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The Watchdog That Didn't Bark

An excerpt from Starkman’s new book, on the difference between access journalism and accountability journalism, and why the business press failed to do enough to shed light on the problems leading up to the financial crisis:

Was the brewing crisis really such a secret? Was it all so complex as to be beyond the capacity of conventional journalism and, through it, the public, to understand? Was it all so hidden? In fact, the answer to all those questions is “no.” The problem—distorted incentives corrupting the financial industry—was plain, but not to Wall Street executives, traders, rating agencies, analysts, quants, or other financial insiders. It was plain to the outsiders: state regulators, plaintiffs’ lawyers, community groups, defrauded mortgage borrowers, and, mostly, to former employees of financial institutions, the whistleblowers, who were, in fact, blowing the whistle. A few reporters actually talked to them, understood the metastasizing problem, and wrote about it. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for the mainstream business press.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 7, 2014
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3727 words)

Reading List: One in Seven Billion

Picks from Emily Perper, a freelance editor and reporter who blogs about her favorite longreads at Diet Coker. This week's picks include stories from the The Tampa Bay Times, Columbia Journalism Review, Andrew Yellis, and Vela Magazine.
PUBLISHED: July 28, 2013

'See You On the Other Side'

The short life of Jessica Lum, a terminally ill 25-year-old who chose to spend her last days practicing journalism:

"Jessica hadn’t expected to win. The other finalists were teams of students, and she worked solo on her 'Slab City Stories' project—a multimedia report on the inhabitants of a former Marine base-turned-squatter-RV-park in the California desert (though not, she made sure to point out, without the support of her professors, classmates, and Kickstarter backers). Jessica didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight, either; she was more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. It took her only a few seconds longer to accept the award than it did to get to the stage. After a rush of thank-yous and a celebratory double fist-pump, Jessica returned to her seat—and to what appeared to be a bright future, one in which she’d tell many more stories and win many more awards.

"Less than four months later, on January 13, 2013, Jessica died. She was 25."
PUBLISHED: May 13, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3370 words)

The Long Good-Bye

On the 1962-1963 printers strike in New York City that effectively shut down the seven biggest newspapers in the city, killed four of them, and made names for writers like Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe and Nora Ephron:

"A city without The New York Times inspired rage and scorn, ambivalence and relief. A 'Talk of the Town' item in The New Yorker lamented a weekend without the 'fragrant, steamy deep-dish apple pie of the Sunday Times.' James Reston—pillar of the Establishment, Washington bureau chief and columnist for the Times, and intimate of the Sulzberger family, to whom he directed a controversial entreaty to use non-union shops—was allowed to read his column on New York’s Channel 4 in early January 1963: 'Striking the Times is like striking an old lady and deprives the community of all kinds of essential information. If some beautiful girl gets married this week, the television may let us see her gliding radiantly from the church. But what about all those ugly girls who get married every Sunday in the Times?'

"A city without newspapers was a city in which civic activity was impeded, as two out-of-work Times reporters hired by the Columbia Journalism Review soon documented. Without the daily papers, the Health Department’s campaign against venereal disease was 'seriously impaired.' So was the fight against slumlords: 'There’s a distinct difference,' the city’s building commissioner said, 'between a $500 fine and a $500 fine plus a story in the Times.' The New York chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality discovered that, without newspaper attention, its boycott of the Sealtest Milk Company was considerably undermined. The newspaper strike, the C.J.R. study concluded, had 'deprived the public of its watchdog."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 30, 2012
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5728 words)

Laboratory Confidential

A look back at James Watson's book The Double Helix and the controversy it stirred in the science community.

Watson expanded the boundaries of science writing to include not only the formal, public face of Nobel-winning discoveries but also the day-to-day life of working scientists—both inside and outside the lab. The Double Helix rejuvenated a genre that had been largely academic or hagiographic. Its success showed that there was and is an appetite for the story of science; that the stories can be human and exciting; that scientists can be flawed characters; that the whole endeavor doesn’t collapse if you depict it with something less than reverence.

Although the book caused an international scandal that winter, I don’t think any word of the controversy reached me at Classical High School. As a freshman, I read The Double Helix as a story of pure triumph. Now, of course, I can see what I couldn’t then: an epic of the loss of innocence, writ small and large. And I can see the arc of Watson’s life since 1968, which has been another epic of triumph and hubris, ending with a fall. So now I see the darkness around the shining cup.
PUBLISHED: May 10, 2012
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3471 words)

Six Degrees of Aggregation

The complete origins story of the Huffington Post. How Arianna Huffington, Ken Lerer and Jonah Peretti first connected, and how they turned the company into a media empire, and now Pulitzer winner:

"In the course of a few hours, Peretti would watch with wonderment as Arianna Huffington eased herself from setting to setting, all the while making the person she was talking with feel like the most interesting and important person in the world, hanging on every word, never shifting her attention to check one of three BlackBerries. 'I loved being a gatherer,' Huffington would later say. 'I don’t really think you can make gathering mistakes.' "Peretti saw this talent through a different prism. 'Arianna,' he says, 'can make weak ties into strong ties.'"
PUBLISHED: April 16, 2012
LENGTH: 39 minutes (9931 words)

The Constant Gardener

A journalist's lessons from two years working for Patch, AOL's hyperlocal web experiment. Editors started with autonomy and generous budgets, but they were always understaffed and found little support from sales teams:

"In addition to the editorial and volunteer work, we fought to get our sites noticed—on and off the clock. The marketing dollars that we were given, if any, usually came with the understanding that we would be manning booths at community events, or taking the lead in finding sponsorship opportunities, like supporting the local hayride or Little League team.

"It seemed I could control every aspect of my site’s being, but making it sustainable was out of my grasp. And for me, it was aggravating to know that my site was not profitable."
AUTHOR:Sean Roach
PUBLISHED: March 12, 2012
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3901 words)

Look at Me!

A writer’s search for journalism in the age of branding
PUBLISHED: June 1, 2010
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7031 words)

NPR Amps Up: Can Vivian Schiller Build a Journalism Juggernaut? (2010)

Schiller has animated the place with the energy of renewed ambition, a rededication to producing serious journalism. Her strategy rests on three pillars: expand original reporting at the national and local levels; provide free access to public media content regardless of platform; and serve audiences of all backgrounds and interests. To do all that, she wants to work in partnership with NPR’s member stations as well as independent producers and some of the new nonprofit journalism units springing up around the country.
AUTHOR:Jill Drew
PUBLISHED: March 1, 2010
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5935 words)