This page was current during summer 2016; AOJ is merging into the American Society of News Editors by Jan. 1, 2017.

Index 2014-a winter-midsummer

(Summer-Fall 2014 was posted in stages because we had to change web vendors. Articles from the previous server may contain broken links and content in wide tables.)

Some other 2014 articles are at MH2014)

Winter package on race:
Hateful voicemail & confederate symbols
Lost-cause myth endures
Racial blinkers in the press
Do Reb symbols invite editorial attack?

Winter-spring articles:
How to get usable op-eds from academics
Greenberg: Who killed the great editorials?
If an op-ed stinks, why does a flack push it?
On retracting endorsements gone-bad
Testing for factual-and-relevant letters
Minority Writers Seminar coming up
In Sunshine, we have a job to do
Horrid commenting trolls cost readers (study)
AOJ's Tony Messenger wins twice

(with State Department briefings*)
Media performance frustrates diplomats*
John Zakarian, a giant among us
Afghan election 'encouraging'*
Stategic rebalancing to continue*
AOJ member wins commentary Pulitzer
Climate-change briefings*
Poverty: security threat to the world*
AOJ & Foundation are on the move
Jobs DO exist
Book has pre-convention view of South
Water-war briefings*
Another editor stops online comments
Do editors print, edit Facebook posts?

(updated 2014-11-05)(reposted 1/5/2016)

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This page was current during summer 2016; AOJ is merging into the American Society of News Editors by Jan. 1, 2017.

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MH2014-a Winter package on race:

Hateful voicemail & Confederate symbols

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

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

By John McClelland

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

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

That nasty, anonymous person

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

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

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

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

Ah, The Costume

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Lost Cause'
myth endures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many cling to the myth of the Lost Cause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These numbers held across geographic and even racial lines.

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

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

Racial blinkers
in the press

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Observer apology 108 years later

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

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

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

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

Gift list:Prince's holiday list of books by or about minority opinionizers or activists: and possibly the most relevant of them, another anlysis of TV and press and civil rights:

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

Do Reb symbols invite editorial attack?

Mixed views of perceived media inertia on Confederate monuments

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

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

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

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

He did get a lively discussion going. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open mind in Deep South

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noah Berlatsky, the Atlantic: 12 Years a Slave's Reminder: Slaves Didn't Win Freedom by Being Manly(Oct. 18)

Joanne M. Braxton, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.: Watching '12 years a Slave' in the shadow of the Emancipation Oak(Oct. 26)

Callie Crossley with Phillip Martin, Kim McLarin, Peniel Joseph, Gayle Pemberton, "Basic Black," WGBH-FM, Boston: Hollywood and the Slave Narrative

Chauncey DeVega, Salon: The scary lesson of "12 Years a Slave": How little America has changed (Oct. 23)

Editorial, Boston Globe: '12 Years a Slave': How slavery looked to victims

Demetria L. Lucas, the Grio: '12 Years a Slave': Black audiences need more than slave narratives

Kenneth R. Morefield, Christianity Today: 12 Years a Slave: What could any of us do, but pray for mercy?(Oct. 18)

Kirsten West Savali, the Grio: Why the black backlash against '12 Years a Slave'?

Starita Smith, McClatchy-Tribune News Service: Why you must see "12 Years a Slave"

Akiba Solomon, ColorLines: How '12 Years a Slave' Exposes Early Rape Culture(Oct. 28)

Ray Subers, Weekend Report: 'Ender' Wins Box Office 'Game,' 'Thor' Mighty Overseas

Wendi C. Thomas, Commercial Appeal, Memphis: Nathan Bedford Forrest Park an ugly anchor to an embarrassing past (Feb. 9)

Armond White, New York Film Critics Circle: Dud of the Week: 12 Years a Slave

Some examples of recent changePrince found: 

With Paper's Support, Confederate Name Removed From Fla. School

In Memphis, Grave and Statue Remain, but Park Name Will Go 

So, one question:

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

Masthead 2014-a Winter-Spring articles

Getting readable op-eds from academe

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

Published Wednesday, February 19, 2014 6:00 pm by ed. J.McClelland

  A Magic Word for effective op-eds

By David Jarmul

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

The magic word was "I."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* The professor's article appeared several places; this online copy is in Newark

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Killing the great editorials

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

Published Sunday, February 23, 2014 by P.Greenberg; ed. J.McClelland

By Paul Greenberg

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

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

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

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

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

Readers knew...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What matters

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Greenberg is the (1969) Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

(c) 2014 Paul Greenberg, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Tribune Content Agency; used in Masthead by permission.

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

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

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

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

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

Jackman Wilson in Eugene posited thus:

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

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

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

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

        Never call on a Friday.

        Never send anything to a newspaper in Pensacola that might just as well be printed in Pocatello or Peoria.

        They're called opinion pages, not consumer-tips pages, book review pages or health-and-fitness pages.

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

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

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Retracting endorsements

Editors do withdraw support of pols & causes

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

(Update 2/19/16; jump to link list of prior endorsement articles)

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

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

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

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

Here was a quickie link to previous Masthead material on editorial endorsing, mostly whether and why to keep doing it. [Link expired 9/23/14; material has been archived on this site.] Updating link above (2/19/16):  Here are additional, untested, links to other Masthead material on endorsements. If they do not connect directly, try copy-paste in a fresh tab or window of your browser. You will need to use the index on the page the link takes you to.

(To skip links and continue article)

Pew study: political stance does affect choice (with links to filter-bubble concept) Chicago Sun-Times resumes endorsements

The argument about the value of endorsements could apply to any editorial, Dominick noted, and the solution to concerns about perceived bias is to “Write a ...

endorsement season, judicial races and candidate questionnaires. The part-time editorial assistant, who primarily processes letters, is a godsend during election.

If an op-ed stinks, why does a flack push it? On retracting endorsements gone- bad. Testing for factual-and-relevant letters. Minority Writers Seminar coming up

[Members-login only]: Video of full session on editorial's future, endorsements, more... .

And every election cycle you hear some pondering: Is it appropriate for newspapers to endorse political candidates or recommend voters support or oppose ...

Some candidates for office came in for interviews -- and some of them reputedly to beg him [Paul Greenberg] and our brave owner-publisher, Ed Freeman, NOT to endorse them.

About a year ago, some newspapers announced they would no longer do editorial endorsements of candidates, and members of AOJ's discussion list -- and a ...

Nov 16, 2015 ... Panel and audience share ideas on a crucial service (and on endorsements) in times of rapid change. From left, Rosemary O'Hara, South ... [article, photo, link to video?]

The attractive presentation of political endorsements could -- and probably should -- be emulated by any newspaper." The Daily Times Salisbury, MD. What the ...

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


"Chris Christie endorsement is regrettable: Moran ... Star-Ledger's endorsement of Gov. Chris Christie, or its regrets? N.Y. Times: Star-Ledger Editor Calls Endorsement of Christie 'Regrettable ... Star-Ledger's Christie Endorsement Retracted: 'We Blew This One …‎ Stigall on “Newspaper endorsements mean nothing. Newspapers are the dinosaurs that they are because of editorial pages like these. editorial boards and editors don't usually retract endorsements or express regrets … after a great...

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz's Hometown Paper Retracts Endorsement– BuzzFeed [overstating the situation?] Why we miss Kay Bailey Hutchison - Houston Chronicle ... When we endorsed Ted Cruz in last November's general election, we did so with many reservations and at least one specific recommendation … Leo Morris in Fort Wayne jumped on the Cruz thing, deprecating his own favorite endorsement retraction: "Would we have endorsed Bill Clinton if we knew then what we knew now? No, no, a thousand times no." Then, he writes, it repeated "no" 997 more times.

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

Retraction for our 1863 editorial calling Gettysburg Address 'silly' Nov 14, 2013 - We write today in reconsideration …The Patriot-News regrets the error. PennLive retraction ... spoofed… receiving national attention Another newspaper's second thoughts. Salt Lake Tribune looks back to 2010 … [but didn't actually endorse the Cruz ally] US paper retracts1863 editorial... [and scores of others around the world] would today's Patriot-News editorial board endorse Lincoln...? The Greatest Retraction Ever brief blog on they endorse many things, especially endorsements.

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

Chicago Tribune March 14, 2012 - on March 7, this page endorsed Smith. That's an endorsement we hereby retract. [State Rep. Derrick Smith was indicted by the Febs, expelled from the House, and ran again -- successfully. His bribery trial began in early 2104.] Smith endorsement retracted We hereby retract our endorsement March 7, 2012 - Skyline UPDATE: ...has retracted this endorsement.

Houston Chronicle Nov 6, 2011 ... we endorsed Manuel Rodriguez Jr. on the Houston [schools] ... We now retract that endorsement.‎ [unstable link; example of how interest groups seize upon editorial positions]. [Union-Tribune 2010] Mario Carrillo has made a fatal political error … we withdraw ...

Don't re-elect Justice Richard ... 2010 - This page takes the unusual step of withdrawing its endorsement of Sanders.

Pendergraph's Charlotte Observer Endorsement Retracted 2012 "... how he would act in Congress a mystery" [the original is paywalled, widely cited.]

This got an example of the vitriol that abounds on all sides of the partisan fence: GOP'er Endorsement Retracted due to Arpaio …


Old Youth: Some college publications have access to memories older than their editors' lifetimes. Marquette University student government, 1988 to 2013: The Tribune retracted its original editorialsupporting both candidates ... 

SEO oh-oh:

Search engines also find things we didn't want. This Google hit pointed deeply into a reader's verbose rant below a sigh-of-relief editorial. Only two more to go, Naples Daily News 2012 - board has concluded its recommendations ... [reader rant] The Daily News should retract the endorsement of Obama...

Long memories, sometimes:The Web still finds old criticism of a New York Times shift, but it took digging to find the originals (Too many websites fail to use links): The editorial board issued a half-hearted retraction a few days later. N.Y. Times April 13, 2002...Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator N.Y. Times Apr 16, 2002… his forced departure last week drew applause at home ...That reaction, which we shared, overlooked the undemocratic manner in which he was removed. Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how badly he has performed, is never something to cheer.

It's not just us:

About a third of the first 400 hits were medical-scientific journal citations editorially retracting research reports. This one in Publication Ethics is job-specific and links to a pdf of guidelines for such journals that might help journalists: Guidelines for retracting ...Becoming an editor of a journal is an exciting but daunting task... [No kidding! Tell some newspaper and news-site editors!]

Horsewhips or pistols?

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


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

Relevant, factual letters?

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

Published Wednesday, March 5, 2014 by J.McClelland

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

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

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

Do you verify authorship? How?

Do you require non-digital confirmation?

Do you publish from handwritten paper mail?

Do you have different standards for print and online?

How much fact-checking can you do? (see Nolan 2009, Jochnowitz  2013)

What is your word limit? Is it absolute? Same online and in print?

Do you limit frequency of individuals letters?

How do you deal with trolls and bigots? (a panel topic at three or more recent conventions)

Do you give preference to local writers? Local topics?

What about public figures' ghosted submissions?

Campaign-season mail by, or about, candidates?

Do you reward prolific writers (annual dinner or such)?

How do you handle online comment below letters?

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

Here's a small part of the recent go-round. (back to top)

"What is your policy on letters about abortion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some listen when we explain; some just rant.

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

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

Susan Parker of the Daily Times in Salisbury, Md., posted three paragraphs: "The biggest problem I have, too, [is] the 'facts' that aren't really factual at all. I ask for sources and I get 'everybody knows it' or some variation thereof.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So can a closed list for open discussion.

(back to top)

Minority writers workshop nears

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

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

Apply by March 24 at for May 1-4 event.

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

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

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

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

Enrollment is limited to 12. Minority journalists who have been writing opinion for less than two years may apply.

AOJ Foundation pays for lodging and food at the seminar and reimburses up to $200 for transportation.

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

For more information and to apply online, go to

Faculty for 2014 Minority Writers Seminar:

Vanessa Gallman, editorial page editor, Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky, former Seminar director, and past president of AOJ and AOJ Foundation.

Andre Jackson, editorial editor, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and and participant in 2008 seminar

O. Ricardo Pimentel, editorial writer/columnist, San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio, Texas

Chuck Stokes, editorial/public affairs director for WXYZ-TV/Channel 7 in Detroit, and past president of AOJ and AOJ Foundation.

Speakers for 2014 Minority Writers Seminar

Val Hoeppner, digital journalist who trains journalists in mobile, social, video and multi-platform storytelling

Rick Horowitz, founder and “Wordsmith in Chief” of Prime Prose, LLC, Emmy winning commentator for Milwaukee Public TV and former syndicated columnist

Gene Policinski, Chief Operation Officer Newseum Institute and Senior Vice President/First Amendment Center, AOJ Foundation board member

Erika D. Smith, Metro columnist and innovative opinion writer, Indianapolis Star

John Seigenthaler, chair emeritus, The Tennessean, and founder of First Amendment Center.

(Posted 2014-03-07; updated 2014 03/14, 03/17) 

We are in Sunshine,
with a job to do

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

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

 Sunshine Week has added AOJ to the participants list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information is below: background some events lead groups

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

Sunshine background:

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

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

Among the events are:

The Newseum Institute's First Amendment Center with, and separately American University's Washington College of Law, will each hold a celebration.

The Reporters Committee will host a panel discussion with prominent journalists and legal experts discussing transparency and the U.S. Supreme Court.

D.C. Open Government Coalition

FOI Oklahoma

Local chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists

New Mexico State University is holding an infographic contest for students.

Public officials In Florida, Illinois and other states will conduct information sessions, for citizens and officials.

"The Vault" showcases some of the Sunshine Toolkit materials created for 2013. Although these resources cannot be used in 2014 without the creator's permission, they are being posted to spur ideas and inspiration.

Lead groups;

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

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

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

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

(back to top)

Those horrid online comment trolls, again

Researcher reinforces notion that gutless nasties hide behind online anonymity

Published Sunday, March 9, 2014 8:00 pm by T.Joselow; ed.J.McClelland

By Thea Joselow

Why are online comments so horrible?

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

People. People could go wrong. They did.

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

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

What gives?

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

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

So what to do?

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

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

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

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

[As an editor, do something! You could share ideas on the AOJ members-only discussion list...]

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


Here are some of Masthead's previous articles and video on this. (Note that because of a blip in how our vendor's software handles webfile names, only pages that have the words of the headline in the URL filename can accept comments.)

Social log-in deters trolls' comments (2013)

Study: Vile commenters do offend (2013)

Interaction gets upbeat views … reader engagement (2012)

Coping with the flood of nasty online comments (convention panel video 2011 is silent until moderator speaks)

Why an editor left the digital cesspool. (2012)

Respect 1st Amendment: edit online comments. (symposium 2010)

Two views on editing comments (2010)

About those trolls: Deal with them! (2009 short blog; already the vermin were making misery.)

[And one more major media group says "enough!" April 14, 2014: Chicago Sun-Times group benches comments pending a fix.

(updated 2014 March 14 12:30 p.m. cDt just streamlining past Masthead links; 2014 April 14 for Sun-Times)) 

AOJ's Tony Messenger wins twice

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

Published Friday, March 14, 2014 1:00 pm by (ed. by J.McClelland)

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

(Release March 2014)  (ASNE site award info)

And, Messenger and Kevin Horrigan shared Scripps-Howard's Walker Stone Award for Editorial Writing:

Here are links to the winning ASNE entries:

Poverty is not a punch line 

Promise to children is empty

Alleged corruption isolated? No, just sloppy

Is it for education, or corporate welfare?

New legislative mantra: too big to think 

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

[Photo] Tony Messenger

(posted 2014 March 14 1 p.m. cDt; updated March 19 12:07 p.m.)

Spring-summer 2014 Masthead, includes State Dept. briefings

Diplomats frustrated
by media performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Adapted with permission from a blog post (c) April 8, 2014, at © 2014. Photo by Miriam Pepper.]

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

A giant among us, Zakarian

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

Published Wednesday, April 9, 2014 by J.McClelland

By John McClelland

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

John J. Zakarian was one of them.

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

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

He got there circuitously from the Armenian part of Jerusalem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Links to more:

Courant's first story 

Courant editorial 

Oral history transcript focused on influential Armenian-Americans (use "find" or scroll down to John Zakarian) 

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

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

(Posted 2014-04-09; updated 2014-04-10 11:03 cdt *Corrected from Iowa State to University of Iowa)(updated with principles link 4/6/2015)

Afghan election encourages State Dept.

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

Published April 10, 2014 12:40 pm by M. Pepper; ed. J.McClelland

By Miriam Pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nisha Biswal,

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

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

On Pakistan, her outlook was far less encouraging.

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

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

Afghan development: The elections led Dobbins to emphasize the progress recorded there on several fronts in recent years. He said: 
• The economy has more than quadrupled, • life expectancy has lengthened by more than 20 years (the fastest increase ever reported), • more than 10 million children now are in school,  • literacy has doubled and is expected to double again as long as the government can protect the schools, and • cell phone subscribers reached 11 million, covering almost the whole country.

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

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

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

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

Looking aheadin that region, both speakers emphasized many unknowns.

• Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are very vulnerable to climate change. Taking action to mitigate climate change damage by lowering emissions and helping nations build resources to counter disasters holds the best hope.

• A dozen countries in Africa labeled “fragile” all face risks that could worsen into crises.

• Already, the State Department lists the South Sudan and Central African Republic, along with Syria, as the most serious humanitarian crises in the world today.

Tomorrow? The experts aren’t saying.

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

Individual photos by Chuck Stokes; top by Miriam Pepper

(Posted 2014-04-10; updated 2014-04-11-11:32 with top photo)

Strategic rebalancing
to continue

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

Published Friday, April 11, 2014 11:30 am by D. Haynes; ed J.McClelland

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

By David D. Haynes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links to related sources (as in the text above)

China's projected economic growth, according to the IMF:

U.S. projected growth, according to the IMF:

Chinese military spendingprojection, 2014:

Marciel's State profile:

U.S. plans for "rebalance"in 2014:

Seattle Times editorial on Kenneth Bae:

Hagel spars with Chinese ministerover disputed islands:

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

AOJ member wins Pulitzer for commentary

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

Published Monday, April 14, 2014 by J.McClelland

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

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

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

Feb 20, 2013 Leases? Sales? City must find cash to get out of choking debt 

March 3, 2013 It's about Detroiters' lives 

March 16, 2013 Hollow protests are wasteful – find real ways to effect change 

June 9, 2013 Bill has come due for our bad decisions

June 16, 2013 A better future for Detroiters 

July 11, 2013 You didn’t need a tour to get Orr’s message 

July 21, 2013 Wake up, White House, get in the game

Sept. 15, 2013 Finally, dispelling the myths behind Detroit’s decline

Oct. 27, 2013 Race plays a complex role in Detroit election

Dec. 13, 2013 Detroit needs help, and this is the start

Jan. 24, 2014 Cover letter for entry

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

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

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

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

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

* Here's a link to Richard Prince's blog report, with awards-day photo and more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Posted 2014-04-14; updated 04-15, 04-19, 05-05)

Climate-change briefing was timely

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

Published Tuesday, April 22, 2014 6:00 pm by edits T.Messenger, J.McClelland

Climate change is bad and getting worse

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

Photo below by Chuck Stokes

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

Good luck with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is high confidence that:

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

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

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

There will be food riots, water wars and revolutionsthat are caused, at least in part, by climate change. (related articles)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It will.

 (The editorial was accompanied by photos "it's not just for polar bears any more" and by Missouri-specific local comments.)

The relationships of water, climate change and potential for war were recurring topics at AOJ's 2013 convention. Here are some examples:
[links expire 9/23/2014; articles will be archived on this site]

Senator decries damage to oceans 

Behind arab spring, world water wars? 

Water & climate change a top threat for future wars 

Water issues intersect energy issues 

Bay-saver cruise opens eyes 

Scientists need to tell truths well 

Plain talk in water science 

DC politics called 'act of war on science' 

(back to text at 'riots...wars...')

 (Posted 2014-04-22-18:00cdt; updated with photo 18:18)

Poverty breeds
security threats

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

Published Wednesday, April 23, 2014 1:00 pm by edits T.Messenger, J.McClelland

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

Why poverty across the world matters to Americans

A child starving in South Sudan should matter to Americans.

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

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

But back to that child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AOJ and AOJ Foundation are on the move

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

Published Monday, April 28, 2014 3:30 pm by M.Pepper, L.Kazakoff; ed. J.McClelland

By Miriam Pepper and Lois Kazakoff  AOJ and AOJ Foundation presidents adapted from a letter to the members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book has pre-convention peek at South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masthead editor's note: During the transition of management services and a pending update of the entire AOJ website, we may be unable to add member-authors' books to that part of the site, but we we will be using this and other articles to remind you of the value and fun of the convention.

Liberating Dixie...: 288 pp Lorimar Press, Holt, Michigan, March 2014; about $21 on Amazon (To use the AOJ revenue-sharing link, click the box atop our web pages and use Amazon's search line for Liberating Dixie. The link has no effect on your cost, but generates a smidgin of revenue for AOJ.) (back to top)

(posted 2014-05-08-16:30 cdt)

AOJ water-war briefings seem prescient

May 2014 news reinforces content of presentations at previous events

Published Wednesday, May 14, 2014 by John McClelland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are links to some of what Masthead has published from the two previous years and the 2014 AOJ-State Department briefings. [UPDATE 8/24/2014: These links will expire on about 9/23/2014, but copies of the articles will be archived on this site.]

State Dept. saw climate-based conflict

Senator decries ocean damage

From Arab Spring to world water wars?

Water-war a future top threat

Newport cruise opens eyes

Water-energy issues intersect

Scientists need to tell well

Water-science plain talk

Politicos warring on science

Climate change threatens U.S.

Everglades spoiled, recovering


For one summary of the report and responses to it: New York Times, May 14, 2014, page A-18 or online at  (back to lede)

The report itself, 38 pages pdf,  (back to lede)

[OLD] URLs of the Masthead reports: (Climate change threatens U.S., 2012) (Everglades spoiled, recovering, 2012)

(back to top)

(Posted 2014-05-14 1:45 p.m. cdt; slightly revised 1:59) 

Another editor stops online comment

National Journal explains; Poynter and Washington Post describe the trend

Published Saturday, May 17, 2014 by John McClelland

Online trolls take tolls. Again.

By John McClelland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*One article, with links at the bottom to several others:

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

(Posted 2014-05-18) (*** Updated 5-19 to reflect revision in WP count of NYT monitors from 17 to 14, with thanks to Patrick Brendel at the Cayman Compass for spotting the update while preparing to reproduce this with permission.)

Do editors print Facebook posts?

AOJ discussion group leans toward some editing and labeling if used

Published Friday, June 6, 2014 2:00 pm by B.McGoun; ed by J.McClelland

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

By Bill McGoun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

               A lot of her colleagues disagree with her editors.

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

[Masthead obtains consent to quote members who post to the list, as a policy designed to help preserve its long-established role as a forum where professional opinion journalists can freely share ideas and concerns with some sense of privacy from the wild frontier of the Web. We know, no digital communication is totally private, but this list has an earned reputation for collegiality. For more on it, see standing Masthead pages.][discussion list page]

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