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College journalists question dean's use of anonymous sources

Jodi S. Cohen and Tara Malone

By Jodi S. Cohen and Tara Malone

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Journalists love to debate the use of anonymous sources, but the discussion this week at Northwestern University's journalism school is no hypothetical: the texts are published columns by the controversial dean of the school, John Lavine.

Earlier this week, a columnist for The Daily Northwestern, a student newspaper, questioned the use of anonymous quotes in two introductory letters Lavine wrote last year for the Medill alumni magazine.

"I sure felt good about this class. It is one of the best I've taken," reads part of one quotation, which, Lavine wrote, "a Medill junior told me."

The unnamed student appears to be talking about a class in which students developed "a fully integrated marketing program," an emphasis which Lavine has promoted over the protest of some alumni and students.

In the same piece, Lavine quotes "one sophomore" who glowingly praises a new reporting program, concluding, "This is the most exciting my education has been."

At Medill, one of the country's premier journalism schools, training in the careful use of unnamed sources is emphasized.

Professors routinely require students to submit names and contact information for every person quoted in their articles, a guard against fabrication.

So Lavine's use of anonymous quotes raised the suspicions of David Spett, a Medill senior and Daily Northwestern columnist.

Spett figured out the marketing class Lavine was discussing, he said Wednesday, and then tracked down all 29 students. He quizzed each one about the "I sure felt good" quotation, but each of them denied saying it, according to his column.

Lavine, 67, told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday that the quotes "came from real people," though he couldn't recall whether they were provided by e-mail or during face-to-face conversations.

He defended his use of anonymous quotes by drawing a distinction between a news story and a "letter" to alumni in a magazine.

"Context is all-important. I wasn't doing a news story. I wasn't covering the news," Lavine said. "When I write news stories, I am as careful and thorough about sources as anyone you will find ... This is not a news story. This is a personal letter."

Lavine said he takes notes in a reporter's notebook when he meets with students, and also receives student feedback by e-mail, but he said he couldn't provide the e-mails because they had been deleted.

"It never dawned on me that I would have reason to keep them," he said.

"I am not about to defend my veracity," he later said.

Questions about Lavine's use of anonymous quotes prompted a lively debate in Professor Jack Doppelt's media law and ethics class Wednesday, and in other Medill classrooms and hallways as word of the column spread.

Provost Daniel Linzer "has been recently made aware of the issue," said university spokesman Al Cubbage.

"It is an opinion piece, but it is not just like anyone writing an opinion piece. He is the dean of a journalism school," Allison Bond, a Medill senior, said after Doppelt's class. "It is sort of ironic. He is the masthead of Medill and so he should be held to the most stringent standards."

Whitney Wilkinson, a graduate student in the Integrated Marking Communications program, disagreed. She said writing a column for an alumni magazine is different from writing a straight news story for a mainstream publication.

"I don't think the issue is that large," Wilkinson said. "I think people understand the context of the magazine they are reading."

While there was plenty of buzz about the topic on campus, many faculty members, students and alumni declined Wednesday to talk to the Tribune on the record. Others did not return calls for comment.

This dust-up comes at an already turbulent time for Medill. A sweeping strategic plan unveiled by Lavine last year included a curriculum change that emphasizes advertising and marketing for journalism students, a mingling of disciplines that has troubled many alumni and faculty members.

In June, the university's faculty senate backed a resolution blasting the changes as "ill considered" and harmful to Medill's reputation.

Lavine and his supporters have defended the changes as an effort to equip students for a new era of newsgathering, in which understanding consumer needs is paramount in an increasingly competitive media market.

Lavine was appointed dean in 2006 and originally asked to serve until 2009, a term that was extended indefinitely last month. At that time, President Henry Bienan lauded Lavine's role in revising the curriculum and opening a Medill branch in Doha, Qatar, which will admit its first students this fall.

But The Daily Northwestern column provided fuel for those already angry about the Medill changes.

Dave Murphy, a 2006 Medill graduate, said students would never get away with turning in a story with anonymous sources that couldn't be backed up.

"The kid would get the paper back and told to do it again or fail," said Murphy, who now writes for a computer magazine. "That is not what we are trained to do at Medill."

Professor Craig LaMay, who teaches about ethics and reporting, said he tells his students that transparency is essential.

"It's been a rule in journalism for as long as anyone can remember that unidentified sources should be used in very particular circumstances - and even then, you try to get people on the record if you possibly can for legal and ethical reasons," LaMay said.

The Tribune "discourages" the use of unnamed sources, according to the newspaper's stylebook, with exceptions made to protect the safety of a source.

"The Tribune will not print anonymously sourced material that adds only supplemental or trivial material to stories, such as a zippy but unattributed quote that might enliven a prosaic narrative but that also might lead the reader to wonder about the validity of the material," reads one part of the stylebook's discussion of the topic.

Lavine said last spring's column was intended to highlight the achievements of journalism and marketing communications students, and to share the students' enthusiasm with alumni.

He said the quotes were "representative" of the comments he heard, and that he didn't think it was important to name the students. He also directed readers to a video link in which a different student describes the experience of working in one of the school's storefront newsrooms located in Chicago neighborhoods.

"I have always thought it is better if you have a quote from somebody ... to use their voice rather than my voice," Lavine said. "The point isn't who the students are. The point is the point they are making."

Spett said he thought the quotes in Lavine's columns "looked odd" when he first read them last year, and decided to "do some investigating and digging" when he became a columnist last month.

"It struck me as something that people my age don't really say," Spett said. "He insists he didn't make it up and there is no way to be certain on this issue.

"What I do think is there is no reason for the quotes to be anonymous. It just doesn't make sense. I am more than willing to talk about my favorite class and have my name printed alongside that."

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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