impact reducedMedicare payments are havingon teaching hospitals and their abilityto educate future physicians. Nursingwas not mentioned once in his descriptionof the dire effects the cuts arehaving on staff levels, hospital treatmentand care, and professional education.Yet teaching hospitals are nursinginstitutions as much as they are medicalinstitutions. Hospitals are the primarysite of nursing education. Nursingeducation suffers when hospitalrevenues drop. In fact, one of the ma-Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 53


Journalist’s TradeAn image from the past when white caps gave nursing its aura. Reproduced from originalsin the Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, School of Nursing, University ofPennsylvania.jor missed stories of this decade hasbeen the effect of the dismissal of clinicalnurse specialists and other hospitalnurse educators on nursing educationand practice. Nursing education hastaken a direct hit in other ways, not theleast of which is the reluctance of goodcandidates to enter a field that is beingdecimated and abused by marketdrivenhealth care.Not surprisingly, the country nowfaces a serious nursing shortage. Althoughthis has been reported largelyas a demographic aging-of-the-nursingworkforcephenomenon, it is muchmore complex and interesting as evidencedby the frenzied recruiting hospitalsare engaging in even while, insome cases, continuing to lay off nurses.To be sure, it is not easy to covernursing. Although some nursing organizationsand nursing schools haveknowledgeable media specialists whounderstand the needs of journalists, ingeneral nursing research studies andinnovations in nursing practice don’tarrive in the newsroom in prepackagedprint or electronic form. It takeswork to ferret out significant stories.54 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999Then there is the problem of gettingnurses to talk. Reporters need to understandthat most nurses are employeesof large institutions, and many areafraid of retribution if they say anything.Even a very small percentage ofthose theoretically protected by unionswill go on the record. Then, too, somenurses feel so rejected by the pressthey have given up trying to interestjournalists in developments in theirdiscipline.With 2.6 million members, nursingis our largest health care profession.There are many reasons to cover nursing,including the fact that press scrutinytends to keep any important fieldon its toes and accountable to the public.Like medicine, nursing should becovered warts and all. One more thingto think about. Editors should lose thenurse nostalgia bit. Not long ago TheAtlantic Monthly inserted sentimentalizedimages of nurses complete withangels’ wings into a book excerpt oncontemporary nursing, and WorkingWoman illustrated a nurse employmenttrend piece with a decades-old pictureof a lineup of nurses in starched uniformsand caps. What editor todaywould illustrate a medical story with adoctor wearing an otolaryngeal mirrorstrapped around his head? Registerednurses haven’t worn white caps sincethe 1970’s, yet such pictures abound.These images lose their romantic appealwhen you realize that you wouldn’twant a nurse with 19th Century or even1950’s education and training to takecare of you any more than you wouldA contemporary image of nursing. Photo by Stan Grossfeld, The Boston Globe.


Journalist’s Tradewant a surgeon with training limited tothose periods to operate on you.It’s time for the journalistic communityto recognize nurses for what theyare—flesh and blood professionalswho, unlike angels, need to be paid forthe extremely hard and critical workthat they do and who, like their patients,are endangered in our healthcare system. By reporting on the vitalroles nurses play in patient treatmentand care and by seeking out their perspectivesin any coverage of health care,journalists would add critical dimensionsto the ongoing debates aboutwhat health care is going to be like forAmericans in the 21st Century. ■Bernice Buresh is a freelance writerwho has been a reporter for TheMilwaukee Sentinel and a correspondentand Bureau Chief forNewsweek. She taught journalism formany years at Boston Universityand has been a Knight JournalismFellow at Stanford and a fellow inthe Joan Shorenstein Center on thePress, Politics and Public Policy atHarvard’s John F. Kennedy School ofGovernment. She is President of theWriters’ Room of Boston, whichprovides affordable, quiet andsecure workspace for writers.Nursing Stories Journalists Fail to CoverA nurse raises vital questions that reporters should be asking.By Jean ChaissonIam a professional nurse. I live in anation that spends astronomicalamounts of money on health care.I work within a health care system thathas the ability to provide excellent preventativemeasures, diagnosis, treatmentand care to people. But all of thisdepends upon patient access to notonly doctors who can prescribe treatments,but to skilled nurses whosecare is essential to recovering and maintainingthe well-being of patients.Yet where in the news media andpublic debate do we find attention tothe fact that this country has systematicallycurtailed expert nursing care? Tocope with growing health care costs,insurers have incrementally changedwhat constitutes grounds for hospitaladmission as well as appropriate parametersfor discharge, and at the sametime ignored the role that skilled nursesin a hospital setting can and do play inpatients’ treatment.Patients who would have been admittedto the hospital 15 years ago arenow routinely denied admission. Thosecared for in the hospital are moreacutely ill than ever before, and theyare often discharged while they are stillin need of nursing care. Because oftheir greater degree of illness, patientstoday need more attentive nursing care.Yet, in hospitals we often have too fewnurses to manage their care on busynursing units. This has made it difficultfor me and thousands of other nurseslike me to ensure that patients get thecare that they deserve, the best carethat we know how to provide.This is what it is like to be a nurse inthe hospital today. As I help an elderlywoman from the wheelchair into ahospital bed, my assessment is quickand easy—moderately severe dehydration,fever, productive cough, dizziness,nausea. I immediately hang intravenousfluids, treat the fever andnausea, and move her to a room adjacentto the nurses’ station where shecan be observed frequently and receivehelp quickly if she tries to get out ofbed. Her attending physician comes inand shares his frustrations. “She’s beenin the emergency room twice over thepast weekend. It’s probably just bronchitis,but I begged them to admit herthis time because I was afraid if theysent her home again, she would die,”this doctor told me.When did we, as a system, start toignore the all-too-evident needs of patientswhen they fail to fit into tidymedical admission categories? Howmuch professional nursing time will bespent, not on treating this woman’svery real health problems, but on ensuringthat the wording in the chartwill help the hospital to be reimbursedfor this care? The answer: too much!I spend 40 minutes in conversationwith a wakeful patient in the middle ofthe night. Admitted because she hemorrhagedafter treatment of a recentlydiagnosed tumor, she is unable to sleepwhile she wonders what will happen toher family now that they have enteredthe unfamiliar and uncertain terrain ofcancer. How will her young childrencope with her illness? How can shehelp her husband manage his anger,depression and grief at this catastrophe?Her nurses and physicians haveaggressively managed and stabilizedher physical condition over the pasttwo days, but nobody has had a chanceto help her understand what this willmean to her life. Our conversation helpsher to understand her current and futuretreatment plans, to articulate thequestions that she needs to ask heroncologists, and to start planning forfamily supports.Comforted, she is able to sleep.Continuing my rounds, I find anotherpatient well into a severe asthmaattack. After arranging for treatment ofhis crisis and transferring him to acritical care unit, I am left feeling over-Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 55


Journalist’s Tradewhelmed. With so manypatients who are so veryill, how many places canI be at once? Severalmonths later, when Iread the cancerpatient’s obituary, Iknow her need for mycare was as great as therespiratory patient’s. Iam grateful that I wasable to help her sortthrough the tangle ofemotions and fears thatprevented her fromresting that night. Yet Ialso know that if I hadevaluated the other patientsooner, he mighthave been stabilizedwithout the necessity ofintensive care.I recall the sinkingfeeling of finding a patient,weakened by illness,on the floor nextto his bed. He has fallen while trying toget to the bathroom unassisted—hedid not want to bother me, knowingthat I am very busy. As I carefully lifthim back to bed and evaluate for possiblehead injury or hip fracture, I realizethat it has been over 30 minutessince I last passed here—how long agodid he fall? While I am bathing him andchanging his soiled hospital gown priorto sending him for emergency x-rays, Irealize that a diabetic patient’s eveninginsulin dose will now be at least 45minutes late, and wonder if yet anotherpatient’s pain medication hasworn off. I know that it will beanother 20 minutes before Ican check in on him.Nowhere does the povertyof access to nursing care becomemore evident than whenI am attempting to prepare afamily to take home a frail parent.There is always a lot ofteaching and preparation to bedone, a lot for a family to learn:how to manage the medications;how to help with walking,balancing, bathing; howto tell when the disease is gettingworse, and whom to call56 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999Today, fewer nurses are available to meet patients’ many needs. Reproducedfrom originals in the Center for the Study of the History of Nursing,School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania.in an emergency. The visiting nursesfrom the home care agency will be in tosee and evaluate the patient, and homehealth assistants will come in severaltimes weekly, but the brunt of the responsibilitywill rest on the shouldersof sons, daughters, nieces, nephewsand grandchildren—anyone who canpitch in and help.Now, even as I assure the family thatthe home care nurse will be out tomorrowto evaluate the situation, I wonderhow many visits will be allowed? Withthe latest cutbacks in reimbursementfor the care of our sickest and frailestHere are some Web sites to help reporters:American Association of Colleges of Nursinghttp://www.aacn.nche.edu/mediaAmerican Nurses Associationhttp://www.nursingworld.org/rnrealnewsNational Institute of Nursing Researchhttp://www.nih.gov/ninr/InTheNews.htmUniversity of Pennsylvania School of Nursinghttp://www.nursing.upenn.edu/newspatients, ongoing professionalevaluationand support that hasenabled families tocare for their elders athome is being terminatedsoon after dischargefrom the hospital.As I read an articlein my local paper aboutpatient deaths, it seemsto me that inadequatestaffing may be a factor.I am frustrated toonce again see thatobvious questions arenot being addressed:How many nurses wereon the unit that night?How many patientswere they caring for?How sick were thosepatients? How muchnecessary care, monitoring,surveillance,could not be attended to despite thebest efforts of nurses who probably didnot sit down once all night?The article zeroed in on automatedalarm systems, questioning whetherthey were they functioning or adequate.It makes me wonder how the reporterscan fail to realize that an alarm can onlytrigger a prompt assessment. If thenurse is not available to respond, thenthe alarm is useless. Why did theseinvestigative journalists fail to asknurses what might have happened toresult in these patients’ deaths?The fiscal realities that drive theimpoverishment of care are veryreal. But our citizens have neverdeclared that the professionalnurses whose care provides comfort,dignity, education and safetyare luxuries that we can no longerafford. It’s just happening, andnobody—least of all journalists—seems to be paying attention. ■Jean Chaisson has 19 years ofexperience as a registered nursein hospital care. Since 1984 shehas been a clinical nurse andnurse specialist at a majorBoston teaching hospital.


What Happens When Journalists Envision a Web Siteand Techies Try to Build It?Generations clash. Cultures collide. And promises cannot be kept.Journalist’s TradeBy Edward M. FouhyWhen Eckhard Pfeiffer abruptlyresigned as President ofCompaq, the top company inthe world in personal computer sales,we learned one reason for his troubles:getting the software that managedDigital’s factories (Digital EquipmentCorporation, which Compaq hadbought) to work with the software thatruns Compaq’s factories.When I read that account in USAToday, I thought that if these two computergiants can’t figure out a way toget their act together, no wonder we’vehad so much trouble with our Webdesign firm. I had a mental picture ofprogrammers from Compaq trying tomake sense of the computer code writtenby their new colleagues at Digital—and failing. That’s because this is whatit’s been like for stateline.org, the newWeb venture I’ve been putting togetherwith my colleagues for the past ninemonths. Once again, it seems, the promiseheld by computers and the peoplewho program and, in this case, buildthem, outruns their ability to deliverwhat we might think they can.And therein lies my tale of Web journalism.If computers are leading thecountry into some vague, post-industrialfuture and Web architecture, afancy term for software, is the industryof the 1990’s as well as Wall Street’scurrent darling, there’s somethingwrong with this picture. In fact, it turnsout there is something terribly wrongwhen the point of the enterprise is tocreate a place where serious journalismcan be practiced. It’s as though wecome from different tribes; we the jour-thanks to devolution fever that hasswept Congress since the Republicantakeover in 1994. About 1600 readersvisit us daily. We attract them withthorough, careful reporting on majorproblems facing state legislatures: education,taxes, welfare reform, utilityderegulation and health care. We read140 newspapers each day on line. Weexcerpt their coverage of state government,link to their Web sites, add ourown reporting and publish it all at 11a.m. each day.We are deadline addicts: All eight ofus journalists are refugees from newshttp://www.stateline.orgnalists, them the programmers. Ourlanguage, our customs and habits allarrive with us from different planets.A bit of background is in order:Since last January 25 stateline.org, acreature of the Pew Center on the States,has been published every day. It’s essentiallyan information service for statehouse reporters and anyone else whowants it. Our target audience includespolicymakers and engaged citizens,defined as that small band of citizenswho take a serious interest in publicpolicy debates. Those debates increasinglytake place in state legislatures,A stage in stateline.org’s design evolution.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 57


Journalist’s Tradepapers or network television. Our ManagingEditor, Gene Gibbons, is a veteranwire service reporter who spentthe last 12 years as chief White Housecorrespondent for Reuters. What setsus apart from the thousands of othersites on the Web is not only our experiencein journalism but also our visionof what people are looking for on theWeb. We think it’s our ability to givereaders the tools they need to tailor theinformation we provide to meet theirdeadlines or their information needs.• Interested in education in Indiana?With two mouse clicks we’ll bringyou up to date on every significantstory on schools and educationpolicy in the Hoosier state.• Want to compare the tax burden inWisconsin to that in Maryland? Wecan do that as fast as your Pentiumchip will allow.• Want to be notified every time thereis something significant to reportabout the great social experimentwith welfare reform?We are the one stop state policyshop. You can drill deep into our informationwell or take what you want offthe surface. But all of that fast breakA later stage in designing the site. Images courtesy of stateline.orginformation rendering is, it turns out,not so easy for a computer to puttogether.Our site is not your average newspaper-on-the-Internet.That, I havelearned, is what programmers, anothername for the techies who write thecode that make computers do whatthey do, call a static site. You put it upand the computer literate come andread it. Not much interaction, no tailoringthe information to individuals’special needs. Not so different fromwhat journalists have always done. Theonly difference is that on the Web thenews doesn’t get wet on rainy days.What we designed (with the help ofthree of last year’s Nieman Fellows) is,in techno-speak, a database-driven site.Our consultant, who helped with thesite design, almost fell off his chairlaughing when I told him what I wantedto create and added, “It ought to beeasy.”Now I know why he laughed.Call it rule number one: Nothing iseasy and certainly nothing is cheapwhen it comes to the creation of onlinejournalism at this point in thedevelopment of the Web and at thislevel of complexity. Our troubles fellinto two categories. The first is attitudeand the second is software. By attitudeI mean the youthful brio that occasionallymorphs into arrogance which characterizesso much of the Internet. I’mold enough to have been around whentelevision news was new and most ofus who were attracted to it were youngand liked to try new techniques becausethey had never been tried before,or because no one knew whatviewers would watch, or because weknew we would get a rise out of ourelders just by doing it.The Web is like that. No one knowswhere it’s going, or how it will lookwhen it grows up. It’s only five yearsold. Maybe it will turn out to be justanother giant shopping mall, or maybeit will be a medium that really deservesall its hype. Maybe it truly will help toconnect people and serve democracyas well as commerce. But for now it’s agiant, sprawling, infuriatingly disorganized,untidy place where millionairesare created overnight; where consolidationis ongoing and firms are boughtand sold in a flash, and where 22 yearolds who can write code are earning$55,000 a year.You can be sure of one thing: This isnot a place where journalism and theethics that govern it find a natural home.There’s a Wild West atmosphere to allof this, and impatience with anythingthat’s not digital. Anything part of thepast is perceived as having little merit.And to the casual observer, the visualpower of various news sites can obscurethe fact that the information theyprovide can be wildly inaccurate andunscrupulously biased. It’s a world governed,if it’s governed at all, by Nike’sslogan, “Just do it.”Like the Web itself, our programmersare young and energetic. Youhave to be to write the lines of codethat make things go. But I have a mentalpicture of intense men and womenworking into the night, fueled by asteady diet of takeout pizza and DietCokes like the first programmers I evermet at M.I.T.’s Media Lab a decade ago.The difference is now they charge $125an hour.Our Web design firm disdained thekind of normal business practices mostof us learned a long time ago becausethey help lubricate the normal friction58 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Journalist’s Tradein any business relationship. Gettingthis firm to negotiate a contract, forexample, was a major undertaking. Sowas convincing a technocrat that aninvoice for more than $70,000 containingjust five words to describe the workbeing billed for that handsome sum fellshort of acceptable business practice.And then there is Cold Fusion. Ithought Cold Fusion was somethingfollowers of the Reverend Sun MyungMoon tried to sell to unwary travelersat airports in the 1980’s. Turns out it’sa name for software used to managebig, complex, database-driven Websites. It should have been easy to makeit become the engine that drives oursite. But it isn’t, and the techies don’tknow why.“We’re meeting with the vendor andwe’re sure we can work it out,” theysaid.That assurance was months ago.Must be a long meeting.Still, our Web site works or most ofit does most of the time. Our readersdon’t complain. Most love us for whatwe’re publishing. They don’t know theideas we have in our heads that wecan’t execute. They don’t know all thefeatures we had hoped to add andhaven’t been able to. It’s as though wehad designed a 747, but the plane wetake off in every day is more like a 707.It gets you where you want to go, butnot in quite the style or comfort weimagined our visitors would be travelingin or thought we paid for.The lesson I’ve drawn from all theagony of the last nine months? Journalismin cyberspace may have solved distributionproblems: The report arrivesevery day no matter the weather, andit’s never necessary to retrieve it fromthe bushes where the boy heaved it.But imposing standards is a full-timejob. Techies, like the Web itself, arevalue neutral. They promise more thanthey deliver and don’t always graspwhy some things we ask for are importantin upholding the tenets of goodjournalism. Everything costs more thanthey said it would.Nothing is as easy as you think itought to be.And without vigilance, the news standardson which all of this ought to bebuilt can start to slip away. ■Edward M. Fouhy is Executive Directorof the Pew Center on the Statesand Editor of stateline.org, the dailynews policy Web site published bythe Center. He held top executivepositions at CBS, ABC and NBC.Is ‘New Media’ Really New?For news agency reporters, technology changes but not how the job is done.By Kevin NobletI’m soaking in the tub at my home inSantiago, Chile, when my wife handsme the portable phone. It’s thebroadcast desk of the Associated Presscalling, wanting some Q-and-A for radio.I wonder if the echo from theyellow wall tiles and glass shower dooris noticeable and will spoil my report,but I decide to stay put. I need to cleanup and, just as much, I need the rest.“Testing. Testing. Does this soundOK?” I ask the producer. He’s sitting ina recording booth in Washington, D.C.I don’t tell him exactly where I am. Ijust try not to slosh around too much.“Just great.”“Really?”“Really. It’s great. Let’s start….”That was back in 1988, when I wasthe Associated Press’s Bureau Chief inChile, where the regime of Gen.Augusto Pinochet was surrendering[News agencies] still remain, in some senses,in the shadows, easy to overlook despite ourkey role in the traditional news industry—and our equally important role in the socalledNew Media.power to civilians in a riveting politicalprocess with lots of national angst anda fair amount of tear gas. My primaryduty was putting out AP’s written report,an around-the-clock affair sincethe agency provides stories not just tothousands of American newspapers butto thousands more papers, televisionand radio stations elsewhere aroundthe world. From Santiago we did this intwo languages, English and Spanish. Ialso oversaw our photographic service,directing our Chilean photographers,often writing their captions and transmittingtheir photos. Sometimes I’deven make prints for them and, on rareoccasions, take a photo myself. Andsince the AP also provided sound toradio stations, I helped out with that.Back then, nobody talked aboutmultimedia, or new media. Thoseterms, a hot currency now in the indus-Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 59


Journalist’s Tradetry and in journalism schools, had yetto be coined, just as the World WideWeb had yet to spin itself over all of ourlives. But some of us, especially thoseof us in the AP and some other newsagencies, were already well acquaintedwith the challenges of juggling the demandsof several news media and withthe expectation of instant delivery ineach.A decade later, as the new mediabecome the big issue everywhere, fromWall Street trading floors to journalismschool lecture halls, some of us areasking ourselves—quietly, because weknow it could make us sound like oldcranks when we do it—what’s reallynew here?Certainly it is not the concept ofquick, almost constant updates. I’dbeen with the AP eight years, and overseasfor four, when I did that directfrom-the-bathbroadcast. AndI’d long been accustomedto thedifference betweenmy workand that of thenewspaper correspondents,whowould head offfor dinner or bed after filing their onestory of the day. I stayed at my desk ormy laptop until midnight doing updatesfor late editions of morning papers,and then filing a final “turn” ofthe story for early editions of afternoonpapers. Then, in the morning, I’d beback at it, “freshening” that story withthe day’s first events, and then again atnoon, and so on.This is standard procedure foragency reporters around the world and,of course, was long before even theadvent of CNN. In larger bureaus, suchas London, Moscow and Tokyo, a largestaff can divide the labor into shifts.They also can specialize to a degree, ineconomics reporting, say, or in sports.But in smaller bureaus, such as Hanoi,Abidjan, or Santiago, to name just afew, it’s up to one or two reporters tohandle it all of the time and to help outin all different kinds of media.Four years ago, the AP joined thenews video industry, adding yet anotherdimension to our jobs. Whileexperienced, professional televisioncamera operators and producers werehired and assigned around the world,the AP writers already in place had towork with them, sharing cars andplanes. AP correspondents had to start“thinking visually,” as well as in words,radio and still pictures. It was not unheardof for a writer to be asked, in areal pinch, to carry a high-8 camera andtake some video while on assignment,just as TV producers and still photographersare sometimes asked to providewritten stories when a writer isn’taround. (And they sometimes come upwith the day’s best stories.)At the AP, we’ve come to take thiscollaboration, and the “multitasking”it often requires of us, for granted. Iwas reminded that not everyone doesYet in the steady drone of panel discussions, opedcommentaries, journalism articles and soforth, it is remarkable how rarely any referenceto news agencies is made.when I read Kari Huus’s account, in theWinter 1998 Nieman Reports, of herwork as MSNBC’s correspondent inJakarta, Indonesia. Huus wrote: “Had Ibeen with a newspaper or magazinereporter, I would have been takingnotes and planning to go back to thehotel to write only when my weeklyand daily print deadline was upon me.Had I been working in television orradio, I would have been shooting witha particular news slot in mind. Butwriting for the Internet, making theusual editorial calls—when and howmuch to file—is more complicated.The medium’s strong suits—speed andversatility—mean the scope of choicesis enormous.”Agency journalists rarely find themselveswith all of the demands thatHuus did, simultaneously carrying avideo camera, still camera, recorderand notebook. But in many respectsthe new media world Huus found her-self in is the same old world for agencyjournalists. One proof of that assertionis found in the technology she describesusing to deliver her words andimages—digital cameras and recorders,which were largely developed for,and first put to use by, the news agencies.For years now we’ve also beentoting satellite telephones and otherhigh-tech gear used to transmit newsfrom the world’s most remote locations.Of course the Internet has its ownspecial qualities, including, as Huusaptly points out, a direct connection tothe public. The feedback, intense andimmediate, that she describes gettingfrom viewers and readers is somethingI never received in my years reportingfrom abroad. There was always a longtime lag as letters moved through theinternational mails. She is right to wonderabout the implicationsof an instantpublicresponse and thewhole concept of“interactive” news.Agency journalistsget feedback, but itusually comes firstfrom the editorswho monitor our services at newspapersand TV and radio stations. They’venever been shy about calling right awayto point out what they perceive as aproblem in the coverage—an error, ahole, a contradiction between oneagency’s story and another’s. Cardsand letters from the public come moreslowly, and less frequently, becausewe’re one step removed from it. Wereach the public only when our storiesare carried by a newspaper, TV or radiostation, so consequently those newsoutlets are the ones that often get theattention.When The Dallas Morning Newspublishes an AP story, or ABC-TV carriesit, the public is inclined to see thatstory as a product of The Dallas MorningNews, or ABC-TV, even if it carriesthat (AP) logo or, in the case of TV, if itis attributed to us. The lack of a directconnection is now starting to change,with the advent a couple of years ago of60 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Journalist’s TradeThe Wire, the AP’s news Web site. Wedon’t offer it directly to the public, andit can only be reached when a newspaperor broadcast outlet contracts withus for the service. But the public respondsdirectly with E-mailed comments,which then are relayed to writersand editors.But we still remain, in some senses,in the shadows, easy to overlook despiteour key role in the traditionalnews industry—and our equally importantrole in the so-called “new media.”Take a close look at any news Website, be it run by a newspaper or televisionchannel or a hot new Internetstartup. You will see that the bulk ofthe stories and images it is offering forconsumption is news that is being updatedthroughout the day and nightwhich comes from the so-called traditionalnews agencies. It’s the same oldagency reporting that used to feed onlyinto a newsroom ticker and then whenthe world became computerized wentinto the newsroom mainframe. Onlynow it has a new look and, of course,with nifty linking of words, sound andvideo.I do sometimes wonder how in theirdiscussion of new media issues journalistscan forget about this. Yet in thesteady drone of panel discussions, opedcommentaries, journalism articlesand so forth, it is remarkable how rarelyany reference to news agencies is made.But of course, some journalists themselvesare not much more familiar thanthe public with what the news agenciesare producing or the practices they areemploying. (I’d humbly suggest thatthey might pursue a greater familiaritywith how we work for answers to someof their questions on how, for instance,to deliver news quickly and, at thesame time, try to ensure balance andfairness and avoid breathlessness orhype.)Don’t get me wrong: I’m not at allunhappy with innovation, or jealous ofnew media. The truth is I’m thrilled,and nearly all my news agency colleaguesare delighted to see our newsreports appearing within seconds onhundreds of news Web sites. And we’reexcited about what many new technologicaladvances are allowing us—reportersand editors alike—to accomplish.From the most distant, disconnectedcorners of the plant—Antarctica,for instance, or the Brazilianrainforest—we are able to send storiesand images over the Internet. Satellitephones shrink in size and price everyyear, and now laptop-sized models canbe used to transmit words and photosfrom, say, a jungle outpost or from acity cut off from the world by war.Larger systems still are needed to transmitvideo by our TV crews, but thoseare becoming more compact, too.Not only can a reporter send a storyfrom that remote location, but an editorcan send it back minutes later withchanges for review by the reporter.Then editor and reporter can get onthe phone to discuss finer points ofstructure, context and word choice,and the need for an in-depth follow-upor sidebar or details for a graphic. I’vehad these discussions with reporters asthey sat out on some African walkingtrail or in a slum alleyway 6,000 milesaway from my desk at AP’s New Yorkheadquarters.My guess is that not all reporterswould always say they are thrilled atbecoming so accessible to their editors.But it does enable us to put out aquicker, better written and more informedreport. It has enabled us toreach and cover stories that would nothave been covered nearly as thoroughlyor quickly. The 1994 genocide inRwanda, for instance, and the refugeecrisis that followed it would have gonelargely uncovered, or would have beencovered with a significant delay, withoutthe satellite phones that AP couldbring to Kigali and to Goma and manyplaces in between. The war in Chechnyaalso would have gone largely uncovered:There were no phones at thefront.By working in several media, we areable to create an impact that wordsalone, or even words and still photosalone, could not have, not just on TheWire Web site but almost more importantly,in the venue we are most familiarwith: the newsroom. We can createa kind of self-reinforcing cycle whenwe send a TV, photo and writing teamto the same story. In TV news centers,editors pick up their morning paper,read the AP story and ask, “Do we havethat?” while across town, in the newspapernewsroom, an editor is watchingAP’s television footage of the same storyand asking, “Do we have that?” Theexhilarating result: blanket coverage,all across that town and, often enough,across the world of a story nobody mayhave otherwise given much notice.The trick, of course, is not to let theexhilaration, and the intense pressure,of juggling several fast-moving mediadistract us from the same old coreconcerns that good reporters and editorsalways have had: Are we beingaccurate and fair? Are our sources ofinformation reliable, and should wedouble-check? Is the story in context,and does it supply the context a readerneeds to understand it? Have we toldthe story clearly and well? Some thingsare staying, and should stay, the same.Today a story crossed my desk froma reporter of ours in Shanghai about aHong Kong businessman’s plan to deliverthe Internet to Chinese throughtheir televisions, using a simple andinexpensive joystick instead of a costlyPC with keyboard and monitor. BillGates was in China several monthsago, investing in a project along similarlines. Maybe it will succeed, or maybesome other scheme will come alongfirst. No doubt about it: The world isundergoing some head-spinningchanges and the news industry willchange, too, because of them.But as our heads spin with the possibilitiesof global and instantaneousdelivery, media variety, interactivity andso on, we can help keep our balance byasking that cranky-sounding but basicand always valid (especially for journalists)question: What’s really newhere? ■Kevin Noblet is Deputy InternationalEditor at the Associated Press and a1991 Nieman Fellow. (See NiemanNotes, page 81, for more on Noblet.)Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 61


& ReflectionsWords &Reflections“What difference does it make that a family newspaper stays in the family?” This is the questionposed by Alex S. Jones, author (along with Susan E. Tifft) of the forthcoming book, “The Trust:The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times” and “The Patriarch,” a history of theBingham family’s publishing dynasty. He is also in the fourth generation of a newspaper family. Hisessay—along with an excerpt from “The Trust,” describing Punch Sulzberger’s decision to publishthe Pentagon Papers—explores how journalism can be affected by ownership.Maria Henson, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of the Austin American-Statesman, looks at the lifeof Charlotte Curtis, the first woman on The New York Times’s masthead. In her review of Marilyn S.Greenwald’s biography of Curtis, Henson notes that Curtis “paid a price for her ambivalencetoward the women’s movement in losing the friendship and respect of female colleagues.”Sharon Green, Senior Cultural Editor for National Public Radio, reviews Yale Universitypolitical scientist Martin Gilens’s book about roles the media play in shaping public perceptionabout poverty, welfare and race. She finds his scholarly examination of news imagery of race andpoverty compelling, and his guidance to journalists—based on his findings—important.Michael J. Kirkhorn, Director of the Journalism Program at Gonzaga University, looks at waysin which U.S. broadcast journalists responded to Cold War propaganda in his review of Nancy E.Bernhard’s book on these issues. “We shouldn’t be surprised to learn that network journalists andexecutives lent or sold themselves to the agencies of anticommunist government propagandaduring the early years of the Cold War,” Kirkhorn’s review begins.Elizabeth Leland, a part-time reporter for The Charlotte Observer, read the published lettersof Larry L. King and came away amused by moments when he engages in “wonderful storytelling”(including incidents during his Nieman year). But her interest waned when he turned to recording“minute details about what he’s writing or how much he’s drinking.”Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet and Lori B. Andrews, professor atChicago-Kent College of Law, each have written books about public policy issues related to theformation of families. Each has focused on legal and social aspects of how families are organizedand function and the rights of children within them. Bartholet writes primarily about adoption andchild welfare, whereas Andrews explores the rapidly expanding realms of reproductivetechnologies. Each author is widely quoted by journalists. In separate articles, Bartholet andAndrews set forth difficulties they confront in trying to maintain the integrity of their research andtheir perspective in the midst of what today’s media appear to demand.62 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Words & ReflectionsThe Inestimable Value of Family OwnershipAs corporate newspaper ownership increases, independent decision-making is lost.By Alex S. JonesMy wife, Susan E. Tifft, and Ihave spent the last seven yearswriting a multigenerationalbiography of the Sulzberger familycalled “The Trust: The Private and PowerfulFamily Behind The New YorkTimes.” Before that we wrote a biographyof the Bingham family called “ThePatriarch.” Both the Binghams and theSulzbergers published newspapers ofextraordinary quality, and both werefamily dynasties with great traditions.Yet the Sulzberger book is the story ofa great success, and the book on theBinghams tells of a very unhappy failure.Why? And, perhaps more important,what difference does it make that afamily newspaper stays in the family?In 1986, the collapse of the Binghamshit the nation’s newspaper-owningfamilies like an icy wind. There aren’t alot of us anymore, and we few whoremain feel like remnants of a worldrapidly passing.I am in the fourth generation of afamily that has owned The Greeneville(TN) Sun for 83 years, and my fatherand two brothers still run the paper.During my childhood, I cannot remembera single dinner that wasn’t interruptedby a call for my father, almostalways from someone who was furious.In the 1950’s, we went to meetingsof the Tennessee Press Associationwith dozens of other families likeours. Now there are only a handful ofowner-families who attend. From ourperspective, the grim reaper has cutdown all but a few survivors, and thoseof us still standing fear it’s just a matterof time until he comes for us.When my father read an account ofhow the Binghams had self-destructedas a family and were selling The Courier-Journaland The Louisville Times,he was ashen at the thought that thesame thing might happen to us. TheBingham tragedy was a great cautionarytale with a profound message: Afamily newspaper is—above all else—afamily business.A.O. “Punch” Sulzberger, the headof the nation’s most powerful newspaperclan, captured the gist of the lessonin a quip that made the rounds at thetime. In the midst of the furor over theBingham story, Punch was attending aboard meeting of a newspaper organization.When he went to find the men’sroom someone asked, “Where are yougoing?” He replied, in a deadpan voice,“To send flowers to my sisters.”It would be wrong to think that theoverwhelming consolidation of newspaperownership in the last 40 yearswas rooted in family strife. It is a naturalevolution for businesses to changehands, and newspapers have alwaysbeen bought and sold. My family acquiredThe Greeneville Sun from anotherfamily that had been in the newspaperbusiness in Greeneville for morethan half a century. At that time, theSun represented a way to make a decentliving, but it was hardly a ticket towealth. What has changed is that technologyallowed newspapers to becomequite profitable, and suddenly familiesweren’t selling to other families, but tocorporations that could pay far more.The Binghams were not one of thosefamilies that cashed out just for themoney; they had done extensive estateplanning calculated to keep their papersin the family for at least anothergeneration. And they could have doneso had Barry Bingham, Sr. and his wife,Mary, decided to favor one of theirwarring children over the others. Butthey could not bring themselves to dothat and—in hopes of peace—electedinstead to sell and divide the proceeds.While the Binghams may have beenan unhappy family, they were exemplarynewspaper owners. BarryBingham, Jr., who was furious at hisfather’s decision to sell, is a man whocares enormously about journalismethics and would likely have been apowerful voice for stringent journalisticstandards in today’s equivocal environmenthad he remained at the headof the family business. He did not, andjournalism is the poorer for it.The Sulzbergers demonstrate whatis possible in a different family environment.The family has its stresses, itsstrains and its frictions. There are manymore people to keep happy than in theBingham clan, and most members ofthe family have no direct connectionwith the Times. A sale would makeeveryone fabulously rich. In otherwords, the Sulzbergers might seem tohave far more going against them thandid the Binghams.Indeed, there was every reason tothink that the transition of power fromPunch and his three sisters—the thirdgeneration—to their 13 offspring couldhave been a disaster. The way the familyhad always handled important decisionswas for the older generation todeliberate and simply hand down aruling. It was considered rude to evenask questions. Punch had waited quietlyfor his parents to tell him whetherhe would be made publisher of theTimes. And when his sister Ruth wasmade publisher of The ChattanoogaTimes—where Adolph Ochs, the familypatriarch, made his start—no onehad even discussed it with her.To Punch’s son, Arthur Sulzberger,Jr., and the other members of the fourthgeneration, this was not an appropriatemodel. But instead of going to warwith their seniors, they asked theirparents to support a painstaking effortto reinvent the way the family oper-Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 63


Words & Reflectionsated. The result was a process in whichthe fourth and fifth generations of theSulzberger family, including allspouses, formally declared that thegood of The New York Times comesbefore their ambitions and interests.Remarkably, they seem to mean this.And just as exceptionally, Punch andhis sisters have gracefully—and almostcompletely—stepped aside. Two of thethree sisters have retired from theboard, which prompted genuine pain.One sister, Marian, said giving up herboard seat was like losing a limb. Seldomhas an older generation of ownershiprelinquished so much control withso little bitterness and hard feeling. Asa result of the good will and sacrifice ofboth generations, family covenants assurethat the Times will stay inSulzberger hands for another century.What difference does it make thatthe Times remains in family hands?One short anecdote tells the tale.In 1987, the Times was riding highand business was booming. Then camethe stock market crash, which devastatedNew York, and a widespreadnewspaper recession squeezed thewhole industry. During the next fouryears, the Times lost about 40 percentof its advertising lineage—a staggeringhit. Yet, in each one of those four years,the news budget for The New YorkTimes increased. It is at moments suchas this when the family matters. Thereis almost certainly not another newspaperin the country that would havemade the judgment that the quality ofthe news was worth that burden on thebottom line. This is especially the casewhen papers are owned by corporationsfixated on short-term profit andloss. While The New York Times Companyis serious about profit, it is evenmore serious about what the familyterms “value.”Similarly, it was Punch who decidedto publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971.[See an accompanying excerpt on thisepisode from “The Trust.”] He consultedneither his own board nor thepundits of Wall Street, although whathe did put the whole company at risk.Indeed, his own lawyers refused todefend the Times when the AttorneyGeneral tried to stop publication of theclassified documents. Punch simplymade the decision he thought properand never looked back. He had thesupport that counted: that of his sistersand his mother, Iphigene OchsSulzberger, who was Adolph Ochs’sonly child. The family.It is certainly true that corporateownership has made some newspapersbetter than they were under familycontrol. But I’d gladly trade theformulaic predictability of aMcDonald’s hamburger for the hopeof something sublime at a roadsidediner, despite occasional cases of heartburn.And when the chips are down, Iwould rather trust a family with thecritical job of running a town’s newspaperthan I would a big, anonymouscorporation. Maybe decisions wouldnot be any better, but at least you’dknow whose dinner to interrupt. ■Alex S. Jones co-authored “The Trust:The Private and Powerful FamilyBehind The New York Times,” withSusan E. Tifft. They share the EugenePatterson Professorship at DukeUniversity. Jones is also Host andExecutive Editor of “Media Matters”on PBS. He is a 1982 Nieman Fellow.Punch Sulzberger’s Pentagon Papers DecisionExcerpt from “The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times,” by SusanE. Tifft and Alex S. Jones, published by Little, Brown and Company, 1999On a blustery Friday in late March1971, Neil Sheehan, a Washingtoncorrespondent for TheNew York Times, and his wife, Susan, awriter for The New Yorker, arrived inCambridge, Massachusetts, andchecked into the Treadway MotorHouse near Harvard Square, registeringas Mr. and Mrs. Thompson. Hourslater Sheehan called Bill Kovach, theTimes’ Boston bureau chief, from a payphone. “I need some help,” he said.After weeks of negotiation, Sheehanhad persuaded Daniel Ellsberg, a researcherat MIT’s Center for InternationalStudies, to let him see a topsecrethistorical study of America’sinvolvement in Vietnam. The fortyseven-volumework had been commissionedin 1967 by Secretary of DefenseRobert McNamara, who had grown increasinglydisenchanted with the warand had ordered a historical study totrace the roots of the United States’engagement. Lyndon Johnson hadknown nothing about the study, and ofthe fifteen copies distributed at thetime of its completion in 1969, onlyone went to an official in the NixonAdministration: National Security AdviserHenry Kissinger.…Twelve weeks later Punch[Sulzberger] gave the green light topublish what came to be known as thePentagon Papers, despite having beenadvised by the paper’s lawyers that theTimes might be sued and driven intofinancial ruin and that he himself mightgo to jail. The far greater worry, by hisown reckoning, was that readers mightjudge the Times to be treasonous.Punch had weighed all these factorscarefully, but once he finally made uphis mind, he became immovable. WhenLouis Loeb, the paper’s outside counsel,refused to defend the paper’s actionsin court, Punch dismissed theman who had represented the Times,and the Sulzberger family, since 1948,and sought legal advice elsewhere. “Weare going to look back on these days as64 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Words & Reflectionssome of the most exhilarating in thehistory of the Times and…in the historyof American journalism.” Punchwrote managing editor Abe Rosenthalafter the Pentagon Papers episode wasover, with the Times more secure thanever in its greatness.The same could be said of Punch.The publication of the Pentagon Paperswas his grand, defining moment,a moment in which he took his bearingsfrom his heritage and his ownvalues and instincts, and steered thepaper safely and surely toward the“right” decision.…Punch was deeply anxious about theconsequences of his decision, but hehad no real qualms that his choice wascorrect. He had not consulted hismother or his sisters, but simply informedthem of his decision shortlybefore publication. Likewise, the Times’directors had no idea ahead of timethat the paper was about to put itself atrisk. The board doesn’t discuss editorialmatters,” Punch explained….It took Sheehan a month to sortthrough the papers and prepare hispresentation. In a meetings with theTimes’s top editors, he briefed themon the origin and scope of the Pentagonstudy. All agreed that this secrethistory of the Vietnam War should bepublished.…in a conference room off theTimes’ third-floor newsroom, [Abe]Rosenthal, Scotty [Reston], and othertop editors told Punch about the Pentagonreport for the first time. “Themore I listened, the more certain Ibecame that the entire operationsmelled of twenty years to life,” Punchwould recall more than two decadeslater. At the time, he said little. “I’m notsure we should publish this stuff,” hemuttered to Sydney Gruson as theywent back upstairs. “The question isnot whether we should publish it,”Gruson replied. “The question is howwe’ll publish it. That’s all.”A few days later Punch convened aconference of editors, senior executives,and lawyers in the Times’ boardroomto discuss what should be done.With Adoph looking down from hisportrait above the fireplace, the meetingquickly turned tense. Louis Loebargued passionately against disclosureof secret information. By publishingclassified material, the paper not onlywould be in violation of the EspionageAct, he warned, it would violate its owntradition of responsible journalism.Executive vice president HardingBancroft, a former legal adviser in theState Department, agreed: to publishwould be to invite economic and politicalruin.The editors lined up unanimouslyon the opposing side. The Times hadpublished classified documents manytimes in the past, they pointed out.After all, hadn’t Scotty Reston won aPulitzer Prize for his stories on theDumbarton Oaks Conference, whichwere based on privileged information?Of the lawyers present, only [James]Goodale, the Times’ general counsel,allied himself with the editors. If thestories were presented carefully, hesaid, higher courts would never sustainan injunction or criminal convictionagainst the Times.After listening to the debate, Punchtold Rosenthal to continue preparingthe material but that he had not yetmade up his own mind about whetherthe Times should publish it. ThoughPunch almost never interfered in thenews judgments of his editors, in thiscase, he said to Rosenthal, he and healone would make the final decision….Meanwhile, the battle for the soul ofPunch was in full cry. About three weeksafter the acrimonious meeting in theboardroom, a delegation from LouisLoeb’s law firm, Lord, Day & Lord,convened with Punch and three of thepaper’s senior executives; this time noeditors were invited. AccompanyingLoeb was senior partner HerbertBrownell, an éminence grise of theRepublican Party. As Eisenhower’s attorneygeneral, Brownell had draftedthe presidential executive order establishingthe system for classifying documents.In the publisher’s back sittingroom he solemnly predicted that if theTimes printed the Pentagon history,Punch and others would probably goto jail and the Times would be damagedbeyond imagining. “He scaredthe bejesus out of me,” recalled Punch.Goodale, who was present, urged Loeband Brownell to at least look at thedocuments before they made such arigid judgment, but they refused, claimingthat even to read them constituteda crime. Loeb then invoked a namecertain to resonate with Punch. He wasabsolutely certain, he said, that ArthurHays Sulzberger would never publishsuch material.For weeks Punch had wrestled withevery aspect of the dilemma, knowingfull well that the decision before himwas actually a series of decisions. Firsthe had to choose whether to publishanything at all; then, how much material;and finally, in what form. Eachelement provoked a roiling debate. Hisgut told him that Goodale was right:even if the government went after theTimes, the courts would ultimatelyleave the newspaper alone. “I did notbelieve that the risks were what HerbBrownell had told me,” he said. “Ididn’t think they were going to comeand lock me up, but I thought theycould fine us one hell of a lot, and wedidn’t have all that much money.”One of Loeb and Brownell’s strongestarguments was that by disclosingtop-secret documents, the Times riskedlosing its credibility with readers.Punch, however, was equally concernedabout losing credibility with hiseditors, who had told him that notpublishing the account would foreverbring dishonor on the Times. “After all,[the report] should be in the publicdomain because it was history, and itwas not secret; it had been illegallystamped SECRET,” said Punch….Early on, Punch had told Rosenthalthat he wanted to read what was intendedfor publication before makinghis final decision. In late May Rosenthal,with barely contained glee, wheeled agrocery cart containing the relevantdocuments into Punch’s office. Untilthen, remarked Punch, “I did not knowit was possible to read and sleep at thesame time.” He found the material soturgid that he began to wonder whetherit was worth the expense of releasing it.The tentative publication date ofJune 10 was fast approaching, andPunch still had not given a clear signalNieman Reports / Fall 1999 65


Words & Reflectionsof his intentions. While he ruminated,he found himself returning again andagain to the question Turner Catledge[then Managing Editor] had posed yearsago over drinks in his back-office Club,the place where Punch had gotten hisreal journalistic education: Who areyou writing this paper for? “That clearedit up, pretty much,” acknowledgedPunch. “We weren’t writing for thebenefit of the government; we werewriting for the benefit of the reader,who is entitled to know.”That still left the thorny issue ofwhether to publish the classified documentsthemselves or merely quote orparaphrase them. The day before hewas to render his final judgment, Punchdispatched his stalking horse, SydneyGruson, to see if Rosenthal could bepersuaded to alter his position aboutprinting the documents verbatim.Gruson made his pitch in the earlyevening while driving Rosenthalhome.… “No documents, no story,”said Rosenthal, who felt so stronglythat he had privately resolved to resignif Punch did not agree. Gruson relayedthe message back to Punch.On Friday morning, June 11,Rosenthal and Frankel gathered inPunch’s office to hear his decision.Neither editor had gotten much sleep;both were in a fog after weeks of worryand hard work. With a serious, deadpanexpression, Punch made his pronouncement:“I’ve decided you canuse the documents”—at which pointthere was a slight pause, and then headded—“but not the story.” In theirglassy-eyed state, it took Rosenthal andFrankel a moment to get the joke. Sothere would be no question about hisposition, Punch had prepared a formalmemo that stated: “I have reviewedonce again the Vietnam story and documentsthat would appear on Sunday,and I am prepared to authorize theirpublication in substantially the form inwhich I saw them.” The secret historywas to appear as a series of articles overseveral days rather than in a singleissue. If the federal government securedan injunction to stop publication,the Times would honor it.…After two days of publishing the“Vietnam Archive,” the AttorneyGeneral’s office threatened the paperwith a lawsuit.Bancroft called Loeb, who advisedthe Times to obey the attorney general,but when Bancroft seemed inclined toagree, Rosenthal demanded that Punchmake the final call. At about 2:00 A.M.London time, Punch was roused froman untroubled sleep at the Savoy Hotel.In New York, his voice was broadcastover a speakerphone, and asGoodale recalled, “Punch sounded like‘I wish I weren’t publisher of The NewYork Times. I wish this would go away.’”Punch asked what everyone thought,and as Goodale listened to the variousopinions, he sensed that the publisherwas especially influenced by the argumentsof Bancroft and Loeb and that hewas going to halt publication. Defianceof the attorney general would almostcertainly mean a court fight starting thenext day. The Times had done its dutyand published the first two installments,and there was every incentive not totangle with Washington over classifieddocuments. Finally, Punch askedGoodale whether continuing to publishwould increase the paper’s liability.“Not by five percent,” he replied.With that, Punch indicated, albeitwith great ambivalence, that the papershould continue publication. “He reallynever was comfortable with thewhole thing,” Goodale said later. “Hewas generally persuaded that it was acrime.” When Rosenthal returned tothe third-floor newsroom, the 150people waiting to hear the publisher’sverdict erupted in cheers. Punch’s decisionto proceed with the series was inmany respects more courageous thanhis original one. No longer were thestakes theoretical, and the penaltieswere potentially grave.…On Tuesday, June 15, the third installmentof the Pentagon Papers appeared,along with a front-page accountof [Attorney General] Mitchell’stelegram, his telephoned threat toBrownell, and the Times’ response.“The most satisfying headline I’ve everseen in the Times is the one that read‘Mitchell Seeks to Halt Series on Vietnambut Times Refuses,’” Rosenthaltold Time magazine. Later that day, asexpected, the attorney general went tofederal court and persuaded a judgewho had been sitting on the bench foronly five days to issue a temporaryrestraining order to halt further publicationof the Pentagon Papers.Although Punch had made it clearthat he was willing to defy the attorneygeneral’s request, he had made itequally clear that he would abide bythe courts. The New York Times suspendedpublication, marking the firsttime in the nation’s history that a newspaperwas restrained in advance by acourt from publishing a specific article.…The attorney general’s attempt tomuzzle the Times accomplished whatthe Pentagon Papers themselves hadbeen unable to: it provoked the outrageof the national media and focusedattention on what the purportedly explosivedocuments actually revealed.As important, the relationship betweenthe press and government became thesubject of public debate, with thenation’s most respected and Establishment-mindedpaper leading the charge.Punch and the Times staff suddenlyfound themselves regarded as heroesin certain circles.…Punch flew back to New York theday after the restraining order was issued.At an airport press conference,and in the many interviews he gaveover the next few days, he eloquentlyargued the Times’ case. “This was not abreach of national security,” he explained.“We gave away no nationalsecrets. We didn’t jeopardize any Americansoldiers or marines overseas. Thesepapers…are part of history.” As forcharges that he had published classifiedmaterial, he remarked, “I thinkthat is a wonderful way, if you’ve gotegg on your face, to prevent anybodyfrom knowing it; stamp it SECRET andput it away.” When he was asked whohad made the decision to publish thePentagon Papers, Punch gestured tohis chest with his pipe and silentlymouthed, “Me.” ■© 1999 by Susan E. Tifft and Alex S.Jones. By permission of Little, Brownand Company (Inc.).66 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Words & ReflectionsA Woman at Odds With Her TimesCharlotte Curtis is portrayed as a controversial pioneer in journalism.A Woman of the Times:Journalism, Feminism, and the Career of Charlotte CurtisMarilyn S. GreenwaldOhio University Press. 275 Pages. $26.95.By Maria HensonOn June 20, 1986, a decisionarguably 14 years in the makingat The New York Timestook effect: “Beginning today, The NewYork Times will use Ms. as an honorificin its news and editorial columns. Ms.has not been used because of belief ithad not passed sufficiently into thelanguage to be accepted. The Timesbelieves now Ms. has become a part ofthe language and is changing its policy.”Gloria Steinem had hounded herfriend and Executive Editor A.M.Rosenthal for years to change the policyso that women no longer appeared inthe Times as strictly “Miss” or “Mrs.”When Rosenthal sent her the memo hehad written to the staff about the policychange, Steinem framed it. The firstday “Ms.” appeared, the famous feministand several women went to theTimes to deliver a bouquet of flowersto Rosenthal in appreciation.The policy change occurred nothanks to Charlotte Curtis, the first topfemale editor at the Times and the firstwoman whose name appeared on themasthead. Here’s what she thought ofthe Ms. idea in 1972:“This afternoon the Managing Editoris going to have a meeting to takeup the matter of Ms., pronounced miz,the new title for ladies. The liberatedones want to be called Ms. I don’t. I likebeing called Miss. When we did a storyabout Betty Friedan, the feminist, wecalled her Ms. And her mother, whoappeared in the same story, we calledMrs., because she doesn’t want to beMs. either.“It’s going to be like blacks. In thetransition days of black liberation, therewere blacks, Negroes, and coloredpeople. There still are. It will probablybe the same with women. Women willaggressively want to be Ms. Some willequally aggressively insist on Miss orMrs. Anything that’s pronounced mizsounds like poor blacks in the South,and that’s very distasteful to me.”In “A Woman of the Times,” authorMarilyn S. Greenwald describes thecontradictions in the life of Curtis. Shepraises her for paving the way for otherwomen at the Times but acknowledgesthat Curtis paid a price for her ambivalencetoward the women’s movementin losing the friendship and respect offemale colleagues. Today, Curtis is nota name widely remembered, as theauthor notes, because she was not aself-promoter and worked at the Times(1961-1986) before it was common tosee journalists transformed into celebritieson television talk shows and cable.I would add that she might be more…Curtis paid a price for her ambivalencetoward the women’s movement in losing thefriendship and respect of female colleagues.widely remembered had she taken avocal role in the feminist movementboth inside and outside the newsroom.Curtis tried to have it both ways. Shewanted to break into the old boys’network at the Times, and she did sothrough innovative writing and editingand savvy friendships with the men atthe top: Clifton Daniel, Managing Editor;A.O. “Punch” Sulzberger, Publisher,and Harrison Salisbury, foreign correspondent,author and the first editor ofthe op-ed page. (When she was demotedin 1982 after eight years as OpedEditor, she wrote a friendly and selfdeprecatingmemo to the publisher,thanking him for his support and the“prettiest office” in the building, thenNieman Reports / Fall 1999 67


Words & Reflectionssigning off “Big smooch, Charlotte.”Frankly, the note sounds too smoochiefor my taste.)During her career, she did not rallyto the aid of women in the newsroomwho balked at salary disparities andbarriers to their advancement. Whenwomen journalists filed a sex discriminationlawsuit against the Times in1974, Curtis didn’t participate. In fact,she never thought she was discriminatedagainst in the work force and hadlittle interest in the women’s movementeven during her tenure as editorof the women’s section. Years after thesuit was settled out of court in 1978(the Times publicly acknowledged nowrongdoing but promised to promoteseveral women and paid back wages tothe plaintiffs), some Times women werestill steamed at Curtis.Greenwald writes aboutthe copy editor underwhose name the suit wasfiled and who, despite theyears, remained offendedby Curtis’s decision:“[Betsy] Wade called Charlottea ‘quisling,’ which she defined asa label for a Hitler collaborator meaninga ‘sell-out,’ a ‘rotten bastard’ and‘[one who] usually gets shot.’”The contradictions in Curtis’s lifedate to the beginning, to her childhoodin Columbus, Ohio. She was bornin 1928 to wealthy parents, physicianGeorge Morris Curtis and LucileAtcherson Curtis, a suffragette and thefirst woman to apply for the ForeignService exam after women won theright to vote in 1920. One would thinkgiven the legacy she inherited from thefemale side of her family that CharlotteCurtis would have carried the feministbanner high. From her grandmother,she had been taught that with persistenceshe could achieve anything shewanted. But as a graduate of Vassar in1950, she was expected only to marrythe right man, settle down and have afamily.Curtis did marry but was divorced in1952. That was just not done in Columbusin those days, but she did it anyway,defied convention and threw herselfinto her $40-a-week job as a societyreporter at The Columbus Citizen. AsGreenwald puts it, “It was a life ofcoffee drinking, smoking, and, forsome, heavy gambling and drinking.Charlotte had been a tea drinker herentire life.” She was a union officer forthe Newspaper Guild at the same timeshe served as an officer for the JuniorLeague. She was schooled in propersociety ways, but she didn’t pullpunches in her writing; she scorchedthe powerful, her peers, with her causticasides.No one was surprised when she leftColumbus for a job in the Times’swomen’s section in 1961. There shecontinued her coverage of the highand mighty, which columnist Liz Smithsays was Curtis’s “own kind of ‘NewJournalism.’” My favorite dispatch isCurtis gave a voice to people outsideof the paper who were ordinarypeople with ordinary problems.from a story Curtis wrote four monthsafter she arrived at the Times in whichshe skewers a New York hat maker:“He admits he is a genius and thegreatest couturier-milliner in the world,and he has tried to forget that he wasonce a boy from New Rochelle namedHans Harburger.“And when he talks about himself,which is most of the time, he puts up acolorful and audacious smoke screenof clever phases, shocking tidbits andbig names. ‘I am Mr. John,’ he says overand over again. ‘Mr. John is the dean ofthe industry. I. Magnin rolls out the redcarpet for Mr. John.’”In the book, Punch Sulzberger callsCurtis “to some extent the MaureenDowd of her day.” The accounts of herreporting in the 1960’s support thistheory. As Greenwald notes, both columnists“use details and her story subjects’own words to illustrate their personalitiesand to make them lookfoolish,” and both inject class criticisminto their reporting. Greenwald alsogives Curtis as Op-ed Editor credit forcreating a path for Anna Quindlen,whose columns in the 1980’s and l990’sfeatured observations about the everydaylife of 30-something women andnot commentary solely focused onpolitics of the day. Curtis gave a voiceto people outside of the paper whowere ordinary people with ordinaryproblems. She didn’t reserve the op-edpage exclusively for “official” commentatorsand experts. She published columnsby world leaders alongside commentaryby Yoko Ono and Erica Jong.This was a notable change from thedirection set by Salisbury, her predecessorwho, as the first editor of the opedpage, emphasized “official” voiceson that page.Greenwald concludes it is difficultto gauge Curtis’s long-term contributionsand legacy. I agree. I wanted toshare the author’s unbridledadmiration for hersubject but decided thebook made a strong casethat Charlotte Curtis’s allegianceswere first to herself,then to the men in theinner circle at the Times,and finally to her female colleagues. Ishared the conclusion of some of herTimes co-workers who, Greenwaldwrites, “felt that the woman’s caucusran a distant third in her heart,” at atime when many women journalistswere supporting one another.Curtis died of cancer in 1987. Shedied a pioneer. Her influence was seenboth in the breezy reporting style thatbecame acceptable in some sections ofthe Times and in her stewardship of anop-ed page that offered broader appeal.Given she was the first woman onthe masthead, however, hers was notthe magnificent legacy readers mightimagine. Instead, Curtis’s contributions“should be seen as one link of a chainthat led to change….”— at least that isthe author’s generous conclusion. ■Maria Henson is a Pulitzer Prizewinningeditorial writer and a 1994Nieman Fellow. She currently isDeputy Editorial Page Editor of theAustin American-Statesman.68 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Words & ReflectionsMedia’s Role in Changing the Face of PovertyA Scholar Examines the Convergence of Race and Welfare in the Media.Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Antipoverty PolicyMartin GilensUniversity of Chicago Press. 296 Pages. $25.00.By Sharon GreenOne of the toughest things aboutbeing journalists is separatingourselves from prejudices thatshape us as people. To pretend thatthose prejudices don’t exist or thatthey don’t act as a filter on our perceptionsis either unrealistic or dangerousor both.So it is necessary to note that as ajournalist who also is black I was predisposedto hear the basic premise ofMartin Gilens’s book, “Why AmericansHate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politicsof Antipoverty Policy,” because myexpectations and experience indicatethat racial attitudes and media imageryinfluence public perceptions, in general.However, this book raises questionsabout the ways in which race andmedia shape perceptions about thepoor, in particular.In spite of my predisposition to supportits premise, I was happily surprisedby the content of the book andimpressed by how little of it was devotedto the ideological ranting or simplisticdistortions that too often passfor political debate. Gilens, who is associateprofessor of political scienceand a fellow at the Institution for Socialand Policy Studies at Yale University,dissects a variety of well-documentedexplanations for public resentment ofwelfare: the credo of individualism;middle class self-interest; suspicionabout the true neediness of welfarerecipients, and white perceptions thatthe black poor don’t value a work ethic.Each aspect is important to the complexweb of perceptions Americans haveabout welfare, and Gilens declares hisintent to subject each of them to “empiricalscrutiny.”The result is a scholarly analysisgleaned from original research by theauthor and from studies conducted byothers over many years. (As Gilensstates, the book began as a dissertationand he and his wife had two childrenwhile he was writing it.) The complexitiesand ambiguities that are so oftensubsumed by the politics of race andpoverty are, in Gilens’s book, able tosurface and to be brought into sharperfocus.Insights Gilens offers about racialattitudes are particularly compelling.But before he gets to that presentation,he challenges the widely held view thatthe public hates the principle of welfare;the very idea of giving taxpayerfundedassistance to poor people. Hecollates the findings of dozens of nationalopinion polls that show bothstrong public support for cuts in welfarespending and affirmation of the[Gilens] challenges the widely held view thatthe public hates the principle of welfare; thevery idea of giving taxpayer-funded assistanceto poor people.government’s responsibility to assistthe poor. Gilens writes that the publicis “of two minds”—cut welfare andprovide the poor with specific servicessuch as job training, education, childand elder care.How can Americans want both ofthese policies? Gilens helps us understand.He writes that this seeming contradictionis rooted in the political concernsof ordinary Americans about “whogets what” and “who deserves what.”In their minds, the deserving poor areworthy because they are perceived ashard working, despite their impoverishedstatus.On the other hand, welfare—whichGilens defines as “means-tested, cashpayments to able-bodied, working ageNieman Reports / Fall 1999 69


Words & Reflectionsadults”—has garnered a bad reputationin the public mind. Welfare isassociated with the “undeserving poor,”those perceived as unwilling to supportthemselves, preferring to sit homeand collect a check, unwilling to workhard. It is also a widely held belief thatit is the undeserving poor who get“welfare,” and it is at this point thatnegative attitudes about black peoplebecome a factor.As Gilens writes, “race-based oppositionto welfare stems from the specificperception that, as a group, AfricanAmericans are not committed tothe work ethic.” The lazy black. It is apernicious stereotype as old as slavery.Gilens contends that biasedmedia coverage ofpoverty may have energizedthis enduring negativestereotype andhelped to link it, in thepublic mind, to welfare.Most journalists, hewrites, appear to consciouslyreject the stereotypeof blacks as lazy. But“in the everyday practiceof their craft…these samejournalists portray poor blacks as moreblameworthy than poor whites.”He cites numerous earlier studiesthat demonstrated how media coverageinfluences public perceptions ofthe poor, the overall impact of visualelements in news stories, and the “significantimpact” on beliefs and attitudesof racial imagery in news coverage.Gilens’s own research focused onmore than 1200 carefully defined povertystories in Time, Newsweek andU.S. News & World Report during 42years, from 1950 to 1992. For television,Gilens counted the number ofpoverty stories that were broadcast onABC, NBC and CBS nightly news between1969 and 1992. But he measuredthe racial representation of povertyin TV coverage only for 1968,1982-83 and 1988-92.Poverty didn’t receive much attentionfrom the newsmagazines duringthe 1950’s, and when it did pictures ofpoor whites accompanied the storiesthat were published. Coverage increasedduring the early 1960’s. Again,most of the images of America’s poorwere white. But the early 1960’s alsomarked the beginning of what Gilenscalls “the racialization of poverty” innews coverage.From 1964 to 1965, the percentageof blacks who appeared in pictures ofthe poor jumped from 27 to 49 percent,at a time when the actual percentageof blacks among those whose incomeplaced them among the poorwas about 30 percent. Gilens reports asimilar imbalance during subsequentdecades and he argues that “distortedcoverage found in newsmagazines reflectsa broader set of dynamics thatMost journalists, [Gilens] writes, appear toconsciously reject the stereotype of blacksas lazy. But ‘in the everyday practice oftheir craft…these same journalists portraypoor blacks as more blameworthy thanpoor whites.’also shapes images of the poor in themore important medium of televisionnews.”As the picture of poverty progressivelyhas darkened, according toGilens, the tone of poverty coveragehas grown more negative. Gilens foundthat since the mid-1960’s, stories aboutwelfare mismanagement, inefficienciesand “The Welfare Mess” have featuredpictures of blacks. More sympatheticstories, such as those describing howthe national economic downturn threwmiddle class workers into poverty, usedpictures of whites.Gilens sets forth a number of likelyexplanations for this situation. For example,poor black people tend to livein distinct neighborhoods that arewithin easy reach of urban-based newsoutlets from which much of the nation’sreporting emanates. But he cites a studythat shows only six percent of all poorAmericans are blacks living in urbanghettos. What accounts then for hisfinding that black people were picturedin 62 percent and 65 percent ofnewsmagazine and television povertystories at a time when African-Americansmade up only 29 percent of theAmerican poor?He writes, “the overly racialized imagesof poverty and the association ofblacks with the least sympathetic subgroupsof the poor reflect news professionals’own racial stereotypes, whichoperate as an unconscious influenceon the content of the news they produce.”This accusation is hard to hear. Butthe book is not a rant against the media,nor does it patronize the poor, thepublic, or even politicians. It’s a classicallyacademic effortto examinewhy the publicthinks the way itdoes about thepoor and whatthese perceptionsand attitudes meanfor policies aimedat helping them.“Why AmericansHate Welfare” istightly focused ona narrow aspect of public policy (welfare),but important insights result.Gilens does the numbers exhaustively,packing the book with surveys andstatistics and supporting them withextensive citations. It’s a dry read occasionally,but it is also an importantreference book for journalists who, inGilens’s words, “are exposed to thesame stereotypes and misperceptionsthat characterize society at large.” ■Sharon Green is Senior CulturalEditor for NPR News and a FetzerInstitute Scholar. She has served asguest faculty at the Poynter Institutefor Media Studies and formerlyproduced and anchored newscastsat NPR, Mutual Radio Networks,Voice of America, American ForcesRadio Networks, Okinawa andAmerican Forces Network Taiwan.70 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Words & ReflectionsThe Cold War Generation of Patriotic JournalistsWhat happens when journalism becomes government propaganda?U.S. Television News and Cold War Propaganda, 1947-1960Nancy E. BernhardCambridge University Press. 245 Pages. $59.95.By Michael J. KirkhornWe shouldn’t be surprised tolearn that network journalistsand executives lent or soldthemselves to the agencies of anticommunistgovernment propaganda duringthe early years of the Cold War. Thiswas a generation of patriotic journalists.Their loyalty during the SecondWorld War, as well as their hatred forfanaticism, prepared them for this nextcrusade.The threat to peace and securityposed by the Soviet Union followed soquickly on the heels of the defeat of theNazis and the Japanese that nothingmore than the turning of a page wasinvolved for journalists to transfer theirloyalties to this new circumstance. Anedge of resentment was added by thefact that the threat of Soviet expansionand subversion was regarded as thebetrayal by a wartime ally of the promiseof peace to which so many had beensacrificed.An inspiring sense of common purposeduring World War II thinned themembrane between press and government.In the years following the end ofthe war, loyalty to country and cooperationwith government agencies werehabits of the mind that could be readilyexploited. There also was an ideologicalundertone. A strong dislike for Sovietcommunism was an American journalisticinstinct that went back to thereporting on the Soviet revolution andthe civil war that followed. For manyAmerican journalists, the Cold Warbecame a full-throttle acceleration ofanticommunist sentiments that hadbeen idling in the journalistic mindsince 1917.Thoroughly researched and forth-right in its conclusions, Nancy E.Bernhard’s book, “U.S. Television Newsand Cold War Propaganda, 1947-1960,”documents the extent of the collaborationbetween government and broadcastnews organizations during thoseyears. She analyzes these relationshipsat the level of institutional cooperationwhere, under the headings of “nationalsecurity state” and “Cold War consensus,”network bosses and governmentofficials participated in a variety of practicesdesigned to act against the communistthreat. Among these practiceswere the imposition of anticommunistviewpoints on news coverage, the controlor suppression of detracting reports,and the invention of programs athome and abroad that played upon the“red scare” and promoted Americanefforts to counter Communism.Bernhard’s research justifies sweepingconclusions. “In the mid-twentiethcentury,” she writes, “the politicaleconomy of the mass media was intimatelytied up with the articulation ofCold War policies, and objectivity becamegrounded in fervent anticommunism.”In describing the dwindlingbelief that in the crusade against Communismtruthfulness should be a distinguishingfeature of U.S. propaganda,she writes that by 1948, Congress, theDepartments of Defense and State, andthe three networks agreed that “Allinformation had military implications.”Bernhard goes on to assert that, as aconsequence, “The Cold War madepropaganda an integral part of Americanforeign policy and took as its casualtyconfidence that the United Stateswould triumph in the marketplace ofideas.”Bernhard proceeds to demonstratehow the same impulse influenced domestictelevision programming as it,too, spread propaganda and ignoreddissent. One of her many examples wasa television program called “Battle Report-Washington”that had a sizeablenational audience from 1950 to 1953,when the United States was at waragainst North Korea and China. Thisprogram, featuring interviews withgovernment and military leaders, wasproduced in the White House andbroadcast by NBC for the purpose ofgiving “the people of the United Statesa firsthand account of what the FederalGovernment is doing in the worldwidebattle against Communism.” Its bellicositymakes Ronald Reagan’s remarkabout the “evil empire” sound sedate.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 71


Words & ReflectionsBernhard reports that the program’sguiding figure, a White House officialnamed John Steelman, referred to Communistleaders as “the fourteen barbarians,”“power-drunk atheists” and“bloodthirsty barbarians.”Bernhard does not spare the venerablefigures of American journalism.CBS News’s redoubtable Edward R.Murrow enjoys an honest moment ortwo, but he was a member of a StateDepartment panel on overseas informationand is seen at one point playingpatty-cake in an interview with Secretaryof State Dean Acheson instead ofasking probing questions.Political columnist Walter Lippmannmakes a sinister—considering the evidenceoffered here, perhaps too sinister—appearanceas a principal journalisticfigure in the investigation ofthe political murder of CBS correspondentGeorge Polk in Greece in 1948. Ashe prepared to return to the UnitedStates to accept a Nieman Fellowship,Polk was finishing a story that wouldhave embarrassed grafting members ofthe Greek government. He was shotdead after an interview with a Greekofficial who had played a large part inobtaining “massive” U.S. aid funds forthe royalist government and now wasdepositing money in a New York bank.Greek Communists were blamed forthe killing, but Royalists allied with theUnited States against Communism arenow regarded as the likely culprits.Lippmann, “one of a distinguishedgroup of American journalists whoclaimed to represent the rights of a freepress…,” chaired a committee formedto investigate the killing. Bernhardshows him conferring closely withformer Office of Strategic Services (theCIA’s predecessor) Director WilliamDonovan, whom Lippmann had appointedto conduct the investigation.This, along with lack of aggressive follow-upby the committee, leadsBernhard to infer that Lippmann mighthave participated in a cover-up in whichCommunists were blamed for the murder.“How deliberately they [Lippmannand Donovan] conspired to concealthe Royalist motives for the murderremains unknown,” she writes.A question of continuing importancethat Bernhard raises has to do with theactual substance of journalism’s independencefrom political influence. Shefinds press independence so negligiblethat it barely merits mention. Thismutable sentiment, which fades fast inthe presence of opportunity, appealsto patriotism, cronyism or intimidation,has only one defender in thisbook, the truly redoubtable I.F. Stone,who attacked Lippmann and others forparticipating in the Polk “whitewash.”A less tangible question raised byBernhard has to do with the pliancy ofnews in high-pressure situations. Shesuggests that when apparent crises requirecompromise with government,news can become an illusion—a sort ofcalculated wishful thinking disguisedas reporting. But it was long before1947 that the stage was set for thisinterplay of news and wishfulness inthe coverage of Soviet affairs.Lippmann, who was arguably thecentury’s most influential political journalist,was also a valuable press critic,and early on he saw that coverage ofSoviet Communism would strain theintegrity of American journalists.In 1920, the New Republic publishedLippmann and Charles Merz’s landmarkpress criticism revealing deepfaults in The New York Times’s reportingon the Bolshevik revolution andthe civil war between czarist and revolutionaryforces. “From the point ofview of professional journalism,” theywrote, “the reporting of the RussianRevolution is nothing short of a disaster….On the essential questions thenet effect was almost always misleading….”Yet there was no governmentinterference that could be blamed forthe antirevolutionary bias found in thisreporting and no conspiracy to deceiveAmerican readers. Instead, Lippmannand Merz recounted a “boundless credulity,and an untiring readiness to begulled, and on many occasions…adownright lack of common sense….”The chief censor and chief propagandist,they concluded, “were hope andfear in the minds of reporters and editors”who “wanted to ward off Bolshevism.”Ten years later H.R. Knickerbockerwon a Pulitzer Prize for reporting onthe growing Soviet mobilization forwar. Knickerbocker’s series, called “TheRed Trade Menace” and published inThe Philadelphia Public Ledger andThe New York Post, was the outcomeof a two-month-long 10,000 mile tourof the Soviet Union. His conclusionswere ominous. On November 17, 1930,he reported that the Soviet Union was“a land at war.” He found there “anatmosphere of militant struggle, a nationunder arms living figuratively buteffectively under martial law…,” ruledby leaders whose fear of attack andisolation “has come to approach a phobia.”Terror, he observed, “has becomea permanent institution.”These perceptions continuedthrough World War II, as Americanjournalists expressed admiration forthe sacrifices of Soviet citizens but notfor their government. In an incompletemeditation at the end of a chapterhalfway through her book, Bernhardtries to understand why so many prominentAmericans from different backgroundsuncritically accepted the drasticpremise that truth, dissent andliberty had to be subordinated to therequirements of what one writer called“the most titanic struggle in which thisnation has ever found itself involved.”Bernhard writes that “This puzzlelies at the heart of the Cold War consensus….Even when studying its mostself-conscious designers, we find ittricky to separate deliberate manipulationfrom avowed doctrine from embeddedculture. This seamlessnessmight suggest authentic belief” but,she suggests, in an atmosphere contaminatedby propaganda, the assumptionthat all of these people mightactually have believed what they espousedfeeds on itself. How, then, didsuch a strong consensus emerge?One reply to this question is cynical.For those involved at high levels,whether broadcasters or governmentofficials, the Cold War served as anequal opportunity crusade. Everyonebenefited by acting on degrees of anticommunistbelief, whether calculatedor authentic. To the question of whythey all “internalized their own rhetoric”—orseemed actually to believe whatthey said about the Communist men-72 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Words & Reflectionsace—it might be suggested that ideologicalzeal required it. In the circlesBernhard describes, anticommunismwas insistent and intolerant. Those whomight have initially wavered becametrue believers because ambivalence orlurking doubts were not acceptable.This is a provocative book. It’s temptingto ask whether it offers any lastinglessons. In retrospect, the Cold Warseems to have required the coincidingof so many elements that nothing duplicatingit can be imagined. But ifSoviet anticommunism required systematicpropaganda at home andabroad, and if that propaganda waswildly successful, as it was, then it’s fairto assume that controversial globalpolitical strategies might require moreof the same. ■Michael J. Kirkhorn, a 1971 NiemanFellow, is Director of the JournalismProgram at Gonzaga University inSpokane, Washington. He is presentlywriting a book about pressindependence in which a chapter,“News as Illusion,” examines theuses of propaganda.A Journalist Reveals Himself in LettersIrreverent, churlish, boastful and, sometimes, larger than life.Larry L. King: A Writer’s Life in Letters, Or, Reflections in a Bloodshot EyeEdited by Richard A. HollandTexas Christian University Press. 404 Pages. $27.50.By Elizabeth LelandIt’s 1969; Larry L. King is starting hisNieman year, paying an exorbitant$390 a month for a one-bedroomapartment, and bored with most of thespeakers.“Dear Lanvil,” he writes his cousinback in Texas, “…I find myself oftendespondent, really dragging my chin,feeling that I am not getting all out ofthis that I should, asking myself what a41-year-old fool is doing interruptinghis budding career for a year. The answer,on my good days, comes back:‘Cause you ain’t had no schoolin’ Fool,and ‘cause you so fucking iggernent.’On bad days, I have no answer. I feel abit insecure, a bit out of the mainstream, and I’m not as well-recognizedhere as in New York precincts in thematter of Personal Fame, and all thischomps on my Big E Ego.”King leads a revolt, taking away therole of selecting speakers from CuratorDwight Sargent. One of King’s firstinvitees is William Styron. In a letter toa friend in Texas, King recounts howStyron ends up in the emergency roomafter inhaling “a bit of Mexican boosmoke” in King’s apartment.“Shortly (maybe 3 in the a.m.) hedescribes himself as feeling peculiar.He flops on the couch and bespeaks ofdeath. He commences quoting poetry.He falls on the floor and his wife cradleshis head in her arms, and they speakpassages to one another of what I thinkwas Shakespeare.“Whereupon Styron bolts upright,proclaims with a wild gleam that he can‘see the other shore’ and rushes offtowards the outdoors, where the temperatureis then around zero degrees,without no coat on—possibly to shakethe hand of Jesus, who knows?”King’s letters home to Texas are partof an often hilarious, occasionally poignant,sometimes tedious 404-pagecollection, “Larry L. King: A Writer’sLife in Letters, Or, Reflections in aBloodshot Eye.”King (who wrote “The Best LittleWhorehouse in Texas,” not the LarryKing of television fame) has written 13books, eight plays and countless magazinearticles. But he says he enjoyedwriting nothing so much as letters.They are irreverent, churlish, boastful,sometimes larger than life, likeKing himself. They show the passions—fear, hope, anger, joy—of a man whocraved writing so much he left his wifeand young children, who rose from astruggling freelance writer to nationalprominence as a contributing editor atHarper’s Magazine working for anotherSouthern writer-turned-editor, WillieMorris.“A Writer’s Life in Letters” includeswonderful storytelling that hints atKing’s greatness, but it’s buried inminute details about what he’s writingor how much he’s drinking that only atrue fan would appreciate. After ploddingthrough his letters, I wish I’dspent the time instead reading some ofKing’s earlier works: “The Old Man,”his most famous piece in Harper’s,written after the death of his father;“Confessions of a Racist,” runner-upfor the National Book Award, and“Blowing My Mind at Harvard,” a piecehe wrote for Harper’s about his Niemanexperience. ■Elizabeth Leland, a 1992 NiemanFellow, works as a part-time reporterfor The Charlotte Observerand full-time mom to Jack, 5, andAbbie, 3.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 73


Words & ReflectionsReporting on Child Welfare and Adoption PoliciesAn author and advocate contends that journalists are missing the story.By Elizabeth BartholetAs an academic interested in socialreform, I appreciate both themedia’s power to influencechange and the complexity of their rolein reporting on tough policy issues.This appreciation is something I’vegained during the past decade as I’vetalked with a lot of members of theprint and broadcast press in my effortsto promote changes in child welfarepolicy. Reporters often call me for commentwhen stories relevant to my workemerge in the news, and I have chosento respond to their inquiries and toengage in ongoing public debates aboutthe issues I care about. Despite theoccasional frustration I experiencewhen I read, see or hear the product ofour conversations, it’s important to meto continue to work with members ofthe media. I know that significantchanges in public policy occur onlywhen there are fundamental shifts inthe mindset of policymakers and thebroader public. I also recognize theunique and critical capacity of the pressto inform and educate each of theseaudiences.In general, I have been impressed bythe commitment of many of the reportersI have dealt with over the years todelve deeply into the issues and towield responsibly their considerablepower to shape public opinion. I amfully aware that reporters should not“take sides,” but instead should gatherthe facts and report them fairly, givingthose in their audience the opportunityto assess for themselves the interpretationsof the facts and differentadvocacy positions. But I have beenfrustrated by the tendency of somereporters to reduce the multifacetedand complex reality of policy debate toa thin two-sided coin. Too often, reportersassume that once advocates ofElizabeth Bartholet with her sons Christopher and Michael.Photo by Lilian Kemp Photography.“both sides” of a particularissue have beenidentified and quoted,the full story will havebeen told. The risk inthis all-too-familiar reportingtechnique isnot only of undue simplificationbut also ofdistortion: The twosidedstory may notsimply omit some ofthe richness of the fullpicture, but mayproject a false image.I have two bookscoming out this falldealing with issuesthat illustrate theseproblems. “Nobody’sChildren: Abuse andNeglect, Foster Drift,and the Adoption Alternative,”and “FamilyBonds: Adoption,Infertility, and theNew World of ChildProduction” (originallypublished in1993 and now beingre-issued with a newpreface), will be releasedby Beacon Press in October. Myinteractions with members of the pressregarding the issues I write about showhow difficult it can be to communicateinformation about new policy perspectives,particularly when the facts arecomplex and the ideas run against thetide of conventional thought.“Nobody’s Children” constitutes achallenge to the orthodox views thatundergird today’s child welfare policy.In this book I question whether it isappropriate to think of and treat childrenas belonging essentially and exclusivelyto their kinship and racialgroups and as a result to lock them intowhat are often inadequate biologicaland foster homes, where they sufferharmful abuse and neglect. I call forthe elimination of racial and other barriersthat prevent children from beingplaced in appropriate adoptive homes.I contend that our policies should bechanged to encourage child welfareworkers to look not only to the local“village” but also to the broader communityto share responsibility for childrearing. I envision a society in which74 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Words & Reflectionsabused and neglected children whoare born to biological and racial “others”—thosenow seen as “nobody’schildren”—are embraced as belongingto each of us.The politics of these issues are complex.During the past decade, thoseidentifying with the left (including manyliberal advocacy groups) have tendedto promote family preservation policies—policiesthat place an extremelyhigh priority on keeping a child withhis or her original family. They havetended to regard the parents accusedof child maltreatment as the primary“victims,” at risk of further victimizationby having their children removedand their parental rights terminated.My view—emerging out of my ownleftward leanings—is very different. Iargue that those on the left shouldfocus on the children as the primaryvictims and should apply lessonslearned from the battered women’smovement as they consider batteredchildren. I question why family preservationideology still reigns supremewhen it is children rather than adultwomen who are being victimized.The left has also tended to opposeadoption generally and transracialadoption in particular. The NationalAssociation of Black Social Workers(NABSW) has for more than two decadestaken the position that blackchildren who need to be placed outsidetheir homes should stay withintheir racial group rather than beingplaced across racial lines. Liberals havegenerally deferred to NABSW and assumedthat it speaks for the black communityand for black children. But thereis no reason to think that NABSW’sposition in fact represents any “community”position, and no evidence thatadoption across racial lines injureschildren. Indeed, the studies that havebeen done demonstrate overwhelminglythat it is the racial matching policiesadvocated by NABSW that injureblack children by limiting placementopportunities and thereby increasingthe likelihood that they will be deniedpermanent adoptive homes.I have found it difficult to get myviews and this debate reported in anaccurate and comprehensive manner.Advocates for family preservation andracial matching have often succeededin positioning their critics as “anti-family,”“anti-poor” and “anti-black”—aspart of the conservative camp, engagedin a general backlash against those atthe bottom of the socio-economic heapand against anything smacking of affirmativeaction. By mischaracterizing thedebate in this way, they have succeededin silencing potential critics and stiflingthe emergence of new ideas fromwithin the liberal camp. Those who seethemselves as committed to social justicedon’t relish being attacked as rightwingersand racists. And they may questiontheir own judgment when liberalleaders seem to speak with one voice.(That some conservatives also condemnfamily preservation excesses and takepolicy positions favoring adoption exacerbatesthe risk felt by some liberalsof guilt by association should they dareto express similar views.)My other book, “Family Bonds,”takes on comparably complex territory.Again I present a liberal challengeto the orthodox liberal view. Feministsand others on the left routinely characterizeadoption as being an essentiallyexploitative institution because it usuallyinvolves the transfer of childrenfrom poor women from racial minoritygroups and Third World nations toprivileged white couples in rich nations.I argue that adoption is betterunderstood as an arrangement thatbenefits not only children but also theirbirth parents. Ideally all women whobecome pregnant ought to be in aposition to raise their children if theywant. However, given that far too manywomen’s lives are characterized by circumstancesthat are anything but ideal,adoption, like abortion, gives pregnantwomen a choice that may be better forthem than being forced to parent, andbetter for their children.Adoption also gives infertile womenan option that may be preferable tospending years trying to force theirbodies to produce a pregnancy by usingthe intrusive and financially burdensomehigh-tech infertility treatmentmethods that our culture now conditionswomen to pursue. I contend thatfeminists should expand their conceptof reproductive rights to embrace adoptionas a way of promoting “choice” forboth pregnant and infertile womenwhile at the same time providing childrenwith the nurturing homes theyneed. However, adoption critics haveagain been able to silence many potentialopponents and contain the liberalchallenge by positioning those whosupport adoption as part of the conservativecamp.Members of the press can easily fallinto traps laid in this area by cleveradvocates. It’s easy to find people tovoice either the boilerplate “left” or“right” position, to quote them and tomove on. It’s also tempting for thosewho think in terms of getting “bothsides” of the story. But reporters whotake this route may contribute to theeffective silencing of debate that, in myview, limits understanding and affectsthe quality of public policy decisions,when they could instead illuminate theissues for the general public and forpolicymakers. They will also miss outon the important story that needs to betold—a more subtle but also more substantivestory. This story has to do withthe debate that lies within the liberalcamp about ideas that have the potentialto create new political understandingsand alignments. ■Elizabeth Bartholet is a professor atHarvard Law School. She is alsoauthor of “Nobody’s Children: Abuseand Neglect, Foster Drift, and theAdoption Alternative,” and “FamilyBonds: Adoption, Infertility, and theNew World of Child Production,” tobe published by Beacon Press inOctober.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 75


Words & ReflectionsReporting on Reproductive and Genetic TechnologiesAn author describes her experiences—good and bad—with the media.By Lori B. AndrewsThree years ago, just after Dollythe sheep was cloned, a Chicagotelevision talk show asked attorneyNanette Elster, a specialist in reproductivetechnologies, to debate theissue of cloning humans. Also on theshow that day was a doctor in favor ofadvancing this research so that one dayhumans might use it. The host invitedthe doctor to speak first and introducedhim with words of respect, referringto him as “a genius who leadsinfertile couples to the fertile delta.”He then allowed the doctor to take aslong as he wanted to explain his position.When it was Elster’s turn to speak,the host’s introduction was not nearlyas laudatory, nor was the time or attentionshe was given at all similar. Barelyhad she begun her rebuttal when thehost motioned to a surprise group ofadditional guests, the royal blue-facedperformance group, the Blue ManGroup, to appear on the set. Membersof Blue Man Group started lobbingcream cheese balls over Elster’s headinto each other’s mouths, diverting attentionfrom anything she might besaying.It was an appalling display of howsome media outposts treat coverage ofthese kinds of critical and curious topics.During my 21 years as a practicingattorney, law professor and author ofbooks about reproductive and genetictechnologies, I have had many opportunitiesto observe media coverage ofthese issues. And, on average, five reporterstry to reach me every day forcomment and background informationto inform their stories. The day theBaby M surrogate mother case wasdecided more than 100 reporters calledme. When Dolly was born, I had somany calls it was not possible to returneven one-tenth of them. Perhaps it isnot a coincidence that my telephoneLori B. Andrews stands next to some tools of reproductivetechnology. Photo by Paul Thurin.rings more often during“sweeps” week; producersrealize that these storieshave the potentialto appeal to a wide audience.Through all of this, Ihave been continuallystruck by the one-sidedcoverage I’ve seen in thebroadcast media. Thereis a herd mentality thatfocuses on one approachto the subject and then,after milking it, switchesto the opposite approach.Usually the onesidedcoverage is notevident in a single show,as it was in the situationthat Elster found herselfin when her perspectivewas all but obliteratedby a circus act. Generally,an entire show isdevoted to a particulartake on an issue. In fact,news and talk show producerswho call me oftenhave a particularviewpoint they want toply and they are seeking a “talkinghead” to mouth that perspective. As aresult, the broadcast coverage rarely, ifever, does justice to the complexitiesof these issues.If we look at the issue of surrogatemotherhood in terms of broadcastmedia coverage, we can locate some ofthese media trends that unfortunatelycontinue today. During the early 1980’s,when surrogate motherhood became atopic of national debate, producerswould call and ask me to appear onmorning news shows. They’d tell methey wanted me to talk about what theycalled “the gift of life:” a woman unselfishlyserving as a surrogate mother. Iwould try to explain that the issue wasmore complex. I’d describe how somewomen might be psychologicallyharmed by serving as the home for afetus but losing a maternal connectionwith the child after birth. But the producersdidn’t want to hear about this.Then, when surrogate Mary Beth Whiteheaddecided to keep the baby she hadcontracted to bear, all of a suddenthose same producers were calling toask me to discuss “reproductive prostitution.”Actually, they were asking meto talk about the same thing, surrogatemotherhood, but in their quest for a76 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Words & Reflectionssimple story line they didn’t realizethat they’d made a 180 degree turn intheir portrayal of this issue. Again,though, they were not interested inconveying the broader, more complicatedcontexts, nor in sharing the factwith viewers that most surrogate arrangementsseem to work out for all ofthe parties involved.Reproductive and genetic technologieswill continue to be of enormousinterest to reporters—both print andbroadcast—because they provide possibilitiesfor telling compelling stories.There is the key ingredient of humaninterest—the couple desperate to havea child or the woman fearful that shewill die from breast cancer as hermother did. There is a gee-whiz scientificangle, too, as new technologiesseem to leap right out of science fictionand into doctors’ offices.But this desire to focus on thosewho are desperate to find ways to havea biological child or on the sciencebehind these advances can lead reportersto miss what, in my view, are someof the most important stories aboutwhat’s happening in this field. Becauseit isn’t possible to visually portray or tointerview a potential child, scant attentionis given to numerous studies thatindicate that some of these technologiesmight pose real risks for the children.High order multiple births areheralded as medical “miracles” withoutattention paid to the statistic that16 percent of the babies die in the firstmonth of life. New options such as eggfreezing are hyped by the press withoutacknowledgement of studies suggestinggenetic damage to the eggs.And because reporters are accustomedto dealing with scientists as neutralexperts, they tend to overlook one ofthe more troubling aspects of this research:the dramatic commercializationof academic and government sciencedue to changes in the law duringthe 1980’s.This latter circumstance has all theelements of what makes greatstorytelling—greed, conflict of interest,big business, politics and potentialrisks to patients. But these story linesare more difficult to dig out than onesthat emerge from interviewing an infertilepatient, and so are rarely told.That said, some newspaper reportersare doing this kind of investigativework and finding compelling ways totell these important stories. Rick Weiss,a reporter at The Washington Post, andRobert Lee Hotz, a reporter at the LosAngeles Times, have each provided indepthcoverage of some of the risks inthe ever expanding fertility business.Mitchell Zuckoff, Alice Dembner andMatt Carroll, at The Boston Globe, researchedand wrote a revealing serieson “a billion-dollar taxpayers’ subsidyfor pharmaceutical companies alreadyawash in profits.” Their reportingpointed to the unfairness of privatecompanies getting exclusive benefit ofpublicly funded research.Tough reportorial scrutiny shouldbe applied also to decisions of taxpayer-fundedresearchers at the NationalInstitutes of Health as they patentgenes for private gain and enter intocommercial ventures with biotech companies.Of course, these types of articlesare more difficult and time consumingto undertake; they require moreresearch and run the risk of alienatingimportant researchers and institutionsthat have been long-standing sources.But reporting such as this is crucial toproviding the public with a more texturedpicture of what is happeningwith these technologies.There remain many more aspects ofthese breakthroughs and practices thatcould use the kind of public attentionthat good reporting can elicit. Suchpotential areas of inquiry include thefollowing:• Deficiencies in informed consent atin-vitro fertilization clinics.• Ways in which clinics routinely exaggeratesuccess rates in their promotionaladvertisements.• Consequences that arise from themisuse of fertility drugs.• The practice some clinics engage inwhen they sell patients’ “excess”embryos to biotech companies foruse in developing pharmaceuticalproducts.• The reason for errors in genetic testingand the consequences.• The deficiencies of regulatory oversightfor emerging technologies.Along the way I’ve also had my shareof strange encounters with the media.And these encounters have led me tohave experiences that I would not otherwisehave had, some of which sentmy thinking in new and valuable directions.Others just served as momentarydistractions or, even worse, as irritants.I was once asked by a reporter on areligious television station whetherclones would have souls. I suggestedthat if the minister/host thought identicaltwins each had souls, then laterborntwins, clones, would as well. I’vesparred on Oprah with a woman whowanted to use her dead son’s sperm tocreate her own grandchild.But more often than not, my contactswith reporters have benefited myown work by serving as a sort of earlywarning system. They find out what ishappening in my field before anyoneelse. They learn about the local couplewho are suing over custody of a frozenembryo or of a judge’s decision to stopan employer from doing genetic testing.I’ve found that the quickest way toget information about developmentsin reproductive and genetic technologiesis to have a reporter fax it to you.I learned about the cloning of Dollybefore the rest of the world did becauseGina Kolata, a reporter at TheNew York Times, called me for an advancecomment on it. Of course, suchinformation flows enhance coverageas well, by allowing the expert to commentmore knowledgeably on the scientificresearch or legal case at issue.Also, by keeping an eye on whatnews shows are covering in this field, Iam able to get a pretty good sense ofwhat people care about. This habit alsogets me out of the ivory tower ofacademia where faculty members assumeeveryone cares about the samethings they do. It propels me into thepopular culture arena where I find outwhat issues these concerns of minewill have to compete with in order tobe made part of the political conversa-Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 77


Words & Reflectionstion. And it also reminds me what opposingarguments sound like.It was, after all, an experience ontelevision that taught me how trulyspecialized scientists are. I was on “CBSMorning News” with a scientist whospecialized in gene therapy. The hostasked him a question about how manydiseases could be screened for whilethe fetus was growing. I was aware of atleast 350 disorders that could be assessedthrough amniocentesis. However,this gene therapy researcher (whodid not do prenatal diagnosis) answered“three.” The lesson I learnedthat morning is one I hope reporterswill have learned by the time they startasking questions for coverage of thesestories.I’ve also witnessed ways in whichresearchers can misstate the facts orthe law to achieve their goals. On onenews show I was on, an in-vitro fertilizationdoctor said that she told herpatients that embryo donation is illegalin her state (which was not true) andencourags her patients to donate theirexcess embryos to her for use in herown research. On a PBS broadcast soonafter the public disclosures that theDepartment of Energy had undertakenradiation experiments on people withouttheir knowledge or consent, theMarcus Welby-looking doctor who appearedon the show with me assuredthe audience that no improper experimentationwas going on at his hospital.I knew of such research there, but hadbeen bound by confidentiality not todisclose it.In short, working with members ofthe media provides the perfect trainingground for addressing these issues inthe policy sphere. Like many in themedia, lawmakers’ attention spans areshort. They have many other matterson their plates and they might be receivingerroneous or misleading ad-vice from groups who are likely to besubject to the potential regulations.Increasingly, it seems, these twodomains—media and politics—are intersecting.Legislators are drawn to issuesthat can garner them publicity.For example, a swarm of Illinois statelawmakers introduced bills to ban humancloning immediately after RichardSeed, an independent scientist, set themedia world afire with his vow to dojust that in his state. That these lawsduplicated ones already languishingwithout action in the Illinois legislaturewas overlooked in the rush fornew publicity. Rather than vote onthose, Johnny-come-lately lawmakersintroduced their own bills in order tobe able to hold press conferences thatthe press dutifully covered. The reportersdid not do a good job of informingthe public that similar billsalready existed. And the quickest that Ihave ever been able to get a bill introducedwas when, on the Phil Donahueshow, I mentioned a problem withanonymous donor insemination. All ofa sudden, a Washington, D.C. councilmanwho had seen the show had introduceda bill to deal with my concern.(That particular bill didn’t pass.)Relying on the media is surely notthe best way to craft policy in thiscountry. Too often the ideas that takehold are ones that can be explained ina catchy phrase or pithy sound bite.These are not always the ideas or issuesthat really need to be understood ifsound policy decisions are to be made.“We don’t believe in sound bites,” onePBS producer said, trying to lure me onhis show by promising the unusualchance to discuss issues in depth. Hewent on to explain what it was hewanted: “We believe in more light, lessheat.” I thought to myself, “Now that’sthe perfect sound bite.” ■Surrogate mother Judy Stiver and her husband, Ray, left, of Lansing, Michigan, andAlexander Malahoff, who contracted with the Stivers for the birth of the infant, “BabyDoe,” appear on Phil Donahue’s show. The baby was born with microcephaly. Bloodtests show Malahoff, of Middle Village, New York, was not the father. Photo by CharlesKnoblock courtesy of AP.Lori B. Andrews is a professor atChicago-Kent College of Law andauthor of “The Clone Age: Adventuresin the New World of ReproductiveTechnology,” published by HenryHolt and Company in the spring of1999.78 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Nieman NotesNieman NotesCompiled by Lois FioreAt Unity ’99 the Topic Was JournalismThe conference offered a glimpse of what newsrooms could be.By Sam Fulwood IIITo many, the only real news thatcame out of the Unity ’99 conferencewas GOP presidential candidateGeorge W. Bush’s attempt tobypass the largest gathering of minorityjournalists ever even though he wascampaigning at the same time in Seattle.I know. I wrote the story thatconvinced him at the last minute toalter his schedule for a brief, impromptuwalkabout at the convention.But Unity ’99 wasn’t about presidentialpolitics.No, for most of the estimated 6,000people attending Unity ’99 last July,the gathering was the largest and mostmultiracial group of journalists to assemblein one place. Over the courseof five days, there were workshops,speeches and cocktail parties involvingmedia industry chatter. Those attendingwere primarily, but not exclusively,representing the Asian American JournalistsAssociation, the National Associationof Black Journalists, the NationalAssociation of HispanicJournalists and the Native AmericanJournalists Association.The oft-stated goal of Unity ’99 promoterswas to unite a divided collectiveof “journalists of color” into a singleforce. Implicit is their ultimate ambitionof pressing the establishmentmedia for greater racial, ethnic andgender diversity at all levels in thenation’s newsrooms.I feel that’s too much to ask; it is aburden on racial minorities that’s unfairand impossible to achieve. Whyshould black, Latino, Native Americanand Asian journalists be the exemplarsof unity, allowing the larger journalisticcommunity—or society at large—off the hook?Five years ago, at the first Unity conventionin Atlanta, the organizationsstruggled among themselves to pull offthe first combined convention of minorityjournalists. This year’s meetingwas even more difficult to make happenthan the first. During the run-up tothe 1999 convention, the constituentorganizations wrestled with whetherto hold the meeting in Washingtonstate, where voters had repealed affirmativeaction programs.If NABJ, the largest of the minoritygroups, had convinced its members tostay away, the turnout might have beenreduced and organizers might havebeen forced to cancel the long-plannedmeeting. Millions of dollars would havebeen lost to the organizations. In theend, black journalists retreated from apotentially crippling boycott threat, andthe convention was spared.“It’s a very, very powerful thing,”Catalina Camia, President of Unity: Journalistof Color, Inc., the umbrella organizationthat organized the convention,said to me as delegates arrived.“Our voices raised together are immanentlylouder and more powerful thana single voice.”Well, voices certainly were raised inprotest of the overwhelming whitenessof America’s news industry, aswell they should be. According to asurvey commissioned by the FreedomForum’s Media Studies Center in NewYork, 55 percent of journalists of colorat U.S. dailies expect to leave the business.Another study by the Latino journalistgroup drew attention to the “networkbrownout” on national newsbroadcasts, pointing out that less thana single percent of their reports wereabout Hispanics.And so it went, from an early-bird’sTown Hall meeting on Tuesday night(before more delegates arrived onWednesday) that allowed Seattle residentsto vent their frustrations over thelack of coverage in minority communitiesto a closing ceremony on Saturdaynight aimed at “Celebrating Our Future,”the themes of race and ethnicitywere front and center. One particularlyinsightful workshop session dealtwith “How TV News Portrayals of Raceand Class Impact Children.”But I’m not sure very many peoplegot the intended message. It’s an oldstory, better told in the 1969 KernerCommission Report, which lambastedthe media for covering the world “fromthe standpoint of a white man’s world.”Not much has changed on that front in30 years, except far too many Americanstune out when the subject arises.For me, deeply mired in the dailymuck of news, Unity ’99 offered a briefglimpse of what could be in the nation’snewsrooms. If given the opportunity,journalists of color will talk about thebroad and complex issues that confrontall journalists. We might evenwrite a story that prompts a presidentialcandidate to adjust his schedule.To be sure, if journalism improves, thenation’s minority populations—includingjournalists—will gain. But Americawill benefit even more.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 79


Nieman NotesThis forest-not-trees view of the conventioncan even make believers of thepeople who can change newsrooms.The New York Times’s WashingtonBureau Chief Michael Oreskes was oneof the many white men—mostly jobrecruiters and newsroom executives—making the rounds, as one put it to meyears ago, “to wave the company’s flag.”Just as minority journalists find themselvessurrounded by an ocean of whitefaces in their newsrooms, white recruitersat minority meetings are outnumberedand appear less than at ease.Yet, Oreskes told me a week afterreturning from Unity ’99, the experiencewas refreshing. “It was more thana convention of minorities,” he said. “Itwas more like the national journalismconvention that we don’t otherwisehave.”Oreskes spoke at one New YorkTimes-sponsored workshop on writingand beat reporting. He was struckby the eagerness of the college age andentry-level journalists in his audience.They pulled out notebooks andscribbled furiously. They asked probingquestions. They wanted to knowhow to hone their skills, how to developsources, how to write clear leadsand how to tell stories. Simply put,they wanted to know journalism.Later, Oreskes said he talked with adiverse group of people at the convention.Executives and human resourcepeople, photographers and Web pagedesigners, young eager beavers andgrizzled veterans. Race talk was minimal.Mostly the conversations wereabout the craft of journalism, hiringchoices, management decisions, ethicsand so forth. “I was amazed at therange of people who were there,” hesaid. “We don’t have, in a formal way,across the spectrum, any other placewhere so many people come togetherto talk about our craft. There are otherjournalism conferences such as ASNE(the American Society of NewspaperEditors) and IRE (Investigative Reportersand Editors), but those groups aremore limited and restricted to a narrowergroup of people.”He’s so right. And, that makes thepoint for racial diversity more eloquentlythan all the preaching to theconverted that otherwise transpires atminority gatherings. When more newsroomexecutives engage in conversationsabout their shared craft with minoritiesamong them, they’ll hear whatOreskes heard: Diversity can be fractiousand noisy and troublesome, but itmakes the best brand of journalism. ■Sam Fulwood III, a 1994 NiemanFellow, covers race and politics as aWashington correspondent for theLos Angeles Times.—1943—Frank Kelly’s most recent book,“Harry Truman and the Human Family,”was published in September 1998by Capra Press. A new book—“Pioneersof Wonder: Conversations withthe Founders of Science Fiction,” byEric Leif Davin—contains a long sectionabout Kelly’s work as a sciencefiction writer during the 1930’s. Kelly,who serves as an editor of the NuclearAge Peace Foundation’s Waging PeaceJournal and as a director of the CaliforniaCenter for Civic Renewal, can bereached at his E-mail address,wagingpeace@napf.org. He’s hopingto attend the Nieman reunion in April2000 and would like to hear from anymembers of the Nieman class of 1942.—1955—Ian Cross and his wife, Tui, ofRumati, New Zealand, toured theUnited States in April and May by airand rail and were reunited with severalclassmates—Bob Drew, film documentaryproducer, in New York City; JoWoestendiek, Nieman spouse (of thenhusbandBill) and now Editor of aWinston-Salem monthly publication,and Sam Zagoria, former WashingtonPost reporter and later Ombudsman,now retired in Winston-Salem andFlorida. Cross is a former Wellingtonnewsman, author of several books, andformer head of New Zealand Television.His novel, “God Boy,” writtenbefore his Nieman year, has been convertedinto a play and opened inWellington and Christchurch to goodreviews. Both Jo and Sam (plus wifeSylvia) visited the Crosses in NewZealand in separate trips.—1956—Julius Duscha writes that he hasbeen doing some work for the NewsInc. newsletter. News Inc. is edited byDavid Cole, a friend of Duscha’s, in SanFrancisco. A recent piece of Duscha’s—“Death Takes a (Paid) Holiday at Papers”—discussedthe trend of newspaperscharging to write obituaries andstories on engagements, marriages anddivorces. Duscha concluded that, moreand more, these events are seen assources of advertising revenue ratherthan as legitimate subjects for newsstories.Desmond Stone passed away inDecember 1998. Stone, a native of NewZealand, was Editorial Page Editor atthe Rochester (NY) Democrat andChronicle from 1968 to 1985. Duringhis years as a reporter and editor, Stonewas known for his commitment to therights of racial minorities, victims ofviolence, and the mentally ill. In 1960he and Jack Germond co-wrote “Windsof Change,” a series that explored therealities of Rochester’s African-Americancommunity and anticipated therace riots that erupted in the city in1964. Stone was also the author of“Alec Wilder in Spite of Himself: A Lifeof the Composer,” published in 1996by Oxford University Press.—1963—Nieman Reports recently learnedthat Chiu-Yin Pun was killed in a trafficaccident in mainland China a fewyears ago. At the time his Nieman yearbegan, Pun was City Editor of the SingTao Evening News in Hong Kong. Hestudied economics at Canton Universityand began working as a reporter atthe Evening News in 1946. Pun studiedhistory and philosophy during hisNieman year.80 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


Nieman Notes—1966—Dev P. Kumar, former Editor of TheStatesman in New Delhi, is now afreelance writer. His book, “Kashmir:Return to Democracy,” was publishedby Siddhi Books of India.—1984—Derrick Z. Jackson was a winner inthe Unity Awards in Media competition,sponsored by Missouri’s LincolnUniversity, for the second straight year.The Unity Awards recognize outstandingcoverage of racial issues. Jacksonwon first prize in two categories—bestoverall collection of commentaries andbest single entry. Jackson also took twofirst prizes in the Salute to Excellencejournalism awards, given by the NationalAssociation of Black Journalists.Jackson won in the general commentarycategory for columns on childhood,local politics and the WhiteHouse, and in the sports writing categoryfor columns on racism in sportsand the failure of black athletes to usetheir clout to effect change.Jan Jarboe Russell writes to saythat after four years of work, her biographyof Lady Bird Johnson is finallyout from Scribner’s. “The official publicationdate was July 30, 1999. It’sunauthorized—an independent workof history that describes Johnson’s lifebefore LBJ, during LBJ, and after LBJ.Its title is ‘Lady Bird: A Biography ofMrs. Johnson.’ Early reviews have beengood. We’ll see.“Some of the surprises I discoveredwere how Lady Bird dealt with LBJ’sinfidelities (she befriended her competitorsand even modeled herself afterthem in certain cases) and howaggressive she was in dealing with reporters.During the 1960 campaign,she went to see Jackie Kennedy inHyannis Port and Jackie confided thatshe was at a loss about how to help herhusband during the campaign. Mrs.Johnson told her, ‘If I were you, I’d findone or two reporters and have them inand talk about your home. You coulddo that much.’ Jackie did, and it wasone of the few concrete actions shetook during that campaign. I’d alwayshad the idea that Lady Bird followedJackie around like a little brown wrenor something—in fact, in politics, itwas Lady Bird who took the lead.“I was really happy that George magazineexcerpted one of the chaptersfrom my book about Lady Bird’s 1964train trip through the South in its Augustissue. It was the final issue thatJohn F. Kennedy, Jr. worked on aspublisher. Somehow the link betweenthese two mythic families—theKennedys and the Johnsons—goes onand on, in good times and bad.”—1988—Emily O’Reilly writes: “Greetingsfrom Dublin, Ireland from EmilyO’Reilly and Stephen Ryan. Stephenand I are doing very well. We now havefour children ranging in age from nineto two with another on the way inSeptember. (It’s an Irish Catholic kindof thing.) Stephen is working as designconsultant with The Irish Times andother publications, and I was recentlyappointed Editor of Magill, a currentaffairs magazine. Last year, RandomHouse (U.K.) published my book onthe murdered Irish crime reporter,Veronica Guerin.“We hope to be in Cambridge for thereunion and very much look forwardto seeing everybody again.”— 1991 —Kevin Noblet, Deputy InternationalEditor at The Associated Press, reports:“To my amazement and joy I have beengiven a second opportunity to spend ayear away from the news grind and inacademia. I’ve been appointed ScrippsVisiting Professional at OhioUniversity’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism,where I teach undergraduateclasses, advise faculty and work withstudents at the school’s newspaper.”—1994—Paulo Anunciacao and ChristinaLamb just had a baby. They write,“showing an early ability (not inheritedfrom his parents!) to deliver well beforedeadlines, little Lourenço was born10 weeks premature on July 7 andweighed just 3 lb. 11 oz., but is doingvery well. He arrived just a week afterthe publication of Christina’s latestbook, ‘The Africa House,’ by Viking/Penguin.”It’s been a busy year for Paulo andChristina, who met during their Niemanyear. They moved to London wherePaulo is correspondent for Publico,Portugal’s daily paper, and Christina isdiplomatic correspondent for The SundayTelegraph. They were married inZanzibar in the church whereLivingstone preached against slavery.Anunciacao and Lamb continue, “Theonly moments of doubt came when thepriest asked Paulo to say whether hewas ‘monogamous,’ ‘polygamous’ or‘potentially polygamous’! Our newaddress is: 10A Highbury Grange, LondonN5 2PX, U.K. The telephone andfax number is (171) 359 40 48.”—1995—Marilyn Geewax moved in July tothe Washington bureau of Cox Newspapers,which owns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.She said that “after10 years of writing opinions, I want toget back to reporting, so I’m headed upto the Cox bureau in Washington, D.C.”Geewax joined the national staff as atechnology reporter. She was at theAtlanta Journal-Constitution since 1985as a business reporter and, more recently,as a member of theConstitution’s editorial board, whereshe focused on technology and theeconomy.—1996—Daniel Ulanovsky left his job asDeputy Editor of Clarin to start up amonthly magazine named “Latido. Unarevista para sentir. Y pensar.” (“Heartbeat.A magazine for feeling. And thinking.”).In a note dated May 29,Ulanovsky wrote:“A cold and rainy Saturday in BuenosAires means a right moment to sit,write and share some news. Let me gosome years back and say that I wassuspecting that a newspaper didn’t pro-Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 81


End Notevide me the environment to treat thetopics I wanted and to develop them inthe way I needed. Living the Niemanyear far from a newsroom allowed meto understand this feeling better, andsince then I have been thinking abouthow to put out a magazine that deepensthe themes I am interested in. Ithink in human-related approaches andtopics like happiness, God, pain, thebody, parents/kids relationships, migrationsand roots, loneliness.“After years of preparation, the firstHenry (Hank) Trewhitt, left,Nieman class of 1954 and John G.(Jack) Samson, from the class of1960, at their 50th college reunionat the University of New Mexico,Albuquerque, on May 15. The universityinsisted the 50th class weargold robes and sit in the front ofthe audience during graduationceremonies for the class of 1999.Both men were in the first journalismclass ever graduated fromthe University of New Mexico in1949. Trewitt was with Time,Newsweek and U.S. News & WorldReport for years; and Samson waswith United Press during the KoreanWar and later was a staff writerfor AP and an editor for CBS inNew York.issue of “Latido” came out successfullyat the end of June and was about humanpassions. The second issue revealsthe masks we use every day tocover our thoughts.“For the moment I am the only ownernot because I don’t want a partner butbecause no one thinks the project willbe economically profitable or even viable.They are probably right, but Ithink that at least once in life we haveto make some madness. Otherwise,the world would be too predictable.”—1998—Marcelo Leite has given up writingeditorials twice a week and coveringscience/environment the remainingthree days for Folha de S. Paulo inBrazil.“Now I’m a full-time Special Reporterfor the same newspaper, covering mostof the time genetics, biotechnology,ecology and climate change. Wearingtwo hats at a time was not a good idea,but it took me nine months to convincemyself.“I’m happier now. I work at homemost of the week, no boss understandswhat I’m working on (I hope the readersdo), no working over the weekend....It’s second only to my Niemanyear, which was the closest I was allowedto Paradise.“The downside of it: virtually noeditorial on science or environmenthas been published since I left in thebeginning of May.”Seda Poumpianskaia is now Chiefof Public Affairs for the United NationsMission to Bosnia and Herzegovina.Poumpianskaia moved to Bosnia inmid-April for a three month appointmentbut now plans to be at her postfor another six months. Seda says thisis a very new experience for her becauseshe had never been to the countriesof the former Yugoslavia, neverdealt with peacekeeping operations,and never worked for an organizationlike the U.N. before. “It is a unique,new and challenging world. And maybeone of the places to be at the end of the20th Century.”Poumpianskaia deals with journalistsbut in a different position from herusual role as a journalist. As the head ofan office of 25 people, including radio,print, TV units and spokespeople, shefeels that this experience “is very differentbut definitively an interesting andenriching one from both a personaland professional point of view.” Themission in Bosnia and Herzegovina isthe largest U.N. mission in the world.■NiemanReunion 2000The Nieman Fellows reunionnext year will begin with a welcomingreception under a tent atLippmann House on Friday, April28, and will end with a farewellluncheon on Sunday, April 30.On Saturday morning, astronomyprofessor RobertKirshner will speak on “How toThink About the Universe,” followedby a panel discussion, moderatedby Hodding Carter, on“How to Think About the Nationand the World.” Panelists includeprofessors Samuel Huntingtonand Jeffrey Sachs.In the afternoon, a panel willtell us how to think about ourselves.Among those who haveagreed to appear are professorsWalter Willett, on health; HowardGardner, on creativity, and ThomasKelly, on music.The evening dinner will be atthe John F. Kennedy Library, witha speaker we are not ready toannounce.As you can see, the program isorganized to give Niemans a lot oftime to visit with each other.So join in on the nostalgia andfreshen your view of the world,the nation and yourself.Questions about hotels? Youcan get in touch with Kate Straus,Reunion 2000 Coordinator, atNieman2000@eventsinc.net ■82 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


End NoteEnd NoteAn Urban Eye Looks at Rural LifePhotographs that ‘beguile without fantasizing.’By Frank Van RiperIgrew up in New York City—theBronx—a few blocks from YankeeStadium. I’ve lived and worked incities all my life. The sense of place onegets from cities is naturally differentfrom that of small towns like the onesI’ve depicted in my books. That, I’msure, helped my writing and photography.Everything in Down East Mainewas different and, therefore, fascinatingto me as a documentarian. Peoplejust didn’t do stuff like dig clams or tagbears within sight of the Grand Concourse.Then, too, there are the people themselves.What passes in the commonfolklore for the true Mainer is a taciturn,humorless Joe, who doesn’t carea whit for anyone “from away.”For everyone like that, I’ve encoun-tered dozens more who display a trenchantwit, true warmth and an admirabletalent for surviving in a land thatis as harsh as it is beautiful. The storiedMaine aloofness is better described asa shy reserve, tempered by that rarestof commodities, good manners.To the Bronx boy who spent histravel time on the subway and whoseencounters with trees were infrequentand strange, Down East Maine was aplace of raw and fragile beauty. It wasa place where you could walk in thewoods for hours without encounteringa soul; where the music of theevening was in the birds and the crickets,and where the starlit night sky—undimmed by competition from civilizationbelow—burned with a rarespectacular brilliance.Is it any wonder I was smitten?The danger, of course, is to romanticize,to gloss over the poverty or thedifficulty of making it in a remote,unforgiving environment. So I amproud of what one Maine reviewer saidof my effort in her tiny weekly:“One of those very special booksthat pays tribute without gushing, istruthful but never grim, and managesto beguile without fantasizing….”No journalist could seek higherpraise. ■Frank Van Riper is a 1979 NiemanFellow. His book, “Down East Maine:A World Apart,” was published byDown East Books, Camden, Maine,$29.95.Nieman Reports / Fall 1999 83


End NoteWorking the TideOnly blueberry raking matches it for backbreaking toil.Clamming—digging for soft-shelled clams in unyielding wet clay with a short, heavy clamrake—is one of the toughest ways to harvest seafood because it is done by hand, a few clams ata time. And it can’t be done in water.Clammers watch the tide tables as assiduously as lobstermen. Only, unlike the fishermen, theclammers wait for dead low tide, when coves are turned into mudflats thanks to the amazing pullof the Bay of Fundy. (They also watch for, and respect, warnings of red tide; the planktonproducedtoxin can temporarily make clams and quahogs that have fed on it poisonous, if notdeadly.)When the water drops, be it in a cool fog or under a hot sun, the high rubber boots go on asthe clammers wade ponderously into the flats, searching for the telltale blowholes in the mud,indicating that clams are lurking beheath the surface. A good day of digging can yield severalbaskets of clams, which then are sold, mostly to local restaurants or stores.Every summer, one can count on seeing a tourist who is taken with the idea of clamming forhis or her evening meal. One also can count on that tourist quickly tiring of the game and headingfor the local takeout stand for a mess of juicy, sweet fried clams that, likely as not, were harvestedhours before—by somebody else.Text and photographs by Frank Van Riper.84 Nieman Reports / Fall 1999


“…to promote and elevate the standards of journalism”—Agnes Wahl Nieman, the benefactor of the Nieman Foundation.Vol 53 No. 3Fall 1999NIEMAN REPORTSTHE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITYPublisherEditorAssistant EditorEditorial AssistantDesign EditorBusiness ManagerBill KovachMelissa LudtkeLois FioreAdam ReillyDeborah SmileyGina CamaraNieman Reports (USPS #430-650) is publishedin March, June, September and Decemberby the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University,One Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098.Telephone: (617) 495-2237Internet Address (Business):nreports@fas.harvard.eduInternet Address (Editorial):nreditor@harvard.eduWWW address:http://www.Nieman.Harvard.eduCopyright © 1999by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.Subcription $20 a year, $35 for two years;add $10 per year for foreign airmail. Single copies $5.Back copies are available from the Nieman office.Please address all subscription correspondence toOne Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098and change of address information toP.O. Box 4951, Manchester, NH 03108.ISSN Number 0028-9817Second-class postage paidat Boston, Massachusetts,and additional entries.POSTMASTER:Send address changes toNieman Reports,P.O. Box 4951,Manchester, NH 03108.

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