INDY Week editor Lisa Sorg's blog

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Steve Schewel announces sale of Independent Weekly

Posted by on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 at 12:36 PM

The official press release is here:

For Immediate Release
Aug. 22, 2012

Contact: Steve Schewel

Steve Schewel, president of Carolina Independent Publications (CIP), announced today that the company is selling the Independent Weekly and its associated website, indyweek.com, to Richard Meeker and Mark Zusman.

Meeker and Zusman are the owners of City of Roses Newspaper Company which publishes Willamette Week, the alternative newsweekly in Portland, Oregon. They also own the Santa Fe Reporter, an alternative newsweekly in New Mexico.

The Independent published its first issue on April 15, 1983, and recently marked its 29th year of publication.

While Richard Meeker and Mark Zusman live in Portland, Meeker has an important and long-standing Triangle connection. He is the brother of former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker. Richard Meeker’s father also lives in North Carolina, so he has traveled to the state frequently over many years.

“I am thrilled that the new owners of the Independent will be Richard and Mark,” Schewel said. “This is the best possible landing place for the Indy. They do some of the best alternative journalism in the country. In 2005, one of their reporters at Willamette Week won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, a unique achievement among weekly newspapers. They know how to run a profitable newsweekly, but at the same time they share our ideals for quality journalism and community service. I can’t think of anyone better to both maintain the Independent’s legacy and operate a small alt-media company well and profitably.”

Schewel first met and became friends with Meeker and Zusman at conventions of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies over many years. Schewel and Meeker have kept in close touch over the years during Meeker’s visits to the Triangle, and they began discussing the deal several months ago over coffee at the Raleigh Times restaurant.

Schewel noted that his company, CIP, will retain ownership of one of the company’s assets, the Hopscotch Music Festival, which will take place Sept. 6-8 in Raleigh. Hopscotch is not included in the sale to Meeker and Zusman.

“I love Hopscotch,” said Schewel. “It is a huge success and has already become a signature event in Raleigh, and it has given the Independent itself an enormous boost. We will continue the close, symbiotic partnership between Hopscotch and the Independent going forward, even though we will now be under different ownerships.”

Schewel explained why he is selling the paper now, after 29 years of publication. “The paper has survived the recession and returned to prosperity and added two new successful niche publications. Our political endorsements are more coveted than ever. The staff is strong. And I’m 61 years old, enjoying my city council work, and ready for some new challenges. It’s a great time for someone new to come in with their ideas and energy.”

He continued, “Starting the Independent from scratch with a handful of colleagues three decades ago was incredibly hard, and since then it has been a difficult but glorious journey. I am so grateful for the staff here at the Independent over the years and our commitment to building a vibrant, open culture and a just community here in our beloved North Carolina home. There is nobility in this work, and I am so lucky to have been able to do it. ”

The closing date for the sale of the Independent is Oct. 1.

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    Independent Weekly to be sold

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Monday, January 30, 2012

The guise of objectivity

Posted by on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 9:41 AM

Objectivity (noun): “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.”

Math problems are objective. The Yellow Pages are objective. Journalism is not objective.

At the Indy we sometimes hear from readers that a story is not objective. You’re right, it probably isn’t, because the Indy, in its 29 years of publishing, never has been and never has claimed to be.

Now we strive to be fair, to listen and analyze the viewpoints of all sides (not “both sides,” which implies there are only two viewpoints) of an issue. We use documents and interviews to try to ensure the stories are true and factual. (Red flag alert: Truth and facts, I once heard a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist explain, are not the same thing; if anything, facts, when manipulated, can obscure the truth.)

But the Indy’s philosophy is we must give readers more than an august recitation of the “facts.” We’ll leave that to the Associated Press—and that’s not a criticism, just an acknowledgment of that news organization’s philosophy.

We believe readers want meaning and context, not just information, to help form their own opinions about an issue. We trust that the Indy isn’t the only food in readers’ media diet, and that they can gather enough facts and viewpoints from many places to draw a reasonable, well-informed conclusion about an issue.

It’s not enough to tell readers what happened, but we need to tell them why and how— and that requires analysis. Will you get analysis from a left-leaning perspective? Yes, but we’ve always been transparent and unapologetic about that. In contrast, if I read a news story in the right-wing Carolina Journal, I know what I’m getting. I may disagree—well, I always disagree—but I’ll give the CJ points for not publishing under the guise of objectivity.

There was a dustup recently at The New York Times when the public editor Arthur Brisbane wrote a column asking if reporters should fact check their sources’ claims rather than just dutifully writing them down. A chorus of journalists and readers chimed in, and said, and I’m paraphrasing, Hell yes, they should—it’s what journalists do. (Brisbane later defended the column to Howard Kurtz on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” that reporters should do so, but that it is a “question of degree” because reporters risk appearing that they’re fighting with their sources in print.)

I would argue a little public scrum with a news source, if that person is fibbing, embellishing or dodging, is necessary. We wouldn’t want it to consume the whole story, but it would make the point that reporters are not glorified stenographers. We will write down (or record) what a source says. And then our job is to check it out to see where he or she may have stretched the “truth” like circus taffy. And then it is our job to tell the readers.

Readers will rarely get objectivity in news, despite what media outlets may claim. But readers do deserve transparency from sources and the news organizations themselves.

Now playing: Wilco A.M.

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    Math problems are objective. The Yellow Pages are objective. Journalism is not objective.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Now about those sex ads ...

Posted by on Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 5:10 PM

I received a voicemail this morning from a concerned reader regarding an ad in the back of the paper. The ad says that on average, escorts have sex with seven men in a day, while women in general have sex with seven men in a lifetime. (It being an ad and not a news story, there was no attribution for these figures.) The ad was offering hookups with "real, clean women." As opposed to unreal, clean women?

First, this ad is for a company that matches married people looking for sex with someone besides their spouse. The company slogan: "Life is short. Have an affair." (Want life to be shorter? Get caught.) But it's really none of my business how people run their marriages.

My point is—and please tell your family, friends, coworkers, pets—as editor, I have no control over our advertising clients. And it should be that way because I wouldn't want the advertising department controlling editorial content. I explained this in a previous blog post. This is known as the "editorial/ad wall" and no, Mr. Gorbachev, this wall won't be torn down.

I don't like some ads that run in the Indy. I'm sure there are stories that make our sales reps cringe. That's the newspaper business. People sometimes ask, "Why do you run these ads?" The answer: "It helps pay the bills." That's the unvarnished truth.

My suggestion to people who don't like ads of a sexual nature: Don't read them.

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    Repeat after me: The editor does not control advertising.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ethics 102: The deception

Posted by on Fri, Dec 9, 2011 at 11:55 AM

When people hear about an egregious ethical breach at a newspaper, magazine or other media outlet, they usually wonder, "How did that get past an editor?"

Granted, sometimes the editor is asleep at the wheel. But occasionally, despite the editor's best efforts, a false, fictionalized or otherwise erroneous story is published because the reporter is very devious, even pathologically so.

Seven or eight years ago, when I was editor of the San Antonio Current, a freelancer pitched a story about graduation rates at a local public high school (another bedeviling education story, dammit). Supposedly the high school was overstating its numbers and far fewer kids were graduating than it had been publicly reporting.

First, a word about this freelancer (whose name I have also forgotten—I, of eternal sunshine of the spotless mind): She was ostensibly a Ph.D. candidate at a top university, an accomplishment that should have exposed her to the standards and rigors of academic integrity similar to those of journalism. With those bona fides, I should rest easy, yes? Lesson No. 1: Never rest, let alone rest easy.

I told her to investigate the rumor and debrief me. Weeks later I received a draft of the story, which at the time I thought I dutifully prosecuted: "How do you know this?" "What documentation do you have?" "What's your attribution for this statement?" "How many times did you call this person?" And on and on.

My instinct told me something was amiss, but she had an authoritative, reasonable answer to each question. Although she said the school had declined to comment and provide their own numbers, her data and supporting information had come from other sources inside the school with deep knowledge of the situation.

So, and my heart sinks as I write this because I know now where and why I erred, we published the story. As it turns out, we did get one thing right: The name of the school. The rest of it was bullshit: the data, the conclusions, etc. The school called me, rightfully outraged, and I told the officials I would look into their claims and, if true, try to unravel what happened. In my forensics on the story, I learned several deeply troubling facts—and I relate them here to the best of my memory:

Continue reading…

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    How did that get past an editor?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ethics 101: Or why plagiarists should learn to say "Would you like fries with that?"

Posted by on Thu, Dec 8, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Other than "The building's on fire," there are few statements that command my attention more than "I have an ethical question for you." At this point, I step away from my computer, exhale and yearn for the days of yore when editors were expected to keep full flasks in their desk. (Should those days return, fill mine with Macallan.)

Pull up a chair, whippersnappers, and I'll tell you an ethical horror story, or in airplane parlance, what is also known as a near-miss:

When I was the editor of the San Antonio Current, two freelance writers pitched an investigative story about Edison Schools, a for-profit company that is often hired to operate low-performing public schools. The byline was to be shared (Full disclosure: I cannot remember the authors' names, probably because I have blotted them out of my consciousness).

When I received the final draft, I began factchecking, and lo and behold, the FIRST 17 PARAGRAPHS OF THE STORY WERE PLAGIARIZED. Yep, lifted directly in order from a newsletter published by a California educational advocacy group. After my nausea subsided, I notified both writers, neither of whom accepted responsibility, that the story would not run—and why—and that they were d-e-a-d to me. The story did not get in the paper, but had I taken a shortcut that day and not spot-checked the piece, well, I don't want to think about it.

How do ethical breaches happen? Sometimes it's naivete or ignorance—I have another story exemplifying this that I'll save for a subsequent post. But other times the motivations are more pernicious: laziness, arrogance, carelessness and willful disregard for all that is good.

Continue reading…

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    Ethical questions, plus war stories of plagiarism and other dastardly deeds.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Comments: enlightened dialogue or a cesspool of vitriol?

Posted by on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 1:16 PM

Fair warning: Between my gloomy morning ritual of reading the newspapers and blogs, and the Senate's repeal of the Racial Justice Act, I'm feeling forlorn and grouchy today. Plus, explaining the Indy's comments policy can get my dander up. But at the risk of sounding shrill and schoolmarmish, here goes:

Comments can be enlightening, smart and insightful. They can also be ignorant, punitive and hateful. In other words, they're a bitch to moderate.

People will say things on a website that they would never say to someone's face. I think that's cowardly, but it's a fact. We've mulled over whether to require commenters to provide their real name, thus abolishing anonymous posts, but then decided it would be nigh on impossible to verify the information.**

(If for some reason you choose not to register under your name, don't use the name of someone else. We have had commenters posing as other people. We banish those commenters and post a note stating why.)

That said, at the Indy, we have to balance our desire to host a genuine discussion about the issues with the risk that the trolls will turn the comments section into a cesspool of vitriol. And when the comments turn into a cesspool, it deters people from wading in with something meaningful to say.

Some basic rules: No ad hominem attacks (and that includes those aimed at the writer), name-calling, slander or libelous statements. What's a libelous statement? Asserting that someone has committed a crime if that person has not been convicted, for example. You cannot state as fact someone is a child molester if that person has not been convicted of child molesting. Don't even insinuate it.

Don't stray from the topic; comments must contribute to the greater dialogue about the story.

Tip: Reaaallllly loooonnnggg posts are a red flag to your fellow commenters. It says "crazy," not as in eccentric crazy, but as in tinfoil-hat crazy.

For rule-breakers, and you know who you are: We can delete your comment without explanation or notification. We can block your IP address. And when you send a comment from a new IP address, we can block that one. And the next one. Et cetera. We have elves who do this all day long; actually, we don't, but it's a budget item for next year. We can also close comments on a story.

Who decides if a commenter has violated a rule? We do. Denise Prickett, our web editor, usually makes the call, although she and I also consult with each other.

There have been instances in which commenters have alleged that we are violating the U.S. Constitution by restricting their speech. Civics 101: The Constitution states that government shall not abridge speech; we're not the government and thus aren't required to protect speech on our website.

We believe in free speech, but we're not the town square. Instead, think of indyweek.com as your friendly neighborhood watering hole. Come in for a drink and a chat. But if you get soused and ugly, our cyberbouncers will toss you out. It's our bar.

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    Think of indyweek.com as your friendly neighborhood watering hole. But don't get drunk.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How do I get the Indy to cover a story?

Posted by on Tue, Nov 15, 2011 at 7:48 AM

Let's be candid: News journalists are crusty, cynical curmudgeons whose bedtime reading consists of grand jury indictments and toxic release inventory reports. We traffic in bad news; our currency is injustice. Conflict gets us out of bed in the morning. So do malice and malfeasance, lying and greed. This is why we're a hit at dinner parties.

Music, film and culture writers have slightly sunnier dispositions, but only because they get a lot of free stuff in the mail.

So, confronted with these daunting and admittedly dark scenarios, how do you—event organizer, concerned citizen, struggling restaurant owner, metal band from Missoula—get in the paper?

First, as I advised potential freelancers in last week's post: Read the paper. Is there a writer or editor who covers stories in the same vein as the one you would pitch? To find staff emails, go to the bottom of our website and click on "Contact." We can also connect you with a freelancer.

Secondly, and please don't take this personally: Being an advertiser doesn't give you a leg up on editorial coverage. Let me explain: You'll notice that some publications will run a "story" about, let's say, a wedding planner. And wow, on the same or adjacent page is an ad for the same wedding planner. What a coincidence! What are the chances!? Well, 100 percent if that publication practices what industry lingo calls "pay to play."

We don't do it. We thank you for your business, but our editorial code of ethics dictates that we cannot consider advertising in deciding what to cover. As an advertiser that should comfort you because the policy means our editorial coverage is truly independent and does not go to the highest bidder.

Continue reading…

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    How do I get coverage in the Indy? Or why you never see stories about bake sales.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How to freelance for the Indy

Posted by on Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 9:22 AM

Three freelance writers stand before me, but I have only two résumés in my hand. The name I do not choose must pack his bags and return to writing in his personal journal.

"How do I write for the Indy?" It's the second-most common question I field. (The first being "How do I get my event in the calendar?")

First, your academic degree is meaningless to me, regardless of the number of letters after your name: B.A., B.S., M.A., M.S., Ph. D, J.D., Y.A.W.N.

That's not to say it's worthless, but your diploma alone doesn't indicate whether you can write. Ditto for your journalism degree. It bestows no greater advantage upon you; it is not necessarily a harbinger of success. (Hear that sound of teeth gnashing? It's the UNC J-school faculty.)

At a previous alt-weekly, I hired a Harvard graduate with a Rain Man-like math aptitude and a guy with only a GED whose work experience included a stint as a carpet cleaner. Both were prolific, tireless, talented writers and reporters who turned in compelling copy every single week.

Bottom line: Freelance and staff positions are not entry-level. To work at the Indy, you must be able to craft interesting, clear, accurate, well-reported stories—and make a deadline. If you're a photographer or illustrator, your work must also adhere to the same high standard for the respective medium.

Let's say you fit this criteria—and a lot of people do, especially with so many journalists out of work. Now it's time to pitch a story.

Continue reading…

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    How to freelance for the Indy.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The inaugural edition of the Indy editor's blog

Posted by on Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 11:09 AM

It's 6:30 a.m. and I feel like it's the first day of school. Lunch packed. Teeth brushed. Hair more or less combed, like that would do any good.

And here's the inaugural edition of For What It's Worth, the Indy editor's blog.

By nature, I'm a news reporter, not a columnist, which is why I've been tarrying about starting a blog. But I'm into it now and I imagine it to accurately reflect my personality: informal, conversational, irreverent and occasionally vulgar. You've been warned.

In FWIW, my goal is to demystify the Indy by explaining how the editorial department chooses stories, writes headlines, etc. I'll discuss how we approach ethical dilemmas and, of course, try to answer the ultimate question: How does someone get in the paper?

In doing this, I hope to elicit (civil) conversations between me and you, the reader—and among readers.
I'll also comment on the news of the day and, as a voracious reader and media consumer, try to turn you on to good reads, films and music.

So first, a few words about this week's cover story:

The article came about when writer/ photographer Anna Blackshaw, who is new to the Indy pages, pitched me a piece about the Sanitation Two. The plight of these men had been studiously noted in the mainstream media, and for the Indy, the piece had to be different. We needed to anchor an intensely researched story in public documents while answering the deeper questions of Who are these men? What motivates them?

Anna admirably achieved that, and as a result we have a story that relies heavily on public documents and shows that Clyde Clark and the Rev. Kerry Bigelow are more than activists and union guys: They're fully fleshed out men with hopes, dreams and disappointments. Just like the rest of us.

We did have an ethical question in the story in that the women complainants are named in the lawsuits but are given anonymity in town documents and at a town hearing. Should we name the women in the story or not? My first instinct was yes, to provide transparency that the Town of Chapel Hill did not; but after Anna and I talked further, we agreed not to because it was difficult from the documents to know what each woman said and did. It seemed that we would achieve no greater clarity for having named them. For the record, Anna tried to reach one of the women several times but received no response. We also vetted this story through a media lawyer.

We did leave their names in the lawsuit documents, which are available to download on the story (see Documents in the sidebar). We redacted all home addresses of the women and the Rev. Bigelow to protect their privacy. Roger Stancil's address is in the documents, but it is for Town Hall.

Another ethical question arose on indyweek.com today about City Council candidate Steve Schewel, who also owns the Indy. Teri Beckman asks how we will cover city council if Schewel is elected. My answer: We will cover city council in the same way we have covered it before, with the same scrutiny of elected officials' decisions and policies.

I can assure you the Indy's independence will not be compromised; the editorial staff demonstrated that independence by choosing not to endorse in the city council race.

Continue reading…

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    Ethics, the Sanitation Two, Kevin Wolff and the dwarf planet Pluto

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