To toot my own horn

If there’s anyone still with me here, sorry it took so long to update the blog. Moving to the Bay has been a more hectic process than anticipated. Today I begin my UC-Berkeley fellowship. And for the occasion, I’m going to brag.

Last month, the East Valley Tribune published an investigation of Arizona’s private school tax credits (conducted by the talented Mrs. Michelle Reese and myself), which found a lot of shady business going down at state taxpayer expense. Today, we learn that some of the most nefarious practices are in decline. Sunshine is sometimes the best antiseptic.

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Don’t believe what you read

The journalism industry frets a lot over issues like anonymous blog authors and reader comments.

Who writes these things? What are their motivations? Are they honest and how can the public separate facts from spin, or even facts from malicious lies? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is showing that our society has larger concerns than partisan postings.

Since January, the J-S has exposed that a group of doctors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sold their integrity to a pharmaceutical company to push drugs already known to be hugely dangerous. J-S reporters John Fauber and Meg Kissenger last week detailed how Wyeth in 2001 paid for five articles that “appeared under the names of doctors who specialized in diseases common to menopausal women, but actually were written by professional writers paid by the company.”

In a nutshell: You can’t even trust that the named authors wrote the articles, never mind the issue of whether the articles contain misinformation. “I find myself wondering about every medical article I read, certainly studies sponsored by industry,” Julie Fagan, the UW medical professor who initially reviewed the Wyeth articles for the university, told the J-S.

That is a terrifying admission.

The UW-Wyeth articles touted hormone therapy for menopausal women and downplayed concerns about links between the treatment and cancer. Those concerns became facts shortly thereafter.

Fauber and Susanne Rust, in an earlier article, showed that UW had also promoted hormone therapy through a medical education program for doctors even as the drugs were being widely questioned.

“Rigorous studies involving thousands of women showed that hormone therapy increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, blood clots and dementia,” Rust and Fauber wrote. “They also showed quality-of-life benefits are short-lived.”

Private industry (pharma and everything else) is fast becoming the primary funding source for university research. Don’t think for a minute this is just a Wisconsin problem.

In fact, the J-S explains that the U.S. Senate Finance Committee “reported in 2007 that pharmaceutical firms have taken control of these programs to get favorable presentations of their products, grab market share for expensive brand-name drugs and encourage doctors to write prescriptions for off-label use.”

Who can we trust? I say verify, then trust (Reagan had this correct but out of order). That should apply to all sources of information.

Given print journalism’s collapse, it feels strange to call any newspaper a “hot” place to work. But the J-S has been hot, kicking ass and serving the public well, particularly in the past few years. Bravo!

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It’s alive

I don’t harbor any grand ambitions for this blog. If a few close friends check CTCJ occasionally, that’s great. If I end up talking to myself, that’s great too.

Only an unexpected audience of more than a dozen would make me uncomfortable.

This post and those to come are part of a regiment to keep me writing. I’ve found that as I work on large-scale long term projects, which don’t require me to construct written sentences on a daily basis, my writing muscles atrophy. The solution, I’ve decided, is to post my thoughts a few times a week on this here blog-thingy.

I’m going to stick to things I encounter in the course of reporting, some thoughts about the craft and praising others’ excellent journalism that serves a public good. CTCJ has no comments policy. I’ll implement a policy when someone actually posts a comment.

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“The truth can’t kill you.”

Or so a wise old man in the Rio Grande Valley once told me, adding, “It can only make you uncomfortable.” The truth about newspapers’ solvency has been making damn near everyone I know pretty uncomfortable. But it won’t kill us (at least not physically, I hope). Nor will it kill investigative reporting.

I’m trying to make a miniscule contribution (WARNING: Self-promotion ahead) to this cause with my own reporting.

Working with the indefatigable Paul Giblin, I exposed a few problems with how Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio goes about arresting illegal immigrants. I documented a little fraud at the Maricopa Community Colleges and a few amazingly easy As offered by their athletic programs. Patti Epler, my talented editor the past two years, edited all of the above.

During my 14 months in Texas, I spent an inordinate amount of time digging into an architect who struggled with test taking.

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