« February 2011 | Main | April 2011 »

March 2011

Doing the right thing at the Baltimore Freedom Academy

Gin and I last week attended a high school symposium called "Do the Right Thing," at the Baltimore Freedom Academy. Walking down the tan hallways covered with bright student artwork, I did not know what to expect, but I soon found myself engaged in a complex conversation about how our daily choices can affect others, both locally and globally. 


The program began in the auditorium, where two high school students and a teacher discussed their work with Art on Purpose and their reflections on the theme. One student, Quorren Bullock, described a painting she'd made depicting a man saving a girl from drowning. Another high-schooler said an example of doing the right thing can be as simple as answering a teacher's question in class when no one else has a hand raised. 

"I think that every student should have the right to dream and have visions without anyone taking that from them," Bullock said on stage. 

We watched an audio presentation in which students interviewed their peers and teachers and asked them to interpret the theme "do the right thing" (borrowed from a Spike Lee film of the same name). The audio was descriptive, and the student-taken photos were evocative. 

Teachers who were interviewed described "putting 100% effort into anything and everything you do" and referenced Socrates' quote, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Students who were interviewed talked about making good decisions related to bullying, dress codes and making fun of teachers. The creators of the presentation also included photos of people who've done "the right thing" throughout history, including Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. Images of civil rights protests in the U.S. were juxtaposed with global events.

I was impressed with a note at the end of the screening that told us that all of the music and images used in the presentation were used for educational purposes and that copyright law was considered -- a small but thoughtful example of doing the right thing. (BFA also had vegan snacks for participants, which was another nice touch.)

Photo After the introduction in the auditorium ended, we split into groups for more personal discussions. Gin and I attended a session on "doing the right thing in your community," hosted by the middle school principal, Danielle Shylit. There were several students in the room, as well as parents, teachers and community members. We were asked to reflect on the "First they came ... " quote from Martin Niemoller, a German pastor who was sent to a concentration camp during World War II. 

Shylit described herself as a "third-generation Holocaust survivor"; her grandparents met in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, and her mother was born there. Shylit was very open about her family's history, telling us that her grandparents chose love over hate. She also told us about some frank discussions she had with her grandmother about race while she was still alive, part of her grandmother changing her worldview in her 80s. 

Group participants applied the quote to current world events, including the revolutions in the Middle East and Africa, and also made links to how individual behavior can inspire change in others. Shylit conducted the session in the Socratic tradition and at one point asked, "In what ways does my identity play into what I believe is the right thing?" 

I thought it was an interesting question, about both our individual identities and our global perspective as Americans. 

As the session wrapped up, Gin and I spoke to Shylit in the hall, and she told us about a song she sings her daughter every night before bed, called "Everything Possible." And then she sang it for us, right there in the hallway, between sessions, with students and parents stopping at times to listen.

It was a powerful and thought-provoking evening, and I left feeling inspired, both by my own reflections on "doing the right thing," and by the evidence of the important work that's happening at the Baltimore Freedom Academy.


Photos by Mary Hartney


Always topical: Education news in Baltimore

NancyG This week at NewsTrust Baltimore, we're focusing on education and conducting a news hunt on the topic

As news breaks this afternoon of the resignation of Nancy Grasmick, the long-serving state schools superintendent, we're reminded that education is a major focus for Maryland families and news sources. A number of interesting stories on public schools, higher education and budget issues have already surfaced in our review of the subject, and we invite you to share and review the wealth of journalism on the subject.

Baltimore's public school system is a focal point for a national concern over urban education. The city's schools have been a source of despairing statistics and tragic story arcs (particularly in the fourth season of "The Wire"). Many local school districts are facing budget cuts and staff reductions severe enough to prompt student protests, as covered in The Baltimore Sun and Towson Patch.

But there's another side to Baltimore's education story.

Despite the challenges facing the city, the surrounding counties and the state of Maryland, there are innovative people and programs at work. An educator writing in the Huffington Post has argued that Baltimore is "quickly becoming the blueprint for how to turnaround a struggling district."

People in Chicago are sufficiently impressed with the leadership of Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso to bring up his name as a candidate to lead their gigantic school system.

A busy political season is coming to a close in Maryland's General Assembly. Funding for education, especially in Baltimore City, has been a flash point in debates over the state budget and a new proposed tax on alcohol.

The University of Maryland system and Baltimore's universities are also in the news a lot this week. For a dynamic view of these institutions, we encourage you to explore the student newspapers we have added as sources at NewsTrust Baltimore: The Quindecim (Goucher College), The Johns Hopkins News-LetterThe Greyhound (Loyola University Maryland), Columns (The College of Notre Dame of Maryland), The Towerlight (Towson University), The Retriever Weekly (UMBC), and The Diamondback (University of Maryland College Park).

Towson University is in the midst of a leadership change, and an interim president has been appointed. Access to higher education for young illegal immigrants has been the focus of debate in Annapolis this session. We have seen fascinating comments by young undocumented students advocating for in-state tuition and sometimes ambivalent reactions within Maryland's African-American politicians.

In sorting through the complexities and contrasting narratives surrounding education in Baltimore, we welcome your contributions. Together, the community of NewsTrust Baltimore staff, partners, readers, and members can help surface the best journalism on this crucial topic. Next week, when we've wrapped up our education news hunt, we'll highlight on the blog the most informative stories and your insightful reviews and comments. 

Photo credit: Maryland State Archives


Education is the focus every day for our partners

While education is the topic of this week's news hunt, learning is the priority every week for our educational partners. Here are some of the innovative and inspiring projects they have shared with us: 

  • You may have already read about Towson University professor Stacy Spaulding, and her peer-review critique model on our blog. Her colleagues are also using NewsTrust Baltimore in their classrooms. Thom Lieb is working with students to hone their editing techniques in News Editing. We have featured several of their reviews on our home page. JoAnne Broadwater uses NewsTrust Baltimore as a tool in her Mass Communications classes, introducing freshmen to media literacy, and helping her juniors and seniors hone their journalism, media production, and marketing skills.
  • University of Maryland, College Park professor Ronald Yaros is conducting an evaluation of the NewsTrust audience with his students. They are also posting insightful reviews of local news. 
  • At Morgan State University, professor Allissa Richardson received a grant to develop a mobile journalism project. We are looking forward to reading, watching, and listening to their stories, and we hope you will review them with us!
  • If you missed last week's blog post, be sure to check out how Loyola University professor Stephanie Flores-Koulish spreads the media literacy mission.

Our high school partners are busy, as well:

  • Last week the Baltimore Freedom Academy hosted "Do the Right Thing," a presentation and community discussion of ethics and justice. Look for local editor Mary Hartney's post about that inspiring event later this week. 
  • The Baltimore Urban Debate League is planning a debate focused on education themes, using NewsTrust Baltimore as a research tool. Mary and I will be working with Chris Baron to help students learn how to use the site to find reliable information about their debate topics.
  • We're looking forward to our next news hunt, with guest host Wide Angle Youth Media. Their annual Who Are You? youth media festival, which is focused on youth identity, launches this week, and they will be asking for your help to find the best local journalism on youth identity and issues.

If you have found a way to use NewsTrust Baltimore to help your students or community to become more thoughtful news consumers, please let us know. We'd love to share your story!


This week's topic: education

Happy Monday! After last week's experiment in pointing to stories you might have missed, we're back to a regular news hunt today. This week, we'll focus on education, and there have been a number of interesting stories over the past few months about schools in Baltimore City and County, as well as in the state. 

For some background, here's our news hunt page, which explains what a news hunt is and details some of our recent Baltimore topics, as well as some news hunts on the NewsTrust national site. 

As part of a news hunt, we ask our member community to do two things: find and post journalism on the topic and review related stories at our website. At the end of the news hunt -- which are typically a week on the Baltimore site, though there have been some that are longer -- we summarize how many stories were reviewed and aim to point to the "most trusted" pieces, which links to one of our goals as an organization. 

The success of NewsTrust Baltimore depends on our members -- thank you for your participation, and we look forward to a good conversation this week about education!


In the news this week

Although we didn't do a traditional news hunt this week, there was still plenty to talk about on NewsTrust Baltimore, and it was a particularly good week for news.

Investigative Voice began releasing excerpts from a e-book called "Why Do We Kill?" The book is a collaboration between Stephen Janis, an Investigative Voice reporter, and former Baltimore City homicide Detective Kelvin Sewell. Excerpts are here, here and here.

Erin Cox, a reporter at The Capital in Annapolis, was in Japan on vacation when the earthquake hit, and she wrote a moving first-person account of the following days. (Her husband is a reporter at The Washington Post, and you can find some of his coverage here.)

Bloggers have had a lot to say lately about questions over residency for City Council members. Check out Adam Meister's research and pointed questions, as well as related posts from Mobtown Shank, WBAL-TV, and North Baltimore Patch. The comments section of this NewsTrust Baltimore page has some good related links and commentary.

City Paper's cover story on complaints about the Environmental Control Board has some thoughtful reviews, but another story from the paper has had even more commentary. A reporter, Van Smith, discloses in "Sweet Deal," a piece about a drug dealer that he once bought pot from the subject. This was noted by Jim Romanesko, who writes a media blog and newsletter for Poynter.org, and it was also picked up by The Baltimore Sun's crime blog.

WYPR aired another installment in its "Living with Lou" series, conversations with Dudley Clendinen, a writer and journalist who has been diagnosed with ALS. Reporter Sarah Richards also added some context to the recent Baltimore City police towing scandal.

The Baltimore Brew continued to get the scoops on Sparrows Point; two pieces from this week are here and here. Related: a TV station in Ohio noted the site's coverage of the issue. The Brew also released another "State of My Block" piece by a Baltimore resident.

Towson Patch stayed on top of developments over news about the Baltimore County schools superintendant's salary; the site has a dog in the fight. And Arbutus Patch editor Bruce Goldfarb explainedhow open records played a crucial role in two stories broken by the publication over the past several days.

We've featured these stories -- and many more -- throughout the week on NewsTrust Baltimore, but please give them a read and add your comments and reviews if you haven't already.

Additionally, this week we've featured stories on our home page and in the newsletter that are from weeks past that you may have missed. Here's a summary of what we noted -- we'd still love your comments and reviews here, too.


Silent No More - City Paper

Living with Lou - WYPR

Cruel Season - City Paper

Could NPR mistakes hurt Baltimore radio stations? - The Baltimore Sun

CVP owner picks up pieces - Towson Patch


Maryland gay marriage debacle reveals cowards and civil rights myopia - The Washington Post

Interview with Baltileaks - The Indypendent Reader

Keys to the City - Urbanite

Through the Lens - Urbanite

Maryland Democrats and their situational ethics - Red Maryland


What have we missed -- both this week and previously? Let me know by posting a comment or adding stories to the site. 


Update: This blog post was updated on March 28, 2011, to include a news story that was inadvertently left out from the lists of the week's featured past stories.


A commitment to media literacy

As we walked into the classroom, Kim Kardashian’s voice filled the room. She was flirting with her personal trainer, and the students were laughing appreciatively at the sneaker commercial’s double entendres.

While this might seem like strange material for a Master’s course, it’s perfect for Media Literacy Education, a course requirement for graduate students in Loyola University's literacy education program. NewsTrust Baltimore local editor Mary Hartney and I had the pleasure of attending Dr. Stephanie Flores-Koulish’s class a few weeks ago, where the students were analyzing the subtexts in Super Bowl commercials.

By analyzing and exploring contemporary media of all sources, Flores-Koulish says that she intends to "prepare teachers to consider literacy beyond traditional texts, towards visual and multimedia literacies."

"I tend to use hands-on approaches whenever possible," she said. This includes the analyses of television commercials, students producing their own public service announcements, and a class trip to the Newseum for an immersive news experience.

Fortunately for us, it also means using NewsTrust Baltimore to explore local journalism.

As part of the course requirements, students respond to questions and reflect on assignments on an online discussion board, and Flores-Koulish integrated NewsTrust Baltimore into the plan. Her students reviewed one of three selected articles on our site and re-posted their comments on the discussion board.

RaShawna Sydnor, a graduate student in education, said of the experience, "Concept-wise, NewsTrust was an important element because it made you 'part' of the news, not just a spectator."

Melanie Maisey, a kindergarten teacher at Southwest Baltimore Charter School, said: "I appreciated the depth of the questions asked when we reviewed an article. The thoroughness of not only what was asked, but how it was asked, prompted deeper thinking." 

For Flores-Koulish, the ultimate goal of teaching is to spread media literacy. "I firmly believe in the power of grassroots movements, and teaching teachers this new field falls in line with that belief," she said. 

From her own research, she has seen that her "students' eyes are opened by this material, and many are compelled to include it in their teaching." 

Her students seem to agree. Sydnor said that "having students gain the ability to recognize the differences between news and opinion and gauge tone, frame, and intended audience, is an insight that very many adults don't have, and I believe that the earlier they are introduced the better."

Maisey recognizes the importance of understanding the motivations behind media. "It is not only important to be able to empathize with the subject, situations, and people, it is also important to stand in the shoes of the journalist." 

She thinks that this helps people ask critical questions and "dig deeper to find a truth that is less biased and more personal."

Sydnor has a dream of opening a charter school for girls and sees media literacy as a core element of their education. "Critical literacy will help shape how they see themselves in the world and, with any hope, trigger the ambition to change and educate others,” she said.

As media’s role continues to increase in our lives, the need to understand it will grow, as well. Fortunately, Flores-Koulish and her students are ready to teach. 


Following the Red Line: A summary of the transportation news hunt

MTARedLineGetting around Baltimore doesn't seem very easy these days.

The local news offers plenty of evidence that transportation is a major concern in the city. We see terrible collisions between cyclists and cars and some of the worst rush-hour traffic in the nation. At the same time, offerings like the Charm City Circulator have proved popular (maybe too popular) and major plans are afoot to build the Red Line -- a new public transit route planned along the city's east-west axis.

The Red Line project has been discussed, debated, protested and applauded for several years. It now appears to be taking shape as a light rail connection running from western Baltimore County, through downtown (and underground), and into the eastern suburbs of the city. Last week, in collaboration with our media partners at Urbanite magazine, we began a news hunt for coverage of the Red Line and transportation issues in general.

The magazine is taking a step beyond journalism to launch "The Urbanite Project: Open City Challenge" -- a competition for community-enhancing project ideas. With a number of partners, including the Maryland Transit Administration, Urbanite is "inviting self-organized teams to compete for $10,000 in prize money (provided by the MTA) and the chance to implement their solution to a pressing city issue: the quality-of-life issues brought about by the construction of the Red Line."

You can read more about the contest on Urbanite's website

Over the past week, Urbanite assistant editor Rebecca Messner joined members of the NewsTrust Baltimore community in collecting, posting and reviewing stories about the Red Line project and Baltimore's other transportation issues. Rebecca told us that Urbanite's Open City Challenge is "looking for thoughtful designers to make a positive lasting impact on the communities who will be affected by the construction of the Red Line."

"To do this, they need to see the whole picture, and they need to have access to the best journalism available on the subject," she said.

The NewsTrust community is off to a great start in assembling that "whole picture." In our news hunt we gathered a wide array of news stories and opinion pieces

Some are very recent, while others highlight key moments in the contentious history of the project. To date, our community has gathered 39 stories covering aspects of the the Red Line project and related issues. Also during the week, community members weighed in on general transportation stories.

In April, Urbanite will intensify its coverage of these topics and use NewsTrust Baltimore to compile the best background stories on the Red Line. As a result, we expect this collection to grow much more in the weeks ahead. Please join us in building an information resource for everyone concerned about transportation in Baltimore. In the meantime, here are some of the highlights from the list of stories we've found so far.


Recommended stories


Good Day Sunshine (reviews) - Arbutus Patch

Efficient Charm City Circulator services tourists and underprivileged Baltimoreans (reviews) - The Greyhound

LaHood says high-speed train plan won't be derailed (reviews) - Baltimore Sun

MTA hires Red Line community liaisons (reviews) - Baltimore Sun

Canton Organizing To Oppose Transit Plan (reviews) - Baltimore Sun  


Red Line "East Side" video (reviews) - Red Line Project

Listen: Moving stories about getting around Baltimore (reviews) - Greater Greater Washington

Expand Baltimore’s free Charm City Circulator buses (reviews) - Baltimore Brew


Featured topic
Any news related to the transportation is sure to draw attention and comment from people living in Baltimore. Indeed, the stories highlighted in the news hunt drew some interesting reactions from the NewsTrust community. Reviewer and Towson University student Katherina Capon took note of an August 2010 story about a rally for local hiring on Red Line construction. She said: "This story gave a different view than others that I have read. It really discussed how the project would help the people of Baltimore by giving them jobs."

Stacy Spaulding, a Towson journalism professor, and Khalilah Harris, executive director of the Baltimore Freedom Academy, responded to Katherina and agreed that the article brought to light a different aspect of the news.

Another Towson University student, Rossella Procopio, found, posted and reviewed an opinion piece published in June 2010 by The Baltimore Brew's Gerald Neily. Rossella called it "a helpful general introduction to the Charm City Circulator for those who want to learn the basics."

"The article brings up an interesting point on whether the Circulator is actually innovative or simply redundant, and makes some suggestions on how to implement a new transportation system," she wrote.

All our news hunts are really just week-long snapshots of major subjects that have long histories and resurface often in Baltimore and Maryland. The issues surrounding the Red Line are no exception.  In this case, with the continuing partnership with Urbanite magazine, we're stressing the open-ended nature of the news hunt and asking our readers, reviewers, and partners to continue finding and reviewing journalism about the Red Line.  


The NewsTrust community
We are grateful to all the volunteers readers, reviewers and partners who are making NewsTrust Baltimore into a key resource. Your contributions are helping people in our community find valuable information about pressing issues. If you are not yet a member of NewsTrust Baltimore, please sign up and join the experiment. Your voice is needed and welcome -- the success of this social news experiment depends on the participation of members like you.

Thank you again, and see you on the site


Photo credit: Maryland Department of Transportation


Bringing good news to the surface

For the first time since NewsTrust Baltimore launched, we won't be doing a news hunt this week. Instead, we'll follow the news as it breaks, and we're also going to try something new: highlighting stories from the past few weeks that are worthy of more discussion. 

In some cases, they will be highly rated stories that we think could spur more good discussion. In other cases, they will be interesting stories that may have gotten lost in the shuffle. We'll be pointing to two each day -- one news and one opinion piece -- on the home page, in the "from the editors" box on the upper right, and occasionally in the newsletter. 

We'll resume news hunts soon, and we have a few excellent topics in the works. In the meantime, we'll summarize the results of the transportation and Red Line news hunt on Wednesday, and we still encourage you to rate and review stories on those pages.

Thanks for your participation on NewsTrust Baltimore


NewsTrust Baltimore Meetup: Good conversations about local journalism

We stepped away from our computers Tuesday evening and headed down to Teavolve in Harbor East for our first meetup with the NewsTrust Baltimore community: partners, journalists, members, and Baltimoreans invested in good journalism. We wanted to celebrate the extension to the pilot and to have the chance to just chat with each other about Baltimore, journalism, and our role as members of the broader community.

NewsTrust's founder and executive director, Fabrice Florin, was in town, and he was thrilled to attend the event. He’s a fearless photographer and arranged a photo project where each person was asked, "Why does Baltimore need good journalism?" Fabrice took photos of each person holding a card with their answer, and over the course of the evening, we noticed some key ideas kept recurring.

Kevin Kevin Moreno, Baltimore Community Foundation program officer and blogger for Unsung Baltimore, wrote, simply, "We deserve it." There were several people, including Hal Malone, Spanish services coordinator for Friends of the Family, who agreed that good journalism is critically important.

Watchdog coverage of government was a popular theme. Gina Davis, who works in media relations for McDaniel College, wrote: "Keep ‘em honest." Tim Hill, online editor of City Paper, expanded on the subject and wrote: "When power know it's not being watched, it consumes the powerless." 

Focusing on our role as consumers in the news
Micheleecosystem, Michele Baylin of the Maryland Humanities Council wrote, "Because an informed public leads to a more 'civiclly' engaged public!"

We gathered informally in small groups to discuss the ideas and to make new connections. I talked with Gordon Steen about the changing trends in journalism and the value of providing links in online news to give the full story, and with Amy Kozak about the need to practice thoughtful civic dialogue.

Our local editor, Mary Hartney, talked with Towson Patch’s Tyler Waldman about how his friends in Japan are faring after the earthquake and tsunami, and she also spoke with Christopher Siple about his interest in local government and nightlife coverage.

Andrew Hazlett, NewsTrust Baltimore's writer and researcher, had great discussions with Bmore Media editor Neal Shaffer and Baltimore Sun community coordinator Steve Earley about the project's benefits to journalists and news outlets. 

Unlike our national parent site, NewsTrust.net, which draws members from across the globe, we are fortunate to be a local community and to have opportunities to connect with each other face to face. Each time we meet with our friends, partners, and reviewers, we gain insight about the project and find ourselves re-energized. We look forward to more meetups and great conversations in the future! Thank you to those who attended and gave us valuable feedback about the project.

For more photos, check out our new photo page on NewsTrust Baltimore.


Our sense of community: A summary of the news hunt


In the first two weeks of March, NewsTrust Baltimore focused on different facets of "community" in Baltimore. It's a broad concept that covers everything from neighborhoods to ethnicity to intangibles like a sense of belonging. To help us navigate this wide open topic, we had some great help from our own community of partners and members.

In the first week, Fern Shen, editor and publisher of The Baltimore Brew, was our guest host. She helped us search out, post, and review stories that followed the many strands pulled together under the topic of community. During the full two weeks of our news hunt, 137 stories in the community category were reviewed by NewsTrust Baltimore members. Of those, 33 received a NewsTrust rating, and 32 were considered above average.  


Recommended stories


Silver Lining (reviews) - Urbanite

A new day at Baltimore's City Springs (reviews) - Baltimore Brew

Community to Have Its Say in TU Presidential Search (reviews) - Towson Patch

Lt. Gov. Brown’s grandmother was an illegal immigrant (reviews) - Maryland Reporter

Science education lacking in Maryland (reviews) - Baltimore Sun

Supreme Court Rules for Military Protestors (reviews) - WJZ

Teen Electrocution Death Exposes City’s Decaying Wiring System (reviews) - Afro

Baltimore Officials Grant Lowes/Walmart 25th Street Station Development Project Stormwater Management Waiver (reviews) - Baltidome

Towson U. journalist says campus newspapers were stolen to prevent spread of controversial story (reviews) - Baltimore Sun


O Brother, Where Art Thou? (reviews) - City Paper

Don't like potholes? Pony up (reviews) - Baltimore Sun

Get In On It (But Don't Get In It) (reviews) - City Paper 

Carbonation Without Representation (reviews) - North Baltimore Patch


Featured topic
There was no shortage of very important stories about community over these two weeks, and NewsTrust community members were particularly eloquent in their reviews. We'll highlight just a few of samples from these active discussions.

Published in the Baltimore Guide, "When a 311 call becomes a 911 call" is an opinion piece about the dangers of the city's neglect of a seemingly minor problem. In her review, Fern Shen wrote: "It's good community advocacy and that's often the only thing that's going to lead to good community journalism these days, with fewer reportorial boots on the ground. By putting this problem out there in a first-person blog post, the author is raising the issue and maybe it will be picked up by a reporter or a public official."

As Black History Month came to a close, WYPR examined the heritage of Pennsylvania Avenue, once a thriving boulevard of African American-owned businesses and clubs. A mix of photos, writing, and audio segments, the piece focused on one local activist's redevelopment efforts. Though many enjoyed the story, several reviewers wished for more information. Brianna Carter wrote: "It seems like there's more to the story, either the background or next steps ('future'). And I would argue that while Billie Holliday left an incredible legacy, there's more to 'Black History' in Baltimore than her ties. What is the future of physical memorials in Baltimore created to honor Black History?"

Another commenter was Antero Pietelo, author of Not in My Neighborhood, a chronicle of segregation in Baltimore. He took issue with the version of history in the WYPR report and offered some insights and links of his own.

The issue of same-sex marriage is a profound concern to many communities in Baltimore. The high stakes and deep emotions around the issue can make it a challenge for journalists. When a bill to allow such marriages failed in the House of Delegates, NewsTrust community members weighed in the extensive coverage. There was a particularly good discussion around Julie Bykowicz's story in the Baltimore Sun

Michael Nitti, like most reviewers, praised the article for representing "both sides of the debate very well, interviewing both supporters of same-sex marriage such as Ruth Siegel and those who aren't all for it, such as Pastor Joel Peebles."

Ashley Stephenson commended the story as well, but detected a hint of partiality: "It was well written, well sourced, and very relevant. You could tell that the journalist did their best to be fair and understand both sides, although you can taste a twinge of bias in there."

Read these and other sharp reviews of the piece here. The similarly excellent discussion around WBAL Radio's story from the same day makes for an interesting comparison.

The public health problems associated with lead paint have been a major problem in Baltimore's communities, so news that the city government had lost millions of dollars in federal abatement funding stirred a lot of comment at NewsTrust. Sabrina Lindsey praised the article, but asked, "What about the people? I saw a lot of government sources, but I didn't see any quotes from anyone directly affected by this issue. That should be the focus of it. What are these people going to do now? Are they going to keep living in these houses? How will they deal with the lead in their homes? What about their children?"

Rossella Procopio asked, "What were the so-called 'administrative issues' that led to the eventual grant loss?" Journalists and commentators are continuing to look into these questions. 

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunamis in Japan, local community members with family in Japan offered their reactions in WJZ interviews. The terrible disasters bring to mind another form of community -- a sense of shared humanity across cultures and distance. It's a testament to the combined power of journalism (in both "new" and "old" formats) that even in Baltimore, we can feel such a close connection to the people of Japan. 


The NewsTrust community
We are grateful to all the volunteers who have helped make our community of readers, reviewers, and media partners. Your work and ideas are helping to create an important resource that will benefit everyone in Baltimore.

This week, with help from our friends at Urbanite magazine, we are on the hunt for news related to the Red Line transit project. Join us in tracking down and reviewing the news about this major undertaking. If you are not yet a member of NewsTrust Baltimore, please sign up and join the experiment. Your voice is needed and welcome -- the success of this social news experiment depends on the participation of members like you. Thank you again, and see you on the site


Photo credit: Eli Pousson


The first six weeks of NewsTrust Baltimore

As we hit the midpoint of March, we're a month and a half into the NewsTrust Baltimore pilot, and this is a good opportunity to take a step back to see how this social news experiment is going.

Let's start with the stats. In the first six weeks of this project, we've had more than 6,000 visitors to the site, with more than 12,000 visits, and nearly 60,000 page-views. On average, NewsTrust Baltimore users spend nearly 6 minutes on the site per visit -- wow! That tells me that our members are very engaged, which we also see from their thoughtful comments and reviews. We have nearly 500 members at this point, and more than 300 of those are reviewers. We're delighted that these numbers exceed our goals!

We've set some additional goals for ourselves for the extension of this project, which will run through July, and we're well on our way to hitting those marks. Our media and educational partners continue to help us grow, by promoting this project, sending us visitors and asking their communities to review stories on NewsTrust Baltimore.

We're grateful that our members continue to support this social news experiment, as well. NewsTrust Baltimore reviewers are leaving thoughtful reviews across the site -- check out these blog posts for examples -- and helping post stories from a variety of news sources covering Baltimore and Maryland.

As we move forward, we want to stay connected to our community, and we always welcome your feedback. Are we missing any sources that you like to read online? Have we missed news stories that are important to you? Would you like us to work with your school or educational program? Let us know how we can help and improve. You can always leave a comment on the blog or send us an email at baltimore-at-newstrust-dot-net.

If you haven't already signed up for NewsTrust Baltimore, please do so. To stay up to date with the latest news and information about this project, we recommend you sign up to get our daily and weekly newsletters, which you can sign up for in your "my account" area, in the emails tab. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Thanks for helping make this experiment a success!


News hunt on transportation and the Red Line

This week, we're conducting a news hunt on transportation, with a special look at the Red Line, the east-west transit project in Baltimore. Our partner in this search for good journalism is Urbanite magazine, which has just launched this year's Urbanite Project, focused on ideas that address quality-of-life issues brought about by the Red Line. Read more about the project here.

The Red Line has been an abstract project and subject of debate for more than half a decade -- Would it be bus lines? Rail lines? Underground or above? What would the exact route be? Who are its customers?Our news hunt on the Red Line will help pull together various reports from the past several years that will help put the project into a larger context. Rebecca Messner, a writer and editor at Urbanite, will be helping gather those articles and post them to the Red Line and transportation pages on NewsTrust Baltimore.

But we need your help, too. Do you recall good stories that helped explain the Red Line? Or perhaps you know of bloggers from Canton and Fells Point who have been vocal about the proposals. Help us find good coverage about the Red Line and post and review those on the site. 

This news hunt won't just be about the Red Line, however. This is an opportunity to take a look at some larger transportation issues, including commuting, public transit woes, road infrastructure, and even cycling. Please join us in finding and discussing these articles -- and we'll see you on the site!


Reviewers take a look at news about addiction in Baltimore

As we wrap up our second week focused on community, I’d like to share some of the notable reviews on one particular story made by OUR community -- by reviewers like you!

An Urbanite magazine article, “On the Trail of Addiction,” about a new study under way to track drug addiction in Baltimore, has been reviewed many times, thanks to Professor Ronald Yaros' Understanding News Audiences course at the University of Maryland (one of our educational partners). His journalism students contributed very interesting assessments.

Matt Ford breaks down the qualities of good journalism in the story: “First, it takes scientific studies and processes that may be difficult to understand and explains them. Second, it uses several sources. Third, it discusses a local story that is relevant to anyone who lives in Baltimore.“

Elizabeth Klinck felt that the story was good journalism in many ways, but she also said that “the paragraphs are too long and technical” and that “I feel that the mapping technology is the most interesting part of this story and should be up way higher.”

Another student, Danielle Chazen, pointed out that “the graphics included at the bottom are also very informative and present the information in an innovative, visual way.”

One reviewer added links in her review of the article, which is a nice option to point to previous coverage or additional sources. Lucy Qian posted a Baltimore Sun story about heroin users from 2008 that actually quotes an even earlier story, from 1998. Her links help other reviewers get more information on the subject and become more informed news consumers.

The overall score for “On the Trail of Addiction” was a 3.8, with the highest marks for facts, fairness, and sourcing, and the lowest marks for writing style. Take a look for yourself, and let us know if you agree.

I hope these reviews inspire you to add your thoughts to this article or one of the many others on NewsTrust Baltimore!

NewsTrust Baltimore extension and meetup

We have big news to share -- the NewsTrust Baltimore experiment has been extended an additional four months through the end of July! We're thrilled to have more time to continue to build this community and work with our educational and media partners to help increase news literacy in Baltimore. We plan to use the extra time to do some more interesting work on the site and in classrooms and to continue to evaluate the quality of local journalism.

This funding comes from the Open Society Foundations, which decided to award a second grant to NewsTrust Baltimore -- and their decision is thanks in part to partners and community members like you!

To celebrate the extension, we're holding an informal meetup at Teavolve in Harbor East on Tuesday, March 15, from 5 to 7 p.m. This will be a chance to meet others in the NewsTrust Baltimore community, as well as to simply chat, hang out and let us know your feedback and thoughts on how this experiment is going. NewsTrust's founder, Fabrice Florin, will be in town, and he's looking forward to spending some time with the Baltimore community.

Please join us on Tuesday -- you can RSVP at this Eventbrite page.


On community

For the past 10 days, NewsTrust Baltimore has been focusing on stories around the theme of community.

We've found, as we expected, that the word "community" means different things to different people. Are our communities defined by neighborhoods? Values? Race or ethnicity? Profession or socioeconomic status? Some people think of Baltimore is a big city composed of many small towns and communities. We're also seeing that Baltimore's news ecosystem reflects that variety and intimacy.

Last week Fern Shen, editor and publisher of The Baltimore Brew, was our guest host. She helped us search out, post, and review stories that captured the many sides of community in Baltimore.  

This week and through the weekend, we'll continue looking at stories about different communities and encourage you to help us find, post, and review articles on the community page.

Sometimes, very local neighborhood worries can reflect much broader, city-wide problems. To get a sense of how independent news sources are bringing light to these "small" community concerns, see this opinion piece from The Baltimore Guide, "When a 311 call becomes a 911 call." Franklin Square resident Scott Kashnow described an all too common problem, illegal dumping and slow City cleanup. In this case, a pile of discarded mattresses turned from an eyesore into a potentially serious fire, despite repeated calls to the City's 311 line.

History helps define communities, and Baltimore's African-American heritage has been in the news. WYPR's Maryland Morning created a multimedia report on Pennsylvania Avenue, a place that is central to Baltimore black history. Once the commercial and recreational heart of segregated black Baltimore, the avenue is now a focus of remembrance (and possible future development). In addition to a broadcast segment, Maryland Morning collected some online resources: striking photographs, helpful links, and some fascinating interview material that didn't make it on air. The NewsTrust Baltimore community responded with a very interesting series of comments. It's a must-read conversation among NewsTrust reviewers

The fate of Baltimore's communities is connected to regional and global economic forces.  As wheelers and dealers far from the city announced (yet another) sale of the Sparrows Point steel mill, Baltimore Brew captured the voices of local steelworkers in a collection of frank comments.

Who leads Baltimore's communities leaders? In January, Baltimore magazine featured its list of the people wielding power in the local scene. In "Power: Who has it. Who's lost it. And how to get it" the magazine presented a compelling portrait of outstanding people in a wide range of fields. The Baltimore Business Journal published their "Power 20: The Next Generation" list in February.

Last week, Urbanite magazine offered another read on Baltimore's powerful. In a collection of stories entitled "Keys to the City" Urbanite profiled six leaders who have "unlocked secrets for making change from the bottom up." Does this list seem more surprising and interesting than Baltimore magazine's? Who's really driving change in Baltimore's communities? How well are our local media covering these individuals and networks of influence? Are the concerns of your community being aired?

As we wind up this week's focus on community, we hope you'll share your thoughts on these questions and more.  

Among the stories we're discussing this week:

The NewsTrust community

We like to think of the people who visit NewsTrust Baltimore as an important community of our own. We're grateful for the attention, reviews, and ideas contributed to our project by a diverse range of people. From media partners who have shared their work to young students and ordinary citizens who have brought their perceptive eyes and insights, the NewsTrust Baltimore community is coming together. 

If you are not yet a member of NewsTrust Baltimore, please sign up and join the experiment. Your voice is needed and welcome -- the success of this social news experiment depends on the participation of members like you.Thank you again, and see you on the site


Finding inspiration in critiques

One of the pleasures of NewsTrust Baltimore has been the opportunity to work with local partners --the educators, community groups and media organizations that inspire our work and keep us connected to Baltimore. Our educational partners are a particular source of inspiration, and we love visiting classrooms to see how NewsTrust can teach journalistic and criticism skills.

In Dr. Stacy Spaulding's course “Writing for New Media,” Towson University journalism students are using NewsTrust Baltimore to help them research their news beats. Each student has a topic to follow and review and is also writing his or her own stories on that subject.

Lauren Slavin, a Towson journalism major and an editor at The Towerlight, Towson's student newspaper, said that reviewing articles on NewsTrust Baltimore helps to "truly evaluate what it is you're reading and how it measures up with what solid journalism should be.”

“It's funny how many lingering questions stories from the most reputable of publications leave after you're done reading,” she said. “As a journalist covering similar topics in a course about investigative reporting, it helps you realize what new information you want to bring to your readers."

Spaulding has taken the process a step further by using the NewsTrust review model as a framework for developing an evaluation rubric. Beginning with her own research on minimal grading and peer writing evaluation, she adapted our Full Review form and changed some of the evaluation criteria to better fit her objectives.

She sees this as a practical measurement system that gives the students real-world expectations. One of her goals is to "get students away from thinking, 'Is this A, B or C work?’ … and to get them to begin thinking, 'Is this good journalism?'"

For the students, this is a new way to approach their coursework. Katie VandenHeuvel, a Towson journalism major, said: "Because it's hard to say what the difference is between an A- and  B+ in writing it's become a lot easier to just ask, 'Is this good journalism?' Because if it is, it always will be good journalism and deserves to be graded as so."

Spaulding also has the students review each others’ writing. "I put students in groups of three and have them review three stories from the other class section. They like working in groups and discussing the stories. They ’grade‘ the stories, and then I review each score and add my own comments," she said.

VandenHeuvel sees the rubric as a helpful tool for evaluating other students. "You can't be too easy or too hard on the other students when there are questions that ask you to describe why you rated the story the way you do."

Slavin sees peer reviews as a valuable learning experience. "Having classmates point out what specific values you may be missing from a story or reading their work for similar values just lets you grow that much stronger as a reporter," she said.

Spaulding plans to continue to adapt this strategy this semester and hopes to see the benefits to the students' overall progress. "Since students are catching writing, style, attribution errors, it allows me to focus on reporting, how their work connects to their project, and the big-picture successes/challenges they're facing."

We’re delighted by Spaulding’s creativity in adapting NewsTrust to the classroom and by her students' positive response to the process. We hope we can support your goals, as well, whether becoming a more informed news consumer to honing your own journalism skills, to connecting with a community of others who value good journalism. We’d love to hear your stories of how NewsTrust Baltimore has made a difference in your life.


On the hunt for culture and living stories

The fourth week of the NewsTrust Baltimore pilot focused on coverage of culture and living stories. This news hunt ran from Monday, Feb. 21, through Sunday, Feb. 27.

Our guest host for this news hunt was Evan Serpick, senior editor at Baltimore magazine. Evan said:

"The experience reinforced my understanding that there are a wonderful range of local media outlets covering culture, from those covering "high" culture, like BMA director Doreen Bolger's blog "Art-Full Life" and B-mag's Arts Editor John Lewis, to those covering pop and street culture, like online magazine Gutter and hip-hop blog Government Names. We're really lucky to have such rich cultural coverage."

Indeed, Baltimore cultural journalists covered a lot of ground this week: contemporary art by African-American women, a sweeping survey of six decades of photography, the life of a legendary Baltimore jazz singer, the city's underrated dance companies, and important stories at the crossroads of politics and culture.

During the week, 39 stories in the living and culture categories were reviewed by the NewsTrust Baltimore community. Of those, 11 received a NewsTrust rating, and 11 were considered above average. 

Recommended stories



Featured topic
Baltimore is home to some of the East coast's great museums and cultural institutions. The city also boasts a vibrant scene of performing and visual arts. There is a diverse (and growing) array of news and opinion outlets devoted to covering the cultural landscape of Baltimore.

A major new exhibition opening at the Baltimore Museum of Art gave readers a chance to sample several flavors of cultural coverage. "Seeing Now: Photography Since 1960" opened on February 20th. What Weekly captured the scene at the opening party (with, fittingly, lots of photographs), and Urbanite took a close look at the works on display and offered a thoughtful review. And The Baltimore Sun's Tim Smith conveyed another take on the exhibit.

NewsTrust reviewers were intrigued by the City Paper's story about Baltimore's "DIY" dance scene. Towson University senior Asia S. Hinton wrote: "This story is a bit lengthy but it has all the elements of good journalism. There are extensive examples of the kinds of dance and a brief description of each. There are also various quotes from the subjects, the story even plays on a past article written by the Baltimore Sun. It also does a great job in describing the emotion and passion of the two subjects in the story. Only suggestion I may have (which many of my teachers at Towson tell me to do) is for the writer to possibly interview someone who is thinking of attending the performance. Overall the story was edited well, and I love the ending quote which ties the story back to its introduction."

Baltimore's place in the national cultural fabric was also on display this week. Baltimore magazine's profile of Ethel Ennis, a jazz singer still going strong after 60 years in show business, demonstrated how one person's life can touch on many aspects of musical and national history. The profile definitely struck a chord with reviewers at NewsTrust, as well. Towson University professor Stacy Spaulding wrote: "This is a lovely portrait of Ethel Ennis. In a city with an important--but often ignored--jazz pedigree, Mrs. Ennis is one of our living treasures. I hope this intimate look will result in more opportunities to see her perform and celebrate her talent and our history."

History can take front and center in our present-day debates, as seen in the Maryland General Assembly's struggle over which great Marylander to honor in a statue at the United States Capitol building: Harriet Tubman or Charles Carroll

In a political moment of cultural significance, Maryland's Senate passed a bill to recognize same-sex marriages. In the days ahead, as the action moves to the House of Delegates, check NewsTrust Baltimore for coverage of tracking the momentous debate.  

Finally, in a story close to our hearts here at NewsTrust Baltimore, Bmore Media published an interesting story about some innovative online publications contributing to the city's news ecosystem and cultural landscape. We highly recommend taking a look at that piece and checking out the sites it details.

Thanks to our community
We'd like to thank our community members and media and educational partners who helped find the stories that were part of this news hunt. If you are not yet a member of NewsTrust Baltimore, please sign up and join the experiment; your voice is needed and welcome.

This week, you can help us find the best journalism on communities in Baltimore by posting and reviewing stories in the community topic. Our guest host is Fern Shen, editor and publisher of The Baltimore Brew

Please help us post and review stories on these topics -- the success of this social news experiment depends on the participation of members like you.

Thank you again, and see you on the site!



Posting stories: Use the Force

While community matters to us every week, for the next two weeks NewsTrust Baltimore is making a special effort to focus on capital "C" Community as our main news topic. And we need your help!

You've likely read and reviewed a few stories on our site, but the next step is to post stories yourself. We do what we can to post stories from a wide range of sources. But there may be a story that slips through the cracks, or a new blog that is especially insightful. We need your help to find those hidden gems and to share them with your fellow members. In doing so, you are building your skills as a critical news consumer -- think of it as honing your Jedi powers.

Posting is a pretty simple process, with a few special tricks.

  1. Click on the yellow "Post A Story" button on the top right of any NewsTrust Baltimore page. 
  2. Past the URL of the story you wish to add to the site. 
  3. A new page will open that shows the story and either a frame or a second window for editing the information about the story.
  4. Select "Full Edit Form" from the drop-down menu on the top right.

Now you're ready to fill out the story's info. Follow these tips for mastery!


  1. Fill out the title of the story -- it may have auto-filled, but the automation is not always correct. It should match what is on the story's original page. You also should remove any extraneous source information -- we just want the headline, not the name of the news organization or blog.
  2. Add a subtitle, if there is one, by clicking on the blue "Is there a subtitle?" link just below the title.
  3. Fill in the author, using a comma between writers if there is more than one. If there is no author listed, leave this line blank.
  4. Select the type of story, either news or opinion -- bonus points for being even more specific, like marking it "news analysis" or "editorial." (If you are not sure, sometimes the news source will note the type above the headline.)
  5. For the content field, choose the media of the story. The most commonly used are article, blog post, video, and audio-streaming.
  6. The source of the story is the name of the news source, not the URL. (Sometimes the Associated Press is the actual source, though it is listed on a local news site. In that case, enter "Associated Press.")
  7. Add the following topic tags to the story, pressing "enter" after each one: BaltimoreLocal and Community, if appropriate. (Adding "Baltimore" and "Local" will ensure the story shows up on NewsTrust Baltimore, so these are the two most important!)
  8. Add any other topic tags that are relevant (e.g., Transportation, Maryland Legislature, Judaism). Many tags will auto-fill once you have typed part of a word -- those are our main topic areas. 
  9. Select "local" as the story scope to ensure the story shows up on the NewsTrust Baltimore site.
  10. Make sure you select the date of the story to be the date of publication, not today's date. Otherwise a 2-year-old story about a heat wave could become one of today's top stories!

To read more about posting stories, check out our FAQ.

This is a great week to try posting a story. Share an article about your neighborhood, an opinion about your culture or a report on your interests. Review the article you've posted, and see what other folks recommend. You have become one with the news!


About NewsTrust Baltimore

  • NewsTrust Baltimore is a local news experiment that aims to help Baltimore residents find good journalism about their area. Our web review tools let you rate the news based on journalistic quality, not just popularity. We're non-profit, non-partisan, and committed to helping citizens make informed decisions about democracy. More »

Baltimore News