2012 Archives


National Conference of Editorial Writers becomes Association of Opinion Journalists

Published Thursday, January 12, 2012 7:00 am

The National Conference of Editorial Writers has announced that, by a vote of its membership, it has renamed itself the Association of Opinion Journalists (AOJ).  Founded in 1947, it remains dedicated to the craft of opinion journalism through education, professional development, exploration of issues and vigorous advocacy within journalism.  AOJ is also committed to promoting a healthier civic culture by helping raise the quality of public discourse.

 “The debate that took place on the nation’s opinion pages and, in later years, through broadcast editorials, now happens on a variety of online and other media platforms, “ said organization president Froma Harrop, a columnist with Creators Syndicate and member of The Providence Journal editorial board. “Our new name encompasses the many media in which opinion writers work.”

Through the Civility Project, the organization focuses on improving the civic conversation. “Today’s open media environment has produced a cacophony of opinion, much of it non-factual, uninformed, abusive in tone and cloaked by anonymity or screen names,“  Harrop said. “Our mission is to protect our civic culture by advancing the art and science of making strong arguments with skill and creativity.”

The organization's Foundation also runs the Minority Writers Seminar to increase diversity among opinion journalists. Held annually in conjunction with The Freedom Foundation’s First Amendment Center, in Nashville, Tenn., the seminar provides an opportunity for experienced minority journalists to explore the nuts and bolts of opinion writing.

AOJ’s State Department Briefing is a two-day event in Washington,D.C., that gives members the opportunity to meet first hand with high-level diplomats. In addition, the organization has traditionally sponsored fact-finding missions, enabling editorial writers to visit foreign countries and meet with their leadership. Grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the German Marshall Fund help pay for the trips.

Civilitas: The former Civility Project

Why we changed the name

Published Monday, January 30, 2012 7:00 am by Frank Partsch

A new year brings a new name and a broadened focus for the thing that has thus far been known as “the civility project.”

The new name – “Civilitas AOJ” – follows directly from the broadened focus.

Our 2011 conversation on political civility and related matters produced a number of insights into the area of concern that we were poised to enter.  For instance, the word “civility” lends itself to misunderstandings.  Some critics had trouble reconciling “civility” with critical evaluation, robust analysis or biting disapproval  -- all of which are inextricable elements of the opinion journalist’s toolkit.  Others asked whether “civility” and “opinion journalism” weren’t incompatible concepts.

Meanwhile, “civility” sounded, to some of our colleagues,  like the promise of guidelines in political correctness, in contravention not only of the traditions of journalistic opinion but also of the First Amendment.

Our ongoing consideration of these issues led to the conclusion that the proper role of AOJ in this area is not to be concerned merely with the tone of the political conversation but also with its effectiveness.  Certainly “civilitas” carries connotations of graciousness and courtesy, but it also, reflecting its Latin root, refers to the broader responsibilities of citizenship.  Civilitas AOJ thus maintains our enduring focus on truth, logic, fairness and transparency with the additional recognition that these are not ends in themselves but rather the tools of fair, honest and productive public discourse.

As always, your comments are welcome.

From an early January article to the author's local readers...

Civic engagement matters

A Vigorous Debate, With Civil Discourse

By Roy Maynard

We can demand more of political candidates -- and ourselves -- in the coming year. We can raise the bar higher for civility in political discourse.

Granted, the new year hasn’t begun well. Republican presidential candidates were squabbling and sinking ever lower -- ignoring Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment (“thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican”). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, was calling former Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney a liar.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats are ramping up the “us against them” rhetoric.

Republicans, according to the Democrats, want the poor, the elderly and the disabled to “fend for themselves.”

Come on. We’re better than this -- all of us. We can hash out our differences without resorting to name-calling, personal attacks or overstatement. And we should. The 2012 presidential election is, like all presidential elections, important enough for us to take seriously our responsibility to weigh all the arguments carefully.

We pledge to take the medicine we’re prescribing to others. The Association of Opinion Journalists (formerly the National Conference of Editorial Writers) has launched the Civility Project in an effort to help newspaper (and other) opinion writers to police themselves, just as they police their own letters columns.

The constitutional right of free speech brings out the best in us, and the worst,” says Frank Parsch, who heads that project. “This project is conducted in the spirit of the First Amendment. The Civility Project does not seek to redefine political campaigning or reinvent the public-policy conversation. We aim to be persuasive, no matter how great the distance between points of view, in promoting respect, not only for the adversary but also for the audience and for the democratic institutions whose wellbeing depends so much on the wisdom of an informed electorate.”

We’re glad to participate in the Civility Project; there’s a great divide these days between free speech, responsible speech and the useful exchange if ideas and opinion. It’s incumbent on journalists to set a good example.

So let’s lay out some guidelines. Like the 10 Commandments, we’ll begin with the positive ones, but fewer.

First, let’s be persuasive. Far too many opinion pieces and campaign ads miss the point. Instead of persuading the undecided (or even making a few converts), they merely rile up the faithful. There’s an argument to be made that each party’s “base” must be energized, but that really only applies in the hours before voting begins. The rest of the time is better spent enlarging a candidate’s appeal, not scaring the bajeebers out of the regulars.

Next, let’s be accurate. The biggest disservice we can do to our own arguments is to misstate or misrepresent the facts or the positions of our opponents. Those who haven’t yet decided will dismiss our claims out of hand if they see a glaring error in how we make them.

Of course, there are some “shalt nots” to observe, as well.

Let’s begin by agreeing to argue ideas, not attack people. In the same way, let’s not presume that we know another person’s motives or intentions. We can argue against President Barack Obama’s health care reforms without alluding darkly to his alleged intention to make America a socialist nation, for example.

And let’s leave overstatement outof the discussion altogether. Seriously. The Nazis remain our world’s clearest example of evil. Let’s not cloud that by throwing the word around, when it’s almost never appropriate. Last week, for example, Glenn Beck compared one of Obama’s speeches to Hitler’s speech on the Night of the Long Knives.

Really? That’s unworthy of serious political discourse.

You’ll be hearing more about the Civility Project in coming months. Unfortunately, you’ll also be seeing a plethora of examples of why it’s needed.

We can raise the bar. We just have to begin with ourselves.

Roy Maynard, editorial page editor of the Tyler (Texas) Morning Telegraph, was one of the first editors to share what they told their readers about our efforts to restore civility in plural senses to U.S. political discourse. He is a board member for the Association of Opinion Journalists and a participant in the civility project, Civilitas: AOJ.

Civilitas revisited: civic debate needed

Free speech brings out the best in people, and sometimes the worst. We at AOJ aim to help improve the balance in public discourse.

Daily, sincere and often knowledgeable people engage in free-wheeling political discussions in diverse media and informal settings. Sad to say, the public conversation also contains untruth, ignorance, invective and illogic.

Disrespect, dishonesty, libel and character assassination pollute the conversation, so many Americans see a serious problem with incivility broadly, not just with mere bad manners, in public life.

The Jan. 8, 2011, shootings of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and several other people led to increasing condemnation of the ugly, contentious and violence-provoking language at the margins of the public conversation. Various “civility initiatives” appeared in government and academia.

Leaders in the National Conference of Editorial Writers (now Association of Opinion Journalists) noted that “civility” has its roots in “good citizenship.”That is the reasoning behind the Civility Project's new name, Civilitas AOJ.

Opinion writers, in their daily work, often touch on citizenship and the quality of public conversation. They rebut phony arguments and serve as a truth squad when someone tries to mislead the public. They evaluate their own words against personal and professional canons and the rules of effective argumentation. Few other professional roles are so close to the conduct of an ongoing civic conversation.

Members of AOJ (NCEW, 1947-2011) already had a platform. The 1975 Basic Statement of Principlesstresses factualness, logic and fairness in journalistic opinion. The opposites – distortion, illogic and unfairness – are uncivil.

The principles argue against “canned” editorials from undisclosed sources. That practice is less common now, but transparency has new urgency in the Internet era.

Some of the worst cases of uncivil speech lurk in anonymous posting functions of the Internet. A provocateur can plant rumors, spread libel or instigate violence. We saw a need to examine these things.

Some critics had trouble reconciling “civility” with critical evaluation, robust analysis or biting disapproval, all inextricable elements of opinion journalism. Others asked whether “civility” and “opinion journalism” are incompatible concepts.

Civility” sounded to some like political correctness contrary to the traditions of journalistic opinionizing and the First Amendment.

Leaders concluded that the proper role of AOJ in this is to be concerned with the tone of the political conversation – and with its effectiveness. "Civilitas” connotes graciousness and courtesy, but like its Latin root, it denotes the broader responsibilities of citizenship.

During the fall, NCEW members discussed and largely dispelled concerns that the project intended to impose civility standards on the membership or opinion journalists in general.

The project intends, rather, to marshal the organization's expertise and individual members' wisdom toward improving the integrity of public discussion.

One phase of the project will be things we can pursue as an organization. Another [already under way] is what members can do in their communities. There will be no new standards, no attempt to define civility in editorial and column writing.

Many things have conditioned society for incivility in public discourse. One is the simplistic rhetoric of campaigning, using ideological assertion over fact and logic. The adversary gets demonized.

Some audiences lack analytical ability. Politicians sling mud, as has been said, because mud-slinging works. It generates news coverage. Some voters comprehend the dirt, but not the minutiae of public policy. The audience needs skills to avoid being bamboozled.

This organization intends to comment publicly when such behavior presents a clear-cut opportunity for educating participants or the public.

Our leaders have been considering a coaching handbook, workshops and other forms of outreach.

Every opinion writer is the local watchdog who has been on the case all along, the sheriff who knows the town. While we deplore untruth, illogic and unfairness in the national discussion, the project defers to local journalists for debunking political prevarication closer to home.

Savvy politicians will abandon behavior that they know will be called out in a local forum.

Some material labeled uncivil now might very well be robust give-and-take in the hallowed traditions of free speech. The project does not seek to redefine political campaigning or reinvent the public-policy conversation or dilute strongly held views with doses of "nice-nice."

Rather, we focus on the margins, attempts to deceive the public or destroy the opposition with lies, illogic and character assassination.

We aim to be persuasive, no matter how great the distance between points of view, in promoting respect, not only for the adversary but also for the audience and for the democratic institutions whose well-being depends so much on the wisdom of an informed electorate.

Frank Partsch, civility/Civilitas project director and author of the proposal from which most of this article was excerpted, was the editorial page editor of The Omaha World-Herald for a quarter century. Several others contributed to the Civilitas update. Masthead editor John McClelland of Roosevelt University accepts responsibility for any induced aberrance.

Why an editor left the digital cesspool

By Richard Shafer and Richard Aregood

It is a good thing that millions of people can now have their voices heard through the Internet. It is a revolution rivaled only by the invention of the printing press in its democratic power. A.J. Liebling’s famous 1960 line that “freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” seems outdated.

There is a dark side, though, a very dark side.

Regular readers of comments sections of websites and more than a few blogs might be forgiven for thinking that the entire web is devoted to mindless sloganeering and pure meanness. Among those millions of people, it seems, are lots of vicious dunces convinced that only they (and a few friends) are aware of horrible conspiracies afflicting our nation and the world. They are dead certain and they accuse people by name. None of them admit to their own agenda as they accuse others of having an evil one.

John Irby, editor of the Bismarck Tribune, cited this electronic abuse as one of the reasons he chose to retire. In a farewell column, he wrote: “I am retiring because I am tired of being the whipping boy, by one and all. My skin has thinned. Life is too short to put up with all the noise.” He cited one especially nasty Bismarck blogger specifically.

In the old days, the people who afflicted Irby scrawled their insanity in crayon on newspaper clippings, which tended not to become public. Death threats could be reported to postal inspectors. No more.

The Internet is a liberating worldwide force. It is also a means for pedophiles and terrorists to stay in touch and pretend to themselves that they are legitimate, an efficient delivery system for pornography and a tool for making outrageous accusations behind a shield of anonymity.

John Seigenthaler, the distinguished former editor and publisher of the Nashville Tennessean, was also a founding editorial director of USA Today and founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. A friend of Robert Kennedy, he served in the Justice Department and was seriously injured trying to protect a Freedom Rider from a pipe-wielding racist. He may be one of the few journalists revered by all of his colleagues.

Some jerk in a delivery service company, who said it was a prank, posted a Wikipedia entry that accused Seigenthaler of complicity in the assassinations of both Kennedy brothers and said he had fled to the Soviet Union before returning to start a public relations firm. It was wrong in every detail, cruelly stupid and met every normal standard for libel, but it stayed on Wikipedia and various search engines for more than four months. Seigenthaler refused to sue. A journalist filing a libel suit would be like an archbishop endorsing Satan, and there is doubt whether legal action would have worked.

Congress, using tortured logic possible only for lawyers deliberately missing the point, exempted Internet service providers from being legally responsible for content, unlike print and broadcast companies. Something about “common carriers” as opposed to publishers. In other words, if you make the slightest attempt to edit your content, like any responsible outlet, you’re liable. If you just let the vitriol spew, you’re not.

 For the true believers in conspiracies, here are a few actual facts.

Journalism is hard. It requires actual research, it requires an approach that makes fairness the first objective and it requires enough writing skill to make a story make sense to the average person. An idiotic rumor in an E-mail your brother-in-law sent you is not journalism.

Journalism is at a crossroads. Editors like John Irby have had to deal with 20 years of cutbacks, caused by declining advertising revenue and circulation. Classified advertising, once the bulwark of newspaper economics, has largely migrated elsewhere. When you are doing the work of what once were three people, there’s not much time to phone the Socialist International or the Tea Party for instructions. And humans make mistakes, especially when there aren’t enough of them to do the job.

People put their names on journalism. It is cowardly to attack from the shadows. As long as you’re claiming the great American tradition and using our wonderful First Amendment, standing behind your ideas gives them more force. Everybody in the newsroom knows what happens if you respond rudely to some insulting halfwit: you get fired. Do not fear that the black helicopters will come get you; if they exist, they'd be after targets that would justify the federal security budget.

We wish John Irby all the best and hope that the greatest invention since the printing press can grow up, at least to the point at which actual ideas are more frequent than insults and rumors.

The writers are communications professors at the University of North Dakota. Aregood is the former editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Newark N.J. Star-Ledger.

Editor's follow-up: Irby retired in the fall of 2011 at age 62. In an early 2012 telephone interview, he said the online abuse was one of several things leading to his decision. He seemed to be coping well with the costs of kids in college and actually enjoying his four part-time communication jobs.

He said online commenters who can hide "become quite bold … and really don't have a clue."

Defenses against corrosive online comment? "The newspaper industry is not inclined to pay people to monitor it 24/7. That would be one – maybe two or three – full-time jobs."

He said he was never afraid of the concept of editor as "censor" (not an accurate word, but widely used by those whose diatribes get left out), because editors make such decisions daily. Of monitoring, he said: "Yes, that's the idea. A gatekeeper for online comment." --JM

Pols, nonprofits step up robotic "turf"

Campaigns invite supporters to send canned email letters to the editors of every publication on a list, and harvest the personal information for fundraising solicitations.

By Linda Seebach

You may have heard it said that if you look around the poker table, and you can't spot who's the sucker . . . you're the sucker.

Sorry, but if you're one of the hundreds of people who sent canned letters from the Obama campaign's website to Florida newspapers in advance of the 2012 Republican primary, you're the sucker.

Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers received almost 600 of these Jan. 27-31 with subject lines like "When the GOP comes to town," or "Nice of the GOP candidates to visit" (the two most common ones). They purported to come from people all over the state. Some of them were clearly phony; do you believe there's a street called "Tighty Whitey" in Largo? Me neither.

But most were from real people who got an email sending them to one of the campaign's websites, fl.barackobama.com/Write-a-letter*, where they found a form letter already written for them. The soon dismantled site said coyly, "Note: Revising the letter and making it your own greatly increases the chance that a newspaper will publish it," but most people don't do that; they just fill in their personal identification, and click "send."

Why does that make them suckers? They've given their contact information to a political campaign and now and forevermore they'll be getting fundraising appeals. You know how when you buy something from a catalog, and then you get catalogs from a dozen other companies? Like that.

We don't publish canned letters if we identify them as such (not hard to do, when we get the same one from hundreds of different people). And many of them aren't from our circulation area anyway. But why should sites like this care? They've already harvested your information so they can hit you up for money.

It isn't only Democratic political campaigns that work this way; many nonprofit advocacy groups do the same. Newspapers that get this stuff call it "astroturf" -- fake grass-roots -- and letter editors around the country share the information online so they won't be tricked into publishing plagiarized letters, which is what they are. But this was the first time I encountered one that was clueless on such a grand scale.

Though these fake letters looked as if they come from an individual's email address, they all originated from the website of a PR firm called bluestatedigital.com, which proudly claims the Obama campaign as one of its clients. It was started by retreads from the Howard Dean campaign -- remember him? -- and if this debacle is a sample of their professional expertise, they haven't learned much. Except about getting you to trust them with your verified contact information, of course. They're good at that.

I emailed bluestatedigital (twice) at the address they give for media contacts. No response. And I talked to a volunteer at the Obama campaign who promised to pass my comments to somebody who could do something. "Wow!" he said. "Six hundred emails? That must be really annoying."

Why, yes; it is. And annoying people at newspapers is not normally a sound strategy for a political campaign, but I suppose nobody at Obama Central cares, as long as your money keeps rolling in. They may not even know. The thank-you note they sent in response to my test message to this paper -- yes, it did arrive via bluestatedigital -- was "signed" by Betsy Hoover, identified as the "digital organizing director" for the Obama campaign.

There was a form for feedback, but it was only for people whose letters were actually published, and whoever Hoover is, she can't seriously think papers are going to publish any of hundreds of identical "letters."

And if you write your own letter, we're glad to hear from you.

Linda Seebach is a letters editor for three Scripps newspapers in Florida. Article used by permission. She has said AOJ members may use her article, and suggests inserting a summary of local letters rules as a new last or next-to-last paragraph.

Editor's follow-up: During discussion of this on AOJ's members-only online discussion list, columnist Jonathan Gurwitz of the San Antonio Express-News said Texas newspapers were "being carpet-bombed with turf letters on reproductive rights. We stopped counting at 20,000 emails. I’m guessing we received around 30,000, and some are still coming in."

He provided an exact URL to the source of that avalanche, an organization that offers advocacy services, including letters campaigns, to nonprofits. I have omitted its identity because we do not know whether it is harvesting addresses. *The Obama site exists but says that campaign (the "fl" in the address) has ended.

Members of the list have been sharing alerts about artifical "grass-roots" mail – "turf," short for paper or digital "AstroTurf" - for at least a decade. The current deluge is a cyberworld outgrowth of lobbyists' paper-pushing practices dating back, by some accounts, at least as far as the Nixon administration. The term is sometimes attributed to Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (1985).

Politicians (in the good or neutral sense of the word) get a ton of it. Here's a link to a timely column, Interest Groups, Lack of Facts Are Taking Over, by AOJ member Dick Hughes: tinyurl.com/7vnpjpq

The mess was described hilariously by the late syndicated columnist Molly Ivins. Her 1995 column is archived at sites including the Seattle Times: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19950717&slug=2131762

Recent discussion on our list indicates that the volume of automated digital junk mail to editors – "robo-turf" to some of us – has increased dramatically. - John McClelland]

Basic Statement of Principles

(Adopted in Philadelphia, October 10, 1975)

Editorial writing is more than another way of making money. It is a profession devoted to the public welfare and to public service. The chief duty of its practitioners is to provide the information and guidance toward sound judgments that are essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy. Therefore editorial writers owe it to their integrity and that of their profession to observe the following injunctions:

  1. The editorial writer should present facts honestly and fully. It is dishonest to base an editorial on half-truth. The writer should never knowingly mislead the reader, misrepresent a situation, or place any person in a false light. No consequential error should go uncorrected.
  2. The editorial writer should draw fair conclusions from the stated facts, basing them upon the weight of evidence and upon the writer's considered concept of the public good.
  3. The editorial writer should never use his or her influence to seek personal favors of any kind. Gifts of value, free travel and other favors that can compromise integrity, or appear to do so, should not be accepted. The writer should be constantly alert to conflicts of interest, real or apparent, including those that may arise from financial holdings, secondary employment, holding public office or involvement in political, civic, or other organizations. Timely public disclosure can minimize suspicion. Editors should seek to hold syndicates to these standards. The writer, further to enhance editorial-page credibility, also should encourage the institution he or she represents to avoid conflicts of interest, real or apparent.
  4. The editorial writer should realize that the public will appreciate more the value of the First Amendment if others are accorded an opportunity for expression. Therefore, voice should be given to diverse opinions, edited faithfully to reflect stated views. Targets of criticism - whether in a letter, editorial cartoon or signed column - especially deserve an opportunity to respond; editors should insist that syndicates adhere to this standard.
  5. The editorial writer should regularly review his or her conclusions. The writer should not hesitate to consider new information and to revise conclusions. When changes of viewpoint are substantial, readers should be informed.
  6. The editorial writer should have the courage of well-founded convictions and should never write anything that goes against his or her conscience. Many editorial pages are products of more than one mind, and sound collective judgment can be achieved only through sound individual judgments. Thoughtful individual opinions should be respected.
  7. The editorial writer always should honor pledges of confidentiality. Such pledges should be made only to serve the public's need for information.
  8. The editorial writer always should discourage publication of editorials prepared by an outside writing service and presented as the newspaper's own. Failure to disclose the source of such editorials is unethical, and particularly reprehensible when the service is in the employ of a special interest.
  9. The editorial writer should encourage thoughtful criticism of the press, especially within the profession, and promote adherence to the standards set forth in this statement of principles.

Any time is a good time for us to share the 'why' of open government

By Christian Trejbal

It was safe to predict that during Sunshine Week, March 11-17, no one would throw beads and dance in the streets during the annual celebration of government transparency, but maybe they should have. Without state and federal freedom of information laws, shadows would shroud our democracy.

If you’re reading this, you already know that. Odds are you’re a journalist or someone who cares about the watchdog function of the press. Our job during Sunshine Week is sharing that enthusiasm with readers, listeners and watchers. We remind them that they, too, must be watchdogs.

Our colleagues in news departments will share thewhatof sunshine. They will recall what stories the Freedom of Information Act made possible over the last year. They might even report about changes to the law pending in legislatures and citizens who held government accountable.

That is the easy part. Opinionators (for lack of a real word) have the harder and more important job of explaining whyopen government matters.

If we do our jobs right, our audiences will leave Sunshine Week understanding just how precious government transparency is. They will better understand that FOI laws make government accountable to the public.

FOI laws exist for the people, not for us, and we must remind them. An unfortunate perception permeates the public that open government laws are only tools for journalists, too often abused by media people out to serve their own ends, not the public's welfare.

We are not alone in fighting that misconception. We can share our columns and editorials with each other to fill pages during Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week organizers will gather pieces that people are willing to share. Send them to me (christian.trejbal@roanoke.com) or Debra Hernandez with the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press (dghernandez@rcfp.org).

If you need ideas about how to get started, stop by the Sunshine Week website. It has an idea bank(sunshineweek.org/Toolkits/IdeaBank.aspx) full of creative ways to approach coverage and opinion writing. It also collects reports that contain statistics and analysis about the current state of open government (sunshineweek.org/ReadingRoom.aspx).

We can turn to history for inspiration.

Louis Brandeis can claim perhaps the most famous line about open government. He wrote in 1913, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectant; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

Yet I prefer the more illuminating words of Woodrow Wilson, who would later appoint Brandeis to the Supreme Court. In 1884 Wilson wrote, “Light is the only thing that can sweeten our political atmosphere – light thrown upon every detail of administration in the departments; light diffused through every passage of policy; light blazed full upon every feature of legislation; light that can penetrate every recess or corner in which any intrigue might hide; light that will open to view the innermost chambers of government.”

Long before Wilson, James Madison advocated the public’s right to know. In an 1822 letter he wrote, “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

The fight for government transparency is an old one, one that we must champion vigorously during Sunshine Week and every week.

Christian Trejbal is an editorial writer for The Roanoke (Va.) Times. He chairs the AOJ open government committee.

Why end editorial endorsements?

Editors' discussion list largely laments Sun-Times' decision

By Bill McGoun

The decision by the Chicago Sun-Times to stop endorsing candidates for political office found no takers among members of the Association of Opinion Journalists who replied to my on-line request. The idea that it was an abdication of responsibility occurred again and again.

In its Feb. 16 explanation, the Sun-Times questioned the value of newspaper endorsements, “especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before.” Also, it said that endorsements feed a perception the newspaper is biased and declared that “our goal …is to inform and influence your thinking, not tell you what to do.”

Very lame” was the two-word assessment from Andie Dominick, editorial writer for the Des Moines Register. “As we remind readers in every major endorsement, we aren't telling you HOW TO VOTE, we are expressing the position of this newspaper after watching, spending time with and questioning candidates.”

The argument about the value of endorsements could apply to any editorial, Dominick noted, and the solution to concerns about perceived bias is to “Write a column reminding them that opinion and news are two separate operations, if, in fact, they are.”

In an article explaining why the Register endorsed in the Republican presidential primary, Dominick noted the lengths to which the editorial board went to be informed. “We read widely, their speeches, position papers and contrary views. And we had the opportunity to question the candidates in interviews with the editorial board.”  

Jay Jochnowitz of the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union concurred: “We do believe that readers recognize that we are a group of people who make it our job to follow the issues, who have met personally with each candidate, and who in many cases have covered or followed the careers of one or more of these politicians.”  

No self-serving agenda: “Unlike a trade union, an environmental group, a business organization or political club, we usually have no agenda or corporate stake in a race," Jochnowitz said, "and if we do, we say so.”  

Tricia Vance of the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News seconded that view: “We don't look at candidates from the standpoint of how they will line our pockets but on who can take the community/state/nation where we believe it should go.”   Susan Parker of the Salisbury (Md.) Daily Times said endorsements are important in keeping the editorial writers informed. “Without the possibility of endorsements, candidates would have no reason to visit with opinion journalists at all," she wrote. "And giving up endorsements would make opinion journalists less relevant to readers, wouldn't it? It seems to me that more information, not less, is needed to help voters make solid decisions.”  

Retired Omaha editor Frank Partsch wrote: “To suggest that the public has ample opportunities elsewhere to glean needed information on candidates strikes me as forfeiting the whole game If that is true of elections, it is also true of other public policy questions.”  

Vance said there’s no reasoning with those who think the newspaper is biased, whether or not a newspaper endorses. She stresses, however, that this “is no reason to abandon what I consider to be a newspaper's duty. If we comment on issues of importance to the community we also should have the courage to suggest which candidates could best carry out the policies we believe will benefit the community.  

You could use the same ‘bias’ perception to stop doing institutional editorials altogether but it would be abdicating our responsibility.”  

We opine on hundreds of other issues every day of the year," said Chuck Frederick of the Duluth News. "Why would we suddenly fall silent, or neutral, on something as important as who our elected representatives are!?”  

To Jackman Wilson of the Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore., “An endorsement provides an opportunity to take a broad look at how the institutions of government, and the people entrusted with running them, are functioning … It would be an abdication of this responsibility … if, after making constructive or snarky comments on public bodies' performance for 364 days, on the 365th day we declined to say which people are best suited to continue or improve that performance.”  

There are difficulties in endorsing candidates, a couple of AOJ members conceded. “Many places, and especially here, it's hard to find a good candidate, risky to endorse someone who might be indicted next year, and nowadays more difficult to be sure of having better information than the uninvolved-uncommitted swing voter,” said John McClelland of Roosevelt University, Chicago. He also noted the danger of having endorsements distorted in campaign advertising.  

Partsch agreed with the Sun-Times that endorsements have little effect on major races. “Further down on the ticket is a different matter altogether," he said. "The fact is that voters do not have abundant sources of information about candidates for the school board, the natural resources board or the community college board." 

Karen Nolan of The Reporter in Vacaville, Calif., noted the problems of opinion writing in a small shop. She said her present publisher has a lot of other duties as well and participates little in editorial decisions aside from presidential endorsements.  

Our five-person board is, in reality, a four-person board, two of whom are community members. Which leaves me questioning what in the heck we are doing," she said.. "We may or may not be speaking for the publisher. We are the official voice of the newspaper, but what does that mean?”  

Still, she did not want to give up endorsements: “I like the idea that we are at least an informed group that offers our informed opinion.”  

The day after the Sun-Times announcement, the Chicago Tribune said: “We respect the decision by the Sun-Times, but we intend to keep doing endorsements.  

Do our endorsements matter? We're under no illusions about the extent of our influence. Plenty of candidates lose despite our seal of approval … Does the policy of making endorsements make it easier for hostile politicians to depict us as partisan flunkies? Not really, because they'd do it anyway ...  

Our readers make up their own minds when they cast their ballots. They get from us an honest assessment of the options, and we will keep providing it.”  

That appears to be generally the view of AOJ members active on the organization's discussion list.

Partsch concluded his response with a warning that the stakes are high.  

Finally, we know that endorsement editorials are under fire in some parts of the country," he said. "At least one state legislator has proposed to regulate them as campaign advertising. Some smaller newspapers, controlled by non-journalists, are abandoning the endorsement responsibility, and sometimes the entire responsibility to comment, because it upsets people, including advertisers.  

I don't think it's an exaggeration to suggest that the legitimacy of our craft is under challenge, and we only aid and abet the challengers when we voluntarily surrender all or part of it.”  

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

(The Sun-Times has been publishing nearly full tabloid page candidate profiles that sometimes read like endorsement editorials without the endorsing; they and a lot of related material are on a separate link into one of its non-paywall websites, suntm.es/elect2012 -JM 2/22/12)

(The Sun-Times was not the first major metro to stop endorsing. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did so in 2009 -JM 3/18/12)

Update 5/3/2012: Charlotte Observer takes back an endorsement

2012 Minority Writers Seminar

Published Monday, February 27, 2012 11:00 am

Experienced minority journalists have until March 1 to apply for the 17th annual Minority Writers Seminar. This year's seminar will be held April 12-15 at the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Twelve participating journalists will be selected to attend, and learn about opinion writing from vereran speakers and writers. 

Scripps Howard Awards Honor Nation's Best 2011 Journalism

CINCINNATI (March 16, 2012) – The Scripps Howard Foundation announced on March 16 the winners of its annual Scripps Howard Awards, honoring the best work in the communications industry and journalism education in 2011.

Established in 1953, the Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Awards competition is open to news organizations based in the U.S. and recognizes outstanding print, broadcast and online journalism in 15 categories. Two additional categories honor college journalism and mass communication educators for excellence in administration and teaching.

Winners will be honored April 26 at a dinner hosted by the Scripps Howard Foundation and its corporate founder, The E.W. Scripps Company, at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit. The winners will receive a total of $175,000 and distinctive trophies in the 17 categories.

This year's winners and finalists are representative of the way the communications industry is evolving.

"From media partnerships to individual blogs, these journalists work across multiple platforms from around the block and the world," said Mike Philipps, president and CEO of the Scripps Howard Foundation. "We are proud to honor them in the hometown of one of our company’s fine media outlets, WXYZ-TV, Channel 7."

Selected by industry experts, winners of the 2011 Scripps Howard Awards are:

  • Jamie Lucke of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader receives $10,000 and the Walker Stone Award for editorials that took on Kentucky’s powerful coal industry while speaking for the voiceless and powerless in Appalachia.
    • Finalists: John McCormick, Chicago Tribune; and Bonnie Calhoun Williams, the Independent Mail, Anderson, S.C.
  • Brian McGrory of The Boston Globe receives $10,000 and a trophy for helping a priest clear his name, cutting to the core of Mitt Romney, and an array of other thought-provoking columns about big events and small moments.
    • Finalists: Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times; and Brian J. O’Connor, The Detroit News
  • Jack Ohman of The (Portland) Oregonian receives $10,000 and a trophy for multi-panel cartoons that addressed national issues from a local perspective.
    • Finalists: Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle; and Stephanie McMillan, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale

Arab awakening affects U.S. policy strongly but unpredictably

By Marjorie Arons-Barron

We won’t know for some time the long-term impact of the Arab Spring or which nations will thrive, but, for now, the United States government views Tunisia as a model of what should happen.

That was one message given to the State Department briefing of editorialists from the Association of Opinion Journalists (formerly the National Conference of Editorial Writers) in Washington.

How the Arab Spring countries evolve toward democracy is key to United States strategic interests, so much so that the State Department has a special coordinator to monitor the transitions. He is William Taylor Jr., named in September to make sure that "assistance to the countries of the Arab revolutions is coordinated and effective."

Tunisia, where the news of 26-year-old street vendor Mohamed Bouzazi’s* self-immolation sparked the first national uprising, offers the most promising example. According to Taylor, it has successfully written a constitution and elected a constituent assembly. Its interim government is a coalition of moderate Islamist and secular parties. Tunisia “worked hard, shows moderation and is a model for the region,” Taylor said. "They’re doing the right thing."

Tunisia, with its 10 million people, could be a solid ally in this new Middle East.

Because Tunisia faces a significant deficit in its first budget, the United States is looking to make a $100 million cash transfer, plus $30 million in loan guarantees allowing Tunisia to borrow 10 times that much in the international financial markets, and $20 million in an enterprise fund to leverage private sector investments. Taylor also sees a return of the Peace Corps to Tunisia.

The prospects are not so clear for Egypt, a dramatically larger and more strategically pivotal country, where the U.S. already has a large economic investment. To outside observers and to many Egyptians, the current situation is fraught with peril, but to Taylor, the five preliminary election rounds have been "pretty good ones."

While the Muslim Brotherhood promises to be middle of the road and focus on economics, the United States is waiting to see what kind of government emerges before deciding how to be of assistance. The problem before the anticipated May election, Taylor said during the April 23 briefing, has been that no one has been particularly in charge. Recent raids on non-government organizations (NGO’s) and harassment of bloggers are particularly worrisome threats to stability .

Egypt, home to 85 million people, is also in financial crisis. The U.S. Congress has conditioned future assistance on Egypt’s continuing to adhere to the Camp David Accords’ commitment to Israel and to the continuing transfer of power from military to civilian authorities. But meeting this commitment is not a done deal.

Libya has plenty of money (from oil and gas production, with another $100 billion stashed around the world by Moammar Ghaddafi*) but is far behind in the democratization process. June 23 marks the first election in 40 years. Taylor said, "They don’t know how to create voting lists or even how to handle ballot boxes."

If Libya gets its act together, it could actually be a source of financial assistance for Tunisia and Egypt. The United States is also counting on money from Eurozone and wealthy Arab nations to aid cash-strapped “awakening” nations. But given the parlous economic condition of Europe and the frequent difficulties of Arab states to act in concert, fulfillment of this expectation is unclear.

Down the road, Yemen and eventually Syria may emerge to join those in the transitional office's portfolio. Change in those countries would have the potential to influence the balance of power in the region and the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East. Obviously the timing is uncertain and the outcomes seriously in question.

Whether the position expressed by our State Department is just optimistic thinking, or rooted in hard reality, will become clearer in the next few months, especially in light of developments with Iran, which were not addressed.

Marjorie Arons-Barron was a print and broadcast journalist, including 20 years as editorial director of WCVB-TV, Boston's ABC affiliate, and is now a blogger and communications consultant.

State Dept: Pan-Pacific rivalry & cooperation OK

By John McClelland

The United States, China and numerous other Pacific nations have common interests in cooperation, despite economic and political rivalries, according to a senior State Department official.

There should not be conflict or undue friction with China, even in places where both nations' interests seem to overlap or collide, he told the Association of Opinion Journalists during its April 23 briefings. Several of his views, and certain phrases, appeared in national news stories April 27 and beyond.

He asked that his briefing be not-for-attribution because of the sensitive nature of the topics and the speculative or off-the-cuff nature of some of his remarks. Under previously agreed ground rules, we agreed to this common department practice. Otherwise, as was true for decades in the National Conference of Editorial Writers, all AOJ events are on-the-record.

Seriously, this diplomat said, the diplomatic, economic (and Implicitly, military) relations around the Pacific rim and beyond are complex on many levels. As one example, he mentioned State's use of "Burma" rather than "Myanmar."

Whether dealing with North Korea in a time of change in its leadership or with long-time allies such as Japan and the Philippines, U.S. diplomats must consider the interests of third-parties or even 10 or more nations, he indicated in more than one context.

Some goals he outlined:

  • Get China policy right: "This is not a Cold War or containment any more," and the U.S. and China are "very interdependent" regarding economies and security, "more so than with any other country in Asia."
  • Build multilateral relations: Efforts include an East Asia Summit that President Obama attended in Bali in 2011 (it will be in Cambodia this year), and a wider recognition that all nations involved are full partners in regional issues.
  • Increase investments in trade: A Trans-Pacific Partnership will be a trade- and investment framework that will be "open and fair." To a question about shrinking access to U.S. information on this, he said the agreement will not include a Freedom of Information chapter but "will have big items on intellectual property rights for media content, pharmeceuticals" and more.
  • Enhance security: "More efficient distribution" of U.S. military assets continues, further reducing the "heavy footprint" of bases since the post-Vietnam closings. The recent posting of 250 Marines to Australia is an example of "joint use facilities," not big, expensive "bases."

Host countries cannot afford either the large amounts of land nor the cultural turmoil that big air bases or naval ports involve, he said. For example, "Philippine domestic politics cannot accommodate a Clark or Subic."

To a question about China perceiving an expanding U.S. force presence, he said diplomatic discussions with China have "not been as heated as some have characterized them."

Of China's growing global role, he said its growing economy makes a higher profile in places such as the Caribbean "inevitable" and not a serious cause for concern. Our relations with Japan and China "are not a zero-sum game" and we don't need to shortchange one to deal with the other.

North Korea has upset things at least twice recently.

The briefer said that, after a long history, "We had an agreement to restart the six-party talks on nuclear weapons, missiles and other [weapons of mass destruction.]" He said the U.S. had made it clear that no "missile launch, disguised as a 'space launch'," would be tolerated, but the North went ahead.

He did not, however, characterize the stopping of food aid that had been agreed to on Feb. 29 as a reaction to the missile launch. Instead, he said, it was the result of North Korea's failure to let observers see that the food would reach the needy people, not the military.

After a question about North Korean threats to destroy South Korea, he paused briefly and with lifted-eyebrow a tone of lifted-eybrow politeness, "That kind of rhetoric is not helpful."

John McClelland is retired journalism faculty at Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he taught 22 years after 22 years in newspapers. He began editing Masthead in November 2011.

Hillary's whiz kids

Techs use web, social media, to make U.S. diplomacy nimble

By Jonathan Gurwitz

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made quite a splash on the Internet in recent weeks, with the fictional and comical “Texts from Hillary” going viral followed by the secretary playing off the meme in real life. A Washington Post blogger declared Clinton “the Internet’s new queen of cool.”

If so, then she’s earned the crown by surrounding herself with a group of whiz kids who would be as at home in Silicon Valley as they are at Foggy Bottom. And beyond burnishing Clinton’s digital image, they are revolutionizing the conduct of U.S. diplomacy.

The group has no office or bureau. Its leader is Alec Ross, a technology guru for the Obama ’08 campaign who carries the title of senior advisor for innovation, a position Clinton created that reports directly to her. A member of his team is Ben Scott, a soft-spoken native of Canyon, Texas, who holds a doctorate in communications and led the nation’s largest non-profit advocacy group for media reform before going to State.

The innovation team is using technology in support of an agenda Clinton calls “21st Century Statecraft.” When Clinton arrived at the State Department in 2009, Scott recently told members of the Association of Opinion Journalists, she asked her staff two questions: “How is the Internet changing … international relations and the conduct of foreign policy? And … more importantly, what are we doing about it?”

Scott says that the emergence of the Internet is indeed producing a global transformation. In a piece he and Ross wrote for the March 2011 edition of NATO Review, they described “a triple paradigm shift converging on a single network.”

First, mass media have evolved from print to broadcast and now to worldwide digital platforms. Second, personal communication has progressed from mail to telephones and now to digital packets that cross borders instantly. Third, the conduct of commerce is moving from seaways, highways and skyways to digital domains.

This revolutionary convergence on the Internet is shifting power away from central governments and large institutions toward smaller institutions, individuals and networks of individuals. Scott and Ross tell U.S. and foreign diplomats that governments have lost control of the information system, and won’t be getting it back.

The U.S. goal is not to try to put the genie back in the bottle.

Our job is to try to maximize the opportunities that come with an open communications system and minimize the vulnerabilities,” Scott says. “Our job is to increase the speed at which we adapt to the changes around us.”

That means diplomacy can no longer be conducted only at the government-to-government level. It must also be conducted at the government-to-people, people-to-government and people-to-people levels.

Much of the Clinton innovation team’s efforts involve working with friendly foreign governments to develop best practices for Internet freedom and training individuals to use open information systems for their political and economic benefit. Some of it involves providing dissidents and opposition movements with the tools to evade the censorship and eavesdropping of hostile governments. And some of it simply involves listening to what people in other nations are saying.

Clinton may or may not be the Internet queen of cool. But irrespective of what you think of her or the policies of the president she represents, she is transforming the way a 60,000-person bureaucracy conducts diplomacy. (At one point, Scott compared steering State to turning a huge aircraft carrier.)

Foreign policy does not exist separately from technology any longer,” Scott says. “It used to be we had a number of people at the State Department who were trained in technology, but they were the guys who set up the computer systems and phone networks in our embassies. They weren’t there to shape our foreign policy, but they are now.”

Jonathan Gurwitz is a columnist associated with the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News, a long-time AOJ member, and the organizer for the annual NCEW-AOJ State Department briefings.

War, democracy, free media...

Adapted from reporting by Dan Simpson

Deborah E. Graze, principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, told the April AOJ briefing that key subjects the Bureau deals with include war as a human rights problem, how to define democracy, and providing U.S. support to civil society in countries in transition

She noted a worldwide trend toward government crackdowns on independent media, adding that the United States was paying special attention to the persecution of journalists, institutionally and as individuals.

She took questions:

  • Anti-Semitism abroad and its affect on positions taken by the State Department?
    • Graze replied that the problem was growing across the world and stated the need for the United States to call out hate. She referred to the work of Hannah Rosenthal as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.
  • The "Kony-2012" video on the brutal Lord's Resistance Army that went viral on the Internet?
    • She replied that it was good to get information about the LRA around.
  • Has the U.S. approach to human rights changed since it emerged as an issue in the Carter administration? Does she see a current gap in U.S. media coverage of human rights issues?
    • She replied by citing the annual human rights reports on each country, including the United States, that currently appear apparently only on-line. They are a historical chronicle of U.S. enforcement and monitoring coverage of human rights issues.
  • Are non-allies the principal focus of U.S. human-rights concerns?
    • She said no, and added that U.S. expressions of concerns frequently caused tension in U.S. relations with other countries, including allies.
  • Is the United States interested in anti-Semitism separate from concern about anti-Israel opinion?
    • The United States does not see anti-Semitism and anti-Israel opinions as the same issues. She added that Israeli policies did not necessarily reflect Israeli opinion.
  • What was the Department's view of Egypt's removing candidates from the presidential ballot?
    • "Chaotic" was her term for the whole Egyptian electoral process at the time.
  • In Libya, for example, how does U.S. policy toward human rights in a given country reflect the multiple U.S. national interests at play?
    • Graze again referred the questioner to the human rights reports*. She said that attempts were made to have dialogue on human rights issues with contacts in violator countries.
  • Do the U.S. use of drones and the number of Americans in prison present problems in efforts to "universalize" human rights principles?
    • Graze replied that the U.S. defends itself in various forums as necessary.

She frequently referred to the State Department's role in the May 3 World Press Freedom Day and to ongoing efforts at www.humanrights.gov/.

Dan Simpson had a 35-year career in the State Department that included ambassadorships to the Central African Republic, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He joined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2001 as associate editor and member of the editorial board.

Gilbert Bailon named editor in St. Louis

AOJ member moves from editorial page to top spot at P-D

Published Friday, May 4, 2012 5:10 pm by John McClelland

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editor Arnie Robbins is stepping down, and editorial page editor Gilbert Bailón (an AOJ member) will become the new editor of the paper, Publisher Kevin Mowbray announced Friday, May 4, 2012.

Doonesbury flap in perspective

Every so often, an opinion journalist who draws the story provokes a stir in the business.

Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" cartoon has done it before and did it again in April.

Hundreds of writers for mainstream media and countless letter writers and bloggers sounded off on this one. The dust is still settling, weeks later.

The AOJ members' discussion list was buzzing, and some of the comments were reminiscent of ones made during a previous, seemingly lesser, Doonesbury flap.

Back then, editorial page editors whose publications subscribe to the strip tended to say they normally ran Doonesbury (1) as an editorial cartoon, or (2) as an op-ed cartoon, or (3) with the other comics (and someone else usually had the say to run it or not), or (4) separately, such as by itself in classified, where children were unlikely to look by accident. Some omitted the provocative earlier cartoon and some did not.

This time, a week of the strip was about legislators' efforts (most notably but not entirely in Texas) to require intrusive vaginal ultrasound examination before an abortion.

The AOJ members discussing it online included those who vigorously supported the idea that the strip was a strong, legitimate, expression of opinion and those who vigorously supported the idea that their publications had an obligation to omit needlessly offensive material. Some said they used it, some said they did not, some moved it from the comics page to a commentary page, and one said his paper does not subscribe but if it did he would have put that strip in the top editorial position.

We did not poll the list members and we do not quote them without consent, because it is a place for peers to sound off freely to each other.

We did get Larry Reisman's permission to use or adapt his column, a representative piece on readers' responses, with a link to both the week's worth of Doonesbury strips in question and a delightful spoof on the spoof.

--John McClelland

Here's part of the Doonesbury chatter

Decisions to omit or relocate the Doonesbury strips often got more attention than the strips possibly could have without the additional controversy.

Newsday, which did not run the series, ran an op-ed by Jesse Walker of Reason magazine recapping some previous controversial cartoons. In 1964, a provocative "Pogo" by Walt Kelly did not appear until later, in books, Walker said, but Trudeau had an alternative for a 1985 go-round of an abortion strip: He sent an innocuous alternative and ran the biting "Silent Scream" strip in The New Republic, an option open then only to an already high-profile artist. Now, Walker said, "thank goodness for the Internet … where wastebaskets are scarce."

Broader views on the Doonesbury flap

Doonesbury runs in about 1,400 publications worldwide, one author said. Here, from a quick Nexis search, is a cross-section of what some of the others said.

In the Montreal Gazette, Peggy Curran discussed violence against cartoonists abroad, then cited the Trudeau flap: "In Canada and the United States, punishment for mocking the political, social and cultural establishment is more likely to run to banishment and shaming in the public square." She quoted the Gazette's 40-year veteran cartoonist Terry Mosher: "American publications are tightening their sphincters, because of political conservatism and newspaper economics. When I started out, there were 325 political cartoonists in the United States. Now there are 85."

The Hobart (Australia) Mercury said wishy-washy U.S. papers including the Los Angeles Times moved the strips away from other comics to "more obscure sections."

(The L.A. Times said it moved the week's strips from comics to Op-Ed.

It quoted editor Nicholas Goldberg as saying it was not because of the controversial subject or provocative point, but because "they dealt graphically with sensitive material that was deemed inappropriate for the comics page, which is read by many children.")

In The Scotsman, a pithy and carefully balanced essay by Erikka Askeland said, "It IS a cruel oversimplification to say that Americans don't get satire. Some of them get it so much that they ban it." She explained the Doonesbury flap,then said: "It wasn't the government that banned the comic strip, but a number of newspapers. Others moved them to the editorial pages.

"Should those newspapers be vilified for what could be timidity rather than censoriousness?"

Board: using Amazon-AOJ link helps our $

By Miriam Pepper

Shoppers! Have we got a deal for you. Shop ‘til you drop and help AOJ make money.

Here’s the deal: AOJ is an Amazon affiliate. Anytime you need to buy a book or a whatnot, head to opinionjournalists.org and click on the Amazon link under Additional Links at the left. Amazon will pay AOJ 6 percent of whatever you purchase -- IF you enter Amazon via AOJ.

And by shopping, you’re helping secure your organization that provides the listserv, website with Masthead articles, annual meetings and Beyond Argument.

That’s the big ticket item from the AOJ spring board meeting. It is one with potential to help the organization overcome the reduced dues (only $75 now!) and generally challenging times. So shop on!

On other matters: The organization is budgeted to lose $50,000 this year. We need more new members, donors and other revenue, and all ideas are welcome. Ship them to a leader such as David Holwerk.

Spread the word on the membership deal to colleagues, university journalism professors and university editorial page editors. The name change, Association of Opinion Journalists, is an open invitation to nontraditional opinion writers, too. It’s up to us to spread the word and grow the organization.

The annual State Department briefing on April 23 was well attended, helped by the timing link to the board meetings and AOJ Foundation aid of up to $200 to help cover travel expenses. Given the good turnout, the State Department is likely to continue making the day happen for us.

Plans are firming up for the Orlando conference Sept. 20-22. The new condensed program (saving members the expense of a longer hotel stay) will feature a raft of good speakers on global, national, political and craft issues. Plus, watch for news on a wine tasting and the usual camaraderie.

Masthead is now available for public viewing on the website. The board agreed that comments on the discussion list are private unless permission is sought for attribution. That said, the Internet is somewhat ungovernable, so caution is always recommended.

Small group discussions via phone trees are forming now and should allow AOJ to launch the first groups by summer. This new member benefit will match up editors/writers with similar interests to meet monthly by phone or group Internet chat to discuss matters of common interest: design, management, projects, staffing, et al. It’s a riff off the listserv, but more intimate and direct to help editors negotiate issues of today’s work. If interested, notify Bob Davis (bdavis@annistanstar.com) or Miriam Pepper (mpepper@kcstar.com).

Want to travel internationally and learn? AOJ’s International Affairs committee, led by Jonathan Gurwitz, is investigating the possibility of a Cuba trip. Funders will be sought to help defray the costs. State Department limits on spending by U.S. citizens will help keep costs in check, too. Contact Gurwitz if you have ideas on possible financial assistance.

Remember the AOJ contest is launched. Enter online until June 1. This contest, unlike one we won’t mention, will give awards to the top Opinion Journalist and Top Opinion pages in two circulation categories. Entries are a modest $25 for members.

Civilitas-AOJ is a work in progress, available for members to review online. The idea is to help members promote problem-solving by citizens. It’s about strong arguments, fairly argued, not necessarily nice-nice. Join the effort and discussion online.

Miriam Pepper is the vice president for the editorial page at the Kansas City Star, and secretary-treasurer of AOJ (and thus on the ladder toward presidency).

Afghan women still apprehensive as life improves

By Jay Jochnowitz 

There are growing signs that life for women in Afghanistan is improving, but “many, many challenges” remain, including the need to honor their status as equal citizens, according to a U.S. ambassador.  

Any reintegration of the Taliban must respect the now-constitutional rights of women and girls to attend school and participate fully in the economy and politics, Ambassador Melanne Verveer said. She spoke April 23 to editorial writers and editors gathered at the State Department for an annual Association of Opinion Journalists briefing.  

A peace that excludes women is not a peace that will hold,” said Verveer, who heads the Office of Global Women’s Issues.   There are positive signs that the lot of women is improving since the Taliban were forced out of power.  

A recently released “Afghanistan Mortality Survey” has numerous USaid statistics on this. Incorporating data generally comparing 2010 with 2002-03, it found:

  • Maternal deaths per 100,000 births plunged from 1,600 to 327.
  • Women using contraception doubled to 20 percent.
  • 60 percent of pregnant women got medical care, a nearly four-fold increase.
  • More newborns survived: per 1,000 live births, deaths fell from 115 to 77.
  • Deaths of children under age 5, per 1,000 live births, fell from 172 to 97.
  • Adult life expectancy rose from 42 years to 62.

The improved numbers are the result, according to USAid, of a rebuilding of the country’s health care system by the Ministry of Health, and greater access to medical care and facilities. USAid, The World Bank, and the European Commission put up $820 million toward the effort.  

Some 3 million girls attend school -- which was not allowed under the Taliban -- and 40,000 young women are in universities, Verveer said.

Women are serving in the police and military, make up about a third of the parliament, and qualify for micro-credit programs to build small businesses, such as animal husbandry and saffron production in rural areas.

Violence, however, continues against females, Verveer said:  “No one has suffered more in Afghanistan than the women.” She pointed to such incidents as acid being thrown at girls and a poisoning attempt at a girls’ school. “There’s no way to sugarcoat this, there are many, many challenges.”   

One tactic that has proven successful in some cases is to work with local religious leaders, some of whom have sermonized against violence toward women and genital mutilation, stressing that such acts are not condoned by the Quran. And, Verveer said, some imams have taken responsibility for schools that allow girls, lessening the likelihood of an attack.

Nonetheless, she said, women remain apprehensive as the Afghan High Peace Council attempts to negotiate reintegration and reconciliation. (Arsala Rahmani, a senior peace council member, negotiator, and former Taliban minister, was assassinated May 13; the Taliban denied responsibility, although they have threatened to kill members of the High Peace Council).

Women will tell you starkly and honestly that they are worried about the future,” Verveer said. 

Jay Jochnowitz is the editorial page editor of the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union and a member of AOJ's board of directors.

Board of Directors Candidiate Statements

Kate Riley

Editorial Page Editor •The Seattle Times • kriley@seattletimes.com

The Association of Opinion Journalists has helped me do my job better over the dozen years I've been involved, both at a smaller paper in a more rural area of our state and at The Seattle Times. I am humbled to be running for secretary-treasurer of an organization that has been a source not only of resources to do my job but also inspiration and commiseration.

Recently, a professional friend of mine, called to tell me he had been hired as the editorial page editor at a smaller daily newspaper in this region. An unconventional choice, he is not a journalist by training but has been an interesting and credible oped writer for a Seattle Website.

Excited for him, I found myself inadvertently giving him the hard sell about the Association of Opinion Journalists. He opened the link to the AOJ Website as we talked, and I urged him to buy the handbook, "Beyond Argument," which our volunteer members put together and recently revised. Then I started to give him examples of how AOJ has helped me in the dozen or so years since I've joined.

They were numerous. Of course there's the odd query I've made to the list-serve over the years about how to handle this issue or that, and the turf alerts that have helped us avoid falling for letter writers' disingenuous submissions. But there's also the people in AOJ that have helped me do my job better, including serving our readers with a richer experience.

When four Lakewood, Wash., police officers were shot and killed by Maurice Clemmons, who was paroled from Arkansas and released to Washington state. I reached out to David Barham at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazetteto get some background about how this could happen. Turns out, the D-G had written of its  concerns about these lenient practices, and criticized former Gov. Mike Huckabee over them. Barham graciously shared his paper's editorial so our readers could see there was a vital debate in Arkansas over this tragedy in our community.

When Boeing was considering building a second assembly line for its new 787 in the right-to-work state of South Carolina., Charleston Post and Couriereditorial page editor Charles Rowe and I shared tips and gossip. When smug denouncements of South Carolina workers' abilities became part of our local debate, I asked Charles for suggestions for an oped writer to give Seattle what-for. Ron Brinson wrote a fiesty and wickedly funny Sunday opinion piece about how North Charleston was not some backwater and was going to be a strong competitior for Boeing business in the future. Watch out.

Though the Reno Gazette-Journaland the Seattle Timesmight disagree on whether Yucca Mountain should be the nation's nuclear waste repository, editorial page editor Steve Falcone pointed me to someone who could write an oped disagreeing with the Times' position.

My point is AOJ is a community of great people who share your mission as an editorial writer or page editor, who know your challenges, who care about serving their readers. AOJ has helped me do my job better, and I have been happy to be a board member in the past and editor of the Masthead before it was transitioned to the Web site. I would be honored to serve as secretary-treasurer and help AOJ through this serious transition our industry is going through.

My friend that I gave the hard sell to? After our phone call, he emailed to say he was joining AOJ. If elected, I want to help make sure that he and members, old and new, feel it is a good investment.

Chuck Frederick

Editorial Page Editor •Duluth News Tribune • CFrederick@duluthnews.com

After 19 years as a reporter, occasional columnist and news writer for the Duluth, Minn., News Tribune, the Daily Journal of International Falls, Minn., the Winona, Minn., Daily News and other publications, I moved to editorial writing -- a dream job come true -- in January 2006 when the News Tribune named me Deputy Editorial Page Editor. I took over as Editorial Page Editor in September 2008 when the Opinion page became a one-person shop, like so many others nowadays.

I’m proud to say my resume also includes three books, “Duluth: The City and the People” in 1994, “Leatherheads of the North: The True Story of Ernie Evers and the Duluth Eskimos,” in 1997, and “Spirit of the Lights,” in 2011. I also contributed to two other books: “Grandma’s Marathon and Beyond,” and, “Duluth: Then and Now.”

Outside of writing, in 1994, I was a featured extra in the Disney movie, “Iron Will,” with practically as much screen time as the movie’s stars, Kevin Spacey, Mackenzie Astin and David Ogden Stiers. My wife Julie and I have three daughters: Claire, 17; Charleigh, 11; and Reggie, 5.

My history with the National Conference of Editorial Writers dates back to the late 1980s when a journalism professor at Winona State University started sharing with me his old Mastheads magazines. I devoured them, knowing one day I wanted to work in editorial writing. When that day came, I eagerly and quickly joined NCEW.

I’m eager to give more to NCEW/AOJ and was honored to be asked to be considered for a board position. I appreciate everyone’s consideration of my qualifications and passion. I’m eager and happy to give of myself to a profession, vocation and calling that I love and hold dear.

Karen Nolan

Opinion Page Editor • The Reporter • knolan@thereporter.com

I have been the Opinion Page editor at The Reporter in Vacaville, Calif., for six years. The Reporter is a 129-year-old, six-day-a-week community newspaper (around 17,500 circ.) that is part of MediaNews Group, under management by Digital First Media. I run a one-person shop, writing editorials, editing letters and columns, and coordinating a small editorial board that includes two community members. I also write a weekly column, as I’ve done for 14 years. Being a small paper, I also fill in for the managing editor when she’s gone, work the copy desk occasionally and run the newspaper’s Giving Tree assistance program at Christmastime. I’m also being groomed to become a “community engagement” editor as we transition to the digital format.

When I was first appointed to this position, I made two decisions that have proved invaluable: I joined AOJ (then known as the National Conference of Editorial Writers) and I bought a copy of “Beyond Argument,” the NCEW’s “handbook for editorial writers.” I’ve only been able to attend one convention (Kansas City), but I am still honing the skills I learned there. (I’m afraid I won’t be in Orlando with you this fall -- I tapped out my personal travel budget for the year by flying to Ohio for a high school class reunionundefined but I pledge that, if elected, I will make every effort to attend the next one.)

As those who also work at one-person shops at small papers know, this job can feel really isolating at times. That’s why I appreciate the AOJ listserve discussions and website articles discussing the craft of opinion journalism. For six years, I’ve benefited from my colleagues’ advice and observations. In accepting this nomination for the board, I acknowledge that it’s time for me to start contributing, too.

By way of further introduction, I am a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and I worked as a reporter and editor at community newspapers in Ohio and in Northern and Southern California before settling in Vacaville more than two decades ago. I’m married to a now-retired fire chief, and I call myself a “former soccer mom” because our two daughters are now grown. My hobbies include volunteering in the community and ringing in a handbell choir.

Rosemary Goudreau

Co-Founder Florida Voices • rgoudreau.tampa@gmail.com

After 32 years in newspapers, Rosemary Goudreau is a new-media entrepreneur and the co-founder of Florida Voices -- the state opinion page. Previously, she was editorial page editor of The Tampa Tribune, where she grew readership 30 percent. Before that, she was managing editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer, where she received two community-leadership awards for an initiative that got neighbors talking about solutions to racial tensions. Twice, she was named a Gannett “Supervisor of the Year.”  

Rosemary began her reporting career at The Tampa Tribune, her hometown newspaper, before moving to The Orlando Sentinel and later The Miami Herald, as medical writer. There, she made the transition to editing and the Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau. She went on to hold senior editing positions in St. Louis, Mo., and Norfolk, Va.  

Rosemary served five years on the board of Associated Press Managing Editors and five years on the board of the Florida Society of News Editors. She is a graduate of the University of Florida; a former graduate fellow at Stanford, Columbia and USC; and a four-time juror of the Pulitzer Prizes.  

During her journey of reinvention, Rosemary also served as press secretary on a gubernatorial campaign; taught opinion writing at the University of Florida; and worked as a PR consultant for people, political candidates and organizations trying to get their voices heard. She is married to Mark Stang, who writes books on baseball. 

I’m flattered to have been asked to run for the board of AOJ and if elected, I will do whatever I can to help keep the organization healthy, relevant and serving the needs of its members. I’m someone who’s trying to figure out how to translate opinion journalism into a viable business, and have learned much that I wish I’d known “then.” I also keep in close contact with a lot of editorial page editors and opinion journalists who are now customers of our syndication service. I’d bring to the board a new-media perspective, an entrepreneurial spirit and a deep commitment to preserving the best of what we do for our communities and democracy.”

Larry Reisman

Editorial Page Editor • Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers • Lreisman@earthlink.net

Laurence “Larry” Reisman was named the first editorial page editor of Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, which serves Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, Port St. Lucie and Stuart, Fla., in 2005. He led the merger of three editorial boards and sections into one. The section now is zoned up to three ways daily.   Reisman and his team have won numerous awards for editorial and column writing over the years, and he won an Online News Association award for a 2005 online reality game/contest, “Survivor: Treasure Coast Blogfest.” The game/contest pitted 10 bloggers against each other, with readers voting for their favorites each week. Daily Blogfest page views were as high as 54 percent of all newspaper web traffic.

In 2012, Reisman and Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers developer Brant Gallegos won Florida journalism awards for creating TCPalmAskTheCandidates.com, an interactive database designed to better educate readers about local elections and to streamline editorial board candidate endorsement meetings. The application was delivered to E.W. Scripps Co.-owned TV stations this year.

In the past year he also helped to create a Scripps website, FLDemocracy2012.com, jointly operated by Scripps newspapers and TV stations, and the Opinion Widget, designed to allow Scripps newspapers to share content online.

In the past, Reisman and the newspaper partnered with the National Conference of Editorial Writers on its Opinion Pool project, which researched young reader trends online, and worked on an NCEW committee that helped to design an iPhone app. He partnered with NCEW members in Kansas City and Seattle in an innovative, coast-to-coast Twitter/CoveritLive chat during Barack Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address.

From 1994-2005, Reisman was editor of the Press Journal, which for two of the last three years it entered the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors contest, won more awards than any other paper in its circulation category. Twice the newspaper was cited in the public service competition hosted by the Associated Press Managing Editors, for packages that led to statewide reform in high-speed chases and shined the light on local poverty.

Reisman joined NCEW in the late 1980s when he was named first editorial page editor of the Press Journal. He has worked on the Treasure Coast since 1985 in multiple roles, starting as a reporter. Previously, he worked at the Bethlehem Globe-Timesand Allentown Morning Call,both in Pennsylvania.

Reisman is a graduate of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

Christian Trejbal

Editorial Writer •The Roanoke Times • ctrejbal@gmail.com

I am running for the Association of Opinion Journalists board because, contrary to the pessimism that permeates our industry, I believe our organization’s best days are still ahead of us.

I have been a member of NCEW/AOJ since 1999.  I joined after landing my first professional job as an editorial writer at The(Bend, Ore.)Bulletinfresh out of graduate school (M.A. Philosophy, University of Minnesota and M.A. History and Philosophy of Science, Indiana University).  I spent six years in Oregon and then moved to The Roanoke(Va.) Timesto work with NCEW leaders Tommy Denton and Dan Radmacher.  I remain there, writing editorials and columns.

I have been an active member of AOJ as chair of the open government committee for nearly a decade.  In that position, it has been my privilege to work with the committee and the board on government transparency.  I wrote letters advocating transparency on behalf of our organization to Congress and other groups, and I penned articles for Masthead and Quill (the publication of the Society of Professional Journalists).  The open government committee also serves as AOJ’s contact point with the organizers of Sunshine Week every spring.

Meanwhile, I believe a healthy dose of competition drives us all to do better. To that end, I judge several opinion-writing contests every year and serve as judging coordinator for the Carmage Walls Commentary Prize of the Southern Newspaper Association.  If elected to the board, I hope to broaden the impact and recognition of our Opinion Journalism Contest as the prestigious award it is.

As an unabashed geek (I once worked as a computer designer for NASA) and member of a generation that embraces technological change, I see great potential for AOJ to take advantage of social media and other internet technologies to expand its reach and better serve members.  I do not simply mean as grounds for better assisting members to use new technology, though that will remain important, but also as tools to expand our organizational reach and create mechanisms for members to work together to share content and ideas.

I ask for your vote so that together we can continue to help AOJ transition into a lean, fiscally solvent, digital organization that excels in the modern world and continues to provide genuine value to opinion shapers.

AOJ Foundation names Michelle Johnson as Barry Bingham Fellowship Recipient

Published Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Michelle Johnson, associate professor of the practice, journalism at Boston University, is the recipient of the 2012 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 presented at the AOJ annual convention in Orlando, Florida, September 20-22, 2012. Recipients receive a $1,000 award to help them continue their work with students of color.

In nominating Ms. Johnson, Dr. Syb Bennett, associate professor at Belmont University, wrote, “Michelle has or will run any student newsroom at a professional conference.  She is not compensated for her dedication. She has run the NABJ, ONA, NAHJ, NLGJA and UNITY student newsrooms for years without any recognition. She is committed to diverse student success and is leading the charge on a think tank to improve their chances for selection for fellowships, scholarships, etc. She is amazing and selfless colleague who truly deserves this and many other honors." The acronyms reference the National Association of Black Journalists, the Online News Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and Unity Journalists.

According to the Bingham judges, Ms. Johnson’s work with Boston University and numerous student-training programs with organizations such as the American Society of News Editors, The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, NABJ, NLGJA, NAHJ, the Asian American Journalists Association and Unity Journalists, embodies the essence of this award. With an emphasis on multi-media journalism, Ms. Johnson has trained and mentored journalism students both nationally and internationally. Her energetic, curious and fearless leadership has guided students of color into the field of journalism. Through Ms. Johnson's efforts, students of all ethnicities are exposed to diverse environments as they prepare to become professionals.

Before she joined Boston University, Johnson was a journalist-in-residence at Emerson College, where she assisted in the renovation of the journalism department and the revision of the department’s curriculum.  In addition to her educational career, she spent several years at The Boston Globe in a variety of roles, most notably helping to launch the Globe’saward-winning website, boston.com.

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. The AOJ Foundation is a 501(c)3 corporation dedicated to promoting the craft of editorial and opinion writing and supporting the work of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

UPDATE April 17, 2013: 

NABJ Honors Boston University’s Michelle Johnson as Journalism Educator of the Year


Davis, Frank named Opinion Journalists of the Year

AOJ announces winners of 2012 Opinion Journalism Contest

Published Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thomas Frank, Easy Chair columnist for Harper’s Magazine, and Bob Davis, editor of the Anniston Star, in Anniston, Ala., have been honored as opinion journalists of the year by the Association of Opinion Journalists (AOJ). 

Founded in 1947 as the National Conference of Opinion Writers, AOJ is a professional organization dedicated to advancing the craft of opinion journalism through education, professional development, exploration of issues of public importance and vigorous advocacy within journalism. AOJ is committed to promoting a healthier civic culture by raising the standards for public debate.

Only a writer with the talent and dexterity of Thomas Frank could keep a reader engaged for 2,500 words on the difficulty he had finding his way inside the Wisconsin Capitol building to report on the struggle to save collective bargaining,” wrote the judges about the Harper’s Magazine columnist. “Only such a writer could so perfectly capture the financial world we’re stuck in -- ridden as it is with fraud -- by calling it the 'Age of Enron,' then make you want to laugh and cry at the same time. Thomas Frank of Harper’s Magazine writes highly visual and persuasive commentary. He draws readers in with thorough reporting on political and social issues, then pulls them along by explaining how we got here, who put us here, what it all means and how we can get the heck out. Frank’s long-form essays have a distinct point of view. He makes you feel like he’s on your side. Frank's writing is smart, erudite and informative but with a light, accessible touch, making him the stand-out writer of the year.”

About Bob Davis, the judges wrote, “Bob Davis' columns have the best anchor any local newspaper could have -- a sense of place. Whether he's doing a devastating takedown of one state Sen. Scott Beason or advocating literacy programs (as opposed to absurd immigrant laws), the voice is always that of a thoughtful Alabama Southern gentleman who's considered all arguments. Even the requisite post-disaster column has charm, context and depth. Besides, anybody smart enough to use the 'Band of Brothers' speech from 'Henry V' to spank the latest of a host of bad Alabama governors, while continuing to pound away at the evergreen topic of revising the 1901 state constitution, is showing writing and thinking chops far beyond most of us.”

Frank was chosen from the circulation of 100,000 and more category, and Davis from the circulation of 100,000 or less category.  This is the second win for Davis.

AOJ also presented an award to The Kansas City Star as the nation’s top opinion pages

Anyone who thinks newspapers are dead obviously hasn’t been reading the opinion pages of the Kansas City Star, “ wrote the judges. “Seven days a week, these pages publish opinion journalism that is lively, well written, attractively engaged and – most important -- engaged in questions that are vital to the health of communities in Kansas and Missouri and the lives of the people who live in those communities. These are undoubtedly challenging times for newspapers, but at the Kansas City Star, opinion journalism is very much alive and kicking.”

The Opinion Journalism Contest began in 2011 to recognize the best in opinion writing.

Opinion that is fact- and logic-based strengthens a civic culture,” said Froma Harrop, president of the Association of Opinion Journalists. “Our support of a well-constructed argument does not preclude satire, parody or biting commentary. We seek to raise the level of discourse, not lower the temperature.

This year’s winners meet our criteria, and then some.”

Awards to the winners will be presented at the annual AOJ conference, which takes place this year in Orlando on Sept. 20-22.

For op-ed diversity, give editing, mentoring

By Richard Prince

When the Web was full of stories about Trayvon Martin, a young African American writer asked what I thought of his story on the killing. It left a lot to be desired, and I told him so.

"Upon reviewing the final story a day later, I recognized some of the observations you made in your email," he replied. "My concern is that -- as I'm no longer in a 'traditional' newsroom setting -- I'm not receiving the thorough 'editor's eye' with which I was mentored."

He added, "...the feedback you provided is what I wished I was getting before my pieces were hitting the web. And I've felt this way for a while as a freelance contributor."

I pass along his lament because his experience is not unique.

The Internet is filled with poorly edited opinion pieces by writers who are burning to express themselves and are not going away.

When the Columbia Journalism Review recently asked about demographic diversity on op-ed pages for a late May article, I thought not only about op-ed pages, but about young writers on the Internet. The two need each other.

Sad to say, the prospects for increased diversity on newspaper staffs, including those writing for op-ed pages, don't look promising. In the 2012 newsroom census from the American Society of News Editors, total newsroom employment at daily newspapers declined by 2.4 percent, while the loss in positions held by journalists of color was 5.7 percent

This, in an industry with a goal of matching by 2025 the percentage of journalists of color with the percentage of blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans in the general populace. Census figures put the combined population of these groups at 37 percent and growing, a far cry from the 12.3 percent and shrinking that ASNE counted.

It’s sometimes said that news organizations had more of an opportunity to diversify when the economy was stronger and newspapers weren’t competing with more modern technologies. These days, “doing more with less” seems to be the rule.

AOJ can do the next best thing, however: It can give the gift of editing. Our members might not be able to hire, but we can mentor these freelance writers.

This isn't a new concept for AOJ. The Minority Writers Seminar, now in its 17th year, has already adopted mentoring as a primary reason for being, according to Rick Horowitz, one of the program's guiding lights since 2000.

Groups seeking to boost the inclusion of women have caught on, too. The New York-based Op-Ed Project says its mission is "to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world."

It says: "A starting goal is to increase the number of women thought leaders in key commentary forums to a tipping point. We envision a world where the best ideas -- regardless of where they come from -- will have a chance to be heard, and to shape society and the world. Working with top universities, foundations, think tanks, nonprofits, corporations and community organizations, we scout and train under-represented experts to take thought leadership positions in their fields; we connect them with our national network of high-level media mentors; and we vet and channel the best new experts and ideas directly [to] media gatekeepers who need them, across all platforms."

Anne Michaud, interactive opinion editor at Newsday, alerted the AOJ members' online discussion list to this project.

She wrote, "I went through the training about 18 months ago, to check it out, and it is really very powerful -- both about encouraging women with different expertise to recognize that and participate in 'the public debate,' and also with practical writing tips and editing assistance."

Op-ed pages need more diversityand this has been a recurring topic among those concerned about the accuracy of our news products.

[Update Sept. 8, 2012: Prince column, only 1/2 of 1 percent of big-paper op-eds are by Hispanics, with photo of a N.Y. Times workshop.]

The Summer 2001 issue of The Masthead carried "Why Women Don't Write" by Bill Williams, at the time an editorial writer and former letters editor at the Hartford Courant, and David Medina, then letters editor there. They surveyed readers about why more women weren't writing letters to the editor, and settled on two main reasons: Women were “too busy” and they feared harassment after the letters were published.

In 2008, the late Deborah Howell, then ombudsman of the Washington Post, bluntly told readers: "The Post's op-ed page is too male and too white. And there aren't a lot of youthful opinions, either."

She took a count in May of that year: "The 2008 numbers as of Wednesday: 654 op-ed pieces -- 575 by men, 79 by women and about 80 by minorities."

Nicholas Kristof, op-ed columnist at the New York Times, picked up on Howell's theme in his blog: "This lack of diversity is, frankly, a broader problem with American punditry in general, from newspaper columnists to television talking heads to writers of letters to the editor. American journalism is becoming much more representative of the country, in terms of race and gender, but opinion pages still tend to be preserves of white men."

A breakthrough occurred in January 2012: The Washington Post announced "She The People," a new website section.

"According to comScore, only 42% of U.S. readers of political news sites are female, compared to 51% of all online adults, suggesting women have been under-represented by political sites and in political reporting," Raju Narisetti, then Post managing editor, announced: "The Washington Post believes ‘She the People’ will give a distinct platform to unique female voices who have interesting perspectives to share."

Other media companies are dedicating web sections to Hispanic and African American news and opinion. By and large, however, these are Internet-based or multimedia companies, such as Huffington Post, NBC and Fox -- not newspapers.

Nevertheless, these sites are creating more spaces for writers of color, though not always providing them the editing they need. Yet that isn't stopping the would-be pundits, who could benefit from sound grounding in, say, AOJ's handbook, "Beyond Argument."

Helping them would not only improve what we read on the Internet, but boost the pool of available opinion writers for our own organizations.

"I think we tend to over-think issues like this," Arnold Garcia, editorial page editor of the Austin American-Statesman, told me after I queried him on op-ed page diversity.

"Why is diversity importanton the op-ed pages?" Garcia said. "The same reason that is important on every other page of the newspaper. If a publication purports to be a mirror of the community it is covering, then its content should reflect accurately that community. It's called thorough, comprehensive journalism. I can tell you that it would be very easy to fill those pages with the pretty narrow world views that people are eager to offer. It's a little more work but a lot more reward to go looking for views that aren't always reflected on op-ed pages."

In a bid for a more inclusive membership, the National Conference of Editorial Writers has become the Association of Opinion Journalists. Let's expand our focus, too.

We might not be able to hire, but there are other ways to make our products more inclusive. Let’s think about what we can do with freelancers.

And let's give the gift of editing!

Richard Prince writes “Richard Prince’s Journal-isms,” http://mije.org/richardprince, a three-times-a-week online column on diversity issues in the news media, for the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. He chairs the AOJ Diversity Committee.

End-of-endorsements explosion?

Writers, editors decry growing trend of abdication

Published Wednesday, September 12, 2012 11:05 am by Bill McGoun

The trickle of announcements earlier this year that newspapers were no longer endorsing candidates for public office has become a torrent. Halifax Media Group, a two-year-old company which now controls newspapers in six states, recently announced that its publications will no longer endorse.

In an effort to prevent a perception of bias in political races, the Editorial Board has decided to end the series of editorials by which it has recommended candidates for election,” The Ledger of Lakeland, Florida, said in its editions of Sept. 2. “Making the distinction between news coverage and editorials as clear as possible is … a priority for Michael Redding, chief executive officer for the Halifax Media Group. Halifax owns The Ledger. He called for the 34 Halifax newspapers to end candidate recommendations or endorsements in an Aug. 16 memo.”

The reaction from AOJ members who posted items on the members' discussion list was uniformly negative.

Bias Baloney?

Both columnist John Young and I made the point that the bias argument is really an argument against all editorials, not just endorsements.

Even the novel pairing of conservative and liberal editorial pages in Chattanooga, Tenn., does not insulate against claims of bias, said Harry Austin, editorial page editor of the Times Free Press.

We¹ve had dual, free-standing editorial pages since the two former papers were bought and merged in 1999. The arrangement would seem to allow our paper to be free of charges of partisan bias, but we still get them,” Austin said.

My sense has always been that the approach of Election Day is the most important time for editorial boards to state where they stand regarding who should lead,” Young added. “To editorialize 364 days a year and then go fishing when the community makes its most significant statement of opinion at the polls makes zero sense.”

Didn't we just see a poll that found local newspapers are among the most trusted media sources? You know, the ones that traditionally have endorsed local candidates?” asked Karen Nolan, editorial page editor of The Reporter in Vacaville, Calif., “In fact, I would argue that on the local level, readers appreciate the endorsement process because how else would they know who … these people are?”

Redding said in his announcement that endorsements feed the impression that the newspaper’s coverage is biased. “Right or wrong, it is the perception,” he wrote. That led columnist-commentator-writing coach Rick Horowitz to say, “I've been under the impression that one central role of editorial pages was to make reasoned arguments that might occasionally encourage readers to re-examine their ‘perceptions’ -- instead of, say, simply caving in to them.”

Broader Benefits

Gary Crooks, associate editor of the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., pointed out that the endorsement process benefits the journalists as well as the readers. “While I see the downside of endorsements, I can’t honestly say I’d meet all of these candidates if we didn’t have this process. From there, I learn a lot about them … and our community. The benefits of that should be considered.” He said the preparation for endorsements might not make it into all the endorsement editorials, “but it helps inform our opinions year-round.”

Does this mean a newspaper should always endorse, even if neither of the candidates measures up? Some editors would insist on it. “As a former publisher (who himself was the former opinion page editor) used to say: ‘When people go to the polls, they don't really have the option of sitting out a decision, so neither do we. But we can certainly acknowledge in our editorial that we are holding our nose and voting ...,’” Nolan said.

Tom Kelly, a former editor of The Palm Beach Post, said much the same: “The voters have to make a choice. So do we.” The only deviation from that I remember during Kelly’s tenure was when a corrupt incumbent was running against an unqualified challenger. I believe in that case we 'recommended' rather than 'endorsed.' I can’t remember who we recommended."

As one who believes fervently in the importance of newspaper editorials, including endorsements, especially in an era where a flood of campaign money threatens to undermine the democratic process, I am not optimistic. Regardless of the reasons, I fear we have not seen the last of newspapers abdicating their responsibilities.

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 published books and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Florida.

Online polling and other research fables

Published Thursday, September 13, 2012 11:00 am by John McClelland

"It must be true; it was in an online poll."

If you believe that, I know a guy in New York with a good deal on a world-famous bridge, or a $10 Rolex.

It is easy to conduct an informal, unscientific, poll online. Numerous sites, such as Survey Monkey, allow free small polls, with statistics. For modest fees, you can get powerful tools. Interesting, but not a valid way to assess public opinion.

Some publications use online polling, for fun, for giving readers a sense of interactivity, for trolling up some good citizen quotes and such.

But that can provoke vigorous discussion among opinion writers and editors. We had another round of it on the AOJ members' discussion list recently.

Jay Jochnowitz, spoofing the use of online polls (which he admittedly employs on his paper’s opinion blog), wrote: "We present this online poll mainly to give you something interactive to do without thinking too hard. ... Our only interest is how many clicks it got."

Tricia Vance told of local legislative candidates who each "cited 'independent' polls showing him ahead by double digits." She quoted Dire Straits' "Industrial Disease" -- "Two men say they're Jesus; one of them must be wrong." She urged colleagues to be skeptical about all polls "and remind readers that even the best polls are but a snapshot in time."

Journalists should be aware of things to be considered before reporting on polling.

A common list:

  • Who paid;
  • Who did it;
  • How were respondents found;
  • How many were asked;
  • How many completed the survey and response rate;
  • When was it done;
  • How (phone or in-person, or....);
  • Were the results adjusted to population demographics;
  • Numerical results;
  • Margin of error (usually about 2% to 5%) and confidence level (usually 95%, or wrong at least one time in 20);
  • Sizes and margins of subsamples;
  • Pollster's comments about conclusions and applicability; and
  • The actual questions.

For a professional research association's standards, go to the AAPOR ethics document and fast-find (Ctrl-F) to section III. Standards for Disclosure.

A search-engine review found several polls on media credibility. A few are linked below.

Some of these polls apparently used sound social-science research methods, although this was not supported, because the "how-we-did-it" was all-too-often missing. That alone is a red-flag.

Some were online "polls," inherently useless as indicators of public opinion. One reason is that the respondents are "self-selected," the most motivated (or bored) of the few Internet users who somehow saw the poll and chose to take it.

Many such polls allow repeat responses.

Sponsored research, even if scientifically sound, often reports results favorable to the sponsor. One explanation is that sponsors choose not to announce private polls that get unfavorable results.

Even in relatively independent scientific polling, differences in timing, randomized selection of interviewees, and -- especially -- exact wording of the questions can make a huge difference. Thus we can see ostensibly independent, professional polls with opposite results.

Take it all with a huge grain of salt. But do ask yourself this: Who else but a professional news organization has the expertise and independence to be informing -- or advising -- the public on such things as local elections?

John McClelland was a working journalist for decades before teaching 22 years at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Now largely retired, he began editing Masthead near the end of 2012.

Pulliam Fellowship goes to Sandra Shea of Philly

Published Friday, September 14, 2012 9:00 am by John McClelland

The Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writing, presented at the AOJ convention Sept. 22, goes to Sandra Shea, editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Daily News.

The $75,000 award is sponsored by the Sigma Delta Chi (SDX) Foundation, the nonprofit educational arm of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

SPJ's announcement says in part: "With the fellowship, Shea plans to research the state of poverty in the U.S. and facilitate coverage of impoverished communities by giving poor people technology and training to help them tell their stories."

Shea told the AOJ audience she wants to report on poverty in new ways.

The fellowship each year helps "an outstanding editorial writer or columnist broaden his or her journalistic horizons and knowledge of the world. The award can be used to cover the cost of study, research and travel. The fellowship results in editorials and other writings, including books."

AOJ's president, Froma Harrop, was among the award judges. The award presentation is an annual event at NCEW-AOJ conventions.

Future looking up

AOJ board meets in Orlando pre-convention

Published Wednesday, September 19, 2012 11:00 pm by Christian Trejbal

The Association of Opinion Journalists' Board of Directors arrived in Orlando a day early for the 2012 convention. As rain and wind buffeted the hotel, the board found high hopes for AOJ and its future.

Financially, things are looking up. Though the organization has continued to lose money this year, it was less than in recent years, and revenue was greater despite lower membership dues.

"We're not in the sort of free-falll we were before, and that's reason for optimism," President Froma Harrop (The Providence Journal) said.

Lower dues and possibly the new name have helped increase membership after years of declines. Since last year, active membership grew from 256 to 267, despite retirements and losses from corporate downsizings. Ten of the new members were students at the University of Central Florida.

Harrop said AOJ must work harder to reach opinion workers beyond newspapers. Professional online journalists are now welcome, but too many do not know what AOJ has to offer.

Jonathan Gurwitz (San Antonio Express News), chairman of the International Affairs Committee, reported that more than three dozen members expressed interest in a foreign trip, particularly if to Cuba. The board authorized him to explore an itinerary and opportunities for financial support.

The Civilitas project, AOJ's effort to elevate the public dialogue, remains a work in progress. Members have strongly diverse views about what is appropriate, so the entire organization cannot take a formal stand. Instead, several board members proposed that individual views appear on the website.

This convention is ready and things are coming together well for the next one, said John Bersia (University of Central Florida), convention chair. Salve Regina University, atop cliffs overlooking the Atlantic at Newport, R.I., will be the host on a new Sunday-Tuesday schedule Oct. 13-15, 2013.

Vice President Bob Davis (The Anniston Star) is already hard at work on the 2014 convention, for Mobile, Ala.

The board approved a technical bylaws amendment that will go out to a vote of the members. It would simply update language to reflect the 2010 change that combined the offices of secretary and treasurer into a single secretary-treasurer.

A second bylaws change got extensive discussion but no action during this meeting. The bylaws now call for the nominating committee every year to find two people to run for secretary-treasurer and six for three director seats. Some directors said the rule pushes the committee to find sometimes a "sacrificial lamb," and always eight candidates, four of whom must lose. The board will return to that discussion.

AOJ's opinion contest continues to evolve. Ideas to improve it include making new categories, such as one for Web commentary, and turning judging over to a university. Miriam Pepper (Kansas City Star) will head up a committee to develop plans.

The board was excited by a proposal from Tom Waseleski (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) for a "Critiques-to-Go" program to replace the much-missed convention critiques. It would occur online or by phone during the year.

Christian Trejbal is an editorial writer for The Roanoke (Va.) Times. He chairs the AOJ open government committee.

We came to journalism as a calling...

A review of 'Out of the News: Former Journalists Discuss a Profession in Crisis,' by Celia Viggo Wexler

By Susan Parker

Most journalists enter the field because they want to make a difference, somehow, somewhere.

They want to uncover things that need to see the light of day – not for sensationalism, to sell newspapers or attract viewers, but because they sincerely want to make their communities better, more honest, more productive and healthier, happier places to call home. The good ones sincerely want this on a deep level, and not not because they want to become media stars or get rich, but because they view this as the right thing to do. It’s a calling, a vocation and a way of life.

Former reporter Celia Viggo Wexler mentions this in her introduction to “Out of the News: Former Journalists Discuss a Profession in Crisis.” Wexler drew on her own experiences with journalism, advocacy and lobbying as well as those of 11 former journalists. She has painted a picture of a profession that is undergoing a transformation that is as much identity crisis as it is outdated business model.

Being a journalist isn’t something you get over, I realized. It’s a way of thinking about things that is forever a part of who you are,” Wexler writes in her preface. “But journalism was also changing. Newspapers were shedding jobs, and fact-based journalism was being challenged by bloggers and websites. The Internet was enabling everyone to share and comment on the news, with little editorial intervention”

Those of us who were working journalists at the time saw the foundations of our profession rocked like an earthquake, but the significance of this sea change was not necessarily fully obvious at any given time. Wexler’s book charts a course that helps connect the dots that took us from where we were to today’s new and rapidly changing world.

In her conclusion, Wexler points out how to some extent the profit motive and rise of corporate media undermined the profession itself. This is evident, she writes, in important or in-depth stories killed for want of space, in the frequent failure of journalists to ask probing questions, and in the rise of punditry and news as entertainment rather than education.

Her conclusion?

It feels as if journalism of the twenty-first century may deliver two kinds of meals – fast-food, from the slimmed-down shadow of your daily newspaper or broadcast news outlet – if you’re lucky to have either – or the gourmet feast of high-quality investigative reporting, reporting that of necessity can only take on a few, high-profile, long-term issues.”

Yet despite the depressing state of journalism today, Wexler remains optimistic about the its future, one in which a new generation of reporters will find new ways to sniff out and share information, while technology will facilitate reaching many audiences.

There’s food for thought in “Out of the News” for new or aspiring journalists, newsroom veterans and citizen news consumers alike.

Susan Parker, voices editor at The Daily Times in Salisbury, Md., has worked there since 1990, as youth editor, as editorial writer, and since 2001 as editorial page editor. She has been a member of AOJ/NCEW since about 2005.

U.S. diplomacy challenged

Syria-Russia-Iran-Israel = powderkegs

Published Friday, September 21, 2012 11:00 pm By Tom Waseleski

U.S. diplomacy faces unusually challenging situations with Syria and Iran, said three panelists with foreign experience in a conference session titled "War, Diplomacy and U.S. Interests."

Ambassador Gary Grappo, who headed the embassy in Oman and is now president and CEO of the Keystone Center, told AOJ members that the fighting in Syria has escalated to a vicious, sectarian war that is "quite tragic."

He said that, despite rebel gains, the Bashar Assad regime will be around for a while due to disorganized opposition and ample supplies and support from Iran and Russia.

Other Arabs, however, are waiting for the United States to "step up and lead" by identifying the democrats in the Syrian opposition and preparing them for government, encouraging defections in the Assad regime, locating safe zones along the border for rebel forces and offering Assad an out.

On Iran, Grappo said the country could have a nuclear capability in 12 to 36 months. If it were to test a nuclear weapon, however, it would suffer universal condemnation. Israel doesn't have bunker busting capability to take out the site, so it would have to rely on the United States. Such an action, however, would unite the Muslim world against the United States and Israel. Iran will respond to real pressure short of military action, he said, but Israel will not stand idly by. [Video of this]

What is essential to calm the region, Grappo said, is a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But that will take painful compromise from both sides and politicians relaxing long-held positions.

Retired Brig. Gen. Steve Cheney, now with the American Security Project, addressed criticism that Marines were not in place to protect the U.S. diplomats killed recently in Libya. He said that, although Marines are assigned to provide security at virtually every U.S. Embassy, the State Department uses its own forces for the personal security of the ambassador and other high officials. The host nation is the primary guarantor of diplomatic security, he said.

On Syria, he said that too many Americans want the U.S. military to get involved, but that should be a last choice. "Syria is not so easy," he said.

As for Israel, he said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is playing election-year politics in both the United States and his own country with his calls for setting a "red line" against Iran developing a nuclear capability. "You need to let diplomacy work," Cheney said. "There's time before they get a weapon and before they can put a weapon on a missile."

Ambassador Harriet Elam-Thomas, who served in Senegal and now heads the Diplomacy Program at the University of Central Florida, was the moderator. "Patience and time in diplomacy will always be the bread and butter of our success," she said. 

Tom Waseleski is editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Interaction gets upbeat views

Reader engagement dominates crystal ball for AOJ panel

Published Friday, September 21, 2012 7:45 pm by Frank Partsch

The future of opinion journalism will bring more efforts to engage the reader, providing interactive contacts and competing effectively for the public’s attention. These were among the predictions of a panel during a Sept. 21 session of the AOJ convention.

Panel member Mike Lafferty pointed to his job title to illustrate an evolution in journalistic opinion.

Lafferty is the “audience engagement editor” for the Orlando Sentinel. He said the title reflects the newspaper’s determination to draw readers into conversation with each other and with the newspaper’s opinion staff. This is done by use of social media to involve the community in commenting on issues of interest, participating in on-line discussions and providing questions for newsmakers interviewed by the editorial board. An Internet link lets readers indicate agreement or disagreement with Sentinel editorials.

A similar commitment to interactivity was evident in the comments of other panelists.

Autumn Brewington, assistant editorial page editor at the Washington Post, said the Post encourages online reader reaction and highlights comments that attract heated discussion. Editorial writers are encouraged to engage readers whose comments warrant further conversation.

The Poynter Institute likewise uses social media to engage members of the public, said Mallary Tenore, managing editor of poynter.org. Rather than ignoring “the trolls and people who are criticizing you,” she said, engaging them one-on-one in a reasonable manner sometimes elevates the quality of the conversation.

Social media help to break down the traditional barriers between journalists and the public,” Tenore said.

James Hill, the panel’s moderator, said he found significance in the panel’s handling of on-line reader comments. Hill, managing editor of the Washington Post division that contains its well-known Writers Group, noted that speakers at past conventions had mostly lamented the vulgarity and incivility that permeate many of the on-line message boards. But this panel, he noted, presented answers.

By using innovation “to make (on-line) comments do something for you,” Hill said, “we’re getting to where we ought to be in opinion journalism.”

As to the newspaper’s generation of its own ideas, Lafferty said the emphasis at the Sentinel is on “reported editorials,” which he said are mostly local or regional and which differ from merely “riffing” on the morning headlines. Some days, the Sentinel publishes no editorial of its own, he said, and turns instead to moderated discussions and similar vehicles to keep a conversation going.

Coming challenges?

"Speed versus accuracy,” said Tenore. The immediacy of electronic communication intensifies the impulse to cut corners on verification, she said, suggesting that information-providers develop language to the effect that “we’re checking it out; please stick with us.

Competition for the public's time, Lafferty said. He and Brewington endorsed the moderating of on-line conversations by editors to make the threads useful, and thus enticing, to the general readership.

The quality of conversationchanges when they sense . . . that it’s something other than a faceless voice shouting in the dark,” Brewington said.

In a last-minute addition to the program, Kate Riley of the Seattle Times was invited from the audience to describe her newspaper’s campaign against the repeal of a same-sex marriage amendment in the state of Washington. A major innovation was the printing, on the editorial page, of a poster urging retention of the amendment with a request that readers photograph themselves with the poster and send the results to the newspaper for publication.

Frank Partsch is retired editorial page editor of the Omaha World-Herald and former editor of The Masthead, back when it was ink on slick paper.

We need politics for grown-ups!

Published Friday, September 21, 2012 12:15 pm by Lois Kazakoff

James Bacchus says Americans need to grow up and do what the rest of the world is expecting us to do: lead on addressing the problems that concern us all. Yet neither presidential candidate has said a word about this.

Bacchus, a former Democratic congressman from Florida and a former World Trade Organization judge, told those attending the 2012 Association of Opinion Journalists convention in Orlando, Fla., that American political discourse has a problem. We talk as if we are the only people in the world.

We are not. We are only 5 percent of the global population. We live in an interdependent world where we need to work together with the other 95 percent.

Bacchus says the world is looking to America to lead, but that doesn't mean dominate, to tell them what to do. That means building consensus on global problems, like climate change.

We need politics for grownups, not politics of paralysis, he said. The essence of American representative democracy is compromise -- yet we have political machines that reinforce our differences.

We don't need to be talking about the 47 percent, he said. We need to be talking about the 100 percent. And the American people need to demand that conversation.

We need transformation politics. We need political leaders who lead by telling us what we don't want to hear. We need to acknowledge what the world is looking to us to be -- a global leader and a beacon of democracy. And we need to confront our problems like grownups.

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

Presidential race, old hat new way

AOJ Convention keynoter drubs both sides

Published Friday, September 21, 2012 by Marjorie Arons-Barron

Republicans never wanted a moderate to be their 2012 presidential nominee, but that’s what they got.

In explaining to the opening AOJ convention session what happened, Georgetown University Professor Stephen Wayne came close, perhaps unintentionally, to saying last rites for Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Here's how he put that scenario:

The choice of the Republican base was Texas Governor Rick Perry. 

The party changed the rules of the primary by moving the process back a month and using proportional allocation of votes until April 1. 

Super PAC money was on Perry till he imploded, and Newt Gingrich failed as well. 

A-list conservatives (like Governors Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels) declined to enter the race, probably not wanting to take on an incumbent, even an incumbent weakened by a flagging economy. 

So the GOP got Mitt Romney, playing to the party’s conservative base, but not always convincingly. 

Then President Obama spent his money early defining former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, filling in the gaps, just as George H. W. Bush had done to Michael Dukakis and George W. Bush had done to John Kerry. 

Even so, the economic environment should have been favorable to the Republicans, but Romney hasn’t been able to capitalize on it.

Wayne attributed Romney’s post-convention inability to get traction to the impact of Bill Clinton’s convention speech, which reignited enthusiasm in the Democratic base. That's a base the Obama campaign has been trying to rebuild since it peaked in 2008. In this 2012 endeavor, Obama has been helped, said Wayne, by the Romney campaign and by Romney himself.

Wayne also pointed to the possibility that this year we may have the first real coat-tail election since Ronald Reagan in 1980, and GOP candidates for both branches are taking note. Candidates like Virginia’s George Allen and Massachusetts’ Scott Brown are distancing themselves from Romney.“Who would have thought that in the 2012 campaign Obama would be the warm and fuzzy candidate,” he asked, noting that, when it comes to the personal touch, Obama is no Bill Clinton.

Given that only 3 to 5 percent of voters are truly independent and the rest are evenly split and given the policy difficulties that won’t go away, Wayne said he fully expects the negativism to continue after the election, and the DC morass to endure.

Marjorie Arons-Barron was a print and broadcast journalist, including 20 years as editorial director of WCVB-TV, Boston's ABC affiliate, and is now a blogger and communications consultant.

2 broadcasters get life memberships

Published Friday, September 21, 2012 6:20 pm

Two veteran broadcasters, Margie Arons-Barron and Chuck Stokes, received AOJ's highest honor -- life membership -- at the Orlando convention. The long-time members and leaders of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and the Association of Opinion Journalists were honored with their awards at Friday's luncheon.

Neil Heinen, a past president and member of the Professional Committee, read the commendation of Margie Arons-Barron signed by AOJ President Froma Harrop. It noted that Arons-Barron is a past president of the National Broadcast Editorial Association and an Emmy Award-winning former editorial director at WCVB-TV in Boston, where she spent much of her 30-year career as a journalist. She was credited with performing an indispensable role in merging the broadcasters of NBEA with the print commentators at NCEW in 1992.

A member of NCEW since 1990, Arons-Barron has served on committees, volunteered for projects and been a bridge between the broadcasters and print types in the organization. For the last four years she has served on the AOJ Foundation's board of directors.

Today she is president of Barron Associates Worldwide Inc., a Boston-based communications and consulting firm.

Heinen said, "Margie's service to editorial writing and the organizations of NBEA, NCEW and now the Association of Opinion Journalists, creates a compelling picture of a person who is devoted to our organization and our craft."

Stokes' commendation was read by Tom Waseleski, a past president and chair of this year's Professional Committee. Stokes has been an Emmy Award-winning editorial/public affairs director of WXYZ-TV in Detroit for 25 years and an active member of NCEW/AOJ since 1992.

He has been president of both NCEW and the NCEW Foundation, has worked on various committees and now serves on the AOJ Foundation's board.

He has been a long-serving faculty member with the Minority Writers Seminar, AOJ's ongoing effort to stimulate interest in opinion writing among minority journalists. He also was a key source of support and stability when NCEW transitioned from its previous headquarters operation to management by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association.

Today Stokes, who is a graduate of Morehouse College and the holder of a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, is the moderator and producer of "Spotlight on the News," Detroit's longest-running weekly news and public affairs show.

Waseleski called Stokes "a beloved member and leader in NCEW/AOJ" and one who "has made us a better organization."

President Froma Harrop presented Stokes and Arons-Barron with framed versions of their letters of commendation. Under AOJ's bylaws, life members are nominated by the Professional Committee, which consists of all past presidents, and submitted for approval to the AOJ board.

4 big economies a mixed bag

Growing faster than U.S. but vulnerable to turmoil

Published Saturday, September 22, 2012 3:45 pm by Bill McGoun

All of the BRIC nations -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- are growing their economies with a greater government role than in the U.S., but China is doing it on steroids. At the same time, problems are developing in each of the four.

Those were the conclusions of four panelists discussing “Rising Powers: Challenges and Opportunities for the U.S.” Friday at the AOJ convention.

China’s growth, an extreme case of the state-led development, is slowing down, said Shelley Rigger of Davidson College. The model may have run its course, she said, or perhaps the downturn is short-term.

Other challenges facing China’s leaders are island territorial claims, which Rigger said were not all China’s fault though Chinese actions have exacerbated the situation, and uncertainties about the leadership transition. In the latter regard she alluded to the disappearance of heir-apparent Xi Jinping, who had dropped from sight for more than a week.

Brazil also has its economic problems, and it has failed in its attempts to be a regional leader, said former ambassador Myles Frechette, now with the Council of the Americas/American Society. Taxes are high, labor and electrcity are costly and infrastructure is weak, he said, and there is a need for more private investment.

Russia seeks modernization, but it rejects Westernization and prefers state-run businesses, said Eugene Huskey of Stetson University. He said the Russian leaders know they are not the U.S.’ greatest adversary, as Mitt Romney has said, but they enjoy the attention.

Huskey added that the Russians, who have their own restless religious minorities, tend to favor autocratic rulers who keep such dissent in check, such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. They see no conflict in blocking the extension of U.S. influence even while engaging the U.S., Huskey added.

Pallavoor Vaidyanathan of the India Center at the University of Central Florida concentrated on the opportunities. He cited a broad range of areas in which cooperation is being sought. Some of them are innovations, science and engineering research,  space research, health matters and infrastructure and security. He conceded that India can be a hard market to crack. The only other panelist to devote attention to opportunities was Frechette, who said the U.S. and Brazil need to accommodate their differing world views and build trade ties.

Jonathan Gurwitz, moderator, had some choice advice for his fellow AOJ members. (1) Come to our annual spring briefing at the State Department. and (2) take rising nations seriously [view this brief video].

Bill McGoun is a retired editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. He frelances and is a contributing editor for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. He is the author of  7 books and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Florida.

Everglades irrevocably spoiled?

Huge wetlands partly recovering, author says

Published Monday, September 24, 2012 by Bill McGoun

How did the once "utterly worthless" River of Grass become an agricultural bounty, urbanized sprawl, national park, target of humans' "war on nature" – and our chance to deserve "to keep the planet"?

The Florida Everglades got a great hour of attention at the AOJ convention. Michael Grunwald of Time magazine gave a concise and thorough overview of how the River of Grass got into its present state and what is being done to try to clean it up.

He started with Buckingham Smith’s 1848 assertion of the “utter worthlessness of the entire region” and worked through the drainage instituted a century ago by Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, dike building after the deadly 1928 hurricane and the 1947 flood-control project that set up the Everglades Agricultural Area that later was blamed for pollution of the waters.

He told how such exotics as the water-hungry melaleuca tree had invaded the landscape, how suburbs infringed on the natural water flow, how drainage led to drought and fires. He said human activity damaged waterways leading to the sea, without preventing flooding in rainy times.

He called the Army Engineers “the shock troops in America’s war against nature.”

He summed up the situation to date by saying, “Today, half the Everglades is gone and it ain’t coming back, and the other half is polluted.”

As one who wrote about environmental issues for a quarter-century at The Palm Beach Post, I could find no quarrel with his report. Standing near the Shingle Creek headwaters of the Everglades system at Orlando, he said, “It was water control that made this megalopolis possible.”

There is some good news. Much of the Kissimmee River has been restored to its natural meandering condition and there is a $15 billion plan to save as much of the Everglades as possible. Grunwald noted, however, that this plan tends to favor farming, rock mining and development more than the Everglades.

The Everglades is a test,” he said in concluding his remarks. “If we pass that test, we may get to keep the planet.”

Bill McGoun is a retired editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. He freelances and is 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.

Hiroshima survivor stuns writers

How a-bomb co-pilot set her on career for peace

Published Tuesday, September 25, 2012 by Amitabh Pal

Every once in a while you hear a speech that completely blows you away. My colleagues and I experienced that feeling on Sept. 21 at the AOJ conference in Orlando.

The speaker was Koko Kondo, a Hiroshima survivor.

Kondo was all of eight months old when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on her hometown on August 6, 1945. Her father was a minister, and her mother was talking to some parishioners that fateful morning when the building they were in completely collapsed. The mother fell unconscious, and when she regained consciousness, she realized with horror that the baby she was hearing cry was her own. She managed to dig out a hole and emerge from the rubble with her little girl.

Kondo said that, of course, she learned all these details only later from attending her father’s sermons and lectures, since her parents never spoke to her directly about what happened. (Her family’s story is featured in John Hersey’s classic “Hiroshima,” though Kondo is misidentified as an infant boy in the book.)

Kondo’s first memories were as a three- or four-year-old of remembering kindly teenage girls at her house whose eyebrows or lips were melted. Kondo said that she was filled with rage and determined to take her revenge from that early age by finding the pilot of the plane that dropped the bomb.

In an incredible coincidence, she did. In 1955, Kondo was invited with her father to appear on the popular American TV show “This is Your Life” alongside Captain Robert Lewis, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.

Lewis’ attitude toward the Hiroshima bombing was quite different from that of Paul Tibbets, the chief pilot of the plane, who was unapologetic till the end of his life. Lewis reportedly recorded in the official plane logbook the lament: “My God, what have we done?”

I saw his tears as he recalled the moment,” Kondo said of their meeting on the show. “He held my hand with his warm hand.”

Kondo said that the encounter with Lewis changed her life because it ended her anger and instead made her determined to work for peace. Her one lifelong regret has been that she didn’t visit Lewis while she was a college student in the United States decades later and he was hospitalized in ill health.

But Lewis did set her on her life mission. She has been to countries such as India, South Korea and Iraq (right before the Gulf War) in her attempts to spread a message of peace and disarmament.

I understood,” Kondo said tearfully, “that nuclear weapons need to be abolished.”

Amitabh Pal is the co-editor of the Progressive Media Project in Madison, Wis. 

Awards highlights at AOJ 2012

Published Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Recognition of the achievements of outstanding journalists and journalism educators is one headlne activity at the Association of Opinion Journalists annual convention. In 2012, AOJ awarded:

  • Eugene C. Pulliam Award to Sandra Shea of the Philadelphia Daily News. She will receive $75,000 to study poverty in America, a project that comes as tolerance for the poor is in decline. “I want to give a voice to those who live poverty,” she said.
  • Barry Bingham Fellowship to Michelle Johnson, an associate professor of the practice of journalism at Boston University. She has devoted herself for more than 20 years to running student journalism training programs for a variety of organizations and endeavors. She told the audience it is immensely satisfying to see students graduate and go succeed.
  • AOJ lifetime memberships to Marjorie Arons-Barron of Barron Associates Worldwide in Boston and Chuck Stokes of WXYZ-TV in Detroit for their years of service and dedication to AOJ.
  • AOJ Opinion Journalist of the Year (large circulation) to Thomas Frank of Harper’s magazine for his 2,000 word piece on the trouble he had finding his way through the Wisconsin state capitol during the collective bargaining action.
  • AOJ Opinion Journalist of the Year (small circulation) to Bob Davis for his columns in the Anniston Star, which judges described as the writings of a “thoughtful Southern gentleman.”
  • AOJ Top Opinion Pages to the opinion pages of the Kansas City Star. The award was accepted by Kansas City Star Editorial Page Editor Miriam Pepper.

Lois Kazakoff

Partisanship destroying Congress

Media must help fight it, ex-rep asserts

Published Thursday, September 27, 2012 by Christian Trejbal

Keynote speaker Mickey Edwards, a former Republican representative from Oklahoma and author of “The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans,” capped a successful 2012 AOJ convention.

Edwards teased out a distinction that underlies the current political dysfunction in Washington. “Polarization is not our problem; partisanship is our problem,” he said.

Polarization, he noted, has long been a part of politics in America. We are a diverse people with incredibly divergent views on many issues, but politicians could compromise in the past. Today, the two major political parties have become interested more in protecting themselves than serving the nation.

The result is bloc voting on everything from routine bills to judicial and other presidential nominations. “If Obama wins, whoever he nominates … will be supported almost unanimously by the Democrats and opposed by the Republicans,” Edwards said. The reverse will be true if Romney wins.

The legislative branch no longer serves as an independent check on the executive branch. Members of Congress protect the president if he is a member of the same party, as if he is their quarterback instead of the leader of a different branch. Those across the aisle attack ceaselessly. [Video (0:26)]

Edwards offered a few suggestions to repair the political system, though none will be easy.

First, campaign finance laws must be overhauled. He rejects the notion that corporations are the same as people when it comes to basic rights.

Second, voters must act at the ballot box, but they need genuine choices. “We allow choice in every single thing we do in our lives except in the people who will decide what our taxes are going to be," he said, or "whether we will go to war.”

Third, redistricting processes controlled by the parties must end, but that cannot help until after 2020.

In the meantime, citizens and the news media, including opinion writers, must confront sitting congressmen, especially on the campaign trail.

Candidates engage in duplicity because it works," he said. "It works because it’s too hard for the average citizen to check on them.” The press and now the media, he said, have "always been the great protector of democracy.”

Christian Trejbal is an editorial writer for The Roanoke (Va.) Times. He chairs the AOJ open government committee and is a newly elected member of the AOJ board.

Small nations need help

Alternatives to money-laundering and needy refugees

Published Friday, September 28, 2012 1:00 pm by Lois Kazakoff

In a world where giant nations -- Brazil, Russia, India, China -- dominate the rising socio-economic headlines, Tim Cullen is worrying about the mini nations -- remote Pacific islands, impoverished Atlantic nations, tiny sovereign countries.

The total population of one quarter of the 58 smallest countries combined is smaller than the population of the Orlando area, he told the Association of Opinion Journalists meeting in Orlando.

Cullen, a former spokesman for the World Bank, created and runs (on a pro bono basis) the Small Countries Financial Management Centre from the Isle of Man. To date, representatives of 29 countries have taken the centre's two-week course on how to regulate financial institutions, negotiate with wealthier countries (and their own political leaders) and clean up dirty money operations.

He's working on getting representatives from 43 others, which he knows would benefit, to attend. Belize, Guyana, Cape Verde, Comoros Islands, are on the list.

The centre, which is funded by a nonprofit, is small, the budget is tiny and running dry and the ability of the small countries to pay for this training themselves mostly nonexistent. Yet, it is in the best interests of big nations, global institutions and giant corporations to help out, Cullen says. He offers three arguments:

The moral argument -- we should all be concerned about the plight of the poor. Beyond that, we should be concerned about impoverished nations as crucibles for terrorism. Wealthy nations should worry about migration that brings refugees to their borders, and strains to their social safety nets.  

The vulnerability argument -- poor nations have tried to attract money by setting up international finance centers, better known as money laundering operations that attract dictators, drug cartels, organized crime figures, terrorists and tax dodgers to their shores. Assisting small countries with their ability to regulate financial institutions would stop access to these criminal enterprises and the evils they perpetrate.  

The fairness argument -- Tax havens allow wealthy individuals and corporations to avoid paying their fair share. Ending banking secrecy and poorly administered tax regimes will help end these practices. "The tax haven game is over," Cullen said.

With assistance, small nations can find a niche that they can exploit, one that keeps good jobs at homes, he said. It might even be in finance or insurance, which small nations are finding they can operate efficiently and competently.

The fruits of global interdependence don't just belong to the big countries. They should be accessible to all countries.

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

Congressional politics? Stink-o!

Former reps decry 'next-election' syndrome and more

Published Saturday, September 29, 2012 by Yvonne Beasley

It’s dirty and negative. It exposes one’s family to public criticism. It just plain costs too much.

That’s the real life of a lawmaker, and it stinks right now, said speakers on the “U.S. Congressional Politics: Issues That Count” panel at the Association of Opinion Journalists convention in Orlando.

Former U.S. representatives Bob Clement (D-Tenn.) and Lou Frey (R-Fla.) held forth Saturday on the death of compromise, on making a life in politics and on what editorial writers can do to nudge government toward solutions.

According to Clement, the life of a national lawmaker has become soulless and thankless, due to:

Congressional redistricting every 10 years. “You don’t have to worry about best interest of the state or nation; you just have to worry about people in your little district.”  

A shortened Congressional work week. Now, many lawmakers don’t live in D.C. and don’t hang out together. They don’t even know each other personally.  

Political parties’ insistence on fundraising quotas, leading to a grinding schedule of money-grubbing rather than legislating.  

A dearth of moderates, ending the time when “we knew how to - somehow, some way - compromise.”

Clement said the Grover Norquist “no raising taxes” pledge is emblematic of the change at the U.S. Capitol: “It’s irresponsible to pledge no tax increase. I don’t know what crisis is gonna happen. I don’t know what war is gonna break out.”

As to term limits, Clement’s against them, but admits they may be a necessary last resort. “If we don’t limit Congressional spending we have no choice but to enact term limits,” he said.

Can this profession be saved? Frey said he’s literally praying for a solution.

When I say my prayers at night, I ask, ‘is there any way you could give us people who have a two-year mentality?’” He said he wants to see Congress filled with people willing to take risks and not worry about re-election.

Dick Hughes of the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal asked the pair what editorial writers can do to influence candidates, voters and officials to reshape the political climate.

Clamp down on big money, Clement said, calling the campaign spending figures “obscene.” Editorials should urge campaign finance reform, and a re-testing of that reform in the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

Such reforms would allow “the average person” an opportunity to run and win, Clement said, by taking unfair advantage away from the incumbent.

Frey agreed, saying the amount of funding from PACs is “more damaging than yelling 'fire' in a movie theater.”

Frey also said editorial writers can encourage a better relationship between state and U.S. legislators, who often find themselves working at cross-purposes without sufficient communication.

As for gridlock, Frey said there’s reason to put up with it. Getting something through Congress is supposed to be hard, he said: “Once those laws get through, we’re stuck with ‘em.”

Yvonne Beasley is Community Voices Curator of the Des Moines (Iowa) Register

Association looking ahead

New officers, new idea-sharing initiatives...

Published Monday, October 1, 2012 3:00 pm by Lois Kazakoff

The business side of the Association of Opinion Journalists is looking up after years of dismal reports on finances and declining membership (under the historic 1947-2011 name, National Conference of Editorial Writers).

Finances are stable and membership grew, rising to 267 members from 256 last year, said AOJ President Froma Harrop. The strategy to lower dues as an incentive to join has worked. New efforts to use social media and make more website content available to the general public helped attract those members.

The website has changed, too. “We have more services geared toward individuals,” said Harrop. “We can help our members build their brand.” The plan for the coming year is to build on the website offerings and ramp up a speaker’s bureau.

Members are invited to link their blogs to the website and promote their books. There is also a link on the website to Amazon.com. AOJ gets 6 percent of anything a member buys on Amazon through that link.

The email discussion list, however, will remain a private, members-only forum. 

Ideas for hands-on shop-talk

Former president Tom Waseleski (twaseleski@post-gazette.com) has proposed offering “critiques to go” on columns, editorials or other opinion page features, perhaps as a teleconference or other Internet-based forum. Check the web page for more details as the project is rolled out.

Miriam Pepper, secretary-treasurer, also proposed organizing ad hoc weekends in different locales around the country to talk shop and socialize. These weekends could be anywhere -- Chicago, Jackson Hole, Los Angeles -- but first up is Sanibel Island (near Fort Myers, Fla.), the site of the Dec. 2, 2012 AOJ board meeting. All members are welcome.


AOJ has elected new leadership:

  • Kate Riley, editorial page editor of the Seattle Times, is the new secretary-treasurer;
  • Bob Davis, editor and associate publisher of the Anniston Star (Annison, Ala.) moves up to president; and
  • Miriam Pepper, editorial page editor of the Kansas City Star, is now vice president.
  • Christian Trejbal, Larry Reisman and Rosemary Goudreau were elected to the AOJ board.

AOJ Foundation President David Holwerk reported that foundation assets are rising again, and that the foundation wants to restructure its board. Chuck Stokes will head up the new finance committee of an expanded board. Holwerk invited members interested in serving on the foundation board to contact AOJ manager Lisa Strohl (aoj@pa-news.org). 

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

Climate change threatens U.S.

Campaigns not dealing with global-domestic risks

Published Monday, October 1, 2012 by Christian Trejbal

Despite its seriousness, climate change is missing almost entirely from our national dialogue this election season, said the leader of an environmental panel at the AOJ convention.

Panel moderator Jim Ludes of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University set the tone with that prescient observation and this: "Whatever you believe personally about climate science, this is a conversation we need to have as a nation."

Ludes also extended a warm invitation to all members to attend the 2013 convention in Newport, R.I., which Salve Regina will host, and which is developing with a theme built around water as a world resource or cause of conflict.

Peter Pritchard, founder of the Chelonian Research Institute and the "Godfather of Turtles," spoke about his work with giant turtles and toroises, particualrly two types.

One was the Pinta Island giant tortoise of the Galapagos. That subspies now likely is extinct after the last known survivor, "Lonesome George," died in June. The other is a giant softshell turtle species in China with only four known to be alive, and only one a female.

The final speaker was Andrew Holland, senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project.

He rejected climate change skeptics immediately. "In order to get beyond the political debate about this, it's important to start with some facts. The record is indisputable that the world is warming," he said.

Climate change does not cause wars and other crises, he explained, but contributes to the underlying problems. It is an accelerant of instability and unpredictability around the world. That becomes a challenge for America, which is a leader in a global community and has forward-depoyed armed forces around the world.

Holland did offer one cause for optimism despite political inaction. Alternative, cleaner sources of energy are becoming more widespread and greenhouse gas emmissions in America are declining – thanks to market forces, not government mandates.

Still, long-term, government-wide planning as well as international strategies are required to confront unavoidable challenges climate change will bring.

Additional information:

The Union of Concerned Scientists provides useful science-based information about climate change on its website (http://ucsusa.org/global_warming/). UCS was one of the generous sponsors of the AOJ 2012 convention.

The American Security Project, also a sponsor of this year's convention, offers a state-by-state assessment of the costs of climate change on its website. (http://americansecurityproject.org/issues/climate-energy-and-security/climate-change/pay-now-pay-later/)

Christian Trejbal is an editorial writer for The Roanoke (Va.) Times. He chairs the AOJ open government committee and is a newly elected member of the AOJ board.

TV critic: cable niche-casting erodes trust

Deggans says ideologues on both sides bend the news

Published Wednesday, October 3, 2012 1:00 pm by John McClelland

Eric Deggans, TV-media critic of the Tampa Bay Times and former Poynter Ethics fellow, told the AOJ convention in Orlando that a narrow ideological focus in cable TV news-commentary is eroding public trust in journalism and aggravating public prejudices.

He referred often to data slides projected to his right, and engaged the audience several times.

Here are excerpts from the part of his talk on media patterns (video 3 minutes)

His talk grew from his forthcoming book, "Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation."

He explained that the beginning of the book's title came from a dispute with a cable TV pundit who called him a race baiter for daring to voice criticism of insensitive commentary. Here's his column on that: My Proudest Moment as a Pundit: Bill O'Reilly Calls Me a Race Baiter

Here are some tweets from the crowd to #AOJ2012,collected by Richard Prince

"In the current 'information wars,' race prejudice has become the spice that gets people talking."

"At some point, presenting Af-Americans as the noble victim was considered good coverage. But we need to get past that."

"Why do you talk about race? Because by talking about it, you take the message from being implicit and make it explicit."

"Don't turn off comments on columns/blogs about race, @deggans says. Respond to correct false assertions; delete most hateful."

Terroristifying 'what-if' exercise

Security guru points out vast U.S. electric vulnerability

Published Tuesday, October 2, 2012 by Someone...* (Updated November 2013)

How would you cope if all your electricity-using devices suddenly died?

What if everyone's devices and machines died?

What if 50,000 Americans died immediately and 80 percent of us within a year?

If the entire electrical distribution system failed, and partial recovery would take months or years, how would the public cope:

With no electricity for pumps, water systems would lose pressure.

Low water pressure lets dirt and bacteria into the lines, causing an epidemic of lethal intestinal illnesses.

The water stops entirely.

Without refrigeration, some life-saving medications fail.

Fuel runs out or is trapped under gas stations.

Transportation is chaos.

Grocery shelves go bare.

Communication is nil.

Society disintegrates with looting, food riots, starvation....

How could all this be?

Solar flares far stronger than the ones that have occasionally disrupted satellite communications?
Possible, but no.

All-out nuclear war?

A "dirty bomb" spreading radiation from a seaport?
Possible, but no.

"EMP" could clobber much of North America, "Presenter"* said.

An "electro-magnetic pulse" occurs when a nuclear weapon goes off. EMP is an extremely intense burst of radio-like energy and sub-atomic particles.

When a-bombs detonate near the ground, a lot of the energy goes to vaporizing things. Presenter said a high-altitude blast releases a lot more EMP, which travels farther and hits harder.

It disrupts, and can destroy, electrical devices, on or off.

A lot of defense equipment is "hardened," often making it heavier and more expensive. Not so for us civilians.

If you were up in an airplane at the moment of attack, Presenter said, you would be among the 50,000 almost immediate deaths.

This exercise associated with the AOJ convention had several hypothetical crises going on at once to distract participants. Being in Florida, we focused on a fast-growing Gulf hurricane. An outlaw country's cargo ship near the hurricane diverted its course closer to Galveston. It suddenly fired a crude missile, which went off high over Kansas, a stunning surprise.

Unlikely? Well, so was 9-11.

Other things -- hurricane, earthquake, sabotage or power-grid overload -- could knock out power in several states. Think about how long it takes to restore power to 30,000 local customers after a storm. Now imagine persistent outages afflicting 30 million, or more than 300 million.

Presenter said 80 percent of the U.S. population could die within a year, as direct or indirect results of a high-air 60 kiloton EMP attack frying key electrical grid components. (The surface bomb that struck Hiroshima has been variously estimated at 12 to 16 kilotons.)

Electric companies have to account for costs, so they do not stock spares of the huge distribution transformers. Other matters also help make the system unduly vulnerable, Presenter said.

Starting a fix: The exercise was drumming up awareness of, and un-subtly seeking support for, legislation** to invest in grid reliability.

*Someone??? Editor's note: This "national security crisis exercise" was held in central Florida in connection with AOJ's convention. The "Chatham House Rule" for some closed security-related events states that participants agree to certain preconditions:

  • Shut off and stash all electronic devices and cameras.
  • Agree not to identify any participant or affiliation, specifically in this case the person we are calling "Presenter" in part because of Presenter's work as a security consultant.
  • Know this is a safe setting: "No crazies with AK-47's," Presenter said.

The anonymity is unlike the usual openness of NCEW-AOJ activity. It was the second time this year for preconditions affecting Masthead's ability to tell all. The first was "not for attribution" to a certain diplomat in April. I present this with misgivings, and without a byline for the AOJ volunteer contributor(s). --John McClelland 

** Legislation: The session Presenter mentioned HR 5026, which we found had passed the U.S. House in 2010, during the 111th Congress
As of late September 2012, we found a Senate committee referral and no further action for this bill in the 111th or the current 112th Congress.

Other sources on this matter include:

Updates 2012-11-15 10:42 cst:

Update 2013-11-21

Security, diplomacy ... Iran again

Published Thursday, October 4, 2012

The outcome of any Israeli or U.S. strike against Iran's nuclear program is highly unpredictable, but a decision is not urgent just now, according to retired Marine Brig. Gen. Steve Cheney.

He made that point both times he spoke to the AOJ convention, one day as a fill-in panelist on challenges to U.S. diplomacy, and then in prepared remarks on national security broadly at the next day's lunch.

His organization, the American Security Project, is set up to "take topical issues and look at them from a national security standpoint." On these two days those issues included energy independence, climate and drought pressures on other nations' stability, diplomacy and more – including, repeatedly, Iran.

Some of his points:

Natural gas supplies have risen to 35 percent of total energy sources, enough to meet all U.S. needs in industries that can use natural gas, and with half the pollution of coal. More important is being free of dependence on foreign supplies of gas. But there is risk in becoming overly dependent on any energy source. 

Fusion energy, a tamed form of nuclear power that would produce usable energy with only water as a byproduct, will matter a lot, but China is ahead in the difficult and expensive research on it. 

U.S. military people now are highly qualified. After recruiting difficulties during the economic boom of the 1990s, it has become possible to raise standards. No real high school diploma? No enlistment. A six- to 12-month wait for boot camp. Most mid-level officers with master's degrees or more.

The drawn-out deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan show the futility of easy military success without solid follow-up. 

The nuclear nonproliferation treaty led to reductions, and 11 nations giving up their weapons programs.

But Iran is another matter.

Like others, Cheney cited estimates that if Israel attacked Iran's nuclear facilities, the program might be set back two years. A U.S. strike, four to six years. The repercussions could be huge, and highly unpredictable. His key words of caution: Push diplomacy, fund the State Department and USAID well, don't let foreign politicians sway U.S. security decisions – and always consider military force the last resort.

--John McClelland

Slavery still in U.S., just different

And what it was like to escape bondage

Published Thursday, October 4, 2012 10:00 am by John McClelland

Slavery still flourishes everywhere, even "near here" in Florida, Ron Sodalter asserted.

Francis Bok told what it was like to be seized as a child from a happy Dinka village. He was forced to work on a farm, rebuffed in efforts to expose his captors, treated as a refugee, and privileged to work for others' freedom

In what is now the United States, Sodalter told the AOJ convention in Orlando, human bondage began with Christopher Columbus, fell to a low in the 1960s and is now up again as "capitalism at its worst."

Bondage still involves people on farmlands, but also in domestic service, in factories, yards and gardens, he and others have said. Victims are unable to leave their situations under the threat or actuality of violence, or because of an economic vise reinforced by language- and cultural gaps.

Public attention tends to focus on sexual exploitation, he said, but servitude afflicts many others, such as fruit pickers or a platoon of deaf street peddlers that was exposed in New York.

Of those who get out of bondage, Sodalter said, about a third are rescued by authorities, about a third escape, and about a third are freed when good smaritans – "us, ordinary citizens" – report something suspicious.

He described fighting bondage in an "America born with the congenital disease of slavery." For example, helping police realize that prostitutes may be more victim than criminal and go after pimps and customers.

[video: his hope 17 seconds]

Bok, from what is now South Sudan Republic, said he was 7 when grabbed from a market by mounted soldiers. He was in captivity for 10 years before escaping. He had difficulty communicating his situation to authorities across language barriers, but persisted.

Trekking from Khartoum to Egypt, he said, he eventually got a visa to study in the U.S. and to "try to help my people now" until "all men and women are being liberated."

Those efforts took him from Fargo N.D. to the Bush White House and the lecture circuit.

[video capture and communication]

Sodalter said neither party has said much about what the State Department calls "human trafficking." State does have people working at it.

Some of those people appeared at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's annual report June 16.

[the report: http://www.state.gov/j/tip/]

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, Clinton's right hand on the issue, briefed AOJ members and other journalists by conference call earlier that day.

He said annual trafficker convictions globally rose from 3,619 to 3,969, "not a large number when compared to global estimates of victims." The International Labor Organization estimates 21 million in bondage or "forced labour."

Officers described efforts to stop the abuse through "Protection" of existing victims, "Prevention" of new abuses, "Prosecution" of offenders, and now "Partnership" with countries that strive to end forced labor.

Syria fell into the department's non-compliance list. Several other countries, including Burma-Myanmar, Venezuela and Haiti, moved up to a mid-level for increasing their efforts.

North Korea, however, seemed intractable. "We've seen repeatedly state-supported forced labor in North Korea and exporting of mostly workmen," CdeBaca said. "When the North Koreans send workers, they send police with them."

CdeBaca noted the coming 150-year anniversary of the Emacipation Proclamation of Sept. 22, 1862.

On Sept. 25, President Obama signed an executive order requiring government contractors to avoid misleading or economically disabling vulnerable employees. [editorial in N.Y. Times 10/2]

Was there an avalanche of media attention?

--John McClelland 10/3/12

Richard Prince Honored with Ida B. Wells Award

Published Monday, October 15, 2012

WASHINGTON (October 12, 2012) -- The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) announced today that Richard Prince, columnist for the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, will receive the prestigious Ida B. Wells Award. The annual honor is given to an individual who has made outstanding efforts to make newsrooms and news coverage more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Prince will be honored on January 17, 2013, at NABJ’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D. C.

He is being recognized for his efforts championing diversity in journalism. For 10 years online, he has authored the popular "Journal-isms" column, which covers issues of diversity within the news industry.  Previous recipients include: Steve Capus of NBC News; Reggie Stuart of Knight Ridder; Paula Madison of NBC Universal; and Walterene Swanston of NPR.

"NABJ is proud to honor Richard with the Ida B. Wells Award. He is the epitome of someone who speaks truth to power. His columns remind news executives, news managers, reporters, and producers of the importance of being sensitive to issues of diversity and our responsibility to be inclusive in our coverage,” said NABJ President Gregory Lee Jr. "Dick is a watchdog whose consistency and watchful eye we all rely upon in his reporting. You can be sure what is read in one of his columns will spark a conversation and more importantly lead to some sort of action.”

The Ida B. Wells Award is named in honor of the distinguished journalist, fearless reporter and wife of one of America's earliest black publishers.

When the election is over, will vituperation lessen? Will you still have friends?

Published Sunday, November 4, 2012 by John McClelland

The worst possible outcome of this election isn’t who will or will not occupy the White House. It’s that our own house remains divided.

Even if claims that this is the most contentious election in history are over the top, it’s been contentious enough -- caustic, even bitter at times. And, it seems, disruptive of what we should value most -- relationships.

Perhaps it’s the Facebook factor. When we speak to friends and neighbors face-to-face, we have filters. In most circumstances, those filters keep us from saying awful things to each other. We observe simple social rules such as politeness, and at least a show of respect for the views of others. We listen.

Social media seem to have removed some of those filters. We’re “speaking” to friends, some of us many times per day, but not face-to-face. And those social niceties aren’t observed. The acrimony of the election creeps into our lives, uninvited, through offensive posts.

And those end friendships.

As Howard Kurtz reported in March in The Daily Beast, “According to a fascinating survey by the Pew Internet Project, 9 percent of those who frequent social networking sites have blocked, unfriended or hidden someone because they posted something about politics or issues that the user disagreed with or found offensive.”

The problem isn’t politics -- it’s in how we talk about and, perhaps, think about the issues.

In the current climate, the other person isn’t merely wrong; he’s bad.

We too often attack a candidate, not the candidate’s positions. And we too easily assume the worst about candidates, and even about our friends who support those candidates: “If you support President Barack Obama, you must be waiting on a check.” or “If you support Gov. Mitt Romney, you don’t care about poor people.” Those are actual Facebook posts we’ve seen.

But what are we really disagreeing about? This election, like most, comes down to competing visions of what government’s role should be. And yet we’re all in agreement that government does have a role. It’s merely a matter of degree. In fact, most of our basic disagreements come down to two aging, competing “schools” of economics theory.

Who wants to lose friends over dead economists?

The hyperbole hasn’t helped. Commentators declare this is the most important election in history, that the Republic is ruined if the wrong man is elected.

Perhaps too many of us buy into this ratings-driven rhetoric. It’s wrong. This is just another election. It’s important, but not more important than our relationships.

Loving our neighbor doesn’t rule out occasionally disagreeing with him. But in a few days, the yard signs will be gone. Our neighbor will still be there, and we’ll share chores and challenges and community as long as our houses are no longer divided.

This article is adapted from an editorial by Roy Maynard, "Don't lose sight of what's important," in the Tyler (Texas) Telegraph, © Nov. 4, 2012, quoted with permission.

Perhaps the threats to the fabric of the nation are far less severe than those facing it when Abraham Lincoln gave his house-divided speech. But the extreme partisanship and Internet-facilitated misinformation and super-PAC spending do seem alarmingly serious. --JM 

Added 11/5/12:
A political civility plea from Mt. Olympus:
"[N]ow that actual bipartisanship seems as distant as Pluto" the public might still hope for something unlikely on Capitol Hill, says the New York Times in a Nov.4-5 editorial. The article notes the tiny 14-member congressional civility caucus compared to the 200-member wine caucus. It mentions departing Sen. Olympia Snowe's "Senate doesn't work" speaking tour, legislative gridlock, and advice from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

added 11/15/2012:
Political discourse means listening, too (Roy Maynard's follow-up) 

2012 NCEW-AOJ Board Candidate Statements

Miriam Pepper 

Vice President, Editorial Page • The Kansas City Star • mpepper@kcstar.com

An admission: While just a shrimp of an elementary school student (and, yes, even shorter), I fell for journalism. It happened as the daughter of a city editor. My path to elementary school took me past the St. Louis County Hospital emergency room entrance. It didn’t take long to figure out that multiple ambulances meant a decent story.

I’d walk over to the ambulance crews and police occasionally crowding the hospital entrance and ask what happened. For no good reason, they often told me. Then I’d slip inside to a wall pay phone (now you know how long ago this happened) and dial up Dad. This wasn’t pure altruism. There was money on the line. Any tip that made the paper meant a quarter. Front page promised $1. I was smitten and convinced there was "big money" in journalism. So the smitten thing lasted, while the big money remains a dream. I remember exactly one $1 story.

When the officials spoke to me, I was sure I wanted to hear more. And I still do. And I want to hear more from my NCEW pals to figure out how we can keep listening and writing and discussing the big issues of the day long into the future.

NCEW has been very good to me during the last 10 years. I was welcomed as a "blue dot" newcomer by some of the industry’s finest. I survived my early critiques, a bit bruised, but glad to be able to bring back to my newsroom corner lots of grand suggestions. And I was very proud to get to show off Kansas City to the convention in 2007.

Despite the hard times for newspapers today, I’m a true believer that together we can help each other figure out a good way forward. If you honor me with secretary-treasurer, I’ll do my best to take good notes and watch those future quarters and dollars as carefully as my first extravagant newspaper pay.

Robert Booth 

Editor & Publisher • The Madisonian and Lake Oconee (Ga.) Breeze (retired) • rbooth@sagefutures.com

NCEW members are accustomed to celebrating diversity in its usual forms: geography, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, etc. My candidacy asks that you extend that celebration to include size.

Though I have major metro experience and my op-ed pieces have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald, that is not why I have offered my candidacy for the NCEW Board. Instead, it is my experience as editor and publisher of two weekly newspapers that brings a fresh and very useful perspective to our daily-oriented organization. Many weekly editors avoid criticizing people they might meet on the street, but I opted for candor, most notably in calling out the City Council for violating Georgia’s open meeting law. The resulting editorial, "Run to Daylight," won a first for editorial writing in the SPJ Green Eyeshade competition. A few months later, the local School Board tried for a third time, after two failures, to pass a special use tax for desperately needed facilities improvements. My successful campaign for passage included soliciting many guest columns, usually from first-time contributors.

Informed opinion forums will need heightened creativity to rise above the din of the blogosphere. After hearing too many complaints about taxes, I contributed this full-page op-ed piece to the Arizona Daily Star (its first of that length), in an effort to get people to weigh cost versus value: http://azstarnet.com/news/opinion/article_1612b8f5-03da-5f34-965a-d6d80324f5cb.html. It sparked a lively debate on the paper’s web site.

A native of Milwaukee, I began my newspaper career as a stringer, covering auto racing for the Milwaukee Journal, and am choosing to be a candidate for the NCEW Board now largely out of respect for my mentor, the late John Strohmeyer. He gave me my first salaried job many years ago, at the Bethlehem (Pa.) Globe-Times--where he won a Pulitzer for editorial writing--and has remained an inspiration ever since. I would honor his memory by serving the NCEW to the best of my ability.

Steve Falcone 

Opinion Editor • Reno Gazette-Journal • sfalcone@reno.gannett.com

I began my newspaper career 50 years ago this summer, hawking the Philadelphia Bulletin (sadly no longer with us) on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J. It was a hot, exhausting, thankless job for which I felt lucky if I earned a dollar. (We bought the papers from a distributor for the nickel cover price and tried to sell them for a dime.) Sometimes I think not much has changed since then.

I’ve spent the past 23 years at the Reno Gazette-Journal, as assistant features editor, business editor and editorial writer. I was appointed opinion editor in 2001, and for the past two years, it’s been a one-man job.

I joined NCEW in 1997 and became a true believer while attending the Hechinger Institute education program in New York, co-sponsored by NCEW and Columbia University, a year later.

I’ve attended all but one convention since Pittsburgh in 2006 and two State Department Briefings. I served on Dick Hughes’ Innovations Committee and most recently the Contest Committee, which, under David Holwerk and Michael Landauer, finally kicked off the much-anticipated NCEW contest this year.

In 2010, I was appointed to the board to fill an unexpired term for 10 months.

My appreciation for this unique group of writers and editors has only grown over the years, as I have learned from the best in the business, visited towns I’d never been to and enjoyed the occasional laugh on a busy Friday afternoon. The friendships I’ve made have been invaluable, the members’ collegiality and support unmatched.

As our numbers dwindle, NCEW becomes even more important in the lives of every one of us. I’m committed to ensuring that NCEW not only survive but also thrive.

Jay Jochnowitz

Editorial Page Editor • Albany Times Union • jjochnowitz@timesunion.com

It just hits you every so often, doesn’t it: What an extraordinary career we have as editorial writers.

To some, I suppose, being a publisher or editor in chief is the top of the heap in journalism. To me, this is it. To come to work every day, study up on the news and issues, engage in a lively debate with intelligent, committed colleagues, to forge a common vision for such a vital, prominent institution as a newspaper, and to be entrusted to put that vision into persuasive, powerful words that will be read by tens of thousands of people is the kind of job I would have imagined, as a 22-year-old cub reporter, having only a dim likelihood of achieving someday, and if I was very dedicated, persevering and fortunate.

Now that I’m here, I’ve come to realize that the job is much bigger than I am. It’s a role in the paper and the community that is important, powerful, and so very fragile right now. Just as newspapers nowadays are endangered institutions, editorial writers and editors are endangered species within those institutions. The industry today is about clicks and eyeballs and page views and keeping readers engaged.

And yet, we are the original interactive feature of this industry. We were engaging the community in civil debate long before Web 2.0 and fostering "the conversation" came along. The question is, how do we remain relevant?

This is not just about job preservation; it’s about being responsible for the tradition of editorial writing and its role as the voice, and really the soul, of our newspapers and our industry.

I am not running for the NCEW board not with a specific agenda, but because it is an opportunity to join with other colleagues in the pursuit of the answer to that question. I also want to give something back to an organization that inspires me – in the book I pull out every so often in search of guidance, in the conventions I’ve attended, in the banter and camaraderie of the listserv, in the private conversations I’ve had with members who I would otherwise probably never have met (much less danced or eaten fried beer with). I see this as a chance to work with other board members on ways that we can help maintain and strengthen this association of people – harried, busy, worried, committed people, all at the top of their game who have joined together to share and preserve this craft.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Carolyn Lumsden

Editorial Page Editor • The Hartford Courant • clumsden@courant.com

I have on my desk NCEW principles adopted in 1975, which I inherited from the editor who hired me, John Zakarian, a longtime member. "Editorial writing is more than another way of making money," it says. Yes, indeed. It’s an awesome responsibility and what Bob Schrepf (another mentor editor and longtime member) calls "the best job in the world."

I’d like to work with NCEW to protect the principles and best traditions of this awesome responsibility in challenging times.

I’ve been editorial page editor of The Hartford Courantsince 2007. In my nearly two decades with the Courant, I’ve done every job on the opinion pages except drawing the cartoon. I’m also a former president of the Association of Opinion Page Editors, the op-ed version of NCEW. I organized the AOPE’s 2003 conference at the University of Connecticut, recruiting Gail Collins, Paul Gigot and Henry Kissinger, among other speakers. I’ve won many awards for writing and editing, but among the most treasured is the Phil Joyce Award for service to the AOPE.

I came to newspapers in 1982 after spending time copy-editing fiction, serving as a barker at an amusement park and writing plant-food packages -- all useful training. I was a reporter for the Associated Press before turning to editorial writing. I now volunteer with the Op-Ed Project, a remarkable nonprofit in New York that teaches professional women how to write op-eds.

I’d bring to the NCEW ideas for recruiting members, sharing best practices and preserving the principles of this wonderful profession.

Mustafa Malik

Journalist & International Affairs Researcher • Washingon D.C. • mmalik41@hotmail.com


I’m grateful for the opportunity to run for the membership of our NCEW board.

We face challenges, for sure. Globalization, the communications revolution and the 24-hour news cycle are endlessly changing the foci and dimensions of issues familiar to us and adding new ones to our plates. But remorseless deadlines leave many of us little time or energy to bone up on these breathtaking changes.

I think we can get some help through the Listserv. We could use it exclusively to share our professional problems, inquiries, suggestions, and so forth, while carrying on our personal communications through e-mails, the telephone, and other channels. Maybe we can have a Listserv moderator?
Years ago I attended a couple of opinion writing workshops, moderated by Tommy Denton, and realized as never before their effectiveness in updating and sharpening our skills and tools. That was before the cyber revolution, and the costs of travel apparently had made them harder to convene. Today, the Internet, Skype and teleconference gadgets would enable us to arrange such workshops almost free of cost. Many of us wouldn’t need them, but many would. How about making these workshops a regular feature on the NCEW calendar?

I believe, too, that we can make our NCEW membership more rewarding and enjoyable by introducing well-organized programs for job search, professional travels, employer-employee gatherings, entertainment, etc. To do all these we would, of course, need to get very busy raising funds and finding sponsors. I learned the ropes of our craft a while ago and would benefit most from updating and diversifying the agenda and tools of NCEW.
Folks, I look forward to the opportunity to discuss these and other ideas to serve you and our esteemed organization. As for my professional niches, I have:

Worked more than two decades as a columnist, reporter, editor and London bureau chief for The Hartford Courant, Washington Times, Frederick (Md.) News-Post, Glasgow Herald and Pakistan Observer newspapers.

Conducted field research in the United States and Western Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. Most of my fieldwork and secondary research focused on U.S. foreign policy and international affairs, and was facilitated by fellowships from the University of Chicago Middle East Center, German Marshall Fund of the United States and American Friends Service Committee; and

Been writing free-lance opinion pieces for major U.S. and overseas newspapers and articles in U.S. and South Asian journals.

I ask for your support in my quest for a spot on the board.

Roy Maynard

Editorial Page Editor • Tyler Morning Telegraph • roymaynard@earthlink.net

I’m Roy Maynard, and I would like to serve on the board of NCEW.

I came up through the newspaper ranks, I had a bent toward politics, and I was in the right place at the right time when a long-time editorial page editor retired.

Thing is, Everett didn’t talk much. He never sat down with me and told me about the job. I learned (very quickly) that editorials are the easy part. The letters are what get you into trouble.

Joining NCEW was my education in how to do this job. I leaned on you guys so much those first couple of years. Of course, we were all broke and the paper couldn’t afford to send me to the convention, so you were mostly just email contacts and an ongoing discussion I rarely took part in. But when you came to Dallas (and we could afford to send me), the organization proved to be so much more than just a useful listserve.

That’s said, let me tell you about myself. I’ve been EPE at the Tyler Morning Telegraph (35,000 circulation) for three years now. My wife of 24 years and I have three children (Calvin, my oldest at 14, is interning for my paper this summer).

My wife and I coach the high school debate program at our children’s school. I’ve learned a great deal about persuasive editorial writing from teaching debate.

I’ve published a few mystery novels (my protagonist was a small-town newspaper editor, of course), and a couple of textbooks on an obscure Renaissance poet named Edmund Spenser. My wife and I have just completed the manuscript for a debate textbook, to be published in the fall.

I see the future of NCEW as a vital subject for discussion, for new ideas, for new ways to be who we are. We’re not the business managers of our newspapers; it’s not our responsibility to come up with the new business models. But it’s our job to remain relevant, in a world in which anyone can post an opinion almost anywhere. We must retain our edge and our authority. For years, editorial writers have helped to lead the Great Discussion. We want to keep that lead. I want to be a part in figuring out how.

Contest Announcement (DEADLINE EXTENDED TO JUNE 6!)  

This award recognizes the achievements of two opinion journalists during 2011. Entries may include editorials, columns and/or op-ed pieces. Judging will be based on clarity, strength of writing, creativity and impact on public policy and quality of life. One journalist in each circulation division will be recognized with a $200 check and an engraved award.

This award recognizes the achievements of editorial or opinion staffs during 2011. Entries may include full editorial page or op-ed page layouts, editorials, columns and/or op-ed pieces. Judging will be based on clarity, strength of writing, creativity, and the general impact of the pages. Up to five newspapers (regardless of circulation division) will be recognized with an engraved award.

  • Contest Opens: Monday, April 30, 2012, 8 a.m. ET
  • Contest Deadline: Wednesday, June 6, 2012, 11:59 p.m. ET
  • Entry Fees:  $25 – AOJ Members; $40 – Non Members 

Registration will open 8am Monday, April 30.


  • ELIGIBILITY: This contest is open to anyone who is eligible for active membership in the Association of Opinion Journalists. For membership requirements, please visit www.opinionjournalists.org. Membership in AOJ is not required to enter this contest.
  • DEADLINES: The contest opens at 8 a.m. Monday, April 30, 2012 and will close at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, June 6. All entries must be uploaded to the contest website, www.opinionjournalists.org/contest, and payment accepted by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday to be eligible for judging.
  • FEES: The entry fee for current AOJ members is $25 per entry. The entry fee for non-members is $40 per entry. Entry fees are non-refundable.
  • DIVISIONS AND AWARDS: This contest has two circulation/audience divisions: Under 100,000 and 100,000 or more. One Opinion Journalist of the Year will be named in each division. Up to five awards will be given for Top Opinion Pages, regardless of circulation/audience division.
  • All entries must consist of the following:
    • One sample from Jan. 1 - March 31, 2011
    • One sample from April 1 - June 30, 2011
    • One sample from July 1 - Sept. 30, 2011
    • One sample from Oct. 1 - Dec. 31, 2011
    • Up to three wild-card samples from any time during the 2011 calendar year.
    • A cover letter which includes a statement of eligibility, the specific impacts of the samples, and any additional information that may be helpful for the judges.
  • JUDGING CRITERIA: Judging for each submission will be based equally on clarity, strength of writing, creativity and impact.
  • WINNERS: Winners will be publicly announced at the AOJ Annual Convention, in Orlando, Sept. 20-22, 2012. Each winner will be notified individually and invited to attend the convention and awards ceremony. Judges reserve the right to modify the awards presented, based on the number of entries received.

2012 Convention Schedule

Schedule, speakers and panelists are subject to change.

THURSDAY, September 20

  • 4:30 p.m. – Registration table open.
  • 5:30 p.m. – Reception at Rosen Shingle Creek
  • 7:00 p.m. – Dinner at Rosen Shingle Creek
    • Stephen Wayne, Georgetown University
    • Continuity and Change in U.S. Presidential Electoral Politics
  • 9:00 p.m. – Hospitality Suite

FRIDAY, September 21

  • 8:00 a.m. – Breakfast at Rosen Shingle Creek
    • Jim Bacchus, Greenberg Traurig, and former chief judge, World Trade Organization court
    • U.S. Competitiveness, the Global Economy and Election 2012
  • 9:25 a.m. – The Future of Opinion Journalism
    • PANELISTS: James Hill, The Washington Post Writers Group (moderator); Autumn Brewington, The Washington Post; Mike Lafferty, Orlando Sentinel;Mallary Tenore, Poynter Institute
  • 10:45 a.m. – Workshop by Poynter Institute, Mallary Tenore, Poynter Institute
  • 12:00 p.m. – Luncheon at the Rosen Shingle Creek
    • Koko Kondo, atomic bomb survivor from Japan, global peace and justice activist
  • 1:10 p.m. – War, Diplomacy and U.S. Interests
    • PANELISTS: Ambassador Harriet Elam-Thomas, Diplomacy Program, UCF (moderator); Lt. Gen. (retired) Jay Garner, former Director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Post-War Iraq; Ambassador Gary Grappo, Keystone Center
  • 2:10 p.m.
    • Tim Cullen, Executive Director, Small Countries Financial Management Centre, Isle of Man
  • 3:10 p.m. – Rising Powers: Challenges and Opportunities for the U.S.
    • PANELISTS: Jonathan Gurwitz, San Antonio Express-News(moderator); Ambassador Myles Frechette, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Brazil); Eugene Huskey, Stetson University (Russia); Shubhro Sen, Conscious Capitalism Institute (India)
  • 4:30 p.m. – National Security Crisis Exercise
  • 5:30 p.m. – Free Evening
  • 9:00 p.m. – Hospitality Suite

SATURDAY, September 22

  • 8:00 a.m. – Breakfast at Rosen Shingle Creek
    • Michael Grunwald, Senior National Correspondent, TIME Magazine, and author, “The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise”
    • The "Swamp and Florida’s Environment
  • 9:25 a.m. – The Environment and Global Climate Change
    • PANELISTS: Jim Ludes, Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, Salve Regina University (moderator); Peter Pritchard, Chelonian Research Institute; Andrew Holland, American Security Project
  • 11:00 a.m.
    • Eric Deggans, TV/Media Critic for the Tampa Bay Times and a former Ethics Fellow at theh Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
  • 12:00 p.m. – Luncheon at the Rosen Shingle Creek
    • Presentation of the Barry Bingham Award and the 2012 Pulliam Fellowship
    • Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Steve Cheney, American Security Project 
    • U.S. Global Security Challenges
  • 1:40 p.m. – Addressing the Scourge of 21st Century Slavery, from Florida to the World
    • PANELISTS: Terry Coonan, Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, Florida State University (moderator); Francis Bok, abolitionist and former slave; Jake Sullivan, Director of Policy Planning, U.S. Department of State
  • 3:00 p.m. – U.S. Congressional Politics 2012: The Issues that Count
    • PANELISTS: Froma Harrop, The Providence Journal/Creator's Syndicate (moderator); Bob Clement, former member of Congress (D-TN); Lou Frey, former member of Congress (R-FL)
  • 4:30 p.m. – AOJ Business Meeting
  • 7:00 p.m. – Dinner at Rosen Shingle Creek
    • AOJ Awards Ceremony
    • Mickey Edwards, Author of "The Parties Versus the People" and former congressman
  • 9:00 p.m. – Hospitality Suite