Now On The Record: My Rules About Going ‘Off The Record’

Courtesy WTIU

Courtesy WTIU

I think more journalists should be as clear as possible about the ethical codes governing their reporting process; too often, too much is left unsaid.

In particular, I think many people who act as sources for journalists may have false notions about the difference between doing an interview “on the record” and having an “off-the-record” conversation — or, more insidiously, the difference between a “background” and “off-the-record” conversation.

With that in mind, I’ve appended a section to my Ethics page about how I view “going off the record” in which I outline a few rules for sources to know: Continue reading


Shots Fired

First, watch this video. We don’t know who shot it or why this person put it on the web.

Then, consider when this shooting happened — and where — in Columbia, Mo. From The Tribune:

Police have released very few details about a shooting at Tenth Street and Broadway that injured three people early Saturday morning in downtown Columbia… A news release said the incident happened at 12:26 a.m.

(That’s two blocks from the most iconic college bar in my college town at the exact time it was full of college students — to say nothing of the quarter-mile walk from the front doors of my school. It’s maybe half a mile from the place I called home.) Continue reading

Church Shopping

St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Bloomington, Minn. This is where my parents were married and where my grandparents still attend — it's the place I've felt most comfortable attending services in the past decade, in which I can't say I've had a true church home.

St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Bloomington, Minn. This is where my parents were married and where my grandparents still attend — it’s the place I’ve felt most comfortable attending services in the past decade, during which I can’t say I’ve had a true church home.

I’ve been a Submarine Christian — the kind, we joke, that surfaces only on Easter and Christmas — for the better part of a decade now, a longer period of time than I can now fairly explain away by recalling my parents’ discontent with my childhood church home or busy weekends in college.

So let’s get heavy now, shall we? As I resolve here and now to stop thinking about church-shopping and to start actually church-shopping, I’ve been thinking a lot about the profound disconnect between how comfortable I am identifying as a Christian and the cumulative discomfort I’ve felt every time I’ve attended a church service in roughly the past six years.

It’s very possible this is all my fault — that, aside from being lazy about rolling out of bed on Sunday mornings, I’m just a picky customer. I don’t want rock bands, coffee shops or T-shirted pastors sitting cross-legged on a stage. I’m too progressive for most traditional Protestant denominations (which, I grant, works greatly to narrow my search) but I’m not progressive enough to reject some very traditional notions about church liturgy and even some traditional notions about church doctrine.

Look, I’m going to be fine. I know part of finding a church home is for me to put in a reasonable amount of effort. But why is it that I believe every word of The Apostle’s Creed, yet have also come to shorthand my frustration with my church search by simply telling people who ask, “I love Jesus, but I don’t always love Jesus’ people”? Continue reading

‘How Does A Team Win…’

(Minnesota Historical Society)

(Minnesota Historical Society)

They told this joke when, in 1961, a team owner Calvin Griffith had wanted to call the “Twin Cities Twins” (striking that club name ranks among MLB’s best decisions ever) arrived for the first time at the old Met.

“How,” the joke went, “does a team win with a Lemon leftfielder, a Green centerfielder, and a Battey catcher?”

They didn’t know then, and we sure as hell don’t know now. But I’d rather live with this team this year than without it.

In 1962, by the way, that team was in the pennant race. ‘Shout a hip hooray’?

What Would Happen If Fifty, Equally-Populated States Determined The 2012 Election

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Artist Neil Freeman redrew the boundaries of the 50 United States to ensure each had an equal population. The method? An algorithm grouping counties into new states with roughly 6.1 million citizens each. The purpose? Reforming the Electoral College.

Freeman insists his Modest Proposal is an art project and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Nonetheless, the redrawn map caught the eye of NPR’s Robert Krulwich. And it caught mine too — why wouldn’t it? I love maps.

I don’t want to kick him too hard for this, because an art project’s an art project, but Freeman nonetheless punted on an important question: Is this map a viable solution to reform the system we use to elect the president? So I overlaid my best approximation of the new state lines over county-level data from the 2012 presidential election.

But, it turns out, Freeman’s map would’ve done in 2012 what the current Electoral College has done only three times in the 56 elections American voters have used it to select their next president: override the popular vote.

Barack Obama still wins the popular vote, of course, by 3 million votes. But based on my closest approximation of the map, Romney wins 26 of Freeman’s 50 “new” states — and thus, the “new” Electoral College. Continue reading

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Who Died And Made Deadspin King?

Tommy Craggs, via.

Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs, via.

After hitting paydirt with their Manti Te’o scoop, the response of Deadspin’s staff to legitimate questions about their methods has all the charm of an obnoxious touchdown dance that’s gone on too long.

Exhibit A: Why didn’t Deadspin’s staff put real effort into contacting Manti Te’o or Notre Dame before posting the piece? The lengthiest answer to this I’ve seen the site’s editor Tommy Craggs give in text is this one, from Indiana University’s National Sports Journalism Program:

We did what we could to get those “critical components,” but we weren’t betting our shirts that Notre Dame or anyone from the Te’o camp would to talk to us. It’s fun to imagine some frictionless plane of journalism where potentially hostile sources return phone calls and grudgingly fill in all the blanks out of some sense of duty to the truth, but that’s now what we were working with. If we’d sat on the story for a day, maybe even hours, I have no doubt we would’ve been scooped by the story’s own principals, to say nothing of ESPN.  Continue reading

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Vikings Stadium: Make It Functional, But Don’t Make It Ugly

An early rendering of the proposed Vikings stadium from the same firm that designed, among other stadiums, the Indianapolis Colts' stadium.

An early rendering of the proposed Vikings stadium from the same firm that designed, among other stadiums, the Indianapolis Colts’ stadium. (Via MPR)

There are few cities in the U.S. where pro sports stadium politics has been more dysfunctional than in the Twin Cities. (See: the mess that built the Target Center; Norm Green, the Met Center and the loss of the Minnesota North Stars; Don Beaver’s temptation of the Twins at a time when it seemed like that team would never escape the Metrodome.)

And just when you thought the ink on the deal to bring a brand-new, hard-won $900 million Vikings stadium deal was dry — oh, no:

With the architect’s first schematic design only weeks away, Vikings officials and members of the public authority supervising the project are at odds over how to squeeze a baseball field into a stadium designed primarily for football.

The impasse not only threatens to delay a nearly-billion-dollar project already facing tight deadlines, but also appears to be an early test of just how accommodating the Vikings will prove in the development of a multipurpose “people’s stadium.”

“The problem is you can’t put a diamond in a rectangle,” said University of Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson. His team hopes to take advantage of playing in the new downtown Minneapolis facility that will replace the Metrodome, which for decades has served as a warm and dry venue for hundreds of college and high school teams seeking an early start to the baseball season and refuge from nature’s worst. “Something’s got to give,” Anderson said. Continue reading

My Post On NPR Politics: What The Debate Over Pence’s Budget Says About The GOP & Taxes

Look, ma! I’m on It’s All Politics on

When Republican Mike Pence replaced Mitch Daniels as governor of Indiana this month, he wasted no time setting out to establish his conservative fiscal bona fides.

Pence, who made a name for himself in the U.S. House as a social conservative, rolled out a proposal to cut Indiana’s state income tax rate by 10 percent over the next two years. He joined Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Nebraska’s Dave Heineman and other Republican governors in pushing for state income tax cuts.

In theory, it should be an easy sell for Pence. Indiana has a projected budget surplus of $518 million next year. And like 24 other Republican governors this year, Pence enjoys Republican majorities in the Legislature to work with. In fact, Pence enjoys Republican supermajorities in each chamber.

But it may be harder than Pence expected. Prominent Republican lawmakers in Indiana are lukewarm at best on the new governor’s tax cut plan, preferring to replenish funding to programs the recession forced them to cut and shore up Indiana’s budget for the long haul.

“I was here in 1998 when we had a $2 billion surplus,” Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma told reporters last week. “I was here and became speaker in 2004 when we were $1.4 billion in the red. This isn’t a two-year budget cycle concern. This is a long-term sustainability issue for the state of Indiana.”

This post is a national version of a post I did for StateImpact Indiana, breaking down where Bosma & Pence stand on the tax cut question. Big ups to NPR’s Chris Swope in editing and feeding this up the ladder.

Manti Te’o, The Sports Media Complex & How Even Deadspin Screwed This One Up

So… Deadspin. Manti Te’o. His dead girlfriend doesn’t exist, huh?:

The photographs identified as [Te’o’s supposed girlfriend Lennay] Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.

Te’o’s a “victim,” Notre Dame’s athletic director Jack Swarbrick swears — despite Deadspin speculation to the contrary — telling the story of ‘posthumous’ phone calls, subsequent independent investigations and a Heisman finalist’s deep, deep embarrassment. Maybe the story’s true, even with all of the things that don’t add up — like, I don’t know, motive… Te’o’s account of his first face-to-face meeting with Kekua… the Arizona Cardinal who says he met Kekua

But who cares. The real headline from tonight is that Deadspin — by cobbling together some random tweets and all of four-ish (?) quoted-but-anonymous sources — just made a bunch of respected journalism outlets, from The New York Times, to Sports Illustrated, ESPN and CBS News (to say nothing of The South Bend Tribune) look capitally stupid.

Let’s spare Te’o the tough questions and ask these outlets why they screwed up so royally. And Deadspin isn’t exempt just because they broke the story.
Continue reading

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What’s Wrong With Our Legal System?

Image via Wikispaces

Image via Wikispaces

One of the most interesting strains to emerge in the coverage of Aaron Swartz’s suicide is a critique of the prosecutor who leveled legal charges against the digital activist — and, by extension, a critique of the adversarial judicial system as a whole. Tim Wu in The New Yorker writes:

The prosecutors forgot that, as public officials, their job isn’t to try and win at all costs but to use the awesome power of criminal law to protect the public from actual harm. Ortiz has not commented on the case. But, had she been in charge when Jobs and Wozniak were breaking the laws, we might never have had Apple computers. It was at this moment that our legal system and our society utterly failed. Continue reading