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N ieman ReportsTHE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY VOL. 65 NO. 2 SUMMER 2011LINKSthatBIND USWASHINGTON, D.C.NEW YORKKABULBEIJINGNIEMAN FOUNDATIONTRIPOLI


‘to promote and elevatethe standards of journalism’Agnes Wahl Niemanthe benefactor of the Nieman FoundationVol. 65 No. 2 Summer 2011Nieman ReportsThe Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard UniversityBob Giles | PublisherMelissa Ludtke | EditorJan Gardner | Assistant EditorJonathan Seitz | Editorial AssistantDiane Novetsky | Design EditorNieman Reports (USPS #430-650) is publishedin March, June, September and Decemberby the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University,One Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098.Subscriptions/BusinessTelephone: 617-496-6299E-mail Address:nreports@harvard.eduSubscription $25 a year, $40 for two years; add $10per year for foreign airmail. Single copies $7.50.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 0028-9817EditorialTelephone: 617-496-6308E-mail Address:nreditor@harvard.eduInternet Address:www.niemanreports.orgCopyright 2011 by the President andFellows of Harvard College.Periodicals postage paid at Boston,Massachusetts and additional entries.POSTMASTER:Send address changes toNieman ReportsP.O. Box 4951Manchester, NH 03108


N ieman ReportsTHE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY VOL. 65 NO. 2 SUMMER 20114 Links That Bind UsEnvisioning Connections5 Community: A New Business Model for News | By Michael Skoler7 Start Spreading the News | By Mark Briggs9 When Community and Journalism Converge | By Katerina Cizek12 Engaging Communities: Content and Conversation | By Joy Mayer14 Curation, Community and the Future of News | By Steven Rosenbaum17 A Community Watches a Story Unfold | By Ron Sylvester19 Finding Information Pathways to Community Inclusion | By Peter M. Shane20 When Machines Decide What We ‘Think’ | By Jan GardnerCity as Community22 Journalism of Value = Context for Communities | By James O’Shea24 Revealing the Underbelly of Turbulent Times | By Jan Gardner25 Reporting Pushes Past Language and Ethnic Divides | By Daniela Gerson26 What We Learn Informs What We Do | By Nancy Chen28 Focusing a New Kind of Journalism on a City’s Needs | By Bill Mitchell30 A Promising Collaboration of Place, Time and Niche | By Lynette Clemetson31 A New Partnership to Build a Common Understanding | By Shirley Stancato32 Advertising as Storytelling—So News Stories Can Be Told | By Kirk CheyfitzEmbedded in Community33 Local Reporting Builds a Community’s ‘Social Capital’ | By David Joyner35 Writing About People You Know | By Al Cross37 Everyone’s Welcome at the Newsroom Cafe | By Emily M. OlsonEngaging a Community40 Health Draws a Community Together Online | By Jane Stevens43 What Football Pep Talks Taught Hyperlocal Reporters | By Bob CaloCover Design: Diane Novetsky | Nova Design


Living the Legacy of the Nieman Foundation‘Helping to free Dorothy [Parvaz] and bring Hollman [Morris] to Harvarddemonstrate the effective use of the Nieman bully pulpit.’Curator’s CornerBY BOB GILESNews that Al Jazeera reporter Dorothy Parvaz, NF’09, was in custody, first in Syria and then Iran,introduced an unexpected sense of mission intothe Nieman family’s ritual of springtime goodbyes. Hercaptivity without contact inspired the Nieman Foundationto find ways to apply pressure for her release. Spearheadedby her family and classmates, the intense effort to bringDorothy home involved Niemans throughout the world.Classmate Rosita Boland, a writer with the Irish Times,described the strategy of the Free Dorothy global campaignto the many Niemans who gathered at Lippmann Housefor my farewell on a weekend in mid-May and appealedfor help. Several gave Rosita ideas and contacts and support.Ellen Tuttle, our communications officer, and I hadalready written to the Syrian and Iranian governmentscalling for her release. As we did so, we digitally sharedthose messages with the entire Nieman family, urging themto do whatever they could to keep attention focused onDorothy’s detainment.During our festive evening at Lippmann House celebratingmy 11 years as curator, I paid tribute to Dorothy andechoed Rosita’s plea to join the effort to free her. As Ispoke, I could see people’s eyes tearing as I described howshe had put herself in harm’s way to try to report on thecrackdown in Syria.A few days later, on May 18, we awoke to learn theIranians had released Dorothy. She was in the Al Jazeeranewsroom preparing a report on her detainment. Later thatday, two Al Jazeera editors wrote to thank the foundationfor its “help and care.” We may never know what compelledthe Iranians to send her home, but it seems fair to suggestthat by rallying global attention the Nieman Foundationand Harvard helped to create mounting pressure towardpersuading the Iranian government to do the right thing.Last summer the foundation helped to build a similarcoalition of individuals and organizations that convincedthe U.S. State Department to issue a visa to Hollman Morris,NF ’11, an investigative reporter in Colombia. A visawas denied based on the advice of Colombian intelligenceofficials who, incorrectly, claimed he was too friendly withthe left-wing guerrillas. These many voices backing Hollmanled to a full review of the evidence by State Departmentofficials who agreed, finally, that a mistake had been made.Ann Marie Lipinski, who succeeds me as curator thissummer, visited with the Nieman staff on the day of Dorothy’srelease. She spoke of using the foundation’s power andprestige as a global bully pulpit to advocate journalism’shighest values and explore its promising models. Helping tofree Dorothy and bring Hollman to Harvard demonstratethe effective use of the Nieman bully pulpit.We welcome Ann Marie’s aspiration to expand ourglobal influence as well as build on initiatives that alreadybring the foundation’s voice into critical conversationsabout journalism. Through Nieman Reports and our otherpublications, in conferences and the work the fellows willgo on to do, the foundation keeps faith with its foundingobligation that elevating the standards of journalism willforever be its unfinished business.Each Nieman program and publication delivers its perspectiveand content into the flow of conversation abouthow to address the challenges confronting journalism today.On the morning we met with Ann Marie, the NiemanJournalism Lab launched Encyclo, an online resource withinformation about companies and organizations that areshaping journalism’s rapid, sometimes tumultuous evolution.As the end of my work at the Nieman Foundationnears, I find myself reflecting on how the experiences andlessons my classmates and I shared in our year (1965-66)at Harvard have remained a vital part of who I am andwhat I’ve done in my newspaper career and as curator. Somuch about how reporters do their work has changed, butwhat we learned then shaped and influenced journalism’sprogress and is at the core of its practice today.In looking back on the ways the foundation has expandedits global reach and influence during the past decade, mycore discovery as a fellow is all the more prescient: educationis critical and essential for journalists reporting onan increasingly complex and turbulent world. Add to thisthe dynamics of change reshaping journalism, and thisreinforces the essential role the Nieman Foundation willcontinue to play by providing a stimulating environmentwhere new generations of journalists will learn. When Ihear about or see fellows exercising their responsibilitiesto set a high standard for other journalists to emulate, itis testament to our program’s success.I am deeply indebted to my colleagues at LippmannHouse who worked creatively and effectively with me tohold true to the Nieman legacy, which Ann Marie willnow watch over. My heart is full of appreciation for theextraordinary privilege of being curator. Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 3


Links That Bind UsWith its rhythmic clicks and electronic signal, the telegraph upended the centuries-old practice ofpeople transporting the messages they wanted to send. Now, with a code of dots and dashes, wordsand ideas spread rapidly to places the sender might never go and to people she’d likely never meet.The code’s inventor, Samuel Morse, ruminating on where this mid-19th-century invention mightlead, wrote:… it would not be long ere the whole surface of this country would be channeled for thosenerves which are to diffuse with the speed of thought, a knowledge of all that is occurringthroughout the land, making, in fact, one neighborhood of the whole country.Given the intercontinental connections the telegraph would forge, Morse could well haveconstrued his neighborhood as the world. In time, others would.Writing 150 years later about what he saw as the profound significance of the telegraph, JamesW. Carey, journalism professor and communications scholar, argued that it “reworked the nature ofAn 1855 map shows plans for telegraph lines connecting theentire world. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.written language and finally the nature of awareness itself.”For decades the telegraph was the go-to electronic carrier ofcommunication until the telephone and radio, television andthe computer, then the Internet and mobile devicescame along.As each new technology appeared, what was vertical—topdown,one-way, with the purpose of delivering information—got flattened as peer reached out to peer with an increasingexpectation of engagement. Words that traveled throughthese electronic lines, then wirelessly, grew to feel less likesermons and more like chants.Even before palm-sized, always-on global communicationdevices surfaced, Carey had observed in the openingchapter of his 1989 book “Communication as Culture” thatthe dominant view of 20th-century communication as beingabout transmission didn’t fit so well anymore. In its place,he envisioned a re-emergence of the “ritual view.” In this view, he wrote, “news is not informationbut drama. … It invites our participation on the basis of our assuming, often vicariously, socialroles within it.” Into this “ritual” orientation gets bundled, he explained, “terms such as ‘sharing,’‘participation,’ ‘association,’ ‘fellowship,’ and ‘the possession of a common faith.’ ”Today, #, the Twitter hashtag, forms the cornerstone of a community convened by sharedinterests and sustained by communal action. Geography no longer defines community, nor is it aconstraint on one forming. Word of mouth, as Mark Briggs writes in this issue of Nieman Reports,is being displaced by “word of link.” News and information continue to be transmitted—and this iswhere reporters step in. As technology encourages this shift toward the ritual, journalists will seekout new roles and purpose in places we call community. —Melissa Ludtke4 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


LINKS THAT BIND | Envisioning ConnectionsCommunity: A New Business Model for News‘… the most powerful emerging business driver in the new economy iscommunity.’BY MICHAEL SKOLERAfew years ago, Public Radio Internationalcoaxed its most popular host, Ira Glass of“This American Life,” into digital cinema.Ira had already expanded his famed radio programinto a traveling stage show that toured adozen cities a year. With this new idea he wouldperform one show and beam it live to hundredsof movie theaters around the United States at thesame time. Efficient, yes, but would it be appealing,Ira wondered.After all, people came to see him and evenhoped to meet him. Radio is an intimate medium,and with Ira, so is a live show. What would beappealing about watching him on a screen fromthousands of miles away in the company of a hundredstrangers? This wasn’t a sporting event—themain draw for digital cinema—it was journalism,storytelling journalism. And people could alreadywatch Ira on DVD.So would they come and pay $20 a ticket?They came in droves. More than 30,000 watchedthe first digital show at hundreds of theaters acrossthe U.S. and Canada in the spring of 2008. Thenext year, 47,000 turned out. They came to be withother fans, experiencing something they all lovedtogether. The success wasn’t so much the powerof Ira, but the power of his community.This isn’t a brilliant new insight. We have longknown communities are powerful and that localmedia thrive when they bring together and servetheir community. Somehow though when it comesto the challenge of online media, we forget this.We search for new business models that involvepaywalls, more video, the iPad, and wealthy donors,while the most powerful emerging business driverin the new economy is community.Connection as a StrategyScenes from “This American Life” in digital cinema promotions.We are social beings. Three-quarters of all Americanadults belong to voluntary or organized groups,according to “The Social Side of the Internet,” astudy published this year by the Pew ResearchCenter’s Internet & American Life Project. In fact,today’s social media culture may be reversing thedecline in social behavior that Robert D. Putnamdocumented in his book “Bowling Alone.” While 56percent of non-Internet users belong to a group,80 percent of Internet users participate in groups,according to the study.Clay Shirky, a professor at New York Univer-Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 5


Links That Bindsity who studies the effects of theInternet on society, writes eloquentlyof how technology is unleashing thegreatest wave of social communicationand collaboration in our history.The companies flourishing in today’sdigital, social culture provide morethan valued content to people. Theydeliver valued connections. And theyturn this community, the content itcreates, and the trust it engendersinto money.Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter arethe icons of the social economy. EvenGoogle, the organizer of digital informationas opposed to people, upendedthe search business with its algorithmsthat tracked connections—the linkspeople share with others. There arehundreds and thousands of lesserknown, quickly rising businesses thatare, at their core, built on communityeven when it isn’t obvious. Here arejust a few examples:Angie’s List has more than 1.5 millionmembers in over 150 cities who payabout $10 to $60 a year to be part ofa community in which members rateand review service providers (plumbers,doctors, etc.) to help each other. In theface of free alternatives, Angie’s Listhas turned its community into annualmembership fees in the $50 millionrange and an even larger income streamby allowing companies that are highlyrated by members to pay Angie’s Listfor the privilege of offering discountsto its members.PatientsLikeMe, a seven-year-oldcompany, helps 100,000 patients findothers with the same illness to shareexperiences, treatments, successes andsetbacks. In today’s culture of baringand sharing all, many people still treatmedical information as highly private.At PatientsLikeMe, members are toldthat the company makes money byaggregating the shared patient experiences,removing identifying information,and selling the data to medicaland pharmaceutical companies thatwant insight into patient experiences.Red Hat has built a billion-dollarbusiness on the Linux open-sourceoperating system. Linux is free, createdand constantly updated by ahuge community of volunteer softwaredevelopers. Red Hat sells supportservices to companies that run theirsystems on Linux. By serving as thecorporate help desk for Linux, RedHat has made it possible for Linuxto spread into the corporate world,which makes the skills of the volunteerLinux software developers more valuable.Red Hat uses some of its profitsand staff to mentor and contribute tothe community, advance open-sourcecode, and organize community events.Groupon has become a collective buyingpowerhouse with more than 50 millionregistered users by offering people adeal a day from a local business. Thismodel has spurred many copycats. Toensure that the novelty doesn’t wearoff, Groupon is now working to turn itsusers, whose only tie is a desire to finddeals, into a community. It is introducingG-Team campaigns, which rangefrom spurring flash mobs to fosteringlocal collective charitable action. “EveryG-Team campaign connects you withenough people to achieve somethingawesome that you couldn’t have donealone,” the Groupon website explains.The new business model for newsand journalism is beckoning fromevery site that seeks first and foremostto build a community. Games likeFarmville and virtual worlds like Worldof Warcraft and Second Life are nofun on their own. Their value comesfrom their communities. Their rapidgrowth results from network effects,where each new user/member/playermakes the service more valuable foreveryone else.Second Life becomes more interestingas more people build virtualhomes and businesses. Angie’s Listbecomes more useful to members asthe number of reviewers goes up. Asmembership increases, it also becomesa more important resource for businessesso they are more willing to payto advertise and offer discounts tomembers. That attracts more membersand fuels a virtuous circle—thehallmark of creating network effects.Community, Not AudienceTo harness this model, news organizationsneed to think of themselvesfirst as gathering, supporting andempowering people to be active in acommunity with shared values, andnot primarily as creators of news thatpeople will consume. Public radio hascreated a huge virtual communityof people who feel they have sharedinterests and values, evidenced by themillions of dollars donated during painfullylong pledge drives. Still, publicradio has hardly tapped the revenuepotential of its audience, for it hasyet to engage them as a communityand let that community organize itselfand find novel ways to create valuefor the group.NewWest.net, TED and BlogHer runlucrative conferences and events wheremembers and fans meet, learn andplan collaborations. LinkedIn offerspaid services that make it easier forusers to connect, share advice, hireand be hired. Zynga’s game playerspay real money for supplies that givethem higher status within a communitysuch as Farmville. On Facebook andother social spaces, people pay to senddigital tokens of affection or admiration,which only mean somethingwithin the community. The annualU.S. market in these virtual goods isestimated by Inside Virtual Goods tobe $2 billion and growing.Sites with active communities alsosucceed better in media’s traditionalrevenue hunting ground. They oftenget higher advertising rates becausemembers are more likely to click orbuy from advertisers when they feelinvested in the site. Smart advertisersalso have the opportunity tostudy, understand and cater to thecommunity.If media organizations are goingto tap the new community businessmodel, they will need to avoid mistakingtheir audience for a community.Fans become a community whenthey have the freedom to exploretheir interests and connections andorganize themselves. That freedomis why Facebook has more than 500million members.6 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Envisioning ConnectionsThe digital screenings in 2008 and2009 tapped a desire by Ira’s fans tobe part of a community. Yet fans arereally only a potential community.Media organizations need to createthe tools and foster the mindset tounderstand, activate and serve theircommunities, without trying to controlthem. People relate best to otherpeople, not institutions.Some news organizations are pursuingthe community-building model,such as the Lawrence Journal-World,which created WellCommons as ahealth community and just launcheda community site around sustainability.[See Jane Stevens’s article aboutWellCommons on page 40.] Withouta doubt, some won’t get it right or,like the Washington, D.C. websiteTBD.com, will fail to find sustainedmanagement support to put communityat the heart of their strategy.But if there is a common thread thatweaves through Foursquare, Facebook,Zynga, Twitter, BlogHer and manyother pioneers in the social economy, itis this: Creating community engendersvalue for people. And providing valueis the heart of any successful businessmodel. Michael Skoler, a 1993 NiemanFellow, is vice president of interactivefor Public Radio International. Heresearched new business models asa 2009-10 Reynolds Fellow at theMissouri School of Journalism.Start Spreading the News‘Word of link’s power is like nothing we’ve experienced before. It’s about how wepass along information, share ideas, and expand business in our digital times.’BY MARK BRIGGSInformation, news, recommendationsand yes, gossip, havealways been spread by word ofmouth. In the digital age whenpeople share such things, theresult is more immediate, expansiveand powerful—andhow it happens dependsa lot less on conversationand more on the links wesend. On Facebook, Twitter,YouTube and LinkedIn, thereigning method is “word oflink,” and this strategy alsothrives in e-mails and on blogsand websites devoted to publishingnews and journalism.Those “share” buttons on storiesand blog posts do get clicked.Distribution—passing along what’sof interest through personal networks—isonly the beginning of ourcommunity-building impulse. Collaborativejournalism happens with aclick as readers, listeners and viewersenlist themselves to be ambassadors forthose who report, write and producethe news.How we function in digital communitiesisn’t just changing journalism’sO FWO R DL I N KL I N KL I N KO FWO R DWO R DWO R DO FWO R DO FO FL I N KL I N Kecosystem; it is having a profoundeffect on how business works—andthis includes journalists.“At its core, social media requiresthat business leaders start thinkinglike small-town shop owners,” GaryVaynerchuk writes in his new book,“The Thank You Economy.” “They’regoing to have to take the long view andL I N Kstop using short-term benchmarksto gauge their progress. They’regoing to have to allow the personality,heart, and soul of thepeople who run all levels ofthe business to show.”If he’s right—and I believehe is—radical transparency(yes, more radical thanwhat’s already happened) liesahead for news companiesand journalists. It will involvepeople covering real news thatwill be absorbed and sharedby people with others theyinteract with in their variousdigital communities.No more being disconnected—of“us” standing apart from “them.”WO R DO FLike Nothing BeforeWord of link’s power is like nothingwe’ve experienced before. It’s abouthow we pass along information, shareideas, and expand business in ourdigital times.Consider Groupon, one of the fastestgrowing companies in the history of theWeb. Absorb the fact that Groupon—Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 7


Links That Bindthe community gathering let’s-make-adealapproach to digital commerce—ison pace to pull in $1 billion in sales inrecord time. This company didn’t startadvertising outside of search enginesuntil it had millions of users and hadlaunched in dozens of cities. (Judgingby the negative reaction to its SuperBowl ad this year that was probablya good idea.) Instead, Groupon grewfrom an e-mail listserv in Chicago tolaunches in Boston, New York, andWashington, D.C. largely through wordof link. Motivated to share the dailydeal with friends, the customer basegrew exponentially. Groupon estimatesthat more than half of its Web visitorscome because of referrals from friends.In the news business, few wouldhave believed that a startupwould surpass The WallStreet Journal and TheWashington Post in uniqueWeb users in less than fiveyears. Yet that’s what TheHuffington Post did. With17 million monthly uniquevisitors in March, thiscelebrity driven websitehad more traffic than theJournal and Post combinedand at a price of $315 millionit became the propertyof AOL earlier this year.Absent word of link, it’sunlikely that Groupon or The HuffingtonPost—or Zappos or Pandora ormany other digital start-ups—wouldhave found such success so quickly.The Referral EconomyCity University of New York journalismprofessor Jeff Jarvis talks and writesabout the “link economy,” describingit as “the new currency of media.” Herefers to it as a “gift economy” in which“links are presents that can be givenor earned but not bought.”Word of link is similar to this linkeconomy, but it is grounded in socialconventions that predate the Internetand the digital device known as links.While the link economy speaks moreto the power of search algorithms andGoogle ads, word of link is more aboutthe power of who is sharing the linkand that person’s relationship to theperson or company behind the link.It’s much like the product endorsementthat comes from a trusted friendcompared to one from a celebrityspokesperson on TV.Research highlights a pattern thatat first glance seems counterintuitive.Those who arrive at a news websitebecause of a link posted on Facebookor Twitter are likely to stay longer andreturn more often than visitors who getsent there from a link found througha search engine. What is surprisingabout this finding is that readers whoclick on links from search enginesare actively pursuing information,while those who get there via a socialWhat sets word of link apart is itsaccelerated speed, broader range, andpotential for stronger influence.network are passive news consumerswho are suddenly transformed intoactive ones.The Q. and A. website Quora hasbeen around since 2009. But lastyear, on the day after Christmas, theinfluential tech personality RobertScoble wrote a post entitled, “Is Quorathe biggest blogging innovation in10 years?” During the preceding 10months, Quora.com averaged 113,000unique users per month, accordingto Compete. In the two months afterScoble’s widely distributed post, whichraced around the Web on Twitter,Facebook and blogs, Quora.com averaged313,479 unique users.Who shared a link makes the difference.Powerful referrals come withgreater ease and frequency for newscompanies and journalists who havepersonal relationships with thosewhom New York University (NYU)journalism professor Jay Rosen calls“the people formerly known as theaudience.” And Scoble is one of themost well-connected and transparentreporters and bloggers of our time.The average Facebook user has130 friends and the average Twitteraccount has 300 followers. Accordingto Vaynerchuk’s math, that means oneaverage user with accounts on bothplatforms has the potential to reach7,740 people with a single message.That message could be a thumbs-up,one-word comment, like “interesting,”and the link then piggybacks on that. Orthe message could be critical or snarky,questioning the value or approach oncoverage.Authentic, personalinteractions with journalistsand news organizationstransform passive membersof an audience into activeendorsers and distributors—evenpartners. NYUprofessor Clay Shirky talksabout three elements thatmake social media powerful:the promise, the tools,and the bargain. Almostuniversally, news companieshave made the promiseof interactivity via socialmedia by launching Facebook pagesand Twitter accounts. Now the followthroughmust be their use of thesetools to stay true to the bargain—ofmaintaining genuine communicationand connection.They talk to you through theirstorytelling; the expectation is thatyou will talk back to them. And justas word of mouth worked better whendeeper connections existed betweenthose giving and receiving information,the same dynamic applies to word oflink. What sets word of link apart isits accelerated speed, broader range,and potential for stronger influence.The News Finds MeWhen I’m visiting college students, Ialways ask where they get their news.8 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Envisioning ConnectionsMost shrug. I might as well haveasked them where they get their food.“Everywhere,” most respond. Anotheranswer I get frequently—and it’s worthremembering—is the notion that “ifthe news is important enough, it willfind me.”Translated—if my friends think Ishould know, they’ll tell me.According to Facebook, the averageuser creates 90 pieces of content eachmonth on the site. More than 30 billionpieces of content are shared eachmonth, and much of that is what we calljournalism. Certainly reporters wanttheir work shared, but if they focustoo much on what moves the quickeston social networks this could lead toa form of “link-bait” journalism. Theaudience is too smart for that; or, let’ssay many of us hope they are and willsee through attempts to pander withsensational angles. Occasionally, ofcourse, pandering will work, but overthe long haul taking this route willdamage the credibility of journalistsand news organizations.Weaving a community together ismore than amassing huge numbers ofFacebook fans and Twitter followers.It’s a challenge of quality, not quantity.I’ll take 100 people who feel they arepartners rather than 1,000 followerswho consider us a glorified headlineservice. We’ll get better news tips,better feedback, and more evangelismfrom those 100 people—plus all thosein their respective networks.Small-town business owners relyheavily on word of mouth for marketing.By embracing this approach butwith a new twist, those who gather anddisseminate news will leverage wordof link in ways that will expand theiraudience, improve their journalism,and grow their business. Mark Briggs is author of “JournalismNext: A Practical Guide toDigital Reporting and Publishing”and “Entrepreneurial Journalism:How to Build What’s Next forNews,” to be published by CQ Pressin October. He is also the directorof digital media for KING-TV inSeattle, Washington and a FordFellow in Entrepreneurial Journalismat The Poynter Institute. Heblogs at www.journalism20.com.When Community and Journalism Converge‘… I am bypassing the predictable, often sensational headlines to explore theprofound ways that digital storytelling can be a force for political mediation.’BY KATERINA CIZEKIencountered journalism on the dayI came to understand the word“community.”It was my first assignment as astudent photojournalist and I wasbehind the barricades in Quebecat what became known as the OkaCrisis. It was the summer of 1990,and the news media were watchingthe military showdown between theCanadian armed forces and a Mohawkcommunity.The confrontation involved plans toexpand a municipal golf course ontoan ancient Mohawk burial ground.This standoff, which some considerCanada’s Wounded Knee, lasted twoand a half months. When it was over,so much had changed, including thepolitical balance between First Nationsand the federal government.As the day turned to dusk, it wasclear that I would remain at the standoffthrough the night. A few membersof the Mohawk Warrior Society hadpulled up plastic lawn chairs around arabbit-eared television directly behindthe barricade of overturned policevehicles and large branches. Theywere watching the evening news. Theyinvited me to join them, and when Idid I saw that Alanis Obomsawin, aFirst Nations Abenaki documentaryfilmmaker, was there to documentthis crisis through her own eyes forthe National Film Board of Canada.One hundred meters down the roadand behind the barricades, militaryguns were aimed in the community’sdirection and ready to be fired. Armyhelicopters buzzed above. Like themilitary, the Warriors had weapons.But there were unarmed women andchildren present as well.As I watched TV with the Warriors,I came to realize how divergent themainstream representation of thisarmed conflict was from what I waswitnessing. That evening I heardabout unresolved land claims and theabuse of power through the centuriesas non-Natives encroached on FirstNations lands. There were amongthe mainstream media some wellestablishedmembers who expressedviews about this mistreatment—a viewI shared. Later, they were accused ofStockholm syndrome.That evening I became committedto and certain of the value of theindependent and community-centeredmaking of media. During the interveningdecades a tsunami of this kindof storytelling became central to thedigital democratization of media. Butfor me that night crystallized theNieman Reports | Summer 2011 9


Links That BindAs filmmaker in residence at an inner-city hospital, Katerina Cizek worked as a storytellingpartner with health workers and patients.connections among media makingand democracy, journalism and documentary,citizenship and community.Digital Media andCommunityTaking place, as my epiphany did, atthe dawn of digital media, I becameaware early on of its revolutionarypotential.A few months later, in March1991, TV viewers in Los Angeles hadwitnessed one of the first modern actsof citizen journalism. When GeorgeHolliday heard police sirens anda commotion outside his bedroomwindow, he went to the balcony ofhis high-rise building with his newhand-held video camera and filmedthe confrontation going on 90 feetbelow. He recorded for almost eightminutes as four white Los Angelespolice officers brutally beat RodneyKing, a black man.The one minute of Holliday’s footagebroadcast on local TV and then on newsshows throughout the world sparkeda “handicam revolution.” More than adecade later, a documentary that I codirectedwith Peter Wintonick featuredthe use of that footage, its impact andlegacy, and the political impetus touse digital video to document humanrights abuses. Called “Seeing is Believing:Handicams, Human Rights andthe News,” it challenged the authorialvoice of mainstream media in the faceof rising community-based media andthe digital revolution. The film wasbroadcast throughout the world and isused today in classrooms and humanrights advocacy training.Fast-forward to now, and I am at theNational Film Board (NFB) of Canada.(Obomsawin, still making films andapproaching 80, is my colleague.) Iam working to refine and redefine thedocumentary filmmaking process andthink about notions of representationand emerging technology—all withcommunity and the potential of digitalcitizenship uppermost in mind. What Ido happens at the confluence of theseissues; my goal is not only to documentwhat I find, but also to locateour place as documentarians in all ofthis, a subject that has preoccupiedme for 20 years.Storytelling—Inside OutAt the NFB, I’ve been as likely to befound in the hallways of an inner-cityhospital as in an elevator at a residentialhigh-rise building—places, if I’mhonest, I would rather not be. Butthese are the physical spaces where Ihave had to be to connect communitiesof people who are rarely heardfrom or seen with our unlikelyforms of storytelling and mediamaking. It is in these new formsof storytelling that I believe weare creating frames for engagingwith some of the most importanttopics of the 21st century.For my first four years at theNFB, as I worked with veteranproducer Gerry Flahive, I wasa filmmaker in residence at aninner-city hospital. Like myapproach to covering the OkaCrisis, the perspective I tookwith this project was unconventional.I examined, in part, howthe media and members of themedical community might worktogether to create new forms ofintervention. Could telling a storyimprove someone’s health?I worked in partnership withhealth workers, patients and researchers;the key ingredient was respectfor our editorial independence anddiffering expertise. Usually, a filmmade inside a hospital would beabout what happens to workers andpatients. I approached making filmswith them, not about them, with thegoal of effecting tangible change in thesocial and political realms. The sevenprojects we did there, including “NFB:Filmmaker in Residence,” an interactivedocumentary that won a Webby,dealt with the transformative potentialthat exists at the intersection of digitalmedia, health care, and community.Now I’m in another kind of buildingin the second year of Highrise, anotherNFB media project. Our notions ofwhat I call “interventionist media” arenow transposed from a hospital intoa different community ecosystem—thehigh-rise, which is the most commonlybuilt form during the last century.Such buildings and their inhabitants,especially residential ones, have been,at best, ignored, and, at worst, vilifiedas being the cause of civil unrest that isoften characterized as racial or ethnic.As I did at the Oka barricade andin the hospital, I am bypassing thepredictable, often sensational headlinesto explore the profound ways thatdigital storytelling can be a force forpolitical mediation. For me as a film-10 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Envisioning Connectionsmaker, the high-rise building becomesa metaphor for density, and it offers aframe through which to think aboutsweeping issues of migration andglobalization, urbanity and community.In this century, more than anyother, to be human is to be urban. Yetpoliticians, journalists and academicshave only a meager understanding ofwhat people’s lives are like in suchplaces. News can’t simply be aboutwhat happens in the financial districtof a city’s downtown core when someof the most significant stories areunfolding in our urban peripheries.There, the neglected and pressingneeds of vulnerable communities arefound along with stark evidence ofeconomic injustice. Amid the concrete,I find inspiration for change.‘Out My Window’I constructed my first global interactiveonline Highrise documentary, “Out MyWindow,” as a virtual high-rise. Eachapartment window in the building is adigital portal to a different city. Onceinside, the user enters the life of ahigh-rise resident through first-personstorytelling and thousands of images.Using Skype, e-mail and Facebook,I got in touch with photographers,activists and journalists in mid-sizedcities—such as Prague, Beirut andToronto—which are representative ofthe places where most urban dwellerslive. From 13 cities and in 13 languages,100 contributors shared more than90 minutes of stories about living inthese urban environments.“Out My Window” is about high-riseresidents harnessing the power of community,music and art in their searchfor meaning in the space they inhabit,prefabricated as it might be. Peoplerenew what was old and crumbling asthey repurpose waste into things usefuland even beautiful. They create—andrecreate—community in spite of thebuilt forms surrounding them.This Web documentary has garneredglobal attention, including a2011 digital Emmy in the nonfictioncategory. It is spawning conversationson blogs and on Twitter. In short, “OutMy Window” gave the Highrise projectthe initial push we wanted with itsability to engage in dialogue peoplewho are too often separated into silosof interest, whether in architecture orcity planning, journalism or humanrights, education or housing activism.And it has spurred conversation amongthe residents themselves.Questions We AskWhat lies ahead—at both a globaland local level—is the desire to pushthe boundaries of what’s possibleat the places where community anddocumentary intersect. In anotheriteration of the Highrise project, we’vebeen working for quite some time withresidents of a high-rise building toarrive at a sense of the values sharedamong those who live in the isolatingspaces of a tall residential building.Here are a few questions animatingour efforts:• What aspects of these people’s liveswould conventional journalism andThe online documentary “Out My Window” is a virtual high-rise, with each window on the screen leading into a story about the life of aresident in a different city.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 11


Links That Binddocumentary filmmaking usuallymiss?• What more can we learn by collaboratingwith members of thecommunity as they help us, asmedia makers, get closer to what’shappening?• What about the stories and imagesthat residents create themselves?• How can we support the selfrepresentationof those who livein the high-rise as we want to hearfrom people in their voices and seethem through their images?• How can the act of media makingsupport community building?One overarching question involvestrying to learn more about how notionsof community take on wholly newmeanings in digital space. As this happens,what is the role of the journalistas documentarian? A key ingredient iswhat happens with technology—withwhat it enables all of us, as makers ofmedia, to do. Then there is also theevolving idea of “digital citizenship.”This addresses our level of access totechnology and our ability to use andharness the power of technology toengage and transform the world welive in.What is undeniable is the tighteningrelationship between communicationstechnologies and political activism.Exploding with the Rodney King video,this political linkage is seen now in therole social media are playing in theuprisings across the Arab world. Fromthe quieter gestures of photo-bloggersin a meeting room behind the elevatorin a suburban Toronto high-rise,digital citizenship is continuing toshape the ways in which communityand journalism come together to tellimportant stories of our time. Katerina Cizek is a documentarydirector with the National FilmBoard of Canada. Her recent project“Highrise: Out My Window” won a2011 digital Emmy.Engaging Communities: Content and Conversation‘Editors ought to require that story pitches and budget lines include anengagement component, reflecting community conversation, collaboration andoutreach.’BY JOY MAYEROf the many challenges newsorganizations confront, there isone that inspires my research,informs my teaching, and ignites myimagination. It involves the disintegratingconnection between journalistsand their audiences—the separationof journalists from their communitiesthat has taken place through the years.With the notion of objectivity havingbecome such a dominant strategy,sometimes this distancing has beenintentional.The motivating idea behind thedisconnection was simple: To enhancetheir ability to fairly report the news,journalists needed to stand apartfrom their community rather thanbe participants. Other factors, suchas journalists’ transient lives as theymoved from place to place for careerchallenges and advancement, added tothe disconnection. The result is thatjournalists often ended up withoutany roots, history or context in thecommunities they covered.Journalists still foster and celebrateotherness more than they do connection.Ever mindful of conflicts of interest—actualor perceived—they holdthemselves apart from influence andare wary of being swayed by sourcesor vocal readers.The public journalism movementthat emerged in the 1990’s was inpart about using news organizationsas vehicles for finding solutions forcommunity issues and problems. Itwas criticized for encouraging journaliststo partner and align themselveswith sources and for a perception ofpandering to audience whims. Criticsalso threw around a word that makesjournalists uncomfortable—advocacy.Yet if we explore this idea now,helping to find solutions seems anaccepted part of the job. I’ve asked alot of journalists this year if they feelthat they’re working on behalf of theircommunities. To a person, they say“yes.” (The opening line of the ChicagoTribune’s editorial vision is “We standup for the community.”)In general, I’ve found that mostjournalists would agree with thesenotions:• They are using information toimprove their communities.• They want community membersto feel invested in and connectedto the news product.• They want as much informationas they can get about what theirreaders want and need to know.What Engagement MeansAs I’ve spent several months talkingwith journalists about what communityengagement means to them,I’ve asked them: Why do they think12 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Envisioning Connectionsit’s important? How are they seekingto achieve it?Some described what it’s like to bein conversation with people in theircommunities and how they use socialmedia to be in the mix ofwhat people are talkingabout. Others work topursue collaborative relationships;people help themlocate sources and shapestories and, in doing so,become involved in settingthe news agenda. Sometimesthey then help gather andshare information. Stillother journalists talk aboutcommunity engagementmostly as outreach as theylook for partners, buildbridges, and identify andmeet informational needs.The book “The Elementsof Journalism” does a greatjob laying out the obligationsjournalists have totheir audiences, includingprinciples such as an obligationto the truth, loyalty tocitizens, monitoring peoplein power, and serving as aforum for public discussion.I would argue thattoday’s media landscapenow requires an additional element—anew principle to keep us in tune withour digital times: Journalists have anobligation to identify and attempt toconnect with the people who mostwant and need their content.In some cases, this obligation mightapply to an entire publication, butin most cases this reaching out willhappen in more granular ways—bythe beat, the topic, the project, andmaybe even the story. If journalistsbelieve what they are doing is tryingto improve their communities byproviding information, isn’t it truethat the information needs to reachthe right people to be utilized mosteffectively? If a journalism tree fallsin a forest and no one hears it, doesit do any good?Adhering to this obligation isgood for journalism’s challengingbottom line. It mimics marketing, ina way—find the customer, meet theneed, bring eyeballs to the product,and build brand loyalty. It’s customerservice, too—anticipating needs, invitingfeedback, being responsive toCalifornia Watch’s coloring book on earthquake preparedness.input, and acting like a human being.It is also the right thing to do for ourcommunities. Identify an informationalneed; make sure we fill it in a wayreaders can find and use.Engagement: A Spectrum ofIdeasSome of the more interesting experimentsI’ve found this year come fromstart-up news organizations, not legacymedia. I like to call them “scrappymedia,” mission driven and goaloriented. They know their audiencejust as they understand the need theirproduct is filling for them. OaklandLocal and The Texas Tribune provideexamples of mission statements thatpair providing information with serviceto community. California Watch is notshy about its emphasis on “solutionorientedreporting intended to havean impact on the quality of life” of itsonline community. Ashley Alvarado, itspublic engagement manager, considersit part of her job to make sure thewebsite’s stories are easily understandable,get translated intoall appropriate languages,and are easy to act on.In one riveting example,she and her colleagues atCalifornia Watch held freelead screenings as part of aproject on unsafe lead levelsin jewelry; they spent theirtime and money to make iteasy for people to see if theirjewelry was safe—and theyviewed this as a natural andneeded extension of theirjournalism.This spring after CaliforniaWatch investigatedthe seismic safety of publicschools and found reasonfor concern, it went onestep further and publishedan educational coloringbook about earthquake preparedness.Visuals pairedwith words that kids canunderstand explain complexissues and provide informationthey’d need in anemergency; the books weretranslated into Spanish, Chinese andVietnamese. The staff had a particularreadership in mind—in this case, children—andit went to extreme measuresto get important information to theright people.Another California-based engagementeditor, Grant Barrett of Voiceof San Diego (VOSD), considers it hisjob to aggressively seek and connectwith niche audiences, especially forimportant stories. A fantastic exampleis a six-month project on the life of arefugee who was deaf and unable tospeak. To make sure that people whowould be most interested and affectedfound the piece, VOSD reached out torefugee and refugee rights groups, thedeaf community, and the public servicescommunity. Barrett describes his jobas figuring out how to get stories intocommunities that want and need them.He’s careful to say that he doesn’tNieman Reports | Summer 2011 13


Links That Bindtake this approach for every story; thestrategy seems to fit best with projectsthat are especially significant or thatprovide much-wanted attention. “Weare carefully finding individuals andgroups who, if they did not hear aboutthese stories, would be worse off forit,” Barrett wrote in an e-mail to me.“We are hunting for change towardgoodness, quality and enlightenment.”My conversations with Alvarado,Barrett and others have led me toembrace a “take the party to thepeople” philosophy. Journalists wantwhat they do to reach those who wantit. But most are accustomed to puttingstories online and then hoping peoplefind them. With so much content outthere, hoping isn’t a sound strategy—it’san excuse. Journalists need to becomesocial by sparking conversation withpeople whose hobbies, work, ideas orinterests make them natural audiences,and then find ways for their stories toenrich the conversation.This does mean that sometimesthe traffic and conversations happenelsewhere than on their website. Thiswon’t improve their own metrics; eyeballson another site don’t yet countfor much. But what defines successin digital space will need to evolveover time to include conversationsthat happen on Facebook, mentionsin online communities, and pingbacksfrom other sites.Let’s also not ignore the value thatstill comes from those person-to-personinteractions that inform coverage,encourage content sharing, and fosterbrand loyalty.Editors ought to require that storypitches and budget lines include anengagement component, reflectingcommunity conversation, collaborationand outreach. In many cases,conversations about stories need toinclude these questions: Who is goingto benefit most from this information?And how will reporters, editors andproducers be sure those people find it?After all, this is our obligation. Joy Mayer was a 2010-2011 ReynoldsFellow at the Missouri Schoolof Journalism where she studiedcommunity engagement in journalismin a project she called “Ditchthe Lecture. Join the Conversation:Reconceiving the role of journalistsin a participatory culture.” She is anassociate professor at the MissouriSchool of Journalism and an editorat the Columbia Missourian, whereshe and her students are launching anew community outreach team.Curation, Community and the Future of News‘People are clearly overwhelmed by the growing volume and weight of digitalcontent and messaging that they feel compelled to process.’BY STEVEN ROSENBAUMThinking back, I’ve always considerednews as a dialogue ratherthan a monologue. I’ve preferredconversations to speeches. That said, Idon’t often hang out on street cornersor in neighborhood bars partakingin random conversations about theweather or the Mets. I like my conversationscurated.While it’s easy—and tempting—tothink of what’s happening to news asthe result of technology, my earliestmemories of what we now think ofas interactive news and social mediareside in a single phone line and aRadioShack answering machine.This memorable moment took placein 1992 when I was the executiveproducer of a newsmagazine called“Broadcast: New York,” a weeklyhalf-hour solidly reported news showthat was syndicated across New YorkState. Most of the networks wereexperiencing an explosion of their ownnewsmagazine shows. One day as wewere trying to come up with originalstories and new topics, I exploded infrustration in front of my producers:“We’re doing the same damn storiesas everyone else. We’re out of originalideas.”Viewers NewsThat was the day that we purchasedwhat was then a pricey 800 numberand went on the air with a new segment.We asked the audience to callin and suggest stories that needed tobe covered. If the idea turned out tobe good and the lead was solid, weassigned a producer to do the story.Then we used the person’s voice fromthe call to introduce the segment on air.It was an immediate hit—so popularthat callers often found a busy signal.But they dialed again and again untilthey got through and could leave theirstory idea on our cassette recorder.Often, after that week’s program hadaired, I would sit alone in the officeand listen to the phone machine beepas the callers pitched their ideas. Backin those early days, the sound wasmesmerizing.After this segment had been on theair for a few months, an AssociatedPress (AP) reporter called to do astory about our new “technology.” Iwas happy to be quoted by the AP,14 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Envisioning Connectionsbut I told thisreporter that ourtechnology wasno different fromany other stationin New York oranywhere in theUnited States forthat matter. All ofus had phones; it’sjust that we werechoosing to answerthem when viewerscalled.Six months later,technology caughtup with us whenSharp Electronicsreleased a camcorderthat made it easy for amateurs torecord themselves. Sharp loaned usfive of them, and we went on the airthe next week offering viewers theopportunity to pitch a story, and ifselected, we would FedEx them acamcorder for their use.“Viewers News”—with camerasshipped to viewers—was an overnightsensation. A few months latera producer summoned me to an editroom. We’d been pitched a story froma woman in Syracuse, New York whohad silicone breast implants that hadruptured. She’d had blood poisoningand was now deeply debilitated. Theproducer was screening her raw tape—atour of her home, a trip to the supermarket,an awkward interview withher husband, and then, the momentI’ll never forget. The last day she hadthe camera, she woke up and took thecamera with her into the bathroom. Sheset it on the sink, pressed “record,” andthen unbuttoned her dressing gown.As we watched, the room fell silent.She had two terrible scars. There wasnothing at all sexual about what wewere watching. Just terrible scars.In that instant I knew our world—and our place in it as journalists—wouldnever be the same. With her camera,she had taken us to a place where nojournalist was allowed to go. A placeso private and personal that if anyTV crew had shot those images theywould have been guilty of invadingher privacy. But she hadtaken us there. She hadopened the door andinvited us in to see whathad happened to her.After some discussionwith her and ourstations, we broadcasther video that Saturdaynight at 6:30 onNBC stations.JournalistTurned CuratorNo longer was I ajournalist in the oldsense of the word.I’d become a curator—afilter—helping the audience sharestories. My role was to decide whichstories to put on the air and figure outhow to contextualize them. “ViewersNews” led to another program thatwas known as “MTV Unfiltered.”It felt good to play a role in helpingviewers emerge from their passiverole as TV couch potatoes into anactive role as vibrant and prolificcreators of content. And today theidea of journalist as curator is frontand center, as the tools to make andtell stories are now in the hands ofanyone with a cell phone, laptop ordesktop computer. The old barriers toentry—the cost of a printing press ora broadcast tower—have evaporated.Of course, this change doesn’tcome without a price. Results of thefirst annual Digital Lifestyle Surveythat we conducted at Magnify.netilluminate the overwhelming amountof data—photographs, texts, messages,chats, videos—that come at consumers.To do the survey, we sent out aWeb-based mailing to 10,000 partners,customers and friends in our companydatabase and received 200 responses,mostly from technologists, journalists,entrepreneurs, executives, andprofessionals.I found the results stunning. Injust 12 months, 65 percent of therespondents said that the data streamcoming at them had increased byat least 50 percent. When asked tocategorize that data, a majority (72.7percent) described their data streamas either a “roaring river,” a “flood,” ora “massive tidal wave.”As they take in this surge in information,nearly half (48.5 percent) ofthe respondents said that they areconnected to the Internet “from themoment I wake up until the moment Igo to bed.” During their waking hours,they struggle under this load of unfilteredinput as increasing bandwidthand data abundance has averageconsumers unable to keep their headabove water. More than half (50.3percent) of those surveyed admittedthat “when I’m offline, I am anxiousthat I’ve missed something.” To addresstheir anxiety, 79.5 percent check e-mailall the time, 57.4 percent never turnoff their phone, and what I found mostdisturbing was the revelation that oneAlmost half of the respondents to Magnify.net’s Digital Lifestyle Survey reported beingconnected to the Internet from the time they wake up until they go to bed.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 15


Links That Bindthird of them said thatthey check e-mail in themiddle of the night.Despite devotingthis kind of time andenergy to trying tokeep up with the dataflow, close to half (46.9percent) agreed withthe statement “I amunable to answer allmy e-mail,” and 62.5percent agreed withthe sentiment “I wish Icould filter out the floodof data.”These results paint astark picture of wherewe are and where we’reheaded. People areclearly overwhelmedby the growing volumeand weight of digitalcontent and messagingthat they feel compelledto process. As more digitaldevices and softwareservices proliferate, theamount of data andthe speed at which itcomes at us will growexponentially.Human CuratedWebSoon this flood will be like an avalanche,burying us if we don’t outrunit. Google’s Eric Schmidt has saidthat the entire world is creating fiveexabytes (or five billion gigabytes) ofdata every two days. That’s equal toall of the information created from thebeginning of civilization through 2003.This simply isn’t sustainable. Try aspeople might, multitasking or goingwithout sleep is a recipe for disaster.People have reached—and many havesurpassed—the limits of their abilityto manage data, and this sense ofinescapable overload is having animpact on how they relate to familyand friends and on their productivityand even their sleep.Algorithmic solutions like betterspam filters, smarter search, and socialtools that surface the likes and dislikesIn the Digital Lifestyle Survey conducted by Magnify.net, almost 80 percentof respondents said they check e-mail “all of the time” to cope with theoverload of information.of friends will certainly improve things.But the number of connected devicesand new social software offerings willcreate undifferentiated data faster thancomputers alone can manage.The solution is not to be foundin faster computers or smarter algorithms.The best place to look for aremedy is in the power of the humanmind and tapping its capacity to find,sort and contextualize information andideas. As this happens (and it alreadyis starting) we will think of this time asbeing the dawn of the human filteredWeb—the curated Web.As a clue to why I am convincedthis approach will accelerate as a Webpractice, I turn again to the DigitalLifestyle Survey in which a healthymajority (61.3 percent) of the respondentsagreed with this concept: “Iconsider the content I share part of whoI am.” Skillful sharingof information throughchannels of communityfiltering and personalrecommendations willfulfill people’s sense ofdigital identity as contentcurators. And thisleads to a different kindof content consumer, onewho will do less surfingof the Web and insteadturn to curated contentdelivered by trustedsources.Journalism isn’t goingto be any less important.In fact, as informationgets messierand noisier, those whopossess the skills torecognize importantstories, find themes,provide context, andexplain the significanceof pieces of informationwill be criticallyimportant. Instead ofreminiscing about thegood old days—as welong for the relative quietand lack of disruptionwe had then—let’s takewhat we know how todo as journalists andfind the best way to use these skillsto tell stories and provide essentialinformation.There are communities—geographicand otherwise—that are filled withpeople eager for somebody to playthis much-needed role. With curationas the new journalism, it’s time forus to act. Steven Rosenbaum is an entrepreneur,filmmaker and authorof “Curation Nation: How to Winin a World Where Consumers areCreators,” published by McGraw-Hillin 2011. He is the CEO of Magnify.net, a real-time video curation enginefor publishers, brands and websites.16 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Envisioning ConnectionsA Community Watches a Story Unfold‘It was risky to reveal parts of the story as it unfolded because in 30 years in thisbusiness I have seen projects hit dead ends.’BY RON SYLVESTERTwo days after my story detailingthe selling of teenage girls forsex in our city was publishedin The Wichita (Kansas) Eagle, thistweet arrived:@JenWPortraits: Finally read@rsylvester’s child traffic [sic]story. Sickening. Heartbreaking.How do we fix this?Jennifer White, a suburban momand photographer, sent it and in doingso kicked off a community project thatraised truckloads of food and clothingand dozens of new volunteers to aidvulnerable teens living on our streets.At each donation drive or volunteermeeting, someone mentioned beingmoved to act by White’s public sharingof her reaction to my story. Weeksafter subscribers had recycled thenewspaper, White was still creditingthis story as an inspiration.When I started using Twitter to covertrials three years ago, I had no ideaof the power that social networkingwould have on my reporting.“I just want to see how this works,”I told Judge Ben Burgess, who gaveme permission to tweet from his courtroom.My live trial coverage began,one 140-character message at a time,with the case of Ted Burnett in themurder-for-hire of Chelsea Brooks, apregnant 14-year-old. Her 19-year-oldboyfriend, Elgin Ray Robinson, Jr.,apparently thought giving Burnettmoney and drugs to strangle Brookswould prevent her parents from pursuinga case of statutory rape. Instead,both men are serving sentences of lifeimprisonment without parole.My tweets from the courtroomincluded more detail and dimensionsof coverage—a sort of running colorcommentary from the trial—than adaily newspaper account ever could:@rsylvester: One juror forgotto turn off his cell phone. Ringtone: “Carry on My WaywardSon,” by Kansas (1976).At the end of the first day, I beganreceiving e-mails and tweets frompeople who liked being able to followthe trial and a story that had horrifiedour city. They learned how detectivesunraveled the crime while I discoveredthe power and connectedness of instantfeedback. Often I refer to Twitter andFacebook as the digital public squareor the community water cooler—theplace where people gather to discussthe latest news and gossip. Thesesocial media tools have also becomethe circulation department of themodern newsroom.U.S. District Court Judge J. ThomasMarten got it. The following spring thetech-savvy jurist allowed me to tweet atrial about Wichita street gang activityfrom a courthouse that had previouslyforbidden reporters to carry cell phonesor computers. Followers stayed withme for six weeks, tweeting questionsand comments. One of their favorites:an annual gang barbecue, held by theCrips and referenced by its nicknamefrom the witness stand. “Cripnic! OMGCripnic!” came one response.Those who follow my tweets andFacebook postings appreciate havinga virtual seat at the courthouse andinsights about the inner workings ofthe justice system. A follower said shelearned “it’s not like ‘CSI.’ ”Risks and RewardsThis year I’m engaging with socialmedia as I work on larger investigativeprojects. Trials have their own narrative,conducive to strings of tweets.Investigative stories unfold over timewith gigabytes of information that maynot have context for weeks or months.A recent story I did followed RonnieRhodes, who had spent 30 years inprison after being convicted of murder.But a class of students at WashburnUniversity’s School of Law in Topeka,Kansas suspected he was innocent. Asreporting about his case got underway, we decided to use my blog, “Whatthe Judge Ate for Breakfast.” It wasrisky to reveal parts of the story as itunfolded because in 30 years in thisbusiness I have seen projects hit deadends. To publish incrementally mightmean that the story would fizzle inpublic. Knowing this added tensionfor me, even if those in the socialmedia community might not haveappreciated this aspect of reportingthe story in this way.It was a colleague who convincedme that the reporting process wouldturn out to be as interesting as theunderlying story. “There’s a reasonSuperman was a newspaper reporter.Because it’s a cool job, and people areinterested, even if you’re not Superman,”said Katie Lohrenz, The WichitaEagle’s newsroom programmer and my27-year-old online journalism mentor.At a time when many news organizationsjealously guard their information,online editors John Boogert and TomNieman Reports | Summer 2011 17


Links That BindRon Sylvester blogged about a law class project.Shine realized that could change. Bloggingthis story meant we owned it.The law class at Washburn firstdiscovered problems with Rhodes’s1981 murder conviction after analyzingcourt transcripts, legal arguments, andevidence in the case. I wrote aboutRhodes as I blogged about reporting.I filed short posts about my strugglesto access records and find missingevidence.My main rule: I wouldn’t bloganything unless I could give it context.Sometimes I’d receive a pieceof information that I wouldn’t blogabout for months because I didn’tknow what it would mean to the finalstory. Along the way, we posted roughcuts of videos and later we polishedthese for a multimedia presentation.We used comments on the blog todrive some of our reporting.In the middle of all that, I metRob Curley, head of online for theLas Vegas Sun, and a fellow Kansan.He told me how the Sun designedprojects for online before giving themto print. We’d never done that, butnow seemed a good time to try. So Ibegan working with Eba Hamid, ourWeb producer, three months beforewe had set a print publication datefor the Rhodes story. I deluged herwith digital documents, videos andlinks and we finished our outline forour online presentation before theprint side even saw the story budgets.As the press ran,we stayed up halfthe night, addingthe final touches,including links tooutside resources. Apriority was settingup multiple ways forcommunity membersto interact—with usand with each other.We assigned a Twitterhashtag, linkedvia Facebook, andset up a live chatwith Rebecca Woodman,the law professorwhose studentslaunched the project.This expanded andimproved the level of comments weusually see on a story; we receivedthoughtful responses and questionsfrom those forums that led to followupstories. Links to our story traveledthrough networks of innocence projectsaround the country.Social media forces me to stayinvolved in my community. Ratherthan simply dropping my stories offat the copy desk, I respond to readercomments and curate feeds fromFacebook and Twitter. The story staysalive for days, or, as with the Rhodesand child trafficking stories, weeks andmonths after the initial run.When Jennifer White expressedoutrage about child trafficking, shesent me a DM (a direct, personalmessage) asking what she could do. Ireferred her to the Wichita Children’sHome’s Street Outreach program,which works to prevent sex traffickingof runaways. As White got involved,she chronicled her efforts on Twitter.I collected her tweets into a blog post.Our online content editor linked to itoff our homepage. Within a day, Whitefound her inbox stuffed with offers ofhelp. Her efforts caught the attentionof our CBS affiliate. Lori Buselt, ourinteractive content editor, linked to theTV story about White. In an onlinecommunity, there is no competition.During my career, I’ve seen importantstories die within the 24-hournews cycle. But the online community,expanded by each individual’s sharingwithin his or her social network,is giving my stories extended lives.Rhodes wrote that he’s received supportfrom prison staff members whohave followed his story.Social networking changes the relationshipbetween reporters and theircommunity. People stop being thoughtof as readers, viewers or an audience.They are friends. They follow you. They“like” you. I’ve found comments onTwitter and Facebook to be the mostcivil and insightful. On our website,people may comment anonymously.Sometimes, those can be hateful orinaccurate. I try to answer questionsand politely correct inaccuracies. I’vefound that for those leaving comments,just knowing I’m paying attention canraise the level of conversation. Or, asWhite did, people become participants.Community members who once reactedto the stories we did now drive howwe pursue the news.A follow-up to the child sex traffickingstory covered White’s donationdrive that produced the truckloads ofitems and $2,300 in cash for the StreetOutreach program. But I didn’t justwrite stories. I also retweeted posts byWhite and others in the community,linked to their blogs, and put updateson Facebook.These tools have become as valuablefor my reporting as my notebook. Theylead sources to me, like the e-mail Ireceived that raised a question so obviousI wondered why I hadn’t thought ofit myself: Why does the city of Wichitalicense escort services that seem to beinvolved in child trafficking?The next day I sent a requestfor records to the city departmentresponsible for issuing such licenses.That I didn’t come up with this angleturns out not to matter. Let’s just putit this way—a friend passed along thisinformation in our new town square. Ron Sylvester has covered courts forThe Wichita Eagle and Kansas.comfor the past 11 years. Learn moreabout him at http://rsylvester.com.18 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Envisioning ConnectionsFinding Information Pathways to CommunityInclusion‘I yearned for grassroots assessments of every community’s information ecologyand widespread advocacy for stronger, more democratic media.’BY PETER M. SHANEIf reporters and editors are lookingfor a word to identify what Americansneed journalism to accomplishin the service of both community anddemocracy, that word is “inclusion.”I figured this out during the twoyears I served as executive directorof the Knight Commission on theInformation Needs of Communities ina Democracy. And the role I’ve playedin producing a follow-up project,Information Stories, deeply reinforcedthis lesson. Launched in March, thismultimedia project features personalstories that illuminate what’s at stakewhen the flow of local news andinformation fails to serve well all themembers of a community.It was at the January 2008 initialplanning meeting to set up the commissionthat Alberto Ibargüen, presidentof the John S. and James L. KnightFoundation, first described our task.He did this by setting forth what hecalled three straightforward questions:• What are the information needsof local communities in our 21stcenturyAmerican democracy?• Are they being met?• If not, what should we do about it?Of course no question could be lessstraightforward or more profoundthan the first. The meaning of each ofits three key elements—information,community and democracy—is not onlyambiguous, but also hotly contested.Adding “journalism” to the mix hardlysimplifies matters. Yet bringing theseideas within a single frame was itselfa conceptual breakthrough.The challenge the commission tookon was to give expression to their relationshipand to convey its importancein concrete language—using as fewfour-syllable words as possible.Democracy and InformationMeeting that challenge meant placingthe emphasis on democracy. Focusingon democracy has two immediate, criticalimplications. First is the importanceof linking information needs to geographicallydefined jurisdictions, notjust those informal human networksof shared interest or mutual supportthat might or might not correspondto physical space. This is because ofthe way democracy is organized bygeography.While I may self-identify with looselyknit communities of law professors,dog owners, or movie lovers, it is as aresident of the city of Columbus, locatedin Franklin County, Ohio that I amempowered to exercise a democraticcivic role. My fellow residents and Ihave the power and the authority tomake choices regarding our schooldistricts, city, county, state and nation.Without information to attend wiselyto those choices, democracy withers.The second implication is thatdemocracy has to be defined. Too oftenpeople understand democracy in only athin procedural sense. Political systemsare sometimes called democratic forthe sole reason that the governmentholds regularly scheduled elections.However, democracy represents morethan elections, and the Knight commissionembraced without hesitationthe conclusion that “at a minimum,democracy means self-governance ina political system protective of libertyand equality.”This was no trivial consensus toreach, especially given the diversityand independent-mindedness of themembers of this commission. Whattheir final report calls “a politicalsystem protective of … equality” mustbe, by definition, a system in whichthe needs of everyone are recognizedand, at least, taken seriously. Achievingthis, the commission stated, requiresa healthy community informationsystem to “reflect the interests, perspectivesand narratives of the entirecommunity.”Journalism is central to this processof democratic inclusion. It iswhat draws us, as citizens, out ofour private corners and into a sharedconversation by helping members of acommunity solve problems, coordinateactivities, achieve public accountability,and generate a sense of connectedness.Performing these functions ina democratic fashion requires thosewho provide information to draw theattention of an entire community tothe interests and perspectives of everypart of itself. Recognizing—and fairlyevaluating—everyone’s interests andneeds won’t happen unless those whoare telling the community’s storiesare determined to provide the publicwith relevant, meaningful news andinformation that is both credible andcomprehensive.Information StoriesAfter living with these issues for twoyears and helping to produce thecommission’s report, my hope was thatactivists throughout the country wouldgrab hold of the Knight commission’sideas. I yearned for grassroots assessmentsof every community’s informationecology and widespread advocacyfor stronger, more democratic media.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 19


Links That BindWhen Machines Decide What We ‘Think’By Jan GardnerThe Internet helps like-mindedcitizens find each other, but does itfoster democracy? A while back EliPariser, board president and formerexecutive director of the liberaladvocacy group MoveOn.org, feltoptimistic about its potential fordoing this. “For a time, it seemedthat the Internet was going toentirely redemocratize society,” hewrites in his new book, “The FilterBubble: What the Internet Is HidingFrom You.” Now, Pariser has growingconcerns about the answer tothat question.In the days following September11, 2001, Pariser, then a recent collegegraduate, launched an onlinepetition calling for a restrainedand multilateral response to theattacks. More than half a millionpeople quickly signed the petition,and Pariser joined MoveOn, a liberalonline advocacy organization,shortly afterward.Since then he’s watched theInternet evolve in ways that alarmhim. “Democracy requires citizensto see things from one another’spoint of view, but instead we’remore and more enclosed in ourown bubbles,” he writes. “Democracyrequires a reliance on shared facts;instead we’re being offered parallelbut separate universes.”Pariser’s concerns are based inpart on his own experience withFacebook. Most of his friends leanto the left, as he does, but Pariseris interested in what conservativesare thinking so he befriended some.Yet what they wrote stopped beingdisplayed in his Facebook newsfeedbecause “Facebook was apparentlydoing the math,” he notes,and discovered that he clicked onlinks from his progressive friendsmore frequently than those fromhis conservative friends. Even ifhe wants to follow their thinking,algorithmic decisions prevent himfrom doing so.Facebook isn’t the only onlinebusiness that “thinks” it knows whatpeople want and acts accordingly.Pariser tells of an experiment inwhich he had two well-educated,politically progressive friends wholive in the Northeast do a Googlesearch for “BP” after last year’sGulf of Mexico oil spill. Each gota different result—one receivedinvestment information about BPwhile the other saw news about theoil spill. It turns out that Googlemonitors 57 signals about a Webuser’s profile and online behaviorto personalize search results foreach user.Pariser expresses concern aboutthe personalization of the Internetthat creates this troubling filterbubble. Trapped within it, usersare exposed to less that surprisesthem while being fed a steady dietof information that confirms theirbeliefs.“Ultimately, democracy worksonly if we citizens are capable ofthinking beyond our narrow selfinterest.But to do so, we need ashared view of the world we cohabit.We need to come into contact withother peoples’ lives and needsand desires,” he writes. “The filterbubble pushes us in the oppositedirection—it creates the impressionthat our narrow self-interest is allthat exists. And while this is greatfor getting people to shop online,it’s not great for getting people tomake better decisions together.” But any report—no matter how wellfounded or well written—tends to bea weak mobilizing tool.Information Stories became for mea digital vehicle to make these ideasvibrant and visible, concrete andaccessible. This project was producedin collaboration with Liv Gjestvang, afilmmaker based in Columbus and thecoordinator of Ohio State University’sDigital Union, and helped by a smallKnight grant. We recruited peoplewho could describe what it means tosuffer the consequences of a brokeninformation flow—and then seek waysto remedy the silence. They scriptedand helped to produce three- to fiveminutevideos about their personaland community experiences. On ourwebsite, each story can be watchedon its own, but we also produced aDVD that integrates all of them—alongwith an introduction and conclusion Icreated—into a documentary.20 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Envisioning ConnectionsThese seven women and five menstorytellers form a mini-tapestry ofAmerica—teenager to senior citizen,white, black, Latino, Asian, NativeAmerican, rural, urban, straight, gay,native-born, immigrant, with andwithout recognized disabilities, livingvariously in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Far West, Southwestand California. (Hoped-for recruitsfrom the Deep South fell through.)Each responded in a different way tothe inadequacy of the community’sinformation flow. Some turned tonewspapers, both print and online;for others, radio, TV and broadbandaccess became their vehicles. Stillothers used e-mail lists, public art,face-to-face structured communityconversation, or direct engagementin community organizing.Some of their stories are explicitlyabout journalism:• A labor union secretary and motherof five narrates the struggle she wentthrough to get media coverage forhealth and safety issues related tolocal mining in Libby, Montana.• A New Hampshire state legislatorexplains her role in creating anonline newspaper, The Forum, in anarea of her state that she refers toas a “black hole of news coverage.”Some are stories about activism:• The executive director of NativePublic Media describes the drive tobring broadband to Indian Country.• A high school student relates whyshe thought it important to maketransgender people a more visiblepresence at San Francisco Pride.• The director of a faith-based communityorganizing project explainshow he helps people overcome thepowerlessness they feel when theylive “in an information vacuum”generated by people and institutionsthat benefit from the public’s “lackof understanding.”Snapshots from Information Stories.All are stories about the need forinclusion and the dangers of exclusion.In “Why I Mind,” Brenda Jo Brueggeman,a hard-of-hearing English professor,explains her determination tobring the voices and concerns of deafstudents into the flow of informationin her community. She tells the storyof Carl Dupree, a student at GallaudetUniversity whose repeated failuresto pass a required remedial Englishexam led to an angry confrontationin the English department office.With the arrival of campus security,Dupree became so agitated at beinghandcuffed—an action that caused himto lose his one mode of communication—thatthe police forcefully subduedhim. When they inadvertently placedtoo much pressure on his neck, he died.It is hard to imagine a more graphicimage of the life and death stakes forindividuals when they are silenced,misunderstood or ignored in the flowof information.I recently spoke about the InformationStories project to Fiona Morgan,a graduate student at Duke Universityand a former reporter who coordinatedanother follow-up initiative to theKnight commission, the New AmericaFoundation’s study of the media ecologyof the Research Triangle in NorthCarolina. When I asked her what shelearned from her own project identifyinggaps in information flow in NorthCarolina, she expressed a conclusionidentical to my own: “Being left outof the conversation is such a toxicexperience for people that it threatensa community’s ability to make publicdecisions and resolve conflict.”Living amid a digital overload ofinformation at a time when peopleoften limit their attention to storiesand commentary confirming thebeliefs they already hold, the needto expand awareness of “the other”within our communities has neverbeen greater. Many neighborhoods,towns and villages get virtually nojournalistic attention although digitalmedia makes such attention morepossible. The key questions remain ofwho will tell these stories and aboutwhom and for whom they will be told.The stakes for democracy are serious,and they reside in how these questionsare answered. Journalists havean important role to play—and the 12narrators of Information Stories offerinstructive paths to follow. Peter M. Shane served as executivedirector of the Knight Commissionon the Information Needs of Communitiesin a Democracy. He is theJacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis IIChair in Law at the Moritz Collegeof Law at Ohio State University.During 2011-12, he will be a visitingprofessor of law at Harvard LawSchool.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 21


LINKS THAT BIND | City as CommunityJournalism of Value = Context for CommunitiesThe approach the Chicago News Cooperative is ‘trying to use journalism tocreate communities organized around an interest in the news.’BY JAMES O’SHEAWhen I was a young reporter for The DesMoines Register, an editor sent me to FortDodge, Iowa to follow up on a tip about acover-up of a local police scandal. The Fort Dodgepolice, of course, didn’t want a Register reportersnooping around trying to unearth details abouttrouble in the ranks. In fact, the police had done agood job keeping the scandal under wraps, confiningit to rumors swapped over late afternoon long necksat the local saloon.When hours of attempts to pry loose some detailsfailed, I retreated to a coffee shop to grab a late lunchand considered calling the state desk to report that Iwould need another day. Then the community spoketo me. “Did you hear about the police scandal?” oneman at the lunch counter said to another. His friendreplied: “I didn’t see anything in The [Fort Dodge]Messenger this morning. I’ll look at the Registertomorrow. They’ll have it.”I can still hear the confidence in the man’s voiceabout the newspaper where I first worked as a dailyjournalist, and I can still feel my guilt at even thinkingabout giving up on a story that my readers clearlywanted. The Register called itself “The NewspaperIowa Depends Upon,” and generations of journalistshad delivered on that pledge.I soon hit the streets of Fort Dodge determinedto live up to my newspaper’s heritage, and when thenext morning’s Register landed on doorsteps in FortDodge and elsewhere throughout Iowa, the frontpage had a story with my byline. It was about theFort Dodge police scandal.Serving a Different CommunityThe Chicago News Cooperative serves readers with in-depth coverage ofcity issues that promotes civic engagement.Although most of my colleagues and I didn’t knowit at the time, Des Moines Register reporters of the1970’s had it easy compared to their contemporariesat places like the Chicago News Cooperative (CNC),where I’m now editor. The man at the lunch counterin Fort Dodge was an integral part of a much largerand easily identifiable community that the newspaperserved with good, solid, professionally edited journalism.Reporters wrote for the community, and thecommunity of readers responded by continuing to22 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


City as Communitypay for a remarkably concise accountof the day’s events delivered to theirdoorstep every morning for less thanthe price of a cup of coffee.Almost every little town in Iowahad a town square but The DesMoines Register served as the community’smega town square. Today, ofcourse, all that’s changed. Reporters atnewspapers, magazines, websites andon airwaves face a far more dauntingchallenge: The community they existto serve is more elusive, diverse, fracturedand, it seems, reluctant to payeven a small price for the news andinformation that journalists deliver totheir laptops or mobile phones.There are many reasons for thebreakdown of the community onceat the fingertips of Register reporters,and the causes of the rupture extendbeyond journalism. The suburbanizationthat converted much of Americainto soulless communities lacking acenter of gravity no doubt played arole. Cable television also fracturedthe community by dramaticallyexpanding the range of broadcastingchoices available to working men andwomen who once watched the sameevening newscasts or read the news intheir local newspapers. Fragmentationonly increased with the dawn of theInternet when people could sit in frontof a computer and create communitiesorganized around narrow—andsometimes—parochial interests. Thenthere are our industry’s self-imposedwounds, including a tendency to editfor advertisers, instead of readers andviewers.Regardless of the cause of theproblems eroding the media, though,the time has come for journalists touse their skills to help re-create community.Embracing such a strategycould be the craft’s salvation.Here at the CNC, which got off theground in October 2009 with somegrants and contributions, we are tryingto use journalism to create communitiesorganized around an interest inthe news. If, for example, someone inChicago is interested in education, weintend to provide in-depth informationabout the city’s schools that readersand citizens can’t get anywhere else.I’m not talking merely about bettercoverage of the local school boardmeeting or slapping an interviewwith the head of the teachers uniononline. That’s giving the community“information” which is often free—andshould be—since it is usually cheap tocreate and can be found on the schoolboard’s or teachers union’s website.By contrast, journalism isn’t cheap,and it’s not free. What journalists dois report on that information, exposecontradictions, apply a skeptical eye tounderlying assumptions, and bring tothe community information that’s noton anybody’s website. In other words,they add value to what might alreadybe known by some and give it meaningwithin the context of the community’spriorities and the day’s events.At the same time, the members ofthis community are doing exactly whatthey should do: Demanding value ifthey are going to pay for something.Creating ValueWe wrestle with this situation everyday at the CNC as we do this workat a time when the traditional businessmodel for journalism is underattack as never before. For decadeswe’ve relied almost exclusively onadvertising revenue to subsidize thecost of news coverage. But I doubtthat advertising will remain a reliablepartner or source of revenue toprovide the kind of resources neededto cover the news anymore. It mightremain a part of the picture, but I’msure it will be a much smaller part.That means journalists will have tohit the streets and create somethingthat people in the community willactually pay for because it gives themsomething of value. So we should quittrying to fool everyone with vacuous,cheap content designed to justify adstacks and start reporting, which isthe backbone of journalism.In one CNC project now underway, we are creating detailed, reportedschool profiles. Reporters go intoschools and question principals, teachers,students and parents. We are evenexploring the use of some yardsticksby which the community can judgethe quality of the education that theschools provide. Our goal is to createjournalism that will inject enough valueinto the information to entice readersto join our digital community and getaccess to our reporting for a nominalmembership fee.By creating numerous communitiesof interest organized around subjectssuch as politics, health, technology,science and other areas, our goal is tobuild a broader community and createa diverse stream of revenue frommembership fees, ads and sponsorshipthat will finance our reporting.This is not journalism only for thosewho can afford it. In one pilot projectinvolving local political coverage, weused the membership fees from “Earlyand Often,” the name of our paid site, tosupport the “Palm Card,’’ a free publicinterest political news bulletin for thosewho couldn’t—or wouldn’t—pay for theexclusive detailed reporting we deliveredbehind a paywall. Readers of the“Palm Card” didn’t get the rich detailoffered in “Early and Often,” but theygot some news. CNC will also providefree memberships to all public librariesand will encourage those with meansto sponsor memberships for those inthe community who can’t afford ourfee of about $100 a year.The idea animating our effort is tocreate the kind of civic engagementthat enhances the community andserves the public interest.Will this work? It’s too soon to say.But we would rather be out there tryingto figure out how we can financequality journalism than waiting fordoomsday to arrive, which is what isgoing to happen if we all follow thepresent course. All we risk is failure,a small price to pay for our ambitions.At CNC, we believe journalismmeans as much to the community asthe community means to journalism.The Internet has made it far easier tospread rumors, lies and propagandadisguised as news at a time whentraditional news organizations are cuttingback on reporting as they fight fortheir lives. In some cases, journalisticorganizations merely pick up the officialline of the company and institutionsthey cover and report it as news.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 23


Links That BindAs a correspondent, I traveled theworld and often saw communitieswithout decent journalism. It is nota pretty picture.If we don’t figure out how to financepublic service journalism, I fear theconsequences. It is not as if the worldof tomorrow will be one without news.We will have quality coverage, perhapsbetter than ever. But quality news willbe for the wealthy—those who canafford to pay $2 a day or about $6on Sunday for The New York Timesor thousands of dollars a year for asubscription to one of Bloomberg’stargeted services. For those of lessermeans, the news could become theraw, underreported and unanalyzedinformation they will get from therapidly growing “news” organizationsbeing set up by the public relationsdepartments at places like city hall.To serve the community, journalistsmust provide deeper and betterjournalism, the kind that creates civicengagement and value. We must alsoeducate the community, not only aboutthe reporting we can deliver but alsoabout the tangible and intangible valueof quality public service journalism thatholds those who serve the communityaccountable for their views and actions.The community needs great journalismmore than ever. As journalists, wemust rise to the challenge. We havean opportunity to improve our craft.We can—and should—do better. James O’Shea is cofounder andeditor of the Chicago News Cooperative,former managing editor of theChicago Tribune, and past editor inchief of the Los Angeles Times. Hisbook, “The Deal From Hell: HowMoguls and Wall Street PlunderedGreat American Newspapers,” will bepublished by PublicAffairs in June.Revealing the Underbelly of Turbulent TimesBy Jan GardnerThe plot of James O’Shea’s bookreads like a fast-paced novel: greedyowners, corporate intrigue, a boorishmanager, and a staff revolt. Yet it’sa true story.In “The Deal From Hell: HowMoguls and Wall Street PlunderedGreat American Newspapers,”published in June by PublicAffairs,O’Shea, a former top editor at theChicago Tribune and the Los AngelesTimes, chronicles the businessdeals and internal warfare thatthreatened the two papers wherehe spent most of his career. Heworked at the Chicago Tribune for27 years, including five as managingeditor; in Los Angeles, his job asthe paper’s editor was short-livedduring turbulent times.The troubles started when theChicago Tribune’s owner, the TribuneCompany, bought the TimesMirror Company, owner of the LosAngeles Times. It was the biggestmerger in the history of Americanjournalism, one that went terriblywrong and got worse several yearslater when real estate billionaireSamuel Zell acquired the TribuneCompany in what he came to calla “deal from hell.”That was bad enough but therewas more bad news. As O’Sheapoints out, even before the ascendancyof the Internet, the medialandscape was undergoing seismicshifts. Newspapers missed, ignoredor underestimated the rise ofcable television, which coincidedwith the beginning of a big-timedecline in their circulation. “It’shard to believe,” he writes, “thatthese momentous changes failedto generate panic in newspaperpublishing circles.”In 2006, as Times staff membersrevolted against the newsroomdirectives coming out of the corporateheadquarters in Chicago,O’Shea was assigned to take overthe editorship of the Times andquell the dissent. The next yearO’Shea left the paper rather thanmake more staff cuts.Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Centeron the Press, Politics and PublicPolicy offered him a fellowship,giving him time, he hoped, to thinkabout the future of newspapers.Back in Chicago before heading toCambridge, his old paper landed onthe doorstep, promoting a searchfor the city’s best cheeseburger. Hewas certain that this was the righttime to cancel his subscription andmove on. 24 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


City as CommunityReporting Pushes Past Language and Ethnic Divides‘… Alhambra Source has revealed significant lessons about the power ofjournalism to build community in diverse and underserved areas.’BY DANIELA GERSONMunicipal elections were canceledlast fall in Alhambra,California, a predominantlyAsian and Latino city located abouteight miles east of downtown LosAngeles. This is the first time thatpeople there can remember this happening.City officials say this meansthat residents are satisfied; why elsewould no one have challenged any ofthe five incumbents on the city counciland school board who were up forre-election? But many residents—themajority of whom are foreign born—are unaware of the city’s governingprocesses.Nor do they feel a strong sense ofbelonging to this place. One reasonthey might feel this way is the longtimeabsence of a single news sourceavailable to all of Alhambra’s residents.On most days the closest any reportercomes to city hall is in the form of alife-sized bronze statue of the longgoneAlhambra Post-Advocate’s editor.Linguistic barriers also limit theexposure of the reporting that doesexist in English, Chinese or Spanish.What’s happening in Alhambrarelates to the intersection of howinformation flows within a communityand how people are engaged in civicmindedactivities. For more than adecade this has been a core topic ofresearch for Sandra Ball-Rokeach, aprofessor of communication at theUniversity of Southern California’s(USC) Annenberg School for Communication& Journalism, and herMetamorphosis team. [See box onpage 26]. In 2008 she teamed upwith Michael Parks, former directorof the school’s journalism programand former editor of the Los AngelesTimes, to look at how local news coveragecould enhance civic engagementin Alhambra.Present and past: Alhambra Source editor Daniela Gerson is a community journalist as wasthe late Warner Jenkins, editor of the now-defunct Alhambra Post-Advocate, whom the cityhonored with a statue. Photo by Tom Shea.This academic project has sincemorphed into an experimental hyperlocalsite called the Alhambra Source.The research afforded by the universityand the expertise of Metamorphosishas been fundamental to the Source’searly signs of success. With thisresearch-based input, we groundedthe website in the issues residentsview as important.Knitting CommunitiesTogetherWith a background in immigrationreporting—and with a smattering ofcommunity organizing skills includingmanaging a Brooklyn farmers’market and running a small nonprofitmagazine—I was hired nearly twoyears ago to take what the researchwas telling us and translate it into anonline news source for the residentsof Alhambra. The site would be, bynecessity, multilingual, with storiesfocused on building community andovercoming ethnic barriers. Ratherthan rely on beats in the traditionalsense, it would cultivate “communitiesof shared interest” that cut acrossethnicity with topics such as food,schools and transit.This is not a simple task. Whilehyperlocal news sites are commontoday, most serve relatively affluent,homogeneous communities. Alhambrais largely a lower middle-class suburbancity of about 85,000 that hasundergone tremendous demographicchanges during the past 20 years.Residents—about 50 percent of whomare Asian, one third Latino, and 10percent white—tend to self-segregatealong ethnic lines.Despite these challenges, in lessthan a year the Alhambra Source hasrevealed significant lessons about thepower of journalism to build com-Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 25


Links That BindWhat We Learn Informs What We DoBy Nancy ChenThe Alhambra Source was born outof an interest in the dynamic relationshipsamong new technologies,everyday communication practices,and civic engagement in cities withdiverse populations. It was inspiredby the findings of Metamorphosis,a project that studies how globalization,new technologies, anddiversity are transforming urbancommunities in the Los Angelesarea. The aim of the project is toimprove community life.During the past decade, theMetamorphosis research teamat the University of SouthernCalifornia’s Annenberg Schoolfor Communication & Journalismhas collected data in sevenLos Angeles County communities,including Alhambra.What they have learnedled to a communication infrastructuretheory, which goeslike this: The exchange ofneighborhood stories betweenresidents, local media, andcommunity organizations playsa crucial role in promotingneighborhood belonging, collectiveefficacy, and civic participation.When taken together, these threeindicators provide a way to assessa neighborhood’s level of civicengagement.Last year the team turned itsattention to exploring the potentialof the Internet in facilitating localstorytelling and promoting civicengagement. This led to a partnershipwith the journalism school indeveloping Alhambra Source—andtransformed theory into practice inthis ethnically diverse city.The three key indicators in thetheory have particular meaning:• Neighborhood belonging is abouthow residents in an area feel abouttheir neighbors and interact withthem.• Collective efficacy measures howconfident residents feel aboutrelying on their neighbors inworking together to solve communityproblems.• Civic participation is a measureof how much residents participatein civic activities, such as votingin local elections and volunteeringat the local library.A bilingual sign in a local farmers’ market.Photo by Daniela Gerson.In a study that Metamorphosisdid a decade ago, the researchersdiscovered that Chinese residents inthe Alhambra area had the lowestlevel of neighborhood belongingwhen compared with those insix other residential areas in LosAngeles County. They weren’t surprisedsince many of Alhambra’sresidents were recent immigrantsfrom Asia who were adjusting totheir adopted country. In 2009,focus groups involving Alhambraresidents confirmed that many hadlow levels of neighborhood belonging,collective efficacy, and civicparticipation. There was also littleinteraction among the three mainethnic groups in the neighborhood—Asians, Latinos and Caucasians.This research team next looked atAlhambra-related stories in the newsmedia. They found scant coverageof Alhambra in the mainstreamand regional media; the only newsoutlet that solely focused on coveringthe city was a monthly Chamberof Commerce publication. It wasthis combination of almost no localstorytelling and low levels of civicengagement that motivated thecreation of Alhambra Source—anonline storytelling platformthat encourages residents andcommunity organizations toproduce, disseminate anddiscuss stories of importanceto them.Design of the website anddecisions about key contentalso emerged out of focus groupdiscussions with residents andin interviews with communityorganizations and local businesses.This process addedvoices to the results from a 2010survey that collected data onresidents’ practices for accessinglocal news and involvementwith community organizations.Also measured then were levels ofcivic engagement and patterns ofinteraction among ethnic groups.These baseline data will be used intwo years to measure the impact ofAlhambra Source. Nancy Chen is a researcher withMetamorphosis involved withinvestigating challenges to andopportunities for promoting civicengagement through local journalismin Alhambra, an ethnicallydiverse community in LosAngeles County. More informationabout Metamorphosis’s researchand theory can be found at www.metamorph.org.26 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


City as Communitymunity in diverse and underservedareas. These relate to journalistic workwe are doing that other communitiescould adapt. Two lessons, in particular,stand out:• Even without full translation, thereare important ways that news canhave an impact that transcendslanguage barriers.• A volunteer team of communitymembers, working with an experiencedreporter, can influencewhat happens in a local communitybeyond what journalists on theirown can accomplish.We began with the goal of overcominglinguistic barriers.This meant the siteneeded to provide newsin the three predominantlanguages spoken in thecity: English, Chineseand Spanish. Realizingthis goal presented seriouschallenges. We didnot want to create threeparallel sites on whichindividuals would read—and comment—in theirrespective languages andnot interact. Moreover,while we had on our teamChinese and Spanishspeakers as translators,keeping up with thedemand for daily contentwas too much for ourquite limited paid staff(me).We are now in a betastage for the multilingualsite with static pages in three languages.USC students and volunteersprovide translation into English ofselect Chinese and Spanish storiessubmitted by those in the community.These stories are then published inthree languages in a single post. Theentire site is also available with arough translation via Google. Witha local twist on an approach thatNew America Media, a collaborationof ethnic news organizations in theUnited States, has taken on a nationallevel, we provide full summaries ofall Alhambra coverage in addition tofull translation of some Chinese- andSpanish-language reporting.Before we launched, city administrators,police, teachers and educationpolicymakers told us they could notread the Chinese press. This is aserious problem in a city with threeactive Chinese-language newspapersproviding the bulk of local coverage—andI think it’s fair to assumethat Alhambra is not unique in thischallenge. Despite the Source’s limitedformat, the response to having storiesavailable in three languages has beenimpressive, and it has created a bridgebetween what was thought of as “ethnicmedia” and local decision-makers.Cecilia Garcia, one of Alhambra Source’s community contributors,joins others at the publication’s monthly pot-luck dinner meeting.Photo by Javier Cabral.In thinking about recruiting communitycontributors, we relied on theexperiences of websites such as theChi-Town Daily News, Oakland Local,and Sacramento Press. Like us, eachof these news sites unites the communityexpertise of volunteers with theskills of a journalist. Having in-houseknowledge about journalism turns outto be crucial in the production process.But equally critical are the in-personmeetings and the organizing effortsthat go into making the citizen partof this partnership work. I went outto speak with students at high schoolsand people in libraries, and I contactedactive online users and people involvedin nonprofit organizations. After myinitial outreach, people started to cometo us on their own—from all walks oflife. Now more than 30 communitycontributors and youth reporters, whospeak a total of eight languages, areactively involved; they range fromengineers and stay-at-home momsto mechanics and students, and theyrange in age from teenagers to retirees.Our monthly meetings—part potluckdinner, part journalism training,and part editorial meeting—rival in therichness of story ideas any newsroommeeting I’ve attended. We are ableto offer nothing or verylimited payment, butwhat we can provideis a platform and theopportunity to hone acontributor’s voice andargument. And it’s a rareopportunity for residentsof varied backgroundsto get to know oneanother. After the firstholiday dinner, I did notwant to keep asking thevolunteer contributors tobring dishes, which haveranged from Taiwanesestew to pad Thai to arrozcon leche. But they votedfor it, and I’ve foundthat sharing food atour meetings nurturescollaboration.Stories They TellThe stories that community contributorshave excelled at telling come froma personal perspective but also involvesome reporting. Some of the morepopular pieces have also shed lighton the perceptions of and interactionsbetween groups in Alhambra. AnthonyPerez asked why at a high school thatis largely Asian and Latino he was theonly Hispanic in the school’s studentgovernment out of 52 elected members.Nasrin Aboulhosn shared whatit was like to grow up Lebanese in acommunity that is almost all AsianNieman Reports | Summer 2011 27


Links That Bindand Hispanic. Joe Soong produceda satirical piece about why Chineseresidents might not put much faithin the traditional restaurant ratingsystem. Inthava Bounpraseuth wroteabout why as a young gay Asianman he chose to live in the relativelyconservative city.Zaiming Hu was the first writer tocontact the Source about contributingin Chinese. She came to a contributormeeting and suggested a critique ofa new public park with a giant arch,modeled on the Arc de Triomphe, inthe middle of it. A few days later Hu,who runs a small Internet business,was out on the streets gathering opinionsfrom other residents. The articleshe wrote—in Chinese and translatedinto English—was one of the mostcommented on stories last year. Atanother meeting, when a communitycontributor, who was a member ofthe predominantly white preservationgroup, wanted to write about the phenomenonof mini-mansions replacinghistoric homes, Hu provided anotherview. She could not understand whyanyone would prefer an old house overa big, beautiful new one.The contributors’ varied voicesand backgrounds enable the AlhambraSource to represent this diverseand dynamic city in a way that notraditional newsroom (or reporter)possibly could. What they are sharingis strengthening bridges of understandingand connection. What started asan effort that city officials sometimesreferred to as angry bloggers who arenot “real journalists” is taken increasinglyseriously. When the next electionoccurs, as long as the Alhambra Sourceis still around, our online forum willbe a place for community members todiscuss and debate the issues. I havea strong feeling no incumbent will gounchallenged. Daniela Gerson is the editor of theAlhambra Source. She has reportedon immigration for newspapers andpublic radio, including the FinancialTimes Magazine, The New YorkSun, and WNYC. She has receivedfellowships from the Alexander vonHumboldt Foundation and theInstitute for Justice and Journalismand was an Arthur F. Burns Fellow.She is a graduate of the inauguralclass of the Specialized Journalismprogram at the University ofSouthern California’s AnnenbergSchool for Communication &Journalism.Focusing a New Kind of Journalism on a City’s Needs‘… residents need to have journalism delivered as they want to consume it and inways that will encourage them to move beyond absorbing news to acting on it.’BY BILL MITCHELLCheck in with journalists who have spentpart of their careers in Detroit—thereare a lot of us—and you’ll often hearthe phrase, “Hell of a news town!” Indeed, theMotor City is packed with the edge and dramathat drives compelling accounts of politics,race, crime, corruption, sports and the highsand lows of one of the nation’s most importantand storied industries.It’s been 35 years, but I’ve never forgottenthe thrill of jumping on the Woodward busand spotting people reading my story in thatmorning’s Free Press. In my heart, I just knewthey were exclaiming to themselves, “HolyCow!” or words to that effect.There’s still plenty of hell-raising journalismin Detroit, but as good as it is, it’s notenough. These days, Detroit—as a city, as acommunity—is wrestling with a challengethat requires a new kind of storytelling fora new sort of news town. The U.S. Censusfigures released earlier this year quantify a“Taking Charge of Our Story,” a public forum organized by New Detroit, inspiredthe idea behind Detroit143. Photo of The Supremes courtesy of The Detroit News.Poster design by Story Worldwide.28 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


City as Communitydecline—under way for decades—thatis now reaching a crisis point. TheDetroit envisioned a century ago fora population of two million is hometo just over 700,000 people today. It’sa decline that, combined with recenteconomic trends, has rendered Detroitunsustainable as a city with its currentdistribution of neighborhoods, cityservices, and schools.Its mayor—former Detroit Pistonsstar Dave Bing—has highlighted thereshaping of the city as the most importanttask facing his administration andhas launched the Detroit Works Projectto address it. His staff has conducteda series of public meetings as part ofa civic engagement effort designed toensure that whatever plan is adoptedreflects public opinion. The city hasprovided few details of what’s underconsideration, but what appears likelyis a version of urban triage, aimed atstabilizing some parts of the city asothers are converted from neighborhoodsto urban farms or who knowswhat else.The city’s print, electronic andonline media have produced some solidreporting on these issues and publicdiscussions. Detroit is also home toseveral examples of recent media innovation,including a yearlong projectby Time magazine, which bought ahouse where reporters in its reopenedbureau lived; WXYZ-TV’s creation ofa Detroit2020 website focused on thecity’s future; and various initiativessuch as Data Driven Detroit andModel D that examine the city fromenterprising new angles.Despite cutbacks, the Free Press andThe Detroit News maintain the biggestnewsrooms in town and lead the wayin local accountability journalism. Twoyears ago the Free Press won a PulitzerPrize for its game-changing coveragethat culminated in Mayor KwameKilpatrick resigning and going to jail.But it’s not enough. The uncertainfuture of Detroit’s 143 square milesof land and water—and of the variouscommunities of people who livethere—demand a level of focusedand interactive coverage that has notyet been attempted in this city. AtThe Poynter Institute, where I teachentrepreneurial journalism, we urgea ruthless focus on audience needs asthe sine qua non of any new venture.In Detroit, the people most affectedby the city’s reshaping require asteady stream of hard facts and clearanalysis as they decide their future.But just as importantly, residents needto have journalism delivered as theywant to consume it and in ways thatwill encourage them to move beyondabsorbing news to acting on it.We won’t know what the audiencereally needs until we get on theground and find out, but here is someof what journalism for and about thiscommunity might look like:• Mobile apps with built-in opportunitiesto mobilize around key issues.• An online game inviting playersto design Detroit’s future, SimCity-style.• Lots of meetings and follow-ups atwhatever public library branchesremain open.Journalism and CivicEngagementDuring the past 18 months, four of ushave assembled the outline for a newsventure—we named it Detroit143—aimed at addressing those needs.We discovered after the fact that thenumbers 143 signal “I Love You” intexting code. It’s a double entendrethat might seem inappropriate for atraditionally detached news organizationbut fits our venture just fine.The initiative’s prime mover is KirkCheyfitz. He and I covered the city’s firstblack mayor, Coleman Young, in the1970’s before heading off in differentdirections. It was Cheyfitz’s outragedreaction to a Time magazine cover storypinning much of the blame for Detroit’swoes on Young that prompted him totrack me down in the fall of 2009. Hefound me in Cambridge, where I wasa fellow at Harvard’s Joan ShorensteinCenter for the Press, Politics and PublicPolicy and using my time to explorenew ways to sustain local news. Justa few doors down the hall from mesat Daniel Okrent, the author of theTime story that had upset him. [Seebox by Cheyfitz on page 32.]I didn’t share Cheyfitz’s feelingsabout that story, but he did convinceme that somebody—maybe us—shoulddig deeper into how Detroit ended upin such a mess and what role journalismmight play in its turnaround. It wasthen that this effort was launched withthe goal of creating new connectionsbetween what journalists can do andwhat people in Detroit need to pushtheir city ahead.Shirley Stancato, president and CEOof New Detroit, the city’s leading civiccoalition, joined forces with us shortlythereafter to organize a daylong conferenceto explore the roots of the city’sproblems and the sort of journalismrequired for its years ahead. [See boxby Stancato on page 31.] And lastsummer, former New York Times correspondentLynette Clemetson joinedthe team after completing a Knight-Wallace Fellowship focused on newsinnovation. [See box by Clemetsonon page 30.]Together, we’ve been envisioningways of linking journalism and civicengagement in ways not tried before.Just as Cheyfitz took inspirationfrom Time magazine to get us started,we intend to build on the sort ofinnovation demonstrated by suchcity-focused journalism initiatives asEveryBlock, SeeClickFix and Localocracy.But technology isn’t going to getthe job done without the interventionand interaction of dedicated journalistsand engaged audiences. So we intendto focus all three—the people, thejournalism, and the technology—inundertaking the most important storyin town. Doing this will cost money,which we have not yet raised. But webelieve there’s no better place thanDetroit—and no better story than itsreimagination—to get to work buildinga new kind of news town. Bill Mitchell is the leader of entrepreneurialand international programsat The Poynter Institute. He workedas a journalist in Detroit for 15years, including stints as a reporterand editor at the Detroit FreePress and a bureau chief for Timemagazine.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 29


Links That BindA Promising Collaboration of Place, Time and NicheBy Lynette ClemetsonI am a believer in niche publishingand its power to create communitiesand inspire change. Niche communitiesbuilt around ideology, ethnicityand gender can feed polarization,but they also command the capacityto empower. In 2008 when I helpedstart TheRoot.com—targeting anews-savvy African-American community—nichewas central to ourmission. Within our demographictarget was also a subject niche—onethen tightly tied to politics—thatgave the site edge, identity and aunique utility.It was a gift of timing thatDetroit143 reached out to me justas I had concluded a year studyingstart-ups as a Knight-Wallace Fellowat the University of Michigan.I had become intrigued with howniche news sites built aroundsubject matter had invigoratedCommunity members come together to examineDetroit’s financial challenges. Photo by Ellen Jacob.journalism. Nonprofit ventures likeProPublica—focused on investigativejournalism—and The Texas Tribune—devotedto reporting on thatstate’s government—have elevatedthe craft and bolstered the coverageof established media with whichthey have partnered. Commercialjuggernauts like Politico and TheHuffington Post have enlivened acrowded field of traditional competitors.Conversely, some websites,such as TBD.com, that have triedto take on too much, too fast, havefaltered.As niche start-ups go,Detroit143—with its laserlikefocus on covering the resizing andreimagining of the Motor City—isrich with journalistic and socialpotential. This community-basedstory is a journalist’s dream, as thetinderbox of issues that undergirdDetroit’s history—race, class, socialengineering, and industrial aspiration—areinterwoven in the politicaleffort to redefine its boundaries.The urban planning effort cannotbe covered without diving intothose issues.Local newspapers,radio and television havedone quality reportingon the city’s politicalissues. But they do nothave the resources ormandate to cover allaspects of this story withintensity. The editorialmission of Detroit143is both broad and welldefined.Do we coverstreet violence, domesticdisturbances, and generalpolice beat stories?No. Do we cover MayorDave Bing’s programof incentives to enticepolice officers to movefrom the suburbs into city neighborhoodstargeted for saving?Absolutely.Plenty of room to roam, notenough to get lost. And Detroit143’smission of enhancing its journalismwith tools that encourage andenable community response to ourstories—not merely with comments,but with organized, purposeful civicparticipation—takes the editorialmandate the final mile into a missiondevoted to action-orienteddemocracy.So much that is applauded inWeb-based journalism these daysis about technical innovation—cooltools that allow users to sort andvisualize complex data and zippyprograms and apps that allowinstant information and socialvalidation. Detroit143 will employthe best of those tools, but its realinnovation is the intentional pairingof journalism and communityaction.The challenge of defining the linesbetween journalism and action andfiguring out when and when notto cross them is a bold editorialexperiment worth undertaking. Andthe unanswered question of whetherDetroit can transform itself into alivable, sustainable city is the storymost in need of being told. It isarguably one of the most criticalstories for the entire region sincewhat happens in Detroit will affectthe road ahead for other strugglingcities. Decisions made in the nextfew years will play out for at leastthe next quarter century.The rethinking of Detroit’s 143square miles is a remarkable story.It is a serious journalistic endeavorand as such creates the perfectniche where journalism and communitycan mingle. What journalistwouldn’t want in? Lynette Clemetson is a former NewYork Times correspondent who hasbeen helping to shape the visionfor Detroit143 since completing aKnight-Wallace Fellowship at theUniversity of Michigan last year.30 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


City as CommunityA New Partnership to Build a Common UnderstandingBy Shirley StancatoWhy is New Detroit,an urban leadershipcoalition, teaming upwith Detroit143? MyDetroit143 partners arejournalists. I’m a formerbanker, and NewDetroit is a coalition ofleaders from business,labor, government andreligious and communityorganizations. NewDetroit got started in thesummer of 1967 after theviolence that erupted inour city exposed deepracial barriers that persisttoday. So why arewe—disparate entities, each with aseemingly different mission—bandingtogether to create a differentsort of news venture?I admit that I had some misgivingsabout teaming up with journalistsin this Detroit143 collaboration.The work New Detroit does inwinding our way through differencesand forming a consensus onsensitive, sometimes painful issuesis usually best done away from thespotlight. The focus of journalistsis on uncovering information andlaying it out and letting facts fallwhere they may. So I was concernedthat getting involved in a journalisticendeavor could jeopardize whatwe do.On the other hand, the reasonNew Detroit was created morethan four decades ago is the veryreason why it is important forthe Detroit143 collaborative to becreated. From day one we havetried to come up with strategiesthat address this country’s mostintractable problem: race relations.That remains a monumental task.We continually confront versions ofDetroit’s history based on myths andDetroit’s challenges hold the attention of those who reside inits 143 square miles. Photo by Ellen Jacob.legends that have too often and toowidely become accepted as fact. Yeta highly inaccurate history impedesefforts to turn the city and regionaround because misinformation ora lack of information cannot be thebasis for effective community action.New Detroit ultimately is aboutbringing diverse parts of the communitytogether to take action inour common interest. This difficultmission requires, as a first condition,a common understanding ofthe problems to be overcome. Thismeans that New Detroit is vitallyinterested in providing people withthe kind of common understandingand shared knowledge that empowersa community to take concerted,democratic action.Through the years we havecreated a number of programsto develop a more fundamentalunderstanding of “The Origins of theUrban Crisis,” to borrow the title ofa groundbreaking look at Detroit’shistory by historian Thomas J.Sugrue. But those programs havenever achieved the wide audiencethat I believe can be reached throughjournalistic endeavors.Detroit143 grew outof a daylong symposium,“Taking Chargeof Our Story,” that NewDetroit cosponsoredin early 2010 and wasdevoted to buildingunderstanding of thecore factors of Detroit’scurrent dilemma. Thatexperience became theseed for Detroit143,whose goal is to createan economically viable,professionally rigorousjournalistic model thatwill tell multidimensionalcontemporarystories of a city now in the processof reinventing itself for the 21stcentury. As that process unfolds,an informed public must feel fullyengaged—with voices heard, viewsrespected—in discussions and decisionsthat determine what happensnext.Detroit143 is grounded in thebelief that journalism can be a partof the solution. Its founders believethat by fully covering the issuesinvolved with resizing and reshapingthe city and assuring that all peopleare heard and informed, we willenable residents to constructivelyengage in the rebuilding process.So why are we collaborating withDetroit143? Because we believe thisjournalistic initiative is critical tocharting our city’s future. BecauseI trust that this venture—directedby veteran journalists with a proventrack record of in-depth coverage ofcomplex issues involving race andurban affairs—can help to build newlevels of understanding in this cityand region. Shirley Stancato is president andCEO of New Detroit.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 31


Links That BindAdvertising as Storytelling—So News Stories Can Be ToldBy Kirk CheyfitzWhile much attention is focused onhow to “fix” journalism,the bigger problem isfixing advertising topay for the news.For me, Detroit143is, in part, aboutreinventing whatadvertising is andhow it is sold so it can again payfor journalism. In Detroit143, wewant to demonstrate how a seriousnews organization can be a businesssuccess. In doing this, we will alsobe providing Detroit businesses withtools to drive their financial success,thus helping support Detroit’seconomic survival.My journey to this viewpointbegan when I was a reporter in the1970’s for the Detroit Free Press.During the next two decades Istarted a magazine in Detroit and,backed by a rich Minnesotan, builta newspaper, magazine and mediagroup with some 1,200 employees.In the process, I learned about theeconomics of the news business.Then the Web arrived with a clearmessage—it was going toalter the equations thathad made print publishinga dependable moneymachine.The Web made traditionaladvertising progressivelyless effective. Adshad relied on publishers’ability to attract audienceswith valuable, relevantcontent (i.e., the news)and then interrupt it withcommercial messages (i.e.,ads) that often were anirrelevant nuisance. TheWeb disrupted things bymaking it extremely easyfor audiences to consumecontent while blocking, avoiding,evading and ignoring ads. By 2010,total annual print and online adrevenue for U.S. newspapers hadfallen to $25.8 billion, down $23.6billion or 48 percent from the peakyear of 2005.Audience control over contentmeans advertising now has to be justas valuable, engaging and soughtafteras news and entertainment.To garner attention, it has to beworthwhile and useful—valuableand original stories, usable toolsand apps, engaging games, andmore. In founding and runningan independent digital agency,Story Worldwide, that createssuch content to promote brandsand publishes it across media, I’vebeen able to demonstrate that allthis content-marketing stuff reallyworks.Detroit143 will abandon traditionalad sales and instead builda content-focused agency. Insteadof only selling space on the site,Detroit143 Agency will sell advertisingservices. Much of what theMaking this advertising strategy workdepends on us usingthe same management skills,storytelling talent, and social mediasmarts demanded byour core business—journalism.agency will create may not evenappear on Detroit143, but it willproduce revenue for the site. TheDetroit143 Agency will work withadvertisers to find the best storiesof their brands and tell them acrossmedia platforms—digital, social,print. Revenue will come mostlyfrom selling services: planningcontent strategies, creating stories,and distributing advertisers’ originalcontent to attract the largest possibleaudience for their brands.Making this advertising strategywork depends on us using the samemanagement skills, storytellingtalent, and social media smartsdemanded by our core business—journalism. Using these efficient,low-cost social marketing skillswill be advantageous for Detroit’sbusiness community.Some journalists might concludethat this is about little more thancreating phony news stories foradvertisers. Not true. Doing thatwould prove to be unprofitable, selfdefeatingand wrong. Detroit143intends to leverage what we knowhow to do to sustain whatwe want to do. Kirk Cheyfitz is the CEOand chief editorial officerof Story Worldwide anda former city-countybureau chief of theDetroit Free Press.32 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


LINKS THAT BIND | Embedded in CommunityLocal Reporting Builds a Community’s ‘Social Capital’‘Community journalism assumes its value in finding ways to connect people—byidentifying passions and concerns they share, linking neighbor to neighbor, andmotivating people to act.’BY DAVID JOYNERThe Greasy Pole contest is a signature event of the yearly St. Peter’s Fiesta thatdraws together the community of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Photo by KristenOlson/Gloucester Daily Times.As this century got under way, RobertD. Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone”spoke to the retreat of Americans fromorganizations and associations that were thebedrock of communities. Club membershipwas down; fewer people were members ofgroups or participated in community activities.Putnam described the decline of person-topersonassociation and activity in terms ofcommunities losing “social capital.”At that time I was a reporter at theGloucester (Mass.) Daily Times, a communitynewspaper. I found out about “Bowling Alone”when my editor wrote about Putnam’s ideasin newspaper editorials. Putnam’s researchdid not focus on newspaper readers per se,but he did illuminate a few important thingsto know about their habits and lifestyles. Tostart with, newspaper readers were 10 to 20percent more inclined to participate in theircommunities. Putnam described them as peoplewho “belong to more organizations, participatemore actively in clubs and civic associations,attend local meetings more frequently, votemore regularly, volunteer and work on communityprojects more often, and even visitwith friends more frequently and trust theirneighbors more.”Even so, Putnam did not frame reading anewspaper as a building block in a community’ssocial capital. Perhaps this is because, likevoting, reading is a solitary act and does notforge a direct personal connection. Putnamexpressed uncertainty about whether reading anewspaper was a trait shared by those engagedin civic life or if reading the paper somehowprompted people to participate.In some ways, it doesn’t matter. Newspaperreaders are a life force in producing a healthy,more vital community. And maybe it’s hubrisfrom my time working on various communitynewspapers, but I think of a newspaper as animportant force in creating social capital. It isNieman Reports | Summer 2011 33


Links That Bindthe community’s common denominator,and as such it makes connectionsamong people whether it wades into acontroversy or reflects a shared tradition.At the Gloucester Daily Times,I am convinced our stories promptedpeople to gather at local meetings,to reach out to neighbors in trouble,and to more deeply appreciate theirheritage.Covering TraditionIn Gloucester, no community traditionis as rich in history and symbolismas St. Peter’s Fiesta. Every June, thecountry’s oldest seaport, founded in1623, celebrates its fishing fleet andthe patron saint of fishermen. Thistradition dates to 1927, after CaptainSalvatore Favazza commissioned astatue of St. Peter for the immigrantcommunity.Long ago this Italian communitybranched out beyond the Fort neighborhoodof triple-deckers boundedby Gloucester Harbor and fish plants,but every year the fiesta returns to itsstreets. Timed to the Catholic feast ofSt. Peter, the fiesta features reunions,open houses, and revelry that continuelate into the night, with a predictableitinerary of athletic events borrowedfrom old world villages. It’s the GreasyPole contest that gives this event itsiconic image as groups of rowdy menassemble on a platform in GloucesterHarbor, each walking a slicked woodenspar jutting over the water. The goalis to stay upright long enough to graba flag staked to the pole’s end. Spillsonto the pole and into the harborbelow can be brutal.The fiesta has endured even asthe city of about 30,000 people haschanged. Still isolated and fiercelyindependent, Gloucester has evolvedinto a blend of a working-class portwith professionals, artists and tourists.This summer festival has spreadbeyond an immigrant community toleave its mark on everyone in the city.Ever since I began as a reporterat the Gloucester Daily Times in thelate 1990’s, coverage of this eventwas planned well ahead of time. Theplaybook is as worn as the one usedfor local elections. I took turns writingabout boat races and the Sunday processionthat winds through downtownfollowing a Mass and the Blessing ofthe Fleet, usually celebrated by theWith wall-to-wall coverage, the Daily Times pays tribute to the importance of St. Peter’s Fiestain the lives of Gloucester’s residents. Photo by Mary Muckenhoupt/Gloucester Daily Times.Catholic archbishop of Boston.This assignment—more reactivethan proactive—was a summer ritual,a long and tiring weekend of workthat ended when revelers gatheredat midnight Sunday to hoist the 600-pound statue of St. Peter for one lasttrip through the Fort neighborhood,where I happened to live.With its coverage, the Daily Timeswas not so much building or leadingthe community as it was reflectingthrough names and faces the memoriesof past generations and stories of thepresent. All enriched the community’sexperience.Community ConnectionsMy notions of what it means to docommunity journalism were shaped,in part, by the role I played in tellingfiesta stories and knowing how muchthey meant to those who inhabitedthis place. Ingrained in me from thisexperience is the sense that a successfulcommunity newspaper—or local blog,website, Twitter feed, or any othercommunication tool—is much morethan a vehicle that conveys information.To publish a calendar of eventsor a police log is simple. Communityjournalism assumes itsvalue in finding ways to connectpeople—by identifying passionsand concerns they share, linkingneighbor to neighbor, andmotivating people to act. It alsoserves a vital purpose when ittakes on tough, controversialissues and tells stories that leadto the discovery of fault lineswithin a community.During my career at theGloucester Daily Times—fiveyears as a reporter and two asits editor—my focus often wason stories about developmentor the fishing fleet’s perpetualstruggle against tightening governmentpolicy. Both story linesinvolved the environment andconservation groups and bothfrequently incited controversyamong neighborhood groups,activists or fishermen.Experiencing such reac-34 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Embedded in Communitytion is gratifying, and I fear it isdiminishing. Knowing the difficultiesmany of these local papers face, Iworry that as newspaper readershipdeclines and newsroom staffs shrink,communities will be left uncovered,at least by journalists whose job itis to know what keeps the heart ofthe community pounding. In someinstances, hyperlocal websites or blogsare emerging, and some will serve thisfunction, in part if not in whole. Butthe trend in these digital shops—as inlegacy newsrooms—is to devote fewerresources to newsgathering, not more.That is a stark contrast to the pagesof the Gloucester Daily Times everyJune, when the newspaper servesthe community in its comprehensivecoverage of St. Peter’s Fiesta. Yearafter year stories, images and personalanecdotes engaged the community,in print and now online, and thenewspaper benefited, as well.In the fall of 2003 I returned tothe Daily Times as editor of the paperafter I spent a year at a sister paper.By the next summer the fiesta heldheightened significance as we feltour newspaper’s connection to thecommunity slipping. The paper had ahistory of deep readership penetrationin Gloucester and the surroundingtowns, but we’d ruffled readers with aredesign. A change in press deadlineswas forcing us to report news on a differentcycle. People in the communitywere generally suspicious of our newowners. Circulation was bleeding likeair seeping from a tire.Our Monday-after-fiesta edition wasalways packed with coverage of theGreasy Pole, Blessing of the Fleet, andreligious procession. (The Daily Timespublishes Monday through Saturdayso the bulk of weekend happeningsare reported on Monday.) That yearwe felt a special need to deepen ourfiesta coverage so we decided to ignoreall other news on June 28, 2004,giving Page One and two other sectionfronts to the fiesta. It turns outthat we published only three storiesunrelated to the fiesta, not countinga package of sports briefs and a LittleLeague roundup.Such wall-to-wall coverage mighthave been excessive. That day’s newspapersold well, as I recall, as did mostpost-fiesta editions. But this wasn’t somuch a sales ploy as it was a symbolicstatement: Just as St. Peter’s Fiestaand Gloucester are inextricably linked,so are the fiesta, the city, and its localnewspaper. David Joyner was a reporter andeditor at the Gloucester Daily Times,then managing editor at The SalemNews and The Eagle-Tribune inNorth Andover. He is now vice presidentof content for Community NewspaperHoldings, Inc., which owns allthree Massachusetts newspapers. Inthe fall, he joins the Nieman Class of2012.Writing About People You Know‘In community journalism, there is no place to hide, and if you want to hide,then you have no business in this business anyway.’BY AL CROSSLyndon Johnson once observed that“the country weekly acts as a formof social cement in holding thecommunity together.” But this son ofrural Texas, who rose to be presidentof the United States, also declared,“The fact that a man is a newspaperreporter is evidence of some flaw ofcharacter.”Johnson was a man of some contradiction.These two views, each perhapsheld with equal fervor, reflect theconstant conundrum that good communityjournalists confront betweenresponsibilities as a professional andthe need to have friends and friendlyacquaintances, as part of a community.Holding local leaders and institutionsaccountable while playing an engagedcivic role of building and strengtheningthe community inevitably leadsto conflict.It’s been said that the best thingabout community journalism is thatyou get to write about people youknow—and that the worst thing aboutit is that you get to write about peopleyou know. And even if you don’tactually know a person named in anunfavorable story, you had better beready to defend your work when thatperson meets you on the street or inthe store or shows up at your desk.In community journalism, there isno place to hide, and if you want tohide, then you have no business inthis business anyway.That is why it is more difficultto be a good journalist in a smallmarket than in a large one. Notonly must you manage the inherentconflicts almost every day, you mustbe prepared to defend journalism asan institution—one that needs to actwithout fear or favor, taking stands oncommunity issues while also providinga fair forum for all points of view.This is best accomplished with a gooddose of humility, and not by casuallytossing out phrases like “the people’sright to know,” then pulling up theNieman Reports | Summer 2011 35


Links That Binddrawbridge, and retreating into thefortress of an office.Relationship JournalismThe job of building and maintainingpersonal relationships is essential tosuccess. Chris Waddle, former editorof The Anniston (Ala.) Star and nowteaching at Jacksonville State Universityin Alabama, is fond of saying thatcommunity journalism is “relationshipjournalism.” That means communityjournalists necessarily have closerand more continuing relationshipswith subjects and sources, and withreaders, listeners or viewers than ina metropolitan area like Louisville,Kentucky, where Chris and I worked.Does that mean community journalistswill pull punches or find ways torationalize that discretion is the betterpart of valor? Sure. But over thelong haul, even the best communityjournalists will be guided by bothprinciple and political sense—whichcomes from an understanding of anda respect for the community.Here’s a good example: Tom andPat Gish of The Mountain Eaglein Whitesburg, Kentucky crusadedagainst the abuses of coal companiesand feckless or corrupt officials, andbefriended visiting journalists—includingphotographers whose pictures oftenreflected poorly on the Appalachiancommunity. But the Gishes didn’t publishsuch pictures in the Eagle becausemaintaining the mutual respect theyhad with their readers was a key to thecouple’s ability to keep going for morethan 50 years in the face of economicboycotts, personal shunning, and evena firebombing by a local policeman.Today their son Ben edits the paperwith the same sensibilities.Digital DemandsWith digital media, community journalismhas new challenges, some sofundamental that they are altering themeaning of the word “community.” Sofar, in the one-two punch of digitalmedia and the recession, communitynewspapers have generally done betterthan metro and national newspapers.Chris Evans, editor and publisher of The Crittenden Press in rural Kentucky, explains hismission: “We are here to serve the people.” Photo by Allison Mick-Evans.Here are some reasons:• They have a local news franchisethat few competitors have invaded.• They do not rely as heavily on theclassified advertising that Craigslistand other free services chased frommetro papers.• More of them are independentlyowned, making them less subjectto the demands of creditors andWall Street.However, digital media are compellingcompetition and they spawncompeting communities—communitiesof interest, not location. OnFacebook and other social mediasites, people interact with little or noregard to physical geography, perhapseroding connections within the localcommunity.One virtue of Facebook—at leastfor the purpose of this discussion—isits insistence against anonymity. Theability to remain anonymous appearsto encourage contemptuous, antisocialand unethical behavior. Websites suchas Topix, which create anonymous,geographic-oriented discussions bothreveal and create problems for smalltowns. Posts on that site about ayoung woman’s personal behavior wereblamed for a multiple murder-suicidethat wiped out a family in southernIndiana.Topix CEO Chris Tolles told TheCourier-Journal in nearby Louisville,Kentucky: “We are the WikiLeaks forsmall-town America in a lot of cases,”referring to the fact that anonymousposts can serve a role in holding publicofficials and institutions accountable—especiallyin places where thenews media lack the resources orgumption to do that job. However,that virtue can be quickly subsumedby the accusatory rants, gossip, libel,falsehoods and cyberbullying seenon Topix and similar sites. A socialmedia expert told Courier-Journalreporter Grace Schneider that Topixcan be particularly troublesome insmall communities where it’s easierto pierce the poster’s anonymity.Social media are not intrinsicallyerosive. Good community journalists—liketheir peers working in largerregions—use social media to maintainand improve contact with community36 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Embedded in Communitymembers and weekly newspapers useFacebook to keep readers up to date onbreaking news, sports scores, and othertopics of daily community interest.However, the community bonds inmany rural areas are being weakenedby the disappearance of jobs, forcingresidents into long commutes. Lastyear at the Institute for Rural Journalismand Community Issues we dida survey with Dr. Elizabeth Hansenof Eastern Kentucky University inKentucky’s Estill and Lee counties.There the average commuting time is35 minutes, which is 10 minutes morethan the national average; our surveyfound that residents who work outsidethe county are less likely to read oneof the local weekly newspapers.Many rural weeklies have no websiteor they have one with little or no newscontent, for fear of cannibalizing theirprint circulation that is key to advertisingdollars. Some weeklies that onceput most of their news online for freenow give nonsubscribers just one ortwo paragraphs of a news story onlinein the hope that they will buy the printedition or an online subscription.One of those weeklies is The CrittendenPress, edited and published byChris Evans, in a county off the beatenpath in Western Kentucky. The twoedgeddigital sword became especiallyclear to him after a recent drug bustin his community, which promptedfalse, online rumors of shootings andmurder. He countered them withonline postings that carried credibilitybecause they were not anonymous,and because people respect him andhis newspaper.“Our task is to be in a position toprovide credible information in whateverform people want it in,” Evans toldme. “You’ve got to embrace technology,understand where your audience is at,and get there—and the credibility youhave will draw people back to you.”Evans got his start at the Post-Intelligencer, a small daily in Paris,Tennessee, about 90 miles south ofwhere he is today. He clearly has theskills for metro journalism, but hewanted to be his own boss in the modelof the Williams family that has runthe Paris paper for three generations.“We are here to serve people,” Evanssaid, then quoted Bryant Williams,the family patriarch until his deathin 2009: “The only higher calling isthe ministry.” Al Cross is director of the Institutefor Rural Journalism and CommunityIssues and an associateprofessor in the School of Journalismand Telecommunications at theUniversity of Kentucky. He wasa weekly newspaper editor andmanager before he spent 26 years atThe (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal,which included a year as presidentof the Society of ProfessionalJournalists.Everyone’s Welcome at the Newsroom Cafe‘We’ve torn down the dividing wall and now we can listen closely to the voicesonce behind it. That’s what our changes are about.’BY EMILY M. OLSONThe digital newsroom conjuresup images of eyes locked oncomputer screens, barely a voiceheard, messages tweeted and storiesfiled with a click, chats going on viaSkype and CoveritLive as fingertipstap. Reporters pick up news of the dayfrom sources spread far and wide incyberspace. No need for face-to-facecontact now that cyberconnections aremade so effortlessly.Nothing could be further from thetruth.Before I describe how my day goesin our digital newsroom—the one Imanage at The Register Citizen in Torrington,Connecticut—let me applaudthe gift of expanded outreach thatthese digital tools offer. Rest assuredwe use them to whatever advantage wecan to grow our community beyondwhat we’ve built with our newspaper.I’ve worked at this paper for justover two years, previously as a copyeditor and page designer and now asthe managing editor with a staff ofabout 15. Just as editors did a centuryago, I sit at my desk first thing eachmorning and respond to what I findwaiting. In my case, this means voicemails to listen to and answer ande-mail to check. These tasks neverend—e-mail, it seems, is here to stay,at least for now. I check e-mail fromhome, but I arrive to find a mountainof messages in the two accounts forwhich I’m responsible.Multitasking commences as I logon to TweetDeck and into our contentmanagement system and open thenewspaper’s website, which is a living,breathing organism, with constantlychanging content. In our newsroomat least five people are responsiblefor making changes on our site atany given time. As soon as I can, Ijoin them—scanning the Web andchecking The Associated Press’s wireand website for national news. On thelocal front it’s about what meetings aregoing on and what the police mightbe finding or looking for. This is whatthe reporters, lead editor, and my publishertell me. As the day progresses,Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 37


Links That BindI develop a mental image ofwhat tomorrow’s newspaperwill look like as we try to blendan understanding of what’shappening in our communityand beyond.Our Newsroom CafePerhaps the most significantinformers I have are people whoaren’t a part of our newsroombut visit our offices and inhabitour digital space. These voicesbelong to members of thepublic. In the past, our readers,like all readers, must have feltas if a wall existed betweenthem and us. We’ve torn downthe dividing wall and now wecan listen closely to the voicesonce behind it. That’s what ourchanges are about.Our news company no longeronly publishes a daily alongwith some weekly papers inthe Farmington Valley, townsthat surround our capital ofHartford. In our new office space,we’ve created the Register CitizenNewsroom Cafe, open six days a weekto bloggers, students and senior citizensas well as public and elected officials.Ordinary citizens stop by our officesnearly every day and share their newswith us, sometimes over a cup of coffeein the cafe.When the staff of The RegisterCitizen moved out of its 105-year-oldhome on Water Street late last year, itwas a strange feeling to know that wewould be part of a public space whereanyone, and I mean anyone, could justwalk in the door from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.and talk to us. Anybody can literallywalk up to us at our desks and ask aquestion. Partitions around our desksare low so we’re visible to everyonewho walks in the door. No hiding. Noturning away from any man, womanor teenager who walks in.We need to be ready. And we are.I remember the day when a manwalked in with a folder under his arm.His young son was with him and afterlooking around he asked to speak to aBridging the divide between newspapers and the communities they cover is a priority for JohnPaton, CEO of the Journal Register Company which owns The Register Citizen in Torrington,Connecticut. He met with staff members and local residents during a visit to the paper. Photocourtesy of The Register Citizen.reporter. I could see one of our writers,Mike Agogliati, at his desk, so Isent them his way. Within moments,they were deep in conversation in ournewsroom cafe.The man opened his folder andsoon the three of them were lookingat documents, letters and otherpieces of information. It turned outthat he owned a farmstand where hesold fruits and vegetables during thesummer and fall. It was in a nearbycommunity directly across the streetfrom the town hall, and a zoningofficer had found it to be a “junkyard.” This became a legal battle, andhe was sued. He was heading to courtthe next day; he wanted us to knowabout his case—and he came with astory to tell.As he and Mike talked, it becameapparent that this was about morethan what happened to this man’sfarmstand. What made the story socompelling for us was connecting thislegal action with earlier stories aboutthe zoning officer, who had been fired,arrested and fined for embezzlementfor falsely reporting his hours. WhenMike and the man finished talking,Mike had a story to track down andconfirm. By day’s end, a story aboutthe zoning officer and the farmstandwas on our website and ready for ourprint edition.Something similar surely wouldhave happened in our old newsroombut our open doors, wide spaces forpeople to walk through, and the availabilityof a reporter gave this manthe confidence he needed to stop byand ask us to talk with him. In ourold building, we were in a wing awayfrom the public’s view; the only timewe saw people other than each otherwas when we invited them in. Mostof the time we went out to see them.The shabby newsroom with its highpartitions and sequestered workspaceswas not conducive to this kind of openatmosphere.Here we have a gallery, a cafe withcoffee, and places to sit and talk.There’s a microfilm machine availableso people can look through our archivesback to the early 1900’s. Or they can38 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Embedded in Communitysit quietly and read the paper or workon their laptops in peace.We also hold open newsroom meetingsat 4 each weekday afternoon andstream them live on our website asreporters share their stories. Then weoffer a live chat to viewers who alwaysask questions and give us information.That would never have happened inour old newsroom.Since we moved into this spacewhere factories once operated, suchmoments happen a lot more frequently.This is not to say that people line upat the door demanding to talk to areporter. But knowing we’re there andthat the doors are open has made atremendous difference—for them andfor us. How to quantify the change—oreven to describe it—is not always easyso when someone asks what’s different,I say, “Everything.”There are many who believe newspapersare on their way out—aboutto join the woolly mammoth as anextinct creature, exhibited in museumsalongside typewriters. By 2025, maybesooner, we won’t have any need forthem. I hope that’s not true, but I doknow that our newspaper companywas in financial trouble two years ago,and we turned our foundering vesselin bankruptcy into something viablethat readers can depend on.Thousands of visitors come to ourwebsite each month. We have a vibrant,albeit snarky and cranky, online communitythat debates everything fromthe cost of health care to the newfire truck to the color of the flowersplanted in the city park.Online Community BuildingCommunity commentary rarely lackspassion—and we are part of it. If notfor the Web and Twitter and Facebookand all those wonderful tools thatare available to journalists today, wewould be woefully unaware of whatour readers genuinely want to know.We do our best to give it to them, inprint and online.How do we do it? We ask themquestions and most of the time theyrespond. For instance, our daily pollhas questions about politics, schools,budgets and the weather, spanning arange of topics. Some gain momentumand we take those further, asking formore input. During a huge blizzardin January, we asked our readers topost photos on Twitter and Facebook.The response was phenomenal. Wefeatured the best ones and postedcomments from our readers, which,in turn, led to more comments andmemories. Then we asked people tosend us photos from other snowstormsand received an avalanche of memoriesabout the Blizzard of ’78, which shutdown Connecticut.When the mayor of our city doessomething people don’t like, they tellus on our website. We still get lettersto the editor, but a higher percentageof our content and information comesfrom the Internet or from people whowalk in to tell us how they feel. Inthis city, there’s a strong feeling ofcommunity ownership for The RegisterCitizen. Opening the Newsroom Cafewas really about extending that senseof ownership and making it real formore people.After moving to 59 Field Street, aNew York Times reporter asked mewhat I’d do if a resident sat down atmy desk and started telling me howto write my story. “Wouldn’t thatbe hard?” he asked. His expressionshowed concern.His question caused me to pause andthink for a while about how I wouldfeel. Finally I told him that I didn’tknow what I would do, but I wouldfigure it out. That hasn’t happened, butif someone does come in and wantsto talk about a story I am workingon, I trust that I would be more thanwilling to hear what she had to say.If her ideas can improve the story, Isee no harm in taking time to listenor even in telling her the direction inwhich the story seems headed. Butthe idea of someone standing over myshoulder; that’s not easy to imagine.So far, the Times reporter’s concernhasn’t been realized.Our digital newsroom is openingup our sense of what community evenmeans. As journalists, we are nowmore a part of the community thatwe report about. Those who live inthe community and those who inhabitour digital community—and there issome overlap—feel more a part of ournews operation and us. Everythingwe do goes online first and our printedition provides words and imagesto those who prefer to hold news intheir hands.Like everyone inside the newsroom,I tweet updates, link to stories onFacebook, and post stories to ourwebsite, adding photos and text thatappeals to our readers. As managingeditor, I also work with staff reporters,fielding story ideas, editing copy,and processing their work for printand the Web.In March, John Paton, CEO of theJournal Register Company, whichowns The Register Citizen, hosted anadvisory board meeting with digitalmedia experts such as “What WouldGoogle Do?” author Jeff Jarvis andNew York University professor JayRosen addressing our staff. In all, therewere about 50 guests watching thislive broadcast to all the newspapersaround the company. This gave allof us a glimpse at what’s ahead andserved as a good example of the digitalnewsroom at work.Our digital newsroom is not anextension of what it takes to run anewspaper; it is the primary element.Advertising still needs to be sold topay our bills, but at the same timesomething about how we do our jobschanges all the time. I have beeninvolved with community journalismfor more than 12 years. From when Istarted to now the difference in whatthe pairing of the two words “community”and “journalism” even meanshas been profound. It’s amazing to beriding on the edge of change, and it’sgreat to have folks from our communityriding with us. Emily M. Olson is the managingeditor of The Register Citizen inTorrington, Connecticut. Visitwww.registercitizen.com; follow onTwitter.com/registercitizen, or contactEmily at eolson@registercitizen.com.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 39


LINKS THAT BIND | Engaging a CommunityHealth Draws a Community Together Online‘A new mindset emerged as the site’s gates swung open to communityinvolvement. Now, community members are part of what we do every step alongthe way—and we are progressing together.’BY JANE STEVENSIn April 2010, The World Company,a family-owned news organizationin Lawrence, Kansas(population 88,000), launchedWellCommons, created to be thecommunity’s health site. While it’sdifficult to determine the “first” inanything digital, WellCommons iscertainly among the pioneers inmarrying journalism and socialmedia—and making it work forreporters and citizens alike.Here are a few of its elementsheading us in this direction:Community Engagement: Well-Commons provides a look at whatjournalism can be when integratedwith social media. Using a contentmanagement system (CMS) that wedeveloped, our site eliminates thebarriers that have separated journalistsfrom community members.At the same time, we preserve thegoal of being a trusted source ofinformation and news within thecommunity and a safe place forpeople to share what they knowand think.The newsroom of the community health website WellCommons.com is located in The WorldCompany’s offices in Lawrence, Kansas. Photo by Jane Stevens.Niche Journalism: In addition toits main site for the LawrenceJournal-World, LJWorld.com, TheWorld Company already has twoniche websites—KUSports.comand lawrence.com, an entertainmentsite—developed in the late1990’s and mid-2000’s, respectively.WellCommons is the first in thecompany’s planned series of socialjournalism niche sites that it hopeswill comprise a Northeast Kansasnews network.40 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Engaging a CommunityNew Advertising Model: WellCommonsrelies on display ads and sponsorshipfor its revenue. It also gives local businessesthat provide health products andservices access to the same contentgeneratingand community-buildingtools as anyone else—and this givesthem direct access to and conversationswith community members. Butbusinesses—unlike residents andcommunity service organizations—must pay to participate. We are alsoworking on melding social media anddisplay ads; right now, ads are stilldisplayed in the we-talk-you-listenmode. At this point, there’s no visualdifference between the group pagesfor businesses and those belonging tononprofits. We did this for two reasons:The community is small enough thatpeople know which organization is anonprofit and which is a business, andeach group page provides a descriptionof the organization’s activities. Withthe group structure, we recognize thatevery organization has a vested interestin the information it is providing,whether it is a business or a nonprofit.Our BeginningsThe roots of WellCommons extendto when I was a Reynolds Fellow atthe University of Missouri School ofJournalism in 2008-09 and I createdHealthCommons. That spring a groupof students and I developed a prototype.Here are some of the things weset out to do:• Map the community to identifymajor players that influence changeby promoting or stopping it.• Use community data to identifymajor issues that a typical newsroomreported on once or twice and thendidn’t revisit for months or years.• Report on those underreportedtopics.• Provide context and continuity forour stories by posting informationabout our reporting on them.• Let the community know how thesestories affected what happened afterpublication.Most of all, we wanted to weavecontent from the local health communityinto the site’s news stream.However, the Ellington CMS that TheWorld Company developed in 2004and graciously gave us to use was veryhelpful in developing a conceptualproduct, but it didn’t have all the toolswe needed to actually marry socialmedia and journalism.So when we covered young women’shealth, we tried to set up a Facebookpage, but back then Facebook couldn’tdo what we had in mind either. Sincethen Facebook has made significantprogress in this direction but it stillisn’t totally there. Yet I am confidentthat Facebook, WordPress or Googlewill soon master this approach. Anencouraging sign is that earlier thisyear Paul Adams, who did a presentationhe calls “The Real Life SocialNetwork” and is writing a book aboutsocial circles, left Google to go to workfor Facebook.By that semester’s end, Health-Commons had withstood its test asa concept. What it needed was abooster—with funding—to transformit into something real. The WorldCompany surfaced as its champion. InJune 2009 the company hired me asits director of media strategies. Thismeant that I’d supervise its websiteswhile leading the development of alocal health site integrating communityand journalism.Working with a crackerjack developmentteam and turning concept intoreality is relatively easy. Needed aretime and focus. Our team got to workin December 2009 and three monthslater we launched a private beta versionof our CMS system; our public betawent live in April 2010. 1 “We weren’treally inventing anything new,” saysour team manager, Christian Metts.“We were just catching up with therest of the Internet.”Maybe so, but when it comes tothe journalism, this was somethingnew. We were inventing a digitaltown square, and moving beyondcitizen journalism, content farming,and crowdsourcing. A new mindsetemerged as the site’s gates swungopen to community involvement. Now,community members are part of whatwe do every step along the way—andwe are progressing together.Getting StartedSix months before we launchedWellCommons, about 30 communitymembers—some of whom are doctors,others health advocates, some peoplewith no health insurance, otherswho are locavores—began meetingregularly with our development teamto talk about the website. Part trustbuilding, part content harvesting, ourcommunity gatherings still take placeevery few months.Some of those who use the site referto WellCommons as “Facebook forthe local health community.” Text andvideo, photographs and graphics areposted directly to the site—by anyone,in much the same way people sharethings of interest with their friends onFacebook. Community posts are integratedwith what the site’s journalistsproduce. On the site, participants canfollow and message each other andrepost items; it’s easy to send poststo Facebook and Twitter.Similar to how Facebook works, individualsand organizations start groups.Our site’s action tends to bubble upfrom these group pages since contentput there automatically aggregates onthe WellCommons home page. Morethan 100 groups are at various stagesof development; we work with themto set goals and help them grow theircommunities and achieve their goals.Among their goals are enlisting morelocal restaurants to put local foodson their menus, reducing domestic1Members of our development team included Christian Metts, Ben Turner, BenSpaulding, Eric Holscher, and Charlie Leifer as well as Jonathan Kealing, assistantdirector of media strategies.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 41


Links That Bindviolence, developing school gardens,engaging more people in exerciseevents, and building more bike trails.Working in this way requires timeand commitment that journalistsnormally don’t devote to such tasks.But doing this pays off for WellCommonsas community members repayus in what they contribute to the site.From the start, our goal was to haveabout 10 new posts a day, with halfcoming from the community. Rightnow we hit that number—or exceedit—two days a week.Building TrustThe site’s information architecturehelps people to assess the reliability ofinformation. Real names are associatedwith all of the posts to the site. (Aperson can contribute three commentsbefore a real name is required.) All ofthe site’s groups, whether launched bya reporter, an individual, a business, anonprofit, or an institution, functionwith this same rule—real names goalong with informational postings,stories and comments. This meansthat information is judged on the basisof the person who posted it and thegroup from which it comes.We have a staff reporter whomonitors the site full time; if thatreporter can’t be doing this for somereason, another staff member will. Thisreporter also answers questions fromcommunity members and responds totheir posts and comments. Abusivecomments are deleted. When communitymembers want us to look intoan issue, we will.Slow News—Aimed atSolutionsWe take a community-based, solutionorientedapproach to our health reporting.Most national health sites, suchas WebMD, focus on personal healthand provide information about whatindividuals can do to improve theirown or their families’ health. Butat the local level, health becomes acommunity issue.Medical advice tells us to get anannual checkup. Yet when peoplewho are part of a community don’thave health insurance, it’s likely theywon’t act on that advice. Our childrenshould be eating healthy food, but ifschool lunch programs serve macaroniand cheese and French fries and onlya few overcooked vegetables, thenimproving nutrition for them becomesa community issue. Exercise is essentialfor good health, but when a communitydoesn’t have enough safe placesto walk, jog, bike and play outdoors,then creating such spaces becomesthe responsibility of the community.Addressing such issues—and otherslike them—requires communityengagement that will stretch overtime. Although WellCommons coversbreaking news about significant issues,it also provides the community withthe tools for slow-news reporting.What does this mean? The contentthat community members bring toWellCommons is what provides muchof the context and continuity of ongoingissues that are on people’s mindsand are being discussed and debatedin the community. The stories ourreporters do are ones that communitymembers generally don’t, and theyfocus on turning points in a debateor an emerging controversy such asa new Medicare rule that is likely tolimit patients’ access to home healthservices.With this approach, WellCommonsis changing the community’sconversation about health.And the site’s informationstream reflects this shift withas much content focused onsolutions as it has about theproblems. This is a significantjournalistic shift.Nurturing GrowthLast summer about 1,000 people joined what organizers billed as the “World’s Largest CommunityWorkout” in Lawrence, Kansas—with WellCommons as a booster. Photo by Kevin Anderson.We launched WellCommonsin beta—unfinished, knowingwe’d be upgrading it within ayear. Understanding its usefulnesswould only come to usthrough watching closely asthe community used the site.Listening to their requestswas crucial.In March, we launchedWellCommons 2.0—withenhanced social journalism.With its cleaner, more visuallook, the site’s usefulness hasimproved because resources42 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Engaging a Communityare easier to find. It also does a betterjob of integrating data from ourMarketplace site, which pulls in listsof businesses that provide healthproducts and services that are ratedby members of the community. Wecan now post more videos and photoson each page.What else would we like to haveon WellCommons? Here are a fewitems on our wish list: context andtopic pages with timelines, a datasection, a goals app, and an upgradedevents function so people can followeach other’s calendars. We also coulduse another reporter who could helpus do more investigative work. Withsuch improvements, my hunch is thatwe could at least double and perhapstriple the traffic from the 110,000page views we get each month; weare aiming for about 250,000.While WellCommons stands as aseparate website, its content funnelsinto LJWorld.com, which also aggregatescontent from the company’s otherniche sites. In April, our second socialjournalism site, SunflowerHorizons.com, was launched and this one focuseson sustainability. By year’s end we hopeto launch WellCommons 3.0.Believing as we do in the promiseof this approach, Mediaphormedia,the commercial software arm of TheWorld Company, plans to make theuser-generated, community-buildingEllington CMS available to other mediaorganizations, as well as nonprofitsand community-based groups.More than the monthly numbers,however, is WellCommons’s provenability to target and attract a good mixof people. Local health care providersnow come together with people in thebroader community who are interestedin health in this digital town common.Some of them talk about it as “myhealth site.” And that phrase epitomizesits goal. As this site becomes the go-toplace for people in this communitywhen they want to find out abouthealth and health care—whether it’sto learn how the federal health carebill will affect them in Kansas or tofigure out where to get flu shots—thenwhat I imagined in doing my Reynoldsproject will have become a reality. Jane Stevens is director of mediastrategies at The World Company,where she has launched two socialjournalism websites, WellCommonsand SunflowerHorizons.What Football Pep Talks Taught Hyperlocal Reporters‘Inestimable value comes out of making a human connection visible throughsomething as ordinary as a half-time pep talk by a coach to his players.’BY BOB CALOWe are experiencing a seachange in how studentsat the Graduate School ofJournalism at the University of California,Berkeley learn about reporting.Three years ago we tossed outthe first-semester intensive reportingrequirement and replaced it with thework that goes into producing threehyperlocal websites. Funded in partby a Ford Foundation grant to reporton underserved communities near ourcampus, these websites—covering SanFrancisco’s Mission District, NorthOakland, and Richmond—synthesizewriting and reporting with crossplatformmedia production and communityservice.These students also learn quicklywhat journalism partnerships meanand how they work. Not only doestheir reporting appear on one ofthese three hyperlocal sites, but itsometimes finds its way onto SFGate,the San Francisco Chronicle’s onlinevehicle; the nonprofit Bay Citizen, anindependent news site about civic andcommunity issues in the Bay Area; andthe regional edition of The New YorkTimes. This experience is proving tobe a valuable entry point for figuringout what connects people to journalismand journalism to people.Richmond—Forgotten NoLongerJust over 100,000 people live inRichmond, a city about five milesnorth of Berkeley. Quite often it’s aplace people pass on their commuteto wealthier communities along thestretch of I-80 heading toward Sacramento,the state capital. With chronicunderemployment and a reputationfor crime, it is among the poorer citiesin the Bay Area; a few years ago,hearing “Richmond” sparked thoughtsof a runaway homicide rate.With the exception of a gentrifiedarea called Point Richmond, the city isa diverse, hardscrabble place comprisedprimarily of working class whites,African Americans, and Latinos. Onethird of the people who live thereare foreign born. It was a boomtownin the 1940’s, a time that historiansrefer to as the “Second Gold Rush.”Except for Chevron’s large refinery,the manufacturing base has witheredin Richmond, as it has in so manyAmerican industrial cities.The Contra Costa Times reports onthe city, but most of that newspaper’seditorial output aims east toward thewealthier suburbs. The San FranciscoNieman Reports | Summer 2011 43


Links That BindRichmond Confidential’s multimedia coverage of high school football—in-depth and personal—engaged the city’s residents. Photo by Tyler Orsburn.Chronicle does an occasional storyabout Richmond, but for the most partnews coverage is scarce and predictablynegative. Essentially, our hyperlocalsite, Richmond Confidential, has littlejournalistic competition. Last fall 16graduate students were its full-timereporters. Yet convincing residentsto sample our stories put us in adifferent competition—for their timeand attention.Being a part of this teaching effortwas wholly new for me. Generally Iteach video storytelling, reporting andproduction in the two-year programat Berkeley. But as we, like most journalismschools, collapse our teachingsilos, adding a video instructor intothe hyperlocal mix made a lot ofsense, given the vital requirement ofpresenting a visual experience.At its heart, Richmond Confidentialis about making community connections,whether this means reportersconnecting with sources or residentsconnecting with us. One way wemeasured community engagement wasthrough the number of comments wereceived; another was by Facebook“likes.” It turned out that most of thetraffic to our site arrives via Facebook.Comments and “likes” are goodindicators, but the true test of whethera story mattered to our target audience—residentsof Richmond—was ifthey started talking to each other onthe site. Talking to us was fine—and weencouraged it, but when conversationstarted among them we knew what weset out to do was working.This didn’t happen overnight. Theyhad grown accustomed to readingand hearing a consistent narrativeabout their city: it’s dangerous; noone would want to live there; it’s anugly, post-industrial wasteland. Ourjob became hunting for communitystories that posited a different yetequally genuine narrative. By doingthis, we would earn their trust.The messages our stories conveyare these: This is your town; it hasa history; here is some useful, trueinformation about it. And here is yourvoice reflected in our reporting. Ourstories are ones in which respect isevident for the struggle that familiesgo through each day to get by. WhileRichmond boasts a long history ofbare-knuckle politics and vibrant localplayers, such battles are still beingplayed out today—and we coveredthem. Some recent ones haverevolved around jobs and development,including a proposedcasino on Native American land,and there are always stories tobe done about crime, health care,and immigration.This past fall our studentreporters never lacked for materialwith which to build strongand relevant stories. A Novemberelection for mayor and politicalposturing for control of the citycouncil became the focus ofmuch of our reporting. Whenthe local fire and police unionsused political action committeemoney to hire a private investigatorto expose what they saidwas the sitting mayor’s lack ofmental competency for the job,our story started a conversationin Richmond that percolatedthroughout the election season.Reporter David Ferry followedup with a series of investigativestories, tracing the large amounts ofcampaign money flowing throughthis poor city. We collaborated withinformation scientists at Berkeley tobuild an interactive campaign financetracker.The intensity of community reportingcan transform it into an emotionalexperience, sometimes painfully so. Ina February 8 feature story that RobertRogers wrote about a community garden,he included an upbeat interviewwith Ervin Coley III, a young manemployed by a local environmentaljobs project. On March 31, Rogerswrote the story about Coley’s murder,which turned out to be part of a seriesof gang-related shootings. Earlier inthe fall we had produced detaileddaily coverage of a preliminary hearinginvolving a gang rape that hadstaggered the city a year before.Football—A CommunityWindowOne of the most unexpected highlightsof our engagement with the communitycame about because of our coverageof high school football. Our reportersknew little about sports and weren’t44 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Engaging a Communitydrawn to covering it. Their early storiescontained embarrassing errors; eventhough they were raised in this country,few of these graduate students actuallyknew how football is played. Learningthe rules was step one.As errors diminished, game coverageimproved. But other things about ourcoverage were happening, too, and wewere taking notice. In Richmond, beingpublicly acknowledged is a rare thing.So our stories about the two local highschool teams turned out to be aboutmuch more than football—they wereabout the place of these kids in theircommunity. We covered every game;no one else did. We supplemented ourwritten stories with audio slideshowfeatures showing what happens in thelocker room when the coaches talkedwith players. We took and posted onour site hundreds of photos of players,cheerleaders and fans.The year before our coverage began,John F. Kennedy High School didnot finish the season because theirplayers had academic problems andRichmond displayed a general lack ofinterest. This past season was different.Here’s a letter we received that helpsexplain why:JV team. That is something that,as far as I know, has never beendone before and was a greatsurprise to the kids at both JFKand at Richmond also.This is a measure of communityengagement that can’t be underestimated.And it stems, in large part,from the vernacular nature of ourcoverage. In reporting on these gamesthe students learned a valuable lesson:Inestimable value comes out of makinga human connection visible throughsomething as ordinary as a half-timepep talk by a coach to his players.Encapsulated in these moments is aworld of meaning that stretches deepinto the daily challenges of parenting,poverty and family that are so mucha part of the lives of the people inRichmond.I am under no illusion about thesustainability of these three hyperlocalwebsites. The program is halfwaythrough a second Ford Foundationgrant, and future support is uncertain.But because this approach is nowhow we teach effective cross-platformreporting, graduate students at Berkeley’sj-school will continue to be a partof these communities as hyperlocalreporters. It will now depend on tuitionand the school’s operating budget tofinance what happens on all three ofour sites. Our fundraising continues.Teaching reporting by committingstudents to a community is, for me,a highly effective and rewarding idea.To engage the people of Richmond,we have to be innovative and creative,useful for, and respectful of our readers.We have to be open to new storyforms that work. We have to bring thetraditional values of investigative andcivic reporting to a community ignoredby the mainstream press. We also haveto be transparent, with an ear to theground and highly responsive to theplace and the people within it. Bob Calo is a senior lecturer atthe Graduate School of Journalismat the University of California,Berkeley, where he codirects the videostorytelling and reporting programand is executive editor of RichmondConfidential. During a fellowship atHarvard’s Joan Shorenstein Centerfor the Press, Politics and PublicPolicy this past semester, he wrote apaper about audience disengagement.I just wanted to drop you all anote to say thank you to everyoneat Richmond Confidential whocovered Kennedy High School’sfootball team this year (and lastyear too). It really meant a lotto the kids to get some attentionand some positive news coverage.What you may not knowis that these kids were calledlosers, thugs and criminals andwere told they wouldn’t have thegrades to play, etc. and that evenif they did, they wouldn’t be anygood long before the first gamewas played.Overcoming a culture of losingand underachieving is difficult,and it is far from over. We havea lot of work still ahead of us inthe classroom and on the fieldbut the coverage you providedgave these kids some immediatefeedback and gratification,especially the coverage for theCommunity reporting was an emotional experience for Robert Rogers of Richmond Confidential.One month after he interviewed Ervin Coley III, above, about his job as a communitygardener, the young man was slain and Rogers wrote the story about his murder.Photo by Robert Rogers.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 45


Links That BindWords and Visuals Intersect to Create CommunityInteractive sites like Intersect ‘trace the contours of a story’s growth through theflow of time and place and offer viewers the chance to embed their stories intothose being told by other members of this community.’BY PETER RINEARSONWhen floodwaters rose in the Ozarks on April 25,the Springfield News-Leader in southwest Missouritweeted: “Our photographers are runningall over the area right now. Here are some of the picturesthey’ve sent in.”When the recipients of this tweet clicked the link, theywent to an interactive map on news-leader.com. Oncethere, they found thumbnails of flood photos tagged withplaces and times. Clicking a thumbnail revealed a panelwith information about what other stories connect to thissame time and place. These images—offered in this broadercontext—told a valuable story and they did so more powerfullythan if each had been seen disconnected from theothers. Glancing through the photos, readers could quicklylearn whether any pictures were of their neighborhood ortaken in a place where friends or loved ones lived.They could watch the story as it was being told and inthe ways they wanted to see it; the map gave them theability to go to places of their choosing and be there inthe time they wanted to be.Stories put into context are more meaningful and aretherefore more likely to be compelling. Context frames astory and imbues it with meaning. Amid a torrent of socialmedia and with location-aware cameras, opportunitiesabound to be inventive in how context is conveyed andcommunities are formed. Interactive sites like one thatI founded, Intersect.com, trace the contours of a story’sgrowth through the flow of time and place and offer viewersthe chance to embed their stories into those being told byother members of this community.I got the idea for Intersect while watching my daughterplay lacrosse. It struck me that the best photos of her gamemight be taken by parents from the other team, none ofwhom I knew. I could try to exchange e-mail addresses,but that would be a burden to everybody—and it woulddo nothing for the parents who didn’t make it to the gamebut might enjoy seeing photos of it taken by strangers. Itmade me wonder if we could use the Internet as a placeto share our photos and the stories behind them—andin doing so, create a sense of our shared place and time.Intersect as Social MediaSeattle NBC affiliate KING-TV (www.king5.com) invited people toshare their earthquake stories on Intersect.com.Tantalizing hints alert us to the great potential that digitalmedia hold for journalists—and for journalism—in forminga wide variety of online communities. At The WashingtonPost, Michael Williamson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer,shows the effects of this country’s listless economythrough illuminating photographs and accompanying short46 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Engaging a Communitynarratives. He took photos as partof his “Recession Road” project; therest of the pictures are contributed bypeople who are participating in thisonline pictorial storytelling. Peoplecan view what Williamson describesas a “photocasting” journey across theUnited States as a website or as aninteractive map.These two interactive maps—Williamson’s“Recession Road” and theNews-Leader’s Ozarks flood—weregenerated by Intersect, a digital storytellingplatform my company createdthat enables people to form onlinecommunities based on experiencesthey’ve shared directly or indirectly. Itdoes this by giving news organizationsand others the tools to put storiesinto the context of place and timeand develop chronological storylines.It’s a form of social media, yet whencontent is placed on Intersect it sticksaround. What a person contributesdoesn’t vanish—stories from the pastare brought back to life by anyonewho wants to move through space andtime to rediscover them. When I wasin Philadelphia in mid-April I posteda story to Intersect about visiting theLiberty Bell as a tourist. When I clickedto see if any stories intersected withmine, I found out that Williamson hadrecently posted his own photographsfrom just across the Delaware Riverin Camden, New Jersey.When someone comes to Intersectand wants to see stories done in Aprilor stories from the Philadelphia area(or both), my Liberty Bell story will bethere, as will my personal “storyline,”which is a chronology of all the “public”stories I’ve published on Intersect.(If you are an Intersect member andI know you, then certain stories I’vemarked as private are yours to view.)Williamson’s story and storyline arethere, too, with our coincidental overlapof time and place linking us at thisintersection near the Delaware River.Even though we’ve never met, we canlearn about each other by seeing ourstories grow over time.Having the ability to see this growthshould be as important online as it isin our daily lives. In interactions wehave with people and institutions, weform our judgments about them as wecome to know and understand theirstories over time, learning what they’vedone, where they have been, and withwhom they interact. Intersect attemptsto bring this dynamic to the Web.The Washington Post uses Intersectas part of its social media engagementeffort. Community members are invitedto submit their own “Recession Road”stories and photos. The first time thenewspaper extended such an invitationwas during the Jon Stewart andStephen Colbert rallies on the NationalMall in October 2010. That day, morethan 100 people, including several Postreporters outfitted with the IntersectiPhone app, sent their photographsand stories to the Post site.These days Williamson uses aniPhone to take pictures, with the optionof immediately uploading them viathis app, or he can use his laptop andconnect to Intersect.com. An Intersectmap can be embedded on a news site,similar to YouTube videos. This is theroute taken by news-leader.com, alongwith King5.com, the website of Seattle’sNBC affiliate. For two mapping efforts,the King 5 newsroom invited sportsfans to share stories around an NFLplayoff game and then encouragedpeople to send in their experienceswith earthquakes.Digital media excel at mappingstories and at having people be ableto locate themselves in them. Newsorganizations employ them as visualways to tell stories about events. TheAssociated Press put together a mapand photo galleries about the endof April tornadoes that demolishedparts of the South, while The NewYork Times mapped the path that thetornadoes took that week.Intersect differs from these newsorganizations’ approaches since storieson any topic are created on it andthey can be put there by anybody. (Allof this happens without any cost tothe producer.) Unlike custom maps,handtailored by a news organizationfor stories it covers, those generatedby Intersect in response to photosand other stories are self-service.People are free to create a storylineon Intersect, invite people to sharetheir photos and stories, and embeda map of the resulting collaborativestorytelling experience on a website.These photos and stories can be taggedwith the name of the publication,topic or a company name. Speakingof companies, when editors at theSpringfield News-Leader decided touse Intersect, they just went aheadand embedded the Intersect code ontheir website. Only after they were upand running did we find out.Intersect has been in developmentby a team of 10 for more than threeyears; it has been open for anyone touse since December. How it evolves willdepend, to some extent, on the waysthat journalists and others interestedin creating communities use Intersectto further this purpose. As its developers,we imagine Intersect being asite where people move through timeand places when they are drawn to aparticular topic or story around whichcommunity has formed. It can also bea way for publishers—commercial andindividuals—to get word out abouttheir visual content by sharing withthe community links to stories ontheir websites.Yes, we imagine being surprised, too.With a place like Intersect, there willlikely be ways we can’t think of nowthat people will find to cross paths withpeople they don’t yet know but withwhom an experience creates a bond.Much is as unclear as it is exciting.Context matters, we know. Beyond thiscertainty, we are eager to discover howpeople will form communities aroundthe core of what journalists do—tellstories. Peter Rinearson, founder of Intersect,won a Pulitzer Prize for FeatureWriting for stories he wrote while onstaff at The Seattle Times. He is aformer Microsoft vice president whoco-authored “The Road Ahead” withBill Gates.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 47


Links That BindConnecting Kids With News in Their CommunityYoungsters made video games, and educators found that ‘hands-on activityhelped kids to process news reporting. It also gave them ways to tell this storyby integrating their perspectives as they aimed it at fresh audiences.’BY RENEE HOBBS“Flash Mob on South Street.”These words greeted residents ofPhiladelphia in the spring of2010 when raucous, spontaneousand, at times, aggressive gatherings ofhundreds of teenagers took place downtown,causing consternation amongbusiness and community leaders as wellas ordinary citizens. Months later, in aclassroom at the Russell Byers CharterSchool, students ranging in age from9 to 11 years old spent time learningmore about these flash mobs, and withthe help of their teacher, John Landis,they created video games to tell thisstory in a way and through a mediumthat kids can relate to.These students are much youngerthan those who had been involved inthe disturbances. But this was a topicthey well understood as they, too, aregrowing up in an urban environmentand already are confronting pressurefrom their peers. As the class began,what they knew about this news storyhad likely come from what familymembers who saw stories on TV or readthe city’s newspapers had told them.Not unlike kids in past generations,children today tend to learn news oftheir neighborhood, the nation, and theworld by absorbing information fromparents and other family members. Fewof them pick up a daily newspaper orweekly newsmagazine. Some will hearsnippets of radio news in betweensongs. Some might even see local ornational news while flipping throughthe channels. A more likely source forteenagers is when friends post linkson Facebook; some might click on astory or a video of a news story.Otherwise, their engagement withnews tends to be rare and fleeting.Yet as children andyoung people getready to assumetheir roles as citizensprepared tofully participate ina democracy, theyneed to know aboutwhat’s happeningin their communities,in the widerworld, and withtheir government.They also need toacquire the skillsof self-expressionand gain experience as members ofgroups or networks engaged in theprocess of taking action on a publicmatter.This is why digital literacy (theunderstanding of and capacity to usenew information technologies) andmedia literacy (the capacity to access,analyze, evaluate and create messagesin a variety of media) are essentialcompetencies today.“Informing Communities: SustainingDemocracy in the Digital Age,” areport by the Knight Commission onthe Information Needs of Communitiesin a Democracy, acknowledged thisreality, finding that people who don’tacquire these skills bear “a significantrisk of being relegated to second-classcitizenship.”Now some journalists and educatorsare responding to this warningby developing news literacy initiativesto address this situation. One sucheffort took place in Philadelphia asa teacher explored local news witha class of African-American studentsat the Russell Byers Charter School.It was through Powerful Voices forTyler Jones was among the students who created video games totell stories of flash mobs. Photo by Renee Hobbs.Kids, a university-school partnershipthat enrolled 85 children ages 5 to 14during the summer of 2010, thanks togrants from the Wyncote Foundationand the Byerschool Foundation.Developing Powerful VoicesIn Powerful Voices for Kids, undergraduateand graduate students fromTemple University work with classroomteachers during the school year tointegrate digital and media literacyinto the elementary school curriculum.In the summer, children participate ina play and learning program to morefully explore digital and media literacyactivities. [See box on page 51, “MediaLiteracy: Learning Principles.”]In Landis’s classroom, 9- to 11-yearoldstudents set out to understandhow news is told by exploring localcoverage of the flash mobs. Afterfinding out about what the reporterssaid happened, the students weretaught how to use Scratch, a simpleprogramming tool, to make interactivemedia about this news event. The videogames the kids created were designed48 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Engaging a Communityto stimulate conversation about hownews is constructed and why news isso important in society.Landis believes computer programming—especiallywhen used to createvideo games—can be a terrific tool forteaching digital and media literacy. Hisreasoning goes like this: Video gameswork when they highlight choices, andthis crucial, noteworthy component ofvideo games places the creator andplayer in someone else’s shoes. Forchildren and young people, this isimportant, he explained: “You’re notonly making choices, but also dealingwith the consequences. Creators havethe potential to highlight the ethicalaspects of a situation but not make itinto heavy-handed moralizing.”Before creating simple video games,the students in the Powerful Voicesfor Kids acquainted themselves withthe news as it was reported in thenewspaper and on local TV. Withguidance from Landis, they consideredthe varying points of view of perpetrators,local business leaders, bystandersand police.A breakthrough moment occurredwhen Ahmir, one of the students,recognized that one of the most importantparts of designing the game wasfiguring out how to make the playerempathize with teenagers who weredeciding whether to participate inflash mobs.“Creating the game had a lot todo with what I and what the classthought about flash mobs,” Ahmirobserved. “I think they’re dangerousand bad and that people shouldn’t goto them at all. In my game [the maincharacter’s] friends pressure him togo to the flash mob and he says hedoesn’t want people to make fun ofhim for not going.”In planning their projects, studentsfound themselves in deep discussionsabout choices and consequences, aboutrisk-taking and danger. They talkedabout stereotypes associated withbeing an African-American teenageras well as the stereotypes people haveabout how police behave and react.And what they talked about informedthe elements that they built into theirvideo games.Media Lessons ContinueAfter they made the games, Landiswrote a press release about their work.The children were thrilled when a localTV news team showed an interestin the story. A reporter came to theschool, interviewed the teacher andstudents, and took pictures of childrentalking and planning and creatingtheir projects. But when a 25-secondstory ran on a local Philadelphia newschannel, the students suddenly had alot more questions.Among their questions were: Whyhadn’t the reporter used their facesor voices in the news story? Why wasthe teacher’s point of view of omitted?One student counted how manytimes the phrase “flash mob” was usedin the story. (The answer was toomany—and sometimes, it seemed, onlyfor effect.) Another wondered whethertheir classroom experience was justanother excuse for the local stationto recycle bad news. Why weren’t anyof their video games shown as part ofthe story? One student found an errorin the broadcast story: The reporterhad said that the class was held “at”Temple University, but it was actuallyheld at the children’s own elementaryschool “with” Temple University as asponsoring partner.The reporter’s choice of a prepositionhad led to an inaccuracy. Landisseized on this as a teachable moment.People who report the news sometimesmake mistakes, he told his students.He used the incorrect preposition as away to remind them that every wordis important, and each one makesa difference in how a news story isshaped.What Did Children Learn?In assessing the learning outcomesfrom this classroom experience, itbecame clear to us that hands-onactivity helped kids process newsreporting. It also gave them waysto tell this story by integrating theirperspectives as they aimed it at freshaudiences. Other observations madeby researchers from Temple Universityincluded:• Decisions a journalist makes canshape our opinions and feelingsabout people and places we don’texperience directly, reinforcing orchallenging stereotypes.• Even a small word choice can makea news story inaccurate.• A lot of information is left out ofa news report.• A journalist makes these choicesbecause there is a lot of news andnot much time and journalists mustbalance what people need to knowwith what people want to know.In a video game created by Amhir andMarquise in the Powerful Voices for Kidsprogram, players have the choice of goingto the flash mob and finding trouble or notgoing and facing taunts from their peers.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 49


Links That Bind• Anyone can create a media messageabout news and current events thatreflects his or her experiences.• Words, images and interactivitycan be put to work in investigating,telling and commenting on what’shappening in a community.• Sharing news with family andfriends can spark conversationabout problems, and this can helppeople learn about and take actionto solve them.How are these concepts bestlearned? Students most readily absorbthese ideas when educators, welltrained in such teaching, combinetheir lessons with hands-on projects,according to David Cooper Moore,program director for Powerful Voicesfor Kids. What doesn’t work well iswhen media professionals lecture aboutwhat they do in newsgathering andthink that students will automaticallyappreciate the values of good journalism.[See box, below, “News Literacy:What Not to Do.”]Children are growing up at a timewhen a Google search might result inaccess to high-quality information or aslickly designed effort that is little morethan a public relations handout. Duringthe process of growing up, they willlikely encounter ideas from Holocaustdeniers, pornographers, racists anda slew of other miscreants trying tomanipulate or deceive, and they willalso come across information posingas news that is more believable butnonetheless false. This is why digitaland media literacy skills are so essential;they enable us to make effectivechoices as responsible consumers andengaged citizens. Renee Hobbs is a professor at TempleUniversity’s School of Communicationsand Theater, where she foundedthe Media Education Lab. She isthe author of “Digital and MediaLiteracy: Connecting Culture andClassroom,” to be published inAugust by Corwin/Sage. She can bereached at renee.hobbs@temple.edu.News Literacy: What Not to DoThree instructional practices thatare emerging in news literacydeserve closer scrutiny:Dumbing It Down: Some educatorsand news practitioners think ofteaching news literacy as a journalismclass for non-journalists.Essentially, they dump the contentof an introductory course in journalism—topicslike the reportingprocess, relationships betweenreporters and sources, the FirstAmendment, press law, and ethics—onstudents for whom thesetopics hold little intrinsic interest.For most of the students, this classbecomes little more than meaninglessfacts to recall and spit back onan exam. It’s unlikely to supportthe development of essential skillsto carry with them. News literacyneeds to be thought about as teachinga different set of skills—morefocused on those who consumenews and not those who produceit, though they are interconnectedin many ways.Telling War Stories: Teaching newsliteracy only from a journalist’s pointof view—recounting war stories fromthe good old days—doesn’t workwhen the real job at hand is to helpstudents develop critical thinkingand communication skills. As JohnMcManus wrote in “Detecting Bull,”journalists have blind spots whenit comes to being aware of howcommercial bias affects the waysin which stories get told. Studentscan be inspired when journalistsshare their experiences about theirwork. That’s important, but it’s notenough.Romanticizing Journalism: Somenews literacy initiatives place asignificant emphasis on teachingabout the ideals of American journalism.While these are importantto talk about, journalism needs tobe presented in realistic ways thatmake sense to students. The publicshould be able to place their trustin the “news neighborhood,” asHoward Schneider, founder of thenews literacy program at StonyBrook University, calls it. Journalistsshould be accurate and fair in theirreporting. News should contributeto people’s ability to participateas citizens in a democracy. But ifthe focus is only on the ideals ofjournalism, then it will be merepropaganda because of its blindnessto the reality of today’s mediamaelstrom in which smear festsbuild audiences and news aggregationservices spread misinformationblindingly fast, sometimes leavingtruth in the dust.The bottom line is if a newsliteracy course leaves studentsfeeling frustrated that Americanjournalistic practices do not meetthe idealistic vision we have forjournalism as a watchdog on powerand a catalyst to democracy, that’sOK. As “Mediactive” author DanGillmor notes, skepticism is ahighly rational approach for newsconsumers today.News literacy programs mustfocus on building learners’ criticalthinking and creative communicationskills. When this happens, newsconsumers will be better able tounderstand, appreciate and critiquethe news while using the tools they’vebeen given to evaluate its fairness,transparency and accuracy. —R.H.50 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Engaging a CommunityMedia Literacy: Learning PrinciplesEducators are discovering whatworks best to build critical thinkingand communication skills when itcomes to exploring news and information.These learning principleshold their own no matter what thelevel of education is and are anintegral part of Powerful Voices forKids, a Philadelphia-based programof digital and media literacy educationfor grade school students.Start from the learner’s interests.A news event as a teaching toolmust be timely, local and relevant.Learners, not the teacher, select thetopic to examine, exploring issuesthat are personally meaningful andrelevant.Connect comprehension and analysis.Learners build reading comprehensionand analysis skills throughclose reading as a way of bothunderstanding what the news isabout along with appreciating itsform and structure.Ask critical questions and listenwell. Practice asking questions,which is more important thanhaving answers. Respect and valuemultiple perspectives that arise inthe responses. Learners, not justthe teacher, ask questions, andas students offer answers, theydemonstrate reasoning and presentevidence to support their ideas. Theteacher is not the exclusive fontof knowledge. The teacher listenscarefully and helps to create afoundation of knowledge throughquestioning, searching for newinformation, developing ideas, andlistening with openness, curiosityand respect.Focus on putting news storiestogether. Pay careful attention tohow news stories are constructed tounderstand the process and examinehow creative and strategic choices ofwords, images, sounds and graphicdesign end up shaping a reader’sperception of reality. Appreciatethe complex relationship betweenrepresentation and reality.Link critical analysis and mediacomposition. Present ideas andinformation in ways that connectdeeply to the task at hand; showby example that there are not anyunnecessary, out-of-context, andeasily forgettable facts about thingsthat should be known.Use collaborative multimedia toenable authentic communication.Learners will find ways to shareideas with audiences by using mediagenres and forms that are appropriatelychallenging and meaningful.Engage the class in the community.There is a benefit when classroomactivities intersect with the messinessfound outside classroom walls.Being in this reality makes learnersconsider the tensions and contradictionsbetween the ideal and real,between theory and practice.Instruction inmedia literacy cancreate a learning environmentin whichstudents can buildknowledge about communityevents relevantto their livesand engage in criticalthinking and communicationskills in waysthat bolster their abilityto become activecitizens. —R.H.Teachers in the Powerful Voices for Kids program helped students evaluate and create messages ina variety of media. Photo by Renee Hobbs.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 51


Links That BindOnline Comments: Dialogue or Diatribe?Among the minority who dominate the online conversation is ‘the digitalequivalent of the loudest drunk in the bar.’BY ALICIA C. SHEPARDIt might be hard to believe, butone reason NPR was inspired tobuild its social media communityis what it found in personal ads likethis one—“Female golfer, loves NPR,travel and skydiving, is looking forlike-minded man.” With NPR squeezedinto the middle of self-portraits, thenetwork figured that if it created adigital public square, people wouldwant to congregate there.So three years ago NPR invited its27 million listeners to gather at thisvirtual water cooler to share ideas,suggest stories, offer comments andcriticisms, and participate in civildialogue. Joining NPR’s digital communityrequires creating an account.Individuals need to log in each timethey comment on a story, thoughusing real names is not required. Sofar 500,000 people have signed up asmembers of the NPR.org community.Since the launch in 2008, thosetasked with oversight of this digitalcommunity’s dynamics at times havefelt as though they are riding a buckingbronco in the rodeo ring. Thosefeelings hit hardest when contentiousissues surface, and it can be challengingto maintain civil dialogue asconversations devolve into downrightmeanness.So the hunt is continually on forworkable—and affordable—solutions.The goal is dialogue, but it’s pretty clearthat the debate between dialogue anddiatribe is still being waged. From theview I’ve had for the last three yearsas NPR’s ombudsman I’d say diatribeis winning—hands down. 1 My perspectiveis shaped by the reality that myrole—taking positions on controversialissues that arise at NPR—puts me inthe position of receiving many morenegative comments than the NPRcommunity as a whole.“The discussionson NPR.orgare for the mostpart thoughtful andlively,” said MarkStencel, NPR managingeditor for digital.“And we know we cancount on our audiencefor strong opinions. We’re used tothat. Our rules are hardly onerous—bepolite, don’t use obscenities. … Ifanything, as a public media organizationwe are inclined to be more openthan what some other national newsorganizations might be comfortableallowing—and that is still the case.”When people wrote me messagesthat were thoughtful, engaging orprovocative in a constructive way, Ieagerly absorbed what they had to say.Yet the comments I received on theNPR Ombudsman blog usually weren’tany of those things. Most people loggedin to share with me—and the rest ofthe community—what a dimwit I am,that NPR should fire me, that my latestcolumn is laughable, or that I am afirst-class shill for NPR.Here is what “Will Null(Will9999999)” wrote in March, afew days after my column appearedabout NPR tightening its rules aboutcommenting on stories:Did I mention that you are atotal jerk to state that! You tookthe Kings Copper, and now aregoing about kicking the body!Why am i not surprised by yourunprofessional conduct.I am starting a Lottery forShepards Firing. I will start withFire Date of March 15th. Others,please feel free to Post ShepardsFiring Date. I will give $100 tothe Winners Favorite Charity.Want to see more? Click on commentson www.npr.org/ombudsman.If people were talking with me onthe phone or in person or they’d writtenme a letter, our communication mighthave been more productive. Instead,with only a click needed to transformwriter into sender, dozens of messagesarrived in my digital mailbox eachday. During especially challengingtimes, the number has reached intothe thousands.The 90-9-1 principle convinced methat many, not all, comment sectionsare an exercise in faux democracy.This theory goes that 90 percent ofus will read something online andmove on. Nine percent—I’m in thisgroup—occasionally take time to comment.That leaves roughly 1 percentwho dominate the online conversation,and among this smaller number isfound the digital equivalent of theloudest drunk in the bar. Their messagesare often rude and accusatory;they indicate little interest in joininga conversation, yet they succeed inscaring off those who might want to1Shepard’s term as ombudsman ended on May 31.52 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Engaging a Communitytruly engage.This has occasionally pushed awaya news source. Once the family of ahigh-performing high school studentwho was in the country illegally wantedto stop cooperating on a story for “AllThings Considered” because listenersresponded so harshly on the story’sonline version. The producers ultimatelyconvinced the family to stickwith what was going to be an ongoingstory, “Undocumented Teen’s School,Work Options Limited.”“It was by no means easythough, and this experienceultimately had a real chillingeffect on our ability tocontinue with them in thelonger term,” said freelanceproducer Elizabeth Meister.“I feel fairly confident that thisincident ultimately led themto believe that sharing theirexperience was dangerous,and as a result it looks likewe are having to abandonwork on any follow-ups.”That was in December2009, and since then NPRhas stepped up its oversight.Today, for the most part,the stream of commentshas become more civil andengaging.Monitoring CommentsPrescreening comments works, but it isexpensive, and not all vicious commentswill always be taken down. So nearlythree years after NPR started allowingcommenting on stories, the network(like all news outlets) is still figuringout how best to handle abusive anddisruptive commentary. Initially, NPRrelied on a “Report Abuse” button—ifit were clicked three times, then thatcomment was investigated.With NPR getting about 3,000comments a day, such investigationsbecame unfeasible for staff to manage.Last October NPR hired a Canadabasedcompany, ICUC ModerationServices, to handle the abuse queuefor NPR.org comments. But eventhis is not total premoderation. ICUCmoderates comments by new users andthose who have repeatedly broken theguidelines.It’s a tough job. Moderating commentsis more art than science sincethere are a lot of gray area judgmentcalls within NPR’s guidelines. Crossingthose borderlines can lead to expulsionfrom the community. “Our goalis to encourage civil and engagingconversations,” said Kate Myers, whooversees NPR’s online community. “Itonly takes a few people for a discussionto turn bad. In my experience, people… ninety percent of us will readsomething online and move on.Nine percent—I’m in this group—occasionally take time to comment.That leaves roughly 1 percent whocreate and dominate theonline conversation…don’t like to contribute to a site wherethe comments devolve into ugliness.”In March, NPR went a step furtherto refine the system. Now newmembers and repeat offenders arepremoderated—a kind of guilty untilproven innocent approach for thosenew to the site. It’s an attempt tocontrol the digital “trolls,” yet theyseem to be too clever by half. TakeBoulder Dude, a longtime nemesis,who lets me know in frequent commentsthat he finds little redeemingabout my columns or NPR in general.When NPR monitors banned him, heset up a new account, first as BoulderDude1, then Boulder Dude2, and soon. But under the new system, hecan’t be so crafty.“And every time he creates a newaccount, he gets premoderated,” notedAndy Carvin, NPR’s social media guru.“It’s a losing battle for him except ifhe behaves. Our system works becausehe doesn’t have a free bully pulpit forhim to use. Our community membersget to talk in peace because of thenew system.”Other debates revolve around theanonymity afforded those who comment.Would Boulder Dude be socutting, ugly or mean-spirited if he hadto use his real name? (I know it’s a he;I’ve talked with him.) Andrew Alexander,the former ombudsmanat The Washington Post,argued in favor of anonymity,even though the Post,like all news organizations,confronts these same kindsof messages that can borderon hate speech. He believesanonymity encourages peopleto participate and sharethings online that they mightbe afraid to post if their realname was used.I disagree.We would have more honest,kinder, civil exchanges ifpeople used their real names.One way to do this is to log inusing Facebook, a place wherenearly everyone wants to beknown and where the ethosis that people are known aswho they are in real life. Ofcourse, this isn’t always true. There areavatars on Facebook as well, and signingin on Facebook doesn’t guaranteecivility. Look at The Washington Post.But it’s a start.Encouraging a civil dialogue makessense, so if I could, I’d get rid of anonymitywhen it comes to participatingin the digital town common. I thinkpeople behave more civilly towardone another when their true identityis known. Alicia C. Shepard just ended herthree-year term as NPR ombudsman.She welcomes suggestions of workablesolutions for commenting. Sharethem with her at lshepard27@comcast.net.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 53


WORDS & REFLECTIONSThe Inner Fire of Muckraking Journalists‘… without the time-honored, shoe-leather investigative work andskillful interviewing, passion and outrage amount to little in thejournalism realm.’BY STEVE WEINBERGPoisoning the Press: RichardNixon, Jack Anderson, andthe Rise of Washington’sScandal CultureMark FeldsteinFarrar, Straus and Giroux.480 Pages.Every writer who cares aboutlanguage usage knows that theword “unique” means one of akind. There are no degrees ofuniqueness so caring writerscringe when reading, for example,that an investigative journalist isthe “most unique” ever practicingthe craft. But if I were tomisuse the word, I would do soon behalf of Jack Anderson, anastoundingly unique investigativejournalist who died in 2005 atthe age of 83. Or should I say“muckraker”? Or is there anotherdescriptive word not yet coined?These ruminations are occasionedby the publication of“Poisoning the Press: RichardNixon, Jack Anderson, and theRise of Washington’s ScandalCulture,” written by Mark Feldstein.Interesting, informativeand important—an all-too-rarecombination—Feldstein haswritten a book that speaks tojournalism’s past and its present.It is not a full-scale Andersonbiography, nor one of Nixon.Instead, as Feldstein explains, it“is an account of the interactionbetween these two men thatillustrates larger issues aboutgovernment and the media—andthe rise of investigative scandalcoverage—during their time.”Now a journalism professorat the University of Maryland,Feldstein reported for ABC Newsand CNN, and before doing thathe served as Anderson’s internduring the summers of 1973 and1976. While in that Washington,D.C. office, Feldstein recalls inhis book that he “absorbed thespirit of joyful muckraking thatpermeated” the enterprise. Everthe journalist in his approachto the telling of this intriguingstory, Feldstein acknowledges hishope that “this familiarity hasnot compromised my fairness,but that ultimately will be up tothe reader to decide.”Feldstein’s research is deepand broad, leading to an excellentbook about the numerousand challenging intersections ofpolitics and the press, especiallyas they exist—and are playedout—in Washington. Much ofthe insight is revealed fromwhat Anderson left behind:more than 10,000 syndicatedcolumns, many of them basedon persistent, some might say,compulsive reporting; thousandsmore magazine and newspaperarticles and radio broadcasts;20 books; speeches; interviews;internal memos mixed in withpersonal and professional correspondence.What he didn’tglean from documents, Feldsteinunearthed in the course of hisroughly 200 interviews.For readers too young orotherwise too removed fromthe decades-long, poisonedrelationship of Anderson, thesyndicated columnist, and Nixon,the politician and President,I offer a few of its buildingblocks: Anderson learned someof his trade from mentor DrewPearson, also a widely publishedmuckraker based in Washington.Pearson and later Andersonwent after anybody in authoritywho offended their personal andpolitical morality, and Nixonshowed up frequently—as aCommunist-baiting congressmanfrom California, as an ethically54 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Bookschallenged vice president underDwight D. Eisenhower, as a failedWhite House candidate, and later as atwice-elected President. Nixon tendedto despise journalists and exhibitparanoia, with Anderson a regulartarget of his invective; Anderson wasa well-recognized enemy of Nixon’slong before his administration’s top 20“enemies list” surfaced in 1973—andAnderson’s name wasn’t on it.Nixon liked to reside in the internationalrealm and certainly deservescredit for establishing U.S. governmentrelations with China. Though nevera foreign correspondent, Andersonrelished international scoops, and heis probably best recalled today forexposing Nixon administration liesabout who was doing what to whomduring warfare between India andPakistan. Nor did the Vietnam Warescape Anderson’s relentless effort tobring to public attention the reality ofthe military campaign as set againstthe ways in which Nixon (and othersin his administration) portrayed itspolicy.Jack Anderson holds documents, which he says describe White House strategy sessions onthe India-Pakistan war, on his television show in 1972. Photo by The Associated Press.Journalist’s Inner FireWhat became clear in my own researchabout Anderson—and is conveyed wellby Feldstein—is the vital nature of ajournalist’s inner fire. [See box onpage 56.] Some of the more talentedjournalists in terms of documentsresearch, interviewing techniques,and writing skills make little impactbecause they lack the inner fire ofAnderson. To those who ask me aboutinvestigative reporting—and who areeager to discover why one reportersucceeds at it while another fails—Ioften use such phrases as “sustainedcontrolled outrage” and “relentlesscuriosity” to describe this inner fire.Yet words fall short as they fail tocapture the alchemy that integratesnecessary temperamental qualities intothe steady grind of a reporting life.Among those journalists whoseblend of temperament, timing andtenaciousness has propelled them intothe ranks of successful muckrakers,besides Anderson, I’d put Ida Tarbell,Seymour Hersh, Jessica Mitford, IdaWells-Barnett, and the team of DonaldL. Barlett and James B. Steele, amongothers. On a local level, with famemore circumscribed, I’d include MikeMcGraw, Pam Zekman, Bill Marimow,Bob Greene, Jeff Leen, and at leastseveral dozen others.The inner fire might be partlygenetic—that’s hard to know for sure—and deeply environmental. Anderson’senvironment was connected to hislifelong piety to the Mormon faith.As Feldstein mentions, Anderson“sincerely believed that his muckrakingfurthered the Lord’s work.” Not soincidentally, the Mormons believe thatGod inspired the U.S. Constitution, adocument Anderson cited often.Although I would never comparemyself favorably with Anderson,my inner fire springs neither fromorganized religion (I call myself anevangelical agnostic) nor my parents,in any way I can discern. So wheredoes it come from? After 42 years ofinvestigative reporting, I can’t say; Ionly know it exists and probably willuntil I die.Anderson inspired me and manyother journalists with his dedicatedpursuit of information. He wouldnot tolerate secrecy in governmentor corporate suites if he had a sensethat the citizenry was being screwed.As Feldstein illustrates, if Andersoncould not obtain information throughstandard means, he and his cadre ofassociates would acquire desired details“by eavesdropping, rifling throughgarbage, and swiping classified documents.”In the tactics these two menused in their back-and-forth attacks oneach other—as Feldstein shows Nixonretaliating with wiretaps, smears andeven a plot to kill Anderson—theyfound some discomforting commonground.Our contemporary culture ofextreme government and corporatesecrecy would not have altered Anderson’stactics or, I surmise, likely dousedhis inner fire.Despite some questionable professionalconduct, Anderson remainedNieman Reports | Summer 2011 55


Words & Reflectionsan evidence-based crusader againstcorruption until he died. Pause for amoment to take in those words—evidencebased. Some of today’s digitaljournalists—here I’m talking aboutbloggers and their techno cousins—exhibit plenty of passion and anabundance of outrage. A few do usethe expansiveness of the Web to its bestadvantage by connecting readers to anopen vault of documents presenting atreasure-trove of supporting details.But without the time-honored, shoeleatherinvestigative work and skillfulinterviewing, passion and outrageamount to little in the journalismrealm. The great lesson of Feldstein’sbook, even if considered only in theAnderson-Nixon context, is the vitalnature and immense value of thoroughwatchdog reporting.Accept no substitute. Steve Weinberg is the author of sevennonfiction books. His most recent,“Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battleof Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller,”was published by W.W. Nortonin 2008. He is professor emeritus atthe Missouri School of Journalismand a former executive director ofInvestigative Reporters and Editors.Steve Weinberg: Connections and DisclosuresIn 1989, Little, Brown and Companypublished my biography of industrialistArmand Hammer, and thenHammer sued me for defamation,as we knew he would, given hisopposition to the truth of his careerbeing exposed.As preparation for the libel trialmoved ahead, I wanted to begina new biography of another legendarycharacter: Jack Anderson.I researched and wrote a bookproposal, obtained a contract, andmoved forward. But then a changeat the top of the publishing houseoccurred, which would have led tocancellation of the libel insurancewe had agreed upon. I abandonedthe book after failing to find asatisfactory publisher. Instead, Iwrote several magazine featuresabout Anderson—two of whichare mentioned in Mark Feldstein’sbibliography.Eventually I heard that Markwould be writing about Anderson atbook length so I contacted him andoffered whatever research materialsI still possessed. He acceptedthe offer.I’ve known Mark through ourmutual affiliation with InvestigativeReporters and Editors (IRE).In 1976, when I was a Des MoinesRegister reporter, I was involvedwith IRE in its infancy, and sevenyears later, I moved to Columbia,Missouri to become its executivedirector, a position I held for sevenyears. I stayed on part time as editorof its magazine until a few yearsago. I also knew Anderson. —S.W.Deciphering the Life of a Complicated ThinkerA novelist turned biographer places ‘[Marshall] McLuhan’s maddeningly difficultideas in a recognizably human context.’BY DAN KENNEDYMarshall McLuhan: You KnowNothing of My Work!Douglas CouplandAtlas & Co. 216 Pages.The great risk in reading MarshallMcLuhan literally is that you don’tknow how seriously even he took hisideas. “I don’t pretend to understandit,” he once said of his work. “Afterall, my stuff is very difficult.”Yet if there was an overriding themeto which he returned again and again,it was that television—low-resolutionmoving pictures in a tiny box—wasthe ultimate “cool” medium, moretactile than visual, demanding that theaudience participate because so muchinformation was left out. Unlike “hot,”one-way media such as newspapers,radio and movies, McLuhan argued,the interactive nature of televisioncould not accommodate controversyand overbearing personalities. Hitler,boffo on radio, never would have madeit on TV.So here’s what I would have likedthe novelist Douglas Coupland totell us in his slim, quirky, highlyentertaining biography of McLuhan:Did advances in technology change56 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Bookstelevision from a cool medium to ahot one? McLuhan himself, in his bestknownbook, “Understanding Media:The Extensions of Man” (1964), wrotethat “‘improved’ TV” would no morebe television than cartoons would stillbe cartoons if they were transformedinto fine art. Could Bill O’Reilly,Glenn Beck, and Keith Olbermannhave succeeded back when viewershad to infer what people looked likefrom fuzzy, black and white horizontallines? Do cable pundits thrive todaybecause we live in a politically divisiveage? Or are they merely the inevitableconsequence of HDTV?Alas, Coupland’s mission in “MarshallMcLuhan: You Know Nothing ofMy Work!”—his title is a play on McLuhan’smemorable cameo in WoodyAllen’s 1977 film “Annie Hall”—is notso much to explain McLuhan’s ideasas it is to introduce us to the manhimself. We learn that McLuhan mayhave been mildly autistic; that he hadtwo arteries at the base of his skull,like a cat, which may have nourishedhis insights by providing his brain withmore blood than is normal, but whichcontributed to the strokes that debilitatedand eventually killed him; andthat he had an overbearing mother anda wimp of a father. (Coupland believesthe cartoon characters Dagwood andBlondie, who pop up repeatedly inMcLuhan’s writings, are stand-insfor Herbert and Elsie McLuhan.) Thegenius of McLuhan’s ideas Couplandtakes for granted, even as he chucklesat “Marshall’s tendency in later lifeto speak first and find the footnoteslater.” Indeed, “Understanding Media”rambles on for 359 pages with scarcelyany footnotes at all.Yet Coupland offers sympatheticinsight into McLuhan and his influences—nosmall thing, given McLuhan’sstatus today as a cultural icon,well known for little more than beingwell known and for writing “Themedium is the message.” And possiblyfor popularizing the phrase “the globalvillage.”McLuhan, we learn, preferred talkingin front of an audience to writingalone in a room. So it’s not surprisingthat McLuhan expressed his ideasMedia commentator Marshall McLuhan reads as he reclines in his study, 1968. Photo byThe Associated Press.more coherently in a 1969 interviewwith Playboy (back when some folksactually did get the magazine forits articles) than in his own turgid,convoluted prose.A bit more than midway throughthe book, Coupland takes McLuhan’sgrand idea and boils it down to fiveshort, lucid paragraphs. Let me goone better and see what I can do infive sentences.• Preliterate, tribal societies lived inan environment in which soundwas the dominant sense, which inturn helped foster a communal,emotionally driven form of living.• The rise of the phonetic alphabetshifted that dominance to the visual,which gave rise to individualism anda linear, rational mode of thinking.• The printing press accelerated andamplified that process, leading tonationalism, industrialization andWestern cultural hegemony.• The electronic media, and especiallytelevision, de-emphasize thevisual—remember he believed TVwas primarily a tactile experience—and hark back to earlier modes ofinterpreting our surroundings.• The consequence will be the retribalizationof humanity, only this timeon a global scale—hence “the globalvillage.”Often McLuhan was accused ofbeing an enthusiast for these changes.Coupland refutes this charge byexplaining that McLuhan hated themodern world but was compelled todescribe it for our betterment. Yetin his conversation with Playboy,McLuhan sounds like he’d spent theprevious week rolling in the mud atWoodstock, saying, “Literate man isalienated, impoverished man; retribalizedman can lead a far richer andmore fulfilling life—not the life of amindless drone but of the participantin a seamless web of interdependenceand harmony.”From what he regards as McLuhan’sbest book, 1962’s “The GutenbergGalaxy,” Coupland also cites a passageto make the case that McLuhananticipated the Internet “four decadesin advance.” Indeed, there is somethingNieman Reports | Summer 2011 57


Words & Reflectionsprescient in McLuhan’s words as quotedby Coupland:Instead of tending towards a vastAlexandrian library the world hasbecome a computer, an electronicbrain, exactly as an infantilepiece of science fiction. And asour senses have gone outsideus, Big Brother goes inside. So,unless aware of this dynamic,we shall at once move into aphase of panic terrors, exactlybefitting a small world of tribaldrums, total interdependence,and superimposed co-existence.To underscore the theme of McLuhanas Internet seer, Coupland addssome touches to make readers feelas though they are randomly surfingthe Web: MapQuest directions tovarious McLuhan landmarks, catalogentries for McLuhan’s books, lists ofvarious kinds, even a test to measurethe extent of traits associated withautism. McLuhan may be ultimatelyunknowable, but such ephemera bringus closer to him.In a 1965 profile of McLuhan,Tom Wolfe described McLuhan asa geeky professor with a clip-on tie,otherworldly and clueless about thefame-and-celebrity-driven world intowhich he had suddenly been thrust.His story ends with McLuhan in atopless restaurant in San Francisco,lecturing the legendary columnistHerb Caen on the deeper meaning ofthe breasts that were swaying aroundthem. Caen had referred to a womanas “good-looking”—both an error and ateachable moment, in McLuhan’s view.“Do you know what you said? Goodlooking.That’s a visual orientation.You’re separating yourself from thegirls,” McLuhan advised Caen. “Youare sitting back and looking. Actually,the light is dim in here. This is meantas a tactile experience, but visual mandoesn’t react that way.”Such a person may seem an unlikelysubject for an extended love letter,but that is precisely what this bookis. Coupland is an engaging guide toMcLuhan’s life and family, his academicinfluences and his religious sensibilities.By placing McLuhan’s maddeninglydifficult ideas in a recognizablyhuman context, Coupland helps usunderstand how they arose and whywe’re still talking about them a halfcenturylater.If only he could have explainedGlenn Beck. Dan Kennedy is an assistantprofessor of journalism at NortheasternUniversity. He is a paneliston “Beat the Press” on WGBH-TV inBoston and a contributing writerfor The Guardian. His blog MediaNation is at www.dankennedy.net.A Failing Newsroom—Described With a Novelist’s TouchTom Rachman ‘is telling this story at a perfect time as newspapers shed staff andcosts and, in some cases, shut down their presses altogether.’BY CHRISTINA KIMThe Imperfectionists: A NovelTom RachmanThe Dial Press. 288 Pages.By the end of Tom Rachman’s novelabout the rise and fall of an Englishlanguagenewspaper in Rome, Italy,I’m left with a dead dog, a lot ofunemployed people, and the sinkingfeeling that, with journalism, I havechosen the wrong career path. ThenI realize that I can always write anovel, though perhaps not so well asRachman.While “The Imperfectionists” isabout a newspaper, its cast of characters,so flawed and foible-full are whatoffer an inviting glimpse into the grittygrime of a daily’s newsroom. With thenarrative freedom that writing fictionoffers, Rachman entices readers whonormally might not want to enter themicrocosm of the newsroom; oncereaders are there, he employs skillfulstorytelling to remind them of all thatis lost when a daily paper no longerexists. That he does this so well testifiesto the literary transformation he’s58 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Booksmade since he worked as a foreigncorrespondent for The Associated Press(AP) and an editor at the InternationalHerald Tribune.In each chapter he explores thelife of one person who works for thesoon-to-be-doomed paper along witha chapter about the life of one quirkyreader. These are brief, sometimesfunny, sometimes tragic glimpses intothe hearts of individual characters—delicious little morsels that soonmelt away to be replaced by thenext short narrative. Throughout,Rachman explores the history ofthe paper and ultimately the storyof its failure, something all tooprevalent today.This newspaper in Romebecomes the thread that Rachmanuses to connect these memorablecharacters to one another—andthem to larger themes. With hisfluid narrative he weaves thereader through the paper’s evolutionand its changes in leadership,its advances in technology, and thechanges in the world outside thenewsroom. He is telling this storyat a perfect time as newspapersshed staff and costs and, in somecases, shut down their pressesaltogether. Yet Rachman isn’tnostalgic about newspapering; infact, many of his characters areso irreparably flawed that theyare people we wouldn’t likelybefriend. Or if they don’t start outthat way, they get there throughRachman’s masterful exposition.But if you don’t like them, they atleast evoke some measure of sympathy.Then there is the newsroom, a placehe shows in all its muck and garbage,hardly in its glory. No Woodwards orBernsteins sweep through the scenestaking place there. Rachman divesinto the reality of the newsroom as aplace where when someone steals yourchair, the one wonderfully molded toyour rear end, this act—rather thansome scoop about a gang of terrorists—becomesthe main event of theday. His inspiration is clear when onereads what Rachman once said to writerMalcolm Gladwell about working inthe AP’s newsroom: “And although wewere immersed in cataclysmic subjects,one’s day was more likely dominatedby the mood of the person seated atthe next desk.”Rachman deftly takes journalists offa pedestal—a place from which mostpeople already have removed them. Yethe magnificently manages to give usreasons to relate to these journalists,not as flawed reporters and editorsbut as ordinary people. And through aremarkable feat of writing, he compelsus to think of the newspaper in itspurest and most valuable form as acomposite organism that these flawedindividuals create.The well-known betrayers of journalism’scode of behavior—JaysonBlair, Stephen Glass, and Janet Cooke,among others—have had a profoundeffect on how people think about thenews media. Yet every person hasflaws; many characters in this novelare inept at life and driven only tobe a little less so in a newsroom forwhat perhaps are less than noblereasons. Rachman explained in thesame Gladwell interview that thesereasons included “an urgent need forcopy and quotes, the terror of enragingone’s irritable bosses, the desirefor advancement or for prestigiouspostings.” Flawed, and perhaps ignobleas individual journalists may be, thereis still great value in what we do, asRachman deftly illustrates.Through Rachman’s storytellinga valuable record of thehuman species is produced inclips of daily life and loss. Theaccumulated weight of thesecharacters’ stories—told in brief,direct sentences—encompassesthe broad outline of humanexistence. After being tugged inby the telling of these stories overa morning coffee or on a commute—muchlike what happenswhen reading a newspaper—themoment we set the book downour self-absorption with concernsabout our own daily dilemmasresumes.Rachman’s characters appearbriefly, crossing, overlappingand twisting together with thenewspaper at their core. As distinctportrayals, each is poignant,funny, ironic, but when woven intothe novel as a whole, the effectis grand and haunting. Maybethis is his message; news—inthis case, the act of gatheringand distributing it—is what connectsus. It pulls us out of ourindividual shells and forces us toface the world in all of its messiness.“The Imperfectionists” might beRachman’s way of letting us knowthat we are losing those connectionson a scale and at a rate that ought toconcern us. While we are inside of hisnovel, this is certainly something weunderstand. Christina Kim left the Ross School ofBusiness at the University of Michiganand now studies journalism atEmerson College in Boston.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 59


NIEMAN NOTESLanding in Al Jazeera’s Vibrant Newsroom‘… people show up on days off, come in early and leave late oftenwithout being asked, because not being in the newsroom whenmajor stories break seems inconceivable.’BY D. PARVAZAl Jazeera is the fomenterof revolutions or, as UnitedStates Secretary of StateHillary Clinton recently put it,“really effective … because it’sreal news”?Given that I’m getting close torounding off my first year at AlJazeera, I can attest that Clinton’s(almost) grudging praise/observation is on the mark. Notthat anyone at the Al Jazeeraheadquarters here in Doha, Qatarwas holding her breath waitingD. Parvaz roots for Iran, where she was born, during its victorioussoccer match against Iraq in Doha, Qatar. Photo by Ben Piven.for a U.S. government official togive us the nod of approval.Please. We’re journalists.But Clinton was right. Nestledin the dusty capital of a dustycountry with a name mostAmericans can’t pronounce, AlJazeera is a news organizationand a damned exciting one atthat. Even if I was in a comaI’d find my gig here interesting.How could I not? A good chunkof the region seems to be in thethroes of some sort of uprising,with my colleagues andme having a front seatto it all.Shortly after Iarrived last August,Al Jazeera releasedits WikiLeaks projectsand content. We wereone of the news organizationsthis whistleblowinggroup choseto report on the IraqWar files—and theresponse was huge.This was also the firsttime WikiLeaks hadleaked information toa Middle Eastern newsoutlet. Turns out thatan audience memberhad suggested doing soto WikiLeaks founderJulian Assange whenhe spoke at the FrontlineClub in Londona few months earlier.Seems he took theadvice to heart.Then came the cholera outbreakin Haiti and the PalestinePapers, in which we exposed theextent to which the PalestinianAuthority was willing to tradeland rights with the Israelis,followed in rapid succession byuprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain,Libya, Yemen, Syria and … .We were miles ahead of othernews outlets on Tunisia, andthis set the tone for our coverageof subsequent uprisings. Andwe don’t just cover the MiddleEast and the Muslim world; ourreporters are in Mexico to coverthe drug wars and in Antarctica todo stories about global warming.In March I was sent to Japanto report on the fallout fromthe devastating earthquake andtsunami.Simply curating all of thecontent headed for the websitecan be a staggering task; reportersin the field file blog posts,tweet and send video, includingexclusive interviews, for us toshare online.Since these revolutionsbroke out in Arab nations, ourWeb traffic has multiplied—by1,000 percent—as peoplethroughout the world havecome to the website for storiesand video clips. But they arealso heading there to watch ourlive stream of Al Jazeera TV.Hey, it will have to do untilpeople in the United States canget Al Jazeera English included intheir cable and satellite provider60 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Nieman NotesFeeling the Embrace of Her Nieman FamilyD. Parvaz, freed in May after 19days of captivity in Syria andthen Iran, wrote a postscript to theaccompanying essay, which she hadwritten before her detention.Imagine having a story you can’t waitto write, not because it’s a thing ofbeauty or joy, but because of a senseof horror and immediacy. It’s howI felt with a story I was dying totell while being held for three daysin a Syrian detention center andhearing young men being torturedand beaten around the clock.But then, the Syrians deportedme to Iran, where for more than twoweeks I lived in solitary confinement,incommunicado, while the Iraniangovernment investigated me on spyingcharges. No pen. No keyboard.No phone. Still, I kept inside myhead that story and the cries I heardin the night, as I held imaginaryconversations with the two youngwomen with whom I’d shared cellsin Syria, “Patience, sisters. I’ll tellyour stories. Patience.”For two weeks I gnawed away atmyself for missing a deadline only Iknew about, hoping that with eachminute, I was getting closer to beingreleased so I could describe what Isaw in Syria.The Iranians, who treated mequite well, were baffled by myanxious state. They couldn’t understandits source, nor could I explaineverything to them. So I put it downto worrying about my family, which,make no mistake, was the truth. Iworried all the time about them. Iknew my freedom would comfortmy family, but the Syrians beingheld in that bizarre, secret detentioncenter would likely still be there. AllI could do was to tell about theirsuffering that I’d witnessed.Within 18 hours of being released,I called my family, filed a piece, didthree interviews, cut the huge cakemagically procured by Al Jazeeraand happily stared at the faces ofmy colleagues, all of whom hadbeen working tirelessly to helpsecure my release. Then I had afew minutes to try to catch up onall the e-mails I’d received for the19 days that I was missing/detainedin Syria and Iran.I was—and remain—floored bywhat I found. Of course, I knewthat my family and Al Jazeera hadbeen strategizing around the clockto find me and bring me back home.What I wasn’t prepared for wasthe support that seemed to springup from all corners of the world,with my fellow Niemans leadingthe charge.When you fall down a rabbithole, as I did, what you mostly feelis alone. You know people mightnotice that you’re gone, but youhave no idea that people are writingstories about you, from Cleveland toDublin, alerting the world to yourplight in the Swedish press andon NPR, and coordinating letterwritingcampaigns and e-mails todiplomats and members of Congress.So when you do find out, you arerendered speechless. I was. All I feltwas a severe sense of gratitude thatmanifested itself as a massive lumpin my throat until words were readyto come out, and here they are:For all that my fellow Niemansand the Nieman Foundation—especially friend and curatorBob Giles—did to help free me,to keep my name out there andto let the Iranian governmentknow that I am no spy, I say“thank you.” Thank you forthe countless tweets, letters,Facebook posts, articles andmore. Thank you for helpingyour fellow fellow out of oneheck of a jam. And thank youfor helping free me so thatI could finally share what ishappening to those still heldin Syria.Thank you. —D.P.packages. 1 Since February Al Jazeerahas invited visitors to its website to jointheir Demand Al Jazeera campaign.If all of this seems a bit rah-rah,forgive me. I guess the honeymoon isstill on. This doesn’t mean that therearen’t moments of utter frustrationwith how things work here. But onmost days I remember that I’m part ofa newsroom that’s still young and stillgrowing, which means that it and thosewho run it aren’t quite as entrenchedin certain practices as management inan older news organization might be.People here are more open to pitchesthat come out of left field—they’rehungry for ideas and experiments incoverage while still adhering to bestpractices.I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprisedby this—I expected a slightlymore conservative approach to things,and while there are some differencesbetween the Al Jazeera newsroom andpretty much any other I’ve worked in,the basics are the same. This newsroomis a living organism, filled with hard-1Full access to Al Jazeera English via cable TV exists in only a handful of cities, includingWashington, D.C.; Burlington, Vermont; and Toledo, Ohio.Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 61


Nieman Notesworking, obsessive, competitive andat times, insufferable (hey, we knowthese things about ourselves, right?)journalists who sweat and breathenews and content. There is still thatvital tug of war between reporters andeditors that results in great content.Despite the demanding shift structurerequired to feed a 24-hour newscycle, people show up on days off, comein early and leave late often withoutbeing asked, because not being in thenewsroom when major stories breakseems inconceivable. Just as in anyother newsroom, each of us pitchesand jockeys to get deployed to coverthe story.This is pretty heady stuff from theperspective of someone who has beenobserving the decline of Western media.Most U.S. news organizations have beendownsizing and cutting back for years,and while there are signs that some arebeginning to re-staff, it’s doubtful thatthey’ll invest in foreign bureaus andinvestigative journalism as they did inthe past. It’s heartbreaking to watchcommunities and beats go uncoveredin hopes that the slack will be pickedup—and done well—in blogs.Having worked at the Hearst Corporation’sSeattle Post-Intelligencer,which was shut down after 146 yearsof publishing, it’s revitalizing to bein such a dynamic atmosphere at acrucial point in history. I can’t imaginewatching, say, Egypt, a country withcenturies of history, taking its firsthalting steps as a democracy fromany other vantage point. D. Parvaz, a 2009 Nieman Fellow,is an online journalist for Al JazeeraEnglish. She worked for the SeattlePost-Intelligencer, which shut downits print operations during herNieman year.1964James H. McCartney, a longtimeWashington correspondent and columnistwho specialized in foreign affairsand defense policy, died at his homein Florida on May 6th from cancer.He was 85.During 33 years as a Washingtonjournalist, he had datelines from morethan 30 countries and covered everyPresident from Dwight D. Eisenhowerto Bill Clinton. He wrote about nationalsecurity, national politics, and presidentialcampaigns. His coverage waspublished in 31 Knight Ridder newspapers,including The PhiladelphiaInquirer, The Miami Herald, and theDetroit Free Press.A native of St. Paul, Minnesota,McCartney was drafted into the U.S.Army while still in his teens. He washonorably discharged, with the rank ofcorporal, after being wounded shortlybefore World War II ended.His wife, Molly Sinclair McCartney,NF ’78, said that the six monthshe spent on the frontlines were “justa miserable experience … It wasn’tjust the physical conditions that wereawful, but it was the incompetenceof the people running the operation.”After graduating from MichiganState University, where he was editorof the college newspaper, McCartneytook a position at the South Bend (Ind.)Tribune. He later earned a master’sdegree at Northwestern University’sMedill School of Journalism. He washired by the Chicago Daily News andin 1959 became a Washington correspondentfor the paper.Inspired in part, his family says,by his experiences during the war, hedeveloped an interest in the Pentagonand State Department. He was one ofthe first reporters to focus on the riseof the military-industrial complex, atrend that Eisenhower warned aboutin his farewell address.After three years in Chicago as cityeditor of the Daily News, McCartneyreturned to Washington in 1968 as amember of the Knight Ridder bureau.He remained in the city for the rest ofhis career and developed a reputationfor relentlessly questioning officials atWhite House, State Department, andPentagon press conferences.“You knew, if you were a governmentspokesman, that you’d better have itstraight and you’d better have the facts,because he’d keep coming at you,” saidformer State Department spokesmanHodding Carter III, NF ’66. “Hecould be the belligerent antagonistwhen he knew he was being lied to.… I didn’t know anyone I respectedmore than Jim.”He received the 1989 EdwardWeintal Prize for Diplomatic Reportingfrom Georgetown University’sEdmund A. Walsh School of ForeignService. He was an adjunct professorat Georgetown for 13 years, teachingcourses about the media, foreign policy,and politics.Although he retired as a reporter in1990, he continued to write a columnfor Knight Ridder until 1995. Subsequently,he wrote a monthly columnfor the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald, withthe final one appearing March 27.His marriage to Jule GrahamMcCartney ended in divorce. In additionto his wife, Molly, he is survivedby a son, daughter, stepdaughter andfour grandchildren.1968Jerome Aumente led a series ofeconomic reporting workshops forjournalists in Bucharest and threeother cities in Romania as part of aU.S. State Department program.He also conducted discussionswith the staffs of Ziarul Financiar, amajor financial daily, and “The MoneyChannel.”“Romania has joined the EuropeanUnion and is struggling with the globaleconomic crisis, the fragile beginningsof a stock market and the need forits news media to conduct toughenterprise and investigative report-62 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Nieman Notesing as the economy moves toward amore transparent and open market,”Aumente wrote in an e-mail. “So therewas plenty to talk about, includingthe major changes in the news medialandscape as we all transition to achallenging digital and Internet environmentfor news and information.”Aumente is distinguished professoremeritus and special counselor to thedean of the School of Communicationand Information at Rutgers University.In May the Livingston Collegealumni association honored himwith a Legacy Award for his work inestablishing the journalism departmentand the Journalism ResourcesInstitute at Rutgers.He also participated in the “Journalismin Eastern Europe: Who Controlsthe Media?” conference at the NiemanFoundation on a panel examiningwhat kind of media assistance is mosteffective. [See box below.]1973Wayne Greenhaw, who wrote 22books, many of them about his homestate of Alabama and the civil rightsmovement in the South, died on May31st due to complications from heartsurgery. He was 71.His latest book, “Fighting the Devilin Dixie: How Civil Rights ActivistsTook on the Ku Klux Klan in Ala-Nieman Conference Examines Media Freedom in Eastern Europe“One couldn’t be there without recognizingthat most of the citizens youmet were tethered to their nation,like pigeons tethered to a string.… State-controlled television, radioand newspapers were deliveringthis steady stream of propaganda,hearsay and innuendo.”That’s how Gwen Thompkins,NF ’11, summed up her experienceswith Eastern Europe and itsmedia when she lived in the formerYugoslavia from 1988 to 1990. Andalthough she was speaking aboutEastern Europe as it was beforethe fall of communism, not allof the region’s new private mediaowners have given up on the oldstate model for news.To continue the conversationstarted in the Spring 2011 issueof Nieman Reports, “ShatteringBarriers to Reveal Corruption,”the Nieman Foundation held aconference—“Journalism in EasternEurope: Who Controls theMedia?”—on May 6. Academics,journalists and media experts sharedwhat they and their colleagues inthe region go through to report—ortrain others to report—the news inEastern Europe.“It’s very rare that you have allthese people in the same roomtogether—working journalists andacademics,” said Romanian journalistStefan Candea, NF ’11, after theconference. “Journalists can learnnew things from scholars, and thescholars can learn a lot from hearingabout the reality on the ground, notjust from statistics.”Since the Soviet Union collapsed,millions of dollars have been pouredinto media training and assistance inthe region, with little to show for it.Improving the quality of journalismwas a main discussion thread at theconference, but speakers noted thatmedia owners themselves presenta major barrier because some caremore about furthering their businessinterests than promoting goodjournalism.Among the speakers were 2011Nieman Fellows—Candea, cofounderof the Romanian Centerfor Investigative Journalism;Thompkins, former East Africacorrespondent for NPR; andMaxim Trudolyubov, the editorialpage editor of Russia’s Vedomostinewspaper—along with JeromeAumente, NF ’68, a media trainerand professor emeritus at RutgersUniversity.Other presenters included Harvardgovernment professors GrzegorzEkiert and Timothy J. Colton,who also teaches Russian studies;Maria Sadovskaya, a Belarusianjournalist; and Peter Gross, directorof the School of Journalism andElectronic Media at the Universityof Tennessee.Videos from the conference areonline at www.nieman.harvard.edu/eastern-europe/. —Jonathan SeitzNieman Reports | Summer 2011 63


Nieman NotesA New Curator for the Nieman Foundationcampaign, and was director of the statetourism bureau from 1993 to 1994.He is survived by his wife, Sally.Ann Marie Lipinski, NF ’90, aPulitzer Prize-winning journalistand former editor and senior vicepresident of the Chicago Tribune,has been named curator of the NiemanFoundation, effective July 1.Lipinski succeeds Bob Giles, NF’66, who retired after 11 years inthe post. She is the first womanto head the Nieman Foundationsince it was founded in 1938.“Harvard and the NiemanFoundation have an extraordinaryrecord of promoting and elevatingthe standards of journalism, andthere is more to be done,” shesaid, in a statement at the timeher appointment was announced.“I look forward to working withcolleagues at universities and newsorganizations globally in addressingthe challenges and promiseof journalism. Harvard’s deepcommitment to this work and toexcellence makes this an extraordinarytime to be at Nieman.”Lipinski brings three decadesof journalism experience to hernew post. Prior to joining theUniversity of Chicago in 2008as vice president of civic engagementand a senior lecturer, sheserved as editor of the ChicagoTribune for more than seven years.Under her leadership, the Tribunewon Pulitzers for international,explanatory, investigative, feature,and editorial writing.She joined the Tribune in 1978as an editorial intern. In 1988 shewas one of three Tribune reportersawarded a Pulitzer Prize forInvestigative Reporting on corruptionand conflicts of interestin the Chicago City Council.After her Nieman year, shereturned to the Tribune to leadthe paper’s investigative team. “Ihave no doubt of the singular rolethat experience played in preparingme for leadership in my newsroomand my profession,” she said. “I’mindebted to Harvard and to Niemanfor what was a transformativeyear, and I am excited to have thechance to support others in theirwork here.”Lipinski, a member of the PulitzerPrize Board since 2003 and ajuror for two years before joiningthe board, in May was elected toserve as one of three co-chairs. Ed Williams was inducted into theNorth Carolina Journalism Hall ofFame at a dinner at the University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill in April.He was introduced by Hodding CarterIII, NF ’66, who hired him in 1967as a reporter for the Carter family’sDelta Democrat-Times in Greenville,Mississippi. Williams, a former editorof the University of Mississippi studentdaily, had just completed two yearsin the Army.Williams retired in 2008 after35 years at The Charlotte Observer,including 25 as editor of the editorialpages. His columns and editorials werepart of Observer projects that won thePulitzer Prize for Public Service in1981 and 1988. In 2003 he receivedthe annual Liberty Bell Award fromthe county bar association for his“willingness to take tough stands ontough issues.” After his retirement,Governor Mike Easley conferred uponhim the Order of the Long Leaf Pine,the state’s highest award for service toNorth Carolina.In addition to his newspaper work,Williams was a frequent lecturer oninnovation and ethics at the AmericanPress Institute.1976bama” was published in January. Inan article in the Winter 2010 issue ofNieman Reports, Greenhaw reminiscedabout his reporting career as well asthe political leaders and memorablecitizens he encountered over the years.He started to cover the civil rightsmovement in 1965 after Ray Jenkins,NF ’65, managing editor of the AlabamaJournal in Montgomery, hired him asa reporter. Greenhaw also reported onthe movement as a stringer for TheNew York Times and Time magazine.Rick Bragg, NF ’93, a friend ofGreehaw’s who teaches at the Universityof Alabama, told The AssociatedPress, “Wayne is just a part of thehistory here and has been a storytellerfor so long that I can’t imagine thingswithout him.”From 1984 to 1988, Greenhaw waseditor and publisher of Alabama magazine,and he was a columnist for theAlabama Journal and the MontgomeryAdvertiser in the early 1990’s.Among the honors he received wasthe 2006 Harper Lee Award for aDistinguished Alabama Writer.A resident of Montgomery, Greenhawhad a varied career and publishedin a number of genres. He wrote novels,plays, short stories, and poems. Hewas Jimmy Carter’s press secretary inAlabama during the 1976 presidentialJim Rubin is the new secretary/treasurer of the executive committeeof the steering committee of theReporters Committee for Freedom ofthe Press (RCFP).Founded in 1970, the RCFP providesfree legal assistance to defend theFirst Amendment rights of journalists.It has been involved in most ofthe significant press freedom cases tocome before the U.S. Supreme Courtover the past four decades.Rubin is the legal affairs editorfor Bloomberg News in Washington,overseeing coverage of the SupremeCourt and Justice Department as wellas related matters in Congress.64 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Nieman Notes1982Alex Jones received the 2011DeWitt Carter Reddick Award fromThe University of Texas at AustinCollege of Communication in April.Named for the college’s first dean, theaward honors achievement in the fieldof communications.At the ceremony in Austin, Jones,director of Harvard’s Joan ShorensteinCenter on the Press, Politics andPublic Policy, delivered a keynotespeech entitled “WikiLeaks, Facebookand Us: Why Professional JournalismStill Matters.” In an e-mail to NiemanReports, Jones wrote that he washonored by the recognition, adding:“This is an award that the Universityof Texas College of Communicationtakes very seriously. Walter Cronkiteand Nick Lemann among others havebeen former winners, and it comesfrom one of the premier schools ofcommunication in the nation. Plus,at the end of the ceremony, we allstood and sang ‘The Eyes of TexasAre Upon You’ and gave the hook’emhorns salute. Nothing like it.”Also in April, Jones was electedto the American Academy of Artsand Sciences, a 230-year-old policyresearch center.Jones previously was the host ofNPR’s “On the Media.” A former mediareporter at The New York Times, hewon a Pulitzer Prize for his coverageof the demise of the Bingham family’snewspaper empire. He is the author ofthree books, the most recent of which,“Losing the News: The Future of theNews That Feeds Democracy,” wasreleased in paperback in December.1986Saying Farewell to Bob GilesScores of Nieman Fellows celebrated the 11-year tenure of Bob Giles, NF ’66, curatorof the Nieman Foundation, at a party in May. Journalists from throughout theworld gathered at Lippmann House to toast Giles, who is retiring on June 30. Fellowsfrom the class of 2010 included, from left, Alejandra Matus, Boris Muñoz, LisaMullins, Jeff Howe, and Maria Balinska, wearing glasses at far right. Facing Bobis June Carolyn Erlick, editor of Harvard’s Latin American journal ReVista. For avideo and more photos, visit www.nieman.harvard.edu. Photo by Lisa Abitbol.Geneva Overholser, director ofthe University of Southern California’sAnnenberg School of Journalism,joined the newly formed editorialadvisory board of Examiner.com inApril. The board will meet quarterlyto advise the site on editorial policyand training for its contributors aswell as on the best uses of technologyto serve its audience, accordingto a press release. The online newsnetwork, founded in 2008, publishes3,000 articles a day by more than70,000 contributors in nearly 250markets in the U.S.1989Joseph Thloloe received an honorarydoctorate from Rhodes Universityin South Africa in April. A committeethat included faculty and student representativesselected him for the honorbased on his significant contributions.Thloloe, who has been a figure inSouth African journalism for more than50 years, is the country’s press ombudsman.In the past, he was chairman ofthe South African National Editors’Forum and president of the Unionof Black Journalists and the MediaWorkers Association of South Africa.In the 1970’s, he was imprisonedtwice for a total of 28 months. Noreason was given in either case. In1981, the apartheid government bannedThloloe from working as a journalist.In response, the Nieman Class of1982 selected Thloloe for the LouisM. Lyons Award for Conscience andIntegrity in Journalism.1991Tim Giago, a founder of three Indiannewspapers and the first presidentof the Native American JournalistsAssociation, has retired as editor andpublisher of the Native Sun News, thepaper he founded in 2008.He plans to finish a memoir he hasbeen writing about the evolution of theIndian press over his three decades atthe forefront.Early in his career, Giago grewNieman Reports | Summer 2011 65


Nieman NotesHeadliner Awards for Print and BroadcastTwo Nieman Fellows received tophonors in the 2011 National HeadlinerAwards, one of the country’soldest annual contests recognizingexcellence in print, broadcast andonline media. The Press Club ofAtlantic City presents the awards.Boston Globe city and regioncolumnist Kevin Cullen, NF ’03,received a first-place award in thelocal interest category for columnson a variety of subjects. Among thecolumns were one about PhoebePrince, a high school girl in SouthHadley, Massachusetts who committedsuicide after being bullied,and another about LieutenantScott Milley, an Army Ranger whowas killed in Afghanistan.The investigative team atWCNC-TV in Charlotte, NorthCarolina, led by Stuart Watson,frustrated because his white editorsat the Rapid City Journal in SouthDakota would not allow him to coverthe nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservationwhere he was raised. Theyexpressed concern that his reportingwould not be objective.In 1981 Giago struck out on hisown and founded The Lakota Times,which became the first successfulIndian-owned weekly newspaper in thecountry. Giago did not shy away fromcriticizing tribal leaders or taking ondifficult subjects, and the paper—orrather its building—sometimes paidthe price. “After I wrote a strongeditorial [against violence perpetratedby the American Indian Movement]in the fall of 1981, the windows ofour newspaper office were blastedout with gunfire. We came right backwith another editorial challenging the‘cowards who strike in the middle ofthe night,’” Giago wrote in the Fall2005 issue of Nieman Reports.The paper, renamed Indian CountryNF ’08, was given a first-placeaward for investigative reporting.In “Bamboozled: A Story ofLiquor and Money,” Watson’s teamuncovered waste and corruption inthe Mecklenburg County AlcoholicBeverage Control Board. After thereport aired, new statewide rulesfor alcoholic beverage controlboards were approved.Also recognized were James E.Causey, NF ’08, who received athird-place award for his editorialwriting at the Milwaukee JournalSentinel, and John Harwood, NF’90, who was part of a CNBC teamthat received second-place honorsin the category of broadcast businessand consumer reporting for“Investing in America: A CNBCTown Hall Event With PresidentObama.” Today, was sold in 1998. In 2000 Giagofounded the Lakota Journal; he soldit a few years later. Reflecting on hiscareer, he said that he regretted sellingthe first two newspapers he foundedto tribes because “freedom of the pressis a foreign concept to Indian tribes.”In 1990, the state of South Dakotaeliminated Columbus Day and createdNative American Day after Giagoadvocated for the change in numerouseditorials in The Lakota Times.That year was also named the “Yearof Reconciliation” after a similar lobbyingeffort.Giago has been inducted into theSouth Dakota Hall of Fame and wasthe first Native American honoree ofthe South Dakota Newspaper Hallof Fame.He told Nieman Reports that hisproudest accomplishment was bringingmore Native Americans into journalism:“My lasting legacy would be thedozens of young Indian journalists Isent out into the mainstream mediain both newspapers and radio.” Afounder and the first president of theNative American Journalists Association,Giago said he is pleased that “27years later, it is still a viable advocacygroup for Native media.”Kevin Noblet was promoted tomanaging editor of wealth managementcoverage for Dow Jones Newswiresin March after serving as deputymanaging editor since 2009. Nobletassumed the presidency of the Societyof American Business Editors andWriters at the organization’s annualconference in April. He has been amember of its board for three years.He spent nearly 30 years at TheAssociated Press, including as businesseditor and deputy international editor.1993Rick Bragg was part of a teamthat received the 2011 James BeardFoundation Journalism Award inthe Food, Culture and Travel writingcategory for “The Southerner’s Guideto Oysters,” published in the February/March 2010 issue of Garden & Gunmagazine.Bragg, who teaches journalism at theUniversity of Alabama, contributed thelead essay, “Your First Oyster,” abouthis many experiences with bivalves,from his first—“It tasted like wet dirt,only slicker, fishier, like what a tadpolewould taste like if you sucked it rightout of the ditch, or a wet hoofprint”—tothe “magic” experience he had in NewOrleans that made him a convert.Within the confines of his ownexperience, Bragg also places oystersinto context as one of those things“that male writers, of a certain ilk,feel they have to do.”1994Melanie Sill left her position aseditor and senior vice president ofThe Sacramento Bee for a six-monthappointment as executive in residenceat the University of Southern California’s(USC) Annenberg School of66 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Nieman NotesA Teacher’s Legacy of Writing Craft and CommunityFor 19 years, noted author RoseMoss taught creative writing classesat the Nieman Foundation, gentlyshowing fellows and affiliates howto relish theart and craftof penning agood story.She retiredt h i s p a s tspring aftera particularlybrutal Cambridgewinterleft her yearningfor sunnier climes and moretime to write.Moss was born in Johannesburg,South Africa and moved tothe United States in 1964. Shehas called South Africa “the soilof my imagination,” and many ofthe characters in her fiction andnonfiction wrestled with the effectsof exile and reconciliation.She has written more than 40short stories and two novels, including“The Family Reunion,” whichwas short-listed for a NationalBook Award.Her teaching method was deceptivelysimple. Each semester sheasked students to produce three“substantial” pieces of writing.In class, students identified whatStudents of Rose Moss, longtime writing instructor at the Nieman Foundation, cametogether on the occasion of her retirement. Photo by Melissa Ludtke.worked in their colleagues’ storiesand what didn’t. The authors,meanwhile, had to stay mum nomatter what was said.Moss typically had her class overfor dinner and wine, evenings thatfostered the sense of communitythat has long defined the Niemanexperience. Many fellows andaffiliates became dear friends; somewrote books that grew from classassignments. “The bond betweenRose and her students is a joy toobserve,” said Nieman Curator BobGiles, NF ’66, who also is retiringthis summer.Moss once told The BostonGlobe, “When I’m gardening, myspace reduces to what I can see,the plants nearby, the insects. It istotally engrossing.” She had the samefocus on her students, and like hergarden, they flourished because ofher care. —Tony Bartelme, NF ’11Journalism.After three decades working forthe McClatchy Company, owner of theBee, Sill wrote in her farewell columnthat her work at USC “offers me a rarechance to step back from the fray andfocus on broader questions.”At USC, she wrote, she will “doreporting, research, writing and workwith students and faculty on questionsthat have motivated me as an editor:What can journalists and journalismdo most effectively to serve the publicinterest in an age of media fragmentation?How can we report news, tellstories and convey information inways that connect with more people?”Sill has been the newspaper’seditor since 2007, when she left thesame position at The (Raleigh, N.C.)News & Observer, another McClatchynewspaper. There, she was part of ateam that won the 1996 Pulitzer Prizefor Public Service for an investigationinto the environmental and healthrisks related to North Carolina’s pigindustry.According to a press release fromUSC, the findings of Sill’s researchat the school will be released onlineand through public presentations.“I couldn’t be more delighted at theprospect of having Melanie join us,”said Geneva Overholser, NF ’86,director of the Annenberg School ofJournalism. “The opportunity for ourstudents to work with one of America’smost respected and future-orientededitors, the chance to bring the fruitsNieman Reports | Summer 2011 67


Nieman NotesTwo Fellows Honored for Magazine ArticlesMichael Fitzgerald, NF ’11, andBeatriz Terrazas, NF ’99, wonfirst-place awards in the annualwriting contest sponsored by theAmerican Society of Journalistsand Authors (ASJA).Terrazas won in the first-personcategory for a story she wrote aboutthe role reversal she experiencedafter her mother was diagnosedwith Alzheimer’s disease. Thepersonal essay was published in DMagazine, based in Dallas, Texas.She wrote, “I’ve wept in the privacyof my shower, raged in the coolsilence of my closet—lamentedthat Alzheimer’s is stealing mymother from me.”Fitzgerald won in the business/technologycategory for astory published in Fast Companyabout what Warner Music Groupand its musicians are doing tocombat declining album sales. Heexamined the company’s efforts todevelop more sources of revenue asit redefines itself for the digital age.The ASJA awards for 60 yearshave honored outstanding workproduced on a freelance basis. spent 18 years at the Los Angeles Times,covering health and the environment.Stephen Smith, a health reporterfor The Boston Globe, was promotedin the spring to city editor. In makingthe announcement, Jennifer Peter,metro editor, called Smith “a superbjournalist and even finer human being.”She continued, “He brings to this rolemore than 30 years in the business(he began delivering a suburban papernear his hometown of Louisville atage 11), an exemplary reputation as ahealth reporter at the Globe and TheMiami Herald, an insatiable drive to tellimportant human stories, a stickler’sattention to fairness and accuracy, themost expansive vocabulary in the room,and a cooperative spirit that will servehis editing and reporting colleagueswell.”of Melanie’s research to life in our ownnews outlets and the prospect of sharingthe results with all who care aboutinformation in the public interest—allof this excites me tremendously.”1999Chris Hedges hasput together a newcollection of essaysthat were first publishedon Truthdig,the news websitewhere he is acolumnist. “TheWorld As It Is:Dispatches on theMyth of HumanProgress” was published by NationBooks in April. Hedges is a formerforeign correspondent for The NewYork Times who has reported fromconflict zones in the Middle East,Central America, Africa and the Balkans.The essays are grouped underfour headings: “Politics,” “Israel andPalestine,” “The Middle East,” and “TheDecay of Empire.” Topics include thefailure of American liberalism, thewars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thedecay of the American empire.2000Deborah Schoch was one of thewinners of an Award for Excellencein Health Care Journalism from theAssociation of Health Care Journalists.Schoch was the lead writer for “ABurning Issue,” which won first place inthe Community Newspapers category.The series, a partnership between theCalifornia HealthCare FoundationCenter for Health Reporting, whereSchoch is a senior writer, and theChico Enterprise-Record, examinedthe effects of wood-burning stoves andfireplaces on the air in Butte County,California. The area frequently sees itsair quality dip below safe levels duringwinter months, leading to numeroushealth problems for residents.“We’re proud of the work that Deborahand editor Richard Kipling did onthis project,” said David Westphal, theCenter for Health Reporting’s editorin chief. “But we’re just as proud ofthe terrific journalism produced bythe intrepid journalists at Chico. Theyserved their readers very, very well.”Before joining the center, which isbased at the University of SouthernCalifornia’s Annenberg School forCommunication & Journalism, Schoch2001Andrew Sussman, who has beenwith PRI’s “The World” since the show’sinception in 1995, is its new executiveproducer. In announcing the promotionin April, Melinda Ward, PRI’s seniorvice president of content, said Sussman’s“finely honed global sensibility,developed by over two decades ininternational news, combined with hisenergy, wit and creativity, makes himthe perfect person to lead ‘The World’in its next phase to expand its reachnationally and internationally, on airand online.” Three hundred stationsnationwide carry the one-hour weekdayradio news magazine show.Sussman previously worked atnewspapers in Russia and at RadioFrance in Paris.2005Amy Goldstein is among 51 menand women selected from 800 applicantsto be a 2011-12 fellow at theRadcliffe Institute for Advanced Studyat Harvard University.Her project is called “SlippingDownhill: How Changes in the U.S.Economy Are Transforming Lives and68 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Nieman NotesAmy Ellis Nutt Awarded 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Feature WritingOn the day that the Pulitzers wereannounced in April, Amy EllisNutt, NF ’05, already had reason tocelebrate. Her first book, “ShadowsBright as Glass: The RemarkableStory of One Man’s Journey FromBrain Trauma to Artistic Triumph,”had just been published and TerryGross’s interview with her on“Fresh Air” was being broadcastthat afternoon.Having worked the previousweekend, Nutt had the day off fromher reporting job at The Star-Ledgerin Newark, New Jersey, and sheplanned to listen to the NPR showwith her parents.So Nutt was a bit peeved whenher editor called and said all staffmembers were being called to thenewsroom for a meeting with thepublisher. She changed her plansand was in the newsroom for theannouncement that she had wonthe 2011 Pulitzer Prize for FeatureWriting. The jurors had selectedher “deeply probing story” into thesinking of a commercial fishingboat. The news was “surprising,overwhelming and deeply gratifying,especially for the newspaper,which has suffered through somehard times lately,” Nutt wrote in ane-mail to Nieman Reports.She had spent many monthsresearching the sinking in March2009 of the Lady Mary. Six of theseven crewmen died. Her five-partseries, “The Wreck of the Lady Mary,”appeared this past November inThe Star-Ledger and on its website,where it featured photographs andvideo by her colleague Andre Malok.She is now talking to her agent aboutturning that series into a book.“Shadows Bright as Glass” grewout of a story for which she was a2009 Pulitzer finalist in the featurewriting category. Nutt recountedhow she came to meet Jon Sarkin,a quiet, sensible chiropractor livingin Gloucester, Massachusetts who,after suffering a major stroke,underwent a radical change in personalityand now has a compulsionto create art.She wrote, “I first learned aboutJon when interviewing a neurologistTodd Feinberg in NYC for a storyI was writing about the search forthe source of consciousness. He’djust written a book about it called‘Altered Egos,’ which was reallyabout his stroke patients who sufferedidentity disorders.” Nutt wasstruck by a piece of art on Feinberg’soffice wall and asked him about thework, which was a colorful seriesof 1950’s Cadillac fins created bySarkin, who had contacted Feinbergafter hearing him interviewed on“Fresh Air.”Tony Bartelme, NF ’11, projectsreporter with The Post and Courierin Charleston, South Carolina, was aPulitzer finalist in the feature writingcategory for his “engaging accountof a South Carolina neurosurgeon’squest to teach brain surgery inTanzania, possibly providing a newmodel for health care in developingcountries.”The Chicago Tribune’s MarySchmich, NF ’96, was a finalist inthe commentary category for “herversatile columns exploring life andthe concerns of a metropolis withwhimsy and poignancy.” —JanGardnerReshaping Our National Identity.”Goldstein is a Pulitzer Prize-winningstaff writer at The Washington Postwho covers social policy issues on anational level.She will explore the ways thathigh levels of unemployment andunderemployment “are transformingthe private sphere of Americans’ livesand the broader public sphere,” shewrote in a summary of her plan forthe yearlong fellowship. “My projectwill provide a ground-level view ofpotent ripple effects, on domains frommental health to job retraining topolitics, as women and men all alongthe socioeconomic ladder have beentorn from their financial moorings. Iwill gather and, with research partners,generate data to document the changes.The findings can then lead to peopleand places that illustrate, powerfullyand intimately, the most intriguingpatterns.” Her aim is to translate whatshe learns into “prose that can helppolicymakers and lay readers graspwhat the economic crisis has beendoing to their neighbors—and possiblyto themselves.”Alma Guillermoprieto was nameda winner by the Overseas Press Club ofAmerica of its 2010 Ed CunninghamNieman Reports | Summer 2011 69


Nieman NotesFirst Amendment Honors for Two NiemansTwo Nieman Fellows have beenrecognized for work that educatescitizens about important issuesfacing the nation and fulfills thepromise of the First Amendment.D o c u m e n t a r y fi l m m a kerMichael Kirk, NF ’80, is thisyear’s recipient of the Associationfor Education in Journalismand Mass Communication’s FirstAmendment Award, which willbe presented at the association’sannual meeting in August. Kirkhas produced nearly 60 films for“Frontline,” including the PeabodyAward winners “Waco—The InsideStory” and “Cheney’s Law.” Duringthe past decade he has focused onthe aftermath of the SeptemberAward for best magazine reportingfrom abroad. She and photographerShaul Schwarz shared the honorfor “Troubled Spirits” in NationalGeographic.The article adds new dimensionsto the coverage of the drug-relatedviolence in Mexico by looking atthe emergence of cults surroundingthree figures: St. Jude, patron saintof desperate causes; Jesús Malverde,the original narco-saint revered bydrug traffickers; and La Santa Muerte(“Holy Death”), who guards the worstof sinners.“The reporting from within Mexico’sprisons and shrines is outstanding, thetopic fresh and vital,” read the awardannouncement. “The judges foundthe care and intelligence of her worka thrill to read.”Guillermoprieto has covered LatinAmerica extensively, writing for TheGuardian, The Washington Post,Newsweek and The New Yorker duringa decades-long career that wasrecently honored with the InternationalWomen’s Media Foundation’s LifetimeAchievement Award. She is the author11 attacks on the World TradeCenter, including the wars in Iraqand Afghanistan. He collaboratedwith Washington Post reporterDana Priest on the “Top SecretAmerica” series that examined thegrowth of intelligence services inthe United States.Former New York Times columnistand two-time Pulitzerwinner Anthony Lewis, NF ’57,was honored in April at the FordHall Forum at Suffolk University inBoston with the 31st annual LouisP. and Evelyn Smith First AmendmentAward. Lewis has writtenabout the First Amendment andcivil liberties during more thanhalf a century as a journalist. of four books, the most recent of whichwas “Dancing with Cuba: A Memoirof Revolution,” published by Pantheonin 2004.Maggie Mulvihill was elected inMay to the steering committee of theReporters Committee for Freedom ofthe Press (RCFP).Founded in 1970, the RCFP providesfree legal assistance to defend the FirstAmendment rights of journalists. It isa national and international resourceon free speech issues and has beeninvolved in most of the significantpress freedom cases to come beforethe U.S. Supreme Court over the pastfour decades.Mulvihill, a former media lawyerand investigative reporter with theBoston Herald, is the codirector andcofounder of the New England Centerfor Investigative Reporting, basedat Boston University. She also is amember of the board of directors ofthe New England First AmendmentCoalition and was a legal intern withthe RCFP while she attended VermontLaw School.2006Chris Cobler and his staff at theVictoria (Tex.) Advocate received afirst-place award from the InlandPress Association for creative use ofmultimedia storytelling. The association’sfourth annual Digital JournalismAwards competition was open towebsites run by U.S. newspapers andonline-only sites that produce originalcommunity news content.Cobler is editor of the Advocate,which produced “A Father’s Strength”about a family’s battle with Lou Gehrig’sdisease. The judges commented, “Thecarefully reported six-part series anddocumentary could each stand easily onits own, and yet the ambitious onlinepackage lends informative context tothe central story and provides its audiencewith many different entry pointsinto the material. The Advocate’s useof free online tools to build and hostportions of its content increases thevisibility of the story in the community,as well as promotes the easy sharingof its content.”Mary C. Curtis was one of 24 journalistsselected from nearly 600 whoapplied to participate in a social mediafellowship launched by the KiplingerProgram in Public Affairs Journalism.The three-month fellowship began thispast spring with a week of training atOhio State University in new mediatools and strategies.Curtis has been a print journalistfor most of her career. That changedwhen she left the Charlotte (N.C.)Observer in 2008. Now she is a weeklycommentator on “Fox News Rising”in Charlotte and contributes to NPR,Creative Loafing Charlotte, and theNieman Watchdog.She wrote in an e-mail to NiemanReports, “But although I’ve become amultimedia journalist, sharing mostof my work online, on television andradio and—occasionally—print, with apresence on Facebook and Twitter, Ihave still been cautious about takingnew steps.“The Kiplinger fellowship wasencouragement to stay on that path.70 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Nieman NotesThe Argus Leader Wins Taylor Family Award for FairnessWhen a team of journalistsat the Argus Leader inSioux Falls, South Dakotastarted reporting a seriesabout the challenges andbenefits of growing up inan Indian reservation, theyhad a wealth of experienceto draw on.Steve Young, the leadreporter on the series, isa 30-year veteran of thepaper who had developedmany sources within thecommunity. As an Indianhimself, Devin Wagner, aphotographer and multimediaproducer, was intimatelyfamiliar with mores on thereservation.“Growing Up Indian,” thepaper’s eight-part series,is the winner of the 2010Taylor Family Award forFairness in Newspapers. In makingtheir selections, the judges identifiedstories that they believe meetthe highest standards of fairnessin all aspects of the journalisticprocess: reporting, writing, editing,headlines, photographs, illustrationsand presentation. The seriesincorporated first-person essaysand videos produced by teens onthe reservation.One of the judges, AnnmarieTimmins, NF ’11, said, “The papergave voice to an underserved populationin a most fair way. A lesserreporting effort might have blamedgovernment policies or the Indianlifestyle for the problems of infantmortality and high school dropoutrates. This series didn’t shy fromeither argument but chose insteadto highlight the problems in humanways and begin a discussion of whatmight be done to remedy them.A newspaper doesn’t have a moreimportant job.”Bob Giles, NF ’66, Nieman Foundation curator, presents the Taylor Family Award to ArgusLeader journalists Steve Young, center, and Devin Wagner. Photo by Lisa Abitbol.Another judge, Tony Bartelme,NF ’11, called the series “a trulyambitious eight-day series thatbrilliantly captures the challengesand hopes of Native Americans ona reservation in South Dakota.”Alcoholism, suicide and povertyare endemic in the Indian populationbut there is much more goingon than social ills—and the paperwanted to acknowledge the advantagesof Indian children who growup in a tight-knit community witha rich heritage.In remarks delivered during theawards ceremony at the NiemanFoundation in March, Young said itis as important to tell success storiesas it is to chronicle problems. Hementioned a girl he interviewedwho for the first 15 years of her lifehad no place to sleep except on thecouch in her family’s living room.She is now an outstanding studentat Dartmouth College.In addition to Young and Wagner,“Growing Up Indian” was producedby managing editor Patrick Lalley,metro editor and project designerJim Helland, and multimediamanager Jim Cheesman. The awardcarries a $10,000 prize.The finalists were The WashingtonPost’s “Paths to Jihad,” a seriesthat examined the choices of fiveyoung Muslims around the world,and The Sacramento Bee’s “WhoKilled Amariana?”, an investigationinto the death of a foster child.Members of the Taylor family,who published The Boston Globefrom 1872 to 1999, established theaward program to encourage fairnessin news coverage by America’sdaily newspapers. Among them wasWilliam Taylor II, who died thispast May at his home in Bostonat the age of 78. Taylor, followingin the footsteps of his father,grandfather and great-grandfather,was publisher of the Globe for 19years. —Jan GardnerNieman Reports | Summer 2011 71


Nieman NotesSeattle Times Honored With Bingham Investigative Reporting PrizeWhile scanning the disciplinaryrecords of state agencies for itemsof interest, Michael J. Berens ofThe Seattle Times stumbled uponthe idea for what became “Seniorsfor Sale,” a multimedia series thatoutraged readers and led to legislativereforms in Washington State.At the time, Berens was notfamiliar with the term “adult familyhome” and he did not know thatthere was a move afoot to care forthe elderly in residential homes.What Berens found as he investigatedhome care providers wasshocking: Elderly residents weretied to their beds at night, strappedto chairs during the day, and leftwithout proper medical treatment.He uncovered at least 236 unreporteddeaths that indicated neglector abuse in these homes.Berens is winner of the 2010Worth Bingham Prize for InvestigativeJournalism, which honorsstories of national significance wherethe public interest is ill-served.The six-part “Seniors for Sale” wasselected from among 103 entriesfor the $20,000 prize.One of the factors used to judgethe submissions is the obstacles thathave to be overcome in reportingthe story. Berens filed almost 50public records requests, collectedReporter Michael J. Berens investigatedthe home care industry for hisSeattle Times prize-winning series “Seniorsfor Sale.” Photo by Lisa Abitbol.information that the state wasunable or unwilling to provide, andbuilt databases to analyze informationfrom numerous state agencies.While the state viewed the homesas a way to reduce spending on caringfor the elderly, some providers sawthe homes as a way to make easymoney. Real estate ads sometimeslisted elderly residents as part ofthe deal, Berens said.In the first three days after theseries was published, The SeattleTimes received 1,000 e-mails andcalls. The response in the StateLegislature was swift as well. Now,cases of suspected abuse and neglectmust be reported to law enforcementauthorities, and the state publishesviolations of the rules governingcare. The owner of one home anda caregiver, both of whom wereprofiled in the series, have beensentenced to jail.Walter Robinson, a formerinvestigative reporter at The BostonGlobe and one of three judges forthe prize, summed up the project:“Once again, a newspaper thatcares deeply about the citizens itserves forced a government thathad neglected its own caregivingrole to move quickly to bring anend to the abuses.”The 2010 prize was the 44thannual award. Family and friendsof Worth Bingham created theprize in his memory in 1967.Bingham, who died at the age of34 and had achieved prominenceas an investigative journalist, wasvice president and assistant to thepublisher for The (Louisville, Ky.)Courier-Journal. It introduced me to new techniquesand platforms, and to journalistseager to share their own experiencesand tips. I learned a lot about waysto build an engaging online presenceand use different platforms to reportand research stories. The tools maybe new, but the journalism principlesremain the same. However, by usingsocial media tools, you can dig deepand enhance the work. You can alsobetter reach the audience we serve.“It was interesting to realize howmuch I can build on my first steps asI navigate a new media world.”Beena Sarwar wrote in March withnews about her latest projects: “I amback in Cambridge, working onlinewith Aman ki Asha, a peace initiativebetween India and Pakistan started bythe Jang Group and Times of India.… I am also involved with Citizens forDemocracy (CFD), a group we startedin Karachi in December 2010 as aplatform for secular, liberal voices inPakistan, coming together on a onepointagenda against the use and abuseof the ‘blasphemy laws’ and religionin politics in general. Salmaan Taseer[the governor of Punjab province] waskilled a few weeks later. We arrangeda [memorial] for him that was verywell attended despite the threats andthe general atmosphere of fear. CFDhas done several other events andpetitions, and is working to break thesilence around this issue, including apublic signature campaign at which72 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Nieman Notes2011 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize Awards AnnouncedEliza Griswold, NF ’07, and IsabelWilkerson, a former New York Timesreporter, are among the recipientsof the 2011 J. Anthony Lukas PrizeProject Awards for exceptionalnonfiction. The Columbia UniversityGraduate School of Journalism andthe Nieman Foundation announcedthe awards for books publishedlast year.Griswold won the $10,000 J.Anthony Lukas Book Prize for “TheTenth Parallel: Dispatches From theFault Line Between Christianityand Islam,” published by Farrar,Straus & Giroux. The judges calledGriswold’s focus on reporting fromcountries that are home to morethan half the world’s Christianand Muslims “a brilliantly originalconstruct for examining one of themost important—perhaps the mostimportant—conflicts in the worldtoday.” Griswold’s travels throughoutAsia and Africa over a period of sevenyears informed her conclusion thatwhat’s happening inside Christianityand Islam, not the conflicts betweenthe two religions, is the driving forceshaping the world’s future.Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize winner,is the recipient of the $10,000Mark Lynton History Prize for “TheWarmth of Other Suns: The EpicStory of America’s Great Migration,”published by Random House.The judges stated: “Wilkerson hascreated a brilliant and innovativeparadox: the intimate epic. … Indifferent decades and for differentreasons [blacks] headed northand west, along with millions offellow travelers. … In powerful,lyrical prose that combines thehistorian’s rigor with the novelist’sempathy, Wilkerson’s book changesour understanding of the GreatMigration and indeed of the modernUnited States.”Alex Tizon, a Pulitzer Prizewinningjournalist who has workedfor the Los Angeles Times and TheSeattle Times, is the recipient of theJ. Anthony Lukas Work-in-ProgressAward, which provides $30,000 toassist in the completion of a nonfictionbook. Tizon’s “Big Little Man:The Asian Male at the Dawn of theAsian Century” is to be publishedby Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thejudges commented: “The projecttakes readers on a personal journeyof self-discovery that is also a deepexploration of what it has meant tobe a man of Asian descent in theWestern world from the earliestdays of Asian migration.”The Lukas prizes were establishedin 1998 to recognize nonfictionwriting that exemplifies the literarygrace and dedication to seriousresearch and social concerns thatcharacterized the work of the awards’namesake, Pulitzer Prize winner J.Anthony Lukas, NF ’69, who diedin 1997. The Mark Lynton HistoryPrize honors the late Mark Lynton,a business executive and author.The Lynton family has sponsoredthe Lukas Prize Project since itsinception. over 15,000 signatures were collected inone day. Details of all these events areavailable at www.citizensfordemocracy.wordpress.com.“This is the Pakistan that needs tobe strengthened and projected, thepeople coming out in public at riskto their lives, of their own volition,rather than the mullahs that organizesponsored rallies to which they herdtheir followers.“I also write regularly for mediain Pakistan and India—and uploadmost pieces to my blog Journeysto Democracy at www.beenasarwar.wordpress.com. I’m also on Twitter@beenasarwar.”Brent Walth has been namedmanaging editor of Willamette Week,the alternative newspaper in Portland,Oregon. It’s a homecoming for him: Hegot his start as an investigative reporterat Willamette Week in 1986. He hasbeen senior investigative reporter forThe Oregonian, where he worked for16 years. In his new job, Walth willdirect the newspaper’s coverage andoccasionally contribute stories.“My early experience at an alternativenewspaper made a huge differencein how I look at stories,” he writes.“Now, I feel very lucky to have thischance to help shape coverage and leada paper as committed to investigativeand watchdog reporting as WillametteWeek.”Walth is also the 2006 Niemanclass correspondent, and he sent inthe following updates:Kim Cloete is working as a freelancejournalist and television producer.Cloete’s work has included reports onglobal health issues for internationalnews networks and current affairsfor Carte Blanche, a newsmagazineprogram on M-Net, South Africa’slargest private broadcaster. Her blog,Cross Currents, examines Africanpolitics and economics, and appearson Moneyweb (www.moneyweb.co.za).Margaret Kriz Hobson coversenergy and environmental issues forCongressional Quarterly and writes acolumn for the Environmental Forum.Hobson built a national reputation forher environmental reporting during her23 years at National Journal, whichshe left last year.Mary Ann Jolley has once againNieman Reports | Summer 2011 73


Nieman Notesshared a Walkley award, Australia’stop journalism prize, for her workwith “Foreign Correspondent,” theAustralian Broadcasting Corporation’snewsmagazine. As producer, Jolley andreporter Andrew Geoghegan investigatedadoption practices in Ethiopiaand the complicity and questionablepractices of U.S. adoption agencies.She and Geoghegan won a Walkleythe previous year for reporting onhow Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemicwas made worse because of close tiesbetween the government and a keyUnited Nations official.Takashi Oshima has rejoined AsahiShimbun in Tokyo as a political newsreporter focusing on Japan’s foreignpolicy and security issues. He returnsto Asahi Shimbun after leaving thenewspaper in 2007. He previouslyworked as a reporter for TV TokyoAmerica in New York.2007Cameron McWhirter, a reporterat The Wall Street Journal, conceiveda book during his Nieman year thatis being published by Henry Holt inJuly. “Red Summer: The Summer of1919 and the Awakening of BlackAmerica” is a narrative history of theseason’s deadliest riots and lynchings.McWhirter argues that it laidthe groundwork for the civil rightsmovement.Over a sevenmonthperiod,hundreds of people—mostof themblacks—died in anu n p r e c e d e n t e dwave of lynchingsand anti-blackriots. Thousandswere injured, andbusinesses sufferedmillions of dollars in losses fromdestruction and looting.In t h e a c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s ,McWhirter thanks Harvard Universityprofessors Evelyn Brooks Higginbothamand Henry Louis Gates,Jr. “for allowing a Nieman fellow tointrude on their graduate seminarsCrossing Paths in South AfricaAfter two years in the position ofpublic editor, Thabo Leshilo, NF’09, left Avusa Media, publisher ofthe Times and Sunday Times, at theend of February to become CEOof Magna Carta Public Relations,the largest public relations firm inSouth Africa. The new public editoris Joseph Latakgomo, NF ’91.The two have crossed pathsbefore. Latakgomo was the foundingeditor of the Sowetan; Leshilosubsequently was the paper’s editorin chief. He praised the Sowetanunder Latakgomo’s leadership for“its bravery in exposing the evilsof apartheid and championinghuman rights.”Latakgomo explained his newjob in an e-mail to NiemanReports: “The public editor mustbe an independent observer whoanswers to no one in editorial,who concerns himself with criticalissues that are raised—and itdoes not matter who raises theand receive their insights on AfricanAmerican history and literature.” Heexpresses gratitude to the NiemanFoundation and the 2007 class offellows and thanks authors AnneBernays and Justin Kaplan “for earlyencouragement.”2009Kael Alford has received a 2011Knight Luce Fellowship for Reportingon Global Religion from the Universityof Southern California’s (USC)Annenberg School for Communication& Journalism. She was one of sevenAmerican journalists selected frommore than 50 applicants. The stipendsrange from $5,000 to $25,000.She will produce “a series ofcharacter-driven multimedia pieces,short photo essays and written storiesissues—and as long as the issuesare legitimate and significant, theyhave to be dealt with. … My rolewill also include monitoring andevaluation of the performance ofthe publications against set editorialand ethical standards, and toremind reporters and editors ofJoseph Pulitzer’s three rules forreporting: 1. Accuracy. 2. Accuracy.3. Accuracy.”“It really is an honor for meand a privilege to be succeeded bysomeone of Joe’s caliber,” Leshilowrote in an e-mail. “I have alwaysheld Joe in the highest regardas an editor and have come torespect him more for speaking outagainst moves by the ruling partyto curb media freedom in SouthAfrica. … Ironically, it’s Joe whonow succeeds me in the role ofhelping ensure journalists in theAvusa stable maintain the higheststandards in their practice of thenoble craft.” about the political and personal placeof religion in the lives of Iraqis andthe perceived role religion has playedin Iraq’s civil conflict since the U.S.-led war began in 2003. Alford, whosephoto-documentary work has appearedin books, on television, and in artgalleries, will further develop a modelfor the production of independent,multiplatform feature journalism,”according to the announcement fromUSC.Fatima Tlisova has teamed up withVoice of America (VOA) on a Russianlanguage multimedia project called“Journalism in the Crosshairs” (Pressapod Pressom). It gives journalists fromthe former Soviet Union and CentralAsia a platform—free of censorship—toshare the difficult stories that in theirown countries they are often unableto pursue.74 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


Nieman NotesVideotaped interviews done byTlisova, who spent many years reportingon human rights abuses in theNorth Caucusus, are posted on VOA’sRussian Service. In her inauguralinterview, she and Russian journalistVladimir Pozner discussed the climateof intimidation in Russia that leadsjournalists to censor themselves.2010Shankar Vedantam left The WashingtonPost in May to become a sciencecorrespondent for NPR.“The move allows me to return tothe themes and passions that haveanimated much of my recent work,including my 2010 book, ‘The HiddenBrain,’” he wrote in an e-mail to friendsand colleagues. “At NPR, I will focuson human behavior and the ways inwhich insights from the social sciencesspeak to the news.”Vedantam had been with the Post for10 years, the bulk of which was spent asa science writer for the paper’s nationalbureau. He also wrote a weekly columnabout psychology called “Departmentof Human Behavior.”Since this past August, he had beenbased in Washington, D.C. coveringimmigration as a member of the paper’slocal reporting staff. In an e-mailannouncing Vedantam’s departure,the Post’s local editor Vernon Loebwrote, “Beyond his obvious talents asa journalist, Shankar will be greatlymissed as a thoughtful and generouscolleague. His presence enhanced ournewsroom, and his easy demeanorand intelligent take on events madeeven a passing conversation with himsomething to savor. He is a class actwe won’t soon forget. We wish himwell, and we have no doubt that hewill soon become NPR’s newest star.”2011Hollman Morris’s documentary“Impunity,” which he codirected withJuan Jose Lozano, was the winner ofthe Camera Justitia Award for filmsthat explore human rights and justiceat the Movies That Matter Festival inThe Hague.“It is a deeply emotional film, whichbravely accuses at least two countriesof collusion with impunity for theperpetrators,” wrote the jury about itsselection. “Starting with a heartbreakingopening scene, the film skillfullyfollows the chronology of those seekingtruth and justice, narrowing the complexrange of issues down to a specificcase, overwhelming the audience withthe same desperation that threatensto crush the victims and survivors.” The Intersecting Lives of Nieman Fellows in ColombiaThe Colombian presidential electionsof 2010 were host to oneof the more unlikely figures inLatin American politics: AntanasMockus, a mathematician andphilosopher who had served twocolorful, nonconsecutive terms asmayor of Bogotá. As the presidentialcandidate of Partido Verde(“Green Party”), he introduced newideas to the public discussion andhelped spawn La Ola Verde (“TheGreen Wave”), a grassroots socialmovement.Now two Colombian journalistshave released “La Ola Verde: Antanas’Way,” a film about the campaign.Directed by Margarita Martínez,NF ’09, former Associated Presscorrespondent, and produced byJuanita León, NF ’07, editor ofthe political news website La SillaVacía, the documentary chroniclesthe final weeks of this “David andGoliath” contest, as the film’s websitecalls it. While Mockus had at onetime led by 10 points in a poll ofvoters, he lost the run-off electionagainst Juan Manuel Santos, NF’88, by more than 25 points.“Rather than simply documentinga campaign, I tried to focus on themagic, the dreams, the creativity,the values and the innovation thatthe Green Party, the ‘green wave’movement and Antanas Mockusbrought to Colombian politics,” saidMartínez, who has made two otherdocumentaries.“The documentary is an intimate,behind-the-scenes portrait of theMockus presidential campaign,” shecontinued. “It has a point of view,but it’s a work of journalism.”The film has been screened inWashington, D.C.; New York City;and Cambridge, Massachusettssince its premiere in Bogotá where,Martínez said, “several activists fromthe rival campaign told me it wasbalanced.” Nieman Reports | Summer 2011 75


Nieman NotesPresenting the Nieman Class of 2012The Nieman Foundation has selected24 journalists from the United Statesand abroad to become the 74th classof Nieman Fellows. The class of2012 includes the first fellow fromSwitzerland, bringing the numberof countries represented by theprogram to 91.The new class includes journalistswho work for newspapers, magazines,radio, television, and online newsorganizations.Bob Giles, NF ’66, curator of theNieman Foundation, said, “The classof 2012 includes journalists who havereported from around the globe on anextraordinarily wide range of topicsand, in many cases, under dangerouscircumstances. They will bring diverseinterests and experiences that willenrich one another and the Harvardcommunity. This new class of fellowsholds great promise for leadershipand advancing the practice of seriousjournalism in difficult times.”U.S. Nieman Fellows:Jonathan Blakley, foreign deskproducer, NPR.Tyler Bridges, author and freelancejournalist based in Lima, Peru.James Geary, executive editor,Ode magazine, and freelance journalistbased in London.Anna Griffin, metro columnist,The Oregonian.Maggie Jones, contributing writer,The New York Times Magazine.David Joyner, vice president ofcontent, Community NewspaperHoldings, Inc. He is the Donald W.Reynolds Nieman Fellow in CommunityJournalism.Dina Kraft, freelance journalistbased in Tel Aviv, Israel.Kristen Lombardi, staff writer,Center for Public Integrity.Megan O’Grady, literary critic,Vogue magazine. She is the Arts andCulture Nieman Fellow.Raquel Rutledge, investigativereporter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.She is the Louis Stark Nieman Fellow.Adam Tanner, Balkans bureauchief, Thomson Reuters.Jeff Young, senior correspondent,Public Radio International’s “Livingon Earth.” He is the Donald W.Reynolds Nieman Fellow in BusinessJournalism.Nieman Fellows in GlobalHealth Reporting:Samuel Loewenberg (UnitedStates), freelance journalist basedin Los Angeles.Rema Nagarajan (India), assistanteditor, The Times of India.International NiemanFellows:Claudia Méndez Arriaza (Guatemala),editor and staff writer, ElPeriódico, and cohost, “A las 8:45.”She is a John S. and James L. KnightFoundation Latin American NiemanFellow.Carlotta Gall (United Kingdom),senior reporter for Afghanistan/Pakistan,The New York Times. She is theRuth Cowan Nash Nieman Fellow.Carlos Eduardo Huertas (Colombia),investigations editor, RevistaSemana. He is a John S. and JamesL. Knight Foundation Latin AmericanNieman Fellow.Fred Khumalo (South Africa),Review section editor, the SundayTimes in Johannesburg. His fellowshipis supported by the NiemanSociety of Southern Africa.Wu Nan (China), Beijing-basedreporter. She is the first NiemanFellow to be supported throughSovereign Bank and the Marco PoloProgram of Banco Santander. Sheis also the Atsuko Chiba (NF ’68)Nieman Fellow.John Nery (Philippines), senioreditor, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Heis the first Sandra Burton NiemanFellow. His fellowship is supportedby the Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Foundationand honors the memory ofBurton, who covered the Philippinesfor Time magazine.Samiha Shafy (Switzerland), sciencereporter, Der Spiegel. She is theRobert Waldo Ruhl Nieman Fellow.Pir Zubair Shah (Pakistan),reporter, The New York Times. Heis the Carroll Binder Nieman Fellowand the Barry Bingham, Jr. NiemanFellow.David Skok (Canada), managingeditor, Global News Online. He isthe Martin Wise Goodman (NF ’62)Canadian Nieman Fellow.Akiko Sugaya (Japan), freelancejournalist based in Boston. She isthe William Montalbano (NF ’70)Nieman Fellow.The U.S. fellows were selectedby Amy Goldstein, NF ’05, socialpolicy writer for The WashingtonPost; Ernie Suggs, NF ’09, politicalreporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Robert Rotberg, author,former college professor and administrator,and president emeritus of theWorld Peace Foundation; and KenNakayama, Edgar Pierce Professorof Psychology at Harvard.The Nieman Fellows in GlobalHealth Reporting were chosen byJon Sawyer, director of the PulitzerCenter on Crisis Reporting, andStefanie Friedhoff, NF ’01, specialprojects manager for the NiemanFoundation.The Arts and Culture Nieman Fellowwas selected by Alicia Anstead,NF ’08, editor in chief of Inside Artsmagazine, and Jack Megan, directorof the Office for the Arts at Harvard.Giles chaired the selection committeesfor the U.S., Global HealthReporting, and Arts and Culturefellows. He also selected the internationalfellows, with assistancefrom Friedhoff and Boris Muñoz,NF ’10. 76 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


END NOTEIn a Time of Need, a Friend Indeed‘I imagine [the memorial service for the Rev. Peter J. Gomes] wasfilled with people like me who needed to thank a man, a minister,who helped them believe again—whether it be in God, life, love.’BY PATRICIA S. GUTHRIEIdon’t remember the exactwords on the sign, only thatthe title of the sermon soundedhopeful. Hopeful and a touch ofhumor—two things I needed as Ibegan my adventure at Harvardas a Nieman Fellow. I do rememberit was a Friday, one of thosebeautiful late September days inHarvard Yard, leaves crunchingunder my feet as I passed MemorialChurch, sun slipping down,my thoughts far, far away.I ended up back at the brickand white church two days later, abit better dressed but still lost inthought. At first, the spaciousnessof the church’s interior and grandengraved war memorial to Harvardalumni caught my attention.Then the sound of organ pipesjolted me to the fact that I wasattending a church service for thefirst time in years on a day thatwas neither Easter morning norChristmas Eve. Why? I had noidea. Until a soothing baritonevoice sounded from the frontThe late Rev. Peter J. Gomes served in Harvard’s Memorial Church for more than 40 years, preaching, teaching,and being a good friend to many on campus. Photo by Kris Snibbe/Harvard staff photographer.and a short, stout bespectacledman I could barely see took hisplace behind the pulpit. Oh, howI heard him—his New Englandcadence, his exacting phrases, hisunusual mix of historical references,humorous remarks, andhis oft-irreverent asides aboutthe most revered of institutionshe held so dear—Harvard.I knew immediately that myfirst encounter with the Rev.Peter J. Gomes was not to be mylast. He became an importantaspect of my life asa Nieman Fellow,memories that camerushing back when Iheard of his deathon February 28 fromcomplications of astroke. He was 68.Fifteen years ago,I became just one ofGomes’s many fanson campus, the oneswho were enthralledwith the man and hismany identities—black, gay, Yankee,Republican, Baptist.What? He was a manonce quiet aboutsuch things whoopenly declared onbehalf of studentsand others beingtaunted in 1991 thathe was gay (but celibate);a Republicanwho prayed withpresidents RonaldNieman Reports | Summer 2011 77


End NoteReagan and George H.W. Bush, thenturned Democrat when his friendDeval Patrick ran for governor ofMassachusetts; a descendant of slaveswho loved his Anglo-Saxon Protestanthometown, Plymouth, Massachusettsand its Mayflower Society.By refusing to be put in anybody’selse’s box, Gomes was perhaps “thefreest man I have ever known,” Patricktold a packed memorial service for thepreacher who held forth at MemorialChurch for four decades. I couldn’tmake it to that April 6 service. ButI imagine it was filled with peoplelike me who needed to thank a man,a minister, who helped them believeagain—whether it be in God, life, love.A Time of LossI don’t remember exactly whatthe minister said back on thatparticular fall morning, only thefeelings it evoked—feelings longlost to my struggle coping withthe dual feelings of sorrow andelation, life and death, the pastand the present. Niemanhoodwas supposed to be a break fromdeadlines, reporting and Life asWe Knew It for me and otherfellows. I had no trouble shakingoff the daily news part—but thedaily life proved challenging.My brother and father had diedwithin months of one another in1995. In fact, I got the call fromLippmann House to tell me that I wasa Nieman finalist on the day my brotherdied of a heart attack. At the time, Iwas living in my childhood home nearBuffalo, New York, and packing up40 years and six children’s worth ofmemories for my parents. The plan wasto sell the house and move mom anddad to a retirement home in Seattle,Washington where my older sister andbrother had lived for decades, andthen I would return in six weeks tomy job at the Albuquerque Tribune.Three months later I was still homeand by that time I was parenting myown parents—a role for which I, at 35,was woefully unprepared. My motherhad no desire to do anything; she hadjust lost her developmentally disabledson who had lived in a group homethree blocks away and visited wheneverhe could. My father faded before myeyes, slowed and angered by the ravagesof congestive heart failure andsymptoms associated with Parkinson’sdisease. A doctor and still mentallysharp, he knew time was runningout but he never spoke of it—or ofanything much at all, for that matter.He died June 24, 1995, just monthsafter moving to a new state, city andhome and months before I was to dothe same.I spent the first few weeks of myNieman year walking and roamingand crying in the dark. I walked andwalked around the neighborhoodsnear my apartment on Hancock Streetlong after the wining and dining anddiscussions of another Nieman day hadGomes hugged, he laughed,he greeted each member of hiscongregation with such joy asthey exited the church. I couldn’thelp but be affected by his sheerenthusiasm for life.ended. So after that first sermon atMemorial Church I knew I had finallyfound someone to talk to.Gomes hugged, he laughed, hegreeted each member of his congregationwith such joy as they exited thechurch. I couldn’t help but be affectedby his sheer enthusiasm for life. SoI timidly approached him, revealingthat I was a newcomer, a NiemanFellow, and in need of grief counselingall in one rushed incomprehensiblesentence. “Nieman” was the wordhe heard. It produced a hug and aclassic Rev. Gomes response, “Well,a Nieman Fellow. They don’t comeby here too often! To what do I owethis great honor?” ” Now those wordsI do remember because I told him itwas his sermon sign that reeled me in.He invited me to Sparks House, thebig yellow house that I had passedby so often, and I experienced hisformal weekly teas with proper chinaand manners and the most amazingcollection of antique furnishings. At aprivate counseling session he spoke offathers and daughters and unresolvedissues. I talked, he listened. I stoppedwalking around in circles at midnight.And I kept a date with him most Sundaymornings. The sound of his voice, hislaughter, his reading of Scripture, hisdelightful candor juxtaposed againstthe soaring windows, the white columns,the rising stir of choral voices,settled me and my sorrow. I lookedforward to the quick hug and “Well,hello!” on the steps after the service.I returned a few more times toSparks House as part of theWednesday afternoon teatimethrong. And, as was his usualpractice, Gomes extended aninvitation to the entire Niemanclass to tea and made a point ofmeeting each and every one. Thereonce was a time when the Niemancurator would invite Gomes to beone of the weekly guest speakersat Lippmann House but Gomestold me that it hadn’t happenedin quite a while. Then with thatGomes gleam in his eye and conspiratorialchuckle in his throat, hesaid, on more than one occasion:“Probably has something to dowith bringing a man of God into aden of journalists.”Bless his heart, as I learned to sayin the South. And thanks be to thatsign, whatever it said. Patricia S. Guthrie, a 1996 NiemanFellow, is a print reporter in transitionwho is freelancing from Seattle,Washington. She can be reached atfreepsg@gmail.com.78 Nieman Reports | Summer 2011


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