2016 Archives


  1. AOJ leader's final message to members
  2. Pulitzer honors Boston busing and race reports
  3. Pundits, polls, pols got badly plonked
  4. Opinion journalism content begins arriving on asne.org
  5. Why endorsements matter more now
  6. Editorial endorsements: do they still matter?
  7. News groups again chide Obama aide on access
  8. First exclusive in-call with State
  9. ASNE openers welcome AOJ
  10. Convention roundup 1: selected sessions
  11. Newsroom diversity up; survey changes
  12. ASNE leaders address diversity survey status
  13. Book details decade of 'lost' journalists
  14. Strong opinion yes; hurtful spout-off, no
  15. Travel led to learning, sans ethical conflict
  16. Murphy obit recalls prime years of travel
  17. Some travel details and ethics notes
  18. How edit boards outdo shrinkage
  19. Historic gathering of leaders, rapid progress on merger
  20. State Department briefings May, 2016, in Masthead
  21. Cyberworld: probe, intrusion, attack, war?
  22. Trade and strategy: facts and emotion
  23. Iran nuke deal may be 'break it and you own it'
  24. Public leads legislators on renewed Cuba trade
  25. It's a global refugee crisis
  26. Against terror, focus shifts to roots
  27. Staff cutbacks limit daily local editorials

AOJ leader's final message to members

Posted December 22, 2016 by David Haynes

From David Haynes,
President, Association of Opinion Journalists

Dear [Member or Associate], 

This is, no doubt, bittersweet for many of you. It is for me:

As of Dec. 31, the Association of Opinion Journalists (National Conference of Editorial Writers, 1947-2012) ends and we conclude our merger into the American Society of News Editors.

As a member of the ASNE board, I am firmly committed to ensuring that the spirit of AOJ – of nurturing and training opinion journalists – remains alive.

To that end, ASNE’s new Opinion Committee has given itself several goals for 2017. Among them: develop programming for next year’s ASNE convention, Oct. 8-11 in Washington, D.C.; develop more webinars; plan and execute the annual State Department Briefing (likely in conjunction with the convention in the fall); and develop a mentorship program for new opinion editors and writers.

The committee will be meeting soon after the first of the year to get to work on these ideas.

A few nuts and bolts:

  • Everyone who was an AOJ life member or had a renewal-due date of Dec. 1, 2016, or later on Nov. 30, 2016, gained free initial membership in ASNE. Pending an exact final count, John McClelland, who has done an enormous amount of work on this, estimates that’s 150 people.

  • The computer treats life members as due for renewal in 2052. Everyone else got a renewal date based on the date in the AOJ database on Nov. 30. Some with December 2016 dates have already renewed in ASNE. All should have received an ASNE welcome message by Dec. 16. If you qualified and did not get it, there's a digital gremlin; ask ASNE@asne.org for help after Jan. 2.

  • If your AOJ membership was lapsed, you might still sail into ASNE. Ask ASNE.org for help after Jan. 2 and mention your former NCEW-AOJ membership. Or apply online at ASNE.org.

  • All transactions (renewals, dues, other payments, changes of status) on the AOJ web site (https://aoj.wildapricot.org) ended Nov. 30, 2016. However, the site remains online, prepaid to December 2017. It allows reading of the publicly visible materials, and allows the few remaining site administrators to review membership records to help ASNE determine status or eligibility as needed. 

  • Our previous URLs, four variations of http://opinionjournalists.org, still refer to aoj.wildapricot but will expire some time before December 2017.

  • Much of our prior material, including all Masthead text and some illustrations from about 2009 to fall 2016, has been moved to ASNE.org and will become visible either to the public or to ASNE members in the coming weeks. Extensive prior NCEW-AOJ material is in the Wisconsin state and university library system. An academic library vendor has digitized Masthead material online, and via academic or public library subscriptions.

  • Information about the AOJ-ASNE merger and some material from AOJ events at the September 2016 ASNE convention is on https://asne.org under the Opinion Writing tab. We expect to provide more during 2017 and to have more opinion journalism programming at ASNE in DC next fall.

  • As part of the merger process, the Minority Writers Seminar has been transferred to the Poynter Institute, with both AOJ stalwarts and Poynter faculty conducting it at St. Petersburg. Transfer of about $430,000 in an endowment earmarked for MWS is part of the merger.

  • Approximately $200,000 in uncommitted AOJ funds rolls over to ASNE to cover transition costs, ongoing programs including the State Department Briefing, and development of new services. Poynter is closing out our banking.

  • The [AOJ] edit-write discussion list on Google Groups remains active so long as we have other volunteers to help Chris Trejbal run it. If you are not already on it, see http://aoj.wildapricot.org/discussion-list for info or apply via https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/editorialwriters

  • We do not yet know what form Masthead will take after the final 2016 issue (this letter), but we know that ASNE and our AOJ colleagues want to continue its role as a vehicle and record, for editorial-opinion journalism. John has offered to continue to do what he can, but after five years in this role, he needs to dial back. Writers, a co-editor, or a full-time editor are welcome.

Finally, a good word about ASNE leadership. Teri Hayt, the executive director, and Mizell Stewart, the current president, could not have been more welcoming. And ASNE staff, co-located near Investigative Reporters and Editors on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, has been highly cooperative and effective. 

In addition to my position on the board, our diversity chair, Richard Prince, is becoming part of the ASNE diversity committee. And our transition committee co-chairs, Nancy Ancrum (nancrum@miamiherald.com) and Jennifer Hemmingsen (jennifer.hemmingsen@thegazette.com*), are now chairing the ASNE Opinion Committee. If you are interested in being part of the ongoing opinion journalism working group in ASNE, please let them know.

These are challenging times for all of us but I am convinced that we made a sound decision to merge with ASNE. Now, it’s up to us to make the most of it.

Happy Holidays!


(* email address updated 9/14/2017: jennifer.hemmingsen@gmail.com)

Pulitzer honors Boston busing and race reports

The work that earned the 2015 commentary award to Farah Stockman was underwritten by the $75,000 Pulliam Fellowship in editorial and opinion writing, from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation (SPJ). It is presented annually at an event of the Association of Opinion Journalists. 

http://opinionjournalists.org/pulliam2014 (story and short video)

The 2015 award given at AOJ Symposium mentioned the Stockman series. More on Pulliams and AOJ: https://aoj.wildapricot.org/Pulliam2016 

Entries for 2016 are due June 22.

Pundits, polls, pols got badly plonked

Posted Nov. 9, 2016 by John McClelland

The Trump train ran right past way too many prognosticators.

Talking-heads-tut-tutting on TV and a lot of the traffic on sites cited in journalism newsletters such as Poynter's and Nieman's daily briefings have been about this.

One recurring theme seems to be that all elites have been too long overlooking the legitimate, frustrated, scared, angry populace that Trump attracted. 

That would include ignoring non-college white males (and females, despite the first-ever woman major candidacy) in rural or economically distressed areas, for example. There also was some pooh-poohing of party loyalty, and a lot of underestimating the energy of wing-nuts, Klanners, NRA, plutocrats, and such, and overestimating turnout by former Obama fans. Political tactics and strategies aside, what also became more clear is the vast extent of social-educational-ethnic-economic divides in the land.

Polling's perils have long been known, and yet it gets horse-race attention even when way off the track. 'Nuf said for now.

Another concern is the risk to our country and the world from the declining influence of responsible, professional, established media in the Babel-esque world of social media. It is particularly important in the now-common 364.9-day year of poisonous partisanship. In that fraction of a day when Trump sounded most open to cooperation and the losers said we all need to help him lead, there was a hint of hope, if....

One person filling TV time in the Nov. 9 wee hours (my alibi for not getting a name) quoted a voter who chose the evil outsider over the evil long-time insider, and another who said he despises Trump but voted for him "because he is not one of THEM."

Journalistic mass media people are largely well-educated and earnest, but still too-male and too-white, and they appear to millions of our fellow citizens rather like shyster bankers, scammers, people of color, immigrants, and C.o.n.g.r.e.s.s. An ill-chosen, overly broad, ungrammatical term "the media is" and the high-profile misconduct of too many have unfairly tarred the image of the traumatized, talented, conscientious, real journalists.

We must act. We are too widely perceived as part of "THEM."

(c) 2016 John McClelland and Association of Opinion Journalists (becoming part of the American Society of News Editors ASNE.org at the end of 2016). Members may republish with minimal attribution. All other non-fair-use reproduction is prohibited without written consent.

 - John McClelland, emeritus faculty (retired) Roosevelt University, Chicago; editing Masthead and some web stuff for AOJ


Opinion journalism content begins arriving on asne.org

As the Association of Opinion Journalists is merging into ASNE, the two organizations cooperated in parts of the 2016 ASNE-APME News Leadership Conference Sept. 11-14 in Philadelphia. 

Richard Prince, of the Association of Opinion Journalists, presented the Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship for service to journalism education of minorities to David Armstrong of Georgia State University at the conference. 

Andrew Rosenthal, recently retired as the opinion editor of The New York Times, and Andrew Julien, recently promoted from editor to publisher-editor of the Hartford Courant, discussed the rise of editorial journalism in the digital-video age at the conference.

Why endorsements matter more now

Posted Oct. 5, 2016 by John McClelland

This national election is raising anew some enduring questions of whether editorial endorsements matter or even should be done. They do and they should.

It is a year of change. Of the first 37 daily newspapers whose presidential endorsements were tallied on one website, 23 had changed from the partisan position they took in 2012.

Huge numbers of people are committed one way or the other and will not be swayed by mere mass media. Many young adults do not read legacy media on paper or phones.

But how about helping the undecided? Or the level of motivation to vote? Well-reasoned commentary can have an effect. How about “telling the truth-as-we-see-it” and letting the chips fall?

In some state and local elections, endorsement can be decisive as an antidote to ignorance or as fodder for TV ads. How many citizens have first-hand exposure to judicial candidates, for example? Journalists do, and many editorial boards invest hundreds of hours in learning about candidates and interviewing them in-person.

Scores of opinion editors I know take seriously their roles as advisers to the public. Some invest yet more time in helping their counterparts elsewhere.

Yes, they are largely white, collegiate, mostly male, and aging. Their pages present a wide spectrum of views, but still critics say they are not sufficiently in touch with minorities, the disaffected and others. Some remain habitually liberal or conservative on nearly everything.

Editorial boards have no influence on news operations, but they examine the facts that reporters dig up. They strive to be open-minded.

Some have debated whether endorsing (or “recommending”) is worth the huge effort. One group’s near-consensus: We have access to information and candidates that most voters do not, especially locally; we must use it. One group even discussed when to retract a position, and when to hold our noses and back the lesser doofus.

Most opinion editors put public well-being above, or at least on a par with, self-interest. Yes, they are part of an establishment fading because digital media have usurped the revenue. Yes, some are prone to status-quo-ism. Some back liberals and others oppose big government. But they all care.

My early 1960s mentor Bob Sink’s advice: We cannot tell the people how to vote, only advise. We can provoke them to think. We can affect a close race ("for dog-catcher" he said in jest).

At polling places, people in line had cut out our summary and marked it up. Were they voting for, or against, our recommendations? Both.

Fast forward to September 2016: academic economist Agustin Casas found that “surprise endorsements,” unlike the predictable ones, can have an effect beyond the common reinforcement of existing views.

This has already been a year for unexpected recommendations.

Of 37 daily newspaper presidential endorsement editorials tallied by Tuesday night (Oct. 4), 23 did not stay with the partisan position (or non-position in 5 cases) that they took in 2012. Six published “no-endorsement” editorials. Six went for Libertarian Gary Johnson. And USA Today ended a 34-year tradition of not recommending.

Among sites that track presidential endorsements are (http://tinyurl.com/endorsements-wiki) and academics at the University of California (http://tinyurl.com/endorsements-ucsb) and Editor & Publisher is gathering stats.

Endorsements often differ from voting. Newspapers hugely opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he won big. But opinion editors are not bookies picking winners; they have something to say beyond “vote thus.”

The Chicago Tribune came out for Libertarian Gary Johnson to rebuke both major parties: “How did pandering to aggrieved niche groups and seducing blocs of angry voters replace working toward solutions…?”

Among those that switched were the Arizona Republic: “1890...Never ... This year is different.” Detroit News “never done in its 143-year history.” Cincinnati Enquirer: first “in generations.”

The Dallas Morning News backed its first Democratic presidential candidate since the Depression. Editor Mike Wilson (who spoke about doing a turnaround to digital at AOJ Symposium 2015) faced protesters and subscription cancellations. He said, and was widely quoted, praised, and vilified online for it: “We write our editorials based on principle, and sometimes principle comes at a cost.”

The Chicago Sun-Times stopped endorsing before 2012 but resumed in 2014 when it saw a severe crisis in state government.

The Houston Chronicle switched, according to Conor Friedersdorf in Atlantic. He also wrote of public figures who switch: “I’d never tell anyone to defer to their arguments, but do hear them out.”

That’s good advice for readers of endorsement editorials, wherever you stand on the major candidates, or the gerrymandered state legislative districts, or your town’s dog-catcher.

Hear them out.

John McClelland, writing here just for himself, edits Masthead. A former reporter-photographer and editor in the Midwest and Mid-South, he is retired from teaching journalism at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Another version of this article is being distributed by InsideSources, an independent purveyor of op-ed material to 300 newspapers, since 2014. http://www.insidesources.com

Editorial endorsements: do they still matter?
(Posted 9/23/2016 J.McClelland)


What else about them….?

For answers, and for tips on interviewing and vetting candidates and more, take a look at the replay of the free Sept. 22, 2016, ASNE-AOJ-Poynter interactive web seminar. How-to is below.

Two editorial page or opinion team leaders, AOJ trustees Nancy Ancrum and Jennifer Hemmingsen, led the discussion with 75 people pre-registered.

Participants said things like "Why would we not do this most valuable of services to our readers?" and "We had to manage the bloviators and grandstanders" [during video-cast interviews].

Here’s how to view the free 57-minute replay:

  • Copy the long URL below but don’t use it yet; you will paste it into your browser.
    • http://www.newsu.org/courses/do-news-endorsements-matter/watch
  • Go to http://newsu.org
    • If you have a Poynter/NewsU account, log in.
    • If not, sign up for one; it is free.
  • Once in, paste the long URL for the webinar in your browser’s address line.
    • After several seconds of buffering, the replay will begin.

News groups again chide Obama aide on access

Responding to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s letter to the editor of the New York Times, 40 news organizations, including AOJ and ASNE, wrote him about their continuing concern about federal government non-transparency.

The letter notes that President Obama’s term is nearing its end, but says “We aren’t going away.”

The letter has links to prior material. It is online at (http://spj.org/pdf/news/earnest-letter-09122016-final.pdf).

SPJ’s announcement of it: (http://www.spj.org/news.asp?ref=1468)

First exclusive call-in with State

By John McClelland

One result of AOJ’s history of State Department spring briefings in DC was the Labor-Day Week phone briefing by a senior diplomat before the U.S.-led international Oceans conference.

While in the capital for the spring event, AOJ leaders discussed with State officials how to expand the department’s ability to inform opinion writers who could not travel, and during other parts of the year.

Tuesday, Sept. 6, we got an invitation and shared it with the membership. It was for an on-record briefing and Q&A with Catherine Novelli, under-secretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment. It was for 1:30 p.m. that Friday, as advance info for the Sept. 15-16 conference.

Oh, well. Jumping into a short holiday week, the organizers could not have been aware, nor have easily avoided, the horrid time-crunch that editors and some columnists face every Friday. As one AOJ member emailed, “As a one-person shop, I cannot do anything on Friday but prepare 3 days’ worth of pages.”

Even so, we heard what my old mentor used to call “good stuff” from Novelli.

Early September isn’t just end of cultural summer, almost every child back to school, and the late-lamented start of serious political campaigning. It is also a common time frame for conventions, including the ASNE one this week. (Reason for release of the ASNE Diversity Survey on Sept. 9, for example.)

ASNE leaders have committed, as part of the merger of AOJ into ASNE, to continue the spring State briefing for 5 years and reassess its value then. This initial call-in event, which elicited questions from about 4 callers, might presage some real expansion of the briefing service. We shall see.

The briefing’s content points

Novelli is a veteran diplomat [LINK to bio], seasoned in giving a focused presentation. It showed.

Here is an extract of her remarks:

  • This will be the third international Oceans conference and is a priority for John Kerry’s attention aside from crisis work. 
  • “A lot has been written about climate change, but very little for the general public on the oceans.”
  • “Life on earth depends on the oceans. … About 20 percent of the protein for about 3 billion people comes from the sea. … One in every six jobs in the United States is marine-related in some way. … We have a $160 billion coastal tourism industry.”
  • “We have an ongoing crisis.”
  • “About 30 percent of world fisheries are overfished today.”
  • “The oceans have absorbed about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide released by human activity since the Industrial Revolution. … The water is now much more acidic [and that] affects the whole food chain.” She gave specific examples.
  • “All waterways lead to the ocean, eventually.”
  • There is serious pollution by plastic waste. If it were all lined up along the shoreline, it would be five garbage bags wide along every seacoast. “We expect that at current rates, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.”
  • Some good news: “When you do the right things, the ocean is amazingly resilient.”
  • She asserted that “The U.S. has done well, and fish stocks are recovering in many areas.”

This conference is not intended to be one where people just come to talk: “We expect concrete commitments [to action].” The 450 guests are expected to produce about 100 new commitments to things such as how to support sustainable fishing.

Conference Goals

Deterring fish poachers: An international treaty, negotiated over the past three years, took effect in June. It calls for the 60 (so-far) signing nations to deny access to their markets and ports for boats shown to be over-fishing or fishing in protected areas. It seeks “to insure that fish being landed there is a legal catch” and to reduce the economic incentive for violators.

Protected areas, such as President Obama’s recent designation of waters around historic Midway atoll northwest of Hawaii, are on the agenda.

Fertilizer run-off is an issue. Fertilizer-supported algae make other marine life impossible some places, including a huge “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi River enters. After years of attention but little action, this year “we are really ramping up” on this, and with support from WalMart trying to tackle run-off from U.S. farms.

Sinking land near rising seas, flooded by unusually heavy rain, is far more widespread than the U.S. poster child Norfolk, Va., or Bangladesh. “All three contribute to flooding everywhere. It is [exacerbated] by the way coastlines have developed.” Small island nations that will attend are deeply concerned about rising sea levels, because “they will have less land mass” than the little they have now.

The Oceans website is (http://ourocean2016.org/#event)

ASNE openers welcome AOJ

By John McClelland

Philadelphia, Sept. 12 — The first “News Leadership” convention with AOJ registrations began here with a bit of pomp and a spoken welcome by the president of the American Society of News Editors.

Pam Fine recited a long list of volunteers “who, in addition to their own jobs, donate dozens of hours a year” to planning the convention. 

She described the two organizations’ board-level agreement to merge and an ASNE membership vote, coming Tuesday afternoon, to amend its bylaws to widen the membership criteria.

Mayor James Kenney’s greeting to the opening session disclosed that he had been an Inquirer delivery boy in his youth when both parents had (non-editorial) newspaper work. “It may be hard to believe, coming from a big city, mayor, but I actually am glad to see a room full of journalists,” he said. 

He said he still prefers print not just of habit but because print and print-based multimedia are best at asking politicians the necessary hard questions.

Keynoter Kathleen Carroll, retiring after leading the Associated Press for 14 years of rapid change, stressed the fundamentals that do not change: “Accurate, credible, coverage is a core value.” 

She recited highlights of 170 years of innovation (below) and said that recently, “We’ve been told we are old and fusty and won’t survive the innovators who are replacing us. But here we are!”

She conceded that the need for speed increases the risk of error and lamented, “When you do fix a mistake, the correction will never catch up to the original.”

She said journalists must share information on both successes and failures in this calling or profession. 

I estimated her audience between 200 and 300.

At the Sunday evening reception in the National Constitution Center, part of the entertainment was a Ben Franklin impersonator whose schtick included a joke that as founder of the early Pennsylvania Gazette, he was reporter, editor, and publisher. Paraphrasing: The reporter wishes the editor would change copy less and pay more. The publisher wishes the editor would spend less. The editor knows  the reporter should do as told and the publisher should heed sage advice.

AP innovations

Some of those developments, all involving cooperation:

  • 1846: Five newspapers hire couriers from the Mexican war front to Richmond, Va., the southernmost end of the telegraph system, creating the early “wire” service.
  • 1899: AP and Gugliermo Marconi used radio to send yacht race results ashore, the first wireless news.
  • 1935: Improved wirephoto transmission allowed some papers to hit the streets with pictures of the World Series while the game was still underway.
  • 1970: Photo processing got better mechanized and pictures could be edited and sent electronically.
  • 1989: Digital editing shaved 30 minutes off time to transmit Bush inauguration photos.
  • 1994: Partnership with Kodak produce the MP2000 digital camera, $14,500 for 1.2-megapixel images. (Today’s “smart” phones can do 16 mpx but without high-performance lenses).
  • 2003: AP digital video from Iraq.

“Digital imagery is fast,” Carroll said, “but not as fast as live-streaming video.”

Convention roundup 1: selected sessions

Posted 9/16/2016 by John McClelland

Richard Prince is AOJ’s diversity chairman, now becoming a member of ASNE’s long-standing and very active diversity committee. His blog yesterday (Sept. 15) had four substantial reports from News Leadership 2016, the ASNE-APME convention at which AOJ’s merger was ratified.

I saw some of these panels, and they were the sort that should be of interest to any journalist, and at least one of them is relevant to any citizen or shaper of public opinion.

Don’t let the “Powell-Obama” headline in the links fool you; the rest of the link takes you directly to the article. I am asking Richard for permission to republish in full in Masthead. 

  • Fear of change is scary, not racist, but exploitable
    • http://journal-isms.com/2016/09/powell-obama-maintain-media-help-trump/#Fear%20of%20Change%20Isn’t%20Racism,%20but%20It%20Is%20Exploitable
  • Civility project wins innovation contest
    • http://journal-isms.com/2016/09/powell-obama-maintain-media-help-trump/#Newspaper%20Takes%20Home%20One%20for%20Civility
    • (The winner, The Times of Northwest Indiana, has been a real up-and-comer in Chicago-area journalism, picking up a lot of the SPJ Lisagor awards in recent years.)
  • Paper prodded police to post all “perp”-pix
    • http://journal-isms.com/2016/09/powell-obama-maintain-media-help-trump/#Paper%20Fought%20for%20Release%20of%20White%20Mugshots,%20Too
  • Here are short links to all 4 of Richard's items:
    • Despite Killings, Neighbors Get On With Their Lives http://bit.ly/2cWtOfY
    • Fear of Change Isn’t Racism, but It Is Exploitable http://bit.ly/2cvRWEc
    • Newspaper Takes Home One for Civility http://bit.ly/2cDML2C #NewsLeaders2016 
    • Paper Fought for Release of White Mugshots, Too http://bit.ly/2cTrHq4 
  • Another update from Philly notes the ASNE board’s attention to the response its Diversity Survey has been getting this year:
    • https://aoj.wildapricot.org/Masthead-2016#survey-update-9-15-16 and https://aoj.wildapricot.org/Masthead-2016#diversity
  • Photos by student journalists are on Facebook at:
    • https://www.facebook.com/media/set/set=a.10155277420689972.1073741829.365991329971&type=1&l=f92015207d
  • Daily summaries by ASNE staff are:
    • Wednesday roundup:
      • https://asne.org/blog_home.asp?Display=2167
    • New board members, including AOJ’s David Haynes:
      • https://asne.org/blog_home.asp?Display=2166
    • 2017 conference Oct. 8-11 in DC:
      • https://asne.org/blog_home.asp?Display=2165
    • Tuesday roundup:
      • https://asne.org/blog_home.asp?Display=2163
    • Monday roundup:
      • https://asne.org/blog_home.asp?Display=2160

Finally, I am working with ASNE staff to webcast videos from our Bingham Award presentation and the hour-long session on new and largely visual forms of electronic opinion journalism at the New York Times; links t.b.a.

Newsroom diversity up; survey changes

ASNE drops some prior info types

Posted 9/10/2016 by John McClelland and others

Some of us remember when the annual ASNE Newsroom Census showed highly profitable daily newspapers struggling to bring their minority staffing percentage up from low single digits (including zero).

The good news now is that minority staffing is up to 17 percent for 2015 as reported in 2016 (compared to 13 percent for 2014), and there were gains in both percentage and actual nose count in some categories.

However, the study’s director and others say progress still is sluggish and there is a long way to go on several measures, such as gender equity especially in leadership roles.

The study’s scope has changed and it has lost some key indicators:

  • Its name has changed to Diversity Survey, giving it a new focus.
  • It omits overall employment figures because of the increasing difficulty, or impossibility, of getting a reliable count of people actually doing journalism.
  • It omits figures for specific news organizations because some of them asked. (specifics below)

The American Society of News Editors announced the study Sept. 9, before its convention, and writers at several organizations have commented on it.

The lead of ASNE’s release contains one of the key facts with a big qualifier, “17 percent of the workforce in newsrooms that responded.”

Responding were 737 organizations, including 646 newspapers and 91 digital-only news sites. Last year had fewer, making year-to-year comparisons difficult. However, 433 organizations participated both years.

Minorities up almost 6%

Among those 433, the minority workforce increased 5.6 percent. That gain appears to be driven by large-circulation newspapers and online-only sites, said Adam Maksl, an assistant professor at Indiana University Southeast, who has directed the survey for the past four years.

"Those papers, with 100K-plus circulation, and online sites employ many more minority journalists than smaller organizations, so better minority recruitment and retention at those places is easily going to drive overall increases in minorities in the workforce," Maksl told ASNE.

Of those 433 newsrooms, some added more journalists of color than white employees. Others lost both white and minority employees but lost more whites.

Eight largest newspapers, with circulations of 500K-up, lost an average of 12 percent whites and gained 4 percent minorities.

Other reported highlights:

  • At the top: 28 percent had at least one minority and 77 percent at least one woman among the top 3 editors.
  • Paper/digital: Minorities were about 17 percent at newspapers and 23 percent at online-only sites.
  • Largest most varied: The percent of journalists of color was greatest at the largest organizations. Newspapers of 500K and up had nearly 24 percent. For all 737, it was about 11 percent.
  • Women were 38 percent overall at daily newspapers and nearly 50 percent of online-only .
  • Women were the majority of the staff at 37 percent of the online sites and at 14 percent of the daily newspapers.
  • Of all supervisors, about 13 percent were minorities and 37 percent women.

What does it all mean?

"The numbers seem to be moving in the right direction, but the pace of diversity needs to quicken to catch up with the population," said ASNE President Pam Fine.

"We must ask ourselves how we can do a better job of inspiring people of color and women to go into the profession, hire them at good wages, and give them opportunities to influence coverage and advance through the ranks,” she said. “The purpose of the ASNE survey is to stimulate these efforts."

ASNE’s news release has a summary of its Minority Leadership Institute’s work since 2012 and its new, broader, scope this year as the Emerging Leaders Institute “to include all emerging leaders with diverse backgrounds.”

Survey background

  • 1978, the survey began; revised from time to time as-needed “to maintain its relevance.”
  • 1998, it began to ask for the numbers of women.
  • 2014, it began asking for the numbers of women and people of color in top newsroom leadership positions.
  • 2016, “We no longer estimate the number of journalists working in newsrooms. …Today, the structure of modern newsrooms makes it impractical and error-prone to try to estimate the number of working journalists.”
  • 2016, “We did not ask news organizations to classify employees by job category. Editors have told us … roles and titles are continually transforming. We did ask about … diversity among decision-makers.”

For survey methodology and detailed tables, go to this link. (http://files.constantcontact.com/91232289201/e1121f4b-b8c8-47bb-8502-850cc6ae5e1a.pdf)

The John S. and James L Knight Foundation provided the funding. The School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University administered the questionnaire and collected the data.

From Harvard’s Nieman Lab Briefing:


By Shan Wang

The survey results, of course, raise more questions. Maksl told me in an email:

"I think we’d like to better understand 'why' and 'how' journalists are coming and going from newsrooms. … Where we see increases, is that young journalists in their first full-time job or is it veteran journalists moving around?"

From Poynter’s afternoon briefing


By Rick Edmonds

After a decade of documenting job losses for journalists totaling more than 20,000 since 2006, the American Society of News Editors has abandoned the effort.

… For the first time in its nearly 40-year history, the survey included no estimate of the total of full-time professional jobs in the newsrooms of newspaper organizations.

The change returns the survey to its original (and continuing) purpose of tracking the percentage of minorities in newsrooms….

As total employment shrunk over the decade, the minority percentage had stayed roughly steady. ...

[Asked by Edmonds, Fine and Maksl came up with some overall numbers for the 433 two-year reporting organizations. With that data, Edmonds wrote:]

Total employment was down 6.6 percent year-to-year. That reflected an increase of 5.6 percent in minority employees and an 8.9 percent decrease in whites. The 2014 results showed a 10.8 percent one-year fall in total professional newsroom jobs.

The [lost] figure did provide an essential benchmark… with huge declines during the worst three years of the recession and continuing losses since.

We are left with reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, headcounts publicly traded companies disclose as they report results, and news of layoffs paper by paper.

Eliminating the industry estimate takes away an important tool… Still, I have some sympathy with ASNE's decision. … As Maksl put it in our conversation, those numbers “were always just an approximation.”

Journal-isms notes detail gap


[Let’s let AOJ’s diversity chairman have another last word, as he highlights yet another change in the survey, edited for Masthead.]

By Richard Prince

The American Society of News Editors has ended its longstanding practice of listing the number of journalists of color at individual news organizations.

It was a tool in measuring each news outlet’s progress on diversity.

“We will be posting a list of the 700 plus participating organizations but not their individual data because we received requests not to make their specific information public,” ASNE Executive Director Teri Hayt said in a Sept. 10 email.

Hayt said “a handful” of organizations made such requests and that the decision to  end the practice “was not a board decision but an executive team decision.”

Distribution by ethnicity:

Accompanying tables showed the newsroom workforce percentages to be:

  • whites 83.06
  • blacks, 5.33
  • Hispanics, 5.44
  • American Indians, 0.39
  • Asians, 4.25
  • Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, 0.14
  • others, 1.38

ASNE has set a goal of matching the percentage of journalists of color in newsrooms with the percentage of people of color in the nation.

In census figures for 2010, the minority percentages of the U.S. population were:

  • Hispanics or Latinos 16.3
  • blacks or African Americans 12.6
  • Asians 4.8 percent
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders 0.2
  • Native Americans or Alaska Natives 0.9
  • other 6.2
  • two or more races, 2.9

Another ASNE table shows newsroom leaders who are journalists of color as 13.03 percent. [The report has extensive data on distribution of those roles, and the ASNE site has archives of previous reports from 1997 on.]


ASNE leaders address diversity survey status

Posted 9/15/2016 by John McClelland

The ASNE board of directors spent a large part of its first post-convention meeting Sept. 14 on the response to the Diversity Survey and on ideas for its future. In short, the board, officers and administration wrestled with a difficult question of balance.

The survey this year got more responses, enabling it to achieve a more accurate representation of diversity of staffing and leadership in newsrooms overall. It did not report figures for individual organizations because some editors, expressing a commitment to diversity, were embarrassed by their organizations’ inability to hire minorities. And it did not report overall industry estimates, citing the greatly increased difficulty of identifying newsroom jobs as the industry changes rapidly.

Mizell Stewart, new ASNE president and recent past president, said the survey has been struggling with declining participation and increasing difficulty with making industry wide projections. This year, he said, “In the process, the decision was made not to report the scores in individual newsrooms. The folks in charge made the decision in good faith.”

Consensus seemed to be to revisit the data omission question promptly, inviting the bashful to reconsider, and to post a list of all 1,700 organizations that were invited to participate, with data for the 737 who responded, minus those who asked not to have their data posted and did not relent. 

The total respondents included 433 who also reported last year, and that year-to-year data provided a solid basis for many of the figures in the survey.

The board also considered approaches to increasing participation and value of the survey in a time of rapid change. One of the survey committee reported, for example, that some newsrooms that she called to encourage them to respond said things like “the person who got the survey retired months ago.” An editor said, “Too much work without help.”

The board seated its new members, including AOJ president David Haynes, and it initiated participation in its diversity committee by AOJ diversity chair Richard Prince.

The new members: https://asne.org/blog_home.asp?Display=2166

Book details decade of 'lost' journalists

Posted 9/9/2016 by John McClelland

The “lost generation” of journalists in these times of turmoil is not just the people who got laid off.

A Columbia Journalism Review article about a book telling their story notes that economic squeezes in newspapers have directly afflicted at least three more groups of people. Those people, who do remain employed, are, in my paraphrasing:

  • older workers who struggle with technology and demands to make heavy use of social media; 
  • mid-career types who face demands to do more-more-more with fewer people; and 
  • newcomers who are handy with the social-techno stuff but struggle to understand their new world. 

As AOJ transitions into its new organizational home as part of the American Society of News Editors, we will have new challenges -- and new opportunities to adjust and to help others adjust to the cyber era’s new realities.

  • The book by University of Kansas professor Scott Reinardy is Journalism’s Lost Generation: The Un-Doing of U.S. Newspaper Newsrooms. (https://news.ku.edu/MK%20new%20journalism%20book)
  • The CJR interview article is at http://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/scott_reinardy_journalisms_lost_generation_book.php
  • We got it via Harvard’s Nieman NewsLab daily briefing; to give them a click: (http://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/scott_reinardy_journalisms_lost_generation_book.php?utm_source=Daily+Lab+email+list&utm_campaign=c931db17f3-dailylabemail3&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d68264fd5e-c931db17f3-395939609)

Strong opinion yes; hurtful spout-off, no

SPJ Ethics Code, like NCEW-AOJ Statement of Principles, still applies to opinion work

Posted 7/22/2016 by Andrew Seaman

Opinion writing or broadcasting is challenging. Crafting persuasive prose requires a lot of brain power, and sometimes it’s difficult to know what ethical boundaries exist when arguing a specific position.

An alternative weekly in Pennsylvania published a column from a regular contributor about him and his friend pretending to be U.S. military veterans to get free drinks at a bar. The piece garnered national condemnation.

The writer told a local radio host that the fabrication tried and failed to make a larger point about how men and women are treated differently at bars. Ultimately, the writer suggests fabrication is OK in an opinion piece. It is not.

Whether opinion or “just-the-facts” journalism, it’s the responsibility of the writer, broadcaster and editorial managers to ensure that the information still follows many of the tenets and principles found in SPJ’s Code of Ethics [and other guides].

The idea of applying the Code of Ethics to opinion writing or broadcasting may be surprising to some people, since taking a stance is traditionally a cardinal sin of [non-opinion] journalism, but it’s rather simple and natural.

The main tenets of the Code stress that journalists should seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent. There is no reason opinion writing or broadcasting can’t fulfill the spirit of those tenets.

First, a person — journalist or not — should ideally be truthful at all times. Furthermore, a person should not have to invent or fabricate information if their stance is justifiable. Inaccurate, misleading or made-up "facts" or (mis-)information shatters the foundation of most arguments.

Second, there is no reason for a person to use an opinion piece as an avenue to create unnecessarily harm. Yes, opinions may sometimes cast people or entities in unfavorable lights, but the same opinion should not be overly cruel or mean-spirited.

Third, people should make it clear they are conveying their opinion. What’s more, they should be upfront about any conflicts of interests that are not obvious to the reasonable reader.

Fourth, a person should be able to support the information with sources or additional evidence, as is expected of any journalist. Furthermore, people who push their opinions should be prompt when responding to criticism or questions.

News organizations that present opinions must also be mindful of their responsibilities. For example, they should make sure writing or commentary adheres to the basic principles outlined above — especially about distinguishing opinion pieces from straight reporting.

When possible, they should also give the accused an opportunity to respond.

Recently, the Dallas Morning News ran a column from a woman who was stopped by the local police. She used the space to reflect on her experience and point of view of why she was stopped. The Morning News also offered the police department an opportunity to respond, which it did with video of the incident.

While people used the police’s response to attack the woman who wrote the original editorial, it presented both sides of the argument.

Additionally, all news outlets should be extremely cautious about using gimmicky email or phone lines that allow people to voice anonymous opinions. If people want to voice stances in a public forum, they should not be afraid to put their name behind that thought. After all, the Code strongly advises against the use of anonymous sources.

When we apply the spirit the SPJ Code of Ethics to opinion and commentary, the substance of that information increases, as does its value to democracy.

Andrew Seaman is chairman of the SPJ Ethics Committee and a health/medical reporter for Reuters. Contact him at andrew.m.seaman@gmail.com or on Twitter @andrewmseaman

(Republished by permission from The Quill January-February; copyright 2016 Society of Professional Journalists, with minor edits. This recent take on a timeless matter seems more relevant in this year of political turmoil, runaway digital technology, and merger of AOJ into ASNE, where opinion specialists have a lot to contribute to editors, future opinionizers, and others.)

Travel led to learning, sans ethical conflict

Foreign group travel for research was a benefit of membership for many years in the National Conference of Editorial Writers (1947-2011), which became the Association of Opinion Journalists in 2012.

After Joe Geshwiler's discussion-list message about Larry Murphy, in condensed form below, veterans of those years shared more recollections. Excerpts of them, and a full article on the travels and the ethics of accepting financial travel assistance, follow Geshwiler's article.

Murphy obit recalls prime years of travel

By Joe Geshwiler

In its heyday, the National Conference of Editorial Writers sponsored at least one overseas fact-finding trip each year for its members. A fortunate few opinion writers had their newspapers’ financial support for as many as three of four of those expensive jaunts.

Larry Murphy, editorial page editor of the Elkhart (Ind.) Truth, went on six of them. Which speaks pretty well for his standing at the Truth.

Larry died May 8, 2016, at his home in Chesterton, Ind., at age 76.

I respected him as a journalist and considered him a fine travel buddy. We were together on three of those NCEW trips – to South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

In 1989, the two of us crawled through Viet Cong caves left from the war, though both of us were bulkier a VC guerrilla. Later at a huge Roman Catholic cathedral in Saigon, a priest told us the cathedral conducted five full-house services each Sunday – a surprise indicator of tolerance by the Communist regime.

In 1992, we and two other NCEW colleagues, Harry Fuller of the Salt Lake Tribune and Dick Foster of the Milwaukee Journal, were in the Mideast. Young Palestinians in east Jerusalem stoned our rental car; no inuries except severe damage to the car. We planned on Baghdad, but the Iraqi embassy in Amman, Jordan, denied down my request for a visa. Larry, Harry and Dick refused to go to Iraq without me, an example of NCEW solidarity. 

 In 1988, we and a couple dozen other NCEW members took a picturesque train ride and a switchback road in a Range Rover to the Incan temple city of Machu Picchu. At 9,000 feet above sea level, we saw a deep blue sky and snow-capped purple mountains above us and shiny green vegetation below. In Cuzco, a major city at 13,500 feet, we found a delightful concert of Andean music and dance.

These weren’t tourist jaunts

Most of the time we were busy taking notes and photos, raw material for the columns we would write back home. Larry had a reputation in Elkhart for assiduously gathering information; he was no less dedicated while on the road.

Larry also traveled with other NCEW colleagues – twice to Russia and once to China.

I was impressed that the Truth thought enough of him and his readers to send him on these pricey trips, something few papers of comparable size would or could do. He spoke with pride about the paper’s management and his community, and said both were anything but provincial.

Larry joined the Elkhart Truth in 1971, became editorial page editor in the 1980s and retired in 2003. He is survived by his wife Joan, two daughters and seven grandchildren.

Joe Geshwiler was with the Atlanta Constitution for 21 years, 17 of them as an editorial writer. He retired in 2004 but continued to freelance for the Journal-Constitution until 2015. He was president of NCEW in 1994 and made four NCEW trips abroad.


Here is a sample promotional announcement for a tour: http://www.bu.edu/globalbeat/pubs/ncew1198.html

The National Conference of Editorial Writers (NCEW) invites you to join its study trip this November to India and Pakistan, the world's newest nuclear powers.

The tour, Nov. 8-22, is designed for journalists and others with a serious interest in international affairs. It will include stops in India's political capital, New Delhi; its financial capital, Bombay; and Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Permission has been sought to visit Kashmir as well.

Interviews and roundtable discussions are being arranged with U.S. embassy officials; Indian and Pakistani leaders in government, business and the media; and with Chinese diplomats. All governments have promised to make available the best possible sources.

For more details, visit NCEW's Web site.

Or contact NCEW International Committee Chair Jim Boyd at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Tel: (612) xxx-xxxx, E-mail: boydxxxyxxxxxx

The NCEW has sponsored annual study trips for many years. Destinations have included Bosnia, Eastern Europe, China, Southeast Asia, South Africa, Cuba, Mexico, South America, and the Middle East.

Margie Arons-Barron of Boston was one of those who traveled to Cuba with other cultural-educational groups and at their own expense before or after the 2015 AOJ State Department briefing. She wrote this: "Thanks to Joe Geshwiler for his tribute to Larry Murphy. Joe captured not only the man but a whole era in newspaper and NCEW history. Our ability to travel together to gather information – to interview government, opposition, labor and student leaders – was professionally enhancing, memorable in our personal growth, and lamented in its absence today."

Carolyn Lumsden, edit-page editor of the Hartford Courant, had posted in 2013, quoting John Zakarian: "A little background, as I remember it. The State Dept. briefings began with Joe Sterne, editorial page editor of the Baltimore Sun, who was approached by Mary Kennedy. The first few years it was a small, select group … [two] invites to the White House for Reagan and Bush chats. ...

"The state department briefings led to valuable help from Mary Kennedy when we began foreign trips. She contacted embassies in countries we planned to visit and they greeted us with briefings and receptions and contacts with locals."

Amit Pal, on seeing a note about the late Charles Reinken, wrote: "I had the pleasure of traveling with Charley to the Middle East in 2002 as part of an NCEW-organized trip. May he RIP."

In 2011, when the board was considering how to resume the travels, replies to discussion list inquiries included about eight responses that said in effect, "I am interested but would have to go on my own dime." Here's a typical one, quoted with permission, by Jay Jochnowitz: "I’m in the 'depends on where and the cost' group. I’d also add what’s probably obvious but just in case, that grant help, if it comes, would need to avoid any conflict or appearance thereof. I do like the Cuba idea."

Some travel details and ethics notes

Richard Prince, head of the AOJ diversity committee, did an extensive report on editorial writers' foreign travel, and other groups' ethical questions, for the Maynard Institute in 2014. Excerpts, with permission:

In the late 1990s, when NATO was considering adding Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, not long out of the communist orbit, the National Conference of Editorial Writers [organized] a trip to the area. 

Don Wycliff, then editorial page editor of the Chicago Tribune, came back so impressed that the Tribune's position went from undecided to favoring admission of the three countries.

The trip by the NCEW, now the Association of Opinion Journalists, was not sponsored by a government, but by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, "an independent American public policy and grantmaking institution." 

The editorial writers [made] several other such trips, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the Star Tribune Foundation and other such third parties.

Those trips come to mind in light of the recent government-sponsored trip to Morocco by the National Newspaper Publishers Association.... Such government-sponsored trips are considered violations of ethical guidelines by the Society of Professional Journalists and [others]. But NNPA argues that it does not have the money to abide by such rules.

[Extensive copy about that issue...]

Wycliff now teaches journalism ethics and other journalism topics, ... at Loyola University Chicago.

"I guess everything is changing now in this era when news organizations are no longer as flush as they used to be," [he said]. "However, ... what a news organization sells to the public is its reputation for credibility" [and accepting government or business money erodes that.] ...

"Foundations, by contrast, operate within limits, one of which is to act in some semblance of the public interest. That can be broadly construed, obviously, but it isn't utterly elastic." ...

Jim Boyd, retired deputy editorial page editor at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and for many years chairman of NCEW's International Affairs Committee, [said] "...newspapers stopped funding foreign travel because it was expensive [and mis-perceived] as junkets, even though it was extraordinarily beneficial." ...

So Boyd turned to foundations. 

"It's a lot of work," Boyd conceded. "It requires a lot of record keeping ... notebooks with every single article that came out of the trip ... where every dollar went."

"I'm not sure that a newspaper organization that went out and tried to do what we did would be successful [today]. That doesn't mean it shouldn't try."

NCEW got a three-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation for about $300,000, Boyd said. The first trip using that grant was in 1997 to Mexico City.

"The trip was quick, but long on content," Linda Valdez, an editorial writer for the Arizona Republic, wrote for [NCEW's] magazine, the Masthead. [She gave specifics]...


In 1999, "The early June trip coincided with Russian efforts to help NATO find a way to end the Kosovo bombing ..." Pat Widder of the Chicago Tribune wrote for Masthead.

Other trips have toured Bosnia, Eastern Europe, China, Southeast Asia, South Africa, Cuba, Mexico, South America, India and Pakistan, and the Middle East.

"We tried to make them affordable," Boyd said of the trips. Travel would cost the journalist perhaps $1,200 of the total $8,000.

Boyd said coordinating the trips meant four or five months away from newspaper responsibilities. The association hired someone to arrange the travel and bookkeeping.

Boyd was awarded the 2005 Arthur Ross media award by the American Academy of Diplomacy "for critical, perceptive and non-partisan commentary on the policies of governments and international organizations...."

Sue Ryon, then NCEW president, noted Boyd's tirelessness in seeking opportunities:

"...the number crunchers in too many of our offices had decided that such travel was discretionary [and] participation [fell] to almost nothing. … Jim raised money from 'clean foundations' that put no strings on its use; he was extremely careful to avoid anything that smelled of advocacy or partisanship … Jim also reinstated the State Department briefing."

Ryon added by email in 2014, "At the time, the NCEW Board was very careful to vet the organizations from which we were soliciting contributions..."

See http://mije.org/node/8291/NNPA for the full 1,600 words with photos of Secretary of State John Kerry briefing AOJ guests, and of two journalists quoted, Wycliff and Boyd.

How edit boards outdo shrinkage

Changes in the industry and staffing lead to creative coping, 'making it work' across the country

Posted 6/8/2016 by Nancy Ancrum

We could even do a little navel-gazing.

That’s how leisurely, in retrospect, of course, was the pace of things on the Miami Herald Editorial Board two decades ago. We had time.

Time to attend city commission meetings -- staying all day.

Time to fly -- fly! -- to Central Florida to tour sugar cane fields and hear Big Sugar’s side of the story.

Time to take a day or two to report an editorial.

Time for daily editorial board meetings for the fullest discussions of the issues.

Time to publish three editorials a day.

Time to think.

And we did do something akin to navel-gazing in those days, too, occasionally resulting in little gauzy thought pieces that we called “tone poems.”

We had a letters editor and a page designer. That's all they did.

We were six writers strong. Then, 20 years later, we weren’t.

Fewer folks

The Miami Herald Editorial Board now has three writers; one is also its social-media guru and puts copy onto one of the two templated editorial pages.

The newsroom’s design desk does the op-ed page now. My administrative assistant is also the letters editor. 

More tasks

We write keywords, SEO-friendly headlines, post content on Facebook and Twitter.

We Periscope Editorial Board meetings with local officials and organizations to our Twitter followers -- and we have fewer of those meetings; to those who request face-to-face, we offer conference calls instead. They’re briefer, to the point and just as informative.

So-long, Saturday

We scuttled the Saturday opinion pages altogether -- saving money and effort.

And we still report and write, but we publish one editorial a day now, including the occasional “guest editorial” from another publication. These are the “hamburger helper” of the opinion pages.

None of these is itself a huge task, but in terms of time, they suck up a lot of it. Still, we make it work. 

Indeed, editorial page editors across the country are confronting doing the impossible, and making it work.

Our team of four might even sound somewhat luxe to others.

"Our editorial staff is essentially two people – me and the cartoonist," says Sarah Garrecht Gassen, opinion writer and apprentice/intern program manager for the Arizona Daily Star. The paper’s top editor and the publisher pitch in at times. That top editor, however, recently left. Though there is no named editorial page editor, that could change under new leadership, she says.

Gassen has an extremely full plate: "I write a weekly column and the staff editorials, edit letters and daily guest opinion pieces, select wire, attend edit board interviews, proof pages."

The cartoonist, by the way, "draws for the editorial department and features, and also has a weekly column," Gassen says.

“We both post on social media and speak to groups when asked. I also manage our internship and apprentice program for the newsroom, and am an adjunct at the University of Arizona."

A growing number of editorial page editors are having to perform similar juggling acts:

Dick Hughes joined the opinion pages of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, in 1990.  "Back then, we ran two or more short editorials every day, most of them written by the editorial page editor," he says. "Don [Scarborough] was amazingly prolific and organized. He came to work about 8 a.m., worked hard all day, did a bit of reading/research while eating his sack lunch, turned off his computer about 5:30 p.m. and headed out the door. He rarely worked weekends that I know of.

“I’ve never been able to emulate him.”

It's a new world

And he probably couldn’t, no matter how prodigious his skills. The landscape has changed dramatically. Hughes took over the opinion pages about 20 years ago. Until a few years, ago, he also had an editorial writer.

"Today I am the editorial page editor, but my title is that of 'content coach'," he says. "I supervise, loosely, the reporters who write for sports, features and outdoors (meeting individually with them each week); and I coach reporters on stories and edit some of their work. I put together the daily opinion pages (one page on weekdays and two on Sunday). I write a Sunday column. For several months I was the Saturday editor."

There’s more, of course: "I write our editorials. We've gone from 14 editorials a week to usually about three a week."

With so many balls in the air, editors rightly are concerned about making their editorial voices as relevant and valuable to their readers as possible. They have become more careful curators of the issues they address.

At the Miami Herald, for instance, readers would have to dig deep into the archives to find an editorial comment on, say, Putin and Ukraine. After all, they can find ample information and hefty opinions on the topic without leaving their laptops. Plus, are President Obama and Vladimir really waiting breathlessly to read what we have to say?

Local focus leads

Our focus leans more toward local and state policy, hitting homelessness, overdevelopment, social services, municipal corruption, the environment, inequality. 

When addressing national and international issues, it’s with an eye on who our readers are. That’s why we frequently weigh in on Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, Israel and the Mideast. And elections, always elections.

Susan Parker, engagement and community content editor for The Daily Times and DelmarvaNow.com, two Gannett outlets based on Maryland's Eastern Shore, also has skewed her pages' content. 

"In our hyper-local world these days, I rely less and less on syndicated columns, with the exception of pulling USA Today opinion material when I need filler," she says.

"The ideal is to fill my pages and or website with as much local content as possible, and I believe we do a decent job of it. That includes the opinion section. We rarely have used editorials that are not local and written by staff in-house."

A new source

As editorial boards’ "staff in-house" becomes stretched, further reduced or just goes on vacation, Chris Trejbal has jumped in to fill the void.

In 2013, when his wife got an attractive job in Portland, Oregon, Trejbal left his editorial writing position at the Roanoke (Virginia) Times and headed to the Pacific Northwest.

He was pretty clear-eyed about his chances of finding a similar position. “The Roanoke Times had already gone through downsizing. I saw papers reducing editorial staff and I knew it wasn’t going to happen [for me] at the Oregonian," he says.

"All these papers are having smaller staffs, but have the same size editorial hole to fill. I figured it was a hole I could step into.

Trejbal founded Opinion in a Pinch.

Though the same budget crunch that has forced editorial boards to shed staff sometimes prevents them from hiring Trejbal to help fill space, he is building a solid base of clients [and has other veteran writer talent on tap, such as former AOJ president Miriam Pepper, retired from the Kansas City Star editorial page --Ed.].

And he can write opinions to the left, he can write them from the right, or he can opine straight down the middle, he says.

"When I worked for the [Bulletin, in Bend, Oregon], it was very conservative. I was the most liberal person on the board. Then I went to Roanoke, and I was most conservative person on the board," Trejbal says.

"You wind up writing editorials you don’t agree with. They’re challenging and they’re fun and make you think about issues from different perspectives."

He says his experience is his strongest lure: "I know editors don’t want some random schmo writing their editorials."

Or doing any navel-gazing.

More Masthead editor's notes:

Doing more with less is a recurring theme of mutually supportive exchanges on the AOJ members' discussion list. The coping that some describe here has been going on, and listers have been discussing it, for more than a decade. We anticipate that the list will not just survive, but will thrive, after AOJ's merger into the American Society of News Editors. For an essay on the list, its archives, and application (which is separate from but depends upon AOJ membership), see https://aoj.wildapricot.org/discussion-list.

For a graphic look at how overall newspaper staffing in particular has declined since 1990, as online-only jobs have grown, see the chart in this Bureau of Labor Statistics report or read Harvard Nieman Labs' take on it (also with chart):




Nancy Ancrum is editorial page editor of the Miami Herald. Her Herald online bio says she is "a native New Yorker who has finally come around [for]... sunshine and palm trees." She has been a foundation trustee of AOJ since early 2015 and is co-chair of the transition group that will form ASNE's opinion journalism committee. 

Historic gathering of leaders, rapid progress on merger

AOJ's role in ASNE is taking shape

Posted by 5/19/2016 by John McClelland

Leaders at AOJ board meeting, Washington DC, May 15, 2016. Standing L-R, Mizell Stewart, ASNE president-elect; Jennifer Hemmingsen, AOJ secretary; Rosemary Ohara, trustee; David Haynes, AOJ president;  Teri Hayt, ASNE executive director; seated L-R, Miriam Pepper, Carolyn Lumsden, Chris Trejbal, Nancy Ancrum, trustees. Other AOJ trustees including Paula Lynn Ellis and treasurer Dan Morain, participated by telephone.

Top leadership of AOJ and the American Society of News Editors met face-to-face to get the merger of AOJ and ASNE rolling.

Two members of ASNE's top leadership, Executive Director Teri Hayt and President-Elect Mizell Stewart, joined the AOJ board at the May 15 meeting for discussion on next steps in the merger. 

Stewart told the group that the ASNE board voted unanimously for a change in bylaws that allowed the merger with almost no questions “because we have been discussing expansion, and this, for months.”

ASNE has been involved in “a broad re-thinking” of its role, he said, to “focus on leadership, not just on the leaders of newsrooms,” that is, people who “aspire to be leaders (and those who) interact with leaders” and to “create relationships that change careers.”

The AOJ board approved a budget for the rest of the year at the meeting, which was similar to last year's, minus expenses for a Symposium and including full support for the Minority Writers Workshop. It took care of some other housekeeping items, such as approving minutes and financial reports. Despite a downturn in book value of investments and a desire to see the seminar better endowed, finances remain solid.

The board named AOJ President David Haynes (Milwaukee) as the opinion journalism member to be appointed to the ASNE board. For the opinion journalism committee within ASNE, the board elected co-chairs Nancy Ancrum (Miami) and Jennifer Hemmingsen (Iowa). Current officers and trustees will be its members initially.

AOJ members already can register for the Sept. 11-14 ASNE convention at the reduced rate of $150. Hayt and Stewart said they are eligible now for member rates at three leadership training or professional conferences coming up in June and a two-day pre-convention leadership workshop.

A link to convention information and the discount code is here via member login on the AOJ website.


Members whose renewals are overdue or lapsed might still be able to use it. Hayt said she has a staff person who does mostly membership work and they want to invite all former AOJ members back into the fold. That fold includes, Stewart said, people who are engaged in thought leadership in their communities.

The merger, approved by the AOJ board on May 5, is expected to be complete later this year.

State Department briefings May, 2016, in Masthead

State Dept asserts: progress and crises

Posted 5/26/2016 by Chuck Stokes

Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken set the tone for recent daylong briefings with members and guests of the Association of Opinion Journalists (AOJ). (Video: https://youtu.be/lZz3d11A_6Y)

The veteran government official used the meeting to drive home the department’s message that American diplomacy and leadership are vibrant.

“We are doing more in more places than we’ve ever done before,” he said. And with only about 7 months remaining on the Obama administration’s term in office, Blinken declared, “It’s a strong record!”

Back in the 1990’s, he was a speech writer for then-President Bill Clinton. Blinken’s presentation to the group of editorial writers and collumnists from across the nation was delivered in the written-spoken form he has mastered. One by one, the Harvard and Columbia Law School graduate ticked off what he believes are recent U.S. accomplishments under Secretary of State John Kerry.

Blinken credited American diplomacy with:

  • pulling 65 countries together to combat Daesh, or ISIL-ISIS,
  • organizing the fight to stop the spread of Ebola,
  • a “revitalized” NATO,
  • improved relationships with many Asian Pacific and African nations,
  • re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba,
  • making it “very difficult for Iran to get a nuclear weapon in the future”, and
  • taking the lead in getting 195 countries to reach an agreement on climate control.

Blinken referred to a Hollywood movie classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” with actor Jimmy Stewart, to illustrate the important role America is playing around the world: “We all know what happened to Bedford Falls (the fictional town in the movie) when the lead character, George Bailey, … is taken out of the picture.” Then he drew this analogy, “If you take America out of the picture of any of the issues I described … I guarantee you the situations would be far worse.”

But Blinken saved his strongest remarks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement and the global refugee and migration crisis, setting a tone for other presentations. He said America is trying to lead with a “sense of purpose” and from a “position of strength.” He said it was important to act at home the way we would like the world to act abroad.

As for the TPP, the largest free trade area ever, the State Department’s position is that the trade deal is needed as much from a “strategic position” as from “an economic one.” Blinken emphatically said, “Trade is going to happen one way or the other. The real question is: Who gets to shape the rules?” He speculated that if it’s not the U.S., then it would probably be China and that would not be good for America regarding the rules for worker rights, the environment, intellectual property and transparency.

He said the global refugee crisis is not just limited to Syria: “This is the largest single wave of human displacement we’ve seen since World War II.” He said great numbers of people are being displaced from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Central America, Nigeria and more.

Kerry is committed to trying to end the civil war in Syria, Blinken said. To point out the magnitude of the problem, he stated, “There are more Syrians in public schools in Lebanon than there are Lebanese.”

And the controversial number of Syrian refugees President Barack Obama wants to take into the U.S. – 10,000 – is miniscule compared to the huge number Lebanon has already absorbed. To draw attention to the crisis, President Obama will convene a refugee crisis summit in September. There will be an international call to draw more resources for resettlement, jobs and access to schools.

Blinken told of a recent meeting he had with Syrian teenage refugees. Despite their circumstances, he said they were optimistic and had a “vision for their future.” He connected with them by pulling out his iPhone and asked them who founded the company that created it. One of the kids said, “Steve Jobs of Apple.” Blinken then made his young audience aware that Jobs’ father came from Syria and that the next Steve Jobs could be sitting in that room.

“Our job,” Blinken later told the American journalists sitting in the packed State Department briefing, “is to at least give them a chance to do that.”

Chuck Stokes is the editorial/public affairs director for WXYZ-TV/Channel 7 in Detroit. He produces Spotlight on the News, Michigan’s longest-running public affairs show; a past president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers (now AOJ) and of its Foundation, Michigan Broadcasters Hall of Fame 2011, AOJ life member 2012, and immediate past chairman of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Foundation.

  • Blinken video: America still leads (1 minute 40 secs) https://youtu.be/lZz3d11A_6Y
    • Blinken video pushing TPP is in Masthead trade article.
      • Transcript of Blinken's remarks: http://www.state.gov/s/d/2016d/257280.htm

Cyberworld: probe, intrusion, attack, war?

By Aaron Frechette

Cyberspace is a relatively new frontier in diplomacy. But in an interconnected world that is increasingly reliant on secure Internet networks, and perhaps more vulnerable, it has now become a key issue for the U.S. State Department and its counterparts worldwide.

The threats come from a wide variety of governmental and non-governmental actors, officials say.

Christopher Painter, the U.S. coordinator of cyber Issues, told journalists assembled for the May 16 Association of Opinion Journalists Annual State Department briefing that it’s time for the U.S. to “up our game” diplomatically. He said there is a need to tackle a wide array of “cross-cutting” cyber issues. Those include finding and advocating for the proper balance of Internet freedom in nations not as inclined to allow it, and developing rules for cyber governance.

That’s a tall order since cyberspace tends to defy traditional borders and jurisdictions.

Among they key priorities of U.S. cyber policy coordinated by Painter:

  • promoting norms of responsible state behavior and cyber stability,
  • advancing cybersecurity,
  • fighting cybercrime,
  • promoting multi-stakeholder Internet governance and
  • advancing Internet freedom.

“We’ve been at this for 26 years,” Painter told the AOJ gathering. What was once considered a “boutique issue” or a technical issue, he said, has now become a major national security issue that also applies to economic well being, human rights and foreign policy.

In recognition of the importance of this issue worldwide, 22 foreign ministries have agreed to a subset of cyber-issues to address together, with bilateral discussions being held around the world.

Significantly, India and Brazil have also become more engaged in these discussions and engaged in “confidence building measures” with the diplomatic corps.

"There has also been a “breakthrough discussion with China,” Painter said. He told the group that there is a cyber law component to the discussions, every time the president meets with another head of state.

“The technical threat landscape is ever greater,” Painter said, noting that it’s clear that “cyber capabilities are one part of every country's arsenal.” While the potential exists for cyberattacks – a term that is sometimes misused by the media – it remains unclear how these capabilities might be used in a conflict.

(Link to extended material on intrusion-attack)

(1-minute video of Painter on this)

The potential of damaging – even devastating – cyberattacks could be targeted to undermine or destroy critical infrastructure, such as power grids, the financial system and even health systems.

A tremendous amount of economic and political power is held within the largely unregulated realm of cyberspace.

When it comes to U.S. cyber policy within the federal bureaucracy, “Now there is commonality of purpose in the U.S. government,” Painter said. 

 The State Department is wisely working cooperatively to broker agreements that extend a commonalty of purpose worldwide to create a free, yet safer and more secure cyber landscape for all.

Aaron Frechette is the Editorial Page Editor for The Herald News, Fall River, Mass. Email him at afrechette@heraldnews.com.

Editor's note on "attack" and "intrusion": Painter did not elaborate. Loosely, "attack" seemingly means entering a computer system to do harm, and "intrusion" means entering to see what, including defenses or proprietary information, is there, implying an ability to do future harm or steal information. However, usages vary.

Stealing information is sometimes called a form of attack ("passive attack" in some federal definitions) and "intrusion" in others, including apparently Painter's May 16 comments (see the video). Intrusion does harm, but not by disrupting the system.

Disrupting the system is "active attack" in many definitions. 

Agencies have more nuanced, and not always consistent, versions of the more detailed definitions of these terms and at least one is downright scary:

  • Cyber attack: … to disrupt or damage control systems or major infrastructure ... to inflict a severe loss on the targeted nation’s economy, military capability, well being of the populace, and continuity of government. Cyber attacks would include an “armed attack” as described in the discussion of deterrence and trigger points; one with effects that equate to an act of war [emphasis added].

In an advisory board report: http://www.state.gov/t/avc/isab/229023.htm#appendixb

Painter biography uses “intrusion” in a broad generic sense.


Keynoter: diplomat Robert Hormats, at U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum, used “intrusion” to include theft of information: … "The level of cyber intrusions emanating from China that result in theft of valuable propriet[ar]y information has reached an unprecedented level. … a big part of the mistrust I mentioned earlier. …" [emphasis added]


The Homeland Security Glossary:

  • active attack ... An actual assault perpetrated by an intentional threat source that attempts to alter a system, its resources, its data, or its operations.
  • passive attack ... An actual assault perpetrated by an intentional threat source that attempts to learn or make use of information from a system, but does not attempt to alter the system, its resources, its data, or its operations.
  • intrusion... An unauthorized act of bypassing the security mechanisms of a network or information system.
    • https://niccs.us-cert.gov/glossary

The FBI's public-info page on intrusions uses the terms almost interchangeably:

  • Computer Intrusions:
    • Bots. Worms. Viruses. Spyware. Malware. Hacking. ... Every day …Who is behind such attacks? It runs the gamut … to spies and terrorists looking to rob our nation of vital information or launch cyber strikes. ... Today, these computer intrusion cases—counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal—are the paramount priorities...
      • https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/computer-intrusions

Got it? 

Trade and strategy: facts and emotion

By Paul Sullivan

International trade, globalization and trade agreements are complex on their own. Strategic issues make things even more complex. When unemployment and the decline of the middle class enter the discussion, it can get more emotional than factual.

A saying that “bad lawyers make bad law” has a counterpart in trade issues: Bad economic reasoning and debate points make for bad policies. One of my favorite economics professors at Yale said theory and applied economics often have very good answers, but then “the politicians just mess it all up.”

On May 16, a group from the Association of Opinion Journalists heard from some of the brightest in the administration on trade and economic issues: Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy; Antony Blinken, assistant secretary of state; Rodney Ludema, chief economist in the State Department; and William Craft, deputy assistant secretary, in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

It was a complex discussion, but some of it can be summarized with this from Ludema: “95 percent of the world’s consumers are outside the U.S. and ... the Asia-Pacific region is among the fastest growing, making it vital that we open up access to those markets for U.S. exporters."

Ludema also said, during his panel's pitch for the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership: “Much of the opposition to TPP is opposition to globalization, which is not the result of trade agreements. Advancements in technology and changing development strategies in developing countries have been disruptive. You cannot move nearly a billion people out of subsistence agriculture and into manufacturing in the span of 25 years – as happened in China – and expect that it will not cause some disruptions in the world economy...

"The point of TPP is to respond to globalization and make it work for our workers, companies and farmers...

“TPP breaks down barriers to services exports. The service sector employs 80 percent of Americans and we are the world leader in services exports. We also have a large trade surplus in services, meaning we export more than we import...

“The many rules that TPP contains give certainty to U.S. exporters and prevent races to the bottom in, for example, labor or environmental standards.”

Zients focused on the economic importance of the TPP countries, which right now are about 40 percent of the world economy and may be 50 percent of the world economy in the coming years. He sees the TPP as effectively a series of 18,000 tax cuts (tariff and non-tariff barrier cuts) that will help American businesses export their goods and services.

We have a large service export surplus, not a deficit, as is the case in goods trade, and the administration asserts that TPP could greatly help our service exports, not only by cutting the tariffs and non-tariff barriers, but also by setting up clearer and stronger rules for trade in goods and services.

Such rules would apply to the industries associated with them in the TPP countries. Zients says that TPP gives the U.S. the ability to write the rules, and that if we do not write the rules, others (China) will. The implication here is that Chinese rules would not follow American values or help American businesses (or even businesses in other Asia-Pacific countries) as much as the TPP would.

Craft got into the finer details of how TPP could help the U.S. economy and U.S. trade. He deftly explained the administration's pro-TPP perspective. 

 He also got somewhat into the issues of winners and losers from TPP and from free trade in general. Craft also briefly discussed a similar European-US partnership.

All four mentioned the strategic importance of TPP for the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. 

They said outright that TPP could have a greater strategic return than its economic return; without TPP the U.S. could lose not only credibility, but also some of its leadership in the region – and beyond. 

Blinken seemed to be the most emotional and determined on this issue. He asserted that TPP is not just a trade agreement, it is a strategic development document. 

(Video: in Blinken's own words, 3 minutes)

It was good to hear economic common sense from these four, but I could not help but think that the complexities of the winners and losers issues were not dealt with enough. Ludema and Craft mentioned the economic concept of net-job gains or losses. This is usually the way economists look at the benefits to trade. Some industries and related labor win, particularly those in growing export industries or those in increasingly competitive industries that are not harmed by imports.

Fixing the injuries

However, some industries and related labor are harmed by changes in trade. There is some help in the U.S., most notably the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program that was set up long ago to help those who could prove via a petition that they have been harmed by trade.

How offshore and onshore investments effect the U.S. economy also got bit of a short shrift in the meeting. International trade and international investment are intimately connected. It is often within the combination of these flows that some labor and economic growth and development issues can be handled at a policy level. I am sure the State Department is looking at these issues, but it would be good to hear more about them.

(Big-picture data show that trade deficits and unemployment go in opposite directions, contrary to public perceptions.)

The heated politics of trade and trade agreements took a back seat to the cooler, cerebral, yet political approach of these very good economic thinkers in these briefings.

However, more has to be done by the State Department and others to educate the public and its leaders – present and future -- about trade and trade agreements. This is clear from the paucity of intelligent debate in the presidential race and other political battles. 

 Outreach on this at many levels by the State Department and others could go a long way toward the right decisions at the right times.

Paul Sullivan is professor of economics at National Defense University and adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University.

[A dissent from within the AOJ group, by Celia Wexler, appears below the references.]

Links below for better understanding of trade issues.

(These may redirect your browser window; please use your browser's back button to return here.)

  • Business Roundtable, “Benefits of Trade and U.S. Trade Agreements”, http://businessroundtable.org/issues/international-engagement/benefits-trade-us-trade-agreements
  • CFR, “Backgrounder: The Future of U.S. Trade Policy”, http://www.cfr.org/trade/future-us-trade-policy/p36422
  • Fefer, Rachel, “U.S. Trade in Services: Trends and Policy Issues”, CRS, 3 November 2015, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43291.pdf
  • Ferguson, Ian, etal, The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Key Provisions and Issues for Congress”, CRS, 4 May 2016, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44489.pdf
  • Ferguson, Ian, etal, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership: In Brief”, CRS, 9 February 2016, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44278.pdf
  • Foroofhar, Rana, “Globalization has Created Wealth – but for Whom?”, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/globalisation-has-created-wealth-but-for-whom/
  • Jackson, James, “U.S. Trade with Free Trade Partners”, CRS, 21 May 2015, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44044.pdf
  • Morrison, Wayne, “U.S. Trade Concepts, Performance and Policy”, CRS, 25 March 2016, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33944.pdf
  • NPR, “Surprise: Americans Kind of like Trade”, http://www.npr.org/2016/03/20/470836658/surprise-americans-kind-of-like-trade
  • Petri, Peter and Michael Plummer, “Economics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership”, VOX EU, https://piie.com/publications/wp/wp16-2.pdf
  • Petri, Peter, “The Economic Implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership”, PIIE, https://piie.com/publications/wp/wp16-2.pdf
  • Rose, Steven, “The Truth about Trade and Job Losses”, Washington Monthly, 18 March 2016, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/republic3-0/2016/03/the_truth_about_trade_and_job059978.php
  • Solis, Maria, “The High Stakes of TPP Ratification: Implications for Asia-Pacific and Beyond”, Brookings, March/April 2016, http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2016/03/high-stakes-tpp-ratification-solis
  • The Economist, “Trade at What Price?” 2 April 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21695855-americas-economy-benefits-hugely-trade-its-costs-have-been-amplified-policy
  • The New York Times, “Room for Debate”, “Are Trade Agreements Good for Americans?” 17 March 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/03/17/are-trade-agreements-good-for-americans
  • USDOL, “What is Trade Adjustment Assistance”, https://www.doleta.gov/tradeact/factsheet.cfm
  • USTR, “18,000 Tax Cuts on Made-In-America Exports”, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/TPP-Guide-to-18000-Tax-Cuts.pdf
  • USTR, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership”, https://ustr.gov/tpp/
  • USTR, “Trans-Pacific Partnership”, https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/trans-pacific-partnership
  • USTR, “The United States of Trade”, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/United%20States%20of%20Trade.pdf
  • Williams, Brock, etal, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Strategic Implications”, CRS, 3 February 2016, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44361.pdf
  • Zoellick, Robert, “Trade is a National Security Imperative”, Wall Street Journal, 16 March 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/trade-is-a-national-security-imperative-1463440063

A dissenting view by Celia Wexler of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Professor Sullivan did a very good job reporting on the State Department's views, and I appreciate all the links. I'm sending along this link because TPP is a massive agreement that goes far beyond exports and imports, tariffs and quotas, or even job losses or gains.The State Department largely reflects the views of corporate America on trade. I believe it's always good to hear another viewpoint. Blog is embedded with links from alternative sources.  


Iran nuke deal may be 'break it and you own it'

Posted 7/6/2016 by Mustafa Malik

Paul Ryan tried to suppress a touch of elation when he declared* that the Iran nuclear deal was “starting to unravel.” The House speaker, many of his fellow Republicans and the Israeli right, anticipate that the next administration and Congress will junk the agreement between six key nations and Iran.

It reminds me of a Jay Lano TV spoof: "A retired Air Force colonel said that U.S. military operations are already under way in Iran,” the comedian said. "That means … break out the old 'Mission Accomplished' banner."

On May 1, 2003, 11 days after U.S. troops seized the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, President George W. Bush, in a flight suit, landed on an aircraft carrier anchored near San Diego. His self-congratulatory talk was overshadowed by the huge "Mission Accomplished" banner hanging behind him. The real Iraq war would begin soon after that. Iraqi guerrillas would stream into the streets and alleys of Iraqi cities and towns and engage U.S. and allied forces in a long, ferocious struggle. In a decade, close to a million Iraqis and 4,000 American troops would perish. Iraq came unglued. And the Islamic State terrorist nightmare arose.

Behind Leno’s joke lurks a chilling warning about the possibility of America blundering into a war with Iran, triggered by the rejection of the Iran nuclear deal. Could the next administration really scrub the accord? Stephen Mull, the U.S. diplomat charged with seeing through the implementation of the accord, wouldn’t rule it out.

“It’s not a treaty,” he told me. “The next president can tear it up.” He was explaining to a group of us from the Association of Opinion Journalists the details of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the official name of the Iran accord. 

(Links to a set of short videos of Mull's statements)

During the May 16 State Department AOJ briefing, Mull praised Iran’s agreement with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia) and Germany, called p5+1. He said the agreement already had achieved a major foreign policy goal that the United States had been pursuing for many years: elimination of a nuclear threat from Iran.

The JCPOA had, he continued, accomplished all this:

It got Tehran to slash its stockpile of low-enriched uranium hexafluorideby 98 percent, from 12,000 kilograms to 300.

It bars the Islamic Republic from enriching uranium above 3.67 percent, far below the level required to make a nuclear bomb.

The Iranians had to reduce their stock of 19,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges to about 5,000.

They destroyed part of a "heavy-water" reactor that could have produced plutonium and agreed to redesign it to be unable to make weapons-grade material.

Their nuclear sites came under “24/7 inspection” by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a degree of openness "as no nuclear program … has ever been."

Procurement of any equipment or material for the nuclear energy program came under UN Security Council supervision.

These and other provisions of the pact, the diplomat emphasized, have cut off every possible way for Iran to make nuclear weapons. 

He described how a violation could "snap-back" the sanctions that had so squeezed Iran's economy that it agreed to deal. Before the deal, Iran could have had enough "fissile material" for a bomb with about 90 days' work; now, intel agencies estimate at least a year, he said.

Strong opposition

A majority of the Republican-majority in Congress has been dead-set against the JCPOA. Forty-seven U.S. senators have sent an open letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warning Iran’s supreme leader: “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen.”

The deal is likely to come up for review by the next president, whoever that is.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, has denounced it as “horrible” and vowed to scrub it, if elected president.

Democrat Hillary Clinton has long been antagonistic to Iran. As President Obama’s secretary of state, she had to lead the U.S. diplomatic team to negotiating the Iran deal, and she obviously has to defend it in her presidential campaign.

And yet, hours after the United States dropped its part of the multilateral sanctions against Iran as required by the JCPOA, Clinton demanded new U.S. sanctions, citing Tehran’s testing of its Shahab-3 ballistic missile. The JCPOA doesn’t bar such tests, but she argued that Tehran was “violating UN Security Council resolutions with its ballistic missile program.”

America can, as Mull pointed out, scrub the agreement. 

But then what? 

 Despite their internal political feuds, the Iranians are a deeply patriotic nation, large swaths of which are pulsating with revolutionary zing. Iran’s population and military power are more than thrice those of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. America can start a conflict with Iran and throw a “Mission Accomplished” party after a likely initial victory.

But only Iran could end such a war. With its network of activists and militias across the “Shiite Crescent,” the Islamic Republic could set the Middle East on fire, which probably wouldn’t stop before consuming many of America’s interests and endangering its hegemony in Muslim west Asia.

In 2002, Colin Powell unsuccessfully advised President Bush against invading Iraq. The secretary of state warned of a costly and long-lasting quagmire and said the president would come to own the Iraqis and all their problems. His point has been called "the 'Pottery Barn rule': If you break it, you own it."**

Maybe someone should remind our hawks of that, again.

Mustafa Malik worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for the Hartford Courant, Glasgow Herald and other newspapers. He writes about international affairs for various American and overseas newspapers and journals.

He posted an extensive blog essay asserting that extremism in the Middle East, including violent perversions of Islam, is fueled by American amnesia about past exploitation and violence and that our State Department contacts do not fully recognize this.

Added-by-editor resources:


Last year, State Department leaders told the AOJ briefing in effect that Iran is likely to remain "a bad actor" no matter what, but the agreement would prevent it from becoming "a bad actor with nukes." https://aoj.wildapricot.org/MH2015#iran-deal

*Ryan comment (one version)  http://opinion.injo.com/2016/05/255850-everything-president-obama-promised-us-about-the-iran-deal-is-starting-to-unravel/ (back to top of article)

**The "Pottery Barn rule" is not a policy of that brand of retail stores. Powell denied using the stores' name, but in a 2012 first-person article in Newsweek, he said "If you break it you own it" was a way to convey the concept to Bush. There's a lot more to it....

  • (UPDATE of 11/21/2016: Poynter's Jim Warren commented on the "real roots" of the phrase, as "pottery store rule" in a N.Y. Times column by Thomas Friedman in 2003:)
    • http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/12/opinion/present-at-what.html
  • Also (as previously published):
    • http://www.newsweek.com/colin-powell-bush-administrations-iraq-war-mistakes-65023
    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pottery_Barn_rule
    • http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/04/a-conversation-with-colin-powell/305873/
    • http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/the-pottery-barn-rule-syria-edition/408193/ 

Videos from Mull's briefing:

  • Background on the long process (2 mins 22 sec)
  • Steps to reach "implementation day" (2:26)
  • Snap-back if Iran renegs (1:36)
  • How the economic sanctions worked (2:09)

Public leads legislators on renewed Cuba trade

Posted 5/20/2016 by Margie Arons-Barron

Polls make it clear that the American public is ahead of Congress in supporting normalization of relations and opening trade with Cuba.

That doesn't mean regaining normal relations will be easy or fast. That was unequivocally confirmed by Gonzalo Gallegos, deputy assistant secretary of state for western affairs. 

The current point man for U.S. diplomacy in the hemisphere, he spoke at a State Department briefing Monday for 30 members and guests of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

Sixty-two percent of one key poll's respondents favor ending the embargo, even though just 40 percent think it will restore democracy to Cuba. A majority of the public approves of the way that the Obama administration is handling the issue.

The administration's approach hasn't changed since Under Secretary Roberta Jacobson spoke to AOJ last year: small steps to build trust, enabling the two countries to deal gradually with some of the more contentious issues dividing them.

The immediate focus, therefore, is strengthening people-to-people links, assisting entrepreneurs to tap economic opportunities and working to open the internet and telecommunications. That goal, Gallegos said, is so the "broadest swath of Cubans" can better see what's happening in the world around them.

Focusing on the relatively easy activities (agriculture, maritime, civil aviation, climate change, for example) helps deepen dialogue around the more difficult challenges of human rights, press freedom, claims, and fugitives.

"The President has said that the future of Cuba is for Cubans to decide," Gallegos declared.

Not all Cubans I spoke with there a year ago are so sanguine.

Many Cubans working on normalization are still uneasy that Cuban culture will be diluted as American businesses enter the new market. The people of Cuba are friendly, optimistic about the new opening and proud of their heritage. They are quick to point out that "big countries do what they want; small countries do what they must."

Broader view of the Americas

A current theme in Obama foreign policy is trying to help other nations improve governance and fortify the underpinnings of their economies, to improve from the conditions that drive immigration and increase crime.

A key concern is the situation in Haiti, Gallegos said, where the "people deserve to have their voices heard." The United States is pushing the interim government to complete the electoral process and achieve a democratically elected government.

“Our one true success in nation building" Gallegos said, has been in Colombia, where our embassy has grown from 500 individuals to 3,000. Conditions were ripe because the people of Colombia wanted change and forced their government to respond, there were well trained police and military to move against criminals, and the government was able to expend significant resources.

For every dollar the United States invested, Gallegos said, the Colombian government put up $10.

The changing relationship with Cuba is unique. 

Gallegos, who served in Cuba from 2002-2004 under President George W. Bush, declined to speculate on any time table for regularizing relations. 

He certainly wouldn't hazard a guess of how much progress would have to be made to persuade Congress to lift the embargo ("There is no micrometer"), nor would he predict what will happen when Raoul Castro leaves office as expected in 2018.

The goal of a peaceful, prosperous and ultimately democratic Cuba is out there. How far out is the great unanswered question.

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. She wrote for Masthead from last year's State briefing and traveled to Cuba.


Some of those polls are linked here, with comments by Masthead's editor, John McClelland, who once taught polling basics for journalists in college. 

To better grasp the numbers in any poll, look at the fine print about how and when and by whom (and for whom!) the poll was done, how many responded, the overall margin, and if stated (it too rarely is) the larger margin for each sub-group. 

Bear in mind, too, that nearly all polling is subject to being outside the statistical margins about one time in 20. And things change over time and with even minor variations in wording. To evaluate a poll, one simply must see the wording. Even then, take it with a largish grain of salt.

  • http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/international/obama-in-cuba
    • March, while President Obama was there; almost 60 percent favor opening, but only 40 percent think it will make a big difference.
  • http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cbsnyt-poll-majority-of-americans-support-restoring-us-cuba-ties/
    • CBS website version of the same polling.
  • http://www.gallup.com/poll/1630/cuba.aspx
    • Extensive questions, taken repeatedly by an icon of polling.
  • http://www.people-press.org/2015/07/21/growing-public-support-for-u-s-ties-with-cuba-and-an-end-to-the-trade-embargo/
    • Share favoring relations rose 10 points to 70, including 59 percent of Republicans favoring an end to the trade embargo.
  • http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/majority-americans-favor-cuba-diplomatic-relations-trade-embargo-poll-120417
    • Discusses 3 summer 2015 polls; caution: the site starts intrusive audio about 2 seconds after the page top loads; bleccch!
  • http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article50333245.html
    • Miami Herald long article on rising support among Cuban-Americans; full poll below.
  • http://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article50333010.ece/binary/Read%20the%20full%20survey 
    • You must scroll way down through Obama approval ratings for the Cuban-Americans' views on normalization, 56 percent pro. This is a small poll (400, barely over the norm for a 5 percent overall margin) but it is also bilingual and makes an ambitious attempt to deal with parameters such as when the respondents' families arrived in the U.S.
  • http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/07/27/424736858/republicans-stand-against-cuba-change-despite-public-opinion-shift 
    • Discussion of polling on the issue and on the crowded field of presidential wannabees at the time; notable because of stating the shift among Cuban-Americans in Florida from strongly pro-embargo to slightly pro-lifting.

It's a global refugee crisis

By Dan Simpson

Anne Richard, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration for five years, emphasizes three key points about the current situation:

  1. The problem of refugees and migration has now reached the level of global crisis.
  2. It is critical, particularly in terms of U.S. policy, that people understand that refugees in general are victims, not terrorists.
  3. It is important for Americans to understand that the United States has always been -- and needs to remain -- a world leader on humanitarian issues.

(Video: https://youtu.be/wKFnslWG29A)

Richard, who has led on these matters since then-Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton brought her into the department, followed Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken's talk to the 2016 AOJ State Department briefing. [They, and others, made it clear that refugee matters were among a few high-priority topics.]

Richard outlined the scope of the problem:

  • There are now some 60 million displaced persons in the world.
  • Of those, 40 million are internally displaced persons.
  • The other 20 million are refugees, including 5 million Palestinians.
  • Migration from the east into Europe is now the primary concern.
  • Among the less-publicized refugee populations are those originating in Burundi, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, and those from the Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia and Kenya.
  • She said Democratic Republic of Congo could soon be trouble.

The United States continues to lead the world in overseas aid to refugees and provides most of its funding through international organizations. The current U.S. Agency for International Development budget in that area amounts to $3 billion.

She said it is critical to maintain bipartisan and international support for dealing with the enormous, growing refugee problem.

Resettlement in the U.S:

Another important part of her portfolio, Richard said, is the issue of resettlement of refugees in the United States. The process is long and complex, including vetting, resettling, and integration of candidates for resettlement.

The U.S. government says it will admit 85,000 refugees, including at least 10,000 from Syria, by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

(update 5/31/16: criticism that pace lags; link on this page)

It is safe to say, Richard said, that 100 percent of the administration supports fulfillment of these goals. On the other hand, some 31 governors have expressed opposition, as well as numerous members of Congress.

Another subject of concern to the Department of State is current host countries’ treatment of refugees. In many cases, adults cannot get work and children cannot go to school, for example.

Questions and Answers:

  • Q. What about the U.S. southern border influx? Central America and other sources?
    • A. There is no one solution to that problem. One is to attack the crime in countries of origin that prompts the exodus. Some countries are attacking the crime problem, but there is still the issue of people in danger. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is also addressing that problem, working with the governments concerned.
  • Q. Does the vetting process seek to sort out the refugees/terrorists issue?
    • A. Yes. There are also the tough medical cases. Candidates for resettlement in the United States are subject to a detailed scrape-down, including their prospects for jobs and public education in the sites under consideration.
    • [link to State page that details an 18-24 month process]
  • Q. What of refugees fleeing sexual and religious-based violence?
    • A. There is also the question of religious groups persecuting each other. Congress is particularly concerned about treatment overseas of Christians. Secretary of State John Kerry has initiated a "Safe from the Start" program to address particularly that issue. It was also a topic at the recent Washington Nordic heads of state meeting. [Example of efforts to reduce sexual abuse: solar-powered walkway lights to refugee camp latrines to help protect women using them at night.]

Links to additional resources from State Department:

  • http://www.state.gov/j/prm/ra/
  • http://uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum
  • https://www.wrapsnet.org/default.aspx

Dan Simpson is a retired Foreign Service Officer, who was U.S. Ambassador to the Central African Republic, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He now writes a daily editorial and a weekly column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on foreign affairs, national politics and economics.

For Simpson's column "The 'Blob' in Washington is not amused" by Ben Rhodes' calling out of the diplomacy establishment and ill-informed media, see the Post-Gazette: http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/dan-simpson/2016/05/25/Dan-Simpson-The-Blob-in-Washington-is-not-amused/stories/201605240023

For Rhodes' 2015 briefing to AOJ, with photo, go to Masthead-2015 and click or scroll to the Iran deal article

Updated 5/31/16: U.S. lags on Obama goal of 10,000 Syrian refugees to U.S. before Sept. 30. NY Times 5/31 p.A1. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/31/us/politics/as-us-admits-migrants-in-a-trickle-critics-urge-obama-to-pick-up-the-pace.html?_r=0

Against terror, focus shifts to roots

Posted 5/17/2016 by Bill McGoun

The fight against terrorism is being realigned to focus more on causes, Justin Siberell told members of the Association of Opinion Journalists during their annual State Department briefing.

Siberell, the department’s acting coordinator for counterterrorism, didn’t use the word "causes." He spoke of “drivers,” but his meaning was clear. (video 3 mins)

The shift came out of a directive from President Obama in 2014, Siberell said. In the face of continuing expansion of terrorist groups, he said, the foes of terrorism need to do more to expand efforts upfront. An action plan is to be considered by the United Nations this summer.

One important aspect, he said in response to a question, is to figure out what radicalizes people in the United States. He said anti-gang models might be useful. Earlier, he had spoken of the Strong Cities Network, which looks at effective responses to radicalization.

While early intervention has its place, it is no substitute for training security forces for response. He also mentioned such prosecutorial tools as financial intervention.

The question of social media is not simple. “We have a fundamental principle of openness,” he said. On the other hand, “You need to deny the platform” to terrorists. The U.S. has asked companies to enforce rules, he said.

One point on which he was adamant was in rejecting the idea that U.S. policy had anything to do with creating terrorism. “I reject the statement that the United States is responsible,” he said in response to a question. He added that factors in specific conflicts are highly localized.

Later in the day John Kirby, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, was asked a similar question and gave a similar answer. Any scenario that blames U.S. policy is simplistic, he said. The Islamic State developed in a Syria that had a power vacuum and succeeded in Iraq because the government there had allowed the army to decay, Kirby said.

Siberell conceded that we are not sufficiently organized to address an enemy that uses public beheadings to make its point. On the brighter side, he said that the likelihood of terrorist incidents in the U.S. is low, though “We always have to adapt.”

He summarized the new emphasis by saying, “We’ll be shifting a bit more on the upstream end.” Exactly how that will work was unclear to us, and perhaps to him as well.

 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.

Staff cutbacks limit daily local editorials

Editors share ways of retaining, or enhancing, quality even with far fewer hands at work.

Posted 2/24/2016 by Bill McGoun

The daily locally written editorial is becoming an endangered species.

Cutbacks have left more and more newspapers, even relatively large ones, with one-person opinion departments. Frequently, that person has other duties as well. Under those conditions, something has to give, and that something often is the daily editorial.

For example, in 2000 the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times had a four-person opinion staff: the editorial-page editor, two editorial writers and a reader-submissions editor. Today the editorial-page editor is alone.

The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., also has just the editorial-page editor today where once it had three other people. There is, however, a reader representative who handles letters; and an associate editor writes some editorials, according to Editorial Page Editor Jay Jochnowitz.

Having fewer editorials is not necessarily a bad thing, according to two AOJ members.

“We only write four editorials a week, and have been doing so for three years or so. The editorials are of a much better quality as a result,” said Susan Parker, engagement and community content editor for the Delmarva Media Group.

In Tucson, “We have decided to publish fewer but better quality local editorials, rather than try to fill that well every day just to do it,” said Sarah Garrecht Gassen of the Arizona Daily Star. In addition to being a columnist and the paper’s only full-time editorial writer, Gassen is the newspaper’s apprentice/intern manager.

The Times Union has reduced its output from two editorials a day to seven a week, with two on Sunday and none on Saturday, Jochnowitz said. [The Chicago Sun-Times with plural ed-page people has long omitted Saturdays, but often does two editorials on other days –Ed.] The Citizen-Times runs locally-written editorials only an average of three times a week.

The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Fla., no longer uses in-house editorials on Monday and Tuesday.

Newspapers use the space freed up in a variety of ways. “On days when we don't have a local editorial we will publish a syndicated or wire column daily, or sometimes another paper's editorial on a national topic,” Gassen said.

On Mondays, Delmarva uses wire copy, Parker said. “But on Tuesdays, we have a big feature called In Their Own Words, written by various people … Saturdays, we usually run either one of my own columns … or we run some other submitted or wire op-eds.”

Both editors stress the need for local content in lieu of editorials. “We have filled in gaps by using specifically designed reader contribution features in their place,” Parker wrote. 

Gassen said, “We make sure to have local content every day.”

The Citizen-Times has no set schedule for local editorials. On days without an editorial, the space often is filled with a syndicated column, usually on state politics. Other days, the entire page is devoted to letters to the editor.

The Palm Beach Post runs editorials from other papers on Monday and Tuesday.

Another way newspapers fill the gap is by having retired editorial writers chip in. I write one or two editorials each week for the Citizen-Times.

Three other AOJ members have banded together to serve about a dozen newspapers of all sizes around the country.

“I run a business called Opinion in a Pinch,” Christian Trejbal wrote. Others involved are former NCEW presidents Miriam Pepper and Dan Radmacher. “We write custom editorials that reflect the opinion of the editorial board." Trejbal said. "The paper we are writing for always determines the position and has complete editorial control.”

The editorial page itself seems safe for now from extinction, but its form definitely is changing, and the shrinking number of local editorials is one symptom.

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.

Some material for this article originated in posts to the AOJ members-only online discussion list in Google Groups, which allows members to vent or to share tips in a forum for free, frank, sometimes funny, often helpful, discussion among peers. We do not quote from it without permission. An article about the list, with instructions for getting onto it, stands online at http://opinionjournalists.org/discussion-list which is https://aoj.wildapricot.org/discussion-list 

If you are a member of the list and logged in to a Google service, such as Gmail, you can go directly to some archived discussions of this recurring topic at:


--John McClelland, Masthead editor