For the second time, organizers of Mezhyhirya Fest are going to bring together more than 300 journalists and public activists on June 6-7, establishing a tradition of celebrating Journalist's Day in the former billion-dollar estate of runaway President Viktor Yanukovych, who continues to hide out from murder and corruption charges in Russia.
This year the festival’s main theme will be security, with the majority of panels and workshops will be devoted to its three aspects: security of journalists, security of information and economic security of the country.War Crimes and Military Mistakes
Additionally, for the first time since the beginning of Russia’s war in the Donbas the conference will give special attention to the subject of investigating war crimes and mistakes of the military command that led to severe casualties.
Until now, it has been an uncomfortable subject for both the Ukrainian journalists and the country’s leadership. Journalists have preferred to gloss over when it came to looking into alleged crimes committed by Ukrainian army and volunteer battalions.The conference will give special attention to investigating war crimes and military command mistakes.
To talk about the issue and teach the participants the skills and methods used for such investigations the festival will bring together the representatives of International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, the International Center of Transitional Justice, as well as the journalists involved in investigating the Balkan War crimes.Advanced Security Training
Our main goal is to raise awareness of the fact that many Ukrainian journalists are working in extremely dangerous conditions without proper training and equipment, with the managers of news organizations being rather reckless about their staff. We expect that with the two days of intensive training on working in war conditions, participants will improve their safety skills, which will raise the quality of Ukraine’s military reporting to a new level.
Additionally, the participants will receive information regarding the organizations that can provide further information on security issues and specifics of working in the military zones, as well as assist media organizations in getting more advanced security training and obtaining security gear for journalists.
In 2014, during the first Mezhyhirya Fest, we experimented merging representatives of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and FBI with Ukrainian journalists to have joint panels and off-the-record meetings, which in some cases has led to prolonged cooperation efforts and information exchange. It’s worth pointing out that the recent decision of Interpol to issue an international search warrant for Yanukovych and a number of his government members was based solely on economic crimes, such as “misappropriation, embezzlement or conversion of property” illegally. These crimes had been investigated in depth by journalists who took part in these panels and meetings.
Therefore, this year we plan to continue the practice by organizing joint panels of journalists and representative of military agencies and courts with journalists, as well as a number of informal discussions, seeking to find common ground in their work and overcome the difficulties they face interacting with each other.
We are also making an effort to bring together head of two investigative units, Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau and the European Anti-Fraud Office to explore potential inter-agency and international cooperation, which is becoming increasingly more important as financial crimes become more complex and require special knowledge and skills.Our goal is to raise awareness that many Ukrainian journalists work in extremely dangerous conditions without proper training and equipment. Ukraine's Pulitzer
In addition, the festival has become the venue for an award ceremony for investigative journalism. The award was established last year, and this year our effort has been merged with that of Ukrainska Pravda, the nation’s top news website, to establish the National Award for the Best Investigation, which we deemed as Ukraine’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize.
The awards to be given on June 6 are:
National Award for the Best Investigation, that will include a bronze statue and 1,000 Euros;
A series of awards for the best young investigative journalists with a trip to the U.S. being first prize and cameras and equipment given to runners up;
Our new Georgiy Gongadze award. This year the Gongadze award will be given for the best war report (in print and video categories) and the winners will be sent to the United Kingdom for the best security traning for journalists available internationally.
Another important aspect of this conference is to create a platform for networking for investigative journalists, regional journalists and aspiring journalists, as well as donors and other parties interested in promoting the genre of investigative journalism in Ukraine.
We aim to make the award and the conference an institution, the place to be and the most prestigious award to receive if you are a journalist and aspire to do more than just everyday news. Ukraine has few such platforms for investigative journalists.
Another indirect impact of the conference stems from the place where it is set up. We think that gathering investigative journalists and whistle-blowers in the former residence of Yanukovych, who acquired the opulent estate through corruption brought to light by journalists, is a fantastic way of reminding the ruling elite that they are being watched and none of their crimes will go unreported.
Moreover, last year we exposed Ukrainian journalists and whistleblowers to a lot of international speakers who talked about advanced reporting techniques, the future of the Internet and other issues that are typically off the radar for the Ukrainian journalists. We think that ability to plug into the international community is important and can have many direct and indirect advantages for Ukrainian journalists.
This story originally appeared in the Kyiv Post and is reprinted by permission.
Vlad Lavrov, a Kyiv Post staff writer, is regional editor of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. He's served as business and world editor with Ukraine’s weekly newsmagazine Korrespondent, and business editor at the weekly Novynar.
Katya Gorchinskaya has been the Kyiv Post's deputy chief editor since 2009 and is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal and other publications. Follow her on Twitter @kgorchinskaya.
Twitter has been going crazy today for New York Times critic Pete Wells’ review of Gramercy Park Tex-Mex joint Javelina, and as soon as you read just a few paragraphs, you’ll understand why. It’s one master stroke of upside-down praise after another.
Here’s one of our favorite backhanded tips of the sombrero:
At most restaurants, you are served what you ask for so routinely that your eyes glaze over with boredom. Javelina does not fall into the trap of dull predictability. One night after I left, I realized the guacamole I’d ordered had never arrived; it’s not every restaurant that gives you something to think about on your way home. Meanwhile, people at the next table were presented with a dish they insisted they hadn’t asked for. \"You didn’t order brisket?\" the server asked, keeping up the playful spirit.
It will be interesting to see if Wells, as he has done before, eventually gets asked to comment on the review’s reception. By the way, the headline for tomorrow’s print-editions version of the article is entirely different; it reads “A Riddle Wrapped in a Tortilla.”
— Marcelo Guerra (@chatwithmarcelo) May 19, 2015
— Eric Asimov (@EricAsimov) May 19, 2015
— Ellen Clegg (@ellenclegg) May 19, 2015
— Robert Wilder (@RobertTWilder) May 19, 2015
— Kayleen Schaefer (@kayleener) May 19, 2015[Image via: javelinatexmex.com]
The New York Times moves literary critic Janet Maslin down to contributing book critic where “she will continue to write regularly for The New York Times but at a somewhat less grueling pace.”… Roll Call lands a new politics editor, grabbing John Helton from CNN, where he spent the last 14 years. He had been overseeing election coverage for CNNPolitics.com… Meanwhile, the news network poaches Ben Werschkul from the NY Times, to be head of the digital video team. He had been a senior producer there… The Louisville Courier-Journal shutters its bureau in Washington, a move announced in James Carroll‘s final column… The Washington Post loses political reporter Reid Wilson. He’s off to launch the Congress section of Morning Consult… Jim Osman joins Media General as bureau chief in the new Washington office. He had been a contributing reporter for WUSA in the capital and has won 18 Emmys as a political and investigative reporter…
BuzzFeed grabs CJ Ciaramella from The Washington Free Beacon to be D.C. editor. “CJ is a very talented writer, and also possesses a number of qualities that will make everyone’s reporting and writing better: He knows what’s interesting and boring, he has a great sense of humor, and he really understands the labyrinth of the federal government and campaigns,” politics editor Katharine Miller said of the new hire… Caira Conner moves to BuzzFeed’s international wing as markets editor. She had been community editor at Mic… Read More
Adweek: Josh Berman tells our colleague Emma Bazilian that when Lucky magazine switches from a monthly to quarterly print schedule with the September 2015 issue, the publication will have more of a “premium ‘collectible’ feeling.”
The Hollywood Reporter: Beginning August 2, THR’s acclaimed roundtable discussions will air in one-hour installments on SundanceTV. Each seven-episode block will overlap with, respectively, the Emmys and Oscars.
Billboard: Chicago rapper Tink was part of Hot 97’s “Who’s Next?” concert showcase last night at New York club SOB’s. Reviewer Elias Light has the details.
Earlier this year, Newsweek EIC Jim Impoco told Keith J. Kelly that the magazine was “in the black.” Although he chose not reveal the specific amount or time frame, he characterized that black ink as six figures.
Now there is another impressive Newsweek figure to make note of. When IBT Media launches a Czech-language edition this November in partnership with European publisher Business Consulting & Media Ltd. and that company’s Czech division MediaRey SE, the publication will stand as Newsweek’s ninth international edition.
From today’s announcement:
“The Czech media market starves for quality content based on independent journalism and global experience,” said Erik Conrad, co-founder of Business Consulting & Media. “We have spent quite a long time to find the best partner.”
Jiří Nádoba, senior editor at Forbes Czech Republic, is coming over to serve as editor-in-chief. The rest of the editorial team is still being developed.
Business Consulting & Media, headquartered in Bratislava, Slovakia, previously brought Forbes to the Czech Republic and several other European countries. It also publishes a magazine for the central Europe locations of Hertz as well as in-flight magazines for SkyEurope Airlines and Central Wings, a budget subsidiary of Poland’s LOT Airlines.
[Newsweek infographic via: corp.ibt.com]
There will be three panel discussions:
WILL BITCOIN TAKE OVER THE WORLD?
Wences Casares, CEO of Xapo
Stefan Thomas, CTO of Ripple
Moderator: Nathaniel Popper
DESIGN SECRETS THAT WORK (AND DON’T) AROUND THE GLOBE
Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram
Moderator: Farhad Manjoo
Moderator: Jenna Wortham
New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein will be there to host and make the opening remarks. The event coincides with the publication’s Design and Technology special issue and will conclude with a cocktail mingler
The dominance of narrative is everywhere, even in the sciences. Pitch science pub Discover if you can take a study or new findings in the fields of archaeology, astronomy and medicine and transform straight information into a story–one that senior editor Becky Lang hopes has “an edgy feel.”
While many magazines close off their columns to staff or freelancers with whom the magazine has a steady contractual agreement, most of Discover’s columns are ripe for the pitching, including:
Regular columns “Big Idea,” spotlighting new or surprising theories and findings; “Mind Over Matter,” exploring the workings of the human mind; “Notes From Earth,” covering earth science, archaeology and ecology; and “Origin Story,” challenging conventional wisdom about human and cultural evolution. The magazine’s newest column, “History Lesson,” covers forgotten, weird and interesting stories from the history of science, and can be a lighter, entertaining read.
For more, including editors’ contact info, read How To Pitch: Discover
The full version of this article is exclusively available to Mediabistro AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, register now for as little as $55 a year for access to hundreds of articles like this one, discounts on Mediabistro seminars and workshops, and all sorts of other bonuses.
The rescued and restored version of the 1945 documentary about World War II concentration camps co-directed by Alfred Hitchcock premiered at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. The 88-minute film is set for its sold out New York debut tonight at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
The American premiere was earlier this year at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. New York Deadline executive editor Jeremy Gerrard was in attendance that night and witnessed the kind of audience reaction that often comes with this territory:
Not long after the film began, I heard weeping from the couple sitting in front of me, both of them survivors there by invitation. The husband, sobbing, kept telling his wife not to look, shielding her eyes lovingly. Yet he was the one who finally whispered, \"I wasn’t prepared for this\" as he reached for his walker and quietly left the auditorium. A few minutes later, his wife followed. I would say I know how they felt, but of course I have no idea. I do know how I felt, which was taken to the edge of a bottomless chasm. It was almost impossible to walk out into the night.
Hitchcock was recruited to the project by producer and eventual co-director Sidney Bernstein. Bernstein’s daughter Jane Wells will there tonight to participate in the post-screening discussion, along with New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and moderator Dr. Stuart Liebman, a Professor Emeritus at CUNY Graduate Center.
During a tribute to David Carr last night at the Webby Awards, CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter extolled the benefits of re-reading Carr’s writing. Specifically, he quoted from a piece about the Webby Awards that Carr wrote in June 2005.
That year, the big deal at the Webby Awards was Al Gore:
Mr. Gore, who was politically savaged during the 2000 presidential campaign for a remark that seemed to imply that he had created the Internet, was introduced by Vinton Cerf, one of the scientists credited with actually having built the architecture behind the Web. Cerf had his own five-word speech – “We all invented the Internet” – before pointing out that Mr. Gore had been responsible for spearheading critical legislation and providing much-needed political support – not exactly creating a new medium, but not bad for a politician.
Ha ha. Indeed, not bad at all. A few years later, Carr would cross paths with Gore at another awards show – the Oscars.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the increased pressure that the Venezuelan authorities are putting on the country's few independent news media by using their control of the judicial apparatus and access to resources.
On 5 May, Judge Maria Eugenia Núñez banned 22 editors and executives of three independent media outlets – the newspapers Tal Cual and El Nacional and the news website La Patilla – from leaving the country and ordered them to appear before the court once a week.
Her decision was in response to the libel suit that national assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello brought against the three publications on 23 April for quoting a report in the Spanish daily ABC that Cabello is alleged to be the head of a drug-trafficking cartel called Los Soles.
Cabello's suit accuses them of “aggravated and continuing defamation.” The publications all took care to stress that these were allegations. Other foreign news media also quoted the ABC story.
Those banned from travelling abroad include Teodoro Petkoff, a winner of Spain's Ortega y Gasset Prize for the defence of freedom, independence and rigour in journalism, who is also the target of another libel suit by Cabello. The Venezuelan authorities often bring defamation actions against news media but until now the effects have usually been limited to fines and have not included travel bans.
“We condemn this utterly disproportionate court order against 22 editors and executives of Tal Cual, El Nacional and La Patilla,” Reporters Without Borders deputy programme director Virginie Dangles said.
“In no way does this defamation action constitute grounds for depriving these media professionals of their freedom of movement. We deplore the misuse of prosecutions by senior officials to gag Venezuela's few independent voices and we call for the unconditional withdrawal of these proceedings.”
These judicial proceedings join a long list of intimidation attempts designed to throttle freedom of information. Since January, several media outlets have been the targets of threats and accusations that have gone completely unpunished since they mainly came from government officials including President Nicolas Maduro.
On 3 March, Maduro accused the privately-owned Venezuelan TV station Televen and the international Spanish-language broadcaster CNN en Español of participating in a coup plot against him.
These threats are all the more worrying because they are often followed by physical attacks. According to the Press and Society Institute (IPYS), a Venezuelan NGO, at least one journalist have been physically attacked since the start of the year and at least three others have been arbitrarily arrested while doing reports.
Not content to censor media outlets or encourage self-censorship by constantly suing journalists who do not toe the official line, the government also uses economic asphyxiation against independent news media by controlling their access to resources.
Using newsprint supplies for indirect censorship
El Impulso, a leading independent newspaper that had already suffered from the shortages of newsprint resulting from a national distribution system, announced on 10 May that it would have to reduce the number of pages in each issue from 16 to eight and might have to stop publishing within ten days or so.
Created in 1904, El Impulso is Venezuela's oldest daily. Two other newspapers, El Siglo and Ultima Hora, have sounded the alarm about their newsprint supplies since the start of the month.
In a press release last September, Reporters Without Borders already criticized the newsprint distribution system, which is controlled by the Corporación Maneiro, an entity that reports to the president's office. Two other independent newspapers, El Carabobeño and El Nacional, had serious problems in March.
The government's use of economic pressure is not new and has succeeded in convincing most media outlets to censor themselves. Since becoming president, Maduro has been very hostile to independent media and freedom of information, and has encouraged the creation or reinforcement of pro-government media.
“If you think BuzzFeed invented the listicle, you haven’t spent enough time with 19th-century newspapers, because they’re everywhere.”
It was a common practice for 19th-century newspapers to republish poems, fiction excerpts, and even lists of facts that were originally published elsewhere. Editors would subscribe to many newspapers and would cut out things they thought were interesting, relevant, or fit a space on the page that they needed to fill and then republish them in their own papers, Cordell explained.
“Many 19th-century newspapers are comprised primarily of content from other newspapers,” he said. “They were more aggregators than producers of original content. And often they were created by very small staffs, and scholars such as Ellen Gruber Garvey have shown that this aggregation is what allowed newspapers to spread as rapidly as they did in the 19th century, because you didn’t have to produce the whole thing.”
Another popular format was lists or tables of information, Cordell said. One specific list of “Facts Worth Noting” was published under several titles in at least 120 different newspapers between 1853 and 1899, he said — noting that many of the facts weren’t true and they often changed from printing to printing.
Cordell’s research utilizes the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America collection of historic newspapers. In the library’s collection, he said the researchers have found examples of lists and articles on topics such as the dimensions of lakes throughout the United States, the lifespans of various animals, home cures for Small Pox, and different attributes of tomatoes, all of which Cordell said he could “imagine many of my friends posting these on Facebook today.
Just as on today’s share-happy Internet, attribution was sometimes lost in the spread of information. On August 16, 1868, The New Orleans Crescent published a poem titled “The Children.” Originally published in 1864, the poem was written by the author Charles M. Dickinson, and by the time The Crescent published it, it had already appeared in a number of newspapers and anthologies under Dickinson’s name or the moniker The Village Schoolmaster.
In The Crescent, however, the poem was mistakenly attributed to Charles Dickens, the famous English writer. Subsequently, as the poem was republished in newspapers throughout the United States, about 85 percent of newspapers attributed the poem to Dickens, and this only accelerated after Dickens died in 1870 as papers prefaced the poem by saying that it was found among Dickens’ papers posthumously.
“Ultimately, the anecdote was more compelling than the real attribution,” he said.
“And, in fact, Dickinson basically spent his entire life trying to convince people that this was actually. In one edition of his poetry he reprinted a letter from Charles Dickens’ son saying ‘This was not my father’s poem. He never wrote it. We did not find it in his desk.'”
Cordell’s MIT talk was part of MELCamp5, a conference for researchers from the Melville Electronic Library, a digital archive of Herman Melville’s work. Cordell spent a portion of his talk addressing how Melville’s work spread through the 19th-century press. His slides are available here (warning: giant file, wait until you’re on wifi), and you can listen to the full 94-minute talk below.
Engraving of a man paying his yearly newspaper subscription to the Podunk Weekly Bugle’s editor with farm produce by F.S. Church, published in Harper’s Weekly, January 17, 1874.
Over the past few years we have seen the huge potential of data and document mining in investigative journalism. Tech savvy networks of journalists such as the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) have teamed together for astounding cross-border investigations, such as OCCRP’s work on money laundering or ICIJ’s offshore leak projects. OCCRP has even incubated its own tools, such as VIS, Investigative Dashboard and Overview.There is enormous duplication and missed opportunity in investigative journalism software. We need to do better.
But we need to do better. There is enormous duplication and missed opportunity in investigative journalism software. Many small grants for technology development have led to many new tools, but very few have become widely used. For example, there are now over 70 tools just for social network analysis. There are other tools for other types of analysis, document handling, data cleaning, and on and on. Most of these are open source, and in various states of completeness, usability, and adoption. Developer teams lack critical capacities such as usability testing, agile processes, and business development for sustainability. Many of these tools are beautiful solutions in search of a problem.
The fragmentation of software development for investigative journalism has consequences: Most newsrooms still lack capacity for very basic knowledge management tasks, such as digitally filing new documents where they can be searched and found later. Tools do not work or do not inter-operate. Ultimately the reporting work is slower, or more expensive, or doesn't get done. Meanwhile, the commercial software world has so far ignored investigative journalism because it is a small, specialized user-base. Tools like Nuix and Palantir are expensive, not networked, and not extensible for the inevitable story-specific needs.
But investigative journalists have learned how to work in cross-border networks, and investigative journalism developers can too. The experience gained from collaborative data-driven journalism has led OCCRP and other interested organizations to focus on the following issues:
Usability. We can no longer afford to build software that no one wants. Most investigative reporters still don’t have support for basic tasks such as filing new information in a shared digital repository, reviewing documents and making notes, or searching for a list of company names. To get more journalism done faster we need to understand and support these core workflows, with frequent user visits and testing. Advanced features can only succeed on top of such an infrastructural base.
Delivery. We need to think of ourselves first as systems integrators, not developers, and focus on packaging existing platforms together in highly usable ways for non-technical end users. In this way we gain the experience that tells us what new code needs to be written. Experience has already taught us that we need to support both a centralized website (because it vastly lowers the barriers to use) and independently deployable servers (which many users need for security reasons.)
Networked investigation. Reporters need to know if other organizations have information on specific people and companies, which requires a federated search mechanism. If there’s a hit, then the reporter can negotiate to see the original material. This two-step process has come to be known as the who’s got dirt? model and has achieved broad consensus in the cross-border investigation community.We are advocating a federated information architecture for investigative journalism, something that people have been talking about for a long time.
Sustainability. Who's going to pay for all of this after donors move on? We believe in covering at least the marginal costs from the outset, e.g. software-as-a-service pricing. This will not immediately fund ongoing development costs, but the opportunity to learn what people will pay for is essential to developing new markets. This has been ignored for far too long.
Interoperability and extensibility. The Influence Mappers project is defining consensus standards for social-network type structured data and we should support them. Overview has demonstrated the enormous project-specific value in an extensible analysis API. And the software itself should be open source to enable collaboration and prevent monopolies and vendor-lock in.
What we are advocating is a federated information architecture for investigative journalism, something that people have been talking about for a long time. Two things have vastly improved our prospects for success. First, a critical mass of developers and users are now talking. Second, successes with existing systems have helped to define and scope the project. We have produced useful components and demonstrated interoperability strategies.
The Influence Mappers mailing list has managed to consolidate everyone with an interest in journalistic analysis of social networks and is working to define interchange standards. OpenCorporates continues to grow as a master repository of company registration. Investigative Dashboard has established itself as a valuable research service for the European journalism community and is attacking the problem of data warehousing. DocumentCloud has succeeded wonderfully as a document repository and publication platform. Overview has demonstrated how to do extensible analytics on large document sets, with its visualization plugin API. And the international journalism community as a whole has gained experience in cross-border collaborations, producing wide consensus on the value of the "Who's got dirt?" model of federated search.The next step is the first conference on Knowledge Management in Investigative Reporting. Let us know if you are interested, too.
Much work remains to be done in terms of the usability of existing software, collaboration between development teams, sustainability planning, and so on. But the common goals, listed above, are an important start. We are not aiming for the moon, but a fairly well defined and previously tested set of critical features.
The next step for us is a small meeting: the very first conference on Knowledge Management in Investigative Journalism. This event will bring together key developers and journalists to refine the problem definition and plan a way forward. OCCRP and the Influence Mappers project have already pledged support. Stay tuned...
But we are already talking. A draft of this post was circulated among OCCRP, the Global Investigative Journalism Network, ICIJ, Overview, Document Cloud, Global Witness, and Open Corporates, who all agreed that the problems we’ve identified are real and need to be solved. We have agreed to engage in a discussion of needs and solutions. Let us know if you are interested, too.
-- Jonathan Stray firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Drew Sullivan email@example.com
Jonathan Stray is a freelance journalist and computer scientist who has written for the New York Times, Associated Press, Foreign Policy, ProPublica, and Wired. He currently leads development of the Overview open-source document set analysis system for investigative journalists and teaches computational journalism at Columbia University. He has reported from Hong Kong, Berlin, and San Francisco.
Drew Sullivan is a veteran journalist and media development specialist who has worked for a decade in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. He founded the Center for Investigative Reporting in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2004 and served as its director, editor, and advising editor. He co-founded the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Program, a regional consortium of investigative centers, where he now serves as advising editor.
In March, our sister publications The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard announced partnerships with, respectively, Chinese Internet behemoth Tencent and Holland America Line’s 2016 cruise ship MS Koningsdam, currently under construction at the Marghera shipyard in Italy.
This global push towards franchise opportunities and international revenue streams for the magazines by Guggenheim Digital Media continues with the appointment of Francisco Arenas (pictured) as Entertainment Group senior vice president, business development and licensing. From today’s announcement:
\"You don’t often have the opportunity to join a company looking to build top brands into global franchises,\" said Arenas. \"I’m very excited about the opportunities ahead of us across new media content development, branded products, promotions, retail activations and experiences/events.\"
Added Entertainment Group co-president John Amato: \"Our goal is to leverage the strength of our brands and proprietary content to develop strategic partnerships with current and new clients across media and non-media platforms. Francisco will play a key role in helping us reach this goal\".
Arenas will report to Amato and remain based in New York, where he has previously worked for Univision, ESPN and Sesame Workshop. He holds an MBA from Boston University.
[Photo via: LinkedIn]
A proposal moving through Congress that rolls back protections for mobile home buyers would almost exclusively benefit Clayton Homes, a company controlled by billionaire Warren Buffett, according to The Seattle Times.
The bill, which was passed by the House last month and will be considered by the Senate Banking Committee this week, would reverse rules put in place as part of a sweeping financial overhaul in 2010 known as the Dodd-Frank Act.
The proposal would raise the interest rates permitted on some mobile-home loans before they trigger extra protections for borrowers such as pre-loan counseling. The bill also would let mobile-home salespeople work closely with buyers to arrange financing.
Clayton Homes, the mobile home giant owned by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, controls 91 percent of the market that would be deregulated under the bill, according to an analysis of 2013 federal loan data by the Times.
A recent investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and The Seattle Times found Clayton borrowers faced high interest rates, excessive fees and predatory sales practices.
“There’s something wrong with legislation that would benefit any one company,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told the Times. The ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, Waters said she has grown wary of Clayton’s practices and suggested the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should investigate the company.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Stephen Fincher, R.-Tenn., is from the state where Clayton is headquartered, and received more campaign money from Clayton employees than any other candidate in the 2014 election cycle: $15,150. Clayton was his fourth-biggest financial backer, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit tracker of political money.
Fincher declined a request by the Times for an interview. Clayton Homes CEO Kevin Clayton told the paper that the rule changes would benefit all lenders and that it was intended as a lifeline for other lenders who were driven out of mobile home lending by the Dodd-Frank regulations.
“We want more lenders in the industry,” Clayton said in the interview, which took place earlier this month at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.
He also said his company is no longer making loans above rates that require extra consumer protections, now about 12 percent interest. Federal data for 2014 loans is not yet available
Clayton lends at unusually high rates, and under federal guidelines most of their loans are considered “higher priced.” Those loans averaged 7 percentage points higher than the typical home loan in 2013, according to a Center for Public Integrity/Times analysis of federal data, compared with just 3.8 percentage points above for other mobile-home lenders.
The investigation showed that Clayton manufactures mobile homes, sells them at its own retail lots, finances purchases through its own subsidiaries and sells property insurance on them. Buyers are often locked into loans at interest rates that sometimes exceed 15 percent, which can be devastating because the houses often depreciate swiftly.
Customers told reporters that Clayton sales staffers steered them to finance at high rates with the company’s own lenders. Many said they were unaware that the lenders, Vanderbilt Mortgage and 21st Mortgage, were part of the same company that built and sold them their homes.
Former Clayton dealers also said the company encouraged them to put buyers in Clayton loans.
In 2010, responding to the financial crisis, Congress adopted sweeping financial reforms as part of the Dodd-Frank Act. Its provisions included rules protecting mobile-home consumers offered high-cost loans.
Under those rules, sales reps must register as loan officers if they are going to provide a borrower with information about financing. The bill moving through Congress would exempt all mobile-home sales reps from registration unless they received extra pay for arranging financing.
Clayton Homes, by far the biggest player in the mobile-home industry, earned $558 million before taxes in 2014, a 34 percent increase over the previous year.
Two years after Washington D.C.-based Middle Eastern news portal Al-Monitor was launched in 2012, the site won the International Press Institute’s prestigious Free Media Pioneer Award. Now comes a bold strategic step.
Crest Media, Al-Monitor’s parent, together with RealClearPolitics original investors, has bought back from Forbes Media a majority equity stake held in the U.S. politics website since 2007. The purchase price is not being disclosed. From this morning’s announcement:
\"We’re thrilled to have Crest Media as a partner\" said RealClearPolitics co-founder Tom Bevan. \"They share our vision of building a powerhouse brand for online news, analysis and information.\"
Added fellow co-founder John McIntyre: \"RealClearPolitics and Al-Monitor share a parallel dedication to distilling the most powerful, complete and accurate information on topics of national and global significance. Leveraging our mutual strengths, we’ll be able to do some new and very exciting things.\"
Al-Monitor, RealClearPolitics and RealClear’s various sister sites will cross-promote content and collaborate in other ways. For example, RealClear articles will be translated into Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish and Persian for consumption by Al-Monitor audiences. Al-Monitor, based in Washington D.C., also plans to leverage the polling aggregation tools that RealClearPolitics has developed.
Along with Bevan and McIntyre, the other current co-owner of Chicago-based RealClearPolitics is Anand Ramanujan. Jamal Daniel, the Syrian-born CEO and president of Crest Media, founded Al-Monitor in February 2012.