Happy Thanksgiving!

May your day be spent with family, friends and appreciation for all the good things in our lives.

North Reservoir, Middlesex Fells

Why some in the media are holding back on a motive in the Club Q shootings

Pride parade in Colorado Springs. Photo (cc) 2013 by Stephen Rees.

You may have noticed some reluctance on the part of the media to label the mass killings in Colorado Springs as a hate crime aimed at the LGBTQ community. Looking at the case from the outside, the shooter certainly appears to have been motivated by anti-LGBTQ animus. He burst into Club Q, an LGBTQ club, and started firing before he was taken down by a military veteran. The Colorado Sun, quoting an anonymous police source, reported as early as Sunday that “law enforcement has collected evidence suggesting the shooting was a hate crime.”

Despite all that, many commentators are holding back. For instance, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, even while decrying the right’s exploitation of anti-transgender and anti-drag show sentiment, felt compelled to write: “Perhaps we’ll learn something in the coming days that will put these murders, which took place on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, into a new light, but right now, it seems hard to separate them from a nationwide campaign of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. incitement.”

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Why the caution? I suspect some of it stems from the aftermath of the mass killings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in 2016. That horrifying incident claimed 49 lives. Like Club Q, the Pulse catered to the LGBTQ community, and the shootings were immediately labeled a crime motivated by hatred of LGBTQ people. And so we all believed it was — until evidence to the contrary emerged. As Jane Coaston explained in Vox in 2018, the shooter had originally intended to attack a shopping and entertainment complex but decided security was too tight. His wife told investigators that he chose the Pulse at random. Coaston wrote:

This evidence dramatically changes the mass shooting’s narrative; politicians and individuals across the political spectrum had positioned it as an anti-LGBTQ hate crime. Instead, the new evidence suggests, the Pulse nightclub shooting was intended as revenge for US anti-terror policies abroad.

The evidence emerged during the trial of the shooter’s wife, Noor Salman, whom the federal government charged with aiding and abetting and obstruction of justice. Federal prosecutors argued that Salman had helped her husband plan and orchestrate the attack.

What we later learned about the Pulse shootings is a good reminder that journalism needs to be grounded in evidence. As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel put it in their classic book “The Elements of Journalism,” our work should be grounded in “a discipline of verification.” We all know what the Colorado Springs incident looks like, but until we know for sure, cautionary language such as Goldberg’s is the proper way to frame this.

Of course, there’s an additional challenge: Before can can arrive at an understanding of what happened, we’re already on to the next mass shooting. Colorado Springs came right after the killings of three University of Virginia football players. Then, on Tuesday night, a gunman killed six people at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia.

So no, we shouldn’t get ahead of the story. But what we can do at moments like this is call out politicians who try to turn us against each other because of race or sexual orientation, and whose only answer to the spread of gun-related violence is more guns. Those are universal values regardless of the details of any particular incident.

Ashley Parker wins the 2022 Both Sides Sweepstakes

Stop the competition. We have a winner of the 2022 Both Sides Sweepstakes: Ashley Parker, a high-profile political reporter for The Washington Post, who took to Twitter in order to share this with us:

I put it up as an image rather than an embedded tweet because who knows what’s going to happen to it over the next few days? Plus she might wake up and delete it. But click here, while you can, to see some of the replies.

I should note, too, that as far as I can tell, this is not an imposter who paid Elon Musk $8 for a blue check mark.

Amid COVID-19 and a failing MBTA, more and more people turn to biking

The rise of Bluebikes has helped fuel an increase in the number of people traveling on two wheels in the Boston area. Photo by Henry Shifrin.

My wonderful Northeastern intermediate reporting students have produced a terrific story on urban biking for The Scope, our School of Journalism’s digital publication covering issues related to social justice.

Here’s how we did it. Eleven of the 14 students interviewed experts, policymakers and ordinary cyclists, combining all of their notes onto one Google Doc. One student took photos. Two contributed research. Each of them wrote a story based on everyone’s notes. Finally, I pulled together an article from several of their stories.

I am pleased with the results and incredibly proud of my students. You can read their story right here.

Those updated TV dinners aren’t as terrible as you might think. Especially with wine.

My friend David Yamada, a Suffolk Law School professor whose Facebook posts about weird food nostalgia are wonderful and life-affirming, recently published one about Swanson TV dinners. We ate those occasionally when I was a kid, and I enjoyed them. The fried chicken glistened in grease. The dessert — sometimes a hot apple thingie, sometimes a brownie — beckoned in its little tray. I vowed to try one if I could find it and write about the experience.

Who knows what delights await?

Well, they don’t make them quite the same way anymore. Swanson was absorbed into Campbell some years ago. On a recent trip to Stop & Shop, I managed to find a few Campbell Hungry-Man boneless fried chicken dinners. They don’t call them TV dinners these days, probably because people eat them while staring at their phones. Anyway, I picked up three. My wife, daughter and I tried them Friday evening.

That’s a lot of ingredients.

There are 790 calories, which isn’t too bad, I suppose. But there are also 38 grams of fat and 1,400 milligrams of sodium; the latter is 61% of what is supposed to be your maximum for the entire day. If you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough salt in your diet, I would definitely recommend one of these. In addition to two boneless chicken patties you get corn, mashed potato (“savory,” which I guess is Campbell-speak for salty) and a brownie that looks very much like what I remember from my childhood.

Peel back the plastic over the brownie, cut a slit over the chicken, and it’s ready for the oven.

In deference to the microwave crowd, the tin trays are gone. But I went old-school, putting them in the oven for 50 minutes. The result was not terrible, which may not sound like much of a recommendation, but it was somewhere toward the high end of my expectations. The picture on the box showed everything moved to a plate, so I did the same, the better to separate the chicken from the mashed potatoes that were beneath it.

Nicely plated and ready to eat. Note: butter not included.

Sadly, the chicken tasted highly processed, which it was. Those old TV dinners might not have been anything great, but they included real chicken, with bones and everything. But who wants to deal with bones when you’re scrolling through Instagram? The corn and potatoes were tasteless, but the brownie was pretty good. I was alone in that opinion, which meant that I got to eat two and half of them.

Paired with a Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes and we had — well, some very good wine. I can’t recommend what we ate, but we survived, and it easily could have been worse.

Bird is the word

At the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield earlier today.

Black by God: How Crystal Good is providing a voice to Black West Virginians

Crystal Good (via LinkedIn)

On our latest podcast “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Crystal Good, the founder of Black by God, the West Virginian. She’s a sixth-generation West Virginian, and she’s a storyteller and poet. She has also been a model and an advocate. She describes Black by God as an “emerging news and storytelling organization centering Black voices from the Mountain State.” She wants to provide a more nuanced portrayal of Black residents in the Appalachian region.

Northeastern graduate student Dakotah Kennedy (no relation) and I first heard Good speak in September at the Radically Rural conference in Keene, New Hampshire — not from the stage but from the audience. We wished she had been onstage, so we invited her onto the podcast, and she graciously agreed. Black by God has a lively website and publishes periodic print editions — which Crystal sometimes delivers herself.

I’ve got a Quick Take on social media. It’s in free fall. Is that good for local news? Bad? Or does it just mean a changed environment that they’re all going to have to navigate? Ellen’s Quick Take is on a hyperlocal mogul named Mark Adams. He’s expanding his empire into Montana.

You can listen to our latest podcast here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Covering Trump: Will the third time be the charm?

On Thursday I put together a brief lecture on how the media ought to cover Donald Trump’s third presidential campaign. I thought of writing a blog post about it — but then decided I could save time and just post the slides. I’m not going to do this often, but I’m curious to know whether you think this is effective or not.

There they go again: Gannett to lay off journalists just in time for the holidays

Within the past hour I’ve received copies of an email from multiple sources about yet another round of layoffs that our largest newspaper chain is planning. The hammer is scheduled to drop on Dec. 1 and 2, just in time for the holidays.

The email comes from Henry Faure Walker, a Gannett executive who is described on the company’s website as “the Chief Executive Officer of Newsquest Media Group since 2014, managing more than 165 regional brands in the U.K. with an audience of 30 million.” He is also chair of the News Media Association, a British industry group. His operational role at Gannett is not listed in his company bio.

The most recent round of  cuts was announced only last month. At that time, the chain imposed unpaid furloughs, a 401(k) freeze, a hiring moratorium and other measures on its beleaguered employees, so this really adds insult to injury. The text of Walker’s email follows:

Dear Gannett News Division:

First and foremost, I want to thank you all for your commitment, hard work and professionalism during these unsettling times.

I have begun working with … the team to address the challenges and opportunities ahead and put the News operation on a sounder footing.

It’s important to provide you with visibility into current conditions and the next steps for our News division, as we are not immune to the economic conditions many industries and companies are facing, particularly in the media sector.

While we have taken several steps already, we must enter the new year in a stronger economic position, and the reality is that our News cost base is currently too high for the revenues it generates. Regretfully, this means we will be implementing further reductions.

I appreciate that this will impact valued colleagues, and we are committed to ensuring they are treated with the utmost respect and courtesy throughout this difficult process. Our goal is to be as transparent as possible. Notifications will occur on Dec. 1 and 2.

Please know that many non-payroll savings have also been targeted, and reducing our workforce is not the preferred course of action. In addition, other similar actions are being taken in other divisions across our organization.

We are going through challenging times, but we will get through this, and build a stronger business that underpins the phenomenal, trusted journalism you do and ensure that we can continue to deliver for our communities for many years to come. Thank you.

Henry

Kara Swisher can’t make sense out of what Elon Musk is doing, either

Elon Musk. Photo (cc) 2019 by Daniel Oberhaus.

If you are trying to make sense out of what Elon Musk is doing with (or, rather, to) Twitter, I recommend this podcast in which the tech journalist Kara Swisher talks about her interactions with the billionaire over the years.

Swisher is appalled as any of us, but she’s more sad than angry — she says she genuinely believed Musk might be the right person to fix the money-losing platform. She doesn’t attribute any nefarious motives to his brief reign, which has been marked by chaos and performative cruelty toward Twitter’s employees. But she can’t make sense of it, either.

Toward the end, her producer, Nayeema Raza, asks Swisher what she’d like to ask Musk if they were back on speaking terms — which they’re currently not. Swisher’s four-word answer: “What are you doing?”