Trust in being challenged

I have struggled, like many, to understand the times in which we live. Certainly social media has changed the way we communicate but, more directly, it has allowed us to avoid challenging situations. That’s the wrong direction. We all need to be challenged on the assumptions we hold, and the best journalism does that by upholding the truth – even when it’s unpleasant.

I’ve been reading Timothy Snyder‘s short book, On Tyranny, with lessons for today from the rise of fascists and communist dictators in the 20th Century. “Post-truth is pre-fascism,” he writes. He goes on to exhort people to support a local newspaper or journalism outlet:

“The better print journalists allow us to consider the meaning, for ourselves and our country, of what might otherwise seem to be isolated bits of information. But while anyone can repost an article, researching and writing is hard work that requires time and money.”

Journalism is hard, but brings deep rewards for the strength of our democracy and our communities, while social media is easy and, when abused, it threatens the core values of our society. From my latest column in the Tribune-Review

“Americans must rethink their relationship with the news too. We have come to a point where many people put more faith in unverified information on social media — because it squares with their personal beliefs — than in trusting hard-working journalists who often challenge the opinions we hold. That has to change.”

You may read the full column here.


Trump’s enemies list

Sure, President Richard Nixon had his enemies list, but not even he thought of giving out awards in the 1970s to his least-favorite reporters. I only wish he had.

Even before graduating from college, I had the good fortune of landing a job with Jack Anderson’s “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column. With white hair, a round belly and braces holding up his pants, he joyfully touted his moniker as the “Mormon muckraker,” known equally for his devotions to religion and to rousting out government corruption. Staring as a World War II correspondent, he later joined investigative columnist Drew Pearson, taking over after Pearson died. Anderson never bowed to anyone nor shirked from exposing backroom dealing, righting a wrong or embarrassing a public official who abused taxpayer money.

The column reached 40 million Americans at its peak, appearing in hundreds of U.S. newspapers. The Washington Post ran it in the comics section, to which some disgruntled editor had banished it years earlier. Anderson loved that: More people read the funnies than the editorial page anyway.

My first summer with the column… Read more

Media Deserts Grant

I’m pleased to announce that I have won my first academic grant as part of my new life as a PhD student in Community Engagement. Point Park University awarded a Social Impact Grant for fellow student Keino Fitzpatrick and me to explore the role of media deserts in McKeesport, Pa. The city has a rich history of media coverage but it has not had a newspaper since the Daily News closed two years ago. We already have started some small work. This will allow us to continue and expand. We have been fortunate also to work with freelance journalist Jennifer Jordan, Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Martha Rial and the CMI’s grad assistant Ashley Murray.

Students from McKeesport visited the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University in December 2017.

A crazy night in Pittsburgh

Compassion. Compromise. A willingness to hear what others have to say. Even when you don’t agree.

We brought all of those elements together when Newsmax founder Christopher Ruddy recently visited Point Park University. My take on what happens when we create time to listen. I’d like to see more of this happening, particularly right here in river city, a blue dot surrounded by a sea of red. Let me know what you think: aconte@

Me interviewing Christopher Ruddy at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Photo by Gracey Evans.

A strange thing happened in Pittsburgh recently: A right-of-center speaker appeared on a college campus, students organized a protest — and everyone left the event feeling they’d been heard.

Few Americans these days seem willing to share a room with anyone who does not also share their ideology and political outlook. But Pittsburgh serves as a key place for such dialogue: a blue dot of voters who supported Hillary Clinton, surrounded by a sea of red, representing President Donald Trump’s supporters. It’s a short drive to cover that gap, but few of us take the time to try understanding each other’s perspective.

That makes it all the more remarkable when those moments happen. Read more… 

The Newseum & me


Cybersecurity experts and the journalists who report on them often struggle to understand each other. That was the point of a recent event jointly sponsored by the Newseum and the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University. We brought together experts, journalists and students to find points of commonality. The event highlighted some common concerns, which I address in my latest media column


WASHINGTON – They don’t even have the words.IMG_0879.jpg

Cybersecurity stories fill the headlines almost daily: The Equifax breach potentially compromised personal data of more than 140 million Americans — nearly half of us. Yahoo finally acknowledged losing email addresses and passwords for every single customer — about 3 billion accounts. We’re still waiting to find out just how much the Russians hacked into the 2016 general election .

We see such headlines so often that many of us have become numb to the potential risk. Worse, reporters covering these stories don’t always know how to describe the real danger — or how to separate legitimate threats from hyperbole. Too often, they lack the vocabulary, context and experience to converse with technical experts and convey meaningful alerts to the public. Instead, the public hears a wall of noise in which relatively minor events get similar billing to those that really threaten our lives. Read more…

This also turned out to be a great time for our students to take a look at the Newseum exhibits. After the event, we toured the museum’s FBI exhibit on cybersecurity, led by the Newseum Institute’s COO Gene Policinski.


This also turned into an opportunity for David Hickton, the former U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, and me to revisit one of our favorite moments. The Newseum exhibit includes a photo of David and my frontpage story from the Tribune-Review on the day after federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh charged five Chinese military officers with stealing computer secrets.


Disruption sows seeds of opportunity

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 3.21.31 PMWe celebrated the CMI’s one-year anniversary by focusing on #MediaPioneers who are doing something truly new and different. The disruption that has run through the media industry has caused a lot of pain and caused all of us to rethink how we value news and access it. But it also has created opportunities that never existed before. For my latest media column, I focused on some of these people who are doing truly exciting work – and starting figure out ways to pay their bills.


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Frank Murgia, executive producer at the Pittsburgh Podcast Network, discusses the YaJagoff podcast and how it’s starting to make money.

“YaJagoff” can express exasperation or endearment, as any Pittsburgher knows. But John Chamberlin also sees it as his brand.

He hosts the YaJagoff Podcast , and as the name implies, he focuses on all things “yinzer,” from pierogies to basement potties. It is one of five core offerings from the Pittsburgh Podcast Network, which has started making money in its fourth year, executive producer Frank Murgia recently told me.

“It finally feels like it’s a real thing and we’re starting to see opportunities,” he said.

Recent years’ disruption that has shaken news companies also has produced media pioneers. Large outlets are becoming nimble by experimenting with innovative platforms and content. Startups are redefining the industry with concepts no one has tried. This energy creates opportunities for older journalists seeking to rediscover the craft and for students who want to engage in storytelling and try something new. Read more…

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AmyJo Brown, founding editor of new media startup Grant’s Hill, talks about her business plan.



It’s a small world … on my iPhone

Photo by Tania Conte.

Getting away used to be so easy. But in a world where even forest monks carry smartphones tucked inside their saffron-colored robes, it can be hard to get off the grid. My latest column looks at this phenomenon from the perspective of a recent trip to Thailand.

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — I’ve been checking my emails here only once a day, like it’s the 1990s all over again.

For many Americans, a great part of traveling in Asia is not receiving any messages during the day because almost everyone you know — halfway around the world, back home — is asleep. I wake up, read the overnight messages and forget about email. If only this could last.

Even that disconnected luxury goes only so far when almost half the world’s population accesses the internet , and even forest monks at a remote mountain temple carry smartphones tucked into their saffron-colored robes. Along a narrow canal an hour outside of Bangkok, we passed a small wooden shack with open-air windows — and a 60-inch TV mounted inside the front door. Neighbors had sealed up their homes and installed air conditioners.

Everyone, it seems, hungers for the same cutting-edge technology, instant connectivity and modern convenience. That drive holds exciting promise for bringing us together, and perhaps a little danger for our demands on the planet as well. Read more…