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!fall2002-Part 2-live - Nieman Foundation - Harvard University

NIEMAN REPORTSTHE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITYVOL.56 NO.3 FALL 2002Five DollarsScience JournalismInternational JournalismThe Impact of Middle East Pictures and Words


“… to promote and elevate the standards of journalism”—Agnes Wahl Nieman, the benefactor of the Nieman Foundation.Vol. 56 No. 3Fall 2002NIEMAN REPORTSTHE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITYPublisherEditorAssistant EditorEditorial AssistantDesign EditorBob GilesMelissa LudtkeLois FiorePaul WirthDeborah SmileyNieman Reports (USPS #430-650) is publishedin March, June, September and Decemberby the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University,One Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098.Telephone: (617) 495-2237E-Mail Address (Business):nreports@harvard.eduE-Mail Address (Editorial):nreditor@harvard.eduInternet Address:www.Nieman.Harvard.eduCopyright 2002by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.Subcription $20 a year, $35 for two years;add $10 per year for foreign airmail. Single copies $5.Back copies are available from the Nieman office.Please address all subscription correspondence toOne Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098and change of address information toP.O. Box 4951, Manchester, NH 03108.ISSN Number 0028-9817Second-class postage paidat Boston, Massachusetts,and additional entries.POSTMASTER:Send address changes toNieman Reports,P.O. Box 4951,Manchester, NH 03108.


Vol. 56 No. 3Fall 2002NIEMAN REPORTSTHE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY4 Science Journalism6 The Difficulty of Finding Impartial Sources in Science BY ROBERT LEE HOTZ8 The Extraordinary Adventure That Is Science Writing BY JON FRANKLIN11 Reporting Science Means Looking for Cautionary Signals BY BOYCE RENSBERGERWhat Every Journalist Should Know About Science and Science JournalismBooks Every Science Writer Should Read13 Investigating Science BY DEBORAH BLUM16 The Devolution of a Science Page BY JIM DAWSON18 Breaking News or Broken News BY JON D. MILLER21 How Does the European Press Address Cloning? BY OLIVIER BLOND23 Rethinking the Science Beat BY STEFANIE FRIEDHOFF25 New Complications in Reporting on Science BY CORNELIA DEAN27 Scientific Conversations BY CLAUDIA DREIFUS29 Technology Enables New Scientific Images to Emerge BY FELICE FRANKEL32 Bringing Science to a Television Audience BY JON PALFREMAN34 Radio’s Relentless Pace Dictates Different Coverage BY CHRISTOPHER JOYCE36 Teaching Journalism Students to Report on Science BY DOUGLAS STARR38 Meshing Science, Money and Politics in a Book About AIDS Vaccines BY PATRICIA THOMAS40 The Science of Producing Food BY ANNE FITZGERALD42 Reporting on Science in South America BY MARCELO LEITE45 Listening to Scientists and Journalists BY ROSSLYN REED AND GAEL WALKERCover photo: A three-centimeter drop of oil in which iron particles are suspended. The patternis a result of seven circular magnets positioned under a glass slide, onto which the ferrofluid isplaced. Ferrofluid © Felice Frankel, from “Envisioning Science: The Design and Craft of theScience Image” (The MIT Press, 2002).


47 Journalist’s Trade47 Graphics and Journalism BY JOHN MAXWELL HAMILTON, DAVID D. PERLMUTTER,AND EMILY ARNETTE VINES49 ‘About This Story’ BY RUSSELL FRANKExamples of ‘About This Story’ Boxes53 Environmental Consequences of Our Reliance on the Printed Word BY RALPH HANCOX56 Words & Reflections57 September 11: The Impact of Photography A Year Later BY FRANK VAN RIPER59 Zombies on Roller Coasters BY ELLEN HUME61 With Passion and Joy, Jim Bellows Enlivened Journalism BY SETH EFFRON63 International Journalism:The Impact of Middle East Pictures and Words64 Photographic Images Can Be Misunderstood BY COURTNEY KEALY67 Arriving at Judgments in Selecting Photos BY RANDY L. RASMUSSEN71 Expanding the Lens on Coverage of the Middle East BY DICK ROGERS74 Images Lead to Varying Perceptions BY DEBBIE KORNMILLER77 Deciding on an Emotion-Laden Photograph for Page One BY MICHAEL LARKIN78 Covering the Intifada: A Hazardous Beat BY JOEL CAMPAGNA80 The Daniel Pearl Video BY DAN KENNEDY81 The Minefield of Language in Middle East Coverage BY BEVERLY WALL82 Do Words and Pictures From the Middle East Matter? BY RAMI G. KHOURI3 Curator’s Corner: Restoring and Renovating Walter Lippmann House BY BOB GILES84 Nieman Notes COMPILED BY LOIS FIORE84 Celebrating a Journalist’s Life BY MADELEINE BLAIS86 Class Notes91 End Note: Nieman Curator James C. Thomson, Jr., 1931-2002 REMEMBRANCES2 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Curator’s CornerRestoring and Renovating Walter Lippmann HouseThe Nieman Foundation is enlarging its home to meet the needs of its residents.By Bob GilesFor the past two years, the staff of the Nieman Foundationhas been developing ideas to address a situationencountered by recent Nieman classes: It’s a tightsqueeze to fit the staff and the many activities of the fellowsinto Walter Lippmann House.On a typical Monday evening, more than 50 attend thefellows’ “soundings,” crowding into the seminar room andspilling into the Bill Kovach Library next door. Speakers whocome by for discussionsexperience a close encounterwith the fellowsand affiliates who pressaround them in the seminarroom. PowerPoint orslide presentations aregenerated from an oldmetal stand, with imagesprojected on a smallpull-down screen a fewfeet away. It is not anenvironment especiallyconducive to effectivelearning.The Kovach Libraryholds more than 2,500volumes, plus small collectionsof bound newspapers.Only a portionof the collection can be displayed for use by the fellows andthe occasional scholar who drops by. We anticipate thelibrary collection will grow to perhaps 6,000 to 8,000 books.These, along with bound volumes of newspapers and valuablepapers, should be properly displayed and preserved.The fellows’ computer needs are met in a limited way. Thecomputer room on the first floor has been renovated andequipped with six new computers. The room serves as agathering place, with fellows typically waiting for an opencomputer. Workshops on computer-assisted reporting andvideo editing, however, must be held in another part of thehouse, often sharing workspace with the staff.The Nieman staff, meanwhile, now includes 11 full-timeand six part-time employees. The third floor, which manyremember as the quarters for the Lippmann House caretaker,now is home to the Nieman Program on NarrativeJournalism. During these past months, we have been developingplans to build an addition on Lippmann House thatwill accommodate the staff and the increasing demands ofthe fellows’ program while honoring the wonderful historicalnature of the house.Artist’s rendering of the new design of Lippmann House.Our plan includes a new seminar room on the main leveland a library and computer workshop on the lower level ina structure to be built on the north side of Lippmann House.This undertaking requires a balancing act that satisfies theinterests of many constituencies. Lippmann House is locatedin a historic district, and our plan had to pass musterwith the Cambridge Historical Commission. Charles Sullivan,its executive director, became a strong advocate for theproject, making two keyrecommendations:First, that the additionbe in the nature ofa garden room. He describedit as a more honestand effective architecturalsolution thanattempting to replicatean 1836 building.Second, that thefoundation restore theolder part of the houseso it more accurately reflectsthe original constructionby replacingthe shingle siding withclapboard and rebuildingthe front portico.Our Francis Avenueneighbors were brought into the planning process. Someraised initial objections. During several meetings we wereable to satisfy their concerns by scaling back slightly the frontpart of the addition.Finally, we had to obtain approval from the CambridgeBoard of Zoning Appeals to permit construction of anelevator at the rear of Lippmann House. This was a criticalearly objective that had to be met before the project couldmove forward. The zoning board approved our request inearly August, enabling us to publicly announce plans for theaddition, to schedule the start of construction in early fall,and to initiate an effort to raise money for the project.The estimated cost is $2.5 million. We expect to get aninterest-free loan for construction while following throughon opportunities to raise money tied to naming all or someof the components for people whose contributions to theNieman Foundation might best be remembered in this way.Your ideas, suggestions and, yes, contributions are welcome.■giles@fas.harvard.eduNieman Reports / Fall 2002 3


Science JournalismThose who report on science have never been better prepared to do so, according to Los Angeles Timesscience and technology writer Robert Lee Hotz, whose insights open our section on science journalism.But as Hotz also observes, the challenges these reporters confront have never been larger: Newsroomcutbacks mean the reporters “are stretched to cover increasingly complex science stories ….” And theirtask is made harder by the dearth of impartial sources, forcing them “to look as hard at the scientists aswe look at the science itself.”Science writer and journalism professor Jon Franklin uses his narrative style to describe evolvingconnections and disconnections between journalism and science during the past half-century. Today, hewrites, our journalistic culture “all but ignores what is perhaps the most powerful force of change in ourworld, and that makes life excruciatingly difficult for the handful of serious science writers withdesignated beats.” Boyce Rensberger, who directs the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship program atMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), reminds science reporters to “try to keep the sense ofuncertainty in their copy.” Caveats are important, he asserts, for without them, conclusions are oftenmisleading. To inform the public accurately about science, journalists should focus “less on hypingapparent ‘gee-whiz’ moments.”Investigative science reporter and journalism professor Deborah Blum explains why journalistsundertake relatively few big-scale investigative science projects (“The nature of our job provides littletime to burrow in,” she writes), then she uses her investigative reporting experiences to create a usefulroad map for those who do. Jim Dawson, senior news editor at Physics Today, recalls the time when heworked as a reporter at the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune on its short-lived, science-in-depth weekly page.With editors demanding an infusion of stories about health and lighter science fare, “the science pagequickly lost its focus …. The page actually managed to make science boring.”In his analysis of how and why reporting about a development in human cloning went awry, Jon D.Miller, who directs the Center for Biomedical Communication at Northwestern University, sheds muchneededlight on the forces that led some science journalists to misrepresent what had been discovered.And he imparts valuable lessons drawn from the media’s handling of this “first cloned human embryo”story.Olivier Blond, who reports on science for a French weekly magazine, and Stefanie Friedhoff, afreelance journalist who reported on science for a German newspaper, provide European perspectives onscience journalism and the issues reporters there tend to cover. Blond focuses on the various approachesto reporting on cloning, and Friedhoff reminds us how much cultural assumptions shape the questionsasked, responses given, and stories told.No mainstream newspaper devotes the attention and space to reporting on science than The New YorkTimes does in its weekly science section. Cornelia Dean, the Times’ science editor, writes that her staffstruggles to meet the many demands of their job. “… [S]cience is becoming increasingly specialized,”she writes, “so it is harder for journalists, even journalists with advanced training, to know what is4 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


important and what is not important.” Claudia Dreifus, a contributing writer to Science Times,describes how she uses the interviewing techniques she honed as a political reporter on the science beat.Felice Frankel, a science photographer at MIT and author of “Envisioning Science: The Design andCraft of the Science Image,” brings her astonishing images to our pages to demonstrate how picturescreated by the use of new technology “will assume an increasingly prominent role in communicatingscientific information … [and] produce a different kind of journalistic thinking….”As producer of more than 40 documentaries about science, Jon Palfreman describes a currenttelevision environment in which “bankable topics” (volcanoes and mummies) tend to triumph over “unsexybut important science.” In the in-depth science coverage Palfreman is able to do on “Frontline,” hehas “learned that the task of communicating messages that people don’t want to hear … is among themost interesting challenges for a science journalist.” Christopher Joyce, who reports on science forNational Public Radio, explains how complexity in scientists’ words doesn’t work well on radio, butcapturing sounds of their work does. In radio stories about science, “Complicated and abstract ideas arefine; just eliminate complicated and abstract language,” Joyce writes. “Remember,” he reminds us, “radiois actually a visual medium.”In teaching journalism students how to report on science, Douglas Starr, who codirects the KnightCenter for Science and Medical Journalism at Boston University, stresses the need to “view science in amore interwoven way than it was reported in the old days.” His students learn to ground science news in abroader context, as Starr writes, “fleshing out the scientific, economic and social aspects of issues toilluminate their relevance and meaning.” As science journalist Patricia Thomas set out to write “The BigShot: Passion, Politics, and the Struggle for an AIDS Vaccine,” she never anticipated “that in this story,science would be inextricably linked with big business and with politics on a grand scale.” In this article,Thomas explains how she integrated these strands of her reporting.Anne Fitzgerald, who reports on agribusiness for The Des Moines Register, provides a personal lookat how agriculture has changed and, in turn, the job of reporting on it. “… as science’s role in the foodchain has grown,” she writes, “so has the need to report on it and get it right.” She offers tips onreporting—and also on homegrown vegetables. Marcelo Leite, science editor and columnist at theBrazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, describes how South American journalists rely on Webresources and science journals to report on international science news but often overlook scientificresearch in their own countries. Leite believes these journalists “cannot wait any longer to progress from‘good’ science reporting to the kind of independent evaluation and criticism of science that the publicneeds and deserves.” Australian professors Rosslyn Reed and Gael Walker tell what they learned inresearch that explored the tensions and conflicts that exist between scientists and journalists. They soughtsolutions that could lead to more constructive relationships and discovered that well-informed publicrelations people could play key roles. ■Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 5


Science JournalismThe Difficulty of Finding Impartial Sources in ScienceReporters are better prepared, the public is eager for news, yet the science beat isgetting tougher to do.By Robert Lee HotzJournalists who cover science spendtheir working lives trying to bridgewhat British essayist C.P. Snow oncecalled the gulf of mutual incomprehensionbetween scientists and thegeneral public. It is exotic and contestedterrain, in which journalists andscientists angle for advantage, simultaneouslyadversaries and allies.More than ever, scientists aggressivelycourt media attention, even as—paradoxically—unprecedented commercialsecrecy comes to shroud somuch of what scientists do today andfinancial conflicts of interest amongresearchers have become so common.At a time when science has becomethe wellspring of America’s wealth andglobal power, however, many newspapershave reduced coverage of researchdevelopments and biomedical controversies.In cities like Atlanta, Minneapolis,Boston and Dallas, newspapersthat once supported significant sciencestaffs gradually have cut back or refocusedtheir efforts into other topics. Atall but a handful of the largest papers—The New York Times, The Wall StreetJournal, the Los Angeles Times, TheWashington Post—enterprise reportingin the sciences is less common.Investigative reporting of scientificendeavors is unusual in any medium.There are points of light in pools ofshadow.Economically, it may be the worst ofnewsroom times. Yet never have reporterscovering science been so welleducated or prepared to get to thebottom of complex research topics.The National Association of ScienceWriters (NASW), of which I serve onthe board of directors, consisted of 12working reporters when it was foundedin 1934. Today, NASW has 2,400 members.Almost two-thirds are journalists,and many have advanced degrees inthe sciences or have completed graduatetraining in science writing throughuniversity programs such as those atBoston University, Stanford, Universityof California at Santa Cruz, Universityof Wisconsin, Columbia University,New York University, and theMassachusetts Institute of Technology.Yet almost half of those science journalistsin NASW are freelancers, notstaff writers, making them dependenton corporate and university assignments.They are not in a position toeasily bite the hand that feeds them. Inpart, this situation reflects the economicrealties of any 21st century newsroom,especially those of most broadcastoutlets and many mid-sized orsmall newspapers where no one canafford to specialize.Fewer staff reporters are stretchedto cover increasingly complex sciencestories, and more of them are beingasked to feed the public’s seeminglyinsatiable appetite for the news of discoveryand wonder on topics from cosmologyto cloning. To survive, reportersbecome dependent on the dailycascade of embargoed research papers,e-mailed press releases, university tipsheets, and conference abstracts. Theypay close attention to the editorial judgmentof peer-reviewed journals likeScience, The New England Journal ofMedicine, and Nature that do so muchto shape the weekly news of scientificdevelopments.In a landmark 1987 study of scienceand the press, New York Universitysociologist Dorothy Nelkin concludedthat reporters had gotten too close totheir scientist sources. “Many journalistsare, in effect, retailing science andtechnology rather than investigatingthem, identifying with their sourcesrather than challenging them,” shewrote in “Selling Science: How thePress Covers Science and Technology.”But she did think matters were improving.Nelkin believed that patternof co-dependence had started to changein the 1990’s, with more critical, skepticalscience reporting and greater tensionbetween reporters and scientistsas a result. Recently, The Wall StreetJournal and the Los Angeles Times expandedtheir science coverage by addingreporters and reorganizing staffs togive science news greater prominence.In part, science writers are no moreor less vulnerable to the occupationalhazard of any beat reporter—that ofadopting the point of view of the peoplethey cover. In this case, it means thatreporters can come to identify with theenterprise of science itself. AshleyDunn, former techology editor at theLos Angeles Times, has suggested thatscience can be so alluring that reporterscan risk forgetting that their trueloyalty is to the public, not to the scientiststhey cover. “Science is so complexthat to bring it alive you have to love it,”Dunn said. “You have to infuse it withyour passion. Loving what you cover isa tricky path in journalism. Some reporterscan be seduced by the wonder.”As a result, perhaps, science coveragetoday can still be more explanatoryand adulatory than challenging or analytical.Our stories urge readers to peerwith awe into the nurseries of stars tosee the universe at birth and to turninward to brood over the alternatefutures in the DNA of our genes. Wehold up the broken skull of our earliestancestor so that they can muse on whatonce we all were and what we mightbecome.Make no mistake. By itself, this is6 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science Journalismimportant and difficult reporting. Manyscience writers would argue it is theirmost important work. It is the script ofhuman progress, the rough draft of thefuture. Even so, scientists themselvessometimes find reporters, in their rushto meet a deadline, insufficiently skepticalof new research.A recent assessment of science andmedical news stories, published in theJournal of the American Medical Association,assessed news coverage of researchat scientific meetings. The investigatorsfound that one-quarter ofthe research covered by the press neverended up getting published in a peerreviewedjournal, the most commonmeasure of the actual importance of anexperimental finding. In aseparate study of news coveragepublished recently in theBritish Medical Journal, theresearchers found that thestrongest medical evidencewas seldom considered newsworthy.In too many newsrooms,there might be time to reportthe quick hits of scientific discovery,but not to probe themore complex debates overtheory or regulatory policyor the role of business in research.Such reporting would likely bring readersinto the contest of ideas, which inthe end might have more effect on theway we think about the world we inhabitand our place in it.More than ever, the effects of sciencein public life have become pervasive,even as the political influence ofscientists themselves has waned. Considerthe esoteric research makingtoday’s headlines: the search for thebiological roots of behavior, the conundrumsof string theory, the chemistryof climate change, the discovery ofplanets far beyond our own solar system,the creation of animals with humangenes, and homemade infectiousviruses. These laboratory innovationsare setting the stage for challenges anddilemmas we cannot easily foresee. Yetmost legislators who must grapple withhuman cloning, genome sequencing,and embryonic stem cells can barelyIn too many newsrooms, theremight be time to report the quickhits of scientific discovery, but notto probe the more complexdebates over theory or regulatorypolicy or the role of business inresearch.cope with the simplest concepts ofpure science. Like the citizens whosetaxes underwrite research grants andwho bear the social costs of science,they learn much of what they knowabout new research and its implicationsthrough the media.The scientists who might be expectedto provide the clearest guidancein such debates are increasinglyhobbled by commercial secrecy, financialconflicts, or professional self-interest.Pure research just isn’t so pureanymore. Researchers are no longersearching solely for the truth. Many ofthem are also seeking their fortunes. Ahidden cost of stock options, consultingcontracts, patent rights, and commercialresearch contracts is that thescientists most familiar with new researchdevelopments are no longer sofree to dissent publicly. And severalstudies of biomedical controversieshave shown that an expert’s publicscientific position can be predicted byhis or her financial relationships.But it is getting harder than ever tofind a knowledgeable source who doesnot have a financial stake in a biomedicalcontroversy. When scientists muststruggle to balance research integrityand commercial advantage, it is oftenthe public that suffers. In June, TheNew England Journal of Medicine easedits strict conflict of interest rules forauthors of certain articles because itcannot find enough experts withoutfinancial ties to drug companies. Thejournal’s rule had been that nobodywho wrote a review article or editorialcould have any financial interest in acompany that made a product discussedby the article, or in any of its competitors.Now the journal only will forbidsuch articles by authors who receivepayments of $10,000 or more a year asa result of such a stake, or who havestock options or patent interests inthose companies.Even the specialists in the ethics andmorality of science—routinely calledon by reporters to objectively weighthe pros and cons of new research—are finding themselves tangled up infinancial disclosure conflicts. As morebioethics experts become corporateconsultants, they too are finding theirindependence compromised.To whom, then, can readers, listenersand viewers turn? The buck stopshere. Science journalistsshould perhaps pay moreattention to the interplay ofcharacter and cupidity thataffect the sources on whomwe depend: to look as hardat the scientists as we lookat the science itself. Butthere is reason to take heart.Whatever our differences,scientists and journalistswho cover them share acommon purpose: to discoverand report the unbiasedfacts about the world in which welive. ■Robert Lee Hotz covers science andtechnology for the Los Angeles Times.He shared a 1995 Pulitzer Prize forcoverage of the Northridge Earthquakeand was a 1987 Pulitzerfinalist for coverage of genetic engineeringissues. He is the author of“Designs on Life,” which examinesthe scientific and ethical issuessurrounding human embryo research.©July 2002lee.hotz@latimes.comNieman Reports / Fall 2002 7


Science JournalismThe Extraordinary Adventure That Is Science Writing‘Once you’ve done it you can’t imagine doing anything else.’By Jon FranklinOctober 4, 1957, was bright andclear in Lebanon, Missouri, andI will remember it forever. Iwas downtown when I noticed that thepost office flag was at half-staff. Inside,a clot of stunned people listened to theyammering of a radio announcer. TheRussians had launched a satellite. Sputnik,they called it.As a geeky teenager andsci-fi addict, I knew instantlywhat had happened andwhat it meant. I let out awhoop of joy and went runninghome to tell my dad.All along the elm-linedstreets people were out oftheir houses. Some lookedterrified, others cried. Mylandlady stood, head back,hands spread to the sky, beseechingher God not to destroythe world because theRussians had trespassed onHeaven. I detoured aroundher, pounded up the stairsand blurted the news to dad.No religious nut, he. But hedidn’t share my elation.“That means,” he said,“the Russians have won.” Hewent straight to the cornerbar and got drunk.My friends and I couldn’tcomprehend the reaction.But, then, who understoodadults? Our science teacherwould be different. Welooked forward to his class.The science teacher reallywasn’t a science teacher,of course. As was the way inthose days, he was coach.But we figured he’d at leastread the books he assignedus. So we greeted him withanticipation. What was thisthing? How did it work? Whatdid it mean?He turned on us. We were beingstupid. Sputnik was just another bigred lie. Such a moonlet would violateone of the most fundamental laws ofphysics, to wit: What goes up mustcome down.So the new age drew a bright linebetween those who celebrated andembraced science and technology andThis image shows a Sputnik 1 satellite, which was the world's firstearth-orbiting artificial satellite. Sputnik translates from Russian as“fellow traveler.” NASA Photo.those who feared and denied it. Fiveyears later C.P. Snow, the British novelistand physicist, would be the first toput it into words. A great schism wasgrowing, he said. Scientists and likethinkers were splitting off from thehumanistic majority, and each was goingits separate psychic way, developingits own assumptions and languages.And while the scientific culturewas a relatively smallone, it had immensepower—and that powerwas growing exponentially.This schism definedmuch of life for the rest ofthe century, and whilewe’ve all been touched bythe struggle, nobody hashad a wilder ride than sciencewriters have. Our beatrequired us to penetrateinto the heart of scienceand then return with ourstories to newsrooms thatrepresented the very oppositein assumptions,politics and emotions. Oursources often despised themedia for its many excessesand oversimplifications,and our editors often dismissedus and our news astoo complex and too specialized.The sum of thatexperience showed thatthe average journalist ismuch more ignorant ofscience and hostile towardit than the reader.There are studies to thateffect, like the one thatshowed a majority of managingeditors thought dinosaurslived at the sametime as early humans andthat the moon had a darkside upon which the sun8 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science Journalismnever showed. Editors ignorant of sciencetend to handle paragraphs theydon’t understand by taking them out.Not long ago a wire story about astrophysicsappeared in a prestigious newspaperwith its entire middle, from thenut graf to the wrap-up, cut out. Whatwas left gave no clue as to what thephysicists had done. Later, the managingeditor told me that “If our readerswant to know about science they canread the journals.”But, in the end, it’s the personalthings that are telling. When I workedfor The Evening Sun in Baltimore, Iwas a gardener. Like others, I broughtin produce to share with my fellowreporters. But while the vegetables fromother gardens were snatched up, minewere untouched. Hurt, I asked a friendwhy. He hemmed and hawed and finallysaid, “Franklin, you’re a scientistand so they don’t know what you mayhave done to those tomatoes.”And there it was. I wasn’t a scientist,but I associated with known scientists,which gave rise to the lingering suspicionthat I might poison my colleagues.I am told journalism began withenlightenment printers who namedtheir publications “journals” in thespirit of science. This was Locke’s principle:The world was evidence to beconsidered, sifted through, theorizedabout. But that strain died out of journalismearly on, as it underwent a culturalmerger with politics and politicians.Today journalism is truly thefourth estate of government. Thousandsof reporters write millions ofwords every day about political andadministrative processes. Reportersand politicians need each other. Theyhave developed a shared understandingabout what’s fair game and what’snot, as well as a nuanced language thatdistinguishes, for example, between“off the record” and “deep background.”So far so good. But today scienceand technology comprise a force that isat least equally important—and possiblymore so. What was the basis of therising standard of living that made themiddle class so much more generouswith people of different races and socioeconomiclevels? What of radio,which changed politics utterly, and television,which changed it again? What ofthe birth control pill, the computer,modern cancer therapy, beta-blockersfor heart and ulcer patients?But there is little journalistic recognitionof this new social force. If newspaperssuddenly undertook to coverthe various human endeavors in order‘Science stories,’ oneeditor once told me,‘make my executiveeditor get all jittery.He doesn’t understandthem, or knowanybody who does. Sohe doesn’t see why weshould run them.’of their importance and potential impact,science would fill the news columns.There wouldn’t be enough qualifiedscience writers to fill the jobopenings—openings that would comeat the expense of other beats. Whichones? Answer that question and youwill identify the pockets of newsroomhostility to science writers.As a result, each scientific and technologicaladvance has surprised us—and has been met by political histrionicsfrom the consternation over theethics of the kidney machine to thehorror over the concept of brain death,the first heart transplant, the first geneticengineering experiments, the suggestionthat fetal research might savemany lives. Consider, more recently,the White House’s almost humorousstruggle to put together a statement oncloning human embryos. How desperatelythe politicians looked around forthe court wizard, but they hadn’t appointedone. And so they got the numbersall wrong.In each case, the public was taken bysurprise. We gave them stories, forsure, but they were few in number andfatally flawed because they didn’t havethe prominence they deserved andweren’t given the space necessary tomake their importance clear. In manycases they were written and edited sosensationally that they could not beunderstood in their proper context.“Science stories,” one editor once toldme, “make my executive editor get alljittery. He doesn’t understand them,or know anybody who does. So hedoesn’t see why we should run them.”That’s probably true. Though theexecutive editor lived in the same placeas thousands of top-flight scientists, hedidn’t go to the same cocktail partiesthey did. Newspaper people don’t generallyhobnob with scientists, and mostscientists have kinder feelings for termitesthan for journalists.The current emphasis on cuttingnewsroom budgets has deepened thedilemma. Science writing, both the reportingand the writing, are quite simplymore difficult to do than otherkinds of stories. It isn’t so much thatscience is more difficult—you wantcomplex, look at the rules governingbaseball. But most Americans have acontext for baseball, and they havepractically none for science. That meansyou have to give a whole lot of backstory.That takes time and space, and most ofall it takes experience. And it’s thosethree things—time, space and experience—whichare expensive. Sciencestories, inch for inch, are the mostexpensive copy in the newspaper. Goodscience stories are hideously spendy.The result is a journalistic culturethat all but ignores what is perhaps themost powerful force of change in ourworld, and that makes life excruciatinglydifficult for the handful of seriousscience writers with designated beats.And, as I sadly tell my eager would-bescience-writing students, it makes beatsalmost impossible to get.If it’s so bad, why do we do it?Because it’s fun. It’s exciting. Onceyou’ve done it you can’t imagine doinganything else.The isolation of scientists actuallyadds in some way to the thrill of penetratinginto the worlds, say, of biophysics,genetic engineering, climatology,particle physics or geochemistry.Imagine being down at Cape Canaveralwhen a manned rocket takes off. Tele-Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 9


Reporting Science Means Looking forCautionary Signals‘Experienced science writers try to keep the sense of uncertainty in their copy.’Science JournalismBy Boyce RensbergerAs scientists will acknowledge,most scientific findings are wrongor, at least, so uncertain as not tobe certifiably true. But most peoplewould never get this impression fromthe way the news media usually coverthe latest research developments. Cancerhas been cured so many times inheadlines that it’s an irritating jokeamong medical researchers. Advocacygroup pronouncements that appear tobe based on science receive widespreadcoverage before confirmatory studiesexpose the flaws. And yesterday’s dietaryadvice is reversed at least asoften as lower court decisions.Why do the news media so oftenleap on science stories that fall aparton deeper examination? I believe it isbecause many reporters and editorshave a curiously naive conception ofwhat science is. They think that if astatement has the label of science—perhaps even having been publishedin a peer-reviewed journal—it mustbe true or pretty close to true. Afterall, isn’t science about finding truth?Many journalists appear not to understandthat there is a crucial differencebetween the science in textbooks andwhat actual working scientists do for aliving.Textbook science is, for the mostpart, well-established fact—truth, ifyou like. But, of course, scientists don’tget grants to discover what is alreadyknown. Instead, they study the unknown.Working scientists work onthe frontier, the cutting edge. Theyconfront mysteries, which lie in unchartedrealms beyond the textbooks.Thus, as any good scientist will tellyou, findings in any hot field of researchare always hedged in uncertainty.It is rarely clear at the beginningof a new line of inquiry just howto go about finding answers. Early experimentson a new problem commonlyfail. It takes repeated observationsor experiments, usually attackingthe mystery from different angles withresults all pointing to the same answer,before honest researchers begin tobelieve that they actually understandsomething new. As the late sciencewriter Isaac Asimov once said, “Themost exciting phrase to hear in science,the one that heralds new discoveries,is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!), but‘That’s funny….’”When scientists report their findingsto one another in technical journalsor at meetings, they normally takecare to describe not just what theythink they have found but are careful toinclude uncertainties that should temperany interpretation of their data.They know that most of the time theirfindings, especially in a new field ofinquiry, are likely to be wrong or, atleast, to be only crude approximationsof the truth. They’d look foolish totheir colleagues to buy into preliminaryfindings.What Every Journalist Should Know About Science andScience Journalism• Science demands evidence, andsome forms of evidence are worthmore than others are. A scientist’sauthority should command attentionbut, in the absence of evidence,not belief.• There is no one scientific method,but all good science includes elaborateprocedures to discover andavoid biases that might mislead.• Uncertainty is a sign of honest scienceand reveals a need for furtherresearch before reaching a conclusion.Cutting-edge science is highlyuncertain and often flat-out wrong.• The pace of science, despite the hype,is usually slow, not fast. Breakthroughsare never the result of oneexperiment.• Balanced coverage of science doesnot mean giving equal weight toboth sides of an argument. It meansapportioning weight according tothe balance of evidence.• Virtually all new technologies poserisks along with benefits. Thus “safe”and effective,” whether applied todrugs or new devices or processes,are always relative terms. It is irrationalto ask whether something is safeor not. Nothing is 100 percent safe.Policy decisions involving sciencemust balance risks and benefits.• Journalists and scientists espousesimilar goals. Both seek truth andwant to make it known. Both devoteconsiderable energy to guard againstbeing misled. Both observe a disciplineof verifying information. Bothinsist that society allow them freedomto pursue investigations whereverthey lead. Neither requires licensureor approval of an outsideauthority to practice its craft.• News organizations usually investtoo much importance in a scientificdevelopment and not nearly enoughin the broader trends. —B.R. ■Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 11


Science JournalismNovice science journalists, however,often skip right over these crucial, cautionaryparts of a typical journal articleand zero in on the conclusions, howevertentative. They tend to ignore thatBooks Every Science Writer Should Readthe premises often are assumptionsand “best guesses.” In science, mostreports end with an argument for whyfurther research is needed. Experiencedscience writers try to keep the sense ofThis list of recommended books has been assembled by Boyce Rensberger,director of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships program at the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology. It represents only a start on background readingand is not meant as an exhaustive compilation.Classics• The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin• Relativity, Albert Einstein• The Nature of the Chemical Bond,Linus Pauling• Microbe Hunters, Paul de Kruif• Silent Spring, Rachel Carson• Chance and Necessity, JacquesMonod• The Mountain Gorilla, George B.Schaller• The Lives of a Cell, Lewis Thomas• What is Life?, Erwin SchrödingerBooks That Teach• A Brief History of Time, StephenHawking• On Human Nature, Edward O. Wilson• The Feynman Lectures on Physics,Richard P. Feynman• The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins• Annals of the Former World, JohnMcPhee (Includes four of McPhee’sbooks: Basin and Range, In SuspectTerrain, Rising from the Plains, andAssembling California.)• Chaos, James Gleick• Genome, Matt Ridley• Five Kingdoms, Lynn Margulis andKarlene V. Schwartz• The Whole Shebang, Timothy Ferris• The Insect Societies, Edward O. Wilson• The First Three Minutes, StevenWeinberg• In the Shadow of Man, Jane GoodallOutstanding Modern Books• Gun, Germs, and Steel, Jared M.Diamond• Gödel, Escher, Bach, Douglas R.Hofstadter• The Hot Zone, Richard Preston• The Blind Watchmaker, RichardDawkins• The Beak of the Finch, JonathanWeiner• The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker• The Society of Mind, Marvin MinskyBiography, History, Memoir• The Double Helix, James D. Watson• Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!,Richard P. Feynman• The Making of the Atomic Bomb,Richard Rhodes• A Sand County Almanac, AldoLeopold• Ever Since Darwin, Stephen JayGould• Naturalist, Edward O. Wilson• The Eighth Day of Creation, HoraceFreeland JudsonScience and Society, Analysis orPhilosophy of Science• Science, the Endless Frontier,Vannevar Bush• The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,Thomas S. Kuhn• The Art of the Soluble, Peter B.Medawar• The Logic of Scientific Discovery,Karl Popper• The Two Cultures, C.P. Snow• Science and Human Values, JacobBronowski ■uncertainty in their copy. But, too often,editors instinctively strike out thecaveats that, in their minds, weakenthe story. Headline writers furtherprune perspective and judgment.There are thousands of scientificjournals, most published monthly,some weekly, and each is filled withreports detailing incremental steps inresearch. It’s part of the culture ofscience to put out preliminary findings,along with detailed descriptionsof how the research was done—preciselyin order to get comments pointingout possible errors or suggestingbetter interpretations. But these days,more than ever, science reporters followthose journals and make storiesout of what they think they find inthem. Some more aggressive reporterslurk on online chat groups to catcheven more preliminary tips.None of this is to say that the newsmedia should not cover science. Journalistsshould, of course. The impactsof science, including technology, andits effects on individuals and on society,are becoming more powerful andless predictable. It is more importantthan ever that the public be informedof what’s happening in science. Whatthe news media need to do is getsmarter in how they cover it. Theirfocus should be more on increasingthe public’s understanding and less onhyping apparent “gee-whiz” moments.Science’s effects are everywhere—treating and sometimes curing disease,improving communication, makingfood cheaper and safer, enabling bettertransportation, detecting and convictingcriminals, spying on terrorists,creating new materials, forecastingweather, improving our understandingof human behavior—to name onlya few areas. Beyond practical effectsare discoveries that simply enlightenand edify, that contribute as much tothe meaning of life as do the arts—discoveries about the universe, the originand evolution of life, the nature ofmatter and energy, how life works.To be sure, the effects are not allsalutary. Science and technology alsohave brought us vast and persistentenvironmental damage, unspeakableweaponry, innumerable toxic sub-12 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science Journalismstances, and some of the most profoundethical challenges society hasever had to confront. In decades past,wrong science—often enthusiasticallypromoted by the mass media—hasbolstered the evils of racism, sexismand other pseudoscientific ideologies.But in nearly all the impacts of scienceon society—for better or forworse—it was rarely scientists alonewho were to blame. Citizens and societies,including corporations and governments,make decisions about whatdiscoveries or inventions to encourageor reject. And, of course, those decisionsare made on the basis of information,much of it supplied by the newsmedia and the framing employed inthe stories.Why don’t more editors and producersappreciate this crucial role thattheir newspapers and broadcasts play?Why do they settle for naive and carelessstories about science when theydon’t seem to tolerate the same qualityof work from a sports writer or politicalreporter? I think it’s because of anotherwidespread misunderstanding—not of science but of the public. Manyeditors with whom I’ve spoken overthe years claim that the average readeror viewer is not interested in science. Ifonly a few readers care about science,they believe, it’s better to devote staffslots and newsroom budgets to thethings readers do care about.As it happens, American adults are,indeed, interested in science. Accordingto repeated surveys by the NationalScience Foundation (NSF), fully 70percent say they are interested in science—significantlymore than say theyare interested in sports or politics. Ifthe question is expanded to ask aboutinterest in new technologies, about 90percent express interest. Yet just 17percent consider themselves well informedabout developments in scienceand technology. In other words,newsreaders, viewers and listeners ofnews say they are interested, but theyrealize they aren’t being well informed.In short, the public wants to knowmore.Interestingly, despite all the storiesabout how science-ignorant Americanstudents are in comparison with thosein many other developed countries,the reverse is true for adults. Accordingto a 1999 NSF study, U.S. adults scorehigher on tests of science knowledgethan do adults in most other countries.Denmark scored at the top, followed apoint or two behind by the Netherlandsand the United States and, slightlylower, Great Britain. Seven other developedcountries trailed, with Japanand Portugal at the bottom. Moreover,the percentage of Americans who cangive the right answers to a set of sciencequestions has been growing slowlyfor 20 years. So not only do most adultswant to know more about what is happeningin science, they’re better preparedto follow science news than arepeople in most other developed countries.And they’re better prepared thanthey were in the past.Newsroom managers are right notto be driven by marketing polls thatpush them toward inconsequential fluffin news coverage, but here is a case inwhich the surveys suggest readers, viewersand listeners want more and betterreporting about science and technologyand about the events and phenomenathat exert powerful and lastinginfluence on everyone’s lives. If thesenews consumers find that coverage ofscience is naive or ignorant, they’ll losetrust in those upon whom they oughtto be able to depend to broaden andsharpen their knowledge. ■Boyce Rensberger has been the directorof the Knight Science JournalismFellowships program at the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology since1998. Beginning in 1966, he was ascience journalist at the Detroit FreePress, The New York Times and TheWashington Post, and senior editorof Science 80 magazine. He twicewon the American Association forthe Advancement of Science’s topaward for science writing.boyce@mit.eduInvestigating ScienceLots of time is required to cultivate sources and verify their claims.By Deborah BlumIn the early 1990’s, an investigativereporter named John Crewdsonbegan a series of articles on AIDSresearch, navigating a maze of claimsand counterclaims over who first isolatedthe virus. Crewdson, of the ChicagoTribune, was a tireless researcher,an elegant writer, and—as he insisted—not a science writer. Science writers heclassed with stenographers. They justwrote down what scientists told themand dutifully repeated it, he explainedat a journalism conference.I remember seething over this withLaurie Garrett, a science writer fromLong Island’s Newsday. Garrett laterwon a Pulitzer Prize for her incisive andcompassionate reporting on infectiousdisease in Africa and Asia. Her perspectiveon good reporting is notably intrepid—“Ifscientists are wearing masksand gloves, put them on, too.” She wasinsulted by Crewdson’s characterization,not only for herself, but also forher profession, and even for me.For many years people have describedme as an investigative sciencereporter. While working at The SacramentoBee, I’d spent much of the late1980’s tracking deception in nuclearNieman Reports / Fall 2002 13


Science Journalismweapons programs. I’d been part of areporting team that detailed the failuresof our local nuclear power plant,since shut down. When Crewdsonmade his comment, I was starting aninvestigation into primate research. Ididn’t spend much time worrying abouthis words. I’d already made so manypublic record requests that the flood ofdocuments spilled onto the neighboringdesk. And I was too busy trying topersuade reluctant researchers to tellme about their monkey experiments.Nor did I think Crewdson knew whathe was talking about. But similar criticismsof science writers have continuedover the years, among them thatwe don’t do enough tough-edged reporting.“Investigative reporting in thesciences is virtually nonexistent,” afriend of mine complained recently.Another charge is that science reportersare too accepting of what researcherstell them. Even Garrett, when shewrote about the way journalists coverinfectious disease, complained that“Our profession has failed to consistentlydemand proof, not only that thenew innovations of biology and medicinework, but also that the old dogmasand remedies stand the test of time.”These are valid criticisms, but Ithink—and I hope—they are becomingless valid as science writing matures.We are increasingly more willingto challenge dogma, to question heraldedresults. And our determinationto do this arises, in part, because suchchallenges matter. Often we speak ofthe watchdog press as keeping an eyeon government, yet science and medicineare also extraordinarily powerfulforces, altering people’s lives for betterand worse. They need—no, they demand—similarscrutiny.As with government, scientific researchmust be considered a whollyhuman endeavor—full of promise andideas and dedication but also politicsand greed and wrong-headedness.Maryland physicist Robert Park likes topoint out that “A Ph.D. is not an inoculationagainst stupidity.” Nor do I thinkthat tough questioning should be limitedto high-profile investigations. Agood reporter investigates every timehe or she writes a story. No crediblescience writer accepts a researcher’sassessment of his work (brilliant! brilliant!)at face value. Since none of us isan expert in every branch of science—capable of independent analysis of highenergyphysics one day and molecularbiology the next—investigation, thenverification, becomes part of the basicfoundation of many stories.It is here that science writing standsapart from many other beats. The dailychecking of facts is much more complicatedbecause deciphering of researchitself is so complex. A journalist mustunderstand the science, at least enoughto give it context, and must be able toevaluate the research. Is the research apart of mainstream science or is thescience in question just smoking at thefringe? Are these preliminary results orconfirmations? A judgment must bemade as to whether findings are credibleor not. What’s the researcher’sreputation? What kinds of scientistsagree with the author’s assessment?Are they friends or business partners?Can they be objective?Sometimes I think the reason sciencewriters do so little big-scale investigativereporting is that they exhaustthemselves just trying to get the storiesright on a day-to-day basis. Additionally,many science writers must constantlytraverse a wide research terrain,reporting about molecular biology oneweek, high-energy physics the next,and then moving on to environmentaltoxicology. The nature of our job provideslittle time to burrow in.Investigating NuclearWeapons LaboratoriesWhat is required to begin an investigativescience story is time. I began myjournalism career as a police reporter.I used to think of cops as peculiarlyinsular, but I’ve come to realize thatalmost every professional communitydisplays some of that same us-againstthemmentality. It was with that awarenessthat I began my investigation ofthe nuclear weapons laboratories.These are U.S. Department of Energyfacilities located in California andNew Mexico. In the late 1980’s, moneywas pouring into those programs. Iwondered precisely what it was buying.I’d done a few weapons lab stories,and I knew that the weapons designerswere wary to the extreme. So I proposedto my editors that I do a series onweapons designed in California—interestingeven superficially—with theunderlying motive of trying to crackinto the bomb-maker circle.I made myself an internal bet that ifI was just patient, someone in thatinner circle would begin to trust me.For six months, I visited weapons labs,talked to nuclear physicists, admiredhulking lasers, and read up on weaponsdesign. I went to the Nevada TestSite, where they were testing nuclearweapons underground, put on a constructionhelmet, and stood in the shadowycorridor where the bomb wouldbe detonated.One evening a scientist from one ofthe weapons labs took me to dinnerand said he liked what I had written.And, by the way, he thought lab administratorswere lying about some of thosenewer weapons. He had the documentsto prove it—and copies for me. Theresulting stories I wrote eventuallyhelped to provoke a congressional investigationof those weapons and haltsome unwarranted projects. This scientistwas absolutely right. The weaponsin question didn’t work.Not that I took his word for it. Nordid I entirely trust the documents. Justas people lie, so do documents. I spenthours verifying what was in those pages.As a science journalist, I needed anotherkind of source as well, what Ithink of as an objective technical expert.I’m not a nuclear physicist or abiologist or a scientist in any of thefields I cover. So if I’m going to criticizescience, I need my conclusions checkedand double-checked.The other kind of sources I cultivatedat the weapons labs were physiciststhat I trusted enough to ask if I wasgetting it right. Was I describing a stockpiletest accurately? Had I cited thedetonation sequence correctly? It’s thesmall details that can trip you up, andif I’m going to accuse a governmentlaboratory of deception, I don’t wantto puncture my story with errors, evenlittle ones.14 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science JournalismImplicit in all of this, of course, isthat to do it right—or even to get thestory—takes time. And this means areal commitment must be made by thepaper as well as by the journalist. TheBee, during my time there, was extraordinarilysupportive. I had somekey editors who fully recognized thepotential of covering science. Therewere others who didn’t, and theycouldn’t be troubled to learn. When Icovered the first shuttle launch afterthe Challenger explosion, one editorasked me if it was going to be a mannedmission. Years later, I still haven’t figuredout a diplomatic answer.Reporting Science atNewspapersA continuing challenge for science writers—especiallyat small- to mediumsizedpapers—is that they too rarelyhave a science-savvy editor. Editors oftendon’t understand the science enterpriseand thus don’t push for theinvestigative promise there. I was fortunateto find supportive editors, butnot every journalist does. It also helpsto have built up some credibility. Oneof the personal benefits of that nuclearweapons series was that my editorswere willing to gamble on me. Thatexperience helped when I told them Iwanted to spend a lot of time lookingat monkeys. The investigation into primateresearch eventually won a Pulitzer.This reporting project began withwhat I call “pattern recognition”—astrategy I now try to teach my journalismstudents. The challenge is how areporter recognizes an important patternbefore it is revealed in a formalreport. I tend to listen for it: It can befound in the sound of the same idearepeated in different contexts. By thetime I began reporting on the primateresearch story, I’d been a science writerlong enough to have many scientistsask me to hold back details of theirexperiments on animals. They didn’twant animal advocates noticing them.It began to seem like a secrecy pattern.How could anyone understand animalresearch if people who knew aboutit—including the reporters who coveredit—kept hiding it from the public?I decided to use monkeys to tell thestory for a number of reasons. They aresmart, social, genetically close, oftenendangered and, by using their circumstance,I could raise each of theethical issues that interested me. And Ihad discovered that California was theonly state that quarantined all primatesupon entry to the state. That meantthere were records on every monkey. Ifiled a public record act request to getthese records. As I examined the detailedrecords of thousands of animals,I knew that I could start pulling apartthose layers of secrecy.Actually, it was easier to get thedocuments than to persuade researchersto talk with me. It took me almost amonth of arguing, negotiating and cajolingto line up the first interviews. Nosurprise there—it fit perfectly with thesecrecy pattern.It’s worth exploring another kind ofpattern, and that concerns how oftenscience writers do this kind of investigativestory. The short answer is—notoften enough. For all the reasons I’vementioned and because we still, culturally,are deferential toward science,the pronouncements of research toofrequently go unchallenged. This isespecially a problem at smaller newspapers,where there might be one overstretchedscience writer, if there is oneat all. But examples of this can befound at almost any publication.Still, my sense is that this circumstanceis changing for the better. At theregional level, there are signs of solidinvestigative reporting—melding toughquestioning with healthy skepticism—as exemplified by The Seattle Times’fine series on clinical trials in cancerresearch. At the national level, someremarkably good investigative reportingoccurs, such as The WashingtonPost’s detailed exploration of the challengesand failures of gene therapy andThe New York Times’ relentlessly thoroughcoverage of women’s health issues.Is it as much as I would like to see,as much as I think is needed? Absolutelynot, but the direction is definitelythe right one.The common ground in many of thecurrent investigative science stories ismedicine. This makes sense since reportersjustifiably concentrate on researchthat most directly affectspeople’s lives. Still, I could wish formore explorations into physics andearth sciences and even, once again,weapons design. I’ve talked about someof the challenges to investigative sciencereporting, but they are not excuses.We do could better. I hope thenext generation of science writers surpassesmine by far.When I teach science writing, I askmy students to investigate a risk andmake their own decision about thescience involved. I ask them to questionresearch results as they would inreporting any other story. I usuallyassign one thoroughly skeptical book,such as Robert Park’s “Voodoo Science”or even John Crewdson’s “ScienceFictions,” which brings me backto stenography.In the spirit of investigation, whilewriting this article I contactedCrewdson and asked him if he stillthought of science writers that way. Hesaid the answer was more complicated:“There certainly are some good scienceand medicine reporters around,and I think the general quality is betterthan 10 or 15 years ago. But there’s stillan awful lot of ‘Dr. A says this, but Dr.B says that.’” He wanted it understood,though, that he no longer thinks ofscience writers as reporters who merelyrepeat what they’re told.Crewdson is right when he observesthe continuing practice of citing duelingquotes and calling it a day. But Iwant another point understood as well:we were never stenographers. ■Deborah Blum is a science writerand a professor of journalism at theUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison.She is the author of “The MonkeyWars” (Oxford, 1994), “Sex on theBrain” (Viking, 1997), and co-editorof “A Field Guide for Science Writers”(Oxford, 1997). Her latest book,“Love at Goon Park” (Perseus), willbe published in October. She servesas president-elect of the NationalAssociation of Science Writers (http://nasw.org).dblum@.wisc.eduNieman Reports / Fall 2002 15


Science JournalismThe Devolution of a Science PageSuffering from editorial interference and lack of focus, ‘The page actuallymanaged to make science boring.’By Jim DawsonBack in the early summer of 1999,just two years after I and a handfulof reporters at the (Minneapolis)Star Tribune persuaded the senioreditors to publish a weekly sciencepage, the copyeditor I workedwith leaned over the low partition separatingour desks and said, “The vulturesare in the trees.” The two of us,with significant help from other reporters,were having enormous funeach week putting together a page thatwas focused on hard science and medicalresearch but that didn’t take itselftoo seriously. But we knew, given thenature of newspapers, that editors whoknew virtually nothing about scienceor science journalism would eventuallystart imposing their views.In the early days of designing thepage, the copyeditor and I arguedwhether it would last as a home forpure science for one year or two. Thepage survived for nearly four years,although I recommended killing myown mutated creation in its third year.The page ran with full color insidethe “A” section of the newspaper onWednesdays. That is highly valued realestate in a newspaper, and in the beginningit was justified by editors whosaw the science page as a perfect “segmentone enhancement”—a way toappeal to the better-educated readers.The paper had added all sorts of fluffyentertainment and shopping features(segment two enhancements) to theweekend paper, and our science pagewas seen as a good counterweight.We did solid, in-depth science storiesabout physics, earth sciences, genetics,astronomy, cosmology, paleontologyand climate. Especially climate.This was Minnesota, after all, wherepeople actually debate whether el-ementary school children should standat bus stops when the temperaturedrops to 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.But we also sent scientists andmathematicians to review the latestbad science movies, hired the magicianThe Amazing Randi to write aboutpseudoscience, and convinced a highlyregarded humorist to write about whyhe didn’t like scientists.The page was a hit. The extensiveTwin Cities scientific community thatincludes the University of Minnesota, ahost of smaller colleges, 3M, Medtronicand other high tech firms, loved thevisibility the page gave to science. Themore general audience of readers whoare interested in science—some 25 to35 percent of subscribers, according tothe newspaper’s surveys—respondedenthusiastically. Even editors who typicallyglazed over when I had proposedstories on neutrinos or interfacial engineeringhad nice things to say.One of the hard rules I set for thepage was that consumer-oriented“health news” was not allowed. Thenewspaper’s Variety section carriedconsumer health news regularly, sothere was no need to dilute the sciencepage with stories on the latest wonderdrug or advice about how to cope withbunions. As an aging baby boomer Ifind myself increasingly drawn to storiesof disease and physical decay, butthey don’t belong on a science page. Iwas adamant in this view, to the pointwhere I wouldn’t allow some healthstories that involved good science. Ifeared the camel’s nose under the tent.Pure medical research—a new procedurebeing developed to replaceheart valves, or new understanding ofhow viruses invade cells—was allowedon the page. This distinction betweenCartoon by © John S. Pritchett.science and health news was arbitrary,based on my instinct as a long-timescience writer.My reasons for keeping consumerhealth news off the page were straightforward.Science is increasingly importantin our society, yet poorly understoodand feared by most people.Newspapers, according to the surveysI have seen, are the primary source ofscientific information for the vast majorityof readers. Yet newspapers, witha few well-known exceptions, typicallydo a bad job covering science. Editorsoften are as poorly educated in scienceand as afraid of the subject as society ingeneral. There is also a type of antiintellectualismat play in many newsrooms,especially among mid-level editors.If a story is complicated, thethinking goes, the readers won’t un-16 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science Journalismderstand it, so better not to run it.Local television news organizationsare even worse. Science stories areoften given to the weather reporter,apparently on the theory that becauseweather is complicated, the reporterwill understand particle physics. Mostweather reporters I know don’t haveeven a cursory understanding of thescience underlying global warming.As time went on, some in the StarTribune newsroom complained thatour science page stories weren’t writtenwith the average “reader customer”in mind. Others worried that we didn’thave stories on the page simple enoughto attract readers who weren’t interestedin science. The art departmentcomplained when we insisted onsmaller graphics so there would beroom for words. Even the humor onthe page was criticized as being toosubtle. After two years, the complaintsbegan taking the form of orders ondesign and story mix.The newspaper’s several health writerswere told to write for the page on astrictly scheduled basis, whether theyhad decent science stories or not. Thosewriters, of course, did what they weregood at—they wrote health stories. Asthe only science writer at the paper, Iwas pressured to produce more storiesfor the front page, ostensibly becausescience was so important that it neededto be out front. The science page quicklylost its focus and became a mishmashof light science fare and health storiesall designed not to be too challenging.The page actually managed to makescience boring.I left the newspaper in 2000 to takea job as a senior news editor at PhysicsToday magazine. The science page hadbeen an aimless mix of health andscience for several months before I left.To be sure, there were occasional goodstories on the page, but only occasional.The health reporters viewedthe pages as an assigned burden, I wasmeeting my mandate to write for otherparts of the newspaper, and the environmentaland biotechnology writerswere working on large-scale projectsthat didn’t fit the page. Several monthsafter I was gone, so was the page.Killed, no doubt, after an editor askedwhy a health page was running in themiddle of the “A” section when therewas perfectly good health coverage backin Variety.What happened at the Star Tribunewas too bad for those of us who believewriting about science is a high journalisticcalling. Unfortunately, it was predictable.Newspapers have historicallytolerated science writing, not encouragedit. Health writing is fine, becauseeverybody gets sick. But cosmology orpaleontology? Only if you can relatethe stories to the reader’s lifestyles.The irony here is that the number ofgood science writers has grown dramaticallythanks to programs such asthe Knight Fellowship at MIT and thescience writing program at the Universityof California, Santa Cruz. And it isclear that science stories are increasinglybecoming part of the daily newscycle, with stories about genetics, biotechnology,nanotechnology and climatechange becoming commonplace.One would think that newspaper editorswould see the growing role ofscience in society and be insisting onhigh-visibility science beats.Yet even The Boston Globe and TheDallas Morning News, newspapers thathad two of the best science sections inthe country, combined them with theirhealth sections in recent years. At leastthose papers still have good sciencewriters. The Star Tribune, over the protestsof local scientists and readers,didn’t hire a new science writer after Ileft. Now, for the first time since VictorCohn began covering science for theTribune back in the 1950’s, there is noAs an aging baby boomer I find myselfincreasingly drawn to stories of disease andphysical decay, but they don’t belong on ascience page. I was adamant in this view, to thepoint where I wouldn’t allow some healthstories that involved good science. I feared thecamel’s nose under the tent.one on the beat. The science writer atthe newspaper now is The New YorkTimes or The Associated Press wire.What has really been lost, of course,is coverage of local science. There area lot of first-rate scientists in Minnesota,doing everything from lookingfor proton decay and neutrinos in detectorslocated deep in the SoudanMine, to computerizing Jane Goodall’searly field notes to better understandthe behavior of chimps. The local sciencestories are everywhere, and theStar Tribune isn’t covering them. Neitheris the rival Pioneer Press across theriver in St. Paul. That newspaper haswon a couple of Pulitzer Prizes in recentyears, but has never had a sciencewriter.There are still four health writers atthe Star Tribune, however. A year afterI left the paper, I asked the new healthand science team leader—a decenteditor transferred in from the publicsafety team—how science coverage wasgoing. “Great,” he said. “We did a terrificjob covering the nurses’ strike.”No doubt they did. ■Jim Dawson is senior news editor atPhysics Today. He was a reporter atthe Star Tribune for 21 years and thescience writer from 1988 until 2000.Dawson was a fellow in MIT’s KnightScience Journalism Fellowship in1987-88.mistirsnow@aol.comNieman Reports / Fall 2002 17


Science JournalismBreaking News or Broken NewsA brief history of the ‘first cloned human embryo’ story.By Jon D. MillerAt nine o’clock on Sunday morning,November 25, 2001, theonline e-biomed: The Journal ofRegenerative Medicine, posted an articleby Jose Cibelli, from AdvancedCell Technologies, and five colleaguesentitled “Somatic Cell Nuclear Transferin Humans: Pronuclear and EarlyEmbryonic Development.” The articledescribed a series of experiments thathad produced three somatic cell-derivedembryos that developed up tothe six-cell stage. The article concludedthat “The ability to create autologousembryos represents the first step towardgenerating immune compatiblestem cells that could be used to overcomethe problem of immune rejectionin regenerative medicine.”At the same moment, U.S. News &World Report released a copy of “TheFirst Clone,” a story by Joannie Fischerthat would appear in its December 3,2001 issue. The article reports “… thisweek, scientists at Advanced Cell Technology,a small biotech start-up companyin Worcester, Mass., are announcingthat they have … successfullyengineered the world’s first clonedhuman embryo…. Over the past 18months, U.S. News has reported frominside the ACT laboratory, with exclusiveaccess to the cloning scientists andtheir laboratory work.”Simultaneously, Scientific Americanreleased a copy of an article by Cibelli,Robert Lanza, and Michael West, allfrom ACT, entitled “The first humanembryo cloned.” The article reports:“We hoped to coax the early embryosto divide into hollow spheres of100 or so cells called blastocysts. Weintended to isolate human stem cellsfrom the blastocysts to serve as a starterstock for growing replacement nerve,muscle and other tissues that mightone day be used to treat patients witha variety of diseases. Unfortunately,only one of the embryos progressed tothe six-cell stage, at which point itstopped dividing. In a similar experiment,we succeeded in prompting humaneggs—on their own, with no spermto fertilize them—to develop parthenogeneticallyinto blastocysts. We believethat these achievements … representthe dawn of a new age in medicineby demonstrating that the goal oftherapeutic cloning is within reach.”Cibelli, Lanza and West are carefulwith their language in the text of thearticle. They do not say that they succeededin producing stem cells or insustaining the dividing eggs to the 100-cell level, but the title of the articleproclaims “The first human embryocloned.”At 9:45 that morning, CNN interruptedits morning programming witha breaking news announcement:Martin Savidge: “We have breakingnews this morning from the world ofscience. A U.S. laboratory says that ithas successfully cloned the first humanembryo. The Advanced Cell Technologyscientists have been reportedlyworking on the project over the pastseveral months. They describe theirresults in the Journal of RegenerativeMedicine. The transfer of DNA intohuman eggs and the growth of thoseeggs into six-cell embryos. The findingscould mean breakthroughs intreatments for deadly disease. It alsomeans a great deal of controversy.”At 10 o’clock., Tim Russert opened“Meet the Press,” saying:“But first: a very significant developmentin the world of biotechnology.U.S. News & World Report is reportingthis morning scientists have successfullyengineered the world’s first clonedhuman embryo. Joining us are MichaelWest, president and CEO of AdvancedCell Technology; Joannie Fischer ofU.S. News & World Report, and NBCscience correspondent Robert Bazell.“And here’s the cover of today’s ScientificAmerican reporting the firsthuman clone, an article by Dr. Westand his colleagues. And as I mentioned,today’s U.S. News & World Report, anarticle by Joannie Fischer. And here iswhat she says, scientists have finallyduplicated a human embryo … ‘thisweek, scientists at Advanced Cell Technologies… are announcing that theyhave done just that—successfully engineeredthe world’s first cloned humanembryo.’”Russert concluded the opening 15-minute segment by saying, “An historicmoment here on ‘Meet the Press.’ Andwe’ll be covering your battle with theU.S. Congress over the coming weeks.A new world is upon us.”Shortly after the original posting ofthe journal article, Jeff Donn, an AssociatedPress feature writer working outof Boston, filed the first AP story on theACT claim to have cloned the first humanembryo. The AP story summarizedthe claims made by ACT, but notedsome dissent among scientists. Donn’sstory noted that Glenn McGee, a Universityof Pennsylvania bioethicist, hadresigned from the ACT ethics advisoryboard earlier and called the new announcement“nothing but hype.” Donnreported that McGee characterized thenew claim as “doing science by pressrelease.” From the number of individualsinterviewed and quoted in the APwire story, it appears that Donn had anadvance copy of the release and materialand had done his homework. (Donndeclined to be interviewed for this articleon orders from his AP editor.)The lead paragraphs of the AP wirestory were copied almost verbatim bythe Xinhua News Agency in China and18 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science JournalismAgence France-Presse, thus the worldwas quickly informed that the first humanembryo had been cloned in theUnited States. In general, the foreignpress repeated the claims about thesuccess of ACT in making the clone,but dropped any reservations or doubtsabout the accuracy of the claim.The AP wire story was updatedthroughout the day by Donn, addingnew comments by President Bush, thePope, and various U.S. political or religiousleaders. Later in the day, the APwire story added a paragraph:“A second company quickly claimedSunday that it had also cloned humanembryos, but in unpublished research.The company, Clonaid, said that ithopes to eventually create fully developedhuman clones. ‘I’m very pleasedthat I’m not alone,’ Director BrigitteBoisselier said in a phone interview.‘We’re doing embryos every day.’ Thecompany keeps its laboratory locationsecret, citing security concerns.Boisselier said that the embryos werecreated by injecting eggs with a varietyof other cells, but she refused togive details.”AP repeated this release severaltimes, including on their Online Edition.It was picked up by the foreignpress, and a Japanese story reportedthat “two U.S. companies” claimed theyhave cloned human embryos. By theend of Sunday, AP dropped the Clonaidparagraphs from their running story.Clonaid is a company created andoperated by the Raelian Movement, agroup founded by French journalistClaude Vorilhon, who claimed that hewas abducted in 1973 by aliens fromouter space who told him that all humanlife was cloned by the aliens intheir own image and gave him thename Rael. On the Raelian Web site,Brigitte Boisselier is identified as abishop in the movement.Unaware of any doubts about theveracity of the ACT claims, the politicaland religious leadership of the worldlost no time in responding to the announcementof this new scientific development.President Bush declaredthe work to be “morally wrong,” andnumerous anti-abortion senators andgroup leaders demanded new legislationto ban the procedure. The Vaticanwas slightly more cautious, saying thatif a real human embryo had beencloned, it would be a subject of concernto the Vatican, noting that theoriginal news reports contained insufficientevidence to determine exactlywhat had been done.MondayBy morning, many science journalistshad looked at the ACT claim and beganto raise questions about the accuracyof the reported cloning. Gina Kolata’sstory in The New York Times began:“A small, privately financed biotechnologycompany said yesterdaythat it had created the first humanembryos ever produced by cloning.But the embryos died before they hadeven eight cells, and most died longbefore that. Cloning experts outsidethe company said the experiment wasa failure.”Rick Weiss, writing in The WashingtonPost, reported that:“The cloned embryos … grew foronly a few hours—long enough to formmicroscopic balls containing just fourto six cells each. The creations … arestill so unformed that some ethicistsand scientists remain divided overwhether they should be called embryos….”Seth Borenstein from the KnightRidder News Service summarized theproblem with the ACT claim:“Some scientists were not impressed.The embryos died before they had eightcells, and most died before that. Anembryo would have to grow for abouta week and contain about 100 cellsbefore it would have stem cells. ‘It’s acomplete failure,’ said George Seidel,a cloning expert from Colorado StateUniversity in Fort Collins. For a firstattempt, he added ‘they’ve progressedabout as well as you’d expect, orslightly worse.’”Rachel Gotbaum, reporting on NationalPublic Radio, interviewed Dr.John Eppig, a senior staff scientist atJackson Laboratory, who concludedthat the work reported by ACT wasminimal and that most scientists wouldnot have reported this kind of preliminarywork. By Monday night, ABC’sPeter Jennings introduced the story,saying “But today, the question is—didthe company really make a breakthrough?”There was broad agreement amongscience writers and among the scientiststhey interviewed that the smallcluster of cells created by ACT couldnot have become a human if it hadbeen implanted in a woman.Oblivious to the reservations of scientistsand science writers aboutwhether a human embryo had actuallybeen cloned, political leaders throughoutthe world moved to oppose thiskind of scientific work. The head of theGerman physicians’ association referredto the work as a “nightmare,”and the European Commission announcedits opposition to the cloningof human embryos for the purpose ofproducing stem cells. Japan’s ministryof science and education announcedthat it would immediately ban the creationof cloned human embryos in Japan.Follow-Up Coverage andReactionBy Tuesday, a consensus was emergingamong science writers. The lead inGina Kolata and Andrew Pollack’s storyon the front page of The New YorkTimes said:“When Advanced Cell Technology,a small biotechnology company inWorcester, Mass., announced on Sundaythat it had taken the first steps inproducing human embryos throughcloning, it could not report lastingsuccess; all of the embryos it createdhad died. It could not even report thatit had used groundbreaking techniques;its methods had already beenused in animals. Some scientists evensuggested that what the company wasdoing was not cloning at all.”Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 19


Science JournalismThe lead in Faye Flam’s story in ThePhiladelphia Inquirer ended with theobservation that other scientists saidthat the work reported by ACT “producedlittle evidence of a true medicalbreakthrough.” Flam reported:“The embryos created by the companyare ‘essentially useless for thelong term objective’ of making stemcells, said Richard Schultz, a biologyprofessor at the University of Pennsylvania.‘It was a failed, dysfunctionalexperiment,’ said Douglas Melton ofthe Harvard Medical School. To succeedin making medically useful stemcells, he said that the first objective isgetting the embryo to grow. The next isto learn to control the way that stemcells specialize into different types oftissue. ‘They didn’t even get over thefirst hurdle,’ he said.”Kolata and Pollack reported that Dr.Ronald M. Green, a Dartmouth professorwho headed the ACT ethics board,said that he prefers to refer to the cellsas “cleaving eggs” rather than embryos.By Friday, reporting had turned fromthe ACT claim to the media coverage ofthe ACT claim. Anthony Violanti’s storyin The Buffalo News carried the headline“Cloning Story Was the Offspringof Hype.” Violanti wrote:“The announcement was made ona weekend, usually a slow time fornews, when most regular science writersand medical beat reporters tend tobe off. Advanced Cell Technology madearrangements to release the storyonline to a science Web site and alsocoordinated to have articles publishedin Scientific American and U.S. News& World Report. It was a full-prongedmedia assault.“‘How could you not jump on thatstory, especially during sweeps weekin November,’ asked Michael L.McKean, a professor at the Universityof Missouri School of Journalism.”Professor McKean’s suggestion thatsweeps week may have influenced coveragedecisions is particularly relevantto the decision of “Meet the Press” tocollaborate with a small financially interestedbiotechnology company inlaunching their claim to have clonedthe first human embryo. Nancy Nathan,the executive producer of “Meet thePress,” declined to be interviewed forthis article, and Barbara Levin, the directorof communications for NBCNews, declined to answer specific questionsabout the amount of pre-broadcastcollaboration with ACT, saying thatthe discussion on “Meet the Press” was“thorough and accurate, and we standby our reporting.”Some LessonsWhat lessons can be drawn from thisshort history of the first cloned humanembryo story? Four lessons merit somediscussion.1. There is an inherent conflict betweenreporting the news andmanaging the news. In this case, arelatively new electronic journal andat least three major media organizationsjoined with a small privatecorporation that has a substantialfinancial interest in the outcome topromote a story about an allegednew scientific discovery. U.S. News& World Report openly admittedthat they had been working withACT for 18 months in an “exclusive”arrangement, which turned out notto be completely exclusive. In subsequentpieces, the editor of ScientificAmerican admitted to doubtsabout the publication of the articleby the three ACT officers, but defendedhis decision on that groundsthat it increased public awareness ofthe issue. The participation of TimRussert and “Meet the Press” in apre-arranged media blitz is moresurprising, but may have been encouragedby science correspondentBob Bazell’s general acceptance ofthe ACT report as a genuine scientificachievement.2. Speed is often the enemy of accuracy.Although some news organizationshad been working with ACTfor months to coordinate the mediablitz, other organizations appearedto be struggling to make sense of thecloning announcement. On the positiveside, the AP writer seems to havehad some lead time on the story andused it to talk to other sources andto raise at least some small flagsabout the magnitude of the achievement.CNN, on the other hand,seems to have had little advancewarning and visibly struggledthroughout the day. The two CNNmedical correspondents featured intheir coverage either had not readthe original article or managed toget most of the science wrong. Theforeign wire services appeared to beoperating on a weekend basis andlargely rephrased the AP storythroughout the day. By Monday,most of the experienced sciencewriters were on the story and thegeneral interpretation of the firstannouncement turned nearly 180degrees.3. Misinformation multiplied by reactiondoes not produce goodpublic policy. Within minutes ofthe original announcement, reporterswere asking public officialsaround the world what they thoughtof the first cloning of a human embryo,and most of these individualsaccepted the premise that the scientificevent had actually happened,and they proposed public policy responsesaccordingly. The governmentof Japan imposed new restrictions,and the British Parliamentadopted new regulations of humancloning, largely in response to theclaims that a human embryo hadbeen cloned. Reaction led to reactionand activated virtually all of theinterest groups along the pro-life,pro-choice divide. And millions ofadults throughout the world nowbelieve that a human embryo hasbeen cloned in the United States.4. The need for expertise in reportingabout science—and otherequally technical subjects—iscompelling. By and large, most ofthe professional science and healthjournalists recognized the exaggeratednature of the original ACT claimand treated it appropriately. GinaKolata, Andrew Pollock, Rick Weiss,Joe Palca, and numerous other sciencejournalists recognized the lim-20 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science Journalismited merit of the ACT claim andreported serious scientific reservationsabout the claim in their firststories. They were able to bring theiraccumulated understanding of biologyand their network of crediblegenetic biology sources to bear onthe story quickly and produced balanceddiscussions of the potentialmedical value of therapeutic cloningand of the limited evidence of anACT achievement in this field. Specializationis not a guarantee, however.Unlike their print colleagues,Bob Bazell (NBC), Rea Blakely(CNN), and Elizabeth Cohen (CNN),appeared to accept the ACT claimwithout reservation, and the twoCNN medical correspondents continuedto report that skin cells hadbeen used in the successful cloning.Looking to the future, these lessonssuggest that the era of specializationhas reached journalism. The numberand type of new scientific claims thatare likely to be made and skillfullyhyped in the future will grow exponentially,and the present structure of journalismin the United States and throughoutthe world appears to be minimallyready to deal with it. Editors and producersmust take increased responsibilityfor scrutinizing new scientificclaims and for conferring with crediblesources from the scientific communityprior to publication. Neither time norsweeps week is an excuse for doingotherwise. ■Jon D. Miller is professor and directorof the Center for BiomedicalCommunication in the FeinbergSchool of Medicine and a professorin the Medill School of Journalism,both at Northwestern University.j-miller8@northwestern.eduHow Does the European Press Address Cloning?The answer depends on the level of debate and who is saying what.By Olivier BlondOnly outside of the continentmight people think of Europeas being a fully integrated politicaland sociological entity. Fromwithin, there is a great diversity ofthought among the 15 members of theEuropean Union. Divergentviews about the scientific issueof cloning offer a perfect exampleof this disparity. Reporters whocover the issue remain largelyprudent since cloning is still anunfolding issue about whichthere are and will be many differentperspectives. But, at times,there are sensational clone-relatedevents that lead to an eruptionof more debate.In Germany, the ruins of fascismand World War II still infiltratemost cultural subjects. Inthe realm of biotechnology, Germanywas among the first westernEuropean countries to passa law forbidding embryo manipulation.Most striking was the publicationin 1999 of a book, “Rulesfor The Human Zoo,” written byliberal philosopher PeterSloterdijk. Many perceived it as ajustification of eugenics, whereasSloterdijk believed he was inviting readersto reflect on new challenges offeredby the rapid progress in science.Starting with a story in the Germanweekly Die Zeit, a long, complicatedThis photo of Dolly was taken a few days after the news ofthe cloned sheep was announced. Photo by © Chris Buck,February 26, 1997.debate was engaged. It involved manythinkers and philosophers and resultedin much confusion for everybody, includingthe participants. Journalistsfrom a number of German and foreignnewpapers tried to report accuratelyon the numerous and evolvingpoints of view, but the debatewas blurred because Sloterdijk’stext was understood as a justificationof eugenics and Nazism.This prominent philosopher arguedagainst these accusations,presenting himself as a left-wingthinker. But the emotions connectedwith these accusationshindered for a long time anysubsequent assessment of hisideas.In France, history also twiststhe debate. Many intellectualswant to address cloning whileconsidering policies involvinguniversal human rights. They establishthemselves as abstractconsciousness for the humanbeing—an echo of the Frenchrevolution. The various scientistswho have led the nationalethics committee, like Axel Kahn,Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 21


Science JournalismCoverage of Antinori’s first baby clone.frequently addressed the press on theissue of cloning. (Revision of the bioethicslaw was due in 1998 but is stilldelayed.) But if this debate is regularlyportrayed in the newspapers, it has notyet found its place on the politicalagenda since it seems that politiciansare afraid to take a position on such asensitive issue. Only a few days afterformer French Prime Minister LionelJospin said he would authorize therapeuticcloning, he withdrew his decision.In the recent presidential campaign,French leaders did not addressthe cloning issue.In contrast to theoretical debates inFrance and Germany, cloning has beenconsidered as an issue of practical concernin Italy. There, citizens wanted toknow more about the possibility ofgiving birth at an older age and aboutspecific benefits they might receive fromthe current progress of scientific researchand new opportunities offeredthrough genetic engeneering. Until July2001, Italy had some of the most tolerantlaws regarding the use of fertilityscience in Europe. A post-menopausalwoman could receive implants as amethod of giving birth.In Italy, however, one name becameemblematic of this scientific controversy—asSloterdijk did in Germany.That name is Severino Antinori, a professorof medicine at the University ofRome. In August 2001, Antinori wasthe first to publicly announce thelaunching of diverse human cloningprograms. Accompanied by sloganssuch as “reproductive cloning is a formof therapy,” his comments provokedmany emotional reactions, as he hadobviously hoped they would.While covering such news, journalistsinform readers of the general trendagainst reproductive cloning, and theyoften react negatively to Antinori’s flamboyantspeeches. But their informativeapproach was stained for many citizensby how others in the media turnedthis story into sensationalized and“scoopy” coverage. It should be saidthat Antinori provokes and manipulatesthe media with some talent. Recently,he announced the planned birthof the first baby clone in December ofthis year. Strong words such as “worrisome”or “horrific” are often used inheadlines, but most papers, such as LeMonde in France, keep a neutral voice.However, such neutrality is likely todisappear as the situation unfolds.British press coverage of cloningoffers a third way to reflect about theissue. Great Britain has the Union’smost permissive legislation about embryoresearch. Few people rememberthe first test-tube baby, created in Britainin 1978. Many more recall the cutegenetically conceived sheep, Dolly, whoappeared on the front page of manynewspapers swhen her existence wasannounced in July 1997. The BritishParliament formally approved therapeuticcloning in 2001. In such a context,the British press usually adopts aquestioning, wait-and-see tone. Specialistsare warmly invited to feed theongoing debate in the opinion pages.In 1998, a referendum was held inSwitzerland in an attempt to forbid anykind of new research on genes. It wasdefeated, but only by a small margin.This probably reflects the strength ofadvocacy that came from the academicresearch community and those involvedin the field of genetic research. Theirviews were largely relayed by the presswhose coverage during the referendumdebate became intense andreached a very large audience.What kind of larger assesment canbe drawn from this wide diversity inthe European press? In their editorialpositions, most newspapers (at leastnon-religious ones) unanimously rejectreproductive human cloning, butthey don’t take sides about therapeuticcloning or use of stem cells. (Reproductivecloning aims at the perfect reproductionof a human being, whereastherapeutic cloning reproduces somecells only, in order to cure diseases.)In Europe, where the press is veryoften politically oriented, the traditionalclash between liberals and conservatives(left vs. right) is not wellreflected in the field of bioethics. European“Green” parties, for example, havebeen campaigning for a long timeagainst genetic manipulation, as theywarn people against the dangers of thebiotechnology. But their positions arenot well represented in large-circulationnewspapers.Cloning is a new topic for politicaldebate, and the complicated and everchangingscientific knowledge blurspositions. Confusion is perhaps themost apparent common ground amongpoliticians and reporters. Individualjournalists who write for the same magazinemight have very different positionsabout this issue.Many European journalists wouldcertainly like to stimulate a vigorousdebate about cloning. Until now, theyhave been very careful about not expressingtheir own views. Instead, theyinvite scientists, politicians and philosophersto present their opinions. Ifa referendum about cloning—such asthe one in Switzerland—were to beorganized in Europe, it would certainlyinvite the press to become more partisanin how they portray this issue.Considering the diversity of nationalcultures, religions and history, it isunlikely that any universal point ofview about cloning will emerge in theEuropean Union anytime soon. ■Olivier Blond covers science forCourrier International, a weeklyFrench magazine that publishesselected translations from theworld’s major newspapers.blond@courrierinternational.com22 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Rethinking the Science BeatCultural assumptions matter, and journalists need this broader contextas part of their reporting.Science JournalismBy Stefanie FriedhoffOnce I was asked to write a captionto a photograph of amouse with a human ear on itsback. At the time, I was news and magazineeditor at a daily newspaper inBerlin. I had not a clue as to what to tellreaders about this image. But the picturein front of me was triggering amillion thoughts.How should one think about humanbody parts being bred on or inanimals? How would the availability ofall kinds of human tissue and donororgans change both medicine and society?Would millions of lives be saved bythis, or would only the wealthy be ableto afford the benefits of this scientificadvance? Would fewer people be killedfor their organs in other countries?And that is why the Page One editorwanted it on the front page. He justdidn’t bother to make room for a fullstory. So I just didn’t bother asking himand decided to put a story about tissueengineering—the science behind thephoto—on the section’s back page,which was my part of the paper to edit.The next day, this editor told the editorin chief that I was confusing our dailynewspaper with Nature, thereby endangeringcirculation.This happened in 1996. I rememberwondering, even as I struggled to writethis caption, how some editors couldpossibly describe science writing asunimportant, non-political and servingonly a niche market. Yet, many did.Back then in Germany science storieswere not regarded as being worthyof a prominent place in newspapers.Science writers scanned academic journalsand filled the spots above or nextto large advertisements with news ofwhat they found. It didn’t require muchingenuity to figure out that there wassomething wrong with the way my paperand the rest of the German mediaA field trial of genetically modified oil-seed rape is pulled up by environmental activistsin Oxfordshire, England, in July 1999. A smoke flare signals the start of the ‘action.’Photo by © Nick Cobbing.were ignoring the ways in which thegenetic and Internet revolutions wereabout to shake the foundation of theway we lived, thought and acted. (In1997, for example, when for the firsttime a courtroom verdict was releasedover the Internet—in the Louise Woodwardnanny trial in Cambridge, Massachusetts—westill did not have accessto the Web at the B.Z., Berlin’s largestdaily newspaper.)It was only when I moved to Cambridgein 1998 and became a sciencewriter that I was aware of how mucheffort is required to do the kind ofreporting I’d wanted to see in ournewspapers. It was important to walkinto the science labs (instead of justreading science journals) and report inan amusing and enlightening way abouthow scientists clone mice, grow skin,or modify genes in organisms. Throughthis reporting, I wanted to intrigue andeducate readers back home and perhapsraise their awareness of the centralityof these issues in their lives.I discovered, however, that sciencewriting requires more than the abilityto understand the science and the gutsto confront scientists, some of whombelieve everyone should know the littlerealm they are operating in. It requiresmore than the ability to use languagein an explanatory yet captivating wayand to find metaphors of all kinds andsocial contexts.When reporting about cutting-edgescience, journalists often are amongthe first who translate a scientific findinginto common language. When doingso, they must ask some generalquestions about the findings that moveaway from dependence on the scientificlingo. The findings need to beembedded into a commonly understoodcontext. Without a concept ofthe universe, for example, the discoveryof a new “moon” would not makeNieman Reports / Fall 2002 23


Science Journalismany sense. Without a basic grasp ofmammal reproduction, new technologiessuch as cloning would not onlynot be understood but wouldn’t raisethe concern that they should. All of thiscan be difficult for the science writerwho has to think about communicatingideas and concepts that in manycases were previously unthinkable. Toaccomplish this, journalists must firstovercome their own biases, fears andlimitations.With cloning, for example, it took awhile for the concept to sink in, evenfor those who wrote about it. UntilDolly, the cloned sheep, the notionthat reproduction could be possiblewithout some kind of fertilization wasunthinkable in the general public. Sixyears after the news broke, the topiccontinues to challenge our ability toimagine an utterly different future inhow we live and reproduce. Cloningchallenges our definition of what lifeis, when life begins, how a person’sidentity is constituted, and so forth. Italso forces us to make decisions abouthow to use technologies such as cloningin the future.The Context of CulturalAssumptionsIt is the job of journalists to try toprovide the many levels of ingredientsnecessary for people—scientists, philosophers,religious leaders, politiciansand the general public—to engage inthoughtful discussion about such discoveries.At times, this can also meanexploring differing cultural approachestoward the same findings or technologies.For example, in Europe, there hasbeen consistent resistance against geneticallymodified organisms (GMO’s),which has its roots in two decades of astrong ecology movement and in a culturalorientation that emphasizes theindividual’s right to know and a beliefin nature’s unpredictability. In theUnited States, in contrast, the culturalnotion is that nature can be designedto people’s convenience, and if GMO’smake agriculture easier, more efficient,and economically more successful, thenfarmers should use this technology.Because of these different orientations,Europe engaged in an oftenheated debate on the dangers of GMO’s.Some of the results are a demand fortesting how modified corn would influencethe existing plants, requirementsto label GMO-food, and a call forfurther research into the dynamics ofgene manipulations in plants and theimplications for humans and the environment.In the United States, on thecontrary, there was little discussionabout risks and a lot of discussion abouthow genetically modified rice couldsolve some of the world’s food problemsor how enriched vegetables couldmake vaccination unnecessary.These cultural differences offer journalistswriting about science an expandedcontext in which to report theirstories. By acknowledging particularcultural biases, reactions to scientificfindings and advances can be betterunderstood. And by introducing argumentsand approaches different fromour own, it offers readers the opportunityto rethink and reassess the issuesfrom some new perspectives.On my first assignment in the UnitedStates, a German family magazine askedme to rewrite a story about childrenand computers. The original article,written by an established German author,was apocalyptic in its tone: Childrenwould lose empathy and theirsocial skills if they used computersbefore the age of 12 because they wouldbecome angry and violent from sittingin front of the machine all the time.Basically, the article suggested thatthere was no hope. Parents were advisedto lock away the dangerous machines.The magazine’s editor said, “Ican’t leave parents alone with this problem.We need to help them understandand handle this change.”The story reflected the mood in thegeneral public at the time. In the GermanyI had left, the computer was thedawn of the day the world would fallapart. In the United States, however,the computer was the symbol of a betterfuture. Researchers praised it as theperfect learning tool for children: Onit, they could learn according to theirown speed, interests and abilities, arguedU.S. computer advocates. By combiningthese two perspectives, I broadenedmy horizons as well as the article’s.Interviews with scientists in both countriesallowed for a layout and discussionof challenges and risks, some ofwhich had been invisible to expertsimmersed in their cultural assumptions.Taking a look at other countries’conflicts and struggles with new technologiescan help avoid feelings ofeither blind anxiety or naive excitement.This is a good reason to call aBritish scientist in addition to those inthe United States. Or why not call colleaguesin Tokyo to ask about Japan’sapproach towards GMO’s, embryonicstem cell research, or cloning? In theage of the Internet, contacts to suchexperts are not hard to find.In Germany, JournalistsSpark Public Debate AboutBioethicsIn Germany, there is a very visible exampleof how national taboos can bebroken and discussed by journalists.For decades, historical events had preventedGermans from discussing bioethics.When terms such as “designerbaby” surfaced in the media, Hitler’shorrible practices were quoted and, inGermany, the topic was buried. However,after the decoding of the humangenome in the spring of 2000, thenational daily Frankfurter Allgemeinenot only published the entire code onsix pages but also began each day topublish full-page interviews with scientists,philosophers and politiciansfrom Germany, the United States, andother European countries. The paperhad Craig Venter (director of one of thegenome projects) team up with theGerman philosopher Peter Sloterdijkand had Cardinal Karl Lehmann as wellas the chancellor explain and discusstheir view of life sciences.Other newspapers, especiallySüeddeutsche Zeitung and Die Zeit,joined the debate with more explanationson the science behind stem cellresearch and genetic testing. Theybrought the voices of other bioethicistsand scientists onto the front pages andthus into the public limelight. Correspondentsdescribed how the governmentsin the United States, Great Brit-24 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science Journalismain, and France were handling the issue.Our nation’s history, which onceprevented such debate, now forced amore meticulous and lengthy discussionthan any other nation’s.As a result, a national committee onbioethics was formed. A group of membersof the German parliament traveledto the United States in 2001 tostudy the science as well as the waypolicymakers dealt with it. New wordssuch as ‘biopolitics’ emerged in thedebate; words like stem cells and cloningbecame part of the common vocabulary.And while two years ago aGerman politician could happily admitnot having the slightest idea what agene is, he would make news confessingsuch ignorance today.Within the German media, there nowexists a beat called “science politics” or“bioethics correspondent.” These positionsare filled with journalists interestedin both science and politics, bothnational and international. It is an essentialnewspaper beat. It’s the beat Iwas trying to imagine existing on thatday when I first saw the mouse with ahuman ear on its back. Only then, itseemed unthinkable. ■Stefanie Friedhoff, a 2001 NiemanFellow, is a freelance correspondentbased in Ann Arbor, Michigan.sfriedhoff@aol.comNew Complications in Reporting on ScienceScientists have important roles to play in getting the news right,but they are often reluctant participants.By Cornelia DeanScientists often complain to meabout the poor quality of sciencejournalism—that the sciencenews they read or hear is too oftenmisinterpreted, overhyped, or just plainwrong. I always tell them I agree. ThenI tell them they are the only ones whocan do anything about it.Science journalism is difficult. AtThe New York Times, we struggle withit, and we have probably the largestscience staff of any daily newspaper inthe world. We have 13 full-time staffwriters and another eight regular contributorson contract with us, most ofthem former Times staffers. About halfof us have science training of somekind. One of our medical writers is aphysician, for example, and anotherhas a Ph.D. in physics. Still anotherstopped just before completing his dissertation.One has a master’s degree inthe history of science and anothertrained as an engineer. Our behaviorwriter has a master’s in social psychology.Two of our regular contributorsare physicians. The rest of us—the otherwriters, five editors, a graphics coordinator,an art director, and a photoeditor—have no formal science training.But most of us have been involvedin science news for a while.Our science staff is large and has alarge knowledge base. Why then arewe struggling?There are several reasons. The demandsof the job are huge. We providescience, medical and health coveragefor the daily and weekend papers, andwe produce the weekly Science Timessection. We cover everything from anthropologyto astrophysics to atherosclerosis.We advise other departmentswhen a ballplayer is injured or a courtoverturns a pollution regulation.Our purview also extends into areasthat might not at first glance look muchlike science. We did quite a lot of thenewspaper’s coverage of September11 and its aftermath, including the engineeringof Ground Zero, the anthraxattacks, and the vulnerabilities of thenation’s infrastructure. We write regularlyon topics like Star Wars, crime andadvertising practices of the pharmaceuticalindustry, to name just a fewsubjects. So our reach has to be broad.At the same time, science is becomingincreasingly specialized. So it isharder for journalists, even journalistswith advanced training, to know whatis important and what is not important.Not too long ago, an eminent physicsjournal decided to cope with this specializationproblem by issuing new instructionsfor would-be contributors,advising them that the first three paragraphsof all submissions must bereadily understandable by any gardenvariety Ph.D. physicist. From thejournalist’s perspective, this requirementdoes not set the clarity bar veryhigh. This specialization is more or lessapparent across the board, and it is badnews for science journalism.Another complication of relativelyrecent origin is the intense, widespreadcommercialization of research, particularlymedical research. Not so long ago,scientists who reported their findingsin the journals of their fields could berelied upon to play it relatively straight.The journalist could usually be confidentthat the scientist would make agood faith effort to put the findings intheir rightful scientific context. Now,as more and more researchers turntheir labs into test beds for their owncompanies, or have grants from majorcommercial concerns, or seek venturecapital, they have powerful motives formaking the most of their results andplaying down anything that might challengethem.This kind of conflict of interest isnow so widespread in science that evenNieman Reports / Fall 2002 25


Science Journalismsome government agencies have givenup regulations that once preventedpeople from serving on advisory panelson subjects in which they have afinancial stake. It was becoming apparentthat in many areas no one who wasknowledgeable was free of commercialties. Scientific publications may instructresearchers to disclose potential financialconflicts, but these instructions arenot always honored. Even research journalsthemselves, eager to attract attention,subscribers and advertisers, toutforthcoming reports in press releasesthat sometimes go significantly furtherthan the research they purport to describe.So journalists are left with anotherlayer of confusion to workthrough.If we are insufficiently vigilant wecan be sold on something whose truesignificance is far from clear. Or wemight be so cautious that we miss trulyimportant developments, or mufflethem in a blanket of cautionary caveats.These are not problems that can besolved by journalists, even journalistswith the considerable resources of TheNew York Times behind them. For journalistsat most news outlets—many ofwhich are fortunate to have one or twofull-time science or medical writers—such problems are insurmountable.These difficulties can be addressedonly by scientists committed to explainingtheir work to the lay public inclear and dispassionate terms. But whilesome researchers are all too eager todiscuss the importance of their ownwork, others are unwilling to talk at all.This reticence is starting to give way,and it is less a problem for those of usat major news organizations like theTimes, but it still exists, and for reasonsthat are easy to understand.For most scientists, talking to thepress is still a no-win proposition. Reputablescientists do not normally communicatetheir findings in the lay press;they report them in scientific journalsor at scientific meetings. Newspaperarticles do not necessarily help them intenure decisions or grant applications.Plus, if their work is described inaccurately,and often it is, it reflects badlyon them. Finally, even if everythingworks perfectly and their research isdescribed clearly, their colleagues maydismiss them as publicity hounds.The result is that scientists have littleincentive to speak to the press, andtheir inexperience shows. Often, theyare shocked and dismayed that reportersare not already up to speed on theirresearch. When they are asked to explaintheir work in simple terms, theyare at a loss. Scientists need to realizethat even specialist science journalistscannot possibly stay on top of everyfield they might be called upon to cover.If scientists want science reporting tobe clear and accurate, they must helpto make it so.When I speak with scientists, I tellthem they should prepare for a pressinterview the way they would preparefor a professional presentation: Theyshould know what their most importantpoints are, and they should knowhow to convey them clearly and simply.They should have graphs, charts,photos, maps or whatever other materialhelps explain their work. Theyshould encourage reporters to ask questions,even if the questions are ill-informedor silly.Once reporters get the story, though,another battle sometimes begins. Theymust sell it to their editors. And for along time it has been a truism in journalismthat science is a hard sell innewspapers. Though many papersstarted science pages or science sections10 or 20 years ago, today manyhave scaled them back or eliminatedthem. This problem does not reallyexist at the Times, which establishedScience Times in 1978, when it alreadyhad a long history of supporting scienceand reporting on it.A New York Times science writer,William Laurence, was the only journalisttold of the Manhattan Project, forexample, and the newspaper actuallyhelped finance some of Admiral Byrd’speregrinations. Though we have gottenout of the business of supportingresearch ourselves, the Times is stillenthusiastic about covering science.Our editors regard thorough coverageof science and medical news as hallmarksthat differentiate our newspaperand our Web site and televisionefforts from those of other news organizations.Though we do not alwaysget every inch of space we want and notevery story we pitch for Page One endsup there, the newspaper’s managementis proud of the Times’s science coverageand generally does well by it.People often ask how we decidewhat to write about. These decisionscome out of the constant conversationsbetween reporters and their newssources and editors. All of us look regularlyat major scientific publications forreports that look important. The scienceeditors and reporters converseearly in the day to decide how muchspace we will need in the next day’spaper for the spot news and enterprisewe hope to produce. Usually we getwhat we need. And when our storiesdo not get the play we think they deserve,it is often because we have donea poor job communicating, clearly andquickly, why they are important. This isthe kind of problem we can (and do)remedy.We are guaranteed a fixed amountof space in the weekly Science Timessection, and space configurations onsome of its inside pages are guaranteed,so we can plan art and photolayouts in advance. And anyone whoreads the section knows that we thinkphotos, graphics, maps, charts and soon are crucial to telling our stories, andwe devote considerable attention tothem.Do we succeed? I don’t know. CertainlyAmericans remain ludicrously illinformedabout science. According toone recent survey, for example, onlyabout half of us realize that the earthrevolves around the sun. But more andmore of the day’s important politicalissues involve scientific questions. Stemcells, antimissile defense, nuclear wastedisposal, and other topics are all issuesvoters can expect to confront in thepolling place. So as our job gets moredifficult, it gets more important. ■Cornelia Dean is science editor ofThe New York Times.26 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Scientific ConversationsAfter interviewing political leaders, a journalist uncovers the real revolutionby talking with scientists.Science JournalismIn nearly 30 years as a magazine andnewspaper journalist, New York Timeswriter Claudia Dreifus honed her skillsas a political interviewer as a witnessto revolutions and civil wars and domesticpolitical crises. In 1998, shejoined the team at Science Times as acontributing writer at the invitationof its editor, Cornelia Dean, whowanted to add an interview feature tothe weekly section. In an edited excerptfrom the introduction she wroteto her recent book, “Scientific Conversations:Interviews on Science fromThe New York Times,” Dreifus describeshow she transferred her skills from thecoverage of politics to science.By Claudia DreifusIt turned out that my outsider statusto the culture of science was a plus;it gave me the chance to be a kind ofmedium for the reader with hard-tograspconcepts. I didn’t come into interviewswith a lot of baggage. And inscience, as in politics, there exists thecounterpart of ideology.As a newcomer to the field, sourcesdidn’t have any particular notions aboutwho I was and what I thought, and sothey distorted themselves less to pleaseme than they might have with a scienceinsider. Moreover, the procedural realitythat every time I faced a new topic Ineeded to teach it to myself meant thatI was an excellent translator for difficultideas. In order to “get it” myself, Ihad to break things down to their simplestlevel.And then there was another bonus.Scientists, unlike politicians and filmstars, had not, for the most part, beenover-interviewed. More often than not,they came to an interview without aposse of professional handlers, but withgreat unheard stories to tell. In an erawhen Jennifer Lopez’s outfits are thestuff of headlines, the media had mostlyignored this crowd. My science sourceswere not spoiled.One of the cardinal rules of interviewingis to try to pick subjects whoactually want to talk. With a sciencebeat, I now had a whole field full ofvirgin subject matter to explore. Allthis freed me to be far more creative, Ibelieve, than I’ve had the chance to bebefore.Interviewing, to me, is an art form—but it is one where both sides of theprocess must be willing to perform. Iam more of a developmental than aconfrontational interviewer; I prefer tolike the people I write about andthrough a process of exploration andempathy, extract their stories fromthem. On the science beat, I’d hitinterviewer’s heaven.Covering A Real RevolutionBy leaving the world of politics, I wasastonished to discover that I was gettinga chance to witness a real revolution.Over the years, I’d reported onthe upheavals of my time. I was inNorthern Ireland in 1969 when a civilrights campaign exploded into the viciouscivil conflict still known to theworld as “The Troubles.” I went toNicaragua in the 1980’s and to Chile inthe winter of 1990, when an electionpushed a dictator out of the presidentialpalace and opened the door to theredemocratization of that woundednation. But on the fourth floor of TheNew York Times building, the placewhere the science section of the paperis produced, I’ve witnessed an extraordinaryamount of real social and, ultimately,political change.Think of this: In the time I’ve beenworking in science, Dolly the Sheepwas cloned, the Genome Project’scompletion was announced, signs ofwater on Mars were photographed,new planets were discovered, theInternet became ubiquitous, and manyof the mysteries of Alzheimer’s wereuntangled. And within science itself,there has been an internal revolutionto observe: the changing face of whogets to do the research. In 1970, whenI was just out of university, the numberof women in science was at 13.6 percent;20 years later, it was 33.5 percent,and growing.One of the things I came to abhor onmy old political beat was how packagedmost politicians had become. Inthe 1960’s, when I first began writing,public life was full of vivid characters.In the U.S. Senate alone, there weregiants like J. William Fulbright, BarryGoldwater, Robert F. Kennedy, andthat constitutional curmudgeon, SamErvin. In this era of sound bite wariness,most officeholders are so cautiousthat there’s rarely a point to aquestion-and-answer-style interview.The openness to make a Q. and A.successful is, mostly, absent.But scientists-as-subjects were certainlynot overinterviewed and theywere certainly not prepackaged. Theentire field—from astronomy to zoology—waschock-full of quirky individualswho had no problem with beingthemselves. Artificial intelligence guruMarvin Minsky met me at the door ofhis Boston home wearing a shirt festoonedwith masking tape. PrimatologistEmily Sue Savage-Rumbaugh livedwith her family of bonobo apes at theirfacilities within her Georgia State UniversityResearch Station. The greatmathematician Sir Roger Penrose hadLego toys strewn about his office atOxford University. This gentle geniusliked playing with them.Interviewing TechniquesIn my 1997 book, “Interview,” I wroteextensively about the Zen of interviewing.Except for the subject matter, in-Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 27


Science Journalismterviewing techniques are similar inpolitics, culture and science. Some ofmy methods may sound obvious. Butin journalism, as in cooking, the simplecan be sublime. One of the great journalistsof the 20th century was aTimesman named Homer Bigart who,in the field, asked questions with theingenuity of a child.My basic rules for any type of printinterview: Pick an interesting intervieweewho wants to talk, learn yoursubject matter as well as you can, preparea line of questioning in advance,but don’t necessarily stick to it. Thevital thing is to stand back and let theinterviewee do the talking.The most important decision interviewersmake is in picking a subject.Because in a Q. and A. the words thatare elicited are what ultimately makeup the body of the article, finding anarticulate source is key. This mightseem terribly obvious. But in Q. andA.’s, a journalist does not have thesaving option of filling out a disastrousinterview with interesting reporting. Ifthe discussion on tape is sparse, theinterviewer will go home emptyhanded—asituation highly displeasingto editors. This fact of life can leadto some heavy-handed triage in thechoosing of subjects. But I’d say: Inmost cases, if a source has a reputationfor being a poor storyteller, if they areknown to be reticent, or to talk prepackagedsound bites, it’s best to passon them.I try to prepare for an interview theway a Ph.D. candidate might for theirorals. I read everything about the subjectthat I can get my hands on. I lookat competing works for ideas aboutalternate theories or practices or both.Though it’s gauche, I’ll phone up awould-be source and see how they farein a dry run over the telephone. Moreover,I may ask the subject to give methe names of close friends or colleaguesso that I can do a preinterview withthem. Often I ask them, “Tell me somethingabout Dr. So and So that no oneknows about her.” Then, I’ll fashion aquestion from this tidbit of intelligence.The first question I ask in the actualinterview session is critical. It sets thetone for everything that will happensubsequently. It shows that I’m serious,that I’ve done my preparation,and thought a lot about the subject andhis or her work. I often spend a hugehunk of my preparation time on fashioninga lead question that I hope willcreate some good ignition.The InterviewAbout what happens in the interviewsession itself: Some of it is magic. Don’task me to quantify it. What can be saidis that successful interviews are aboutbeing a good listener—about the sparkof conversation and ideas, about thechemistry of personalities. I’ll have mybag of questions, but I’m always willingto stray from them.Very often, I’ll ask to do the interviewin a setting that the source iscomfortable with, but one where theywill not be posturing—for example,their office or their laboratory. I bestlike to interview people in their homes.They’ll be relaxed there, and I’ll alsofind clues around—artwork on the wall,books in the library, photographs onthe mantle—that can lead to revelatoryinsights. Sometimes—and this usuallyworks well—an interview will take placein the field. I interviewed ornithologistLuis F. Baptista in San Francisco’sGolden Gate Park while he describedthe soap opera life of his local friends,the sparrows, to me.When I return to my desk, I’ll transcribethe tapes myself. Though this istedious and no doubt an invitation tocarpal tunnel troubles, it does give mea sense of the subject’s languagerhythms, intonations and what theyactually mean by a specific phrase. It’simportant to leave real language in;one wants to hear distinct voices. Later,I’ll rout through the finished transcript,eliminate dull or repetitive sections,find the spine of the piece, and pull itall together.When it comes to the writing stageof the interview, I like to think of myselfas something like a playwright. In effect,I am creating a two-person play—where the journalist is the minor character.I try to use my questions to movethe interview along, not to show thereaders how clever I am.The tendency for interviewers touse their stories to show themselves offis one of the lamentable results of undisciplinedinterviewing. Not everyjournalist is an interviewer. It’s a skillthat requires training, tact and, mostcertainly, restraint. The reporter whocan’t stand back shouldn’t do it.At the same time—and this is notcontradictory—interviewing is a partof journalism that requires that thereporter use more of his or her personalitythan other types of work. When Iwalk into an interview, I am bringingeverything I am—my personality, myeducation, my ideas, my temperament,and my life experiences. I am lookingfor a kind of intimate connection withmy subject—something like transference—andI’m looking to establish itquickly.Back to science interviewing: At theend of the day, what makes scienceinterviewing such a blast is how marvelousthe people are and how many ofthe important changes for our livesand societies in the 21st century will,very likely, come from them—revolutionaries,indeed.Indeed, in these times, a good politicaljournalist must, absolutely, knowher science. As I write these words, justabout every major policy issue that theadministration of President George W.Bush is confronting has a science componentto it—global warming, homelanddefense, fetal tissue research, stemcell therapies, the proposed anti-missiledefense system, the possible resumptionof nuclear arms testing, oildrilling in the Alaskan arctic. By movingonto a new beat, I’ve recovered myold one, and it is a privilege to havegained the knowledge that permits meto be a part of the debate. ■Claudia Dreifus is a contributingwriter to the Science Times section ofThe New York Times. Text reprintedby permission © 2001, The New YorkTimes. From “Scientific Conversations:Interviews on Science fromThe New York Times,” Times Books/Henry Holt.Claudreif@aol.com28 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science JournalismTechnology Enables New Scientific Images to Emerge‘This new process in science communication will produce a different kind ofjournalistic thinking ….’By Felice FrankelAfew months ago, a particularlybreathtaking astronomical imageappeared on the front pages ofnewspapers around the globe. Thesestunningly colored shapes captivatedthose who saw them. The picture, capturedby the Hubble Space Telescope,was of the Cone Nebula,but the colors in the image werenot actually seen by astronomers.They were, in fact, a constructionfrom three separate sets ofdigital readings taken in blue,near-infrared, and hydrogen-alphafilters.Interestingly, that ConeNebula image is fundamentallythe same as the one of nanowiresthat I made with a scanning electronmicroscope. [See photo onpage 30.] Both of these picturesare visual displays of numbers;they are representations of data.My nanowire image is a manifestationof the data made with image-processingalgorithms thatenable us to see structure. Aftercollecting that data, I digitallycolored the image. By doing this,I was essentially changing thedata, just as the astronomers didwhen they balanced the valuesof their three-data sets to createa readable image. But in this case,the color choices I made hadnothing to do with the material.Mine were purely aesthetic decisionsthat provided representationsto help create a more engagingimage than the original.As scientific research becomesmore visual with the advancementof sophisticated image-capturetechniques, we are now able to “see”beyond what our unaided eyes allow.Like Hubble, although on a completelydifferent scale, an atomic force micro-scope or a scanning electron microscope(which I used for the nanowirepicture) can capture images and analyzestructures never before seen. Nowthey can be measured in nanometers,10 –9 meters or a billionth of a meter.Square drops of colored water in a grid pattern. Thesurface on which each four mm drop was placed is chemicallypatterned so that drops form squares. Research:G.M. Whitesides, Harvard University. Photo by FeliceFrankel.And with other new instruments weare able to detect the femtosecond,10 -15 of a second, allowing us to comprehendthe enormity of this diminutiveflash of time and begin to “see”molecules in motion and study howthey operate.That such images can be “constructed”does not diminish their valuein increasing our appreciation for andunderstanding of the scientific advancesthey reveal. Scientific picturespreviously made on film, for example,are as much of a constructionand a representationof reality, only made with silverinstead of pixels. The adjustedcolors of the Cone Nebula arenot simply imagined, rather theywere created through the humaninterpretation of technologicaldata. Gaining this kind ofextraordinary view offers us aremarkable window, but openingit requires adherence to thescientific integrity of the process.Certainly the misuse of this technologyis possible, but so it waswith film. It is just easier to manipulateimages in digital form.Journalists should simply bemore aware of this as images ofall kinds come into wider use.Even as these previously unfathomableconcepts are clarifiedthrough advancements inimaging and technology, we arestill in desperate need of newvocabularies to better communicatethese ideas among ourselves,as scientists, and to the public.And in the years ahead, pictureswill assume an increasinglyprominent role in communicatingscientific information. Whenpublished along with the drawingsand illustrations currentlymade by graphic artists, images willbecome powerful tools in making difficultconcepts accessible and inspiringto the non-scientist.These technological tools will resultNieman Reports / Fall 2002 29


Science Journalismin the emergence of an entirely newcommunity of image-thinking writersand editors, illustrators, informationarchitects, photographers and scientists,along with a fresh approach toscience journalism. The creative processof telling scientific stories will becomea collaboration among writers,editors and picture makers. Togetherthey will develop a new and rigorousvisual vocabulary of science as a complimentto the written word.This new process in science communicationwill produce a differentkind of journalistic thinking by contributingricher and more informativevisual tools not only to the public, butalso to the research community as awhole. And with this new thinking willemerge a well deserved, if belated,respect for the power of the image. ■A microscopic image of a detail of a microrotor. The large curved blade measures aboutfifty microns cross. Research: A. Epstein, MIT. Photos by Felice Frankel.Nanowires, measuring 2-5 nanometers, span across electrodes. Image taken with a scanning electron microscope.Research: C. Lieber, Harvard University.30 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science JournalismScience photographer Felice Frankelis a research scientist at the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology. Herrecently published book, “EnvisioningScience: The Design and Craft ofthe Science Image” (The MIT Press,2002), guides researchers and studentsin how to produce more communicativescience images. She isdirector of the Envisioning ScienceProject at MIT and is coauthor withGeorge M. Whitesides of “On theSurface of Things: Images of theExtraordinary in Science” (ChronicleBooks, 1997). Each of the imagesreproduced here were originally incolor. Her work can be found atweb.mit.edu/felicef.felicef@mit.eduA colony of yeast in a floral arrangementin a petri dish (left). Research: T.Reynolds, G. Fink, MIT’s WhiteheadInstitute. Photos by Felice Frankel.A thin layer of gold buckling in patterns on the surface of plastic. Photo taken under a microscope. Research: N. Bowden,G. M. Whitesides, Harvard University.Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 31


Science JournalismBringing Science to a Television AudienceToo often, spectacles—like mummies and volcanoes—triumph over the reportingof modern science.By Jon PalfremanIn the late 1960’s, some farsightedBBC producers had an interestingidea—why not try to make televisiondocumentaries about science?Working on 16mm film, these pioneersset out to report on what, to viewers,had been a completely closed world ofscience. For the first time, film crewswent out to visit research labs, interviewscientists, and follow field expeditionsto remote exotic places. In short,the goal was to show viewers whatscientists actually do. This resulted in aweekly series called “Horizon” that, tothe surprise of many people, was bothpopular and critically acclaimed. “Horizon”became the model for PBS’s“Nova” series.As originally conceived, the intentof series like “Horizon” and “Nova”was partly journalistic: a mission toreport on new science, thereby helpingthe public to understand the momentouschanges that science and technologywere bringing about. Contraryto most people’s tedious experience ofschool science, these documentariesrevealed a world that could be excitingif not cool. Working as anthropologistsdo, producers brought back fascinatingreports from different scientifictribes. They created programs aboutthe mysteries of sleep and dreams, thesecrets of the atomic nucleus, the magicof lasers, the puzzle of the BermudaTriangle, and the “miracle” of brainsurgery. The power of visual technology—beit cine-microscopy, cine-endoscopy,time-lapse photography, ordigital animations—brought new andexciting imagery into viewers’ livingrooms.The audience liked much of it. Criticsdescribed it as quality television. Itwas a great time to be a science producer.By the time I joined “Horizon” in theearly 80’s, the novelty of the sciencedocumentary had started to wear offfor the audience, and producers weregrappling with the harsh reality of producing20 to 30 new science documentariesyear after year. What, we wondered,was the secret of success?Some films seemed to stand out. In1985, I made a film called “The Case ofthe Frozen Addict” that had everythinggoing for it. It was a terrific yarn abouthow a bunch of young California drugaddicts ingested some “designerheroin” and mysteriously “froze up,”acquiring the symptoms of Parkinson’sdisease. The bizarre cases were noticedby a smart and highly articulateneurologist who realized he hadstumbled on a medical breakthrough.The story had an almost perfect narrativearc. It had plenty of fascinatingscience. It had interesting characterswhose lives were caught up in a humandrama. It had tragedy. It had hope andthe prospect of redemption.But “Addict” was the exception. Mostprograms I worked on were a struggleand, like most producers, I had myshare of failures. The reality we allfaced was that many scientists did notseem to lead very exotic lives. Thevisual environments in which thesescientists worked—the labs—were usuallyunexciting. Worse, we found thatmost scientists did not project appealingpersonas. Indeed, we found thevery qualities that make many scientistsgood researchers—dedication,focus, consistency, caution, thoroughness,attention to detail—militatedagainst them being expansive, playfulcommunicators.Our successes and failures appearedto have no relationship to a field’sscientific importance: some of the mostdynamic and exciting areas of science—like molecular biology—yielded someof the dullest films. In desperation,some subjects, like chemistry, wereabandoned entirely. Engineering wastreated very unevenly. Space exploration,aviation, war technology—in otherwords large-scale engineering topicswhere things could be seen and whichmoved—did very well in this visualmedium and so they attracted producers.Small-scale engineering—materialsscience, semiconductor physics—were avoided.Since modern scientific stories like“Addict” were rare, producers gravitatedto broad areas where they had achance of success. Producers likedmedical stories because there werehuman beings involved. But we soondiscovered that non-human characterscould work just as well. Films dealingwith exciting natural phenomena—volcanoes, tornadoes, earthquakes,lightning—were extremely successful,as were films about large or fierce animals—sharks,whales and dinosaurs.Despite the temptation for everyoneto do dinosaur and volcano films,the early executive producers of “Horizon”and “Nova” felt a moral obligationto cover scientific advances even whenthey weren’t “sexy.” Some of the bestscience documentaries came from thiscommitment, unpacking complicatedand fascinating stories such as the mysterythat surrounded Legionnaire’s disease,the emergence of AIDS, the riseand fall of cold fusion, and the ExxonValdez disaster. Executives also orderedproducers to tackle difficult but importanttopics—oncogenes (cancer-causinggenes), the human genome, artificialintelligence, even mathematics.Working under pressure, producerstried everything to draw viewers in,32 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science Journalismincluding relighting the scientific laboratorywith “X-Files” lighting. Producersconstructed careful story arcs. Theycoached scientists to give short, pithyanswers. They added lush music tracks.Occasionally these unpromisingfilms turned out surprisingly well. Whilethe smoke and mirrors helped, themain reason for success was usuallythe discovery of a stellar scientist-communicator.Richard P. Feynman—thelegendary Caltech physicist—provedthat, in the right hands, even the mostabstract, arcane concepts in physicscould be riveting. Feynman could captivatean audience whether he spokeabout quarks or quasars. While his explanationswere clear, his success camefrom his emotional bond with the audience.His excitement and enthusiasmwere infectious. His mischievous smilemade you like him. Viewers could discernthat here was a big thinker: Here,viewers said, was a smart and interestingperson.This was the evolving story of thelong-form television science documentaryuntil the early 1990’s. Then, in myview, things began to go downhill asthe television environment changed.The Public Broadcasting System [PBS]found itself facing competition fromnew cable outlets like the DiscoveryChannel and, as the market fragmented,audiences for this kind of science documentaryfell. In the scramble to holdonto viewers, executives conductedmarket research to see which showsattracted the biggest numbers. Giventhe high costs of production, timelesssubjects, which could be repeated overand over again, appeared more costeffectivethan time-sensitive ones. Thecombined demands of ratings and longshelf life led executives in the UnitedStates (and later in the United Kingdom)to progressively turn away fromjournalistic films (which would quicklygo out of date) and to avoid un-sexybut important science (which audiencesmight find boring). They settled insteadfor a limited set of bankable topicsthat would bring in viewers.With almost no exceptions, the longformtelevision science documentaryhas come to be drawn from a smallhandful of approved genres:• “Archeology and Legends” genre(“Indiana Jones” science), whichdeals with expeditions, lost treasures,mummies, dinosaur bones,mammoths and the use of forensicmethods to uncover the past.• “Forces of Nature” genre, which dealswith volcanoes, tornadoes, mountains,sharks, etc.• “Modern History” genre, which explorescertain mysteries left overfrom past wars such as missing submarinesof Hitler’s Third Reich.• “Boys and Their Toys” genre, whichdeals with cool gadgets like racingcars and helicopters.There is also a very popular genrethat deals with war technologies suchas bombs, biological and chemicalweapons, military aircraft and submarines.And the emergence of cable outletslike Discover and The LearningChannel in the 1990’s has pioneerednew genres such as popular psychology,alien abductions, and paranormalphenomena.Excellent though many of these filmswere, they began to have less and lessconnection with what was actually goingon in America’s research labs. Aviewer watching long-form televisionscience documentaries on PBS andcable during the past decade wouldhardly have realized that American sciencewas reshaping the world.Did television science journalismdie? Not quite. There were isolatedexceptions to this rule that remindedviewers about high-quality sciencejournalism’s potential. Two notablerecent examples are Larry Klein’s“Nova” film “Why the Towers Fell,”about the collapse of the World TradeCenter, and Nancy Linde’s “Nova” program“Cancer Warrior,” about the lifeand work of cancer researcher JudahFolkman. I also played a modest role inkeeping television science journalismalive. But I did it by moving from “Nova”(PBS’s flagship “science” series) to workat “Frontline” (PBS’s flagship publicaffairs series.)“Frontline,” known for its in-depthcoverage of current issues, is an oasisof quality television journalism in adesert of fairly desperate news magazineshows. While “Frontline” generallyreports on topics such as terrorismand political scandals, from time totime they take on critical scientific issuesinvolving medical, educational orenvironmental controversies.In 1993, I set out to make a film for“Frontline” called “Prisoners of Silence”about a controversial (and bogus) newteaching technique that claimed tounlock the hidden literacy of autisticchildren. That experience was so positivethat it resulted in a long relationshipwith “Frontline,” a relationshipthat has allowed me to once againpractice true television science journalism.During the 1990’s, while mostscience producers were obliged (willinglyor unwillingly) to craft timelessfilms about mummies and aircraft carriers,I had the good fortune to workfor a series in which topicality matters.Each year I was assigned the controversydu jour—silicone breast implants,climate change, genetically modifiedfood, power line electromagnetic fields,tobacco, Gulf War illness, and nuclearenergy.I have “Frontline’s” executive producers,David Fanning and MichaelSullivan, to thank for this renaissancein my career. If they have realized thevalue of in-depth science journalismfor unpacking a complex modern controversy,I have learned an enormousamount about the values of ethicalpublic affairs journalism—values suchas honesty and fairness. I have becomeinterested not just in the science at thecore of a controversy, but in the psychologicalreasons why people holdthe beliefs they do, whether they’remistaken or correct. I have learned thatthe task of communicating messagesthat people don’t want to hear—notbecause they are bored but because itconflicts with their current belief system—isamong the most interestingchallenges for a science journalist.Most important, the move to publicaffairs helped me to find a solution tothe problem that has plagued the sciencedocumentary from its origins—getting an audience to care about sciencein the first place. Television is avery complex medium, and there are amillion tricks that skilled producersNieman Reports / Fall 2002 33


Science Journalismuse to tell stories. But at the bottom,effective communication depends ongetting some emotional leverage withthe audience. This can be done byinvoking the awe and fear that an earthquakeor volcano elicits, or with theexcitement of fast cars and aircraft carriers,or by telling a morbid mysteryabout mummies. But, in my view, it’smore interesting to do it with livingpeople.So what is the emotional potentialof living scientists? The minimum emotionnecessary to get someone to listenis enthusiasm. Feynman demonstratedthis just by projecting his love of science.Strong narratives, like “Addict,”in which scientific tension and emotionalconflict converge, evoke otheremotions that audiences relate to.Intense controversies, however,reach emotional spaces that films aboutmummies, volcanoes and astrophysicscan’t penetrate. When a group of peoplefeel their children are dying from someagent in the environment, they arescared and angry. Their predicamentgrabs our attention. When a powerfulgroup of lawyers takes on a powerfulcorporation in court, we wonder whois going to win. As we, the audience,get drawn into a controversy, and cometo feel as though we know the protagonists,we are motivated to learn moreand more about the issues that are soimportant to them and their situations.Often in the telling of a raging controversy,with plausible arguments onboth sides, it can be very difficult toknow whom should we trust. While formost of my career I have bemoanedmost scientists’ lack of color, I no longercomplain so loudly. In an expository“Nova” about astrophysics, a scientist’slack of charisma might be a big handicap.But in an intensely controversialfilm, filled with skilled dueling advocatesfrom politicians to plaintiff lawyers,moments of “dullness” can be avirtue. In a stormy debate, viewers seeka credible moral compass, someonethey are willing to believe. A mildmanneredscientist, who appears tohave reasons and evidence for his orher conclusions, can fill that role. Remarkably,in my “Frontline” films I havefound that modest—and yes, dull—scientists often become the heroes ofthe story.As the newspapers continually remindus, modern technology bringsrisks as well as benefits. Do power lineelectromagnetic fields or cell phonescause cancer? Is it safe to move nuclearwaste on America’s highways? Shouldtherapeutic cloning be banned? Is margarinesafer than butter? Are coffee andsaccharine dangerous? What levels ofozone emissions should the EPA set? Isgenetically modified food sufficientlywell regulated? Should surgeons beallowed to transplant organs fromtransgenic pigs into humans? Shouldpost-menopausal women take hormonereplacement therapy? There aredozens of such questions that are complex,fascinating and important.Three decades ago, the producerswho pioneered television science documentarythought that what they weredoing might help citizens to betternavigate the modern world. This remainsthe most important justificationfor what I do. And while I realize thatmummies and volcanoes will probablycontinue to dominate what viewers seeon television, I would like to make aplea that we should keep televisionscience journalism alive. If we lost thesevarious windows into our scientificjourney, we’d miss them. ■Jon Palfreman has made more than40 BBC and PBS documentariesincluding the Peabody Award-winning“Nova” series “The MachineThat Changed the World,” the EmmyAward-winning “Nova,” “SiameseTwins,” and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Batonwinner,“Harvest of Fear.” He is theonly television producer ever toreceive the prestigious Victor CohnPrize for Excellence in MedicalScience Reporting. In 1996,Palfreman left WGBH to set up hisown production company, thePalfreman Film Group, Inc., inLowell, Massachusetts.jpalfreman@pfgmedia.comRadio’s Relentless Pace Dictates Different Coverage‘The doing of science is rich territory for radio, since it’s full of sound, if not fury.’By Christopher Joyce“The universe is flat so that the totaldensity of the universe throughoutis equal to the critical density.”Hmmm. Maybe this needs some moreexplaining. Try reading the followingparagraph, carefully, so that you understandit.“If the composition of the universeconsists only of matter and no otherforms of energy, then there is a densityknown as the critical density whichdivides an open universe which is foreverexpanding from a closed universewhich expands to a point, then eventuallycontracts due to the self-gravity ofthe matter contained within it, and thein-between position between open andclosed is, as I say, a universe with acritical density, is what is called a flatuniverse.”Get it now?Did anyone read back over a sentenceor two? Well, you cheated. Inradio, you can’t do that. A radio story is34 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science Journalisma train that doesn’t stop. You get on atthe beginning. If you get off, wavegoodbye—you don’t get back on again.The speaker above was a physicistexplaining a hypothesis about the cyclicalexpansion and contraction of theuniverse. To be fair, I should note thatafter about 15 minutes of this, thephysicist did manage to get the NationalPublic Radio reporter interviewinghim to understand what he wastalking about. But the passage abovegot left on the cutting room floor (actuallythe digital recycle bin, but newsroomclichés die hard). In fact, most ofthe interview never made it to air. Thereporter had to script the difficult conceptsin language the listener couldunderstand and use whatever intelligibletape he could salvage from theinterview to a.) add insight or offeranalogy and b.) show the listener thatthe reporter did actually interview thescientist whose work was becomingnews.Herein lies one of the difficulties ofwriting about science on the radio.Radio is the most ephemeral form ofmass media. Once the story starts, itunrolls without pause. It waits for noperson, cosmologists included.In print (the domain where I learnedjournalism), the words stay put on thepage. The reader can go back and reread,if confused. The rest of the articlewill wait. Although television sharesradio’s linear inexorability, there areimages to focus the mind and flesh outideas. After the narrator’s words havefled, the associated image might remainon the screen, allowing the viewerto chew over the idea being presentedat least for a few extra moments. Inthese venues, there is a more deliberatepace: The moving finger writes,and having writ, moves on.Moreover, the newspaper or magazinereader has made a commitment.Often, money has been paid for theprivilege of reading this page full ofprint, which fills the reader’s field ofvision and does a fairly good job ofblotting out distractions. Likewise, thetelevision screen glues the eye andmind to that square box of movingimages. If you don’t think it commandsattention, try interrupting a 10-yearoldwatching a favorite Saturday morningcartoon.Radio, however, is fraught with competition.Its strength—that one can doother things while listening—is also itsgreatest peril. The baby needs changing.The kettle is boiling. That garbagetruck on the right is making a dangerouslywide turn. Miss 10 seconds andyou’ve lost the thread.A radio journalist is Scheherazade,risking her head should the king yawnand change the station. This relentlessforward motion is particularly hard onscience stories, where complicatedconcepts and unfamiliar terminologyabound. Science calls out for backgroundinformation. A story about educationreform or a coal mine rescuedoesn’t require anyone to understandneurochemistry or plate tectonics. Butscience journalists do report on thosesubjects, and that often requires a“pocket tutorial”—the one- or two-sentenceexplanation of that basic principleof biology or physics that theconsumer needs first to understandthe news in this particular science story.That’s fine for print. But radio eschewsstops and starts, parentheticals,dependent clauses. The well-turnedradio story is like the chassis of a sleeksports car: no gewgaws and curlicues.Simple declarative sentences. To thepoint. Punchy.This is doable. But the price is paidin lost detail. I spoke at a seminar forbiologists and environmental scientistswho complained that the press in generaland broadcast media in particulardon’t report the nuances of their work.I played a tape of the interview with thephysicist, and I think some of themunderstood why we sometimes gloss.And some did not, because scientistslive in a world where every point andcounterpoint must be discussed. Whenthey write scientific papers, they arelike chess players in mid-game: Eachmove is a potential mistake that couldexpose an error—and their egos—tocompetitors, who will gleefully pounceon them. So no detail of method, nocitation of previous work goes unmentioned:“Picking the fly shit out of thepepper,” as one seasoned science journalistonce described it.No journalist can or should matchthat attention to scientific detail. Remember,we’re trying to get people toput down People magazine and payattention to us, instead. And that goesdouble for the tumbling tumbleweedsthat are radio stories.Even with all of these difficulties, Iwould never go back to print. For everyscientific detail I must leave by thewayside, there is a joy that’s unique toradio—the human voice, for example.Since Homo sapiens invented language,we have learned about life from listeningto stories told by the human voice.Since we were babies, we have listenedto stories: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,story-wise. And in radio, wehave the voices of the experts, thescientists themselves, to convince ourlisteners of the truth behind the storieswe tell.The medium is also wonderful inpresenting the way science is done.The process of science can be fascinating,and it humanizes scientists, yet it’soften ignored by science writers intenton reporting only the results of research.The doing of science is richterritory for radio, since it’s full ofsound, if not fury. Pick the scientist tomatch the sound: boot-sucking mud,wind tunnels, birdcalls, scuba tanks,telescope gears, even gene-sequencingmachines. (If someone figures outwhat kind of sound mathematiciansmake, please call.)So how does one adjust to writescience for radio? Well, the first thing isto write short, declarative sentenceswith active verbs. When you interviewscientists, realize that you don’t haveto “dumb down” the concept. Complicatedand abstract ideas are fine; justeliminate complicated and abstract language.Embrace analogy. Eschew jargonand long-winded explanations.Remember that if the listener pushesthe “pause” button in her head to figureout what you or your source reallymeant, she’s stopped listening to thestory.Here’s an excerpt from a story byNational Public Radio science reporterDavid Kestenbaum. He tackled a toughidea: why scientists say the universe isflat.Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 35


Science JournalismKestenbaum: “Now for those of usreared in three dimensions, curvedspace is impossible to visualize. Sopretend the universe is two-dimensional,like a piece of paper. If thepaper is curved into a ball, like thesurface of the Earth, then two peoplewalking north and parallel would meetat the North Pole. Alternately, the universecould be bent like a Pringlespotato chip. Then parallel lines wouldmove away from each other. But theuniverse appears to be flat, like a tabletop,so parallel lines go on and on andon. Such geometrical perfection is odd,says Caltech physicist Andrew Lang.”Lang: “The flat geometry is unstable,and so for it to be still flat after over 10billion years of evolution tells us that inthe very, very early universe, somethingmust have driven it—must havedriven the geometry of space to beprecisely flat.”Kestenbaum: “Fortunately, sciencehas an answer, an idea called inflation,the invention not of Alan Greenspan,but of Alan Guth, a physicist at MIT.”Guth: “Inflation really gives us adescription of the driving force behindthe big bang itself. And the key featurethat’s responsible for the flatness issimply the fact that inflation does whatthe name suggests. It causes the universeto expand by an unbelievablylarge factor. And when you take somethingthat’s curved, say a tennis ball,and you imagine expanding it to something,say, the size of the Earth, it looksflat, the surface of the Earth looks flatto us.”Kestenbaum: “Guth’s basic theory isgospel these days, so most physicistsare more relieved than surprised whenthey see data suggesting a flat universe.”A creditable job, made far more accessiblethan it might have been by theclever use of analogy and, most important,visual images. Remember, radio isactually a visual medium. If the reportercan create a little movie in thelistener’s head, then the two of themhave formed a willing—and hopefullyhappy—collaboration. ■Christopher Joyce reports on sciencefor National Public Radio. He spent10 years as the U.S. correspondentand then U.S. editor of the Britishweekly magazine, New Scientist.cjoyce@npr.orgTeaching Journalism Students to Report on ScienceThey learn how to put science into its broader economic and social context.By Douglas StarrOnce upon a time science writingwas simple: A reporterwould read published studiesin the scientific literature and writeabout the latest wonder of research ormiracle of medicine.Things have gotten more complicatedsince those early days of sciencejournalism. The spread of pollution,the Vietnam war, the Chernobyl meltdown,the Challenger explosion, theemergence of AIDS and antibiotic-resistantbacteria have all revealed adarker, more vulnerable side of science.This is not to say science hasgone bad: Our lives have been extendedthrough medical advances and improvementsin diet and made moreconvenient with personal computersand inventions so ubiquitous we takethem for granted. Science has becomea complex story that can no longer beportrayed as an isolated or idealisticpursuit. What happens in science affectsus all and is influenced—evenshaped—by money, special interests,and politics. In short, we need to reportscience as part of the real world.Given that reality, we teach ourgraduate students at the Knight Centerfor Science and Medical Journalism atBoston University to view science in amore interwoven way than it was reportedin the old days. Increasinglyour discussions focus on context—fleshing out the scientific, economicand social aspects of issues to illuminatetheir relevance and meaning.A few years back, students in sciencejournalism courses would be asked tofind newsworthy journal articles and“translate” them for the public. Nowadays,we no longer do this exercisesince the most skillful journalists act asanalysts, not translators. That is not tosay that reporters shouldn’t follow theliterature—with extensive science backgrounds,most of our students alreadydo. But rather than focus their work ona single study, our students use suchreports as a point of departure forinterviews and other research to revealthe broader currents in the field.In doing so, they investigate thework on several levels. First, they fleshout the intent of the study—for example,whether it demonstrates correlationor causation, a straightforwarddistinction that reporters sometimesmiss. They determine whether a study’sconclusions follow logically from themethods. (You’d be surprised how oftenthey don’t.) They challenge thestatistics: When a study reports a 50percent increase in brain cancer amonglaboratory rats exposed to a certainchemical, the results might soundalarming until the reporter asks aboutthe sample size. If the researcher re-36 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science Journalismplies “three,” the finding is less significant.They also ask contextual questionsabout how this particular study compareswith others in the field. Whatsimilar studies have come before? Howis this one different? And perhaps mostimportantly: How does this study addto or contradict the existing body ofscientific opinion? Such questions situatethe work and help separate genuinenews from institutional or mediaspin.Nowhere is context-setting moreimportant than in medical and nutritionreporting. Readers infer advicefrom our articles, whether or not weintend it. Plagued by fad diets andsimplistic solutions, consumers areoften confused by successive articlessuggesting conflicting advice. For thisreason, it’s especially important to spellout the difference between a definitivestudy and a work in progress and tocompare the current work to the broadconsensus of scientific opinion.Two questions are particularly helpful:1. Are the studies so powerful thatreaders should change their medication,diet or behavior?2. What would be the effect of changingthose behaviors versus keepingthem as they are?The perils of ignoring such questionsbecame apparent in a cover storylast summer in The New York TimesMagazine. This bold and contrarianarticle alleged that the conventionalfood pyramid we’ve come to rely onactually has caused the national obesityepidemic, and as a solution resurrectedthe largely discredited Atkinshigh-protein diet. The article presentedan intriguing theoretical case, but leftout the evidence that the readers needmost—definitive studies showing theAtkins diet to be safe and effective. Thearticle did indicate that a few preliminarystudies suggested that the Atkinsdiet caused weight loss, but none ofthose studies had been published orpeer-reviewed. Nor did the article includecrucial information about thepeople who had taken part in thosestudies—how many people participated,under what conditions, whetherthey had particular health problems orother characteristics, and whether theresults could be generalized to otherpeople. Yet the argument came throughin such an unequivocal tone that somepeople who read the article later reportedchanging their eating habits toone that most nutritionists would considerunhealthy.Such contrarian articles are popularamong editors—they’re surprising andedgy. But they misserve the public ifthey substitute one simplistic explanationfor another. The best such storiesinvite readers to cast aside preconceptionsand see an issue with moresubtlety and depth.It’s not always reporters who leadreaders astray. In the increasingly privatizedworld of corporate and universityresearch, the release of informationmay have more to do with money thanscientific relevance. Last January, forexample, PPL Therapeutics, the Britishcompany that cloned Dolly the sheep,issued a press release announcing thebirth of five cloned pigs whose organslacked a gene that triggers rejection.The development would represent animportant advance in the effort to transplantpig organs into human andsounded like a great story.It later turned out that the companyannounced the results before submittingthem to a peer-reviewed journal, akey filter of scientific credibility. Furthermore,an American company hadactually beaten them to the discovery.They were holding their announcementpending publication in the peerreviewedjournal Science, which wouldhappen in two days. It also was revealedthat Dolly, the cloned sheep,suffered from arthritis.Normally such developments wouldcast doubt on PPL’s cloning technologyand perhaps send the company’sstock into a decline. Yet the cleverlytimed press release short-circuited thereal story. After reporters wrote aboutthe cloned pig results, PPL stock shotup 46 percent. “The company’s spindoctors may have raised hackles in thescientific community but they undoubtedlycaught the attention of financiers,”according to the Financial Times ofLondon. Those journalists who reportedthe pig cloning as an isolatedbreakthrough became unwitting accessoriesto the company’s spin.After years of teaching about contextin science writing, my co-director,Ellen Ruppel Shell, and I have modifiedsome of our most cherished journalisticbeliefs. These include:• Balance: Traditional practiceteaches us to provide balance bygiving both sides their due. The practicemight work in stories involvingour political system, but rarely onthe science beat. Many science issueshave more than two sides; otherscannot be posited as equal andopposite sides of an argument. Onthe issue of global warming, for example,should we give as muchweight to the handful of naysayersknown to be supported by the fossilfuel industry as we give to the morethan 2,000 climatologists from 120countries represented on the IntergovernmentalPanel on ClimateChange?The answer is not merely topresent these opinions, but to weighthem. The majority opinion mightnot always be right, but it is importantto state where the consensus ofscientific opinion lies and reveal thesources of support of the variousopinion-makers. This contextualreporting avoids the “he says, shesays” dilemma of traditional reportingand gives readers a true sense ofbalance by providing depth.• Uncertainty: Most editors shy awayfrom uncertainty, worried that itleads to vague, unfocused stories.We encourage students to pursue it.Areas of uncertainty represent thecutting edge of science and provideinsights into scientific debate. Partof what makes the global warmingdebate so compelling, for example,is what society should do given theuncertainty about the dimensionsof the problem.• Complexity: “Boil it down,” is theadvice of most editors, and we agreethat clarification is essential. Yet toignore complexity is to present onlyNieman Reports / Fall 2002 37


Science Journalisma partial and, at times, misleadingstory. Such was the case last winter,when scientists reported that certainparts of the Antarctic ice sheetwere thickening. As journalist KeayDavidson of the San FranciscoChronicle points out, some newspaperssimplistically editorialized thatthe findings cast doubt on the theoryof global warming. Actually, the findingsshed light on the incrediblycomplex movement of polar icesheets, including the likelihood thatglobal warming will produce unstableweather patterns.The requirement to report sciencein context creates a lot of extra work forour students, but it has helped themwrite in a probing and sophisticatedway. Some years ago, one of our graduatestudents was working on a storyabout the PCB pollution in the harborof New Bedford, Massachusetts. Localpeople had tried for years to get theEPA to pay attention to the problem.Their efforts were finally rewarded withan indictment against the polluter anda cleanup of the harbor. No sooner hadthe cleanup begun than they bitterlyprotested the incinerator the EPA wasusing to destroy the harmful chemical.Fleshing out the science, our studentfound that the kind of high-temperatureincinerator the EPA installeddid in fact destroy the PCB’s. Still, theprotests continued. Not wanting towrite a typical “he said, she said” article,this student searched deeper formeaning in the city’s economic andsocial history. He learned about NewBedford’s prosperous whaling days andits subsequent downward spiral. Herealized that the present-day Portuguesefishing community had seen onepromise after another of prosperityand urban renewal fade away. In theireyes the EPA was no different from thefactory owners—just one more groupof outside experts who claimed to knowwhat was best for the town.The story wasn’t only about whetherfumes from the incinerator were poisoningthe neighbors. Underlying thesefears was a trail of broken promisesand betrayal. It was the story of a localcommunity who had learned to trustno one—even the agency that wasworking to improve their lives.The story appeared as the cover articlefor a regional Sunday magazine.The arduous process it took to piece itsmeaning together illustrated a valuablelesson: The relentless search forcontext leads us closer to the truth. ■Douglas Starr is co-director of theKnight Center for Science and MedicalJournalism at Boston University.dstarr@bu.eduMeshing Science, Money and Politics in a Book AboutAIDS Vaccines‘Narrative was an obvious tool for approaching such a story….’By Patricia ThomasIt was October 1996 when the ideaof writing a book about AIDS vaccinescame to me during an earlymorning shower. I was working on aHarvard Health Letter story about theyear’s top medical advances, and highon the list was the dramatic, life-savingimpact of new drug cocktails for HIV/AIDS. I remembered the early 1980’s,when many journalists weren’t surewe would ever be writing a good newsstory about treatments for this horriblenew disease. Now that scientists hadaccomplished this miracle, why didn’twe have an AIDS vaccine—a productthat could protect against HIV infectionin the first place?I never imagined that answering thisquestion would consume the next fiveyears of my life. Nor did I anticipatethat in this story, science would beinextricably linked with big businessand with politics on a grand scale.Because of this story’s expansive contextand my decision about how best totell it, my book, “Big Shot: Passion,Politics, and the Struggle for an AIDSVaccine,” would be unlike anythingelse I had written.Reading the scientific literature isalways a good place to begin such areporting journey. Journal articles andrelated news coverage led me to conceiveof this story as a man vs. bug tale,in which the central issue was the technicalchallenge of making a vaccineagainst a highly mutable virus that attacksthe very cells meant to defendagainst infection. I put together a list ofleaders in the field and hit the roadwith notepad and tape recorder, goingto scientific conferences and setting upinterviews at companies, universitiesand government laboratories.From the start, experts wanted totalk about a lot more than the scientificdifficulties of designing HIV vaccines.Dozens of people told how politics,money and the culture of science itselfhad all been roadblocks to vaccine development.And, without my asking,they all brought up an event in June1994, when the National Institutes ofHealth (NIH) pulled back from whatwas expected to be the world’s firstefficacy trial—a clinical study largeenough to demonstrate whether eitherof two vaccines could protect thousandsof high-risk volunteers againstinfection.38 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science JournalismNIH’s decision was applauded byresearchers who thought these specificvaccines were worthless. The products’sponsors vehemently disagreed. Othersin the field were angry with NIH’sdecision because the reaction of manydrug companies was to downsize orcancel their HIV vaccine programs,believing that the government couldnot be trusted as a business partner.Regardless of where vaccine insidersstood on the wisdom of this decision,they couldn’t stop talking about it.They agreed about only one thing: Eventually,huge clinical trials would beneeded to arrive at a safe, effectivevaccine to prevent AIDS.At this point, I was six months intomy research. Although no experimentalAIDS vaccine had yet entered anefficacy trial—the final step in clinicaltesting—dozens had been tested insmall Phase I trials aimed at demonstratingsafety. This is of paramountimportance because vaccines, unliketherapeutic drugs, are given to peoplewho are healthy. It seemed to me thatthe world would be far closer to havinga vaccine to prevent AIDS if more candidateshad been tested in more peopleearlier on. I knew this was going to bean important theme in whatever Iwrote, although I hadn’t a clue whereit would fit in.About this time I heard that researchersat the NIH Clinical Center wereenrolling volunteers in a Phase I test ofa new kind of vaccine against HIV. DNAvaccines were the hot technology ofthe moment; I had interviewed theinventor and understood the product,and I was game to enroll myself in thistrial. My family was opposed becausethey didn’t want me to be a guinea pig,and some friends thought it was inappropriatefor a journalist to becomeinvolved a story in such a personal way.After three decades in journalism, Iwas certain that I could tell the storiesof competing research teams in a fairmindedway, even if I had rolled up mysleeve for a product made by one ofthem. So I went ahead with the trialand got my first shot during Thanksgivingweek of 1997.That same week, the auction of mybook proposal was a dismal failure. Ihad pushed aside a mother lode ofmaterial about power and money andpolitics and stuck to my preconceivednotion of a man vs. bug story. At thesame time, my agent had urged me towrite a first-person narrative in whichmy participation in the vaccine trialwould be front and center. My proposalwas a mishmash of technical jargonand reluctant memoir. “Why wouldanyone want to read this?” editors askedme, when my agent and I cabbed fromone publishing house to the next inNew York. Apparently, I didn’t have agood answer.In an article about narrative journalism,Pulitzer Prize-winning sciencewriter Jon Franklin [see Franklin’s storyon page 8] once advised reporters totell the story they have, not the storythey wish they had. With his wordsposted on the bulletin board over mydesk, I once again burrowed into myfiles and 11 months of notes from interviewsand scientific conferences.There was a dramatic story embeddedsomewhere in all this material, and itwasn’t simply about AIDS vaccines.There were larger points to be madeabout how science was done—and notdone—in late 20th century America.Narrative was an obvious tool forapproaching such a story, but what didI know about narrative? Accustomed toworking as a traditional, “just the facts,ma’am” science writer, my carefullyprepared questions had delved intothe minutia of AIDS vaccine research. Ialmost never asked about a person’shopes or fears or about how anger andelation played out in the lab, clinic, orboardroom. My notes about settingswhere the action took place, or abouthow people looked, weren’t especiallyvivid.So I set off again, to gather the reportingI’d need to create a narrativethread. It took nearly another year forme to re-interview dozens of sources,going for story as well as substance,and to incorporate this material into asecond book proposal. This one faredmuch better than the first. Over thenext two years, as I worked to finish“Big Shot,” my interviews probed boththe science and the scientists, and thefinancial and political pressures thatshaped their work. In the end, thisturned out to be a story with lots ofcolorful characters, some laughs, a fewtears, a dash of suspense, and someappalling behavior by people whoshould know better.What the book does not contain is asingle word about the trial I participatedin at NIH. Eventually the studycoordinator called to say I had gottenthe vaccine, not the placebo, and that itappeared safe but otherwise not verypromising. Although I jumped on thenarrative train and hacked away at thespaghetti tangle of science, businessand politics, I never wrote about mypersonal experiences as a vaccine volunteer.Still a traditionalist at heart, Istuck with the old-fashioned view thatthe reporter is not the story. ■Patricia Thomas is the visitingscholar at the Knight Center forScience and Medical Journalism atBoston University for 2002-2003 andis the former editor of the HarvardHealth Letter. Her book, “Big Shot:Passion, Politics, and the Strugglefor an AIDS Vaccine” (PublicAffairs,New York, September 2001) won theLeonard Silk Journalism Award as awork in progress.pthomas@tiac.netNieman Reports / Fall 2002 39


Science JournalismThe Science of Producing FoodAs science’s role in the food chain increases, journalists need to ‘get it right.’By Anne FitzgeraldEvery spring, P.W. Maher plantedcorn with precision, droppingseed so he could row the croptwo ways—from one end of the field tothe other and from side to side. Comefall, he would select the best ears forthe next year’s seed. Tying them togetherwith husks, two at a time, hewould hang ears of corn on nailspounded into the crossbeams of a farmbuilding, high overhead and well outof raccoons’ reach.Farming in Iowa was like that a centuryago: simple, slow, precise. Beforehybridization and mechanization, it wasalso an act of faith. You plowed, plantedand prayed for a good crop. Science,meaning nature, was left to work itsmagic. Harnessing it meant watchingthe sky, reading the Farmer’s Almanac,and keeping your fingers crossed. Inthose days, people produced much oftheir own food—gardening, canning,butchering and baking—or at leastbought locally, making do with whatthe land allowed.Producers now practice precisionfarming, employing Global PositioningSystem (GPS), biotechnology andspreadsheets. Consumers—short ontime and full of demands—expect highqualityfood that is safe, convenientand cheap.Food today is a far cry from the farmfreshproduce of generations past. Fromtop to bottom, scientific discoveriesare revolutionizing the food chain.While much of the world’s food still isgrown on a small scale and consumedlocally, increasingly food production isa science-based business controlled bymassive, multinational corporationsracing to unlock the genetic secrets ofplants and animals and to control theirdiscoveries by patenting them.Readers wonder what this meansabout the food they eat. They want toknow what’s in their food and whetherit is safe. They want to know aboutAn Iowa field packed with corn plants reflects the intensity of modern farming. Scientificdiscoveries have made it possible to use corn and other crops as vehicles for producingall sorts of products, including pharmaceuticals. Photo by Anne Fitzgerald.changes in the food chain, but theywant someone else to sort out thescience. They want reliable, unbiasedinformation about what they eat anddrink. They expect journalists to providethis information and explain howthe genetic revolution is affecting foodproduction and processing.Why, then, in this age of biology, donews organizations give science suchshort shrift, or worse, get it wrong?Certainly, science can be complicated,technical and difficult to understand,particularly for journalists moreschooled in sentence structure, sequenceof tenses, and the public’s rightto know than functional genomics andthe differences between DNA and RNA.Also, science stories take time to developand are hard to photograph—two drawbacks in a business wherequick, simple and scintillating sells. Ofcourse, journalists reflect the generalpopulation in knowing little about science.But as science’s role in the foodchain has grown, so has the need toreport on it and to get it right.The Knowledge GapLast year, during the outbreak of footand-mouthdisease in the United Kingdom,there was a national debate overwhether to vaccinate livestock againstthe highly contagious disease, ratherthan slaughtering thousands of animalsthat had shown no symptoms. JoeBrownlie, head of the infectious diseaseand pathology department atLondon’s Royal Veterinary College, saidvaccinating cattle was not like vaccinatinga dog, meaning that it would bemore difficult and costly with a lesscertain outcome.“Professor Brownlie says ‘No’ to vaccination”was posted on the BBC’s Website. The professor said the headlinedidn’t capture his meaning. In fact, hefound it misleading. “It’s a serious issue,because journalists are so power-40 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


ful,” Brownlie said. “They shape perceptions,and no one’s ever held toaccount. No one ever does a postmortem.”Later, after the UK had been declaredfree of foot-and-mouth disease,two sheep were found with antibodiesto the virus. A reporter mistakenly tookthat to mean there was another outbreakof the disease. Brownlie explainedthat was not the case. So, thereporter persisted, how had the sheepcaught the antibodies? Brownlie repliedthat animals don’t “catch” antibodies;they produce the specializedproteins to neutralize antigens, or foreignsubstances in the body.“I am really very concerned aboutthe gulf in scientific understandingamong journalists. It is just monstrouslybad,” Brownlie lamented one day lastspring, sitting in his office, 20 milesnorth of London, surrounded by scientifictexts, a collection of news clipsfrom the foot-and-mouth disease crisisclose at hand.This British vet knows that the publicgenerally does not understand science,and he believes journalists, similarlyuninformed, are unwilling toeducate themselves. “The public wouldrather a simple lie than a complextruth,” he says, citing Alexis deTocqueville. “It seems to me that’swhere we are, and I don’t know howwe get over it.”His lament is common. Food andagricultural experts—and not just scientists—oftencomplain about howbadly reporters botch scientific information.What can we do about this?How can we do science justice and getit right, while winning readers?Start with something ordinary, likebreakfast—cereal produced from geneticallyengineered crops; berries,bananas and peaches, likely treatedwith pesticides, and milk from cowsinjected with synthetic growth hormonesand fed transgenic grain. Nextup—crops engineered to deliver pharmaceuticals,from insulin to contraceptives,crops in which science, healthand medicine merge.It is essential for journalists to realizethat factors fueling changes in thefood chain—the pace, the depth andbreadth of changes, the cost, the complexityand the controversy—all arelinked somehow to science.Science and NatureObserve the world around us and seescience at work. Take the corn growingjust outside my kitchen window on 50acres of gently rolling, rich blackfarmground that yields a sweet scentwith the spring thaw. In mid-April, ahuge tractor costing as much as a housepulls into the field. In P.W. Maher’stime, it would have taken a farmer witha team of horses several days to plantthe field; today, it takes but a few hours,even though thousands more seedsare planted per acre.No scientific advances, however, cancorrect the unusually cool, wet weather.Luckily, the farmers planted ahead ofthe rains and used seed corn capable ofsitting in the ground for weeks untilsoil warmth triggers germination. Bythe Fourth of July, corn that a generationago would have been knee high ishead high. Our biennial privacy fenceof dark green, leafy corn is in place fora summer of grilling and late-nightstargazing.Although I grew up on a centralIowa farm, I cannot describe in detailwhat it is that makes plants do whatthey do, much less the ways in whichplants are being transformed into factoriesfor human and animal pharmaceuticals.I decide to get a closer look at sciencein action and plow my ownground, planting two dozen tomatoplants that sit in soil for weeks, stalledby cool, wet weather. In May, the plantsperk up one day, only to droop andwither the next, victims of a late springfrost. I plant again, doubling the count,assuming a 50 percent survival rate.Wrong again. By mid-summer, tomatoeshave taken over the garden—ajumble of leafy vines. I plant lettuceseeds too tiny to be dropped one byone, as the package instructs, and getlanky lettuce because the plants are socrowded together. Then I open a packageof radish seeds, which says that theseeds are patented, bringing me backto the genetic revolution.Covering the GeneticEngineering DebateScience JournalismIn the mid-1990’s, U.S. farmers beganplanting soybeans genetically engineeredto tolerate application of a popularherbicide called Roundup. Withinjust a few years, the majority of U.S.soybean acreage was planted with thebiotech-based seed, and growers incountries such as Argentina were plantingthe seeds. Genetically engineeredcorn followed.Critics believe the crops have thepotential to harm the environment andhuman health. But proponents contendthe crops are good for the environment,in part because they can reducethe need for pesticides and reducerisk of ground water contamination.Supporters also believe the crops aresafe for human consumption. They arguethat “sound science” should be thearbiter of regulatory wrangling andtrade disputes, but what does thatmean? Do they mean science that confirmstheir own views or scientific analysisfree of emotional, fear-inducingclaims? And how do we, as journalists,sort through increasingly complex andvociferous arguments to present reliable,current information to our readers?A journalist’s job is to pursue thetruth and inform the public. But if wedon’t understand science well enoughto know the hard questions to ask,then we risk giving readers misleadingor erroneous information. We need tobe on guard against both grandioseclaims and unsubstantiated criticism.We need to know who pays for researchand watch for conflicts of interest.We also need to be reading theliterature—scientific journals, the mainstreampress and alternative publications,both in print and online. And weneed to be aware of the vast differencein attitudes toward food, agricultureand science. U.S. and European consumers,for instance, differ in theirviews of transgenic crops in the foodchain—a difference with ramificationsfor farmers, processors, regulators, retailersand world trade.Science is sometimes learned bestby doing, so at every opportunity I getNieman Reports / Fall 2002 41


Science Journalismout of the office and into laboratories,fields and food processing plants totalk with those actually making scientificdiscoveries and applying them. Ialso talk to those who shun souped-upscience and to consumers who increasinglydrive decisions in the food chain.Many Saturday mornings during thegrowing season, I roam the downtownDes Moines farmers’ market, one ofthe biggest in the country. I note consumers’comments and visit with growerswho produce food the old-fashionedway—simply, slowly, precisely.Before dawn on 26 consecutive Saturdays,from mid-May through October,Cindy Madsen leaves her farmsteadin Audubon County and drives80 miles to the market where she sellsfree-range eggs, antibiotic-free pork,and other farm-fresh foods. By midmorning,she sells out of some products.So do Neil Sauke, who bakesbread for a living, and Larry Cleverley,who grows lettuce, garlic and beans.Last spring, Cleverley struggled to raisea lettuce crop, victimized by extremesin weather. I have had no such trouble,every few days harvesting a bundle.Into late summer, I am washing lettuceleft to grow tall and tart. Leaf byleaf, I remove soil and sorry edges,watch various shades of green emerge,Reporting on Science in South AmericaInternational coverage is good, while local research often isn’t well covered.By Marcelo LeitePart art and part science, producing food requires patience and precision. Even then, theweather and other forces determine the outcome. Photo by Anne Fitzgerald.marvel at how seeds so tiny as to bealmost imperceptible, plunked intosoggy, springtime soil, now yield lusciousgrowth bursting with vitaminsand nutrients and promising more ofthe same until the first frost.Like P.W. Maher, my grandfather, Itake my time, noting color and tasteand texture, wondering what pests haveperforated leaves, quietly enjoying whatnature has wrought. Or was it science?If we want more readers, we have tobe credible. With science, that just mighttake dirt under the nails. ■Anne Fitzgerald, a 2001 NiemanFellow, is agribusiness writer for TheDes Moines Register.fitzgeralda@news.dmreg.comThis year two major events suggesta coming of age for SouthAmerican science journalism andfor its achieving international qualitystandards. In November, the ThirdWorld Conference of Science Journalistswill take place in Brazil. And earlierin the year, two Latino editions of themost traditional U.S. science magazine,Scientific American, were launched: ScientificAmerican Latinoamérica is publishedin Spanish, printed in Mexico,and distributed in countries such asArgentina, Uruguay and Colombia; andScientific American Brasil, written inPortuguese, is now available in Brazil.What we might conclude from allthat is happening is that there is widespreaddemand in South America fornews and information about scienceand enough expertise in science journalismto provide it, as well. However,this is not quite the case. Here’s why.Currently, the Latino editions ofScientific American are hiring almostas many translators as journalists, if notmore. (It is true, however, that theBrazilian publisher, Alfredo Nastari, haspromised to fill the news hole with 50-70 percent domestically researchedstories.) The fact is that the sciencewriting jobs on this continent are fewand vanishing, and this means thatyoung journalists do not have the incentiveto choose the science beat andto put in the many extra hours of classesand readings required for such specialization.A typical science desk of a SouthAmerican daily newspaper employs twoto five journalists, although two is moretypical than five. At my newspaper,42 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science JournalismFolha de São Paulo in Brazil, I am theeditor, and I have an assistant editorand one reporter, down from threereporters in March 2000. This reductionin reporters is a result of costcuttingforced by the continuing economiccrisis in Brazil. Nevertheless,our small team remains responsiblefor covering the natural sciences andputting together a daily page (up to 50percent of which might be taken byadvertisement) in the first section, justafter the op-ed, nationaland international affairs—avery prominentlocation in a Braziliannewspaper.La Tercera in Chile,for example, relies on astaff of five science journalists.However, at thatpaper, these journalistsmight also report on suchsubjects as health, computers,environment andsociety. This mixture ofexpected expertisepushes them dangerouslyclose to the broadcategory SMEERSH (science,medicine, energy,environment, research,and all sorts of othersh—.), so named by DorothyNelkin in her 1987book, “Selling Science:How the Press Covers Scienceand Technology.”One can hardly speak ofspecialization under such circumstances.South American science journalistsstruggle hard to improve their backgroundin natural sciences, but fewopportunities are readily available.What makes this difficult is that in manySouth American nations (includingBrazil and Chile), journalists are requiredby law to study journalism beforegoing into the profession. Thosewho major in natural sciences and havea gift for writing are not allowed to joinnews staffs, and specialization coursesare seldom available. In Brazil, it wasn’tuntil 1999 that the São Paulo StateUniversity of Campinas (Unicamp) introduceda pioneering course of studyin science journalism at the graduatelevel.Often, South American science journalistsin search of specialization go toa foreign country to study. I took thisroute twice in the past 13 years. In1989, I went to Germany with a fellowshipfrom the Krupp Foundation forinternships in science media outletssuch as Bild der Wissenschaft andKosmos. In 1997-98, I went to Harvardas a Knight Latin American NiemanA story from the science page of Folha de São Paulo in Brazil.Fellow. Less than two years later I waslucky enough to get a mini-fellowshipfrom the Knight Science Journalismprogram at MIT to attend a very productiveone-week Genes & Cells BootCamp put together by BoyceRensberger. [See Rensberger’s articleon page 11.] It is probably more than ahappy coincidence that two out of 10recently named 2002-2003 Knight Fellowsat MIT come from Brazil, RuthHelena Bellinghini and AlessandroGreco. Covering annual meetings ofthe American Association for the Advancementof Science have been veryuseful crash courses for Latino sciencewriters, as well.Because of seeking such training,many science journalists working formainstream media outlets in SouthAmerica are able to perform as good ajob in science reporting as their counterpartsin North America and in Europe.With similar academic backgroundsand a good command of theEnglish language, they have access tothe same sources through Web sitessuch as http://press.nature.com orwww.eurekalert.org that are maintainedby peer-reviewed and indexedjournals. The accessrestrictedand embargoedpress digestsprovidedweekly via e-mail bythese journals usuallyindicate all kindsof contact informationto reach theleading authors ofscientific papersthroughout theworld. Becausethese alerts arrive aweek before publication,there is timeto report the storieswell. And becausewe share these similarconditions forjournalistic research,the result isoften similar sciencecoverage.This way of coveringscience has itsdownside, too.South American science journalists areoften criticized by local scientists fornot paying enough attention to researchcarried out in their own countries, andthe criticism is to a great extent welldeserved. There are too few storiesabout Brazilian scientific research inBrazilian newspapers and magazines,and this is likely true in much of SouthAmerica. This is caused not so much bysloppy reporting but because of a generaldeficiency in the circulation ofscientific information inside of thesecountries.There are no journals published inSpanish or Portuguese that comparewith publications like Nature or Science,nor is there a Latino EurekAlertNieman Reports / Fall 2002 43


Science Journalismto bring news of what is being done inSouth American labs to science journalists.And so the public does notreceive this information, either. Togather such material, reporters wouldhave to keep tabs on dozens of scatteredlabs, universities and researchinstitutes, and this is not practical to dogiven our staffing. For us, it is easier tolearn about a newsworthy piece of researchdone by a local scientist whenthe findings are published in, for example,the PNAS—Proceedings of theNational Academy of Sciences (U.S.)—than to rely on a hint or note from thepress office or PR staff at the researchinstitution. Here, there is just no traditionof working with journalists in thisway, in part because research fundingis not as tightly linked to public mechanismsof control as it is in more developedcountries.On those occasions when SouthAmerican researchers publish their findingsin a major article in an internationallyrenowned journal, the local presstends to overcompensate. It was thecase with the genome sequencing ofXylella fastidiosa (the first plant pathogento have its whole DNA sequenceunveiled) by a Brazilian team. Thesefindings made the front page of Naturein July 2000. In the Brazilian press,rivers of ink flowed in praise, as if ourcountrymen had come close to the featof sequencing the human genome,announced less than a month beforeby President Bill Clinton and PrimeMinister Tony Blair.Additional hurdles for science reportingalso turn up in the communicationwith researchers themselves.Scared off by previous shocking experienceswith unprepared reporters andnot at all accustomed to addressing thegeneral public in search of recognitionfor the social relevance of their workingsin the lab, South American scientistscan be more difficult sources thanforeign scientists. American researchers,in particular, always seem readyfor interviews and for the chance toboost the impact of their findingsamong the international scientific community(and, consequently, increasetheir citations in the database index ofthe ISI—Institute for Scientific Information.)This is a trick young SouthAmerican researchers are learningpretty fast so, on average, the situationof media access is improving.Even as the average level of sciencereporting in South America is improving,there remains a lot to be done.Quality newspapers are experiencingincreasingly low circulation rates inhighly populated countries with nomore than two million copies beingsold in Brazil, which has 170 millioninhabitants. And science pages rankamong the least read by subscribers; atFolha, the figure is about 20 percent.Too many readers complain they cannotfully understand science stories.And it is likely that even fewer would beable to recall them at all after a fewminutes.Experts on the public understandingof science are discussing the validityof scientific literacy (deficit) modelsin post-industrialized societies. Theseexperts conclude that stuffing newspaperpages with science stories is notnearly enough to enlighten and engagethe public in a true democraticdebate about the uses, abuses and risksof modern science and technology.Nevertheless, this is clearly the case inSouth America; the word “deficit” summarizeswhat is not going on betweenthe worlds of research and the publicsphere. This is of great concern whenone recognizes how often these nations’policymakers are entangled bydecisions that involve the complexitiesof issues such as transgenic foods, assistedreproduction technologies, geneticinformation privacy, and environmentaldisruption.Given this need for understandableand accurate scientific information tounderpin democratic public policydecision-making, South American journalistscannot wait any longer toprogress from “good” science reportingto the kind of independent evaluationand criticism of science that thepublic needs and deserves. ■Scanning electron micrograph, shown at about 4,000x magnification, of the bacteriumXylella fastidiosa, causal agent of the citrus variegated chlorosis, present in the xylemvessel of an infected sweet orange leaf. Photo by E.W. Kitajima (ESALQ/USP/Brazil).Marcelo Leite, a 1998 Nieman Fellow,is science editor and Sundayscience columnist for Folha de SãoPaulo (www.folha.com.br) in Brazil.Leite was the paper’s ombudsmanfrom 1994 until 1996. For moreinformation on the upcoming WorldConference go to www.abjc.org.br/congresso/default2B.asp.mleite@post.harvard.edu44 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Science JournalismListening to Scientists and JournalistsBy hearing what they say about themselves and each other, researchers try to findcommon ground to improve reporting.By Rosslyn Reed and Gael WalkerThe last third of the 20th centuryhas seen a lot of tension andconflict between scientists andjournalists about the way the mediatreat science stories. Survey researchin the United States shows remarkablecontinuity in the areas of contention.Journalists see themselves as engagingin criticism, entertainment and information.Scientists continue to wantscholarly communication and publiceducation about science and expectthis to come from journalists.Given the findings’ resilience, itseems surprising that researchers continueto propose the same sorts ofsolutions—science education for journalistsand communication skills trainingfor scientists. Many journalists (asdistinct from science writers) optedout of studying science in school, sowhen in the course of general reportingthey find themselves assigned toscience stories, they are unlikely towelcome more science study. And somescientists are reluctant starters when itcomes to interacting with journalistsand are unlikely to voluntarily undertakemedia training. Perhaps a differentapproach to the problem is needed.We have to confess to having beenignorant of this fertile field for researchuntil the late 1990’s. A former collegepublic relations colleague, who hadbeen our student in a Masters in CommunicationStudies course, contactedus about her experience and suggesteda research project to be conductedhere in Australia. From her studies andexperience as a working journalist, shecould see how easy it was for journaliststo underestimate what went intoscientific research. And when workingin public relations in a governmentagency, she had run up against journalisticreluctance to publish articles onworthy topics related to public health.When she worked in public affairs inthe private corporate sector, she foundherself battling with scientists who hadsomething of practical importance totell the public but who were reluctantto engage with everyday journalisticpractice. Hers was a coaching role, andit was very hard work.We began our research with twofocus groups—one with scientists, theother with science journalists. For scientists,it was a prerequisite to havemade some attempt to engage with themedia. We wanted concrete experiencerather than hearsay and prejudice.The scientists told us about theirgrievances. Among them were that themedia wanted to set up “fights” in thename of debate, the difficulty of gettingrisk reported accurately, and also thefrustration with rejected attempts toset the record straight when politiciansand “shock jocks” played with emotionson an issue such as recreationaldrug use by young people.Science journalists enlightened usabout the futility of convincing editorsand producers that “worthy” storieswould do well on commercial television(and even public television) whena large segment of the public turnsthem off. And they told us that whenpromos focus on sensational bits of anupcoming science report, it annoys(and embarrasses) scientists who participatedand journalists who reportedthe story. But sometimes that is simplythe price of getting a good story ontelevision current affairs. They also toldus brutally about the really “bad talent”out there among scientists.Focus Groups Sharpen theIssuesSo, where were we to go from here? Wedecided to explore a few topics in depthwith three journalists, three sciencewriters/journalists, and three scientists.We framed these discussions in termsof each group belonging to a particularoccupational community or subculturethat went back a long way and embodiedsets of principles and values thatwere integrally bound up with theirsense of professional identity. Ofcourse, the science writers had a footin each camp—science and journalism.But this intersection was usefulbecause we didn’t want to simply categorizepeople or even ideas. Wewanted to see if there was some commonground among them and if, in thiscommon ground, there were any shiftsaway from the sorts of well-recognizedtensions, conflicts and dissatisfaction.More understanding, we thought,might provide a better basis for improvement.We found that the occupationalsubcultures, or what the Frenchsociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls “habitus”(ways of holding and orientingoneself and the practical ability to copewith a wide range of situations unconsciously),went a long way in explainingthe sources of tensions. Take theterm “research” as an example. Bothgroups use similar words but with differentmeanings, and they have no ideathat this is the case. Scientists are heirsof Enlightenment thinking, and approachesto their work and the waysthey write and talk about it are generallyunconscious. Journalists are heirsof another significant social tradition.As members of the “Fourth Estate,”they regard themselves as the protectorsand watchdogs of democratic ideals.While this view is often more in theforefront of their thinking, they don’tperceive it as an obstacle to finding outthe truth (or, more accurately, the“truths”) about science.Given these orientations, once aNieman Reports / Fall 2002 45


Science Journalismsense of misunderstanding develops,each becomes wary of the other. Infact, in the name of professional integritymembers on each side can be ledinto some fairly unprofessional actions.Journalists sometimes forget their usualtools of the trade. They stop askingquestions and rely uncritically on publicityreleases. They avoid talking withscientists and resort to using stereotypicalframeworks from past reportingexperiences. Scientists also mayrefuse to speak with members of themedia by not returning calls in time tomeet publication deadlines. In termsof public accountability, some scientistsregard their responsibility for reportingtheir findings to be tograntmakers, as opposed to the publicat large, and thus don’t feel a need torespond to journalists’ queries. Journalists,with some justification, thinkthey have a role in scientists’ accountabilityto a wider public interest.Our findings were not all doom andgloom. On the contrary, we found journaliststo be as concerned about accuracyas scientists. And we found scientistsconcerned about makingknowledge accessible to audiences. Allparties were willing to suggest ways ofbridging the gulf between science andjournalism. For example, some mediasavvyscientists have suggested thatindividuals who are working togetheron a project or in a lab be given a name,such as “The X Research Group.” Thisavoids the cumbersome problem somescience stories present when researchersdemand that journalists name eachindividual associated with the researchgroup. Given space constraints, thisdemand can make it difficult for a reporterto devote the space necessary toaccurately explain the science involved.The Role of Public RelationsThere remain strongly held views onboth sides. Interestingly, public communicatorsemerged as having somepotential in reconciling the two sides,even though our research found thatthe public relations (PR) role was regardedas a source of much controversy.Journalists are critical (and sometimeswary) of the “canned” story frompharmaceutical or PR firms. Many wantto do their own reporting to avoidbeing led to a particular point of view.Others just want the story told to themand welcome the help of communicationprofessionals, especially from universities.We also heard criticism ofjournalists for failing to check storiesthey write through press releases, whichare published almost verbatim.Our research revealed a much morecomplex relationship between publiccommunication and journalism. Onescience writer suggested that scientistsare as entitled to public communicationassistance as other sectors of societyare—but they are not entitled tojust any PR. Science public relationspeople need to know more about scienceif they are to be effective. Scientistswho take up this sort of role wouldalso need to understand the needs androle of the media. As one scientist putit, “If they are going to be a link betweenthe two, they must understandboth beasts.”While deploring the use of sophisticated,slick packages and provision ofresources from private sector corporationsand consultancies, journalistswanted universities, research centers,and government departments to providethe same quality and quantity ofassistance as the private sector does inthe interests of enhanced science communication.In other words, it was thesource that was distrusted rather thanthe techniques used. If a relationshipof trust existed, journalists’ complaintswere about receiving not enough helprather than too much. At the sametime, journalists realized this was a“big ask” in the context of decliningresources for research and when scientistswere canceling subscriptions forimportant but not essential journals.Another role advocated for publiccommunication intervention was themedia training or coaching one. Thisincluded how to answer questions andpresent a news angle. Being able toanswer questions concisely helps toavoid manipulation and reduces therisk of having bits of information (oftenin sound bites) taken out of context.A content analysis of some newspapercoverage of science followed. Wechose three Australian papers—twobroadsheets (The Australian and TheSydney Morning Herald) and a tabloid(The Daily Telegraph) that carries somequality reporting. We chose June toAugust 1999, when the Pacific ScienceCongress was in Sydney. It also includedthe 30th anniversary of theApollo 11 moon landing. We looked tosee how science stories were framed.While the good reporting was more“informative” than “educational” in theview of scientists, we found plenty toincrease public understanding of science.On the other hand, there was stilla lot of stereotyping (especially of gender)and “gee whiz” emphasis on technologicalartifacts rather than additionalfocus on the explanation of importantabstract ideas and processes. Sensationalismof the “shock horror” typehadn’t gone away, but we found fewerstories of the type scientists complainedabout than we might have expected.Some suggestions for better sciencejournalism that we’d seen in earlierresearch and put forth in our own arebeing put to use in print as well astelevision. These include an improveduse of metaphors (though the tendencyto overuse them is still visible) and ofsome creative “layering” techniqueswith text, pictures and graphics. Westill think there is room for much moreresearch. Better understanding of boththe problems and what has been happeningto improve science journalismmight bring about even better suggestionsfor change. ■Rosslyn Reed is a senior lecturer insocial inquiry in the Faculty ofHumanities and Social Sciences atthe University of Technology,Sydney. As well as science and journalism,her recent research includesthe gendering of professional careersof young Australians. Gael Walker isassociate professor in public communicationin the Faculty of Humanitiesand Social Sciences at theUniversity of Technology. Her recentresearch is on evaluation of publicrelations and communicating withactivist publics.Rosslyn.Reed@uts.edu.au46 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Journalist’s TradeWith more newspapers now using graphics to display information, John Maxwell Hamilton, dean of theManship School of Mass Communications at Louisiana State University, along with several colleagues,examined how accurately USA Today—a leader in the graphics revolution—reported information in its frontpageSnapshots. Their article describes what they found.Russell Frank, who teaches journalism at Penn State University, looks at the various ways in whichnewspapers that publish narrative articles explain reporting and storytelling techniques to their readers.Despite these attempts at accountability, Frank writes, “the ultimate message … is: trust us, our reporter hasdone the legwork, it all checks out.” But Frank wonders if readers should always be so trusting.“The printed word virtually defines our society,” writes Ralph Hancox, who is a visiting professoremeritus at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Vancouver. Yet the printed word comes at high price.It is, Hancox notes, “arguably the most egregiously wasteful and obsolete industrial process of our time.” Hedescribes the devastation of natural resources and accumulation of waste that is part of the process of printingnews. ■Graphics and JournalismIn USA Today, some of its ‘Snapshots’ have not given the full picture.By John Maxwell Hamilton, David D. Perlmutter, and Emily Arnette VinesOn January 22, 1997, USA Todayran its customary Snapshot inthe lower-left corner of PageOne. Given intense feelings about thekilling of animals to make fur coats, thepaper’s lead graphic of the day qualifiedas news. According to ResponsiveManagement, cited as the source, awhopping 86 percent of adults eitherstrongly or moderately agreed that“people should be free to choose towear fur.” To get that many Americansto agree about anything is to tap intosentiments akin to those for the flag.Perhaps to convey that spirit, USAToday’s graphic artists created a nifty,attention-grabbing pie chart superimposedon Davy Crockett’s all-Americancoonskin cap. The tag line was “I’mOK, your fur’s OK.”What USA Today’s Snapshot did notreport was that the Fur InformationCouncil of America (FICA) paid ResponsiveManagement to do this poll.Had they known that, busy readersmight have stopped briefly to questionthe data. Was the survey conducted ina way that made its results completelyunbiased? Or were the numbers accuratebut ambiguous? Were Americanssaying it was okay to wear fur? Or werethey responding that freedom to choosewas an inalienable right? If the latter,wasn’t it more interesting that 11 percentwould limit fellow Americans’ freeeconomic choice in order to protectfurry creatures? That, too, would benews, but would lend itself to quite adifferent backdrop, a pie chart superimposedon a splayed Bambi.Not so long ago, newspapers hadjust about as much interest in dressingup as the Amish. But fear of losingreaders to TV and more recently to theInternet, and the advent of new graphicstechnology, has changed that. Editorsare investing in presses that printbrilliant colors, in photographic equipmentthat gets the most out of images,and bigger layout and design staffs.USA Today has been a leader in thisgraphics revolution. Along with itswidely emulated weather map, Snapshotsare a signature item. On the fivedays it publishes each week, the newspaperruns Snapshots on Page One ofeach of its four sections. “Snapshotsare part of our strategy to establish aconsistent identity for the paper, onethat sets USA Today apart from othernewspapers,” Richard Curtis, managingeditor for graphics and photography,wrote several years ago. “They area clear (some would say persistent)signal that USA Today is a visual newspaper.”Proud of its work, the newspaperuses Snapshots from the previousyear in a calendar it gives to advertisersand others.Several years ago, curious howgraphics measure up as sound journalism,we looked in detail at the Snapshotsappearing on USA Today’s frontpage during January 1997, a monthchosen at random. Intrigued by theNieman Reports / Fall 2002 47


Journalist’s Tradejournalistic failings we found, we laterlooked at two other randomly selectedmonths: April 2001 and January 2002.In our entire investigation—in whichwe checked the accuracy, clarity andsourcing of each Snapshot published—about one-third of them fell short ofestablished journalism standards.We started our analysis by assessingthe fundamental verity of journalism:getting facts right. Each of the monthswe scrutinized had 22 Snapshots. Threewere inaccurate in January 1997, fivein April 2001, and two in January 2002.A few errors were small: A January1997 graph said losses to private insurersdue to highway crashes were $82.76billion a year; in fact, they were $82.215billion. An April 2001 Snapshot reportedthat Williston, North Dakotahad a mean temperature of 40.1 degrees.The source for the graphic putthe mean temperature at 40.8 degrees.Other mistakes were more substantial.What follows are some examples:• A Yankelovich survey found that 51percent of respondents did not wanta genetic test to warn them that theywere susceptible to certain diseases;46 percent said they wanted to know.A 1997 Snapshot reversed the figures,changing the message.• On April 6, 2001, USA Today presenteda Snapshot titled “Americansfear school shootings.” No problem.The Snapshot accurately presenteddata from Gallup, which has a partnershipwith the newspaper. Butnot even three weeks later, on April24, the newspaper used the samedata again in a Snapshot with theheadline “Some Americans fearschool shootings in their community.”Worse, the second time aroundit mixed up the numbers. It reportedthat 31 percent of Americans (insteadof 13 percent) thought it “veryunlikely” that a school shootingwould occur in their community and13 percent (instead of 31 percent)considered it “very likely.”• A January 2002 graphic reported that73 percent of Americans supportthe idea of women serving in specialmilitary operations behind enemylines and 63 percent support themserving on submarines. In fact, thenumbers once again should havebeen reversed.Accuracy was only one problem welooked at in our analysis. Even thoughSnapshots, which are essentially standalonenews stories, offer an efficient,interesting way to give readers information,it is, unfortunately, difficult toprovide balance and context in onesourcenews stories. Moreover, relianceon a single, compelling graphicimage—Davy Crockett’s coonskin capis a good example—can result in misleadingoversimplification. Typical ofthese problems is a 1997 graphic aboutattitudes toward travel. It shows anairplane swerving out of control andoffers this tag line: “Just plane scared.”The rationale: 22 percent of adults areafraid to fly. With 78 percent not afraidto fly, though, the tag line might as wellas have been “Just plane safe.”An April 2001 Snapshot, which oversimplifiesa complex calculation, reportedthe number of firearm deathsduring a 20-year period. After examiningtheir files, USA Today staff believesthat the figure of 670,000 is a “conservative”estimate provided by HandgunControl, a nonprofit organizationwhose name is indicative of its agenda.Handgun Control based its 20-year estimateon 19 years of hard data fromthe Centers for Disease Control (CDC).CDC and Handgun Control are eachcited in the Snapshot, but the reader isgiven no idea how the estimate wasarrived at. In fact, the graphic does notacknowledge that it is an estimate.The desire to not clutter up thegraphics with lots of text also results inSnapshots like this one from April 2001:A survey asked respondents how muchthey would like to hear people like BillClinton and Colin Powell speak. Thecategories were “very interested,”“somewhat interested,” “not too interested,”“not at all interested,” and “noopinion.” The Snapshot combined“very interested” and “somewhat interested”in a new, nebulous categorycalled “most interested.”Yet other examples of the perils ofsimplification are two Snapshots reportingsurvey results in January 2002.Neither indicates if respondents chosefrom a list of alternatives in expressingtheir opinions or if they answered openendedquestions.Editors at USA Today are candidabout the entertainment value of Snapshots.These graphics are supposed toadd a spot of fun to the news. Theydraw people into the paper. Thenewspaper’s surveys show that graphicshave higher readership than newsstories, although editors don’t expectreaders to spend a lot of time on them.“It is a snapshot,” explained Fred Meier,a USA Today editor. “If you have to sitand stew over it, it probably hasn’tbeen done well.”Perhaps that is true. But Snapshotsshould hold up if someone does botherto think about them. Too often, however,under a little scrutiny they losecredibility . What should someone makeof the Snapshot that appeared in January2002 with the headline “Most NativeHawaiians, Pacific Islanders live inthe West?” And what about the findingthat 41 percent of the public say that“making the world a better place” is“always on their mind?” Can anythingalways be on anybody’s mind? Doesanyone never think about making theworld a better place?USA Today has an elaborate reviewprocess for Snapshots. By RichardCurtis’s count, staff members “touch”each one at least seven times and veryoften much more than that because ofthe frequency with which senior editorscheck work. Ideas for Snapshotsoriginate with news researchers, graphicseditors, and reporters. Many ideas,Curtis said, do not make it past thenews editor for graphics or BobReynolds, who is the graphics directorfor the graphics and photography department.The staff is expected to checkand double-check facts. They also aresupposed to contact unfamiliar sourcesto ensure that the data are legitimate.Checking out sources is a crucialpart of reporting, particularly whenonly one source is used in a story.Accordingly, we tried to contact eachsource used during the three monthsof Snapshots that we examined. Althoughemployees at these “source”organizations frequently said that no48 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Journalist’s Tradeone from USA Today had been in contact,this is not particularly meaningful.These organizations have manyemployees as well as personnel turnover.What we can assert is that USAToday staff sometimes does not probesources deeply.The Fur Information Council ofAmerica study is the most dramaticexample, but it is not the only one of itskind. In determining the accuracy of aJanuary 2002 Snapshot on the numberof police officers shot in the line of dutyin the previous year, we found that USAToday staff initially worked off a pressrelease from the National Law EnforcementOfficers Memorial Fund. Thefund’s PR person subsequently e-mailedat least two updates with new numbers.The fluidity of numbers mighthave suggested to the staff that they getthe report and look at it—or wait untilthe numbers were no longer preliminary(a caveat not noted in the Snapshot).But they never looked at theoriginal report.Failure to get original reports alsoled to mistakes in an April 2001 Snapshotabout the percentage of womenapplying to law school. USA Today accuratelyreported the data publishedin JD Jungle magazine. If USA Todaystaff had checked with JD Jungle, however,they would have learned that thedata came from the Law School AdmissionsCouncil (LSAC). And if they hadchecked with the LSAC, they wouldhave found that JD Jungle hadmisreported the findings.To be fair, we detected improvementin the Snapshots during our finallook in January 2002. Furthermore, welearned from Curtis that the April 2001time frame that we chose at random toinvestigate happened to coincide withthe illness of a key staffer. We wereimpressed by the attitude of the editorswith whom we spoke. “Our goal is zeroerrors,” Reynolds said. “All errors areindefensible.” After he had initiallyheard of our findings, Curtis arrangeda lunch so that one of us could talk withstaff, including one member who workswith the newspaper’s accuracy taskforce. Staff members said that they doget many calls asking for guidance onhow to reach Snapshot sources, butvery few about inaccuracies. Furtherimprovements might come as a resultof editor Karen Jurgensen’s error reductionprogram for the newspaper.In their early phase of development,journalism graphics have been akin tothe time 150 years ago when outrageoussensationalism by the pennypress ultimately led to the higher journalismstandards widely accepted today.USA Today has the glory and burdenof being a pioneer in this aspect ofcontemporary journalism. It producesmore than 1,000 Snapshots annually,and that is only a fraction of thenewspaper’s total graphics output.How it deals with this challenge ofconveying information graphically butalso accurately has significance for jour-letter, of what was said. If there areminute details of setting or behavior,the writers ask us to believe thatinterviewees remember that the jamwas apricot, not strawberry, or thatthey rolled their sleeves up, not down,on the morning of the pivotal eventsupon which hang the tale. Try to rememberyour own breakfast table benalismgenerally.Newspapers are grappling with twoserious problems. One is to attract readers.The other is to maintain credibility.The worst solution—graphics longon looks and short on substance—accentuates both problems over thelong run. And when one section of thepaper shows by its actions that it hasneglected such basics as accuracy, whois to say that other sections won’t follow?And even if they don’t, lesseningof standards in one section will leadreaders to doubt the paper’s overallreliability.Anyone inclined to dismiss this as apedantic concern should consider howseriously Responsive Managementtreated the Snapshot from the Fur InformationCouncil study. In its promotionalliterature, it boasted that its workhas appeared in USA Today. ■John Maxwell Hamilton, a formerjournalist and coauthor of “Hold thePress: The Inside Story on Newspapers,”is dean of the Manship Schoolof Mass Communication at LouisianaState University. David D.Perlmutter, author of “Photojournalismand Foreign Policy,” is on theManship faculty, and Emily ArnetteVines, a former graduate student,works at Shoot magazine. The authorsacknowledge the help of doctoralstudent Mohamed el-Bendary.jhamilt@lsu.edu‘About This Story’Newspapers work to make narrative journalism be accountable to readers.By Russell FrankWhen reporters write storiesthat read like good fiction theyinevitably arouse suspicions.Reality is messy. Speech is messy. If astory is tidy—if the plot is too seamlessor the quotes are too eloquent—thereporter probably juiced it a little.Reconstructed scenes are particularlysuspect. Instead of relying on taperecordings or notes of their own observations,reporters rely on the memoriesof the people who were there. Ifthere is dialogue, they ask us either tobelieve that interviewees recall exactlywhat was said, or to relax our definitionof a quote: It’s not (and never hasbeen) a transcript, but an approximationthat is true to the spirit, if not theNieman Reports / Fall 2002 49


Journalist’s Tradehavior and conversations from a memorableday six months or six years ago.Suspicions surrounding narrativejournalism are nothing new. “This can’tbe right,” Tom Wolfe wrote in a parodyof his detractors in 1973. “These peoplemust be piping it, winging it, makingup the dialogue…. Christ maybe they’remaking up whole scenes, the unscrupulousgeeks….”Reporters who have spent hundredsof hours asking questions and perusingdocuments don’t like being calledunscrupulous geeks. So editors areappending “About This Story” notes orboxes to narrative stories to tell readersthat the reporter spent hundreds ofhours doing just this. In some cases,the notes specify who was interviewedand which documents were consulted.If you want to know how the reporterknew all this stuff, the notes are effectivelysaying, here’s how.Two questions: Are such notes necessary?Are they sufficient?Trust UsReporters have long felt a responsibilityto enable readers—and editors—to gauge the reliability of their work byincluding information about wherethey got their material. The systemcouldn’t be simpler. Information obtainedfrom documents or via word ofmouth—interviews, speeches, statements,press conferences, and so on—will be attributed to the source. Theabsence of attribution signals that thereporter was a witness. When we readan unattributed description of thetwisted metal of a child’s bicycle andthe film of ash on the dishes in the frontyard of a house destroyed by fire, weare to understand that the reporterwas at the scene and is telling us whathe or she saw.Of course, readers are also expectedto bridge the gaps between attributions.When a story begins, “America’sinterstate highways are a mess,” andthe next paragraph refers to a report ofthe Federal Highway Administration,we are to understand that theunattributed assertion in the lead is afair summary of the report. Similarly,when a direct quote is followed byattribution, an indirect quote and anunattributed direct quote, we are tounderstand that we are hearing fromthe same speaker until a new attributiontells us otherwise.Reporters who pipe quotes or enlivenobserved scenes with imagineddetail risk being challenged by theirsources (though sources who wish theyhadn’t said what they said are likelierto complain about an accurate quotethan sources who thinks the reportermade them “sound good”), or by witnesses,including rival news accounts.Ultimately, however, it is an honorsystem to which nearly every journalistadheres. Savvy reporters usually knowwhen they can get away with a littlepoetic license while “hitchhiking,” asauthor John McPhee once put it, “onthe credibility of their more scrupulouspeers.” But not always: considerThe New York Times Magazine’s recentembarrassment when it turnedout that writer Michael Finkel hadpassed off a composite character as areal boy in a November 2001 storyabout slave labor on West African cocoaplantations.When reporters move from observingevents to reconstructing what tookplace before they came on the scene,they operate outside the rules of jour-Examples of ‘About This Story’ Boxes1.The OregonianHow We Wrote the StorySaturday, September 30, 2000By Jack Hart, Managing EditorTo report “The Boy Behind theMask,” Tom Hallman, Jr. spent hundredsof hours, over more than 10months, poring over medical records,reading Lightner family journals, hangingout at the Lightner house, attendingschool with Sam, interviewing Sam’sfriends, and twice traveling across thecountry with the family. He saw virtuallyevery important development withhis own eyes and heard every key conversationwith his own ears. As a result,relatively few scenes in “The Boy Behindthe Mask” are reconstructed, andthose are the result of careful interviewswith all key participants. Everysuch scene contains attribution to thememories of the participants. No dialogueappears within quotation marksunless Hallman heard a conversationhimself.2. The Virginian-Pilot“Love and Loss in a Navy Town”By Matthew DolanThis account is based on dozens ofinterviews, court transcripts, detectives’notes, and other documents introducedinto evidence during the trials for themurder of Michelle Moore-Bosko. Contactwriter Matthew Dolan at 757-446-2287 or mdolan@pilotonline.com.3. The Cincinnati Enquirer“Circle of Friends”About this seriesJohn Johnston, 41, has been anEnquirer features writer for nine years.This series is based on two months ofinterviews with students, faculty andparents in the Finneytown School District,who agreed to share their story.Some scenes were drawn from theiraccounts, others were witnessed byMr. Johnston. [He] welcomes your e-mail at jjohnston@enquirer.com.4. The Kansas City Star“Justice: the Christine Elkins Story”About the series50 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Journalist’s Tradenalism. Strictly speaking, every lastdetail of a reconstructed scene requiresattribution. But narrative journalistsdon’t want to quote for us what peopleremember or deduce. They want to tellus what happened as it unfolded intime. The illusion the narrative journalistis striving for is the cinematicflashback in which a character’s recollectionof events dissolves to the playingout of the events themselves. Attributionwould shatter the illusion.In a story that barrels along like afreight train, Wall Street Journal editorMike Miller told the Poynter Institute’sChip Scanlan, attributions are likespeed bumps, destroying narrativemomentum. So they get left out. Doreaders notice? When the writing crackleswith you-are-there immediacy mostreaders are probably more interestedin what happens next than in how thereporter knows what he knows: Whenyou’re “hitchhiking,” it helps to be agood raconteur.But not everyone is so trusting. Forat least some readers there must comea hey-wait-a-minute moment when theyrealize that the reporter could not havebeen present when the killer pulledthe trigger. Somehow, reporters don’tjust know approximately what happened:they know exactly. That’s theirony of narrative journalism. Insteadof lending verisimilitude, the exhaustivedetail casts doubt: How could theyknow all this (the unscrupulous geeks)?The “About This Story” or “About ThisSeries” box aims to set those inquiringminds at rest.Due DiligenceThe Narrative Newspaper(www.inkstain.net/narrative), home toabout 30 narrative stories from newspapersthat have become known fortheir hospitality to the genre—TheOregonian, the St. Petersburg Times,the Providence Journal, and The PhiladelphiaInquirer—is a convenient repositoryfor these boxes. A composite“About This Story” box would looksomething like this:The reporter spenta. more than 10 monthsb. four yearsc. two monthsd. almost two years…conductinga. nearly 200b. hundreds of hours ofc. dozens of…interviews and poring overa. more than 4,000 pages of policereports, court documents, and otherrecords.b. diaries, letters, scientific literature,photographs, news accounts, andmedical and legal records.c. transcripts of military radio transmissions.d. virtually every investigative recordproduced in the nine-year-long caseand thousands of pages of trial transcript.e. court transcripts, detectives’ notes,and other documents introducedinto evidence during the trials.f. medical records [and]…family journals.As impressive as all this accountancyis, its ultimate message (in stories inwhich no direct references to sourcesare made) is: trust us, our reporter hasdone the legwork, it all checks out. Justdon’t ask us to tell you which bit ofThe Kansas City Star was given extraordinarybehind-the-scenes accessfor this series, “Justice: the ChristineElkins story.” In addition to coveringevents in the case as they unfolded,staff writer Matthew Schofield reviewedvirtually every investigative record producedin the nine-year-long case andthousands of pages of trial transcript.Beyond that, he conducted hundredsof hours of interviews, talking to dozensof investigators, attorneys and othersinvolved. Certain portions of thisseries, including some dialogue betweenkey figures, are taken directlyfrom court documents. All descriptionsand conversations were constructedthrough use of official reports, courtfiles, photos, audiotapes, videotapesand the firsthand recollections of thoseconnected to the case.5. The Providence JournalAbout this series“Into the Heart: A Medical Odyssey,”is a nine-part series, beginning onSunday, January 10 and runningthrough Monday, January 18.…Providence Journal staff writer G.Wayne Miller, author of eight earlierseries for the newspaper and threeRandom House books, has spent almosttwo years reconstructing the storyof open-heart surgery. He conductednearly 200 interviews, and then confirmedthe interviewee’s recollectionsthrough diaries, letters, scientific literature,photographs, news accounts,and medical and legal records. His reportingtook him to Minnesota andAlabama, and he watched several openheartoperations in Providence andBoston.Miller uses direct quotations onlywhen he heard or saw (as in a letter)the words; he paraphrased otherwords—omitting quotation marks—once he had confirmed that they hadbeen spoken. There are no compositescenes or characters in this story. Nonames have been changed. ■These examples were taken fromthe Narrative Newspaper Web site atwww.inkstain.net/narrative.Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 51


Journalist’s Tradeinformation came from which source,or which scenes were observed andwhich reconstructed.Beyond the inventory of time spent,interviews conducted, and documentsexamined, some of the “about” boxesalso address concerns about the authenticityof quotes and scenes as a wayof helping the reader understand howthe story was contructed. According tothe box that accompanies Tom French’sPulitzer Prize-winning “Angels and Demons”series in the St. PetersburgTimes, for example, “Some … werewitnessed firsthand by the reporter orphotographer or were taken from policereports or transcripts of officialproceedings; others are by necessitybased on people’s recollections.”If it is indeed “necessary” to havequotes and scenes that the reporterdid not hear or witness, then yes, theymust be based on people’s recollections.But are the quotes and scenesnecessary? And how do we know whichwere “witnessed firsthand” and whichwere based on recollections?The Providence Journal and TheOregonian seem to do a better job ofsorting these issues out. In reporting“Into the Heart: A Medical Odyssey,”the Journal tells us, G. Wayne Miller“uses direct quotations only when heheard or saw (as in a letter) the words;he paraphrased other words—omittingquotation marks—once he had confirmedthat they had been spoken.There are no composite scenes or charactersin this story. No names havebeen changed.”The Oregonian employs the samedistinctions. As a result of all the hangingaround reporter Tom Hallman, Jr.did, “relatively few scenes in ‘The BoyBehind the Mask’ are reconstructed,and those are the result of careful interviewswith all key participants. Everysuch scene contains attribution to thememories of the participants. No dialogueappears within quotation marksunless Hallman heard a conversationhimself.” Here one could object to thevagueness of “relatively few” and wonderwhether “careful interviews” areunusual at The Oregonian, while applaudingthe maintenance of strict standardsfor the use of quotation marks.The most remarkable avowal on theNarrative Newspaper site comes fromthe South Bend Tribune’s “about” boxfor Gina Barton’s “Justice for Becky,”“a true crime mystery in 19 parts”:“Although it is written in the form of anovel, it is all true.” So it has come tothis: newspapers assure readers thatevents it is chronicling really happened.This brings us to what Chip Scanlan,writing for the Poynter Institute’s Website, called the “historic” box tackedonto The Wall Street Journal’s October11 reconstruction of the desperatescramble to escape the World TradeCenter on September 11. Here, for thefirst time in the Journal, if not the firsttime in any newspaper, we get a breakdownof the provenance of about adozen details that might cause a readerto wonder how the reporter knew them.If you’re curious, for example, howthe Journal reporters knew that DianeMurray paid $43 for a pair of blacksneakers after walking down from the92nd floor of the south tower in heels,the note says the price came from acredit card receipt. (Since Murray livedto tell the tale, it’s unclear why thisdetail needed to be substantiated.)Having provided all that detail, Journaleditors still felt compelled to add in asecond note on top of the story that “alldialogue was witnessed by reporters orconfirmed by one or more peoplepresent when the words were spoken.All thoughts attributed to people in thearticle come from those people.”Online responses to Scanlan’s pieceabout the Journal’s “about” box weremixed. One reader contrasted the exhaustivesourcing of the World TradeCenter story with the paper’s routineuse of (non-)attribution to anonymoussources. Another, Liz Carvlin, thoughtthe Journal was protesting too much.“If you are a respected and generallyaccurate and careful newspaper,” sheasked, “don’t you believe that youraudience trusts that you have not writtenfiction?… The task of identifyingsome facts and not others seems onlyan attempt by editors to show off howresponsible they have been. I wouldhope that they are as diligent withevery story, not just one that uses thenarrative style.”Beyond the Appearance ofAccountabilityOddly enough, the surge of interestin narrative journalism has coincidedwith a surge of skepticism among newspaperreaders. Readers are being askedto believe that a story that reads like awork of fiction is entirely grounded infact at the very moment when they areinclined to not trust the scrupulousnessof reporters. Little wonder thateditors are going the extra mile toassuage reader doubts.The problem with “about” boxes isthe problem with disclosure in general:If they don’t go far enough theycreate an appearance of accountabilitywhile falling short of the genuine article.Just as the words “Photo Illustration”under a digitally altered photo donot absolve editors of the intent todeceive if the type is too small for mostreaders to notice and the term is toovague for them to understand, editorscannot substitute general attestationsof reportorial thoroughness for thespecificity of in-story attribution.In most stories, even most narrativestories, the traditional approach to attributionshould remain the norm. Instories that rely to an unusual degreeon reconstruction, The Wall StreetJournal’s end-of-chapter style notescould serve as a prototype. Instead oftelling readers that the reporter mustknow a lot because he spent this muchtime interviewing that many people,just tell them what attribution has alwaystold them—where each piece ofinformation came from.Of course, no amount of disclosuregets a newspaper off the hook for acomposite character like MichaelFinkel’s Youssouf Male. A compositecharacter is a fictional character. End ofstory. ■Russell Frank is an assistant professorof journalism at Penn StateUniversity. He worked at newspapersin California and Pennsylvaniafor 13 years before making theswitch from the newsroom to theclassroom.rbf5@psu.edu52 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Journalist’s TradeEnvironmental Consequences of Our Reliance on thePrinted WordWaste and pollution are the result of the paper that fuels the timber industry.By Ralph HancoxOne part of a great conundrumof our time is that, psychologically,the most efficient way toconvey literate intellectual propertyfrom one mind to another is throughthe silent reading of words and graphicsprinted on paper. The printed wordvirtually defines our society. The firstintellectual skill we acquire as children,after learning to talk, is the abilityto read. We read to learn, to entertainourselves, to enlighten our understandingof society and of the universe, toprotect our rights and freedoms, andto keep abreast of our times and thediscoveries of our contemporaries.It is no accident, then, that print hasbecome a dominant medium in thetransfer of complex information despitethe warnings of Marshall McLuhanabout the pervasive negative influenceon print of radio and television anddespite the digital revolutions of thelast century.Paralleling the growth in literacy,and in search of many noble (and occasionallyfrankly ignominious) objectives,more paper and ink are consumedindustrially today than at anytime in history. And that consumptionshows no signs of abating.The paradox is that the productionof the printed word is arguably themost egregiously wasteful and obsoleteindustrial process of our age. Noother activity in a contemporary industrialsociety comes as close to the enormousdevastation of natural resources,to the accumulation and propagationof redundant information, or to themountains of discarded rubbish to bedisposed of, than the publishing industries.In the half a century that I have beenvariously employed in publishing, thedepredations of the environment and“Near Moosehead Lake”—a view of a fresh clearcut in Maine, 1996. Photo by © BarbaraShamblin.the problems associated with garbagedisposal have mounted almost dailyand continue to do so. Environmentalistsshould take a look in their searchfor scapegoats at the contribution publishinghas made to the accumulationof human detritus and see what is requiredin the process of transferringintellectual property, via print, on paper.Paper today, of course, starts withtrees. Some plastics are currently usedand so are a few other natural fiberslike cotton, sisal and hemp. But treesare overwhelmingly the base raw materialof the printed word. To satisfy thecurrent pulp, paper and lumber demandfrom Canadian forests we annuallycut or clear more than one millionhectares of forest growth—approximately4,000 square miles. The areaimplicated is equivalent to clearing aparcel of land the boundaries of whichstretch from Buffalo, New York, 30miles north to Niagara Falls, 70 mileseast along the shore of Lake Ontario toRochester, and 85 miles west back toBuffalo twice each year. In Ontario,Canada, we cut or clear an area equivalentto 46 kilometers square (29 milessquare) each year. And, in provincialpulp and paper production, we are ledonly by Quebec in quantity produced.The trees involved that are “harvested”are at least 25 years old andfrequently—as in British Columbia,which is third in provincial output—much older. The cut timber is groundto wood chips for shipment, or is transporteddirectly, to pulp and paper millsto be converted into pulp that is eithershipped as such or made directly intopaper.The process of making industrialNieman Reports / Fall 2002 53


Journalist’s Tradeweb paper is at once awesome, miraculousand a prodigious engineering accomplishment.It takes place on industrialpapermaking machines—these areabout 300 meters in length and 60meters wide—and consume immenseamounts of natural water that is dischargedback into the environment,after the papermaking process, as alargely sulfurous effluent. Engineeringhas not yet provided an adequate solutionto disposing of the noxious effluentthat the process produces. That isyet to come.In 1999, Canadian shipments of pulpand paper amounted to some 31 millionmetric tons, with sales of $22 billion(Canadian). Last year, Canadianproduction of newsprint, pulp, packagingand printing and writing papersall increased about 10 percent over theprevious year. That growth continues.The domestic destination for theenormous stream of resulting paperis—for the most part—the publishingindustry: that is to say newspaper,magazine and book publishers, with asignificant amount going to the directmarketing and advertising industries.And here the vexing conflict beginsbetween the most efficient way of transferringcomplex knowledge and thespectacular waste and hazards of themanufacturing process needed to doso. Printing requires volatile inks. Thesolvents for these inks are as noxiousto the atmospheric environment as theeffluent from pulp and paper manufactureis to streams and rivers. Still, effortsto “scrub” the evaporating solventsbefore they are released into theair are being made and, to some extent,enforced.It is estimated that 47.7 percent ofCanada’s 10,820,000 households takea daily newspaper—the most visibledaily result of papermaking and printing.Some take more than one. Theaverage weight of newsprint deliveredto the doors of households in metropolitanareas and across Canada eachweek is about 2.43 kilograms (5.35lbs.). Thus to supply all subscriberswho take a local newspaper and thosewho take a metropolitan or nationaldaily in addition, newspaper publishersmust distribute some 12,500 metrictons (13,800 tons) of newsprint toCanadian households around the countryeach week.The implications of this on the efficiencyof transmitting a plethora ofinformation thus produced to the recipientare environmentally catastrophic.The Globe and Mail edition of aThursday, for example, customarilycontains 120 pages—the equivalent ofthree-and-a-half 240-page paperbackbooks—much more on a Saturday.That’s about 210,000 words awaiting areader. A good reader, taking in about300 words a minute, would need 11hours and 30 minutes to read the contentof all 120 pages.The Globe and Mail is just a convenientexample and not particularlysingled out. A similar case could bemade with The Toronto Star, the NationalPost, The Vancouver Sun, or anylarge metropolitan daily in Canada.Statistics Canada reports that, onaverage, only 34 percent of the adultpopulation would spend one hour and18 minutes a day reading books, magazinesand newspapers. Women spendslightly more time reading than mendo. The majority of Canadian adults 15years of age and over spend less than24 minutes in daily reading—comparedto two hours and 12 minutes at the TVset or VCR. (These statistics don’t takeinto account the reading time devotedto education, incidentally. Nine percentof adults 15 and over spend anaverage of six hours a day in educationalpursuits, so there is more readingdone there.)But the point is made. Largeamounts, up to 90 percent of printedpages in newspapers, go unread. Noone reads the entire stock tables, forexample. Nor every word of the reporton business. Nor all the classified ads.Not many women, statistics show, readmuch in the sports section.Special advertising supplements andinserts are largely ignored by both sexes,as are weekly giveaways, fliers and thenewsprint advertising that reaches mostmetropolitan and urban householdstoday. Households generally throw outtheir newspapers each day or eachweek. So the process of making dataavailable, that began by cutting down atree, pulping the log, making the paper,printing the material, distributingto the household, ends unceremoniouslyin the recycling bin. The majorityof the content of Canada’s 106 dailynewspapers is thus entirely redundantand unread.How about magazines? For the 1,552Canadian magazine publications reportedto Statistics Canada there is aThis mill on the Powell River in British Columbia produces about 227,000 metric tonsof newsprint each year—a little over a quarter of the total newsprint production of itsparent company, NorskeCanada. Photo courtesy of © PhotographyTips.com.54 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Journalist’s Tradeslightly different, better, although notvery encouraging story. Magazine readership—particularlyby those who havea subscription—is more assiduous thanthat of newspapers. Better than half ofa magazine’s content is read by about65 percent of its readership for mostpaid circulation consumer magazines.For the controlled circulation periodicals—andthis includes much ofCanada’s business press—the story isvery different. Few of these publicationsare more than glanced at.Subscribers keep paid circulationconsumer magazines around the household—normallyuntil the next issuearrives. Some, like Reader’s Digest,National Geographic, Canadian Geographic,Canadian Living, and othersuch magazines, are kept in the housefor several months, sometimes foryears—though, in that time, they areseldom if ever referred to.Newspapers and magazines havemultiple readers—anything from 2.6to 3.7 readers per copy, and thesepublications are picked up and read onmore than one occasion. So-callednewsstand magazine and newspapercopies—in reality, single-copy salesmostly at supermarkets—tell a differentstory. To keep sales racks full, forevery single magazine copy sold, one isthrown away. Canadian Living, for example,with a single-copy sale of160,000 copies a month, must throwout the equivalent numbers unopenedand unread. Enormous quantities ofglossy magazine publications are similarlythrown out, unopened and unread,in North America every year. Thecovers are simply torn off by the retailersand sent back to the distributors fora credit on their portion of the coverprice. The insides are dumped for recycling.With paperback and hardcoverbooks, the fate of the pages is not sodifferent. For every popular paperbackbook that is sold, at least one—andsometimes as many as three—is thrownaway; shelf life in a retail store for apopular paperback is about six weeks.About eight times a year, the paperbackstock is cleaned out and replacedwith new titles. For some popular authors,with a print run in the millions,hundreds of thousands of copies arejunked every four to six weeks.A purchased copy of a hardcover orpaperback book—except for thosepurchased by libraries—is normallyread once before it is put on a bookshelfto be warehoused for the lifetimeof the owner. It is seldom referred toagain. Up to 50 percent of all hardcovertitles found in independent and bigboxbookstores—fiction and nonfiction—arereturned to publishers eachyear either to be remaindered—that issold at or below production cost—orto be warehoused prior to destruction.And 15 to 20 percent of the content oflandfill sites in North America beforethe advent of recycling consisted ofdumped paper.Today, recycling is alleviating partof the paper wastage and the decimationof forests. But the slogan that aproduct or publication contains recycledpaper bears close scrutiny. Recyclingof paper in the printing industryusually means the recycling ofpre-consumer waste. This waste is simplymake-ready paper used in settingup papermaking machines and printingpresses before the production orthe publishing print-run starts. Recycledprinted paper, because of theprogressive reduction in the length ofthe cellulose fibers caused by the recyclingprocess, diminishes in grade witheach recycling from fine papers, newsprintand other white printable stock,to corrugated board and packagingmaterial. And the effluent from recycling—bleachingagents and the like—is sometimes worse than the reducingeffluents from the papermaking processin the first place.This all adds up to a gloomy pictureof the publishing industry—one that isignored, overlooked and pushed asidein our considerations of those segmentsthat are classed as a sensitivecultural industry in Canada in need ofprotection from the predatory forcesof foreign ownership and competition.Is relief in sight? Most newspapernews content is now available online.Technology and digital data processinghold out some hope. For example,printing-on-demand is a looming potentialbook publishing innovation.One merely needs to retain digitizedtext and illustrations electronically andload onto a digital printer to providean immediate copy when needed at thepoint of sale.Downloading digitized text ontoreusable, sensitized, plastic pages isanother innovation under experiment.In this ingenious process it is possibleto download up to 20 pages of readabletext from the computers of experimentalpublishers onto a paper substitutethat has all the appearances of asmall book. When that has been read, itcan be electronically deleted, ready todownload the next 20 pages—on anendlessly reusable publishing page.Cost is the current obstacle to thewidespread use of that technology.There are doubtless other potentialadvances in the offing but, as always,economic factors will determine therate and extent of their implementation.At the moment, there is an abundantsupply of trees. Insect infestationand forest fires destroy more forestthan is cut and cleared annually forpulp and paper in Canada.The pulp and paper, publishing andprinting industries are worth nearly$100 billion (Canadian) annually tothe Canadian economy and provideemployment for better than 500,000people. Forest industries are by far thelargest net export component ofCanada’s international trade and areits most widely dispersed industrialemployer, supporting 350 or morecommunities across Canada.And, when all is said and done, theprinted word—despite the formidableinefficiency, waste and redundancy ofcontent it carries in all its manifestations—isstill the most profoundly effectivemeans of transferring intellectualproperty from one mind to another.And there’s the dilemma. ■Ralph Hancox, a 1966 NiemanFellow, is professional fellow andvisiting professor emeritus at TheCanadian Centre for Studies inPublishing, Simon Fraser University,Vancouver, British Columbia.rhancox@telus.netNieman Reports / Fall 2002 55


Words & ReflectionsWords & Reflections“They are pictures from the heart, of devastated buildings and of devastated people. They areimages of us—the living—trying to mourn our invisible dead.”These words—part of a reflection on the connections we’ve made with the vast array of images fromSeptember 11, 2001—belong to photographer, author and former newspaper editor Frank Van Riper.In an essay he wrote to explore the impact photographs have on us and the impact this event had on themedium, Van Riper urges us to think about how “photography’s power to move immediately from thecerebral to the visceral” has shaped how we’ve been affected by what we’ve seen. He writes about earlyattempts by officials to not allow photographers to be at Ground Zero, but then conveys the thoughts oftwo photographers, Peter Turnley and Stan Grossfeld, who were there. [Their photographs and wordsappear below.] “There will always be those who view journalists as voyeurs and parasites, but these twoshooters give powerful voice to the compelling need of journalists, not only to do their jobs, and therebybring an important story to the world, but also to offer up at a terrible time what skills they have—asreporters of words and pictures—in the collective and somber effort of rebuilding,” Van Riper writes."When I first saw Ground Zero, I literally felt as though Ihad been punched in the stomach. In this photograph, afirefighter at Ground Zero throws up his hands in despair."Photo by Stan Grossfeld."What moved me was a sense of a life being transformedby an experience in a way that there was nogoing back. You could never be the same personafter that night. And this man will certainly never bethe same person." Photo by Peter Turnley.In reading Todd Gitlin’s book, “Media Unlimited,” journalist Ellen Hume emerged disheartened by theAmerican media culture he describes and by the apparent lack of concern Gitlin expresses about thedirection in which it seems headed. As Hume writes, “He portrays media as one might describe aprostitute, offering sensual engagement that demands nothing and means nothing except a moment’spleasure and a bit of commerce.” Hume’s displeasure is amplified by how Gitlin sees journalism’s place inthis media environment: “Trying to bear witness and report the facts seems pointless in Gitlin’s world,” shewrites, “since the media audience is not trying to construct meaning, but to flee from it.”Jim Bellows’ retrospective book, “The Last Editor,” provides an apt contrast to Gitlin’s futuristicperspective. As the Nieman Foundation’s special projects director Seth Effron observes, Bellows’ memoirreminds us “that even as newsroom executives are mired in ledger balances and spread sheets, it is stilleditors and reporters—and fine storytelling—that are the heart and soul of journalism.” ■56 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Words & ReflectionsSeptember 11: The Impact of Photography A Year LaterPhotographers help ‘in the collective and somber effort of rebuilding.’By Frank Van RiperOf the senses, it is the one thatmost often betrays us—yetmost often, too, the one thatgives us hope.We are, it turns out, generally pooreyewitnesses. How many times havewe been sure of our visual memory,only to see that, after all, there werefour cars in the parking lot, not two?Any cop or detective will tell you that awitness’s recollection often is faulty orplain wrong.The gift of sight is precious andflawed. Yet what is more precious thansight, to see one’s beloved or to viewthe dawn?Or, now, to bear witness.The Collective EyeIn the year since the horror, we haveseen many images. Too many, in fact,or perhaps more accurately too manyof the same images too often. Howmany times did we need to see theplanes crashing into the Towers?Yet in the year since the terroristattacks on New York and Washington,and the one that was thwarted over alonely field in Pennsylvania, photography,both still and video, has helped usdeal with this tragedy and, if not achievea kind of closure, at least put parametersand faces to what has befallen us.Inevitably, there were critics on bothsides, each with legitimate claims. Whydid the media play up ad nauseum thehorrific images of riot and death? Whenwill we look deeply into ourselves andothers to understand the causes ofsuch malignant hatred?Or, on the other hand: Given thehorrible nature of these crimes (ascrimes they surely were) why was therenot more coverage of the actual bloodycarnage, to bring home how god-awfulwas this infamous, cowardly attack?(The New York Daily News, in a gutsy,if also graphic, display of what happenedthat day, ran in its late edition,and briefly on its Web site, a horriblybeautiful picture of a cleanly severedhand lying in the street near the collapsedTrade Center Towers. The pictureprompted howls from some thatthis was not suitable for a mass-circulationnewspaper. The tabloid’s editorsreplied with characteristic and welcomebluntness: “This isn’t high school. It’sthe real world and we shouldn’t shieldour readers from it.”)This view flew in the face of onetheory put forward over the past 12months that truly graphic picture coverageof a tragedy like 9/11 might bestbe left to the Internet, where a viewermight be warned in advance (i.e.: beforeaccessing the photos) that the contentmight be distasteful.Philip Brookman, curator of photographyand media arts atWashington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art,was driving to work on September 11when the third plane plowed into thePentagon. “Watching the Pentagon goup in flames from across the river” soseared his memory, Brookman recalled,that “I didn’t look at a lot of picturesafter 9/11. I couldn’t watch it replayedon TV…. It was enough—too much—to witness it as I did ….”And yet Brookman knew instinctivelyphotography’s power to moveimmediately from the cerebral to thevisceral. He knew what my friend andformer teacher Neil Selkirk knew longbefore any of this happened. “The processof looking is more akin to smellingor tasting than it is to reading,” Neilwrote me years ago. “One’s response isimmediate and instinctual, more like areflex, which dispenses with the consciousbrain as being too cluttered andlacking in spontaneity ….”Largely for that reason PhilipBrookman has brought to his museum“Here is New York: A Democracy ofPhotographs.” It is a huge, unconventional,uncredited and controversialcollection of images from 9/11, hung inthe gallery on wires and with binderclips—hung like laundry, in fact—tobest let viewers share a welter of imageryin a comparatively small space andthereby renew the collective experienceof that terrible day as “a catharticrather than a journalistic experience.”“Here is New York” began as a storefrontexhibition in SoHo shortly afterthe terrorist attacks. Photographers ofall stripes were asked to submit workthat best showed their own personalreaction to the tragedies. The understandingwas that no one’s name wouldaccompany a photograph—the pictureswould stand on their own and speakfor themselves.The response, from shooters greatand unknown, professional and amateur,was overwhelming. When theshow moves to the Corcoran this monthwith upwards of 2,000 digital inkjetimages, it will be the largest photographicexhibition ever mounted at themuseum. The show is slated to travelwidely and internationally.“This is not … about good photographyor technique,” Brookman told meover the summer as the show was beingmounted. “Certainly some of theprofessional pictures stand out graphicallybut there are … unique imagesfrom amateurs that personalize theexhibition [and] bring it home to everyone….”That is because, arguably, the largestnumber of people in all of historynow view what happened on September11, 2001, as an epochal, “wherewere you when it happened?” event.Just as Americans of a certain age willremember where they were on PearlHarbor day, or on the day JFK was shot,or on the day we landed on the moon,Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 57


Words & Reflectionsso too will people the world over,friend and foe, recall what they weredoing just before 19 young men, fueledby hate and armed with box cutters,made us realize with patheticallylate-blooming clarity how precious—and vulnerable—is our democracy andour homeland.“The subtlest change in New York issomething people don’t speak muchabout,” one writer says in an essay thatis excerpted at the photography show.“The city, for the first time in its longhistory, is destructible. A single flightof planes no bigger than a wedge ofgeese can quickly end this island fantasy,burn the towers, crumble thebridges, turn the underground passagesinto lethal chambers, crematethe millions. The intimation of mortalityis part of New York now: in thesound of jets overhead, in the blackheadlines of the latest edition.”The writer of those words is AndyWhite—E.B. White, of “Charlotte’sWeb,” and “Stuart Little” fame, andauthor of countless flawless essays andarticles in The New Yorker and othermagazines.But White died in 1985. He wrotehis somber warning more than a halfcentury ago, in 1948, near the end ofan otherwise lyrical paean to the citythat appeared in the old Holiday magazine,when war was just a fadingmemory of victory and when New Yorkwas a vibrant symbol of a better postwarworld. The following year, White’s7,500-word piece was published as asmall book that remains in print today.The book was entitled “Here is NewYork.”“We certainly took the title fromWhite’s essay,” said writer MichaelShulan, one of the photography show’sorganizers, along with photojournalistGilles Peress.It astounds people to read that passage,Shulan added, when they nearthe end of the photography show andsee it posted on a wall.Shocked, perhaps, but not surprised.Or at least they should not be. After all,we played this same game in reverse, atHiroshima, and none but the foolishever would think our invulnerability tosneak attack was permanent.The Invisible Dead: CoveringShadowsThe enormity of the deed was in thepaucity of the dead and the injured.Perhaps that is why the images madeafter the attacks have resonated sostrongly over these months. They arepictures from the heart, of devastatedbuildings and of devastated people.They are images of us—the living—trying to mourn our invisible dead.Within hours of the attacks, peopleraced to hospitals to give blood, only tobe told that there was no pressingneed. Doctors and nurses at St.Vincent’s, the nearest hospital to thetwin towers, waited on the sidewalkwith gurneys and wheelchairs for theambulances that never came.“By now ambulances were pouringin from the suburbs and were beingstaged in front of the Chelsea Piers atthe end of our block,” photographerNeil Selkirk said in an e-mail last September16. He and his wife, SusanSpiller, live in lower Manhattan, southof the first quarantine line, below whichno civilian vehicular traffic was allowed.Selkirk said he’d never seen so manyambulances. “The line was endless andthey were being given ID’s which werebeing taped crudely onto their windshields…. That evening we went backto St. Vincent’s and again we were toldthat no blood was needed there. Againthere stood the waiting medics and stillno ambulances came ….”Even after two or three days, Neilsaid, the ambulances hadn’t moved.“But a little further south on the WestSide Highway there was now a longdouble line of huge refrigerated container-trailers,presumably awaiting thedead.”“It is now Sunday,” Neil’s e-mailwent on, “and most, if not all, of thecontainers are still there, their refrigerationunits not yet turned on ….”You cannot bury those whom youcannot see, those whom you cannottouch. So many of the dead simply hadbeen obliterated—erased—leaving behindonly fragments: a pair of glasses,a ring—or a disembodied hand. It wasthe absence of bodies that may havebeen hardest on the rescuers.The police, fire and other aid peopleknew that there were victims in there,thousands of them. Only in the ruin ofthe just-crumbled towers, they knew aswell that the number now includedhundreds of their own colleagues, their“family,” who had run toward the dangeras others had fled it. And there wasno way in hell to get most of them out.It is an axiom of journalism underfire that you are no good to your editorsor your audience arrested or dead,and that became the critical distinctionbetween police and fire personnel heroicallyrisking their lives in an infernoand journalists trying to do their jobswithout being jailed or bodybagged.(In fact, the physical [as opposed toemotional] toll on journalists was minimal.David Handschuh of the (NewYork) Daily News suffered broken legsfrom falling debris. Many others sufferedlesser injuries. One photographer,Bill Biggart of the Sipa pictureagency, died in the collapse of TowerTwo, his final images retrieved fromhis demolished Canon D30 and publishedaround the world.)It created intense tension, especiallyin the early days, as officials in NewYork hastily banned all photography ofthe “crime scene” and literally confiscatedfilm and cameras from thoseunlucky enough to be caught. As oftenhappens, having a press credential actuallybecame a hindrance—an easyway to single you out—and journalists,especially photographers, wound upsneaking into Ground Zero like thievesin the night, hiding cameras underclothing, so they could work.To veterans in the business, thiscensorship by police and governmentofficials was nothing new—just moreovert. It was motivated in part by anger,by fear, by frustration. And also, Ibelieve, by shame.Shame that this happened here.Shame that it happened on their watch.Shame that the dead were ours.Photojournalist Peter Turnley, oneof the few photographers able to penetratethe perimeter at Ground Zerothe night of 9/11, hiding his camerasand sneaking in, was unapologetic forhis stealth. “The reason I would justifythat cameramen and photographers58 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Words & Reflectionsand journalists be present at these situationsis not because they’re makingmoney or because they’re parasites,”he told a seminar of Nieman Fellows atHarvard last winter, “it’s because 50years from now, it’s important thatpeople contemplate the decency thatso many people demonstrated in tryingto do the right thing in a situationthat was difficult. I don’t know howthat can be communicated withoutimages, without words, without film.”“The first thing I noticed at GroundZero was the reverence people had foreach other,” Boston Globe photographerStan Grossfeld wrote last winterin Nieman Reports, echoing Turnley.“This is sacred ground, where innocentpeople lost their lives, and youcan feel that. The massive movie klieglights and lack of unnecessary chattergive this place a surreal feeling. It isdevoid of laughter and [is] one of thefew places in the world where you canfeel the energy and the horror and asense of history washing over you atonce. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem islike this, as is Gettysburg and Hiroshimaand Nagasaki.”Which also is why a 64-year-old fineart photographer like Joel Meyerowitzbecame the unlikely chronicler of thechaos, nervily yet respectfully musclinghis way into the site with his huge viewcamera, to create the historical recordin large format. He began his projectrisking arrest; he ended it as the personalphotographic representative ofthe mayor.“To me, no photography meant nohistory,” the wiry Meyerowitz recalled.And to a New Yorker whose city hadbeen raped, that was unacceptable.Turnley, Grossfeld, and so manyother print and photojournalists whowere there at the beginning spoke ofpaying tribute to the men and womenwho worked the wreckage, both atGround Zero and at the Pentagon.There always will be those who viewjournalists as voyeurs or parasites, butthese two shooters give powerful voiceto the compelling need of journalists,not only to do their jobs, and therebybring an important story to the world,but also to offer up at a terrible timewhat skills they have—as reporters ofwords and pictures—in the collectiveand somber effort of rebuilding.EpilogueThe camera is an unseeing, yet alsoall-seeing, eye. It is the photographerbehind the lens who gives it humanity.“You can most definitely show someonein your eyes and in your face and inthe way you look at them that you wantto honor them,” Peter Turnley noted.“A lot of people are surprised thatpeople all over the world, in situationsof suffering, want other people to knowand to feel and to think about theirsuffering …. Very often in fact [theyare] honored by the presence of a camera,if it’s wielded in the right way ….”This is exactly what Turnley,Grossfeld, Meyerowitz, Handschuh,Biggart and so many others did in thedays and weeks after September 11, aswe and millions like us struggled withour grief.That is why, one year later, we are,and will be forever, in their debt. ■Photography columnist Frank VanRiper is a photographer, author, andformer Washington correspondentand editor for the (New York) DailyNews. He is a 1979 Nieman Fellow.© 2002 Frank Van Riper. All rightsreserved.This article first appearedon the Web site Washingtonpost.com.fvanriper@aol.comZombies on Roller CoastersAmerican media transport too many people to nowhere.Media UnlimitedHow the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our LivesTodd GitlinMetropolitan Books. 260 Pages. $25.By Ellen HumeWhen people talked about the “media”10 years ago, they usually meant the“news media.” And, more often thannot, they were unhappy with what theysaw, according to polls by AndrewKohut and other analysts. “People areincredibly angry at the media. Theythink that all the media moguls andjournalists have access to massiveamounts of information that the publicdoesn’t ever see,” observed scholarMargaret Gordon of the University ofWashington after conducting focusgroups in Seattle during the 1992 presidentialcampaign.But something shifted by the timeTodd Gitlin sat down to write “MediaUnlimited,” his new book. To Gitlin,“media” aren’t really about journalismat all, or about anything real. They arean alternative universe, a parade ofsurrogate experiences and disposablefeelings, delivered through films, tele-Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 59


Words & Reflectionsvision, music, radio, advertising, printpublishing, cell phones, and computergames. Now America’s “vast circusmaximus, our cultural jamboree of jamborees”has become a central experienceof modern life, seducing the entireglobe with pointless pleasure.What Gitlin notices most about thismedia arcade is that it requires nothingfrom us, not even our attention. Everythingis made to be taken lightly and topass by quickly. We are zombies,strapped into roller coasters. Part ofthe thrill is the speed of the media ride.None of it is real, but it sure is fun,Gitlin reports.A famous chronicler of the sixtieswho is a professor of journalism andsociology at Columbia University, Gitlinseems oddly unperturbed by the trendshe examines. He portrays media as onemight describe a prostitute, offeringsensual engagement that demandsnothing and means nothing except amoment’s pleasure and a bit of commerce.There is no Gitlin handwringingabout the degradation this implies.The constantly changing media environmentis anti-intellectual, and “accomplishedlanguage is, if anything, animpediment,” he notes. Gitlin’s perspectiveof journalism is that for itsaudiences it is just another sideshow,full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.Trying to bear witness and reportthe facts seems pointless in Gitlin’sworld, since the media audience is nottrying to construct meaning, but to fleefrom it. Embracing Neal Gabler’s viewthat the owners of the penny pressinvented news to be more efficiententertainment, Gitlin emphasizes thatmedia images are “not supposed tohelp us discern reality; they are supposedto deliver feelings and sensations.”Indeed, in the case of networktelevision, Gitlin’s extreme vision maybe coming true, as more executivesabandon their news audiences (suchas ABC’s idea of replacing Ted Koppelwith David Letterman), because entertainmentis so much easier to monetize.At least Gitlin’s “the media have nomessage” analysis challenges the oldcanard that most journalists are sneakyideologues from the left or the right.“Political critics, convinced that themedia are rigged against them, are oftenblind to other substantial reasonswhy their causes are unpersuasive,”Gitlin observes. The less popular thecause, the more likely its proponentswill blame the news media for its failure.Nevertheless, conservatives do playbetter on television, he correctly discovers,because the medium favors asimple, passionate message, and conservativestend to be “more Manichaeanthan liberals” and “more zealous abouttheir politics.”It is not just journalists, but mostcitizens who suffer in Gitlin’s turboculture.Ithiel de Sola Poole’s technologiesof freedom and MarshallMcLuhan’s global village crash into therocks as Gitlin’s media torrent rushesus along. People enjoy their commonmedia pleasures privately, thanks toWalkmen, cell phones, point-to-pointinstant messaging, and VCR’s. If thereis any global “village,” it is only a sharedlanguage (“American”), not a hallowedpublic space, Gitlin says. Even televisionhasn’t brought us together in anylasting or meaningful way, in Gitlin’sanalysis. What about the Internet? Thismight have been the most valuable partof his book, but Gitlin ducks the subject.The Internet is too new to measureyet, he says.So civic life withers in this mediasmog whose very appeal is the “absenceof ideas.” Although studies findthat news watching skews toward politicalparticipation, Gitlin notes thatoverall media saturation has the oppositeeffect, retarding public mobilizationfor reform or change. “If politicallife is going to compete with entertainmentfor scarce attention, it will haveto produce continuing narrative, melodramaand emotional jolts—ideally,gigantic scandals,” he concludes.Who benefits from the inert, anesthetized,privatized public that Gitlindescribes? The status quo is served bythe media culture, which “demobilizes”democracy. Princess Diana’s car crashor the Condit/Levy scandal might seemto gather the public together with acommon frame of reference, but eventuallyviewers grow numb. Violentmovies and games are the equivalent of“insensitivity training,” but their criticsare “shallow” because they cannotprove actual damage is done, Gitlinsays. Even the famous “CNN effect,”where journalists spotlight crises cryingout for intervention, washes awayas the audience moves on to the NextBig Thing. “Media-stoked passionsprove evanescent, too,” he concludes.Gitlin’s book is an artifact of the pre-September 11 era, a summary of wherewe were when the rest of the world wasstill someone else’s problem. It is writtenlike the culture it describes, movingimages quickly across the page,without offering deeper meanings, feelingsor any call to action. While Gitlincruises through the various media consumer“navigation styles” and notessome historical foreshadowing by deTocqueville and others, he fails to examinehow historically significant thismedia morass ultimately will be, orwhat alternatives are rising up to challengeit.Now that the stakes for democracyare more obvious, such a book seemsboth annoying and naive. There areimportant matters to address, includingthe rise of a potent, new counterculturethat is more interesting thanthe American entertainment it detests.“With socialism largely discredited, andeach world religion checked by theothers, the way of life with the greatestallure turns out to be this globalizingcivilization of saturation and speed thatenshrines individuals, links freedomto taste, tickles the senses,” Gitlin concludes,oblivious to the reactionariesgathering force offshore. Coke andMickey Mouse are the unifying symbolsfor the world, at least for now, heposits. “There is no going back to theforest clan or the village … there is noavoiding the spread of American-stylepop.” Only a “catastrophic breakdownof civilization” can stop the media flood,he says.Gitlin’s discovery of hedonism is asold as time, but so is every generation’ssearch for meaning. People keep steppingin front of the Tiananmen tank,challenging the abuses of power. If themedia content providers aren’t part ofthat alternative, something else—likethe Taliban—will be. “Unless we are60 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Words & Reflectionsprepared to make demands on oneanother, we can enjoy only the mostrudimentary kind of common life,” thelate Christopher Lasch warned in 1995in “The Revolt of the Elites.” The “limited-liability”media pleasures thatGitlin describes have had an impactafter all, making the world a less understanding,less tolerant place, GeorgePacker asserts in an April New YorkTimes Magazine essay (“When HereSees There”). While media images becomeglamorous and international,most people’s lives remain miserableand parochial. “What America exportsto poor countries through the ubiquitousmedia—pictures of glittering abundanceand national self-absorption—enrages those whom it doesn’tdepress,” Packer writes.Perhaps it was too much to expectGitlin to anticipate the terrorists’ rageor to understand the impact of mediaoutside America before September 11.Journalism remains important aroundthe world, even if its commercial valuestill isn’t amortized properly by mostmedia companies. It has been the tortoiseto Gitlin’s speeding hare. Some ofthe best and worst journalists in theworld are inciting action every day, inmore desperate corners of the globeand even here at home. In the formerSoviet state of Georgia, EduardShevardnadze had to fire his entirecabinet last fall after the Rustavi-2 televisionstation broadcast a corruptionexposé. Reporters are getting killed inrecord numbers, not just by terroristsin Pakistan, but by their own governmentsand by people who fear theirpower. Do the images of misery fromaround the world really float away, asGitlin contends? Or is Packer right thatthey are building up within all of us, topoison our future? “We carry aroundthe mental residue of millions of sufferinghuman beings, for whom we’vedone nothing,” Packer writes. “If theworld seems to be growing more, ratherthan less, nasty these days, it mighthave something to do with the imagesall of us now carry around in our heads.”If what Gitlin sees is even partlytrue, we are poorer for it. Bad contentdoes have an impact, even if Americanculture is, in Gitlin’s words, a collaboration“between venal, efficient suppliers”and consumers, receptive to theirwares. Gitlin emphasizes that mediaare not driven by some megalomaniacAmerican supercorporation trying toimpose its ideology, but by the drivefor audience numbers. “Because theyhave no other goal than to be popular… [media corporations] have no culturalcommitment whatsoever,” Gitlinsays. The problem is that Gitlin thinksthat’s reassuring. Unfortunately, collateraldamage can be just as destructiveas a deliberate assault. ■Ellen Hume, a journalist andteacher, recently completed “TheMedia Missionaries,” a study for theKnight Foundation on U.S. efforts todevelop journalism around theworld.ellenhume@ellenhume.comWith Passion and Joy, Jim Bellows Enlivened JournalismThe Last EditorHow I Saved The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times fromDullness and ComplacencyJim BellowsAndrews McMeel Publishing. 349 Pages. $28.95.By Seth EffronAll the talk these days about the directionof American journalism seems toemanate from the Wall Street pronouncementsof corporate CEO’s. Now,along comes Jim Bellows’ memoir, “TheLast Editor: How I Saved The New YorkTimes, the Washington Post, and theLos Angeles Times from Dullness andComplacency,” to remind us that evenas newsroom executives are mired inledger balances and spread sheets, it isstill editors and reporters—and finestorytelling—that are the heart and soulof journalism.From 1947 to 1981 Bellows workedfor eight newspapers. Four of thosenewspapers—the Miami News, TheNew York Herald Tribune, The WashingtonStar and Los Angeles Herald-Examiner—no longer exist. But Bellows’impact on these papers,particularly the Herald Trib, the Star,and the Herald-Examiner (second-placepapers in their cities) has had a lastingsignificance on those communities, thecompetition, and the way news is reported.As noteworthy as anything hedid to keep these struggling papersafloat and credible, Bellows ushered in“new journalism,” a then controversialmovement that has evolved into theestablished practice of narrative journalism.The book’s audacious title—likeBellows’ newspapering style—isn’twithout some merit, seriousness andNieman Reports / Fall 2002 61


Words & Reflectionssheer fun. For a time, he did “save”these underdog newspapers and, inturn, revitalized the competition. InNew York, Bellows needed to carve aplace for the Herald Tribune to contrastit from the dull and plodding, butcomprehensive, global and authoritativeNew York Times. Bellows alsoneeded to position the paper apartfrom the city’s sensational tabloids.In lively chapters, Bellows delightsin tales of how his second-place paperspricked and punctured haughty communityinstitutions—including thecompetition. In a Tribune article TomWolfe wrote about The New Yorkermagazine, he described it as a paintingof “a room full of very proper peoplewho had gone to sleep standing up.”New Yorker Editor William Shawn respondedby sending the Trib’s publishera letter calling the article “libelous”and “a vicious, murderous attack.”When Trib publisher John Hay (Jock)Whitney asked Bellows what he wasgoing to do, Bellows sent copies ofShawn’s letter to the press sections ofTime and Newsweek. The story (andthe Herald Trib) wasn’t just the talk ofthe town in New York, but this incidentbecame the buzz of journalism aroundthe nation.About a decade later, in the nation’scapital, The Washington Star’s innovativegossip column, “The Ear,” peckedin a cheeky tone at the larger WashingtonPost as the “O.P.” (the Other Paper.)The column offered peeks intothe personal doings of Post Editor BenBradlee and writer Sally Quinn (whowould, in time, get married) as well aslofty D.C. political, cultural and socialpowers. It made the Star a daily topic ofconversation around the capital.The fun stuff shouldn’t overshadowBellows’ devotion to serious news andthe influence good reporting and writingcan have on a community. Bellowsbrought Rowland Evans and RobertNovak together at the Herald Tribunefor a national political column andlater gave columnists Jack Germondand Jules Witcover the same opportunityat the Star. Each of these hireswent on to become well recognizedanalysts for national political news.The Trib examined New York City—the way the city was run and the impactthe city’s bureaucracy and institutionshad on people who lived there—underthe microscope of strong metropolitanreporting. Jimmy Breslin’s articlesabout life in Harlem, based on reportinghe did while living there, opened awindow on the often-overlooked,largely African-American neighborhood.“City in Crisis,” a major seriesheaded up by the late Dick Schaap,went beyond the daily tabloids’ overblowncoverage of crime and pettycorruption to look at the roots of thecity’s problems and the systemic “smugnessand indifference” that made theseurban ills fester.In 1979, when at the helm of the LosAngeles Herald-Examiner, Bellows tooka news brief buried inside the Los AngelesTimes about the police shootingof a 39-year-old black woman over thepayment of a $22 utility bill and turnedit into a major examination of the conductof the city’s police department.Up to that time the Los Angeles PoliceDepartment (LAPD) was an institutionthat had been largely ignored by theTimes and other local news operations.The Herald-Examiner’s reporting onthe conduct of the LAPD was the firstmajor examination of a police departmentthat even now is struggling torecover from revelations of poor officerconduct and corruption.The book, like Bellows’ personalstyle, has a staccato feel. Its pace isreflective of the directive Bellows gaveDiana McLellan as she was starting asco-writer of the attention-grabbinggossip column “The Ear.” In the companiondocumentary, “The Last Editor,”broadcast on PBS stations aroundthe nation, McLellan asked Bellowswhat he wanted the column to be.“Bip, bip, bip,” Bellows replied.Each chapter is sprinkled with little“bips” from colleagues he nurturedalong the way. There’s an introductionby Breslin, whom Bellows discoveredand elevated to a columnist at the HeraldTribune. There are snippets ofnotes, memos and recollections fromTom Wolfe, whom Bellows brought toNew York from Washington, D.C.,where Wolfe was languishing at TheWashington Post. There are notes andsidebars by Art Buchwald, Dick Schaap,Ben Bradlee, Pat Oliphant, MaureenDowd, Ben Stein, Gail Sheehy, JudithCrist, Clare Booth Luce—well, you getthe idea. At times, the book drips withthe kind of name-dropping that DickSchaap would have loved. You get theidea that Schaap came by his namedroppinghonestly when early in hisnewspaper career he worked as cityeditor at the Herald Tribune underBellows.The writing isn’t grand. Bellowsfrankly admits he isn’t much of a writerand notes that the book is titled, “thelast editor, not the last writer.” He hadsignificant help crafting the book fromGerald Gardner. But that doesn’t diminishthe fun we have in readingabout his newspaper war stories or thelessons to be learned from them. “TheLast Editor” is far more than a rompthrough the daisies of one person’scareer. Bellows doesn’t come off aseither stately or sagely, but as someonewho was in critical places at criticaltimes and believed that news is seriousbusiness in need of passion. Despitethe constant budget cuts, clashes withpublishers, strikes and daunting resourcesof the competition, Bellows isexuberant about his work and the sheerjoy he finds in it.Bellows offers some caution to thosewho care about the newspaper businesstoday: “I’m afraid that newspapershave a perilous grasp on theirsouls today. They are fighting for eyeballs,advertising dollars, and thethumbs-up from Wall Street for maximizingprofits (not serving the public)as their primary goal.” However, by theend of the book, Bellows is back toextolling the fun to be found in a newspapercareer. “I encourage those ofyou burning with idealism to climbaboard. A career in news will let youchange the world, and if you do it withpassion and zeal, make it better. Andyou’ll have more fun than you everdreamed work could provide.” ■Seth Effron, a 1992 Nieman Fellow,is special projects director at theNieman Foundation.effron@fas.harvard.edu62 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


International JournalismThe Impact of Middle EastPictures and WordsAs conflict in the Middle East has intensified, scrutiny of the press coverage has likewise increased,with charges of biased reporting being made from all sides. Often such charges lead to internalreviews within news organizations; some examine not only the selection of words but also thechoice of photographs that tell the story in ways words never could.In our series of stories, a photojournalist, photo editor, reader representatives, and deputymanaging editor describe the decision-making process that brings photographic images from thehomes and streets of the Middle East to the pages of daily newspapers, and they speak to thereaction their selections have received from readers. Courtney Kealy, a photojournalist for GettyImages based in Beirut, explains what went wrong when her provocative photograph of aPalestinian child, dressed as a suicide bomber, ended up being used for an unintended politicalpurpose, and she shares with us recent images of Palestinian girls who have volunteered to besuicide bombers.Randy L. Rasmussen, assistant director of photography at The Oregonian, explores the waysin which reader reaction is factored into decisions made about which photographs to publish andwhere to place them. He offers insight into the key questions editors ask as decisions are beingmade. Dick Rogers, San Francisco Chronicle readers’ representative, writes about the charges ofeditorial bias that photo selection engenders and tells us how he worked with a group of readersto inform his newspaper’s response. What readers told him “reminded photo editors and senioreditors that day-to-day news decisions have lasting impacts on how readers view the paper.”Arizona Daily Star reader advocate, Debbie Kornmiller, developed a similar listening approachto analyzing her newspaper’s pictorial Mideast coverage and, based on readers’ suggestions, thepaper made changes. Michael Larkin, deputy managing editor/news operations at The BostonGlobe, explains how a particularly graphic photo of a dead child ended up on the paper’s frontpage.Joel Campagna, who overseas the Middle East at the Committee to Protect Journalists,describes the dangers associated with covering the Intifada. “The situation, where the rules ofengagement can change daily, poses increasing risks for those seeking proximity to the action—cameramen, camera crews, photographers and stringers in particular,” he writes. Former BostonPhoenix media critic Dan Kennedy writes about the Phoenix’s decision to link its Web site to thepropaganda video of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl’s execution and to publish twophotos from the video on its editorial page.Beverly Wall, director of the Allan K. Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoric at Trinity College,works her way through “the minefield of language” that makes news coverage of the Middle Eastso difficult. And Rami G. Khouri, a Jordanian-Palestinian syndicated political columnist, explainswhy he doesn’t think that U. S. policy in the region is affected by the journalists’ selection of wordsand pictures. ■Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 63


International JournalismPhotographic Images Can Be Misunderstood‘I had hoped people would view this boy from Ain el Helweh as I had seen him,a tiny tragic figure.’By Courtney KealyIknew not to ask their names andconcentrated on the girlishnessbelied by their suicide belts andkalashnikovs. Subtle feminine cluesappeared. They whispered to eachother behind cupped hands in front oftheir covered faces. A small delicatewristband, purple platform sandals, orlong-lashed wide eyes peeked out fromtheir militant attire and offered up contradictions.It’s often a simple gesture or smallsymbols in a larger political contextthat gives a photo its strength and offerssome universal humanness. Butafter covering breaking news in theMiddle East for four years, I fully realizethe political repercussions of storieslike this and sadly know both sidesoften cannot see each other as human.It took four months of preparationconsulting with a writer to arrive at thismeeting of female suicide bombers withthe al-Aqsa Brigades, training for futureoperations inside Israel in a smallPalestinian camp in Northern Lebanon.I own all rights to these possiblycontentious photos of female suicidebombers. After their first publication ina Sunday supplement to a Scottishnewspaper, The Herald, I will makesure they do not get published alongsidetext that offers some sort of biasedargument for one side or the other. Myhope still is that photographs such asthese can prompt people to ask whypeople do the things they do. But Ihave learned how difficult it is to workin this region, where tempers simmerbeneath a thin veneer of calm, andthose on all sides constantly accusejournalists of bias.Four years ago, as a photojournalist,I brought myself to the Middle East andsettled in Beirut. The 10-year ban onAmericans traveling to the country hadbeen lifted 14 months earlier, and thecity had become one of the largestreconstruction sites in the world. Yeteditors I visited before my move toldme they didn’t have much need forstories from this region.Often my introduction to the culturewas lightly amusing. On aHezbollah press tour, one of the first ofThese unidentified girls from theBeddawi Palestinian camp in Tripoli,Lebanon, have volunteered to be suicidebombers for the al-Aqsa Brigadesin future operations inside Israel. AsKealy writes, “My hope still is thatphotographs such as these can promptpeople to ask why people do the thingsthey do. But I have learned how difficultit is to work in this region, wheretempers simmer beneath a thin veneerof calm, and those on all sides constantlyaccuse journalists of bias.”Photos by Courtney Kealy.64 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Middle Eastits kind, an overexcited assistant pressofficer kept trying to tell me thatHezbollah suffered from its stereotypeas a terrorist organization. “It’s a stereotype,they think we are the terrorist!”he said. I raised an eyebrow ironicallyand asked rhetorically that maybeI, too—an American woman in theMiddle East—could understand whatit meant to be a stereotype? “Yes, yes,”he exclaimed, “It is true, it is true, theythink we are the terrorists and you arethe sex machine!”But after the Israeli withdrawal fromSouth Lebanon, the death of SyrianPresident Hafez el-Assad, and the startof the Palestinian Intifada in 2000,things changed considerably. Then theevents of September 11 sparked analmost hysterical demand for news fromthe Arab world. As an American andnative New Yorker, the political becameintensely personal.On a Sunday in mid-December 2001,I was on assignment in Ain el-Helweh.More than 70,000 Palestinians livethere, making it the largest Palestinianrefugee camp in Lebanon. Hamas, thePalestinian Islamist group, organized arally to commemorate their 14th anniversary.My purpose was to merely coverthis small event inside the camp toshow the Palestinian refugees in Lebanonsupporting Hamas’s actions insideIsrael and the occupied Palestinianterritories. Although theorganization had taken responsibilitythat weekend for suicide bombings thatkilled more than 25 people in Israel,leaders from Hamas have stated thatthey do not conduct military trainingor operations from inside Lebanon.Children in the Palestinian refugeecamps often trail alongside me repeatingin high pitched voices “saurini,saurini, saurini,” which in Arabic means,“take my photo, take my photo, takemy photo.” They love to pose for photoswhen a photojournalist arrives. Iused to view it as a distraction to myconcentration, but realizing how itamuses them I now take the time tosnap my shutter when they ask. By theend of the march of Hamas supportersthrough the camp that day, I felt relaxedand very aware of the multitudesof children darting through the crowds.Girls shyly followed me around, a curiousfemale presence, no headscarf,clearly foreign, and doing what isthought of as a man’s job.As some adults listened to a Hamasspokesman’s speech, others readiedthemselves for the requisite end-ofthe-rallyburning of the Israeli andAmerican flags. I walked through thered dirt soccer field to where smallboys dressed in camouflage with pintsizeplastic machine guns and teenageboys dressed as suicide bombers coveredhead to toe in white sheets andfake belts of explosives, waited on thesidelines.I knelt down on the ground, eye-toeyewith a small boy about three yearsold, a Hamas headband wrappedaround his forehead. A young teenagersuddenly approached, untied his fakesuicide belt and tied it around the waistof the little boy. I didn’t say a word,waiting to see what would happen. Hesecured it around the little boy’s waistas he lifted his arms and smiled shyly.Then the boys straightened up, pulledtheir hoods over their faces and fellinto a chilling tableau. The boys clearlydidn’t understand the significance oftheir gestures, but they had alreadyabsorbed the message of the roles theywere expected to embrace.The little Palestinian boy was aboutthe same size and age as my nephew,Harrison, who was in love with thefiremen in New York City before hecould talk. In my wallet I carried aphoto of Harrison dressed as a firemanon his second birthday, smiling widely.I had hoped people would view thisboy from Ain el-Helweh as I had seenhim, a tiny tragic figure.Within a few days the photo wasbeing published worldwide by myagency, Getty Images. I had worked ona $225 day rate and received no otherroyalties for the publication of thisphoto, yet I felt incredibly compensatedby seeing it in print and hearingthat it had been discussed on morningradio shows in New York City. But inMarch, an unwitting salesperson atGetty Images made an unfortunatemistake by selling the photo for anadvertisement published by the AmericanJewish Committee on the opinionpage of the Sunday New York TimesAin el-Helweh, Lebanon: Palestinian children dressed as suicide bombers put fake explosiveson a small child after marching in commemoration of the 14th anniversary of thePalestinian militant group, Hamas, in Ain el-Helweh, the largest Palestinian refugeecamp in Lebanon, on December 9, 2001. The camp is home to more than 40,000Palestinian refugees and is surrounded by Lebanese Army checkpoints. Photo byCourtney Kealy.Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 65


International JournalismNabatieh, South Lebanon: Ashoura, the annual religious holiday in which Shiite Muslimssacrifice their blood to commemorate the death of Hussein, the grandson of theProphet Mohammed, who died in battle in 680 AD in Kerbala, now modern day Iraq.The battle marks the schism between Sunnis and Shiites. The practice was banned inIran in 1994; members of Hezbollah in Lebanon also denounce it, although it still occursannually in other countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Photo by Courtney Kealy.with the headline “Some are born hating,others are taught how to hate.”I feel that this child is not emblematicof what needs to be fought againstbut rather serves as a symbol of a peoplewhose desperation needs to be addressed.The ad only causes more riftsand hatred by using the image of thissmall child. To portray a three-year-oldas a symbol of hate and evil buried thehumanitarian intent of the photo.I worried that the mistaken use ofthis photo would lead to problems forme in Lebanon. It is offensive to methat a spokesman for the AmericanJewish Committee expressed concernabout my safety in an article addressingthe misuse of my photograph. While itwould be nice to see this as an expressionof genuine concern, unfortunatelyI see it as serving a more insidiouspolitical agenda: I regard it as trying toreinforce an image of the Arab world aspopulated only with extremists andteeming with terrorists.Breaking news footage on September11 had already done a lot of damagein this respect. Before anyone knewthe scale of events that would unfold,some local stringers rushed into Ain el-Helweh for reaction photos. A few Palestiniansdanced and cheered for thecameras. After this initial display thestreets were quiet and darkness fell afew hours later. Time and Newsweekpublished these pictures as indicativeof widespread jubilation among Palestiniansat the September 11 tragedyand U.S. TV news stations ran imageslike these in continuous replays.However, there was never any genuinestreet reaction to photograph inthe Palestinian camps in Lebanon orelsewhere that day. When my brothercalled to reassure me that my family inManhattan was alright, he asked, clearlyshocked, “Why is everyone celebratingover there?” I explained the news footageportrayed a few small crowds as acollective whole: There had been asmall crowd early in the day in a Palestiniancamp in Lebanon, a small groupof kids handing out candy in East Jerusalem,and a large demonstration inNablus, a West Bank town. This irresponsibleuse of the same footage overand over in a rush to offer somethingfrom the Middle East and Arab worlddemonized the Palestinians.I am very aware that most Americanscannot distinguish between Arabs ofdifferent nationalities, religion and loyaltiesin this region. I do cover breakingnews, which often involves militantextremist groups, and so I documenttheir speeches, parades and anniversaries,whether it be the Shiite groupHezbollah, the Palestinian Sunni groupHamas, or others. The images do carrya particular weight, but to many uninformedviewers they represent thewhole as opposed to the fringe groupsthat they are.In my work I concentrate on smallsegments of society. When photojournalistsfocus on aspects of Europeanand North American culture, most viewersof the images understand that thephoto essay or long-term body of workrepresents specific problems, social andpolitical, and the consequences of thesedifficulties. The groups whose images Icapture represent certain political, socialand cultural issues in this region,but in no way do they reflect the 2000years of diverse civilizations that haveformed today’s complex “Arab world.”In spite of the mistaken sale of myphoto of that little boy from Ain el-Helweh, I feel I can trust my agencycompletely, and this is crucial. In thisday of digital, light-speed photojournalism,I must move images from mycamera through e-mail to editors instantlywith a detached objectivity. Andthere is no time for mistakes. This canbe a difficult balance to strike, emotionallyand physically wearing, but itis vital to maintaining the integrity ofthese images. ■Courtney Kealy, a photojournalistfor Getty Images, is based in Beirut,Lebanon. Her work has appearedworldwide in such publications asThe New York Times, Los AngelesTimes, US News & World Report,Time and Newsweek. She alsofreelances as a local producer forABC News.courtney@kealy.com66 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Arriving at Judgments in Selecting PhotosAt The Oregonian, key questions help to frame decisions about images ofMideast violence.Middle EastBy Randy L. RasmussenAn explosion at a Jerusalem market,triggered by a suicidebomber, leaves the street litteredwith debris and body parts. Among thewounded, a rescuer assists a man whoseclothes are shredded and charred fromthe blast. In Ramallah, a Palestiniansoldier sprints across a street and, inpublic view, is shot by an Israeli sniper.On The Oregonian’s front page, werun a photo of this market victim, pickedup by The Associated Press, as the mainpicture. It shows little blood or gore,but it’s a powerful image, graphic in itsdepiction of the trauma and terror.From the West Bank, two AP photographersrecord a sequence of thePalestinian’s death as it happens, andwe decide to publish a single imagetaken at the moment the man takes afatal hit. This photograph runs blackand white and toward the bottom of apage, inside the paper. It’s a hauntingphoto but not particularly graphic oras unsettling as it would have been hadwe run the entire shooting sequence incolor on the front page.Front page, left, of The Oregonian on Saturday, March 30, 2002, and Page A4, right, of the same day’s paper showingour Mideast coverage, including the photo of a Palestinian gunman killed by an Israeli sniper. [See page 68box.] —R.R.Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 67


International JournalismNews reporting on the conflict betweenIsraelis and Palestinian drawsreader comment like few other topics.Add to that the fact that images ofviolence set phones ringing immediatelyand know that the response toour front-page image was rapid andvigorous. (We rarely hear from readersabout photographs that appear on insidepages.) About the market victimphoto, we received comments such as:“I can’t handle it.” “It is more than Ineed to see.” Another caller complains:“I’m tired of seeing blood and guts.”I’ve heard many comments aboutphotographs that we’ve published duringthis resurgence of violence in theMiddle East. And I have developed apretty good sense of what aspects ofour work tend to draw the most readerreaction. They include:• Where the photo is played. Photosplayed on the front page, in fullcolor, receive the most attentionand generally the most reaction.Inside photos seldom evoke thesame kind of commentary.• How it is played. Again, the mostprominent pictures on the page getthe most reaction. Color is also afactor.• Depiction of violence. Peak action,depicting violence and captured ina still photograph, gets the mostreader comment, followed veryclosely by scenes showing dead bodies.• Evidence of violence. Body bags,pools of blood, or other graphicremains often are viewed as traumatic.• Intrusion into scenes perceivedas private. This could be anythingfrom reaction at a suicide bombingto a grieving family member at afuneral, scenes where strong andcandid emotions are laid bare.• Perception that one side is favoredover the other in coverage.The Oregonian’s public editor, DanHortsch, who often first receivesreader phone calls, likens the Mideastconflict to the 2000 Gore-Bushelection, in which each side stronglybelieved its candidate was beingslighted in the coverage.Portrait of a DeathThe Oregonian considered a sequence ofthree photos showing a Palestinian gunmanbeing shot dead by an Israeli sniper in theWest Bank city of Ramallah on Friday,March 29, 2002.We debated using this entire sequence andfurther debated the context of its use on aday when Israeli troops attacked YasserArafat’s compound and a suicide bomber,an 18-year-old woman, killed herself andtwo others and injured 25 at a publicmarket.All of these factors led us to put the secondpicture alone on an inside page [see page67], when on another day it might haveplayed much more prominently. It is ahaunting, unsettling image recording themoment of death from a proximity seldomseen. Its power is amplified when viewed inthe context of photos taken just before andafter. —R.R.Photos courtesy of The Associated Press. Top two photos by Nasser Nasser; bottom photo byJerome Delay.68 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Middle EastEach of these factors contributes todifficult decisions for editors who mustdecide how to document a news storythat is often best portrayed by picturesof violence, even though they knowthese images will evoke strong emotions.At The Oregonian, where I work as aphoto editor, we rely on questioningand discussion when confronted withpictures that contain bodies or gore ormight be viewed as intrusive. Our generaldirective is to not run these photographs.However, each picture must betalked about in the context of its newsvalue and its merits understood. Thesediscussions take place first among thosein the photo department, then moveoutward to include the senior editorfor visuals, our design director, and themanaging editor for news.What follows are some of the questionswe try to answer to determine ifwe should publish particular photographsand how we might use them:• Are these images storytelling, documentaryphotojournalism? We wantspontaneous photography that revealsthe news quickly and truthfully.• Are the photographs well executed?We look for well-composed photosthat reflect sophisticated use oflenses, angle and lighting.• Are they powerful and dramatic withoutbeing gratuitous in their depictionof violence?• How do they relate specifically tothe news of the day or define theevent in a way that gives greaterunderstanding to the long-runningstory?• What are the possible consequencesof running the photos? What reactionsmight they provoke? And whatwill be the good that can come frompublishing them?• What is the day’s competition? Othernews events might push a strongphoto downpage or inside, as sometimeswe make difficult decisions onwhere to place a photograph. (Thephotograph of the man killed by thesniper was taken on the same daythat Israeli troops razed Arafat’s compound,and a suicide bomber—onlythe second woman to do this—killedherself and two others. That day,story and photo competition wasquite stiff.)These questions define what I callan invisible “bar,” one that dictateswhether a photo will make the frontpage, an inside page, or be rejected.Front page (left) of The Oregonian on Saturday, April 13, 2002, showing ourMideast coverage of the aftermath of a suicide bombing.This is a dramatic photo showing the horror and destruction of a suicide bombingwithout specifically showing the dead or the gore of the scene. In it, a paramedictends to a wounded person at the scene of a suicide bombing at a Jerusalemmarket Friday, April 12, 2002. Pushing the picture into a prominent A1 positionwas not only the power of the image but also a convergence of Mideast news: Ithappened on the day that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Israel andone day before he was to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. —R.R.Photo courtesy of Zoom 77/The Associated Press.Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 69


International JournalismOften, even after all of these questionshave been raised and discussionhas led us to think hard about manyconsiderations, readers will still reactnegatively to our decision. But knowingthis reaction might come shouldnot dissuade us from publishing imagesthat we think offer readers a vitalnewsworthy perspective on this longrunningconflict.The newspaper has a long history ofnot running photos of the bodies ofdead people. John Harvey, a senioreditor who heads the national/internationalnews team and a veteran of 40years at the newspaper, remembersthat one publisher, seeing a photographof Marilyn Monroe’s draped bodyin an early edition of the paper, had thepicture pulled from later editions. TheOregonian did, however, run the hauntingphoto by George Wedding of adead child’s body in the back of apickup truck after the eruption ofMount St. Helens. “I handled 500 callsthe next day,” Harvey remembers.During my earlier years at the newspaper,decisions about whether to publishpictures of violence often felt asthough they were made randomly. Eventhe factors that went into the decisionmakingdid not seem well understoodby the staff. That changed with thearrival of Sandy Rowe as editor of TheOregonian in 1993. Rowe created asystematic structure in the newsroomthat changed the way editors looked atstory play and picture selection. Roweorchestrated the creation of an openmeeting room called the “Well,” a spacespecifically designed to encourage discussionsabout what the newspaper isdoing and how it has done. Each day’spapers are posted on walls that can beopened, and etched-steel panels remindthe staff of the newspaper’s missionstatement.Each weekday morning, editorsgather in the Well. Here the next day’sstories are discussed, but editors andothers also offer reaction to themorning’s edition. If a particular pictureor story has evoked reaction, itmight result in spirited conversations.Occasionally we show photographs thatwere not published and talk aboutwhether that was the “right” decision.This is an example of a photo from the Mideast conflict that we considered andrejected for publication. It shows Palestinians gathering at the morgue in Gaza City toidentify friends and relatives killed after an incursion by Israeli troops into Jabalyaand the northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, March 12, 2002. As The Associated Press warnedin its caption, the picture has graphic content. It depicts death in a way that we didnot feel was necessary to publish. We couldn’t find the news justification necessary tooutweigh the negative reader reaction we would certainly get. —R.R.Photo courtesy of Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press.As Rowe puts it: “We try to walk aroundour decisions and view them throughdifferent prisms. We want to hear differentviews and be challenged.”An understood partner in this decisionprocess is the reader. Since Rowecame to the newspaper, we haveopened ourselves up to the reader.Now on the first page of every sectiona phone number is published for theeditor responsible for that section. Storiesend with e-mail and phone informationso readers can reach the writerand, often, the photographer. We havecreated the position of a public editor,a direct liaison between the public andthe newspaper.The Mideast conflict, Rowe observes,involves events of unquestioned significanceand events over which peoplevigorously disagree. Readers whosesympathies fall to one side or the othersee things quite differently. The Oregonianoften becomes the focus fortheir reactions, as we report and displayphotos they perceive as unfair ortoo emotionally disturbing.In selecting pictures from the MiddleEast, we are sensitive to issue of fairnessand our overall goal is to achievean accurate historical perspective. Inthis process, editors try to emphasizenews over emotion, to edify ratherthan enrage. At the same time, Rowereminds us that with the ongoing violence,we need to be careful not tosanitize the situation at the risk of notshowing reality. Rowe cautions editorsto remember: “Our job is to add light,not heat.” ■Randy L. Rasmussen is assistantdirector of photography at TheOregonian.randyr@news.oregonian.com70 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Expanding the Lens on Coverage of the Middle EastBy judging a newspaper’s visual coverage over a long period of time, biasbecomes less apparent.Middle EastBy Dick RogersThe Palestinian child stares emptilyfrom the foot of a bloodstainedstaircase, a half-eatensandwich in his left hand, his righthand resting on a step leading to hishouse. Hours before, the boy’s fatherand grandfather had been shot to deathamid yet another spasm of Middle Eastviolence.To the San Francisco Chronicle editorswho had to decide which photographwould occupy the middle of thefront page the next day, this was asearing image that conveyed emotionand the complexities of a conflict withoutend.Many readers saw something else:proof of the paper’s anti-Israel bias.Caption: A Palestinian boy sits on a staircase stained with blood at a house in theJabalya refugee camp March 12, 2002. Family members said that the boy’s father,Waled Izz el-Din, and grandfather, Abdel Rahman, were killed by gunfire as theviolence, which has claimed the lives of at least 37 Palestinians and Israelis in theregion over the past 24 hours, continued unabated.Photo Credit: ReutersPublication Date: 3/13/2002Each member of the readers’ panel was also told the page and section in whichthis photo was published in color. The panel saw the photo in black and white.In their responses, four readers considered this photo to be pro-Palestinian, one thoughtit neutral. Photo courtesy of Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters.They called and wrote angrily, demandingto know why the paper persists inshowing sympathetic images of Palestinianboys and girls while depictingonly Israeli tanks and bulldozers. Whereare the photographs showing the anguishof young Israelis as their friendsand relatives are wantonly killed bysuicide bombers? Where is the balance?The questions, which come in varyingform from competing sides of theMideast controversy, defy easy answers,in part because newspapers rarely takethe time to step back and take a longerview of the impact of their coverage.Editors focus on the immediate decisions.What’s the best picture fortomorrow’s cover? Which six stories dowe put on the front page? What’s ourlead story?Did this particular photo evoke sympathyfor Palestinians, or at least for thePalestinian boy? No doubt. More importantly,did the decision to put thepicture on Page One betray a pattern ofbias on the paper’s part?In my role as the Chronicle’s ombudsman,I needed to respond to thesequestions and concerns. But rather thandecide for myself, I invited five readersto examine our Mideast photo coverageduring a three-month period, fromDecember 23, 2001 until March 15,2002. Each reader looked at copies ofthe same 79 photos and judged whetherthe images were sympathetic towardPalestinians or Israel or neutral. Thepackage of photos included captions,the page and section in which the picturesran, photo credits, and publicationdates.The readers were selected by HeidiSwillinger, a copyeditor who developedour “Two Cents” program, a databaseof roughly 1,100 readers whoagreed to offer comment or expertiseNieman Reports / Fall 2002 71


International Journalismon a wide range of subjects, usuallyinvolving reactions to breaking news.The only criteria were that our volunteerscould spare several hours andthat they were not activists in Mideastaffairs.Before the judging, we asked themto tell us a little about themselves andtheir views of the Mideast situation:1. A 49-year-old architect and San Franciscoresident. He was “both sympatheticand critical of both sides inthis conflict.” He added that Palestinianshave been “treated brutallyby Israel and that they have beenprovoked into equally brutal reactions.”2. A 66-year-old Berkeley resident andretired registered nurse. “I feel thatanti-Semitism is like the Hydra,” shesaid. “The more of its heads are cutoff, the more grow back.” She saidshe believes Arab states have “refusedto provide aid to Palestiniansto foment anti-Israeli sentiment.”3. A 79-year old retired man, living inRedwood City. He doubted that theMideast situation would be resolvedin our lifetimes. “I have always feltthat Israel was given a parcel of landthat did not originally belong tothem,” he said. “I’m now inclined toagree with the Saudi proposal ofreverting to the 1967 land division.”4. A 45-year-old community service volunteerfrom San Francisco. She, too,said she believed the situation defiedresolution. While Israel musttake some responsibility, she said,“it is hard for me to find completesympathy (empathy) for the Palestinians.How do you accept suicidebombers?” she asked. “How do youaccept bombings on High Holy Days?How do you reconcile Barak’s peaceplan being utterly refused by Arafat?”5. A 50-year-old San Francisco insuranceconsultant. He concluded thatfactions on both sides in the MiddleEast prevent an everlasting peace,and he viewed the motives of bothsides skeptically. “I believe Israelwould like an all-out war to settlethe issue for the most part beforethe Arabs get a nuclear weapon,” hesaid. “I believe the Palestinians wantan all-out war to foster unity amongall non-Jewish-supported countries.”Each member of the panel separatedthe photos into three categories:sympathetic to Palestinians, sympatheticto Israel, and neutral.Here is what they saw:Reader Pro-Palestinian Neutral Pro-Israel#1 21 10 48#2 32 22 25#3 35 15 29#4 24 47 8#5 18 45 16Caption: A priest prays while children light candles at the Grotto, believed tobe the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Sunday,December 23, 2001. The Mideast fighting has dealt a crushing blow toBethlehem, where the 30,000 Palestinian residents are roughly half-Muslimand half-Christian. The town, just south of Jerusalem, is heavily dependent onChristian tourists from around the world.Photo Credit: AP Photo/Karel PrinslooPublication Date: 12/24/2002Each member of the readers’ panel was also told the page and section in whichthis black-and-white photo was published.In their responses, all five readers thought this image was neutral. Photo courtesy of KarelPrinsloo/The Associated Press.After they’d made these judgments,we asked the panel members for theirimpressions.The San Francisco architect, whofelt that Palestinians had been provokedinto brutality because of brutaltreatment by Israel, found that similarphotographs could be interpreted verydifferently, partly because of the waythe conflict has been framed in themedia. “Israelis with guns are soldiersdefending their people,” he said, “whilePalestinians with guns are terrorists.”He added that “very few Palestinianmen [were] photographed sympathetically.”The retired nurse, who describedherself as “firmly pro-Zionist,” said,“after seeing the pictures I feel yourcoverage is actually fairly balanced. Thepictures I considered pro-Palestinianseemed to pull far more emotionalresponse than the pro-Israeli ones, butthat’s largely an artifact of the fact that72 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Middle Eastthe Israelis have more equipment andinfrastructure, and … are more able tosupervise and protect their children[from photographers].”The retired Redwood city residentwho advocates a pullback to the 1967borders said, “it appears that the majorityof these pictures are sympathetictoward the Palestinians in a sense—although a number of Palestinian bombattacks are depicted, it seems that inthese pictures the Israelis have createdthe most deaths.”The San Francisco community servicevolunteer was “totally surprised bythis ‘test.’ At the beginning I felt theS.F. Chronicle was biased toward thePalestinians. Then, as I went throughmore and more, I wrote ‘neutral’ morethan I thought I would. Did I get desensitized?It feels that way, quite honestly.My final thought is a bit of acontrast—while I certainly indicated‘neutral’ more than the other two categories,I also came away with a feelingthat the Chronicle leans toward a sympatheticview of the Palestinians. Interestinghow a group of photos can alteryour perspective versus viewing a singlephoto.”Context means a lot, this reader toldus. “I found that I read the captionsmore closely today than when I readthe paper at home,” he said. “The wordingof the captions influenced me indetermining whether there was a bias.Had I just seen the photos withoutcaptions, I would have found less bias.”From five readers, we received fivedifferent reactions, but when looked attogether, the responses yield an interestingresult—their findings were almostequally distributed.Pro-Palestinian Neutral Pro-Israel5 Readers 130 139 126There’s nothing scientific in whatwe did and nothing that would hold upin court—or even in a debate with anavidly pro-Palestinian or pro-Israelreader. But the experiment had valueto the newspaper. For one thing, westepped back and took the time to lookat one aspect of our work as it appearedover time. It reminded photoeditors and senior editors that day-todaynews decisions have lasting impactson how readers view the paper.And it prompted at least one photoeditor to think more deeply about herchoices as she waded through hundredsof Mideast photos each day.“We always look for photos that arecompelling and elicit an emotional response,”said Elizabeth Mangelsdorf,acting director of photography. “Butthe readers’ response to our Mideastphoto coverage has reminded us thatwe have to look hard at why and howwe run photos. We need to show bothsides of a conflict. But individual eventscan appear more sympathetic to oneside or the other in the coverage of along-term conflict. Because of this, it’simportant that, over time, we seek balancein the photos we choose.”The experiment showed somethingelse: If the Chronicle was trying toespouse a particular viewpoint throughphoto selections, it wasn’t doing a verygood job. ■Caption: Palestinian gunmen march during the funeral procession ofPalestinian police officers Omar Wahdan, 20, and Hussein Zbidi, 35, whowere shot dead by Israeli forces while participating in a gunfight Monday, inthe West Bank town of Ramallah Tuesday, January 22, 2002.Photo Credit: APPublication Date: 1/23/2002Each member of the readers’ panel was also told the page and section in whichthis black-and-white photo was published.In their responses, reactions were mixed. One reader thought this photo was pro-Palestinian;two readers thought it was pro-Israel, and two readers thought it was neutral.Photo courtesy of Zoom77/The Associated Press.Dick Rogers is the San FranciscoChronicle’s readers’ representativeand a 28-year newspaper veteran.Since his department was createdlast October, he has fielded commentfrom more than 4,000 readerson issues ranging from the quality ofthe paper’s comics page to the effectivenessof prostate cancer screening,the debate over allowing unleasheddogs in urban parks, and coverageof the Middle East.drogers@sfchronicle.comNieman Reports / Fall 2002 73


International JournalismImages Lead to Varying Perceptions‘In photographs in which we, as journalists, saw danger, some readers saw deception.’By Debbie KornmillerSeeing photos through readers’eyes reveals images and responsesthat journalists sometimes overlook.In photographs in which we, as journalists,saw danger, some readers sawdeception. To an image depictingyoung Palestinian protesters runningfrom fire, we heard reactions such as“Aren’t they too young to organize?”Where we saw truth, readers suspecteda setup. When we published a pictureof a colorful protest, readers wonderedabout the manipulation involved ingetting this message out. When we sawsorrow, readers saw joy. Is the motherof a suicide bomber grieving? Or is shejoyous that her son is now a martyr?As this gulf in perceptions becameapparent—through a handful of lettersand calls that I received each week—Iset out to evaluate the Arizona DailyStar’s Mideast photographic coverage.As the newspaper’s reader advocate, Iwould present my findings to readersand then create a forum so that theStar’s decision-makers could hear directlyfrom readers. To fully open myeyes to the bias that some of our readerswere seeing, I looked at more than160 Associated Press photos.Of the 900,000 people who live inmetropolitan Tucson, about three percentare Jewish, and just under onepercent is Muslim. The Star sells anaverage of 101,000 papers each dayand 171,000 on Sundays. There wereno organized advertising boycottsabout our Mideast coverage, nor orchestratedcirculation cancellations, asthere have been in other communities.And for the most part, the complaints Ireceived were courteous, friendly andconstructive.These reader complaints wereenough to convince the paper’s topeditors that it was time for a “gutcheck”to look for ways that we couldIsraelis hold signs with pictures of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Osama bin Ladenwith a written legend that reads “the twins” as they wave Israeli flags during a rally inJerusalem Monday, October 22, 2001. Thousands of Israelis filled the central square ofJerusalem demanding tough action against the Palestinians. Photo courtesy of ElizabethDalziel/The Associated Press.improve our coverage. Every newspapercan cover an issue better—whetherby devoting more space, diversifyingnews sources, or presenting the newsmore effectively. To do so, however,requires a willingness to recognize whatisn’t working. In 2001, the Star examinedits gun coverage as part of theAssociated Press Managing Editors’ NationalCredibility Roundtables Project,designed to bring news organizationsand readers together to talk about credibilityissues. Managing Editor BobbieJo Buel promised readers that the Starwould examine its Mideast coveragenext.In 2001, we used wire photos fromThe Associated Press to convey to Starreaders the war’s realities. We dependon these photographers to depict whatis happening and to describe it in captionform. In my assessment of thephotos of the Mideast that ran in theStar in 2001, I judged them on specificcriteria. For example, did the photographshow the news of the day? Anddid it show Israelis or Palestinians in apositive, neutral or negative light?Over the course of the year, theStar’s choice of photographs showedIsraelis and Palestinians in a positive orneutral light at about the same rate,about 40 percent of the time. Of the 57photos that showed either side in anegative light, 37, or 23 percent,showed Israelis in a negative light, and20, or 13 percent, showed Palestiniansin a negative light.From this analysis we selected 15images to form the springboard for74 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Middle Eastinterviews with the eightreaders—suggested to usby others in the community—whoagreed to takepart in a two-hourroundtable discussion. Isent each participant thesame packet of images and,before we met as a group, Iheard impressions fromeach in an individual 90-minute meeting.One of the photos I includedwas one from October2001 that showed Israeliprotesters holdingsigns with pictures of Palestinianleader YasserArafat and Osama binLaden, captioned in English“the twins.” [Seephoto on page 74.] Thisphotograph ran in color onthe front page. A readerhad called asking, “If it werea Palestinian protest depictingSharon as a twin withbin Laden, would that havebeen an 8” x 6” color pictureon the front page?”Soon after, Newsweek reportedthat the Israeli governmenthad spearheadeda move to ingrain thisArafat-bin Laden comparison.Another was a December16 photo of Palestinianchildren, identified as protesters,running for coveras Israeli troops fire theirweapons during a Gazaclash. However, there wasno sign of a demonstrationin the photo.The week before theroundtable, I showed thesame examples to the Star’sdecision-makers—photo and newseditors, Page One editors, and Editorand Publisher Jane Amari—and explainedwhy each was included andwhat readers had said about them.During the roundtable in April, mycolleagues were asked to talk as little aspossible. They were there to listen, notto voice their views. Readers talkedabout the impact of images of protestSubhiah al-Ghoul, left, surrounded by pictures of her son Muhammed al-Ghoul, 22, is comforted by her daughter as she cries at her home at theal-Faraa refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday,June 18, 2002. The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibilityfor the suicide bombing in Jerusalem, saying Muhammed al-Ghoulcarried out the attack, detonating nail-studded explosives on a Jerusalemcity bus crowded with high school students and office workers, killinghimself and 19 passengers in the deadliest suicide attack in the hard-hitcity in six years. Photo courtesy of Nasser Ishtayeh/The Associated Press.and of the massive destruction theysaw when they looked at these photos.Over and over, readers said, “Show usthe human side of the conflict.” As thediscussion ended, the photo directorasked that the Mideast photos we wereconsidering that day be assembled sothe readers could view the next day’soptions. They seemed overwhelmedby the number of images we had to sortthrough. After viewingabout a dozen images,they remarked uponhow hard it must be tomake our choices eachnight.The Star’s promisefrom the start was to examineits coverage andlisten to readers. Anychange that might beinstituted would be conveyedto them personallyin writing and to thepublic in the Sundayreader advocate column.Based on readers’suggestions, the Star:• Instituted trials ofChristian Science Monitorand Reuters news servicesto broaden the possibilitiesfor our newsand visual coverage.• Promised to publishphotos that add a humandimension to theday’s events.• Promised that everyphoto considered will beviewed by at least twosets of eyes and the differentapproaches to theday’s news discussed.More than a dozenpeople not involved inthe roundtable sentnotes of appreciation orcalled to thank the Starfor its efforts.The roundtableheightened efforts toensure fairness and accuracyand created aroad map for us to use.Judgment based on that road map stillcan result in second-guessing. However,in the three months after theroundtable, the Star has received complaintsonly once about its photo selection.On June 19, more than 20 readerscalled to voice their outrage and dismayover a front page photo of Subhiahal-Ghoul grieving over her son, a suicidebomber who killed 19 people,Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 75


International Journalismincluding children, and wounded 55others the previous morning in Jerusalem.A second photo of similar size wasadjacent and showed a grieving PrimeMinister Ariel Sharon with the bombedbus in the background.Readers called the photo selectionunbalanced and said that it looked as ifthe Star was glorifying the bomber’sactions. In their words: “That woman isonly sad for her loss; she’s happy insidethat all those kids died.” Fromanother: “When I saw Wednesday’sfront page, I thought you were saying‘Screw the Jews; Hurrah for the murderers.’”A lone caller grasped that thetwo photos were chosen to show twosides grieving.Teri Hayt, assistant managing editorfor photography, design and graphics,oversees photo selection. In my June23 column, she explained our decisionin publishing these photographs:“There were several images of grievingrelatives on both sides of the issue;most of the photos of the scene weretoo graphic to publish.“In the end, I felt that we needed toshow the grief and despair this war hascreated on both sides. Thus the sideby-sidedisplay of the mother whoseson blew himself up and Sharon viewingthe carnage visited upon his peopleagain. [See photographs on this andprevious page, with original captions.]“Was this the right call? I thought soat the time. I knew regardless of howwe displayed these images there wouldbe strong reaction from both sides.Honestly, it doesn’t matter what imagesrun, someone will be offended.“They say hindsight is 20/20 so thatmorning after looking at our front Iopened my copy of The New YorkTimes and saw that they had a photo ofthe remnants of the bus. The image didnot have any bodies visible, nothingreally compelling about the image, butit did show the damage. And I thoughtthat if I had to make the call over againI would have gone with a single photoof Sharon standing over the body bagswith the bus in the background. Thatwas the news of the day, another largeloss of life the result of another suicidebomber. The war continues.“We are not going to solve this conflict.I believe that we are being muchmore sensitive to both sides of theissue, but the fact remains that eachside has suffered. Our job is to reportthis war and that means photos that arehard to look at. War is offensive to lookat. I would hope that our readers trustwe are making thoughtful decisions,not just putting the first photo wecome across in the paper. I worry thatwe are being so sensitive to both sidesthat we are not covering the news storyof the day.” ■Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pauses near a bombed bus as he visits the site of asuicide bombing in Jerusalem Tuesday, June 18, 2002. A Palestinian man detonatednail-studded explosives on a Jerusalem city bus crowded with high school students andoffice workers Tuesday, killing himself and 19 passengers in the deadliest suicide attackin the hard-hit city in six years. Fifty-five people were injured. Photo courtesy of AviOhayoun/Israeli Government Press/The Associated Press.Debbie Kornmiller is the readeradvocate for the Arizona Daily Starin Tucson, Arizona.advocate@azstarnet.com76 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Deciding on an Emotion-Laden PhotographFor Page OneWhen an image reflects ‘a crucial moment in a course of events,’editors make the decision to publish it.Middle EastBy Michael LarkinAt The Boston Globe, we neverrun photos of dead people withoutsome discussion of the impactthey are likely to have on ourreaders. This is particularly true of thoseappearing on Page One, where they aremore likely to be seen by many membersof a household, including children.And, of course,color adds to aphotograph’s impact.This is a well-establishededitorial practice, whichhas evolved over yearsof readers responding towhat we deliver in themorning: They’ve told usthat they don’t want tobe surprised by seeingsuch images duringbreakfast. They’ve saidhow disturbed theiryoung children are whenthey see such pictures.And many readers complainthat we are tryingto take sides in some disputeby portraying a particularside as killers.Yet, as editors, weknow that certain images—becauseof theirimport and composition—belongin thenewspaper, either onPage One or an insidepage, because they reflecta crucial momentin a course of events.The picture of thescreaming girl runningfrom a napalm attack inVietnam and the one ofThe body of an infant killed in the July 23, 2002 Israeli attack being heldaloft during a procession in Gaza. Photo courtesy of Reuters.the firefighter carrying a dead baby inOklahoma City come immediately tomind. And there are numerous others;the annual Pulitzer Prize-winning newsphotos comprise virtually an album ofhuman tragedy.This photograph—of an infant beingcarried in Gaza—is not only visuallystriking but also illustrates to ourreaders that something significant happened.In this case, Israeli forces hadtargeted a Hamas leader and killed himby sending a rocket into a residentialarea. This represented either a majorshift in tactics or a serious lapse inmilitary intelligence. And the resultwas that nine childrendied, a tragic consequencethe Israelis haveliterally taken pains toavoid in the past.Our decision to publishthis photograph incolor on Page One receivedlittle reader response.The picture isnot gory, but the politicsaround it are troubling.Even within Israel,the attackprompted debate aboutwhether it was the rightthing to do. In ourminds, this photographclearly represented thedeep emotions arisingfrom this violentstruggle in the MiddleEast and, for that reason,we decided to useit as the main art withthe day’s lead newsstory. ■Michael Larkin isdeputy managingeditor/news operationsat The BostonGlobe.m_larkin@globe.comNieman Reports / Fall 2002 77


International JournalismCovering the Intifada: A Hazardous BeatPhotographers and journalists come under gunfire while reporting onthe conflict.By Joel CampagnaOn July 12, 35-year-old Palestinianfreelance photographerImad Abu Zahra died in a hospitala day after he was wounded bymachine-gun fire in the West Bank townof Jenin. Abu Zahra and another Palestinianphotographer were taking shotsof an Israeli armored personnel carrierthat had crashed into an electricity poleon Faisal Street, when a nearby IsraelDefense Forces (IDF) tank gunneropened fire. A high-caliber round struckhim in the thigh, causing severe bloodloss that eventually killed him.Abu Zahra was the third journalistand second photographer killed coveringthe Palestinian Intifada, which beganin September 2000. Dozens morehave been wounded by live gunfire andrubber bullets or bullied by hostiletroops and gunmen while working thefrontlines of an increasingly volatileconflict.“Just about everyone now has anarmored car and wears a bulletproofvest,” said one veteran U.S. newspaperreporter, who covered the first Intifadaand asked that his name not be used.“In my opinion, if you’re not in anarmored car you shouldn’t be there inthe first place.”For those reporting it from theground in the West Bank and GazaStrip, the current Intifada is a differentand more perilous conflict than itsnamesake predecessor (1987-1993).Both Israelis and Palestinians arearmed, and the violence has movedaway from localized protests to a lowintensityconflict replete with gunfireexchanges, bombings and large-scalemilitary operations. The situation,where the rules of engagement canchange daily, poses increasing risks forthose seeking proximity to the action—cameramen, camera crews, photographersand stringers in particular.“You can take all kinds of precautions,but if you roam even a little bityou can get in all kinds of troublehere,” said another Jerusalem-basedjournalist working with a Western newsagency, speaking about the West Bank.“Palestinians can fire on your armoredcar or you can get hit by [Israeli] tankfire. We’ve experienced many types ofcases.”Journalists Under FireWhile both sides have harassed, restrictedand endangered journalistsduring the past 22 months, the greatestrisk to those in the field has come fromIDF gunfire. Photographers, cameramenand camera crews have most frequentlybeen in the line of fire. BetweenSeptember 2000 and June 2001,the New York-based Committee to ProtectJournalists (CPJ) documented 14cases in which journalists werewounded by live rounds or rubbercoatedsteel bullets fired by Israelitroops (in two other cases, the sourceof the fire was unclear, though suspectedto be from Israeli troops). Elevenof those 14 incidents involved photojournalistsinjured covering the initialexplosion of protests that took placeduring the first two months of theconflict. The actual number of journalistcasualties during that time frameappeared to be far greater; the Parisbasedpress freedom organization ReportersSans Frontières reported morethan 40 such cases during roughly thesame time.While crossfire accounts for some ofthose casualties, circumstantial evidencesuggests that in some cases Israeliforces may have deliberately targetedjournalists or at least actedrecklessly. Sometimes, journalists wereshot in the legs, head, or even hands asthey held cameras. In one case, a bullethit a journalist’s camera lens. In manycases, reporters hit by gunfire were farremoved from clashes and easily recognizableas journalists because of theirconspicuous camera equipment or flakjackets marked “Press.” The IDF andgovernment officials vehemently denyany suggestion that their troops haveintentionally fired at journalists.Injuries to journalists during thisIntifada have tended to correspondwith the intensity of conflict on theground. Prior to March 2002, the greatestconcentration of shootings, for example,took place in the initial monthswhen protests were many and pressinterest was high. By late March 2002,when Israel launched its large-scalemilitary operation in the West Bank inresponse to a string of Palestinian suicidebombings in Israel, an increasingnumber of journalists in the field facedan even more chaotic and unpredictablework environment. Journalistswere increasingly working amidst theconflict and not only photojournalistswere at risk.Journalists and ‘ClosedMilitary Areas’During the initial days of OperationDefensive Shield, the IDF declarednearly all of the West Bank’s main cities“closed military areas” and thereforeoff limits to the press. Journalists whoattempted to cover the story did sowith great difficulty and were at risk ofgetting caught in the crossfire.“I got into Ramallah,” said TheToronto Star’s Sandro Contenta, aJerusalem-based correspondent for thelast three-and-a-half years. “The questionis, how do you do your job in aplace that’s a closed military area, particularlywhen there’s shooting going78 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Middle Easton? Not all of us had armored cars. Ididn’t. So we made convoys of cars. Wewere flashing our lights and honkingour horns. It was very dangerous. Attimes you had to negotiate yourselfthrough tanks.”Some, like France 2’s veteran correspondentCharles Enderlin, maintainthat barring the press access furtherjeopardizes the safety of reporters, forcingthem to take more dangerous, alternateroutes across orchards or dirtpaths. “It is endangering lives of journalists,”he said. “Colleagues are tryingto get into places by foot. They go inwithout armored cars, flak jackets, andescorts.”An already tense situation was exacerbatedby the IDF, which adopted ahard line against journalists attemptingto defy the “closed military zones.”Throughout the six-week incursion, CPJdocumented numerous instances inwhich troops fired on or in the directionof journalists clearly marked aspress. Others were detained, threatened,or had their press credentialsand film confiscated. In a case thatdrew widespread international mediacoverage, IDF troops hurled stun grenadesand fired rubber bullets at reportersand camera crews waiting outsidethe besieged Ramallah compoundof Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Journalistssaid they had never witnessedsuch harsh treatment from the IDF,which many attributed to a growinghostility against the press that stemmedfrom a perception that Israel was gettingunfair treatment in the media.“It’s clear that the army was, to putit mildly, gratuitously shooting at journalistsduring the March/April invasion,”said the Star’s Contenta. “Thereis no doubt in my mind. Most journalistswere clearly identified as press. Ithink the IDF has a lot to answer forand why they didn’t give clear instructionsto soldiers not to shoot at journalists.”In at least one case in mid-March,Palestinian gunmen fired on an AssociatedPress armored car in Ramallah.And in three others incidents duringOperation Defensive Shield in whichjournalists were hurt by bullets, thesource of gunfire was unclear. However,in two of them the journalistsbelieved Israeli forces fired since theytook place in areas under the army’scontrol.One of the most troubling incidentsoccurred on April 1, when NBC Newscorrespondent Dana Lewis and his twopersoncamera crew came under IDFfire in Ramallah at dusk while drivingin an armored car that was clearly identifiedas a press vehicle. After an initialburst of gunfire hit the car, a lone IDFsoldier opened fire with a second burstfrom a range of about 50 to 100 feet.The journalists then stopped the car,turned on an interior light to makethemselves visible, and placed theirhands on the windshield. After 15 to 20seconds, the soldier fired a third burst,hitting the windshield. The NBC crewescaped by driving away in reverse.For many correspondents, OperationDefensive Shield demonstratedthe extent to which field reporting hadchanged since September 2000, whenthe main challenge was often navigatingarmy checkpoints, negotiating withsoldiers for passage, and avoiding firefights.“Here, the risks in the beginningwere getting hit by a stray bullet at ademonstration. The other was beingmistaken as a Jew and shot by [Palestinian]gunmen,” noted Tim Palmer, aJerusalem correspondent for Australia’sABC News television. “This year thatchanged.”Risks Photojournalists andOthers TakeThe IDF’s behavior during OperationDefensive Shield aside, some journalistsacknowledge that it is often theirown actions that determine the level ofrisk they face. In a news story the magnitudeof the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,competition often pushes reportersto their limits and can sometimeslead to dangerous situations.“The people at most risk are the stillphotographers,” says Palmer. “They’reunder pressure to operate at risk fortheir livelihood, more so than otherswho don’t have to take risks. Theycarry what can be mistaken for a smallarm and are under pressure to get thebest shot.”Neil MacDonald, the JerusalembasedMiddle East correspondent forCanada’s CBC-TV, is critical of manyjournalists who he says unnecessarilyput themselves in danger. “Here youcan assert a lot of control over yourenvironment,” he said, while expressinghis shock at a recent incident wherehe saw a Belgian photographer saunterdown a street amid a firefight wearingonly a white T-shirt and no flak jacket.“There are some people who exertidiotic control. I’ve seen all types ofsituations. Some of it’s idiocy, panic orbravado. Some is sheer stupidity.”Several Western print correspondentsprivately confess that they wouldnot have taken the risk that Italianfreelance photographer RaffaeleCiriello did when he was tragically killedby Israeli tank fire in Ramallah in March.Ciriello, on assignment for the dailyCorriere della Sera, had stepped froma building off an alleyway into the streetto film an Israeli tank that had enteredthe street about 150 to 200 yards awaywhen he was hit by several roundsfrom the tank’s gunner. There was atleast one Palestinian gunman in hisvicinity at the time of the shooting, andCiriello and a colleague had been trailingseveral gunmen before the shooting.“That same day I had debated for awhole day about whether to move fromone building to the next in Ramallah,”one print reporter recalled of the tenuoussituation on the ground in the citythat day.While acknowledging cases of journalistsfired upon by IDF and the otherinherent dangers of the conflict, somejournalists try to put shooting incidentsin perspective. “Neither side hereshoots at journalists with reckless abandon,”said a news agency journalist.“Neither side is recklessly barbarian inthis regard. I’m sure Yugoslavia andAfghanistan were more dangerous.” Inthose places you had people “actuallyseeking to kill you. Life there had becomecheap,” he remarked.Still, journalists take no comfortwhen they come under fire, especiallywhen they take precautions. “If I getcloser to a firefight, then I know I’mputting my life in danger,” said SandroNieman Reports / Fall 2002 79


International JournalismContenta, speaking of cases in whichthe army opened fire at journalists. “Idon’t expect anything from the IDF,but don’t shoot at me.” For some it is acommand-and-control issue with thearmy failing to rein in such behavior oftroops.For Imad Abu Zahra, he was in arisky situation, but his colleagues saythere was no excuse for anyone toopen fire on him. Abu Zahra’s colleagueSaid Dahleh said that at the timeof the incident both journalists werealone in the street, which had emptiedshortly after the tanks entered the area.Both men were holding cameras, andDahleh wore a flak jacket clearly marked“Press.”An army spokesperson said that soldiersopened fire after a mob attackedthe armored personnel carrier (APC)with Molotov cocktails and rocks, andpeople in the crowd fired on the tanks.Jenin residents said that people attackedthe tanks only after the twojournalists were shot and that theypelted the tanks only with pieces offruit and not with rocks and Molotovcocktails. Photos of the stranded APCtaken by Dahleh before the shootingshow no signs of clashes or hostileactions near the APC. ■Joel Campagna is program coordinatorfor the Middle East and NorthAfrica at the Committee to ProtectJournalists.jcampagna@cpj.orgThe Daniel Pearl VideoA journalist explains why its horrific images should be treated as news.By Dan KennedyTrue martyrs—unlike the twistedsouls who fly jets into buildingsor blow themselves up at pizzerias—areinevitably reluctant. Whetherit’s Abraham Lincoln or Martin LutherKing, Jr., Jesus or Gandhi, the anonymousJews of Nazi-occupied Europe orthe anonymous Muslims of Kosovo andBosnia, people want to live their lives,not become symbols.So I have little doubt what DanielPearl would have thought of the BostonPhoenix’s decision to provide alink on its Web site to the propagandavideo of his execution and to publish aphoto of his severed head being heldaloft. He would have been horrifiedthat his last, terrible moments weremade so public.As his father, Judea Pearl, recountedin an eloquent op-ed piece for TheNew York Times, his son had sent himan e-mail from Pakistan two monthsbefore his abduction saying, “It lookspretty dicey from here—at least yourpapers don’t run front-page photos ofthe corpses of journalists.” Judea Pearlthen wrote: “To preserve the dignity ofour champions, we should remove allterrorist-produced murder scenes fromour Web sites and agree to suppresssuch scenes in the future.”I respectfully disagree. Daniel Pearldidn’t seek martyrdom, but martyrdomfound him. The three-and-a-halfminutevideo shows us the true face ofevil, an evil that manifested itself unambiguouslylast September 11.Over and over, Pearl is forced to talkabout his Jewish heritage while thescreen is splashed with scenes of Palestiniansuffering. He also talks about thealleged sins of the United States insupporting Israel. He seems relaxed,as though he expects to be released inreturn for his play-acting. Then, after aquick fadeout, we see Pearl’s apparentlydead body lying on a floor assomeone hacks off his head with alarge knife. Finally, a hand holds upPearl’s head, and the anti-Israel propagandacontinues to roll.We turn away from such evil at ourperil. As Washington Post columnistRichard Cohen wrote in response toJudea Pearl’s essay, “You will sense thepresence of the enemy—an unseenbut keenly felt evil. You will appreciatethe nature of this war and the enormouscultural gap that leads to theproduction of a video that sickens usand yet thrills others.”I had an inadvertent hand in all this.I learned the video was on the Web inlate May, when I read a news articleabout FBI attempts to force a Web siteto remove it. It took me fewer than fiveminutes of searching to find it. Horrifiedby what I’d seen, I e-mailed thelink to a few colleagues, including myformer boss, Peter Kadzis, the editor ofthe Phoenix. He, in turn, passed italong to the publisher, StephenMindich—who decided, along withKadzis, to put the link on the Phoenix’sWeb site. “This is the single most gruesome,horrible, despicable, and horrifyingthing I’ve ever seen,” Mindichwrote in an online note headlined“Thoughts on Political Pornography,”which accompanied the link. A weeklater, the Phoenix upped the ante bypublishing two small black-and-whitephotos from the video on its editorialpage—one of Pearl talking, the otherof his severed head.My first reaction was that Mindichand Kadzis had made the wrong decision.Yet I slowly changed my mindand wrote about it in a long essay forthe Phoenix. I concluded that the reasonfor publishing the photographs—to witness the evil with which we mustcontend—outweighed the reasons fornot publishing.Perhaps the most nonsensical argu-80 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Middle Eastment I encountered was that thePhoenix’s actions had caused pain toDaniel Pearl’s family. For example, thePoynter Institute’s Bob Steele wrote inan online commentary, “Any journalisticpurpose in publishing the photos ofhis death is considerably outweighedby the emotional harm to Pearl’s widowand family. At the least, publishing thesephotos is insensitive and disrespectful.It may be cruel.” Yet there are fewbusinesses less sensitive to family considerationsthan the media. News isoften about bad things happening togood people, and families frequentlyobject to the way loved ones are portrayed.Just ask any photographer who’sbeen assigned to cover the funeral of ateenager who died while drinking behindthe wheel. Steele—and he washardly alone—argued for a considerationthat we journalists routinely denyto others, and I suspect it was becausePearl was a fellow journalist.Nor was there anything unusuallygrotesque about the images when seenin the context of other horrifying newsphotos, some of them Pulitzer Prizewinners.From the Holocaust to theVietnam War to the body of a deadAmerican soldier being draggedthrough the streets of Mogadishu, newsphotographers have shown us deathand destruction in the rawest formimaginable. The fact that the DanielPearl video was produced by terroristsrather than journalists is a mere detail.After all, it depicts what happened,which is the most elemental definitionof news.Keep in mind, too, the video wasalready available, on a Web site thatpublishes gross-out photos of accidents,autopsies and the like for theviewing pleasure of its perverse audience.The Phoenix did not so muchmake the video available as it put it inits proper context.Nearly 60 years ago a Dutch-Jewishdwarf named Alexander Katan wasmurdered at the Nazi concentrationcamp of Mauthausen, in Austria, sothat a camp physician could display hisskeleton. Not much is known aboutKatan—in part, according to UnitedStates Holocaust Memorial Museumhistorian Patricia Heberer, because hisfamily has wanted as little attentiondrawn to him and his fate as possible,even going so far as to request that aphoto of him stripped naked be removedfrom Web sites and exhibitionhalls. A European Web site shows photosof Katan in prison garb and of hisskeleton; but family sensitivities preventus from fully experiencing thisunimaginable crime.I don’t blame the Katans. But thereare times when the importance of bearingwitness to evil overrides personalconsiderations. Alexander Katan belongsto the ages. He belongs to us, ifwe’re capable of understanding whathe’s trying to tell us.So does Daniel Pearl. ■Dan Kennedy is a freelance journalistand the former media critic forthe Boston Phoenix. He is the winnerof the National Press Club’s 2001Arthur Rowse Award for Press Criticism.Parts of this article were previouslypublished in the Phoenix.dan@dankennedy.netThe Minefield of Language in Middle East CoverageJournalists rarely have the time or space to navigate through the war of words.By Beverly WallIn an April 2002 interview with AliciaMundy in Editor & Publisher,Thomas L. Friedman, a columnistwith The New York Times, describedhimself as “disoriented” and “speechless”in terms of how to write about thecurrent situation in the Middle East.“Friedman agreed,” according toMundy, “that the language and nomenclatureright now is a minefield, justwaiting for errant editors and deadline-deadenedreporters.”The emotional and potentially explosivenature of language, to use theminefield metaphor, is an ancient challengefor all writers, and the problemsof choosing words carefully are certainlynothing new for journalists. Butthe language dilemma is perhaps exacerbatedin the current coverage of theMiddle East by the polarized intensityof emotion and the extended complexityof the situation. Added to thesefactors are the new dynamics of globalmedia, in which journalists’ words areimmediately juxtaposed with dramaticimages and an array of “pundits” willingto offer instantaneous spins onevents and their coverage.In Middle East coverage, especiallyloaded words and problematic phrasesare fairly easy to identify. But it can beextremely difficult to figure out howand when to use them or to avoidthem. Are certain areas “occupied” or“in dispute?” Should specific actionsbe described as “acts of terrorism” or“acts of resistance?” What qualifies as a“protest” or “retaliation,” an “incursion”or “invasion?” What constitutes a“massacre?” Who should be labeled a“terrorist” and who a “freedom fighter?”Who are “gunmen,” and how are theysimilar to or different from terrorists orfreedom fighters? Who are “separatists”or “rebels?” Are certain peoplebest described as “suicide bombers” or“homicide bombers?”Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 81


International JournalismSuch word choices have been extensivelydebated in the media. Earlier thisyear, the public focused on the issue ofhow to refer to Palestinians who usetheir own bodies as weapons of murder.Should they be called “suicidebombers”—the description the mediahad used for years—or changed to “homicidebombers?” Fox News and theWhite House decided to switch to using“homicide bombers.” Fox executivesreportedly believed that to usethe word suicide “somehow glorifiesthe person committing the act.”In a press briefing President Bush’sspokesman, Ari Fleisher, explained theWhite House shift to using “homicidebomber” this way: “The reason I startedto use that term is because it’s a moreaccurate description. These are notsuicide bombings. These are not peoplewho just kill themselves. These arepeople who deliberately go to murderothers, with no regard to the values oftheir own life. These are murderers.The President has said that in the RoseGarden, and I think that it’s just a moreaccurate description of what thesepeople are doing. It’s not suicide; it’smurder.” Bush heightened this distinctionwhen he said that the bomberswere “not martyrs” but “murderers.”There was not, however, a rush toconversion by other news organizations.At CNN, for example, spokeswomanChrista Robinson contendedthat the term “homicide bomber” indicatesonly that “you have killed otherpeople—like putting a bomb in a trashcan which kills people—but it doesn’treflect that you also killed yourself. Wefeel that ‘suicide bomber’ is much moredescriptive and accurate.” Supporterson each side of such word choices haveemphasized that their concern is foraccuracy and clear description. Butmedia critics and talk-show punditshave been quick to charge bias eitherway: The use of “suicide bomber” issaid to indicate a pro-Palestinian sympathy;“homicide bomber” is said toshow a slant towards Israel.While an individual speaker or writermight not be consciously or deliberatelyintending to use slanted language,the “accuracy” of such phrases is embeddedin their rhetorical context. Intheir role as interpreters, listeners andreaders instinctively ask the classicquestions of rhetoric: Who is sayingwhat to whom? On what occasion? Inwhat manner? For what purpose? Andwith what attitude?As constructs of the English language,“suicide bomber” and “homicidebomber” are awkward since theyeach involve Latin-derived nouns usedas adjectives and an ambiguous shorthandthat captures only part of a complexreality. If we put the two termstogether, and give extended attentionto the details of specific cases, then wemight at least approach some sense ofa full and fair treatment of the story.For example, a reporter might begin byreferring simply to “bombers” andclarify in the details that they took theirown lives in the process of killing others.The shorthand is lost, but somethingof greater value might be gained.Because journalists seldom haveenough time or space for this kind oftreatment, this vision sadly remainsonly an ideal. It should serve, however,as a constant reminder of how journalistsmust strive harder to navigate theminefield of language. ■Beverly Wall is an associate professorand director of the Allan K.Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoricat Trinity College in Hartford,Connecticut. She is founder of theIntercollegiate E-Democracy Projectand has been a commentator onpolitical rhetoric and the media forC-SPAN’s “Washington Journal,”Reuters, BBC Radio London, andNational Public Radio’s “The Connection.”beverly.wall@trincoll.eduDo Words and Pictures From the Middle East Matter?A journalist from the region argues that U.S. policy is not affected by the waynews is reported.By Rami G. KhouriAs an Arab and an American whohas worked for U.S. and MiddleEastern media in the Middle Eastfor most of my 33-year career, I feel thatthere is a clear pro-Israeli bias in theAmerican mass media as a whole, withsome exceptions. But I also believethat this media bias has no particularimpact on either U.S. foreign policy orconditions in the Middle East.On both professional and moralgrounds, I’d like the bias to be corrected.More accurate and comprehensivecoverage by journalists helps topromote more constructive and satisfyingrelations between the peoples ofthe United States and the Middle East.But better, more balanced coverage ofMiddle East events would have no impacton political trends and policy decisions,since I believe that the forcesthat define this policy are not directlyrelated to or affected by the media.I find the pro-Israeli bias in U.S.82 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Middle Eastmedia reflected in several ways, thoughit is the overall biased context thatdefines most news reporting and commentarythat I will discuss. During thepast two years, this context begins withthe following presumption: Security inIsrael should be the primary goal of anypeacemaking process. Thus, all formsof legitimate (or illegitimate) Palestinianresistance to occupation must ceasebefore progress can be made on achievinga permanent peace accord betweenIsraelis and Palestinians. As a consequenceof how this story is framed, wewitness bizarre episodes in the story’scoverage, such as an otherwise competentCNN chief foreigncorrespondentinterviewing the Palestinianleader in hisRamallah office,which is surroundedand being shelled byIsraeli tanks, and thecorrespondent asksYasser Arafat if he iswilling and able tostop the violenceagainst Israel.A more apt context would be themutual and simultaneous goal of securityfor both Israel and the Palestiniansand recognized statehood for Palestine.In coverage of current events, thiswould require seeing the Israeli occupationand attacks against Palestinians,and Palestinian attacks against Israelis,as two dimensions of a single conflict.Yet, because of the current policyperspective, presumption of Palestinianculpability and Israeli innocencepermeates and defines most of the U.S.coverage. What this means is that Israeliviolence is either ignored or depictedbroadly as legitimate because itis a means of self-defense. At the sametime, Palestinian violence against Israelis depicted as illegitimate becauseit is seen as a root cause of a conflictthat reduces the chances for a negotiatedpeace. Of course, there are exceptionsto this general practice, with somein the U.S. media offering a balancedview of events. Some American journalistseven report news, at times, in amanner that appears more sympatheticto the Palestinians than the Israelis.Interestingly, the broad pro-Israelitilt of the U.S. media is found virtuallynowhere else in the world. This suggeststhat U.S. press coverage of theMiddle East is the anomaly in a worldthat otherwise takes a more balancedview of the rights and the misdeeds ofboth Israelis and Palestinians.The reasons for this pro-Israeli tilt inthe U.S. media are multiple, complexand debatable, and cannot be treatedin the limited space I have for thisdiscussion. Instead, I’d like to explainwhy I feel that the U.S. media’s broadpro-Israeli bias has little impact on U.S.… better, more balanced coverage of MiddleEast events would have no impact on politicaltrends and policy decisions, since I believe thatthe forces that define this policy are not directlyrelated to or affected by the media.policy or conditions in the Middle East.The main reason is that American voters’perceptions of events in the MiddleEast do not determine how they vote incongressional or presidential elections.The exception is some Jewish Americanswho do vote on this issue whenthey feel that Israel is threatened. However,at such a time, virtually all candidatesroutinely express strong supportfor Israel. Otherwise, even JewishAmericans tend to vote primarily onthe basis of domestic issues and ideology,not on the basis of U.S. policy inthe Middle East.Suppose, for the sake of argument,that the American mass media werebroadly pro-Palestinian in their reporting,analysis and comments, and that amajority of Americans felt more sympatheticto Palestinians than to Israelis.What would be the consequence? None,I suggest, because Americans’ widespreadsympathies for Palestinianswould not translate into voting for candidateswho share such views, and thuswould not result in changed Americangovernment policies.Americans who feel strongly aboutMiddle Eastern issues do so because ofsome personal connection, whether itis religious, ethnic, professional or ideological.Their views will not be swayed,either, by media coverage; their firmlyheld views are formed by factors muchstronger than media imagery. Othersmight be swayed by such media coverage;they will become sympathetic toPalestinians when they see images oftheir children shot by Israeli soldiersand sympathetic to Israelis when theysee images of civilians killed by terrorbombings.By and large, such sentiments arepolitically irrelevant.The perceptionsandsympathies ofthis large segmentof Americansare almosttotally detachedfrom the forcesof policymakingin Washington,D.C. This is notdissimilar from opposition to child laborin Asia, for example, when sympathiesdon’t get translated into significantpolitical action (voting, donatingto parties or candidates, or lobbying),and thus have no impact on U.S. foreignpolicy. This disjunction betweenperceptions formed by media coverageand action in the political arenamakes media bias an important professionalissue, but not a political one. ■Rami G. Khouri, a 2002 NiemanFellow, is a Jordanian-Palestiniansyndicated political columnist andbook author, based in Amman,Jordan, and works half-time as asenior analyst for the InternationalCrisis Group’s Middle East Program.He is also chief umpire for AmmanLittle League baseball. He has a BAand Master’s degree in journalism/political science and mass communicationsfrom Syracuse University.rgskhouri@hotmail.comNieman Reports / Fall 2002 83


Nieman NotesNieman NotesCompiled by Lois FioreCelebrating a Journalist’s LifeRichard Harwood’s family donates his books to the Kovach Library.By Madeleine BlaisAt the final dinner for the Niemanclass of 2002, a ceremony washeld to honor the memory ofRichard Harwood, Nieman Fellow classof 1956, whose family donated his libraryto Lippmann House after his deathmore than a year ago. The 223 booksthat make up the Harwood collectionwill be incorporated into the Bill KovachLibrary.The evening featured guest speakerswho worked with Harwood overthe years: Michael Getler, WashingtonPost ombudsman; David Maraniss,Washington Post national news reporter,and me. We shared with theoutgoing class of Nieman Fellows storiesthat, we hoped, described the manwho had such a lasting and profoundeffect on our lives as journalists.I first met Harwood, as we alwayscalled him, in the mid-70’s when he ranThe (Trenton) Times, a sleepy newspaperin an even sleepier state capital.The paper had just been purchased byThe Washington Post Company in abrash act of post-Watergate colonialismfor the express purpose of takingon The New York Times in its ownbackyard. This was not going to beeasy. There was a famous sign on alocal bridge: “What Trenton makes,the world takes.” We soon got to jokingthat the city motto should be “Dare tobe complacent.”The man sent by the Post to shakethings up was a broad-shouldered ex-Marine, who smoked, cussed anddrank. He also thought deeply andread broadly. These two habits of mindresulted in a disconcerting depth whichwe considered simply more evidenceof his ornery nature. Just when youthought you had him pegged, he threwa curve ball, and the gruff, grizzlededitor out of central casting wouldstart quoting Toynbee or Gibbon.Harwood’s office had a plant in onecorner that no one ever watered, atleast not formally. Instead, he and hisvisitors took to dumping the dregs fromtheir incessant cups of coffee into thesoil and, miraculously, this combinationof neglect and outright plant abuseproduced a sturdy green growth thatcould not have been more robust.During my job interview, I toldHarwood about a story I had done inwhich someone had given me such agreat quote that I remembered thinkingto myself, even as I jotted it down,“Keep talking, kid, you’re a five dollarraise.”Harwood’s reaction: “If you reallybelieve in five dollar raises, we mightbe able to afford you.” And he continued,“What we’re looking for here aresome hard-charging dicks. I just hopewe don’t have to settle for too manyhard charging…” An outburst of gentlemanlyrestraint conspired to leave thesentence uncompleted.To us baby reporters Harwood hadbeen born intimidating. We had noidea about the “challenges” (to use thekind of pussy-footing, phony euphemismhe would have surely deplored)he faced during his early years in Nebraska:His one sibling, a sister, died asa teenager; his mother committed suicide;his preacher father took to drinkand farmed his son out with relatives inanother state.In his life, Harwood became a soldier,a husband, and a newsman. Hewas saved first by the Marines, thensustained by the love of a good woman,Bea, and their four children, Helen,John (Nieman Fellow, class of 1990),Richard and David. He started out as anewsman in Nashville, worked for theLouisville Times, and eventually joinedThe Washington Post, where he workedfor many years, including as ombudsman.One of the speakers at the Niemandinner, Michael Getler, claimed thatHarwood’s genius as a critic of thepress was that he never told his readerswhat to think so much as what to thinkabout.Harwood embraced one other formalinstitution in his later years, theclassroom, which came as no surpriseto those of us who knew him in Trenton.As much as he served as our editor,he was also like those really great teacherswho are larger than life, terrifyingand nurturing in equal parts.I could go on and on about thelessons I learned as a reporter in Trenton.But the bottom line is that Harwooddid a lot of us a big favor when weneeded one: He believed in us beforewe believed in ourselves.I, among a host of others, will beforever grateful. ■Madeleine Blais, Nieman Fellow1986, is a journalism professor atthe University of Massachusetts andauthor of three books.mhblais@journ.umass.edu84 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Nieman NotesBetween May 21 and June 3, a delegation of2002 Nieman Fellows and staff led by BobGiles traveled to Thailand and Cambodia.With in-country arrangements made byKavi Chongkittavorn (NF 2002), the groupengaged in discussions with governmentofficials, journalists and Nieman Fellows inboth countries, and made visits to severalhistoric sites, such as Cambodia’s eightcenturies-oldtemple city, Angkor Wat.Especially difficult and disturbing was avisit to a former schoolhouse in PhnomPenh that had been used by Pol Pot’s regimefor holding, interrogating and executingprisoners (see photo below). Here is a smallsample of photos from the trip.Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 85


Nieman Notes—1950—William German retired as editoremeritus of the San Francisco Chroniclein May. German joined the Chronicleas a copy boy in 1940 and went on towork as a reporter and copy editor, ascopy desk chief, and in various seniormanagement positions. He took overas editor in 1993 and began writing acolumn on the media when he becameeditor emeritus in 2000. In an articlemarking German’s exit from the paper,Chronicle staff writer Carl Nolte notedthat, by the time he retired, German“had held every single editorial job onthe paper except full-time staff photographer.”Dwight Sargent’s FavoriteEleven MisspellingsDwight Sargent, NF ’51, had a variedand impressive career: He waseditorial page editor of The NewYork Herald-Tribune and The BostonHerald American, president ofthe University of Missouri’s Freedomof Information Foundation,and Nieman Curator from 1964 to1973. Less well known, perhaps, isthat Sargent also assembled a listof 11 words journalists typicallymisspell. The list did develop adegree of notoriety, however:When Sargent died in April, it wasmentioned in an obituary and alsoat his memorial service. Here, courtesyof his daughter Janet, is the listSargent created and carried withhim:vilifyrarefyharassembarrassrecommendationaccommodationinoculateinnocuoussupersedeimbrogliodesiccate ■—1955—Selig S. Harrison’s sixth book onAsian affairs, “Korean Endgame: A Strategyfor Reunification and U.S. Disengagement,”was published by thePrinceton University Press in May.Former President Jimmy Carter calledit “the best analysis I have seen of thedifficult policy choices facing the UnitedStates in Korea.”Harrison has visited North Koreaseven times and met the late Kim IlSung twice. “Korean Endgame” combineshis personal experiences in Korea—asWashington Post bureau chiefin Northeast Asia and as a senior associateof the Carnegie Endowment forInternational Peace for 22 years—withpolicy-focused scholarly analysis.Harrison is a senior scholar of theWoodrow Wilson International Centerfor Scholars and director of the AsiaProgram at the Center for InternationalPolicy in Washington. His op-ed articlesappear in The Washington Post,The New York Times, the InternationalHerald Tribune, and the Los AngelesTimes. He contributes frequently to LeMonde Diplomatique, HankyorehShinmun of Seoul, and other foreignpublications.—1960—John F. “Jack” Burby died of cancerat his home in Avila Beach, California,near San Luis Obispo, on July 6. Hewas 77.Burby, who served in the South Pacificas an Army pilot during World WarII, began his journalism career in Hawaiias a reporter for United Press.Following his Nieman Fellowship,Burby spent several years as press secretaryto California Governor EdmundG. (Pat) Brown; he also worked for theDepartment of Transportation andwrote a book titled “The Great AmericanMotion Sickness; or, Why You Can’tGet There From Here.” After stints asan editor at the National Journal and aspresident of Potomac Policy Inc., afederal policy consulting firm, Burbyjoined the Los Angeles Times as aneditorial writer in 1978. He was theTimes’ deputy editorial page editorthrough much of the 1980’s, and returnedto editorial writing full time atthe paper in 1989. Burby worked brieflyas an editorial writer for The New YorkTimes in the early 1990’s before retiring.One of Burby’s sons, David, is workingto establish an award or fellowshipin his father’s name. “The John F. BurbyAward for Ethical Excellence in Journalismis its current form,” he says.“Ethics in journalism is something myfather had great concerns about. Heloved his profession. He was very ethical,the most ethical person I knew.”Burby’s wife, Lois Luke, died in 1994.He is survived by his longtime companion,Joyce Palaia, and his children,Karen Norman, Meg Burby, DavidBurby and Timothy Burby, and threegrandchildren.Contributions in Burby’s name canbe made to the following organizations:the redwood conservation organizationSempervirens Fund, P.O.Drawer BE, Los Altos, Calif. 94023; theHospice Partners of the Central Coast,277 South St., Suite R, San Luis Obispo,Calif. 93401, and Friends of the River,915 20th St., Sacramento, Calif. 95814.—1963—Dan Berger writes, “I retired aseditorial writer and author of the tersecomments, ‘Bergerisms,’ just beforemy 35th anniversary at The Sun, stayingput in Baltimore and enjoying life.”Berger’s e-mail address is:danberger21210@msn.com.—1970—Larry L. King is writing his 15thbook, “In Search of Willie Morris,” abiography of his late editor at Harper’smagazine from 1964-71. It was Morriswho suggested that King apply for aNieman Fellowship and who aggressivelypromoted his candidacy. Kingalso is the author of seven producedstage plays, including “The Best LittleWhorehouse in Texas” and “The NightHank Williams Died.”86 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Nieman Notes—1971—Michael J. Kirkhorn died on October10, 2001 at his home in La Crosse,Wisconsin. He was 64. Kirkhorn was ajournalist and editor at the Gundersen-Lutheran Medical Journal, a publicationof the La Crosse-based Gundersen-Lutheran Medical Foundation. Duringhis career, he worked as a feature writerat the Milwaukee Journal and ChicagoTribune and taught at New York University,the University of Kentucky, andGonzaga University, where he was headof the communication arts department.In 1995, Kirkhorn married Lee-EllenCopstead in Spokane, Washington.Kirkhorn’s death notice closed withthese words: “Michael was a belovedhusband to Lee-Ellen. He was a gentleand spirited father to his daughter,Amelia, and sons Erik and Nick. To hissister, Mary, he was a dynamic presence.To his niece, Erin, he was inspirationaland creative…. He was a greatfriend to many…. Throughout his longcareer, Michael’s writing was characterizedby grace, sensitivity and passionfor the special needs of those leastable to speak for themselves.”—1984—Nina Bernstein will spend the fallat the American Academy in Berlin.Bernstein, who writes for The NewYork Times, won one of the academy’sHoltzbrinck Fellowships in Journalismto work on her project, “Women andChildren First: Social Welfare in a Timeof Globalization.”Georges Fellowship Applications are InvitedFor 2003 AwardJane Daugherty, who started workingat the Palm Beach (Florida) Post inMay as deputy news editor, was promotedto news editor in August. In hernew position, Daugherty oversees astaff of 32 news and copy editors whoedit and design the four editions of thePost, a Cox newspaper. She replacesDaryl Kannberg, who is now assistantmanaging editor of The (Cleveland)Plain Dealer.Palm Beach Post managing editorJohn Bartosek said in his announcement,“We are thrilled to have a journalistof Jane’s experience and talentto replace Daryl. Her award-winningcareer, with major stints in at The MiamiHerald and the Detroit Free Pressand News, brings a perspective anddepth to the news editor’s job that willbe a major asset to the Post.”Daugherty is a three-time winner ofthe Robert F. Kennedy Memorial JournalismAward for coverage of the disadvantaged.She has two children, a 21-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter,and lives in Lake Worth, Florida.Alice Kao reports that, after a stintin Taiwanese politics, she’s ponderinga return to journalism.“After the Nieman year, I went backto my previous newspaper and workedanother 10 years,” Kao writes. “Bychance, I then went into elective politicsand served two terms as the MP ofdifferent political parties until failingto be reelected last December. I amnow totally vacant. Going back to journalismis the next and final destinationfor me, I believe.”The Christopher J. Georges Fellowshipprogram, administered bythe Nieman Foundation, is invitingapplications for the 2003 award. A$10,000 fellowship will be awardedto a young journalist for an independentreporting project on anissue of enduring social value thatdocuments the human impact ofpublic policy. Deadline for entriesis November 1, 2002.Applications must include a writtenproposal, a biographical essay,and a selection of published work.Chris Georges, an honors graduateof Harvard College and a WallStreet Journal reporter, died in1998 at age 33. He worked in theJournal’s Washington bureau coveringpolitics, economics and budgetissues. Family, friends and colleaguesestablished the fellowshipto memorialize his commitment toin-depth reporting on issues ofenduring social value and storiesthat document the human impactof public policy.The 2002 winner of the ChristopherJ. Georges Fellowship is AnnysShin, a senior writer on the WashingtonCity Paper. She is reportingon the impact of the release ofprisoners now finishing their mandatorysentences.For information about the fellowship,contact the Nieman Foundation,One Francis Avenue, Cambridge,Massachusetts 02138 orvisit the Nieman Web site atwww.nieman.harvard.edu. ■—1985—Lucinda Fleeson is the new curatorof the Hubert Humphrey Fellows journalismprogram at the University ofMaryland, College Park. Fleeson takesover for William J. Eaton, NF ’63, wholed the program for eight years.Each fall, 13 or 14 international journalistsand public affairs specialistscome to College Park for professionaldevelopment and graduate-levelcoursework. Since its inception in 1993,the program has welcomed 117Humphrey Fellows from 73 countries.As curator of the program, which isadministered by the university’s PhilipMerrill College of Journalism, Fleesonwill conduct a weekly seminar on pressissues in a democratic society.—1987—Marites Vitug is the editor in chiefof Newsbreak, a Philippine current affairsfortnightly that is just over a yearold. The magazine’s emphasis on in-Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 87


Nieman Notesvestigative reporting and in-depthanalysis was rewarded in the 2002 JaimeV. Ongpin Awards for Excellence inJournalism, when Miriam Grace Go’sstory on corruption in Makati City, thePhilippines’ premier financial district,won first prize in the investigative reportingcategory.“I’m enjoying my work, and it’s beena vast learning experience for me: mixing/blendingthe demands of commerceand tough editorial standards,” Vitugwrites. “…The magazine’s staff is mostlyfemale—although this is not deliberate.It so happens that the two associateeditors, the four (out of five) staffwriters, and the editor (me) are allwomen. It’s a great team and I couldn’tswing this without our cohesive group.”Nieman Fellows who would like tohave an item appear in NiemanNotes—a job change, the publicationof a book, an unusual adventure—pleasee-mail the informationto Lois Fiore at lfiore@harvard.edu.—1988—Dale Maharidge writes: “Serendipityis a reporter’s best friend, I rememberBill Dietrich saying during ourNieman year, but I never figured itwould play into our lives. One of myduties at Stanford University (a positionI recently left) was admissions forour graduate journalism program. Oneof our applicants was Heidi Dietrich,the daughter of Bill and Holly, who wasage eight during our Nieman year. Irecused myself, but other committeemembers (including Bill Woo, NF ’67),agreed she was an extremely promisingand talented young journalist. So Ihad the pleasure of being Heidi’s professorthis past year, though in additionto the delights of serendipity, Isuddenly felt very old. At graduation,Bill and Holly and I had a mini-reunion.Bill recently rejoined The SeattleTimes as a Sunday Magazine writer,and is prolifically writing books. I’mreturning to Columbia University as avisiting professor early next year andam writing a book about racial hate and‘McCarthyism’ in post 9/11 America.”2002 Nieman Conference on Narrative JournalismFrom November 8-10, reporters, editors, photographers, producersand authors will gather in Cambridge.On Veterans Day weekend, journalistswill gather in Cambridge tolearn about the craft of narrativejournalism. At this upcomingNieman Conference on NarrativeJournalism, Nieman Fellows GeraldBoyd (’81), Madeleine Blais (’86),Rick Bragg (’93) and Peter Turnley(’01) will join Errol Morris, JonFranklin, Anne Fadiman, MalcolmGladwell, The Kitchen Sisters, E.O.Wilson, Katherine Boo, Lisa Pollak,and many other accomplished writersand speakers as they share theirexperiences and insights aboutjournalistic storytelling, reportingfor narrative, editing, ethics andcareer-building.During the conference, panelistsand individual speakers willaddress a variety of topics. They’llconsider how to move narrativejournalism beyond the mawkishand sensational so it can be used toarouse and sustain audience curiosityabout the complex issues ofour time. They’ll discuss ways offorging effective partnershipsamong reporters, editors and producers.And they’ll strategize withparticipants to figure out ways tomarshal resources for substantialworks such as The New York Times’series about racial relations inAmerica and WilliamLangewiesche’s three-part serial inThe Atlantic Monthly, “AmericanGround: Unbuilding the WorldTrade Center.”We hope you will join us at theHyatt Regency Cambridge. It’s alwaysan invigorating weekend, asthe many articles, tapes and videos,inspired by our conferencespeakers and sent to us after theconference attest.For more information, pleasevisit our Web site atwww.nieman.harvard.edu/narrative.■—1991—Nanise Fifita brings us up to dateon her work at Tonga BroadcastingCommission, where she is the editorfor Radio & Television Tonga News:“My duties involve overseeing all dailynews packages for radio and TV, providingeditorial advice, and ensuringthat all stories are within the properjournalism standards,” Fifita writes. “Iam also heavily involved in news gathering,interviewing, writing, scriptingand presentation. I also produce newsorientedradio and TV programs.“Since we have a small team of about10 reporters for both radio and TVnews, we tend to cover general news.However, I am very much involved incovering issues concerning health, environment,politics and finance. I amalso a member of a pool of PacificIslands journalists who participate in‘Training the Trainers’ programs, coordinatedby the Pacific Islands NewsAssociation [PINA]. Under those programs,I have been involved in conductingtraining for reporters in Tonga,Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands onhow to report and cover sensitive issuessuch as HIV/AIDS and STD’s.”In July, Fifita received a Pacific OceanSciences Fellowship from the SeaWeborganization, in conjunction with PINA,88 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Nieman Notesto study the destruction of marine andterrestrial environments in the PacificOcean.—1992—Francisco Santos, the former editorof the Bogotá daily El Tiempo, waselected vice president of Colombia andtook office in August. During the campaign,El Tiempo—which is owned bySantos’s family—withheld its endorsementdue to his presence in the race.Since the election, Santos has regularlyarticulated the priorities of thegovernment of President Alvaro Uribefor U.S. audiences. He has stressed theneed for quick results in controllingColombia’s lengthy civil war, appealedfor increased assistance from Washington,and warned of a probable increasein terrorist activity in the Uribeadministration’s first year.After Uribe was criticized for hisunderstated response to inaugurationdayattacks by the Revolutionary ArmedForces of Colombia, or FARC, Santosdefended the president’s response. Ina Houston Chronicle article, Santoswas quoted as saying that allowing theattacks to halt the inauguration “onlywould have amplified what the guerrillasdid.” He continued, “We’re not ignoringit. We know it was a horrendousact…. But we would rather not talkabout it and show results.”Santos was driven to Spain by FARCthreats two years ago and, in 1990, waskidnapped by associates of PabloEscobar.—1994—Greg Brock has been promoted toWashington news editor of The NewYork Times. Brock, who had been theforeign day editor in the New Yorkoffice, has returned to Washington,where he spent nine years with TheWashington Post, during which timehe was a Nieman Fellow. The Timesrecently awarded Brock a Publisher’sAward for his work on the foreign desk,citing him: “For being, every day, thevital link between the foreign desk andits far-flung correspondents. As thedesk’s day editor, Greg dispenses assignmentsand guidance around theworld, starting to work closely with thecorrespondents soon after dawn. Heshapes the daily report with verve, witand superb organizational skills.”Among his new duties in Washington,Brock oversees the diplomatic andforeign-related coverage and remains akey link to the foreign desk in NewYork. After joining the Times in 1995,he became deputy political editor onthe national desk during the 1996 presidentialand congressional elections.Brock also worked in the Washingtonbureau as the weekend editor for a fewmonths in 1997.—1996—Tom Ashbrook’s radio program,“Special Coverage,” was selected byThe Associated Press as the top news/talk program in the Boston market for2001. Ashbrook hosts the program,which was created by WBUR in Boston,after the September 11 attacks. Theprogram’s format eventually expanded,and “Special Coverage” was renamed“On Point” in February. ■David Riesman: He Told Us to Question All the ‘Common Wisdom’By Lindsay MillerDavid Riesman died this year onMay 10. He had a great impact onmy Nieman year and probably thatof many other fellows as well.As he had for many Niemanclasses, he led the first seminar ofour year. It was September 1987,still hot outside. We sat for the firsttime in that circle of wooden blackarmchairs. I still hadn’t sorted outmy classmates’ names. But I knewDavid Riesman was a famous professorof sociology and the authorof “The Lonely Crowd.” And I thinkall of us felt we were part of a veryprivileged small crowd.Then he started to speak. Hesaid he wanted to talk about singlesexeducation and why he thoughtit was the best choice for somepeople—especially black highschool boys and women in general.I felt a chill go around thecircle. These were not politicallycorrect views, certainly not in 1987.What he was saying was contrary tocommon wisdom. We knew that.Where was this guy going? Nobodysaid much.Then, as I remember, Will Suttonspoke up. He said he’d gone to anall-black high school in New Orleans,and it had been a good thingfor him. I said there’d been someadvantages to my all-women classesat Wellesley. Then everyonejumped in, and we were off andrunning for a year’s worth of livelyconversations.At the end of the hour, ProfessorRiesman said the best thing wecould do with our Nieman yearwould be to question all the “commonwisdom” we’d brought toHarvard with us. By then, he didn’thave to say it. He had showed us. ■Lindsay Miller is a producer for“The Connection” on NationalPublic Radio. Her e-mail addressis lmiller@theconnection.org.Nieman Reports / Fall 2002 89


Nieman NotesAdditional Nieman Fellow Named to Class of 2003Former Canadian publisher, Russell Mills, will plan for a new journalism institute.Russell Mills, the former publisherof The Ottawa Citizen, has beenadded to this year’s Nieman class.Mills, who worked for the Citizenfor 31 years and served as its publisherfor 16, was fired in June,after the Citizen published a storyreporting that Prime Minister JeanChrétien had repeatedly lied toParliament and an editorial callingfor Chrétien’s resignation. The daybefore he was fired, Mills receivedan honorary degree from Ottawa’sCarleton University in recognitionof his outstanding service to journalism.Mills plans to spend his Niemanyear developing ideas for a university-basedjournalism institute inCanada and studying the changingnature of democratic systems ofgovernment and the news media’srole in creating the conditions forinnovative public policy andhealthy societies. “I am extremelyexcited about the opportunity tospend a year at Harvard and drawupon its rich resources to developa plan that will be of ongoing benefitto journalism and the functioningof government in Canada,” hesaid.The Ottawa Citizen is owned byCanWest Global CommunicationsCorporation, a company that ownsmultiple Canadian print and broadcastoutlets and whose owners arestaunch supporters of Chrétien andthe Liberal Party. CanWest executivessaid Mills was fired for failingto seek corporate approval of thestory and editorial, and many observerstook Mills’s ouster as a troublingsign of corporate influenceencroaching on press freedom. Inthe ensuing uproar, reporters atthe Citizen withheld their bylines,Ottawa city council members condemnedthe firing, and some membersof Parliament called for aninvestigation into the relationshipbetween CanWest and the Chrétienadministration.According to Nieman CuratorBob Giles, bringing Mills to Harvardwill contribute to the developmentof a new program that could havebenefits on both sides of the border.Giles praised Mills as “a journalistof uncommon experienceand vision whose contributions toindependent journalism in Canadaand whose deep interest in internationaljournalistic issues will addan important dimension to theNieman class this year.” ■Knight Foundation Initiative Supports Latin American Nieman FellowsThe John S. and James L. KnightFoundation has announced a fouryearinitiative to support and improvepress freedoms and professionaljournalism training in LatinAmerica. The $3.58 million initiativeincludes a grant of $420,000 tothe Nieman Foundation that willsupport two Latin AmericanNieman Fellowships for each ofthe next three years.Journalist Ellen Hume, in a reportfor The Knight Foundation,notes that there is a need for professionaltraining in Latin Americanjournalism to encourage andensure the place of a free press inthe democracies of the region. TheLatin America initiative proposedin response to this need revolvesaround the creation of the KnightCenter for Journalism in the Americasat the University of Texas atAustin and supports regional,Internet-based traveling and specializedtraining as well as the twoNieman Fellowships. RosentalAlves, a 1988 Nieman Fellow, wasappointed director of the new center.This year, the Niemans supportedby the grant are DinaFernández and Ana (Alex)Leglisse. Fernández, of GuatemalaCity, is Sunday magazine editor/columnist for Prensa Libre and intendsto explore the role of thepress in emerging democracies andfree-market economies. Leglisse,of Mexico City, is technology reporterfor Detras de la Noticia andis interested in examining howadvances in technology influencetrends in economic and social institutions.“The Nieman experience has enabledindividual journalists to makea significant contribution to buildinga tradition of an independentpress in many Latin American countries,”said Curator Bob Giles.“…The Knight grant assures thatthis important part of our programwill continue.” ■90 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002


Nieman Curator James C. Thomson, Jr., 1931-2002Nieman NotesJames Thomson, Curator of theNieman Foundation from 1972-1984,died on August 11 of cardiac arrestafter a brief illness. He was 70. Whatfollows are words contributed byNiemans who knew him well andwould like others to know about hiswork as Curator and its impact ontheir lives and on the Nieman program.At the end of their reflections isinformation about how to share yourremembrances with the Nieman communitythrough our Web site.From Jane DaughertyHe was frequently erudite, occasionallyoutrageous, and always eager tothrow open Harvard’s sometimes heavydoors to “his Niemans.”James Thomson, Nieman FoundationCurator from 1972-84, was anenigma. More scholar than journalist,more China-hand than newsroom insider,he was an early and articulateopponent of the Vietnam War whoadvised both Presidents Kennedy andJohnson.Besides his late wife, Diana, whoboth enthralled and confounded him,his first love and great appreciationwas of China. His early advocacy ofreestablishing ties with the People’sRepublic of China predated the shift inU.S. policy by more than a decade.Despite numerous academic publications,perhaps his single most influentialpiece of writing was published in1968 in The Atlantic Monthly, “HowCould Vietnam Happen?” It won theOverseas Press Club Award and influenceda generation of reporters andpolicy analysts.When Jim returned to Harvard fouryears later, he began 12 years of curatorshipthat gradually brought morewomen and minorities into what hadbeen the most prestigious good-oldboys’club in American journalism—and he did it not without detractors.Jim’s last class of Niemans, of whichI was a member, was the first femalemajorityamong the U.S. Niemans—among our dozen we counted sevenwomen, the first Native AmericanNieman, and two African Americans.And not a weak sister (or brother)among us.I’ll always remember Jim, with hiswry smile and twinkling eyes, as anhonorable man in often-dishonorabletimes. He was willing to be a courtlymaverick, an advocate, even a politeannoyance when necessary, whether itcame to criticizing U.S. policy or togetting “his Niemans” access to theclasses and professors who could enlargeor enrich our Harvard experiences.At Jim’s going-away reception in1984, I overheard our class somewhatdisparagingly called “Jim’s last hurrah.”If we were, it was an honor, Mr.Thomson.Jane Daugherty,a 1984 NiemanFellow, is news editor of The PalmBeach (Florida) Post.From David LambJim Thomson had a twinkle of mischiefin his eye. It was as though he knewsomething the rest of us didn’t. He’dgive you that nod and half-smile andpuff on his cigar. But I was never quitesure what he was thinking. What washe holding back? What I do know,though, is that beneath that reservewas a man of warmth, intellect and wryhumor. He was a man I trusted, admired,respected, liked immensely. If Iwere giving a dinner party, he is theman I’d seat next to the guest of honor.I had the good fortune to be aNieman Fellow when Jim’s tenure asCurator was already well established.My wife was given the same wonderfulopportunities at Harvard as was I. Jimgets credit for that. We had our own“home” at One Francis Avenue. Jimgets credit for that, too. We were treatedas adults, not cub reporters whose timeneeded to be micro-managed by somemisplaced managing editor. Again,thanks, Jim.In 1980-81, we referred to ourselvesNieman Reports / Fall 2002 91


Nieman Notesas “the Greatest Nieman Class Ever.” IfI may be bold enough to speak for myclass, I’d like to say, “We owe you one,Jim. You were the Greatest NiemanCurator Ever.” We’ll miss the hell outof you. We thank you for giving us somuch—not the least of which was oneof the best years of our professionallives—and for fulfilling the only thingyou asked in return: You made us morethoughtful journalists.David Lamb, a 1981 Nieman Fellow,is a reporter for the Los AngelesTimes.From Alex JonesAt the time I applied for a Niemanfellowship, I was editor of a newspaperin a rural county in Tennessee with acirculation of 15,000.Jim Thomson didn’t care that myprofessional origins were not blue chip.Under his gentle prodding, the selectioncommittee put me on the list andmy life changed forever. As with mostthings, he followed his own counsel,which was almost certain not to reflectthe orthodoxy of the moment.Jim’s delight in sailing against thewind was evident in his sardonic humorand his determination to tell hiscolleagues in the Kennedy and Johnsonadministrations that they were waywrong on Vietnam and China.When the Nieman Foundation wasplaced in his hands, he used that sameclear and humane vision to make theNieman experience—which thenmostly excluded women, minorities,foreigners, spouses, and even broadcasters—intoa model of inclusion. Thiswas a radical change, but I came tobelieve that the prospect of disapprovalonly made something more appealingto Jim.The tone Jim set was one of generousrespectfulness.I sometimes thought that he approachedeach year’s Nieman class likea particularly desirable group of weekendhouseguests, who should betreated with affection and whose quirksand whims should, if possible, be humored.I recall feeling that he hadcreated the most civilized environmentI had ever experienced, with high seriousnessand robust fun intermingledwith a joyous delight in learning.With his cigars and bemused asides,Jim seemed to take pleasure in beingwith us, knowing us, and following usin the years after our time at LippmannHouse.His generosity of spirit had to keepcompany with a streak of stubborncontrariness that could be self-destructive.But this bloody-mindedness wasalso his glory.When his wife, Diana, died 18months ago, it was the end of a profoundlove affair. They were welded toeach other, and Jim had nursed herpatiently and devotedly for much ofthe past decade. Without her companionship,he seemed to lose some of hissense of purpose.In the past year, he declined—inpart because of his own behavior. Andwhile it was frustrating to those of uswho loved him and were trying to savehim from his own excesses, it was alsooddly inspiring to see him defy us alland do as he pleased.He was determined to live what remainedof his life in his own way, andwas obstreperously, wonderfully independentto the end.Alex Jones, a 1982 Nieman Fellow, isdirector of The Joan ShorensteinCenter on the Press, Politics andPublic Policy at Harvard University.From Ned ClineJim Thomson may not have been theinventor of equality and diversityamong journalists, but he deserves thetitle of New England distributor. Hewas a trailblazer for journalists like me.Nieman Fellowships have long beenconsidered among the most prestigioushonors in the field, deservedly so. Butuntil Thomson joined the team, vastmajority of the awards had been madeto white males with long pedigreesfrom large newspapers. Thomsonchanged that. He did it because it wasoverdue and was the right thing to do.That’s just the way he was. He wantedeveryone, regardless of gender, race orsocial status, to have an equal chance.I shall be forever grateful for what hedid. Without him, odds are I wouldnever have made the short list or beenchosen. My class of 12 American journalistsset new Nieman records fordiversity: four women, an African American,and several white guys like mefrom small newspapers.My background was growing up in asmall Southern village, holder of a degreefrom a small town college andexperiences only on newspapers withlittle-known names. Thomson wantedthis kind of diversity to supplement thebig city newspaper folks because hefelt it would make all of us better. Ithink he was right.Journalism and the Nieman fellowshipprogram are better because of JimThomson. I don’t think I ever told himhow much he meant to me. I wish Ihad.Ned Cline, a 1974 Nieman Fellow, isa former managing editor of theGreensboro (N.C.) News & Recordand is author of two biographies onNorth Carolina philanthropists. ■A memorial service was held atHarvard’s Memorial Church on September12th, followed by a reception atLippmann House. That same day,Boston University honored Thomsonwith a symposium.The Thomson family invites memorialgifts to be sent to the NiemanFoundation in support of internationalNieman Fellowships. Checks should bemade out to the Nieman FoundationInternational Fellowships Fund and sentto Lippmann House, One FrancisAvenue, Cambridge, Mass. 02138.Niemans are invited to send aremembrance of Jim Thomson forinclusion on the Web page:E-mail to niemanweb@harvard.edu.Niemans may read remembrances atwww.nieman.harvard.edu. Log in to the“Alumni Network” and choose “RememberingJim Thomson.”92 Nieman Reports / Fall 2002

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