Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Investigations: Most Medical Advisors on Vaccines Had Financial Conflicts

Here's the latest in the saga of conflict of interest in the health field: The New York Times reports in this interesting piece that nearly two-thirds of medical experts on advisory panels to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control had potential financial conflicts that were either not disclosed or unresolved. The experts advised on vaccines for the flu and cervical cancer. Some of the experts were legally barred from considering the issues, according to The Times, but they did so nonetheless. The Times story is based on this report from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. See more on the growing scandal about medical conflicts in this post.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Investigations: Med Journal Editor Pockets $20M in Royalties

The editor of a medical journal on spinal disorders - a well-known orthopedic surgeon - pocketed more than $20 million in dollars in royalties from spinal device maker Medtronic, according to this interesting investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Meanwhile, the journal he edited became a conduit for positive research articles involving Medtronic spinal products, the piece reports. It's the latest in a long series of revelations about U.S. and Canadian doctors enjoying cozy ties with medical-device makers and drug companies. See more in this post and this Montreal Gazette story.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Legal: Canada Court Expands "Public Interest Responsible Journalism" Libel Defence

The Supreme Court of Canada has caught up with jurisprudence on libel issues in other countries with a pair of key rulings today. (See the rulings here and here.) The judgments give journalists more room to defend stories in court with the argument of "responsible communication on matters of public interest." This defence applies where the story is of public interest and the publisher "was diligent in trying to verify the allegation."
In establishing the latter, juries are invited to consider the seriousness of the allegation, the public importance and urgency of the topic, the status and reliability of the source, whether the plaintiff's side of the story was sought and accurately reported, whether inclusion of the defamatory statement was justifiable and "whether the defamatory statement's public interest lay in the fact that it was made rather than its truth."

The court clarified that even if some statements in a story are defamatory and untrue, the piece will be found to be responsible if the statements are attributed to someone (preferably someone identified), the report indicates that its truth hasn't been verified, both sides of the dispute are depicted fairly and the report provides the context in which the statements were made.

Here is a CBC story on the rulings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jobs: ProPublica Seeks Reporter-Blogger With Vision

ProPublica, the non-profit investigative outfit, is looking for a reporter-blogger. The job description sounds interesting: They're open to your vision for how serious journalism can be done online. Check here for more info.

TAGS: jobs

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Interesting: The Great Swine Flu Panic of 2009

I'm pretty sure that not since the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003 have we seen such a wall of uniform media coverage of any single issue as we've had on the swine flu. Even during the Iraq war, most stories carried opposing viewpoints. Sure, they were buried. But at least most journalists felt a responsibility to acknowledge them.
In the case of H1N1, what's also interesting is that despite the panicked coverage only 36 percent of Canadians said recently they'd get vaccinated against the flu, according to a recent survey, while 65 percent say the media has overreacted. Similar numbers of vaccine skeptics have been reported in the U.S. and Britain, according to this poll.

Now, Dr. Richard Schabas, a top Ontario medical officer, has come out with some interesting contrarian views that provide more balance to the debate. In this opinion piece last August, he noted that reports had already indicated southern-hemisphere countries were experiencing aless severe flu outbreak during their recently passed winter flu season than in earlier years.

This paper in the journal Eurosurveillance confirms that flu-related mortality (including from H1N1) during the southern hemisphere's flu season "was lower than that seen during the same period in recent years."

While health authorities frightened Canadians with predictions of thousands of flu deaths, the rate of mortality from major cardiovascular illnesses or cancer is typically over 200 times higher than that from H1N1 so far over the same period of time, according to calculations based on Statistics Canada mortality data.

Any deaths are tragic. But as Schabas said in this CBC story, "It's really not causing - and is not going to cause and nowhere has caused - significant levels of illness or death." He said H1N1 "has ultimately turned out to be, from a pandemic perspective, a dud." Meanwhile, this Globe & Mail story reports Canada's vaccination campaign has cost an estimated $1.5 billion so far.

Too bad it took so long for some journalists and editors to start asking tougher questions and inject a little balance into the reporting of such a sensitive issue.

For more on what's in the vaccine and potential side effects from the ingredients, check out my story in The Georgia Straight, the Vancouver weekly, published Thursday. And to see an investigation I did last summer on how the flu correlates strongly with intensive hog farming operations, see here and here.

TAGS: H1N1, health

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tools: Drug-Makers Post Payments to Doctors

Is your doctor getting payments from pharma sales reps? U.S. pharmaceutical companies have had to agree to hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements with the U.S. government over their marketing practices for drugs. They have now started to reveal millions of dollars in payments they've given to doctors. The payments, which are poorly regulated in the U.S. and Canada, have sparked controversy (see my stories here and here) because research shows they can influence doctors' prescribing. Drug-maker Eli Lilly's registry of payments is here, and see here for Merck's list of payments. Medical-device makers have also been stung by similar controversy and have had to make large settlements with the U.S. government.
Pharmaceutical companies operating in Canada have yet to follow suit by revealing payments - or to be taken to task by Canadian authorities for their marketing practices here.

TAGS: pharma, drugs

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Biz: Giordano's "Authentic" J-School

Al Giordano, founder of the pioneering anti-drug war Narco News Bulletin, has a great take in this Boston Phoenix piece on the woes of the big media, which are still crying about the problems that the internet has created for them. Boo-hoo. Giordano says the internet has challenged the big media to do their jobs, rather than pander so much to advertizers. He has also created a School of Authentic Journalism on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula (see more from Giordano on it here and here), which he hopes can offer aspiring journos a better education than the nonsense many j-schools teach. Right on.
I tell every beginning journalist the same thing: J-school might help some folks, but it is probably a huge waste of time and money for others. Get a real education in university or college (i.e. a philosophy degree; seriously!) - or via self-education (yes, the research is clear that there's no better education than homeschooling). Plus, volunteer at your local school or community paper or radio operation to get the actual hands-on experience and skills and meet fellow scribes.

TAGS: the biz

Monday, October 12, 2009

Investigations: Contractor Death Toll a Third of Military's

Pentagon outsourcing in Afghanistan and Iraq is unmatched in U.S. wartime history - and is feeding a huge, unprecedented toll in American lives, according to this ProPublica report. While the U.S. defense department continues to stall on a requirement to track contracting in the war zones, ProPublica has dug up a little-known study that found 1,688 civilians have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - a 1:3 ratio with the number of military deaths - while 37,000 were injured.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tools: Crime Stats 101

Want to get more in-depth knowledge of crime reporting? Investigative Reporters and Editors has just put out its first e-book, Understanding Crime Statistics: A Reporter's Guide (2nd edition). It includes updates, reports and examples of crime journalism.

TAGS: tools

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Biz: New Non-Profit Seeks to Fill Local Gap

A non-profit local reporting outfit is starting in San Francisco in hopes of jumping into the gap left by declining newspapers, says this New York Times piece. This new model of localized non-profit reporting is fast taking root across the U.S. Similar projects are under way in Chicago, San Diego, Seattle and several smaller towns.
Is it the way of the future? I don't think this new model will replace the larger print media - which I think will always have a certain market and ad base in most cities. But there's no doubt it's part of the overall fragmentation and specialization of the media world. It breaks up the daily newspaper's monopoly on city markets, and it gives the public more information options. So I think it's to be applauded.

At the same time, the non-profit model is clearly catching on. Here is another such outfit highlighted recently at CBC investigative veteran Cecil Rosner's excellent blog: California Watch.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tools: Fast Flipping Out

Cool new tool from Google Labs: Fast Flip. It's kind of a redesigned iGoogle with visuals of the hard-copy laid-out pages of your favourite news and information sources. You can customize it according to the publications of your choice or various subject headings ("politics," "business," "sports") and flip through pages as you would in a magazine. A little gimmicky, but still somewhat potentially useful for the busy info hound. But also, read this take from the Online Journalism Blog on what Fast Flip could mean for the troubled news industry.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Investigations: Guard Misconduct at U.S. Embassy in Kabul Reportedly Included Prostitutes, "Deviant Sex Acts"

Private-contractor guards at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul reportedly engaged in such lewd behaviour - including allegations that they abused Afghans and hired prostitutes - that dozens of their former colleagues blew the whistle to the Project on Government Oversight, according to this investigation by the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit. The reported misconduct was so serious it apparently resulted in a chronic turnover of staff and jeopardized the embassy's security in the warzone.
See photos of the lewd, booze-fuelled parties at this ABC News item. The network said one guard claimed his colleagues were pressured to engage in "deviant sex acts" in order to get promotions or desired shifts. I can see at least one position in those photos that's not in the Kama Sutra.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Investigations: Health Workers Won't Get H1N1 Shot Amid Side-Effect Concerns

Only half of health-care workers in two separate studies in the UK and Hong Kong plan to get the vaccine against the H1N1 virus that is now being fast-tracked to be ready by mid-October. So says this story in Britain's leading medical weekly Pulse - a survey of 115 UK doctors - and this item in the British Medical Journal on a Hong Kong poll of 2,255 health employees. And a poll by Nursing Times cited in this BMJ story found just 37 percent of nurses planned to get vaccinated. The Hong Kong respondents refusing the vaccine cited fear of side-effects and concerns about efficacy.
The Pulse piece also cited a study in the journal Emerging Health Threats that found the public is skeptical about novel vaccines introduced amid epidemics, citing concerns about lack of safety testing.

The studies follow these stories in the Times of London and Daily Mail on concerns about the fast-tracked vaccine at the UK's Health Protection Agency. The agency sent a letter to neurologists noting that an earlier vaccine rushed into use amid a similar swine flu outbreak in the U.S. in 1976 may have led to an eight-fold increase in cases of a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which causes paralysis and can be fatal. That flu outbreak caused one death, while side-effects from the vaccine killed 25. The vaccine was withdrawn after 10 weeks of use, and the U.S. government had to compensate claimants.

TAGS: health, flu, H1N1

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Investigations: Insider Trading Profits From U.S. Coup Decisions

Coups are good for business! Stocks of U.S. companies with operations abroad rose 1.4 percent in the four days after the U.S. government authorized a coup d'état in the country where the companies were based - and three percent in the 13 days after such a decision. That's the interesting revelation in a new study by economists at Harvard, Berkeley and Stockholm University.
Note that they're talking about the time right after the coup was authorized, not the time after it actually took place. More stock increases were found after the coup authorization than after the coup itself, raising questions about insider trading based on knowledge of the coming coup or buying by U.S. government personnel with that knowledge. Read Slate's story on the study here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Investigations: Who Funds the Taliban? We Do!

As Afghans prepare to go to the polls to elect their president on Aug. 20, a growing pile of reports is revealing the widespread drug-fuelled corruption of this country that Hilary Clinton has dubbed a "narco state." Observers told me for a story I did in Saturday's Montreal Gazette that the corruption is so bad it is helping to fuel the Taliban.
Now, an interesting story in the suggests that the Taliban's main source of funding isn't drugs (in fact, they get only a small fraction of the country's $3.4-billion U.S. opium trade) but rather protection money from the boom of Western development projects in the nation.

The piece says the funds come through high-level negotiations between the Taliban and major contractors. In other words, we fund the Taliban! The story is part of a GlobalPost series on Afghanistan, including its history and a look at the U.S. counterinsurgency facility in Kabul.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Events: Investigative Reporting Panel-Fundraiser in Toronto

Toronto's NOW weekly has done a nice write-up on our coming panel discussion-slash-fundraiser in T.O. for the Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting. Surf here to see the piece, which includes executive director Bilbo Poynter's thoughts about the state of investigative journalism and some details on the panel. Also, visit the CCIR site for more details.

TAGS: CCIR, the biz

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Investigations: New Cell Driving Laws Won't Reverse 2,600 Yearly U.S. Death Toll

Talking on cellphones while driving kills 1,000 to 2,600 people yearly in the U.S. alone, and laws that restrict yakking drivers aren't going to do much to change that, says this Mother Jones story. That's because it's the conversation - not whether the talker is on a hands-free device - that causes the "inattention blindness." Mother Jones explores why U.S. federal highway-safety officials concealed the problems for five years.

TAGS: investigations, safety

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Investigations: Apple Tried to Block iPod Fire Records

Some of Apple's iPod MP3 players have overheated and burst into flames, injuring their owners, according to this investigation by KIRO 7. Apple's lawyers tried to block consumer-safety records on the incidents from being released, but KIRO's dogged reporter, Amy Clancy, persisted and succeeded in getting 800 pages of records that reveal the problems for the first time. Hot stuff, Amy!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Investigations: Afghan Spending Oversight AWOL

After revelations of mind-boggling corruption in Iraq, you'd think the international community would bring a better approach to its mission in Afghanistan. Right. Not so, says this interesting report from Mother Jones's Bruce Falconer. The U.S. government bureau overseeing flow of military and reconstruction spending there has half the staff it needs and has produced just one audit in its first year - compared to more than a dozen released by the office overseeing Iraq spending in its first year.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Biz: Nonprofits Hope to Fill Gap

Philanthropic foundations are stepping up to help address the crisis in journalism and especially critical reporting, according to a new report from the University of Southern California's Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. "The collapse of the traditional economic model has increased both the need for nonprofit journalism and also the receptivity toward it," says Geoffrey Cowan, dean emeritus of USC's j-school and director of its CCLP. Thanks to Bilbo for a tip about this study.
TAGS: the biz

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Interesting: Building an Investigative News Network

My top-secret source in the world of non-profit investigative journalism, Bilbo, writes of an event that apparently has all the world of us investigatorial sluggos abuzz - the "Building an Investigative News Network" do happening this week at the Rockefeller family estate in Westchester County, New York. Read all about it here.
UPDATE (Thurs., July 2): And now, here's the declaration that came out of that conference. They've agreed to form a new non-profit entity to promote investigative journalism. Notable is the absence of ProPublica in the list of supporters. It'll be curious to see what kinds of funds these folks raise - and what direction they end up taking. Good luck!

Interesting: Hersh, Bamford On Cultivating Sources

Interesting discussion of cultivating high-level sources for investigative projects on Cecil Rosner's blog. Cecil, a CBC investigative vet, attended the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Baltimore and reports on a discussion on sources by renowned journalists James Bamford and Seymour Hersh, who have broken some of the decade's best stories on the intelligence world.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Congats To Us!

Congratulations to us! The Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting (of which I'm v-p) has just gotten word from the Canada Revenue Agency's charities directorate: We now have charity status - the first media organization of this kind to be granted the status in Canada.
Congratulations first and foremost must go to our tireless and dogged executive director, Bilbo Poynter.

Stay tuned to the CCIR website and Facebook page for more exciting centre news and programming soon, including a fundraiser-slash-panel discussion in Toronto in August.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tools: What's the Meaning of Life? Ask Google's Freaky New Brain

Just added three cool sites to my "Resources: Tools & Search" bar of links in the right-hand column. Wolfram, Google's freaky new artificial intelligence sideline, offers two really interesting new tools I've linked down there:
- Wolfram/Alpha, a searchable artificial intelligence tool that computes answers to your questions (including, for example, "What is the meaning of life?") Some say Wolfram/Alpha is so smart it'll change the internet.

- The Wolfram Mathematica Online Integrator, an engine that performs computations using 2,500-plus math functions

The third site is, a professional-quality online translation and definitions tool that includes a searchable and query-able forum where linguists discuss tricky translation questions.

Web 2.0: Divining the Collective Brain

Great idea from this item at the Online Journalism Blog, one of my regular RSS reads through iGoogle. (If you don't know what iGoogle is, go here pronto. It's a very cool aggregator tool you can customize to scan all your fave sites.) OJB suggests that journalists and news organizations should make a habit of creating "datastores." These are simple spreadsheets and other databases linked from their stories that give raw data for the public to chew on.
One benefit from such datastores for news workers is reeping the bountiful harvest of "distributed journalism," OJB says in this other interesting item. That's the idea that the public can participate in journalism by finding new patterns and connections and giving tips and feedback for stories. Datastores give the public more tools to do just this.

I'm a big fan of this idea. Us journalists like to think we're so smart and no one else can do our jobs. But blogging here and especially at my market site has opened up an amazing world of "distributed knowledge" for me, from which I've learned an immense amount. It's actually, in my opinion, one of the main reasons to blog.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Awards: Amnesty Media Prizes Recognize Investigations of Killings, Torture

WikiLeaks reports that its editor Julian Assange has won Amnesty International's 2009 New Media Award for his work exposing the involvement of Kenyan police in hundreds of recent extrajudicial killings and disappearances. See more on the atrocities here. An Amnesty Media Award also goes to The Guardian for its investigation of how Britain's MI5 outsourced torture of British citizens to Pakistani security agencies. See more on these and the other Amnesty Media Awards here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Web 2.0: Help Me Investigate

Is crowd investigative journalism a new model for the business? Can it help spread democracy? Or is it just a gimmick that sounds all digitally and cool but really has limited potential? A UK experiment hopes to find out. Leading UK investigative journalists have teamed up with Channel 4 to create Help Me Investigate, a platform that lets people team up to investigate local and broader issues. A parallel program is Talk About Local, which aims to spread digital literacy in marginalized communities, says this item in the Birmingham Post.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Biz: Learn Lots at MagNet Conference

Magazine writers, editors, authors and publishers are putting on quite the conference this year at the annual MagNet event in Toronto June 2 to 5. A prominent line-up of speakers will talk about feature writing, pitching, the biz of freelancing, new media, creative non-fiction - and that's just some of the writing-related workshops. Other workshops will cover digital media, publishing, circulation, copyright and lots more. See more at the MagNet site.

TAGS: the biz, tools

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Investigations: Canadian Financial Advisors Steer Clients to High-Fee Funds

Canadian mutual funds scored last for their high fees in an international ranking by research firm Morningstar, says this item. While Canadian funds got an overall B-minus grade, they earned a failing F for high management expenses and other charges. One of the chief reasons is a rather troubling conflict-of-interest among financial advisors. They typically get an annual "trailer fee" of 0.5 to 1 percent for each year they keep clients in a particular fund, the study found. The trailers are unique to the Canadian market. Morningstar raised questions about the integrity of some advisors, saying they direct clients to funds that pay out higher trailer fees.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Awards: Deadline for Dave Greber Social-Justice Award

The deadline for submissions for the Dave Greber Freelance Writers Awards fast approaches: June 12. The $2,000 award for Western Canadian freelancers is intended to support social-justice reporting.

TAGS: awards

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tools: Search Traffic Offers Crystal Ball

An interesting New Scientist story says searching real-time web activity - like Twitter - can help predict trends in the economy, travel, home sales and more. This could be a fascinating tool for journalists. The story says car-related search queries cut the error rate of forecasted sales of autos and vehicle parts by 15 percent. Search query data came from a cool site called Google Trends, which allows you to explore search traffic for various keywords, including by country and date. Also interesting is the new Google Insights for Search, which allows advanced searching. I've added both tools to my resources links to the right.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

FOI: U.S. Military Intel Bulletin Back Online

The U.S. Army has agreed to put back in the public domain its Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Federation of American Scientists. FAS's Secrecy News blog reports in this note how a growing body of military and intelligence documents have gotten shifted out of the public domain. Past issues of the MIPB are now available at the FAS site here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Awards: Congrats to Us!

The Canadian Association of Journalists and National Magazine Awards Foundations have announced their annual journalism and writing awards. Click here for the finalists for the CAJ prizes for investigative reporting and here to see the NMA prizes for that and a bunch of other stuff.

Big self-congratulations to us here at Investigate This! - yes, I am now referring myself in the third person; see how big my head has gotten? - for a nomination from each of these groups for my story titled The Pill Pushers - about how pharma sales reps court doctors with meals, honoraria and other freebies.

The story came out in the Vancouver weekly The Georgia Straight, where editors Charlie Smith and Martin Dunphy (love you, guys!) are some of this country's most ardent supporters of the kind of investigative reporting that's fast becoming an anachronism in most dailies, mags and broadcasting. But here's another antidote to that: the Pulitzers have also been announced. Check them out here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tools: Site's Expert Volunteers Answer Questions Free

Trying to figure out how to set up an Excel spreadsheet to crunch some city hall data? Can't understand a coroner's report or scientific paper? Surf to A volunteer expert there just wrote a Macro in Excel for me that will save me hours of time. I got my answer back in under an hour and a half, and it was free. Amazing. (Thanks, Tom Ogilvy. You rock.) This site has thousands of top experts in numerous fields waiting for your questions. You can also check out a database of previous answers and seek out specific experts based on reader ratings or their profile. The site claims there's no catch (though when you ask a question you are prompted to sign up for various commercial offers; these you can decline). I've just included these folks on my "Search" resource list in the links column on the right.

TAGS: tools, Web 2.0

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Awards: Ridenhour Prizes for War on Terror Whistleblower, Vietnam Exposé

Journalists and whistleblowers who exposed warrantless wiretapping, Vietnam-era massacres of civilians and U.S. constitutional violations in the war on terror were recognized in the sixth annual Ridenhour Prizes. These awards, established by the Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation, celebrate truth-telling and investigative journalism in honour of late Vietnam vet whistle-blower and investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour. I first saw something on the latest awards at the blog of the Project on Government Oversight, an interesting D.C.-based nonprofit that works to expose government corruption and waste.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Depression 2.0: Your Guide to Bailout Gloom

Can't keep all the multi-gazillion-dollar bailouts, caved-in banks and failed policies straight? Was it this complicated during the '29 Crash? Don't get depressed about trying to figure out Depression 2.0. Check out ProPublica's nifty new Bailout Guide webpage. It includes search features for specific institutions and states, updated items on who got how much, in-depth features on the programs, links to other stories at other sites and "a breakdown of every taxpayer dollar spent."

Depression 2.0: $100B Hedge-Fund Bailout May Skirt Law

The Obama administration's $100-billion bailout of hedge funds skirts U.S. law in order to keep regulators from shutting down insolvent institutions, says this report from Mother Jones. "Now take a deep breath and let's boil it all down," writes Zach Carter. "Our treasury secretary hopes to circumvent laws enacted to protect the economy by subsidizing a bunch of multimillionaire investors—ostensibly to help regulators fulfill their most basic job description—in a bid to prop up bankers who cooked their books to support a gambling binge and still refuse to admit they lost. Or maybe they haven't. In a game thus rigged, there are only two sure-fire losers: you and me."

TAGS: investigations, marketfinance

Monday, April 13, 2009

Interesting: Nuclear Dumping Gave Rise to Somali Piracy

Amid the fast-growing Somali piracy epidemic, here's a different take from Johann Hari writing in The Independent. He writes of a little-known crisis of nuclear and chemical dumping that has exacerbated the woes of this already-afflicted nation. The dumping prompted Somali fishermen to take to speedboats to dissuade - and "tax" - the ships depositing barrels of waste from Europe off-shore, Hari writes. And so were the pirates born. Hari also provides some interesting context on pirates of yore.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Investigations: Pulitzer Winner Documents Vietnam Atrocity Cover-Ups

The U.S. Army ignored confessions by its own soldiers about massacres and atrocities they committed during the Vietnam War, says Pulitzer winner Deborah Nelson, who documents the abuses in her new book The War Behind Me. The book centres around the slaughter of 19 Vietnamese civilians, including babies and an old man, according to this account of Nelson's talk at a book signing.

Awards: IRE '08 Winners Announced

The group Investigative Reporters and Editors has announced its 2008 award winners recognizing the most outstanding watchdog journalism of the year. Read more here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Investigations: Huffington Post Starts New I-Fund

Here's some positive news for the times. The Huffington Post and Atlantic Philanthropies are giving a boost to investigative journalism with a new $1.75-million fund for investigative projects. Read more here. Thanks to Bilbo for the tip.

In the Courts: Jury Sides With First Nations Scholar in 9/11 Firing

Interesting series of stories on the court victory of First Nations scholar Ward Churchill over his politically charged termination as a professor at the University of Colorado. Churchill's firing came after he wrote an essay blaming 9/11 on U.S. policies, which resulted in Colorado's governor calling for his dismissal. Here is law prof Stanley Fish's take on the sordid affair in a New York Times opinion piece. And here is one of the initial news reports on the jury ruling. Churchill will be in Montreal Wednesday, April 15, to speak at Concordia University at 7 p.m. (room H-110). Email for more information. Thanks to Mike for alerting me to these stories.

Back From the Break

Sorry for my lack of posts for the past few weeks. I'm back from an extended family vacation in sunny Spanish Wells, the Bahamas. Beautiful place and beautiful people! (See more in this piece I did after our first trip two years ago.) I'll be resuming my regular posting schedule.

Documents: Inside the CIA's No-So-Public Archives

"In a quiet, fluorescently lit room in the National Archives' auxiliary campus in suburban College Park, Maryland, 10 miles outside of Washington, are four computer terminals, each providing instant access to the more than 10 million pages of documents the CIA has declassified since 1995. There's only one problem: these are the only publicly available computers in the world that do so."

So starts an interesting story by Bruce Falconer in Mother Jones on the CIA's semi-secret horde of declassified archives: "Inside the CIA's (Sort of) Secret Document Stash."

Stephen Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists also writes about the collection at his Secrecy News blog. His post Monday mentions an interesting journal paper in Intelligence and National Security that reviews the documents.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tools: IRE Launches Training Blog

Learn about cultivating a "watchdog culture" in your newsroom, computer-assisted reporting and the art of interviewing reluctant sources at the new training blog launched at the website of Investigative Reporters and Editors. If you haven't been at this site before, check out other cool features like IRE's calendar of workshops around the U.S., its voluminous database of investigative stories, tipsheets, beat guides and research resources, and its job centre. Tambien en español.

TAGS: tools, investigations

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Investigations: Canada Drops in Transparency Ranking

Canada has gotten a downgrade in its ranking for government and judicial transparency and integrity from watchdog group Global Integrity. The group says in a report that Canada "continues to struggle with controlling the influence of money in the political process." It's critical of secrecy in financial contributions to political candidates and loans to candidates and parties.

Also problematic: "a revolving door effect between lawmakers and lobbyists" because of a lack of a cooling-off period for post-government employment; lack of personal asset disclosure of Canadian Senators, which the group calls "a bizarre exception for one of the world's wealthier and more developed democracies"; and weak judicial accountability. Canada's legal framework is rated as strong, but there is a "large" gap in the actual implementation of laws, which has slipped. Canada's ranking was downgraded from "strong" to "moderate" since the 2007 report.

Thanks to Democracy Watch for its notice about the report; its press release about the report is here.

TAGS: transparency, investigations, corruption

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Investigations: NYT on Russian-Backed Chechen Ruler's Dark Ways

Vlad Putin's man in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, is the subject of a harrowing tour de force of investigative journalism by C. J. Chivers in this New York Times item. Chechen strongman Kadyrov's slain exiled former bodyguard, Umar Israilov, gave accounts of atrocities extraordinary even by the dark norms of this blood-soaked territory, Chivers reports.

TAGS: Russia, investigations

Intelligence: NSA Claims It's Blind to VoIP... Okaaaaay

Thanks to Bilbo for bringing this curious story to my attention - an interesting item from the tech publication The Register about the U.S. National Security Agency's supposed difficulties in surveilling Skype. Hmm. Can't imagine those folks have any problem at all accessing Skype. Perhaps they are really looking for some kind of vaster data-mining surveillance capacity. Or perhaps they just want Osama to THINK they can't overhear him. Does it not seem strange that they would announce such a big hole in their capabilities? Spies are so tricky!

TAGS: intelligence, surveillance, NSA

Monday, February 16, 2009

Da Biz: Online Nonprofit Focuses on Investigative Stories... And Thrives

As the financial imbroglio continues, the Voice of San Diego, an online nonprofit, is showing how investigative journalism can work in the new digital era. And how the news business can actually succeed. And, no kidding, even pay a decent income. All in this item in the LA Times.

TAGS: future of journalism, the biz

Investigations: Lead-Footed FDA Stalls on Lipstick Safety Report

More than a year after a consumer-safety group reported that most lipsticks it tested contained lead, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to reveal results of an investigation of the problem, says this item from Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. Malkan reports that Health Canada is also conducting its own review of chemicals in cosmetics.

TAGS: investigations, health, FDA, safety

Investigations: Army Neglect Blamed for Soldier Suicides

The suicide rate in the U.S. Army has skyrocketed, thanks in part to official neglect, says a investigation. Four years after Salon uncovered medical neglect at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center - sparking a national scandal - Salon finds army health care still failing soldiers. Many of the suicides were preventable, it says.

TAGS: investigations, military