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.
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