Long live the newspaper!

The clock is ticking on printed newspapers in Pittsburgh – but what will that actually mean for journalists and, more importantly, for readers? My latest NEXTpittsburgh column has dropped with some perspective – both historical and contemporary. If you like it, please take a moment to share it and/or write to me at PittsburghPublicEditor@gmail.com.

Here we go! Steelers’ shot at immortality

With the Steelers heading (miraculously!) to the playoffs, I’m reminded of talking with John Stallworth about what it was like after the team won a fourth Super Bowl in 1980.

January 28, 1980 Sports Illustrated Cover. Football: Super Bowl XIV. Pittsburgh Steelers John Stallworth (82) in action, making catch and scoring game winning touchdown vs Los Angeles Rams Rod Perry (49) at Rose Bowl Stadium. Pasadena, CA 1/20/1980 MANDATORY CREDIT: Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated SetNumber: X24127 TK1

January 28, 1980, Sports Illustrated.

Stallworth had been on the receiving end of a play that came to be the lasting, iconic image of those 1970s Super Steelers. Late in the game, he had grabbed a 73-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Terry Bradshaw, with the ball passing just beyond the reach of a Los Angeles Rams defender.

Back at the team hotel that night, Stallworth sat in the hotel lobby with this wife as coach Chuck Noll and Bill Nunn Jr. walked over. Despite winning four championships — or perhaps because of it — the players were savoring this particular victory. They knew how much work had gone into winning the game, and to building a dynasty.

Stallworth told me how he will never forget the smile that Nunn had on his face that night. Stallworth’s high school coach had discouraged him from playing football. After playing running back on a high school team that had just two victories in his two seasons, Stallworth then barely received any interest SB XIVfrom college recruiters. Even if he had been good enough, he could not have played at the University of Alabama, which remained all-white. Instead, at Alabama A&M, Stallworth had not received any of the attention or accolades that had followed his teammate Lynn Swann at the University of Southern California.

In the end, Stallworth still ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“(Nunn) was proud of me,” Stallworth recalled years later. “He was proud of the black college that I came from, and what he had done for making that happen, and for the Steelers. There’s a look on his face, and it was special to me. I treasure that because it made me feel good about who I was, and who I was to that team.”

This year’s Steelers have a chance. A shot at immortality. At celebrating their own championship. Here we go!

Point Park & the Trib collaborate again


Thom Baggerman, chair of faculty in the School of Communication, describing the layout out the new Center for Media Innovation.

I have been working at Point Park University for 10 years since we started the Point Park News Service program there. Over that time, we have published more than 900 pieces of student work and Trib Total Media, our founding partner, has paid students more than $8,600 for their work.

Now, we’re building on that foundation. I’m excited to finally be able to talk about our new project — the Point Park University Center for Media Innovation. This will be a place for training journalism students in all of the disciplines of our craft. And it will be a place for working journalists to come and figure out the way forward.

It was a big deal to see the announcement in the Trib this morning. And it was great to hear local leaders giving their take during the press conference. It will be even more exciting over the coming months to see this place actually come together. Looking forward to it.


The Color of Sundays pre-order

Updated Front CoverI’m pleased to announce that my latest book, The Color of Sundays, will be coming out October 1. Pre-sales have started, and we are working to set up several signings and lecture events around Western Pennsylvania. Details to come.

Bill Nunn Jr. never wanted me to write this book. But he ultimately gave me his blessing and for that I am grateful. Bill was first a pioneering African-American athlete. Then he ranked among the nation’s best-known black sports writers — and became the first to sit in the press box at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field baseball stadium. Ultimately, he turned into the secret weapon that brought the Pittsburgh Steelers from decades of failure to unmatched championship success.

Bill Nunn Jr. Journalist and Steelers scout

Bill Nunn Jr.
Journalist and Steelers scout

The Color of Sundays tells this story against the backdrop of American football, the nation’s struggles over Civil Rights and the Steelers’ emergence as a premier franchise. Along the way, the book uncovers details that have been lost to history: Branch Rickey, the Dodger’s general manager who integrated Major League Baseball, played football in 1904 with the first black professional football player. And Jackie Robinson, the African-American baseball player Rickey signed, played football at UCLA with the two men who reintegrated the National Football League after World War II.

When Nunn said he didn’t want this book, he meant that it shouldn’t just be about him. He challenged me to learn about the other men who had come before him and who stood beside him. He meant that I should seek the larger story. And in the process, I uncovered a rich American tale about men who struggled to rise above — and who exceeded beyond their dreams.

Finding lost images

John Brewer examining some of the thousands of Courier photos he is preserving. Photo by Sidney Davis.

John Brewer examining some of the thousands of Courier photos he is preserving. Photo by Sidney Davis.

While researching my upcoming book about the Steelers’ secret strategy for winning championships, I met John Brewer. He’s a historian who had the good fortune of finding a cache of old production books from the Pittsburgh Courier that everyone thought had been lost. Brewer has since started the tedious process of preserving the newspaper’s images. Because the Courier was the nation’s leading black newspaper for much of the 20th Century, its archives show the history of African-Americans across sports, entertainment and every day life. I wrote about Brewer’s experience for the Tribune-Review, and interviewed him for WESA-FM, Pittsburgh’s NPR affiliate.

As Courier publisher Rod Doss told me: “A lot of the photographs captured the culture of a community that otherwise was not seen in other media. It showcases the community activities, the lifestyle activities, the dress that was maintained, the nightlife, the Negro leagues. All those things were captured in these photographs.”

For someone with a keen eye, the images also present some of the rarest moments in sports history. Brewer has one image (below) that shows Satchel Paige, the great Cleveland Indians hurler, inside a Hill District club when he played with the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro leagues. He’s there with Gus Greenlee, the Crawfords’ owner and notorious numbers-runner, along with Wendell Smith, the Courier sports reporter who famously advocated for Major League Baseball to integrate (familiar for anyone who has seen “42”), and Bill Nunn Sr., the paper’s managing editor and the father of its black college All-America teams. More on that to come later this year.

You can find my full Trib story here: http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/8394422-74/courier-brewer-pittsburgh#ixzz3bFiNChTB.

And you can hear the WESA-FM segment on Essential Pittsburgh here: http://wesa.fm/post/forgotten-courier-closet-yields-wealth-pittsburgh-black-history.


Photo (of the original photo) by Sidney Davis.





The ‘burgh in three books

Caliban Book Shop co-owner John Schulman, right, of Squirrel Hill, sorts through used books brought in by Attilio Favorini, of Squirrel Hill, at the store in Oakland on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014.

Caliban Book Shop co-owner John Schulman, right, of Squirrel Hill, sorts through used books brought in by Attilio Favorini, of Squirrel Hill. Guy Wathen, Tribune-Review.

It seems every book ever published can be found on the Internet. But I still have fun walking into an independent book store and letting the books find me. While I was working on a recent story about Caliban Book Shop in Oakland, I stopped long enough to look through the store’s eclectic collection of some 30,000 used titles. In the Pittsburgh aisle, where I typically start my search, I found three books that remind me of why I love writing stories about my hometown.

When I first came to the Tribune-Review in 2001, I covered Pittsburgh city hall. Soon after I started, Managing Editor Jim Cuddy called me into his office and handed me a book: “Don’t Call Me Boss: David L. Lawrence, Pittsburgh’s Renaissance Mayor.” It’s not light reading and I might not have finished it — except that Jim said I had to read it. I’m glad I did. (Spoiler alert: Lawrence dies, in dramatic fashion.) The book gave me a solid grounding in Pittsburgh’s unique machine politics. I bought a copy of “Don’t Call Me Boss” for the Trib’s newest Grant Street writer, Aaron Auperlee.

Caliban Book Shop manager Kris Collins, of Stanton Heights, checks the stock of one of his record distributors online on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. Guy Wathan, Tribune-Review.

Caliban Book Shop manager Kris Collins checks the stock of one of his record distributors online.

“Homestead: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town” also ranks among my favorites. William Serrin was working as The New York Times’ labor and workplace correspondent when he quit the paper to write this book about the closure of the Homestead Works steel mill in 1986. My grandfather worked in a steel mill, and one of my first bylines, for the National Geographic Society’s defunct news service, appeared on a story I wrote about Homestead. When I came back to Pittsburgh, I read a library copy of “Homestead,” and it shaped my understanding of the region’s labor history. I have long wanted my own copy.

Finally, I wrote a children’s book scheduled to come out in August 2015 about Roberto Clemente, the Pirates’ iconic right fielder. David Maraniss wrote the quintessential biography, “Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero.” I didn’t have my own copy of the book. But now I do.

Why Pittsburgh?

For the second time in as many weeks, national reporters are asking: Why Pittsburgh? First it was U.S. Attorney Hickton indicting the Chinese military hackers. Now it’s Hickton and the FBI going after Russian criminal hackers.

Why Pittsburgh? The FBI’s top cyber investigator Keith Mularski told me that’s easy: “I just think it goes to the team we have here in Pittsburgh and the resources we have. … We have one of the best teams in the country, if not all of the world.”

Talking with experts who worked this latest case from the inside out, I was able to piece together a story you won’t read anywhere else. It tells about how the nation’s top cyber experts — in Pittsburgh — tracked down hackers all the way back to a Black Sea resort town in Russia.

This map shows the locations of computers in Pennsylvania infected with the Russian malware Gameover Zeus on a single day in May 2013.

This map shows the locations of computers in Pennsylvania infected with the Russian malware Gameover Zeus on a single day in May 2013.

FBI cyber agents in Pittsburgh helped bring down two Russian-based cybercrime schemes that infected more than Continue reading

Steel city vs. China

The national media missed the point of the federal indictment against the Chinese hackers. This did not come out of Pittsburgh just because the companies were here. This came out of Pittsburgh because the guys behind the investigation and prosecution are Pittsburghers. The best line of my story on the FBI’s top investigator is that his father was a steelworker. This is personal. Those of us who grew up here get that.


Hundreds of other U.S. companies have been hacked by the Chinese military officials accused in a federal indictment of breaching Pittsburgh-area companies, the FBI’s top cyber investigator told the Tribune-Review. Continue reading

PNC Park too crowded for ballhawks

Maybe you’ve heard of ballhawks. These are guys (and they all seem to be guys, fully grown) who go to Major League Baseball games to collect as many baseballs as they can — home runs, fouls, tossups from friendly players.

Point Park student Alex Stumpf profiles ballhawks this week. And in the process, he uncovers a gripe from one who used to clean up at a nearly empty PNC Park. The Pirates have become too popular, he says. Check it out — along with the great photos by student Matt Nemeth — and see if you agree.

Either way, two weeks to Opening Day on the North Shore.


Ballhawk Erik Jabs has a collection of nearly 3,000 baseballs. Photo: Matt Nemeth | Point Park News Service

By Alex Stumpf, Point Park News Service:

Ian Weir does not remember when he went to his first baseball game, but he remembers what he brought.

“I’ve taken my glove to every baseball game I’ve ever been to,” Weir, 20, of Oakmont, said.

Weir used his glove to snag nearly 200 balls last year and is a part of a distinct demographic of fans known as “ballhawks.”ballhawk3

A ballhawk refers to a fan that is able to collect multiple baseballs a game. They say they do this for a variety of reasons, from being able to tour stadiums around the country, to meeting fellow ballhawks nationwide and to boosting their memorabilia collections. The subject has spawned multiple blogs, a book and even a documentary narrated by Bill Murray.

Read the rest of the story here.

Cool but creepy future

Companies understand the delicate balance between collecting detailed information on shoppers — and revealing how much they know or what they do with it. Jon Iwata, an IBM vice president, talks about it as the continuum between privacy and convenience, similar to the government one between security and civil liberty. To understand companies’ reticence, note that few responded to my request for information…

The Trib's great Andy Russell took this photo of Erin Price. Funny back story: He set up the photo because it looks great -- and only realized after talking with Erin how steps play into her exercise routine. That coincidence makes for a great illustration.

The Trib’s great Andy Russell took this photo of Erin Price. Funny back story: He set up the photo because it looks great — and only realized after talking with Erin how steps play into her exercise routine. That coincidence makes for a great illustration.

Giant Eagle won’t say much about the information it collects on people who enroll in its rewards program to earn savings on food and fuel, but it knows who has a weakness for Goldfish crackers.

GNC can see when your New Year’s resolution ended. And Dick’s Sporting Goods has a pretty good idea who will return to its stores this spring to gear up for baseball or softball season.

Consumers willingly — if unwittingly — provide trillions of “data points” to companies about their purchases, intimate habits and even where a computer mouse hovers on a computer screen without clicking. Americans worried about government spying often have themselves to blame when it comes to private-sector monitoring, experts said.

Read more about this story. Check out our entire Cyber Rattling series here.