Upton Sinclair Has Just Officially Risen from the Dead


This will be an interesting couple of weeks for the producers of ground beef.

Michael Moss has produced a masterful piece of investigative reporting in today’s  Sunday New York Times entitled “The Burger That Shattered Her Life.”

If someone had told me that a meat-grinding expose was coming, I would have assumed that, since  no inspection process is perfect,  problems would inevitably be discovered and reported.

But I never would have expected revelations about the content of ground beef that seem drawn from Upton Sinclair’s nightmarish early 20th century muckraking classic ” The Jungle.”

I mean,  we are talking about a serious “yuck-factor.”

Moss’s story is a brilliant combination of the poignant story of an individual victim embedded in a larger story about the shoddy and secretive system that was responsible for her sickness and paralysis. The story closely follows the specific lot of tainted meat that harmed the young woman from the various factories that produced it to her dinner table.  It is not a pleasant journey.

This is what a great reporter can do.

Subprimed, a film by Sarah Friedland, Kahil Shkymba, and Joy Nayo Simmons

subprimed photo

There’s joy in Mudville today.

A film, “Subprimed,”  made in our MFA program at Hunter College by students Sarah Friedland, Kahil Shkymba, and Joy Nayo Simmons, under the supervision of Professors Kelly Anderson and Tom Angotti,  is the subject of Jim Dwyer’s column in the New York Times, “Student Filmmakers, Not Ceasing or Desisting.”

Check out the column and read about just what this subprime crisis means for real people, living real lives on the edge, who had a dream of owning a house.  And take a look at those who sought to exploit those dreams, one of whom, Mr. Makhani, is filmed offering the compassionate observation that “If the client is stupid, that’s not my problem…We’re not going to have classes to teach people how to read.”

Here are some clips from this work in progress.

Ah, just knowing that those who would hurt and exploit others are feeling some agita this morning.

A Story of Life Inside a Hospital During Hurricane Katrina: Bravo to Pro Publica and The New York Times

katrina hospital

A truly ground-breaking news story appeared in the Times this weekend. Done in cooperation with the non-profit nvestigative journalism group Pro Publica, and reported by A.C. Thompson and Sheri Fink, the piece describes the frenzied and painful struggle inside of a New Orleans hospital during Katrina as staff dealt with seriously ill patients.

One of the most amazing pieces of journalism about catastrophe I have ever read. And so painful to read that I had to struggle to finish it.

A must read.

The Arguments About Blogs and Twitters and Tweets Are Interesting, But Irrelevant; They Have Come of Age


Something extremely important is happening at this very moment and it is worth taking a look.

Despite all the past debate about the blogosphere — sometimes heated — among conventional journalists, bloggers, and plain old twitterers , the New York Times is putting together some extraordinary breaking coverage of the events in Iran using just these types of “questionable” sources.

These  include Flickr, Twitter,  social networks, instant messaging, You Tube, and numerous blogs. The Times coverage appears in the Lede blog on the home page of the Internet edition.

I have always listened when Bill Keller, Times Managing Editor, and other journalists have offered their sometimes biting critique of the blogosphere:  Who are these bloggers? What are their sources? How can they be trusted?  These are fair questions.

But forget those  arguments for a second and look at the Times itself. The fact is that, when events like those in Iran occurred,   experienced journalists immediately  looked to all these fragmented sources and knew just what to do with them.  They collated them, questioned them, linked to them, accepted some,  rejected others,  and tried to fit them into  a larger puzzle.  It worked.

One big kvetch of conventional journalists has been that the blogosphere has no fact-checkers and editors.  But the complaint has essentially fizzled. The Times proved a basic point:

They are still the editors!

No one forced them to quote from the blogs and the tweets of students caught in the midst of demonstrations.  They did it carefully,  and with the clear belief that “the amateurs” helped fill-in the details of the complex story they were covering.

And what do you know? The amateurs didn’t overrun quality journalism. They didn’t replace it. They became an indispensable part of the mix.

In the end, all these new-fangled news sources from the street turned out to be  not all that different from the old stodgy, official sources: You look at them, judge their validity, decide when they can be embedded in a larger story, and either use them or not use them. Of course, you have to be cautious, very cautious, but  —  in the end — you are still the editor.

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Broadcast for This Special Bulletin: “Warning Sought for Burger the Size of Your Head”


A 4800 calorie hamburger the size of your head.

This calls for a TV special, an NPR feature, and a New York Times story.

Oh, right. The NY Times did a story.

Barstow’s N.Y. Times Investigative Series on Pentagon Hucksters Earns Polk Award

When David Barstow’s remarkable New York Times investigative pieces on corrupt propagandizing by the Pentagon first appeared,  they became required reading for my students.

And it wasn’t even the propaganda that was the mortal sin.   Our system is one in which politicians and agencies are allowed to vigorously promote their point of view while  we are obligated to vigorously monitor their output for spin and fluff and  other self-serving nonsense.  I have occasionally helped government agencies shape messages about safety and health emergencies.

But the “sins” uncovered in Bartow’s brilliant series “Message Machine” went way beyond the pale. The paid  military analysts were misrepresented by the networks  as neutral experts.  In fact, a number of them were shown to directly financially benefit from defense contractors when they promoted a certain point of view.  Sure, we are all drowning in phoniness. But this was phoniness for bucks that had life and death implications.

If you have any interest in the role of the press in society, the Barstow series is a must read.

A confession:  I am not naive about news management and spinning and lying and payoffs and all the rest.  May  God forgive me any spinning I have ever done that, well, spun more than it should have.

But this story shocked me.

Tonight David won a coveted 2008 Polk Award.

Photographs, Sound, and Story: How “New” Newspapers Are Reviving the “Old” Photo Essay



There  are  many  recent examples I could have chosen  of the new look of newspapers,   but check out the  what  the  New York Times is doing with stories,  sound, and beautiful still  photography.

If,  like me,   you  think that still  photography  is a revealing and sometimes even profound way to tell a story,  I’m  curious what you think.  Some of these  photographs are  amazing  character  studies which  magnify and empahasize the qualities of the subject. 

The photographic essay is alive and well on-line. 

Use good headphones.   Someone did some fine sound work. 

Weegee?   Maybe not.  But darn good.