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Walter Cronkite Memorial

A large banner at the Walter Cronkite Memorial in St. Joseph, Mo., honors his famous sign-off line.

By coincidence, my travel schedule this month took me on consecutive weekends to two universities with exhibits honoring Walter Cronkite.

My family did not have a television when Cronkite made his debut as CBS anchor in 1962. One of the biggest stories of his career — the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy — finally made Mom and Dad cave and buy our first “idiot box” (Mom called it that before we got one and through the years as she became a loyal watcher). So of course, we missed Cronkite’s announcement of Kennedy’s death:

The Cronkite exhibits at Missouri Western State University and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University both take note of the importance of the Kennedy coverage in the anchor’s career: (more…)

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It would be hard to overstate what Ben Bradlee contributed to American journalism. Bradlee died Tuesday, and I join the parade of journalists saluting him as maybe journalism’s best editor ever.

Journalism’s proudest achievement of my lifetime was the Watergate reporting of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which uncovered unconstitutional and un-American power abuses by the White House, including President Richard Nixon himself. The many abuses by presidents and their staffs since Nixon still do not match his arrogance in trying to manipulate an election and interfere with the execution of justice.

Many others played roles in exposing Watergate and bringing down Nixon: Judge John Sirica, Senators Sam Ervin and Howard Baker and their Watergate Committee colleagues, John Dean, Alexander Butterfield (who revealed the White House taping system), special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, Woodward’s “Deep Throat” source Mark Felt, the Supreme Court, Peter Rodino and his House Judiciary Committee colleagues. But no one played a bigger role than Woodward, Bernstein and their Post editors, led by Bradlee.

As recounted in Woodward and Bernstein’s book All the President’s Men and portrayed by Jason Robards in the movie, Bradlee was a sterling model for editors: challenging his reporters to nail down their facts, find better stories and make every story better; reporting the truth fearlessly; holding the powerful accountable, then standing by his reporters when they came under fire.

I never approached Bradlee’s perch in journalism, but as a mid-level editor for the Des Moines Register and Kansas City Star and Times, I saw his influence in some of the top editors I reported to. And I tried to ask the same kinds of tough questions of the reporters who worked for me.

As a top editor of the comparatively insignificant Shenandoah Evening Sentinel, Minot Daily News and Cedar Rapids Gazette, I never flattered myself that I was anywhere near Bradlee’s stature. But I damn well knew from his model what my job was: To make my newspaper the best it could be, to set and uphold standards and to protect our newsroom’s integrity. I never became as intimidating as Bradlee (or the Robards version of him). But they were somewhere in the back of my mind every time I told a reporter he or she didn’t have the story and needed to try one more source, verify or debunk one more report, push harder for a source to go on the record.

“You don’t have it,” might be an editor’s most important words to reporters, words that weren’t spoken often enough then and certainly aren’t today. But every time I spoke them, I knew I was echoing Bradlee.

I know I’m not alone in viewing Bradlee as the standard against which all editors are measured. I probably describe the experience of a generation or two of editors. We all aspired to be like Bradlee and we all fall short. I salute him for setting the standard so high. I’m not the one to measure how high I reached in journalism, but I know I reached my peak (or will) in pursuit of his example.

I never got to meet Bradlee, but I sat behind him in 2012 when Woodward and Bernstein headlined a 40th-anniversary panel discussion of Watergate reporting at the American Society of News Editors conference. Bradlee wasn’t on the panel but joined the discussion as his reporters deferred to him on a few questions. He was in his 90s then and you could see that he was fading. But he’ll never fade as an example to journalists.

As my former Omaha World-Herald colleague Ken Freed pointed out when I saluted Bradlee last night on Facebook, Bradlee himself was powerful, with close ties to the Kennedys. I’m not aware of any way that the Post, on his watch, went soft on the Kennedys. All media gave President John F. Kennedy a pass on reporting about his personal life, which was standard procedure in that time (and had been for Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower). And Kennedy’s presidency was before Bradlee took over the Post newsroom in 1965.

But I “liked” Ken’s observation anyway. Skepticism and pointing out something that might be unpopular seemed a fitting way to remember Ben Bradlee.

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Ivan Lajara

Ivan Lajara

You owe yourself a laugh today. So start it by reading Ivan Lajara’s glossary explaining news jargon.

Some highlights for me (many more than this; just read it yourself):

Circulation: An arrow going down.

Conflict of Interest: White House Correspondents Dinner.

Cover Story: The one story that had art.

Editor: Angry White Man.

Freelancer: Reporter without health insurance.

Reefer or Refer: A column by Maureen Dowd.

Speaking of the Maureen Dowd column, start your day with a second laugh: Read Sarah Jeong’s post on four other Times columnists and Malcolm Gladwell writing while high.

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When traumatic stuff happens in a community, journalists are some of the first on the scene, along with the cops, fire fighters, paramedics and other emergency workers.

These tragic events that end and disrupt lives can propel a journalism career forward. The phrase “great story” invariably slips from some journalist’s lips (usually out of earshot of those for whom the trauma is evident). We often cover these stories, though, without a full understanding of what trauma is, how it works and its impact on those who experience trauma, including the journalists who cover it.

At a workshop for Digital First journalists this month in West Chester, Pa., Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, led an exploration of the uncomfortable issues of how we get great stories from tragic events and how we process the trauma that we experience.

Scott Blanchard and Jason Plotkin, York Daily Record journalists, organized the workshop and helped Shapiro lead it. They proposed this training to me after attending a Dart program as winners of honorable mention for a Dart Award for their coverage of the lasting impact of a violent, traumatic event. I supported their suggestion and Claire Gaval, Digital First Media’s Vice President of Learning and Organization Development, helped make it happen.

Scott blogged about the workshop yesterday. I was able to attend only the first of two days of training, and Bruce told participants the workshop would be off the record, to encourage people to talk freely. So I won’t blog much about the workshop itself (though I encourage others to consider holding similar workshops).

What I will do here is share some of my advice from years of reporting and editing on stories about disasters, murders, sexual and domestic abuse and other traumatic situations.

Some of these are tips or anecdotes I shared during the workshop. Others I thought of during the discussions but kept to myself because I thought it was more important for others to talk. I’m not on the front lines of our coverage of traumatic news, and the point of the workshop was to get those on the front lines talking, so they could learn from each other about covering these difficult events and about dealing with the personal impact of that coverage. (more…)

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This is a guest post from Scott Blanchard of the York Daily Record/Sunday News (speaking in my crooked Twitter photo above). I’ll post more about the training tomorrow.

In December 2012, dozens of journalists from Digital First Media newsrooms came together in Newtown, Conn. to cover the mass shooting there for news organizations across the country.

Many returned deeply affected by what they had seen, heard, written and photographed.

The following spring, photojournalist Jason Plotkin and Sunday editor Scott Blanchard of the York Daily Record/Sunday News — which had sent seven staffers to Newtown* — asked Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma executive director Bruce Shapiro if Dart could work with DFM to create something that would be a first for a U.S.-based news organization: A company-wide peer-support program for journalists who cover conflict and violence in their communities. (more…)

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Belated thoughts on the big developments at the New York Times recently:

I have started twice in the past week to blog about developments at the New York Times. First, I was going to blog about the initial report of the Times Innovation Team, which raised lots of issues for all newsrooms trying to transform digitally. Digital transformation has been the focus of my work at Digital First Media, and I was going to draw some lessons from the Times recommendations for Project Unbolt.

Then I was going to blog about the firing of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the New York Times. I will post some observations about Abramson later in this piece, but I doubt I can add much insight beyond what’s already been written.

Mostly, I want to call my DFM colleagues’ attention (and the attention of everyone trying to change the culture of entrenched print newsrooms) to the full report of the innovation team (leaked to Buzzfeed and both more blunt and more detailed than the summary report). You should read the full report (you can ignore the sanitized version). Then you should read Josh Benton’s piece on Nieman Lab. (more…)

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My notes from the International Journalism Festival would have worked better as tweets, both for immediacy and because they were a bit disjointed.

Wifi at the conference was spotty and I was able to livetweet only for Margaret Sullivan‘s keynote address on Saturday.

In addition, more than once, I’ve joined a session early or ducked out late, either because of appointments to meet fellow panelists or other friends or because I wanted to see overlapping panels. So in several cases, my notes cover only parts of sessions (the best parts, I hope). But I enjoyed each session, so I’ll share my disjointed notes here, starting with some tweets from the Sullivan keynote:

The 2009 Clay Shirky post that inspired Sullivan to join Twitter and become a more aggressive part of the digital revolution was Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. I posted on the Shirky post at the time. (more…)

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