Two glorious days.

We had a spectacular weekend, weather-wise. I bet you did, too, as I gather this blessing of sunshine and warmth was granted to most the country east of the Mississippi, and after last weekend, we wuz OWED. So both days had a bit of work, but also fun, and nothing you say will make me feel guilty about that.

So’s how about some photos, then?

Saturday’s big event was a brunch to honor the retiring head of the journalism fellowship I did back in the day. Over to Ann Arbor to eat eggs, drink mimosas and enjoy some fellowship one more time. I took a walk though Wallace House, too. Charles, the retiring director, loves editorial cartooning. In 2000-01, Milt Priggee, who worked for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, was a member of the class and drew the seminar speakers. Many of these pieces are framed and hanging on the wall. Never noticed this one before:


Of course, the subject doesn’t look like this anymore, and he has a new title now, too:


“In happier days,” as they say.

Pat Oliphant visited during our year, and many others. He talks about current events and sketches at the same time, and these great, loopy caricatures emerge from it. Charles always has the best ones framed, and they’re really filling the place now. This one is over the stairs:


You really can see why cartoonists truly mourned Nixon’s exit from public life. The nose, the brows, the hairline and boom, there he is.

Took a bathroom selfie, and yes, the whole quote runs around the perimeter. (Improperly attributed to Voltaire, some say.)


And after all the catching up and email addresses were exchanged, it was off to north campus to shlep a few things home for Miss Kate, who will be rejoining us in just a couple more weeks. Where did the year go? Michigan dense-packs its academic year, and then that long summer — it’s great for out-of-classroom learning for sure. I found her enjoying that perk of college, outdoor studying:


Change a few details, and that could have been me, once upon a million years ago. Also, she’s prettier, and studies more.

Seeing her with her devices reminds me that we saw “Steve Jobs” later that night, which was perfectly fine, if you like Aaron Sorkin talkfests, which I must say don’t always hit me the right way. I give it points for taking a different approach to the ol’ biopic, and structuring it in a novel way, but I did doze off for a few seconds here and there. Worth a watch if you’re an Apple person, maybe less so if you’re not.

And then Sunday was a bike ride, first long one of the season, maybe 15 miles, followed by a draft beer. If you had a better Sunday than me, well, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Not a lot of bloggage — the newspapers are oddly uninteresting on weekends like this — but maybe two things. First, the aforementioned Farm to Fable package from Florida (and everywhere, really), which pries the lid off the locally-grown myth. Like a lot of great reporting, it points out things that are lying in plain sight, but it does it in a readable, genial, well-designed package that seems perfectly suited to the content. We’re talking food here, not rapacious charter schools, so the amble-with-me-into-this-thicket-of-lies approach works really well:

What makes buying food different from other forms of commerce is this: It’s a trust-based system. How do you know the Dover sole on your plate is Dover sole? Only that the restaurateur said so.

And how can you be sure the strawberries your toddler is gobbling are free of pesticides? Only because the vendor at the farmers market said so.

Your purchases are unverifiable unless you drive to that farm or track back through a restaurant’s distributors and ask for invoices.

I did.

For several months, I sifted through menus from every restaurant I’ve reviewed since the farm-to-table trend started. Of 239 restaurants still in business, 54 were making claims about the provenance of their ingredients.

For fish claims that seemed suspicious, I kept zip-top baggies in my purse and tucked away samples. The Times had them DNA tested by scientists at the University of South Florida. I called producers and vendors. I visited farms.

My conclusion? Just about everyone tells tales. Sometimes they are whoppers, sometimes they are fibs borne of negligence or ignorance, and sometimes they are nearly harmless omissions or “greenwashing.”

This approach is getting some meta-journalism attention, too. It’s the first investigative series I’ve seen compared to Netflix. So there’s that.

A charter-school smackdown Brian should enjoy.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to enjoy the golden light of the day’s magic hour and mentally prepare for the week ahead. Hope yours goes well.

Posted at 12:01 am in Media, Same ol' same ol' | 69 Comments

Bringing home the paper.

Thank you for all your kind thoughts about our probable success in the SPJ-Detroit contest, but it wasn’t quite so grand. We have always entered the Online category, ‘cuz that’s what we are, and always done well, because there aren’t very many online-only publications in Michigan. Which is fine, but you want your wins to be significant. So this year we entered the largest print category, up against the big dailies.

And we won three awards. But the one that had my name on it (along with, y’know, three others, and the unseen name of our editor, who made it immeasurably better) was a first place.


That was the college-drinking project, fyi.

So it was a good night. I had three glasses of wine and regretted it yesterday, because I am old and can no longer handle liquor. (Next stop: The grave.) Either that, or I didn’t have enough to eat, a strong possibility as I try to go Clean again. It was still a fun night. One of Alan’s staffers won Young Journalist of the Year, so a good time was had on both sides of the Nall-Derringer Co-Prosperity Sphere.

May I just say? While you guys were carrying the load here over the last 48 hours, I was highly amused by Danny’s comment on the Tinder date, a very only-in-California story. And I was moved and heartened by MichaelG’s travel to Europe. Sail on, sailor.

Perhaps weighed down by trying to process a mere 12 ounces of wine, Wednesday was a snoozer. Fortunately, the bloggage is not. Somehow I got on the Wayne County prosecutor’s press-release mailing list, and every so often it delivers a gem:

An American Airlines co-pilot, John Francis Maguire, 50 (DOB 9/30/65), of Pennsylvania has been charged with the misdemeanor charge of :Aircraft – Operating Under the Influence. On March 26, 2016, at approximately 6:45 a.m. at Detroit Metropolitan Airport it is alleged that Maguire in the cockpit of an American Airlines plane and was under the influence of alcohol when he was detained and then arrested. He was later released by authorities on the same day.

Maguire will be arraigned and have a pre-trial hearing on May 11, 2016 at 9:00 a.m. in 34th District Court.

Prosecutor Worthy said, “Although we do not often hear of pilots being allegedly intoxicated, the laws apply to everyone – whether one is on the roads or airways.”

There’s nothing worse than drunken white girls, especially when they run in packs:

It’s a Friday night in Provincetown, in late August, and the mise-en-scène of this delicate ecosystem, plopped atop a sandbar in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is being threatened by a new and unfamiliar scourge. They are called, simply, The Bachelorettes.

Provincetown is, of course, as gay as …a very gay thing.

Determined to find some bachelorettes who will let me spend the night bar-hopping around Provincetown with them, I go to MacMillan Pier on Saturday morning to await the first boat from Boston. Immediately, I encounter a sextuplet of blondes wearing team bride tank tops. Maid of honor Stacey will not shake my hand. I ask if I can hang with them tonight.

“I don’t think so,” Stacey says. “Girls only.”

I am completely befuddled. “In Provincetown?” I ask. She is standing only feet away from a gaggle of bearded men sipping Muscle Milk and talking about Beyoncé.

“Sorry,” Stacey says in a smug, dense way.

I’m told they do that here, too, but I haven’t been invited to a bachelorette party in decades.

Finally, while I know there are a great many charter-school foes in this readership (coff-Brian-coff), after a few years of reading and reporting on them, I think the whole movement was best summed up by a charter expert who told me, “I’ve been in charters so good they make me want to give up a tenured professorship and go teach in them. And there are some that are just terrible.”

Here’s one in Detroit that Bridge wrote about. Guess which kind it is?

Now I’m going to swallow a melatonin and try to make up for the sin of drinking on a Tuesday night.

Posted at 12:15 am in Current events, Detroit life, Media | 31 Comments

Kibbles ‘n’ b.s.

The day we took our first Jack Russell terrier home, the breeder gave us a deli container of food – Iams Eukanuba. “I’ve always fed my dogs Eukanuba, and they’ve done well on it,” she said.

So we took Spriggy home, gave the bag of Purina we’d already bought to the shelter, bought a bag of Eukanuba and never looked back. Sprig lasted until a month shy of his 18th birthday. So when we adopted Wendy, we bought a bag. I couldn’t find it at my beloved locally owned pet store (Lou’s, the best in town), so I bought it from a regional chain a few blocks away, one with a very all-natural, snooty kind of nothing’s-too-good-for-my-fur-baby vibe. They had a frequent-buyer’s program, and I dragged that punch card around for the more than two years it’s taken to buy 12 bags. On Saturday, I took it in for my free 13th bag.

“Just to let you know,” the clerk said, “but we’re not going to be restocking this when the inventory is gone. It has…corn in it, which is contrary to the Snooty Pet Store philosophy.” All this delivered in a sort of of-course-you-agree airiness.

I stood there thinking, “If it weren’t for the Chinese and their poisoned pet food, this place wouldn’t exist.” Also thinking, “If this is a ploy to get me to pay even more for dog food, it ain’t gonna work.” You can put organic lamb and mountain blueberries in kibble, but we’re still talking about an animal that will eat its own poop, and with gusto.

Any suggestions? This place gets on my nerves.

So, then. Perhaps you’ve heard about Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently learned the man who he thought was his father, wasn’t. His real father turned out to be Sir Anthony Montague Browne, an aide to Winston Churchill. But until you’ve read his mother’s marvelous explanation of how this happened, you really haven’t lived:

Gavin Welby, my ex-husband, was a very strong, possessive character. At the end of March 1955 he was bullying me to leave my job as personal secretary to the Prime Minister and run away with him and marry him in the United States where his divorce was being finalised. At the age of 25, as I was, the pressure became too great and in the end I found myself unable to resist.

One feature of this pressure is that I was already drinking heavily at times. Although I could then ensure that this did not affect my work, it was later to develop into serious alcoholism during the 1960s which only came to an end when I entered rehab in 1968. I have not drunk alcohol since.

Although my recollection of events is patchy, I now recognize that during the days leading up to my very sudden marriage, and fuelled by a large amount of alcohol on both sides, I went to bed with Anthony Montague Browne. It appears that the precautions taken at the time didn’t work and my wonderful son was conceived as a result of this liaison.

Girl, that sort of thing happens all the time. Relax. You got a fine boy out of it. He grew up to be Archbishop of Canterbury! Blood will always tell. I’m sure he’ll forgive you.

You might have heard that Andrew Sullivan, the ultimate bad penny, is back on the job, or will be soon, this time at New York magazine. Roy makes the case for not forgetting Sullivan’s background, in case you need to be reminded, you fifth columnist.

God, here comes Tuesday. No entry tomorrow, alas — journalism awards tonight, so I’ll be curling my hair and getting my Oscar dress steamed.

Posted at 12:19 am in Current events, Media, Same ol' same ol' | 88 Comments

The sword of truth.

After Friday’s excoriation of the poor shlub who wrote the Daniel Holtzclaw piece, I feel the need for some balance. Check out the first couple grafs of this Jeffrey Toobin piece on Antonin Scalia:

Antonin Scalia, who died this month, after nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy. Fortunately, he mostly failed. Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that President Obama should avoid in a successor. The great Justices of the Supreme Court have always looked forward; their words both anticipated and helped shape the nation that the United States was becoming. Chief Justice John Marshall read the new Constitution to allow for a vibrant and progressive federal government. Louis Brandeis understood the need for that government to regulate an industrializing economy. Earl Warren saw that segregation was poison in the modern world. Scalia, in contrast, looked backward.

His revulsion toward homosexuality, a touchstone of his world view, appeared straight out of his sheltered, nineteen-forties boyhood. When, in 2003, the Court ruled that gay people could no longer be thrown in prison for having consensual sex, Scalia dissented, and wrote, “Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.” He went on, “Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a life style that they believe to be immoral and destructive.”

You know what I like about that? There’s not a whiff of equivocation in any part of it, just simple declarative sentences, dropping like truth bombs, ending with a long passage written by the deceased himself, and not that long ago, underlining just how retrograde his opinions were. Were. He’s dead. Let’s move forward. So many writers are afraid, of blowback, of Twitter, of whatever, that they can’t even express a clear opinion anymore. It’s not that I think this, but that I really think this — you can find that sentence in a dozen columns published today. If you’re good, no one would get confused in the first place.

The essay doesn’t lose steam — and isn’t that long, I should add — but if I may quote one more paragraph, or portion of it:

Not long ago, Scalia told an interviewer that he had cancelled his subscription to the Washington Post and received his news from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times (owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church), and conservative talk radio. In this, as in his jurisprudence, he showed that he lived within the sealed bubble of contemporary conservative thought.

And this man, I remind you, is considered a towering intellectual. He got his news from Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et al. Good luck with that level of intellectualism, guys.

Whew, that felt good to read.

So, we had ourselves a lovely weekend at my latitude, two days back-to-back with temperatures in the 60s. I ran errands on my bike, smelled the breeze, did some recreational reading, attended a dinner party and otherwise, we enjoyed ourselves. Of course, because I am a homeowner, I looked at the considerably colder forecast for the coming week and thought, “Good thing I got most of the dog poop picked up, because the snow’s going to cover it all back up again.” Lord Grantham never had this problem.

I hope I can be one of those people who looks forward as I get older. Endless nostalgia is a truly destructive attitude to carry into life. As anyone who reads Bob Greene could tell you.

The rest of the weekend was not so great in Michigan, as current events will demonstrate. My friend and former student Ryan had to roll out for K’zoo Sunday morning. As he was leaving, his girlfriend informed him he would be missing her breakfast tacos, “which only makes me hate this fucking loser even more,” he said.

But he filed a good story. Best detail:

Michael Arney, a local radio reporter, said he attended Comstock high school in Kalamazoo with Dalton, who was now, he said, the third murder suspect from his 1989 graduating class.

The delamination of the less-well-educated white American male? Or coincidence? You tell me.

Have a good weekend, all.

Posted at 12:22 am in Current events, Media | 41 Comments

Killed too late.

The cruel term for the sports desk within newspapers is, or used to be, the Toy Department. A cruel moniker and undeserved — a well-curated sports desk should have some of the best writers at the paper, because, when you think of it, they really have the sow’s ear/silk purse job at the paper, even more than the guy who covers the zoning board. After all, most people who are looking for zoning-board news don’t already know what the vote was. How long has it been since you opened a newspaper to find out who won a game or was the No. 1 draft pick?

But it wasn’t until I spent my much-whined-about time as a sports copy editor that I realized just how stinky those sows’ ears are. In Fort Wayne, there’s only pro hockey and one branch campus of two large universities, with a sports program most known for its great…volleyball program. The readers were mostly interested in high school programs, including that world-famous Hoosier Hysteria basketball thing. I’d read the Prep Sports copy and feel an unfamiliar emotion about the polo-shirted shlubs back in sports – empathy. And not a little pity. After all, they had to drag quotes out of 15-year-olds and try to make rivalries between high schools sound interesting.

But all that said, I had one thought when I finally staggered to the end this week’s journalism of infamy, i.e., “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw,” a 12,000-word piece about a mediocre college football player later convicted of raping eight different women in the course of his work as a police officer in Oklahoma. The story was published, then abruptly un-published by SB Nation, Vox’s sports site. And that thought was this: Toy department.

Of course the story is still out there, and if you have 12,000 words’ worth of tolerance for cliché, subordinate clauses and misplaced sympathy, you can read it here. It’s such a mess, it’s hard to imagine it was edited at all, much less the way a long-form narrative should be.

The immediate complaint was that it takes Holtzclaw’s side, and that it does – to read it, you’d think he was the victim of a terrible injustice, and not a man convicted by a jury of his peers. Deadspin’s summation is pretty on-point:

It starts off with expressions of full sympathy for Holtzclaw, hinting that perhaps there are two sides to this story. It tells only one. The side based in reality—that Holtzclaw violated and brutalized at least eight poor, black women and is in jail for the rest of his life—is never given more than cursory attention.

It presents an endless litany of character witnesses for Holtzclaw—his lawyer, his family, former teammates—all expressing their disbelief that Holtzclaw could be guilty, which is among other things a monotonously boring thing to hang a story of this length upon. Basically, this is the local news interviewing the shocked neighbors—“He always seemed like such a nice kid”—over and over again for 12,000 words.

And so on. And boy, does it waste a lot of words to get there. Take this sentence, just as one example. It’s by way of explaining Hoytzclaw’s enrollment at Eastern Michigan University, in Ypsilanti:

Unlike the University of Michigan, the perennial college football powerhouse seven miles up Washtenaw Avenue in the more affluent and more picturesque college town of Ann Arbor, Eastern Michigan, despite a student population of about 25,000, is a member of the Mid-American Conference, more “mid-major” than big-time.

And that’s a fairly lean one. There are many more far worse.

This Slate piece gives you “the worst parts,” by their reckoning. My favorite:

Holtzclaw chose to go to Eastern Michigan as a means to not only play football and pursue his dream of playing in the NFL, but to keep his parents from having to foot the bill for his college education. To act so unselfishly, say those who know him best, was just who Holtzclaw was.

Messes are something of a theme today.

How is it possible to hold these competing thoughts in one’s mind — that police are tough enough to protect us and yet so, so sensitive, too? Ask Beyoncé:

At first, Sheriff Robert Arnold said he had no explanation for why shots were fired outside his home in Rutherford County, Tenn., on Monday night — except perhaps for an undercurrent of anti-police sentiment in America.

“You do make people mad when you do your job; so that’s the only thing I could think of,” Arnold said at a news conference Tuesday, according to edited video of his comments posted by the Daily News Journal.

But then another possibility came to mind, and Arnold blamed Beyoncé.

“With everything that happened since the Super Bowl… that’s what I’m thinking: Here’s another target on law enforcement,” he said.

He went on: “You have Beyoncé’s video and that’s kind of bled over into other things, it seems.”

Yes, that’s the most likely explanation, don’t you think? I mean, I felt incited to dance; why shouldn’t another be driven to anti-police violence?

Which brings us into the weekend. When it will be warm! Above 40, anyway. Enjoy yours.

Posted at 12:28 am in Media | 68 Comments

She contemplates her domain.

The goal today is to finish two stories by 4 p.m., so have a dog picture instead of thoughtful sentences:


Princess Wendy, captured in a pensive moment. Original watercolor by Coozledad in background.

If you haven’t read this, you should: Pete Wells takes on a Thomas Keller Cafe du Snoot and, well, does what Pete Wells does so well:

The kitchen could improve the bacon-wrapped cylinder of quail simply by not placing it on top of a dismal green pulp of cooked romaine lettuce, crunchy and mushy at once. Draining off the gluey, oily liquid would have helped a mushroom potpie from turning into a swampy mess. I don’t know what could have saved limp, dispiriting yam dumplings, but it definitely wasn’t a lukewarm matsutake mushroom bouillon as murky and appealing as bong water.

Stipulated: I know MichaelG dined recently at Keller’s French Laundry in Napa, spent four figures and pronounced every penny Worth It. But the comments on the review from other disappointed Per Se diners suggest someone is failing at this one. And lest you think Wells is just an effete prick taking down another effete prick, let it further be stipulated that he approaches restaurants the way Roger Ebert approached movies, asking: What is this restaurant trying to be, and how successful is it in execution? Witness his dizzy review of Señor Frog’s, a Times Square tourist trap that nonetheless delivers on its promise.

Bridge took on the spiking death rates among less-educated white males story earlier this week. Interesting.

I think Frank Bruni gets to the heart of it in his column about last night’s GOP debate. Or, as I prefer to think of it, the circular firing squad, slowly reducing itself to a duel.

Back to the keys. Back to the phones. Have a great weekend.

Posted at 9:18 am in Current events, Media | 62 Comments

A nation of dummies.

So, in re Friday’s post, I read this over the weekend, the announcement of the final installment of What Was Fake, a Washington Post column devoted to debunking Internet rumors and so forth. It’s not that the author has run out of material, but rather, it’s more she’s run out of hope of ever improving things, mainly because of the rise of fake-news sites.

I try to curate my friend list, and subsequent news feed, so a lot of these things don’t get through. So I was a little surprised to click a link within that story and find this one, about a fake-news entrepreneur who consistently fools credulous readers. This would normally be a reminder that some people simply don’t understand satire, but I found this passage depressing:

Where debunking an Internet fake once involved some research, it’s now often as simple as clicking around for an “about” or “disclaimer” page. And where a willingness to believe hoaxes once seemed to come from a place of honest ignorance or misunderstanding, that’s frequently no longer the case. Headlines like “Casey Anthony found dismembered in truck” go viral via old-fashioned schadenfreude — even hate.

There’s a simple, economic explanation for this shift: If you’re a hoaxer, it’s more profitable. Since early 2014, a series of Internet entrepreneurs have realized that not much drives traffic as effectively as stories that vindicate and/or inflame the biases of their readers. Where many once wrote celebrity death hoaxes or “satires,” they now run entire, successful websites that do nothing but troll convenient minorities or exploit gross stereotypes. Paul Horner, the proprietor of and a string of other very profitable fake-news sites, once told me he specifically tries to invent stories that will provoke strong reactions in middle-aged conservatives. They share a lot on Facebook, he explained; they’re the ideal audience.

This is so dispiriting. The country doesn’t need this much ignorance, especially hate-driven ignorance.

So, now that we are officially On Vacation, and in the grip of the holidays, expect nothing much from here, other than an occasional photo, linkage, whatever — I have a lot to do. Cleaned two bedrooms and a bathroom today, which was about as much as I could manage on a mild hangover. It actually made me look forward to my January teetotaling, which I am serious about this year; one dry month with maybe, maybe one night off for the auto-show gala, but maybe not. Stocking up on Pellegrino and lime, and of course, lots of Diet Coke.

So a quick pop to the bloggage, then:

A nice little feature on Jim Harrison, Charlotte’s neighbor, reported just before his wife of 55 years died.

Looking for something to read on your days off? You’ll absolutely find something in Longform’s best of 2015 roundup of very readable journalism.

Any Raffi fans out there? I am, and #notashamed about it at all. A nice piece on the man and his career in New York magazine.

Let Christmas week commence.

Posted at 9:28 pm in Ancient archives, Current events, Media, Popculch | 38 Comments

How to read the news.

I’ve been out of school a long time, so what I have to say now will probably come as a shock to some of you young’uns, but here goes:

Once in elementary school, and again in high school, I had lessons on how to read a newspaper.

Seriously. The teacher pinned a few pages to a bulletin board, and ran down what we needed to know, as little would-be news consumers. The grade-school lesson covered stuff like what we call the big type at the top of the front page, with the newspaper’s name (the flag), how to tell who wrote a particular story, and the difference between a straight news story and a feature, and between a feature and a column.

The high school class got into more specialized skills, including how to judge a story on its merits, the difference between a broadsheet and a tabloid, and a tabloid and a “tabloid.” While this was never stated explicitly, there was a strong bias to what’s come to be called the MSM or mainstream media, in part because there was very little alternative media at the time, the exception being the trashy movie magazines my grandmother favored. I would read them at her house with great relish, goggling over the back-of-the-book ads for Frederick’s of Hollywood and the Mark Eden Bust Developer; it was there I learned that “nervous exhaustion” was a synonym for “drunk,” among other things.

Years later, when I was working for a newspaper, I would get angry calls from readers saying, “This thing you wrote? It’s just your opinion.” And I would explain that yes it was, because I was a columnist and that was the job description. Clearly some of these people did not have the same lessons.

Anyway, that’s the long way around to something I see more often than ever these days, and people, it vexes me: Crap news. Crap news from crap sources. Today’s blog is a lesson in how to read news on the internet.

So. Consider a few headlines:

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Every one of these “stories” is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. Each one appeared on a website designed and curated for a particular constituency — in this case, top to bottom, right-to-lifers, organic-food advocates and …Not sure what is about, other than lefty politics and culture. But you knew that, right? Good. That’s the easy part.

Right here is where we talk about the difference between reporting and aggregation. All of the above constitutes aggregation. This blog — most blogs — are aggregation, in the sense that I go out on the web and look at others’ work, then bring it back here and link to it. In my case, I’m looking for two to three stories a day that I think would interest you, presented with and without comment. I think it’s clear that I only write the words around the links, and they’re worth approximately what you paid for them.

Reporting is much harder. It requires getting off your butt (or at least getting on the phone), talking to people, looking stuff up, questioning what you know. Nailing things down. I don’t want to self-aggrandize here, but you get the idea. It’s the difference between going out into the world and bringing home the bacon, and eating the bacon later.

But recent years have seen the rise of aggregation as more Americans’ primary source of news, which is alarming to real journalists. All of the above I found via the social-media accounts of non-insane Americans. The new media model is to Facebook-like or Twitter-follow people who share your basic political outlook or interests, then scroll through your feeds all day and click the stuff that tickles your fancy. It’ll be spun and repackaged to flatter and reinforce your beliefs, which will encourage you to share with your own networks. Viral trumps accuracy, always.

But it’s not just sites with obvious points of view that do this anymore. The Washington Post Morning Mix, which seems to be a rewrite desk aiming to catch the eyes of bored commuters staring at their smartphones, recently had this on their page. I’m giving you a screen grab of how it appeared on a typical Facebook post because I want you get the full effect:

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The sobbing woman, the “state of emergency,” lead in a municipal water supply — how can you not click that? And while every word in the story is accurate, the Washington Post wasn’t in Flint to report it; it’s entirely aggregated from stories written by others, and it lacks the context you need to understand what’s going on. The story of the contamination of Flint’s water is complicated, fraught with idiosyncrasies of Michigan politics and other things that make it difficult to fully understand as a casual reader — like plumbing. The state of emergency the mayor declared is a political move, which she freely admits, if you cared enough to follow the links in the story:

The new mayor asked that the Genesee County Board of Commissioners call a special meeting to take action to support her declaration, that it be forwarded to Gov. Rick Snyder, and potentially President Obama.

The end result of the resolution is not known, but Weaver said the city can’t expect further help from the federal government without it.

“Do we meet the criteria (for a disaster area)? I don’t know,” Weaver said. “I’m going to ask and let them tell us no.”

You might think, reading this headline, that the city is still drinking the Flint River water that led to this slow-motion disaster, and they’re not; they switched back to treated water from Detroit weeks ago. That doesn’t mean the crisis is over, not by a long shot — now the fact-finding and blame assignment begins, as well as the inevitable lawsuits. And there is some concern that the Flint River water may have further corroded pipes, and the water may not be as safe as it was before the initial switch. (The lead in the water comes not from the source, but from leaching from the pipes that carry it, specifically the welds. That’s why some kids got more lead exposure than others — the older the infrastructure serving your house, the more likely you were to have lead in your drinking water.)

Another screen grab:

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That’s Google on Thursday. Note how many outlets picked it up — NPR, the networks, even other aggregators like the Huffington Post. As of late Thursday, it was still on the top-five most-read list on the Post website. All without a visit by any reporter. It’s really something.

You want to know what’s going on in Flint? Here’s a radio documentary. Here’s a newspaper story (Sunday-length). Here’s a column. All from local sources, backed up by lots of reporting.

So when you look at something that’s being presented to you as journalism, look at the whole picture. Ask yourself: Did the person whose name appears at the top of the story actually get out and talk to the people quoted and cited, or is it filled with phrases like “…told the New York Times,” or “according to this other source,” etc. Is this in a publication that regularly tells me everything I believe is right and true? Most important: If this event happened in Tampa or New Orleans or Los Angeles, is the story I’m reading from a local media source, or is it from an advocacy group based hundreds of miles away? Local is good, and not just for vegetables.

Enough lesson-ing for today. Here’s a great story from Bridge today; you’ll like it. It’s about a homeless college student, and beautifully done.

Here’s another good read, about aggregation, by an aggregator, for a source I see cited ALL THE TIME.

I’ve been giggling over this short clip, which says everything I want to say about “Star Wars.”

Enjoy your weekend! I’m off for a while. But I’ll be here, of course.

Posted at 11:29 pm in Media | 61 Comments

One long day, one wild night.

What a long day. I woke up at 4 a.m. and never really got back to sleep. I worked out and did a ton of the other kind of work before I headed out for an event put on by one of our nonprofit media partners, a look at Detroit a year after bankruptcy.

Check out the Twitter. Didn’t go well.

I’ll tell you the whole story tomorrow, hopefully with at least a couple photos. For now, I need a break. One of the things that woke me up at 4 was a persistent throbbing in my ear that suggests an infection, and I have to see the doc in the morning.

So, some bloggage to tide you over:

The strangeness of local customs and taboos, in Liberia, regarding ebola. A great read.

Trump nation feeds on your contempt:

On Saturday, Goacher shook Trump’s hand at a Davenport campaign rally. He noticed the smooth texture of Trump’s palm.

“He didn’t have to work as hard as I did with my callused hands,” said Goacher, 56. “If a man can become a billionaire without having to work that hard for it, he’s evidently a pretty smart man, money-wise, and the United States has to be run as a business.”

Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair.

Back tomorrow. Hopefully on antibiotics.

Posted at 11:01 pm in Current events, Media | 45 Comments

Bad news on the doorstep.

I see how people get addicted to sleeping pills. It’s one reason i won’t take them. The price I pay is an occasional night of insomnia, followed by a terrible-feeling day, but it’s worth it not to be one of those people who can’t cope without Ambien.

Which is why I didn’t update yesterday. I was staring at my laptop at 8:30, the screen swimming in my vision, the tank utterly empty. And now I find myself overwhelmed by current events, an abundance of material.

Boy, Twitter was something early on in this disaster. I don’t think I’ve seen my own feelings tracked quite so closely without actually joining in. The gist of what I saw boiled down to fuck your thoughts and prayers.

As this story is, as they say, developing, let’s hash it out in comments hours from now, which is when you all will be reading this.

Two days off, and I have a million links, most of them good, to share. So here goes. Tuesday’s health coverage in the NYT led with the startling news that after years of increase, the number of new diabetes cases is finally starting to fall. And why? Well…

There is growing evidence that eating habits, after decades of deterioration, have finally begun to improve. The amount of soda Americans drink has declined by about a quarter since the late 1990s, and the average number of daily calories children and adults consume also has fallen. Physical activity has started to rise, and once-surging rates of obesity, a major driver of Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, have flattened. Type 1 diabetes, often diagnosed in childhood and adolescence and not usually associated with excess body weight, was also included in the data.

In other words, a problem once seen as well-nigh impossible turned out to be possible after all. It gives me hope for sensible gun laws. Of course, soda taxes of the sort public-health advocates would like is unlikely here, but when Mexico enacted them in 2013, guess what happened?

Preliminary data from the Mexican government and public health researchers in the United States finds that the tax prompted a substantial increase in prices and a resulting drop in the sales of drinks sweetened with sugar, particularly among the country’s poorest consumers. The long-term effects of the policy remain uncertain, but the tax is being heralded by advocates, who say it could translate to the United States.

“It’s exactly what we thought the tax would do,” said Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, whose team conducted the research.

OK, so with the health news out of the way, let’s get into the rest.

Sumner Redstone, head of Viacom and CBS and 92 years old, with some truly alarming cheek implants, is having his competency questioned. I wonder how often the reporters on this story get to write passages like this:

In an excruciating list of details, the petition said Mr. Redstone is incontinent, requires suctioning to remove phlegm up to 20 times a day, “has lately been susceptible to prurient urges and fixations that he is unable to control” and has lost interest in his prized collection of tropical fish.

The petition added that Mr. Redstone was “obsessed with eating steak,” even while on a feeding tube, and “demands, to the extent he can be understood, to engage in sexual activity every day.”

It was the part about the tropical fish that made me laugh out loud.

Remember Miss South Carolina Teen USA and her rambling, brain-farty answer to some pageant question? She was really, really hurt by your reaction. She and nine other internet-famous people – the leave-Britney-alone guy, Charlie who bit his brother’s finger, et al – talk about life these days.

The Upper Peninsula has one strip club. It is deep in the woods, and during deer season, it is jumping.

Here are all the lines spoken by female characters who are not Princess Leia in the first three Star Wars films. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long to watch.

Ted Williams, one of my favorite outdoors writers, in an interview with Forbes. He’s old-school, a sportsman who hunts and fishes and prizes the outdoors accordingly. Alas, nature itself is like red and blue America:

…it doesn’t follow that most sportsmen are environmentalists. As a group they tend to be politically naïve and easily manipulated by their worst enemies. Because he fished and hunted and whooped it up for gun ownership, sportsmen ensured the election of George W. Bush—the most anti-fish-and-wildlife president we’ve ever had with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, also propelled into office by sportsmen.

PETA-type purists may love fish and wildlife but not enough to learn about it. That’s why they oppose use of rotenone to save endangered fish from being hybridized and outcompeted off the planet, and that’s why they oppose culling of overpopulated deer and alien wildlife (feral horses, burros, cats, rats, hogs, goats, etc.) that destroy our native ecosystems.

There’s also a great walk-off story about sharing a name with a famous athlete.

Finally, an interview with the great Jon Carroll, who used to be linked all the time here, but hasn’t been since the San Francisco Chronicle put him behind a paywall. He’s still one of my faves. Now retired. The story has a link to a piece he wrote about depression; oh hell, I’ll just put it right here. Worth reading, if you’ve ever had the big D, or know someone who has, which is to say: Everyone.

I’m sure more will be revealed tomorrow about the California shooting. Now it’s looking like it came out of a fight at a holiday party? I can’t stand this. Talk later, all.

Posted at 12:26 am in Current events, Media | 61 Comments