Symposium 2015 pre-event crowd hears media-political powerhouse David Axelrod
Axelrod, second from right, spoke at a Poynter-AOJ fund-raiser. Article below (composite pan photo) (page index)

Masthead Fall 2015
Symposium Edition

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

Our series of conference and related reports includes:

Judge blasts U.S. agency secrecy
in case aired at AOJ event (12/9)
UPDATE 3/31/16:
Judge rules for MetLife

Future of The Editorial (with long video) 

No Labels pitches bipartisanship

Reflecting reality of diversity is vital

Tips from Sree, Met master, on social-plus

Questions to help with  tough problems

Common Core gets mixed reviews

Enterprising in Dallas merges digi-print

AOJ Foundation board meeting

Joint Poynter event with David Axelrod

Short films work well at Boston Globe

U.S. rep rips unduly divided House GOP

Seminar guests place pieces done on-site

A full conference report on a blog: Thugs!

Pulliam $75K winner tells how series began (link to separate page)

Affordable Care Act briefing

Service honors and awards (separate page)

Keynoter on digital future, with update on making social media lemonade from the potentially bitter taste of getting the ax.

(updated 12/31/2015, 6/23/2106)

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The menu below links to navigation-indexed public pages on our evolving site. Nearly all pages are mobile-responsive. Log in as a member to see some select members-only pages.

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(top of page)  (copyright and contact info) (updated 2/8/16)

Judge rules for MetLife

FOIA issues were aired at AOJ event

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

Judge chides U.S. agency
over withheld documents

(posted Wednesday Dec. 9, 2015)

By John McClelland

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

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

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

(Video clip below, 1 min 44 sec) (PDF of judge's order)

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

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

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

(video clip below 1 min 14 secs)

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

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

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Future of The Editorial

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

This video, at 47 minutes, is about 90 percent of the session, and is available only to AOJ members who sign in. (Well, if you capture the YouTube URL, you could share that with a prospective member, hint, hint...).

This link will take you to the members-only page via log-in, and it will take you to the video with one click on its image.

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

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No Labels pitches goal:
bipartisanship on The Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Convention October 2015 in New Hampshire

No Labels Reveals 'Problem Solver' Caucus -- But Where Are The Education Legislators? (2013)

Lofty goals, little result (Philadelphia Inquirer’s 2014)

Posted 12/2/2015 by John McClelland

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Reflecting the reality
(of diversity) is vital

By Rosemary O’Hara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Christie's other key points, 30 secs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(posted 11/25/2015 12:15cst update 12:59 JM)

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How editorial boards can
tackle the tough problems

By Patrick Brendel

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

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

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

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

  • Is it in the public interest?
  • Can it be done?
  • Who can do it?

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

But Holwerk says he was perplexed at times by “mysterious” problems plaguing the community that refused to yield to conventional “carpet bombing” editorial campaigns. (video 78 seconds, below; we do not influence what YouTube puts up at the end)

He said those tough problems tend to have these characteristics:

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

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

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

Further questions include:

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

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

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

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

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

(posted 11/24/2015 aprx 10:30cst with paren inserts by JM)

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Common Core disputes
include even its identity

By Bill McGoun

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

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

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

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

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

(video of all three, 98 secs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Met's digital guru pushes
quality in all media forms

By Richard Galant

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

(video clip 1.5 mins)

[Updated 6/23/2016 JM: Sreenivasan made quite a positive splash when he went public on social media with a positive outlook and advice for those suddenly out of a job; he was among those laid off at the Met. ] [Updating 8/2/2016: He landed well again]

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

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

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

Not least was his list of ABCs:
Always Be Charging (carry a battery pack, too),
Always Be Connecting (“Connect with people when you don’t need them so they will be there with you when you do need them.”) and
Always Be Collecting content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • helpful

  • useful

  • timely

  • informative

  • relevant

  • practical

  • actionable

  • generous

  • credible

  • brief

  • entertaining

  • fun

  • occasionally funny

For more, see the slides from his AOJ presentation here: 
(They load quickly; the 54 include some bonus images.)

Follow him @sree

Join his Facebook group: Sree’s Advanced Social Media Course

Or write him at:

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

(posted 11/23/15)

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Entrepreneurial DMN
lives digitally...and in print

By Froma Harrop
(In The Masthead, online journal of the Association of Opinion Journalists November 2015)

Ten years ago, the Dallas Morning News website served mainly as a repository for newspaper stories, DMN's new editor Mike Wilson told the Association of Opinion Journalists. It was very static with not many images. (video 21 seconds)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Posted 11/21/2015 JM update 3/9/15)

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Some success, change,
no repeal seen for ACA

Right-to-left (in order of 48-sec video): David Haynes, AOJ president, moderator; David Blumenthal, Naomi Lopez-Bauman, Jason Altmire

By Bill McGoun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(posted 11/20/2105 17:55cst)
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AOJ board: finances fixed,
membership emphasized

By Lois Kazakoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now the organization must look to the future. Haynes will serve as AOJ president until April, when the board will need to elect new leadership for the coming year. Anyone with interest in joining the board should contact him. E-mail or call him at 414-534-2639 (cell) or 414-224-2770 (work). Twitter: @DavidDHaynes

Lois Kazakoff is deputy editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate, and past president of the AOJ Foundation. E-mail: lkazakoff@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @lkazakoff

More, about money (;-)

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

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

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

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

--John McClelland]

(posted 11/18/2015 13:00 cst)

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Seminar guests earn
prompt publication plaudit

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

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

Here’s one example: 

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

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

Way to go, Kakki! 

Her piece, an essay with advice for parents whose offspring are any age, is here:

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

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

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

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GOP Rep: do-nothings
in House deserve the ax

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of his other points:

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

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

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

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Community contributions
can need close vetting

(11/14/15 18:30EDT JM) (updated with video 11/16)

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

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

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

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

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

She said citizen contributors tend to work at four levels:

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

She recommended soliciting ideas or personal experiences via social media, maintaining contact with a database of contributors, thanking those whose material helps, and "closing the loop" by posting info and links to the result. (video 2 mins, first scene)

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

John Sutter's tweets and SnapChap exchanges with people while he was traveling provided a sense of immediate interchange of ideas. One teen followed a link to his first-ever reading of long-form journalism.
(same video 2 mins, second scene, with audience)

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

The process was … reporting.

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Quality video opinion
rolls in to Globe project

By Mike Drago
(Nov. 14, 2015)

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

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

For online op-eds -- as with all online content -- the new frontier is video. (two of her points in a 38-sec clip)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other nuts and bolts of the program: 

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

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

Reach Weiss at

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Axelrod: politics affects
citizens' real-life concerns

By John McClelland

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

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

Time and time again in his talk to 200-plus at a joint AOJ-Poynter fund-raiser, he said variations of “politics has meaning.” (video 28 secs)

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

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

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

  • “Working in the White House is like working in a submarine. You see the world through a periscope.” 
  • “Washington is obsessed with politics,” he said. As a former Chicago Tribune journalist, “I wanted to keep living in Chicago, where people don’t discuss the Federal Register over dinner.”
  • “Some in politics run to BE something. Some few run to DO something. I saw that in Obama when we first met [years before his senatorial and presidential campaigns].
  • Obama “came into office at an extraordinarily difficult time. [Election night] He said, ‘I guess it’s too late to ask for a recount. We’d better decide how to deal with it.’ … I think history will be good to him.”
  • Impact of social media? “Enormous. It is happening so rapidly we cannot get our hands around it. It has changed media and politics some ways for the better and some not. Without social media, Barack Obama would not be president. But it demands instant reaction … it can take over campaigns for days at a time.” 
    (AOJ's Chuck Stokes put a story and video clip that includes some of this comment and more on WXYZ Detroit: updated 11/15/15
  • He said he and others in the administration refrained from calling some anti-Obama actions racist to avoid seeming to use racism as an alibi. But now he concedes that it was there all along, sometimes vicious, sometimes simply frustrated citizens acting out. 
  • For example, he said he thinks Donald Trump cannot be nominated, but “is speaking to something primal in our society. A lot of people lost jobs, wages are flat … they are angry … he speaks to nativism, especially of relatively uneducated white males.”
  • Politics now is afflicted by partisan polarization, “safe” gerrymandered legislative districts, the turmoil of social media, and the undue influences of big money.
  • “We’ve got to demand something better.”
John McClelland did newspapers two decades before teaching at Roosevelt University, Chicago; now retired, he edits Masthead.

Poynter's Ben Mullin did an extended piece with several videos by Poynter staff at

(Posted 11/14/2015 01:15EDT updated 11/16 reposted 12/31/2015)
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(Masthead video 43 secs; we cannot control what YouTube displays after it.)

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