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Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

When the shooter is a neighbor

In journalism on June 15, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Among other things, here’s what readers of the Belleville, Ill., News-Democrat learned about their infamous hometown killer in the wake of James T. Hodgkinson’s violent outburst at a suburban Washington, D.C. baseball diamond:

“The Hodgkinsons’ foster daughter, Wanda Ashley Stock, killed herself at the age of 17 in a brutal manner: Ashley doused herself with gasoline and set herself on fire inside her car on a rural road south of Belleville.”

And this: “Then, in December 2002, the Hodgkinsons assumed legal guardianship for their 12-year-old great-niece, Cathy Lynn Putnam. Cathy’s biological parents’ rights had been revoked, and she had been in foster care or with the Hodgkinsons since she was 4 years old. Her name was eventually changed to Cathy Hodgkinson.”

The national newspapers and the network television outfits had video from the scene and stand-up interviews with congressmen. It was compelling … but the local paper had insight into the mind of a killer.

Poynter talked to editors at the 30,000-circulation McClatchy paper. They explained the entire staff put down what they were doing and picked up the Hodgkinson story just as soon as they heard about the shooting. As a result, they found a host of tidbits that they were uniquely positioned to find. A DUI, a charge of resisting arrest. The time his shotgun was confiscated after an altercation. … Read the rest of this entry »

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Shields aren’t just for superheroes

In journalism on May 29, 2014 at 2:24 pm

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Generally, I think of shields as being necessary for riot cops and Marvel superheroes. Not so much for journalists. But I may be wrong about that.

Last fall, there was momentum for passage of a federal shield law that would protect journalists from prosecution for failing to give up confidential sources. That momentum grew from the case of New York Times reporter James Risen, who faced jail time for failing to reveal sources in his reporting of the case of former CIA analyst Jeffrey Sterling who was being prosecuted for allegedly violating the Espionage Act. (Sterling, who was involved in sensitive weapons deals with Iranians, is accused of releasing national defense secrets after filing an discrimination action against the CIA. Juicy stuff!)

As USA Today’s Rem Rieder reports, the effort to shield journalists from prosecution has slowed to a crawl. Democrats say Republicans are holding up legislation even though more than 50 senators support a shield; Republicans say nanny, nanny boo-boo, I think.

I’ve always been on the fence about shield laws. Here’s why: As a general rule, I don’t think journalists should be afforded any special privileges. Keep in mind, a government that gives special shields or access or whatever, can also take it away. That is why I have always resisted official “press passes” from police agencies and the like. My press pass is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I shouldn’t have to wear a sheriff-issued press pass to attend the press conference or talk to a deputy at the scene of a crime. And don’t get me started on defining just who is a journalist. Read the rest of this entry »

The down low on the shutdown

In Ideas on October 3, 2013 at 4:52 pm

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Hey, did you hear that America is closed? That’s right, this week your U.S. Congress ratcheted up the stakes in the ongoing divide over Obamacare. I won’t bore you with my interpretation of events thus far, but I would suggest to you that there are good local stories afoot as a result of the dysfunction in D.C.

I’m not talking about macro-economics. I heard someone on television last night suggest that the government shutdown will cost the U.S. economy $200 million a day. NBC news reports that the shutdown will cost $2 billion just to pay for “closed” signs and contingency plans. Maybe so. Who knows? These are the sorts of Big Numbers that make readers’ eyes glaze. They are absolutely meaningless to me.

You have to bring this mess home.

  • Some of our communities are awash in military contracts. While not a simple target, at least you can see it. Bill Hess at the Sierra Vista Herald didn’t need me to point this out. He had a nice bullet list of effects in Wednesday’s newspaper. Every one of those bullets is a separate story for an enterprising reporter.
  • You say you are lucky enough to live near a national park? What does the shutdown mean to businesses in the area? You are bound to find the owner of a local diner who has strong feelings about our political leaders. Can she quantify what a closed gate means to her daily receipts? Here’s an easy little story I did on a sliver of parkland in our area. … Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t laugh!

In Writing techniques on December 9, 2011 at 9:48 am

Hey, is it ever OK to laugh in the face of the guy you are interviewing?

That’s today’s question after Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo laughed at an answer given by Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart the other day. If this account is to be believed, Caputo chuckled when Diaz-Balart suggested the Bush administration deserved some of the credit for hunting down Osama bin Laden and the U.S. involvement in Libya.

That prompted the congressman to say, “You laugh; are you a reporter or a debater? … It’s funny because, and I’m not giving you a hard time here, but usually reporters are reporters, not advocates.”

For his part, Caputo writes on the newspaper website that “the laugh was more an expression of surprise Diaz-Balart wasn’t giving any credit to Obama without strings attached.”

What do you think? If you giggle at something your source says, does that scratch the veneer of objectivity?

I think it can. I also think it may not. I think it depends. … Read the rest of this entry »