Three-Headed Baby Wins Pulitzer? National Enquirer Now In The Running For Journalism's Most Coveted Prize

The Pulitzer Prize gold medal award.
Image via Wikipedia

Cat among the pigeons!

The National Enquirer is now in the running for a Pulitzer Prize, for its coverage of the John Edwards scandal.

HuffPo’s Emily Miller broke the story:

The Enquirer is in the running for the Pulitzer in two categories: “Investigative Reporting” and “National News Reporting” for The National Enquirer staff.

“We’re excited to be officially part of the Pulitzer competition,” The Enquirer‘s Executive Editor Barry Levine told me when contacted for his reaction to the decision. “We know we’ll be judged against other very outstanding submissions, but our work on Edwards is truly worthy of the Prize.”…

The decision by the Pulitzer Board gives The Enquirer legitimacy, which is long overdue for its work uncovering political scandals — including Gary Hart’s affair and Jesse Jackson’s love child — the old-fashioned way, by investing the time and manpower into a long-term investigation. The media establishment is also showing that it recognizes that the landscape has changed, so small or non-traditional outlets are breaking important stories.

It’s an interesting time in the media as investigative work is one of the easiest to cut: it takes a lot of time, months, sometimes years; costs money (all that “lost” labor, travel, FOIAs) and produces nothing — until it does. Sometimes it doesn’t pan out at all. Traditionally, I-journalists have also been some of the most skilled, savvy, dogged veterans — the expensive kind who have been canned and bought out by the thousands in the past  two years by every newsroom in the nation. Ooops.

Here’s hoping this sends a message to every assigning editor out there, in whatever medium fits the bill. Dig deep! Dig often!

It also reminds readers — and editors — of the classic value of sleazy politicians to keep journo’s busy on P-worthy material. Hello, Watergate?

Five More Weeks For Writers To Claim Their Share Of $5.5 Million Award: Step Up!

NO
Image by lepiaf.geo via Flickr

She’s my hero — Heather Robertson, a Canadian freelancer, launched her lawsuit in 1996 for Canadian publishers’ unfair use of her work — and that of thousands of others.

She won her case in May 2009, but the deadline for payouts ends March 25, 2o10 after having recently been extended.

The award is $11 million, but about $5.5 million (after legal and other fees) is available to any writers whose work qualifies; you can download the claims forms here and the information you need to know if your work qualifies is also on this site, that of the lawyers handling the settlement.

I spoke yesterday to one of the attorneys on the case and he explained the point system that will be used to determine how much each writer receives; the larger the readership of the publication in question, the more points, with more points added for stories longer than 500 words. The most any one writer can receive is about $55,000. So far 750 have applied, he said.

I plan to see if any of my work fits the bill. If there’s a chance yours does, time to step up!

Air Canada Considers Nut-Free Buffer Zones — Maybe Not The Sort We Most Want

Air Canada A319 C-FYJG
Nut-free? Image by BriYYZ via Flickr

Is this as crazy as it sounds? Air Canada is considering nut-free buffer zones on airplanes.

Reports The Toronto Star:

Air Canada said it is willing to create “nut-free” buffer zones on its flights to accommodate passengers with severe nut allergies.

Passengers with allergies would simply be required to notify the airline 48 hours before they intend to travel to be seated in the buffer zone, Air Canada wrote in a proposal released Tuesday by the federal Canadian Transportation Agency.

Air Canada’s submission is a response to a recommendation made by the federal agency in early January to have a buffer zone on its airplanes, after two passengers complained about the inconsistent and difficult experiences they faced when they asked the airline to accommodate their severe nut allergies.

The airline agreed to the idea of a buffer zone, but said that the zone would not necessarily be on every flight, and would only be created when required.

The buffer zone would consist of the seats immediately adjacent to the passenger with allergies, and the bank of seats in front and behind the passenger. Other passengers in the area would be notified and would be invited “to refrain from consuming” nut products.

“If after the briefing there is objection from other passengers sitting in the buffer zone, the flight crew would try, if possible, to reseat passengers,” according to the proposal submitted to the CTA on Friday, after a 30-day deliberation period.

'Objective' Reporting? Impossible, Admits Atlanta Paper

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“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.”

So wrote Janet Malcolm, in a famous (at least to journos) quote.

Anyone who tries to produce “news” or features for a living knows there’s no such thing as an unbiased or non-partisan point of view: we see the world, no matter how much we try or readers might wish otherwise, through our multiple filters of race, class, education, gender, country of origin. Being aware of them is some of the battle, while also trying to get out of their way.

Add to the individual reporter’s filters those of the many — as many as a dozen on some pieces, in whatever medium a story is produced — editors who can, and, do question and challenge those perceptions, layering on some of their own along the way from event/issue to the coverage of same.

I find so much, too much, of what passes for “reporting” is normative — focussing on what should be, rather than what is. One of the things I find deeply frustrating, and always have about being a journalist, is how little (hmmm, never) we talk about what we do, why we do it a certain way and whether there is another/better way to do it.

I do not mean a way that produces more profit for our employers or simply more eyeballs on our material.  Journalism remains an industrial process, a swiftly moving production line in which one worker (reporter) gathers the “facts” (filters firmly in place when so doing), another edits/alters/questions them, another re-questions them, and so on until the “story” appears and is consumed, with little or much credulity.

The pace of the Internet — as fast as humanly possible, please! — only makes this worse. Who’s got the time, or inclination to ask why a story is even being done, let alone in any particular way, when there’s so much pressure to just get it out there now?

These questions do get asked  — in think tanks, at foundations, in classrooms and at conferences, all too often by people whose last direct influence on the production of this hour’s news was years, even decades, earlier.

One of the issues that fascinates me, and makes me nervous, is this “branding” of the individual writer, as evidenced here at True/Slant and elsewhere. It’s flattering to be read and followed and listened to and tweeted. It validates a point of view, of whatever color and tone, but it doesn’t — at least often enough, even within the bounds of blessed civility — ask the essential question:

What makes you say that? Why do you think this way? Have you  — how? — considered others’ ideas or viewpoints?

From mediabistro.com, a refreshing blast of candor:

However, the perspectives of APN and other publications come through in other ways: (1) the choices of what stories to cover and what not to cover, (2) defining what a story is or is not in the first place, (3) deciding how to cover the story, (4) assessing what the “sides” are to be balanced, (5) deciding how the “sides” should be balanced, (6) deciding what facts to include and what not facts to include, etc.

At Atlanta Progressive News, we have a transparent editorial perspective that shapes which facts get included and which facts are given priority over others. Most other publications–on the other hand–have a hidden, sometimes insidious editorial perspective that shapes the same.

My point regarding the non-existence of objectivity in news has to do with which facts get included and which don’t– which “sides” get included and which don’t. Every publication has to make choices about this, which are unique to each publication and to each situation being written about.

Now most people’s basic understanding of objectivity is: balancing the sides. Okay, let’s talk about the sides for a minute. How many sides are there?

Well, there are approximately six billion people in the world, and to the extent that everyone’s perspective is slightly different, there could be potentially six billion sides.

The Oscars Invite Nominee George Clooney, Not Author Walter Kirn, Who Wrote 'Up In The Air'

NEW YORK - JANUARY 12:  Writer Walter Kirn att...
Walt, looking happy. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Writers never get the respect they deserve! Here’s a cautionary blog post — demand gross, not net!

From today’s New York Post:

“Up in the Air” novelist Walter Kirn took to Twitter to bitterly complain that he wasn’t invited to the Academy Awards. The movie is nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, and stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. “Caution to writers: Don’t expect that because you write a novel that becomes an Oscar-nominated film that you’ll be invited to the Oscars,” Kirn posted yesterday. He said he’d begged Paramount and even thought about trying to get in by requesting press credentials. Kirn compared himself to a pilfered natural resource: “Novelists are like oil in H’wood: they drill us, pipeline us, pump us and then burn us.” A Paramount rep told us, “The Academy has a process that we are following and we are respectfully waiting for them to allocate additional tickets. Of course, Walter Kirn is on our wish list for seats, as are producers and executive producers of our film who do not have seats yet.”

“Up In The Air” is his fourth book, of seven; here are some audio interviews with him, and a video one.

Sadie Wins Westminster, First Scottie In 20 Years To Do So

Congratulations to Sadie!
Image by garlandcannon via Flickr

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, the Superbowl of canine supremacy, is a hoot. It was held this week, and Sadie, a Scottie, won.

We went a few years ago and loved it, especially being able to go “backstage” and visit with hundreds of dogs as they were prepped for their big moment. We cheered like crazy people when Uno won in 2008, the first beagle to ever do so, howling with joy when his win was announced.

This year it’s Sadie’s turn. Reports Cindy Adams in the New York Post:

And what personal goodie did Sadie get for winning this huge prize? “A hot dog,” said Dan Musser. “She loves hot dogs. Kosher. Nonkosher. Hebrew National. Anything. Any kind.”

“She’s going to California with her trainer to be bred. He has a wife and three children, so she’ll stay with them. But she’ll come back to Michigan to give birth. She’s used to airplanes because in this campaign year she’s showed someplace every week. She flies under the seat.”We’ve been showing dogs 50 years. Done Westminster maybe eight times and won Best of Breed, but it’s our first Best in Show. Sadie’s 4½. She started showing two years ago and won 112 Best in Shows countrywide. She won Top Terrier in 2009 and that started her Atomic Year, where she’s so far won every prize there is, beating out 115,000 others. She came into Madison Square Garden as the No. 1 dog of 2009.

“First time a Scottie’s won Westminster Kennel Club since the ’80s.”

A Woman Adds 10 Pounds — To Better Compete In The Olympics

Photo of figure skater w:Tanith Belbin.
Tanith Belbin. Image via Wikipedia

Now there’s a twist — a young woman being ordered to gain weight in order to better compete as an Olympic athlete.

Great story in The New York Times about American ice dancer Tanith Belbin, by reporter Juliet Macur:

Heading into their second Games, Belbin and Agosto, the Olympic silver medalists in 2006, are once again among the favorites to win a medal in the competition, which begins Friday with the compulsory dance. What should give them an edge this time, Belbin said, is something she would have never dreamed could help them: her newly found muscles and curves.

She can thank one of her coaches, Natalia Linichuk, for that.

Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov, who were the 1980 Olympic ice dancing champions, began coaching Belbin and Agosto in the summer of 2008, when Belbin and Agosto left suburban Detroit for a fresh start.

Linichuk took one look at the 5-foot-6, 105-pound Belbin and said, “You need to gain 10 pounds.” She said more muscle would help Belbin skate faster and more fluidly.

“At first, I said no way, but then I started to understand that it needed to be done,” said Belbin, who is from Kirkland, Quebec, but holds dual citizenship. “I don’t feel like I had a safe, well-thought-out or well-researched diet until the past few years, until Natalia gave me that ultimatum.”

As it turned out, Linichuk also ended up saving Belbin from a problem that has long plagued figure skaters: disordered eating. Often not as severe as eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, disordered eating involves irregular eating habits that can be fueled by a distorted body image. Belbin said she had struggled with those issues since puberty….

Belbin began marveling at her new body. She had gained 10 pounds. Her waist size increased two inches because her core was so much stronger.

Agosto could see a huge difference in Belbin’s skating. During lifts, she was no longer a sack of potatoes, holding on for dear life. She could hold her positions much better, and that made it easier for Agosto because she did not move around as much.

Belbin says she wishes she had learned the importance of nutrition long ago. She said U.S. Figure Skating officials would have provided a nutritional counselor if she had asked them for one. But that phone call “never fit into her busy day,” Belbin said. In the end, she preferred educating herself.

“The message shouldn’t be, go consult a nutritionist; we need more education,” she said. “Skaters always sit there and wait to be told what to do, but in this case, they need to take the initiative and find out how to eat healthy.”

How Many Words Are Too Many? NYT Plagiarist Resigns, Producing 7,000 A Week

The New York Times building in New York, NY ac...
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In the second screw-up of a thriving journalism career over plagiarism in recent weeks — in this case with a 31-year-old business writer for The New York Times, Zachery Kouwe —  over-production seems to be the culprit.

He has resigned.

It’s too easy to line up and waggle fingers at anyone caught doing this. It’s much harder to be that person.

Any journalist who still has a job, at The New York Times, (which just axed 100 people from the newsroom, some who took the buy-out, some canned), or elsewhere is under the gun. They know very few other jobs are out there, certainly not at the $80-100k/year plus that an outfit like the Times is paying. With 24,000 print journalists losing their jobs in 2008-2009, it’s easy to feel like a polar bear tap-dancing on a shrinking ice floe, staring across what was miles of solid ice at a very large expanse of open water. Once you’ve gotten a good job, like many others these days, damned if you’re going to blow it.

Choices?

No one wants to trash their career. Few intend to do so. Hearing stories like that of Gerald Posner and Kouwe, both of whom basically said “I was writing too much” begs the question — what’s too much?

In my most frenzied month of freelancing, I cranked out 9,000 words: from initial call to the people I interviewed to final copy. Kouwe was doing almost that each week, he says.

In addition to my blogging here and other writing and editing work, I’m writing a non-fiction book and, after about 2,000 words a day, I’m pretty tired. I hope to produce 5,000 to 6,000 per week, i.e. a chapter. I have a deadline, but it is months away — not minutes, as it is with a blog, for Kouwe and anyone else trying to keep up, let alone lead, a large and competitive pack.

From The New York Observer:

In the coming days, inevitably, The Times will look inward to ask whether the pace of publishing in the blogs can be sustained given the level of editorial oversight they obviously need.

The DealBook banner says that it is “edited by Andrew Ross Sorkin.” Though he does oversee it, he does not edit the majority of its posts, sources said. The editing responsibilities of DealBook are primarily left to Jack Lynch, who staffers said aggregates for the site and posts items and doesn’t precisely give thorough spot checks on each item that he posts.

“Many people have thought for quite a long time that DealBook was the part of BizDay that desperately needed a baby sitter,” said one staffer.

A Times spokeswoman said, “Our journalistic standards are the same online as they are in print.”

When we asked Mr. Kouwe if he felt he needed stronger editing, or if perhaps the breakneck pace was to blame, he said, “It wasn’t anybody else. I was pushing myself to do as much as I possibly can. It was careless.”

The web is a lovely thing for many of us, offering freelancers and others a larger, more interesting platform for our work and ideas.

Maybe not so much if you are on staff, having to crank out yards of the stuff — while remaining readable, accurate and reliable. These days, added to the daily responsibilities of covering a beat and staying highly visible and productive on it, it’s starting to look like a speeded-up industrial assembly line.

Is this journalism any of us want to read? Or produce?

Slipping In The Snow? Try These

Snowfall on trees, Germany.
Image via Wikipedia

If you, like me, live somewhere extremely snowy these days, walking can be a scary endeavour. As I sit at home today in New York, the wind is howling, it’s 32 degrees and another four to six inches of snow is falling.

Try these, Yaktrax, rubber and metal slip-on grippers that go over the soles of your shoes or boots.

No one paid me to tell you this and I paid full price — $16 — for mine. But out on my usual four-mile reservoir walk yesterday, slipping and sliding through thick, packed snow without them, I ran into two other women my age and recommended them.

The only thing worse than being shut-in to the point of cabin fever, watching another 4 or 6 or 8 inches of snow falling, is never getting out at all. Dogs need to be walked, mail collected, groceries bought. Check ’em out.

What Coaches Teach Their Olympic Competitors

Yao Bin at the boards at the 2007-2008 Grand P...
Yao Bin, Chinese skating coach. Image via Wikipedia

One of the aspects of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics I most enjoy is watching athletes with their coaches, just before an event or afterwards. It was moving indeed last night, watching Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao (the oldest skater, at 36, competing this year) win gold and  Qing Pang and Jian Tong take silver in pairs figure skating. If you’d have named China as a figure skating powerhouse even a decade ago, who would have agreed?

It’s due to Yao Bin, their coach, who was profiled in a lovely NBC item last night that made clear how much he, too, personally sacrificed along the way, rarely seeing his own son as he helped others perfect their athletic skills to international standards. It was moving, as cameras moved off-rink, to see him and the skaters openly weeping with pride and joy at their collective achievement.

Reports the Times‘ Jere Longman:

The three Olympic Chinese pairs come from the country’s winter sports capital of Harbin in Heilongjiang Province, and are all tutored by the same coach, Yao Bin. Only one Chinese female singles skater, and no male singles skater, qualified for the Vancouver Games.

Juliet Macur’s New York Times profile of skater Evan Lysacek today offers a taste of what coaches do to keep their athletes going:

Lysacek said the key to winning a medal here was staying calm. At the 2008 nationals, when he was trying to successfully defend his title, he was so nervous that he nearly hyperventilated before his short program.

To refocus him, Carroll told Lysacek to remember all the hard work he had put in. Then he slapped Lysacek, leaving a mark on his face as he took the ice. Lysacek said he did not mind it.

“You have to believe in yourself and realize that you’ve done the work; I think about that a lot,” Lysacek said. “I let it all sink in after a practice where no one is cheering, no one is watching. It’s just me in a cold, stinky locker room, all by myself, exhausted.”

A coach able to help his or her athletes reach Olympic-level skill must combine tremendous skills — both emotional and physical.

I was coached, in saber fencing, by Steve Mormando, a two-time Olympian. He took a bunch of raggedy-ass mid-30s New York women, back when women just didn’t fence saber (and certainly not at the Olympics) and turned us into ferocious competitors. He pushed us in every way he knew how, sometimes much harder than we had ever pushed ourselves.

One night, worn out and fed up, I sat in  a stairwell and cried. I didn’t come to practice for about a month, deciding whether any of this was worth my time and effort. We all knew that, if anyone knew what it took to become excellent, to compete effectively through injury and pain and fatigue, Steve did. He’d been there and done that. Trusting his judgment of us meant seeing ourselves in new and unfamiliar ways.

If you take up a sport late(r) in life as an amateur, especially, you need someone who truly, madly and deeply believes in you. Not just what your body can do, but what your spirit will do to push past your limitations.

I came back, determined to get as good as I possibly could, and qualified for, and competed at, nationals four years in a row.

He knew how to push us, and when to back off.

You have to want it more than anything. A coach can only get you so far.