2017 Masthead

Index:

  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
  11. Opinionizers' early convention plans

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.

Back to shortcut text
Flashbacks
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.