Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Penn State Crimes, Moral Failures & Journalism

While the typical path of this blog has been to link to and write about specific pieces or books that struck me as interesting, this post is about the Penn State scandal and it's mesmerizing (in mostly bad, but also some good) elements.

Details of the actual indictment and alleged crimes within are horrifying, but what's really captured attention has been the characters apart from the accused molester Jerry Sandusky, especially living legend and now ex Penn State coach Joe Paterno. In his case, you have someone who has done much good, but in this case (by all appearances) failed at the most important moment.

It's a fascinating subject, this concept of duality within an individual... his good deeds remain so, but one specific thing handled in entirely the wrong way impacted so much for the victims. Paterno is of course the most recognizable name involved that could have raised these allegations to police years ago, but there's also now ex Penn State President Graham Spanier and his head in the sand approach both years ago when Sandusky's crimes were raised and since the indictment came down over the weekend. If one can detach from the horrible nature of the crimes, it's a study in how people in power (now including the Penn State Board of Trustees that fired both Spanier and Paterno) react to events, create environments and set policy.


So... the story itself has been riveting, but what's also held my attention over the past week has been the words from sports journalists reporting on the story. Some writers I respect a great deal have had fascinating observations to make and they've first appeared as real-time twitter musings and then as published columns.

There's been so many good pieces written already, but what many sports journalists and fans of sports journalism are waiting to eventually read is the announced earlier this year book from Joe Posnanski on Paterno and this season (which of course nobody could have envisioned turning out like it has). Posnanski thus far has written two different blog posts on the scandal, first Darkness and then Curiously Short Posts and I doubt he knows what his eventual book on Paterno will contain, but I have to imagine it's going to be an enthralling read. Just a guess of course, but it may well be heavy on the aforementioned duality of how a good person (which Paterno certainly seems to be) can do a bad thing (specifically, the limits to his actions taken when allegations were brought to him).


Back to the subject of reporting and sports journalism... reading the columns and musings from good writers as this story has unfolded has gotten me thinking more about journalism and writing. To this end there's been three different pieces I've come across lately about the profession that all stand out as interesting.

First was an address given by Nate Silver to the Columbia School of Journalism. Silver founded the political blog FiveThirtyEight and in his speech imparts both his background and valuable career lessons for someone about the enter the field of journalism.

Second was a series of tweets from Tommy Tomlinson about an Ira Glass speaking event. I've also been at a live event by the This American Life creator and concur that Glass is a definite master storyteller.

Third was a tumblr site We Are Journalists I just came across today. Very interesting vignettes from people in the profession working to chase down and report well on stories... including things like the horrible crimes and subsequent inaction (and now action) out of Penn State.


Updated on 11/14 with additional pieces that struck me on the child sex abuse scandal (not a "scandal, not a "sex scandal")...

- Good Riddance, Joe Paterno by Buzz Bissinger for The Daily Beast
- Omelas State University by author John Scalzi on his website
- The End of Paterno by Joe Posnanski on his Sports Illustrated blog

A horrific and amazing ongoing story.