2011 Archives


Session: Writing in the Digital Age

Connie Schultz and Esther Cepeda with NCEW member Rick Horowitz as moderator

Published Friday, September 16, 2011 7:00 am by Frank Partsch

Washington Post Writers Group columnist Esther Cepeda, NCEW member Rick Horowitz and Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz discuss Writing in the Digital Age.

The event was named “Writing in the Dital Age,” a timely topic for the first day of the National Conference of Editorial Writers Convention in Indianapolis Sept. 15.

As the conversation proceeded, however, it might been just as accurately entitled, “Achieving nimbleness while communicating via various print and electronic platforms.” What ensued was a lively examination by panelists Esther Cepeda and Connie Schultz and moderator Rick Horowitz of the satisfaction and pitfalls inherent in a multi-platform relationship between opinion journalists and their audiences.

Cepeda,  whose columns appear in the Chicago Sun-Times and via the Washington Post Writers Group, took the position that her additional use of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a blog enhances her reach by broadening her audience.  She described her relationship with these audiences as no longer following a 24-hour cycle but rather “24 one-hour cycles every day.” She said she maintains, and thrives from, a high level of interaction with her various audiences.

Schultz, a nationally-syndicated columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, took a measured view of adding electronic platforms to a basic print message.  For one thing, she noted, significant segments of the population remain outside the world of computers and social media.  For another, she said, on-line communication that allows for anonymous public comment can give rise to mountains of material that saps the time and attention of journalists and causes pain and humiliation among the people those journalists write about.

Schultz said that at one point the anonymous invective became so painful for someone she had written about that she felt she could no longer identify her subjects by name.

To me the writing really matters,” she said.  “I make no apology for that.”  She extolled Facebook as a vehicle for personalizing her image with the audience.  Facebook, she said, has become a model for journalists who oppose the airing of anonymous comments online.  Facebook automatically identifies the member account from which its posts originate.

Both panelists said they utilize Facebook and Twitter to gather information and to brainstorm with their audiences.  “One thing I like about it,” Cepeda said, “is that I always have a crowd around me.”

They differed, however, on the value of television appearances by syndicated columnists, with Schultz saying that such appearances divert a writer’s time and attention from the quality of her writing and Cepeda responding that the additional exposure of television is “enriching.”

In summation, the panelists offered advice in dealing with the digital world.

Cepeda:  “The most important thing is to be aware of what (in terms of electronic opportunities) is out there.”

Schultz:  “Don’t say it out loud if you don’t text, don’t Tweet, don’t blog.  Too many people think we’re dinosaurs.”

Frank Partsch is a long-time NCEW member and formerMasthead editor.

"What the Rest of the World Can Teach Us About Education"

Bob Compton, producer of the documentaries “2 Million Minutes’’ and “The Finland Phenonenom’’

Published Saturday, September 17, 2011 7:00 am by Mary Kaull

Bob Compton left a career as a high-tech venture capitalist for another calling: showing Americans why they are losing ground to so many other countries in educating kids.

Compton spoke during Friday's luncheon, exhorting editorialists to tell the story he's been telling through eight documentaries, including "The Finland Phenomenon" and "2 Million Minutes." His travels in India convinced him young software developers in that country weren't just ahead of their counterparts in the United States in math and science. They could talk about Shakespeare, diagram English sentences and recite the U.S. presidents in order.

He asked them where they learned all this. "In high school," they told him.

Compton decided to research what top-performing countries were doing in high school that the United States wasn't. ( "2 Million Minutes" refers to the number of minutes in four years.) He found they shared the five Cs: a culture that put the highest priority on education; tough credentials for teachers; rigorous curriculum; expectation of college attendance; and school choice.

In contrast, the United States rarely follows up its rhetoric on education with a true commitment to education. He quoted the inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen: "Society gets what it celebrates."

One of the most controversial examples Compton used was of a $60 million high school football stadium built in Allen, Texas. He contrasted that with Gov. Rick Perry's warning Texas might have to cut 100,000 teachers. Both J.R. Labbe of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Michael Landauer of the Dallas Morning News said the comparison was unfair: Labbe said the stadium was a local initiative, not involving state money; Landauer said the stadium would be shared by surrounding school districts so they wouldn't have to build their own stadiums.

Amit Pal of the Progressive Media Project also took issue with Compton's depiction of India's academic superiority. Pal, who went to school in India, said it is heavy on facts but does not teach broad-based or creative thinking. There's a mismatch, he said, between the students India produces and the workers India's employers need.

Compton asked only that editorial writers keep the issues in front of the public and look to other countries, not just other states, for what they have to teach us.

Mary Kaull is the  Rockford Register Star assistant editorial page editor and letters editor.

American Muslims’ search for acceptance

Published Monday, September 19, 2011 7:00 am by John McClelland

Opinion writers have a valuable role in helping America and its Muslims learn to get along better, said the panelists in the Saturday session on Muslims in Americaat  the NCEW 2011 convention in Indianapolis.

 Yes, 521 weeks after 9/11, the public still has a lot to learn and the followers of Islam still need relief from discrimination that is subtle and corrosive.

One impediment, panelists said, is the binary either/or view Americans have of religious law versus civil law. It’s not so simple, said Rafia Zakaria, associate editor of AltMuslim.com, an attorney and director of the Muslim Women's Legal Defense Fund.

Zakaria was joined on the panel by Amitabh Pal, managing editor of The Progressive in Madison, Wis., and Deanna Othman, associate editor of Islamic Horizons, the Islamic Society of North America. Indianapolis Star religion writer Bobby King moderated the session.

9/11, for better or worse, was Americans’ introduction to Islam,” Zakaria said, “and now there’s still an uncomfortable association for Muslim Americans … every time that anniversary comes around.”

Sharia is a guide to the practice of faith that differs widely in different countries, and making a political issue of it here is a different matter entirely, she said. “It's become a term of art, a foil … a very convenient bogeyman.”

 Use of politically charged terms such as “creeping Sharia,” have nothing to do with real, spiritual matters, said Othman. “This is a ploy to instill fear.”

All three said anti-Sharia statutes are needless because of the First Amendment and clear Supreme Court decisions protect a separation of church and state.

Zakaria gave an example of compatible values in Islamic culture and U.S. civil law. Her client, married eight months before divorce, was destitute. An Islamic marriage contract met all the standards of a U.S. pre-nuptial agreement, and as such provided $10,000 to help her on her feet.

 U.S.-born Othman said Muslims, even third-generation Americans as in her Chicago-area community, now hesitate to do things that make them stand out. Zakaria, a Pakistani American, told of the terror a green-card holder described when questioned by the FBI the morning after returning from visiting an ill relative in the old country.

 Where can journalists go to learn about Islam in America and avoid misusing terms?

 The panelists and a Poynter Institute short course seem to agree on these: Visit a mosque and talk to people there, develop contacts before the next controversy and check credible institutions’ materials.

Bobby King is the religion editor of the Indianapolis Star and moderator of the session.

King warned of well-financed bigot sites on the Internet. You might land, he said, on “a front for the Aryan Brotherhood.”

John McClelland teaches journalism at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Panel-cited sources include Indiana University's Muslim Voices; USNA.net, CAIR.org, and AltMuslim.com. A self-paced short course at Poynter.org ends with an extended list of resources at https://www.newsu.org/courses/covering-islam/.

Video by Chuck Stokes, director of Editorial/Public Affairs at WXYZ-TV Detroit 

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence says don’t under-estimate the tea party

Indiana congressman touts 'authentic' American political movement

Published Monday, September 19, 2011 7:00 am by Amitabh Pal

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., urged NCEW members to take the tea party seriously.

Pence, the Saturday luncheon speaker at the Indianapolis NCEW annual convention, said that the movement needed to be seen not as a political formation, but as a historical phenomenon.

The American people have risen up to set things right,” said Pence. “We’re on the verge of a great American awakening.”

Pence, a likely candidate for Indiana governor next year, has been observing the tea party closely since its inception. In fact, as he said, “I was tea party before it was cool.” Pence has been to a number of tea party rallies, proudly noting that he’s been one of the few members of Congress invited to such events. From what he saw, Pence dismissed the notion that the tea party is a partisan movement.

I’ve met a lot of Republicans, I’ve met a lot of Democrats, and I’ve met a lot of independents,” he said. “This is an authentic American movement that transcends party lines.”

Pence also advised the media to put the tea party rallies in the proper context, saying that for every attendee, there were many more supporters who didn’t attend such events.

Years of simmering anger over the runaway spending in Washington boiled over with the Wall Street bailout, Pence contended. That’s when people said “enough is enough.”

The adoption of tea party principles such as fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, limited government, and devolution of power to the states helped the Republicans recapture Congress in 2010, Pence said. In fact, this empowerment of the states undefined and the accompanying rise of competent leadership at the state level undefined is perhaps like no other development in our time, Pence said.

Pence, who had to leave early to attend a parents’ event at Purdue University where his son attends, ended with an anecdote about a constituent who made a point to meet Pence to implore the congressman to continue his good work. The man, who he called the “forgotten” man, said he had just lost his job, but he wasn’t looking for assistance. He was concerned that the major political parties had walked away from core American principles and practices of limited government, and urged Pence to continue his battle against runaway spending. “I can get another job, but I can’t get another country,” the man said.

Every time an authentic American movement like the tea party has emerged, the country has become better and stronger, Pence concluded.

Amitabh Pal is the managing editor of The Progressive in Madison, Wis.

NCEW moves into a new age

New leadership, new agenda focuses on public outreach

Published Wednesday, September 21, 2011 7:00 am by Lois Kazakoff

NCEW took steps at the Indianapolis convention to move the organization into the new age. That was as true of the annual business meeting as in the two preceding days of speakers who emphasized digital commentary and social media.

After noting that the hotel chandeliers were made by the same company as made the chandeliers for the Titantic, NCEW President Froma Harrop made clear that the effort to modernize the organization wasn’t just rearranging the deck chairs.

Membership, after a long decline, is on the upswing. The organization has money in the bank and is launching several major endeavors to seek a more permanent endowment. Members elected a new leadership team:

  • Froma Harrop, acting president this year following the resignation of Dan Radmacher, becomes president.
  • Bob Davis is vice president.
  • Miriam Pepper is now secretary-treasurer, the first rung on the three-step ladder to the presidency.
  • New members to the board of directors are Jay Jochnowitz and Carolyn Lumsden.
  • John Bersia resigned from the board to become convention chairman for (yes, this is true) for the 2012 convention in Orlando and the 2013 convention in Providence, R.I.
  • Roy Maynard was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Bersia’s resignation.

Members also voted unanimously to approve a change to the bylaws that qualifies graduates of the Minority Writers Seminar for membership.

In her president’s report, Harrop noted improvements underway and on the runway:

  • A revamped website that will make greater use of multimedia, including video. Thea Joselow is the new webmaster.
  • Launched the Civility Project, with longtime NCEW member Frank Partsch at its helm to pursue an external mission to benefit civic life.
  • An annual contest that honored NCEW members and their work and, as Harrop said, “got buzz.”
  • Started a speakers bureau. One click of a box on ncew.org website leads you to a list of names of speakers in different subject areas.
  • A simplified dues structure. Everyone pays $75, regardless of affiliation (or lack of affiliation).
  • A shorter convention.

Neil Heinen, the NCEW Foundation president, reported that the foundation is running a deficit budget and is pursuing a long-term endowment. The foundation, which established the Nancy Q. Keefe fund to take in bequests, will look into establishing a second fund as an operating endowment.

At the Saturday awards luncheon, Mark Woods, from Jacksonville, Fla., was named the 30th Pulliam Journalism Fellowship winner. He received a check for $75,000 to pursue a long-form writing project on America’s National Parks. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns looked at the last 100 years of the National Park Service. Woods will explore the next 100 years.

Yvonne Latty, director of the Reporting New York and Reporting the Nation programs at New York University, was awarded the 2011 Barry Bingham Award.

Lois Kazakoff is the deputy editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Print masters share tips on doing more with less

Critique emphasized quality

Published Wednesday, September 21, 2011 7:00 am by John Penney

NCEW members gathered for a "print masters" critique session, lamenting about the lack of time they have to do original research in the era of staff cuts but looking for ways to work smarter and more efficiently. Tom Waseleski, editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, led the discussion. "Our members have more to do and less time to do it in. Finding sensible shortcuts is imperative. But shortcuts can't cheat our readers and the quality, and that's the trick," he said.

Waseleski offered sharp examples, including running a string of wishful headlines for the new year as an editorial on Jan. 1 rather than a traditional editorial.

Overall, critique participants spent more time on broad concepts than line editing each other's work. Some members suggested keeping editorials shorter and getting to the point; others noted that longer pieces of, say, 600 words or more can be justified depending on the subject matter.

In an era when NCEW members are being asked to multi-task more than ever -- marking up letters, monitoring forums, attending to social media, etc. -- participants talked about "stealing time" during the day to do more original research. Editorial page editors typically have been covering their communities longer than many reporters. They need to put their reporting experience into their editorials, to give readers more context and to improve the quality of their pages.

William Mills, editorial page editor of the Cape Cod Times, said he appreciated some of the specific examples offered during the session, including the New Year's Day headlines. But he wants NCEW to consider going back to a time when the participants did more prep work, perhaps charting out time at the convention for that before the actual critique session begins. Waseleski said NCEW is receptive to looking at different ways of handling critiques, but enough participants would need to commit to any agreed upon format for it to be effective.

John Penney is the community conversations/editorial page editor at the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York.

Journalism Ethics: Do the Old Standards Still Apply?

Published Thursday, September 22, 2011 7:00 am by Bob Davis

The newspaper industry strategy of trading oversight of online comments for increased web traffic is one of "the worst decisions we’ve made in American journalism in the last 50 years," said Bob Steele, one of the three experts taking part in the panel "Journalism Ethics: Do the Old Standards Still Apply?" at the NCEW Indianapolis convention.

Steele, a DePauw University professor and former Poynter Institute ethicist, called the comments sections of most newspapers a "huge mosh pit."

Panelist Dennis Ryerson, editor of the Indianapolis Star, put it more succinctly, "We became page-view whores." The thinking was that anonymous online comments would bring increased online viewership which in turn would be converted into advertising revenue. Instead, the panelists and audience members generally agreed, newspaper online comments have turned into an extended food fight where a handful of bullies repel those who would otherwise engage in a more civilized exchange.

Ryerson said the Wild West atmosphere is costly in two ways: The reputation of the newspaper as a place for civil conversation is damaged, and the manpower required to monitor comments is a drag on the bottom line.

While acknowledging the need for newspapers to require registration and diligent oversight of online comments, panelist Mike Reilley, DePaul University Online Journalism instructor and editor of The Journalist’s Tool Box by SPJ, noted that "readers want to interact somehow." Allowing comments even if it requires vigilant monitoring "keeps us honest," he said.

Comments are too worthwhile, Reilley said, to simply discard as too much trouble.

The panelists agreed that social media presents journalists with potential pitfalls. Steele provided what could have been the benediction when he urged journalists to "minimize harm" when doing their jobs.

Bob Davis is the vice president of NCEW and the editor of the Anniston Star in Anniston, Ala.

Effective Use of Social Media

Published Thursday, September 22, 2011 7:00 am by Michael Landauer

Why would anyone sign in with Foursquare? That was what Indianapolis Star editorial page editor Tim Swarens was wondering right before the session on social media at the NCEW convention on Saturday morning.

In 30 seconds, his colleague, Amy Bartner, Indianapolis Star social media editor, explained it all.

"Oh, that’s a really cool tool," he said.

As introductions were made, Erika Smith, Indianapolis Star columnist, warned the crowd, "I'm not texting," pointing to her phone, "it's just that I keep my notes on my phone."

That was a telling preview of the discussion to come with easily the youngest panel probably ever convened for an NCEW session.

Jonathan Blake Huer, director of Emerging Technologies at Ball State University, offered a crash course in the difference between Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is wide open. Anyone can see anything posted by one of the 200 million users.

On the other hand, Facebook, which has 750 million users, is more like a series of "walled-off gardens," with each user connecting and sharing with an average of 140 friends.

So how does that play out in a news cycle?

Bartner gave the example of a recent breaking news story about a shooting that first got editors' attention on Twitter. As coverage unfolded, they moved the discussion to their own Facebook page.

But how to cut through the noise to discover that breaking the news? The panelists offered a flurry of suggestions: TweetDeck, TweetSuite, Google Trends, Trendsmap.com, etc. "Most people don’t actually use the Twitter site," Huer says.

The panelists said that, yes, social media is a way to connect with younger readers, who fluidly use all sorts of tools. Younger readers don't take it too seriously or read too closely, the panelists agreed. Smith said she treats social media sort of like she used to treat the wires when she was a wire editor.

Older users, on the other hand, usually stick to one tool and focus narrowly on what they want to know and everything delivered by that medium.

Another difference between user age groups is that younger users will always latch on to the newest thing.

Huer says he and his students are always wondering what will be the next Facebook.

"Elementary students right now won't use Facebook because it's the thing their parents are on," he said.

When something new comes out, Huer says, it's a good idea to "reserve" your persona. A lot of people give a great deal of thought to how they appear online, how their name looks, what their identity is. "Like Google Plus – even if you don't plan to use it actively, go out there and stake your identity there," he said.

Asked why paid journalists should spend their time on this, Bartner said not to quote her on this: "There is not a direct link right now, but the indirect link is you are building your audience," she said. She then cited statistics showing that a larger (but still small) percentage of page views for their website come from social media sites.

"It's just another avenue to get it out there," Huer says. He admits to being more of a lurker and consumer on social media than an active participant. "If a friend suggests something, that's someone I can trust. It's not some giant company telling me to read it, so I'll go check it out."

But old habits die hard. Huer said that recently when he liked a column Smith had written, instead of posting it to his Facebook or tweeting about it, he sent her an email. "That's so old-fashioned," he said.

Google Fellow Amit Singhal on the Future of Search

Published Friday, September 23, 2011 7:00 am by Miriam Pepper

For those searching for the secret key to help boost prominence of columns and editorials on Google search, Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow, has a very simple answer: think of how people post queries and be sure to include words that would appear in the search request.

Singhal, who was the opening speaker at the NCEW conference on Thursday, is the team leader of search algorithms for the Internet giant and was named by CNN/Money as one of the 50 smartest people in tech.

Perhaps most promising for opinion writers is a development at Google that will give more prominence to "trusted authors." The company is now evaluating who gets that blessing and whose bios will appear as links to their current pieces. The trusted authors will have expertise, reach, and offer high-quality writing.

The trusted author idea emerged as one answer to the barrier today of what Singhal calls "data noise." There is so much information on the Web that the noise drowns out quality information. Google attempts to give credible, widely followed and reliable writers higher status, and will highlight deep thinkers on search results. Creating a Google profile is a start. 

For more details on this venture, try Jake Parrillo, Google's Midwest Region Manager of Communications & Public Affairs, at jakeparrillo@google.com. 

As Singhal explains it, Google sees itself working toward a goal of turning data into information, then knowledge and eventually wisdom. More queries now provide knowledgeable answers, not just data links. He explained that the mission of making information and knowledge readily available to all led to more mobile platform developments, better directional services, and more language options. 

But for newspapers erecting paywalls, the news was not encouraging. Google thinks searchers don't want to be stymied by a link to an inaccessible author, so unless the paper has some "free" visits permitted, those sites will get fewer Google links, and that's bad for traffic. "We want to support all revenue generation technologies investigated by the media, but we have to keep in mind users are the ultimate resource we shouldn't annoy. Eventually, users with subscriptions will see those results. Our philosophy is search results should be visible." 

Singhal, who earned a Ph.D. in search, said he grew up in India watching Star Trekand was intrigued with the idea of being able to ask a computer a question and get an answer. "Twenty years ago, computers didn't understand language. I didn't expect such progress."

Social Media and the New Form of Literacy

Published Tuesday, October 4, 2011 7:00 am by Dick Hughes

Those who predict the death of literacy are wrong. It’s just taken a different form, being condensed into 140 characters. And it goes by the name “social media.”

That is how many people communicate today undefined by text message, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and other electronic forums. Email is still around, but it’s soooo 20th century.

Statesman Journal Executive Editor Bill Church and I met Sept. 28 with several people to talk about the ethics of social media. That’s an important issue for editorial writers and other journalists as plunge into social media.

The participants undefined public figures, PR types and a college newspaper editor undefined generally agreed that texts, tweets and posts are fair game for reporting … as long as they’re accurate.

Most traditional news organizations have codes of ethics. A key provision is the necessity of having arms-length relationships with sources.  For example, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, who has sometimes lectured to the journalistic writing classes I teach at Willamette University, always stresses that he and I are not friends. We interact because he’s a politician and I’m a journalist.

I like Courtney, but I have no compunction about criticizing him when appropriate. And like most politicians, he will try to use the media for his purposes.

Those definitions may be murkier in the online world.

When I “follow” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber on Twitter or Facebook, will readers assume I therefore support his policies? In my mind, I’m using the social media as reporting tools.

Twitter is a nifty way for me to take notes at a public meeting. I’m simply sharing my information and observations with the public undefined instantly. And, the compiled tweets are easier for me to read later than my antiquated cursive. But what if my observations run counter to an editorial I write on behalf of the editorial board; is that confusing to the reader?

I don’t think it’s a problem for me to spout my opinions, within reason, on Twitter undefined I’m paid for having an opinion undefined but is it OK for a reporter to share his opinions? In 140 characters undefined the limit for a Twitter message, or tweet undefined should you cite your sources, as you would in a news story?

Education reporter Stefanie Knowlton and I “tweeted” the Sept. 27 Salem-Keizer School District budget committee meeting, but we did so differently in light of our independent roles.

She’s facts; I’m opinion.

She distributed statements and information that came up at the meeting.

I did, too, but I also added my observations undefined and I tried to note the difference. A traditionalist, I believe that similar ethics standards should apply online as in print. (One exception is how the online world, to my chagrin, has embraced CB radio-style “handles” to protect anonymity.)

Here’s one of my factual tweets from Tuesday, quoting Superintendent Sandy Husk: “Poverty - not race, non-English language or special ed - is greatest obstacle to student achievement. -- SKSD Supt. Husk #SalemOR #KeizerOR”

Here’s an opinionated tweet: “I’m surprised SKSD isn’t tweeting during the budget meeting to get info out, get community involved. #SalemOR #KeizerOR”

The phrases “#SalemOR” and “#KeizerOR” are hashtags, which enable people on Twitter to quickly search for topics they’re interested in.

And yes, I’m convinced that an agency, nonprofit or business is making a big mistake if it’s not active in social media. Even the U.S. military, often characterized as slow to change, has embraced the value of instantaneous communication. (That was one of the things I learned at the NCEW Convention in Kansas City.)

Twitter, Facebook and the like are effective ways to quickly disseminate news, to quell rumors and to refer people to more in-depth information in print or online formats.

Some people scoff at 140 characters, questioning whether anything of value can be transmitted within that limitation. However, journalists have been writing in fewer characters for centuries: Most headlines are far shorter.

Much can be conveyed in a few words, whether a headline, a bumper sticker or a tweet. Granted, they don’t replace a full-fledged, in-depth report. But I’m impressed with how quickly and effectively the younger generations can communicate via social media, having invented their own shorthand.

When I was in the Washington, D.C., area this spring for the NCEW State Department briefing, social media alerted me to the killing of Osama bin Laden in time to write an editorial for the next day’s print Statesman Journal. Had I waited for traditional media to confirm his death before starting my reporting, I would have blown deadline. Twitter gave me the head start on gathering background and formulating my thoughts.

I love that readers can follow me on Twitter or Facebook, sharing ideas and commenting on early drafts of editorials and my columns.

We all need good editors, even in 140 characters.

Dick Hughes, who prefers Twitter to Facebook, is editorial page editor of the Statesman Journal.

Ten Top Twitter Tips  

  1. Use Twitter daily (even weekends) to promote your editorials, columns, letters, stories. It will drive page views, and that makes the boss happy.
  2. Increase your reach beyond your followers by using hashtags -- #schools, #congress #healthcare. If you’re a gamer, hashtags are equivalent to power bursts. They make you stronger.
  3. You have 140 characters on Twitter. Use them to your advantage with provocative Tweets, but always leave room for the link to your content.
  4. Don’t clutter your timeline with trivia. When you Tweet, you want followers to know it’s worthwhile for them to read.
  5. Use humor and satire to make your points. Clever always wins the day.
  6. Don’t go off against a Twitter critic. Be respectful and use it as an opportunity to repost your link when you hit “Reply.” You win if there’s room for a hashtag.
  7. Don’t post too early or too late in the day to maximize the number of readers of your posts. I like to put up the good stuff at about 8:30 a.m. to catch my Pacific Time zone and still get to the East before lunch. (They’ll read you in different time zones if you use your hashtags).
  8. Make sure your Twitter profile says you’re the editor, editorial page editor or columnist at your paper. Don’t assume people know you are somebody. Brand yourself on Twitter. it will increase your followers. Readers are intrigued that the editor of the paper tweets.
  9. Live Tweet an editorial board meeting or news event. We have done this when we have had the governor or other major newsmakers in for editorial board meetings. It brings attention to our Twitter profile, often creates news and increases our influence with our readers.
  10. Did I mention using hashtags? The No. 1 rule for Twitter is getting beyond your followers to the greater Twitter universe. Hashtags help you do this. Consider them sunscreen for Twitter. Apply often.

You can find Jim Boren as editorial page editor of The Fresno Bee.

John McClelland is new Masthead editor

Published Friday, October 28, 2011 7:00 am by Lois Kazakoff

John McClelland is the new Masthead editor. He takes over from Becca Rothschild, who resigned this summer. Many of you know John as the intrepid photographer at the annual convention. This year he expanded his role to videographer as well, helping to bring the sound and flavor of the Indianapolis convention events to members who could not attend. (See his video here  and here  and here.)

John, a retired associate professor of journalism at Roosevelt University in Chicago, has agreed to shoulder The Masthead duties while he continues to teach part time. The Masthead has morphed over the last three years from a venerable professional journal to an online resource designed to keep editorial writers on the cutting edge of our fast-changing industry, provide a public face for our organization and foster a community of opinion professionals.  

NCEW President Froma Harrop is looking to John as The Masthead editor to help inform members and the general public about NCEW's Civility Project. The project is an endeavor to keep healthy public debate alive. It is headed up by NCEW long-time member Frank Partsch.

"Being asked to serve a beloved organization in changing times is an honor -- and challenge," John said.

John came out of Champaign, Ill., with a j-degree and military obligation in 1967 and worked in and around the Chicago area. He met NCEW member Paul Greenberg when he took a job in Pine Bluff, Ark., in 1978.

He finished a master's at Ohio State, which led in 1989 to a job at Roosevelt University, a private, nonsectarian, and, "distinctly nonprofit school" in Chicago's Loop. "One course I inherited was editorial and column writing. I used NCEW member Ken Rystrom's book and "Beyond Argument." His first NCEW convention was in Nashville.

"Now, the fun will be, as Lois says, being ringmaster for members' contributions to Masthead. I do not yet have an agenda," he said.

"I do know we can serve the membership, the broader profession and ultimately the public well if we find ways to produce, publish and promote good material.

"Two examples: Doing some video in Indy reminded me how difficult it can be, and how powerfully some people will respond to electronic media. Masthead was (is?) in several libraries; I'd like to know how we can best get the digital version before the eyes of practitioners, students and others.

"It is obvious that I'll need a lot of help.

"If you e-mail me about this, please include NCEW in the subject line."

You can e-mail John at jmcclell@roosevelt.edu.

Lois Kazakoff, the deputy editorial page editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, is a former Masthead editor.

Phil Haslanger named new Life Member

Published Tuesday, October 11, 2011 7:00 am

This year’s honoree as an NCEW Life Member is gentle man, but also a man with firm, well-grounded convictions he never shies from defending. During his fourteen years as an opinion writer, he wrote with style and argued with substance. His soft spoken approach belies the intensity of his convictions.

He well understands that a key role for opinion writers is to help those he serves to understand and deal with the complexities life presents. His principled approach to his chosen profession made him a valuable guide and his graceful style fortified with persuasive substance made him an effective and respected writer and editor.

His understanding of and loyalty to his home state and its capital was at the heart of his long and productive career.

But his leadership was not confined by the Wisconsin state borders. He brought his skills to the NCEW as a committee member, board member, Foundation trustee and, ultimately, as president. During his service on the NCEW board and during the years he held the ladder offices leading to his presidency, he was always the voice of reason, steadiness and creativity. He cares deeply about our profession and about how NCEW can make its members better at their craft.

His leadership leading up to and during NCEW’s management changes set him apart. He was sensitive to the needs of all involved and yet deeply committed to the need for NCEW to move to a new level of operation. His skill and grace were nowhere more apparent than during that difficult transition.

When he decided to shift his devotion to "speak truth to power" in a different venue as a minister of his faith, a newspaper colleague wrote that he was "one of those men who actually practice what they preach." His NCEW colleagues know the truth of that.

Therefore to Phil Haslanger, with appreciation and deep and great affection, NCEW renders its most significant honor, Life Membership, for all that he has done and all that he will continue to do.

Uncivil and Unsound

Logical Errors & Uncivility Alike Abound

Published Monday, November 21, 2011 7:00 am by Roy Maynard, edits by John McClelland

Argument” often brings up the notion of quarreling, angry yelling -- even fisticuffs or a wish to apply a horse whip. But it has more civilized meanings, in debate, logic, mathematics, even computer programming. As Roy Maynard notes, “British writer G.K. Chesterton once said of his beloved brother Cecil, ‘We often argued but never quarreled.’ This would be a wonderful model for today, when it seems personal attacks and poor argumentation dominate public discourse.” Maynard’s essay on illogic as incivility is an early entry in what may become a series of civility pieces.

-John McClelland

An uncivil argument is almost always unsound.

That’s a bold statement, but as I survey my Letters box, I feel confident in making it. Personal attacks, logical fallacies and false claims are at the heart of nearly every uncivil argument.

As we strive to help raise the bar for discourse in this nation’s Great Conversation, I think applying the simple rules of logic will go a long way toward achieving our goal.

As the wise Civility Project Director Frank Partsch says, every opinion writer is the sheriff in his or her own county. What we police for civility, mostly, are our own words, the letters we receive, and the columns we run.

As editorial writers, we've been trained, either formally or informally, in making good, sound arguments. So I'll focus on letters and columnists.

The best of these make good arguments.

As all good debaters do, let’s pause for definitions. What is an argument? I define it, for my debaters and my letter-writers, as “a claim backed up by reason or evidence.”

The best arguments make clear claims, and support those claims. The support should be either sound reasoning or verifiable facts (and like you, I spend a lot of time verifying). The best letters and columns go beyond stating an opinion (“I don't like Sen. Cornyn”) and attempt to persuade the reader to agree with them. They do so with arguments.

Lesser letters (and columnists) don't do this. At least in my mailbox, most of these engage in ad hominem attacks – plain old name-calling. Others use unsound reasoning or logical fallacies to back up their claims.

I send these letters back, with an explanation of why they’re rejected. Most of the time, the writers will work with me. Columnists usually won’t.

This isn’t about political correctness or even politeness. Perhaps it's just my own bias, but I believe an argument, no matter how vehemently it's made, is pretty much going to be civil, as long as it's sound. The ultimate defense against the charge of incivility is, “but it’s true.”

NCEW member Larry Reisman asked the cogent question on the listserv, “Who will legislate what the lies and illogic are?” I can’t speak to the lies part; we all verify facts as best we can, and none of us, as far as I know, willingly allow misinformation onto our pages.

But there arelaws of logic – dating back to Aristotle. They've been refined over the centuries, but classical rhetoric was an important art form and there were rules.

There are other lists and entire textbooks written on the subject, but I'll just list a few of the most common logical fallacies I see in the letters and columns I reject.

  • The Straw Man: A straw man argument misrepresents the opposing argument, and then attacks the misrepresentation, not the real argument. Scholars say of St. Thomas Aquinas, “He made his opponents' arguments better than they themselves did.”
    That quote came back to me recently in the “Christmas tree tax” kerfuffle. The Obama administration proposed a 15-cent fee per Christmas tree, to be used to improve the image of live Christmas trees. Granted, the administration was just asking for it. But so many letters and columns about the fee missed the point that it wasn't a tax; it was something the industry had asked for. So the inevitable Grinch comparisons were unsound – unless you can imagine The Whos ringing up the Grinch and asking him to come down for a nightcap.
  • Ad Hominem Attacks: This is when the person, not the policy, is attacked. We have to be careful here; many of us (myself included) believe a person’s character is a factor in whether I offer my support. But the ad hominem argument is a deliberate attempt to distract the audience from the issue, and to the person being opposed. This is a big one I have to weed out from letters I receive; I will let my writers disagree with each other, but it stops at calling each other names.
  • Cause-and-effect Error: Because Event B happened after Event A, A caused B. After a president is elected, the economy melts down. Therefore, the economy melted down because of the president. We all know it’s more complicated than that. The Latin name of the error is Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc.
  • Assuming The Unknowable: Claiming to know a subject’s heart – his or her motivation for an action or a policy – is an unsupportable claim. It may be true that President Obama appeased both labor unions and environmentalists by stalling a pipeline. Letters on my page can go as far as that. But stating, as a fact, that his action was the result of his internal political calculation? That’s too far. I don’t know Obama’s heart, and neither does my reader.

This is an absurdly incomplete list. And making sound arguments is an incomplete part of the Civility Project – it just happens to be my small slice of the pie. But think about my initial claim, that an uncivil argument is almost always unsound.

Have I supported that claim? Can you find examples of uncivil, yet sound arguments being made in editorial pages and on editorial Web sites today?

Debate this with me.

Roy Maynard is Editorial Page Editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. He adds, "I'm an editorial writer, but I'm also a teacher. I coach a high school debate team; I've recently written a textbook on debate and argumentation, and I teach logic every other year. Plus I have teenage children."

Veteran Journalists Tapped for NCEW Foundation Board

Published Wednesday, December 14, 2011 7:00 am

Two veteran journalists have been elected president and trustee respectively of the Foundation of the National Conference of Editorial Writers (NCEW).  The elections took place during the NCEW’s winter Board Meeting December 3, 2011 in Harrisburg, PA.

The board elected David Holwerk to be the new Foundation President. Holwerk, Communications Director and Resident Scholar at the Charles F. Kettering Foundation since 2009,  worked for more than 30 years as a journalist at newspapers in Kentucky, Minnesota, and California. He rose from copy editor, reporter, editorial page editor, managing editor, to editor-in-chief. He managed staffs that won numerous national awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes.

Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, was elected as a new Foundation Trustee. Policinski came to the Freedom Forum in 1996 from USA TODAY, where he was a founding editor and held various news executive positions. He began his journalism career in 1969 in Indiana, where he worked as a newspaper reporter and later as state bureau chief for Gannett News Service. He went on to become Washington editor of USA TODAY , holding a number of positions and helping develop USA TODAY’s first online ventures.

Policinski joins WISC-TV (Madison,WI) Vice President and General Manager Tom Bier as one of two, non-NCEW members Foundation board directors.

Holwerk has been a long-time member of NCEW, joined its executive board in 2006, become president in 2009 before leaving newspapers to take a position with the Kettering Foundation.  There he has built strong partnerships with NCEW. “David has played a vital role in rethinking the mission of the Foundation and the future of NCEW,” said Neil Heinen, Editorial Director of WISC-TV and outgoing Foundation president. “The board simply couldn’t be in better hands.”

Policinski has been involved in the Freedom Forum’s Diversity Institute, which aims to increase the number of minority journalists in reporting and management positions in American newspapers. The NCEW Foundation’s and the Freedom Forum have collaborated in running the annual Minority Writers Seminar.

We are very pleased to have Gene join us at the NCEW Foundation,” said Heinen. “His experience and knowledge will add so much to the Board.”

The NCEW Foundation is dedicated to promoting the value and effectiveness of opinion writers and editors in stimulating and furthering the public conversations of democracy. The NCEW Foundation provides financial support for projects that it believes will advance this mission and contribute to the achievement of the following goals. The primary projects of the Foundation are the annual Minority Writers Seminar, which aims to increase diversity among opinion writers at newspapers and radio and television stations, and annual state department briefings, which connect NCEW members and other opinion journalists with diplomats responsible for our nation’s foreign policy.

NCEW 2011 Opinion Journalism Contest

NCEW will be awarding prizes in two categories.

The NCEW Top Five Five awards of $100 each will be given to the opinion staffs of news organization that publish or broadcast online or in print.
Two awards will be given to large organizations (with verifiable audiences over 100,000) and two will be given to smaller organizations (with verifiable audiences under 100,000).
One award will be given to an organization of any size that displays excellence in multimedia opinion journalism.    


A $300 award will be given to one journalist from a large organization with verifiable audiences over 100,000) and one journalist from a smaller organization (with verifiable audiences under 100,000).

2011 Opinion Journalism Contest Winners


Lois Kazakoff
Deputy Editorial Page Editor

San Francisco Chronicle

What the judges had to say: "What do you want an opinion journalist to do? Write clearly and compellingly? Produce engaging pages and sections? Direct projects that connect readers with each other and with the newspaper? Lois Kazakoff does all of those things skillfully and with verve."

Bob Davis
Anniston Star

What the judges had to say: “Bob Davis flat-out -- compellingly, entertainingly and convincingly. His focus on issues that matter to all Alabamians (even if they don't know it yet) is clear, determined and precise. He even breathes a diverting life into the issue of Alabama's execrable 1901 constitution, the gift that keeps on giving to Alabama editorial writers and the problem that refuses to go away. Davis gives a reader faith that someday it will, overwhelmed by logic and justice. He uses all the tools of a great opinion writer to illuminate issues in a way that is both good-humored and insistent. He is a wonderful first winner of NCEW's Opinion Journalist of the Year award.”


The Dallas Morning News
Dallas, TX

What the judges had to say:"Whether it’s in its thorough coverage of complicated, many-sided issues or in its use of typography and illustration, the editorial and op-ed pages of the Dallas Morning News are outstanding. ... The attractive presentation of political endorsements could -- and probably should -- be emulated by any newspaper."

The Daily Times
Salisbury, MD

What the judges had to say:"These pages offer commentary that is timely and well edited, grounded in local concerns and connected to the relevant issues of the state, nation and world. The pages are also designed with a flair that should be the envy of much larger newspapers."

Indianapolis Convention Schedule

Seize the Future

  • Dates:Sept. 15, 16 and 17 (Thursday-Saturday format)
  • Site: Omni Severin Hotel

Schedule subject to change


  • 8:30 a.m.: Early bird departure for Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • 9 a.m.:Early bird tour of Speedway.
  • 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.: Check in and onsite registration.
  • Noon – 1:30 p.m.: Opening luncheon at Omni Severin
    • Speaker:  Udi Manber, vice president of engineering and search development, Google.
      • Where in the World Does the Web Go From Here?
  • 2 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.: Writing in the Digital Age
    • Panelists: Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz ; Washington Post Writers Group columnist Esther Cepeda; columnist Rick Horowitz.
  • 3:30 p.m.: Critique groups
    • Attendees who sign up for critiques will discuss what works (and what doesn’t) and how our pages and websites have adapted to changing reader/user needs. The sessions will focus on show-and-tell examples of best practices as well as near misses.
    • Print Masters: Analysis of daily and Sunday pages. Led by Tom Waseleski of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
    • Digital Explorers:  Analysis of opinion content on the web. Led by Miriam Pepper of the Kansas City Star
  • 5:45 p.m.:Board shuttles to Indiana History Center.
  • 6 p.m.: Reception at Indiana History Center.
  • 6:30 p.m.: Dinner at Indiana History Center.
    • Speaker: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels
      • America’s Looming Fiscal Meltdown
  • 8:15 p.m.:Return to the hotel.
  • 9 p.m.:Hospitality suite.


  • 8 a.m.: First-time attendees’ breakfast
  • 8 a.m.:Continental breakfast.
  • 8:45 a.m.: Journalism Ethics: Do the Old Standards Still Apply?
    • Panelists: DePauw University professor Bob Steele (former Poynter Institute ethicist); Mike Reilly, DePaul University Online Journalism instructor and editor of The Journalist’s Tool Box by SPJ; and Indianapolis Star Editor Dennis Ryerson.
  • 10:15 a.m.:Ready and Able: Building a Well-Educated Workforce
    • Panelists: Lumina Foundation President Jamie Merisotis; Complete College America President Stan Jones; Lee Fisher, president, CEOs for Cities.
  • Noon:Luncheon at Omni Severin
    • Speaker: Bob Compton, producer of the documentaries “2 Million Minutes’’ and “The Finland Phenonenom’’
      • What the Rest of the World Can Teach Us About Education
  • 1:45 p.m.: Board buses for Butler University
  • 2:30 p.m.: Ten Years After: America in the Wake of 9/11
    • Panelists: Former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission; Sen. Richard Lugar, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Moderator: Matthew Tully, Indianapolis Star columnist.
  • Evening: Free evening for members to enjoy downtown Indianapolis.
  • 9 p.m.: Hospitality suite.


  • 8 a.m.: Continental breakfast.
  • 8:30 a.m.: Effective Use of Social Media
    • Panelists: Jonathan Blake Huer, director of Emerging Technologies, Ball State University; Erika Smith, Indianapolis Star columnist.
  • 10:15 a.m.: Muslims in America: The Search for Acceptance
    • Panelists: Safaa Zarzour, secretary general, The Islamic Society of North America; author Amitabh Pal; Rafia Zakaria, associate editor, AltMuslim.com; and U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (one of two Muslim members of Congress).
  • Noon – 1:30 p.m.: Luncheon at Omni Severin
    • Presentation of the Barry Bingham Award and the 2011 Pulliam Fellowship
    • Speaker: U.S. Rep. Mike Pence
      • Does the Tea Party Have Staying Power?
  • 2 p.m.: NCEW business meeting
  • 6:30 p.m.: Reception at the Omni Severin
  • 7 p.m.:Dinner at the Omini NCEW Awards Ceremony
    • Speaker: Joel Pett, editorial cartoonist, Lexington Herald-Leader
  • 9 p.m.:  Hospitality suite


  • 9 a.m.: Past presidents breakfast

Spouse/guest tour

Friday, Sept. 16 10:15 a.m. – 3 p.m. $50 per person (lunch included)

Join us for a guided tour of the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100 Acres, a nationally celebrated art and nature park.  Wander the grounds, explore the artists’ creations and relax by the lake. Check out Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture. Then take in Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, an exhibit that highlights the most pressing issues of our timeundefinedincluding the war in Iraq, 9/11, and social issues such as racism and homelessness. The exhibition features 70 of Dial’s large-scale paintings, drawings and sculptures, including 25 works on view for the first time.  Enjoy lunch at the Nourish Café.