Callum Borchers' Blog

Sociologically significant sports (and class assignments)

Archive for November 2010

Right to know vs. right to privacy

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This is off my beat, but I believe it’s worth sharing.

Last Wednesday, I wrote an article for Wellesley Patch, called “Wellesley Police Make First Arrests of Thanksgiving Week.” The story included brief accounts of two drunk driving arrests that occurred in the days leading up to the holiday. In keeping with the publication’s standard practice, we posted the offenders’ names and addresses.

On Monday, I received the following e-mail:

Hi Callum, I appreciate your attempting to alert the community, and as a mother of 4 children, I greatly appreciate what you are doing, but there is another side to this story that you should have been aware before you wrote this. A drunk driving offense could happen to anybody, you included. Pam Stanley is a loving, single mother who was on her way home from a holiday party. True her eyes were blood shot, but a big reason is because she had been crying. I understand that you want to report a story, but it is NOT necessary, and frankly I find irresponsible reporting, to print her full name and address. Because of your article, she is now in a position that she could lose her job. Then she would not be able to find another job once anyone hears the circumstances in which she were fired. She is the sole provider of her family. Her husband barely contributes in any way. He is living in VT and barely sees the children. Do you want this on your shoulders? I see that you are young. Since you had no problem including her name, seems to me that you haven’t yet made any mistakes in your life that you regret. Callum, one day you will and, for your sake, I hope no one throws it in your face the way you did to Ms. Stanley. This is Ms. Stanley’s first and last time offense. As wrong as what she did, she should be entitled to make a mistake and to her privacy as a first time offender. I am asking that you please delete her name and address from your article immediately – and certainly before her employment sees this. Thank you. Lauri

Today, I responded:

Hi Lauri,

Thank you for taking time to write to me. Ms. Stanley is lucky to have a friend like you who stands up for her.

I certainly can appreciate your perspective. An arrest report documents a single event, often a person’s most shameful event. It does not include all the good things a person has done in the past, nor does it account for other challenges in a person’s life. I understand why that seems unfair. Sometimes, a good person makes a bad decision.

However, the standard practice of Wellesley Patch and many other publications is to publish the names and addresses of all arrested individuals. Such information is publicly available at any police station in this country. Understand that while Ms. Stanley might desire privacy, she is not entitled to it. In fact, it is the public that is entitled to know the identities of people arrested in their communities.

I hope you are right that this was the first and last time Ms. Stanley will be arrested for OUI and that people who know her will — like you — not forget all of her admirable qualities because of an isolated incident.

Have a safe and happy holiday season,

Callum

Just an interesting reminder that we cover real people with real consequences. It’s easy to get frustrated when people don’t understand or appreciate what we do, but I think it’s important for us to understand their perspectives, too.

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Written by callumborchers

November 30, 2010 at 3:43 pm

GlobalPost sets high standard for special projects

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I’m sure Charles Sennott and his GlobalPost staff are most proud of their high-quality content, but it is their site’s attractive appearance that draws me in first. The homepage is full, but not overpacked, and the layouts of some special projects, like “Life, death and the Taliban,” are magazine-like — downright artistic, in my opinion.

A more thorough appraisal of the site must include praise for GlobalPost’s impressive combination of depth and breadth. However, I admit that my own interest in international news is limited to the most important events and trends. I get most of my international news on the radio, by listening to NPR and BBC, and confess that some of the reports (cricket match fixing in Pakistan, let’s say) just don’t register on my care meter.

Perhaps that’s a personal flaw — shouldn’t I appreciate such enterprising journalistic efforts? — but it’s the truth. I feel, like many people, that I have only so much time to absorb news, so I want to make the most of it.

Compelling stories, like those in the Taliban series, are exactly the sort of international journalism I believe to be most valuable. To improve, GlobalPost should continue — or even expand — such projects.

And, based on Sennott’s presentation on Monday, that’s exactly what he plans to do. If GlobalPost’s future endeavors match the standard set by its Taliban series, I believe the site’s resources will be well spent. Most of my criticisms of the series are nitpicky production notes about the videos. Sennott’s narration is solid, but I would love more sound bytes, even if through a translator. In “Talking to the Taliban,” we see lots of footage of Sennott interviewing Taliban officials but hear very little of those interviews. And in “GroundTRUTH in Pakistan,” we hear a veteran reporter’s voice — though the audio is too low — but do not actually see him speaking.

Also, the sort-of video mosaic on the main Taliban page is slightly confusing. For one thing, the introduction — ostensibly the first video a viewer should watch — does not appear first. “One family, one street” is featured most prominently (on the left and four times the size of the other four videos) and is clearly GlobalPost’s favorite of the bunch. Visually, I think it would have been better to place it in the middle. I also think the player interface is a bit odd: I’m not sure every viewer will know intuitively to hover over a video still to watch a short preview, then to click to watch an entire video.

Nevertheless, the storytelling — in the videos and the written articles — is superb.

As for the Study Abroad section, I found significant variations in quality. Some students wrote strong pieces to accompany their photos and took the time to write detailed captions. Others wrote only a couple of paragraphs and used a single, vague caption for every photo. In 2007, I spent a semester in London and can think of several story ideas that would have been excellent candidates for this series.

One might include profiles of the immigrants who lived in my neighborhood. I lived on Edgeware Road, where English actually was the minority language. Most of my neighbors and local business owners spoke Arabic. I think their stories could be told best in video because readers connect most strongly to profile subjects they can see and hear for themselves.

I also would’ve loved to compile a slideshow of photos from London’s parks, which are simply stunning in the spring, when I was there.

And, as an American sports fan, I think it would have been fun to write a story about the NFL enthusiasts who pack pubs at odd hours to watch the games. Monday Night Football at 2 a.m., anyone?

Written by callumborchers

November 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Tighe-ing up a legendary career

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November 26, 2010 at 11:16 am

NewsTrust rating system adaptable but imperfect

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My initial impression of NewsTrust was that it is very serious. As its name implies, the organization’s purpose is to gauge how strongly readers can trust the news they read — a pretty serious mission. So, given the freedom to post stories of any kind for a class assignment, I was curious to find out how NewsTrust would handle a topic slightly lighter than the Haitian cholera outbreak.

I led off with Dan Shaughnessy’s column about yesterday’s Patriots-Colts classic, and was impressed by the way NewsTrust adapts its rating system to this genre. Instead of asking, “Is this story factual?” and “Is it fair?” as NewsTrust does about hard news stories, the site asked, “Is this story informative?” and “Is it insightful?”

In this way, NewsTrust passed a big test in my estimation. The concept of a point-based rating system is a good one because it allows for easy comparisons between articles. However, such a system only works if it fits every story, and NewsTrust has made an effort to tailor its system in that manner.

The system is imperfect, however. While I like the tiered rating forms — short, quick, full, advanced — I’m not a fan of the review forms, also available in short, quick, full and advanced. It’s great that NewsTrust caters to people with two seconds or two minutes to spare, but eight different ways to evaluate a story is just too many.

Also, it seems odd to differentiate between a review and a rating. In NewsTrust world, the difference is that review questions are black-and-white — a story is either fair or unfair, factual or not factual — and rating questions are more nuanced, scored on a five-point scale. However, reviews are converted to the five-point rating scale to help measure a story’s overall score. For example, a reader using the short review who called a story factual and fair and said he would recommend the piece produces a score of 4.0. So, on the short review form, there is no way to award a story a perfect 5.0.

Since I used the full rating form to evaluate two other stories, Boston Globe pieces about holiday shopping projections and the UMass presidential search process, I managed to produce more thorough scores. But, in some cases, I think NewsTrust’s rating system sacrifices accuracy for convenience.

Written by callumborchers

November 22, 2010 at 9:04 am

Vick’s success ignites war between sentiment, sensibility

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Michael Vick has resurrected his career after spending 21 months in prison for running a dogfighting ring.

As I drove home from class last night with Kevin Harlan chronicling Michael Vick’s unprecedented football exploits on my radio, my sentiments were at war with my sensibilities. The Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback staged one of the greatest gridiron shows of all time: 333 passing yards, 80 rushing yards and 6 total touchdowns in a 59-28 win over the Washington Redskins. No QB had ever before passed for 300 yards and four scores, and run for 50 yards and two TDs in a single game.

The NBA is not the only place where amazing happens.

Nor, of course, is it the only place where bad behavior happens, and Vick’s transgressions are among the most despicable in recent sports memory. Then the NFL’s highest-paid player, Vick pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal dogfighting charges and spent 21 months in prison. The details of his animal cruelty remain gruesome memories for me and, I’m certain, many others.

When the longtime Atlanta Falcons quarterback made his comeback with the Eagles last season, there was some debate about whether he deserved a second chance or eternal condemnation. But, to be honest, I didn’t contemplate my own feelings toward Vick because he was virtually invisible, standing on the Philly sideline as Donovan McNabb’s backup.

His position seemed the perfect compromise: back in the league, but well below his former status.

Now, Vick is playing as well as anyone in the NFL and has led his team to a first-place tie atop the NFC East. He might be better than ever. And now, I have to decide whether to cheer or boo, whether to hope he earns a new contract this offseason or winds up balling for the Omaha Nighthawks.

Ignoring Vick is no longer an option.

At the moment, I’m in the cheer-for-Michael-Vick-in-the-game-of-life camp. I hope he’s genuine when he says he’s a changed man, though I’m skeptical when I read about shootings at birthday parties.

But I’m still not sure whether I can cheer for Michael Vick in the game of football. After last night, I really need to make up my mind.

Written by callumborchers

November 16, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Newton story brings out best and worst in comments

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No ongoing sports story has generated more comment fodder than that about alleged recruiting violations surrounding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. A Mississippi State booster and other sources claim the junior’s father Cecil Newton solicited money from that school during his recruitment last year. Cam Newton spent two years at Florida as Tim Tebow’s backup then transferred to a junior college in Texas. Auburn and Mississippi State were Newton’s top two choices when he planned to return to FBS, and his father allegedly demanded $100,000-$180,000 from the latter. There have been no substantiated reports about a payment by Auburn, which Newton has lead to an 11-0 record and No. 2 BCS ranking.

This story involves a black quarterback, lots of money, and SEC football — three components sure to elicit the best and worst in online commenting.

ESPN.com, of course, boasts some of the fullest comment fields on the Web. A Newton article it posted last Thursday drew 3,857 published responses, for instance. To my pleasant surprise (As a rule, I completely ignore comments, so I’m unfamiliar with the environment of even my favorite sports site), the content — if not the grammar, syntax or punctuation — of the dialogue was pretty reasonable. Readers engaged one another in legitimate debates about Newton’s knowledge of his father’s alleged solicitation of money, Newton’s Heisman Trophy candidacy, whether Auburn might have to vacate wins, and other related topics.

Some readers wrote several hundred words at a time and included not only their own opinions but also material from other publications. Many of the posts were critical — of Newton, his father, the schools, the NCAA, and even ESPN — but none I read were hateful. Readers are required to register with ESPN.com before they can comment, and they can report message board abuse by their peers to the Web site. The system seems to work, fostering legitimate conversations among readers.

By contrast, the SEC Rant message board at TigerDroppings.com fosters brain disease. The Tigers referenced in the site’s name are the LSU, not Auburn, breed, so naturally most of the comments weren’t terribly supportive of Newton. One post simply read, “Death Penalty!” and one commenter goes by the screen name CoonassBulldog.

As best I can tell, anything goes on this site.

As mentioned, I am not a fan of comments, in general. I believe they hold very little value and are often nothing but anonymous, venemous nonsense. However, I recognize many people do read and participate in message boards, and the sense of Web site  ownership engendered by interactivity constitutes just enough value to make comments indispensible. I think a news organization that returns to one-way communication by eliminating comments altogether risks alienating readers.

Therefore, the best way to maintain two-way communication but prevent digital depravity is to require commenters to use their real names. An outlet with tremendous resources, like ESPN.com, might pull off anonymity, but I doubt the ability of most others to do the same.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1176386/2/index.htm

http://www.tigerdroppings.com/rant/MessageTopic.asp?p=22675107&Pg=1

Written by callumborchers

November 15, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Emilio’s Pizza a tasty Tremont Street institution

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Walking into Emilio’s Pizza was like stepping into a fond memory. The Tremont Street parlor bears many characteristics of my favorite childhood pizza place in Nonantum: the wood paneling, classic checkerboard floor, and delectable Greek-style pie.

Owner Emilio Ventouris takes an order behind the counter he has manned since 1979.

Founder Emilio Ventouris emigrated from Greece — his native flag hangs alongside the Stars and Stripes next to a flatscreen TV, above the refrigerator — and opened this eponymous institution in 1979. He and his family also own and operate Sophia Italian Steakhouse in West Roxbury and Alfredo’s Restaurant and Lounge in Quincy.

Those establishments are more upscale than the South End pizza joint, but Emilio’s is the original, and on a weekday afternoon, Ventouris himself is still the man taking orders behind the counter.

“Are the mushrooms canned or fresh?” a customer asks, her eyes paused on Emilio’s popular steak, mushroom and cheese sub, after scanning the menu board.

“Fresh!” Ventouris exclaims, barely letting her complete the question. Canned food clearly has no place in his kitchen.

High-quality ingredients and simple flavors make eating a slice of Emilio’s pizza a familiar flavor experience. These pies are not exotic, just well executed. The crust is medium, somewhere between Pizzeria Uno and Papa Gino’s, and the sauce is slightly sweet. And, in a key display of restraint, Emilio’s avoids the overly liberal dousing of oil that sometimes foils even the best Greek pizzas.

With seating for 40, Emilio’s is big enough to accommodate a small crowd, but delivery and takeout form the foundation of its business. Emilio’s serves as many as 300 large pies on a busy weekend night, according to Ventouris.

Address: 536 Tremont Street, Boston

Phone: (617) 423-4083

Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily

Plain slice: $2

Pepperoni slice: $2.50

Student discount: N/A

Signature dish(es): hot steak, mushroom and cheese sub; chicken parmesan dinner; ziti, chicken and broccoli alfredo

Vegan option(s): salads

Written by callumborchers

November 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm