2014 Archives

Index:

  1. Hateful voicemail & Confederate symbols
  2. 'Lost Cause' myth endures
  3. Racial blinkers in the press
  4. Do Reb symbols invite editorial attack?
  5. Getting readable op-eds from academe
  6. Killing the great editorials
  7. If a would-be op-ed stinks, why keep asking?
  8. Retracting endorsements
  9. Relevant, factual letters?
  10. Minority writers workship nears
  11. We are in Sunshine, with a job to do
  12. Those horrid online comment trolls, again
  13. AOJ's Tony Messenger wins twice
  14. Diplomats frustrated by media performance
  15. A giant among us, Zakarian
  16. Afghan election encourages State Dept.
  17. Strategic rebalancing to continue
  18. AOJ member wins Pulitzer for commentary
  19. Climate-change briefing was timely
  20. Poverty breeds security threats
  21. AOJ and AOJ Foundation are on the move
  22. Jobs DO exist!
  23. Book has pre-convention peek at South
  24. AOJ water-war briefings seem prescient
  25. Another editor stops online comment
  26. Do editors print Facebook posts?
  27. Speakin' Southern, y'all
  28. Give something to the Foundation
  29. AOJ joins J-groups against info barriers
  30. Some artsy things seen in Mobile pre-symposium
  31. Looking ahead to September
  32. Using social media well
  33. Referendum passes 97%
  34. Task force seeking ideas on future
  35. Election deferred, boards get go-ahead for closure, programs
  36. Celebration clears goal; everyone gets something
  37. Analytics of a website is a fine tool, but just part of decision-making
  38. Twitterized forum helped keep candidates from endless dodging
  39. Weather guy and author decry fatal-storm cliche
  40. Anyone can web publish, but... you professionals can do it better
  41. Ferguson video rose from anger and moved later audience, too
  42. Video production on the fly is a relative snap now, guru (31) says
  43. Celebration continues daily
  44. Redneck Riviera, a changing slice of the Alabama-Florida Gulf Coast
  45. Most readers have religion, so why does so little journalism notice it?
  46. AOJ Foundation Board ponders future leadership
  47. Boards meet jointly to hear pitches from SPJ, ASNE
  48. Internet can enable new startups - if sustainable funding is found
  49. Three days a week on paper, but very um... interesting... online
  50. Relentless editorialist loved state, hated its 1901 'immoral' charter
  51. Bob Davis columns lay out how we matter to the public
  52. Foundation names W. J. Drummond as Barry Bingham Fellowship recipient
  53. Mathews cites crucial link in society: community is like communication
  54. Becoming a leading liberal editor in the 60s-80s South was no picnic
  55. Education, training, trainability... workforce quality drives development
  56. Persistence, confiedent leaders, flexibility all matter in saving troubled city schools
  57. Pew: Political polarity predicts readers' news-source selections
  58. Chicago Sun-Times brings editorial endorsements back, for challenger
  59. Reuters ending comment on news, keeping it on columns and blogs
  60. St. Louis ed-page team shines on Ferguson: A voice of reason in chaos

Hateful voicemail & Confederate symbols

First of a package on secret 'admirers,' Rebel idolatry and media blinkers

Published Tuesday, February 18, 2014 4:55 pm by J. McClelland

OK, so Valentine’s Day is past, but Black History Month continues. And it has enduring lessons for all of us about the persistence of bigotry, and the fact that civil rights apply to all – or should.

Masthead has a multi-part package: this piece, and others on editorial pages' tepid attention to the persistence of Confederate memorials in public places in the era of "12 Years a Slave," and a review of past editors' blinkers about civil rights.

That nasty, anonymous person

After several years in academia, I marvel at how today’s working editors, columnists and bloggers cope with the onslaught of bile that anonymous digital comment allows the trolls to spew. It’s been a topic in Masthead, at NCEW and AOJ conventions, and in the members-only online discussion list, several times in recent years. [8/14 update discussion list info now]

Many of us who have had bylines, columns or hot-seat jobs in journalism have had “secret admirers,” in Mark E. McCormick’s words about one particularly crude and persistent middle-of-the-night caller.

McCormick’s 2003 column in the Wichita Eagle, forwarded by Richard Prince, reminded me of a turd-bucket full of 1970s hate mail to my office. That was paper; McCormick's was voicemail; now it is largely email or online comment. The hatefulness endures, and now it has more vituperative political, as well as racial, twists.

The prolific McCormick wrote, “I have a secret admirer. Every so often, she leaves me voice mail so overflowing with passion that it would be unsuitable for me to share.”

Ah, The Costume

He said he imagined her features, dreams -- and clothes: “From the content of her messages, I'd guess a flowing white sheet and a matching pointed dunce hat.”

He discussed details of her racist rants, then stated that yes, bigots like this still live among us. He said, “We rarely encourage them by writing about them, because they don't represent the vast majority of Americans.”

That recalled some NCEW-AOJ discussion list debates of whether to print bigots’ letters or allow their online comments, and whether to respond. One faction said vitriol erodes credibility and drives away legitimate potential reader-contributors; the other side said we have a responsibility to let the public see what kinds of creatures slither about under the rocks and toadstools of society. The topic of screening or editing their bile never goes away.

Already seeing the makings of the digital cesspool 11 years ago, McCormick added: “They operate without names … firing fearful missives from anonymity's grassy knoll … the unfriendly fire that journalists encounter in our efforts to connect with readers.”

My hat is off to the working pros who get the **** while they do difficult, expanding, valuable jobs.

 John McClelland reported, photographed and edited for newspapers in the Midwest and Mid-South for 20 years before teaching at Roosevelt University (Chicago). He is now emeritus faculty, almost fully retired. He has edited Masthead since December 2011.


'Lost Cause' myth endures

Time to admit the war really was about slavery, W&L alum asserts

Published Tuesday, February 18, 2014 5:00 pm by S.Matrazzo; ed. J.McClelland

One AOJ member whose recent work has dealt with lingering Confederate sympathy and symbolism is Steve Matrazzo of the Dundalk (Md.) Eagle, who attended Washington and Lee University. These few brief passages are adapted from his 1,300-word piece of July 4, 2013, keyed to the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. (The full article is copyrighted and paywalled by the Eagle, used by permission in The Masthead.)

Robert E. Lee, jobless and homeless after the Civil War, became president of a tiny Washington College.

In four years, he so influenced the Virginia school that after his death he was added to the school name.

Physical asssets, including a Historic Landmark building, recall his role. Less tangible, but no less real, is the Lee mythos -- with particular emphasis on his personal honor and noble character.

It was in perfect keeping with the “Lost Cause” version of Confederate history, valiant warriors defending freedom and Southern civilization against tyranny, defeated only by the Union’s size and brute force.

A century and a half after the decisive battle, the legacy of the Civil War remains with us in more ways than can be counted. Social, political, racial and cultural divides can be traced to the open sores that led to the war.

Many cling to the myth of the Lost Cause.

A few years ago, then-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, in Confederate History Month, urged Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens.”

Controversies recur over the Confederate flag as part of state flags n the South or as an emblem at events such as country music shows.

Even though Maryland was not part of the Confederacy, you can see the Confederate flag here on countless decals and bumper stickers and flying above a few homes.

Denial lurks beneath the surface of Lost Cause nostalgia: “The Civil War wasn’t really about slavery; it was about states’ rights.”

McDonnell said of conflict between the states: "Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues.”

Secession happened after the 1860 election of the first president from a party founded by abolitionists. Abraham Lincoln may not have been vociferously antislavery, but slaveholding states viewed his presidency as a threat.

Were the seceding states most worried about tariffs, federal spending, nullification, or any other existing causes of North-South friction?

South Carolina's secession document: “[T]hey have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; … united in the election of a man … [who] has declared that that 'government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,'"

Yet large numbers of Americans continue to swallow the myth that the Civil War was about something else.

In 2011, a Pew Research Center poll found that 38 percent said slavery was the main cause of the war, and 48 percent said it was essentially a dispute over constitutional law.

These numbers held across geographic and even racial lines.

The South did fight for states' rights: the right for some states to allow one person to own another.

Maybe it is time to own up to the truth and abandon the lie of the Lost Cause.


Racial blinkers in the press

Ignoring, suppressing civil rights news & views was not universal, but...

Published Tuesday, February 18, 2014 5:00 pm by J. McClelland

(A sampling from AOJ diversity chairman Richard Prince and other sources)

Commenting on the behavior of white establishment media in the post-Reconstruction South and in some recent work, Prince wrote: "Think of the contrast with the courageous editorializing during the Civil Rights Movement of Eugene Patterson and others, and then the mea culpas later when some Southern newspapers admitted they ignored or distorted the movement."

Charlotte Observer apology 108 years later

Some Forgive; Others Deny on the Tallahassee Democrat, Birmingham (Ala.) News, Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald.

Press Played Role in Anti-Black Riotof 1898 (on Josephus Daniels and the News & Observer in Raleigh).

In a 22,000-word 2004 essay in "Southern Spaces, an Interdisciplinary Journal," William G. Thomas III of the University of Virginia argued that the nascent 1950s-60s medium of television was less blinkered than the white press during the civil rights movement. About one egregious example of blinkering, he wrote:

"Nowhere was the segregation of print information about schools and desegregation more complete than in Prince Edward County, Virginia, where the local board of supervisors closed the county schools for five years from 1959-1964 rather than allow them to be integrated. Prince Edward was ... unexceptional in the way its white media excluded African American voices and segregated key information."

Gift list: Prince's holiday list of books by or about minority opinionizers or activists: http://mije.org/richardprince/your-face-holiday-fare and possibly the most relevant of them, another anlysis of TV and press and civil rights: http://mije.org/richardprince/your-face-holiday-fare#Equal%20Time.

Does the current rise of another new medium put all older existing media at high risk of again being behind the 8-ball?


Do Reb symbols invite editorial attack?

Mixed views of perceived media inertia on Confederate monuments

Published Tuesday, February 18, 2014 4:55 pm by John McClelland

Our package this month began with diversity chairman Richard Prince's inquiry about whether or how newspaper and news site opinionizers had discussed the lessons of the movie "12 Years a Slave."

He said he had seen many columns but so far only one editorial, in theBoston Globe.

He did not get overwhelmed with "here's one you missed."

He did get a lively discussion going. 

Prince and several participants in the AOJ members' discussion list (new link) escribed the patterns of memorializing Confederates from post-Reconstruction to recently. The tradition is obvious in street and highway naming in Virginia, for example, where there are numerous thoroughfares named for Robert E. Lee. Of course, in the North and West we have a lot like Grant Avenue, Sheridan Road and Lincoln....

Erich Wagner of the Alexandria (Va.) Times provoked some attention when he found that a local 1950s law still on the books required that new city streets running north-south be named after rebel military leaders, even ones who were not from Virginia. 

Is there an ordinance or statute about this still on the books in other parts of the Old Dominion, or elsewhere, too? Tradition’s one thing; exclusionary law, another.

Prince's commentary on the South's pattern of memorials said Wikipedia had found 25 memorials to Jefferson Davis. And, getting to his most relevant points, he said some such monuments to "The Lost Cause" have been targets of published criticism -- but not so much in editorial pages.

He wrote: "Today's editorial page editors do not seem eager to tamper with the residue of those times."

Inquiring widely, and pointedly in cities known to have been centers of Confederate culture, he built a column around the concept. 

He got "we haven't editorialized [on this]" from Richmond and Raleigh.

Atlanta, he found, was not loaded with Rebel statues, but a former editor there, Cynthia Tucker, said Georgia had poked a "stick in the eye" of the 1950s-60s Civil Rights movement, putting the St. Andrew's Cross (a key part of the Confederate flag) onto the state flag

The Atlanta Journal Constitution ran op-ed and blogging on removing a memorial to a white supremacist from the capitol grounds. It had become an issue because the statue would be removed for needed repairs; it appears the removal will be permanent. 

Open mind in Deep South

Prince quoted recent AOJ president Bob Davis, editor of the Anniston (Ala.) Star, at length about to possibility of a constructively educational middle ground between recognizing monuments to those who suffered for the Lost Cause and seeing them as approval of the effort to preserve slavery and its evils.

He quoted Davis as suggesting "editorial pages that seek to persuade the readers that there are more sides to an issue than two. We can recognize the wrongness of the war launched by the South in an attempt to prolong slavery. Yet we can note the bravery of those on both sides who fought in it, particularly those who had very little to gain." 

Peder Zane, a columnist for the News & Observer in Raleigh, weighed in on removing a Rebel statue from the North Carolina capitol grounds. He compared it to removing Joe Paterno's statue from a place of honor at Penn State, and said in part, "Tearing down this singularly prominent monument would send a powerful message that we know our history well enough, care about it deeply enough, to control it."

In a later email, Prince said: "In the cases I mentioned, the editorial pages seem to be following rather than leading. There were, of course, examples during the civil rights movement where the editorial pages led, such as Eugene Patterson in Atlanta, but in the Nov. 4 column the papers seemed to be saying, 'let's not rock the boat,' and in the Dec. 18 column seemed to be commenting on what was initiated by others in the community." 

He did another column, on the shortage of memorials, or indeed in some cases lack of any public recognition at all, about black leaders of their states during Reconstruction.

Opinion-page work he found about "12 years": 

Some examples of recent change Prince found: 

So, one question:

Have we as a country, or indeed just among professional opinion workers, matured enough to be sensitive to the good parts of both cultures, and reasonable and constructive, on things like this?   -- John McClelland


Getting readable op-eds from academe

Former editor coaches professors on clarity, focus -- and the personal touch

Published Wednesday, February 19, 2014 6:00 pm by David Jarmul

A professor recently used the magic word in a published op-ed*, resulting in an invitation to visit a U.S. Senate office to discuss pending legislation.

The magic word was "I."

It's a word academics have been conditioned to avoid in scholarly writing, but should include more often when writing op-ed articles for audiences off-campus.

The professor said her research showed orphanages in developing countries to be better than many Americans believe. She argued that legislation before Congress would close too many orphanages and harm children. The senator, one of the bill’s sponsors, saw the article and invited discussion.

That's impressive impact for a 750-word op-ed article, which requires far less time to write than a scholarly journal article or book.

A well-written op-ed can change minds, sway hearts and affect policy. It can advance the author's career and the university's reputation. It can serve the public interest, bringing faculty expertise to debates about everything from national security to the arts.

Faculty need to become more willing to use the word "I."

The orphanage op-ed, which our office edited and placed in several papers around the country, made an interesting point about a timely issue affecting children.

What made her article compelling, however, was how she opened it. She told the story of a Cambodian teenager who was forced to leave an orphanage and ended up becoming a "karaoke girl" who has sex with customers. The author said this illustrates a problem she has seen in several countries.

She maintained her first-person voice through her final paragraph, where she expressed satisfaction that Congress is addressing this issue and said she hopes the bill will be modified to continue supporting orphanages.

In movie terms, she started with a "tight shot," pulled the camera back to show the "long shot" and used a character throughout to propel the narrative.

[Such writing] is dramatically different from most journal articles. There the author typically reveals the conclusion only at the end, festooned with caveats, after [numerous] pages of experimental protocols or dense analysis.

That simply doesn't work with a newspaper reader at the breakfast table. [And that is why editors don’t inflict academic articles on general public readers. Could we find ways to get the essence in more readable form?]

Academic articles also eschew the use of "I" or "me." The authors learn in graduate school to rely on the power of their data and the brilliance of their arguments. Dazzle with intellect, they're told, not with anecdotes or emotion. As some point out, anecdotes are not data.

That's true, but self-defeating for placing an article on op-ed pages, where competition is intense. The academic tone of Mt. Olympus is a big reason so many editors reject their articles. It's certainly possible to address an issue effectively with a third-person "voice of the expert," but academics should not consider this their only option.

My colleague Keith Lawrence and I have helped Duke faculty members and students place dozens of op-ed articles every year, something I also did while running an op-ed service for a decade at the National Academy of Sciences.

Articles fare better when authors share their own experience along with their analysis. A physician-scientist concerned about health policy might tell us what happened yesterday to Mrs. Jones, who can't afford the medication the doctor prescribed. Concerned about fracking? Describe homeowners whose water tastes strange.

Such storytelling shouldn't violate anyone's confidentiality and a writer should not sound like a “reality” TV star. [For any writer,] when you share your own humanity, your words ring truer. Readers care more about what you say.

This is why presidents place "real Americans" next to the First Lady during State of the Union speeches. Viewers pay more attention to Lt. Smith, the brave soldier who just returned from Afghanistan, than to an abstract military policy.

We have the Ryan White CARE Act and other laws named for individuals. Politicians on the campaign trail tell us about the family they met yesterday. People make sense of the world through examples.

Academics [and journalists] who recognize this are not trivializing themselves or disavowing the intellectual rigor of their work. Rather, they are embracing reality and engaging readers effectively.

Americans who read op-ed pages are not stupid. They are more educated and engaged than the public as a whole. Many have expertise of their own. But they're also busy and wonder how an issue affects them personally. As they race through the morning paper before heading to work, they want real stories and voices.

They also want to feel a connection with the author. A professor at Penn, for instance, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer, should mention something that makes it clear that the writer is a neighbor.

Many academics approach op-eds as an exercise in solemnity. Frankly, they'd improve their chances if they'd lighten up.

Newspaper editors despair of weighty articles – "thumb suckers" – and delight in a writer who chooses examples from popular culture as well as from Eminent Authorities.

They want to see the magic word "I." More academics should use it.

David Jarmul is the associate vice president for news and communications at Duke University.

This article is adapted from one first appearing in InsideHigherEd.com. The author, a long-time former member of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, thought AOJ’s audience would be interested in one approach to bridging the academia-media chasm.  The article also invites another look at the question of “who did what” in getting an op-ed published, and more broadly related issues. --JM

* The professor's article appeared several places; this online copy is in Newarkhttp://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2013/11/whats_wrong_with_the_children.html


Killing the great editorials

Getting bored to death in the conference room, with a dull knife

Published Sunday, February 23, 2014 by Paul Greenberg

Who -- or what -- killed the great American editorial?

Wasn't there a time when great newspaper editorials regularly thundered and whispered, sighed and screamed, were outraged or outraged others?

Newspapers had dependable character, good or bad. Editorials were windows into the publications' souls. Those editorials might be loved or loathed, admired or despised, but they were read.

Each editorial might have a style of its own, yet they were all in keeping with the newspaper's style.

It was part of an American tradition going back to Ben Franklin, John Peter Zenger and colonial pamphleteers -- whether they were free spirits or unthinking agents of the Crown. That tradition gained momentum with the magnificent fulminators or genteel reformers of the 19th century.

Readers knew...

There was no mistaking who wrote the editorials even if they went unsigned. Whether the writer was a courageous Ralph McGill in the old Atlanta Constitution, the reliably irreverent Richard Aregood in Philly or Newark, or Grover C. Hall, senior and junior, at the Montgomery Advertiser.

Harry Ashmore became the voice and lightning rod of the old Arkansas Gazette in its finest hour -- the Little Rock Crisis of 1957, whose echoes still resound. To its everlasting credit, the Gazette spoke out for the law of the land and the brotherhood of man, not the most popular of positions back then.

There was a time when editorials said something, however debatable or just plain wrong, and said it well. Think of the late great James Jackson Kilpatrick in Richmond, my own favorite seg before he repented, or H. L. Mencken's verbal pyrotechnics in Baltimore.

Every community large or small seemed to have its own, unique editor -- like the father and publisher in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," who knew every nook and cranny of Grover's Corners.

The village editor, whatever his peculiarities, mentor and agitator, watchman and gadfly, philosopher and jester, always on the lookout, was a fixture of American society, like the village idiot.

William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette was the real-life personification of those multiple, ever-demanding roles in a small town. "What's the matter with Kansas?" he asked in the headline of one of his many editorials that drew national attention, and deserved to. There were giants in the earth in those days, even if their towns and newspapers were scarcely gigantic.

But look around at American newspapers today and try to name a great editorial writer. The bored reader -- if he reads the editorials at all -- is likely to find himself adrift in a sea of blah. Courage seems in short supply on too many American editorial pages. Even its poor relation, eccentricity, grows rare. What a loss when it disappears and we're reduced to the colorless and predictable.

Whoddunnit?

Who killed the great American editorial? Better to ask: What killed the great American editorial?

The forces responsible for its demise are as impersonal and characterless as many of the editorials themselves. Lord save us from "On the One Hand … On the Other Hand," denatured editorial writing, opinion pieces without opinion. You can spot their sense of calculation at 10 paces.

The all-too-typical modern editorial seems to have no discernible purpose except to avoid offending. If it does happen to express an opinion, it reflects the party line or socio-economic fashion.

All life has been drained out of it by the stultifying editorial conference, an institution which seems designed to hide any trace of an original or provocative idea. Once all those around the conference table have had their say, they wind up canceling each other out. This is called consensus. And its end product is idea-free.

If somehow an original idea is conceived in such an unlikely atmosphere, rest assured it'll be stillborn, lest it depart from the well-beaten path.

The death certificate for the great American editorial might list Cause of Death as terminal neutrality. It's a common affliction, as one great newspaper after another goes the way of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans or the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, either diluted beyond recognition or dead beyond resurrection. Saddest of all are those newspapers that have become only a pale shadow of their old, once vibrant selves -- dead but not yet buried.

What matters

The test of intellectual integrity in a newspaper's editorials is not whether they still hew to some line it embraced a decade ago, or a year ago, or just a minute before. No, it is whether the editorial column is alive and awake now, and therefore continually open to the evidence before its eyes, to the actual effect of whatever it is advocating, opposing or just appraising at the moment.

George Orwell remains a model for any honest writer of opinion. He got out of the Spanish Civil War one step ahead of the secret police, for he had been recognized as subversive, a man with a mind and eyes and conscience of his own. He wrote "Animal Farm" and "1984" and left us a treasury of other English prose clear as a window pane. His works still live and instruct.

The American editorial died when its writers grew distant and professional, removed from their roots, and became mouthpieces for a political line. An examination of the American editorial's corpus delecti would reveal that it was bored to death, perhaps because its writer was much too bored to think an idea through.

Ideas can be dangerous when probed. We might have to discard them or, even more trouble, follow where they lead.

Who killed the great American editorial? The fault, fellow editorial writers, lies not in our stars or in our times, but in ourselves.

Paul Greenberg is the (1969) Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. pgreenberg@arkansasonline.com.
(c) 2014 Paul Greenberg, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Tribune Content Agency; used in Masthead by permission.


If a would-be op-ed stinks, why keep asking?

Opinion page producers pooh-pooh persistently pesky pitchers pushing poor prose

Published Tuesday, February 25, 2014 4:00 pm by J.McClelland

"Is the quality of an op-ed inversely proportional to the number of follow-up emails the writer-publicist sends to inquire as to its status?" asked Jay Jochnowitz in Albany.

"Yes!" and "absolutely!" and "exactly right!" are fair paraphrases of several short responses from across the land on the AOJ members' discussion list.

Jackman Wilson in Eugene posited thus:

"The Jochnowitz op-ed axiom: The persistence of the person pitching is inversely proportional to the quality of the piece being pitched.

"The Wilson op-ed corollary: Pitchers have full-time, well-paid PR jobs despite not understanding the first thing about what editors are looking for." 

A summary, suitable for adapting as one's response to op-ed pitching pests, came from Larry Reisman in Vero Beach: "If the op-ed were that good, you'd have run it right away and they would not be bothering you."

Wilson later emailed tongue-in-cheek that he might do a $10,000 workshop for PR people with three key points in the Wilson op-ed syllabus:

  • Never call on a Friday.
  • Never send anything to a newspaper in Pensacola that might just as well be printed in Pocatello or Peoria.
  • They're called opinion pages, not consumer-tips pages, book review pages or health-and-fitness pages.

As AOJ folks keep saying: It's not about you or us; it's about the readers.

  • Posit: "to set down as fact or postulate"
  • Axiom: "Statement … accepted as true"
  • Corollary: "A proposition that follows from another that has been proved"
    • Webster's New World Dictionary, emphasis added

Retracting endorsements

Editors do withdraw support of pols & causes

Published Tuesday, February 25, 2014 3:00 pm by J.McClelland

What can editors do when the publication wishes it could take back an endorsement? This is a hot topic again, with new Lone Star signs of remorse.

A Gail Collins N.Y. Times column about Texas election prospects (Rick Perry and Ted Cruz for president, and George P. Bush Son of Jed for land commissioner), spoke directly to our field:

"P’s genius for avoiding the media is so profound that, in a primal moan of despair, The Austin American-Statesman endorsed his primary opponent, a businessman who advocates barring children of illegal immigrants from public schools." [The article is paywalled, but cited widely.]

"We suspect [Sen. John] Cornyn will survive," Collins wrote. "In an editorial endorsing [him], The Dallas Morning News wearily listed the other alternatives, including a businessman who “told this editorial board that ranchers should be allowed to shoot on sight anyone illegally crossing the border onto their land, referred to such people as ‘wetbacks,’ and called the president a ‘socialist son of a bitch.’ ”

Here's a quick overview of some recent misgivings and outright retractions:

Christie:

Ted Cruz

Ah, Abe: A few of the 9,300-plus Google hits on this famous one:

Real endorsement retractions:A simple search found a lot of irrelevant dreck, and several clear-cut editorial endorsement retractions.

  • Chicago Tribune March 14, 2012 - on March 7, this page endorsed Smith. That's an endorsement we hereby retract.
    • [State Rep. Derrick Smith was indicted by the Febs, expelled from the House, and ran again -- successfully. His bribery trial began in early 2104.] Smith endorsement retracted
    • Chicagojournal.com We hereby retract our endorsement March 7, 2012 - Skyline 
    • UPDATE: ...has retracted this endorsement.
  • Houston Chronicle Nov 6, 2011 ... we endorsed Manuel Rodriguez Jr. on the Houston [schools] ... We now retract that endorsement.
  • Advocate.com‎ [unstable link; example of how interest groups seize upon editorial positions].
  • UTSanDiego.com [Union-Tribune 2010] Mario Carrillo has made a fatal political error … we withdraw ...
  • Don't re-elect Justice Richard ... Seattletimes.com 2010 - This page takes the unusual step of withdrawing its endorsement of Sanders.
  • Pendergraph's Charlotte Observer Endorsement Retracted Huffingtonpost.com 2012
    • "... how he would act in Congress a mystery" [the original is paywalled, widely cited.]
  • This got an example of the vitriol that abounds on all sides of the partisan fence:

Old Youth: Some college publications have access to memories older than their editors' lifetimes.

SEO oh-oh: Search engines also find things we didn't want. This Google hit pointed deeply into a reader's verbose rant below a sigh-of-relief editorial.

  • Only two more to go, Naples Daily News 2012 - board has concluded its recommendations ...
  • [reader rant] The Daily News should retract the endorsement of Obama...

Long memories, sometimes: The Web still finds old criticism of a New York Times shift, but it took digging to find the originals (Too many websites fail to use links):

  • www.cepr.net The editorial board issued a half-hearted retraction a few days later.
  • N.Y. Times April 13, 2002...Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator
  • N.Y. Times Apr 16, 2002… his forced departure last week drew applause at home ...That reaction, which we shared, overlooked the undemocratic manner in which he was removed. Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how badly he has performed, is never something to cheer.

It's not just us: About a third of the first 400 hits were medical-scientific journal citations editorially retracting research reports.

  • This one in Publication Ethics is job-specific and links to a pdf of guidelines for such journals that might help journalists: 
    • Guidelines for retracting ...Becoming an editor of a journal is an exciting but daunting task... 
      • [No kidding! Tell some newspaper and news-site editors!]

Horsewhips or pistols? Let's let Samuel Clemens have the last word, for now:

  • in extensive Mark Twain correspondence at  twainquotes.com "demanding a published retraction of insults … had there appeared no editorial on the subject endorsing"...
  • In another version, on Google Books isbn1438117043 p17, Clemens demands a word, "satisfaction," easily interpreted as calling for a potentially fatal duel.

 *SEO Search Engine Optimization, generally the practice of including keywords in online content or in the largely invisible meta-data that accompanies it. In this case, the search engine included an irrelevant comment in its "hit" text.(back to text at SEO oh-oh) (back to top)


Relevant, factual letters?

Editors share views on vetting reader submissions on hot topics (abortion...)

Published Wednesday, March 5, 2014 by J.McClelland

One of the most interesting indoor jobs in journalism, especially newspapers and their websites, is vetting letters to the editor, especially now in a digital era loaded with perpetually controversial topics.

It was a hot topic again recently on the AOJ members-only discussion list (2014 link). (that story is below).

This sort of idea-sharing turns up often at conventions and on the list. A few examples:

  • Do you verify authorship? How?
  • Do you require non-digital confirmation?
  • Do you publish from handwritten paper mail?
  • Do you have different standards for print and online?
  • How much fact-checking can you do? (see Nolan 2009, Jochnowitz  2013)
  • What is your word limit? Is it absolute? Same online and in print?
  • Do you limit frequency of individuals letters?
  • How do you deal with trolls and bigots? (a panel topic at three or more recent conventions)
  • Do you give preference to local writers? Local topics?
  • What about public figures' ghosted submissions?
  • Campaign-season mail by, or about, candidates?
  • Do you reward prolific writers (annual dinner or such)?
  • How do you handle online comment below letters?

A sampler of AOJ 's "letters" material was freely available online  before website "updating."

Here's a small part of the recent go-round.

"What is your policy on letters about abortion?

"Our current guideline is that the letters about abortion should be related to a current issue, rather than just opposition to abortion in general or support for abortion rights in general.

"We have a question from a reader about our policy and the question gives us a chance to look at our existing approach to letters on this topic. I'd welcome insights on how you deal with this. Thanks.

"--Liz" (It was sent by Liz Allen, Public Editor, Erie Times-News and GoErie.com, "Pennsylvania’s 2013 Newspaper of the Year")

Several members chimed in, some at great length, or repeatedly during extended give-and-take.

A few days later, Allen replied to a query about results: "Definitely. I found the discussion useful; took it right in to my boss to tell him what others said."

Because of the close-knit, colleague-to-colleague nature of the lists' discussions, Masthead policy is to quote only with permission.

Summarizing some portions of this go-round for which we lack consent to quote with attribution:

A policy that letters must be relevant to something in the news applies generally here, so there's no need to single out abortion, guns, or whatever, for special treatment. (plural posters said something like this)

Letters are chosen for the readers' benefit, not writers' egos. Is that difficult to explain? Sometimes, but many writers accept it.

We get fake grass-roots mail instigated by special interests, reject it, sometimes with the list's help, and explain if local writers ask why they got left out.

There's a lot of give-and-take with some reader-writers. Some seem to feel an entitlement and grouse, incorrectly, about being "censored"; some are pleasantly surprised to get any attention.

Some listen when we explain; some just rant.

Some respond well to requests for sources or revision; some do not.

Some do not distinguish wishful thinking or the party line from fact.

Susan Parker of the Daily Times in Salisbury, Md., posted three paragraphs:

"The biggest problem I have, too, [is] the 'facts' that aren't really factual at all. I ask for sources and I get 'everybody knows it' or some variation thereof.

"We do not have a separate policy for letters on abortion or any other topic, but we do give preference to letters on local issues as opposed to broad, nationwide topics like abortion or alternative energy (unless it's about a local initiative, of course).

"We don't fact check every single letter, but if I see a statement I've never seen or heard before, I will question the author about it. Sometimes they're cooperative and other times, they get huffy about the question. Or they try to intimidate me with 'what, are you stupid? I thought you were supposed to keep on top of current events'."

Roy Maynard of the Tyler (Texas) Morning Telegraph wrote: "I look for someone saying something new on the issue. I don't often get that."

One concisely quotable note about whether to have specific rules for abortion, guns and such was by Dick Hughes of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore.: "We used to have a similar policy. No more. We simply have a 60-day limit -- one letter every 60 days from the same person."

Major metro dailies get many times more letters than they can possibly use, even online, so the bar is higher. Some small community papers may have difficulty filling a column with printable mail. In between, somebody gets to choose -- or has to.

Quality always has mattered, said Frank Partsch, retired from metro newspapering in Omaha (and former editor of Masthead): "Back in the other century, my dance consisted of telling writers that letters were selected on the basis of what the editors considered most useful and interesting to the readers (the same bases we used for selecting other material in the newspaper). Thus there was no litigating over the writer's 'right' to publish something redundant or speculative.

"Of course, we also had about double the letters we could use, so that made it easier to opt for the most interesting daily mix. The philosophy that a letters column is a feature for readers, not an entitlement for writers, can be useful in other instances."

So can a closed list for open discussion.


Minority writers workshop nears

AOJ-F, Newseum Institute offer hands-on coaching in Nashville

Published Friday, March 7, 2014 5:00 pm by Joan Armour; ed.J.McClelland

Experienced minority journalists are invited to apply for the intensive seminar on opinion writing at the John Seigenthaler Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Participants explore the nuts-and-bolts of writing opinion in a “boot camp” environment and hear presentations from nationally known speakers, said program director Tommy Denton, retired editorial page editor and past president of the Association of Opinion Journalists Foundation. The foundation sponsors the highly successful seminar in partnership with the institute.

Veteran members of AOJ lead simulated editorial board meetings and oversee and critique the writing of two opinion pieces during the seminar.

The seminar also features presentations by nationally known speakers including Erica D. Smith, Metro columnist and innovative opinion writer at Indianapolis Star, and  Val Hoeppner, a digital journalist who will discuss social media skills in today's communications world.

Enrollment is limited to 12. Minority journalists who have been writing opinion for less than two years may apply. AOJ Foundation pays for lodging and food at the seminar and reimburses up to $200 for transportation.

Past participants praise the value of the writing exercises and the “exceptional” faculty: "This is a MUST experience for any journalists seeking to expand their skill set,” said Starla Muhammad of The Final Call. “One of the best writing/journalism seminars I have ever attended.”

Faculty for 2014 Minority Writers Seminar:

  • Vanessa Gallman, editorial page editor, Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky, former Seminar director, and past president of AOJ and AOJ Foundation.
  • Andre Jackson, editorial editor, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AJC.com and participant in 2008 seminar
  • O. Ricardo Pimentel, editorial writer/columnist, San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio, Texas
  • Chuck Stokes, editorial/public affairs director for WXYZ-TV/Channel 7 in Detroit, and past president of AOJ and AOJ Foundation.

Speakers for 2014 Minority Writers Seminar

  • Val Hoeppner, digital journalist who trains journalists in mobile, social, video and multi-platform storytelling
  • Rick Horowitz, founder and “Wordsmith in Chief” of Prime Prose, LLC, Emmy winning commentator for Milwaukee Public TV and former syndicated columnist
  • Gene Policinski, Chief Operation Officer Newseum Institute and Senior Vice President/First Amendment Center, AOJ Foundation board member
  • Erika D. Smith, Metro columnist and innovative opinion writer, Indianapolis Star
  • John Seigenthaler, chair emeritus, The Tennessean, and founder of First Amendment Center 

We are in Sunshine, with a job to do

Opinion pages and sites can help public see value of open government, March and year-round

Published Friday, March 7, 2014 5:00 pm by Christian Trejbal; ed.J.McClelland

Sunshine Week has added AOJ to the participants list.

Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of government transparency and the people’s right to know, is nearly upon us. In 2014, it runs March 16-22.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Federal FOIA law on July 4, 1966. Every state eventually followed with stronger or weaker versions.

Five decades is time enough to forget that government was not always transparent to the people. People forget the bad old days of secret meetings, back-room summits and hidden documents.

And when people forget, they become complacent. They look the other way when legislatures add exceptions to FOIA. They nod in agreement as lawmakers withhold just one more record or meeting in the name of national security, trade secrets or some other noble-sounding excuse.

Opinion journalists must act as a bulwark against the slide back toward secrecy.

We can play a crucial role in spreading the good word about sunshine.

While our newsroom colleagues focus on the successes and failures of open government, we have the power to explain what it all means and why it’s important.

We can make the case that transparency is a cornerstone of a successful democracy. Without it, an informed electorate is impossible.

Resources to help you prepare for Sunshine Week are available online, in The Toolkit. They include free op-eds, cartoons, logos, package ideas and more.

More information is below: background some events lead groups

 Christian Trejbal left daily newspapering to run Opinion in a Pinch; he is an AOJ board member and chair of the AOJ open government committee.

Sunshine background:

National co-sponsors of Sunshine Week are the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The co-chairs, Lucy Calglish and Steve Engelberg, said in a statement: "Anyone -- not just media organizations -- can utilize the resources, have their events listed or be included as participants … educators, government officials, civic groups, libraries and others."

Among the events are:

  • The Newseum Institute's First Amendment Center with OpenTheGovernment.org, and separately American University's Washington College of Law, will each hold a celebration.
  • The Reporters Committee will host a panel discussion with prominent journalists and legal experts discussing transparency and the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • New Mexico State University is holding an infographic contest for students.
  • Public officials In Florida, Illinois and other states will conduct information sessions, for citizens and officials.
  • "The Vault" showcases some of the Sunshine Toolkit materials created for 2013. Although these resources cannot be used in 2014 without the creator's permission, they are being posted to spur ideas and inspiration.

Lead groups;

  • D.C. Open Government Coalition
  • FOI Oklahoma
  • Local chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists

Sunshine Week was launched by ASNE in 2005 and quickly grew to a nationwide event celebrated by national and local news media on all publishing platforms; federal, state and local governments; grade schools and universities; libraries; archivists; scientists; nonprofit and civic organizations; and individual citizens. Reporters Committee, which has been a participant since the launch, officially joined ASNE as a leading partner in 2012.

Sunshine Week 2014 is made possible by an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and by donations from the Gridiron Club and Foundation.

ASNE focuses on leadership development and journalism-related issues. It was founded in 1922 as a nonprofit professional organization. asne.org.

The Reporters Committee was founded in 1970. It offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It fights persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. www.rcfp.org or Twitter @rcfp.


Those horrid online comment trolls, again

Researcher reinforces notion that gutless nasties hide behind online anonymity

Published Sunday, March 9, 2014 8:00 pm by Thea Joselow

Why are online comments so horrible?

Online comments seemed like such a fine idea at first. What better way to engage with your site visitors and show them how much you value their thoughts than to invite their comment on your articles or videos? What could go wrong?

People. People could go wrong. They did.

If you've been online and not under a rock, you've been exposed to some of the vitriol that passes for discussion.

Speculations on parentage, unprintable political screeds, red herring and ad hominem attacks are rampant - and almost status quo. YouTube is known for having a particularly hideous commenting ecosystem, something its leadership is trying (so far in vain) to address.

What gives?

"I would probably start with noting that people suck," says Aleks Krotoski, PhD, and author of Untangling the Web. "I study people, but I don't like them as a general rule."

If you're looking for pleasant dialogue on a big news site, you're barking up the wrong tree, she says. "These are the places where people discuss topics they wouldn't talk about over dinner because they're too hot - money, politics and religion."

So what to do?

In September 2013, Popular Science announced that it would stop accepting comments on its site in general (except in select cases), and AOJ had yet another round of discussion of how to cope with the nasties who afflict letters sites and more. (links below)

PopSci's leaders noted that many of their commenters were trying to engage in a lively, informed discussion of science, "even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story, recent research suggests."

Krotoski says that people are comfortable saying awful things online because of the distance afforded by the digital medium. You don't have to look into the face of the lonely teenager you're insulting, and there are few social repercussions. Some organizations filter comments through Facebook, Disqus and other services, on a theory that people will behave themselves if their words are read by, for example, their mothers. Others task someone to monitor the flow.

As a reader, how to avoid the mess and find the love? Seek out smaller sites and supportive communities. "Go somewhere that people don't have strong opinions," suggests Krotoski. "The Internet is full of roses and pandas."

Thea Joselow is a digital media consultant and editor based in Bethesda, Maryland. For the last three years, she has served as AOJ's volunteer digital and social media manager, where she took part in many discussions about the commenting ecosystem and how dreadful it is. She can recite all 50 states in alphabetical order.

See also: April 14, 2014: Chicago Sun-Times group benches comments pending a fix.


AOJ's Tony Messenger wins twice

St. Louis editor's work tops category in ASNE and Scripps awards

Published Friday, March 14, 2014 1:00 pm by John McClelland

Tony Messenger, editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, AOJ member and AOJ board member elected in 2013, won the Burl Osborne Award for Editorial Leadership in the annual contest of the American Society of News Editors

Messenger and Kevin Horrigan shared Scripps-Howard's Walker Stone Award for Editorial Writing: http://www.shawards.org/PDF/Foundation-Release-3-14-14.pdf

Here are links to the winning ASNE entries:

Here is a link to a collection of the Scripps entries. Some are the same as the ASNE entry, but there are several others.

http://www.stltoday.com/scripps-howard-award-winning-editorials/collection_3723d4bb-e870-5dfb-8dd4-ba3043bdee95.html


Diplomats frustrated by media performance

State Dept. briefers say inattention threatens thousands of child deaths, risk to U.S.

Published Tuesday, April 8, 2014 3:00 pm by R. Prince; ed. J.McClelland

The U.S. State Department counts three major humanitarian crises: In Syria, in the Central African Republic and in the world's newest nation, South Sudan.

Only one gets much media attention, so thousands of children may die needlessly, and the situation threatens U.S. security, one State official has said. Others voiced other frustrations with media performance.

Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance in the U.S. Agency for International Development, was one of several State officials who spoke Monday (4/7/14) at an all-day briefing for 14 members of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

The diplomats were asked their observations on the American news media's coverage of their areas of expertise.

"A number of NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] reported that they raised more money for the Philippines typhoon in the first week or so after it hit of than they have in the entire Syria crisis, and we're seeing a similar lack of private fund raising for Central Africa and South Sudan," Lindborg said. "We know that it's really complicated when you have a complex crisis. There are often unclear lines about good guys and bad guys."

"America's voice matters," she asserted. In 2011 and 2012, famine struck Somalia on the Horn of Africa, and "125,000 children died when they didn't have to. South Sudan will teeter [into something similar] if they don't get assistance now."

Media attention brings funds to nongovernmental relief organizations, saves lives and guards against leaving swaths of territory unprotected and lawless, leaving them to become breeding grounds for worldwide terrorism.

"It matters whether you're a kid in Syria or South Sudan to know that the world cares," Lindborg added. Moreover, the attention builds goodwill. Lindborg said she encountered a man in Bosnia who remains grateful for assistance the United States rendered in World War II. "I remember when the Americans came in with Eisenhower to help us out," she quoted him as saying.

And on a more humanitarian level, Lindborg said, "Need is need whether it is domestic or overseas. It's important for the public to be involved, to know that it matters that a kid in South Sudan is teetering" between starvation and health.

The Voice of America reported, "More than a million people have been forced from their homes by the conflict that broke out in South Sudan in mid-December. U.N. agencies have warned that more than a third of the population of 10.8 million is in danger of food insecurity as the fighting stretches on into a fourth month. . . ."

As for the Central African Republic, Andrew Katz of Timereported that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited "amid an uptick in ... conflict that has killed untold thousands and pushed much of the country's Muslims into neighboring countries."

Other diplomats responded with reactions ranging from wry humor to equanimity when asked about media coverage of their fields.

Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, said she agreed with an analysis cited in Journal-isms, the subject of scant press attention, that Russian President Vladimir Putin was sending dog whistles to Russian nationalists, who include skinheads and other racists, when he justified Russia's annexation of Crimea in a recent speech to Parliament.

"It does energize and give comfort to the exclusionary groups who practice and spread a victimization of other nationalities, and all the hate speech that goes with it," Nuland said. In that speech, Putin championed "Rissici" (ethnic Russians) rather than "Russinki" (citizens of the nation.) "What about the rest of the country?" Nuland asked, citing those who are not ethnic Russians.

Nuland also cited a March 5 State Department statement about Putin's "fictions" concerning Crimea: "10 untruths that Russia is selling on Russia and in Crimea." It attempts to debunk such statements as "Russian forces in Crimea are only acting to protect Russian military assets."

Apparently referring to the Russian "fictions," Nuland said: "Some of this stuff gets in" the U.S. news media when they "pick up secondhand information without checking it."

Afghan election: Ambassador James F. Dobbins, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, compared news reports during the run-up to the voting with the intelligence reports he receives. "They're always prepared to tell us what's going to go wrong -- most of which didn't happen," Dobbins said. He added that the media's philosophy was "never get caught failing to predict a disaster, and the result is one never predicts a success...."

"We know it's hard," Dobbins chided. "You don't have to tell us." Dobbins also praised journalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, considered two of the world's most dangerous countries: "They take risks, frankly, that our own people would not take."

Jerry Feierstein, principal deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, like many of his colleagues, cited the complexity of the challenges in foreign policy. "Getting nuances right is always a challenge," he said in commenting on coverage of Syria. "I don't think there are any magic-bullet solutions." There are no clear-cut good guys and bad ones, and "the humanitarian costs are enormous. Almost half the population is in refugee camps."

Todd Stern, special envoy for climate change, said it is time for the media to abandon the urge to give equal time to climate-change deniers. With obvious irritation, he said: "If you try to give 50-50 time to each side when something like 97 percent of climate change scientists accept the reality of it, you're going to give the public a little bit of a skewed perception."

Weather emergencies as Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines, keep the climate change issue in the headlines. Without such crises, diplomats responsible for Central Europe and East Asia say they have difficulty receiving coverage.

About half the world's trade goes through the South China Sea, along with "a huge amount of oil," said Scot Marciel, principal deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Yet this area "tends to draw fewer headlines than other places." While reporters gravitate to breaking news, he said, "the harder thing is to capture some of the longer-term trends."

Those include democracy spreading to a growing number of nations in the region, increases in economic development and burgeoning energy trade between South Asia and Central Asia at a time when the dominance of Russia as an energy supplier is a worry for the West.

Trade, economies and energy. "That is something we should care about," said Nishal Biswal, assistant secretary for South Central Asia. 

[Adapted with permission from a blog post (c) April 8, 2014, at http://mije.org/richardprince/lack-coverage-costs-lives © 2014. Photo by Miriam Pepper.]

Richard Prince produces Journal-isms online and is AOJ diversity chairman.


A giant among us, Zakarian

Colleagues recall former editing leader as a gentle, brilliant, talent

Published Wednesday, April 9, 2014 by John McClelland

Hang around American journalism long enough and you might discover that you have crossed paths with some of the greats.

John J. Zakarian was one of them.

When tributes began flowing in the AOJ discussion list after his death at 76 on March 28, the name rang a bell strongly even though I had barely encountered him nearly half a century ago. We had labored in separate cities for a downstate Illinois chain of small daily newspapers (Lindsay-Schaub, later part of Lee). It had a shared state capitol bureau and local editors could pick up company editorials on nonlocal issues. I was a cub on the copy desk and assistant to the local editor.

Zakarian was a state capitol reporter, then home office editorial writer and then editorial director, who would go on to make his mark nationally, eventually in Connecticut running the editorial pages of theHartford Courant.

He got there circuitously from the Armenian part of Jerusalem.

Arriving in New York in 1957 with scholarships to Southern Illinois and San Francisco State universities, he later told interviewers, he asked a ticket agent to get him to whichever place was closer and less expensive. He worked his way through hard times at SIU as a janitor, movie usher and assistant theater manager.

He reported horse racing for the Associated Press in Chicago and then city hall for the Register-Mail in Galesburg, Ill., which he fondly noted years later was home to Carl Sandburg and favored by Abe Lincoln.

The University of Iowa* granted his master's in 1964 and he went to Lindsay-Schaub. From there, a prestigious 1969 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, concentrating on the politics and economics of oil.

He was associate editor of the late Boston Herald-Traveler. Then the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for seven years, during which he was president (1976) of the National Conference of Editorial Writers (NCEW, now AOJ).

Then Hartford for 27 years. Retired after 2004. Diagnosed with ALS ("Lou Gehrig's disease") 19 months ago.

A nuts and bolts bio cannot begin to capture the person.

Many of his colleagues tried; here's what some said:

The Courant's editorial: "Those who worked closely with him added: 'a first-class human being,' [or] 'a great boss' and 'a very kind man devoted to the causes of social justice for the whole human race.'...

"With his soft Middle Eastern accent and strong journalistic principles, the avuncular editor formed and informed the pages you read today. Under his leadership, the range of views on these pages greatly expanded, as did the number of prize-winning editorials, which championed such causes as clean and open government and tax reform."

Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Greenberg in Little Rock emoted: "...our old friend, speaking for NCEW and all those he led so many times – on tours of the Middle East, the not-so-late Soviet Union, and city after city where we held conventions. John was always there, either as president and guide of this anarchists' convention or elder statesman, and always, always observing, eager to learn from everything he observed. Is it only some kind of medical/optical illusion that ALS strikes the very best...?"

A more recent NCEW president, J.R. Labbe in Texas, noted that Zakarian's career served not only those he reached directly, but also "those who never knew his name but benefited from his clear thinking, persuasive writing and passion for a better society."

He would have received life membership in NCEW at the 2001 convention scrubbed by the 9/11 attacks, and did receive it in 2002 in Nashville. He said with characteristic humor, "I have used NCEW'sstatement of principles as my compass and have inflicted it on writers and editors at every newspaper I toiled at."

  • Courant's first story 
  • Courant editorial 
  • Oral history transcript focused on influential Armenian-Americans (use "find" or scroll down to John Zakarian) 
  • Video of a 1997 C-Span appearance 
    • This is a full 90-minute program with 37 minutes of interviews about the day's newspaper copy that was news then and is memorable history now.
      • With a fast connection, you can drag the blue dot to begin a mixed callers-Louisiana-Zakarian-Arizona piece that runs from about :37 to about :85. His wit shows in discussion of the line-item-veto concept in Congress: "We cannot print money in Connecticut." C-Span shows faxes – remember them? – of articles and pages.
      • At minute 50-plus of the show, Zakarian offers a patient description of conflicting views over whose capital is Jerusalem. He said the Courant printed about 10 percent to 15 percent of its letters.
      • At about 63 minutes, he describes doing 100-plus editorials in one persistent campaign.

 [McClelland did newspapering in Illinois, Arkansas and Tennessee 1967-86, and college teaching in Ohio and Chicago 1987-2013.]


Afghan election encourages State Dept.

Progress obvious there; region still poses numerous risks, envoys tell AOJ

Published April 10, 2014 12:40 pm by Miriam Pepper

As the hand counting of ballots continued in Afghanistan a week after national elections,the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James F. Dobbins, could afford to say that some of the pre-election fears were fortunately not realized.

“Saturday was a good day in Afghanistan,” he told members of the Association of Opinion Journalists at its Monday, April 7, all-day State Department briefing.

Turnout of 60 percent of registered voters was impressive, doubling the percentage from the last election. Lower levels of violence occurred than had been predicted. Women cast a third of the ballots despite Taliban threats, and Afghans ran the elections solo, the first time since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban.

“It’s the best one so far,” Dobbins said.

Best by Afghan standards was 27 dead on Election Day, mostly soldiers. And Dobbins certainly did not discount the risks, including those faced by journalists. Shortly before the elections, an AP photographer was killed and another journalist was injured on assignment.

Most expected the April 2014 election to be Round One, to be followed by runoff elections in May or later. With eight candidates seeking Hamid Karzai’s top spot, it was unlikely that one candidate would garner the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Results could take a week or so to tabulate from the 6,000 polling stations, and then there would be time for adjudicating complaints.

More significant, the serious character of the race was encouraging, according to Dobbins, with the three top candidates all holding master’s degrees and previously serving as ministers in government. The campaigns were well covered by all stripes of media, including broadcast (with 75 stations now operating in the nation), newspapers and Twitter.

Still, Dobbins said he had been warned that to be too optimistic would be a mistake. Complaints about vote tabulation or other issues could still mar the final verdict.

Nisha Biswal, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, was closely watching the Indian elections that focused largely on local issues about the economy and corruption in government.

Her area of responsibility includes efforts to expand trade between Southeast Asia and South Asia, and much attention is focused on moving surplus hydropower to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On Pakistan, her outlook was far less encouraging.

She labeled it a “complicated” country with a complicated relationship with the U.S. Since the killing of Osama bin Laden, whom U.S. commandos found hiding in a compound in Pakistan, relations have been “very difficult.”

To have a viable economy, Pakistan needs to trade with its largest neighbor and relations with India must improve, she asserted: “It is a dangerous country, not just for journalists, for everyone.” Its elections were more violent last year than Afghanistan’s election.

Afghan development:

The elections led Dobbins to emphasize the progress recorded there on several fronts in recent years. He said: 

  • The economy has more than quadrupled,
  • life expectancy has lengthened by more than 20 years (the fastest increase ever reported),
  • more than 10 million children now are in school,
  • literacy has doubled and is expected to double again as long as the government can protect the schools, and
  • cell phone subscribers reached 11 million, covering almost the whole country.

Still, the Taliban remains a force and holds a 10 to 12 percent approval rating, with Pashtuns much stronger supporters.

The Afghan military still needs assistance, and Dobbins said the outlook looks positive for either Karzai or the next president agreeing to a residual NATO force of 8,000 to 12,000.

U.S. forces didn’t lose a single soldier in March, the first month since fighting began.

If an agreement is reached, future NATO forces will be based on Afghan-led bases, which should reduce some risks. Their focus will be on improving management functions of the Afghan military, helping them with logistics and repairs. Getting “beans and bullets” to troops, and the petrol needed to operate vehicles, will be a primary focus of advice.

Looking ahead in that region, both speakers emphasized many unknowns.

  • Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are very vulnerable to climate change. Taking action to mitigate climate change damage by lowering emissions and helping nations build resources to counter disasters holds the best hope.
  • A dozen countries in Africa labeled “fragile” all face risks that could worsen into crises.
  • Already, the State Department lists the South Sudan and Central African Republic, along with Syria, as the most serious humanitarian crises in the world today.

Tomorrow? The experts aren’t saying.

Miriam Pepper is vice president for the editorial page of the Kansas City Start and is in the middle of her term as president of AOJ.


Strategic rebalancing to continue

High State Dept. official cites China, N. Korea as strategic concerns

Published Friday, April 11, 2014 11:30 am by David D. Haynes

(Participants in State Department conference room; photos by Chuck Stokes; this image is a composite)

President Barack Obama remains committed to his “rebalance” of America’s strategic efforts in Asia, a senior State Department official says.

“We have to stay heavily engaged in that region. ... the idea is engagement across the board,” Ambassador Scot Marciel told members of the Association of Opinion Journalists at the organization’s annual State Department Briefing Monday, April 7, in Washington, D.C.

The administration’s strategic shift is, in part, a recognition of the economic and military challenges posed by China, which has become more assertive in the region.

Economically, even though China Inc. has lost some steam, it remains formidable. The Chinese economy is projected to grow 7.5 percent this year and 7.3 percent in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund, compared with real growth in the U.S. of 2.8 percent this year and 3 percent next.

Chinese military spending also is increasing – up 12.2 percent this year – another sign that China intends to compete with the U.S. in the Pacific. “There is rising concern about military spending in the region generally,” Marciel said.

Obama in 2011 announced the strategic shift, or “rebalance,” a policy of bolstered military, economic and diplomatic efforts in Asia. The administration has promised to deploy 60 percent of its naval forces in the Pacific by the end of the decade.

With nearly a third of the world’s people and a quarter of global economic output, the region is full of potential customers for U.S. goods and services. In 2012, U.S. exports to the region totaled $555 billion, which the State Department estimates supported about 2.8 million jobs in the U.S.

The State Department’s goals include boosting trade, strengthening alliances, supporting regional institutions and promoting democracy, good governance and human rights.

But the region poses an assortment of difficult challenges to those goals, including how best to contain the mercurial regime in North Korea.

The North Korean threat occupies “a huge amount of time for a lot of people in Washington and in the region,” Marciel said. He called the regime of Kim Jong Un “an extremely difficult challenge” that isn’t made any easier by Pyongyang’s recent provocations.

Marciel said the department is “continuing to work hard doing everything we can to secure” the release of Kenneth Bae, a 45-year-old Korean-American missionary from Lynnwood, Wash., who was captured by the North Koreans in November 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly using religion to undermine the North Korean political system. Bae recently was hospitalized in failing health but has since been returned to a labor camp.

“We’re very concerned about his health, about his safety,” Marciel said.

Another potential flashpoint is in the waters near China, where the Chinese are engaged in territorial disputes with their neighbors. These competing claims in the South China and East China seas concern the administration because the lands in question are in the middle of important trade routes, and the disputes illustrate China’s renewed aggressiveness.

The day after Marciel spoke, a Chinese defense minister claimed “indisputable sovereignty” over an island group also claimed by Japan and said the Chinese military was ready to protect its interests. His comments came during a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who reminded the minister that the U.S. is a long-time ally of Japan and the Philippines and has mutual self-defense treaties with both countries.

Marciel said, “A lot of this is about the rules of the road”.

Marciel is the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary; he served three years as ambassador to Indonesia and previously was deputy assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific Bureau, responsible for relations with Southeast Asia.

Links to related sources:

David D. Haynes is editorial page editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee and is secretary of the AOJ Foundation board.

AOJ member wins Pulitzer for commentary

Awards panel cites series of columns analyzing Detroit's critical condition (updated)

Published Monday, April 14, 2014 by John McClelland

Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press and long-time NCEW-AOJ member, won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for 2014 in April and in May was named journalist of year by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).

The Pulitzer citation reads in part, "For distinguished commentary, using any available journalistic tool … ($10,000)... to Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press for his columns on the financial crisis facing his hometown, written with passion and a stirring sense of place, sparing no one in their critique."

Here is the Pulitzer website's list of his winning works (all are pdf's, readable online without downloading in many browsers; copyrighted by the Detroit Free Press):

The site biography says Detroit native Henderson has been editorial page editor for the Detroit Free Press since January 2009.

He previously did journalism at the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and the Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau, and collected over a dozen awards. He is the host of a talk show and co-host of a weekly news wrap-up show, on Detroit Public Television.

The Free Press' initial announcement (the #3 item on its mid-day website update) said Henderson is a graduate of University of Detroit High School and the University of Michigan.

The seven judges for commentary were led by AOJ member Bruce Dold, editorial page editor of the Chicago Tribune and himself a former Pulitzer Prize winner.

Congratulatory messages were flowing on the AOJ discussion list within minutes of the announcement. His last previous appearance in Masthead was as a seminar participant describing an editorial campaign to address illiteracy in Detroit schools.

* Here's a link to Richard Prince's blog report, with awards-day photo and more: http://mije.org/richardprince/pulitzer-0

Here is Henderson's message on the AOJ discussion list, with permission: 

"Hey folks – I’m still digging out of my inbox,...

"I was overwhelmed Monday with wonderful notes about the Pulitzer, but the ones from other opinion writers carried spectacular currency.

"I was introduced to NCEW (now AOJ, of course) by Joe Stroud, for whom I interned here in Detroit and later worked. David Holwerk and Ron Dzwonkowski were also former bosses who cherished their membership in the organization, and encouraged me to get involved.

"Monday was a reminder for me of how connected we all are, and how much I rely on things I see other people do to shape my own work.

"I’m grateful, and happy, to be associated with all of you. Thanks so much.." 


Climate-change briefing was timely

State Dept. expert gave AOJ & editors solid background for disturbing U.N. report

Published Tuesday, April 22, 2014 6:00 pm by edits Tony Messenger

This article is adapted with permission from an editorial (c) 2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, all other rights reserved. The P-D's editorial page editor, Tony Messenger, attended the U.S. State Department's annual briefing for AOJ members and guests April 7. The P-D published this piece by "editorial board" April 8.

Ho-hum. Climate change is bad and getting worse.

On Monday in Berlin, the head of the United Nations scientific panel on climate change said the world’s governments will have to ”exercise a high level of enlightenment” to find agreement on how to prevent the worst effects of global warming.

Good luck with that.

In the United States, we still don’t have a high level of enlightenment about whether man-made global warming is a real thing or merely a left-wing plot to disrupt freedom.

International scientists and policy-makers who live in a fact-based universe were meeting in Germany. The goal, said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a “robust, policy-relevant and informative document” aimed at keeping global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) by the end of the century.

Climate scientists generally believe that such a rise in global temperatures would have catastrophic effects.

Last year, for the first time in what is believed to be 800,000 years, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, propelled by burning fossil fuels, reached 400 parts per million. The higher it climbs, the worse the effects will be.

On Sunday, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography observatory in Hawaii, it was measured at 402 parts per million.

Last week the IPCC released the second part of a three-part study, done every seven years, analyzing changes in the climate and attempts to deal with it. The key paragraph:

“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.”

The news was bad enough that the panel suggests that governments learn to live with climate change even as they work to mitigate its worst effects. Floodwalls and cooling centers aren’t much of a response, but they’re the best we’ve got.

The report said that natural and human systems are being affected on every continent and in every ocean. For each effect, the scientists ranked their level of confidence in the role that climate change is playing.

There is high confidence that:

  • glaciers are shrinking and permafrost is melting;
  • the geographic ranges of marine and land species have changed;
  • migration patterns and the abundance of some species;
  • there are lower crop yields at most latitudes; and
  • food loss occurs particularly in regions (such as sub-Saharan Africa) where people are least able to cope with the effects.

The scientists expressed “very high confidence” that extreme weather events -- heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires -- are more prevalent.

All of these factors interact in ways that will make political problems worse.

There will be food riots, water wars and revolutions that are caused, at least in part, by climate change.

“These aren’t new conclusions. Water and food are likely to become over the years under stress,” Todd Stern (left), the U.S. special envoy on climate change, told a meeting of editorial writers in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

He added, “It is just not tolerable in this country at the national congressional leadership level to not have this issue on the table. We can’t continue playing these games forever.”

It’s not just Congress. The World Bank has estimated that it would take about $100 billion a year to help developing nations mitigate the effects of climate change. The U.S. share of that could be $30 billion a year. The New York Times reports that U.S. officials who took part in drafting the U.N. report, along with those from other wealthy nations, wanted that $100 billion figure minimized.

Why? Because of its political sensitivity. When the U.N. Climate Summit meets in New York in September, developing nations can be expected to point out that they did almost nothing to create the problem, having burned relatively little fossil fuel. But they will feel the worst impacts of climate change first. Helping them cope would require industrialized nations essentially to double foreign-aid spending.

If you think there’s opposition to climate change now, wait until the Third World presents its bill.

Environmental doomsday scenarios are not new. In 1798, the Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus predicted that unchecked population growth would doom the world. Latter-day Malthusians found a voice in Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb” in 1968. Advances in fertility control and agricultural science took some of the pressure off.

Technology may yet bail the Earth out of climate disaster, too.

It would be foolhardy to count on it, but that’s apparently the strategy most of the world has adopted. Reversing the effects of global warming would require at least a 60 percent cut in greenhouse gases, and even then would take decades to work.

Still, in recent years the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to a combination of recession, greater use of natural gas and alternative fuels and conservation efforts. But the gains we have made are more than offset by emissions in China, India and other nations. They want the automobiles, air-conditioning and industry that we enjoy. We are not the only people who find it hard to sacrifice our comforts for the benefits of others.

Climate change, as the latest U.N. report emphasizes, is real and getting worse. It may have to get much worse before the world recognizes that.

It will.

(The editorial was accompanied by photos "it's not just for polar bears any more" and by Missouri-specific local comments: http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/the-platform/editorial-ho-hum-climate-change-is-bad-and-getting-worse/article_65349482-52e0-5be7-992c-efd73e1fdb92.html)


Poverty breeds security threats

Briefing inspires editorial query: What if aid budget were like a defense item?

Published Wednesday, April 23, 2014 1:00 pm by Tony Messenger

Article and child photo adapted with permission from an editorial (c) 2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch and stltoday.com, all other rights reserved. The P-D's Tony Messenger attended the State Department's AOJ briefing. Speaker photo by Chuck Stokes

A child starving in South Sudan should matter to Americans.

That is the message delivered by Nancy Lindborg, whose job at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is to lead a federal bureau spreading democracy and humanitarian assistance across the world.

That world has reached a critical danger zone, with three high-level crises combining military conflict with humanitarian catastrophes affecting millions of innocents in Syria, the South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

But back to that child.

In the United States there is a tea-party fueled isolationism sweeping the domestic political culture. It has caused many Republicans to seek massive cuts to the foreign aid budget which -- after you strip out diplomacy and military aid to foreign governments -- accounts for less than 1 percent of federal spending. (Oxfam budget guide)

The House has passed a budget drafted by Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would cut foreign aid by 11 percent. It would also cut spending on domestic programs, including food stamps, by $5.1 trillion over 10 years. Every Democrat and 12 Republicans voted against it. Fortunately it has no chance of being considered in the Senate.

Ms. Lindborg (right) spoke to a group of editorial writers April 7 as part of an annual State Department briefing sponsored by the Association of Opinion Journalists. She argues that an America that continues to be the leading provider of humanitarian aid across the world is a stronger America, and she’s right.

“It matters that a kid in South Sudan is teetering on the brink of serious hunger,” Ms. Lindborg said. “It matters to us. There are economic and security repercussions if you have unchecked economic crises in the world.”

Consider Syria, for example. The civil war there has created an economic and humanitarian catastrophe as 2.6 million Syrian refugees have overwhelmed neighboring countries. Refugee camps are prime recruiting grounds for extremists. The resentment could eventually wash back to America’s shores in the form of terrorism fueled by massive and sustained poverty for all but the ruling class.

Former Ambassador Jerry Feierstein, a deputy assistant secretary of state for Near-Eastern affairs, says there is growing concern that radicalized American Muslims are, like extremists in other countries, flowing into Syria to receive training. The concern, Mr. Feierstein said, is that those fighters will become “hardened” and then be unleashed on the world in a further “global jihad.”

Maybe if foreign food and development assistance were in the national security budget, Americans would understand it better.

It’s not just compassion, but enlightened self-interest.

Whether in Syria or Sudan, much of the unrest, like the Arab Spring that now seems so distant in the rear-view mirror, is fueled by economic concerns, rooted in massive income inequality that is fomenting anger all across the world.

“The underlying causes of many of these political crises in the Middle East over the past three years have been motivated by economic issues,” Mr. Feierstein said, echoing his State Department colleague from USAID. “We need to find ways of promoting economic growth in these societies.”

The increasingly global economy makes it possible for the United States to use economic sanctions to try to affect Russia’s growing aggression in Ukraine, though that hasn’t yet shown significant success. But it also makes crises in Africa or Asia or Latin America more likely to have a direct effect on both economic and security concerns here.

The crisis in South Sudan has displaced more than 1 million people, with no end in sight to the violence and growing hunger needs. U.S. aid to the region is $411 million and counting.

Sadly, our nation seems more interested in tracking the daily effort to find a missing Malaysian airliner than in recognizing that political and climate disasters are creating a huge new class of poor, huddled masses yearning for help from the only country still big and strong enough to provide a blanket of hope.

“It is a precious thing that we have to offer the rest of the world,” Ms. Lindborg said, “And we need to safeguard it always.”

(http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/the-platform/editorial-why-poverty-across-the-world-matters-to-americans/article_fcdef6dc-7877-5c58-83d2-bcde9102ab25.html)


AOJ and AOJ Foundation are on the move

Association management services transfer to Vanderbilt on May 1 with thanks to Pa-News

Published Monday, April 28, 2014 3:30 pm by Miriam Pepper, Lois Kazakoff

We’re moving. To Nashville. With an address in the First Amendment Center. And we’re saving money in the process.

Here’s the background: Since our annual meeting in October, a search committee has worked to solicit bids for our management work, review said bids, interview the bidders and converse about our best, most affordable option.

The result: Vanderbilt Student Communications Inc., led by Chris Carroll, will assume management duties for AOJ and AOJ Foundation on May 1. Chris’ organization also manages the 1,000-member strong College Media Advisers, and has experience handling regional and national meetings. We think the link to college journalists may help us tap into younger writers, too.

We are saving a bundle on this single contract for both organizations. We’re also gaining an experienced manager, and our point person is Paige Clancy, a trained journalist.  

As we announce this, we send our thanks and great appreciation toPennsylvania Newspaper Association for years of work on our behalf, most recently by Lisa Strohl, a terrific and conscientious administrator.  She and Melinda Condon and others have been great guardians of our business.

What we’ve learned: There are fine journalism organizations interested in our business. Eventually, we may have willing partners in our future. For now, we felt it best to continue to remain an independent entity, rather than become a subset of another organization. It may not always be so. We still have much to do to rebuild our organization, which has lost membership, even with our amazingly low rate of $75. Hint: Spread the word to others in your state to consider a membership.  

We have much to offer members. A 24/7 discussion list for sharing support, advice and tips. An annual State Department briefing, with a travel stipend to cut the cost of attendance. Sponsorship of the Minority Writers Seminar at the First Amendment Center for 12 aspiring journalists every year, taught by an incredibly talented veteran volunteer crew. And the annual AOJ conference, coming Sept. 21-23 in Mobile, Alabama. As promised, this year’s conference is all about the craft of editorial writing, with tips that will travel home with you to put to good use on your pages and on all your mobile platforms.

No one knows better the challenges of opinion work today than other opinion writers. Let’s keep each other close, share tips, raise hard issues together, and make a difference for our readers everywhere.

We need to hear from you, too. The membership committee, led by Jay Jochnowitz, needs your help in contacting new members. We changed our name to better attract more members, in print, broadcast and online. You are the best ambassador. Let the word out. Lots of editors don’t know we exist, or that we can help. Share the website freely, opinionjournalists.org.

Masthead online is available to all. Remember, if you shop via Amazon, head there from our website link* and AOJ will get a little financial rebate. Every bit helps. We’re also revisiting our fundraising strategies. We need help on that front, too. Know a foundation in your area that supports issues of an informed electorate, transparent democracy or topics like education that all our pages cover? Let us know and we’ll be happy to send the letter of inquiry. [*Amazon link may be suspended fall 2014.]

Time for new ideas: Now that our management contract is solved, we’re open to pursue new ideas. Would it help you for AOJ to establish small monthly telephone groups of editors who can discuss issues offline/privately about running your shop? We’ve discussed, but not launched this idea. If interested, please email us (links below). We’ll get them running before September.

Interested in foreign travel with other editorial page editors? Let us know and we can try to solicit funding specifically to help plan affordable foreign forays.

Most important, we need to talk in Mobile. Make time on your schedules. The meeting dates are Sunday-Tuesday, specifically to help writers with page responsibilities that get larger later in the workweek.

There will be workshops on writing from the heart, on easy ways to manage social media and everything else you do, on websites that work, on video editorials and more. Be there.


Jobs DO exist!
Published Thursday, May 1, 2014 1:15 pm by J.McClelland

One benefit of AOJ membership is access to job-opening announcements specific to professional opinion journalism on plural platforms. Often they turn up instantly on the members' online discussion list. They can be posted in a members-onlyJob Bank service on our website. While the site management is in transition, we might put short versions here.


Book has pre-convention peek at South

'Liberating Dixie: An Editor's Life, from Ole Miss to Obama' by Ed Williams

Published Thursday, May 8, 2014 4:30 pm by John McClelland

A full career of observations of Southern culture, politics and journalism distilled into a single new book is the pre-convention offering of AOJ member Ed Williams.

The convention, Sept. 21 to 23 in Mobile, Alabama, promises a strong focus on the field of professional opinion writing, with a big dollop of Southern flavor.

Here are some excerpts distilled from the publisher's promotional materials, a University of North Carolina website and other sources:

This collection of commentary and reportage provides an exhilarating tour through a half-century of American life as seen by Ed Williams, who for 25 years was editor of The Charlotte Observer’s editorial pages.

The characters range from Jesse Helms to Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker to Walker Percy, with appearances by William Faulkner’s watch-cow, Bill Clinton and a dirty book man.

As a history major and editor of the student daily at the University of Mississippi, Williams was inspired by the work of W. J. Cash (The Mind of the South) and other Southern iconoclasts. He began his newspaper career in 1967 at the Greenville Delta-Democrat Times in Mississippi, founded a state capital bureau for four dailies and co-edited Mississippi Freelance, an iconoclastic monthly. He spent a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and worked briefly for the Ford Foundation before joining The Observer as an opinion writer in 1973.

He contributed columns and editorials to two Observer projects that won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, 1981 and 1988.

In 2008, he was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame.

"Liberating Dixie," said William Ferris, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is “a wonderful blend of courage and humor.”

Hodding Carter, the award-winning journalist and former Knight Foundation CEO who is now a University of North Carolina professor, said Williams “never backed away from a fight or beat his chest as he entered one.” Carter has been quoted as saying Williams "values community, [and] believes in dialogue more than loud debate."

Williams retired in 2008. He has lectured on innovation and ethics at the American Press Institute and served as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


AOJ water-war briefings seem prescient

May 2014 news reinforces content of presentations at previous events

Published Wednesday, May 14, 2014 by John McClelland

Some members of the Association of Opinion Journalists noted that a lot of the content of some previous AOJ gatherings was presentations on public issues.

They asked for more of the traditional NCEW-AOJ craft-related sessions (like this), and the organizers of the September 2014 symposium (formerly conference or convention, now refocused on professional education) have promised to deliver that while still offering a goodly amount of local color and public-issues content.

Even a dinosaur perusing print dailies over breakfast could see inrecent news how forward-looking some of those prior sessions were.

Regardless of what one thinks about human activity as a cause of climate change, or what to do about it, there's cause for concern in a new report that changed its authors' previous emphasis:

Climate-change, global warming and water woes do not just exacerbate security conflicts, they are causinthem and the U.S. must be ready.

Other recent news items mentioned another new study that shows a huge melt-down in Antarctic ice that could further increase rises in sea levels enough to swamp low coasts world-wide.

References:


Another editor stops online comment

National Journal explains; Poynter and Washington Post describe the trend

Published Saturday, May 17, 2014 by John McClelland

Online trolls take tolls. Again.

National Journal has added itself to the list of non-comment sites. Its position, and the situation described in a Poynter Institute post and a Washington Post article, are correct about the nature of the problem of needlessly vile or irrelevant comment generally and how it wastes staff effort and alienates, often more than free commenting encourages, thoughtful readers.

It is doubly sad that potentially useful reader comment is lost, because sometimes (often) others do know more than the journalists do or have something to say that furthers the discussion. However...

A private organization restoring order on its own website is not censorship. Now, if Big Brother or Uncle Sam (or such ilk as China or the EU) cuts you off, that is.

Since before the Internet went public with browsers, I have seen ranters and flamers and name-callers and s--t** speakers destroy others' online services, such as the original J-Forum.

The tumultuous balance of dialog and civil relevance has been a topic of concern for several years in the National Conference of Editorial Writers, now since 2012 Association of Opinion Journalists. The continuing consistently constructive nature of the NCEW-AOJ members' discussion list is such a notable exception that it is one of my main reasons for devoting a lot of retirement time to this volunteer gig. The topic kept coming up at previous NCEW and AOJ annual conventions and is almost certain to recur at this year's informative gathering.

Full anonymity unduly empowers the unstable or hateful or lonely or merely ill-informed, and (partial) identification with social media is a remedy all too easily circumvented. Alas, for organizations that lack the resources of the Washington Post or the New York Times (14 people screen comments in NY, the WP said***), the answer all too often is to turn off the feedback fireplug. How many digital snipers have the guts and courtesy to include links that can lead thoughtful responders to them?

This short article is an update to the package we have been building for 30 months in The Masthead. 

 

 ** Oh, you thought I dashed-off a dirty word needlessly? Gotta have a dirty mind to be a journalist, eh? Sorry, the word is merely ugly; s--t stands for "snot" as in "snot-pooper," the first turd-term thrown up by some nicknamed nut seconds after I commented on the WP site.


Do editors print Facebook posts?

AOJ discussion group leans toward some editing and labeling if used

Published Friday, June 6, 2014 2:00 pm by Bill McGoun

This kind of discussion has always been a benefit of the annual NCEW and AOJ conventions and is sure to continue at the AOJ symposium Sept. 21-23 in Mobile. 

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor of the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Indiana, recently asked readers of the AOJ members' discussion list,  “Do any of you use comments left on your newspaper's Facebook page in the printed edition and, if so, do you edit them?”

Almost all of those who responded use the comments on their editorial pages, though some seemed lukewarm to the idea. All insisted that the postings be edited.

The one exception was the Times Union of Albany, N.Y. “We don't use Facebook comments in the opinion section, but the paper uses them in lighter features, and I think it does clean things up to a point,” said Jay Jochnowitz, editorial page editor. “…Unless you're trying to make a point about bad grammar on social media, I'd say it's fair to give people the benefit of the doubt, perhaps putting up a note that comments were edited for grammatical errors.”

Other responses were largely of a theme. “We rarely print Facebook comments -- sadly, most are of inferior quality, to put it mildly -- but when we do, we clean them up,” said Steve Metrazzo, editor of the Dundalk (Md.) Eagle. “Those communicating with us are not professional writers and do not have access to professional editing.”

“We use very little from Facebook but when we do we do edit it somewhat,” said John Hackworth of Sun Newspapers (Fla.). “There is an argument that if people aren't smart to let them look like they're not smart, but we prefer to clean things up a little. I can certainly see both sides of the debate.”

“At the Arizona Daily Star we publish some Facebook comments with our letters -- they're marked as being from Facebook -- and will clean them up with a very light hand for spelling and punctuation, as we do with letters,” said Sarah Garrecht Gassen of the Daily Star and the University of Arizona. “I don't think readers make as huge a distinction between letters and Facebook and would wonder why we weren't doing our jobs and letting typos get into the paper.”

“We do run comments from social media but we hold them to the same standard as our letters to the editor. Which means, we verify the authors’ identities and use their real names,” said Kate Riley, associate editorial page editor of the Seattle Times. “We don’t put in an acronym without explaining it on first reference. The point is, that readers know that on Seattle Times Opinion’s platform, the content is authentic, credible and, ahem, well edited.”

“We sometimes use them and clean them up a bit, as well. We also group and label them as from Facebook,” said Rosemary Goudreau, editorial page editor of the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “We don’t verify. Similarly with Twitter, when big events happen, we sometimes run a bunch of tweets collected under a hashtag. Some people’s handles don’t make sense, but there’s an immediacy and punch to their comments which, if properly labeled, make the page interesting.”

The responses didn’t help Francisco, who at the time she asked was “currently losing this argument to editors who believe the posts should be printed as posted.” In a follow-up e-mail, she said, “Over my strenuous objections, we're running comments as posted.”

A lot of her colleagues disagree with her editors.

Bill McGoun is a retired editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. He does free-lance writing, including work as a contributing editor for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. He is the author of seven books and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Florida.


Speakin' Southern, y'all

AOJ Symposium Sept. 21-23 offers culture with professional ideas

Published Tuesday, July 22, 2014 by ed. J.McClelland

The AOJ gathering in Mobile, Ala., Sept. 21-23 for the 2014 symposium offers enjoyable bits of Southern culture and lots of sharing of journalism ideas.

Host Bob Davis says, "We've got a great program on tap."

He invites AOJ members to share bright ideas for a show-and-tell. Send them along with web links, videos, images of pages and source material to bdavis@annistonstar.com.

ESPN's brief primer on how some Alabamians speak, especially around football season, has had 1.7 million clicks on YouTube. (Caution: Other sports fans prefer "War Eagle" to "Roll Tide" so be careful.) http://tinyurl.com/aoj-roll-tide

It's LA (east), not la-la-land

Davis also told participants in the AOJ members-only discussion list: "Please plan to join us in LA. (That's Lower Alabama for the uninitiated).

"We'll be discussing the South, both new and old. We'll be learning how to make digital upgrades to our work. And we'll be enjoying beautiful views along the Mobile Bay. Oh, and the white sandy beaches of Gulf Shores, Ala., are only 90 minutes away.

"So as we say in the South, 'Come, y'all.'"*

The show-and-tell sharing is already under way, but Davis said there is room and a need for members "to share big ideas, bold experiments, cautionary tales, noble efforts and anything else that will help us do our jobs better:

  • "Do you videotape candidate interviews?
  • "Live-blog board meetings?
  • "Put editorials on Page 1?
  • "Work with alternate story-forms beyond the usual 750-word column?"
  • [Something we haven't even imagined?]
  • Can't come? Send anyway

Even if you can't make it to Mobile, he wants the ideas, links and samples, and he says the resulting slideshow will make its way to the website for everyone to see.

The 2014 AOJ Symposium will begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 21, and conclude with a banquet dinner on Sept. 23.

A block of rooms at discount group rate is reserved at The Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa by Marriott. A link to the AOJ-specific registration is part of the online registration package.

Editor's note: Take it from a former Yankee transplant to another part of Dixie; do not display your ignorance needlessly by sharply or lingeringly enunciating "yooo-all" nor using "y'all" in the singular. It ain't. It most correctly is plural. Links to other recent articles are in the left column at http://aoj.wildapricot.org. See ya there?  


Give something to the Foundation

Annual 'Celebration' supports education and service projects

Published Friday, July 18, 2014 by Bonnie Williams

Journalism has changed much in the last few years. The National Conference of Editorial Writers changed its name to the Association of Opinion Journalists to prepare us for what is likely even more change to come.

But our craft’s principles and those of our organization remain true: Good journalism is both our objective and our promise.

Your AOJ Foundation has met some of the same challenges. Its leadership and board of directors have determined that directing some of our resources to supporting AOJ’s upcoming symposium in Mobile will directly support our commitment to journalism education.

One thing has most assuredly not changed: We still encourage … or, some might say, cajole, nag and endlessly hound … our members to contribute to the Foundation through support of the annual Celebration.

The premise is simple: Either bring or send a gift to Mobile that will be won by some of those astute folks who make contributions to the Foundation and whose names are drawn at events throughout the symposium, Sunday afternoon Sept. 21 through Tuesday evening Sept. 23.

Extra-special items will be auctioned in Mobile by David Holwerk, who is the past president of the Foundation and is an expert at the aforementioned jolly cajoling, nagging and hounding for donations.

By supporting the Foundation through actual or monetary gifts, you will also ensure the success of our other projects. These include the Minority Writers Seminar in Nashville and the annual State Department briefing in Washington, D.C., in addition to those general operations of AOJ that relate to professional development and education.

What to contribute for the drawing? Your choices are limited only by your imagination.

I’ve always enjoyed the examples of goodies from the various states from which our members hail.

Other members who are fortunate enough to have famous or about-to-be-famous authors in their midst bring a selection of signed books. One year the town in which my former newspaper was located was the filming site for the movie “Radio,” starring Cuba Gooding and Ed Harris. Our paper did several special inserts, which I delivered, along with a DVD signed by the real-life residents portrayed by Gooding and Harris.

Members have brought signed footballs and other sports memorabilia, and original art from their editorial cartoonists. Anything connected to journalism or your state is perfect. Feel free to email me at bwanddw@gmail.com if you have an idea you want to discuss.

If you are flying to Mobile and want to avoid excess bag fees or lugging more stuff, or if you cannot attend but want to send a gift, you can ship cheaply in advance to the hotel.*

Ticket purchases (or documented purchases of donated items) are tax-deductible and we will happily supply a receipt for same.

Questions? Email me.

When you decide what Celebration gift you'll be bringing or shipping, email me the description and estimated value with a copy to Paige Clancy, AOJ manager, at opinionjournalists@gmail.com.

Support your Foundation so we can support the advancement and excellence of what we love.

Bonnie Calhoun Williams is the retired editorial page editor of the Independent Mail of Anderson, S.C., and the AOJ Foundation Trustee leading this year's Celebration.


AOJ joins J-groups against info barriers

38 organizations urge Obama to curtail excessive federal controls

Published Tuesday, July 8, 2014 by J.McClelland

Asking President Obama to reverse a trend of increasing bureaucratic barriers to accessing public information, 38 journalism organizations have filed a protest letter with the White House.

The AOJ Board of Directors, polled by email beginning June 27, endorsed signing on to the draft letter. AOJ's president, Miriam Pepper, signed on. The finished version was sent to the White House by the organizers, leaders at the Society of Profesional Journalists, on July 8.

The letter's first paragraph begins: "You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government. You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies."

The letter refers to Obama's pledge to enhance governmental transparency, and asserts that the opposite has been happening, especially in federal agencies, for a decade and by implication continuing during his administration.

The letter says, in part:

  • federal employees are increasingly prohibited from speaking to reporters;
  • spokesmen too often refuse to speak on the record;
  • public affairs officers create inordinate delays or refuse to respond to inquirites; and
  • officials exclude – blackball – journalists who have angered them.

The result is that information the public needs and is entitled to cannot be obtained, according to the authors and supporters of the letter.

It asks Obama to "issue a clear directive telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so."

In a statement announcing dispatch of the letter, SPJ's president, David Cuillier, says: "The practices have become more and more pervasive throughout America, preventing information from getting to the public in an accurate and timely matter. The president pledged to be the most transparent in history. He can start by ending these practices now."

The text of the letter is at http://www.spj.org/news.asp?ref=1253

A copy of the news release is online here http://www.spj.org/news.asp?ref=1254

 


Some artsy things seen in Mobile pre-symposium

Strolling around the hotel, anticipating ...

Published Monday, June 30, 2014 by Photos B.Davis; ed J.McClelland

When AOJ (or almost any other professional group) gathers in a city unfamiliar to many of the members, it is not all education-work-learning-work. Some time to see the sights is in order.

Bob Davis, recent past president of AOJ and host of this year's gathering, took a late June walking tour right in the vicinity of the hotel. Here are links to two Tumblr shows of some of the scenes he saw.

Tour part1

Tour part2

Some of the photos also are redisplayed below, cropped and resized.

(index top)


Looking ahead to September

AOJ Symposium offers look at New South, tips of the trade

Published Wednesday, June 11, 2014, by Bob Davis

The New South, with its international business and expanding tourism.

The Old South, with its manners and brave pioneers who forged a cultural revolution.

The ever-evolving digital revolution, with its transformative tools and arsenal of apps.

The building and sustaining of democracy through the sharing of ideas and opinions.

Join us to discuss these topics in September when the Association of Opinion Journalists meets in Mobile, Ala., for its annual symposium.

From Sept. 21-23, 2014, AOJ members will visit Mobile, exploring the expanding international presence and the Southern charm of this port city.

Symposium attendees will sharpen the tools in their digital toolbox, learning techniques to put their smartphones, websites and social media accounts to better use.

Among our speakers will be

  • Pulitzer Prize-winner Rick Bragg, professor at the University of Alabama;
  • David Mathews, president and CEO of the Kettering Foundation;
  • H. Brandt Ayers, longtime Southern newspaper publisher and author of “In Love With Defeat: The Making of a Southern Liberal;”
  • Kim Cross, author of the forthcoming book "What Stands in a Storm: An Epic True Tale of Life and Death in the South’s Tornado Alley;”
  • and more.

Please save the dates and look into your travel and lodging options for this important gathering in September.

Bob Davis is our host, recent past president of AOJ, and associate publisher-editor of the Annison (Ala.) Star.

Twitter: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis


Using social media well

A nationally known expert will coach AOJ members and Symposium guests on how better to engage audiences with social media tools.

Ellyn Angelotti Kamke is director of custom programs on the faculty for social media and the law at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

At the Monday morning, Sept. 22, session of the AOJ Symposium 2014, she will talk on new ways to use social media to engage audiences. AOJ Foundation president Lois Kazakoff recently wrote about the plan, "This … is really nuts and bolts information."

AOJ asked Kamke to present ways to help members make their website the place to have the public conversation in their community, and how to use parts of those conversations to draw readers into the next conversation.

Kamke wrote: "Social media provides new ways for us to engage our audiences with the important issues they face. With so many tools available to us, how do we effectively harness the opportunities that sites like Twitter and Facebook offer us?

"In this session, we will explore strategies that help us share news and commentary while drawing people into our online conversations. "

Twitter: @ellynkamke


Referendum passes 97%


The first half of the AOJ membership meeting Sept. 23
focused entirely on the process of seeking a management service and a long-term partner in another organization.

AOJ President Miriam Pepper briefed the membership on the years of history of the previous "merger" discussions and the changes of management this year.

To reduce expenses, the amount of service purchased from Pennsylvania News Association had been reduced in previous years and ended this year. The contract was changed to Vanderbilt Student Communications. Vandy promptly realized that it could not meet AOJ's needs with the hours available under the contract.

Foundation President Lois Kazakoff outlined the finances. Prudent spending of 5 percent or less of reserves would yield about $10,000 for AOJ, too little, and about $21,000 for the Foundation's dedicated Minority Writers Seminar, which costs about $25,000.

Pepper said: "We are a very desirable organization, with good members who are leaders in their communities, and despite the financial problems we have about $700,000."

We are being courted, and it is a very good position to be in, Pepper said.

Then she opened the floor for a free-wheeling discussion, after an apparently reluctant but willing vote to go off the record as a temporary exception to NCEW tradition.

The business meeting would resume at 4 p.m. with a report on the Minority Writers Seminar and other business, including more of the existential "what next?" and "what if...".


Task force seeking ideas on future

(from a Haynes email to the discussion list 9/23/14 11:59 JM)

To investigate potential AOJ partners to provide management, programming and investment and fundraising services, the combined boards have appointed a task force to scan potential affiliates and present the findings in a report.
The task force has already compiled a list of questions and a list of specifics of what AOJ is looking for from a partner.
The task force welcomes questions, comments, ideas.
Please contact task force members:
  • David Haynes
    • dhaynes@jrn.com
  • Paula Lynn Ellis
    • paulalynnellis@gmail.com
  • Kate Riley
    • Kriley@seattletimes.com


Election deferred, boards get go-ahead for closure, programs

(9/23/14 18:30 JM)

The afternoon part of the AOJ business meeting spent much of its time on a presentation by Rick Horowitz on the AOJ Foundation's Minority Writers Seminar, "our gem" that will continue however consolidation shakes out.

The members present on voice votes agreed: 

to allow the present AOJ officers to continue, avoiding the need to elect people to step in cold-turkey for the weeks or months needed to fold AOJ as a Pennsylvania nonprofit and put its assets into the Foundation. 

to authorize the board and its successor in the to-be-reorganized Foundation to negotiate management services and a site for the 2015 Symposium (last year's meeting had approved Nashville as the site).

More on all of this in the coming days....


Celebration clears goal; everyone gets something

(9/23-24/14 JM updated typos 10/15/14, moved 11/04/14)

Foundation donations at Symposium 2014 exceeded the goal of about $3,500 and hit the new goal of $4,000. Celebration guru David Holwerk implied that the per-capita giving level was probably a record. He had told the afternoon business meeting that the amount received already was half that of the peak prior convention, which had about five times the attendance. One more round of contributions during the final dinner session cleared the new goal.

An anonymous donor made it possible to ensure that every person who bought a Celebration ticket would receive a prize, not just those in attendance at the Mobile AOJ Symposium 2014. The prize given out to those in Mobile, and eventually mailed to other participants, is the paperback book The Ecology of Democracy/ Finding Ways to Have a Stronger Hand in Shaping Our Future, (2014, Kettering Foundation Press) by David Mathews, a key speaker at the conference. (Story and visuals are on the conference Coverage page)

Holwerk and this year's advance organizer Bonnie Williams had said of the new online donation capability: "That means we can all participate in a meaningful (and tax-deductible) contribution to support the work of the AOJ Foundation online! ... Sincere thanks to our AD, whose identity remains a secret...for now."


Analytics of a website is a fine tool, but just part of decision-making

(9/21/14 21:25 J. McClelland)

Years ago, it became obvious that serious opinion journalists "cannot just expound from the mountaintop; we have to focus on the target audience," said Kate Riley. 

Analytics, the use of specialized software to track and represent viewer activity on a website, is one good tool for learning where to focus, or not, she said. Shortly after becoming editorial page editor of the Seattle Times, she began putting a brief discussion of the data at the top of the daily pitch meeting, but never more than five minutes.

"Analytics should never get in the way of the journalism," she said during her illustrated talk, with Q&A, during the opening session of the AOJ Symposium 2014, Sept. 21 in Mobile, Ala.

She said traffic to a newspaper website is up before and around the start of the workday, and tends to peak around noon. So it is good to use Twitter or Facebook to promote stories from about 6 to 9 a.m. and especially around 11:30 so people can read the pages around lunch time.

Analytics also allows a staff to see what things work well with search engines and what don't. Good print headlines may languish online, where people are often using search engines instead of reading or grazing headlines. An article needs a "hook" to bring readers to it.

One example she gave was strikingly clear-cut. A road story got mediocre readership when the headline included "Interstate 90," but vastly more attention when it had "I-90." In the U.S., Riley said, people know what the shorter form means and seem to seek it. 

Would people using the longer form miss the story entirely? Probably not, she said, because the short summary paragraph with the headline, the one that also shows up to the search engine, also uses the longer form.

"This is an inexact science," Riley said, "It's just some more good information."


Twitterized forum helped keep candidates from endless dodging

(9/22/14 08:49 J.McCllelland)

(Video: http://youtu.be/By_hjxIOaoY)

"They don't have a lot of time to go 'blah, blah, blah' instead of answering the question," Tonya Love said about candidates in a Twitter forum.

Love is a non-journalist who organized the tweety forums among the 15 candidates for mayor of her city, Oakland, Calif. She spoke to the AOJ Symposium 2014 via a Skype connection.

One of the key concepts she described was that "questions and input came from the public, not from a panel of people who already know things."

Answering a question in 140 characters – minus the ones for the hashtag – doesn't leave room for repeating a stump speech. During the exchanges with numerous ordinary citizens, it was obvious which candidates were prepared and which were blowing off the forum and its citizen participants.

Not all participants already knew social media, so she coached them. She had to send five messages to some of them for skills training. She gave all the candidates 10 questions for advance preparation and urged them to write out their answers to be ready to cut and paste. Some did it and it showed, but one took two hours to answer 10 questions. Response to live questions varied widely, but spontaneity was apparent she said.

After the time block for the forum ended, someone harassed one of the candidates, who complained to Love. She sympathized – up to a point – but told him, "You're a public figure. This could have happened without the forum." The resulting publicity got him some new vocal support from a local leader of the football-fan "Raider Nation."


Weather guy and author decry fatal-storm cliché

(9/22/14 09:58 J.McClelland)

"They struck without warning," is one of the most frequently mis-used phrases in media reporting after damaging or deadly storms, two experts told the AOJ Symposium 2014.

Today, there almost always is warning, especially for big tornadoes, they said. The national average for an imminent tornado hit is about 13 minutes. For the deadliest of the 62 twisters that ravaged Alabama in one 2011 day, the first advisories were seven days in advance and the specific warning for Tuscaloosa was 24 minutes.

The speakers were Kim Cross, editor at Southern Living and author of the forthcoming book “What Stands in a Storm,” and Jim Stefkovich, the meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service’s office in Birmingham.

"Put a human face on the tragedy," was Cross' advice for follow-up coverage or opinionizing that will engage readers or viewers. 

She illustrated with examples from how she reported on the lives, deaths and surviving families of some of the young people killed that day. The magazine's four-month lead time influenced the focus of the work, which in turn helped with the additional research that went into her book. 

She found three common elements among survivors: faith, food, and the fellowship of spontaneous volunteer help.

Stefkovich said people need to be warned repeatedly and by varied means.

For example, if a storm is near a town where you have family, it could have knocked out the power for TV, so call them, he said. People who get over-alerted tend to ignore one more alert, and yet the meteorologist with unconfirmed radar data faces a dilemma: issue a warning that might turn out to be a false alarm, or don't warn and hope there's no un-warned disaster.

Warnings come from the Weather Service via sirens operated by local political entities, via weather radio (a good set is about $40), and now by specialized, precisely location-aware, apps for mobile devices.

So, what's the take-away for opinion writers, editors and producers? 

Use human-interest reporting methods, Cross said. 

Stefkovich urged media decision makers to help people understand the need to respond to alarms, pay attention to the hodgepodge of public agencies that use various methods to decide when to set off the sirens.

The NWS site is http://weather.gov


Anyone can web publish, but... you professionals can do it better

(9/22/14 11:44 J.McClelland)

One of the two liveliest responses to Ellyn Kamke's presentation led to her putting the quote back up on the screen: "Anyone can create a blog, but you can do it better... especially if you have the right tools."

The other was intense laughter when she said, about vendors of new and highly useful forms of subscription software: "They let you use the free version to do almost everything – everything except that one thing you want to do."

The Poynter Institute guru was deep into an hour of demonstrating several ways to enhance journalists' interaction with the growing digital audience. She told the AOJ conference: "It is about telling stories in the best way for that story and that audience."

She gave an example from early in her career in community-oriented newspapering. Paraphrasing: With only a couple of sports reporters, the 10 high school football teams and their fans and families, thousands of readers, were being underserved. We arranged for other reporters to be at all the games and to call in every time a team scored, and put those short items up [on the web].

"Sports has built-in breaking news potential," she said, "because you know when the games will be."

But regardless of the context or tools, "It still comes down to good journalism," she asserted. "We have new tools to do things in new ways, but it is still journalism first."

She restated the notion that it matters just not where people engage, but when – promptly! Tweets are ephemeral.

The workload has changed, she said: "Once we publish, work is just beginning. It is the first step in the engagement process rather than just the last step in the publishing process."

She had one easy tip for anyone who will do any post-publishing promotion: Make a side text file of points you want to promote, which become pre-written tweets or other social-media messages.


Ferguson video rose from anger and moved later audience, too

(9/22/14 14:15 Bill McGoun)

(Video: http://youtu.be/MEMd4jhKCi0)

Anyone who wasn’t moved by Tony Messenger’s video on the disturbances in Ferguson, Mo., is beyond being moved by anything.

Messenger, editorial page editor of the St. Lois Post-Dispatch, shared the video with members of the Association of Opinion Journalists convened in Mobile, Ala. He also described how his newspaper, in conjunction of Guardian US, used social media to encourage people to report incidents of racial profiling.

But it was the video that stole the show. Images of police in military gear confronting unarmed civilians filled the screen as Messenger voiced his outrage. “This is not St. Louis,” he said. “This is not the United States of America. We are not a police state.”

Several nights of disturbances had followed the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man, by a white police officer in Ferguson, a predominantly African-American suburb of St. Louis. The police response stirred Messenger’s outrage to the point that he decided to speak up in a video.

While it took him some time to collect the images, it took him only a couple of minutes to record the narration. He did not write it down first, and recorded it in one take with no editing. In spots the result seemed rough, but Messenger felt that in fact added to the angry power of the video.

Reaction was “pretty positive,” Messenger said. Hesaid the video had a high level of engagement, which is more than just being viewed a lot of times. “It was using the right digital tool to tell the story,” he said. “This really was digital first.” His point was that this was a case where it was better to go straight to video rather that write a print editorial and then put it online.

Another thing that angered Messenger was the tardiness of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in getting involved. Again Messenger went online. “Engage dammit,” Messenger said in a Twitter posting. Nixon did come to town the next day, though Messenger was quick to say he didn’t think his posting alone was responsible. He noted the governor, who does pay attention to editorials, was under pressure from other quarters.

The solicitation of racial-profiling stories produced some that could not be used because the facts were in dispute – the Post-Dispatch checked out the stories with the relevant police agency – and some that were withheld because of ongoing issues. The ones that made it through, under the headline “I could have been Michael Brown,” were chilling.

“One time, an officer said I was suspicious because I was running in track pants. I was wearing dress slacks,” one man said. Another said, “What’s infuriating about it is having another man treat you as a criminal based on nothing more than your appearance.”

“I had not been speeding, I obeyed all traffic signals, and I hadn’t even changed lanes,” a woman said. “A state trooper pulled us over into a restaurant parking lot. She asked me to step out of the car, then proceeded to handcuff me and told me to sit in the front of her squad car. She provided no answer when I asked why I was being pulled over.”

Messenger had some tips for making opinion videos: 

First, keep it short. 

Second, have plenty of photos, a minimum of ten. 

The first time is the hardest, he said: "After that, it’s a piece of cake."

“It was an emotional catharsis,” Messenger said of the Ferguson video.

It surely was.

Bill McGoun is a retired editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. He does free-lance writing, including work as a contributing editor for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. He is the author of seven books and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Florida.


Video production on the fly is a relative snap now, guru (31) says

(9/22/14 15:08 J.McClelland)

(Video: shooting tips 56 secs)

The concept of "viral video" has become ingrained in our culture in just the past 10 years, and now more than half the traffic on mobile devices is video. So do vids quickly, said Alan Haburchak.

He said that at age 31 he can recall going to a library, but younger people cannot, so the media future is increasingly digital.

When he started editing digital video, it took a huge powerful computer and several hours. Now it can be shot, edited and web-posted on a phablet or smartphone in three minutes, he said – and demonstrated by making a video selfie of himself and the AOJ audience. (video 12 secs)

"The Internet is the land of no attention span," he said in stating one of the key features of good digital video: shorter is better. One minute, two, maybe even three. He cited research data showing that longer videos start losing viewers early, and half or more have clicked away by the halfway point.

Studies also found that few people will watch a five-minute video, especially if these know in advance how long it is. But they will watch five one-minute videos.

So he advised:

  • If you have a lot to say, present it in a set of short videos.
  • Don't bury the lede or the nut graf; put them in the first 30 seconds.
  • Statistics don't work in video.
  • Colleagues on camera will hate how they look and sound.
  • Edit while you are shooting; trim clips down to the essence.
  • Get "B-roll" scenes of the things you are talking about so you can avoid long stretches of talking heads.
  • Put real people, not spokeses, on camera.

One of the culture-related technological strengths of digital video is that it can be shared and a lot of it is – and one goal is to get so much attention that the spread of the video is like a virus on a bus in a blizzard.

He represents, but does not do actual sales pitches for, his company, http://videolicious.com

 


Celebration continues daily

(9/22/14 16:02 JM)

David Holwerk mans the basket for the AOJ Foundation fund-raising events at Symposium 2014. The deductible donation process includes the ability to use online links, and can allow every donor to get a token gift, whether at the conference or afar. (J.R. Labbe photo)


Redneck Riviera, a changing slice of the Alabama-Florida Gulf Coast

By Bill McGoun

AOJ Symposium-goers got a respite from the cares of the world Monday with a spoken tour of a land once known for its “glorious lack of sophistication”. Their guide was Harvey Jackson, a college professor who dresses like Jimmy Buffett.

Various people define the Redneck Riviera differently. To Jackson, it stretches in space from Panama City, Florida, westward to Mobile, site of the symposium. In time, it stretches from the arrival of working-class folks in the wake of World War II to the arrival of richer people decades later.

“They had lived through the Depression. They had lived through the war. They were ready to have a good time,” Harvey said of the early arrivers. To many of them, the concept of a vacation was novel.

“One of the main contributing factors to the decline of the Redneck Riviera was the arrival of Atlanta,” he added.

One sign of gentrification was the arrival of high-rises. Another was the construction of Seaside, a New Urbanism community near Jackson’s home in Walton County, Florida. “It is cute. It is sweet. It ain’t Redneck,” he said. “We call it pastel hell.”

Still another was the BP oil spill of 2010. “The beaches are clean,” he said of the spill’s aftermath. “We haven’t really determined the impact on the marshes.” He told of the anti-BP rally where “in the back was an SUV with the engine running, to keep cool.”

That was only one of his anecdotes about Redneck culture:

A waitress, asked for Chardonnay: “We don’t serve foreign beer.”

Sushi? “We used to call it bait.”

A Redneck’s favorite beer? “Whatever’s on draft, on special.”

“Liquor is illegal in Mississippi but if you sell it you have to pay taxes. If you can understand that, you belong.”

One nude beach was raided occasionally, “which says more about the police than about the beach.”

The term Redneck “is not racial, it’s class. [Whether it is an insult] depends on who says it and in what context.” 

Rednecks tend to feel some [other] people are benefitting from the labor of others through government programs.

Rednecks don’t like either taxes or regulations.

Jackson cited the irony that these anti-government types are in fact heavily dependent on government. The Florida Panhandle is home to a plethora of military bases. Retirees are supported in large part by Social Security.

“We love the government until we have to pay for it,” he said.

And then there’s petroleum, now roundly condemned after the spill. But, he explained, petroleum made it possible for people to reach the Redneck Riviera, furnishing gasoline for automobiles and asphalt to build highways.

One result of gentrification has been the loss of beach, which also represents a loss of an egalitarian resource. “The beach was a leveler,” he said. “There was plenty of beach.” Often whites and African-Americans would be on the same beach, though not together, he said.

Maybe the Redneck Riviera never was all that enchanting. Even if it wasn’t, his talk gave editorialists a welcome hour away from weightier stuff.

Bill McGoun is a retired editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. He does free-lance writing, including work as a contributing editor for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. He is the author of seven books and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Florida.


Most readers have religion, so why does so little journalism notice it?

By Tom Waseleski

With religion a guiding force behind the political views of so many Americans, why are opinion journalists reluctant to engage the topic? That was the question posed by Anthony Cook, a news director for the Alabama Media Group.

Cook, who is a pastor and has written columns on religion, said that polling shows 74 percent of Americans believe in God, "yet we hesitate to write about matters of faith."

Then, "How can we reach people if we ignore what shapes their world view?" he asked the writers and editors at the AOJ conference.

The most divisive domestic political issues of recent decades have been abortion and the marriage of same-sex couples, two topics in which people's opinions are influenced by religion. Even topics such as the indictment of Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson on child-abuse charges, Cook said, has some readers quoting the Bible - "spare the rod, spoil the child*" - in defending corporal punishment.

He said there are five things that opinion journalists should keep in mind when writing about religion and religion-based topics:

  • Know your audience and write for your audience. You want to explore their faith thoughts and concerns. Most of the time readers just want to know their thoughts and views are recognized or reflected by news organizations.
  • Know the subject matter; double-check. People want to see you get the details right, especially if you're writing about something so important to them.
  • Don't be afraid to write about your own beliefs.
  • Be respectful. People aren't stupid or evil because their beliefs are different. Don't insult them.
  • Don't be afraid to engage the readers afterwards* in regard to what you write. The ongoing conversation is important.

Cook added that, when appropriate, invite letters to the editor or op-ed pieces on religion. He said it strengthens a news organization's credibility.

(Video by Chuck Stokes: Cook on an op-ed about faith vs taxes: http://youtu.be/lvucXb8MF_I )

Tom Waseleski edits the opinion pages of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is a former president of NCEW before it became AOJ.

(*Cook took his own advice after his talk and engaged in an extended and vigorous one-to-one debate with one of the questioners after almost everyone else had left the room. -Ed.) (9/22/14 21:02 JM)

("Spare the rod..." is a common paraphrase from about the 17th century of Proverbs 13:24. The King James translation is: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." Numerous variations and interpretations exist, and similar concepts appear several places in the Old Testament. 

(Here is one discussion of it with the presumed author and some references: http://www.religioustolerance.org/spankin8.htm )


AOJ Foundation Board ponders future leadership

(posted 9/21/14 15:55 J.McClelland)



From right: AOJ Foundation President Lois Kazakoff, right, AOJ President Miriam Pepper, Foundation Treasurer Chuck Stokes, David Haynes (blue shirt) and others.

Who will be members – and leaders – of the AOJ Foundation, especially after some terms end in December? How much of the Foundation leadership will be people from the recent AOJ association board? Who? Chosen how and when?

The Foundation's board wrestled with these and other questions on Sunday morning.

One of the pressing questions was how the two organizations might become one, in coming weeks and months. The pending referendum would authorize the association to dissolve and turn its assets and functions over to the Foundation, which has substantially more money, much of which is committed to the Minority Writers Seminar.

Several members said they cannot commit the huge amounts of time needed to guide an organization through a time of great change.

The association-management contract with Vanderbilt Student Communications will end by mid-November, as Vandy director Chris Carroll has invoked the 90-day cancellation clause in the contract.

Two national professional organizations are seeking to be home-base for AOJ and the Foundation. They are the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of News Editors.

Other groups, including Online News Association (http://journalists.org) and National Society of Newspaper Columnists, might be interested. What of organizations specializing in nonprofit association management? At a later joint meeting of the association and foundation boards, there seemed to be consensus that a journalism-oriented organization with management resources would be necessary.

The question of whether and if so with whom to affiliate raised the question of what does our organization want to be, how to serve the needs of AOJ association members and the mission of the Foundation. What do we want to be? Can we begin to decide this week and let the boards proceed confidently?

David Haynes volunteered to lead a study committee, with Paula Ellis and Kate Riley. Haynes would brief the Tuesday business meeting.

The board also discussed how to sustain and modernize the Minority Writers Seminar to better prepare people to do excellent work in a new environment. Ricardo Pimentel will lead, with Joan Armour, Rick Horowitz and others continuing to contribue.


Boards meet jointly to hear pitches from SPJ, ASNE

(posted 9/21/14 15:55 J.McClelland)

An affiliation with either national organization would have mutual benefits, AOJ and AOJ Foundation leaders heard from leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of News Editors.

SPJ was represented in person by Joel Skeel, its executive director, and ASNE by speakerphone conference by Arnie Robbins, its executive director, and Chris Peck, its newly elected president.

Both suitors said they could take on the membership and financial management and work out arrangements for programming, possibly at supplementary sessions associated with, or integrated into, the annual conferences.

The joint boards appointed a task force to be led by David Haynes to explore the pros and cons of affiliating with SPJ or ASNE and possibly the Online News Association, and to report within a month.

Skeel had sent an 11-page proposal; Robbins said if he got a short summary this week he could have people working on it promptly and possibly act in 30 to 45 days.

Participants noted differing balances of potential benefits: SPJ's large staff, broad focus, 7,500 members, and events, ASNE's 500 members, focus closer to that of NCEW-AOJ, and grant-writing.

Both said it would be possible for AOJ to remain a membership organization, whether a client or in SPJ's proposal as a community within SPJ.

And some of us admittedly are totally undecided.


Internet can enable new startups - if sustainable funding is found

By Jay Jochnowitz

The good news is that the Internet that is killing newspapers and traditional journalism jobs also offers the opportunity for journalists to take their skills on line and create new enterprises. The bad news is that it’s by no means easy.

 Inventing that new journalism and making it sustainable is what Leonard Witt thinks about. 

Witt is the founder, executive director and publisher at the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. The center's mission is to foster sustainable, ethical, high quality journalism.

This new journalism on the web requires a different financial model than newspapers were built on, Witt says. Though smaller in scale than a traditional newspaper, it still doesn’t come cheap.

“There are ways of doing journalism on the Internet, but there’s no ways of doing it inexpensively,” Witt said in a talk at the AOJ’s 2014 symposium in Mobile, Alabama. Then again, he noted, journalism “never paid for itself. Advertising paid for journalism.”

So today, with fewer people getting their news from paper and ink - a 2012 Pew survey found only 23 percent of the people said they had read a newspaper the day before – some journalists are striking out with on-line ventures and deriving their funds from sources like foundations and private donors.

For instance, Evan Smith, founder of the Texas Tribune, one of the best known Internet startups, drew his initial funding from foundations and political donors. These were people who, he reasoned, were already interested in participating financially in political and civic discourse. Foundations and other kinds of private grant-making organizations remain a prime source of funding for the roughly 100 serious, small, independent journalism ventures that have started up in recent years.

Raising the money and creating a journalism organization requires a combination of P.T. Barnum-style salesmanship, a determination not to compromise journalistic integrity, and something to offer the donors that’s in line with their mission. Just going after potential donors with hat in hand isn’t enough.

Ventures are most successful, he said, where there is the least competition or the greatest potential.

Witt worked in journalism for more than 25 years, including jobs at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Minnesota Monthly magazine. before entering academia in 2002. He saw a void in civil rights coverage, and founded through the center the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, which focuses in particular on young people in the criminal justice system. The site (jjie.org) gets about 300,000 unique visitors a year. The center also took over a hard-copy publication, Youth Today. The main funding came from a $1.5 million grant from the Harnisch Foundation.

Journalistic entrepreneurs don’t have to go this entirely alone. Among the resources they can turn to for training and support are Witt’s center and the Investigative News Network. http://investigativenewsnetwork.org

Witt sees opinion journalists as a natural fit for this model. They can practice “solution based journalism” – not advocacy, which strives to sway people to come around to a specific course of action, but providing the kinds of stories, information, and point-of-view that exposes problems, points to solutions, and motivates people to act.

His group, for example, has focused on things like the injustice of harsh punishment and long sentences for young offenders, the failure of things like “Scared Straight” programs, and the potential to turn around lives with cheaper and more effective approaches.

Potential funders, he said, are likely to be attracted particularly to the work that AOJ and its members have promoted in the area of civility in public discourse.

“You all have a funding goldmine if you approach it the right way,” he said.

Jay Jochnowitz is editorial page editor of the Albany Times-Union.


Three days a week on paper, but very um... interesting... online

(9/23/14 16:05 by John McClelland)

The citizen's tweet asked why the news website wasn't covering the fire down the street from his house. Well, it wasn't on the scanner because nobody had called the fire department yet.

That incident, related by Kyle Whitmire, reflects at least two new realities of community journalism in a digital age.

Whitmire, Michelle Gerlach, and John Archibald (center of photo) discussed life in the newsrooms almost two years after Alabama Media Group (al.com) reduced the daily newspapers to three print issues a week and moved vigorously into online journalism.

The fire anecdote reflects the increasingly familiar fact of citizen participation in telling about breaking news (and the online forum).

It also reflects what Whitmire called a new opportunity for newspapers: "We are on the brink of being able to reclaim breaking news from television."

Opportunities abound, but along the way are pitfalls.

One pitfall seriously concerns both these speakers and several AOJ members who talked with them, and then with each other over lunch: Employers use analytics to track what content is trending up, but local news done responsibly is unlikely to attract numerous and lingering click-throughs off the Web.

Whitmire said the staffs do have target numbers, "But when a story needs to be told, we do the 'eat your peas and carrots' piece." He also said the usage tracking can be helpful: "You cannot manage what you cannot measure," the suits say, and may well be right. Indeed, he asserted, "We are now more in control of who sees our stuff than ever before … a good thing." How? Where and how do you promote your work in social media?

The trending screen on the wall 24 hours a day doesn't govern entirely, Archibald said. On some stories, staffers say, "so what? The story has to be done." And even though half of his online reader traffic comes from Facebook, he said, "We must fight the urge to strike it rich on every hit."

"The VOICE OF GOD" of old-time Mt. Olympus editorializing is too distant for today's readers, in most cases, the two panelists and some in the audience said.

Whitmire said: "We used to have two editorials a day even if we didn't have anything to say. Now, when there is something in our community that requires [institutional voice] we have an obligation to say what we think." Companies that fail to deal with local issues, he said, are screwing themselves.

And as the fire-call anecdote reaffirmed, online publishing could go 24/7/365....


Relentless editorialist loved state, hated its 1901 'immoral' charter

(9/23/14 17:45 J.McClelland)

Bailey Thomson loved the South, and Alabama, and campaigned relentlessly for fairness, justice and reform - rather than patching - of the state's 1901 constitution.

When conference host and recent past AOJ president Bob Davis was in Texas and considering taking an editing job in Anniston, Thomson told him, "It is your job to come back and fix your state."

That helped Davis decide to take the job in a paper still led by the legendary H. Brandt Ayers.

Stan Tiner (left) and David Alsobrook, panelists at the AOJ Symposium 2014, told how Thomson – they always said "Bailey" – kept after the state's vested Establishment and the injustices of the system set up under the post-Reconstruction constitution.

They cited a telling little data set from Thomson's book, "Century of Shame:" Before the 1901 constitution, nearly 90 percent of the eligible population, both white and black, voted. By 1930, only about a third were even registered.

Thomson was the perfect editorialist, Biloxi editor Tiner said: thorough reporter, intellectual with two degrees in history, passionate, courageous for a cause, with a sense of place, faith, family, polished hard-working writer, editor, voice of the downtrodden, superb storyteller, speaker, environmentalist, farmer, activist....

 He railed at a system that required, for example, a statewide referendum when a town wanted to create a waterworks agency. Historian Alsobrook recalls applying the wordsmith's high praise after reading an Thomson editorial: "Man! I wish I had written that."

Thomson's cause lives on in Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform.

And in some of Davis' work. Constitutional issues were in both of the Anniston-Davis entries that won awards in the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association commentary judging, 2009 and 2013.


Bob Davis columns lay out how we matter to the public

(9/21/14 08:59 J.McClelland)

Former AOJ president and this year's conference host Bob Davis did a masterful column about how our craft matters as everyone gains a chance to have an online voice. This is true even - or especially - in times of rapid change. It's in his own paper, of course, and other Alabama Media Group papers - and on top of the Sunday opinion front of the Mobile Press-Register:

Technology brings more voices to the stage 

http://www.annistonstar.com/opinion/article_0a5049ae-4055-11e4-85f5-fb124940bf3f.html

(Davis also provided a link to a political column by Hardy Jackson, who will speak to the conference on Monday afternoon.)


Foundation names W. J. Drummond as Barry Bingham Fellowship recipient

(from Lois Kazakoff AOJ-F president; posted 9/21/14 by J. McClelland)

William J. Drummond, a journalism professor at the University of California at Berkeley, is the recipient of the 2014 Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship. The award, given by the Association of Opinion Journalists (AOJ) Foundation, recognizes an educator’s outstanding efforts to encourage and mentor college students of color in the field of journalism.

The Bingham Fellowship will be officially announced at the AOJ annual symposium in Mobile, Ala., Sept. 21-23, 2014. Recipients receive a $1,000 award to help them continue their work with students of color.

In nominating Mr. Drummond, Fernando Gallo wrote, "I am a former teaching assistant for Bill who now counts him as a mentor and friend. In my years of knowing him he has proven to be a thoughtful, provocative teacher who encourages his students to not only be good journalists, but also daring reporters. 

"As a teaching assistant, I witnessed Bill preside over an incredibly diverse group of students at UC Berkeley who came from all walks of life. The Graduate School of Journalism prides itself on its diversity. This presented a class that was often challenging, but Bill never wavered, and pushed his students to be professional and dedicated.

"Given the opportunity to choose a local community for his students to cover, Bill chose Richmond, Calif., one of the most dynamic, distinct and under-served communities in the country. The 'hyper-local' news website Richmond Confidential was created under his watch, and still continues to bring the news to Richmond today.

"In recent years, Bill has used his personal time to advise the inmates of San Quentin as they worked on the prison newspaper: The San Quentin News. Like a modern day Johnny Cash, but armed with a notepad instead of a black guitar, Bill willingly brought some diversion to the imprisoned; and put together a pretty darn good newspaper, too. The San Quentin News is the only inmate-produced newspaper in the country, and boasts a circulation of more than 11,000, as well as a website. And under Bill's guidance, the newspaper was honored by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for 'accomplishing extraordinary journalism under extraordinary circumstances.'_" 

Mica Lee Williams, a former student, wrote, "The combination of Professor Drummond's engaging wit and clever insights made what could have been emotionally draining subjects not only palatable but also engrossing. His class boldly revealed many of our nation's racial realities in way that included us all as part of a solution, as opposed to somehow part of an insurmountable problem."

Others who nominated Mr. Drummond voiced similar sentiments. The newest Bingham awardee is a persuasive writer and clearly has won the respect of his students. He is an innovator, dedicated to ensuring that everyone is included in the public conversation.

As his bio states, Mr. Drummond’s career includes stints at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., where he covered the civil rights movement, and at the Los Angeles Times, where he was a local reporter, then bureau chief in New Delhi and Jerusalem and later a Washington correspondent. He was appointed a White House Fellow in 1976 by Gerald R. Ford, worked briefly for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and eventually became associate press secretary to President Jimmy Carter.

In 1977 he joined NPR and became the founding editor of “Morning Edition.”

His website: http://journalism.berkeley.edu/faculty/drummond/

Barry Bingham Sr., the longtime owner, editor and publisher of the Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times who died in 1988, was Mr. Drummond's first boss. He still has a letter written by Mr. Bingham in green ink, praising him for a story he had written.

Founded in 1947 as the National Conference of Editorial Writers, AOJ is a non-profit professional organization that exists to improve the quality of editorial pages and broadcast editorials and to promote high standards among opinion writers and editors in all media. The AOJ Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation dedicated to promoting the craft of editorial and opinion writing and supporting the work of the Association of Opinion Journalists.


Mathews cites crucial link in society: community is like communication

By Jeff Charis-Carlson

MOBILE - Is David Mathews overly sentimental when he talks about small towns? Does the 80-year-old native of Grove Hill, Alabama, plead guilty to the charge of romanticizing such communities – even as he details their sometimes limiting and restrictive nature?

“Yes,” Mathews said confidently in answer to his own rhetorical questions during a luncheon meeting of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

Mathews, CEO and president of the Ohio-based Kettering Foundation, then used that moment to transition from his charming childhood recollections to the conclusions he draws from the research and studies overseen by his foundation.

After hailing “community” itself as one of the earliest inventions of humanity, Mathews went on to lament how – despite the age and ubiquity of that invention – it remains a mystery exactly how communities work and how they can be made more effective.

As such, Mathews cautioned against anyone trying to come up with “solutions” to community problems before fully answering three often overlooked questions:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What resources do we need to solve the problem?
  3. What are the results of what we did?

It’s not that no one ever asks those questions, Mathews said. It’s that the people asking them usually do so only rhetorically – presuming that an agreed upon answer already has been offered.

Without a fuller discussion of those questions – and without considering the necessary follow-up questions – any prescriptions and solutions proposed are bound to lead to unintended consequences or, at best, insufficient results.

Mathews stressed that he’s not offering a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”-type of argument. Instead, he is pointing out how often there are resources in communities that go unrecognized because the decision makers fail to look closely enough.

Rather than focusing exclusively on surveys of a community’s “needs” – which probably are known well – he advocates for a greater focus on identifying a community’s “assets” and finding a way to put them to use.

The most successful communities, Mathews argued, are filled with “incredible learners” who aren’t content to just follow best practices. They, instead, observe what has worked well in other locations and feel free to experiment with how to make it work for them.

Most importantly, Mathews said, those communities don’t quit. They don’t quit when obstacles block the implementation of their plans and programs. And they don’t quit when their otherwise successful programs, for whatever reasons, don’t fully solve the problem those programs were designed to address.

To conclude his remarks, Mathews noted the etymological link between the word “community” and the business all journalists are in: “communication.”

Although he offered no specific solutions for how opinion journalists should meet the challenges facing their industry, Mathews did suggest the lessons learned from strong communities could apply to communicators as well.

Both, he said, need to learn to fail successfully – to discard what didn't work in the past and to figure out how best to improve on what did.

(video of failing successfully 29 secs http://youtu.be/lpmB6boqrXU)

Jeff Charis-Carlson is the opinion editor for the Iowa City Press-Citizen.


Becoming a leading liberal editor in the 60s-80s South was no picnic

By Bill McGoun


It is easy to reduce the great civil-rights struggle
of the 1960s to a simple contrast:

On one side were justice-loving white northerners (see, Bobby Kennedy) and determined Southern African-Americans (see, Martin Luther King Jr.). On the other was a united white racist establishment throughout the states of the Confederacy.

It would be easy, but it also would be wrong.

Throughout the South there were whites with the courage to speak out. Among their numbers were Ralph McGill, Hodding Carter, Harry Golden, Paul Greenberg … and H. Brandt Ayers.

 Ayers, longtime publisher and editor of the Anniston (Alabama) Star, is entering his ninth decade. He is growing frail, but his voice is as powerful as ever, as he demonstrated when he addressed the Association of Opinion Journalists during their symposium in Mobile.

(Video by Chuck Stokes: http://youtu.be/ktigc_DPSa8)

He told of starting out as a reporter in North Carolina, where a progressive establishment eased the state through the civil-rights turmoil while building the intellectual climate that spawned the Research Triangle.

He went on to Washington, D.C., where he produced copy for the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. That’s where he learned how the white establishment in the Magnolia State controlled the newspapers. He told how a nasty diatribe by Sen. John Eastland, accusing federal marshals of abusing Ole Miss coeds during the desegregation struggles, was suppressed.

Then he went home to the family-owned Star. Now he was in charge, and he would not be silenced. When night-riders shot a young black man in 1965, he raised a $25,000 reward and got donors to sign a full-page ad condemning the shooting.

Ayers’ newspaper was a constant thorn in the side of arch-segregationist Gov. George Wallace, who called it the “Red” Star.

To Ayers, the Golden Age in the South was the 1970s, ushered in by the election of such progressive governors as Reubin Askew in Florida and Jimmy Carter in Georgia. “There wasn’t a peep of demagoguery,” he said.

“It all ended in 1980." he said. "From then to now we have witnessed the tedious construction of an all-Republican government.” The openly racist bigotry of the old time Democrats has been replaced in Ayers’ view by the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the new time GOP.

Ayers has the age to recognize long-term trends but he keeps up with what is happening today. He believes President Obama is failing for the same reason Carter failed, from an inability to connect with people: “The country needs someone to buck them up.”

Ayers does not shy away from the label “liberal,” but he makes it clear he is not talking about the liberalism of today, which he seems to see as elitist, but a liberalism that was “about something.”

He said Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man of wealth, nonetheless “was one of us … His liberalism had a physical effect.” Ayers cited the Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplied electricity to bring a portion of the nation, including much of northern Alabama, into the present.

Ayers' great dream is to see his beloved South rise from its past to look the rest of the nation in the eye. “If I see the South standing up,” he said, “there will be such a thrill passing through my body.”

He might just live to see it. He certainly has seen a lot of other changes, many of which he helped institute.

Bill McGoun is a retired editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. He does free-lance writing, including work as a contributing editor for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. He is the author of seven books and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Florida.


Education, training, trainability... workforce quality drives development

(9/25/14 14:30 J. McClelland)

Multinational foreign investors most desire at a prospective factory site a labor pool that is educated and motivated enough to be readilly trainable for specific, technical, jobs, says one who should know.

 Does having a non-union environment help recruit big industries, a member of the AOJ audience asked. It certainly helps, but is not decisive, replied Neal Wade, who had been director of Alabama Development during a time when some key international industries were deciding where to build.

One of those industries, Airbus, will have a Mobile assembly plant working in another year or two despite losing the U.S. Air Force refueling-tanker contract, he said. Of 85 original locations' bids for that factory, the field quickly narrowed to five, and then it was a slugfest.

"Getting into the game and staying with it matters a lot," Wade said. "One thing that is crucial is education."

He said every corporate executive interviewed, from any U.S., European or Asian company, looked closely at worker qualifications. Anticipating that, he said, Alabama had "worked feverishly to close the skills gap" and have a pool of well-trainable workers.

Not belittling even-higher education, he still asserted that the U.S. overly emphasizes four-year colleges and thus has "lost what we need in two-year college or technical schools."

Does the state just want jobs, any jobs? No, he said: "We want jobs that exceed the average wage in the area. Our goal is 150 percent of that." There's a ripple effect, too. He said an auto plant (such as the new Mercedes factory in Alabama) has a 6-to-1 multiplier: Each dollar of payroll gets spent six times before leaving town.

The competition is intense. Wade said the U.S. has more than 5,000 cities and counties competing for about 200 "cluster-worthy" projects a year. To land them, development officers have keep at it and avoid trying to blow smoke, because the big companies will have done their homework. And yes, the team is stronger with a real role by a persuasive governor.


Persistence, confident leaders, flexibility all matter in saving troubled city schools

(9/25/14 14:40 J. McClelland)

Persistence and at least one person with absolute confidence that "we can do this" are vital to rescuing troubled urban school systems, says Carolyn Akers, who has done it.

Mobile is Alabama's largest public school system, and not too many years ago was its worst by many measures, she told the AOJ Symposium's final evening.

"It's not an individual; it's the whole community," she said. "Having a voice at the table gives us the currency to do what we need."

One of her mantras: "Public engagement plus sustained effort equals improved public education."

She told of keeping up the grass-roots community pressure through the terms of seven – yes 7 – superintendents, and of fighting entrenched interests including teachers unions that tried and failed to stop reform by jamming the system with grievances.

"We got buy-in at all levels with a focus on schools that needed help the most … eventually everyone benefits," she said. One result was passage in 2001 of the district's first property tax increase in 41 years, to fix up crumbling buildings and finance instructional reform.

One goal, largely but not fully met, was closing the achievement gaps between black and white students and between those in different neighborhoods. Asked if her groups used the term "achievement gap" or some euphemism, she said, "We don't shy away from it. You have to be honest about problems to fix them."

A video emphasized the organizers' extensive use of "kitchen-table conversations," listening to small groups of parents telling what they really want from the schools. It's not about getting a crowd out to a forum where a panel of know-it-alls seeks "input," but rather hearing people individually and encouraging them to do something constructive.

She said the campaigns had good support for most things from the newspaper, the Mobile Press-Register, which was still in print daily before going to three-day print and nonstop online publication, and from the voters.

Conference host Bob Davis summarized his view of Akers' work: "It's not rocket science; it's political science."

That means it also takes a thick skin sometimes. Akers told of being dressed down by big-shots who told her to back off. She didn't. She said she and her fellow leaders did admit and learn from the inevitable failures.


Pew: Political polarity predicts readers’ news-source selections"

(John McClelland 2014-10-23 updated 5/9/2015)

Editors, as curators of diverse views, can still earn loyalty to humans, not robotic gizmos, for guidance outside of those pervasive, narrow, ‘filter bubbles’".

Well, Duh. We all knew there was a correlation between readers’ political-ideological stances and their selections of sources for news, info -- and opinion. A recent Pew study found the trend to be strong and growing but not yet overwhelming.

Some number-sets leap out:

  • A whopping 47 percent of conservatives trusted Fox, while liberals divided among four rather obvious sources each at 10-to-15-percent.
  • Liberals trusted 28 of 36 sources, while conservatives distrusted 24 of the same 36.
  • The Nieman account also links to an earlier piece about coping with the intriguing concept of “filter bubbles,” in which people who follow algorithm-generated links, or their own prejudices, may become even more isolated from those of differing views. The authors had mixed views about whether social media mainly reinforce existing attitudes or widen outlooks.


One passage in all this seems to say middle-of-the-road folk get more diversity of views than folks in either wing, but folks farther from the center tend to be more attentive, and sometimes more influential, in political discussion. Gee, this is no surprise to a lot of us, but having some solid stats can help us better understand it.

That second, older, article contains a tempting suggestion, one of five, that editors can earn loyal readership by “curating” selections of others’ varied works.

This strikes me as akin to what editorial- or commentary page editors have been doing for decades with op-eds that seek to present diverse views. But now they have vastly broader reach because of the nature of the Web and social media.

Practitioners younger than I am can surely “get it” and DO it.

Links:

  • PewResearch on media in its ongoing “political polarization” project:
    • http://www.journalism.org/2014/10/21/political-polarization-media-habits/
  • NiemanLab on the current report:
    • http://www.niemanlab.org/2014/10/where-you-get-your-news-depends-on-where-you-stand-on-the-issues/
  • NiemanLab on filter bubbles and curating:
    • http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/07/are-we-stuck-in-filter-bubbles-here-are-five-potential-paths-out/

Updated 5/9/2015 (sorry about the spacing: "improved" software JM)

  • New study shows mixed filter-bubble effect on links from Facebook:
  • The study in Science Magazine
    • http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2015/05/08/science.aaa1160.abstractComment by the popularizer of “filter bubble”
    • https://medium.com/@elipariser/facebook-published-a-big-new-study-on-the-filter-bubble-here-s-what-it-says-ef31a292da95A Microsoft-pseudo-academic site’s report on the study
    • http://socialmediacollective.org/2015/05/07/the-facebook-its-not-our-fault-study/Online analyst on algorithm suppressing diversity (tracking-laden link)
    • https://medium.com/message/how-facebook-s-algorithm-suppresses-content-diversity-modestly-how-the-newsfeed-rules-the-clicks-b5f8a4bb7babNY Times blog also on paper 
    • http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/08/daily-report-facebook-use-polarizing-site-begs-to-differ/Masthead 2014 Pew Study: party predicts preference
  • Nieman Lab 2012 article and nifty photo-illustration
    • http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/07/are-we-stuck-in-filter-bubbles-here-are-five-potential-paths-out/

Chicago Sun-Times brings editorial endorsements back, for challenger
By John McClelland (2014-10-18-updated-10-23)

(Updated 11-25: The Republican Bruce Rauner, whom all Chicago dailies endorsed, won and faces a still solidly Democrat legislature. -JM)

The Chicago Sun-Times, one of the dozens of substantial newspapers that quit making editorial endorsements in contested elections, is back in the fray. (link to announcement; to endorsement; other links below)

Its Sunday (Oct. 19, 2014) edition online 10/18 says it reversed a nearly three-year policy because "This one contest, the race for governor, is simply too important to the future of Illinois for us to stay silent. It may well be the most important election in our state’s modern history." It endorsed rich businessman, non-politico, Bruce Rauner over incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn.

Earlier (Oct. 18) it said: “We will plunge back in Sunday with an endorsement in the race for governor, and we will make endorsements in the February Chicago municipal elections and other key local races." Each editorial is nearly a full tabloid page.

Those of us who have spent decades holding our noses while watching Illinois politics, rolling our eyes and endorsing or voting for the lesser of the undesirables, found the timing rather interesting. It came three days after what looked like a Rauner-leaning non-endorsement and only 16 days before the election.

This year's campaign for governor is close, nasty even by Chicago standards, and hideously expensive. Both metros have reported that spending exceeded $21 million in three months. PACs have poured in yet more. One cannot use local TV or radio without a deluge of ads. We shut off the ringers on the home phones, and we screen calls with an oldstyle machine.

On Wednesday (10/15), the Sun-Times ran a non-endorsement editorial about the main issue, the economy, that some of us perceived as favoring Rauner, the billionaire Republican running on mountains of his own money. The traditionally, but not exclusively, Republican-leaning Chicago Tribune endorsed Rauner last week. Its editorial board has been vehemently critical of state politics, especially the entrenched Democrat speaker of the house, for years.

The Sun-Times editorials both said, repeatedlly in slightly different ways, that the state needs someone who can accelerate the recovery that has been creeping along, "while there is still time." The Sunday piece reinforced this theme. it said Quinn is a man of integrity, rare and notable in a state where two recent governors have gone to prison, but only Rauner is a leader with vision, and the state is in dire straits.

It is difficult to assess the Sun-Times' incentives. Was it reader feedback, 100-to-1 pro endorsing, or as it said in its endorsement of Rauner, a state crisis in need of executive leadership? Did the perceived gravity of the state's disastrous finances and the huge out-migrations of citizens and businesses drive the policy change?

I couldn't reach EPE Tom McNamee (for one thing, his email inbox was overflowing. Then the paper's lead statehouse bureau chief, Dave McKinney, quit very publicly, alleging that he had been hamstrung after reporting on Rauner's previous business conflicts).

We do know some of the past reasoning.

Of the early 2012 decision to drop endorsements, the Oct. 18 editorial said: "...we had come to believe they feed a perception of a hidden bias throughout a newspaper.

“Our readers have taken a different view. They have told us they understand the difference between the independence exhibited in the news coverage from opinions expressed in the editorials.

“For every reader who has commended us for standing on the sidelines," it added, seemingly hundreds of others asked for help deciding how to vote.

Links to related stuff:

  • Sun-Times Oct. 19, 2014:
    • http://www.suntimes.com/30498709-761/editorial-bruce-rauner-for-governor.html#.VELyPktM8pE
  • Sun-Times Oct. 18, 2014:
    • http://www.suntimes.com/30498237-761/editorial-why-we-are-back-in-the-endorsement-business.html#.VEKB3EtM8pE
  • Sun-Times Jan 22, 2012:
    • http://www.suntimes.com/opinions/10174893-474/editorial-why-we-will-no-longer-endorse-in-elections.html#.VEKDFktM8pE
  • Sun-Times Oct 15, 2014:
    • http://www.suntimes.com/opinions/30442328-474/economy-only-thing-that-matters.html#.VEKEw0tM8pE

The 10/15 lede: “Illinois voters in the final days before the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election will be assaulted by a lot of noise.
  “Class warfare will be waged, new patronage allegations leveled, resumes pumped up to even greater absurdity.
  “Ignore it all.
  “One thing - and only one thing - matters in the race for governor: Which candidate is best fit to grow the economy of Illinois while there still is time..."



The print edition carried two black-and-white versions of AP photos from a recent and decidedly rancorous debate, Rauner on the left. Color originals of them are among four debate photos in the online gallery:
http://www.suntimes.com/photos/galleries/index.html?story=30442328


Columbia Journalism Review fall 2014 article on papers dropping endorsements:
http://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/why_some_newspapers_are_abandoning_endorsements.php


John McClelland was photographer-reporter and several types of editor not at Chicago metros 1966-88, taught at Roosevelt University, Chicago, 1989-2012, retired, and has edited Masthead online since late fall 2011.


Reuters ending comment on news, keeping it on columns and blogs

(2014-11-07 JM)

Reuters is ending reader comments on its news stories, but keeping them on opinion columns and blogs.

For once, the primary reason given is not the trolls and their vitriol or irrelevancy. Instead, Reuters said, the interactions have been moving to social media. On those sites, there is self-policing “by participants to keep on the fringes those who would abuse the privilege of commenting,” wrote Dan Colarusso, executive editor of Reuters Digital.

His online "editors note" also said, “We value conversation about the news, but the idea of comments on a website must give way to new realities of behavior in the marketplace.The best place for this conversation is where it is open to the largest number of participants possible.”

His post pointed those who want to share comment about news to Facebook http://www.facebook.com/reuters and Twitter @reuters.

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/11/07/editors-note-reader-comments-in-the-age-of-social-media/

 

  • Link to Mathew Ingram rebuttal of Reuters' action, on gigaom.com as cited 11-12 by Nieman.
    • He asserts in effect that relying on social media for comment is giving away the keys to the franchise, because, among other things, the audience will come to perceive the social site, not the originating organization, as the contact:
    • https://gigaom.com/2014/11/11/ending-reader-comments-is-a-mistake-even-if-you-are-reuters/
  • Meghan Daum 2013 op-ed in Los Angeles Times on research that supports the notion that trolls and such ilk generate a counterproductive "nasty effect" (as linked from gigaom 11/11/2014):
    • http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/07/opinion/la-oe-daum-comments-nasty-effect-20130307

St. Louis ed-page team shines on Ferguson: A voice of reason in chaos
St. Louis P-D editorial-pages team takes uncomfortable middle ground re Ferguson
Published Tuesday, August 26, 2014 8:00 pm by J.McClelland

UPDATE 9/16: Messenger is on the Mobile agenda for 8 a.m. 9/22.As the nation, and much of the world, watched developments in Ferguson, Missouri, one of the nearby voices for calm, reason, recognizing painful truths, and pursuing constructive action, was the editorial page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Other editors and media-performance observers noticed and commented.

Tony Messenger, P-D editorial page editor, is a member of AOJ's board of directors, and we easily persuaded him to share some thoughts and some hotlinks:

One of the best one-liners from people on the scene was the final paragraph of Messenger's Aug. 19 column: "We must listen to find order in chaos."

 

  • Here is a link to 13 pieces, mostly editorials, columns and a letter, from Aug. 10 to 28, on the P-D's website via a shortened URL (scroll down a bit when you get there):
    • http://goo.gl/TYH7ho
  • A video editorial:
    • http://www.stltoday.com/news/multimedia/videos/video-editorial-this-is-not-st-louis/html_4002ac18-9250-58dd-b61e-88229ba108c0.html
  • Messenger's Aug. 19 column about a youth who represents difficult hope:
    • http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/tony-messenger/messenger-finding-an-american-story-in-ferguson/article_bd83a0d7-d463-5ca8-b499-f3004b058473.html
  • Kevin Horrigan column about a Feguson company with huge revenues on mostly off-shore production:
    • http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/kevin-horrigan/horrigan-ferguson-s-global-giant-and-those-left-behind/article_54cf78a2-c735-5488-8fcd-c366ee36e132.html
  • Nieman piece on a parternship with the Guardian for a digital project (not yet published when this page was prepared):
    • http://www.niemanlab.org/2014/08/the-guardian-and-st-louis-post-dispatch-editorial-pages-are-teaming-up-for-ferguson-coverage/
  • One AOJ member who offered up part of his publication's take on Ferguson was Dick Hughes of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon:
    • Editorial: Trust, not technology, will prevent the next 'Ferguson'
      • http://stjr.nl/1twBQLK
    • Column: Michael Brown's death and Cliven Bundy's life By Ron Eachus,
      • http://stjr.nl/1pa737S
    • Column: Innocent until proven guilty, unless you’re a cop By Dan Lucas,
      • http://stjr.nl/1pdQiJg
  • Rick Horowitz, columnist, AOJ leader, and video commentator on public TV in Milwaukee:
    • "Policing Ferguson: It Could Have Been Calmer, Sooner"
    • http://youtu.be/3ta0_ZcTEUs
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Atlanta Forward" by editorial editor Andre Jackson:
    • http://atlantaforward.blog.ajc.com/2014/08/23/sunday-issue-a-tale-of-two-cities/?__federated=1
  • The Albany Times-Union, from editorial page editor Jay Jochnowitz:
    • http://blog.timesunion.com/opinion/questions-from-ferguson/30507/

More are welcome, especially from the AOJ discussion list members.