January 2012 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

January 2012

Pulitzer Prize: Two Sidney Winners on Romenesko's List of Contenders

Media critic Jim Romenesko’s list of Pulitzer Prize contenders is out, just ahead of next week’s application deadline.

Romenesko checked in with Spencer Soper to make sure he’d submitted his exposé of brutal working conditions of Amazon.com’s warehouse in Lehigh Valley, PA. That outstanding story won Soper the October Sidney Award.

Romenesko also asked his friends and colleagues to submit their picks for this year’s Pulitzers. The first name on the list was none other than Sidney Award Winner Sara Ganim for her agenda-setting coverage of the Jerry Sandusky rape scandal at Penn State.

[Photo credit: Chris Drumm, Creative Commons.]

The Daily Show Sends Up Foxconn's "Fear Factory" (Video)

 

New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse tweeted, “Jon Stewart is doing devastating takedown of FoxConn factory giant w/horrid conditons that produces for Apple & Microsoft.” Indeed, the Daily Show host pulls no punches.

Stewart satirizes the notion that the U.S. factories should emulate the Chinese electronics giant FoxConn, which employs 800,000 workers assembling everything from iPhones to Xboxes. FoxConn has found ingenious ways to save money. Workers live in the FoxConn compound, housed eight to a room in dormitories where roommates may not know each other’s names. They are paid 31 cents an hour, and work up to 35 hours per shift.

Workers who try to unionize will be imprioned. Stewart wonders if incarceration might be more pleasant than life on the FoxConn line.

After a spate of suicides, FoxConn installed nets to catch would-be jumpers.

“In Western medicine, we call that ‘treating the symptom,’” Stewart quips.

Jay Smooth: Ten Other Things Martin Luther King Said

In honor or the holiday, video artist Jay Smooth presents ten less-quoted passages from Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Can You Hear Us Now? Thousands of Sanyo Workers Protest at Shenzhen Speaker Plant

Over the weekend, thousands of Sanyo employees protested over wages and job security at a speaker plant in the manufacturing hub of Shenzhen:

(Reuters) - Thousands of Chinese workers protesting over compensation and job security at a Sanyo Electric Co Ltd plant clashed with police in southern Shenzhen, media said on Monday, the latest outbreak of labor unrest in China’s manufacturing hub.

About 4,000 workers protested over the weekend at the Sino-Japanese joint venture, the Chinese-language Oriental Daily reported. Sing Tao Daily and the People.com.cn website put the number at over 3,000.

The People.com.cn website said police arrested four people after clashes with police in Shenzhen, next to Hong Kong.

Sing Tao Daily quoted an employee as saying that workers feared they would not receive any compensation after Sanyo and Panasonic Corp (6752.T) integrated their businesses this month.

Thousands of workers at foreign-owned companies in China have launched labor actions over the past year.

[Photo credit: A Sanyo blimp, stateside. Inky, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: The Best of the Week's News

  • “Power lists” glorifying the rich, successful, and influential are all the rage these days. Meanwhile, The Village Voice comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable with its list of the 100 Most Powerless New Yorkers by Steven Thrasher.
  • Tobin van Ostern of Campus Progress on how right wing performance artist James O’Keefe inadvertently proved the impossibility of large-scale voter fraud with an elaborate and well-financed bid to show how easy it is.
  • New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane took the extraordinary step of asking his own readers whether the paper should get into the “truth vigilante” business, i.e., calling out falsehoods from public figures in news stories instead of relegating the debunking to a special truthiness sidebar, as the paper currently does. This kind of bold questioning inspired Juli Weiner of Vanity Fair to ask: “Should Vanity Fair be a Spelling Vigilante” and get all uptight about the correct spellings of “words,” or should the magazine just go with the orthographical flow?

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Event: Preview Screening of PBS' New Documentary "Slavery By Another Name"

The Sidney Hillman Foundation invites you to an exclusive preview screening and discussion of PBS’s new documentary, Slavery By Another Name, on Thursday, Feb 2 at 6:00pm at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism (219 W. 40th St, New York, NY).

Based on the award-winning book by Wall Street Journal reporter Douglas A. Blackmon, the film challenges the cherished assumption that slavery in the United States ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. Join Blackmon and the film’s Hillman-award winning producer/director Sam Pollard for a panel discussion moderated by Gerry Hudson, executive vice president of SEIU.

Click here to view the full-sized event flier.

Space is limited, please RSVP by January 30. Phone: 646-448-6413; email: alex@hillmanfoundation.org.

For those of you who can’t join us in person, I’ll be blogging about the screening here at Clear it With Sidney.

Foxconn Workers Threatened Mass Suicide

Electronics giant Foxconn has confirmed reports from Chinese anti-government websites that workers in the southern city of Wuhan threatened mass suicide earlier this month over a labor dispute:

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) – Foxconn Technology Group, maker of parts for Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox, said some members of its 1 million-person workforce threatened to jump from a factory building earlier this month to protest an internal transfer of employees.

About 150 workers at Foxconn’s plant in Wuhan, southern China, demonstrated on Jan. 2 in opposition to the company’s plan to move them to a new production line, the Taiwanese company said in an e-mailed statement today. Foxconn didn’t say how many threatened to leap from the three-story building.

The incident was resolved the same day, after talks between the workers, executives and government officials, Foxconn said. Microsoft said in a separate statement that it investigated the issue.

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, makes products coveted worldwide, including Apple iPhones and components for Microsoft Xboxes.

In 2010, at least 14 Foxconn workers committed suicide to protest brutal working conditions. The company reportedly increased wages and installed safety nets in response. According to some reports workers were asked to sign contracts not to commit suicide.

[Photo credit: Shenzhen High Tech Fair, by Bert van Dijk, Creative Commons.]

NFL Players Protest Indiana "Right To Work" Law

As Indianapolis prepares to host the Superbowl, the state’s Republican legislators and governor are pushing to make Indiana the twenty-third “right to work” state in the nation. On Tuesday, right-to-work legislation advanced to the full state house, despite efforts of Democratic legislators to slow passage of the bill.

Six NFL players from Indiana have spoken out against the bill:

INDIANAPOLIS — Quarterbacks Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears and Rex Grossman of the Washington Redskins are among six NFL players urging Indiana lawmakers to oppose right-to-work legislation.

Cutler, from Santa Claus, Ind., and Grossman, from Bloomington, joined New Orleans’ Courtney Roby, Pittsburgh’s Trai Essex, St. Louis’ Mark Clayton and San Diego’s Kris Dielman in sending letters to Indiana House members Monday. Days earlier, the NFL Players Association came out against the measure that would ban private contracts that require workers to pay union fees for representation.

Cutler called it a “political ploy” against workers. [AP]

Last year, Democratic lawmakers thwarted the GOP’s attempt to pass right-to-work legislation by fleeing the state. This time around, Republicans have clipped the opposition’s wings by passing anti-bolting legislation that could impose fines of $1000 per day after 3 days of unexcused absence.

[Photo credit: Indywriter, Creative Commons.]

ALEC Doesn't Want Your Kind Here

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative group profiled by our September Sidney Award Winners at the Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation, really doesn’t like unembedded journalists. Beau Hodai, a reporter for In These Times got kicked out of the hotel bar where ALEC was holding its conference, by uniformed police officers, even though he had registered as a guest:

At around 10:30 on the evening of December 1, I was sitting in the Waltz & Weiser Saloon, a high-end sports bar tucked into a cove below the sub-lobby of the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz.

I had been swapping newspaper stories with Olivia Ward of the Toronto Star on one of the saloon’s overstuffed leather couches as the bar filled with attendees of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit (SNPS).

ALEC had repeatedly refused to grant me media credentials. Nevertheless, I was a paying guest at the resort and thought I’d catch some liquor-loose-lipped lawmakers and lobbyists at the bar.

I was about to turn in for the night when I saw Phil Black, director of Kierland’s security team, talking with a group of Phoenix police officers outside the entrance to the bar. The cops–moonlighting (in uniform) for ALEC–had arrived close to an hour prior, glanced in at Ward and me, and stationed themselves just to the side of the door.

Black entered the bar and came up to me. “Would you mind coming with me, sir?”

Outside Waltz & Weiser, we were joined by the cops.

What’s this all about?” I asked.

The ALEC people don’t want you here,” said Black, “and we understand that your reservations were made under false pretenses.”

I asked Black, given the fact that I had not been accused of any crime, why I was surrounded by armed, uniformed cops. False pretenses? I had given the front desk my valid photo driver’s license and my credit card.

Black said that he and the police officers would escort me to my room and help me pack. I was told if I returned, or refused to leave, I would be arrested and charged with criminal trespassing.

Hodai’s story is a collaboration with the Center for Media and Democracy.

[Photo credit: r3v || cis, Creative Commons.]

John Branch Wins Sidney Award for "Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer"

New York Times sports reporter John Branch wins the January Sidney Award for his outstanding three-part series on the life and death of Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard, who died last spring of a drug overdose at age 28 after a two-year struggle with congitive decline, depression, and addiction. At autopsy, his brain was found to be riddled with the signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease similar to Alzheimer’s, caused by repeated blows to the head.

Branch’s series has ignited a fierce debate over the role of enforcers, professional fighters, in the National Hockey League. Officially, fighting is against the rules, but since the only consequence is a 5-minute penalty for combattants, fighting isn’t effectively banned at all. Like many enforcers, Boogaard could barely skate or pass, so taking him off the ice for 5 minutes wasn’t much of a deterrent.

In fact, fighting provides a “back door” into the NHL for big kids who are willing to take a lot of punishment, but who lack the skills to play pro hockey. As Branch reveals, these players can pay a terrible price for their shot at “The Show,” as the NHL is known.

Read my Backstory interview with Branch here.

[Matthew D. Britt, Creative Commons.]

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