Monthly Archives: July 2010

A bit more on why I keep visiting New Haven

I’m heading to New Haven in a little while for another round of interviews. I’ll be back Friday night. I’m also taking advantage of a hiatus at “Beat the Press” to visit an old friend at the Providence Journal on Friday afternoon. So it should be a good trip. It’s not likely I’ll be blogging, but since I can approve comments via BlackBerry, go ahead and have at it.

It’s also time to dip my toe in the water regarding the book that I’m working on. It’s hardly top-secret, but at the same time I want to be discreet. Anyway: A couple of months ago I signed a contract with UMass Press to write a book about the New Haven Independent and the rise of non-profit community news sites. (Working title: “The Wired City.”) The idea is that low-cost, online projects can at least partly offset the decline of for-profit newspapers — a decline that is far more advanced in Connecticut than it is here in Greater Boston.

The Independent is one of a handful of non-profits that are doing real community journalism. Though not as well known as Voice of San Diego, MinnPost or the Texas Tribune, it is nevertheless a viable, growing news organization that employs four full-time journalists plus another two at a satellite site in the suburbs. The Independent not only covers the big stories in New Haven, but also regularly publishes articles about the minutia in New Haven’s neighborhoods that the dominant daily, the New Haven Register, can’t touch.

I figure my book will be about 60 percent to 80 percent about the Independent, with the rest focusing on changing business models for journalism as well as on some other sites worthy of note — including a couple of for-profits I’ve visited, the Batavian, in western New York, and Baristanet, in Montclair, N.J.

I’d like to do a little bit of crowdsourcing; at the same time, I want to avoid writing my book in public. I’d welcome any ideas for people I should interview (in New Haven and elsewhere) and books and articles I should read.

I’ll have more to say as my project progresses.

WikiLeaks’ uneasy alliance with the traditional media

Why did WikiLeaks work with traditional news organizations rather than go it alone in releasing the Afghanistan war logs?

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange learned from the way he handled the Apache helicopter video earlier this year that sometimes it’s better to be Daniel Ellsberg than Ben Bradlee. And that Stephen Colbert was right.

In New Hampshire, criminalizing political speech

Kelly Ayotte

New Hampshire Republicans have hit upon a novel idea to help U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte: lock up a pollster hired by one of her opponents for the crime of engaging in political speech.

According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, the state GOP, chaired by Gov. John Sununu, has asked Attorney General Michael Delaney to investigate an allegation of push-polling by a pollster hired on behalf of Democratic congressional candidate Paul Hodes.

Push-polling is the practice of asking leading, negative questions of a rival candidate’s likely supporters. According to the Union Leader, respondents who identified themselves as leaning toward Ayotte were asked about her alleged inaction regarding a mortgage scandal that unfolded when she was New Hampshire’s attorney general and her deletion of e-mails when she stepped down from that office.

The Union Leader found that the calls were made on Hodes’ behalf by Mountain West Research, an Idaho-based polling firm hired, in turn, by Anzalone Liszt Research, a national outfit whose clients include Hodes. The Hodes campaign hasn’t exactly denied the allegation.

Now, as it happens, negative push-polling is illegal in New Hampshire unless the pollster identifies the candidate on whose behalf the call is being made and provides some other information as well. That means someone — an executive of one of the polling firms, or perhaps even Hodes himself — could be found to have broken the law.

It’s not clear what the maximum punishment could be. The Union Leader reports that the top penalty is a $1,000 civil fine. But an Associated Press story that appears in today’s Boston Globe reports that Associate Attorney General Richard Head says a violation could also carry with it a one-year prison term.

The law itself is an affront to freedom of speech, and so is the Republican Party’s attempt to use it to silence the opposition. Push-polling is a sleazy, underhanded campaign tactic — which means that it’s exactly the sort of political speech the First Amendment was designed to protect.

We await Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr’s take on all this.

Photo (cc) by Travis Warren and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

An injustice rectified

The U.S. State Department has finally granted Colombian journalist Hollman Morris a visa so that he can study at the Nieman Foundation, the Harvard Crimson reports. (Via Romenesko.)

Earlier story.

Update: Dan Feder discovers that the Crimson has posted a correction, and that Morris doesn’t actually have his visa yet.

Update II: Boston.com is now reporting (late Tuesday morning) that Morris has officially been granted a visa.

Why Climategate doesn’t matter (X)

The series explained.

For some time now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to wrap up this series of blog posts. I can think of no better way than with Ross Douthat’s column in today’s New York Times. Douthat, a conservative, is too grounded in reality to argue anything so stupid as the idea that human-caused climate change doesn’t exist. Instead, he unintentionally traces the devolution of respectable global-warming skepticism.

1. Global warming isn’t real. This position was popular at one time, and you occasionally hear it espoused today, though not by anyone who has spent any time learning about the subject. As has been well-documented, the current decade is the warmest on record, followed by the 1990s and then by the ’80s.

2. Global warming is real, but it’s not our fault. Yes, the earth has been warming and cooling for millennia for reasons that are poorly understood, but that are probably related to solar activity. But the current warming trend is occurring with unusual rapidity. Carbon-dioxide levels are the highest they’ve been since the age of the dinosaurs thanks to emissions from factories, power plants and automobiles, and the science of how CO2 contributes to global warming is well established.

3. Global warming is good for you. Now we have arrived in Douthat Land. After asserting the obvious — “Conservatives who dismiss climate change as a hoax are making a spectacle of their ignorance” — Douthat then goes on to make a spectacle of his own, embracing the views of fringe scientists like Freeman Dyson and others, who claim that even though human-caused global warming is real, we shouldn’t be all that worried about it. Douthat writes:

Their perspective is grounded, in part, on the assumption that a warmer world will also be a richer world — and that economic development is likely to do more for the wretched of the earth than a growth-slowing regulatory regime.

I’m not even going to bother to engage in a debate over whether a hotter planet will be good for us. I think it’s enough that the so-called respectable right, having given up the idea that global warming isn’t taking place, or that humans aren’t contributing to it, have retreated to such an absurd position. If that’s where Douthat and company want to make their stand, they are welcome to it.

And though I am surely not done with writing about climate change, I am done with this series.

All posts in this series.

A consummate community journalist

Cathryn Keefe O'Hare

Best wishes to Cathryn Keefe O’Hare, who’s leaving the Danvers Herald, where she has been editor for the past 10 years. I can’t find her farewell editorial online, but in the print edition she writes:

It has been a privilege to work here. I have learned so much, and I have had so much fun through the years. I have helped some of you, I think. I hope I have explained some issues fairly well. In any case, I know you have enriched my life with patience when I’ve been obtuse and offered gracious acceptance of my nosy ways.

In 2008, Cathryn let me tag along and learn about Web video. You can see the results here. Cathryn is a consummate community journalist, and she will be missed by those of us who live in Danvers.

Making sense of the WikiLeaks documents

Like just about everyone else in the media world, I’m trying to make sense today of the WikiLeaks documents, the Pentagon Papers of our time.

The documents — reported by the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel — show that the war in Afghanistan has been undermined by untrustworthy “friends” in the Pakistani intelligence service, chaos and duplicity in Afghanistan, and mistakes by American and allied forces leading to civilian casualties.

In a sense, it’s nothing we didn’t know, and the White House argues that the situation has been improving since President Obama charted his own course. (The most recent documents in the cache are from December 2009.) Still, like the Pentagon Papers, the documents offer official confirmation that things are (or at least were) as bad as we feared, if not worse.

I think WikiLeaks’ strategy of giving the three Western news organizations a month to go over the documents before making them public was brilliant. Earlier this year, WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, got a lot of attention over a video it had obtained of an American helicopter firing on civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters freelancers. Ultimately, though, it proved to be the wrong kind of attention — the heavy-handed editing made it appear more like an anti-American propaganda film than documentary evidence. (WikiLeaks also released a longer, unedited version.)

By contrast, in providing the latest documents to news organizations, Assange was able to get out of the way and let credible journalists tell the story. Jay Rosen, in a characteristically thoughtful post about WikiLeaks (“the world’s first stateless news organization”), thinks Assange did it because he knew the story wouldn’t get the attention it deserved unless the traditional media could break it.

I don’t disagree, but I think a more important reason is that the public will take it more seriously.

Also: At the Nation, Greg Mitchell has been rounding up links about the WikiLeaks story here and here.

Chapel* at Gordon-Conwell

Click on image for larger size

I just got back from a 20-mile bike ride in the humid North Shore air. My route took me past Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Wenham, which I had never seen, even though I’ve driven by it many times. So I explored the grounds and got this shot with my BlackBerry of the chapel (which is at the summit of a rather brutal hill). It would have made for a better picture if the cars weren’t there.

*Correction: A friend who attended Gordon-Conwell tells me that the chapel is actually behind this building.

Daniel Schorr, 1916-2010

Schorr (left) and Simon

NPR commentator Daniel Schorr has died at the age of 93. A legendary reporter who was on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, lost his job at CBS News after he leaked classified information and then reinvented himself at an age when most people would have been content to retire, Schorr was among the last living journalists to have covered the post-World War II reconstruction of Europe.

Schorr’s days as a working reporter were over before I had started paying attention to the news, but I enjoyed his sharp, intelligent commentaries on NPR. At one time he sounded so weak that I wondered how much longer he could continue. But despite his age, seemed to recover his strength during the past couple of years.

He was on the air as recently as July 10, talking with “Weekend Edition” host Scott Simon about the U.S.-Russian spy swap and President Obama’s visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Here’s what Schorr said about the delicate state of U.S.-Israeli relations:

Neither can afford to be very long on bad terms with the other because of their domestic constituencies. And so, they have problems. And I’m sure the problems in private are discussed at much greater length than they do in public. But in the end, it’s likely they’ll come back together again, because they are condemned to be good friends.

Schorr may well have been the last journalist alive who had been recruited to CBS News by the legendary Edward R. Murrow. His death marks not just the passing of a fine reporter, but of a piece of history as well.