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Fifty years ago today, City Editor Gale Cook of the San Francisco Examiner sent the note below to his staff.

Gale Cook

Gale Cook

I remember memos like this from editors, saved a lot from my bosses and wrote a few for my staffs. I really like this one and share it with permission of Cook’s daughter, Jennifer Cook Sterling. Jennifer’s husband, Robert Sterling, is editor of the Marin Independent Journal, a Digital First newsroom, and Mimi and I enjoyed dinner at their home last summer. (Update: Robert has blogged about Gale and his memo, too.)

I will comment on some of Cook’s note, but I don’t want to interrupt it. So I’ll let it run in full (it’s long, as editors’ memos to the staff can sometimes be, five pages, single-spaced). Then I’ll comment. But one note here that will help you understand the first paragraph: The Examiner promoted itself as the “Monarch of the Dailies.”

TO THE STAFF:

I want to offer you some ideas for improving our newspaper – things we can do to strengthen the Monarch’s position in this jungle fight for circulation. (more…)

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Ogden Standard Examiner front page Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy assassinationI am under no illusion that my thoughts or memories of the Kennedy assassination are any more insightful than all the others you’ve already read and heard for the last month or so.

But I do think the front pages my father saved from November 1963 are pretty interesting.

We lived in Sunset, Utah, at the time. I was a fourth-grader at Doxey Elementary School. My father saved the front page above from the evening edition of the Ogden Standard-Examiner, the daily paper delivered to our home. It apparently started Dad (and then me) on a couple lifetimes of saving historic front pages. This is the oldest of dozens of papers Dad saved over the next 15 years before his death. As the journalist in the family, I got his collection and added dozens (maybe hundreds) more.

Take a look at the front page above. Kennedy was shot at 12:30 a.m. p.m. Central time, 11:30 a.m., right on (or perhaps after) deadline for an evening paper. Clearly they just had enough time and material for one wire story (from UPI) and a file mug shot of the president. There isn’t even a wire photo from Dallas. (more…)

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Robert G. Kaiser told a humbling story in the Washington Post Sunday: The Post nearly ignored Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech and his historic “I have a dream …” theme in its coverage of the march on Washington 50 years ago.

It’s not the first big story a newspaper (or most of the news media) has missed. Collectively most of the media blew the coverage of intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as well as the developments that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. The Lexington Herald Leader ran a front-page correction in 2004 for its failure to adequately cover the civil rights movement.

Here’s my question: What are today’s historic stories that we will look back on and say that we missed the real story or the importance of the story?

Update: Linda Deutsch writes about covering the march.

Twitter reactions

Update: Sally Duros says the historic story we’re missing is the “death of the public schools.”

Update: Thanks to Steve Fagan for a thoughtful response to this post, wondering if newsroom staff cutbacks won’t prompt some newsrooms to provide shallow coverage of some historic events in their communities.

Without question, cutbacks are causing us to miss important stories and raise the importance of good news judgment in how to use resources (which have always been limited). But I should point out that Kaiser’s piece makes clear that the Post heavily staffed the march, but barely noticed the most important part of the story. So staffing isn’t always the reason for failures by newsrooms.

Also, I doubt that newsroom staffs have been cut as severely since 1963 as Steve speculates. The annual American Society of News Editors newsroom census has counted nationwide staffing in newspaper newsrooms since 1978 (or at least figures are available online going back to 1978. I don’t know what the trend was from 1963 to 1978, but I suspect it was growth. Newsroom employment totaled 43,000 in 1978 and grew to a peak of 56,900 in 1990. It was stable for most of the next two decades, never dropping below 53,000 until 2008. In the past six years we’ve lost 17,000 employees, with 38,000 counted this year. That’s a severe loss, but I suspect it’s about the same as in 1963, not half or one-third less as Steve speculated. Update: Steve updated his post to reflect these numbers.

That said, Steve’s point remains valid. The cuts in recent years have been staggering and we need to beware of missing or minimizing important stories. Steve also had the great idea of linking to the I Have a Dream speech’s text. So I copied that move and added a video:

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I participated in the International Journalism Festival last week in Perugia, Italy.

It was one of the best journalism events I’ve attended in my career. I was busy enough that I didn’t blog about it, beyond a post on paywalls to accompany my appearance on a panel discussing the topic and a post with links and slides for my presentation about ethical aggregation.

Here are videos from my panel discussions in Perugia (some of the panelists are speaking Italian):

On hyperlocal news:

(more…)

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Jill Abramson, photo linked from New York Times

Because I was attending the International Journalism Festival when Dylan Byers published his click-bait piece “Jill Abramson loses the newsroom” on Politico, I initially intended to respond just with disapproving tweets.

Then Emily Bell slammed the piece for its sexist tone better than I could have. And I initially thought I’d respond just with approving tweets.

After all, I don’t know Jill Abramson. And she doesn’t need me to defend her (great response from her, cited in Huffington Post). I had no idea whether the story was true or not, though I had serious doubts because it relied heavily on unnamed and unaccountable sources. But as I considered it, I thought that a male voice, a former editor who might have supposedly “lost” a newsroom, might have some value and I started pondering a post.

Then I heard Aron Pilhofer tell an Abramson story at the festival and I decided I’d better blog about this.

Most of the editors I’ve worked for have been men. That’s probably true of most people in the news business because the vast majority of editors are men. While women have made strides, men still dominate in newsroom leadership.

(more…)

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john e mcintyreJohn E. McIntyre has long been a source of wisdom for journalists, particularly colleagues at the Baltimore Sun and fellow copy editors.

He is a founding member (and two-time former president) of the American Copy Editors Society. I knew of him long before I met him, when he led a discussion for a seminar I was planning for news editors and copy desk chiefs at an American Press Institute workshop, probably in 2006 or so.

He’s a guardian of the language who enforces the rules that matter and debunks the ones that don’t. He may be an Old Editor, but he’s also a prolific blogger and podcaster, a witty tweep and he was the first person to point out that I was violating Facebook etiquette early in my social media days by syncing my Twitter and Facebook accounts so that nearly all my tweets posted to Facebook (way too often to post on FB, but an acceptable pace for Twitter).

I’m pleased to see that John has compiled some of his wisdom into a book: The Old Editor Says: Maxims for Writing and Editing.

John does not pretend that all the maxims are original. In the preface he handles attribution deftly:

Some you may find familiar, such as the Chicago News Bureau’s, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” some are adapted from the remarks of my own editors, some are from the general lore, and some – many , actually – are my own.”

I should add that I didn’t know the maxim about Mom (which I’ve used a time or two on my blog) had a known origin. It figures that John would know. Even the familiar and adapted maxims are delivered and explained in John’s authoritative voice and with his dry wit. This is very much his book, even if you’ve heard and read some of the wisdom before. (more…)

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Update: Buck Ryan produced the video above about the conference, so I added it to this post.

The New Media in Russia conference is in its third and final day in Lyon, France. I’ve compiled my tweets the past two days. Today’s account will be updated throughout the day.

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Continuing my tweets from the New Media in Russia conference from Lyon, France:

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For the next three days I will be blogging/tweeting from Lyon, France, where I am attending a conference of IREX Europe, the New Media in Russia: Challenges, Successes and the Role of International Partnerships.

I am here because of my relationship with the Press Development Institute-Siberia, which invited me to visit Siberia in 2009 for two programs that I blogged about then.

I’ll mostly tweet about the conference, but I’ll embed some tweets here, updating through the conference:

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Peace WarriorAs much as I believe in the importance of journalism, I know I don’t have nearly the impact on people’s lives that my brothers do.

As I noted last year after the death of my nephew, Brandon, my younger brother, Don, and his wife, Pam, have adopted 11 children after having three biological children (Brandon was the second-oldest adopted child). I also have mentioned before that my older brother, Dan, is a peace missionary, both here and on the travel blog I share with Mimi.

Dan’s memoir, Peace Warrior, came out last month and I just finished reading it. Dan tells about his work teaching and practicing peacemaking around the world — from Burma, Georgia (Tbilisi, not Atlanta), Liberia, Nagaland, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Congo and on and on. I sometimes think I’ve seen a lot of the world as a journalist, but Dan has seen much more of it as a peacemaker. And he’s had more profound impact.

If you’re interested in world affairs or Christian missionary work or peacemaking, you might enjoy the book, though I don’t pretend to be a fair judge of it. I enjoyed it, of course, for other reasons. In a way, I was catching up with a brother whose exploits I’ve heard and read before (actually, I scanned his reports from his various travels more often than I read them) but mostly followed from afar. We visit a few times a year and I knew much of the story but the memoir told many details I missed or had forgotten. I’ve understood for decades the depth of Dan’s calling and commitment to peacemaking, but the memoir added greatly to that understanding.

I generally blog about media and journalism issues here, so I won’t focus on Dan’s peacemaking efforts but on a few of his occasional references to media coverage of the conflicts he became involved in. As a journalist, it was interesting to read an activist’s perspective on media coverage (or non-coverage). (more…)

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Journalism isn’t narcissism, as Hamilton Nolan noted correctly in his Gawker headline. But as Nolan elaborated, I heard an old theme that I think has misguided lots of journalists. Journalism also isn’t machinery. Journalism is practiced by humans, and journalists and journalism professors who deny their humanity diminish their journalism.

Nolan found fault with a New York Times piece by Susan Shapiro, an author and journalism professor he dismissed as “teaching a gimmick: the confessional as attention-grabber.”

Shapiro encourages her feature-writing students to “shed vanity and pretension and relive an embarrassing moment that makes them look silly, fearful, fragile or naked.” Nolan counters that journalism students instead need to be taught to write other people’s stories:

Your friends, and neighbors, and community members, and people across town, and across your country, and across the world far and wide are all brimming with stories to tell. Stories of love, and war, and crime, and peril, and redemption. The average inmate at your local jail probably has a far more interesting life story than Susan Shapiro or you or I do, no matter how many of our ex-boyfriends and girlfriends we call for comment. All of the compelling stories you could ever hope to be offered are already freely available. All you have to do is to look outside of yourself, and listen, and write them down.

I believe both journalists are right. Journalists need to tell the important untold stories of their communities. Most journalism should be outward-looking. But personal insight can and often should be part of the process of listening and writing down other people’s stories. (more…)

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One of the most important questions news organizations and journalists need to decide now and in the years ahead is: What should we stop doing?

This was the question that lingered with me most after reading Post-Industrial Journalism, the outstanding report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism by C.W. AndersonEmily Bell and Clay Shirky.

When the report came out, my first reaction was to drop everything, read it right away and comment in detail to its many points. But I found I couldn’t do that. The report came out just as I was trying to get back up to speed after an extended distraction from work as I helped my brother’s family deal with the death of my nephew Brandon. Work tasks beckoned urgently, so I couldn’t drop everything again. And when I found some time to read PIJ, I found my concentration weak, partly due to fatigue, partly because the next work task was always beckoning.

Meanwhile other people weighed in with more insightful things than I had to say yet (but often along the same lines, which would have made my points redundant):  Josh Benton of the Nieman LabJeff Sonderman of Poynter and Mathew Ingram of GigaOm.

Besides, what I wanted to say on about every page was, “Right on!” It’s much easier (and feels more urgent) to blog about something you disagree with (see my posts about recent CJR posts by Dean Starkman and Ryan Chittum or my response to an earlier Columbia report by Len Downie and Michael Schudson, calling for government subsidies for journalism). But I agreed a lot with PIJ. (I did blog about two disagreements with a particular passage, about whether journalism is in decline and whether smaller communities will feel this decline more acutely).

Post-Industrial Journalism makes a lot of important points journalists and news organizations should consider — about the importance of data literacy in journalism, about the importance of solving mysteries (rather than just learning secrets), about the importance of journalists developing computer coding skills, about the importance of sharing lessons from startup news organizations, about shifting our work away from finished news products and toward the continuous flow of a news stream, about developing more flexible “hackable” content management systems. I encourage reading the whole report if you haven’t yet. Journalists should especially read the section targeted at individual journalists.

When I finally finished the report on my fourth or fifth or sixth sitting, one point stuck out, and it wasn’t something they said, but my reaction to what they said: What should we stop doing? (more…)

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