Archive for the ‘Journalist profiles’ Category

Len La BarthWhen a friend takes his life, you wonder whether you could have helped him find some hope, whether you missed a sign or ignored a cry for help.

In this case, I wasn’t that close a friend, more like a friendly colleague. And I did help. But I didn’t sense his despair. And still I wonder.

In my American Press Institute days, my biggest client was Freedom Newspapers. I managed annual evaluations of their newspapers (I can’t recall how many, but it was dozens). I wrote a quarterly evaluation called the e-Tuner that cited highlights of the past three months and identified points to work on for improvement, a chore that involved reading a few samples from each of the papers and perusing their websites. (I think the e-Tuner might have been the first place I told journalists about the value I saw in Twitter.) I led three regional seminars for Freedom and was a speaker for three editors’ conferences and a webinar.

One of the best Freedom newspapers was the Appeal-Democrat in Marysville-Yuba City, Calif. I frequently praised the paper and its editor, Len La Barth, in the e-Tuner and I enjoyed meeting Len at the conferences. At my last Freedom editors conference, in San Antonio in 2008, we enjoyed a jovial dinner with a few other editors.

Len appears to have killed himself, perhaps jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. His car was found parked nearby in March(more…)

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Bryan Cantley

Bryan Cantley

I don’t know many people who have helped as many journalists as Bryan Cantley. Few have helped me as much.

Bryan died yesterday of pancreatic cancer.

He was a gentleman and a friend and he gave me extraordinary opportunities that boosted my journalism training business.

I first met Bryan in 2002. I was fairly new to the business of journalism training and I think I sent a pitch for my workshops to the Canadian Newspaper Association. I can’t recall whether I even had his name or sent it blindly to the group’s executive director, but somehow it ended up with the right guy.

I had just done some training for the Cariboo Press newspapers in British Columbia, and was interested in doing more work in Canada. Nick Russell, a leading Canadian voice in journalism ethics, was another speaker at the Cariboo conference and he put in a good word to me with Bryan.

Before long, Bryan invited me to train editors and reporters at a workshop of the Canadian Association of Newspaper Editors in Lethbridge, Alberta, in the fall of 2002. And he helped me arrange some more workshops on the same trip at the Calgary Herald.

We quickly became friends over dinner and enjoyed many more dinners and drinks across Canada, and a few games of his beloved Toronto Blue Jays.

Bryan wore multiple hats, planning programs such as training and awards for four different journalism organizations: CNA (now Newspapers Canada), CANE, the Ryerson Journalism Alumni Association and the Commonwealth Journalists Association.

Over the next six years, Bryan invited me to speak at a dozen or so conferences for three of those groups, all but the CJA. I visited Lethbridge, Halifax, Toronto, Winnipeg and  Saskatoon for events that Bryan organized. I was an annual speaker — and once the keynote speaker — for five years at the Wordstock writing workshop he organized for the Ryerson alumni.

The contacts from those conferences led to lots of other business for me across Canada. Everywhere I went, I met friends of Bryan who were as fond of him as I was.

Mimi accompanied me on several of those trips and we dined several times as couples with Bryan and his wife. Eleanor showed Mimi around Toronto and they toured together in Halifax.

At the Canadian Newspaper Association conference in 2007, when Bryan was approaching retirement, his colleagues and friends in the business roasted and saluted him in a fond farewell. I enjoyed getting to see that my affection and admiration for Bryan was shared throughout Canadian journalism.

But Bryan’s retirement wasn’t really a farewell. He organized another Wordstock or two. He continued helping the CJA. On my last visit to Toronto in 2011 (at another organization’s invitation following Bryan’s semi-retirement), Mimi and I dined again with Bryan and Eleanor (the last time I saw him). He was planning a CJA program in Malta for 2012 and fretting over the details (Bryan knew that details made for a successful conference and he was a master at running a smooth and fun event).

Bryan also kept running the National Newspaper Awards program, Canada’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes. He was honored last week with the Michener-Baxter Award for his special contribution to Canadian journalism.

In one of our last email exchanges, Bryan told of visiting Hawaii with Eleanor last November, when friends and family of my nephew, Brandon Buttry, honored his memory with a cheeseburger salute the day he was supposed to return from Afghanistan (Brandon was killed in action last year). Bryan never met Brandon, but he and Eleanor joined the salute from the original Cheeseburger in Paradise on Maui and sent me a photo.

I’m glad Bryan and Eleanor had that vacation in paradise in his last year. I’m glad he helped me so often and so generously. I’m sad that we’ve lost him, but I’ve smiled a lot since learning the sad news yesterday, fondly remembering one of my favorite people in journalism.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

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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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This was originally published Feb. 12, 2008, on the Training Tracks blog I wrote for the American Press Institute. I repost it today as a supplement to a separate post about Bob Steele’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist. I removed outdated links and added a couple of updates.

Bob Steele

I hesitate to write about Bob Steele‘s accomplishments, because I don’t want this to sound like a eulogy. He’s not dead and he’s not retiring. He’s not even fully leaving Poynter.

But Bob’s contributions to journalism — specifically to the teaching and thinking about journalism ethics — have been monumental and his semi-departure from Poynter seems like a time to take note of those accomplishments.

Journalism is one of the most ethical pursuits in the world. Not only do we hold ourselves to high standards, but we enforce those standards with great transparency and public verbal floggings of offenders. Still, we don’t think enough about our ethical standards and how to make good ethical decisions. We think about those things a lot more — and a lot more clearly — though, than we did before Bob began teaching and writing about ethics for the Poynter Institute in 1989. (more…)

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Cartoon by Carmen Cerra, used with permission

Barbara Mack

I wish every news organization had a lawyer like Barbara Mack. But there was only one of her. And we lost her Thursday.

I was privileged to be an editor and reporter for the Des Moines Register when Barb, a former Register reporter, was the cornerstone of our legal team.

We had an in-house legal team, which was rare, even then. As I recall, we had up to five lawyers at a time on our in-house law firm. Gary Gerlach headed the team before he became publisher. Mike Giudicessi, Joe Thornton and Marcia Cranberg were among our lawyers. And I’m trying to remember others (help me out, Register colleagues). I enjoyed working with all of them, but Barb was the most memorable.

Everywhere else I’ve worked, you called a lawyer as a last resort. I’ve worked with in-house lawyers who were timid and looked at their jobs as keeping us from getting sued. I’ve worked with outside counsel we called as a last resort and the meter was always running and their job was to keep us from getting sued. Barb and her colleagues were always eager for a legal battle to pry some public information from officials who didn’t respect freedom-of-information laws. She didn’t fear lawsuits and helped us make sure our stories would stand up in court. She loved a fight and I can’t remember one she lost.


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Dave Kotok

When I showed up for my job interview with the Omaha World-Herald nearly 20 years ago, Dave Kotok and Mike Kelly met me at the airport and took me to lunch before I would meet with their bosses.

Mike was (and is) a World-Herald columnist. Dave was the chief political reporter. They shot straight with me, telling me why they loved working at the World-Herald and how some days it drove them crazy. They shared with me their aspirations for making that mediocre newspaper a lot better.

Dave’s retiring this November (he couldn’t retire before an election) as the World-Herald’s managing editor. No one has done more to make that mediocre paper a lot better.

Dave and I are different in a lot of ways. He’s stayed at the World-Herald for 32 years after hitches at the Arkansas Democrat and Lincoln Journal Star. Since I started in Omaha following that job interview, I’ve changed jobs six times (one of them a return to the World-Herald). While I left various jobs because of new opportunities, new goals and dashed hopes, Dave persisted in improving the same newspaper. (more…)

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Iqbal Tamimi

I have never met Iqbal Tamimi, but she inspired me when I connected with her seven years ago.

We connected digitally then and I was amazed and delighted to get an update on her last week.

My first blog, from 2004 to 2008, was Training Tracks, published first on No Train, No Gain and later at the American Press Institute‘s website. It didn’t draw nearly the traffic or the comments that I get on this blog, but one comment stands out.

Iqbal commented on one of my posts (alas, the original post, with the comments, is not available online any more, but I wrote a subsequent post that recounted our exchange in the comments and subsequent emails). Here are some passages about Iqbal from the second blog post: (more…)

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With all due respect to John Robinson, he is dead wrong that it’s time for his newsroom “to have new leadership with new ideas.”

Maybe it’s time for John to enjoy something else in life. But he brought outstanding leadership and an endless flow of new ideas to the Greensboro News & Record in 13 years as editor. Whoever the new leader is will have a tough act to follow.

John announced his resignation Tuesday, with his last day scheduled for Dec. 2. (more…)

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I offer sincere congratulations and best wishes to Drew Davis, who is retiring after eight years as president of the American Press Institute.

When Drew scheduled an interview with me in February 2005, I presumed it was just a courtesy interview: he scheduled me for only an hour.

The interview came at my initiative. I heard through a friend at API that Drew was going to be hiring someone to direct “tailored programs” (customized training and consulting for specific organizations). I had been a discussion leader for four API seminars, but had never met Drew. I started going to API seminars before he took over as president. And when I was in Reston, Va., for a seminar, he was always traveling. And one of the seminars I helped with was in Pomona, Calif.


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I share a lot of new-school views of journalism and journalism ethics in this blog. Today I want to share some old-school advice by a friend whose teaching of ethics transcended generations.

In the fall of 2009, I returned to my alma mater, Texas Christian University, to lead a seminar on the challenges of digital journalism. I was pleased to see a familiar face, Phil Record, who, as I recall, had been city editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when I was a TCU student. I hadn’t known him well then, but we chatted often enough at meetings of the Society of Professional Journalists (then known as Sigma Delta Chi) that I remembered who he was, and I was surprised and pleased to see that he remembered me some 33 years after I had graduated.

In a bit of generational stereotyping that embarrasses me, I presumed he was there as a courtesy, an emeritus faculty member showing up at a journalism school event to socialize and support. After all, I figured, what did an 80-year-old retired journalist want to know about the ethics of Twitter and blogging? I was shamed and pleased to see that Phil still taught ethics at the Schieffer School of Journalism and that he was one of the most engaged participants in my seminar. He didn’t know a lot about Twitter, but he was eager to learn and to dig into the ethical issues thoroughly enough to teach them. (more…)

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Entrepreneurial journalism may not mean bootstrapping a single venture. For some journalists, it may mean building a personal brand that brings income from a variety of sources.

Craig Silverman

Craig Silverman

Craig Silverman is a great example. I can’t remember when I first learned about Craig, but I’ve followed his “Regret the Error” work for several years and was quite excited earlier this year when he wanted to interview me about some things we were doing at TBD. My recognition of him and the esteem in which I held him before even meeting him reflect his success in building his brand through multiple efforts.

When Craig was coming to Washington in October for the Online News Association conference, he offered to present an accuracy workshop for our TBD Community Network. We finally met and chatted about his various ventures. I shared his story with my entrepreneurial journalism class and decided to blog about it as well.

I want to do two things here: Tell a story about an interesting journalist whom I like personally and pull from his story some lessons for my students and other journalism entrepreneurs. The lessons will be boldface headings, scattered through the story at appropriate places. (more…)

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The first time I saw Chuck Offenburger, he was sitting on the steps of the Evening Sentinel, wearing an old-style leather football helmet, inviting people to pelt him with eggs.

I was a high school junior in Shenandoah, Iowa, and Offenburger, now in his 50th year as a journalist, was the youthful sports editor of the local paper. I enjoyed reading his columns and following the local sports teams through his stories. I was interested in being a journalist someday, and Offenburger was the best journalist in our small town. He had made some prediction about how Shenandoah High School’s Mustangs would do that season or the previous weekend, and he had been wrong. Offenburger liked to back his predictions up with the threat of public humiliation. So he was sitting on the steps of his workplace with egg — and a smile — on his face. (more…)

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