Category Archives: Uncategorized

On the nightstand: Saturday, 11/29/14

Recent good reads in criminal-justice journalism, with an emphasis on longform narrative stories and original reporting about crime, crime victims, and reforms in sentencing and prisons:

  • Robert Draper’s cover story covers familiar ground but in a new and powerful way. In his examination of rape in the military and a victim-blaming culture resistant to change, Draper tells the stories of select victims and the impact of their stories on pending legislation. But his story’s chief distinction is his account of one lawyer who fought for the victims, Air Force Col. Don Christensen. (The New York Times Magazine)
  • Dan Barry’s latest “This Land” story may be slightly off-topic from my focus on crime, but it’s entirely in sync with the overarching point of the work I highlight here: pushing back against the state, and social mores, that strip the least among us of dignity. Barry visits a graveyard not far from my home to tell the story of the work done by activists offended by New York’s policy of burying psychiatric homes’ residents anonymously. (The New York Times)
  • Michael Blanding turns an old map and a Yale library into grist for a tense crime drama, in this excerpt from The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps (Narratively)
  • Reid Wilson tells a story well known to criminal-justice reformers but counterintuitive to the general public: How tough-on-crime Texas shifted toward programs instead of more prisons. (Washington Post)
  • Beth Schwartzapfel looks at the new Pennsylvania law that would muzzle people convicted of crimes if their victims convince a judge that their free speech revictimizes the victim. (Marshall Project)

This periodic digest compiles and expands on posts I’ve made on Twitter, Facebook, and my other social media feeds. See the buttons on the left rail to follow me on one of those sites, or follow this blog via RSS or email.

On the nightstand: Tuesday, 7/1/14

Today’s good reads and reporting coups in criminal-justice journalism, with an emphasis on stories central to my interests in victims and reforms in sentencing and prisons:

  • Josh Voorhees examines how national crime statistics ignore much of the crime that occurs in our vast prison system. It’s as if we walled off our fourth-largest city of 2.2 million and decided whatever happens to its residents won’t count as we brag about lowering crime everywhere else. (Slate)
  • Ruben Castaneda, in an excerpt from his book S Street Rising: Crack, Murder, and Redemption in D.C., tells the story of covering the Marion Barry crack-cocaine scandal as a police reporter for the Washington Post while high on crack cocaine himself. (Politico)
  • Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Ben Protess tell the fascinating backstory to yesterday’s guilty plea and $8.9 billion penalty against the global bank BNS Parisbas. It all started with a New Jersey father grieving the death of his daughter in a bus bombing in Gaza. His pursuit for justice led prosecutors to evidence of Iran’s financial dealings in the U.S. (New York Times)
  • Here’s a story from last Saturday that I meant to include on a previous nightstand reading list: Frances Robles catalogs the shocking number and types of judicial misconduct cases in Broward County, Florida, and explores what in the culture of the place makes judges think they can get away with anything. Then there’s this little fact thrown in midway through the story: the county has seen more convicted criminals exonerated than any other in the state. Go figure! (New York Times)
  • Joe Pompeo tells the story of The Marshall Project’s conception as a producer of criminal-justice journalism, and updates us all on its launch, now said to be in the fall. The story is a sidebar to a longer story looking at nonprofit journalism sites. (Disclosure: I’ve been asked to move my blog to The Marshall Project when the site is up and running.) (Capital New York)
  • On the blog, I wrote about a 29-part series in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald about a 49-year-old murder case. The story so far is much better than those numbers imply — a good, old-fashioned crime serial with racial and legal injustice at its core.

This almost-daily digest compiles and expands on posts I’ve made on Twitter, Facebook, and my other social media feeds. See the buttons on the left rail to follow me on one of those sites, or follow this blog via RSS or email.

On the nightstand: Thursday, 5/29/14

Today’s good reads and reporting coups in criminal-justice journalism:

  • Columnist/reporter Kevin Cullen shows why deep reporting and a writing style that punches hard proves a potent combination in explaining exactly what just happened in a case against Whitey Bulger’s FBI handler John Connolly. (Boston Globe)
  • The great Skip Hollandsworth used his access to the Catt family of bank robbers — a dad and two teenaged kids — to great effect in this ready-for-screenplay narrative about a bank-robbing dad who used his children as accomplices. (Texas Monthly)
  • Mike Pesca interviews Ari Schulman of the New Atlantis on the harmful role the media play in airing mass shooters’ grievances in detail: a brief review of the evidence that obsessive coverage inspires copycats (not to mention how it distorts perception of crime in general). The conversation starts at 3:10. (Slate’s The Gist podcast)
  • Amanda Paulson explores one of the central questions in the mass murder by Elliot Paulson: to what extent the misogynist “manosphere” deserves blame for the crime. Even an activist monitoring hate groups warns us not to jump to conclusions about causation. (Christian Science Monitor)
  • A libel judgment in favor of journalists usually is cause for celebration, in my world. But not this one. WHBQ (“My Fox Memphis”) judged a pair of bad-check suspects guilty, calling them “thieves,” and then failed to retract the story when it turned out they were charged by police in error. An overly indulgent judge found the station was protected by the fair-reporting privilege (which says we’re safe if all we’re doing is reporting allegations made in court or by law enforcement).  That’s a questionable ruling, but there’s no question (if the court story’s facts are accurate) that this constitutes grossly irresponsible police reporting. (Courthouse News)
  • On the blog, I voiced my continued support for a crowdfunded series on prisons at Beacon Reader and commented on a remarkable moment in crime-victim news coverage. I also wrote about my first reporting road trip for my Soros Justice Media Fellowship, starting tomorrow.

This almost-daily digest compiles and expands on posts I’ve made on Twitter, Facebook, and my other social media feeds. See the buttons on the left rail to follow me on one of those sites, or follow this blog via RSS or email.

New site for a new year

My new year’s resolution is to reboot my journalism career — the third or fourth chapter, depending on how you count. So I thought it only fitting that I start a new site, and this blog, to get things started right.

Nearly eight years ago, I left New York, and my job managing the day-to-day of a monthly magazine, to teach journalism and to return to my roots in reporting and writing about the law. Rather soon after making this move, I helped land a Carnegie Journalism Initiative grant. The resulting programs sucked up most of my spare time until summer 2009. Since then I’ve done some magazine pieces of the sort I want to focus on, but not nearly as many as I’d hoped. So when spring semester classes in May 2012 end, I will double down on the bet I made with myself when I left The American Lawyer in 2004 — a gamble that I still have the skills and passion to tell hard-to-get stories about how the law really works, about why crime happens, and about how it affects us all.

I like teaching, but I love reporting and writing. So after all these years of taking career detours and worrying about silly things like “income” and “health insurance” and “stability” and “kids’ tuition,” I’ll be back where I started in journalism — with, I hope, a little more experience and insight.

As I explain a bit more on the About page, I’ll use this blog to post updates on my work in progress, to spotlight issues I’m following and hoping to write about, and to point to examples of the long-form narrative writing on the law and crime that I admire.