Monday, December 31, 2007

What now, in Pakistan?

For a different perspective on the stories coming out of Pakistan, here's Peter Galbraith in The Guardian: Pakistan may not make it.
A UN investigation can help calm passions, but only the permanent departure of the army from power can provide a hope - and it is only a hope - of saving the country.

And, long-time activist and native of Pakistan Tariq Ali has his own special take on the future of Pakistan, in The Independent: My heart bleeds for Pakistan. It deserves better than this grotesque feudal charade.
Some of us had hoped that, with her death, the People's Party might start a new chapter. After all, one of its main leaders, Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Bar Association, played a heroic role in the popular movement against the dismissal of the chief justice. Mr Ahsan was arrested during the emergency and kept in solitary confinement. He is still under house arrest in Lahore. Had Benazir been capable of thinking beyond family and faction she should have appointed him chairperson pending elections within the party. No such luck.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Weekend update: More research links

A few very cool things showed up over the last couple weeks:

  • Policy Jargon Decoder from the Urban Institute.
  • Digital Economy Fact Book (PDF) from Progress & Freedom Association.
  • 2008 Statistical Abstract now released.
  • The Alphabetizer will alphabetize any list you past into it, strip out html, etc.
  • A student's guide to medical literature from University of Colorado Health Sciences Center's Denison Library.
  • Executive Pay Finder from SEC, search filings by company, industry, capitalization, revenue. (This didn't work for me in Firefox, only IE.)
  • Secondhand Songs database, finds all cover versions since the original. Here's Long Black Veil, originally by Lefty Frizzel.
  • Foundation Center's Trend Tracker, get history of groups' financial disclosures.
  • UK Medical Register search for general practitioners in the UK.

  • Thursday, December 27, 2007

    Resource for today's news

    Gary Price and team have a great roundup of research sources on Benazir Bhutto at the Resourceshelf site.

    (Updated:) For even more links to good resources, check out the offerings from Amy Gahran and Al Tompkins at Poynter: Following Bhutto Killing.

    And, on Twitter, a BreakingNewsOn: Pakistan.

    Wednesday, December 26, 2007

    Waiting for The Wire

    All I want for Christmas is.....the new season of 'The Wire' to start. HBO has been teasing with a half hour special preview of this last season, featuring the local newspaper in Baltimore, the 'Sun', and how the changes in journalism affect the community.

    From what I've read already I'm hoping this will be the best and most relevant season of this extraordinary series. I've never bought a TV series on DVD, but this is one that I just might, starting with the first year focusing on drug dealers, the second on longshoremen, the third on politicians and the fourth on school kids. But this one: this is the story of what journalism has become in our recent lifetimes.

    Variety, I hope, has it pegged: Brian Lowry writes, 'The Wire' gets the newsroom right:
    In the last few months, Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell and Slate columnist Jack Schafer have each lauded "Ace in the Hole" -- Billy Wilder's 1951 classic about an unprincipled reporter ginning up his own media circus -- as the best movie about their profession. As for the tube, Associated Press' Frazier Moore recently paid tribute to "Lou Grant," the entertaining "Mary Tyler Moore" spinoff that CBS canceled a quarter-century ago.
    ...By contrast, Simon's newspaper is a microcosm of a media industry that often seems to have lost its moral compass, as well as a corporate culture where truth is sacrificed on the altar of neglect more than malevolence.
    So in terms of the debates reporters conduct in bars, this one at least can be retired until a better example comes along, and given the historical record, please nobody hold your breath.
    The best look at newspapers in movies or TV? Hands down, the prize goes to "The Wire."

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    Thursday, December 20, 2007

    Web news guide

    I've taken too long to read and mention the book I was sent as a review copy, Consider the Source. Published this year by Information Today, it's a guide to 'prominent news and information sites on the Web', written by a journalism professor, James F. Broderick and a reporter, Darren W. Miller. (Nice interview with the two of them at

    Broderick and Miller also maintain a Website called The Reporter's Well, where links to all 100 sources profiled in the book can be found, as well as a blog (not recently updated), information for writers, and news of a new book on The Web of Conspiracies (coming soon).

    The book consists of 3-4 page descriptions of the websites, with screenshots, information on layout and content, and some facts about the sites. For someone who reads news sites all the time, there isn't much new here. But I will admit to finding a couple I didn't know.

    The selection of sites ranges from newspapers to broadcast sites, to gossip and politics sites, including some government and international organizations' sites. It's a fascinating overview of what's out there, and mentions sites I wouldn't have thought of as in the top 100 news and information sites, but all the choices are logical. (Hard to not smile at something that goes from Amnesty International to the FBI to Rotten Tomatoes and The Smoking Gun -- and from Michael Moore to the NRA.)

    The sites are also ranked, and only five of the 100 sites got '5 newspaper' ratings: the BBC, The Guardian, Christian Science Monitor, CBS, and NPR. (Only two got the lowest rating, 1/2 newspaper: Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.)

    There wasn't much here for me that I didn't know, but for someone just looking for reliable sources for news online, this book could be useful. One correspondent who'd seen the book found it shallow with throw-away anecdotes about the news sources, and no detail on how the Web sites are edited. But this isn't a book for news researchers or journalists, I expect. For everyone else it's a good guide to places to go for news and information.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    Herald comments and urban legends

    Not to dwell on this topic, and I think I've posted enough about the commenting system at the Miami Herald online, but the last word should come from the Herald's ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos: Looking for ways to tame poisonous words on Web. Schumacher suggests a simple registration system might help the situation, as suggested in the article linked last week. But the most interesting part of this story is in the comments. Some thoughtful -- and some typically obnoxious -- reaction. Most interesting, one reader corrected Schumacher's misspelling of a Ben Franklin pseudonym (not yet corrected in the story -- and did he ask the research staff?), and others added useful thoughts about free speech.

    In the last week I've found that the Herald's registration system, updated last spring, wouldn't let me into Herald stories on two computers. Although I knew my ID and password, nothing would work. Requesting password info and re-activation didn't work because I'd registered originally on my old Herald email address, and response from went there. So to read Herald stories I had to start over with a new registration. Oh well, their reader stats went up. But if a newspaper is going to have a registration system it should be easy for readers.

    In another Florida newspaper, the Tampa Tribune, here's an interesting column for those following how urban legends are permeating public discourse: in All The 'News' Unfit To Print, editorial writer Joseph Brown discusses reader complaints based on misinformation, including a reader who accused the paper of 'hiding a truth' about Hillary Clinton that he heard about on Paul Harvey's radio show. Brown's advice:
    But before you accuse us of covering up a story, check it out at or some other urban legend Web site. That is, if you're interested in hearing the truth.

    It's sad that we've reached a point when so many people distrust the media so terribly, even when their basis for the distrust is so spurious.

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    Monday, December 17, 2007

    How many oysters do they eat in Atlanta?

    Atlanta oyster fans might want to read this Miami Herald article by Marc Caputo, Water crisis threatens Apalachicola oysters, about why they might not be able to get them in the future. From the story:
    Georgia's water planning has lagged for years and officials from two Georgia water-planning agencies said the state didn't have a good grasp on how much water Atlanta consumed from year to year since 2000.
    "This isn't Georgia vs. Florida. This is Atlanta vs. the world," says Jerry Sherk, a water-law expert who once worked for Georgia and that state's city of LaGrange, which is more aligned with Florida's position.

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    'Stuck' is lost

    After just a couple years of developing itself into Miami's most entertaining and newsworthy blog, Stuck on the Palmetto is out of here. Michael Froomkin notes the loss, and asks why they didn't at least leave the archives up.

    It was a bad month for Rick and Alex on 'Stuck' when Rick took offense at another blogger's suggestion that he knew what Rick did for a living. Rick, who started the blog and who was very protective of his identity, has had lots of acrimonious exchanges with other Miami bloggers that degenerated into name-calling. Obviously this time it went too far and maybe it's best that Rick does retire from the blogging business.

    But it's too bad because as an ex-Miamian, I depended on the blog to keep me up to date on what's happening there in a way that I couldn't get from my old newspaper, the Miami Herald, or any other online papers or blogs. It was an heroic effort and much appreciated.

    Miami -- and South Florida -- is a tough place to work and live in, though, and when you put your personality out in public, you will get run through the mill.

    If you don't think hatred and suspicion rules there, just read the comments on Miami Herald stories these days, it's disgusting. (Example: Lisa Arthur's wonderful series on a homeless veteran, or Beth Reinhardt's story about the Obama Muslim rumors. There's no way the Herald's online editors can keep up with the hatred and slander-filled comments there, let alone the racist stuff. *)

    (Updated:) Carlos Miller recaps the story since you can't get it at the 'Stuck' site any more.
    (Later update:) archives of Stuck on the Palmetto are were (have been removed) still available at, a unique project to archive all Florida blogs from the folks at Spacecoastweb. (Thanks for the reminder from a commenter at Froomkin's blog.)
    (Updated Wed:) The Herald's Evan Benn writes about the controversy and the closing, in Online Fight Ends Blog.

    * On the Obama story comments: one commenter states as fact that Obama was sworn into the Senate with his hand on a Koran. Oh, yes, and he's a 'liberal socialist'. Where do they get this stuff?

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    Research links of the week

    Last week there was a flurry of new links to reference sites in government, politics, and public records. Some very cool stuff:

  • The Mitchell Report on baseball and steroids, searchable version to use online or download, from AskSam.

  • Social Explorer has Census data from 1940-2000, available in map or report format.

    Governments, Politics:
  • Project Sunlight, New York from Attorney General Cuomo's office, searches databases of lobbyists, elected officials, and bills.
  • The Score from Legistorm, what's happening in Congress right now, including floor tickers, committee schedules, latest reports, and news. New feature along with their staff salaries and legislator trips databases.
  • Elections 2008 from U. Mich. libraries, has great links.
  •, 'a relaunch of, that provides citizens with easy access to government contract, grant and other award data.' The Examiner's Mark Tappscott explains the project.

    Public Records:
  • U.S. Civil Helicopter Accident Database, from Helicopter Assn International, searches NTSB accident reports for helicopters.
  • U.S. Courts Reference and Directory has information about the trial court system in each state. Compiled by the folks who created the Public Records Free Directory.
  • Florida alcohol testing public records: fascinating database of intoxilyzer reports, not searchable by name but available by date; but PI Buzz tells how to use Google to find names. Also via PI Buzz:
  • Finding historical SEC filings via the National Archives. And:
  • Passport applications database from, covers 1796-1925. Will require paid registration to access records.

  • Popular journalism blogs

    Mindy McAdams noted that her Teaching Online Journalism blog has popped up near the top of a new list of The Hottest Blogs On Journalism created at Journalism Daily.

    McAdams describes how the list works and notes that the list varies, and sometimes may not be accurate since the most popular blogs like Romenesko and Media Shift aren't there, but gee: when I looked just now this blog was listed at number 25!

    (High five to myself.) Although this blog is linked from several journalism blogs I admire, it hasn't ever shown up in popularity lists before. And I haven't even posted in a few days.

    (Updated: even better, five minutes later it's number 20 on the list on the front page.)

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    Friday, December 14, 2007

    Steroids links

    Al Tompkins at Poynter has compiled a great set of links and background information on athletes and substance abuse, including a link to some great information from the Association of Health Care Journalists.


    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    More on online news comments

    Great column at Poynter by Steve Myers: When Comments Cross the Line. It focuses on the comments on stories at the Washington Post, Miami Herald, and ESPN on the Sean Taylor murder, but also touches on the larger problem that news sites have in moderating the vitriol that some commenters express online. In one case, in Cincinnati, the paper changed comment policy to require registration. The Post and ESPN have that policy; the Herald does not, but online news editor Casey Frank told Myers "some have talked about changing that policy".

    At the Herald, comments have been allowed for a short time but the reaction has been shocking on some stories. I've mentioned these a couple times in the past, particularly when a Miami blogger called for their total removal.

    It's a tough question. We all want to be part of the conversation, but what do you do when the conversation turns ugly. Herald multimedia editor Rick Hirsch says
    it's clear that "people want to talk about stories. There is bad there, but there's a lot of good. ... There are times they make me think about things I wouldn't have thought about."

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    Age and experience in journalism

    There's a fascinating discussion going on, in case any of you missed it, on Romenesko and journalism prof Chris Daly's website, on the Washington Post story which, instead of dispelling rumors about Barack Obama, seemed to only publicize them further. (Mentioned here last week.)

    Daly wrote about the story and its obvious shortcomings, something pointed out by many bloggers and journalists, but took it further by doing a few Web searches on the Post reporter who wrote it, and discovered he is in his 20s and only a few years out of college (but with an impressive resume already). Daly wondered why Post editors didn't scrutinize a front page political story by such a new reporter.

    Post exective editor Len Downie blasted Romenesko for linking to Daly's column. Daly has responded to the other criticisms of the posting. Much of the response is on Poynter, including Dave von Drehle's comment, and a reaction from Poynter's Jim Naughton rebutting Downie.

    Fascinating stuff to those who have seen newsrooms get younger and younger over the years. I will say, though, that when I started at the Post in 1968 many of the reporters were in their late 20s. But the stars, on the national and foreign desks, and certainly the political writers, were almost entirely in their late 30s or 40s, or older. And there were plenty of older reporters on the metro and other desks who made sure there was a knowledge of local history in the newsroom.

    At the Miami Herald, the older reporters disappeared over the years until there were very few left, and new reporters, fresh out of j-school or a first job at a smaller paper, arrived constantly. Some stayed at least into their 30s before moving on, but they almost always moved on. The sense of losing history was palpable at times.

    It's the sort of thing that journalists worry about as newspapers cut their staffs over and over. Says one commenter on Daly's site:
    Hmm. Funny how no one was questioning stuff like this 10-15 years ago when the attitude was you needed "experience" to be hired, much less land a juicy beat.

    It's just more hypocrisy from an industry that wants to hide behind lies. The truth is newspapers want younger people primarily for the lower salaries. They simply don't have the guts to admit it.

    The focus here, of course, should not be the age of the reporter but the diligence of the editorial staff in checking stories before they go to print. Downie isn't touching that. (Horse's Mouth's take.) At the Post, though, ombudsman Deborah Howell did.

    More links can be found by browsing Romenesko over the last few days.

    (Added later:) Will Bunch has a powerful post on the relevance of this whole flap to the state of journalism today:
    ...we're just doing what we journalists do best in 2007, just circling the wagons. Too bad Gen. Custer's not around so we ask him how that strategy worked out for him.

    (Updated:) Also, Trevor Butterworth, on Huffington Post: Dotards and Maybe Fools: Bacon Gate Turns Into a Brawl.

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    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    On the other blog:

    A lovely December day in the mountains, old cars in the rain, and country courthouses.

    Monday, December 10, 2007

    The Gore Lecture

    It seems this is a speech worth remembering, if you believe this Dispatch from the Nobel Prize Ceremony, by Laurie David at the Huffington Post. Says David:
    It was an incredible speech. Read it yourself, gather your family and read it to them. Pass it around at your office. Take a beat, and then feel the urgency of what everyone In that room felt today.

    Here's the text, on the Nobel website. Just a small part:
    So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

    As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

    We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.

    More links on Resourceshelf.

    Also at Huffington Post, James Boyce notes today is also the 7th anniversary of the day Gore conceded the 2000 election after the Florida vote count fiasco. Oh dear.


    Research links of the week

    Some great basic reference works available online:
  • Search the Compact Oxford English Dictionary
  • Search the Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, over 4000 quotations.
  • Search the Concise Dictionary of First Names
  • Baker's Student Encyclopedia of Music . Lots more databases, from law to science to art, at, but you may have to register to get full results from all of them.
    Shopping help:
  • Resources of the Week: We Help You Shop! from ResourceShelf, links to sites that find the best deals online.
  • Computer-Assisted Reporting, from the Canadian Journalism Project.
    And more:
  • How America lost the war on drugs, in Rolling Stone.

  • Friday, December 07, 2007

    Bush Years Posters

    If I had any room on a wall, I'd order these posters, from Huffington Post. As one commenter said:
    This is tragic art for what has become a Tragic Nation.

    Congressional hearings for the people

    One of the hardest things to get out of Congress has always been the actual transcripts of hearings. Although hearings are available from the GPO (Appropriations from 1998 forward, more from 10th Congress forward), you needed to subscribe to a transcript service to get recent transcripts, too expensive for papers that needed hearing texts only occasionally. Ordering them took too long if you needed it for deadline, and sometimes it took months for the transcripts to be published. With the arrival of Thomas and other Congressional Web services it seemed there was a chance transcripts would be available, but that promise was far.

    Now Dan Froomkin reports at Nieman Watchdog that there is help on the way, for everybody: Citizen Journalists, Start Your Engines! The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has started posting preliminary transcripts of many of its hearings on its Web site. Says Froomkin:
    One of the dirty little secrets of Washington journalism is that very few news organizations assign staff to cover anything but the most high-profile hearings and debates on Capitol Hill. As a result, few if any reporters show up for oversight hearings – and those who do tend to leave early.
    ...This is a great opportunity for citizen journalists to become Washington reporters. If you find some overlooked news in these or other transcripts, e-mail me your blog posts or your findings, and I’ll try to make sure that they aren’t overlooked as well.


    Why editors matter

    If you think they don't, just read this little piece from Patsy Chapman, a former subeditor at News of the World, sent in response to a Press Gazette column, and passed on by Greenslade in The Guardian: Hey, Rommel, you may fink sub-heditors are passed their cell-by date, but...


    Wednesday, December 05, 2007

    The sprawl continues

    Critical Miami reminds us (with a very nice photo) that it is the 60th Anniversary of Everglades National Park. And that the Miami-Dade commission has celebrated it by voting to ignore the Urban Development Boundary which has kept growth (to a point) away from the Everglades, at least from the Everglades which hadn't already been developed in the '40s and '50s and '60s. (Miami Herald editorial. Sun-Sentinel anniversary story. The Herald had one too but I can't find it online.)

    According to a comment on the Critical Miami posting, Miami-Dade's mayor vetoed the latest proposals. Just a delay on the inevitable sprawl, I fear. Miami Dade County will look like western Broward County, soon.

    In other sprawl news, from Georgia, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported this weekend about proposals to pipe water to Atlanta from the Tennessee River to relieve future water shortages. At least the story addresses what people in the Tennessee Valley might think about such an idea (my emphasis):
    Perhaps the biggest challenge would be convincing Tennesseans and others who depend upon the river that sprawl-at-all-costs Atlanta is worthy of the precious resource.
    "There'd be a great public outcry," said Littlefield, Chattanooga's mayor, who was born in LaGrange. "Atlanta is the 800-pound gorilla in the Southeast — I say that kindly — so people would want to see a lot of very careful planning on Atlanta's part. They don't want Atlanta to have unlimited water and just keep expanding."

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    More good hints on finding people.

    More and more the knowledge that news researchers and reporters have on backgrounding people online is becoming a skill that everyone wants to know.

    Note this column over at Depth Reporting, where via Mark Schaver has lots of good hints on how to track people. He mentions this Lifehacker tutorial on finding people online, tells you how to find people finders on his Useful Web Sites for Reporters list, and tries a new Firefox extension that searches people finders (Who is this Person). Here's another great Lifehacker column on How to find Public Records Online.

    (The Firefox extension, in particular, is really interesting, but I think it's the same one I installed a couple months back. I ended up deleting it because it took up too much real estate at the top of my browser. I'm not backgrounding as often as I used to, but if I were it would have stayed.)

    Although Mark's website is geared towards journalists, the Lifehacker posts are meant as tools for everyone. It's just another example of how journalists are finding their once closely guarded skills are becoming mainstream, these days.

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    Tuesday, December 04, 2007

    Missing Miami, redux

    Rick's photos of a Dolphins game at Stuck on the Palmetto remind me of one thing I do miss (first picture). Florida lobsters, grilled with garlic butter, something we did whenever we could get them. (I see tails for sale around here on occasion. $12 for tiny ones, $15 for something like normal size. Each.) Nice game scene photos too. Something I don't miss because I never did it.

    Rewriting history on Iran -- again

    With the release of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (link to PDF of the report), it's fascinating to see the reactions, from GW Bush to the commentators.

    Lionel Beehner, in Huffington Post, has a fascinating history: Bush Still Bending the Truth about Iran. Here's something I didn't know:
    After the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan toppled the Taliban government, American and Iranian diplomats met together in Bonn, with a handful of representatives from other UN members, to form a new government and constitution for Kabul. "None was more [helpful] than the Iranians," said James Dobbins, the American special envoy to Afghanistan at the time...
    ...contrary to President Bush's claim, the White House rebuffed Iran's advances pre-Ahmadinejad to let bygones be bygones and, like Libya, start a new relationship based on cooperation rather than conflict. The question is: Why? And did Bush's "axis of evil" speech and subsequent rebuff of Iranian hand maybe hasten the election of a hardliner like Ahmadinejad? We may never know.

    In The Guardian's Comment is free, Julian Borger comments, Happy Christmas, Dick!
    "Merry Christmas Dick Cheney!" That is the unspoken subtitle to the new US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. In seven pages selected for publication, America's spies have stopped the hawks' push for military action against Iran in its tracks.
    ...It is also worth noting that although the NIE is a slap in the face of Washington's war party, it is conceivably quite welcome to George Bush. The president has been extensively briefed by his generals on the devastating backlash Iran could unleash on US forces and interests in the event of a military strike, but he had painted himself in a corner...

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    Monday, December 03, 2007

    Research links of the week

    Just a few from last week, but they are good ones:

  • Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary
  •, news and links on health care as an issue in the presidential campaign, from Kaiser Family Foundation. A page for journalists provides background, including a side-by-side comparison of candidates' plans.
  • World Almanac for Kids: the adult version may not be online, but there's good stuff in here (PDF versions).
  • Encyclopedia of Software and Accessories.
  • America's Top Donors: list of $1 million+ donors and their charities, from
  • Plant Information Online identifies, describes plant species and can locate a plant in a nursery nationwide. From U. of Minnesota Libraries.
  • Scitopia: Search over 3 million documents, plus patents and government data. Some documents require membership in a participating society, or payment.
  • Universal Digital Library from Carnegie-Mellon, over 1 million books online.