Thursday, December 30, 2010

Watergate's Legacy is on its way

After a long gestation, my book Watergate's Legacy and the Press: The Investigative Impulse will be arriving in bookstores on January 30.

The book explores the ups and downs of investigative reporting before, during and after the scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency. It shows how Watergate changed journalism and what lies ahead for investigative reporting in the digital age.

You can order it directly from the Northwestern University Press or from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble and other favorite booksellers.

It's already won some rave reviews:

“Jon Marshall has written a very readable, deeply researched and wisely analyzed assessment of American investigative reporting before and after Watergate. Based on my decades of practicing, editing, writing about and now teaching accountability journalism, I believe this book should be the benchmark authority for all future examinations of the subject. I know I will be going back to it again and again.”

Leonard Downie Jr., vice president at large and former executive editor of The Washington Post and Weil Family Professor of Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University

“This is a remarkably complete and coherent account of the seminal role that investigative journalism has played in American history.”

Daniel Schorr, National Public Radio

“Jon Marshall captures the power of investigative reporting to keep our democracy strong, just and honest – and, in unflinching terms, the consequences when it’s done wrong or not at all. This is an inspired and inspiring survey of the craft’s past to present that gives me hope for its future.”

Deborah Nelson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author of The War Behind Me,
past president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and director of the Carnegie Seminar at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland

I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think.

Friday, August 04, 2006

News Gems Has Retired

News Gems has retired, at least temporarily, while I work on other projects, including my book Watergate's Legacy and the Press: The Investigative Impulse.

Thank you all for the support you have given News Gems over the years.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

An Unfriendly Truth

I confess that I've never turned to ESPN before for high-powered investigative reporting, but "An Un-American Tragedy" by Mike Fish has converted me. Fish raises troubling questions about the friendly fire death of Army ranger and former NFL safety Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, how the Army acted afterward and whether his death was used for political purposes. To report this story, reviewed Army documents and interviewed some of Tillman's relatives, his fellow Rangers, Army officials and medical and military experts. In addition to Fish's sharply written story, the Web package includes an interactive map of the Afghan valley where Tillman died, profiles of the other Rangers shot that day, a timeline, great photos and links to transcripts of the investigation. My gratitude to the Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins for pointing out this excellent story.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Red Ink

The Boston Globe is concluding its terrific and terrifying "Debtor's Hell" series today. Reporters Michael Rezendes, Beth Healy, Francie Latour and Heather Allen along with photographer Michele McDonald show how millions of Americans are suffering at the hands of debt collectors, the courts and law enforcement agents. According to the Globe team, "almost unnoticed by policy-makers, many millions of Americans have slid, or been pushed, into a debtor's hell where bank accounts are drained, wages are attached, property confiscated, and threats of jail are an everyday occurrence." The stories do a strong job of explaining how the system works against consumers. The writers offer powerful examples such as the woman whose car was swiped by debt collectors even though her debts had been erased. Walter V. Robinson edited the series.

For another strong series on the same problem, check out the "Merchants of Debt" by The Buffalo News business reporter Fred O. Williams, which was spotted by News Gems reader Brian Summers. Williams gives numerous examples of the system's abuses, including one man who was threatened by three different collection agencies at once for the same $14,000 credit card bill.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Forward and Reverse Evolution

Gina Kolata, ace health writer for The New York Times, has a fascinating story on Sunday's front page that reports how people in the industrialized world today are bigger, healthier and smarter than our ancestors a century ago. In "So Big and Healthy Nowadays, Grandpa Wouldn't Know You," Kolata synthesizes the latest studies to explain "what may be one of the most striking shifts in human existence -- a change from small, relatively weak and sickly people to humans who are so big and robust that their ancestors seem almost unrecognizable." Using wonderful examples from real families, she makes the maze of scientific data easily understandable and interesting to science-challenged readers like me.

For another well-written and important science story, check out "A Primeval Tide of Toxins" by Kenneth R. Weiss in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. Weiss vividly describes how pollution is altering the chemistry of the oceans, allowing primitive "slime" to spread and threatening more advanced forms of ocean life such as marine mammals, fish and coral. As a result, he writes, the oceans are experiencing a kind of evolution in reverse. This story is the start of what promises to be an exciting "Altered Oceans" series by Weiss, writer Usha Lee McFarling and photographer Rick Loomis.

30 Years Later

"The Big Thompson Flood" in the Loveland, Colo., Daily Reporter-Herald recounts the devastating legacy of a 1976 flood north of Denver. Reporter Kate Martin evocatively describes in Saturday's first installment how a wall of water 19 feet high swept through the Big Thompson Canyon, killing at least 139 people and wiping out homes, businesses and an entire highway. On Sunday Alicia Beard tells how the community pulled together to rebuild the canyon. Monday's last chapter by Pamela Dickman looks to the future and whether the community is adequately prepared for another flood. The Web package also includes original coverage from 1976. This is an impressive effort by a small paper to serve its readers with thorough coverage of an event that forever changed their community.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Eye on Washington

The Washington Post has been doing some great investigative work lately. Last week in "HHS Secretary's Fund Gave Little to Charity," staff writer Jonathan Weisman revealed that Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and his family have taken more than $1 million in tax write-offs since 2000 by creating a foundation that loans more money to business interests connected to Leavitt than it gives to charity.

Two days earlier Gilbert M. Gaul, Sarah Cohen and Dan Morgan shined in "Aid to Ranchers Was Diverted for Big Profits." They reported that taxpayers have shelled out at least $400 million in an emergency powdered milk program intended for drought-stricken ranchers that instead has created millions of dollars in profits and sent milk to states with no drought, Mexico and other countries.

And "It Looked Weird and Felt Wrong" by Thomas E. Ricks in Monday's Post took a hard look at the Army's 4th Infantry Division, whose tough tactics in Iraq may have backfired by alienating large parts of the population.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Sailor's Story

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been running a powerful narrative this week by Mark Johnson. "An American Hero's Fall From Grace" tells the story of Mark Samples, who in 1987 helped save the lives of 180 shipmates on the USS Stark and earned a bronze medal. Johnson describes how Samples unraveled emotionally after coming home and ended up robbing a credit union 14 years later. Johnson's eye for detail and lively writing fueled by strong verbs makes this story a page turner.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Keep Rockin'

Legendary critic Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times offers a fun and fascinating retrospective of his 37 years covering the pop music scene in Saturday's "Backstage Pass." Hilburn gives us the lowdown on his encounters with stars such as John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Bono and Elvis. I appreciate that he also praises the songs of younger stars such as Kanye West and Jack White of the White Stripes. Hilburn is a master at using snippets of dialogue to capture people's personalities, as he does during this description of a scene with Michael Jackson:

"Popcorn was ordered from his personal chef, then he pulled a video from one of the huge trunks he took on tour. Slipping it into the VCR, he settled on a couch and said, 'Let's watch cartoons.' Jackson was 26."

Monday, July 24, 2006

Bee Season

News Gems readers have pointed me to a couple of outstanding series in the Sacramento Bee. "A Mother's Journey" by reporter Cynthia Hubert and photographer Renée C. Byer follows single mom Cyndie French as she struggles to care for her son Derek after he is diagnosed with cancer. Hubert's rich details and crisp sentences make her writing compelling, and Byer's photos grabbed my heart. I'm impressed with the trust they must have earned in order to spend so much time with French and her family during their medical and personal odyssey. Dan Nguyen of the Bee deserves credit for letting me know about his colleagues' great work.

The Bee launched another remarkable series in November describing the plight of migrant workers, known as pineros, who toil under a U.S. government program that takes care of our forests. "The Pineros: Men of the Pines" by reporter Tom Knudson and photographer Hector Amezcua exposes these guest workers' dangerous jobs, miserable conditions and low pay. To learn about the pineros, Amezcua and Knudson read 5,000 pages of records obtained using the Freedom of Information Act and conducted more than 150 interviews across the U.S., Mexico and Guatemala. The interactive Web package includes photos by Amezcua, snapshots of guest workers who have died on the job, video interviews with pineros, and links to documents that reveal government indifference to working conditions.

This series has already won a bunch of awards, and the Bee continues to update it as legislation dealing with the forestry program moves through Congress. Thanks to loyal friend Alysia Tate, publisher of The Chicago Reporter, for suggesting this series to me.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Human Cargo

Dennis Wagner of The Arizona Republic had a strong story Sunday on how the Phoenix area has become the hub of a $2 billion-a-year human smuggling network. "Human Trafficking's Profits Spur Horrors" details how thousands of illegal immigrants are brutally kept hostage in Phoenix drophouses until their families pay ransom. Wagner's story does a terrific job explaining why this vast human smuggling network has developed and describing its impact on people. Wagner's package includes a nifty sidebar, "Lady in Charge," which profiles Julieta Franco-Beltran, the woman at the center of one of the smuggling rings. I like how Wagner uses Franco-Beltran's tale to reveal how human smuggling operations work on a daily basis.

For another compelling look at human trafficking, check out "Sold in the U.S.A." by Kimbriell Kelly of the Chicago Reporter. Kelly shares the story of Ricardo Veisaga, who was tricked by an employment agency into working as a near slave at a Chinese restaurant in Indiana. Kelly reveals that the victims of human trafficking are not just those smuggled from abroad but often are people such as Veisaga, who already live in our cities and towns.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Exploring China

Two recent stories helped me understand the rapid changes and growing tensions China is experiencing. "Bridging Two Worlds" by Alwyn Scott of the Seattle Times tells us about Susie Cheng, a young woman who is part of the largest and fastest migration in human history -- the journey of an estimated 150 million young Chinese from rural areas to cities in the past 15 years. Scott does a nice job of showing us the impoverished hamlet of mud huts where Cheng grew up compared with the cosmopolitan city where she now works for a Seattle-based company.

"China's One-Child Problem" by Mark Magnier of the Los Angeles Times explores the controversy surrounding China's one-child campaign. Magnier movingly tells the stories of people who are challenging the Chinese government's autocratic approach. I admire Scott and Magnier for their ability to reveal the lives of ordinary Chinese citizens.

Cargo Crashes

Cargo planes in the United States have a fatal crash nearly once a month, a rate higher than the government officially admits, the Miami Herald reported after a nine-month investigation. "Deadly Express" by reporter Ronnie Greene, photographer Candace Barbot, audio editor Rhonda Sibilia and online producer Stephanie Rosenblatt describes an industry where pilots work long hours, corners are cut and government oversight is loose. To produce this excellent package, the Herald team pored through National Transportation Safety Board data, filed FOIA requests to examine FAA files, reviewed industry memos and interviewed people around the country. Thanks to Al Tompkins for the recommendation.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sweet Home Alabama

When NBA star Ben Wallace signed with the Chicago Bulls, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune traveled to Wallace's tiny hometown of White Hall, Ala., to find out more about him. The resulting "Big Ben's Humble Beginnings" is a beautiful portrait of an ambitious young man, the devoted matriarch who encouraged him and an impoverished town that can't decide whether to worship or resent its most famous son. Johnson's writing is full of great descriptions of White Hall and its people.

Booze Escape

Too many local teens are getting off easy after being caught drinking and driving, Lisa Hammersly Munn and Ted Mellnik of The Charlotte Observer discovered. Their "Mecklenburg Judges Giving Breaks for Underage Drinking" reveals a system that lets Mecklenburg County judges give young offenders what's called "a prayer for judgment continued," or PJC for short, allowing them to escape losing their driver's licenses and higher insurance premiums in return for education and treatment. These PJCs are only supposed to go to drivers with virtually clean records, but Munn and Mellnik revealed that 45 percent of those getting PJCs had prior arrests or convictions. This is a great example of court reporting that looks for patterns behind the daily rush of cases.

Becoming an American

Cindy Lange-Kubick of the Lincoln Journal Star has written a compelling story about Brissa Placek, an 18-year-old girl from Acapulco whose adoptive family struggles to keep her in Nebraska. "A Home for Brissa" unfolds like a novel as Lange-Kubick's simple sentences follow the Placek family's frustrating efforts to climb through the tangled web of immigration laws. Photographer Jill Peitzmeier's pictures help capture the Placeks' daily drama. Thank you Brian Summers for the tip.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Return of the Taliban

Jim Sciutto of ABC's "World News Tonight" is doing important reporting from the mountains, valleys and fields of Afghanistan. His "The 'Other' War" series of reports describes how the Taliban are returning better armed and organized than when they were driven from power five years ago. Sciutto travels with U.S. troops as they combat the revitalized Taliban, who are borrowing tactics such as roadside bombs and suicide attacks from the Iraqi insurgents. In one of his reports, Sciutto explores the increasing growth of opium in the Afghan countryside. Kudos to Sciutto and his crew for reminding us about this continuing war that much of the media have been ignoring.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cop Capers

For nearly a year, Lewis Kamb, Eric Nalder and Paul Shukovsky of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have been investigating misconduct in the King County Sheriff's Office. "Conduct Unbecoming" uses payroll, pension and other public records to expose how deputies convicted of misconduct still receive taxpayer money and how citizens who make misconduct accusations get charged instead of thanked. Lamb, Nalder and Shukovsky use example after example of how the sheriff's office doesn't police itself. In one story, "Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Keeping Bad Cops on the Job," Kamb tells about a cop convicted of murder who gets a $3,100 tax-free pension check while serving life in prison and the deputy who doubled his salary after being accused of beating his girlfriend.
Thank you Brian Summers for the tip.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tow to Nowhere

Patrick Lakamp of The Buffalo News used public records to reveal that Buffalo residents are being charged towing fees even when their cars aren't towed. For his "Towing-Fee Abuse" special report Sunday, Lakamp did a computer analysis of more than 38,000 parking tickets to discover that a police officer was assessing $40 towing charges on 80 percent of the parking tickets he wrote for illegally parked cars. Lakamp then went out in the neighborhoods to learn that none of these 242 ticketed cars was actually towed, although many drivers paid the fines because they didn't want the hassle of appealing them or didn't realize they could. "Towing-Fee Abuse" is already getting results. In today's follow-up story, Lakamp and Brian Meyer report that the Erie County district attorney and Buffalo police are launching investigations into the phantom towing.
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