Saturday, November 12, 2005

Working Class Blues

For more than 30 years The Chicago Reporter has produced top-notch investigations of race and poverty issues. November's cover story, "Thin Margins," by Stacie Williams carries forward that proud tradition. By analyzing U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Williams shows how the gap between what people are paid and what they need to survive is growing wider in the Chicago region, as I suspect it is doing in other areas. What makes the story especially effective are the anecdotes of working people, particularly minorities, who can't make ends meet even though they have earned college degrees. The Reporter's publisher, Alysia Tate, is a friend and former colleague of mine, but I have admired the publication's work even before she came aboard.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Sergeant Has No Clothes

It takes some guts to go against the rest of the journalistic pack, which is what Ron Harris of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did with "Is Jimmy Massey Telling the Truth about Iraq?" Massey is a former Marine staff sergeant who has been touring the country telling audiences about atrocities he and other Marines committed against Iraqi civilians. While other reporters recounted Massey's tales, Harris took the extra step to find out if they were true. After interviewing other Marines who served with Massey and five journalists who were embedded in Massey's unit, and examining conflicting reports from Massey himself, Harris determined that Massey's claims were either false or exaggerated. One of the first lessons young journalists learn is, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." Thanks to Harris for remembering that lesson.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Free Drugs for Convicts

The state of Washington is spending millions of taxpayer dollars to give its prisoners addictive narcotics like morphine and Oxycodone, according to an investigative report by KIRO-TV 7 in Seattle. Thanks to a whistleblower's tip, reporter Chris Halsne was able to dig through prison records to learn that inmates are getting hundreds of thousands of doses of these powerful drugs for free, with little medical oversight, and then selling them on the black market. I learned about this story through one of my favorite blogs, The Poynter Institute's "Al's Morning Meeting."

A Father's Anguish

Sometimes a story just steals your heart. "Search for Lost Son behind Cartoonist's Anguished Drawings" by Pauline Arrillaga of the Associated Press did just that to me. Maybe it's because I have three sons of my own, but once I started reading this story I couldn't put it down. I was rewarded with an ending that is just as powerful as its beginning. Here is one passage:

He might pull out another sketch, crinkled and watermarked after being lugged around in his pickup truck. It showed a man's face, masked by a thick beard and shoulder-length, shaggy hair. Shadows wreathed the eyes, which stared, hardened and defeated, at nothing.
Under the image, in block letters, was one word: "JIMMY."

The writing in this story is smooth, but it's deep reporting that makes the vivid details possible. Thanks to Brian Summers for sharing this with me.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Behind the Cameras

Reporters like me sometimes forget what fine journalists photographers can be. "In Their Eyes: Stories of Hurricane Katrina" by the photography staff at the St. Petersburg Times is an excellent reminder of the skills and thoughtfulness needed to take great pictures. What I like about this Web collection is that we can hear the stories behind these powerful photos in the voices of the photographers themselves: Willie J. Allen Jr., Douglas R. Clifford, Cherie Diez, Kathleen Flynn, Melissa Lyttle, John Pendygraft, Daniel Wallace and Chris Zuppa.

Watch Your Wallets

Pulitzer Prize winner David Jackson is at it again with some top-notch investigative reporting. "How Fraud Became the Nightmare on May St.," co-written with John McCormick, is part of a series Jackson is doing for the Chicago Tribune that looks at how mortgage scams are proliferating around the country, sometimes with the help of street gangs. In addition to hard data, the series shows the toll this fraud has on people and entire neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the Tribune's Web site makes it difficult to view the whole series, but even looking at one of the stories such as this one is well worth the time to see this example of thorough reporting.,1,5901906.story?coll=chi-news-hed

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Wretched of the Earth

Telling the stories of the afflicted is one of duties of journalists, and it's hard to think of anyone enduring more affliction than the millions of people stuck inside of African jails, some of whose cases have never gone to trial and likely never will. Michael Wines of the New York Times tells their story in "The Forgotten of Africa, Wasting Away in Jails Without Trial." Wines gives us example after powerful example of the misery endured by these prisoners, humanizing people -- some of them likely to be completely innocent -- tossed away by their governments. Joao Silva's photos are some of the strongest I've ever seen.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Crumbling Schools

Even though it has faced some tough financial times, The Christian Science Monitor still produces some of the best international coverage of any newspaper in the country. Monday's edition is no exception. It features "The Pakistan quake: Why 10,000 schools collapsed" by David Montero, which examines the reasons behind the deaths of 17,000 school children during last month's horrible earthquake. Montero cites evidence that extensive government corruption in Pakistan led officials to cut corners when constructing their schools, leading to shoddy buildings that collapsed once the ground trembled. Full disclosure: the Monitor ran my first newspaper story more than 15 years ago, which may account for some of my fondness for it.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Corruption Iraqi Style

The Los Angeles Times is continuing its run of impressive international reporting. In Sunday's paper, "Before Rearming Iraq, He Sold Shoes and Flowers," Solomon Moore and T. Christian Miller tell the story of Ziad Cattan, a former used-car dealer who U.S. officials made the chief of procurement for the Iraqi Defense Ministry. Responsible for equipping the Iraqi Army, Cattan spent hundreds of millions of dollars, often using no-bid contracts that enriched his friends. Some of the equipment was good but some "was shoddy, overpriced or never delivered," Moore and Miller write. "The questionable purchases — including aging Russian helicopters and underpowered Polish transport vehicles — have slowed the development of the Iraqi army and hindered its ability to replace American troops, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.",0,1152440.story?track=tottext
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