Media News: Well, This Is… Interesting?

The NYTimes, late Sunday evening:

Bill Keller, a columnist at The New York Times and its former executive editor, will leave the paper to become editor in chief of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism start-up focused on the American criminal justice system.

“It’s a chance to build something from scratch, which I’ve never done before,” Mr. Keller said, “and to use all the tools that digital technology offers journalists in terms of ways to investigate and to present on a subject that really matters personally.”

Over the course of a three-decade career at The Times, Mr. Keller won a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting as a correspondent in Moscow; chronicled the collapse of apartheid as the paper’s Johannesburg bureau chief; and served as executive editor from 2003 to 2011…
*****
“Since the day I was born, I have been aware that the criminal justice system in America is bizarrely horrible and weirdly tolerated,” Mr. Barsky said. “The main reason is that it’s been that way for such a long duration that we don’t challenge it anymore.”

Mr. Barsky, 56, worked as a reporter at The Wall Street Journal before pursuing a career in finance. He was a research analyst at Morgan Stanley before starting a hedge fund, Alson Capital, which at its peak had $3.5 billion under its management. He shut down the fund in 2009 and has recently turned to filmmaking, directing “Koch,” a 2012 documentary about former Mayor Edward I. Koch of New York.

The website, scheduled to start in the second quarter of this year, plans to raise money from foundations and individual donors and is modeled on other nonprofit news organizations like ProPublica. Its budget is projected to be about $5 million a year, which would pay for a staff of about 30…

Before Keller and his second wife started harassing cancer patients, he did have a reputation as a competent journalist. Although the Washington Post was not averse to pointing out his checkered history in the corner office:

Keller was editor-in-chief of the Times from 2003 to 2011. He began his tenure by overseeing coverage of the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the U.S. military invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Times later acknowledged that its reporting on this period — particularly on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — was flawed.

Under Keller’s editorship, the Times published excerpts of sensitive U.S. military and diplomatic files obtained by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization that had received them from then-Army Pvt. Bradley Manning. The paper also published stories disclosing the George W. Bush administration’s practice of “warrantless wiretapping” of suspected terrorists in 2005…

Nonetheless, our badly broken criminal justice system could certainly use some high-profile attention. It’s going to be interesting to see if The Marshall Project can actually do so, yes?

40 replies
  1. 1
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but I won’t hold my breath.

  2. 2
    NobodySpecial says:

    Likely tax write off of some kind.

  3. 3
    p.a. says:

    “…raise money from foundations…”. Foundations aren’t usually toe-steppers and cage-rattlers.

  4. 4
    Cervantes says:

    Thurgood, I assume.

    But let’s see if they start close to home seeking criminal justice on Wall Street.

  5. 5
    Poopyman says:

    Hmmmm. “Interesting” is right. Anyone know anything more about this Barsky dude? Nothing jumped out at me re: “Koch”.

  6. 6
    bjacques says:

    The 2005 story on Bush’s warrantless wiretapping story was ready to go in 2004. If The Marshall Project exposes any wrongdoing, it’ll be when it’s too late to punish the principals, e.g., by voting them out of office or firing them before they can take early retirement.

  7. 7
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @p.a.: Heh. Think they’ll get any money from the California prison employee unions?

  8. 8
    PurpleGirl says:

    @p.a.: Well, there may be foundations who will fund them; there are foundations that fund programs such as parolee services and which study prison and prisoner outcomes (for example, The Vera Institute of Justice does get foundation funding as well as individual).

    I wonder about the support staff structure — will there be copy editors and proof-readers, how about researchers? Will everything (or most work) be published on-line or will print reports be available?

  9. 9
    Baud says:

    OT. Raging liberal Claire McCaskill

    @clairecmc: Michael Sam makes me have so much #Mizzou pride. Courage. http://t.co/quPu9fP6Ru

  10. 10
    Botsplainer says:

    His written conclusions to each piece will be thus:

    “While some say that this practice highlights the broken, dangerous and nonfunctional aspects of our flawed justice system, others say that anecdotal tales are not indicative of trends as a whole and should not reflect on the professionalism and devotion to high standards that are benchmarks in our penal system. Only time will tell as to which view prevails.”

  11. 11
    Baud says:

    Nonetheless, our badly broken criminal justice system could certainly use some high-profile attention. It’s going to be interesting to see if The Marshall Project can actually do so, yes?

    Proof will be in the pudding. Only reason this is getting attention is because Keller is well-known. He hasn’t really done anything yet.

  12. 12
    Betty Cracker says:

    @Baud: Good for her.

  13. 13
    PurpleGirl says:

    I wonder how many of his hedge fund buddies have already given Barsky money.

  14. 14
    Keith P says:

    $20 says he brings Bernie Kerik on board.

  15. 15
    Schlemizel says:

    I think I know what the game is. These hedge fund guys & their Wall Street buddys are hedging their bets. They know the day of reckoning is coming & jail is a strong possibility as Americans finally wake up & demand justice. Criminal justice reform is going to become a pet project for many of them as the foresee a time it will affect them personally.

    At least that’s the story I’m telling – if nothing else it gives me hope

  16. 16
    WereBear says:

    Gee, why didn’t I think of that! Just start up a hedge fund, then close it… PROFIT.

    Why doesn’t everybody do that?

  17. 17
    Poopyman says:

    @Schlemizel: Yeah, keep telling yourself that. You first need a DOJ willing to prosecute, and I think there’s a statute of limitations that’s running out fast.

  18. 18
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Schlemizel:

    At least that’s the story I’m telling –

    To your psychiatrist?

  19. 19
    Kay says:

    He was a research analyst at Morgan Stanley before starting a hedge fund,

    They’ll privatize the court system like they’re privatizing public schools.

    I’m only half kidding. This is an actual possibility. If so, I’ll be ready! :)

    Speaking of Propublica (which I like, but doesn’t really focus on areas I’m interested in) I don’t know if any of you read The Texas Tribune, but it’s wonderful and non-profit. I wish my state had a Texas Tribune.

  20. 20
    WereBear says:

    @Kay: Non-profit can be magical… without that ever-lovin’ shareholder pressure and with a true goal instead of raw cash, amazing things happen in the very same structure that creates misery and doom.

  21. 21
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    It sounds more like a way for Keller to mark time until retirement.

  22. 22
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kay:

    They’ll privatize the court system ….

    Will it be any different? We already have the best justice money can buy.

  23. 23
    Kay says:

    @WereBear:

    People conflate “non profit” with “public” now.

    Really due to the energetic and industrious work of non-profits to pretend they are public entities :)

    They’re basically a shadow government at this point. Why not courts, too? You don’t think the Wal Mart heirs will run a fair court? Hater! Stop defending the Status Quo.

  24. 24
    dr. bloor says:

    I look forward to Judy Miller’s white papers describing how Scooter Libby was horrifically abused in the CJ system.

  25. 25
    Baud says:

    Popcorn worthy story at TPM (sorry no link)

    Tom Kludt TPMLivewire
    FreedomWorks Chief Says GOP Senators Are Killing His Group’s Funding

  26. 26
    Botsplainer says:

    @Baud:

    Linky.

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/l.....epublicans

    Poor Kibbe. Locked out of the donor loop.

    It’ll be awesome when the donors go through more cycles of loss and learn to quit being relentlessly partisan in their access purchases.

  27. 27
    danielx says:

    Now if Keller could only bring himself to call it what it is, the criminal justice industry….

  28. 28

    Since the day I was born, I have been aware that the criminal justice system in America is bizarrely horrible and weirdly tolerated

    There’s nothing weird about it. Reagan successfully planted the meme that the criminal justice system was the army the whites relied on to fight the blacks. I remember the paranoia over drive-by-shooting, cocaine selling street gangs vividly, the message that it was tragically true that all young black males were part of a street gang just to survive, and the creation of a ‘war on drugs’ that would fix the problem by throwing them all in jail.

    Before that, I think it was commies, but I was too young to remember.

  29. 29
    Cervantes says:

    @Poopyman:

    Anyone know anything more about this Barsky dude?

    Not sure what you want to know. Before he ran a hedge fund, he used to be a reporter for the WSJ. His academic background? Oberlin and Columbia J-School (nothing in finance).

    He seems fairly introspective and self-critical. He seems to love journalism. Koch was not his first movie. While in high school, he visited Boston to make a documentary about the city’s busing ordeal. One of his kids is a social worker.

    From a NYT article written as he was shutting down his hedge fund (2009):

    Although Mr. Barsky has clearly gotten rich, he was surprisingly clear-eyed about the societal imbalances of hedge fund mania. The industry, he told me, “was part of this huge trend towards the celebration of wealth. Hedge fund managers overearned. It just became too easy. There has been a massive misallocation of human resources. I have so many smart guys here who were making seven figures. And I think it is a fair question to ask: what would they have been doing in 1948 — going into the foreign service? If Obama does anything, the best thing he could do is change a generation’s values.”

    He continued: “I have a friend whose son is a senior at Princeton. She said all his friends want to work for Goldman Sachs.” He added, “We have an overground railroad to finance. It is not the best way for a society to be run.”

    One of the things that struck him when he first started working on Wall Street, he said, was “how compensation-oriented Wall Street is. When I was a journalist, I could get rewarded in 100 ways, including being on Page 1. Wall Street is the other extreme. There is a singular focus on compensation that is simple, it is clean, but ultimately it is unhealthy.”

    […]

    “I don’t feel a sense of defeat,” Mr. Barsky said, as I was preparing to leave. “We have done well by investors and by our employees. We comported ourselves ethically. Three months ago,” he added, “I started to read books on Buddhism. What I learned is how much of what we do is ego-driven. Why do I feel I have to be the best hedge fund manager? I started to have perspective. You probably want your hedge fund manager to eat raw meat. But as we unwind, I’m pretty comfortable with my mind-set.”

    And here’s a testimonial from one of his former employees:

    Soleil Nathwani, Alson’s former chief operating officer, says that Barsky’s biggest concern was putting his people out of work. “Everyone in that company, even the receptionist, had equity,” says Nathwani. “He gave six-month severance packages and covered everyone’s health care until they found new jobs. During my eight years at Goldman Sachs, where I had worked with hedge fund clients, I had never seen a firm run like that.”

    Cum grano salis and all that sort of thing, of course, but I’ve known worse people.

  30. 30
    slippytoad says:

    So, I remember we just read Keller’s clodhopper-insensitive blatherings about how other people shouldn’t whine about their terminal cancer.

    I really don’t give a shit what he has to say on any other topic. Who else does?

  31. 31
    Amir Khalid says:

    The Marshall Project will combine the best of the old and the new in journalism. We will achieve our goals through the use of conventional investigative reporting and opinion writing, and embrace new technologies currently transforming the media, including interactive graphics, immersive digital stories, short video documentaries and content generated by our readers. We will curate the daily torrent of criminal justice news from publications around the country, highlight the work of advocacy groups on both the right and left, host debates, and drive a lively discussion on social media.

    Hmm. Sounds like a news site, with some fancy bells and whistles. Bt I’m not sure what thay’re going to do that’s really new. Don’t groups like the Innocence Project already do at least some of this?

    And what the heck is this “We will curate the daily torrent of criminal justice news from publications around the country” stuff? What does reprinting other people’s content add to the conversation about criminal justice in America?

  32. 32
    slippytoad says:

    @Baud:

    FreedomWorks Chief Says GOP Senators Are Killing His Group’s Funding

    I was cracking up too. I was like waitaminute, isn’t Freedumbworks the Teabagger outfit?

  33. 33
    Cervantes says:

    @Baud:

    FreedomWorks Chief Says GOP Senators Are Killing His Group’s Funding

    More amusing still if you remember what Kibbe said just a few months ago (October):

    You’re really seeing a disintermediation in politics … It’s already happened with the Democratic Party … It’s happening with the Republican Party now … Grassroots activists have an ability to self-organize, to fund candidates they’re more interested in, going right around the Republican National Committee and senatorial committee. … Everything’s more democratized and Republicans should come to terms with that.

    If his “democratized” money was coming from self-organized “grassroots activists,” why are a few phone calls made by Republican Senators making him squeal?

  34. 34
    Gex says:

    My fear is that Keller will arrive at the conclusion that the death penalty should be applied more frequently and appeals should be curtailed so that we can stop wasting our prision-industrial-complex spending on keeping people alive.

  35. 35
    Jay C says:

    @Cervantes:

    Soleil Nathwani, Alson’s former chief operating officer, says that Barsky’s biggest concern was putting his people out of work

    I had to read this this quote twice before it became clear that Barsky’s concern was actually avoiding “putting people out of work” – in today’s business world, it’s more likely to be a priority, and/or sick sense of pride, rather than something to try to avert……

  36. 36
    Cervantes says:

    @Jay C: Yes, I saw that. Katie Benner at Fortune wrote it and, of course, “She has a B. A. in English from Bowdoin College.”

    (At least it wasn’t Harvard this time.)

  37. 37
    C.V. Danes says:

    “Since the day I was born, I have been aware that the criminal justice system in America is bizarrely horrible and weirdly tolerated,” Mr. Barsky said. “The main reason is that it’s been that way for such a long duration that we don’t challenge it anymore.”

    Actually, people challenge the criminal justice system every day. Its that those people also, you know, tend to be sent to jail because of it.

  38. 38
    Cervantes says:

    @Gex: That’s good. You should send it to him:

    Bill Keller
    The Marshall Project
    250 W. 57th St. #2514
    New York, NY 10107

    info@themarshallproject.org

    212.803.5200

  39. 39
    Elizabelle says:

    Checked in with Lisa Bonchek Adams’ blog the moment I heard about Bill Keller’s new job last night.

    Lisa is still with us, and blogging. You’ll recall she is the cancer-experiencing blogger that the Kellers consider a questionable purveyor of TMI.

    Although most readers find her informational, courageous, and honest.

    Qualities the Kellers could use in their line of work. Alas.

    Lisa Bonchek Adams from last year: Expiration Date

  40. 40
    Lex says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    “We will curate the daily torrent of criminal justice news from publications around the country” stuff? What does reprinting other people’s content add to the conversation about criminal justice in America?

    Done properly, curating isn’t just reprinting content. It’s treating each news item as a piece of data and then analyzing that data to identify patterns and the systemic causes of those patterns for readers/viewers.

    In other words, what competent newspapers used to do in addition to reporting the individual news items.

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