Stories I’d like to see

Spy vs. spy at NYU, troop suicides, NYSE-Nasdaq wars

In his weekly “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on

1. Cheng spy-versus-spy game:

I’m guessing there must be a fun, streets-of-New-York story about Chinese spies (maybe people from the Chinese UN delegation) following New York University’s most famous student, Cheng Guangheng, as he makes his way around Manhattan - and about how American security personnel are not only guarding Cheng but also keeping tabs on those spies. This could, after all, be a good way of flushing out Chinese operatives in the US. And I’m wondering what steps and countersteps have been taken having to do with the security of Cheng’s computer, cell phone and any other digital devices he uses to communicate with friends and followers.

2. Troop suicide surge: What happens to the families?

AP’s disheartening report that suicides among US troops this year came at the rate of nearly one a day and outpaced combat deaths in Afghanistan raises the question of what benefits the families of these fallen soldiers get. Standard life insurance usually doesn’t cover suicides. What about death benefits for members of the military? What exactly are the benefits given to military families whose loved one dies while on active duty, whether through suicide or in battle?

And while we’re on the subject, if suicides are typically the result of mental illness, what are the policy arguments around whether they should be covered, in or outside the military?

3. The Big Board against Nasdaq:

I’ve been waiting to read a story about how the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE Euronext) is moving to take market share from Nasdaq in the wake of the Facebook IPO fiasco. Beyond attacking Nasdaq’s $40 million plan to make up for traders’ Facebook losses by offering trading discounts to clients - with the claim that it’s inadequate and will give Nasdaq a marketing advantage - is the Big Board sending its sales force out to claim it could never screw things up the way Nasdaq did? Or is it simply laying back, assuming it doesn’t need to dance in Nasdaq’s end zone?

With that in mind, Nasdaq has obviously decided that the best defense is a good offense; last week it announced in a triumphant press release that it had lured Kraft Foods into switching to Nasdaq from the NYSE. I’d love to know what goodies Kraft got for making the switch, let alone for announcing it in the midst of Nasdaq’s troubles. Was this switch in the works before the blowup of the Facebook IPO? If so, what, if anything, did Nasdaq then do to save the deal?

I’ve always wanted to see a story about how these exchanges compete over a service that seems like a commodity; the Facebook aftermath obviously presents a great hook.

4. Jockeying over debate rules:

Although aficionados of presidential politics tend to be mired in speculation over the mini-flap of the day (such as last week’s slip by President Obama that the private sector is “doing fine”), it’s time some reporter checked in on an infinitely more important story: What’s happening with the negotiations over the three scheduled presidential debates? With the first one scheduled for October 3 and the last for October 22 (with a vice-presidential showdown slated for October 11), and with the race likely to be too close to call by then, these debates, run by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, are almost certain to be decisive. So which side is pushing for what kind of rules aimed at favoring their guy, and what’s the likely outcome?

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Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative. Tags: ,