Archive: November, 2010
Yes, friends, the Philly From Scratch podcast is finally working (meaning that you can subscribe to it, and let itunes or another program check for updates for you). We'll aim for weekly episodes, featuring interviews, audio delights, and well, who knows what else? Stay tuned.
In this episode, WHYY's Chris Satullo talks about the nonprofit's new, ambitious journalism project NewsWorks, of which Satullo serves as director of news and "civic dialogue."
In the interview, I follow up on some quetsions I posed about NewsWorks when it first launched two weeks ago, including how it can fill the hole left in local journalism by the near-elmination of daily newspapers' neighborhood reporting staff; whether there really exists a lack of "civic dialogue," out there and how NewsWorks will change that; and how, generally, this whole thing is supposed to work.
As a quick perusal of our masthead will confirm, there have been not a few changes lately within the City Paper's exciting news department: and it's a heckuva time for the right budding journalist to join our team as an intern for our Winter/Spring 2011 news internship.
The pay, we admit, is not ideal (the position is unpaid). What we can offer is a chance to work alongside terrific writers and with an enthusiastic (and only occasionally grouchy) new news editor willing to help motivated writers develop their skills.
Many interns have been able to get school credit as well.
Below is a link to the full posting for the position on our web site. One note: when we say we're looking for motivated writers, we mean it this job will involve real work and require the kind of reporting you can't just do online.
Here's the full posting:
One of the policy changes touted by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey since he took office in January 2008 is the use of Tasers by police officers to offset the need for using lethal weapons in certain situations, especially when dealing with the mentally ill. A year ago, the Department purchased 1,000 new Tasers.
But police statistics obtained by CP indicate that increased Taser use does not appear to be offsetting use of firearms by Philadelphia police officers.
Since 2008, Taser use has tripled; incidents involving police using guns, however, have stayed at relatively the same level (and the number of shots fired by police per incident has actually increased).
Here's a homemade chart of gun use incidents, gunshots and Taser use incidents (complete data for individual Taser discharges wasn't available, but those numbers tend to be close to the number of incidents):
|Isaiah Thompson, City Paper|
|Taser use has more than tripled, but police gun use hasn't dropped
correspondingly. (numbers represent totals through October of each year)
For more perspective, you might want to check out this graph, too, showing the same stats (where available) for the last four years. They show Taser use climbing fairly steadily, but also a significant decline in overall gun use since 2008 (Ramsey's first year). Click either chart to enlarge it.
|Isaiah Thompson, City Paper|
Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board granted yet another deadline extension to the proposed South Philly casino that was to be operated by Foxwoods, and which is now courting a partnership with Harrah's Entertainment.
Investors now have until Dec. 16 now to produce a business agreement with Harrah's or face the revocation of their license (or, judging by history, simply get another deadline extension!).
Meanwhile, the latest plans for the Casino Formerly Known As Foxwoods have been revealed and what they reveal is a plan that contrasts starkly to that presented back in 2007, when Pennsylvania casinos still pretended to be "destination," not "convenience." casinos, with hotels, pretty landscaping, and other amenities, like an "Asian gaming room."
That detail avails itself just after Asian Americans United's Helen Gym circulated an ad, posted by Sugarhouse, seeking an "Asian Marketing Executive" for the casino exactly the kind of targeted marketing Asian community activists feared when the casino was nearly moved to Chinatown.
Meanwhile, the casino's design concept has changed substantially. (Pictures thanks to the Inquirer).
Here's Foxwoods a la 2007: Note the multi-level parking lot and terraced lawn, and long promenade. As late as 2008, Foxwoods was still talking about a having a hotel.
Here's the most recent plan:
This week, WHYY and partners launched a shiny new local journalism project, Newsworks.org. The Clog welcomes its arrival and wishes it well.
We also look forward to seeing how, exactly, it's going to carry out its ambitious mission, described in various locations on its website as the following:
Focused on "regional issues, neighborhoods, health and science, and arts. It's a site powered by your concerns, questions, views, insights and stories."
"[Providing] balanced journalism that is as interested in solutions and heroes as problems and scandals. NewsWorks will be transparent and participatory, continually seeking engagement, feedback and viewpoints from its audience. Every day, it will offer dozens of invitations and opportunities for readers to offer their own viewpoints, tips, photos and videos. And it will seek to be an oasis for civil, informed dialogue.
While not included in the above descriptions, the two phrases we've seen most closely associated with the site are "hyperlocal journalism," and "civic dialogue." (Chris Satullo, who's heading up the project, is officially the "Executive Director of News and Civic Dialogue," and the project has received funding from the Penn Project for Civic Engagement).
Which brings us to the questions.
First, the hyperlocal part: There's no question that local (the hyper-kind, especially) journalism has taken a blow over the last decade or two, and that there is a serious need for it: and I doubt there's a neighborhood in the city that wouldn't want somebody providing it with quality, free, hyperlocal reporting.
The perennial question, of course, is who the hell is going to do, and pay for, the reporting.
NewsWorks is currently rolling out a pilot program focused on northwest Philadelphia specifically, Roxborough, Manayunk, East Falls, Germantown, West Oak Lane, Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill, "and the others," according to its web site.
The NewsWorks web site explains the choice by explaining that "Northwest Philadelphia provides a diverse mix of populous neighborhoods with a rich civic life." And that's true â but we'd be remiss not to note that those neighborhoods, while certainly diverse, are also home to some of Philly's whiter, wealthier and more liberal pockets: the sort of folk WHYY no doubt depends on for much of its funding.
I also raise the ol' eyebrow at the idea that those neighborhoods have "a rich civic life," as opposed to whom, exactly?
NewsWorks does "hope to expand the NewsWorks community coverage approach into the suburbs and other parts of the city," and plans to partner with existing local news sites.
But it seems to me that the basic problem hasn't been solved yet: reporting requires reporters, and reporters require getting paid to report.Good reporting requires good reporters, and they cost more money. Awesome journalists like WHYY's Dave Davies, Susan Phillips, and Tom MacDonald for example, are not every-day finds, and they already work harder than the average three people.
Philebrity asks whether WHYY just launched the "Philly.com-killer." The answer, unless WHYY can cover cops, crime, courts, casinos, city hall, council, and ... why am I listing only 'c' words? ... is no.
If they can't afford to hire enough reporters to cover the city, how will they justify covering some neighborhoods hyperlocally and not others going forward? If they can â well, somebody must be rolling in moolah.
Then there's the "civic dialogue" part of it.
Presumably, the phrase is intended to contrast itself with the shrill and/or racist baloney that makes up much of Philly.com's user-generated content.
NewsWorks will steer discussion toward its "Sixth Square," described as "a virtual public square that seeks to foster online dialogue that is lively, civil, informed, informative and fun."
More power to them.
But it's not obvious to me that there really is a lack of "civic dialogue," online: take the PhiladelphiaSpeaks.com forum, which, although punctuated occasionally by inflamatory or racist langugage, is for the most part very civic, informed, informative, and fun indeed. The same is true of many blogs around town. I'd argue that civic dialogue is alive and well online.
A radio spot for NewsWorks that aired on my almost-perpetually-tuned-to-WHYY-office radio (how's that for a plug, WHYY? KYW, you're still my quick fix) advertises the site as a place where users can engage âwithout fear of getting shouted down via the Internet.â The site features user-registration, a system of "incentives" for positive contribution, and discussion guidelines ("If You Can't Be PoIite, Don't Say It" is one.)
But how many people â and of what demographics â actually fear being shouted down via the Internet?
I pose the question, but I don't pretend to know the answer. NewsWorks intends to make itself a top-notch online home for news and discussion. This is an experiment, and it's a good one. Good luck NewsWorks! (You aren't the only news outlet I chew the occasional fingernail over).
(I meant Philebrity, of course).
Tomorrow, after roughly 14 months as news editor of City Paper, I will bequeath my post to senior writer Isaiah Thompson, and head uptown to the 36th floor (!) Center City office of Philadelphia magazine, where I will become a senior editor, focusing on the mag's website and front-of-the-book, as well as doing some feature writing. I'm not one for long goodbyes, and anyway, I haven't spent a sufficient amount of time at this publication to warrant a drawn-out farewell, but I did want to pass along a little note, both to my colleagues and this paper's readers:
You are wonderful. Thank you.
This staff is, pound for pound, among the best in the alternative newsweekly industry, and so outpaces the other alt in this city in both creativity, writing and design as to be fairly ridiculous (in my humble opinion, which I can now express objectively, as I no longer have skin in the game). As is common in this business, and journalism in general, they are universally overworked and underpaid, and day after day, they show and work hard because they believe in what they're doing. It's quite a thing to work in an environment in which idealism the notion that they're working not just for a paycheck, but to make this city a better place to live trumps careerism. (If you've never had the chance to do so, I highly recommend it.) From the top down, I have nothing but the utmost respect for each and every person I've worked with here at Second and Chestnut, from E-in-C Brian Howard to publisher Paul Curci to our staff writers and freelancers and even our interns.
And readers: I'll be honest. I've spent the last decade in the alt-weekly industry, and, well, long-term business models don't bode well for it, generally. That's not to say CP is going out of business; but neither have the troubles plaguing newspapers nationwide passed over the alts including the Philly alts. So, I beseech you: If you want vibrant, ferocious, independent journalism, be active pick up this paper, frequent its advertisers, support the mission. Your city your community, your neighborhood will be better off for it.
That said, I've been pleasantly amazed at the engagement of CP's readership from the guy who calls me each and every Thursday morning to bitch about that week's A Million Stories to the multitude of letters and e-mails I get on everything from blogs to cover stories to whatever else runs in the paper. I learned a lot in my time here including from this paper's loyal readers. I'll miss you. Even the assholes.
So, again, thank you.
All right. That's pretty much it. If any of you need to reach me at Philly Mag, my e-mail address there will be email@example.com.
Over the weekend, the Inquirer published an article about crime at SugarHouse, claiming that before Friday's pistol-whipping, "police had received three reports of crime at SugarHouse since the casino's Sept. 23 opening: two reports of theft from cars in the parking lot, and one of a broken car window."
City Paper found otherwise.
According to statistics from the Philadelphia Police Department (see below), there have been 22 reports of crime not four since the casino's opening: one robbery by handgun, three reports of theft from cars, two reports of theft that occurred elsewhere, one report of fraudulent conversion, three reports of private-property vandalism, two D.U.I.s, four reports of disorderly conduct, and six reports of trespassing.
This is an especially egregious error given the general theme of the article that SugarHouse is "one of the most thoroughly policed areas in the city," and Friday's pistol-whipping criminals "defeated tight security." How can you quantify how good or bad security is without accurate statistics?
Two months after the casino's opening, it's too soon to judge security, really. It's also too soon to know if SugarHouse will provide another example of how casinos bring more violent crime to communities, as economist Earl Grinols and others argue.
Maybe it isn't a surprise that SugarHouse Casino didn't offer a public apology after three women were mugged, and one pistol whipped in the SugarHouse parking on their way into the casino (making it the second SugarHouse-related pistol whipping, after the same fate befell a gambler who'd been followed home after leaving). After all, they odds that they're about to be facing a lawsuit aren't bad, and perhaps SugarHouse doesn't feel like apologizing would be consistent with a "not our fault" claim in court.
Still, it was hard not to notice in the terse press release issued by SugarHouse the following day the odd emphasis its executives seemed to place on the fact that the three women were entering, and not leaving, the casino. Here's the release (emphasis added):
At approximately 1 a.m. three women were followed from an off-site location into our parking lot. Before ever entering the casino, surveillance footage indicates that two men approached and mugged the women.
On the phone, spokesman Mike Gross told CP the phrase had been included simply to point out that the women had not been followed out as had the last person pistol-whipped after going to SugarHouse.
SugarHouse Casino has a fleet of round-the-clock security personnel, in addition to an onsite Pennsylvania State Police barracks. With 500 surveillance cameras recording 24/7, the entire incident was captured on film, and footage has been turned over to Philadelphia Police.
SugarHouse will continue cooperating fully with authorities as the investigation continues.
Notice the emphasis on the fact that the women had come from "off-site" (where else would they come from?) and that this happened "before they had ever entered the casino."
These details matter . . . why? The women, after all, were assaulted on their way into the casino, and on its property, right? CP put it to Gross plainly: does the casino accept responsibility for happened or not? But as to that question, we haven't heard back.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Pennsylvania State Police announced yesterday that a crackdown on trucks hauling wastewater from Marcellus Shale drilling operations yielded the following results: of 1,175 trucks inspected, 1,057 were found to be violating state laws.
To put it another way: 89.96% of all Marcellus Shale wastewater trucks were breaking the law and, until yesterday, getting away with it.
It gets better:
207 trucks had violations severe enough that they were removed from service.
52 drivers were removed from service.
The most common problems, says yesterday's press release, were "unsecured loads and inoperable vehicle lights and lamps"â not exactly comforting, considering that these trucks "loads" are highly-toxic (and possibly radioactive) water.
So we're guessing you've seen the whole Stu Bykofsky/fake-Keith Olbermann spat that got picked up by CP contributor Jonathan Valania's Phawker and then by everybody else.
We caught up with Bykofsky via e-mail to ask the man how the whole duping went down and if the e-mails from him in this hoax were his or were also faked.
According to Byko, "I did send the emails to firstname.lastname@example.org" and "I did receive what you have seen as a reply."
"My responses are mine," he adds. "Olbermann's, it seems, came from Tucker Carlson."
As has been previously uncovered, the domain keitholbermann.com is owned by a right-wing site called Daily Caller which is owned by Tucker Carlson.
Sort of lost in all this furor, which erupted because Bykofsky was writing a column about Olbermann's journalistic ethics, is the potentially unethical behavior of the hoaxer and whoever leaked the fake convo.
"I sent questions to him as part of my job as a journalist," says Bykofsky, adding, "So, I was hoaxed into believing it was Olbermann. It was all a non-issue â until the exchange got out. I had shared it with a few friends, because it was funny. How it got out, I can't say."
We've got an e-mail out to Valania to see if he can divulge that info.
By the bye, Bykofsky still thinks Olbermann owes him, and the public, an answer to the questions he posed in his first e-mail, which were:
Do you think you were treated fairly by MSNBC?
Do you consider yourself a journalist or a commentator?
If a journalist, is it proper for you to give your opinions?
If a commentator, should you be anchoring a newscast, such as Tuesday night's election program?
Do you regret chastising others (Rupert Murdoch) for making political donations?
Is there a difference between what he did and what you did?
"If it turns out he never replied" to the questions asked by him and others, says Stu, "People should be asking him why not."
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