Collective Blog

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Maintained by the staff of the PeoplesNetWorks collective and The NewStandard.

May 25, 2006

Drilling for Integrity

We received multiple reader letters in response to a news brief we published early last week about a vote by ConocoPhillips investors.

The following statement was written by the brief's original author (Jessica Azulay) and its primary editor (Brian Dominick). The entire PeoplesNetworks Collective has approved of the statement.

Shareholders shot down a resolution to study the ecological impact of oil exploitation on Alaska’s North Slope wilderness area, and the environmentalists behind the initiative wanted it covered badly enough that they produced a press release announcing the result. That caught our attention.

As we described in an earlier blog entry about the brief, we took the particular "angle" that we did – highlighting the loss as a defeat for the supposedly "pro-environment" camp among ConocoPhillips’s investors – because it just seemed like the straightforward and honest way to approach the subject. Rather than accept what we saw as the "spin" of deeming the vote a relative success because a substantial 25 percent of share votes were cast in favor of conducting the research, we took the glass-is-three-quarters-empty perspective typically warranted by a three-to-one defeat.

In reply, readers sent us a number of letters suggesting we had taken the wrong attitude toward the story. (Only one critic wanted his letter published, and it now appears as a comment to that earlier blog entry.)

» Continue reading "Drilling for Integrity"

TNS Search Engine Now Online!

At long last, the TNS site-wide full-text search engine is operative and open for public use. It is in its final beta stage, meaning there may be some bugs left, so using it is also testing it, and any feedback about ease of use or problems encountered would be very much appreciated.

The facility took a while to develop because the search-engine platform I based it on employs a different search syntax than most web users have become accustomed to in this age of Google. So I had to write a "script" that translates the type of search terms you would use in Google into the format required by our system. I also integrated the text-search engine with our content-management system so results could be displayed more logically and conveniently.

Please feel free to give it a whirl. There's a search form on the front page now, or you can go straight to the search facility itself

May 22, 2006

Returning from Retreat

Most of our collective members are returning home today from a weekend retreat here in sunny Syracuse, NY, so there will be no edition today, and that's also why we skipped yesterday's TNS Weekend. We'll be posting a more complete report-back soon.

May 15, 2006

Beyond the Liberal Spin

Like just about any news outlet, a lot of our coverage starts with press releases. Groups get our attention through various PR wires we review, or by sending releases directly to TNS editors and reporters. Frequently, we even use press releases as source material -- usually when we are unable to reach the group for comment due to the time of day.

But what we don't do, unlike lots of journalists in the mainstream and alternative media, is take the lead of the press release and adopt it as the approach of our own coverage. In fact, in cases like this piece about US PIRG and ConocoPhillips, we may even turn the intended thrust of the release -- the spin -- right over on its head.

Case in point, the US PIRG media release that drew our attention to the disgraceful ConocoPhillips vote, as we noted at the end of our news brief, was celebratory. The folks at US PIRG were simply elated -- or so they reported -- that they managed to convince a quarter of an oil company's stockholders to vote to investigate how bad one corner of the firm's future operations might actually be.

While I appreciate US PIRG's low expectations, I found their declaration of victory a bit myopic. Maybe from their vantage point of trying to work within the system, they are proud of what they accomplished. But when I stepped back to look at the vote from a wider view, I saw a story about a corporation once again refusing to take responsibility to its impact on the environment.

May 11, 2006

When Crappy Data Ruins Your Day

You would think that when the federal government – along with public advocates, watchdogs, even industry groups -- acknowledges the growing problem of getting rid of obsolete, toxic electronics, it would be easy to find a few studies that quantify the problem. Not so. After three days of scouring the Internet, calling experts, and chasing after the EPA for answers, the only report I and TNS editors could find is a 1999 study published by the National Safety Council, a nonprofit association of businesses, labor organizations, schools and public agencies, which contracted California-based Stanford Resources, Inc to do the research.

Everybody cites this NSC report (still available for $95 or a discounted rate of $45 if you’re a non-profit) – from the EPA to the GAO to the media to the leading non-profits trying to raise awareness about e-waste.

On its "E-Cyling" website, the EPA cites these findings:

The National Safety Council projects that nearly 250 million computers will become obsolete in the next five years and mobile phones will be discarded at a rate of 130 million per year by 2005.

In a 2005 report highlighting EPA failures in e-waste management, the GAO cites this:

The information we reviewed suggests strongly that the volume of used electronics is large and growing. For example, in a 1999 study, the National Safety Council forecast that almost 100 million computers and monitors (70 million of which would be computers) would become obsolete in 2003—a three-fold increase over the 33 million obsolete computers and monitors in 1997.

And a recent San Jose Mercury News article cites a non-profit that cites the number of cell phones predicted to be discarded in 2005 by the 1999 NSC report:

Only about 10 percent of all discarded computers are recycled in the United States, meaning millions of machines could be leaking harmful chemicals into groundwater, according to the Computer Takeback Campaign, a national group. Less than 2 percent of the 130 million cell phones discarded across the nation each year are being recycled, according to Washington, D.C.-based Earthworks.

These are three out of dozens of citations.

My calls to the NSC requesting a free copy of the 7-year-old report went unreturned.

Though these were the only national statistics available to characterize the growing problem of e-waste and though we originally included some of the data as what was being used by EPA, TNS editors Brian Dominick and Jessica Azulay raised important points about why we could not justify using these numbers. First, we were not able to review the entire report and its methodology; and second, these data and predictions were gathered more than six years ago and would not yield an accurate portrayal of the issue at hand.

» Continue reading "When Crappy Data Ruins Your Day"

May 10, 2006

Must-read Report About Juvenile Detention

I could have turned this brief into a much longer piece just relying on the excellent research of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, but the report itself is gripping reading, and it can't be done justice (no pun intended) in any kind of article. Others have tried at greater length than I did, but like me they really only scratch the surface.

Don't miss this report. I believe our site is the only place it can be found on the Net (JJPL gave us permission to post it, though we're not sure why they haven't). Its contents may not surprise you any more than they surprised me, but the report will stun you nonetheless, and it willl definitely sicken you.

The most impressive part is that the report proposes systemic solutions, and it doesn't just tie problems to one person or administration but recognizes them as deeply rooted and institutional. Not exactly radical in this instance, but very refreshing, if you take into consideration how many think-tank reports we read that offer the weakest conceivable liberal analysis.

May 8, 2006

The Appearance of Elitism

Most journalists are terrified about appearance -- the appearance of partiality, the appearance of elitism. They tend to care very little, in my experience, about actual integrity, beyond appearances.

In deciding to recommend that the White House Correspondents' Association stop holding it's ridiculous annual dinner event, Rem Rieder, editor of American Journalism Review, didn't mention Stephen Colbert's scathing public humiliation of those very correspondents. Colbert nailed the real reason why the dinner is a sham: the journalists that make up the Association are a collective sham.

Instead, Rieder cited concern that the public will get the wrong idea about reporters: that they're elitist.

The problem is that this black tie underscores the notion that journalists are part of a wealthy elite, completely out of touch with ordinary Americans – their audience. (That's ridiculous, of course, given the fact that far too many journalists at smaller papers work for hideously low salaries.)

» Continue reading "The Appearance of Elitism"

April 21, 2006

Scoop, Insight and Just Plain Good Journalism

I wanted to take a moment to highlight a story I'm especially proud of. Reporter Megan Tady started gathering source material for her piece on the re-segregation of Omaha, Nebraska schools prior to the mild media blitz the story received later this week. She and her editors took their time on the piece, however, and the result is a glaringly different news article than those produced by other outlets.

Firstly, Megan focused on the people most affected by the state law that will cut the Omaha Public Schools into three racially defined districts. Meanwhile the New York Times, in its infinite wisdom, saw fit to relay the views of billionaire investor Warren Buffet and MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company CEO David Sokol.

Bad sourcing was typical of most news stories, very few of which quoted students, even though they were easy to find and eager to speak.

But the real zinger is that apparently no other news outlet -- at least none I can find -- picked up on a little aspect of the legislation that contradicts all the separate-but-equal rhetoric of the bill's main proponent, Sen. Ernie Chambers. Upon reading the actual bill, which is maybe something reporters at corporate papers don't find important these days, we discovered a gaping loophole that will not only allow, but quite likely encourage, a vast disparity across the color divide in funding for Omaha's city schools.

» Continue reading "Scoop, Insight and Just Plain Good Journalism"

New Sidebar Posted to 'Pensions' Article

Last week's article on pending pension-reform legislation was accompanied by a sidebar that at first only appeared in the TNS Weekend mailing we send only to Premium Members who donate regularly to The NewStandard, but now we're making it available here for everyone. It takes a look at how employees at IBM, once known for its generous benefits package, are now feeling the squeeze that industrial-sector workers have long sought to defend themselves against. With a nod to their blue-collar counterparts, some employees and retirees are organizing to save their pensions and health care from corporate "restructuring."

April 15, 2006

Representing a Community in Conflict

In creating any news article, a writer and her editors make numerous choices along the way that shape the final text: whom to interview, which sub-stories to cover and in what depth, which of numerous facts and interview quotes to include given limited word counts and reader attention spans, and more. In covering the struggle to save the South Central Farm for TNS, I had to make some tricky decisions regarding focus, especially around one particular sub-story.

As I interviewed farmer-organizers and representatives from various local and national organizations with stakes in the outcome of the dispute, I became aware of the intensity of the animosity between some stakeholders with opposing positions. My ears burned as several sources relayed increasingly nasty – and difficult, if not impossible, to prove -- allegations about each other. I wasn’t sure if the nastiness of the tension between these stakeholders reflected a particularly significant struggle-within-the-struggle, or if it was just (sadly) ordinary community drama that I’d do best to not engage with too deeply.

Uncertain about how to proceed, I consulted with my editor at TNS. She encouraged me to think first and foremost about what was at stake in this story – who stands to be most affected by the possible outcomes. Through that lens, it was easier to prioritize painting a broad, contextualized picture of the land-rights struggle over getting mired in he-said, she-said reporting of mostly unverifiable trash-talk.

» Continue reading "Representing a Community in Conflict"

April 14, 2006

In Other News Search Engine Launched

I have posted a beta version of a full-text search engine that indexes and searches the In Other News facility. You can find a search form at the top of each page. Right now it uses a syntax that is not intuitive to most of our readers who are used to Google, but I'll be coding a "translator" of sorts so you can use search strings just like the ones you use for Google searches.

I've long been working on the full-text search engine for the rest of the site, to offer a powerful new way to peruse our archive of nearly 2,500 original hard-news articles. That engine is behind schedule, but it's tied to the lighter version I've installed on the ION pages, so that's a sign it's not far behind.

Remember, it's just in beta (testing) version right now, so don't expect it to be perfectly smooth, but with planned enhancements installed in coming weeks, the search engines should become very handy indeed.

What's Behind Our 'New' Standards?

I am excited to release the second edition NewStandard Content Contributors’ Handbook. The Handbook was originally published in draft form in Fall 2003 – before we launched. Back then, we knew we wanted to publish "progressive," "public interest," "hard" news, and we knew we wanted to publish content that was "better" and more "useful" to people than the corporate news we are bombarded with daily. But before we hammered out our editorial policies, all we had was rhetoric. We had no consistent way to put our ideals into practice or to convey then to our journalists, editors or future collective members.

» Continue reading "What's Behind Our 'New' Standards?"

April 4, 2006

The politics of anti-abortion legalese

A few weeks ago, Carol Crossed of the Consistent Life coalition, which opposed NOW’s stance in this case, wrote to us, first to clarify the non-religious mission of her organization (which we noted in a clarification appended to the article), and also to argue the following:

"All but eight of the 120 incidences of alleged violence by anti-abortion protesters were dismissed.  Another 3 incidences were unfounded or were perjured testimony.  And none of the purported incidences were 'bombing or arson' quoted by [NOW President] Kim Gandy that NOW was attempting to stop through the use of RICO."

Crossed also challenged the litigation over the four incidents that the Supreme Court recently ruled on with respect to the Hobbs Act, arguing that they were "unclear and non-specific." She concluded, "Ironically, after hundreds of protests and arrests for civil disobedience since 1986, this few number of incidences indicates a rather remarkable non-violent movement."

» Continue reading "The politics of anti-abortion legalese"

March 15, 2006

The NewStandard as Project Uncensored

We just put ourselves through the strange process of nominating a handful of NewStandard stories from last year to stand judgment for the 2007 Project Censored awards. Last year, we nominated several stories that we considered the cream of our crop, in terms of groundbreaking reporting from 2004, our first year of publication. In the end, we won a single award -- for an article none of us had nominated.

The process of choosing less than, say, 100 TNS articles from the previous year to submit as nominations is truly bizarre, since probably a good 3/4 of our content qualifies as under-reported and of broad public interest. It's kind of strange when your whole mission is to do exactly what the judges are looking for, to highlight just a few that really raked the muck.

So this year, we tried to be more strategic and think like the judges, none of whom we know, and reviewed the kinds of stories they've rewarded in recent years. And as impressive as their list was, we found ourselves chopping articles from our nominations roster because, however amazing they were, for one reason or another we didn't think they stood much of a chance.

» Continue reading "The NewStandard as Project Uncensored"

March 14, 2006

More Changes to Our Staff Collective

Since Brendan Coyne joined us as a freelance journalist in July 2004, he has contributed nearly 640 articles, briefs and reports to The NewStandard -- more than anyone else by a huge margin. Last June, he came on as a staff writer and single-handedly converted our old style of "news briefs" to full-length reports based mainly on primary-source material. And he would somehow manage to produce up to five original pieces a day, five days a week -- sometimes more than his editors could fact-check and copy edit on a given night. In January, Brendan upgraded his participation to Collective Member and helped transform TNS into the site you see today.

After many months working for TNS in addition to a full-time day job, Brendan has decided to downshift, at least for the time being, and will no longer be contributing material on a daily basis.

» Continue reading "More Changes to Our Staff Collective"

March 12, 2006

How Liberal Editors Think About Death

I don't claim to be the world's best headline writer. Hell, sometimes it's all I can do to string 6 words together to summarize even the most exciting story. But I just came across a headline that jarred me into realizing their potential to make someone sound like an unfeeling oaf.

"Fears for UK hostage as body found"

That's how the The Observer -- that bastion of London liberalism so widely heralded by progressives in the US -- decided to cover the death of American peace activist Tom Fox, found dead and apparently tortured in Iraq after months spent as a hostage.

Could the headline-writer have been any more UK-centric, crass or alarmist (the headline suggests the body might be that of the British hostage held with Fox)?

To be fair to the headline writer, the lead is equally as UK-centric and cold.

Fears rose yesterday for Norman Kember, the British hostage held in Iraq after it was revealed that the body of one of his fellow captives had been found showing signs of beatings and torture.

I'm rarely accused of being US-centric, but I'll take the risk on this one, since I'm pretty sure I haven't ever weighed the lives of Americans differently than those of foreigners in the same story.

March 10, 2006

What’s in a Paragraph?

If you only read a newswire story on the recent oil spill on Alaska’s North Slope, you probably didn’t notice the absence of British Petroleum’s hole-riddled history at its Prudhoe Bay facilities. If you only read our story on it, you probably thought the four sentences we gave the subject were standard background in every story on the web.

In fact, aside from the local Alaskan media, The NewStandard seems to be the only (or one of the only, I can’t claim a truly exhaustive search) news outlet putting the latest spill into its proper context.

Our four sentences on BPs history with oil leaks at Prudhoe Bay might seem like standard news fare:

» Continue reading "What’s in a Paragraph?"

Decoding tricky legislation

One of my pet peeves about the US legislative process is that when lawmakers propose legislation that amends previous legislation, they can just write what they want to change without including the full text of the law as it would read with the changes incorporated.

So you get bills introduced that say things like:

» Continue reading "Decoding tricky legislation"

March 9, 2006

Before the Chopping Block

One of the necessary pains of reporting is letting go of the information that never makes it into the final story.

Sometimes it happens during the editing process, when entire paragraphs and quotations are cut for length, lack of clarity or because, however interesting, they simply weren’t essential to the focus of the story.  Other times it happens early on in the research process, when an editor gently steers you away from a subtopic that digresses from the heart of the story.

The latter scenario was the case this week when I wrote about the physical and attitudinal barriers to the workplace that have kept employment rates low for people with disabilities.

» Continue reading "Before the Chopping Block"

March 7, 2006

TNS Style Guidelines for Abortion Coverage

Most folks don't know this about TNS, but I'm The NewStandard's primary "copy editor." That means I am usually the third and final editor to handle an article, and my job is to do proofreading and ensure compliance with our strict style rules. I'm not the best copy editor around, as some of you have been gracious enough to point out, but I do my best, and I think on the whole TNS rivals most of the huge-budget corporate outlets in this area.

Where we definitely surpass them, however, is in the rules we set (and try to follow). While they're focused on pleasing everyone, pretending to be objective and favoring liberal, conservative and corporate forces, we're following a very different set of reporting policies.

We are currently building a wiki-formatted NewStandard Stylebook, which isn't ready for public release. Soon you'll be able to view all of the hundreds of grammar, definition and journalistic method rules our reporters and editors follow when putting stories together. For now, I thought I'd give you a sneak peek at a draft entry relevant to today's top story...

» Continue reading "TNS Style Guidelines for Abortion Coverage"

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.