Best of 2009: Alexandra Fenwick

Fenwick picks her top stories from 2009

My two-part interview in November with the former New York Times Shanghai bureau chief, Howard French, on misguided press coverage of Obama’s trip to Asia, was a fascinating discussion for me—I had just returned from three weeks in China and French’s insight answered many of my own curiosities about Chinese attitudes toward the West. It didn’t hurt when the French interview was discussed by another prominent China expert, James Fallows, at The Atlantic.

My follow-up on the closing of a small but scrappy Arizona newspaper I had highlighted for a “Laurel” in the magazine got this e-mail response from Ryan Gabrielson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter there: “Thanks for giving the East Valley Tribune some national recognition. It’s too bad (parent company) Freedom Communications silenced the remaining reporters with the threat of lost severance.”

“The T Word,” my interview with the editor of the Killeen Daily Herald, the hometown newspaper in Fort Hood, Tex., on whether to use the word “terrorism” to describe the attacks at Fort Hood, was posted in Romenesko’s center column.

Some fun targets this year included the New York Post’s obsession with Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the prostitute frequented by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, (and who is now penning an advice column for the tab) and Italian prime minister/media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. “Throwing Spitz Balls at the Post” was fun to write and got a link on the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s daily briefing roundup and one of my many Kicker posts on Berlusconi’s defamation lawsuit against a rival news outlet in Italy was excerpted and linked by Defamation Online, a clearinghouse for defamation law and legal cases.

My Q&A interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photographer Damon Winter about his coverage of August’s rowdy town halls and the iconic photo of an angry voter confronting Sen. Arlen Specter was picked up by Romenesko, New York magazine’s Daily Intel blog, and got a link on the “Daily Briefing” roundup at Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

An interview with journalists Mark Bowden of Black Hawk Down fame and Harper’s Washington editor Ken Silverstein about whether the ACORN sting videos constitute “journalism” was a favorite.

When Alex Jones of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy came to speak at Columbia about his book, Losing The News, I took the opportunity to devour his excellent book and speak to him before his talk. He had this call to action that I think is an excellent New Year’s resolution for anyone who cares about local watchdog journalism:

If you don’t pay for a subscription to a newspaper, your local newspaper, go out and pay for one. Buy a subscription to a newspaper. And then write a letter to the editor and say to the editor, ‘Look, I’m one of your customers. I’m willing to support you. I’m willing to giving you a shot at proving to me that it’s worth it to be your supporter and demonstrate that support by buying this subscription. But your part of this deal is you give me news. I. Want. News. I don’t want T-ball coverage, I want news. I don’t want Britney Spears, I want news. I don’t want just wire copy, I want news. I want you tell me what’s going on in my town, what’s really happening. That’s my deal with you. I’ll support you, that’s your part of the bargain.

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Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.