2017 Masthead

Index:
1. Masthead Winter 2017

  1. ‚ÄčEditor's note — Traditions and trust
  2. Q&A with The Conversation
  3. EdWrite Recap — Your hoilday standbys
  4. From the archives: They told us so — State Department insights gain value over time
2. Masthead Fall 2017
  1. Editor’s note – D.C. recap and planning for 2018
  2. What editors should know about media and real-world violence
  3. Pitts to journalists: ‘Stop being so damn polite”
  4. Department of State Briefings
    1. Official: China key to restraining North Korea
    2. Kavalec: U.S. must remain firm with Putin
    3. General: Defeating ISIL will take time
    4. Nafta: No progress on ‘rebalancing’
    5. Business diplomacy: The power to convene
  5. EdWrite Recap: Fact checking letters to the editor
  6. From the archives -- Endorsements: See what you missed?
3. Masthead Summer 2017
  1. Editor’s Note: Professionalism with a purpose
  2. McClelland: “Best hardly covers it”
  3. Stats Show the Divide Between Editors, Cartoonists and Readers
  4. 6 things your editorial cartoonist wishes you knew
  5. EdWrite Recap: Boards of Contributors
  6. From the archives: Some saw it coming…
  7. The real people behind U.S. foreign policy
  8. Congratulations to Bingham fellow Gerald Jordan
4. Masthead Winter-Spring 2017
  1. Opinionizers' journal arrives
  2. KC Star beefs up its opinion pages
  3. How to save the dying newspaper editorial
  4. Thanking letter writers
  5. Editing cartoons?
  6. Wishful headlines get a new look-see
  7. Help the sun shine locally this year
  8. Letters to editors zoom – in number and testiness
  9. Help diversity in journalism education
  10. Flashbacks: Confederate symbolism and more
  11. Opinionizers' early convention plans 

Masthead Winter 2017


Editor’s note – Traditions and trust

Yes, Virginia, it’s another issue of Masthead. As you scramble to fill extra pages and meet early holiday deadlines, I hope you’ll find a few minutes to give it a look.

If you haven’t heard of The Conversation, or have not considered using their stuff, check out the Q&A with Joel Abrams, manager of media outreach for The Conversation US. In it, he discusses how The Conversation is working to build trust between journalists, academics and the public, and how news organizations and opinion journalists can make use of this resource.

We also recap a lively EdWrite discussion of “history’s most reprinted editorial” and other holiday standbys editors turn to this time of year. And finally, we’ve collected a few “they told us so” tidbits from past State Department briefings in a quick trip through the archives.

That’s it for 2017. We’ll see you in the new year. In the meantime, keep the conversation going on EdWrite and join opinion colleagues on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/AOJopinion/

 Jennifer Hemmingsen is an editorial writer at the Cayman Compass in George Town, Grand Cayman, and editor of Masthead.



Q&A with “The Conversation”

In just a few short years, “The Conversation” has earned a reputation as a clearinghouse for thoughtful, nuanced commentary on timely issues. We asked Joel Abrams, manager of media outreach for The Conversation US, how news organizations and opinion journalists can make use of this resource.


What is “The Conversation” and how is it different from other content syndicates?

The Conversation is a unique free resource for the news media: a nonprofit collaboration between academia and journalists to unlock knowledge from universities for the broader public.


Most journalists have experienced the challenge of translating the knowledge of experts into something understandable.  The Conversation’s goal is to do that work for the media - to find the experts on issues and then work intensively with them to craft it into works of journalism.  We help them figure out what matters in their research, eliminate the jargon and keep reader interest throughout the article.


The result is 7-9 original stories each weekday of 700-1200 words that are all available to any news outlet in the world that wants to use them under a Creative Commons license.

Although many newspapers run our stories as ‘Commentary’, we make a distinction between a traditional op-ed and our analyses.  For one, we insist that authors stick to their areas of expertise: we do not consider tenure a license to write on subjects where the author has not done research.  Also, the point of the article is not primarily to advance a position: it is to explain what the expert knows and make it relevant to the wider public.  We don’t shy away from our authors making arguments but they need to show the evidence and the work that’s behind their conclusions.

Our content ranges from AI to zombies, and from anthropology to zoology.  There’s a lot on politics and the economy, but also history, medical research, environmental issues, religion, and any subject that is studied in academia.  In addition to the stories we produce, we have sister sites in Canada, the UK, Australia (where The Conversation was founded in 2011), Africa, France, and Indonesia.  All their stories are available as well.

How are you funded? Are your authors paid?

We’re a nonprofit organization, funded by grants from 12 foundations and membership dues from 44 universities, all of whom are publicly disclosed at the bottom of our homepage.

We are editorially independent of our funders.  Editors pick the subjects we cover and select the experts we ask to write for us.  But when we don’t have the right expert in mind to explain a topic, the editors look to the member universities’ faculties first.  About a third of our articles are selected by editors from an increasing number of incoming pitches.

Our authors volunteer their time in the interest of spreading knowledge.  A few universities are starting to include this sort of ‘public engagement’ as a factor in tenure and promotion decisions, a trend we definitely think is positive.  The authors also benefit from the coaching they get from our authors in clear communication.  Several authors have mentioned that after working with us, they are able for the first time to explain their research to loved ones.

What are you hoping to achieve by making this content available?

The first point of our charter summarizes pretty well that we aim to “Inform public debate with knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence.”  There is too much shouting and supposition in the public discourse today, and not nearly enough facts and evidence.

One of the problems is that the people with genuine expertise shy away from engaging with the public, for a variety of reasons.  Many do not know how to communicate effectively. Others fear that nobody will listen.  Others worry that their research will be misrepresented.  The structure of The Conversation provides a bridge to overcome those concerns.

We also make an effort to add new voices to the public discussion.  Many times we find experts who are earlier in the their careers, and help them find their voices. We also look for women and members of minority communities to make sure they are heard.

Another goal is to strengthen media organizations by providing them with quality content for free.  Newspapers don’t have the depth of editorial strength they once had, and many editors don’t have the time to work with professors and make their ideas accessible.  But we have 15 editors -- and two more coming on board this year -- who have the time and expertise to do that.

We’re proud that newspapers ranging from the Punxsutawney Spirit to the Washington Post (as well as hundreds of other news outlets in between) have found our content of interest to their readers.

Your Facebook page mentions an aim to “help rebuild trust in journalism” – tell us a bit about that.

We firmly believe that the antidote to fake news is fact-based news.  By having experts write about their area of expertise, we hope to provide trust-worthy explanation.  We encourage authors to make clear to readers where they are coming from, something they rarely think of on their own. So we encourage them to put it out there by saying “I have spent close to 20 years studying farmers” or “As a social scientist who’s been conducting psychological research about sex and gender for almost 50 years.”

Another way we establish trust is to require full disclosures of potential conflicts of interest.  Along the sidebar of every article on our site is a statement from each author on funding sources or activities that a reader might find relevant.  Most of the authors have nothing to disclose, but we think it’s an important trust-building exercise.


We also aim to restore academics’ trust in journalism.  By promising them that they will have final approval over their words, we assure them that their research will be presented in their own way.  By working with experienced editors, they gain an understanding for how journalism works.

What should an editor do if she or he wants to run one of your articles?

All our articles are there for the taking.  The most common way to access them is off of our website, where every article has a Republish button to the right of the text.  Click that, and you’ll get HTML code that you can grab and (hopefully) paste right into your content management system.

All our stories are distributed by AP, and you should be able to access them however you take wire stories (they can be found here in AP Newsroom).

Our content is available under a Creative Commons-No Derivatives license, details of which are available in our republishing guidelines.  Making substantive changes is a derivative use, so we ask that you run any changes by us, including trims.  In fact, if you need an article cut down to fit, we’ll be glad to do that for you.

Please be sure to give credit in a byline or tagline to the author, the author’s university, and The Conversation. You don’t need to let us know ahead of time, although we would appreciate if you could email me a PDF or link that I can share with the author.

There’s no commitment, no minimum, or maximum amount of usage. Most news outlets pick a story occasionally when they’re interested, as with Gannett’s Louisville Courier-Journal, the Chicago Tribune, or the Houston Chronicle. Some sites publish all of our stories automatically in their online opinion section, like the Idaho Press-Tribune.

What else would you like our readers to know?

My job is to be a bridge between publications and The Conversation’s editors.  If you have any questions about a particular article or about The Conversation in general, don’t hesitate to contact me at us-republish@theconversation.com.

We also welcome queries from editors about any topic under the sun.  Often, we have published an article on it already, or one of our international sister sites has.  But other times it is useful intelligence to our editors to know what issues are confronting communities, and they use it to commission relevant articles.  Some of our best articles have surfaced this way.

I also regularly let editors know about stories from their local universities or of local interest, or about our daily lineup.  Contact me if you’d like to hear from me about stories you’d be interested in.

Joel Abrams is Manager of Media Outreach for The Conversation US, working out of the main newsroom in Boston. He previously worked for The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN, and Lycos. Follow him on Twitter @BostonAbrams.


EdWrite Recap: Ho, ho, holiday standbys
By Jennifer Hemmingsen


The question: Do you run "Yes, Virginia," or another standard Christmas Day column or editorial? Any art or audience engagement piece you turn to year after year?

Turns out, quite a few editorial page editors do.

“We run it every Christmas Eve here in Duluth,” said Duluth News Tribune Editorial Page Editor Chuck Frederick. “I don't see that ending anytime soon!”

“On my list of goals is to write the editorial that puts Yes Virginia to shame,” wrote Jay Jochnowitz, Editorial Page Editor for the Albany Times Union. “Meanwhile, Yes Virginia remains our go-to Christmas editorial.”

The Dallas Morning News has a different tradition, each year reprinting a favorite penned long ago by in-house columnist Paul Crume: “Angels are among us on this day”, wrote the paper’s op-ed editor, Elizabeth Souder-Philyaw.

At my former paper, The (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Gazette, staff columnist (and now EPE) Todd Dorman penned an annual "Night Before Christmas" or carol-themed column reflecting on events from the year.


For years, the Anniston Star ran an editorial series honoring “Unsung Heroes” who were nominated by readers. "We found volunteer reading coaches, Meals on Wheels deliverers who hadn't missed a day in five years, hospital volunteers and just generally nice people making a difference in their neighborhoods,” wrote the paper’s Editor and Publisher Bob Davis.

“It took planning; we started compiling names and writing mini-profiles in late November,” he wrote. “But it was nice to have that taken care of in advance.”

Several folks said that as the new year approaches, they publish “headlines we’d like to see” in the new year – which was the subject of a lively EdWrite discussion last year.

Dale B. McFeatters, a former editor with the “late, lamented Scripps Howard News Service,” shared a cautionary tale for editors who would mess with any yuletide tradition:

The news service, which then had around 300 clients, ran “Yes, Virginia” every Christmas, he wrote: “We laid moral claim to the editorial because it first appeared in the New York Sun, which was subsequently acquired by the New York World-Telegram, a Scripps paper.”

“After several years, I decided running ‘Yes, Virginia’ had run its course. At over 800 words, the editorial was longer than most papers’ oped standards and it was available to anyone with a computer or, for that matter, access to a public library. As so often happens, boy, was I wrong. The next day we began hearing from our clients. ‘When are you going to run ‘Yes, Virginia’?’ Of course, there was only one answer: ‘You’ll be getting it within the next half hour.’ Sadly, the Sun, the World, the Telegram and the news service are all history but Santa Claus and “Yes, Virginia” live on and deservedly so. Merry Christmas.”

Not a member of the Opinion Writers discussion list? Join us: http://asne.org/aoj-discussion-list. Or connect with us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/AOJopinion/

From the archives: They told us so — State Department insights gain value over time
By John McClelland and Jennifer Hemmingsen

Recent headlines have Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump at odds again over North Korea. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun discussed the conditions that could make diplomacy successful during our October briefer. http://asne.org/masthead-2017#OfficialChinaKey
 
In other news, the ACLU has asked a judge to lift the administration’s ban on entry for family members of refugees who have legally settled in the U.S. Anne Richard, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, discussed the global refugee crisis and U.S. resettlement procedures with editors back in 2016: http://asne.org/masthead-2016#StateDepartmentBriefings
 
In 2014, editors were delivered background understanding that helped when water and environmental issues became more newsworthy later. http://asne.org/content.asp?contentid=461#AOJWaterWar
 
And way back in 2012, a State Dept briefer, not-for-attribution for reasons that became obvious, explained why he and others most often called Burma by its old name, but called the country Myanmar in direct contacts so as not to piss them off needlessly. He said it was necessary to anger them sometimes, over things like dictatorial governance and -- hello 2017 -- abuse of minorities (Rohingya). http://asne.org/masthead-2012
 
To view archived Masthead articles from 2009-present, visit ASNE.org/Masthead.

Ex-journalist and retired ex-professor John McClelland recently retired from editing Masthead but still contributes.


 

Masthead Fall 2017

A good time was had by all who attended a reception at the Australian Ambassador’s residence during ASNE convention. (photo courtesy of Embassy of Australia) Click on the image to see it in full size.

Editor’s note – D.C. recap and planning for 2018

It was great to see so many colleagues at the ASNE convention in October. For those who couldn’t join us, we have recaps of speakers and events of special interest to opinion journalists, including brief accounts of the ever-informative day-long briefing at the U.S. Department of State.

The state department briefing is an NCEW/AOJ tradition that will continue now that we’ve merged with ASNE – look for more details soon about the next briefing, which will be held again in the spring.

Also in this “issue” you’ll find a thought-provoking essay that challenges us to do better when commenting on the perceived connection between real-world and media violence – sadly a perennial topic. You might be surprised about what researchers have found, and find value in the many links provided by the author.


Finally, the recent ASNE board election has us welcoming three opinion journalists to the ranks:

Congratulations to Miami Herald Editorial Page Editor Nancy Ancrum: A longtime AOJ leader and native New Yorker who found her place in the South Florida sun, to her fellow Floridian Rick Christie, editor of the editorial page for the Palm Beach Post, and David Plazas, opinion and engagement editor for The Tennessean and director of the same for the USA TODAY NETWORK in Tennessee (who, oddly enough, also worked for a while in Florida – Fort Myers, to be exact).

They are eager to start work on a 2018 agenda that will help support opinion journalists and promote our craft. Stay tuned for more details and information about how to get involved.

Many thanks to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Page Editor David Haynes, who no longer will serve on the ASNE board but will continue to contribute mightily to opinion committee work.

Speaking of which, what would you like to see the opinion committee tackle in 2018? What burning issues are on your mind? Send us your ideas, thoughts, questions and random musings. Fan mail is welcome. Hate mail, too, I suppose.

And hang in there through all those holiday deadlines.

Jennifer

 
What editors should know about media and real-world violence
By Christopher Ferguson

In December 2012, Adam Lanza, age 20, killed his mother, then 20 children, 6 adults, and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary. It took 11 months for the official investigation to release its findings, leaving a large gap in time for speculation on the shooting’s causes. Among these possible causes were violent video games.

Concerns about violence in computer games are nothing new. Even in the days of Pac Man and Space Invaders the US Surgeon General claimed such games were a leading cause of family violence (related studies). Several states have tried to regulate minors’ access to violent video games, but these efforts were struck down by a skeptical US Supreme Court in 2011. It remains common to see newspaper headlines insinuate that violent games are linked to specific criminal acts, particularly among young males (or to assert, just as insidiously, that games are as addictive as drugs like heroin or methamphetamine.) But does the evidence support these sensationalist headlines?

Even among scholars, debates rage. Groups like the American Psychological Association (APA) have linked violent games to minor aggression, but not violent crime. However, even the APA’s linking games to minor aggression provoked controversy, with 230 scholars writing to the APA asking them to refrain from such policy statements that are misleading, overstating the evidence for effects. Surveys of scholars and clinicians find that only a minority agree that violent video games are linked to societal violence.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, video games consumed considerable attention. Perhaps most notably, the NRAshifted blame from real guns to imaginary guns in a press conference. But politicians such as Jay Rockefellerfollowed suit, putting pressure on the scientific community to find evidence that would support legislation.

News media, often citing unnamed sources supposedly close to the investigation, claimed that perhaps hundredsof violent video games had been found in Lanza’s home. Other papers reported he might have copied a scenefrom a video game to carry out the shooting. Another paper reported Lanza had an “eerie lair” in the basement where he obsessed over violent games. These claims led one town to plan to burn violent video games, although this scheme was later called off.

Some news reporting was more skeptical or attempted to balance claims with skepticism, but post-Sandy Hook saw a feeding frenzy of news reporting on games.

Nonetheless, evidence had already swung against the notion that violent games were related to societal violence. A 2002 US Secret Service report found that school shooters consumed unusually low levels of violent media. Reports by governments in the UKAustralia and Sweden likewise concluded that the evidence against violent games was underwhelming.

Later data would provide further evidence for skepticism. Evidence accumulated that consumption of violent video games in society is correlated with over an 80% reduction in youth violence in the US. Such evidence is correlational in nature, but more careful analyses by Patrick Markey at Villanova University and Scott Cunningham at Baylor University found that the release of very popular violent video games such as the Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto series are associated with immediate declines in societal violence suggesting a causal effect. A 2012 analysis by the Washington Post found no relationship between video game consumption and gun violence cross-nationally.

Put simply, there just isn’t evidence that violent games correlate with societal violence.

Even regarding acts of minor aggression (i.e. putting people’s hands in buckets of ice water, giving them bursts of white noise, filling in the missing letters of words such as that finishing ki__ with ‘kill’ rather than ‘kiss’ is aggressive) the evidence has been controversial and inconsistent. Much of the research doesn’t appear to have been well done, has not been transparent, and may have been conducted with a moral agenda in mind. More recent studies, using greater transparency, have tended not to find effects.

Finally, in November, 2013, the state of Connecticut released the official investigation report on the Sandy Hook shooting. Although both some violent and non-violent games were found in Lanza’s home, they did not appear to be the “hundreds” reported in news articles, and most were older, obsolete games that may not have been played in some time. More telling, witnesses revealed that Lanza mostly played non-violent games such as the Super Mario Brothers series. Most often Lanza played the dancing game Dance, Dance Revolution and if Lanza was obsessed with a video game it was this one, not a violent shooter game.

The official report did not conclude that video games were a motivation for the shooting, nor that they played any causal role.

The attention to video games following the Sandy Hook shooting was a classic pattern of moral panic. Extreme claims were made without clear data and policy makers sought to act, possibly reducing free speech rights, before the facts were known. Unfortunately, some journalistic outlets contributed to the misinformation by passing along extreme claims by sources who apparently were not as close to the investigation as advertised.

To be fair, some news outlets presented the issue fairly and attempted to balance views. But extreme, irresponsible headlines do continue to pop up, whether linking video games to crime or comparing them to drugs or alcohol in terms of their addictive properties, which are also controversial.


Just this year the APA’s Media Psychology division released a policy statementaddressed in part to news professionals. This policy statement notes that current evidence does not link video games to societal violence and claims to the contrary mislead the public. We hope that this statement may provide assistance to news editors and journalists as they cover this controversial topic in the future.

Christopher Ferguson, Ph.D., is a professor of Psychology at Stetson University specializing in media violence, video game violence, violent crime, media and body dissatisfaction/eating disorders. He is coauthor of “Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong.” Contact: cjfergus@stetson.edu

Pitts to journalists: ‘Stop being so damn polite”
By John McClelland

Leonard Pitts took the roomful of journalists to task: “I’m here to ask you to stop being so damn polite!!”

It soon became clear that he spoke of both news work and various flavors of opinionizing.

He had first told the lunch crowd of about 200 at ASNE’s 2017 convention, jokingly, that he was glad to be in a roomful of “enemies of the people.” He quickly transitioned to castigating the news media for being too even-handed during the 2016 presidential election and since.

Journalists make thousands of judgments in doing a straight news job, so why not exercise some more judgment in the content, he seemed to ask.

Some colorful phrases are in the full speech text he shared with Richard Prince.

He said today’s bigoted adults, who tend to disbelieve any information that does not match their preconceptions, are unlikely to change.

“In which case the ultimate fix, if there is to be one,” he said, “will not come from appeals to this generation of news consumers, but from educating the next generation …

“I am aware of what will probably seem the very slippery slope that I invite you out onto. Some of you will balk at the notion that judgment has a place in journalism. Some of you will be concerned about inflicting your own unconscious biases upon your readers.

“And some of you will no doubt note that it’s rather rich hearing all of this advice about how to cover the news from a guy whose job description is [brief but pregnant pause] opinion. …

“Guilty as charged.”

A few minutes later, during Q&A, several of the questions dealt with the public’s lack of understanding of some realities of opinion journalism.

An editor asked if reader complaints about shortage or lack of pro-Trump columnists should drive him to hunt some of them up so as to change the balance. No, Pitts said, leave it. It is telling that even seriously conservative writers like George Will don’t support Trump.

Another question dealt with reader confusion of the differences among news and various forms of opinion writing. “People don’t know,” he said. “I get it all the time: ‘You’re biased’ they say. And I say, ‘Yeah, that’s what opinion is’.” He added that there is a real need for media-literacy education about such basics, and got a rumble of approval from the audience when he specifically mentioned editorials.


He was asked, should journalists confront those in the White House or elsewhere who lie? Yes, we must, he said: “I like the old saying, ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted’.”

In another exchange, he said all journalism needs a sense of mission and a drive to present truth without favoritism. He had previously said objectivity is a myth but fairness and balance can be achieved.


Bob Davis of the Anniston (Alabama) Star, a former president of the Association of Opinion Journalists before its merger into ASNE, questioned Pitts’ assertion that today’s Southern racists are not nearly as bad as those of previous generations. Pitts disagreed in part. Here is a 2-minute video of that exchange.

Ex-journalist and retired ex-professor John McClelland recently retired from editing Masthead but still contributes.

 
Department of State Briefings
Official: China key to restraining North Korea
By Tom O’Hara

The only way to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons is to persuade China to impose grueling sanctions on the country, the U.S. State Department’s point man on the issue told editors during a briefing Oct. 11.

Decades of sanctions have failed to sway North Korea’s leaders to abandon their nuclear ambitions because China has failed to impose punishing sanctions, Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun told the editors attending an ASNE briefing at the State Department.

Ninety percent of North Korean’s trade is with China, Yun said. Only China has the clout to effectively eliminate the money North Korean leader Kim Jong-un needs to develop nuclear weapons, he said.

Sanctions would work, Yun said, if they were “implemented properly.”

China has refused to do so thus far because it “fears a collapse of the (North Korean) regime more than it fears a nuclear threat” from North Korea.

Nonetheless, Yun said he believes diplomacy could work now because China is beginning to grasp the grave consequences of North Korea being able to strike U.S. allies and even U.S. territory with nuclear weapons.

If North Korea possesses nukes, Japan and South Korea might demand to have them too. China does not want its unfriendly neighbors to have nuclear weapons, Yun said.

And everyone believes that North Korea is intent on having nukes. Under Kim Jong-un, Yun said, North Korea has dramatically accelerated its weapons testing.

To allay China’s concerns that stiff sanctions would destroy the Kim regime and bring U.S. military power to China’s border, the U.S. has adopted a “four no’s” negotiating policy. The U.S. is not interested in:
  1. regime change
  2. regime collapse
  3. the reunification of the Korean Peninsula
  4. stationing U.S. or South Korean troops north of the DMZ
Yun said repeatedly that he “hopes” there is a diplomatic solution but that the U.S. is weighing military options too.

Whether diplomacy will work “remains to be seen.”

Tom O’Hara is retired from Florida Atlantic University, where he taught journalism. He worked in journalism for 40 years in Abu Dhabi, Cleveland, Palm Beach Post and other Florida newspapers.

Kavalec: U.S. must remain firm with Putin
By David D. Haynes

The U.S. relationship with Russia is “in a rough patch right now,” caused mainly by a government in Moscow attempting to deal with its own considerable challenges at home, a career Russian expert told journalists during the American Society of News Editors’ recent State Department Briefing.

Kathleen Kavalec, deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, said the best approach for American policy is to remain firm with the government of Vladimir Putin.

“I think a lot of it has to do not so much with us but with what’s going on internally, domestically in Russia and with Putin’s own efforts to stay at the top of that system,” she told journalists who had gathered for ASNE’s annual full day of briefings. “I think what we can do is be firm, consistent, and indicate that we’re prepared to deal on the basis of kind of honest communication and standing by commitments that we make, which the Russians tend not to do.”

Kavalec, who did her first tour in Russia in 1985, has seen other low points in the bilateral relationship, especially during the regime of Boris Yeltsin. The latest nadir comes after Russia’s 2014 invasion of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, an act of force that was met by tough sanctions by the West. The relationship was further harmed, of course, by Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which has caused widespread consternation and prompted a wide-ranging investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The first indictments in that probe were unveiled in late October.

Kavalec said Americans should expect more of the same from the Russians, citing the unrest earlier this year in Charlottesville, Va., during a rally by white supremacists. There were indications that “Russian trolls” tried to further inflame the situation by chiming in on social media.

“So absolutely, they continue to do this,” she said.

She said the U.S. might use countermeasures to fight such interference. She mentioned a tactic of French President Emanuel Macron’s campaign. It planted fake materials on its website, which it expected the Russians to steal. That allowed Macron to undercut the effort by exposing the thievery.

Have the sanctions worked? She said there is evidence they have. “I think it’s been very successful in demonstrating our strong unity on this issue,” she said. “I think it’s probably prevented the Russians from going further into Ukraine.”

And is there room for U.S.-Russian cooperation? Again, yes, but it depends on Russian willingness to cooperate. “I think the Russians are always someone with whom you might be able to work in a certain moment, but if the situation changes they’ll change their calculations.”

One looming question for the relationship: Who comes after Putin?  Though there is no sign he is going anywhere soon, it’s something that people at the State Department are thinking about. “I think everyone who watches Russia ponders that question,” she said, “and a lot of people worry that maybe it could get worse, the nationalists or a more extreme faction could come to power.  One can’t just assume that somehow, magically, democracy will reappear.”


David D. Haynes is the editorial page editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and former president of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

 
General: Defeating ISIL will take time
By Miriam Pepper

The Global Coalition to Defeat ISIL is “on the path to victory ... over time,” said retired Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, deputy special presidential envoy to the group.
 
His pause before “over time,” however, was pronounced as he spoke before the ASNE day-long U.S. State Department briefing primarily for opinion writers on Oct. 11.
 
Wolff, who in retirement has worked under the Obama administration and now Trump, prefers to refer to ISIS or ISIL as Daesh, an acronym for the Arabic phrase al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) because the group hates it. He postulates that the caliphate idea is crumbling while saying the terrorists will claim it is succeeding.
 
The coalition now includes 69 countries and four international organizations (the United Nations, the European Union, NATO and Interpol).
 
The fighting in Iraq is now primarily accomplished by Iraqi security forces, far different from just three years ago when the Iraqi forces fled in the face of terrorists.
 
More international attention is focused on returning foreign fighters now, and how or whether to reintegrate them.
 
Simultaneously, the UN is leading the effort to help those displaced by war in Iraq and Syria to return home. Millions remain displaced by war.
 
Mines left by terrorists are among the biggest challenges ahead. “Daesh has effectively salted the earth,” Wolff said. To date, initial work has been on de-mining power plants. He said it will take a decade to clear the countryside.

Efforts to return basic services, clear rubble and re-open schools are critical to getting Iraqis back to their own homes.
 
In Syria, too, efforts to provide basic services are critical. But the presence of Russia has complicated work for the coalition, as Russia backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposes ISIS.
 
Wolff calls the Kurdish independence movement now an unwelcome distraction, bad timing for the goals of defeating terrorists. He argues it would be best for a later effort after more refugees are resettled and the terrorists are further weakened.
 
As the terrorists lose land holdings, their ability to tax and extort money to fund their efforts drops.
 
The coalition battle includes more use of social media and help “scraping sites” promoting terrorism from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
 
While Wolff says “the Daesh brand is scuffed up pretty well” the coalition still faces challenges: “There is a reason men and women join. They are looking for something. It’s why people join gangs or the military.” They may be attracted by clerics, by family, or simply a job.
 
The challenge nations face is how to determine which foreign fighters are truly de-radicalized or were coerced into terrorism, and which are still listening to calls to create havoc as lone wolves.
 
In Iraq, for example, authorities are confronting what’s called the “Daesh cook syndrome” as terrorists surrender, saying “I was just a cook.” Lots of cooks are showing up, ratcheting up concerns.
 
“Daesh recruited out-of-work oil engineers to repair oil wells,” Wolff said. “The unemployed will go where the paycheck is.”
 
“I can’t put my finger on one program and say this is the model to prevent young people from becoming terrorists,” Wolff said.

 
As the fighting continues, the need for humanitarian and reinvestment aid grows, he said. The coalition is seeking $1 billion for each effort.
 
Miriam Pepper is associate editor of Opinion in a Pinch, a national opinion writing service, and retired editorial page editor at The Kansas City Star. miriam.a.pepper@gmail.com.

 
Nafta: No progress on ‘rebalancing’

Francisco Palmieri, acting State Department official for Western Hemisphere affairs,spoke about the administration position on the North American Free Trade Agreement and other matters. Here is a 54-second video of his answers to two questions on Nafta.

As this issue of Masthead was being wrapped up on Turkey day, we saw news that one of his hoped-for outcomes, progress during October, had not happened. The chief U.S. trade representative was quoted as saying neither Canada nor Mexico was willing “to seriously engage” on “a rebalanced agreement.” One such report is found in the New York Times.

- John McClelland

Business diplomacy: The power to convene
By Jennifer Hemmingsen

We tend to think of international business as being limited to a handful of titans striking billion-dollar deals in sleek Hong Kong boardrooms.

But as more small- and midsized companies stake their claims in the global marketplace, cultivating complex networks of ground-level relationships can be equally important for U.S. diplomats charged with promoting U.S. business interests abroad.

In that realm, the U.S.’ reputation for entrepreneurship gives the country a leg up on other nations, Brian McFeeters, principal deputy assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of State bureau of economic and business affairs, told members of the American Society for News Editors at a briefing last month in Washington, D.C.

“What we have is the power to convene,” McFeeters said.

Take this month’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India, led jointly by the U.S. and the Republic of India. The event, the eighth of its kind and the first held in South Asia, will bring together more than 1,500 entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors from around the world.

This year’s theme is “Women First, Prosperity for All.” It focuses on four key areas: healthcare and life sciences; digital economy and financial technology; energy and infrastructure; and media and entertainment. Organizers hope it will connect and energize entrepreneurs – female entrepreneurs, in particular – serving as a catalyst for innovation around the globe.

The State Department employs 550 economic officers at 190 embassies and consulates, McFeeters said. Their job is to aggressively advocate for U.S. business interests overseas – ensuring fair treatment, protection of intellectual property and assisting their pursuit of business opportunities abroad. Part of that work includes building trust and confidence in U.S. products and standards (allaying fears about biotech and genetically modified agricultural products, for example). Other tasks include working with local governments to increase transparency build capacity, and helping create international standards, such as the Privacy Shield framework for protecting data in transatlantic commerce, or the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme intended to prevent international trafficking of conflict diamonds, facilitating trade.

U.S. exports have doubled since the turn of the millennium, with much of the growth experienced by small- and mid-sized enterprises, MecFeeters said. According to commerce department statistics, 96 percent of California’s exports originate from small and medium-sized enterprises. In Virginia, that number is 86 percent.

“We’re not just going overseas to help Boeing and other giant companies,” he said.

The bureau maintains a real-time online database of vetted international commercial and investment projects (which on a recent visit represented a total value of nearly $200 billion), with links to project websites, U.S. government contacts in the region and other resources.


The Bureau online: www.state.gov/e/eb
Twitter: @EconAtState
Facebook: /EconAtState

Jennifer Hemmingsen is an editorial writer at the Cayman Compass in George Town, Grand Cayman, and editor of Masthead.

EdWrite Recap: Fact checking letters to the editor

There was lively discussion this past month about fact-checking letters to the editor on the opinion writers discussion list. Editors talked about a variety of approaches, which Richard Prince captured in a post on Journal-isms – a web site devoted to discussing diversity issues in the news media. It’s worth a read.

Not a member of the Opinion Writers discussion list? Join us: http://asne.org/aoj-discussion-list.

From the archives -- Endorsements: See what you missed?
By John McClelland

Endorsing, recommending or recommending against candidates or election issues... These are historical roles of newspapers’ editorial pages, and other media.

The process is open to dispute within journalism and certainly between journalists and their audiences.

That may be even more the case since the 2016 elections.

It wasn’t the first time someone won the presidency despite (or because of?) getting nearly zero endorsements. How many of us were around in the pre-internet days of Franklin Roosevelt? How many non-journalist, non-contributor, citizens get to study and interview local and regional candidates?

Masthead and the opinion writer-editors’ online discussion list (http://asne.org/aoj-discussion-list) have generated huge amounts of material about editorial endorsements of candidates and issues. Some discussion list items were promptly useful to the writers’ counterparts elsewhere. Some were grim. Some were hilarious.

Here is a partial selection of prior Masthead articles. In addition, there have been dozens of EdWrite discussion threads about the topic. Anyone who is on the discussion list can find the threads by using the search tool at groups.google.com. A reminder: Masthead policy is that the list is designed for unfettered civil discussion and Masthead does not direct-quote or attribute posts without permission.

Masthead articles directly relating to endorsing:

*AOJ: The National Conference of Editorial Writers, NCEW 1947-2011, became the Association of Opinion Journalists AOJ in 2012 and merged into the American Society of News Editors ASNE during 2016-17

John McClelland is professor emeritus of Journalism at Roosevelt University, Chicago, and was a longtime editor of Masthead.

 

Masthead Summer 2017

Editor’s Note: Professionalism with a purpose
By John McClelland, outgoing editor

The hand on the helm of The Masthead is changing for the first time since 2011. Already I sense that it will sail briskly in its new circumstances.

This has been an interesting time, sometimes difficult, often satisfying, frequently rewarding because of the great folks with whom it was my privilege to work as volunteer editor and as one of the dozen AOJ trustees.

Jennifer Hemmingsen has proved her ability and dedication in recent years as participant in the State Department briefings, as a director of the Association of Opinion Journalists, as board secretary, as a trustee of the AOJ Foundation, as co-producer of an ASNE live webinar — and more.

Even during change in her own career from editing in Iowa to editorial writer at the Cayman Compass, she stepped forward promptly when I asked the ASNE Opinion Journalism Committee to find my successor soon. A nagging little medical issue turned nasty the very week in August that I turned 73. I am well on the way to having it fixed, but will have limited attention and mobility for at least a few more weeks or months. Family and other worthy causes deserve more of my time now.

Masthead’s audience deserves a fresh face, youthful energy, sound ideas, and the benefit of real-world current experience in doing opinion journalism on daily deadlines in a brave new digital world. You will get it.

Some of you, puhleeze, contribute when Jennifer asks, or offer your work un-asked!

I am co-editing the current summer issue and will assist her as best I can through the end of the year. I plan to stay with the EditWrite discussion list, still the most consistently civil, collaborative and constructive of the many I have been on since getting email in 1986.

The National Conference of Editorial Writers was the best of my several professional and academic associations, though not nearly the largest or longest. The sense of professionalism with a purpose that I recall from my first NCEW convention, about 2001, was clearly there, and with a wider scope, at my first ASNE convention in 2016.

Thanks to Froma Harrop, who was in her early and prolonged term as last president of NCEW and first president of AOJ when she asked this professor-photographer to take over the newly all-online publication.

And to Lois Kazakoff, the prior interim editor who has helped immensely over the years. And to Miriam Pepper and David Haynes, both of whom served far beyond the one-year call of duty as president of an organization in transition.

And to numerous others who contributed articles or simply gave words of support. Being a de-facto webmaster and volunteer factotum during three changes of association management and website hosting would have been horrid without them. As it was, it became a satisfying way to stay constructively active during my transition from partial to full retirement. And thus, thanks also to my colleagues at Roosevelt University, Chicago, who made that transition easier.

The merger of AOJ into ASNE went well. The back-office support our cause needs is there, talented, and committed to making the new relationship keep working well. A special shout-out to Jiyoung Won, who led intern Michael English through building our archives and current issues into asne.org/masthead.

Take a look.

“It was photography 1956 that got me to journalism around 1960, and high school and University of Illinois faculty 1961-65 who insisted I learn reporting, which led me unexpectedly to editing 1973, which came to include doing local editorials and a column, which helped motivate grad school. That included a course in which Prof. Harry Stonecipher cited Masthead. My 1987 Ohio State master's led to teaching opinion writing/editing in the 1990s and that led me to the discussion list and Masthead contributions. In 2002 I actually joined NCEW, which led to convention photos, really beginning with the 2004 Obama charm speech. Those and some fiddling with video led to taking Masthead on in October 2011. I recently resumed hand-dunking black-and-white film for fun in a 1970s-style darkroom.” – McClelland

McClelland: “Best hardly covers it”
By Lois Kazakoff

I don’t remember exactly when I met John McClelland in person. I do know it was at an airport, on the way to an AOJ annual convention. Indianapolis in 2011? Orlando in 2012?

But I do remember my first impression: Of a ball of fire.

John had a million ideas, an eagerness to try something new and continually engage with others. He conveyed a heartfelt sense that the mission was great, communicating the art and ethics of the craft were essential, and that he would do his very, very best as Masthead editor.

Best hardly covers it.

I was the Masthead editor in 2010-11 when we transitioned from a print magazine to a website. That was a huge undertaking and a cultural shift. But it was only the on ramp to the steep learning curve we all had to climb.

John took the reins of Masthead and picked up the pace. He understood the Masthead was not a house organ. It was a classroom, where he could introduce, and help instruct members to use a growing array of new digital technology tools. Under his editorship, Masthead blossomed with more and better use of video and social media communications, as well as tips, trends and observations about how to imagine new possibilities for opinion journalism from writers and editors everywhere.

A retired professor of journalism, John instructed AOJ members every week. He searched and shared industry news almost daily to keep us informed during publishing’s most tumultuous era. He works to spot trends – and pitfalls – and helped us teach each other.


No task was too demanding or too complex. Indeed, John seemed to delight in organizing every detail and seeing a project through to the end – even something as enormous, time-consuming and thankless task of moving our archives to a new home.

We NCEW/AOJ/ASNE members owe John McClelland a huge THANK YOU for a job well done.

Lois Kazakoff is deputy editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, a member of ASNE’s committee on opinion journalism and former editor of The Masthead.

Stats Show the Divide Between Editors, Cartoonists and Readers
By Daryl Cagle

What editorial cartoonists want to draw, what editors want to see from cartoonists, and what readers want in cartoons are very different. We have good statistics on which cartoons editors download. Editors prefer cartoons, drawn in a traditional style, which do not express a strong opinion that some readers might disagree with. 

Editors prefer cartoons that are funny over cartoons that make readers think or cry. 

Editors prefer cartoons that do not deviate from the topics that the pundits are talking about on TV.  

American editors prefer cartoons by American cartoonists. International editors prefer cartoons that are not drawn by American cartoonists.

More than half of America’s daily, paid circulation newspapers subscribe to our CagleCartoons.com service for editorial page editors. Our package includes about sixty top cartoonists from around the world and a dozen great columnists.

We get statistics on what online readers prefer from the traffic patterns to our Cagle.com site. Unlike editors, readers are open to many topics, including those that are not today’s TV pundit topics. Readers prefer strong opinions in cartoons. Like American editors, our mostly American audience on Cagle.com shows little interest in issues from around the world and they prefer cartoons by American cartoonists. 

Editors and readers prefer cartoons about celebrities in the news. The most popular section ever on Cagle.com was Janet Jackson’s boob at the Super Bowl with a whopping sixty million page views. Like most editorial cartoonists, I’m not interested in celebrities, but my most popular cartoons are celebrity obituary cartoons.

Cartoonists prefer cartoons that express strong opinions; we’re frustrated that editors don’t reprint these cartoons much. Most newspaper jobs for editorial cartoonists are gone now; we’re freelancers who are underpaid and struggling. We’re motivated by the joy of being a part of the public debate. We would like for editors to see us as graphic columnists rather than as bomb-throwers or clowns.

Most of America’s 1,400 daily, paid circulation newspapers are small, rural or suburban newspapers with conservative readers, so most editors prefer conservative cartoons to liberal cartoons. The vast majority of editorial cartoonists are liberal and the most frequent complaint we get from editors is that there are not enough conservative cartoons (even though we have many more conservative cartoons than competing packages).  We feature a “Trump-Friendly” section on the front page of CagleCartoons.com to point out these cartoons to editors who overlook them. Sometimes dealing with editors is like coaxing kids to eat their broccoli.

Because editors prefer such a narrow range of styles and topics, editorial cartoonists (who are not a diverse group themselves) often come up with cartoons that are similar. Sometimes a dozen cartoonists will draw the same, obvious gag; we call these matching cartoons “Yahtzees.” Columnists do the same thing, often making matching arguments about the issue of the day, but matching cartoons are more obvious than words. Sometimes editors complain that they don’t need to subscribe to more cartoons because the cartoons they see are “all the same,” but editors shun cartoons that are not similar.

Many editors ask, “Why don’t you have more pro-Trump cartoons?” Editorial cartooning is a negative art form. Cartoons in favor of anything are lousy cartoons. Even conservative cartoonists don’t draw pro-Trump cartoons. After the presidential election, cartoonists stopped drawing cartoons criticizing president Obama and Hillary Clinton, a change that disturbed many conservative editors who perceived a sudden shift to the left.  

Another top complaint from editors is, “Why don’t you post more cartoons about holidays, and post them earlier?” We put topical keywords on the front page of CagleCartoons.com to help editors find the funny, inoffensive holiday cartoons that they might overlook. Most holiday cartoons don’t go stale. We have a great selection in our archive, but of over 200,000 key worded cartoons; many editors miss these because they only look at cartoons that are new.

What I would like to see from editorial page editors is more interest in diversity of cartoon content – in style, topic and point of view. I’d like to see editors choose great cartoons over funny cartoons. I’d like for editors to show more tolerance for foreign cartoonists and topics. 

All that said, editors are our customers and most of them are great editorial cartoon fans. We love our editors. That’s why we want them to eat their broccoli.

Daryl Cagle is an editorial cartoonist and the owner of Cagle Cartoons, Inc. E-mail Daryl at daryl@cagle.com. For more information, visit CagleWorld.com. For a free trial subscription e-mail editor@cagle.com.

"This is a cartoon about the email I get from readers. My email box can be rather toxic. This is NOT a cartoon about editors. We love editors. Really.” — Daryl

6 things your editorial cartoonist wishes you knew

When coaching columnists, selecting OpEds and editing letters, most Opinion Editors can draw on their own experience and skills as opinion journalists. But few of us have ever picked up pens or pixels to create an editorial cartoon. Editorial cartooning is a unique and demanding form, and a vital part of most newspaper opinion pages, so we asked current and former editorial cartoonists what opinion editors should know about their craft. Here’s what they had to say - jh

1. Think of us as “visual columnists”

“A thousand journalistic, satirical and artistic decisions are made in each cartoon and It is a mistake to think the job has less rigor then that of the other editorial staff. - Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher, editorial cartoonist at The Economist and the Baltimore Sun

“Treat a cartoonist’s work as if it were an independent opinion piece, and take cartoonists as seriously as you would a syndicated columnist. Don't mess with the content. Editorial cartoons are legitimate forms of commentary.” - Mike Keefe, freelance cartoonist, formerly of the Denver Post

“The number one thing I wish most editors knew about editorial cartoons is that they are visual columns that don't need to resort to a gag to be effective. … While forms of humor like wit or cleverness are often a part of editorial cartoons, laugh-out-loud humor is not essential. And like written columns, the tone can vary from solemn and somber to scathing.” – Adam Zyglis, cartoonist for the Buffalo News 


2. Push for our best work – but leave the details to us

“If an editor is uncertain of the effectiveness of a cartoon, there is a temptation to offer suggestions and guidelines that the cartoonist will then feel obliged to incorporate whether they help the cartoon or not (most times not). A better way is to suggest you think they can do better or it is not up to their normal high standard. Let the cartoonist go away and grapple with the craft he/she knows best and see what results. The results are often fruitful. This is not to say that an editor cannot offer suggestions. Instead it is finding a way to make that conversation respectful of the cartoonist's understanding of the craft.” -Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher

“I’ve always said that editors spend so much time at the newspaper, they don’t know what’s going on in the world. By that, I mean editors tend to be ignorant of social trends and celebrities that often find their way into a cartoon.” - Bob Englehart, freelance cartoonist formerly of The Hartford Courant.

“Telling a cartoonist that they can do better is the best constructive criticism in the world. We can be defensive over criticism because we're insecure and we think we're awesome. But, telling us we can do better is a hard criticism to argue with. Every time an editor told me I could do better, he or she was right. And guess what. I did better. A great cartoonist will never settle for good enough.” – Clay Jones, self-syndicated cartoonist, formerly staff cartoonist for The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA) and Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

3. Don’t sweat strong reader reaction

"Editorial cartoons are meant to convey strong points of view. Too many editors shy away from stirring up readers' passion. If you can get someone passionate about your product, they're more likely to keep using it." - John Glynn, President at Universal Uclick

“Editorial cartooning is a negative art form. Editorial cartoons are not supposed to be fair. Go pester your columnist for equal time. … The very worst thing a great cartoonist can hear is, ‘cute.’ Each time I hear ‘cute,’ which isn't often thank God, it's a jagged dagger into my creative heart.” – Clay Jones

4. Editorial cartoons are valuable – and shareable

“Not only can a good editorial cartoon be just as smart and thought-provoking as a column (if not more!), it comes in a highly-sharable visual format that's well-suited for the digital media age. So I would ask editors, and the media industry in general, to see cartoonists as deserving of professional respect and inclusion on the opinion page just like other public intellectuals.” – Jen Sorensen, comics editor for Splinter.

“You have something unique that most newspapers are afraid of, so don't you be afraid of it. Make large, prominent, visible links on your homepage. Put up a teaser for the cartoon. Make people click for the cartoon and they'll probably come back, give you more clicks, help out your ads, etc. Your cartoonist is a rock star. Promote the fact you have a rock star.” – Clay Jones

5. Let opinions differ

“Allow a cartoonist to differ from the voice of your paper. This adds to a lively and engaging editorial page.” -Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher

“Every political cartoonist should have their own unique voice that makes your newspaper interesting. ... Let them use their voice, not your voice. Your voice is elsewhere. You can't think like a cartoonist, and you don't want to. Cartoonists are irreverent and weird. You, not so much. Encourage them to be weirder. Don't make their work boring.” – Clay Jones

6. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

“Cartoonists are the rarest of journalists, we wear the three hats of a columnist, satirist and artist. … There is a good reason that there have been so few cartoonists through the ages... it is an extremely difficult job to do on a tight deadline, on a consistently high level, over a long career. - Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher


EdWrite Recap: Boards of Contributors
By Nancy Ancrum

Here’s the original question, posed by Carolyn Lumsden, the editorial page editor of the Hartford Courant: “How many of you have boards of op-ed contributors?” 

She continued: "We’re considering this. Has it worked for you? How much work is involved? Are you happy with the contributions you get?"

Gauging from the responses of her peers, “happy” is a relative term. 

Lumsden’s motivation tracks that of Elizabeth Souder, who is Viewpoints and Points Editor for The Dallas Morning News. Here's how she responded to Lumsden's query: 

"For many years, we've had a volunteer columnist program called Community Voices, designed to bring in community writers as contributors. Each year we select a new class of Community Voices contributors, around 20 people, and hold workshops and sessions to help them put their thoughts into op-eds. There are no quotas or commitments on either side, but we tend to average about one good, publishable contribution from the group each week. We strongly encourage alumni -- especially the really good ones -- to continue contributing. 

"The program requires a fair amount of care and feeding, but the results are huge. We get great content -- sometimes the best op-ed content of the week comes from a Voices contributor. We get a range of local commentary. And some contributors have become consistent columnists, with one high school student using his Voices experience as a springboard to an editorial internship and now a career in opinion journalism. 

"This past year, I tried something new, outside of our usual writing workshop/kick-off meeting. I invited the columnists to meet at the newspaper in groups of up to 4 for brainstorming sessions. Not everyone could make it, and we held four such meetings. Participants brought two story ideas each and presented them, and the group discussed. They argued, they encouraged each other, they offered new perspectives, sort of like an editorial board meeting. These yielded some righteous columns on a range of issues, mostly local. One group even collaborated on an end product that I published on the front of the Sunday commentary section”. 


Here are the rest of editorial page editors’ comments. Some rhapsodize, some don't:

"We had one years ago. It was worse that cat-herding, and much of the copy was nightmarish. However, I like the idea, in theory. I had one guy who would come in and tell me what he thought about something, and I would write it for him, he’d read over it and give it the OK. Like dictation. That was arduous. I won’t go that route again.”

-Bill PerkinsEditorial Page EditorDothan Eagle
Dothan, Alabama

I sort of do. I have a “stable” (an email group) of people in the community who like to write columns that are scheduled quarterly, more or less, on topics of their own choosing. I have another group of people who are supposed to be available when needed as “experts” who hold various positions of authority in the community (not government heads, but don’t I always have any luck getting them to write on demand, in a timely fashion.”

-Susan ParkerEngagement/Community Content EditorThe Daily Times
Salisbury, Maryland

We have two conservative regular contributors -- they alternate Sundays and we pay them. I'm asking them to write about local issues and to do some reporting in their columns, and it's been working pretty well. We put out a call for applicants, and these two guys were the best of the group. They've been consistent, and one has parlayed it into a local radio show, too. We have other folks who have become regular contributors of their own volition, but they're not paid. We don't pay op-ed contributors, typically.”

-Sarah Garrecht GassenEditorial Page EditorArizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona


The Durango Herald weekend opinion pages feature regular monthly columns from a variety of contributors. We run a regular mayor's column, legal column, education column (from students at two area high schools -- we plan to include our local college this year -- and community educators from schools and local not-for-profit organizations) and a long-time population column written by a retired MD. 

During the legislative session (Jan.-May) we run a biweekly column from our state representative and senator, who alternate writing. It is a bit of herding, but I have enforced strict deadlines for individual writers and insisted on one point of contact for the law and education columns who coordinate submissions.

I'm especially excited to expand the student writing that appears in our pages. It's important to include youth voices and POV, even if it is simply asking to re-publish something they wrote for their school newspaper.

Our Editorial Advisory Board is going to come to life this fall, and I anticipate we will have some contributing writers in this group, too. With over 12 regular columnists and coordinators, it is a bit to manage, but I like knowing we have a diversity of local content we can run on a regular basis.

We are always open to, and regularly solicit, contributions from our readers. Our Letters Policy box states as much.”

-Ellen Stein, Editorial Page Editor, Durango Herald
As for the Miami Herald, we used to have a board of contributors way, way back in the day. It had been discontinued, or at least was on its way out, by the time I joined the board in 1990. Now, as editorial page editor I've considered it, and rejected it. There are people who are articulate, but can't write, and we don't have the bandwidth to do heavy-lifting corralling or editing. And non-writers are inconsistent and feel pressured by a regular deadline.

I've made sure to reflect a diversity of opinion on our pages by reaching out to all sorts of people, previously untapped and honored to be asked to either write a one-off on a topic, or to write occasionally. Then there are people who make their living as writers whom I ask to write for oped and I pay a small fee. I believe in paying professional writers. 

So, no, no board of contributors. I and staffers just keep our eyes and ears open for people with something to say.

That said, like Lumsden, Souder's enthusiasm for and success of the Community Voices initiative in Dallas is a template that I will seriously consider.


Nancy Ancrum is Editorial Page Editor for the Miami Herald and co-chair of the ASNE committee on opinion journalism.

###

Not a member of the Opinion Writers discussion list? Join us: http://asne.org/aoj-discussion-list.

From the archives: Some saw it coming…

Recent news and editorializing have been about ongoing situations that Masthead previously reported. Some were accounts of State Department briefings, presentations at NCEW-AOJ conventions, or member-written articles.

Here is a sampler of a few previews on public issues and trade-craft matters:

Confederate and other controversial public symbols:
Climate change as threat to low lands and peace:
Vetting letters and such for accuracy and authenticity is a never-ending task, and recurring topic on the EditWrite discussion list:
Online commentary’s ups and downs:
Editorials — ending or essential?
Refugee crisis is global
And more. To view archived Masthead articles from 2009-present, visit asne.org/masthead.

John McClelland

The real people behind U.S. foreign policy
By David D. Haynes


It was the morning after President Barack Obama’s dramatic announcement that a team of Navy Seals had finally caught up with the most wanted man in the world in a compound in Abbattabad, Pakistan. Osama Bin Laden was dead.

The National Conference of Editorial Writers (later the Association of Opinion Journalists) was due to be at the State Department for its annual briefing with U.S. diplomats that morning, May 2, 2011, and they were joined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spent a few minutes with NCEW members discussing the raid and taking questions.

“I’ll just say a few words. Obviously, there’s a lot going on today. It’s been an eventful 24 hours here at the State Department and the rest of the government,” she began, according to the official transcript.

In response to a question about the political implications of the bin Laden raid, she declined to answer, saying, “Well, I’ll let the last question take care of itself because I’m out of American politics, and that’s as it should be.”

That, of course, would change.

But while that day was certainly unusual, it has not been unusual for opinion writers to have access to knowledgeable U.S. diplomats. AOJ, which merged with the American Society of News Editors in 2016, has offered the briefing annually since 1997; this year’s briefing will be 9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 11, during the final day of the ASNE convention.

“The briefings were valuable because we got a chance to really interact at some length with senior policymakers,” according to Jim Boyd, a former editorial writer and editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune who helped revive the briefing in 1997. “The department always was very generous in making senior people available to us. … We heard from people like Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk about the Middle East. One of my favorites was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a bull of a guy.”

In 2014, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, passed out little buttons that read: “L*** the EU.” The reason? Nuland had been embarrassed two months earlier when one of her phone calls was intercepted and then leaked by the Russians. During the call, she had disparaged America’s European allies, saying at one point,“F*** the EU, because of their handling of the crisis in Ukraine after the Russian invasion of Crimea. During her briefing, she cited Russian "fictions" concerning the invasion.

The idea to do briefings at State dates almost to the founding of NCEW in 1947, according to Sue Ryon, a retired deputy editorial page editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a long-time leader of NCEW. A few briefings were held in the early days, she said, and they were revived for a time in the 1980s. But they took off for good in 1997 when Boyd got in touch with the State Department and helped put an organization in place that remains to this day.

“Through someone I knew at State, I got an appointment with Nicholas Burns, now a professor at the Kennedy School, then the spokesman for Secretary Madeleine Albright,” Boyd wrote in an email. “I pitched the idea to Burns, and he readily agreed. So he set things up at State and I organized the first several annual briefings.”


The value of the visit, Boyd wrote, was “not only improved knowledge but also a sense of the very real people who were making foreign policy for our country. In that sense, it had the same effect as foreign travel: Traveling to China transforms it from an abstraction or concept into a real place with real people dealing with real problems. Visiting State did the same thing.”

Now, all ASNE members have that same opportunity through the Opinion Committee’s work on this project.

David D. Haynes, an ASNE board member, is editorial page editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and former president of the Association of Opinion Journalists. Email: david.haynes@jrn.com

###
More on the briefings, including links to reports from almost every session 2012-2016:

One participant’s recollection of the BinLaden year:

Congratulations to Bingham fellow Gerald Jordan
Diversity educator award came to ASNE in 2016-17

Gerald Jordan, now of the University of Arkansas, is the 2017 winner of the Barry Bingham Jr. Fellowship for college educators who excel in supporting minorities as upcoming journalists.

The American Society of News Editors made the announcement in August and plans to present the award at the convention in Washington DC in October.

The $1,000 award has been made annually since 1990 by the National Conference of Editorial Writers, renamed Association of Opinion Journalists in 2012. Information about recent winners and a list of all winners is available at http://asne.org/content.asp?contentid=466.

ASNE inherited the Bingham program along with other assets of the AOJ Foundation during the 2016-17 merger of AOJ into ASNE.

The 2016 award to David Armstrong of Georgia State was made at the ASNE convention.

Former AOJ diversity chair Richard Prince, now a key part of ASNE's diversity team, handled the 2017 search. The nomination of Jordan was by a former AOJ president and AOJ Foundation trustee, Miriam Pepper. She is still active on the EditWrite discussion list and at Opinion in a Pinch, after her retirement as vice president for editorial page at the Kansas City Star, where she and Jordan were colleagues.


 - John McClelland

   
Masthead Winter-Spring 2017


Opinionizers’ journal arrives
 
The Masthead is now publishing on ASNE.org.
 
Since 1947, 
The Masthead has served to to provide information and insight for professional creators and managers of opinion journalism for members of its parent organization, the National Conference of Editorial Writers (1947-2011), which became the Association of Opinion Journalists (2012-2016) before merging into ASNE. It dealt initially in print, then broadcast, and now is available online. It is overseen by the ASNE Opinion Journalism Committee. To browse the archives, click here.
 
Many of the articles are rooted in some of the more livelier threads on the EditWrite discussion list on Google Groups. It provides collegial info, advice, discussion, and debate that is sometimes vigorous but always civil. New membership is by application, based on ASNE membership first. For more information or to apply, click here for full instructions.
 

Editor’s note:

It has been a joy to edit Masthead for five years. I anticipate continuing, though less intensely, for an audience of people who take their responsibilities, but not themselves, seriously, and for a wider new group of journalism professionals – entirely by volunteers’ efforts.
 

Appearing on a new platform is a good time to notify or remind readers that the opinions here are those of the authors, not policy of the organization.
 
A tumultuous new time in socio-political-journalistic life warrants some navel-gazing and much more focused thought and action, so we lead off the 2017 issues with some views on that.
 
--John McClelland
retired, Roosevelt University
john.r.mcclelland@gmail.com


KC Star beefs up its opinion pages
By Colleen McCain Nelson

The job offer to lead the opinion pages at The Kansas City Star came with an audacious directive: Build an all-star editorial board that would launch a community conversation and stimulate public debate.

At a time when civil discourse seemed to be lacking, Star publisher Tony Berg decided to invest in the editorial page, betting on the belief that readers were seeking constructive commentary from a trusted local news source. I joined The Star as editorial page editor in mid-December, and Berg told me to get to work making hires.

Buyouts, departures and other decisions had depleted the board. Staff-written editorials had largely disappeared from The Star’s opinion pages in recent months. Berg was the only remaining member of the editorial board.

Starting fresh was both a tantalizing possibility and a daunting prospect.

Fortunately, several top-tier, accomplished journalists soon joined the board, bringing a new perspective to the opinion pages. Dave Helling and Steve Kraske, The Star’s senior political reporters, and Mary Sanchez, a syndicated columnist and Star metro columnist, signed on as writers for the editorial board.

Derek Donovan, The Star’s public editor, moved to the opinion pages to be our community engagement editor. And we hired Melinda Henneberger, a USA Today columnist and an alumna of The New York Times and The Washington Post who made the move from DC to KC to write columns and editorials.

I’m still considering applications for one more opinion writer to join this team of heavy hitters. But we’ve already made our public debut (Jan. 22), introducing new board members to Kansas City and laying out our plans for making The Star’s opinion pages an engaging public forum where readers can find a range of viewpoints -- and join the conversation.

Staff-written editorials and columns have returned to our pages, generating a deluge of reader response, including calls and emails from some who said they had canceled their subscriptions but now planned to re-up and give the new editorial board a chance.

One week in, we’ve tackled topics ranging from concealed-carry on Kansas college campuses to the shocking death of a Royals pitcher, from a local bond proposal to child deaths shrouded in secrecy. And, of course, we’ve weighed in on President Donald Trump.

I came to Kansas City after spending five years as a political reporter and White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and more than a decade as a political reporter and then as an editorial writer and columnist at The Dallas Morning News. Covering the White House was a coveted job in many respects, but I missed writing about a community and connecting with readers who care deeply about their hometown newspaper.

The passionate feedback I’ve received so far in Kansas City -- much of it positive and some of it skeptical -- is exactly what I was seeking.

On the opinion pages, we’re still finding our footing, brainstorming ideas for larger projects we want to take on and planning editorial campaigns we aim to launch. We’re an editorial board in a hurry, but we recognize we can’t accomplish all our objectives in Week One.

Our immediate priorities include improving transparency and making better use of the digital tools at our disposal. I want to pull back the curtain for readers, giving them a sense of how individual board members think about issues and showing them that the editorial-page staff is not a monolith with everyone perpetually in unanimous agreement.

During the coming days, we’ll be launching an editorial board blog. There, board members will have a forum to weigh in on issues and news of the day in real time, and readers will gain added insights into each writer’s views. We’ll reverse publish the best of the blog in print and also use our online conversation to generate ideas for full-fledged editorials and columns.

Readers can find and respond to all of our content on our new Kansas City Star Opinion Facebook page. And Twitter provides unique opportunities for generating immediate feedback and driving traffic to our work online.

We also plan to use videos and Facebook Live to engage readers, giving them a window into our board meetings with newsmakers, answering questions about our editorials and columns and taking full advantage of another platform to explain our views and weigh in on public-policy questions.

Lee Judge, The Star’s editorial cartoonist, and Glenn McCoy, the cartoonist at a sister paper, the Belleville News-Democrat, recently kicked off a video series showing how they generate and execute their ideas for the cartoons that appear on our pages. 

The best news for our team is that we have the chance to be as ambitious as our ideas allow. Berg, The Star’s publisher, has encouraged us to think big and to advocate for change that bolsters Kansas City.

Stay tuned. We’re just getting started.


Colleen McCain Nelson spent part of a weekend resting up from the first full-tilt publishing week of her new team and part of it writing this for Masthead. She modestly omitted from her bio sharing a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing while at the Dallas Morning News.

—JRM
  • (Her column Jan. 21 …pages should stimulate public debate)
    • http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/article127801124.html
  • (Introducing the board)
    • http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/article127478714.html
 
How to save the dying newspaper editorial
(Originally published Dec. 28, 2016, on Philly.com, republished with permission)
By Will Bunch, Daily News Columnist

 
Recently, I've been thinking a lot about something that most people aren't thinking about much at all these days: Newspaper editorials.
 
They've pretty much been around since Gutenberg invented the printing press, and -- especially in smaller cities and towns where up through the end of the 20th Century a newspaper was a near-monopoly source of news -- they've been known to actually wield influence.
 
At their occasional worst, newspaper editorials can be tools of a bullying millionaire (or billionaire) publisher, but at their best these screeds can force public officials to deal with society's problems or to look at hard facts they might wish to ignore.
 
Well, that was once true, anyway.
 
The reality is that artful newspaper editorials are supposed to take a step back and bring two things to the complex issues of the day: Knowledge and reason, which are the lingua franca of an educated elite. In other words, exactly the kind of thing that America's angry and feeling-betrayed middle class wants nothing to do with these days.
 
It all came to a head in the fall election.
 
One survey found that only two of America's 100 largest newspapers endorsed Donald Trump; twice as many (4) endorsed Libertarian Gary Johnson (remember him?) and 57 endorsed Hillary Clinton, including some newspapers that hadn't endorsed a Democrat for president in decades. That's both shocking and not at all shocking.
 
After all, Trump is a human being who seems created in a lab to offend every value of the typical newspaper editorial writer, even one with a mildly conservative bent. Trump lied, repeatedly. He was accused by a dozen or more women of groping or other sexual misconduct. He proposed actions -- from his Muslim-arrival ban to restoring torture -- that violated the U.S. Constitution, and he promised to change libel laws and otherwise conduct a war on a free press. Come to think of it, how'd he even get those two endorsements?
 
And yet the dude with the two endorsements got 304 electoral votes. In some pro-Trump communities, newspapers and their damned "logic" have since been greeted with everything short of torches and pitchforks.
 
A writer in Enid, Oklahoma, recounted to the New York Times recently how he was almost punched out in the Western Sizzlin restaurant -- after Sunday church, no less -- because his small-town paper had endorsed Clinton over Trump.
 
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Since November 8, I've noticed that the tortured insanity of the newspaper editorial has reached new heights, particularly in a bellwether left-leaning newspaper editorial page like the New York Times. Day after day, its lead editorial calls out some preposterous thing "Mr. Trump" has said or done, uses facts and reason ("There you go again!") to explain why it's preposterous, and then expresses the hope against all hope that miraculously "Mr. Trump" will change his ways.
 
"Sell the Business, Not the Presidency, Mr. Trump," the Times editorial page declared on Tuesday [Dec. 27], even though Mr. Trump has already insisted that conflict-of-interest laws don't apply to him. Any similarity to the Dec. 9 editorial, "One Job Is Enough. Sell the Hotel," is...well, not a coincidence, and, oh, he hasn't sold the hotel, either.
 
The Dec. 23 editorial that "Republicans Are In Denial Over Health Care" has yet to move a single Republican out of the denial column so far. On that very same day, the Paper of Record tackled Trump's muddled views on nukes and wrote: "Instead of engaging in macho competition, Mr. Trump should seek a new dialogue with Russia on reducing nuclear dangers."
 
But here's the thing, New York Times:
 
Mr. Trump. Is. Not. Listening.
 
Every day, when I get to final paragraph and the inevitable pleadings with Mr. Trump to come to his senses, I instead find myself asking the same question.
Why bother? If 2016 has taught us anything definitive about journalism, it's the impotency of the modern newspaper editorial, at least in the arena of national politics.
 
It's not 1968 anymore. A president won't be so moved -- as some claim that LBJ was influenced by an editorial commentary on CBS -- to declare that "if I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Middle America" and then change his Vietnam policies and withdraw from the presidential  race.
 
News orgs don't wield that kind of  monopoly power, and Trump has shown the world that a president-elect no longer has to give a flying you-know-what about what the major news orgs think.
 
Increasingly, this apathy over editorial opinion is working its way down to the state or local level.
 
The newspaper editorial is dying -- and yet I believe it can be saved with a fairly simple operation. In fact, much of it is already in good health.
 
The core functions of calling out public officials who don't call the truth, and offering readers the basic facts -- how the Affordable Care Act actually works and who is actually covered, for example -- will be more essential in 2017 than ever before.
 
The failing organ here is the demand for action. It's time for elite editorial writers to stop pretending they're in a conversation with elite politicians who aren't giving them the time of day.
 
Instead of hectoring politicians, it's time for newspaper editorial writers to think long and hard about how to empower the people, the only real force for positive social change that we have left. Consider climate change, for example. Trump has made it clear with his rogues gallery of Big Oil execs and climate-change deniers that he won't do a damn thing, but citizens and local communities can do quite a lot, from installing solar panels to better recycling to driving fuel efficient cars.
 
And on the big-ticket items like the Affordable Care Act, no Republican senator is going to listen to a newspaper, but they might listen to thousands of empowered constituents, and the media can play a role in making those connections happen. Or getting busloads of folks to the Jan. 21 Women's March on Washington, which has a much better chance of defending reproductive rights than the best-crafted 700-word opinion piece ever will.
 
That might require some folks in journalism to think outside their normal comfort zone -- but the normal comfort zone has already been blown up. If the 2016 election showed anything, it's that everyday citizens want somebody to fight for them.
 
It could be an authoritarian strongman.
 

Or it could be your hometown newspaper.
 
I'd vote for the latter.

 
Original (c) 2016 republished with permission. Masthead version (c) 2017 ASNE. Further publication requires author’s consent.
 
Will Bunch is senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News. His blog "Attytood” was named best blog in the state by AP Managing Editors and often deals with media and politics. He has done three books. He was in a Newsday team that won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for spot news reporting.

Thanking letter writers

How do editors of letters columns track and thank the writers? Annually, and in print, for many.

Every few years, the topic crops up on the EditWrite discussion list. This year, the chatter began with a relatively new editor’s query. As usual, several veterans posted info, sometimes in great detail, about their processes.

We thought it timely, and may return to the topic as the end-of-year planning season peaks soon after Thanksgiving.


This post, by Sarah Garrect Gassen, is one good example:

We run a list of letter writers to the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, usually on the closest Sunday to Jan. 1. We use a digital form to accept letter submissions, so we're able to sort which submissions were published and then download that into an Excel spreadsheet we can then sort alphabetically.

Before the database, we had to do it manually and that was a giant pain.

We run an intro saying, essentially, thank you to readers who joined the community conversation this year … People seem to appreciate it -- and it’s a good visual representation of the roughly 1,500 people who had letters published in a year.

This, from retiree Glenn Marston:

When I was [at] The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla., (1997-2014), we kept a daily log of letter writers as a text file, with dates of publication.
Each Dec. 31, we would publish a thank you note to letter writers. We would list their names on the editorial page, jumping to the op-ed page. Headline: “Voice of the People 20xx.”

Example from Google News Archive: https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=HqMsAAAAIBAJ&sjid=M_4DAAAAIBAJ&pg=2364%2C7790230.

[As] the staff went from three to four, to three, two and one … just me, I stopped letter and editorial logging, and discontinued the Dec. 31 Voice of the People page. It had become too much.
Each Jan. 1, we published an “Agenda for Progress 20xx” editorial … The agenda editorial included a coupon for readers to write in their agenda priorities. The “People’s Agenda 20xx” would be published on a Sunday about three weeks later. I kept this up through 2014.

Example: https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=yKIsAAAAIBAJ&sjid=L_4DAAAAIBAJ&pg=2336%2C796498.

Scott Milfred, e.p.e. of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, sent the day’s pages, all 3 of them, and wrote: “We run the names of every letter writer – all 1,165 this past year -- and people really seem to appreciate seeing their names in print.”

One editor, whose consent to be quoted verbatim was not yet received, said his large daily newspaper re-runs some of the year’s best letters with short profiles of the authors. He called it “a labor of love” for the letters editor.


—JRM 01/31/2017
 

Editing cartoons? A Masthead quick shot

What if an editorial cartoon is almost exactly on target, but a few of the words offend unduly or raise another problem?

The question arose on the EditWrite discussion list in mid-January, and the response from editors was quick, concise, vigorous, and nearly unanimous.

Summarized briefly: No. Use it as-is or not at all. With a staff artist, discuss the problem…. With a syndicate, you must know what the contract allows. And you have to be able to execute well, and to explain to readers who see another version.

One former editor* said: “Removing words, or part of the cartoon, seems like it could dilute or change the message much more than trimming a few paragraphs from a column.”

The discussion soon diverged into how to handle op-ed writers who demand no change without consultation, but that’s another day, another issue….

—JRM 01/31/2017

* Because of the collegial, occasionally hair-let-down, nature of the discussion list, Masthead refrains from quoting discussion-list posts verbatim by name without consent. We had a big debate about this a few years ago, as anyone who knows journalists could expect.


Wishful-headlines get a new look-see

Click for larger imageA staple of the year-end editing activities in some media is a form of agenda-setting, or wishful thinking, seriously or just-for-fun: Headlines we would like to see this year.Click for larger imageClick for larger image

Interestingly enough, the Edit-Write discussion this time originated with an editor who chose not to do it this year because of the risk of it being perceived as a form of fake news.

Others chimed in with, in effect, good of you to be so conscientious, but we think if it is clearly presented as pipe dreaming, there’s no real risk (some readers can misinterpret anything!). Others credited a former National Conference of Editorial Writers president with starting the practice. Some said they “stole” someone else’s idea and have used it for four or five years with no troubles.

Several sent samples.

No surprise: A lot of the samples deal with divisions in the land and in DC; some make sense only to local folks.

Former network commentator Margie Arons-Baron blogs big in Boston. Here’s the link she sent to her “Still, a gal can dream” piece.

—JRM

Help the sun shine locally this year
By Christian Trejbal, Founder, Opinion in a Pinch

Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of government transparency, kicks off on Sunday. This year, opinion journalists might be tempted to turn critical eyes toward Washington, D.C. The recently departed Obama administration never delivered on its promise to be the most transparent in history, and the new Trump administration seems to have an equal or even greater taste for secrecy. Heck, last year saw public records and the proper – or improper – handling of them help decide the presidential election.

There’s plenty of red meat to go after in the nation’s capital, but the obvious target is not always the best target.

This Sunshine Week, consider focusing on local and state governments.

Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what governments at all levels do. The Freedom of Information Act and the state public records and open meetings laws it spawned do not exist to serve journalists. They exist to empower the people to hold their government accountable. Journalists play an essential role in informing the public, but the tools of transparency are for everyone. For example, they are widely used economic tools as myriad industries rely on public records to plan, check up on rivals, prepare for public-private contracts.

We in the media sometimes forget all of that, and so do lawmakers.

I recently testified at a state legislative hearing on a bill that would set timelines for responding to public records requests. Journalists queued up to tell the senators why the bill was important, but the general public was notably lacking from the room. They weren’t excluded; they just didn’t show up.

When it was my turn to speak, I used the opportunity to remind everyone that the bill under consideration was for all residents, not just journalists.

Most people lack the time to visit a statehouse hearing in the middle of a workday, but their place in the sunshine almost always should supersede the self-importance of the press and the penchant for secrecy of the government.

When I was done speaking, one senator took issue with that view. “You said this wasn’t a bill just for journalists,” he stated. “I’d be more comfortable if it was because I do trust [journalists] to get the information and be responsible in the mainstream media.”

That senator, himself a former journalist, called out political opponents, candidates and bloggers. In his view, they use public records laws to cause problems, advance political agendas or try to get even. He suggested that maybe journalists deserve access but the public does not, or at least the members of the public who cause headaches for him and his fellows.

Down that slippery slope lies great peril.

Public records must not be the privilege of only the government-sanctioned few.

When the media don’t pay attention, secrecy entrenches itself. Local governments withhold details of investigations from parents or neighborhoods. State lawmakers, at the behest of special interests, pass creative exemptions to public records laws that move more information behind the wall of secrecy. Public officials high and low play fast and loose with their electronic communications, texting discussions to avoid scrutiny.

Those are the things the media and other watchdogs must focus on during Sunshine Week and every week.

Rest assured, there will be plenty of coverage of the Trump administration. The big media outlets – The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, etc. – the national blogs and other sources will cover and comment the hell out of the national open government news. If The (Portland) Oregonian, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and other papers weigh in, their commentary may be lost in the DC din. But when they editorialize about transparency in Oregon, Ohio or Virginia, they can lead the conversation that every community should have.

Watchdogs must not allow Washington red meat to distract them.

Tools for Sunshine Week

The Association of Opinion Journalists was an active participant in Sunshine Week for more than a decade. Every year our editorial writers and broadcasters produce important commentary that frames open government in ways a news story cannot.

This year, the first Sunshine Week since AOJ's merger with American Society of News Editors, we can continue to be leaders. Indeed, ASNE is one of the chief sponsors of Sunshine Week, so in that regard we are closer than ever to the action.

As always, the Sunshine Week sponsors are assembling a growing collection of resources to help editors and writers with limited time.
Christian Trejbal is the founder of Opinion in a Pinch and was AOJ’s open government chair for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal.
Letters to editors zoom – in number and testiness
For some, it is like the election season glut continued into the usually slow winter.
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen

[This article is based in part on posts quoted with consent from a recent thread among editors on the independent, closed, EditWrite discussion list, which is available to ASNE members.]


If letters to the editor can be used as a temperature gauge on public opinion, readers across the country are running a fever.
Editors at news outlets report upticks in both the number of letters they’re receiving and in the testiness of the sentiments. Writers are calling each other names, painting opponents with a broad brush, getting nasty about elected officials’ actions (or lack thereof) and demanding attention from their elected officials.


The influx “never let up after the election,” said Gary Crooks, opinion editor of the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. “Then it increased, and became less civil.” 

[A high-profile item about this was part of the New York Times “Insider”  piece When Readers Write Back, on p2A March 28“Since the election, and since the inauguration, the numbers have gone up significantly,” said Thomas Feyer, the Times’ lead letters editor.]

Crooks reports that his newspaper has banned “open letters” and that, while most of the letters are about President Trump, letter writers are also targeting their local congressional representative, a Republican. 

The volume has prompted some editorial pages to reconsider the best use of their limited print space, as Chuck Frederick, the editorial page editor of the Duluth (Minnesota) News Tribune explained:
 
“We're inundated with letters and other submissions, election-season inundated. As we do try to publish all submissions we receive that meet our rules, we've been foregoing a weekly pro-con feature and some of the national columnists we normally run,” he said.
 
“I've also made a conscious effort to write shorter, when possible, the News Tribune's editorials,” Frederick said. “We're recognizing the need to step back to allow our readers' voices to be heard.”
 
Trump’s actions, or his very presence in the Oval Office, drove much of the traffic, some editors say. Traffic has been heaviest in anti-Trump letters, according to responses from multiple editors. Readers have a lot to say.
 
Jackman Wilson, editorial page editor of the Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon, said both the increase in volume and the Trump theme carry through in letters and also “in the number of column-length submissions.”
 
The more we can publish, the better, editors seem to agree.
 
Gary E. Nelson who oversees the editorial page at the (Medford) Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings, both in Oregon, said:
 
“The volume is similar to election season, which is unheard of at this time of year.
 
“The new Trump administration and more specifically concern about the future of the Affordable Care Act is driving much of it.
 
“Primarily anti-Trump letters -- liberals always tend to write more letters than conservatives for whatever reason, which causes conservatives to accuse us of running only letters we agree with. We run all letters that meet our guidelines for length, factual accuracy, lack of name-calling, etc.
 
“I just asked our page layout person for extra pages for letters whenever she can carve out some space,” Nelson said. “If that doesn't do it, we may have to start getting selective, which I dread. But we're not there yet.”
 
For outlets without the space to spare, the decision of which letters to publish is a balancing act, and one without equal resources. Readers often don’t understand, or care, that local news outlets don’t control what their regular national contributors say.
 
“We've also seen an uptick in letters complaining that all our syndicated columnists are bashing Trump (this started during the campaign), Nelson said. “That's hard to argue with when George Will, Michael Gerson and even Charles Krauthammer are critical, and Will leaves the Republican Party.”
 
[As is often the case when the former NCEW-AOJ discussion list deals with letters, some editors also discussed how they choose which ones to print, and which to post online only, and whether the same criteria should apply]
 
The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson has also seen an increase in the number of letters, but pro-Trump letters or pro-Republican letters remain sparse. Conservative letter writers have been published more often than the Star’s usual 30-day guideline so that their point of view is better represented on the pages. Readers who call or write to complain about not enough conservative voices on the page are encouraged to submit letters. After all, we can’t run letters we don’t receive.
 
The Trump-related increase isn’t universal, according to Jay Jochnowitz, the editorial page editor of the Times Union in Albany, New York.
 
“Our volume has been fairly steady since last year, which is somewhat unusual; we did not see the normal holiday drop after Thanksgiving, through Christmas and into the early new year,” he said. “Topics have been varied; it is not all, or even largely, about Trump.”
 
Keven Ann Willey, vice president and editorial eage editor of the Dallas Morning News, said the number of letters is up, specifically from those who support Trump.
 
“Tough to tell how much of the volume is spontaneous or whether some of it is the result of a concerted effort or group prompting the LTEs,” she said. Trump supporters were fairly quiet before the election, but “now supporters are coming out of the woodwork, it seems.”
 
When it comes down to it, being flush in usable letters to the editor is a good problem to have. People are invested in what’s happening and they’re paying attention. It’s an opportunity for editorial pages to be useful and shine.

Frederick said, “It's a lively wonderful time in community dialogue and reader engagement.”
 
Sarah Garrecht Gassen is Opinion writer/editor at the Arizona Daily Star

 

Help diversity in journalism education
Nominations open for $1,000 award to college faculty; also more about former AOJ asseets in ASNE
By John McClelland, Masthead editor

American journalism has a mixed record, at best, for diversity of news-editorial staffs. The ASNE diversity survey is one ongoing effort at improvement. Another, brought into ASNE with the Association of Opinion Journalists, is the Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship for a college educator who excels in developing young minority journalists.

Shortcut to nominate someone
 
Why? Well, for example, my friend and former head of our academic department, Linda Jones, won the 1998 Bingham. She still runs a 25-years annual training and awards program for Chicago high school journalists, about half minority-ethnic, disadvantaged, or first generation immigrants.
 
When I joined the National Conference of Editorial Writers (later AOJ), its diversity programs (yes, plural) were one of the attractions.
 
The Minority Writers Seminar trains experienced news writers entering column- or editorial-writing roles. It now is at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.
 
The Bingham award remained with AOJ into the merger and now resides with ASNE. It is an unconditional grant of $1,000 to further the recipient’s continuing good work. That can go a long way in academia. Jones persuaded the McCormick Tribune Foundation to continue funding the scholastic press effort.
 
The only time this century that I have talked myself hoarse in a noisy bar was conversing with the 2015 Bingham winner, Julian Rodriguez. Like the other Bingham winners I have met or photographed, he is an energizing, fascinating, person. Not just because we are both j-academics (;-)
 
Richard Prince sat next to me at the 2012 NCEW State Department Briefing (another program that has come to ASNE with AOJ). I was struck by his energy and clarity of questions, and a solid pro friendship developed. For years, his work on the Journal-isms online column has been a frequent source of interesting posts to the EditWrite discussion list (an independent forum now also associated with ASNE) over the years. He is on the ASNE diversity committee.
 
Now, here is an adaptation of his call for nominations for the 2017 Bingham.
 

-------
 
Nominate a J-Educator Who Promotes Diversity
 
Beginning in 1990, the National Conference of Editorial Writers (later Association of Opinion Journalists) annually granted a Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship — actually an award — “in recognition of an educator’s outstanding efforts to encourage minority students in the field of journalism.”

AOJ merged last year into the American Society of News Editors, which is continuing the Bingham award tradition.
 
Since 2000, the recipient has been awarded an honorarium of $1,000 to be used to “further work in progress or begin a new project.”
 
Past winners include James Hawkins, Florida A&M University (1990); Larry Kaggwa, Howard University (1992); Ben Holman, University of Maryland (1996); Linda Jones, Roosevelt University, Chicago (1998); Ramon Chavez, University of Colorado, Boulder (1999); Erna Smith, San Francisco State (2000); Joseph Selden, Penn State University (2001); Cheryl Smith, Paul Quinn College (2002); Rose Richard, Marquette University (2003).
 
Also, Leara D. Rhodes, University of Georgia (2004); Denny McAuliffe, University of Montana (2005); Pearl Stewart, Black College Wire (2006); Valerie White, Florida A&M University (2007); Phillip Dixon, Howard University (2008); Bruce DePyssler, North Carolina Central University (2009); Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia University (2010); Yvonne Latty, New York University (2011); Michelle Johnson, Boston University (2012); Vanessa Shelton, University of Iowa (2013); William Drummond, University of California at Berkeley (2014);
 
And, Julian Rodriguez of the University of Texas at Arlington (2015) (video); and David G. Armstrong, Georgia State University (2016) (video). Details about these two are posted here.
 
Nominations may be emailed to Richard Prince, ASNE Opinion Journalism committee, richardprince (at) hotmail.com. The deadline is June 23. Please use that address only for ASNE matters.

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Flashbacks: Confederate symbolism and more
Current controversies recall past, and how discussion list helps editors
 
Rebel Reminders
 
Those recent and ongoing disputes about Confederate statues are just the latest – and of the recent ones, the most laden with potential for violence – of a long history.
 
There seems to be no end of disagreement about flags and memorials with intensely emotional opposite meanings to the two sides of the issue.
 
It cropped up in Masthead the same year that Masthead’s parent organization was planning its annual convention for Alabama. Do you remember a time in 21st century U.S. history when a rebel flag still flew over a statehouse?
 
Contributors, including one who had come to turn away from the cultural norm of his past, addressed some of the issues bubbling up in other parts of the South. From the Masthead 2014 archive:
With 20-20 hindsight, one could argue that the package did not go far enough against what are widely perceived as racist-oppressive symbols, and also not nearly far enough to explore the deeply felt respect for history that so many Southerners feel. You could say the same two almost diametrically opposed views about much of the news coverage and opinion writing on the matter today.
 
But you would have a hard time ignoring the way New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landreau’s speech went viral, not just in social media but in columns and in the respected academic site Vital Speeches of the Day. Here are links to one journalist’s extensive review of part of the vast response on the issue, and to the speech itself:
--John McClelland, retired professor, Masthead editor
 
Discussion list for getting help, spouting off
 
One of the benefits the EditWrite discussion list gives its participants is the ability to share among understanding, courteous, helpful peers the questions that can bedevil a columnist or opinions editor. For example, just in recent weeks:
  • How do op-ed editors find well-done pro-Trump columns or op-eds, regardless of prior editorial position or redness-blueness of one’s market area?
  • How do letters editors balance the mail they publish in such an intensely partisan environment as we have in the U.S. today?
  • Why do contributors fail to use digital assets appropriately (an example of the list’s sometimes hilarious Friday funnies).
The list retains its value in part because it allows a hair-let-down sort of uninhibited discussion. That is why Masthead does not quote posters without permission. Participants (how to join) can research past discussion threads in the list archives.
 
So here are excerpts from a few recent rounds, anonymous except for someone who has granted quotation consent. (Yes, our history and predisposition are strongly “always on the record,” but volunteers can go only so far in time spent obtaining consent from extremely busy professionals.)

Pro-Trump columnists:

“I recall a discussion from last year about the difficulty of finding reliably pro-trump columnists. I use a couple ... through news services … but they don't file regularly enough. My boss says I can pay for another syndicated columnist If I can find one. After the events of the past few days, are there any left who are still backing Trump?” --Editor1 (No direct responses on this “thread” but other threads offered tips.)

We can’t run letters we don’t receive:

“After our list conversation and receiving three letters last week complaining that there aren't enough conservative letters to the editor..., I decided to write about it in my Sunday column and wanted to share:
http://tucson.com/news/opinion/column/gassen/sarah-gassen-a-peek-into-letters-to-the-editor/article_382651e8-b38d-519b-a23b-dc23c7b75519.html
"...The Arizona Daily Star can’t run letters to the editor we don’t receive."

Friday infuriation: digitizing doofusses’ letters

“Now that our staff reductions leave me not only processing all letters but also typing in the handwritten ones, why, oh why, do readers send me neatly typed letters with their email address included? Or, worse, obviously computer-printed letters with no email address?” --Editor2

“I called a contributor yesterday — a lawyer — to ask for an electronic copy of his op-ed. He wasn’t sure he knew how to do that. The day before, I got the same answer from a doctor. And the day before that it was a guy who ... was just paranoid about the possibility that we’d sell his email to some spammers.)” –  Jay Jochnowitz, Editorial Page Editor, Times Union, Albany, NY

“A guy last week typed up a column, printed it, scanned it and then emailed me a PDF of the image. … I can't do anything with a PDF. --Editor3

“In the bad old days, this was done with large budget documents in state government — making them impossible to turn into searchable, crunchable databases or spreadsheets. And it was intentional. We called them on it publicly and for the most part they’ve mended their ways, but we still get isolated uses of this strategy. And I see it a lot from PR people, too.” --Jay Jochnowitz (Others said they see locked PDF’s routinely from various agencies.)

“Yes, those bleeping bureaucrats and some banks deliberately use PDF (often locked!) to prevent using -- or, to be a bit generous, altering falsely -- their precious data and documents. Why other than ignorance or arrogance would anyone use a locked PDF... for something they want published?” --John McClelland

“...do you have a scanner for the typed letters?” --Editor4

If a person apparently under 90 obviously typed the [paper] letter on a computer ... we ask by email or phone for a [digital copy]. --Editor5

“I ... have to ask one of several colleagues who [have OCR].” --Editor6

“Many editors who have Microsoft Office — Word, Excel, Outlook and the like in one package — also have Microsoft OneNote. It contains OCR.” --Editor7

“A few helpful letter-writers ... send me text with very short lines (and CRs at the end of each one) because they think it will save me time.” --Editor8

“I have some who email and snail mail the same letter.” --Editor9

“I have one who emails it, then hand delivers paper with reams of [useless] documentation.” --Editor10

 Handwritten letters? Several editors said they will make the time to type, or get someone to type, the few good ones that still arrive.
 
So there.

 
Opinionizers’ early convention plan

The Opinion Journalism Committee in ASNE has been working on fall convention programming specific to punditry and letters, and potentially of interest to many other editors.
 
Here’s a summary from Jennifer Hemmingsen, a co-chair of the committee, about one event:

“Yes, we’ve put together a panel to discuss the future of institutional opinion. It includes Betty Knighton, who is active in West Virginia in creating public dialogue around important civic issues, Alex Kingsbury of the Boston Globe who wrote an outstanding series of editorials last year on gun control, and Colleen McCain Nelson of the KC Star, who won a Pulitzer a few years ago for her work in Dallas and now is reinvigorating the Star's opinion report.”

You can see some of McCain Nelson’s views in an earlier 2017 Masthead piece: KC Star beefs up its opinion pages

You can see more about the Oct. 8-11 convention in DC on the ASNE site, and pre-register there.
 
Also planned to overlap the last half day of convention is a new version of the editorial writers’ long-time annual State Department briefing, which now will be larger and more readily accessible to all ASNE members. It will probably be all day Wednesday, Oct. 11.