Monday journalism roundup

By Christopher B. Daly

It’s been a busy week for thinking about the news business.

Here’s Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia Journalism School, sharing his reactions to one day’s New York Times with the paper’s “Insider” feature.

–NPR recently did a devastating investigation of the Red Cross’ spending in Haiti. Here is the story behind the story.

Here is Part II of Michael Massing’s survey of the digital news landscape for the NYRB. (Spoiler alert: he’s more impressed by the legacy media than  by most digital natives.)

Here is this week’s offering from NPR’s “On the Media,” which is a consistently worthwhile show. Particularly good: this segment on the nation’s librarians, who have shown an impressive toughness in defense of the public’s right to read without being spied on. Go, librarians!

Here is an original episode of public radio’s “This American LIfe,” which focuses on what might be called “journalism by other means” — opera, drama, etc. Great idea.

As the saying goes: More later!

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Abolish the NCAA (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Why do I want to abolish the NCAA? Here are a couple of reasons, from the recently concluded spring semester:

1. In my large lecture class at Boston University on the history of journalism, I had a student who was also a member of B.U.’s Division 1 men’s hockey powerhouse. On the first two tests of the term, he got failing grades. I noticed and suggested that he come see me during office hours to discuss steps he could take to improve. He replied that he could not come to office hours because they conflict with his practice schedule and his coach would not tolerate an absence (even for a few minutes to talk to a professor!). Why, I thought, is the coach more important on a college campus than a professor? But I let it go and changed my schedule so I could meet with this student one morning. He described his schedule of practice and travel to out-of-town games, and it became clear that he just didn’t have time for his classes. Essentially, all the top men’s hockey programs make up a development league for the NHL.

Ultimately, he withdrew rather than suffer an “F” (which would jeopardize his eligibility to play hockey!)

2. In the same class, I had a young woman who was a member of B.U.’s swimming and diving team. Again, practice and travel time would interfere with class. But in this case, there was an added wrinkle: concussion. Turns out, this student had taken enough blows to the head in diving that she could not read, study or do a lot of other things that are pretty central to being a student. During her recuperation, she rushed back into the pool too early and suffered a second concussion. She managed to pass the course.

3. Finally, in the same class (of about 60), I had a student who was a star on the B.U. women’s golf team. (Who knew that we even had a women’s golf team?!?) Early in the term, she approached me with the official letter all the varsity athletes get from the Athletics Dept. identifying the student as a competitive athlete and begging my indulgence with their travel and competition schedules. In her case, the team over-performed and won its league championship, which led to a regional tournament and ultimately to the national tournament — which conflicted directly with the final exam in my class. With ambivalence, I granted her a later make-up date, with no penalty. (Then, while she was away at the tournament, I got a distraught message from her: the team’s van had been broken into and some asshole had stolen all their valuables and laptop, so she couldn’t even attempt to study.)

Now, here’s proof that I don’t know everything: the golfer ended up with the highest grade for term!

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This Week in Fossil Fuels (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Another week, another episode of harm to the planet and to individual human beings.

A child tries to protect himself from the air pollution in New Delhi. Credit Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

A child tries to protect himself from the air pollution in New Delhi. Credit Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

Here is a heartbreaking account of one family’s struggle with the air pollution in India (granted, some of India’s air pollution is not caused by burning fossil fuels, but we know where most of it comes from — burning coal). Of course, this story involves a family from the developed world with every advantage, so imagine how miserable life is for the typical, poor Indian.

–The world’s largest “sovereign wealth fund” (that’s an investment vehicle created by a government to make money for its public-employee pensions, for example) has decided to divest from coal. Norway is taking that step in part because of the “feel-good” politics of voting against polluters that many liberal polities would find appealing. But I suspect that it also reflects a dawning awareness among all economic players: All the world’s coal companies are based on ownership of an asset (coal) that is destined to decline in value. Which raises a question for all parties who invest in coal and oil, too: what is the economic sense in owning stock in an industry that is destined to go out of business? That question pertains to individuals, university endowments, wealth managers, everybody.

–In The New Yorker, the redoubtable Elizabeth Kolbert shines a light on the world’s biggest source of coal: the border area between Montana and Wyoming. (“. . .where the skies are not cloudy all day . .”) Guess who owns all that coal? We do!

The Powder River Basin, which stretches over twenty-six thousand square miles of southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming, is the largest coal-producing region in the world. Roughly forty per cent of the coal that’s burned in the United States is mined there; this comes to nearly four hundred million tons a year. And there’s plenty more still in the ground. A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated recoverable reserves in the region at more than a hundred and sixty billion tons.

The federal government owns most of the coal in the Powder River Basin, and leases the land to private companies that mine it for a profit.

So, what are WE going to do about it? Apparently, we are going to do the same thing that China is planning: keep burning coal and set clean-air goals for a half-generation or so from now (i.e., long after most current officials in both countries have retired). Thanks a lot!

–In the inaugural post in this series, I wrote that no journalist covers fossil fuel as a “beat.” Turns out, that’s not quite true. At the Houston Chronicle (no surprise, I guess), the business section has a vertical devoted to covering the oil

That's a lobster.  Credit: Getty

That’s a lobster.
Credit: Getty

and natural gas business, which they call “Fuel Fix.” It’s a team effort to cover the largest local industry in Houston. It seems to take a fairly deferential attitude toward that industry, which is hardly surprising. It’s reminiscent of the way the Wall Street Journal covers capitalism, or ESPN covers sports. (Fun fact: one of the contributors to “Fuel Fix” is a former student of mine, Josh Cain, who’s identified as a “digital producer.”) “Fuel Fix” is useful as a roundup, but it suffers from the same problem that A.J. Liebling identified when it comes to reading conservative newspapers — it’s like learning to use a rifle that you know has a deviation to the right. You have to “correct” for the misfire. For example, here’s an AP story from the site that follows up on the Santa Barbara spill.

This one was just too awful: about 100 people in Ghana, seeking refuge from a flood, got killed when a gas station exploded.

–Last (but hardly least) in this week’s roundup is this story from The Nation about how Chevron has a whole country in its grip.

A special hat-tip here to the author, James North, the nom-de-plume for a journalist who has been covering

James North, journalist

James North, journalist

the developing world for 40 years — ever since graduating from college a few years ahead of me. (We worked together on the student newspaper.)

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This week in fossil fuels

By Christopher B. Daly 

To the best of my knowledge, no one in the mainstream media covers the fossil fuel business as a beat. So, as a public service, I am launching a series of occasional roundups to bring attention to seemingly disparate events that all flow from the world’s dependency on oil, gas, and other fossil fuels. From exploration to extraction to transportation to combustion, there are many steps in the process of using these fuels. I hope to draw collect stories and images about every phase and all the players — drillers, shippers, refiners, retailers and their many lobbyists, p.r. teams, and investors. I hope to touch on the current flashpoints involving issues like fracking and divestment, while also keeping an eye on the traditional roster of spills, blowouts, pollution, and corruption.

So, here goes:

–As if settlers from Europe have not done enough to the native peoples of the Americas, here is a story about the sale of land that is holy to the Apaches. What could be so important? You guessed it: oil

Despite these protections, in December 2014, Congress promised to hand the title for Oak Flat over to a private, Australian-British mining concern. A fine-print rider trading away the Indian holy land was added at the last minute to the must-pass military spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. By doing this, Congress has handed over a sacred Native American site to a foreign-owned company for what may be the first time in our nation’s history.

–Here is the early stage of efforts to clean up the latest oil spill into the Pacific Ocean off Santa Barbara. (Not to be confused with the notorious 1969 spill.)

–Big Oil objects to the safeguards sought by Obama even as he gives the industry to drill in the Arctic.

Protesters carry a large sign as they rally at the Port of Seattle, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Seattle. Demonstrators opposed to Arctic oil drilling were showing opposition to a lease agreement between Royal Dutch Shell and the Port to allow some of Shell's oil drilling equipment to be based in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Protesters carry a large sign as they rally at the Port of Seattle, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Seattle. Demonstrators opposed to Arctic oil drilling were showing opposition to a lease agreement between Royal Dutch Shell and the Port to allow some of Shell’s oil drilling equipment to be based in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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Abolish the NCAA (cont.)

As if we needed any more evidence that the NCAA is a corrupt and destructive organization, here is the word from the horse’s mouth: comments by Walter Byers, the former long-time executive director of the NCAA, who died recently at age 93. In his New York Times obituary, Byers is described as both a creator and a destroyer — he is hailed for having “forged a moneymaking colossus” only to see the NCAA develop into a racket that Byers himself considered “corrupt and unfair.”

Some excerpts from the obit:

Mr. Byers is often given credit for coining the term student-athlete, and it’s possible he did (he was known to deflect both credit and the spotlight), although, as he put it in his 1995 memoir, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct,” “We crafted the term student-athlete, and soon it was embedded in all N.C.A.A. rules and interpretations.”

And this:

But as his tenure grew closer to its end, he viewed the college sports landscape with increasing cynicism, recognizing, he said, that the high stakes of the sports business had led to rampant corruption, made the notion of amateurism quaint and outdated, and gave an air of hypocrisy to the N.C.A.A.’s insistence on maintaining it.

In 1984 Mr. Byers told The A.P. that he believed that 30 percent of big-time college athletic programs were cheating and that he despaired of bringing the problem under control. He suggested the creation of an “open division” within the N.C.A.A., in which colleges could opt to operate their sports teams as semiprofessional programs.

“I don’t think the fabric of higher education as we believe in it and would like to see it function in this country can stand the strain of big-time intercollegiate athletics and maintain its integrity,” he said in a subsequent interview with Sports Illustrated.

former NCAA exec director Walter Byers

former NCAA exec director Walter Byers

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Epistemic injustice in the academy: an analysis of the Saida Grundy witch-hunt

profdaly:

I rarely share this space with outsiders, but I think my readers will appreciate this commentary on some recent issues at Boston University. I did not write it, but I find it cogent and informed.
~The Journalism Professor

Originally posted on The Academe Blog:

Guest blogger Arianne Shahvisi is an assistant professor of philosophy at the American University of Beirut, and has recently written commentary for the New Statesman, Jacobin, Open Democracy, and Truthout, centered on issues surrounding race, class, gender, and borders.

Last month, Saida Grundy, an incoming sociology faculty member at Boston University, tweeted a set of remarks and rhetorical questions regarding white supremacy, slavery, and misogyny in the US. In other words, a trained sociologist of race made some observations centered on race that were perfunctory and impassioned (as tweets invariably are), but nonetheless cogent. And that really should have been the end of that.

Instead, her comments were met with a barrage of hate from ostensibly offended right-wing campus groups, and a subsequent outpouring of solidarity from Twitter users citing #IstandwithSaida. The episode culminated with a condescending letter from the Boston University administrators who have just hired Grundy, in…

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Sy Hersh’s latest expose: Did Obama mislead about bin Laden’s killing?

By Christopher B. Daly

Before deciding that veteran investigative reporter Sy Hersh has become the crazy uncle of American journalism, it might be worth considering whether he might be right about the bin Laden killing.

Earlier this week, Hersh unloaded a 10,000-word alternative history of the 2011 raid on that compound in

White House photo, by Pete Souza.

White House photo, by Pete Souza.

Abbottabad, Pakistan. In the official version, a U.S. Navy Seal team risked their lives in a dangerous raid into hostile territory to swoop in, find bin Laden, and (when he made a false move) execute him. It was a major gung-ho moment for the Obama national security team. Even conservatives briefly had to salute the president for having the nerve to order the raid.

Now comes Hersh, the fabled investigator who first came to prominence in 1969 when he broke the My Lai massacre scandal, who says he was dubious from the outset about the Obama team’s story. Hersh argues that his reporting points in another direction. He asserts that bin Laden was effectively in the custody of Pakistan’s intelligence service and that the Pakistani military agreed to stand aside while the Seals pulled off the fatal raid.

The Obama administration quickly pushed back. So did some American journalists, such as Peter Bergen of CNN.

Then came a second wave of articles covering the controversy, raising such questions as: if Hersh’s story is so great, why wasn’t it published in The New Yorker (which is Hersh’s institutional home base)? Here’s a version by the always interesting Gabriel Sherman in New York mag. The most disappointing point raised in Sherman’s fine piece was the no-comment by David Remnick, the top editor of The New Yorker. (Come on, David.)

Before coming to any conclusions, everyone should settle in and prepare to do a lot of reading. I would also recommend paying particular attention to someone who really knows what she’s talking about: Carlotta Gall, who was the New York Times‘ bureau chief in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2013. During those dozen years, she too was on the trail of bin Laden, and she followed leads into the lawless “tribal areas” between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Fearless, tough-minded, and thoroughly empirical, Gall is skeptical about the Hersh’s story but points out that it tracks some of the rumors, leads, and facts that she heard while in the region. In a piece for the Times magazine posted yesterday, Gall wrote that she “would not dismiss the claims immediately.”

Here she is talking to John Hockenberry today on his NPR show “The Takeaway.”

And an update: TNR offers an explanation for why Hersh is so isolated in this instance.

To step back a bit, here’s my view about Sy Hersh: he is a national treasure. Even when he gets things wrong (as he sometimes has over the decades), Hersh performs two important public services:

1. Never trust the official version.

2. When in doubt, dig in and do your own reporting.

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