Monday, December 5, 2011

Investigative Journalism: Consumer Group Finds Arsenic in Juices

U.S. watchdog group Consumer Reports is advising parents to limit their kids' juice consumption after this investigation found 10 percent of fruit juice samples from five brands exceeded federal drinking-water standards for arsenic. Most of the arsenic found was inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen.

Also, one in four samples exceeded the Food and Drug Administration's lead limit for bottled water. (No arsenic or lead ceilings exist for juice, so the group used the water ceilings as a guideline.) Scientific evidence is mounting to show that exposure to arsenic or lead even below the federal limits is a health risk, the group says.

Arsenic has entered the ground water in many areas from agricultural insecticides, poultry-feed additives, coal-fired power plant emissions and wood preservatives. The report also says arsenic is present in many foods, including baby food. The group also recommends eating organic chicken.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Investigative Journalism: Grim Conditions at Chinese Plant Behind Steve Jobs's Success

The late Steve Jobs was eulogized for building the world's biggest tech firm, but there's been less attention to the workers in China who helped Apple accomplish the feat.

Here's an example of investigative journalism published in The Telegraph of London last year about the grim conditions in the main Chinese plant building most of those nifty iPads.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Investigations: Organic Farming Tops Conventional, GM for Yield, Return and Energy Efficiency

Conventional wisdom about agriculture is turned on its head in a new study by the Rodale Institute, a Pennsylviania-based nonprofit that promotes organic farming. Organic yields are 31 percent higher than conventional yields in times of drought, the institute's study has found.

Organic yields are also higher than those of genetically modified "drought tolerant" crops. Also interesting: organic farms produce three times higher net return than conventional ones on average, with one organic crop yielding 30 times higher net return. Organic systems also use 45 percent less energy, the study said.

The institute says its study is the longest in duration comparing organic and conventional farming methods.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Da Biz: YouTube In Talks to Launch Investigative Programming

YouTube is getting into investigative journalism? Yes, you heard right. The world's third most popular website - and second most used search engine - is in discussions with the Berkeley, Calif.-based Center for Investigative Reporting to launch YouTube Investigative, this report says. With 800 million monthly visitors - each spending half an hour on the site on average - that's a pretty nice audience.

YouTube is following the path of a growing number of newsrooms, which are reportedly contracting out their investigative stories to outfits like the CIR.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Investigations: Inside Quebec Construction's Organized Crime and Political Ties

Here's a fascinating look inside Quebec's notoriously corrupt construction industry, including its links with organized crime and political fundraisers. Radio-Canada has made public this 72-page report from Quebec's anti-corruption investigative squad, based on a year-and-a-half-long inquiry.

The report speaks of a "deeply rooted and clandestine universe of an unsuspected scope that is harmful to our society - in terms of security, the economy, justice and democracy."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Investigations: F-35 Wings to Last Just Five Years

Yet another setback for the massively expensive F-35 warplane - the most costly military program in history (full operating cost: an estimated $1 trillion). Already beset by delays, cost overruns and performance questions, two of the three models of the $100-million-plus planes have been found to have a major structural defect. The result is their wings have an operational life of only five years, according to this Wired report. That's a lot less than the expected 25 years.

Earlier reports had questioned the F-35's key attribute - its supposed stealthiness. This Wired story cites a study that found the jet is "demonstrably not a true stealth aircraft" and can't operate against Russia's latest air defence systems. An aviation expert said the F-35's stealthiness is undermined by its "very conventional-airplane-shaped lumps and bumps around its underside, not to mention the hideous wart that covers the gun on the F-35A."

Investigations: Suits to Target Rampant Medical Ghost-writing

CBC Radio explores the widespread practice of "medical ghost-writing" in this interesting report (available in audio or text form). That's when doctors and scientists put their name on papers that were actually written and researched with funds from pharmaceutical companies, whose contributions aren't acknowledged. The result: side-effects from medications can be downplayed - or omitted altogether, according to the report. Now, two lawyers are preparing to fight back with lawsuits alleging fraud.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Investigations: Texas Officials Covered up Radioactive Drinking Water

State officials in Texas covered up elevated levels of radioactivity in drinking water for years, even though it violated federal standards, according to this five-part investigation by KHOU-TV News. Even so-called "safe" levels of radiation in drinking water actually lead to cancer, the series reports.

That's also a common issue in Canada. There, the government's ceiling on radioactive material in drinking water is set at a level that leads to 511 lifetime cancers per million people - or 17,000 lifetime cancers for Canada's 33 million people, according to this story I did on the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in The Georgia Straight.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Resources: IRE Conference Audio and Tip Sheets Available

Streaming audio and tip sheets from the 2011 Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Orlando are now available at the IRE site. A great resource for newbies and vets of the business. The IRE's site is a trove of other great material worth exploring, including its journal, searchable story and tips database, forums and beat guides.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Investigations: Mouldy Homes for Haiti

Check out the Canadian Centre of Investigative Reporting's newly revamped website. The redesign coincides with the release of an interesting new CCIR-backed story investigating the troubled international efforts to help Haiti rebuild after 2010 devastating earthquake.

One rebuilding project, supported by Bill Clinton's humanitarian foundation, saddled Haitians with shoddily constructed, mould-ridden shelters, the story found. Air samples taken inside them contained carcinogens. The story was done in collaboration with The Nation magazine. (Disclosure: I'm the president of the CCIR's board.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Awards: Congrats to Me!

Congratulations to me! I just won a Canadian Association of Journalists award for best investigative reporting in a Canadian magazine. Thanks, CAJ! The winningest story was this piece in Vancouver's Georgia Straight weekly on how Canada's food inspection system is failing to ensure the safety of meat, even after a tainted meat outbreak that killed 23 people.
I was also nominated for two National Magazine Awards for this investigation of the coming health impacts from climate change and how Canadian medical authorities and governments are doing little to prepare. The story reported that rising summer temperatures are expected to kill 15,330 to 27,150 Montrealers and cost up to $124 nationally in added health expenditures and lost productivity between 2010 and 2100, according to a federally funded study done last year.

Update: My climate change story shared in a gold prize for editorial packages from the NMAs.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tools: Interviewing Tips from Q&A Guru Sawatsky

When you do interviews, do you typically ask closed- or open-ended questions? If you don't know what I'm talking about, trot on over to this great story about interviewing guru John Sawatsky. The story talks about how conventional interviewing techniques often don't work.

It includes some interesting anecdotes about well-known TV journalists falling flat in their interviews, generally because of closed-ended questions (ones that can be answered with a "yes" or "no"), rather than "what," "how" and "why." Seeing Sawatsky speak at a workshop a few years ago had a big influence on me. If you don't have a chance to see him yourself, check out one of his books.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Awards: Call for Entries for PWAC Writing Awards

The Professional Writers Association of Canada has put out its call for entries for its second annual writing awards. Non-fiction print and web stories in Canadian media are eligible. Award amounts have been increased to $750 value this year ($500 in cash plus a year's free PWAC membership to those eligible). Read all about it here. Also check out the editor of the year awards. (Disclosure: I'm co-chair of PWAC's nominations and awards committee.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Awards: CAJ, NMA Deadlines Approach

Some reporting award deadlines are fast approaching in Canada. The deadline for the National Magazine Awards is tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 14. The Canadian Association of Journalists has just announced the deadline for its 2010 awards is Feb. 10.