10/28/13

Vodka Samm and the Troubling Practice of Mugshot Journalism

I'm late to the most recent chapter of the Vodka Samm story, but I'm not alone so I'm going to finally write some thoughts about one of my biggest pet peeves in journalism: the irresponsible use of mugshots. In this story, it's just a small part of the mean-spirited harassment of an ordinary college student. In other situations, it creates the impression of guilt before convictions that often never come, and for that reason can also be a convenient intimidation tactic for police.

10/20/13

Occupying the World Food Prize

I spent last week traveling between Ames and Des Moines to take a closer look at the controversy over the naming of Monsanto executive Robert Fraley as a World Food Prize laureate. My story on that—my first byline since leaving Mother Jones in August—was published at Al Jazeera America on Friday.

As with the Occupy Iowa caucus protests, the Occupy the World Food Prize demonstrations, led by many of the same activists, were far more subdued than anything I witnessed covering Occupy Oakland, but things got fairly lively thanks to Jim Hightower:
"I don’t like what Monsanto does to foist themselves on other countries and on our farmers ... turning agriculture into just another get-rich scheme," said Janet Klaas, a retired reference librarian from Ames.
In a Des Moines Methodist church sanctuary on Wednesday, she listened to Texas populist Jim Hightower rail against corporate agriculture behind an Occupy banner with an image of a raised fist clenching a carrot and ear of corn.
Read the rest here.

10/8/13

Hacks and Outcasts in Iowa

It's been about a month since I departed the DC bureau of Mother Jones and landed back in Iowa, where I've taken a few weeks off to contemplate some harebrained Hawkeye State ideas that were gathering dust in my notebook. One of those ideas—if I stick around Iowa long enough—is relaunching the Ames Progressive, the politics and culture zine my friends and I wrote in college, with a co-authored book chronicling its history.

I've envisioned loosely modeling the book's layout after The eXile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia, the book by Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi about the outlandish expat newspaper the pair used to publish together in Moscow. Ames and Taibbi authored alternate chapters detailing the paper's history. In the final chapter, "Hacks," Taibbi wrote about Wayne Barrett, the first boss I had after leaving Iowa for New York about three and a half years ago: