Friday, December 31, 2010

Aggies Agonize Over Public Information Law

The Academic Plaza as viewed looking east take...Image via WikipediaOfficials at Texas A&M University, the Lone Star state's oldest public university, are in a quandary. It seems that some journalism students at Tarleton State University, which is part of  the Texas A&M system, tried to do something journalistic--apply for public records under the state's Public Information Act (Sec. 552 of the Tex. Govt. Code)--and ran afoul of a near 20-year-old university rule that bans system employees from making public information requests of their employer.

The so-called "A&M" Rule was enacted by the university in the 1990s after it was stuck with the bill for research and compliance from multiple information requests by a disgruntled employee, according to a story in the San Antonio News Express. The hornet's nest was riled when the school's general counsel drafted a letter that extended the ban to include journalism students who were participating in an optional statewide Light of Day project sponsored by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas ("FOIF") to promote investigative journalism by educating students in how to draft public records request letters.

Tarleton administrators sought an opinion from Texas A&M counsel after a student requested information from campus police. The A&M Rule does not preclude students, faculty or staff from making public information requests as individuals, but the university apparently mistook the optional participation in the Light of Day project as a mandatory assignment from journalism faculty.

Before long, 15 nationwide news organizations, including Associated Press and the National Press Foundation, fired off a letter to Texas A&M suggesting the A&M Rule violated the journalism students' First Amendment rights. "It seems no coincidence," the letter states in part, "that the System's new policy interpretation follows closely on the heels of stories developed by the students of journalism instructor Dan Malone that uncovered problems in crime reporting on the Tarleton State campus and that inquired into the reasons for cancellation of a highly controversial student play."

In light of the ensuing maelstrom, the university's counsel's office is re-examining its interpretation of the A&M Rule. School officials claim their intent was not to inhibit instruction in the Public Information Act, so the journalistic dander that has been raised may soon quiet down. Texas Gov. Rick Perry not too long ago threatened that Texas may secede from the Union, which provides further perspective.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

ESPN Drops Anchor for Plagiarism; Hears a Ding

ESPN Latin AmericaImage via WikipediaESPN anchor Will Selva has been suspended indefinitely for failing to attribute his on-air evaluation of  an upcoming Los Angeles Lakers contest to Orange County Register sportswriter Kevin Ding, whose column contained a passage recited nearly verbatim by Selva.

Selva, a 15-year veteran of broadcast journalism, apologized for appropriating Ding's assessment of the upcoming Lakers/Spurs game, and for not adhering to ESPN's "high standards."  Apparently, Selva didn't watch ESPN's broadcast of The Decision (See "TUOL" post 7/8/10).

A spokesperson for ESPN ("Everyone Stop Plagiarizing Now"?) said the Disney-owned network took the matter seriously, but concluded the anchor made a sloppy mistake, rather than an intentional attempt to infringe on someone else's work.

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Miller Rite

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13:  Journalist Judith Mil...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeFormer New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning scribe Judith Miller is a new staffer at conservative periodical Newsmax, according to

Miller, who most recently has worked as an on-air commentator and Web site contributor for Fox News, left the Times in 2005 in a swirl of controversy surrounding her coverage of the as-yet-to-be-found Weapons of Mass Destruction allegedly amassed by the late Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein.  The Times later published a mea culpa concerning its erroneous coverage of the WMD lead-up to the Iraq invasion, essentially conceding that  Bush Administration sources had played Miller like a flute.

Miller testified at the trial of White House aide  Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was accused of leaking information about CIA operative Valerie Plame. Miller spent 85 days in jail for civil contempt based on her initial refusal to testify on First Amendment grounds.

The Business Insider reports that Miller's first foray for Newsmax will appear in January 2011, and concern the Mideast drug trade. "TUOL" wonders if she'll discover "SMI"s (Substances of Mass Intoxication).

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Were Maine Daily's Free Ads to Chamber on Charter Vote a Conflict of Interest?

Portland, Maine at Christmas timeImage via WikipediaThe Sun Media Group-owned Maine weekly, The Forecaster (, earns kudos from, the nonprofit Art Science Research Laboratory media ethics Web site, for its reporting on the questionable conduct of The Portland Press Herald concerning the recent change in the city charter that enables voters directly, rather than City Councilors, to select the port city's Mayor.

Voters last month passed the City Charter amendment, which the Press Herald supported in two editorials. All well and good, but The Forecaster accuses the Press Herald of a conflict of interest and assails the daily for not disclosing that it gave $47,000 worth of free advertising to the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, a key backer of the amendment, leading up to the vote.

The Forecaster, whose Portland readership exceeds 19,500, claims the Chamber received one free ad daily, including a full-page ad, in Press Herald ads running from Oct 26 to the Nov. 2 election day. The Press Herald's donation of advertising purportedly was discovered by The Forecaster in the Elect Our Mayor/Yes on 1 post-election campaign finance report.

The Press Herald defended its coverage of the charter vote to The Forecaster, but has yet to respond to  Reportorial objectivity can be compromised when either the wall between the newsroom and editorial or the newsroom and advertising is replaced by a fence with an unlocked gate.

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Wrinkled Facebook?

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBaseAdam Hochberg had an interesting article today citing a new survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project that found seniors age 74 and older are among the fastest growing demographic group on social network sites, including Facebook and LinkedIn.

The Pew study concluded 16 percent of Internet users in that elderly age group visit social media sites, compared to only 4 percent of Web users 74 and older who were devotees in 2008. Further evidence of increased senior Web surfing, according to Hochberg, is found on the Facebook page of  AARP (formerly, the American Association of Retired Persons), which boasts more than 20,000 followers and a recently enhanced Web site that is social networking-friendly.

Apparently, the AARP site hosts more than 900 discussion groups, though "TUOL" wonders if it's actually just one discussion group that members keep forgetting they've already created. The news isn't all good for online "oldies" as the networking site, that was specifically created for those age 46 and older, recently jettisoned most of its staff.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Holidays TUOL

hollywood neighborhoodImage via WikipediaHaving just written its 750th post since its inception, the dedicated staff of "TUOL" is heading to the Left Coast for some R & R.  We wish a joyous holiday season to our devoted reader (sadly, not a misprint). "TUOL" will resume  on December 29.

Don't follow any strange bloggers while we're away.

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Reuters Looks to US

NYC - Reuters BuildingImage by wallyg via FlickrReuters America ("RA") has been launched by New York-based information company Thomson Reuters, according to a press release by the company.

RA will provide domestic news, information and services to U.S. newspapers and broadcasters. The Tribune Co., whose holdings include The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times,  has inked a multi-year deal with RA that will provide them with news, photos, digital, graphics and online video services.  Coverage in entertainment and sports in particular, is being touted by RA.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hungary Media Council Hungry to Fine Newspaper

Highest value banknote of the Hungarian Forint...Image via WikipediaAccording to a blog post by Politics.HU ("The Intelligent Source for Intelligence on Hungarian Politics"), the country's Media Council is expected to fine liberal newspaper Nepszabadsag for its refusal to retract a story about Council President Annamaria Szalai.

The newspaper declined to publish a requested correction to its story claiming Szalai stands to become the overseer of thousands of public media workers.  Under a media law enacted in January 2010, the newspaper could face a fine up to 25 million Forints (HUF) ($120,000) and its top executive could be socked with a 2 million Forints ($9,600) penalty.
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France Has a Bon to Pick With Google

Google France LogoImage via WikipediaGoogle controls 90 percent of Internet search advertising business in France, according to a report in today's New York Times.

Responding to a government-backed analysis of online search advertising, the French Competition Authority said although Google may have abused its dominant market position, enacting further regulations to ensure competition in search advertising is not warranted.  Google denies that it has exercised dominance.
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Survey: Readers Still Prefer Holding Onto What They're Reading

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 12:  Queen Elizabet...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeKPMG, LLP, an audit, tax and advisory services firm, recently surveyed 2,241 people and found a whopping 86 percent of them preferred reading from physical copies to online perusing, according to

The latest Media & Entertainment Barometer survey also found that 24 percent of magazine readers hadn't paid for the periodical they were reading and only 26 percent of newspaper readers didn't pay for the publication. Those figures were in contrast to 80 percent of online magazine readers and 92 percent of online newspaper viewers polled who had paid for the privilege.

Reports of the death of old media may be premature.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Courthouse Display: Imbibing Holiday Spirits?

Luke SkywalkerImage via Wikipedia'Tis the season for trying to avoid offending religions while celebrating the holidays, as evidenced by an item posted by the ABA Journal Law News Now blog (

The Loudoun (Va.) County Board of Supervisors spent more than a year wrestling with the issue of holiday displays before deciding on a first-come, first-served permit policy allowing for 10 displays.  The resulting holiday display outside the Leesburg, Va., courthouse includes a letter written by an atheist urging civility and kindness, a Star Wars display featuring Luke Skywalker (based on his post-Lucas career trajectory, Mark Hamill may actually be standing there), and a Christmas tree and three manger scenes--how did those get in there?

 The Commonwealth's Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, weighed in with an opinion that courthouse grounds are suitable for religious displays. All the permits were granted before Charlie Brown arrived with his small tree. Good Grief!
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South Korea Chastises Facebook's Seoul-Searching

The coat of arms of South KoreaImage via WikipediaThe worldwide dissing of Palo Alto, Calif.-based social media king Facebook continues.

South Korea is the latest country to take a poke at Facebook, claiming it is not complying with the republic's data privacy laws, according to an item on the Jurist Web site ( Specifically, Facebook is under attack for allegedly violating Article 22 of the South Korean Act on Promotion of Information and Communication Network Utilization and Information Protection.

Article 22 states: "If an information and communications service provider intends to gather user personal information, they shall obtain user consent..."  The Social Network may be doing boffo business at the box office, but nowadays Facebook is struggling to keep nations on its friends list.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

5th Circuit Weighs Closed Sentencing Hearing Challenge by Hearst Daily

Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for...Image via WikipediaThe U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in an appeal filed by Hearst Newspapers, LLC concerning a criminal proceeding,  U.S. v. Cardenas-Guillen (Case No. 10-40221),  is deciding whether authorities violated the First Amendment when they conducted a criminal sentencing hearing behind closed doors without giving notice to the public.

Hearst Newspapers, LLC-owned Houston Chronicle was shot down by the district court when it requested a hearing on the court's decision to close the sentencing hearing involving Oziel Cardenas-Guillen, who in February 2010, was sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $50 million to the government based on terms of a plea agreement involving drug, conspiracy and threat charges, according to a report on the Web site of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (

The court cited security concerns in its decision to lock the public out of the hearing. The newspaper argued it was entitled to notice of the closure and an opportunity to be heard on whether the court was exceeding its discretion at the expense of the First Amendment.

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UnSunny Side of the Tweet: Survey Finds Public Is Unsocial Media

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseThe Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found a paltry 8 percent of Americans who surf the Internet use social network & microblogger Twitter.

Surveys conducted in October and November by Princeton Survey Research Associates International determined that minority Internet users were twice as likely as white Web surfers to tweet. Likewise, urbanites are more avid Twitter users than their rural counterparts.

"TUOL" is happy to boil down the survey results for committed Twitter users: "Y U Tweet? No 1 Cares. LOL."

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Public TV Station Shoots Current Through DC J-School

Thirteen/WNET's Former logo, 1999-2009. Still ...Image via WikipediaCurrent, the bi-monthly trade magazine about public broadcasting owned by New York City public broadcasting outlet, has been sold to American University's School of Communication, The New York Times reports.

The journal, which attracts 29,000 visitors monthly to its Web site and boasts a circulation of 4,000, was founded in 1980 by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, but shifted to's predecessor in 1982.  WNET said the sale, the price of which was not disclosed, was a byproduct of the institution lacking the resources to operate a multimedia company while keeping a trade journal afloat.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Real Housewife of NJ Ex Brings Real Calif. Libel Suit Against Publisher

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 14:  Danielle Staub (C) o...Image by Getty Images via @daylifePublisher Simon & Schuster and Steven Prigge, author of  The Naked Truth, the biography of Real Housewives of New Jersey cast member Danielle Staub, have been sued for defamation in Riverside County (Calif.) Superior Court by Staub's former spouse, Kevin Maher, according to the Courthouse News Service.

Maher's libel claim is grounded in pages 141-145 of the biography, which he alleges falsely accuse him of criminal acts of physical abuse against his ex-wife. The complaint alleges the book defames Maher by claiming he behaved "like a crazed animal" "beating the hell out of" Danielle Staub. Other false statements, according to the plaintiff, include that his ex had a restraining order in effect against him, that he was handcuffed by police after the alleged beating, and that he served 18 months in a Pennsylvania jail for confessing to a crime against Staub.

Staub claims that he warned Simon & Schuster in February of this year that he would sue if any falsehoods about him were published in the book. Maher did not name the 48-year-old Staub as a defendant in the suit, so just call him an old romantic. Staub generated controversy of her own this year when she complained that a purported sex tape featuring her was in the possession of Hustler magazine.

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UPDATE: 'Anticipation' Over: Carly Simon Loses to Starbucks in Court Again

Cover of "This Kind of Love (Dig)"Cover of This Kind of Love (Dig)In her amended complaint filed last June in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of the Western Division of California, 64-year-old songstress Carly Simon accused coffee colossus Starbucks of tortious interference with contract, fraudulent business practices and concealment of material facts based on what she alleged was Hear Music, Inc.'s failure to promote her album, This Kind of Love. [See "TUOL" post 6/1/10.]

As reported by Web site THR, Esq., last week U.S. District Court Judge George Wu sided with the defendant in Carly E. Simon v. Starbucks Corporation (case No. cv09-09074), dismissing the amended complaint and holding that the java giant had no legal obligation to Simon, despite representations she claimed were made to her by Starbucks content development vice-president Alan Mintz. Starbucks had ended its foray into the music business and its relationship with record distributor Hear Music.

In denying Simon Vengeance by ruling for Starbucks, Judge Wu determined it was The Right Thing to Do. Starbucks prevails and Simon gets beans.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brenda Starr: "-30-"

Brenda Starr (comic strip)Image via WikipediaAfter a 70-year run as an intrepid literally ink-stained wretch, Brenda Starr, fiery red hair showing no hint of grey, is quitting the newspaper comic strip business.

According to a story in today's Chicago Tribune, Tribune Media Services has decided to end the comic strip on January 2, 2011, rather than find successors to current writer Mary Schmich and artist June Brigman, who decided to quit the strip after 25 years and 15 years, respectively.  The strip was the brainchild of former greeting-card artist Dale Messick, who penned the script from 1940 until she retired in 1980.

At its peak during the 1950s, the strip appeared in more than 250 newspapers worldwide. Presently, roughly 36 dailies carry the red-headed reporter's adventures, including The Boston Herald and The Chicago Tribune.

When Starr married her mysterious long-time eyepatch-wearing Brazilian beau Basil St. John in 1976, President Gerald Ford and First Lady Betty Ford sent their congratulations ("TUOL" is confident that the First Lady, at least, knew newlyweds Brenda & Basil were fictional characters).  The marriage produced a daughter, Starr Twinkle St. John, whose quirky moniker rivals that of Moon Unit and Dweezil Zappa, and no doubt doomed her to years of comic strip psychotherapy.

The fearless scribe flourished in the comics, but tanked in Hollywood, both in a 1976 TV movie starring Jill St. John (no relation to Basil), and even worse in a 1989 film that wasn't released until 1991 starring Brooke Shields and future 007 Timothy Dalton. She was also played by Joan Woodbury in an obscure 1945 serial.

Such is the state of the newspaper industry that even a voluptuous fictional journalist can't hold onto her job.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Canada High Court to Rule on Murder Trial Publication Ban Thursday

Supreme Court of Canada building, Ottawa, Onta...Image via WikipediaThe Supreme Court of Canada is slated to decide Thursday whether to hear an appeal of a publication ban ordered by Justice Dougald McDermid, SouthWest Region Judge of the Superior Court of Justices, regarding the trial of the accused killers of 8-year-old Tori Stafford, according to a report by

Canadian journalists were up-in-arms over the extensive ban ordered by Justice McDermid last April involving the first-degree murder legal proceedings against the accused, Terri-Lynne McClintic and Michael Rafferty. The remains of the Woodstock, Ontario-born Stafford were found three months after her disappearance on April 8, 2009.

Sec. 648 of the Criminal Code pertaining to the publication ban prevents publication of any information about any portion of the trial at which the jury is not present before the jury begins its deliberations. The Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail were among publications that reacted harshly to what they claimed was the unusual breadth of Justice McDermid's ban.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

UPDATE: Court Shares 'The View' of Hasselbeck in Plagiarism Suit

Cover of "The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free ...Cover via AmazonSiding with Survivor veteran and co-host of The View, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts found yesterday that the 33-year-old Hasselbeck did not plagiarize another author's work when she published The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide (2009)."

Susan Hassett, self-published author of Living With Celiac Disease, failed to convince the court that Hasselbeck, who suffers from the digestive condition, copied from her work to produce the best-selling G-Free Diet. This was Hassett's second go-around at Hasselbeck after the court dismissed the plaintiff's initial plagiarism claim against Hasselbeck last year(see "TUOL" posts 11/30/09 & 6/24/09).

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Internet Maven Abrams to Expand Online Publishing Empire

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13:  MSNBC correspondent D...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeNBC News Chief Legal Analyst Dan Abrams, son of prominent First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, buoyed by the success of media news Web site Mediaite and his four other Web properties, is expanding his digital publishing realm, according to a New York Times story.

The 44-year-old former MSNBC anchor next year will debut Mogulite, which sounds like a mutant race from H.G. Wells' Time Machine, but will be a Web site devoted to covering prominent business personalities. Also in the works are a job board site to compete against, and Mary Sue, a technology news Web site targeting women.

Besides Mediaite, Abrams presently is the online publisher of Sportsgrid, fashion and beauty site StyleiteGossip Cop and technology site Geekosystem. According to the Times article, the five sites combined generate more than 6.4 million views monthly. Abrams believes the sites could begin operating in the black early in 2011.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

AOL: You've Got Merger!

Image representing Yahoo! as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBaseNew York-based Internet Service Provider America Online may breakup and merge with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo, Inc., according to an exclusive story by Reuters News Service.

In Dec. 2009, AOL was spun off by entertainment conglomerate Time Warner to Time Warner shareholders. The Reuters article suggests that Yahoo has the resources to support AOL's display ad business. Neither entity would confirm the possible merger to Reuters.
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Friday, December 3, 2010

High Court Tackles FOIA Exemption

West face of the United States Supreme Court b...Image via WikipediaThe U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week in Milner v. U.S. Dept. of the Navy (Case No. 09-1163) involving the breadth of Exemption 2 of the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") [5 U.S.C. sec. 552(b)(2)].

The appellant is seeking a reversal of the decision of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the Navy's refusal to turn over documents sought by Washington resident Glen Scott Milner. Milner requested safety maps and other pertinent data concerning the Indian Island Navy munitions storage facility near Port Hadlock on Puget Sound near his residence.

In denying Milner's FOIA request, the Navy cited Exemption 2, which allows government agencies to withhold documents involving an agency's personnel rules and practices.  Counsel for the appellant argued the plain language of Exemption 2 protects the narrow category of materials involving personnel policies and rulees and shouldn't be broadly construed as a "High 2" exemption shielding information, the disclosure of which "may risk circumvention of agency regulation," in contrast to a "Low 2" exemption that addresses employment issues.

Counsel for the  Dept. of the Navy protested that appellant was attempting to alter 30 years worth of accepted FOIA practice.  Although the High Court often sides with the government on FOIA matters, appellant found a receptive audience in Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor and Scalia. Several news media organizations filed amicus briefs in support of Milner.

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Favre MVP (Most Valuable Privates)? Gawker Paid $12k for Pix

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON)...Image via WikipediaIn a new low for checkbook journalism, Gawker Media coughed up $12,000 for photos of  41-year-old Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre's groin that the randy game-caller allegedly sent to a female employee of the New York Jets, Web site Business Insider reports.

Gawker head honcho Nick Denton boasted that the raunchy Favre post has attracted more than 4.9 milion pageviews. The photos of Favre, who apparently was trying to add to his N.F.L. record of most attempted passes in a broader sense, may have added to the value of Gawker's Deadspin Web site, but at the expense of journalistic credibility. Checkbook journalism, long-practiced by The National Enquirer and many so-called traditional news media, promotes lazy journalism, encourages sources to embellish tips for a higher payoff, and divides news outlets into haves (those who can pay) and have nots (those deprived of the "news").

The bought-and-paid-for Favre crotch photos should make everyone in the news business and John Sullivan (the Minnesota Vikings center from whom Favre takes his snaps) uncomfortable.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nonprofit News Org. & J-School in Joint Venture

I Can't ExplainImage via WikipediaThe Explainer. Sounds like the title of a dull comic book superhero, but it is actually the name of a new joint venture by Pulitizer Prize-winning nonprofit investigative newsers ProPublica and New York University's Arthur L. Carter School of Journalism.

According to an item by mediabistro blog FishbowlNY, The Explainer will offer background information on current news topics through its Web site, ably assisted by ProPublica editors. Could be useful, but "TUOL" will reserve judgment pending further explanation.

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