Anonymous Sources are Degrading Journalism, and Government Accountability

February 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

It’s one of the sexiest things in journalism: The anonymous source. It conjures images of late-night meetings in parking garages, voice modulators and intrigue. The fact that someone feels the need to be protected makes their information feel more valuable. « Read the rest of this entry »

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Is ‘Serial’ Journalism?

December 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

In a word: Yes.

(Note: If you don’t know what Serial is – first of all welcome to the Internet – and come back in 10 hours when you’ve finished listening.)

I’m putting this here because I think Serial’s success has perked up a lot of journalists’ ears (especially if they are, like me, in radio) and made them think about what they can take from Serial and apply to their own work.

Media critic (and my former professor) Dan Kennedy posted a commentary on his blog by journalist Brian C. Jones that makes an interesting argument that Serial isn’t journalism because it launched before the journalist involved – This American Life’s Sarah Koenig – knew what the outcome would be.

My objection is that when the reporting phase is exhausted, it’s crucial to understand what kind of a story it is, and maybe whether it is a story at all. At the very least, the writer has to be honest with listeners as to the “why” of the story.

Jones’ problem, he writes, is that Koenig is one episode away from the conclusion of her look into the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee and it seems likely she won’t have a “He did it!” or “He’s innocent!” conclusion to cap it all off. Not doing so, he argues, just causes a lot of harm to everyone involved in the case and doesn’t really accomplish anything. Therefore, he says, it’s voyeurism and not journalism.

Last week Koenig read from a letter from the defendant saying that his psyche has been bruised by her persistent questioning of his character. I imagine some prosecutors, cops and others whose work has been scrutinized feel the same.

I disagree with the argument that this disqualifies Serial from being journalism.

While I have sympathy for the family of the victim and the defendant with respect to the pain of being in the spotlight, I think Jones’ criticism is off the mark. To condemn a journalist for scrutinizing the work of police and prosecutor, and for the discomfort that’s caused, is to condemn accountability journalism. Accountability journalism is never comfortable when done well, and it shouldn’t have to be. Public officials – both the law and society in general agree – are and should be subject to greater scrutiny.

As to the harm caused to Adnan by digging into this case – Jones is right, it must be difficult. But (guilty or not) he was convicted of killing a girl. Is that not more harmful to his reputation or emotional health than anything Koenig ever could do? Does the outcome of her reporting (or lack thereof) somehow retroactively change the calculus here?

Journalists spend every day asking difficult questions and making people uncomfortable. Much of the time, especially for investigative journalists, this never pans out. That’s okay. But is it suddenly not journalistic work if they then publish their findings, painstakingly taking the time to note all the things they’re not sure about.

The only real difference between investigative reporting and what Koenig has done here is that the things that don’t pan out generally don’t go public, because it would require far too much ink or air time or pixels to say “we checked this out and there are a bunch of caveats but we still have questions.” But this is a podcast dedicated to exactly that, and Koenig openly acknowledges the weaknesses in what she’s found as well as the emotional difficulty involved in this digging – the criticism mentions Koenig’s own disclosure as evidence against her.

To say it’s not journalism because there isn’t a clear “why” is overly simplistic. Journalism is about creating a more informed public and moving conversations forward, and Koenig has done that.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Jones.

New job: VPR Digital Reporter

August 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joining the news team at Vermont Public Radio as their digital reporter.

As news consumers move online for their content, many organizations, including VPR, have made a great effort to create robust and user-friendly web outlets. At VPR, they decided the next step was to hire a reporter to focus on digital-first news stories. That means the majority of my work will be published online, either in collaboration with VPR’s experienced  radio reporters or based on my own original reporting in the Chittenden County area.

I have long admired VPR’s dedication to excellence in journalism and commitment to the exciting developments in digital journalism, and I’m thrilled to be joining them in their efforts in early September.

Lessons learned: Covering the marathon bombings

April 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

I wrote a piece for Media Nation, which is Northeastern Professor Dan Kennedy’s blog, about my experience covering the Boston Marathon bombings and the manhunt in Watertown later in the week. You can check that out above.

Media Nation

Note: Northeastern journalism student Taylor Dobbs covered the Boston Marathon bombings and the final standoff in Watertown from the scene of both incidents, publishing stories and photos in Medium. Here he offers some advice to young journalists: Show up; be a witness; tell us what you know; don’t guess at what you don’t know.

Taylor DobbsBy Taylor Dobbs

In a fast-moving, violent situation, fear and confusion naturally prevail. Facts and hard truths are at a premium, and the most difficult thing to do is separate these disparate pieces and figure out what is happening.

As a journalist, I knew this was my job on the ground when I arrived at the edge of the police perimeter on Monday, April 15, minutes after a pair of bombs echoed through the crowded streets of Boston and then again when I headed to MIT after shooting was reported on the campus.

Show up

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Some hockey coverage

January 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

I got the privilege of covering some Northeastern women’s hockey games this past weekend when The Huntington News’ normal beat writer was unable to make a pair of games. It was a fun change of scenery.

The then-No. 7 Northeastern women’s hockey team left nothing up to chance this weekend as it blew by the University of New Hampshire Wildcats 8-0 Saturday and the University of Vermont Catamounts 5-1 Sunday.

The team’s first offensive line had an especially productive weekend, scoring nine of the 13 Huskies goals, including two hat tricks.

Junior forward Casey Pickett scored a hat trick on Saturday and freshman Kendall Coyne put together three of her own goals Sunday, the Huskies’ first two hat tricks of the season and the first of Coyne’s career.

The Saturday game was a historic one for both teams as it was covered live on ESPN 3, making it the first-ever women’s hockey game on an ESPN station. A record crowd of 1,227 attended.

Read the rest at HuntNewsNU.com.

In Haiti, a health care oasis

January 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Image

I wrote for Haiti Rewired about a new hospital in Central Haiti, finishing construction this year.

MIREBALAIS, Haiti – Officials and builders from Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and the United States gathered here Tuesday to celebrate the completion of phase one of construction on the Mirebalais National Teaching Hospital. The 320-bed facility, located just outside downtown Mirebalais, is the result of a collaborative effort between the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) and Partners in Health, an American non-profit focused on international public health.

Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, spoke at the event about his first time in Haiti as a young medical student in 1983.

“The first year, let me tell you, was a terrible experience medically,” he said. Farmer recalled the disappointment he felt when he visited a clinic he was involved with. “[It was terrible] to go into a clinic that you were actually involved in running, as I was, and supporting, as I did ardently, but see that the quality of care was so poor that it would be a better idea to shut the clinic down, which is what we did.”

Farmer said that first year inspired a dream, which is being realized by the new hospital in Mirebalais.

Read the full article on Haiti Rewired.

New England independent news

September 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

During the Spring 2011 semester, I wrote for the New England Newspaper & Press Association’s e-Bulletin about independent online news sites around New England.

Disclosure: After I submitted this story to the e-Bulletin, I secured an internship with Anne Galloway at VTDigger.org. No plans were in place for that internship prior to or during my reporting for this story.

The story: « Read the rest of this entry »

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