January 2013 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

January 2013

#Sidney's Picks: IRE Prizes & Paid Sick Days

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]


Junior Seau Suffered from Concussion-Linked Brain Disease


Former NFL linebacker Junior Seau was suffering from the concussion-linked brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he took his own life last spring, according to the National Institutes of Health:

In July the N.I.H. began its study and invited several nationally recognized neuropathologists to consult in the analysis of Seau’s brain tissue. They found “abnormal, small clusters called neurofibrillary tangles of a protein known as tau within multiple regions of Mr. Seau’s brain,” according to the statement. Tau has been found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other progressive neurological disorders.

“I think it’s important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from C.T.E.,” Seau’s ex-wife, Gina, said in an interview with ABC News and ESPN. “It’s important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don’t want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes.”

These findings are an important step towards scientific consensus on the reality of CTE in professional sports. Football is notorious for medical and legal concussion controversies, but CTE isn’t just a problem for football.

John Branch of the New York Times won a January 2012 Sidney Award for his profile of Derek Boogaard, an NHL player with a history of concussions who showed many of the symptoms of CTE during the two years before he died of an accidental drug overdose.

[Photo credit: patriotworld, Creative Commons.]

Bloomberg News Wins January Sidney for a Tale of Two McDonald's

Leslie Patton of Bloomberg News has won the January Sidney Award for her eye-opening joint profile of a McDonald’s fry cook and the CEO of the company. The fry cook, Tyree Johnson, would have to work over 1 million hours a year in order to earn as much as the former CEO of McDonald’s, but in fact, he’s lucky to get 40 hours a week because neither of the two McDonald’s restaurants he works for will give him full-time hours.

Patton shows how the fast food industry is typical of our increasingly unequal economy that generates historic profits for executives and investors while leaving ordinary workers behind.

"Wilderness of Error" or Wilderness of Errol?

In 1979, Jeffrey MacDonald, a Green beret doctor, was convicted of the murders of his pregnant wife and two daughters. MacDonald has steadfastly maintained his innocence, claiming that a band of intruders wandered into his house and slaughtered his family. In his new book, Wilderness of Error, filmmaker Errol Morris argues that MacDonald was wronged by the criminal justice system and might even be an innocent man. In his a new e-book, Joe McGinnis, author of the bestselling book on the MacDonald case, Fatal Vision, recaps MacDonald’s post-conviction history and argues that justice was served in 1979 and MacDonald has been grasping at straws ever since. I review both books for the Columbia Journalism Review. Side-by-side, these two volumes amount to a journalistic sumo match where two heavyweights square off for control of the MacDonald narrative.

[Photo credit: Public.resource.org, Creative Commons.]

Chinese Journo Strike!

They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. Reporters at Southern Weekend, a relatively liberal paper in Guangzhou, are on strike against excessive censorship by their provincial government.

On Monday, hundreds of people turned out to support the strikers at the newspaper’s headquarters and celebrities are championing the journalists’ cause online:

“Hoping for a spring in this harsh winter,” Li Bingbing, an actress, said to her 19 million followers on a microblog account. Yao Chen, an actress with more than 31 million followers, cited a quotation by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel laureate and dissident: “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.”

Many of the people who showed up Monday at the newspaper offices in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, carried banners with slogans and white and yellow chrysanthemums, a flower that symbolizes mourning. One banner read: “Get rid of censorship. The Chinese people want freedom.” Police officers watched the protesters without immediately taking any harsh actions. [NYT]

Some political analysts see the strike as a test of the Chinese central government’s commitment to press freedom. If the new party cheif, Xi Jinping, sides with the reporters, that could be a sign that he’s prepared to loosen state controls on media.

[Photo credit: White and yellow chrysanthemums, like the blossoms carried by the strike supporters to symbolize mourning for press freedom. NTLam, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Top Labor Stories of 2012

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Less Water and More Questions for the Woodlands

The latest from September Sidney-winner Erich Schwartzel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the worsening plight of the Woodlands, a small Pennsylvania community forced to live without running water after its wells were mysteriously befouled:

CONNOQUENESSING TOWNSHIP – With each passing week, more and more residents in the Woodlands start to live in a waterless world.

The backwoods neighborhood of 200 homes and trailers about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh has exhausted nearly every option for official help since private well water began running orange or drying up altogether in early 2011.

In just the past four months, the number of homes collecting gallon jugs of donated fresh water has more than doubled to 25. The community set up a water bank at a local church to accommodate the growing demand – the latest step in a two-year saga that started when neighbors called each other with the same complaint: The well water was getting very bad, very fast.

Many suspect that nearby fracking operations have tainted the well water, but so far, government tests have found little difference between pre- and post-fracking levels of contaminants. However, a professor from Duquesne University professor is digging deeper and he says his unpublished results show a host of anomalies in the Woodlands’ tap water:

“We’re finding a multitude of problems, but the common theme is essentially the water table for the community has changed,” [Prof. John Stolz] said.

“Something is pushing the water around.”

Each week, more residents report that their tap water has become undrinkable, and in some cases even irritating to the touch.