2015 Archives


  1. Special award to Joan Armour
  2. Bingham award for education service
  3. Pulliam $75k grant
  4. Two new AOJ life members
  5. Thanks among presidents
  6. Judge rules for MetLife
  7. Judge chides U.S. agency over withheld documents
  8. Future of The Editorial
  9. No Labels pitches goal: Bipartisanship on The Hill
  10. Reflecting the reality (of diversity) is vital
  11. How editorial boards can tackle the tough problems
  12. Common Core disputes include even its identity
  13. Met's digital guru pushes quality in all media forms
  14. Entrepreneurial DMN lives digitally... and in print
  15. Some success, change, no repeal seen for ACA
  16. AOJ board: finances fixed, membership emphasized
  17. Seminar guests earn prompt publication plaudit
  18. GOP Rep: do-nothings in House deserve the ax
  19. Community contributions can need close vetting
  20. Quality video opinion rolls in to Globe project
  21. Axelrod: politics affects citizens' real-life concerns
  22. White House agrees to confer on accessibility
  23. Minority Writer Seminar '96 alumna recalls joy
  24. AOJ, SPJ, Poynter among 54 signers vs. U.S. opacity
  25. Greenberg semi-retirement recalls the good-ol' times
  26. Rebel flag discussions evoke AOJ conference
  27. Editors quick to share views on S.C. massacre
  28. 8 tips for doing editorials people will read and you'll enjoy writing
  29. Tips for doing a final edit
  30. Cyber-world now a broad policy-security-plus issue
  31. Back to you, State staffers; AOJ leaders' op-ed tips
  32. Trade gurus point to jobs not lost to agreements
  33. Iran deal no sell-out, president's aide insists
  34. Another look at State's off-the-record ground rule
  35. Disaster relief unending: Ebola, Nepal, ~68 more
  36. In U.S.-Cuba relations, nitty-gritty grinds slowly
  37. Russian aggression called worst since Cold War
  38. On low-profile front lines of immigration and safety
  39. State Dept has its reasons for protecting journalism
  40. Envoy against ISIS prefers Arabic acronym
  41. Woe is opportunity for good journalism
  42. Is a canned op-ed 'turfy' or legitimate anyway?
  43. Disability due as diversity in content and staffing
  44. Candidates on the fringe? Relevance decides interviewing
  45. Are newspaper letter guidelines obsolete?

Special award to Joan Armour

(posted 11/30/2015 JM)

One of the founders of the NCEW Foundation (now AOJ Foundation) Minority Writers Seminar, Joan Armour of Nashville received a plaque and standing ovation in thanks for her long and selfless service. 

Presenting the plaque is Chuck Stokes of WXYZ-TV Detroit, a fellow life member; the hug is from David Haynes of Milwaukee, AOJ president. 

(Video: https://youtu.be/hLk2_cRdGQk)

Bingham award for education service

(posted 11/30/2015 JM)

Julian Rodriguez of the University of Texas at Arlington received a $1,000 grant named for Barry Bingham Sr. from the AOJ Foundation and told of how satisfying it is to see hard-working students raising their aspirations and meeting their goals. 

More about his work was published previously on the Bingham page of the AOJ web site.

(An earlier version of this post misstated the amount of the grant; Rodriguez was the first to call it to the editor's attention. updated 12/2/15)

(Video: https://youtu.be/Oxh0Sl4hTFw)

Pulliam $75K grant

Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Daily News accepted from SDX Foundation rep Jay Evenson of the Deseret News. Details of the award and her work, and short video of her description of how her project began are at the Pulliam 2015 page and linked from it to spj.org.

Two new AOJ life members

By John McClelland (12/1/2015)

Tradition in NCEW* and AOJ is that the presenter of a life membership first describes the recipient's extraordinary contributions in generic terms that could apply to any of dozens of active contributors and leaders.

Then something slips in mid-spiel. Last year, it was a reference to saving our web site during tumultuous changes of management. This year, the first spot-on clue was David Holwerk's reference to having strong backbone and "a 9-mm Glock in her" waistband. ...

Those who recognize a certain past president of NCEW as a well-informed and responsible gun owner knew instantly. She is an irrepressible supporter of her few peers and many near-peers, former leader of a Pulitzer winning edit page, and tireless advocate of the First Amendment (she knits, if that is the right word, an always intensely desired First Amendment afghan for the annual celebration-drawing-auction).(updated 12/3/2015 to remove erroneous reference to an old Masthead item) From the Fort Worth area in Texas, J.R. Labbe.

(Video: https://youtu.be/qDIyN58zZUE)

Then something else slipped. ...

Most years, there is one recipient, and the program even says "a life membership." Someone sent Holwerk to his seat and Neil Heinen (left, above) started reciting another winner's contributions, including decades of service to, and years as president of, the NCEW Foundation, then AOJ Foundation. Always entertaining before a crowd (this year's talk on campaigns), last year he squeezed more contributions per-capita from attendees than ever before. Now from Dayton Ohio, David Holwerk.

(Video: https://youtu.be/cTUMEfKvRPw)

Recipients get a plaque, dues-free membership, and if they claim it, an unofficial tradition of a waiver of the non-meal portion of future conference registration fees. A full list of recipients is online at AOJ life-members.

* NCEW: National Conference of Editorial Writers, 1947 to 2011, when it became AOJ

Thanks among presidents

Miriam Pepper, retired from the Kansas City Star, is now able to joke about her two very difficult years as the last president of the professional association that began as NCEW in 1947 and became AOJ in 2012. 

Faced with declining revenue, the board urged and the membership voted in September 2014 to dissolve the corporation and turn its remaining assets (which ended up being, as predicted, almost $30,000) over to the former NCEW- then AOJ-Foundation, now just AOJ, still a 501c3 educational entity. She pushed the legal process through the Pennsylvania authorities and IRS reporting, and got the lawyers to do it on-time, on-budget.

She did not linger on anything, even the joke, when she had the microphone. She presented a thank-you from the other leaders of the organization to David Haynes, who led the search for more suitable new management (Poynter), took on the AOJ Foundation presidency, and led the planning, preparation, and conduct of AOJ Symposium 2015.

Pepper and long-time Foundation president Lois Kazakoff, deputy editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, received the joint boards' thanks, from Haynes, at the April meeting in DC.

Since we left St. Pete, he has recruited some volunteers, set up an AOJ-specific YouTube site, nudged the board members to prepare for a membership drive, and more. He has told the board that his term must end before July, ideally with a passing of the torch in April.

John McClelland 12/1/2015

Judge rules for MetLife

FOIA issues were aired at AOJ event

Update posted 4/1/16: Insurance company's banking arm wins at trial in case involving FOI issues among others. Full "not too-big-to-fail" ruling sealed until April 6, appeal by U.S. possible. One news account and one analysis. Previous Masthead report is below.

Judge chides U.S. agency over withheld documents

Posted Wednesday Dec. 9, 2015 by John McClelland

A federal judge in DC on Tuesday chastised government officials and ordered documents released in a complex non-transparency case that was described as part of the Nov. 14 AOJ Symposium.

Two of the three panelists in the Government Secrecy presentation in St. Petersburg emphasized that the role of the Freedom of Information Act far exceeds journalists seeking records. It has long been known that business is the most frequent user of FOIA.

The DC case, involving MetLife insurance company and a powerful financial regulatory agency, was all-business, and involved arcane legal proceedings, the 5th Amendment, and more. Ricardo Anzaldua, a MetLife executive and its top lawyer, said the Financial Stability Oversight Council designed MetLife as a Systemically Important Financial Institution, subjecting it to added scrutiny and putting it at a serious competitive disadvantage, and without revealing the evidence it used.

(Video: https://youtu.be/P-JhiMyLxxA) (PDF of judge's order)

To challenge the process, MetLife requested documents behind the decision. It got some, but was denied others, so it sued. Judge Rosemary M. Collyer granted a motion to compel FSOC to produce the documents. 

One of the issues was the risk to other insurance companies’ confidential and proprietary business data. Collyer said restrictions on circulation of the documents provide adequate protection, and MetLife needs them in order to obtain due-process.

Florida, once a paragon of virtue in Sunshine and FOI matters, has seen a rash of new exemptions to disclosure and more are proposed in Tallahassee. Barbara A. Petersen, president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said many states have growing lists of exemptions, each meant to protect one kind of organization or data, but collectively eroding the right to know for the public and for other organizations.

(Video: https://youtu.be/viP-Yc2MzLs)

Anzaldua appeared at the suggestion of Herb Berkowitz, a non-member (outside) trustee of the AOJ Foundation, whose firm has MetLife among its clients. Asked for comment after announcing the ruling, Berkowitz said, “My point was that journalists are not the only ones invested in the Freedom of Information Act and government transparency. MetLife's saga, which resulted in the district court lawsuit, was a good case study.”

Berkowitz has been involved with NCEW and AOJ for decades. He also emailed Wednesday: “I'm involved in AOJ because I consider it the most important organization in journalism. Opinion journalists perform a unique function and have a responsibility to help the rest of us understand the complex issues that confront us daily as taxpayers and individuals. One of the tragedies of modern journalism is that most opinion writers no longer have the time -- or the travel or study budgets -- to properly keep up with these issues. The AOJ symposium provides an opportunity.“

Future of The Editorial

(JM posted 11/29/2015 updated 2/9/2016)

Panel and audience share ideas on a crucial service
(and on endorsements) in times of rapid change. From left, Rosemary O'Hara, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Bob Davis, Anniston Star, and Tim Swarens, Indianapolis Star.

This video, at 47 minutes, is about 90 percent of the session, and is available here: https://youtu.be/yhblKh6jhrc

No Labels pitches goal: Bipartisanship on The Hill

Posted 12/2/2015 by John McClelland

Looking ahead to the first year of somebody’s new presidency, the No Labels coalition is trying to get set for a functional, bi-partisan, federal government, two of its leaders say.

It involves agreement on some basic goals, and a willingness to negotiate on how to achieve them.

For example, Mark Penn (left) told diners at AOJ Symposium 2015, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich could agree on a goal and then wrestle with how to reach it. On the other hand, he said, “A country without goals is going nowhere.”

Tom Davis (right) said legislative districts are so weighted by party (he meant gerrymandered, too) that the public’s independent streak makes no difference in a legislative district general election, “but in a presidential race it could be decisive.” Getting broad-based turnout for that is more likely than it is in legislative primaries where most districts are drawn so that “November is just a constitutional formality.”

Both said independent or potential swing voters are 33 to 40 percent of a potential electorate if it were less polarized. Davis said liberals and conservatives participate in primaries while “moderates have lives,” then “in the general election, candidates have to pivot to the center.” 

Does the focus on the middle mean the rise of a third party? Not soon, Penn said. Candidates win two-party elections one of two ways: go for the swing voters (independents, undecideds, and crossovers), or drive turnout of the party’s own devoted “wedge” voters in swing states. No Labels wants a swing-voter election, not one dominated by wedge partisans.

The campaign says there is widespread agreement, 80 percent of voters in some polls, on basic goals. One version of the goals list goes like this:

  • Create 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years.
  • Balance the federal budget by 2030.
  • Secure Medicare and Social Security for the next 75 years.
  • Make America energy secure by 2024.

So  No Labels asks candidates and legislators to commit to seeking real progress on one or more goals and getting a “Problem Solvers Seal.”

The organization bills itself as a grassroots citizen campaign with experienced workers inside the Beltway. http://www.nolabels.org

A few others, of the hundreds of online bits about it:

  • Convention October 2015 in New Hampshire
    • http://www.wmur.com/politics/look-ahead-eight-candidates-to-speak-to-no-labels-convention/35750820
  • No Labels Reveals 'Problem Solver' Caucus -- But Where Are The Education Legislators? (2013)
    • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joy-resmovits/no-labels-reveals-problem_b_2472733.html
  • Lofty goals, little result (Philadelphia Inquirer’s Philly.com 2014)
    • http://articles.philly.com/2014-10-11/news/54873818_1_no-labels-bipartisan-group-pins

Reflecting the reality (of diversity) is vital

Posted 11/25/2015 by Rosemary O’Hara

Even in the face of shrinking staffs, today’s opinion page editors are finding innovative and imaginative ways to reflect diversity on their digital and print pages.

You know the challenge. Since byline counts in the 1980s first documented that a majority of the faces on opinion pages were those of middle-aged white men, editors have been trying to better reflect their communities. It’s a matter of accuracy, really.

At the Miami Herald, which serves a minority-majority community, Nancy Ancrum says she no longer uses the word diversity because “it puts people on edge.” Instead, she talks about reflecting “the reality” of the communities she serves.

Whenever she’s out in the community, and someone makes a passionate point about something, Ancrum said she hands them a business card and asks them to write a 650-word oped. “If they can speak it well, I’ll take a shot on them.”

Ancrum noted that when trying to reflect diversity, editors, too, “tend to label people and put them in silos in ways they don’t label themselves.” Candidly, she shared the story of a reader who called to speak to columnist Leonard Pitts, who regularly writes about race and injustice. The caller sounded like a good ol’ boy who probably wasn’t calling to offer a compliment. To her surprise, it turned out the man said he knew about some KKK activity and wanted Pitts to “get on it.” A lesson for us all: managing diversity means managing our own reflexes, too.

At the Hartford Courant, Carolyn Lumsden has formed a win-win alliance with a credible Connecticut website that features informed commentary on subjects readers care about. She publishes the first paragraph of the piece on the Courant’s site, then links to the full article on the contributor’s site, allowing both organizations to get the page views and readers to get the content.

The Courant also is moving away from official public-policy op-eds, and instead asking: Who can best tell this story? “We are rejecting group op-eds. We don’t care what the group thinks. We want to know what happened to you? What made you come to this conclusion?” An opinion piece from a teacher who wrote about why she quit teaching in Connecticut remains one of the site’s most-viewed articles. “The trick is to get the op-ed online as soon as possible.”

Also, the Courant has started a weekly Fresh Talk column for writers under 30 that is attracting submissions from all over the country. And the editorial board recently launched an advisory board that when first announced, attracted more than 100 applicants. The group not only includes diversity by race and age, but ideology, too. The challenge, she noted, is that because of the time commitment, volunteers tend to skew toward retirees.

At the Palm Beach Post, Rick Christie is similarly trying to broaden the type of topics discussed on the opinion pages, with an emphasis on real-life issues people care about. 

He likes to identify what he calls “passion pockets.”

“What do we care about in our roles as human beings, parents, consumers, commuters?" he said, "So when we write about something, it’s a topic of passion, a real life perspective.”

At the same time, the Post is publishing more headshot photos of contributors so that readers can see the range of people whose voices are reflected on its pages.

(Video: https://youtu.be/eA_49WdRiwU)

At the Orlando Sentinel, Paul Owens noted how coverage of diversity was easier when the editorial board had a diverse mix of nine members. Now the board is down to three, and is about to lose its African-American member to a buyout. The reality, Owens said, is that “we have to be more deliberate and aggressive in our outreach.”

When convening forums in print and in person, the Sentinel seeks input to ensure its panelists — and range of topics — represent the diversity and interests of the community. The Sentinel also recently launched the Central Florida 100, a weekly feature that invites people from business, government, nonprofits, civic and cultural organizations to briefly share their take on the week’s top news. Like a similar feature at the Sun Sentinel, this names-and-faces forum quickly communicates the region’s rich diversity.

At the end of the year, the Sentinel also prints the year’s best letters, a feature that shows “we feature and value letters from diverse viewpoints,” Owens said. The editorial board also produces a year-end feature called Central Floridian of the Year, which spotlights people who’ve make notable contributions. If there’s a notable gap in the pool of nominees, the Sentinel reaches out to diverse groups to capture a “truer reflection of the good in our community.”

Participants in the diversity discussion at the 2015 AOJ Symposium offered other ideas, too, including reaching out to journalism professors to engage young writers.

So while opinion page staffing is significantly down, it’s clear today’s editors remain committed to presenting forums that reflect an accurate, interesting and passionate picture of their communities. Or as Ancrum says, “the reality” of our communities.

Rosemary O’Hara is opinion page editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

How editorial boards can tackle the tough problems

Posted 11/24/2015 by Patrick Brendel

“A bunch of damn questions” – That’s what veteran journalist David Holwerk says he’s come up with after spending six years at the Kettering Foundation, studying the works of citizens, communities and institutions in a democracy.

The overarching question posed in Holwerk’s AOJ symposium Nov. 15 presentation was, how can editorial boards more effectively help citizens to govern themselves?

Before joining the Ohio-based foundation in June 2009 as communications director and resident scholar, Holwerk worked in newspapers for more than 30 years.

During his journalism career, Holwerk appraised topics for typical editorial campaigns using these three questions:

  1. Is it in the public interest?
  2. Can it be done?
  3. Who can do it?

If those three questions could be answered affirmatively, then there was a good chance the newspaper could get something done about it.

But Holwerk says he was perplexed at times by “mysterious” problems plaguing the community that refused to yield to conventional “carpet bombing” editorial campaigns.


He said those tough problems tend to have these characteristics:

  • There’s no clear “right” answer.
  • They can involve disagreements on what exactly the right thing to do is.
    • For example, in regard to gun violence, some believe that more people having guns makes everyone safer, while some believe that only police having guns makes everyone safer.
  • They can’t be solved by experts or citizens acting alone.

Holwerk offered three questions that journalists can ask themselves as they formulate their strategy in such situations:

  1. What’s the name of this problem? (People name problems in terms of things they hold valuable. For example, It is potentially more effective for an editorial board to view and articulate the divisive issue of “gun control” in terms of “personal safety,” which is something everyone values.)
  2. Where are people talking about this problem? [They are talking, possibly somewhere you might not suspect.]
  3. What is there for citizens to do about this problem? [Back to the original questions: public-interest, can it be done, and who can do it.]

Further questions include:

  • Where do I work? (As in, am I working “inside” the community or “outside” the community?)
  • Who else works there? (Other professionals share the same frustrations as journalists when it comes to dealing with “citizens” and the “community.”)
  • What language do I speak? [Journalese, bureaucratese, educanto, or real-people-talk? See next item.]
  • Who else speaks that language? (Journalists may find themselves speaking the language of the “experts” of the subjects they cover, but that’s not the language that ordinary people use when talking about problems.)
  • What do citizens do? [Besides voting, they shop, drive, gossip, protest, choose a school, comment online, organize...]

Holwerk says those are questions that don’t have definitive “right” answers, but they are questions that he wishes he had asked himself when he was conducting editorial campaigns, and they are questions that members of his audience can still ask themselves throughout their work.

Holwerk shared charts showing a steady decline in the public’s confidence in major institutions – including public schools, Congress, TV news and newspapers – since 1973, coinciding with the Watergate scandal. “Public engagement is not going to reverse a global trend,” he says. (Chart set as PDF; it may open in your browser, or download, and it has far more than the confidence survey charts.)

On the topic of social media, Holwerk says, “It’s clear that interactive media makes it much more difficult for despots to govern. It’s less obvious that it makes citizens more able to govern themselves.”

Patrick Brendel is the editorial writer for the Cayman Compass. He's also reported for publications in Texas.

Common Core disputes include even its identity

Posted 11/24/2015 by Bill McGoun

The Common Core educational program gets considerable political disagreement about even what it is. That difference was reflected on the CC panel at AOJ Symposium 2015.

Jayne Ellspermann, principal at West Port High School in Ocala, Fla., and national principal of the year, is wholeheartedly in favor of Common Core. She called it “a tremendous opportunity” and said “We’re teaching students to really think.” 

She and Roger L. Beckett, executive director of the Ashbrook Center, agreed that Common Core is more about how subjects are taught than about what is taught.

Among other things, she said, Common Core levels the playing field for students of different backgrounds. She said her school has 200 students who do not speak English.

Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, clearly is no fan of Common Core. He conceded that the program began with the states but repeatedly stressed what he saw as federal coercion. He said the federal government has incentivized adoption of Common Core by the states and selected the tests that would be used. States were told to adopt the standards before they were announced, he said.

(Video: https://youtu.be/CfyorRlv5FQ)

Beckett, whose center focuses on capacity for self-government, seemed to occupy a middle ground. He said Common Core probably was implemented too soon. Also, he said, there is not enough emphasis on civics and history – the standards stress English language arts and math -- and that we’re not yet seeing the results we should see. He said one problem is that teachers are poorly trained in the U.S.

Are we trying to reclaim a Golden Age, one member of the audience wondered. We’re always trying to catch up, Ellspermann said. We’re doing worse in history and civics than we used to, Beckett said. McCluskey said, “There is no [great] ‘back then’.”

Ellspermann said she had no problem with standardization, while at the same time she wanted educators to have the flexibility to try different ideas. We remain miles away from a national curriculum, she said.

McCluskey expressed the need for competition. “We don’t all agree,” he said. “We don’t have all the answers.” Beckett said opposition to Common Core reflects fear of the nationalization of education.

One issue: HOW it is done. While Ellspermann had no problems with the concept of Common Core, she does have some concerns regarding implementation. She said teachers feel they are being evaluated based on their students’ test scores and schools are concerned that they are being graded on those scores.

Ellspermann cited a theme often heard by proponents of educational reform when she said Common Core seeks to teach students to think rather than simply to regurgitate information. She said the goal is to get students to understand why they got the right answer to a math problem. “We want them to be able to use math in their everyday life,” she said.

State-level resistance is apparent, both Beckett and McCluskey noted, as some states already have backed out. McCluskey suggested that Common Core will unduly influence textbook publishing and that college entry exams will become aligned with it.

Ellspermann stressed that the goal of education is to teach each child to reach his or her potential. She appeared to believe Common Core is an important tool toward that end. Others are not so sure.

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

Met's digital guru pushes quality in all media forms

Posted 11/23/15 by Richard Galant

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art hired a chief digital officer two years ago, Sree Sreenivasan, told the AOJ symposium Nov. 15, “they were looking for someone who knew nothing about art and I was super-qualified.”

(Video: https://youtu.be/rMqfiUj6Sf4)

[Updated 6/23/2016 JM: Sreenivasan made quite a positive splash when he went public on social media with a positive outlook and advice for those suddenly out of a job; he was among those laid off at the Met. http://qz.com/711943/sree-sreenivasan-how-to-spin-getting-fired-from-your-high-profile-job-into-a-delightful-digital-campaign/ ]
[Updating 8/2/2016: He landed well again http://journal-isms.com/2016/08/hillary-clinton-to-address-nabj-nahj/#Sree%20Named%20Chief%20Digital%20Officer%20for%20N.Y.C.]

Sreenivasan, who joined the museum after 20 years at the Columbia University School of Journalism, may have been selling himself short.

Under his leadership, the Met’s 70-person digital team has branched out in innovative directions, and spread the museum’s vast collection aggressively online.

In a keynote concluding event of the symposium in St. Petersburg, Sreenivasan (@sree) gave participants a wealth of useful advice.

Not least was his list of ABCs: 

  • Always Be Charging (carry a battery pack, too), 
  • Always Be Connecting (“Connect with people when you don’t need them so they will be there with you when you do need them.”) and 
  • Always Be Collecting content.

In his view, opinion is more important than ever. In a digital world where everyone is a writer who can publish opinion on social media, Sreenivasan said, the “trained writer stands taller.”

Quoting former Wall St. Journal publisher Les Hinton, he said, “The scarcest resource of the 21st century is human attention.” So, the Met’s biggest competition? Not other museums, Sreenivasan said, but “Netflix, Candy Crush and life in 2015."

He unearthed the minutes of a 1967 curators’ meeting at the Met which reported: “The use of an IBM computer is being seriously considered by the catalogue department.” Perhaps presciently, the minutes went on, “Dr. Fischer doubts that a computer would be a time saving device.”

Now, the Met has 1.2 million likes on Facebook, a million Twitter followers, nearly 900,000 Instagram followers and 29,000 YouTube subscribers.

Among its innovative digital ventures is The Artist Project, in which 100 artists record brief “snackable” videos in which they talk about works of art or galleries at the Met that inspire them. There’s also #MetKids http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/metkids/

In a parallel to the news industry's ongoing angst about free vs paid content, he discussed the museum’s similar gamble. The Met made its audio guide content freely available to the public on smartphones, not just the dedicated audio guides that are rented out at the museum. (He said use of both services rose, partly because foreign tourists would pay to avoid connectivity worries and roaming fees.)

And Meow Met, a Google Chrome browser plug in, enlivens your browser windows with images of cats from the Met’s collection.

Sreenivasan had some general words of advice on social media. “Almost everyone will miss almost everything you do on social media -- until you make a mistake.” 

Would you read it? He urged opinion journalists to make sure that they don’t fall into the trap of posting content that they themselves wouldn’t want to read.

And he got the group to put down dessert to chant along with what he called his “social media success formula.” Make sure you post content that is at least some of these:

  • helpful
  • useful
  • timely
  • informative
  • relevant
  • practical
  • actionable
  • generous
  • credible
  • brief
  • entertaining
  • fun
  • occasionally funny

For more, see the slides from his AOJ presentation here: Bit.ly/sreeaoj 

Richard Galant (@richny), Senior Editor/Opinion for CNN Digital, heads the team that produces opinion for CNN’s digital platforms: www.cnn.com/opinions

Entrepreneurial DMN lives digitally...and in print

Posted 11/21/2015 by Froma Harrop

Ten years ago, the Dallas Morning News website served mainly as a repository for newspaper stories, DMN's new editor Mike Wilson told the Association of Opinion Journalists. It was very static with not many images. (Video: https://youtu.be/wN7gUrN_rcw)

His mission was to reverse the orientation. DMN is now an online site that has a newspaper. Wilson was formerly the managing editor of ESPN's FiveThirtyEight website.

"I don't think any of the stuff we do matters at all if we don't tell stories" that attract readers, he said. "But none of that great work we do matters if we don't get it before an audience."

Web and print teams were separate when he arrived, Wilson said: "A metro editor's job was to think what was on the next day's B front."

Unlike some other news organizations, DMN remains committed to putting out a paper product. The newspaper customers remain very loyal readers, Wilson noted. "Death is one the main reasons people stop subscribing."

Online success requires asking "what does the audience need from me now?" Readers want a more conversational tone. They want to talk back.

What's not working? DMN editors now identify what people are not looking at and try to either make that coverage more arresting to readers or stop doing it. They found that 75 percent of the beats didn't meet metric standards for success. Nonetheless, the organization still covers the civic basics, such as members of the city council, according to Wilson.

Making the transition requires creating a digitally skilled newsroom, he emphasized. That involves teaching the skills, from Twitter to web production, and adding rich media. To accelerate change, DMN offered a buyout program for employees approaching retirement and not comfortable in the digital world.

It is not always age. Wilson found, however, that an ability to adapt to the changing technology is not a function of age. Some of his senior people are "super digitially," he said, while there are younger people "who don't get it."

The entrepreneurial news site must tell the right stories. It can't be all things to all people, and it must look beyond the traditional newsroom for content.

Hub-beats and obsessions: The DMN newsroom is organized around hubs (traditional beats) and what Wilson called "obsessions" (which are topics about which news people feel passionately.)

Most content is still produced in-house, but a greater percentage of it now originates elsewhere. DMN will use an outside story about the Dallas Cowboys, for example, if it is credible "with a whiff of truth."

The company is engaging in journalism partnerships, such as the Texas News Cooperative, through which prominent news media share stories. DMN has arranged joint appointments with universities, paying half the salary of academics who contribute content. And it uses a number of bloggers to feed the local obsession with sports.

One of the most important traits a newsroom needs to make the essential transformation into a digital media team is courage, Wilson concluded. "But when you move beyond fear you feel free."

Froma Harrop is a columnist with Creators Syndicate and former president of NCEW-AOJ.

Some success, change, no repeal seen for ACA
Posted 11/20/2015 by Bill McGoun

Right-to-left: David Haynes, AOJ president, moderator; David Blumenthal, Naomi Lopez-Bauman, Jason Altmire. Video: https://youtu.be/BGh2G-VhyCE

The Affordable Care Act has achieved many of its goals and it is not going to be repealed. But it may be modified, depending on the results of the 2016 elections.

Those conclusions came as three panelists, representing a wide range of backgrounds, discussed the ACA – or Obamacare, as its foes have dubbed it – at the 2015 symposium of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

Perhaps the most upbeat view came from David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund, which concentrates on health care. He said 16 million people have gained coverage under the act, reducing the percentage of those uncovered to 9. There also have been improvements in both the cost and the quality of care, though he said neither could be tied conclusively to the ACA.

Naomi Lopez-Bauman, director of healthcare policy at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, was far less optimistic. She doesn’t think the ACA has done all that well in reducing the number of uninsured, especially at lower income levels. She did say the ACA did a good job of providing subsidies and that the insurance exchanges are “a very good model.”

Jason Altmire, a former U.S. representative now with Florida Blue, was one of the House Democrats who voted against the ACA in 2010. Today, he is a convert to the cause. “The sky has not fallen,” he said. He said the law did a good job on coverage and a fairly good job on costs.

None of the three would argue that the ACA does not have problems. All three were concerned that the exchanges are not signing up enough young, healthy people. Blumenthal did say the young are covered at about the same rate as their share of the population.

Lopez-Bauman was especially critical of the “Cadillac tax” on health-care plans with generous benefits. An alternative, she said, would be to cap the tax deduction employers get for providing coverage.

Problems are on the horizon. Both Lopez-Bauman and Blumenthal noted that deductibles are rising rapidly. Blumenthal said this means a shift in costs from employers to employees. Lopez-Bauman pointed out further that the reinsurance program designed to protect carriers against losses ends next year.

Lopez-Bauman said she didn’t believe the health-care mandate provided enough incentive to get the young and healthy covered. Altmire insisted that “You have to have the mandate.”

Both Blumenthal and Lopez-Bauman touched on transparency as a means of cost-control. Altmire pointed to reforms in Medicare toward basing reimbursement on results rather than number of procedures. Lopez-Bauman cited state-level initiatives to knock down barriers to supply and broaden the duties of various health-care professionals.

Lopez-Bauman and Blumenthal differed sharply on the wisdom of government programs to control supply, known as certificates of need. Lopez-Bauman said free-standing specialty centers offer services at lower cost while Blumenthal insisted the competition model doesn’t work in health care. “When you have an empty facility, people find a way to use it,” he said.

Lopez-Bauman said she expects changes to the law after the 2016 elections, the extent of those changes depending upon who wins, but even she did not expect the law to be repealed. She said there may be a move toward more flexibility at the state level and toward promoting innovation.

Altmire was blunt: “It’s not going to be repealed.”

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

AOJ board: finances fixed, membership emphasized

Posted 11/18/2015 by Lois Kazakoff

New management, a better coordinated approach to fundraising and a practical way to reduce investment management costs have the Association of Opinion Journalists on more solid financial footing than at this time last year.

The board decided during its Nov. 13 meeting in St. Petersburg to focus in the coming year on building membership.

Through the hard work of board members David Haynes, Carolyn Lumsden and Miriam Pepper, AOJ raised about $42,000 for the 2015 symposium and ongoing operations. Jay Jochnowitz, 2015 membership committee chair, welcomed 34 new members. AOJ, however, needs more members to help carry out its mission.

Jochnowitz suggested in his report, and the board agreed, that membership be a project of the board rather than of a separate committee. Board member Rosemary Goudreau O'Hara will coordinate this effort. She asks each AOJ member to contact two potential members about the benefits of joining AOJ and to e-mail her the names. Board members will each contact 10 potential members. Her email is rohara@sun-sentinel.com

The symposium cost about $3,000 more than the $20,000 budgeted because of higher-than-anticipated travel costs for event speakers. Fundraising efforts offset those costs. The efforts included the sold-out joint fundraiser with the Poynter Institute of Media Studies held Friday evening with former Obama adviser David Axelrod. (link to report)

In 2016, the symposium most likely will return to Poynter in St. Petersburg, Fla., said board President Haynes, who also served as 2015 symposium chair. Acknowledging that Florida is a long trip for West Coast members, he suggested exploring the idea of an AOJ Day in Silicon Valley, focused on technology and the innovation economy.

The AOJ board also voted to move the operating funds and two endowment funds away from our long time investment adviser and into indexed mutual funds, a move AOJ has wrestled with for several years. AOJ should see estimated savings of $9,000 a year by avoiding investment fees. 

 The AOJ board followed Poynter's lead. Poynter, which is managing AOJ under an 18-month contract, had requested proposals from a handful investment firms as it looked for how to better manage its own investments. Poynter concluded investing in Vanguard index funds would produce an acceptable rate of return and save the considerable cost of advisory fees.

The AOJ board is also exploring ways to cut credit card fees, which currently cost AOJ 8.5 percent of each transaction, to 4 percent.

Masthead editor John McClelland will work with Poynter to make the AOJ website fully mobile-device friendly.

While many challenges lie ahead, AOJ is reaping benefits from tough decisions made last year. In September 2014, members voted to let the Association of Opinion Journalists go dark and let the Association of Opinion Journalists Foundation take on the activities of the association. This saved the legal and administrative costs of operating two separate boards of directors. In the spring of 2015, the foundation, now referred to as AOJ, contracted with Poynter to manage the office and to conduct, with AOJ faculty, the Minority Writers Seminar.

Now the organization must look to the future. Haynes will serve as AOJ president until April, when the board will need to elect new leadership for the coming year. Anyone with interest in joining the board should contact him.

Lois Kazakoff is deputy editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate, and past president of the AOJ Foundation.

More, about money (;-)

[The legal work to dissolve the AOJ professional association and transfer its remaining assets (just under $30,000) to the educational foundation was completed during 2015, and on-budget, said Miriam Pepper, the pro association's last president, in a side interview.

[Financial reports to the board showed, as expected, more than $200,000 in the general reserve fund and more than $400,000 in the Minority Writers Seminar endowment. Neither is large enough for its earnings to sustain operations at the level the board would like, but the financial down-spiral of recent years has ended.

[Poynter reported that AOJ received a small amount of revenue sharing income from Amazon. This confirmed our belief that the arrangement survived the transitions of management and web server.

[Anyone who goes from the Amazon link on our web site will be able to shop Amazon normally, at no extra cost, and a small fraction of the sale will find its way to AOJ. See http://aoj.wildapricot.org/commerce

--John McClelland

Seminar guests earn prompt publication plaudit

(from emails by Rick Horowitz, 11/17, updated 11/30/2015 JM)

So what was that polychromatic group of journalists up to
last weekend when they weren’t briefly visible in the corridors of the Poynter Institute?

Here’s one example: 

Fresh off their Friday editorial-writing assignment on U.S. policy toward Syria, seminar attendees heard director Ricardo Pimentel suggest using Friday’s mayhem in Paris as their topic for Saturday’s column-writing assignment. 

Katherine Reynolds Lewis came up with this one: “Don’t Let the Paris Attacks Infuse Your Parenting with Fear.” It ran on Monday on the Washington Post’s “On Parenting” blog.  

Way to go, Kakki! 

Her piece, an essay with advice for parents whose offspring are any age, is here: http://wapo.st/1Qsw0IM

[Two more seminar participants soon placed articles done there.]

(The annual AOJ seminar has provided hands-on learning about professional opinion writing for decades. This year, for the first time, it was held at the same place, and on days overlapping, the annual AOJ Symposium conference. More background about the seminar is here.)

Here is another look at the new alumni and faculty, guests of AOJ at the Saturday night dinner event:

GOP Rep: do-nothings in House deserve the ax

By John McClelland (11/16/2015 15:05cst)

(Video: https://youtu.be/UAL77mRYynU)

Business people who perform as badly as some in Congress would be fired, so the under-performers and obstructionists in the House also should shape up or get out.

U.S. Rep David Jolly (R-Florida) was not the only one at the AOJ Symposium to publicly state that sentiment, but he made it the foundation of his Nov. 14 speech to AOJ in St. Pete.

Granted, he did not call his colleagues lazy. But he sharply criticized both the system and the individuals who end up spending as much time or more chasing dollars for future campaigns than they do in-session, in-committee or otherwise doing their jobs. And the divisiveness in the House, he argued, is dangerously counter-productive.

He suggested something like a 40-hour work week when Congress is in session, starting 9 a.m. Mondays and ending by 5 p.m. Friday. “We will never do border security and immigration without extended debate.”

And he added his voice to others who said the minority of Republicans who resist everything not consistent with their ideology should really engage in real negotiation, even c-o-m-p-r-o-m-i-s-e, to get things done. He seemed to predict more teetering from impasse to possible shutdown without some bending of rigid positions on both sides of the aisle, but especially within his own party's caucuses.

Some of his other points:

  • “Experience in government matters.” He derided those who campaign as total outsiders riding a valid wave of public discontent but bringing no experience with at legislating or dealing with a legislative body from a public administration. He said his years in public service prepared him to help get things done.
  • “I think we need a debate with the American people about whether we should be in a [new, wider] war.” He said he agrees with President Obama on some things, but was disappointed at the drawing of a red line and then not acting on it in Syria. He said Congress should be debating application of the War Powers Act.
  • “Congress is silent on its constitutional responsibility on this.” He advocated intervention in Syria, until Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped in. “Now we have to be very careful.”
  • Automatic “no” votes by some in the House dismay him. He was nearly shouting when he decried “committee chairmen who vote to close the government.”
  • His Tampa Bay district (13th) votes nearly 50-50 between the two parties, unlike most, where gerrymandering has made 80 percent of House seats “safe,” for pro-forma election of the dominant party’s nominee. “The only real election is the primary,” he said, and implied that it too is skewed.
  • In a time of super-PACs, “We are only an election or two away from a time when [candidates’] campaign committees will be irrelevant” because the big money, unlike campaign funds, is unregulated and flowing freely.
  • Asked about gun control, he said he absolutely supports 2nd Amendment rights AND resonable controls, such as effective background checks. “A parent who leaves [a gun] unlocked” and thus allows a child to create a tragedy with it “needs to be held to criminal liability,” he said. Public safety from illegally used firearms “is a national issue and I would like to see Congress move on this.”

Did he sound like a candidate for re-election already? Yes, but he's known to be already a 2016 candidate for U.S. Senate instead. Did he know that the editor who provoked a viral dispute by publishing an editorial urging Sen. Marco Rubio to resign was in the room? Obviously.

John McClelland reported and edited at newspapers in the Midwest and Mid-South for decades before teaching at Roosevelt University, Chicago. Now retired, he edits Masthead for AOJ.

Community contributions can need close vetting

(11/14/15 18:30EDT JM)

Commit real journalism, and have fun, while building community through audience participation, the guru said, and she showed how. 

A Poynter faculty presentation to AOJ Symposium 2015 was by the institute's head of digital innovation faculty, Katie Hawkins-Gaar.

Her examples often came from her prior work and that of others at CNN, where the I-Report gets material from 1.5 million contributors around the world. They provide raw images that can be used promptly – but only after being vetted. Sometimes, that's a snap, and sometimes it takes a lot of degi-tech and a lot of phone calling.

This breadth of reach did not happen instantly. Begun in 2006, when Twitter was new and Facebook was for collegians, it grew to include at least one verified report from each country in the world, among the 14,000 items posted per month.

People who shared breaking news often are "one and done," but the site needs a steady flow of material on a broader scope. So the staff pushes ideas and questions.

She said citizen contributors tend to work at four levels:

  • Low: voting for items, retweeting, basically clicking a button
  • Mid: submitting comments or suggesting questions for interviews
  • High: uploading photos, videos, stories
  • Next: higher-yet, writing personal essays, or participating in reporting process by suggesting topics to investigate or maybe going along...

She recommended soliciting ideas or personal experiences via social media, maintaining contact with a database of contributors, thanking those whose material helps, and "closing the loop" by posting info and links to the result.

One piece began as one paragraph by a feminist who converted to Islam. A producer asked her to do a fuller first-person essay. She was terrified of dealing with feedback or backlash. But the staff closed comment except for one hour, when they helped her handle the flow.

John Sutter's tweets and SnapChap exchanges with people while he was traveling provided a sense of immediate interchange of ideas. One teen followed a link to his first-ever reading of long-form journalism. 

(Video: https://youtu.be/WXQvs3O_pyU)

An extreme example of vetting contributions was a picture of one house left standing after a hurricane leveled all the rest on a stretch of shore. It seemed too good to be true. The hi-def image and its meta-data got close scrutiny. The contributor was grilled by phone. A FaceBook post said, we think this is real, but cannot confirm it. Someone saw it and recognized it. More image comparisons and interviews, and the "Last House Standing" ran on CNN.

The process was … reporting.

Quality video opinion rolls in to Globe project

Posted Nov. 14, 2015 by Mike Drago

Op-ed pages went beyond 18 inches of grey text and an author’s mugshot a long time ago. 

As Boston Globe commentary editor Joanna Weiss noted Saturday, op-eds now routinely are illustration, standalone photo, graphics, or even the “Jewish humor matrix” she came up with after watching a Jon Stewart bit.

For online op-eds -- as with all online content -- the new frontier is video. (Video: https://youtu.be/HBg0P9UtJb8)

The Globe’s Opinion Reel project is among those expanding not only the form of an op-ed but also what qualifies as interesting and relevant commentary. In the process, Weiss hopes (we all hope), the project is connecting the Globe with new audiences and opening new revenue streams. 

Opinion Reel could have been modeled on The New York Times’ pioneering Op-Docs effort, but “we wanted to do something a little different,” Weiss says. “We wanted to it to feel local, and we wanted to target the up-and-coming student filmmaking population.”

In that regard, the Globe is lucky. It’s in Boston, a center for documentary filmmaking, rife with universities and art schools. Weiss leveraged that luck, and the fact that her paper already had started GlobeDocs, a series of free documentary screenings in Boston. 

“We were thinking about ways of tapping into this community,” she says. She spread the word through Boston film instructors, with the promise of a distribution channel for students. “We weren’t looking to copyright the content but just piggyback on what they were already doing, maybe give the Globe a trailer cut of a longer piece,” she says. 

The paper also put the call out to the general public, including house ads that invited submissions. 

The guidelines for filmmakers were simple: Films should be no longer than about 7 minutes and have a point of view. Internally, the Globe’s development team came up with a simple form for people to submit content in the form of a YouTube upload. Editors sat back and waited. 

“I was terrified we’d get crickets,” Weiss says, “but we didn’t.” The result was about 50 submissions initially (and 75 to date). Editors held a screening party in the Globe’s basement (yes, there was popcorn and pizza). They winnowed the field to nine that comprise the 2015 season of Opinion Reel. 

Many of the best came out of the area’s film programs, where students get the support and direction to use the medium well. The chosen nine (not winners, she’s careful to say; Opinion Reel is expressly not a contest, and there are no prizes) were released all at once, “Neflix-style,” but one film is featured on the site each week, complete with a PR push for each. 

Each film chosen is distinct in tone and message. The striking thing, from a traditional op-ed perspective, is that the videos cover territory that rarely, if ever, appears on an op-ed page. For example, Weiss showed “Southie Means Family”, created by film instructor Padriac Farma. The short is Farma’s first-person account of being beaten by three men outside of Boston’s L Street Tavern because he stepped on a man’s foot and “he didn’t think I was from Southie.”

She also showed, “I Do Not Know Yet,” by Tory Muschetta, a student still deciding how to identify, “Am I a boy or a girl?”

“We not only have a different medium, but we have different voices that might not otherwise write an op-ed,” Weiss says. 

Some other nuts and bolts of the program: 

  • Legal considerations: Editors worked with the paper’s lawyers to come up with a consent form, something all papers would be wise to do before wading into submitted video content. 
  • Resources: The only financial outlay for the Globe is in-house marketing support and web development for the project’s site. 
  • Editorial standards: As for salty language or inappropriate images, Globe editors apply the same standards as for the paper. The consent form includes a “mature language warning,” and the Globe reserves the right to edit inappropriate videos. 
  • Vetting: Yes, the films are vetted to ensure they are documentary and not fiction. At least one film was rejected after Weiss found a claim to be made up. 
  • Editing: Generally, it sounds like editors steer clear of hands-on directing of the content. However, Weiss cites the case of “Three Unsafe Crossings.” Editors liked Geoff Adams’ film but thought it was too long. They gave him a chance to submit a tighter cut, and he did. It was selected. 

Mike Drago is the commentary editor at The Dallas Morning News.

Axelrod: politics affects citizens' real-life concerns

Posted 11/14/2015 by John McClelland

Politics matters, not as a red-vs-blue gotcha game, but because it really influences peoples' lives, and that’s why David Axelrod says he managed to keep his idealism for 40 rough years.

Between the gales of laughter and occasional political jabs, his emotions came through when he told of how his daughter’s epilepsy nearly bankrupted him and later led him to help Barack Obama get a health care law after seven previous presidents had failed.

Time and time again in his talk to 200-plus at a joint AOJ-Poynter fund-raiser, he said variations of “politics has meaning.” (Video: https://youtu.be/P5tjGxQDMT4)

Now a bit removed from his roles in the (Bill) Clinton and Obama campaigns and administrations, he is a pundit on TV and a wheel at the University of Chicago. Axelrod seems relatively mellow compared to his former campaign image. He even chats with people who stand in line for an autograph in his book.

When AOJ's Rosemary O'Hara pitched the first question from the floor, about why this administration is so secretive, he waffled a bit. More federal data is online, but there's a delicate balance between transparency and risks to security information; "It's complicated."

A few other comments from his appearance Nov. 13 in St. Petersburg:

“Working in the White House is like working in a submarine. You see the world through a periscope.” 

“Washington is obsessed with politics,” he said. As a former Chicago Tribune journalist, “I wanted to keep living in Chicago, where people don’t discuss the Federal Register over dinner.”

“Some in politics run to BE something. Some few run to DO something. I saw that in Obama when we first met [years before his senatorial and presidential campaigns].

Obama “came into office at an extraordinarily difficult time. [Election night] He said, ‘I guess it’s too late to ask for a recount. We’d better decide how to deal with it.’ … I think history will be good to him.”

Impact of social media? “Enormous. It is happening so rapidly we cannot get our hands around it. It has changed media and politics some ways for the better and some not. Without social media, Barack Obama would not be president. But it demands instant reaction … it can take over campaigns for days at a time.” 

(AOJ's Chuck Stokes put a story and video clip that includes some of this comment and more on WXYZ Detroit: updated 11/15/15


He said he and others in the administration refrained from calling some anti-Obama actions racist to avoid seeming to use racism as an alibi. But now he concedes that it was there all along, sometimes vicious, sometimes simply frustrated citizens acting out. 

For example, he said he thinks Donald Trump cannot be nominated, but “is speaking to something primal in our society. A lot of people lost jobs, wages are flat … they are angry … he speaks to nativism, especially of relatively uneducated white males.”

Politics now is afflicted by partisan polarization, “safe” gerrymandered legislative districts, the turmoil of social media, and the undue influences of big money.

“We’ve got to demand something better.”

John McClelland did newspapers two decades before teaching at Roosevelt University, Chicago; now retired, he edits Masthead.

Poynter's Ben Mullin did an extended piece with several videos by Poynter staff at http://www.poynter.org/news/mediawire/384858/david-axelrod-recalls-his-years-as-presidential-confidante-during-poynter-forum/

White House agrees to confer on accessibility

(posted 11/12/2015)

Journalism organizations’ efforts to reduce federal administration barriers to access got some good news 16 months after starting to push the issue.

The Society of Professional Journalists announced Nov. 12 to its scores of organizational partners that the presidential press secretary will meet Dec. 15 with representatives of the organizations.

UPDATE: An initial meeting Dec. 15 was reported by AOJ partner Poynter's Tim Mullin, with a stock photo of an Obama news conference:


A copy of SPJ’s message to AOJ’s president David Haynes is just below.

Links to prior AOJ articles on this are here.

From: Jennifer Royer SPJ HQ

Subject: Update on government transparency issue

Fellow journalism/government transparency advocates,

We have some good news to share: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has agreed to take a meeting to discuss press access with a small group of SPJ and SEJ representatives the afternoon of Tuesday, Dec. 15.

An agenda and goals are currently being developed for this meeting. We view the meeting as one more step in a long battle. Policy change and a more open government are what we hope to achieve by sharing our concerns with Mr. Earnest and others in the White House.

This, of course, would not be possible if it weren’t for your unwavering support and advocacy efforts. You can count on us to make the most of this opportunity, representing all of the journalism organizations signed on to the letters of July 2014and August 2015. This is proof that when we all work together and are persistent, people do listen and (hopefully) changes can be made for the better.

Please feel free to share this information with your members as you see fit. We will keep you informed of any developments before the meeting, and will report back to you after the meeting. Please let us know if you have any questions. Thank you again for your partnership.


  • Paul Fletcher, SPJ National President
  • Dave Cuillier, SPJ Past President
  • Kathryn Foxhall, SPJ Ethics Committee member
  • Beth Parke, SEJ Executive Director

Minority Writer Seminar '96 alumna recalls joy

Posted 10/27/2015 by Deborah Locke

The workshop on editorial writing started a long and happy tenure as an opinion writer.

We learned editorial basics and tips on deadline writing from professionals who were devoted to making opinion writers out of us. They succeeded. I returned to Milwaukee with a clear focus: find an editorial writing job, apply and get it.

During a conversation with Milwaukee Journal editorial staff members, I learned that the St. Paul Pioneer Press had just started a nation-wide search for an editorial writer. That information led to phone calls to St. Paul, a resume update and interviews.

Three months later, I moved home to Minnesota and started work as an opinion writer, producing editorials and signed columns.

I had a superb editor who was well-known to the NCEW*: Ron Clark. He challenged writers to become the best they could be, and made assignments based on a writer’s interests and passion. Employment-wise, the years with Ron as an editor were the best years of my life. I loved the challenge of a 2 p.m. deadline with its flurry of phone calls and background research and then the writing.

Oh, the writing was the best part. A few times I walked in on Ron as he read an editorial or column from me for the first time. His face said it all. The piece worked.

The St. Paul job [10 years] led to an editorship at the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and that, too, had its rewarding moments. NAJA* gave a first place award to my column on land ownership, U.S. Steel and Wisconsin Point in Lake Superior. The column taught me and a reading audience of the drama of land ownership in the 1800s. The “old warrior” who led the charge against U.S. Steel and the land occupation was my great-great grandfather, Frank Lemieux.

Ron Clark had passed away before that column appeared in the tribal paper, but I think he knew it was written and I think he approved.

My opinion writing career hatched during a transforming weekend in Nashville and blossomed throughout the years ahead. The experience was extraordinary, and I will never forget it.

Deborah Locke is a Native American who attended the first Minority Writers Seminar in 1996 and wrote editorials and columns in St. Paul until 2006. She has won awards for writing and editing in Native American media. She directed the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 program for the Minnesota Historical Society, really enjoyed blogging, and has led writing workshops. She has been completing a college certificate program in social media and recently resumed full-time work as a communications admissions associate at the University of Minnesota.

  • NCEW: National Conference of Editorial Writers, formed in 1947, renamed Association of Opinion Journalists in 2012. (back)
  • NAJA: Native American Journalists Association http://www.naja.com

AOJ, SPJ, Poynter among 54 signers vs U.S. opacity 

August 2015 letter again chides White House non-responses re federal non-transparency

(Posted 8/12/2015 John McClelland)

AOJ is among more than 50* journalism and free-information groups that have renewed last year's protests to the White House about recurring abuses of governmental information access.

The letter, originating like the others with the Society of Professional Journalists, derides the administration's record of monitoring weakly and appearing to tolerate or even encourage undue obscurity or secrecy in federal government records and actions.

Some of the causes of "deep concern," it says, include:

  • "prohibiting staff from communication with journalists" except through public affairs offices or political appointees;
  • "refusing to allow reporters to speak to staff at all, or delaying" access until its value has passed:
  • "monitoring interviews"; and
  • "speaking only on the condition" of anonymity even for one with the "title of spokesperson."

It also says, "The public has a right to be alarmed... This information suppression is fraught with danger." It cites recently disclosed FDA and CDC laxity about mishandled pathogens and their staffs being forbidden for years to speak to media.

The letter concedes the value of the PIO function but asserts that controls "have gone too far." It urges President Obama to live up to his pledge "to become the most transparent president in history."

*The letter lists 54 persons, representing approximately 51 organizations by my count. Some groups were represented by more than one person, such as ASNE's legal counsel and president, or 3 persons at SPJ, and one case of a person representing two groups. This complexity explains the variations in numbers cited in current and previous accounts. David Haynes, AOJ president, confirmed his support to Masthead.

Here are links to the letter and related items:

  • SPJ plus 53 including AOJ in Aug. 11, 2015, letter: 
    • ?http://spj.org/pdf/news/obama-letter-final-08102015.pdf
    • (pdf opens or downloads depending on your emailer or browser) 
  • Jim Warren at Poynter: 
    • http://www.poynter.org/news/mediawire/365405/media-groups-deride-white-house-on-information-curbs-monitoring/
  • SPJ August 2015 release: 
    • https://www.spj.org/news.asp?ref=1368
  • First letter on this, July 8, 2014: 
    • https://www.spj.org/news.asp?ref=1254
  • Follow-up letter, Aug. 5, 2014: 
    • https://www.spj.org/news.asp?ref=1266

Greenberg semi-retirement recalls the good-'ol times

Posted 8/3/2015 by John McClelland

Paul Greenberg's semi-retirement, that is retirement from editing but not from opinion writing in Little Rock, has special meaning for me in several ways and for AOJ in at least two special ways. Those two first:

He was a leading voice when we were the National Conference of Editorial Writers, and in the classy print Masthead, long before I even joined.

Our convention in Little Rock was superb in large part because of his graceful leadership and his assistant/successor Dave Barham's energy.

Then the personal tales:

I was in the slot at the Pine Bluff (Arkansas) Commercial the 1978 night we learned of his almost-second-Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

The one he actually received was 1969 for pushing school integration statewide after Little Rock Central was out of the limelight and other districts were still stonewalling on Brown v. Board of Education.

There was one 1978 report that he had been first choice of the judges but they got overruled so someone in DC could get a well-deserved first. He was also a finalist in 1986, from Little Rock. But back to the 70s...

Paul's perfectionistic-page-polishing penchant was legendary. We called his assistant the "Paul-bearer."

When I came back north in 1980, we were still fighting decades of foot-dragging on huge, sometimes racist, "details" of public school integration and other Jim Crow skeletons.

Paul has always been a voice for fairness and reason and progress on these matters, even if he did once provoke a protracted advertising boycott. Some candidates for office came in for interviews -- and some of them reputedly to beg him and our brave owner-publisher, Ed Freeman, NOT to endorse them. It is no coincidence that his Little Rock time, at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has been with another brave, innovative, publisher.

Paul is one of two Arkansas journalists who could legitimately claim to have begun calling Bill Clinton either "Willie Slick" after the movie pool hustler or "Slick Willie" as in Teflon politicians. He inspired our cartoonist to skewer doofuses of all stripes, and he repeatedly called Frank White, Clinton's inept successor, "Governor Goofy."

Early in Clinton's first governorship, my late first wife said, Paul asserted something like: "This young attorney general we just elected can't put together a kiddie-korps cabinet for the 49th state, but he wants to be president someday and, God help us, he might."

His syndicated column really took off after Clinton's presidential nomination. None of us could ever have found so many ways to use details to back up his "I told you so" during the Whitewater and Lewinsky situations and more.

My first photo service to NCEW, now AOJ, was at the 2004 Chicago convention. The keynoter was ill and the organizers invited a self-described "skinny kid with big ears and a funny name" to say why he wanted to be in the U.S. Senate. Paul unerringly steered Barack Obama aside for a lively one-on-one while a campaign aide fidgeted.

A few years ago, it was a daunting day indeed when Paul strongly questioned my statement of a Masthead policy. We do not publicly quote the comments posted on the AOJ members' collegial discussion list without consent or a seriously due-cause situation.

Paul is a vigorous advocate of transparency and of taking the heat for one's deeds. He said opinion journalists are public figures, and should be always quotable. The policy stands, and it was a relief to remain friends after disagreeing. That is the Greenberg way and typical of our gracious list.

Last year, I was honored to edit (by posting, 99.98 percent verbatim) his essay on the killing of the great editorials.

  • Arkansas Democrat-Gazette articles on Greenberg retirement (highlights free; full-text for $3)
    • http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2015/jul/25/greenberg-relinquish-helm-editorial-page/

John McClelland did 2-plus decades in newspapers in the Midwest and Mid-South, then 2-plus teaching at Roosevelt University, Chicago. Retired. Editing Masthead 2012-present.

Rebel flag discussions evoke AOJ conference

By John McClelland (posted 7/22/2015 updated 1:55pm cdt)

The national discussion of "that" flag continues, and parts of it recall messages one would not have seen without being in AOJ.

Anniston (Alabama) Star publisher H. Brandt Ayers did a signed editorial asserting that Klanners, redneck cops, and others had hijacked the Confederate flag's symbolism. That piece recalled his talk to the 2014 AOJ Symposium* and his book "In Love with Defeat; The Making of a Southern Liberal." 

His assertion that removing the flag was the right thing to do provided counterpoint to his recitation of a South misled before 1860, mis-led, devastated, oppressed by "Reconstruction" and more. 

In our polarized culture, it is too easy to see winners and losers in regionalism and race relations that still have made us all in some way into victims. Ayers sees the bigger picture and says his take on it movingly, even for those who might disagree.

One view of it was blogged by AOJ's diversity chairman, Richard Prince at the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education: 

  • http://mije.org/richardprince/publisher-southern-white-man-real-victim#flag

Here is the Ayers piece: 

  • http://www.annistonstar.com/opinion/h-brandt-ayers-slyly-playing-race-card/article_7ff9b494-2ccf-11e5-929a-0fbd24670931.html

Editors quick to share views on S.C. massacre

(6/19/2015 John McClelland; updated 6/21, 6/22)

As often occurs on the AOJ members' discussion list, editorial page editors across the country promptly shared their first pieces about a horrific news event, in this case the Charleston shootings. 

They did this mostly on a Friday, a crunch day when most of them were quite busy with follow-up from Thursday-Friday, plus lining up pages for Saturday, Sunday, and even Monday morning. The discussion among them would resume on June 22.

Here are extracts and links from some of their postings:

  • "Here’s ours of today, first of several to come," Charles Rowe, editorial page editor, Post and Courier, Charleston. S.C.
    • http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150618/PC1002/150619384/1022/editorial-unite-against-inhumanity-of-church-atrocity
  • "We are the daily newspaper covering Newtown," Jacqueline Smith, editorial page editor, Danbury (Conn.) News-Times. 
    • http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Stopping-the-culture-of-violence-6336236.php
  • "And ours..." Jonathan Alexander, the Southern Illinoisan, Carbondale. 
    • http://thesouthern.com/news/opinion/voice-of-the-southern/voice-of-the-southern-terrorists-guns-and-mass-shootings/article_3bff057f-6ffc-55d8-82cc-9961916a92ce.html
  • Steve Paul, Kansas City Star: 
    • http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/editorials/article24910567.html
  • Lois Kazakoff, San Francisco Chronicle 
    • http://bit.ly/1GagUyq
  • Paul Choiniere, The Day, New London Conn.: 
    • http://www.theday.com/editorials/20150619/guns-racism-and-death-in-south-carolina
  • Nicole Stockdale, The Dallas Morning News: 
    • http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/20150619-editorial-we-cannot-be-numb-to-charleston-massacre.ece
  • Dick Hughes, Salem (Oregon) Statesman Journal, sharing a working draft, said to his counterparts:
    • "Colleagues, your work is inspiring, honest, thoughtful, eloquent and moving. It is an honor to be associated with you. I say that with much greater feeling than my words convey. Does anyone have a problem with reprinting excerpts from your editorials? If not, I may run some on Sunday. Below is the current draft of our Sunday editorial, which I just finished..."
      • Salem's published version, with compelling graphic: http://stjr.nl/1MWiiZH
  • Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union editorial (Jay Jochnowitz):
    • Online (paywalled) http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-opinion/article/Editorial-Nine-dead-in-an-act-of-hate-6339627.php
  • “Here's a link to my Charleston commentary -- ‘Hardwired to Hate?’ -- which aired on Milwaukee Public Television” [Friday evening], Rick Horowitz: 
    • (video) https://youtu.be/2IrPlGCH3HE
  • “Here's the Asheville Citizen-Times edit, written by Editorial Page Editor Jim Buchanan” and shared by AOJ member Bill McGoun:
    • http://www.citizen-times.com/story/opinion/editorials/2015/06/18/time-will-least-try-ensure-next-time/28935087/
  • Richard Prince, who prompted the online sharing:
    • “In Charleston, Massacre Is a Local Story”:
      • #PostandCourier Has Less Diversity Than 15 Years Ago
        • http://bit.ly/1Nco2z2
      • #NYTimes Is Fine With Calling Shootings #Terrorism
        • http://bit.ly/1GyhKaD
      • Does Focusing on Suspect Detract From the Victims?
        • http://bit.ly/1L9ntqP
      • #Confederate Flag Under Attack After Massacre, Ruling
        • http://bit.ly/1BtOUcj
  • A Kansas City Start editorial board member's view: 
    • http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/lewis-diuguid/article25174522.html
  • Marjorie Arons-Barron, blog in Boston 
    • http://marjoriearonsbarron.com/2015/06/22/s-c-mass-murder-prompts-forgiveness/
  • Sarah Garrect Gassen, Arizona Daily Star: "We've written at length and often about gun policy and mass shootings since the Jan. 8, 2011 murders in Tucson."
    • http://tucson.com/news/opinion/editorial/another-massacre-more-rationalizations/article_554a37f5-fe13-570c-b790-00dc89b5992b.html
  • Gary E. Nelson, Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings, Oregon, on Oregon's connection to the flag controversy:
    • http://bit.ly/1GI7b4U

8 tips for doing editorials people will read and you’ll enjoy writing

In the New World Order of Journalism, Dick Hughes is the storytelling coach, editorial page editor and a columnist at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. 

He recently gave a talk about editorial writing for writers and editors of Eagle Newspapers, a family-owned company that publishes small daily and non-daily newspapers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Here are two handouts that he provided for the talk, [lightly edited].

  • Hughesism: Opinion writing is the second-most-difficult form of writing, behind only humor writing. Not only must you do all the reporting of a news story, but then you must develop a cohesive opinion that stirs the reader.

  1. Journalists are storytellers. Editorial writers are journalists.
  2. Write about what matters.
    Suppress the urge to write the namby-pamby, let’s-all-get-along, drink-your-milk, eat-your-peas, and don’t-run-with-scissors editorial.
    Readers would rather disagree with you than be fed blather.
    If you’re merely citing conventional wisdom, or going along with the crowd, you’re not being a community leader.
  3. Be bold. Be compassionate. Be considerate. Be mindful that you could be wrong.
  4. Choose the point where you can make a difference.
    Focus on the latest development, or the most recent problem, or …
    Repress the desire to load the editorial with background. Include it sparingly – just enough for the reader to get the gist – and sprinkle it throughout the editorial instead of sticking a gob of background in one place.
  5. Pay heed to each step of the writing process:
    Conceive. Collect. Construct. Correct.
  6. Answer these questions before you start writing:
    1. What do I want to happen as a result of this editorial?
    2. Who is the audience for this editorial? What conclusion or reaction will I lead them toward?
    3. Will I start by stating my position and back it up, or build to it at the end? If I build to it, what will my headline be???
    4. What is the best way to present or write this editorial: Wall Street Journal formula (specific to general to specific). Champagne glass. Radical clarity. Narrative. A photo, or photo essay, with few words. Graphic. Micro-editorial.
      1. Tip: If you’re stuck, try the conventional editorial formula. State your position. Back it up. State the other side and explain, respectfully, why it is wrong. End with a strong conclusion that restates your position.
  7. Work from a specific focus statement. “The school bond lost because of a weak, cautious and arrogant ‘campaign’ by the school board,” not “It’s too bad that the school bond lost.” Delete anything that does not relate to the focus statement.
    Tip: If you’re writing about the baking industry, focus on a piece of pie. Make the reader see, smell, touch and taste that piece of pie (and maybe hear it being eaten).
  8. In writing, “perfection” is the enemy of “good.”

—Dick Hughes, May 29, 2015

Tips for doing a final edit

  • Make a printout. Grab a pencil or pen and get to work.
  • Circle every fact. Don’t assume, and don’t trust your memory. Check that it’s confirmed in your research – and in your notes. (A Hughes maxim: “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.”) If it’s in your editorial, you are responsible for its accuracy; never assume that press releases, business cards or other sources are accurate.
  • Circle every name. Make sure it’s the right name, the right spelling each time, the right title, with no missing first references.
    • Avoid long, cumbersome titles in front of a person’s name.
  • Circle every day and date. Double-check them against your notes [and a current calendar; it's amazing how many folks recycle the day-date from last year's event].
  • Look at your sentences. Vary the length and pace. Use strong, precise verbs. Change passive sentences to active voice. Keep the subject and verb close together. Start most sentences with a subject and verb, not an introductory phrase. End your editorial with a powerful word.
  • Circle every homonym; make sure it’s the right (or write) word.
  • Double-check words that commonly are misused. Did you write “anxious” when you meant “eager”? Did you use “insure” when the correct word is “ensure” or “assure”?
  • Spell out acronyms unless they are common (IRS, FBI).
  • Delete quotations, description or anecdotes that are marginally relevant.
  • Question the use of every cliché, acronym, bureaucratic term, “to be” verb, preposition, adjective and adverb. Each one robs your writing of power. Put a twist on a cliché instead of settling for a tired phrase. Recast sentences that have more than five prepositions and infinitives. Strive for specific action verbs instead of “to be” verbs, adjectives and adverbs.
  • Read with a dirty mind, so you can fix unfortunate sentence constructions (or spelling errors, such as the “l” missing from “public”). [And beware error induced by software "auto-correcting" of typos.]
  • Treat your online work with the same care as print.
  • Look for words whose opposite meanings can create confusion. For example, “sanction” can mean both “approval” and “punishment.” So can “cite.”
  • Guard against brain lock. After typing phone numbers and Web addresses into your story, call the numbers to ensure they’re accurate, no matter how confident you are. Copy the Web addresses into your browser and test whether they’re accurate. Then “cq” them.
  • Look for unintended meanings. Offend readers for the right reasons, not by accident.
  • Double-check the wording and information in any breakouts, graphics or captions. Write accurate photo requests so the people writing the cutlines don’t pick up incorrect information.
  • Important: Read your editorial aloud, s-l-o-w-l-y. Guard against inserting errors on deadline. After you make changes in your editorial, re-read those sentences or sections aloud.
  • Watch out for these words:
    • Words commonly confused: affect/effect, anxious/eager, farther/further, less/fewer, ratio/margin, insure/ensure/assure, lie/lay, lying/laying
    • Words commonly misused:reverend, hopefully, most importantly, including, adjectives as adverbs (slow, careful, warm when they should be slowly, carefully, warmly …)
    • Impossibilities: totally destroyed, most unique, more parallel, surrounded on three sides (unless it’s a triangle)
    • Homonyms: it’s/its, you’re/your, they’re/their/there, principal/principle, to/too/two, led/lead, who’s/whose, peak/pique, peace/piece, faze/phase, pored/poured, red/read
    • Non-existent words:enthused, snuck, irregardless, picketers, comprised of
    • Great nouns/lousy verbs:impact, gift, transition, wardrobing, undergrounding, deadlining
    • Many words ending in -ize:finalize, prioritize, strategize, utilize
    • Bureaucratic words: signage, gaming (for gambling), onboarding, deplaning
    • Redundant phrases: future planning, new record, safe haven, at the intersection of, exact same, underground tunnel, past history, past experience
    • Unnecessary words: currently, presently, upcoming, a total of, very, really
    • Clichés: Field of dreams, came to play, 24/7, ’tis the season, ’twas the night before, Grinch steals, Yes Virginia, Jack Frost, Old Man Winter, Mother Nature, spring is here, etc.
  • Develop work-arounds:
    • Know your weaknesses. Ask colleagues to triple-check your arithmetic, days, dates.
    • Keep a computer file of key information and numbers. Keep it on your screen as you write.
    • Do a “search” on words that you tend to overuse. Seek reasonable variety.
    • Keep sources’ home, cell and work numbers handy for quadruple-checking info.
    • Make a list of words, names, numbers or geographic locations that cause you problems.
    • Develop good relationships with reference librarians and others who will answer your questions on deadline.
  • And bonus advice from Poynter writing coach Roy Peter Clark:
    • Begin sentences with subjects and verbs, letting subordinate elements branch off to the right. Even a very long sentence can be clear and powerful when subject and verb make meaning early.
    • Use verbs in their strongest form, the simple present or past tense. Strong verbs create action, save words and reveal the players.
    • Beware of adverbs. Too often, they dilute the meaning of the verb or repeat it: “The building was completely destroyed.”
    • Place strong words at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs, and at the end. The period acts as a stop sign. Any word next to the period plays jazz.

– Dick Hughes, May 29, 2015 

Cyber-world now a broad policy-security-plus issue

(Posted 5/11/2015 by John McClelland)

A few years ago, leaders saw cybersecurity as a tech issue, but now cyber security and social media (mis)information have become a core issue, an economic issue, and a huge foreign-policy issue.

As a result, the State Department is pursuing world digital-technology and policy challenges in multiple ways, says Chris Painter, the department's first coordinator for cyber issues.

Briefing AOJ members April 27, he outlined his "buckets" of activity:

  • Internet security. Avoiding Internet "warfare," getting others to understand that rules apply to online behavior under existing international law and the United Nations charter. Some of the effort goes simply to building mutual self-confidence and encouraging transparency at high levels of diplomacy.
  • Norms of acceptable behavior at lower levels, every day. This includes honoring agreements not to attack critical infrastructure (e.g., the electrical grid controls) nor emergency response teams.
  • Technical malice. Persuading other countries to help, on request, to mitigate or prosecute malicious behavior originating within their borders inside or out of their public agencies.
  • Internet governance. The U.S. wants to be sure that the system (which originated here) continues as an independent, cooperative, network, not something run by government stakeholders. This means encouraging "links to freedom," a challenge because countries want control of the flow of information.

Q: Should the UN run the Internet? A: "That could have dire effects...," he said. "The Human Rights Council says people have the same free-speech rights online as off," but getting governments or UN agencies to protect them is difficult. 

At another point, asked about snooping, he said, "There is a big difference between watching threats versus watching legitimate use of free expression."

He tippy-toed around one question about a rumored U.S. counter-attack on North Korea after its denial-of-service attack on Sony. But he also let the group believe that something was done, saying in two separate responses: "That was an attack on human rights and an attack on [a target] on our soil" and "the president said it was North Korea," and there was an order about sanctions plus a statement that there would be a response at a time and place "of our choosing."

Q: Best and worst countries for cooperation? A: It is great with the U.K., France, Japan, and the Nordic countries. He declined to comment on worst.

Painter, who got going in cyber issues as a prosecutor of electronic crime in Los Angeles, said cybercrime has a longer history than the sexy but often misused term, cyber-warfare. "It's not like in the movies," he said.

The Internet can be a weapon, but is best as a powerful tool for economic growth, he said: "Security is not an end in itself. It is a way to get to the good things."

Back to you, State staffers; AOJ leaders' op-ed tips

(by John McClelland; posted 5/7-8/2015)

From left: David Haynes, Miriam Pepper, Tony Messenger

"Busy editors can be cranky," especially on always-hectic Fridays, Tony Messenger told State Department public affairs staffers.

"Tell me a story," Miriam Pepper urged those who contemplate placing an op-ed article or extended letter.

"The reader is time-pressed, so it helps to compress your words," David Haynes told the group.

Haynes, new AOJ Foundation president and editorial page editor of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, also told the State staffers that there is real value in finding and emphasizing the local or regional implications of a foreign-affairs event.

"There are ways on almost any issue to bring it home," he said. "For me in Milwaukee, what are the trade deal's direct effects on Wisconsin businesses? Or the nearby Chicago region?"

A novel turn-about closed the April 27 AOJ State Department annual briefing day. Those three presented a panel of tips to 17 State employees with media-related jobs.

A lot of the panelists' advice could apply to anyone trying to get a viewpoint published on editorial-, letters-, or op-ed pages, or in their online versions with or without audio-video components.

Pepper, recently retired as vice president-editorial page editor of the Kansas City Star and still retiring as AOJ association president, told the mostly young group, "Avoid fancy words. Let readers know how they can act or use the message."

She said it is OK , or sometimes even better, to pitch a piece for use only online, where tight space constraints do not so rigidly deter publication.

Messenger, editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and recent runner-up for a Pulitzer Prize, urged public servants and others planning to visit an editorial board to "be focused … what do you want to accomplish?"

He also said to expect to be on-the-record, to be on-video, and to be quoted in tweets or in a news story. Outside the Beltway, he said, it is rare indeed, and only by prior agreement, for editorial leaders to close part of a session for sensitive info that helps journalists understand a delicate issue*.

Q: Why does it take so long from submission to publication?

A1: We must choose and prepare articles in advance; Saturday, I approved a whole week's worth of op-eds, although some of them will get subbed out for better or more timely material (Messenger).

A2: We strive for balance on issues, and to avoid two pieces that overlap on the same area. Online only can run in about 48 hours, or right away for a breaking event (Pepper).

A3: We are digital-first now, though print is carefully considered and not an afterthought (Haynes).

Q: Odds of getting a submission used? 

 A: Widely variable. Pepper: We run 9 letters for 1 op-ed. Plural responses: being tight and focused and having a local tie can make the difference.

Q: News releases? A: Be sure it is sent to the right person, such as a beat writer; try a (non-Friday) call or brief email query first.

Other points one or more panelists made:

  • Offer something exclusively in that market area.
  • Do not change details or use composites even to protect a trafficking victim's identity, for example. We understand the occasional need to use only a first name, but the copy should explain that.
  • Tell the real stories of real people, perhaps through a law-enforcement officer's account.
  • First-person storytelling is good, especially if done by a participant or decision-maker.
  • The best official voices are brilliant speakers who know their stuff and can do an article "that can push a button for the reader."
  • Be ready to promote a piece more widely on social media as soon as it appears online. You have a potentially world-wide audience even for a one-city-specific article.
  • If planning a visit, don't do it just for show, have a relevant topic and target, and be sure to alert the publication's beat writer.

We distributed a reprint of an oldy but still goody Masthead tip sheet for any organization seeking to meet with editorial boards.

Trade gurus point to jobs not lost to agreements

Posted 5/6/2015 by John McClelland

Reaching toward the ceiling of a State Department conference room, William Craft Jr. used the plain wall clock to make a point about the double-edged nature of world trade.

An element of protectionism in a Buy American policy, he explained, could boomerang if other countries use it as an excuse to exclude or overtax more U.S. products or services.

But sometimes, there's good cause, he asserted: That clock, like every one installed in U.S. government buildings, is made in Chicago at the Lighthouse for the Blind.

Kraft, deputy assistant secretary of state for trade policy and programs, was answering questions by AOJ members during the annual State Department briefings April 27.

He had said moments before that trade officials live and work in, um, "interesting times." They try to promote trade with agreements like the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, and they use restraints on trade, hoping to cause "the economic impact of sanctions to intelligently punish evildoers."

Now there is ongoing dispute in DC about pending trade agreements. Craft said every president from Franklin Roosevelt until now, except Richard Nixon, "has had some trade-promotion authority." He said a compromise, pending in Congress after passing several committees the previous week, would prevent a filibuster to kill the TPP deal, if certain requirements were met.

Rodney Ludema, the department's chief economist, said: "We are trying to respond to the [changing] world, with rules that work for U.S. businesses, not against them."

For example, Ludema said, most U.S. workers by far now are in the services sector and the U.S. is a major exporter of services, which are treated unfairly compared to manufactured goods in other countries.

To a question about labor's criticism of trade deals, such as the established North American Free Trade Agreement or the pending TPP, Craft urged caution on cause-and-effect conclusions. For example, NAFTA began in 1994, but off-shoring of work was already big by then, he said.

Ludema was more direct: "The claim that NAFTA cost U.S. jobs is false." He said factory jobs are down in the U.S., Mexico, Japan, even China, because manufacturing has become more automated, more capital-intensive, and less labor-intensive.

Asked about a barrage of union advertising against TPP in New England, Craft said the administration has gone on the road selling its position. Well, is there a budget for a counter-barrage of ads? "No."

Two of AOJ's leaders published on this soon after getting back home:

David Haynes, Milwaukee, give the president the tools he needs

Tony Messenger, St. Louis, more data needed before fast-tracking

John McClelland was in newspapers for decades before teaching and retiring from Roosevelt University in Chicago; he edits Masthead for AOJ

Iran deal no sell-out, president's aide insists

Posted 5/5/15 by Bill McGoun

The negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program are not a sellout of U.S. interests, a high federal official told a group of opinion writers, making a good case for his views.

The anti-Obama talking heads have been having a field day. Blogger Jennifer Rubin* said in the Washington Post that President Obama was prepared to reach a deal locking in Iran’s nuclear-weapons program while lifting sanctions immediately.

Nothing could be further from the truth, in the view of Ben Rhodes, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser. He was speaking to the annual State Department briefing of rhe Association of Opinion Journalists.

Iran has four possible pathways to developing nuclear weapons, and the agreement shuts off all four, Rhodes said. 

Iran’s heavy-water reactor would be converted to non-weapons use and its spent fuel exported, while the underground facility would be covered for research, and only centrifuges incapable of producing weapons-grade fuel would continue in use at a third facility.

The fourth pathway, construction of a new underground facility, would be impossible given the level of inspections contained in the agreement, Rhodes said. He said inspections can be ordered at any suspicious site, even a military base.

Sanctions are the single greatest issue yet to be resolved, Rhodes conceded, but he insisted there would be no immediate lifting of all of them. Some were imposed by Congress and can be lifted only by Congress. Others were imposed by the United Nations and thus are beyond direct U.S. control.

The U.S. envisions a gradual lifting of the sanctions over the 15-year life of the agreement. Also, the U.S. will insist on the right to reimpose sanctions if Iran does not live up to its obligations, Rhodes said.

The White House had no problems with a bill passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because it deals only with sanctions, in which Congress clearly has a role. The administration persuaded the committee to remove from the bill some provisions that in Rhodes’ view were designed to scuttle the talks. [This was written while the administration and Congress were still negotiating, or wrangling, about the bill and other provisions. NY Times example 5/5/15]

It's nukes only in this deal: Rhodes stressed that the multi-national negotiations address Iran’s nuclear program, period, and that attempts to introduce unrelated issues were really attempts to block the agreement.

[Responding to a question about other disputes with Iran, Rhodes turned back to this deal. He said the chances of Iran becoming a good world citizen soon are slim. If it remains disruptive, he asked: "Do you want to deal with a bad actor, or a bad actor with nukes?"]

The White House has plenty of problems with the letter signed by 47 Republican senators telling Iran any deal would be “nothing more than an executive agreement.” that might not last beyond Obama’s departure from the White House. Rhodes did not address that issue, but Obama‘s other defenders did.

“...if these negotiations fail, a military response to Iran developing their nuclear capability becomes more likely,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, in a written statement. “These Republican senators should think twice about whether their political stunt is worth the threat of another war in the Middle East.”

Rhodes did echo Durbin regarding the cost of failure. “If there is no deal,” he said, “Iran will be moving closer and closer to having a nuclear capability.” This, he said, would increase the chance of confrontation.

There may well be no final agreement to see before June 30, and there still is the possibility Iran will insist on conditions the U.S. and its allies cannot accept.

Allies? Yes. The talking heads would have us believe Obama is negotiating alone, but in fact five other nations – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – are parties to the agreement. Rhodes alluded to this though not saying it directly.

The Obama-haters will not accept any Iran agreement – or anything else, for that matter – that comes out of this White House. The test will be what the agreement says.

Bill McGoun wrote this column for both Masthead and the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times, for which he writes in retirement. He filed before leaving for Cuba.

An AOJ member who attended for the first time this year, Rosemary O'Hara of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, told readers of the AOJ discussion list that she probably could not have done her 827-word editorial on Iran without the briefing. She shared the entire paywalled article with the list.

  • [One Rubin blog]:
    • http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2015/04/30/myths-about-corker-menendez/

Another look at State's off-the-record ground rule

By John McClelland (Posted 5/4/2015)

Journalists outside the Beltway decry what some of us disdainfully call "The DC Game" of unattributed quotes or needlessly off-the-record or "background" information.

Sometimes when at Foggy Bottom, we are asked to go along with State Department officials who offer candid comments and information with limits on their use. In bureaucracies this happens occasionally from bad habit or merely to avoid potential embarrassment.

But usually it seems that the point at State is to help us better understand their public positions, touchy negotiations, or sensitive world events -- and to do it without disrupting talks or exposing vulnerabilities.

That was the case, again, at the annual AOJ briefing April 27, 2015.

Because of friction* about surprises at previous AOJ-State events, the organizers were careful this year to provide a handout stating the standard department policy on ground rules for on-the-record attribution and the various levels of off-record, background and deep background.*

With this sort of understanding up front, there was only a bit of polite verbal pushing this year when the time came for an official to go off the record by prior agreement. Just for myself, and I think possibly the 20-plus who stayed for an interesting Q&A, it was worthwhile on this occasion.

The rest of the event was, as the agenda header said, On The Record.

John McClelland was in newspapers for decades before teaching and retiring from Roosevelt University in Chicago; he edits Masthead for AOJ

Disaster relief unending: Ebola, Nepal, ~68 more

Posted 5/2/2015 by Carolyn Lumsden

Amid the hustle of the second day after the earthquake in Nepal, Jeremy Konyndyk, director of USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, made time to brief AOJ members and State Department guests on Nepal, ebola, and more.

Konyndyk said his office responds to an average of 70 disasters a year. He described the agency as the international equivalent of FEMA. He was working on getting teams deployed to Nepal when he spoke to us.

The response to the ebola threat was "hugely effective," he said.

But in August 2014, when the U.S. sent the first team to Liberia, "the epidemiological curve was nearly vertical. It was one of the most terrifying things I've seen," he said.

The disease was "driven by behavior." To contract it, a victim had to come in contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. So the goal was changing risky behaviors and putting in place safe burial practices.

But reporters focused on hardware - Ebola Treatment Units - while overlooking the role of software - training, education, outreach. He said the investment in those areas had greater impact than in hardware.

Biggest crisis? Syria

In response to a question, he said Syria remains the largest human crisis in the world. The U.N. appeal this year is $2 billion higher than last year.

South Sudan is also in pretty bad shape. There are 3.5 million people who are "food insecure" and the rainy season is approaching, when crisis often hits. Relief agencies are scrambling to get food stocks in before the roads turn muddy or impassible.

He listed in order the most pressing problems as Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, and ebola; the relief agencies are keeping a close eye on Ukraine.

Nepal still developing

As for Nepal, the damage was significant but not nearly as catastrophic as initially feared. On the Monday after the quake, about 90 percent of the structures in Katmandu were still standing, but conditions in the countryside were still largely unknown. The Disaster Assistance Response Teams were mobilizing plastic sheeting for shelter, coordinating interagency involvement, and directing military search and rescue teams.

For the ebola crisis, his agency coordinated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the military to make the broader international system work.

"Disaster countries are typically very happy to see us," he said. The U.S. has significant capability that few nations have. "We are the indispensable nation on the humanitarian front," he said. Ebola is the best example of that.

The U.S., in sending in the CDC, military and DART, set the template used in other countries to contain Ebola.

Carolyn Lumsden is editorial page editor of the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant. One participant in the briefings, Steve Paul, editorial page editor of The Kansas City Star, led his report with Nepal.

In U.S.-Cuba relations, nitty-gritty grinds slowly

By Marjorie Arons-Barron (posted 4/29/2015)

The announcement of a changed relationship between Cuba and the United States was not a kumbaya moment. Five months later, there was still much work to be done to allay decades of distrust on both sides.

But the commitment to normalize the relationship announced Dec. 17 by both President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro is a game changer. That’s the message to be drawn from Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson's remarks to participants in Monday's AOJ briefings at the State Department.

Jacobson, who heads the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, conceded, "There’s distrust there, on their part and on our part. We have to understand how we're going to operate. We don’t want to go down the road and find out that we’ve misunderstood each other."

"But we’re going to get there," she added. "That’s inevitable at this point."

The first challenge to getting "there" is setting up an embassy. For that, Jacobson said, "there is a floor below which we will not go." She was referring to a threshold in operations and procedures to be acknowledged by the host country, requirements largely covered by the Vienna Convention. (The Vienna Convention spells out the terms of diplomatic immunity, staffing levels, respecting the confidentiality of diplomatic communications, and freedom from harassment or prosecution. Diplomats’ families are covered as well.)

"After so many years without this kind of conversation, it has taken longer for the Cubans to come around to things that are standard elsewhere. It’s not going to look like our embassy in London, but it has to look like many embassies in other places around the world that may be fairly restrictive, ... we have to be able to work under what we perceive to be the rules under the Vienna Convention and our own law.”

Giveaways? NO: Pressed on whether the United States had given away too much without getting anything in return, Jacobson “nothing has been given away.” The only specific “deal” in last December’s announcement was the spy exchange, in which three Cuban agents held by the United States went home, and one U.S. “asset” was released. The release of Alan Gross was on humanitarian grounds and outside the spy exchange.

Jacobson further said that removing Cuba from the list of states sponsoring terrorism was not a condition of normalizing diplomatic relations. Cuba, she noted, has said on the record that it was such a condition and also that it was not. Either way, she said, a review of the status was timely.

Jacobson acknowledged that, given the history of foreign powers exploiting Cuba for centuries, it’s understandable that this island nation the size of Arkansas wants its culture to be respected as the move toward normalization goes forward. “We need to be sensitive to history,” she said, knowing that there is a fundamental difference between our political systems and how we organize our economies."

Culture clash, rights issue: The most important thing is for people to understand and respect Cuba’s national heritage, she said: "But there are also international rights and responsibilities to which we have both signed up that have to be respected.”

That is not now the case, she continued: “When you recognize the UN Universal Human Rights declaration and its institutions (the Human Rights Council), with that comes an acceptance of those universal human rights, which they’re not implementing.

“There are things that are universal standards and there are things that are uniquely and justifiably and proudly Cuban, and those ought to be able to coexist."

Jacobson has no problem with Chinese investments in Cuba, as long as China is playing by international rules, including using an open bidding process, using local labor and following environmental standards. “That’s fair, and we’d have no problem competing in such a situation.” Eyes wide open, the United States will keep “a close eye on them for playing by the rules and for when, and if, their interests in the region spill out beyond the economics.”

As I wrote upon my return from Cuba in March [links below], distrust is the biggest obstacle to successfully normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba. Some distrust is rooted in history. [Within living memory] the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet presence, Cuba’s embrace of the Palestinian cause and anti-Israel posture, Cuba’s exporting soldiers to Angola and involvement in Latin American revolutions, its restrictions on journalists and treatment of political prisoners, all are part of a history [that includes the Spanish-American War and an era of U.S. gunboat diplomacy -Ed.].

For most of the generation in their ’40’s and ’50’s, on both sides, even these are dim memories and relics of the Cold War. Yet for more than half a century, we have been mired in the rhetoric of that struggle. What Obama and Castro did was to change the tone.

Consistent with that, Jacobson seems to be going in with her eyes wide open, dealing with the prosaic nitty-gritty of normalizing relations. The change may indeed by inevitable, but it will inevitably come slowly.

Lingo line: Ed. note: Jacobson also spoke about the imbalance of languages in U.S. media reporting on non-Anglophone countries in the hemisphere. She said a belief that immigrants want news from the old country only their parents' languages results in "ghettoization" of news for them 59-second video. And AOJ diversity chair Richard Prince led his extensive blog roundup with related matter http://bit.ly/1bzqToq

 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.

Russian aggression called worst since Cold War

Posted 4/29/2015 by David D. Haynes

Russia’s invasion of Crimea and subsequent meddling in western Ukraine is the “most fundamental challenge to European security since the end of the Cold War,” says senior diplomat Paul Jones.

Jones, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. State Department, told AOJ’s annual State Department Briefing that U.S. policy would continue to resist Russian aggression through non-lethal means.

He outlined these steps; the U.S. and its European allies will

  • Continue to support Ukraine’s effort to reform its own government and root out corruption.
  • Reassure allies in the region, particularly the Baltic states, Moldova and some nations in central Asia. “Russia really has upended the foundation of European security,” Jones said. “A lot of countries around the world are watching that.”
  • Impose costs on Russia in the form of sanctions to put a “slow squeeze on their economy.”
  • Try to isolate Russia politically. One example: Boycotting Russia’s celebration of the end of World War II this year.
  • Seek a diplomatic solution and offer an “off ramp” for the Russians. If the Russians comply with an accord reached this spring in Minsk, then some of the sanctions will end.
  • Counter Russian propaganda by pushing the West’s version of events in the media.

“We’re on the eve of celebrating victory in Europe 70 years ago. We built institutions after the war to preserve the peace in Europe. That has global significance,” Jones said. “One of those understandings is that you don’t intervene; you don’t take bites of other countries and then you don’t intervene militarily against a democratically elected government.”

A bright spot, Jones said, is that Ukraine is evolving away from the kleptocracy that was so in evidence under former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The country is taking on the oligarchy and has more transparency. It also has a newly reconstituted police force that is viewed as less corrupt and has launched reforms in banking, health care and the pension system.

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

On low-profile front lines of immigration and safety

Posted 4/29/2015 by Lois Kazakoff

Washington -- The nuclear negotiations and disaster responses grab the headlines, but the State Department mission that directly touches the most Americans and shapes global views of the United States is the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

There, the nitty-gritty, paper-pushing work of immigration gets done in a network of 222 offices worldwide staffed by 12,000 State Department employees, Assistant Secretary of State Michele Bond, the woman in charge of consular affairs, told AOJ members attending the 15th annual State Department Briefing on April 27.

Delta Force squads and Navy SEALs combat terrorism but the bureaucrats in the unadorned consular offices are the ones on the front lines of keeping out of America those who might harm us. Or, as concerns rise over disaffected Americans traveling overseas to join Islamic State fighters, they are a key part of keeping in those who might wish to join terrorists abroad.

A consular employee's attentive ear is radar for trouble. "We are the ones who have to think to ask if the story told by the long time unemployed young man seeking to travel on vacation to Turkey is true," Bond said.

Most of the concerns consular staff deal with are the big life events: traveling Americans who have family or medical emergencies or financial difficulties; a worker seeking a visa to take a new job and pursue a new life; new immigrants hoping to reunite with family members still living abroad; Americans attempting to bring home and adopt a foreign-born child.

America remains a beacon for people around the world and the consular offices are where that attraction is most visible. There are 38 countries where no visas are required for Americans to visit or those countries' citizens to visit the U.S., but visas are required for the rest, and all travel reservations are pre-screened. The consulate in São Paulo sees a "couple of thousand applicants a day," Bond said, and managing the crush is the first order of business. The goal is to ensure that no applicant spends more than an hour in the office and that most business is done in 20 minutes.

The consular affair operatIons are fee-funded, and by law any surplus funds are turned over to the U.S. Treasury. Americans stranded abroad can get a government loan to cover the cost of transportation home.

With normalization of diplomatic ties with Cuba on the horizon, the State Department is already bracing for Cuban Americans wanting help to adjudicate decades-old property claims in Cuba. "We will work to establish a fair process for all," Bond said.

Amid the din of the congressional immigration debate, the consular work goes on largely without note. "What do you want us to tell our readers about immigration reform?" Rosemary O'Hara, the editorial page editor of the Sun Sentinel in Florida, asked Bond.

"I firmly believe that is a political question and not one I would speak to officially," Bond said. "What we do know is that the process takes too long."

Lois Kazakoff is the deputy editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle (and until this week, president of the AOJ Foundation)

State Dept has its reasons for protecting journalism

Mayhem against reporters is a world issue

By John McClelland (4/28/2015)

Why does the State Department eagerly do the annual briefing for opinion writers, editors, broadcasters and producers?

"The more citizens understand U.S. foreign policy, the better they can give the support leaders need" to do what is needed for the economy and security, said Doug Frantz, assistant secretary of state for public affairs. He was one of several senior State personnel who spoke to the annual briefing for AOJ members, some Poynter people, and a few non-member journalists on Monday.

Each of them, in her or his own way, said informed journalists, including opinion leaders, are vital to the department's mission.

The department is acutely aware that journalists outside the U.S., both American and foreign, are in increasing danger of suppression or death. (And shortly after he spoke, journalists were in danger just half an hour away, covering the riot in Baltimore.)(Poynter roundup)

He quoted Secretary of State John Kerry as frequently saying, "Freedom is under siege."

Of journalists abroad at risk of being abducted or murdered, Frantz said, "The most vulnerable are freelancers and local reporters who cannot buy a plane ticket out and have no backups of colleagues like I had when I covered wars for the Los Angeles Times and New York Times."

As a result, the department is cooperating in efforts to:

  • redraw the usual freelance contracts to provide for employer support
  • develop a standard curriculum for training journalists and non-governmental agency workers in safety and even first aid, before they go into danger zones
  • encourage sharing information about threats, partly via an app, – even among competitors!

With candor seen more often in these briefings than in broader public-face events, he conceded that the bureaucracy is slow, but he insisted that it progressing on these things.

He gave some specifics of other, related, activities:

  • funds for training local journalists in hostile environments, limited by U.S. law to foreign reporters, of whom 350 have been served so far
  • protocols for U.S. embassies worldwide to be ready to act when approached by a journalist, U.S. or foreign, who is in trouble
  • encouraging U.S. ambassadors to nag host governments on a bilateral issue, the appalling tendency for those who commit crimes against journalists to have a sort of immunity, with 90 percent not being prosecuted.

He alluded to a Freedom House report due out later this week that is likely to show, as others have, a rising level in many countries of violence against journalists. (related reports linked below) 

He said that in an environment of repression and oficial falsehoods, empowering independent journalists is a way "to counter propaganda with the truth." Involving such things as "the integrity of NATO and the European Union" and the growth or survival of democracy worldwide, he said journalistic freedom and safety do have real effects on and in the U.S.

John McClelland was in newspapers for decades before teaching and retiring from Roosevelt University in Chicago; he edits Masthead for AOJ.

  • Related report 4/29/15 press freedom including safety is worst in 10 years: 
    • http://www.poynter.org/news/mediawire/340443/press-freedom-at-lowest-point-in-10-years-report-finds/
  • Referenced report by Freedom House (linked 4/30), harsh laws, violence:
    • https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press-2015/harsh-laws-and-violence-drive-global-decline#.VUJUFylM-fR

Envoy against ISIS prefers Arabic acronym

(4/28/2015 JM)

General John Allen reviewed the coalition's diplomatic-military struggle against the Islamic State, commonly called ISIS or ISIL, though he used a different term in his AOJ briefing.

It is "Da'esh," which he pronounced about midway between "dash" and "dah-esh," He said it is an acronym from the Arabic letters for Islamic State.

Later, someone else at State said "da'esh" can also be an insulting word in Arabic, so its use is part of the campaign to further tarnish the murderous group's image.

Allen, a retired Marine, is special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIL, appointed in September. He once led 150,000 U.S. and NATO forces at a key time in Afghanistan.

Allen said the battle with Da'esh is being waged broadly in five ways:

  1. military, with several recent victories
  2. disrupting the flow of foreign fighters
  3. disrupting access to financial and other resources
  4. humanitarian works, such as aid to civilians in liberated combat zones
  5. information, now a crucial front

He said Da'esh has lost momentum in the fighting recently, eight months into what will be a long war. He re-stated other recent public pronouncements. 

 For example, he said informally what he had told the Senate Foreign Relations committee: "ISIL was attractive to many of its recruits because of its proclamation of a so-called Caliphate and the sense of inevitability it promoted. The last six months have amply demonstrated that ISIL is really operating as a criminal gang and death cult which is under increasing pressure, as it sends naïve and gullible recruits to die by the hundreds."

He praised the partnership of 60 nations, including 30 that have changed laws about travel toward the area of conflict. He discussed synchronized efforts to block financial assets such as oil, organized crime, and trafficking in antiquities or sex slaves.

About the information struggle, he paraphrased the king of Jordan: The voices and faces must be Arab faces and Muslim voices, telling that "the Caliphate is not a utopia but a nightmare."

He had some pithy comments (details below) about television use of outdated file video as background b-roll and its harm to the balance of truth vs the Da'esh image.

John McClelland was in newspapers for decades before teaching and retiring from Roosevelt University in Chicago; he edits Masthead for AOJ.

  • Allen's April 17 comments on Da'esh's record of atrocities and on military victories
    • ?http://www.state.gov/s/seci/240818.htm 

  • Senate statement
    • http://www.state.gov/s/seci/237920.htm  

A John Allen TV-b-roll statement, text provided by State staff:

“Just as I am careful, just as other leaders are careful, the media should be careful to tell the story, the balanced story, but not in any way empower this organization beyond the reality of what it is. And I think what’s important here is that you’re not going to find any freedom of the press or any free media anywhere in any area controlled by Da’esh. And giving them the appearance of greater power or greater coherence than they really have empowers them and makes them even more attractive.

"We often talk to the media in the area where I live about this continued term “B-roll,” which I know you understand, which is sort of background media that’s playing behind interviews or commentary, that shows Da’esh convoys of hundreds of vehicles coming down the roads with their lights on and celebrations, et cetera. That hasn’t happened in months. They can’t get on the roads now, because if we catch them on the roads, we destroy them instantly with airstrikes. That is an image of power that the media continues to portray, and it vastly inflates the capabilities of Da’esh beyond what it is today.

"And so as we try to balance the story, to try to tell the true story, that element of Da’esh, when it was coming down the roads in convoys of hundreds of vehicles – they would stop briefly to slaughter an entire population or to cut the heads off of young recruits. First of all, nothing useful came from those convoys, and second of all, they don’t exist today. And to continue to roll that kind of coverage of them empowers Da’esh well beyond its own capabilities.”

  • Related interview text and video on denying ISIS the resources it needs: 
    • http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/gen-john-allen-seeks-to/1792442.html

Woe is opportunity for good journalism

(Posted 4/27/2015 12:30 a.m. John McClelland)

Professional opinion writers and editors have new kinds of opportunities, along with the huge challenges, of the cyber era. Sometimes, John Harwod says, they can convert a burden to a benefit.

He told a roomful of them some ways to go at it, Sunday night in Washington DC, at the first joint event of the Association of Professional Journalists and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

Like much of his audience, he was in newspapers first and still does a New York Times column in addition to his regular television work. He told of a key event in his use of the even-more-immediate forms of social media:

"The whole phenomenon of journalism by social media seemed vain and stupid," he said. But a colleague called Twitter the new A.P. for political coverage. "Once I started, I felt totally different. This is a way to communicate instantly with a reasonable number of people the essence of a news story."

It may be different for opinion writers, television editorialists (there were three in the room) and especially for editors. But it can be done, he predicted.

One case of learning from politicos: President Obama cut televised interviews and "is doing a YouTube interview with someone my 17-year-old knows about." That's a new wrinkle on an old dodge by politicians, Harwood said: "They have been trying to cut through the clutter or filters we represent for decades. Reagan did it. Clinton ... Bush … Obama does it."

In a similar way, "We have to look for different ways to cut through the clutter [of internet overload]," he said, alluding to people of nearly all ages "who appreciate journalism with inegrity … we apply reason and evidence to the points we make."

A short-staffed editor asked about how to deal with numerous people who call in wanting to meet the editorial board. "They want to get on the agenda," Rosemary O'Hara said, "especially in this fractured environment, and we just don't have the time."

Harwood suggested turning the problem into a service, perhaps a town hall meeting with the editorial board and several groups who need to be heard. He also suggested making video pieces of the citizens speaking.

"The idea of making yourself a sounding board may take many forms," he said. "I was hearing a lot of opportunity to turn that around."

It will not be easy, he conceded, to "stand up for journalism in opposition to many players in our political system with less integrity, at a time when the economic pressures are unbelieveable."

Presidential politics, one of his specialties, came up, of course.

Prodded to predict, he said Hillary Clinton is the best bet for the Democarts. The general election "is fated to be close," he said, because any of the top three Republicans, most likely Jeb Bush, could beat her if they reach out, and perhaps if she has a real fiasco.

Beware pundits' and pollsters' predictions, he implied with Clinton-Obama anecdotes:

When Bill Clinton's draft board finagling came up early in the 1992 campaign, alleged experts declared his chances dead. He won. Some television execs were clueless in the 2012 campaign. "They were saying, 'Obama is advocating higher taxes on the rich, and yet he leads in the polls.' Well, yes, he leads #because# he is advocating..."

Online media change things, but a key question is still, "What can I do for my audience?" But now, Harwood said, "You have the ability to penetrate beyond the geographic confines of you circulation area."

Politico, sensing a national audience for news from a swing state, is doing a daily Florida political newsletter. A newspaper or journalist in Iowa could find a national readership from now to the primary season or beyond.

Other points:

"Do humor only if you are very good at it." Harwood got laughs mimicking Obama's quip to the correspondents' dinner the night before: "Republicans are losing voters left and right. May they rest in peace."

Columnists now have more influence than the institutional editorials because of the sense of personal connection, and because "It's easier for the target to dismiss the [anonymous] editorial."

One way to counteract that would be to make authorship of the editorials known. On a large board, if someone is the specialist in politics, for example, make that fact known. This prompted the discussion moderator, 2015 Pulitzer Prize runner-up Tony Messenger, to suggest that editors discuss signed editorials.

Harwood said he does analytical analysis, different from the normative analysis on Fox and other cables, by saying "what I think will happen, not what should happen."

Q: What were the most shortsighted and prescient newspaper responses to the new media?

A: Wall Street Journal, prescient in developing a paper-content profile [effective because] the most intensely loyal customers were business people with money to spend. "I was a late adopter of Twitter. I think newspapers and television still don't know how to do digital video."

Q: Will news on paper survive? A: "I'm scared to death that they won't. … Are we headed to a world with two or three national papers and some local supplements? I don't know. … I hope that creativity and innovation will occur."

Regarding divisive matters in a crazily polarized society, he re-stated an old truth about opinion writing: "You can affect things on the margins but cannot bring about wholesale change."

And at another point, "You can increase the traction of editorials by personalizing."

Is a canned op-ed 'turfy' or legitimate anyway?

Posted 4/16/2015 by four members

"Turf" alerts are often seen as one of the most valuable tools on the AOJ discussion list. Often, they finger an interest group's effort to get its canned view into local letters columns via local readers' email.

Dick Hughes in Salem, a prolific contributor to the list, posted an alert about an advocacy group's effort to place an op-ed piece. He provoked a thoughtful discussion.

He said, "Americans for Tax Reform is submitting similar commentaries around the country. In Oregon, it was in partnership with the Cascade Policy Institute. We turned down this one after asking whether it was original."

He and AOJ Foundation trustee Herb Berkowitz had an exchange that invited us all to think again about these things. Jack Wilson added to the Masthead package.

Here are edited excerpts:

Berkowitz: I’ve been amused by the “turf” alerts. What’s the point?

If the objective is to flag campaigns in which local individuals submit letters scripted by national organizations, turf alerts may have some value. But being drafted by third parties doesn’t negate the facts or disqualify the opinions. Presumably the person who sends it agrees with the content.

How does this differ from opinion you publish under the bylines of prominent figures? Some flunky wrote it for them.

If the alert flags an op-ed or commentary, I also don’t see the point. Even if sent to every opinion editor in the U.S., in what significant respect do such articles differ from [the wires] or a syndicated column? This is not a canned letter someone is trying to sneak by you; it's a by-lined article.

Americans for Tax Reform (never a client) has little or no access to media distribution channels. How else is it to make its views known?

ATR localized the article for Oregon and partnered with a state think tank. Where I come from, this is collaboration, a good thing.

The time when commentary was distributed by numerous news organizations is gone. If groups have no access to national distribution channels, what else can they to do?

You call it “turf.” I call it an attempt to inform and persuade.

Part of Hughes' reply to an earlier Berkowitz message:

We and the readers know syndicated columns are sent everywhere. But to print something presumably local, we expect it to be original. We have limited print space.

Until a couple of years ago, I put them on our website. But I don’t have time for that anymore, and our company’s focus has shifted to quality and engagement. 

Commentary doesn't cut it online without an aptly provocative headline. We wrote a lot about our ousted governor. A side piece got the most web traffic with this headline: “So she got canned for dissing the guv’s girlfriend.”

I’m starting to be more flexible. If we have few local letters and guest opinions, I can take something that is distributed elsewhere. That's more likely during the holidays, spring break or the summer.

But maybe we need to rethink our position. The world is moving so fast that “This is the way we do it” is an instantly outdated reason for doing anything.

Jack Wilson said:

We ignore the op-ed pitches that pour in every day from distant PR firms and advocacy groups.

If they ask, we explain that we give top priority to the abundant material from local contributors. We want material that readers recognize as belonging here, not just as well in Pocatello or Pensacola.

An exception is an issue of specific local concern. When our city council was debating paid sick-leave, we published an op-ed from a D.C. group. Another is a rebuttal of an editorial or article in our newspaper.

In both cases, the common element is local relevance.

Dick Hughes is editorial page editor and more at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon.

Herb Berkowitz is president of PRoactive Solutions Public Relations in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Jackman Wilson is editorial page editor of The Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon.

John McClelland is retired from paid editing and teaching in Chicago and edits AOJ Masthead.

  • The term "turf" is a reference to AstroTurf and similar artificial grass; in editing letters and op-eds, it refers to artificial "grassroots" messages.

Disability due as diversity in content and staffing

Posted 2015-02-06 by Sarah Gassen

Comedian Dave Attell has a joke: If you want to know the shortest way between two points, ask the person with one leg.

It’s true. We do know. And the knowledge and insight gained by experiencing the world differently is valuable. It’s a diversity of perspective that belongs on our opinion pages and in our journalism ranks.

Disability is different than other categories, such as ethnicity, race, gender, and LGBTQ, however, because disability is a group anyone can join -- and many will through accident, congenital condition, illness or age.

What is disability?

“Disability” is a catch-all that includes everything from vision to mobility to long-term illness to mood disorders to intellectual and cognitive differences.

One in 5 Americans has a disability, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures. Many definitions, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, use the presence a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one of more “major life activities.”

But for the purpose of our discussion, let’s think about disability in the broadest sense. It can be transitory – you break your leg – or lifelong. It can affect you directly, or a loved one.

A word of caution: Not everyone who lives with what others might view as an impairment considers herself disabled. Just as we shouldn’t proclaim that a person suffers from a condition – he has cerebral palsy, it’s not our call to say that he suffers from cerebral palsy– the decision to identify as disabled is personal.

The way we think about disability generally falls along two lines: the medical model, in which disability is an person’s individual tragedy and responsibility to fix; and the societal model, which views disability as the result of a society constructed in a way that doesn’t include all of its members.

In other words, you’re not necessarily disabled if you have the tools and access you need. My own disability is greatly reduced if I have access to the prosthetic leg I need to walk, and if where I need to travel has ramps, elevators and stairs. Without these, I become more disabled.

Bring in voices

Like the person with one leg who knows all the shortcuts, people with disability are busy living their lives as parents, neighbors, professionals, consumers, students. Folks likely are not spending time thinking about being “the disabled” – and we journalists shouldn’t box our sources or subjects into one category, either.

Deepening our coverage isn’t difficult when we expand our own view. If your county is considering a transportation project, ask a taxpayer who uses a wheelchair to weigh in, too. When police in Ferguson, Mo., cited protesters who didn’t keep walking, how did their rule affect protesters who couldn’t “keep moving?”

A few ideas that come up from the daily news coverage: Overgrown sidewalks that don’t connect from one block to the next endanger people in wheelchairs who are forced to travel in the roadway. Budget cuts for non-classroom spending means fewer speech therapists in schools. Zoning can put community mental health services far from a bus line – and out of reach.

What else to do

So how to get voices those voices into our publications?

Everyone has probably had the experience of asking a source to write a guest opinion piece for our publication and found the other person surprised – why would anyone want to know about my life? We’re interested, so we should ask.

To be clear, I’m not talking about asking people to write the tell-us-what-it’s –like-to-be-blind kind of inspiration porn piece, or the condescending story you see too often about how gee, that crippled person is just like a normal person! Imagine that!

Asking someone who uses the county behavioral health system to explain how budget cuts will affect patients, or asking a person with severe mental illness to share their reaction to connecting mental illness with mass shootings... this helps readers know their communities.

On a practical note, you may need to work with people who aren’t able to compose a full guest opinion piece themselves, maybe through an interview.

Or publish a person’s artwork or take dictation. Do a Q& A. Our conventions shouldn’t exclude the voices we need to understand.

Sometimes it is difficult to find someone to share his experience because of the stigma attached to disability, particularly mental illness. The more issues are talked about, the better. Seeking out people who can share their direct perspective is always worth the effort.

In the newsroom (editorial "suite")

Disability as diversity in newsrooms improves our journalism

Navigating a world not built for you takes skill, ingenuity and resourcefulness – all skills useful to a journalist.

Recognizing disability as diversity brings value. An investigative journalist who stutters told me that he thinks the moments of silence his stutter creates help him be him a more effective interviewer, because he can’t jump right in with the next question. His sources fill in the pauses.

A journalist whose wife couldn’t see noticed a problem in a new community fitness center Tucson had built for people with disabilities: the towel dispenser was affixed to the middle of the locker room wall at head height with nothing else around it. No one would expect it to be in such an odd location. And a person without vision wouldn’t detect it with a cane and would walk right smack into it.

Recognizing disability as diversity isn’t about creating a new category of issues to cover. Instead, it’s about doing better, more accurate, journalism by understanding that our readers, viewers and listeners experience the world in so many different ways.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Resources for help

Suggested by Gassen:

The National Center for Disability and Journalism provides an excellent resource list and style guide. The center is located at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University http://ncdj.org 

Researcher and author Beth A. Haller's blog, Media Dis&Dat, is fantastic for disability news, blogs and information. She studies how the media shape public perception of disability. http://media-dis-n-dat.blogspot.com/

How to do it right: Dan Barry of The New York Times writes about a group of men with intellectual disabilities who for decades were made to work in an Iowa turkey processing plant. For years they were abused and received only a pittance in wages. His "The 'Boys' in the Bunkhouse" can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/03/09/us/the-boys-in-the-bunkhouse.html?_r=0

[One of Gassen's own pieces, tweaking Microsoft for its syrupy Super Bowl commercial: http://tucson.com/news/opinion/column/gassen-microsoft-you-can-keep-your-condescending-courage/article_176e4fc5-75a4-5bff-8eab-e1dbc044a8dd.html]

Candidates on the fringe? Relevance decides interviewing

By Bill McGoun

“How are you dealing with third-party candidates in your endorsement interviews?” Rosemary Goudreau, editorial page editor of the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, asked her colleagues on the AOJ discussion list during the run-up to last November’s elections. “Have you set a threshold someone must meet to be interviewed?”

The answers reflected a wide range of opinions, as they had in previous years when the same or similar questions arose(*). If there was any common thread, it was relevance. The two poles were represented by Bill Perkins, editorial page editor of The Dothan (Alabama) Eagle, and Jon Alexander, opinion editor of The Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho.

“Our threshold is ballot access,” Perkins said. “If they've jumped through the necessary hoops to acquire ballot access, we treat them like any other candidate. And in our experience, lunatics come in every stripe.”

Alexander said: “We want a healthy back-and-forth that serves our readership. … I can't see how the addition of someone who will be hard-pressed to pull five percent in November in any way facilitates that goal.”

Alexander was referring specifically to a Times-News gubernatorial debate from which a third-party candidate was excluded. “(A)s repeatedly shown, ‘fringe’ candidates tend to steer the debate astray, often shielding the incumbent from defending his/her record. We're not looking to make Huffington Post because of some bit of random absurdity.”

Others would make an exception for local candidates. “If they are local we interview them … We do interview for state offices, rarely for national,” said John Hackworth, editor of the Sun Newspapers in Charlotte County, Florida.

“In recent years we've taken to skipping interviews with most third-party candidates,” said Jackman Wilson, editorial page editor of The Register-Guardian in Eugene, Oregon. “We make exceptions if they're from within our circulation area and on those rare occasions when they appear to have a chance at having an effect on their races.

“Sometimes we'll meet with a third-party candidate who seems to have an interesting story to tell, or who calls to express an interest in meeting with us. But if they're candidates who have no chance of winning either the election or our endorsement, we save everyone's time by not issuing an invitation.”

Gary Crooks of the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, made a similar point. “Just met with an interesting independent candidate for Congress. Missing out if you summarily reject them,” he said.

“We interview the local general election folks (and single-party primary folks) together; in our market we've not had more than four parties,” said Larry Reisman of Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Florida.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen, opinion writer for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, said: “In the last city council and mayoral election we invited the Green Party candidates separately from the Democratic and Republican candidates,” breaking a tradition of interviewing all candidates for a given office together.

“(I)t worked well," she said. "The focus of the candidates' issues was different enough that it made sense. The Greens weren't pleased with the arrangement, but it was most useful for those of us writing the endorsements.”

Electability is the criterion for Jay Jochnowitz, editorial page editor of the Times Union in Albany, New York. He said: “We tended in the past to err in favor of a sense of fairness, but, perhaps because our time is more constrained, perhaps because we¹ve had some clearly unendorseable if not unelectable candidates come in, we have been a little more judicious about inviting in fringe candidates. We don¹t want to waste our time or theirs.

“We recently did an editorial on the issue of debate access for third party candidates,(**) arguing that if their party is credible enough to be on the ballot by default, they should be included in the debates. (W)e argued that debates are one of the few occasions when many people are paying attention, and they’re a good way to hear candidates’ views side-by-side.

“However, we also stressed that our position does not mean that third party candidates should be given equal time in all things, including news coverage, as that would skew reality in the sense of making it seem that everyone has an equal chance.”

Steve Matrazzo, editor of The Dundalk Eagle in Dundalk, Maryland, argues that denial of coverage may deny that equal chance. “Polling thresholds and the like have a way of becoming self-fulfilling,” he wrote. “A candidate polls in the low single digits, therefore does not merit coverage, therefore never gets past those low single digits.”

In short, AOJ members have opinions about third-party candidates. Lots of opinions.

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

  • The Times-Union's June 2014 editorial:
    • http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Editorial-Let-the-minors-debate-too-5521242.php

Are newspaper letter guidelines obsolete?

By John Penney

Are the guidelines that newspapers typically use for letters to the editor ridiculously obsolete in an era of social media proliferation and immediacy?

For instance, why make readers wait 30 days before they can have another letter published?

Why bother calling letter writers on the telephone to confirm submissions if their pertinent information, including email addresses, is on file?

These are just some of the questions opinion editors are grappling with in a changing media landscape and workplace environment. With more tasks to complete but fewer staffers to complete them, opinion editors are looking for best practices and finding that there are benefits to changing old habits.

“Here in Billings,” said Opinion Editor Pat Bellinghausen at The Billings Gazette in Montana, “our usual practice is to confirm letters with a phone call. But for writers whose email address I recognize, whose handwriting, typewriter or style is unmistakable, I OK the letter without having the secretary confirm. Also, we don’t usually confirm letters thanking the community for supporting a charitable event or stopping to push somebody out of a snow drift.”

Indicative of the staff cuts many have faced, Dennis Mangan, who retired in 2013 as editorial editor of the Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, said: “I stopped universal verification some years ago after we went from three full-timers to two and lost our access to clerks at the same time. Regular and even semi-regular writers were used routinely. I tried to confirm all new writers, but depending on workload, I sometimes took a chance. It depended on the subject and tone of the letter. If it was a letter that was on or over the edge for one reason or another, I verified.”

The Poughkeepsie Journal, too, is considering shortcuts, including confirming via telephone only controversial letters and approving others if we have on file all the pertinent information about the author, telephone number, email address...

Many newspapers also have created automated responses to letter writers, not only to confirm the receipt of a submission but to point out the guidelines that, if followed, would increase the chances of publication. They include limits on letter lengths and the fact that anonymous letters won’t be published.

Opinion editors also said they are “relaxing” the once-steadfast “one-letter-per-month rule,” in part, to generate more timely content.

Bellinghausen said she was thinking of loosening the policy “because letters are slow right now. But I expect more soon because the Legislature has started its biennial session.”

Of that monthly limit, Jay Jochnowitz, editorial page editor at the Times Union in Albany, said: “I have been thinking of reducing it for the very reason you raise ... whether it’s too long in view of the immediacy of the Web. But we mostly have ample letters (we have hit a few more drier spells the last few years), and I do think people still see getting a letter published in the paper as something considerably more valuable and prestigious than a comment in the vast wilds of the Internet. Diminishing that is one concern I have about reducing the time limit.”

John Penney, shown puzzling over paper letters to the editor, is the engagement editor of the Poughkeepsie Journal, New York. You can reach him at jpenney@gannett.com