Category Archives: Working

Answer the readers’ questions, please! Or mine, anyway…

As a cranky old editor, I often have a problem reading news stories. It’s not the poor writing I sometimes encounter, or occasional typos, or the “bias” so many laypeople think they see. It’s this:

Too often, they fail to answer the most basic questions.

This started bugging me big-time shortly after I made the move from news to editorial, at the start of 1994. Time and again, there would be ONE QUESTION that I had when approaching a news item, a question that was essential to my forming an opinion on the matter. And not only would that one question not be answered in the story, but too often there would be no evidence that it even occurred to the reporter to ask the question. Worse, it didn’t occur to his or her editor to insist that it be asked. There would be no, “answer was unavailable,” or “so-and-so did not respond to questions” or anything like that.

I decided something about the news trade from that. I decided that the problem with news is the opposite of the one that people who complain about “bias” think they see. The problem was that, since the reporter and editor are so dedicated to not having an opinion on the matter, the questions that immediately occur to a person who is trying to make up his or her mind don’t even occur to them. Their brains just don’t go there. They’re like, “I got who, what, where, when and how, so I’m done.”

Too often, there’d be no attempt to determine who was responsible for a thing, or what the law required, or why a certain thing came up at a certain time.

This was maddening to me, and not just because it meant I’d have to do the work they’d failed to do. It was maddening because, well, why do we have a First Amendment? We have it so that we’ll have an informed electorate. And they’re not going to be very informed if they don’t know what to think about a news development because basic questions aren’t answered.

I knew news writers couldn’t care less whether people up in editorial didn’t have enough information. But it seemed they could care, at least a little, about arming readers with sufficient information before they went to vote.

(And I would, after a moment’s irritation, dismiss the whole thing from my mind — which is why I don’t recall a single specific example illustrating all this. I just remember my frustration. There was nothing to be done, because it would have been uncool to raise hell with news about it. Believe me, I tried once or twice, and it didn’t go well.)

Of course, sometimes my irritation isn’t so high-minded. Sometimes, I’m just ticked because my basic curiosity isn’t being satisfied. It’s more like, here’s a matter of something that didn’t matter to me at all as a voter, but I just wanted to know, and didn’t understand why I wasn’t being told…

Y’all know I don’t read sports news, unless something just grabs me. The other day, something in The Washington Post grabbed me. I saw that a professional baseball player’s wife had died of a heart attack. First, I thought, That poor woman! Her poor husband and family!… And I was about to keep scrolling down to the National and World parts of my iPad app (which for some reason the Post positions below sports), when I had a question, which I clicked on the story to answer.

What do you think it was? What would it be naturally? Well, of course, I wondered, How old — or rather how young — was she? Professional baseball players’ wives don’t die of heart attacks normally, and why? Because they’re young! As a 66-year-old who recently had a stroke, I was more curious than I would normally be, thinking, Even people that young are having heart attacks? And it was natural to wonder, well, how young?

But the story didn’t tell me. And I suppose that’s understandable under the circumstances, since the news broke on Instagram, rather than coming from a press briefing where there was the opportunity to ask questions. But still. For me, it was a case of, Here we go again…

Yes, I know. A decent human being would only care about the human tragedy, and wouldn’t get bugged about the details. But I am a longtime newspaper editor, so don’t expect normal behavior.

And I have this tendency, as an old guy, to think, These lazy reporters today… After all, beyond this one incident, I’ve noticed a trend in recent years to not bother with people’s ages even in hard news stories. That used to be an inviolable rule that, at least in hard news, you always gave a person’s age right away. The very first reference to a significant figure in a story would say something like, “John Smith, 25, was being sought by police for…”

But I’m not being fair to the kids. I’m just hypercritical. I was hypercritical back when I supervised reporters, and got worse when I moved to editorial, because I naturally wanted to know even more, so that I could opine. And then I just wanted to know because I wanted to know.

And sometimes I find evidence that I’m wrong to think reporters of yore were more thorough.

Lately, I’ve been looking at some fairly old journalism, from way before my time. Ancestry has started uploading newspaper stories as “hints” attached to certain individuals, particularly if they lived in the right markets. For instance, I recently received about 50 or so hints about my paternal grandparents from The Washington Post because they lived in the Washington suburb of Kensington, Md. Most of the items about my grandmother were social, such as an item noting that she had recently returned from a trip to South Carolina and was staying with friends until her mother returned and opened the house (because, of course, a young lady would not go stay at the house alone).

Most of the items mentioning my grandfather, who was once recruited by the Senators organization, were about baseball. They would usually mention that he had been captain of his team at Washington and Lee. And every time he turned around, he was attending a meeting to form a new team, and there’d be a news item about it, naming who was there and sometimes disclosing what positions they would play (he would usually pitch or play infield).

Of course, we know people back then were really into baseball, but still… you’ve got to be impressed by such depth of coverage — reporters digging up such hyperlocal minutiae going on in their communities (these guys weren’t even playing — they were just talking about starting a team!), and publishing it in those extremely dense, gray pages. I always have been. I mean, wow. This is driven home by the fact that Ancestry posts the entire page, which includes several times as many words as a typical newspaper page today, and you have to sift through the whole page to find the mention of your ancestor (which is why I still haven’t gone through most of the hints about my grandparents).

But sometimes they don’t seem so thorough.

For instance, I recently added an item about my great-grandfather Alfred Crittenton Warthen, father of the baseball player. It’s from the Frederick, Maryland, Evening Post on July 3, 1911. It’s way down on a page topped by a picture from the coronation of King George V (you see him and Queen Mary in their carriage), which contains news about a Boston rector who had traced the royal family to the lineage of David in Judea (which I suppose explains the picture). The page includes stories revealing that immigrants in quarantine in New York eat with their fingers rather than knives and forks, and one about an Englishwoman who was “Relieved from Hysteria Very Speedily” by visiting Coney Island. No, really. It was in the paper.

But eventually, I found this:

bells

And while it was a small item, I found it very interesting. Editorially, of course, I was ambivalent. As someone who hates noise, I’m obliged to feel some sympathy for Mr. Potts. At the same time, I have to think he’s a bit of a nutter.

I didn’t let myself be bothered by the fact that there should be a period after the second mention of Kensington, or a comma in the next line between “Town Council” and “Potts.” Such things happen.

But beyond those things, I had all sorts of questions, and no way to answer them:

  • I see Potts is “a resident of Kensington,” but is he a member of council? Or could mere residents present an ordinance in a way that council was required to spend time taking it up? I could see if he, as an observer, brought it up in a Q and A session, but an actual ordinance?
  • Why were Dr. Eugene Jones and my great-grandfather present? Had the fact that such an “ordinance” would come up been publicized, or even passed on first reading? Or did they attend meetings all the time, and just happened to be there? My great-grandfather was in the construction business. Did that bring him there? Was he there to get a permit or a code variance or something?
  • If they were there just because of this item, were they representing someone? Had the local ministerial alliance or someone like that asked them to be there? And was my ancestor someone who was often asked to speak out on local issues — or often did so, whether asked or not?
  • Did they object “so vigorously” on religious grounds — how dare this heathen seek to silence church bells? — or were they just irritated by the fact that the council was spending time on something so frivolous? Or somewhere in between? (I’m hampered by not knowing much about A.C. He died when my father — the last living member of his generation — was very young, and Dad only recalls seeing him once.)
  • The writer possibly didn’t bother to dig further into the matter because it was “said” that public sentiment was very much against it, and it was going nowhere. He was just reporting a local curiosity.
  • Was there a crowd at the meeting, given that public sentiment? Was there drama, and noise (which would have been hard on Potts, poor fella)? Or did the folks who opposed it trust A.C. and Dr. Jones to deal with the matter?

Today, of course, this item might have gone viral on the Web. Our president would probably have, at the very least, put out a Tweet defending church bells, and QAnon would say Potts was an agent for Hillary Clinton.

But as things are, I am just left to wonder…

One of only four pictures I have of A.C. Warthen. He's shown with my grandfather and my Dad's much-older brother Gerald.

One of only four pictures I have of A.C. Warthen. He’s shown with my grandfather and my Dad’s much-older brother Gerald — A.C.’s first grandchild.

The word I couldn’t remember for days

I had no trouble remembering "Acme," although I initially thought of "Ajax." Don't know why...

I had no trouble remembering “Acme,” although I initially thought of “Ajax.” Don’t know why…

I’m embarrassed to confess this weakness. After all, words are my thing. Something I’m good at. I’m not much of a basketball player or a musician, and for that matter there are plenty of wordsmiths who put me in the shade, who utterly dazzle. And not just Shakespeare or Twain, although I find it hard to believe they were merely human.

But years and decades and more of everyday use have shown I’m better at words than, I don’t know, 90-plus percent of the population. However badly this blog post is written, I know that is generally the case. It’s been tested too many times.

It’s not much, but it’s something. And it bothers me. So I hesitate to share it, but I’ve got this journalistic urge to document this thing frankly, so…

Anyway, it’s a thing I hate to see slip away at all. I’ve noticed my writing isn’t all that great since the stroke, especially on “fatigue” days (hence my self-conscious apology above for this post), but that’s a subtle, subjective thing that comes and goes. Not too worried about it, yet.

Not being able to think of a particular word is more definite. Feels more like a landmark — look what you’ve come to, dummy.

Usually, it’s not so bad. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was talking with someone at ADCO about a press release I was putting together, and I couldn’t think of the word the folks at ADCO use for that blurb at the end telling about the company. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the structure of press releases, but at the end you’ll have a line that says, “About Acme Corporation,” and it will be followed by a paragraph of basic stuff you’d want the recipient to know about the company but didn’t mention in the main body of the release. (Like, “Acme is a worldwide leader in producing a stunningly diverse assortment of products that are not normally associated with killing or capturing roadrunners, but can be used for that purpose.”)

I thought of it as a “footer,” which is more of a newspaper word, one applied to those italic things at the end of a story that say things like, Staff writers Joe Blow and Susie Q also contributed to this report.

I confessed my problem, using the word “footer” to explain, and after a second Lora said, “boilerplate?”

YES! Boilerplate. Why was that hard?

Anyway, I’ve had a number of “boilerplate” moments lately. And I think they’re because of the stroke, but I don’t know that.

And occasionally, they’re way simpler, far less esoteric. For instance… there was this theme music to a movie that I had heard a couple of times recently, and something on the radio reminded me of it — something extremely repetitive, I suppose — and I wanted to mention to my wife that it had recently occurred to me that this song was the MOST mindlessly repetitive in human history.

And for a second I couldn’t think of the name of the song, which didn’t bother me. What got me was that I couldn’t think of the name of the movie. And this was bad not just because it’s an EXTREMELY popular movie that is currently back in the news, or because I’m kind of a movie buff. It’s because I knew the words were extremely simple. I knew exactly what they referred to, since they combine to form the nickname of a real-life institution that looms large in naval culture — at least, in a certain part of the Navy. (Not the part I grew up in, thank goodness — more Bob Amundson’s part.) I could remember scenes in which the name was used in dialogue in the movie, and how important it was to those scenes. I could see the captain telling the two heroes that he was sending them there, even though he didn’t want to…

Yes, I was trying to think of “Top Gun” (and that maddening song, “Danger Zone.” Really. Go read the lyrics, all the way through. Listen to the last half of it.). It came to me within, I suppose, a minute. But it was an excessively long minute.

A minute, however, is better than several days.

Twice this morning, I tried to think of a word that I’ve been trying to retrieve for, I don’t know, two or three days. I didn’t especially need it. It wasn’t important to anything I wanted to say. But it really bugged me that I couldn’t think of it.

At one point today, I was responding to a comment in which someone described his post-stroke symptoms, and it motivated me to mention how fortunate I was that most of mine had gone away. I no longer have a problem looking down. Of course, I still have this fatigue thing. And there’s the forgetting-words thing. And then I tried to trick myself by just going ahead and typing the word I’d been having trouble with… and it didn’t work. I had to admit, “Like… dang. There’s a word I haven’t been able to think of for days, and I thought if I just snuck up on it, it would come. It didn’t…”

At that point, I went out to my wife who was reading on the deck. I told her I couldn’t remember this word. It wasn’t something common like “top gun,” but it was common enough in political speech that I should have no trouble with it. Or at least it had been, within our lifetimes.

I said it was a word feminists had popularized in the ’70s — a time when we were both in college, and then I was starting my career as a journalist, and this word was huge back then. It had been colored by that use to the point that people started using it only in that sense, rather than in a broader way.

The word referred to being too loyal, or attached to, some group to which one belonged. To one’s country, or something else with which one identifies. It was about thinking too highly of that identity, and having a tendency to look down upon people who didn’t share it.

I said it had come to be sort of synonymous with “sexist” because of the way it was used in that period. People might use it this way: They might say, “(blank) pig” instead of “sexist pig.”

I also said, erroneously, that I thought it was very close to some other, far more common, word, only being different by a letter or two. (There were two other things I was thinking but didn’t share with her. I thought it was from French, which was more or less correct. I was also thinking it started with a J, which was wrong. I kept straining to see the word, and I was seeing something that looked kind of like “jeune.” I don’t speak French, but I knew that meant “young.” I also knew it wasn’t the word, but I erroneously thought it was close. Maybe I was reaching for “jejune,” but I don’t know why because I’ve never used that one.)

My wife couldn’t think of it, either. I went back in, still trying to come up with it. I had thought about Googling for it, but I knew that would be tricky. Finally, I Googled “word that people use to mean sexist.” The first link I got was a page that offered offered 25 synonyms including “bigoted,” “discriminatory,” “dogmatic” (dogmatic? really?), “intolerant” “intransigent,” “one-sided,” “opinionated,” “racist,” “xenophobic”…

Completely useless. I’ve always wondered why some people find a thesaurus helpful. I never have. But then, I usually use fairly common words, and I think of them myself (I’ve always sort of thought that if I couldn’t, they were too obscure to use)…

I scrolled down on the page, though, and saw a separate list of words associated with “bigot,” and there the stupid word was: chauvinist.

YES! No J, but definitely French! And definitely the word I’d been looking for.

I went and told my wife. She objected that it wasn’t used to mean “sexist,” and that the common usage she remembered was quite correct: Back in the ’70s, a lot of people said “male chauvinist.”

Yes, I agreed, that was correct, because it explained the type of chauvinism being described. But I’m sure that during that period, chauvinism got to be so tied up with the male variety in a lot of people’s heads that it became common to use it for “sexist.” And when I tried to proved it by Googling “chauvinist pig” and telling it to leave out “male,” I got 284,000 responses. Millions would be better, but I think it backs up my memory.

Which is good. Because a memory that can’t remember “chauvinist” is a memory worth worrying about, if you value words.

 

 

I could be wrong about that, of course, but I’m not wrong about “top gun”…

So much for the clout of Nevada’s mighty Culinary Union

the daily

We’ve seen initial results from that state whose name its residents insist on mispronouncing. Bernie came in first, quite bigly, and Biden in second, so far. There are a lot of results to come in still.

So on we move to South Carolina.

But before we do move on, we should pause and reflect upon the diminished clout of labor unions in the 21st century.

I urge you, if you haven’t already, to listen to Friday’s episode of the New York Times podcast, The Daily. It was titled “The Field: An Anti-Endorsement in Nevada.

As always, it was good, and educational. It started with reporters making their way through Vegas, baby, Vegas, and asking the workers they encountered whether they belonged to a union, and if so, which one. Time and again the answer was, Culinary Union.

Then — and this is one of the things I love about these podcasts — it embarked on a history of the union. It was formed, or at least took its current form, after one of the longest strikes in U.S. history, lasting more than five years. But that paid off for the union members, who have the kind of medical benefits most of us can only dream about. Need open-heart surgery? It will cost you nothing. It has been called “the best insurance in America.”

The long-time union members remember what they went through to win that, and so they are less than enchanted with Bernie Sanders’ plans to do away their coverage in exchange for his “Medicare-for-all” proposal.

It’s fascinating. One of the Hispanic women who told the epic saga of the strike and what they went through is actually heard questioning Sanders at a campaign event.

Listening, I swing back and forth, rooting for one side, then the other. Of course I love it that the union was against Bernie, because Bernie’s gotta be stopped, right? But then I hear Bernie’s answer to the lady’s question, and I’ve gotta side with Bernie. Of course a plan that (were it to ever exist in any form remotely like what Bernie proposes) provides full coverage to everyone is more important than a plan that covers members of one union in one part of the country, however hard they fought to get it.

So, tell ’em, Bernie.

But they are not satisfied with his answer. A bird in the hand, and all that — and I can hardly blame them, given the political obstacles that stand in the way of Bernie achieving his dream.

The rest of the episode deals with the union’s rather weak way of communicating its opposition to Bernie. Rather than putting on their big-boy pants and endorsing somebody, they put out some sort of voter’s guide that indicates their displeasure with Bernie.

And the effect is less than overwhelming, as the reporters find talking to union members who have done early voting, many of whom had voted for Bernie.

So you come away thinking that Bernie’s probably going to win Nevada — which is what happened today.

I urge you to listen to the podcast. I urge you to do so daily, in fact. I gain a lot of insight into things while listening during my afternoon walks…

Come on out for SwordFest 2020 on Saturday

Dan demonstrates the katana for Joe and Dawndy.

Dan demonstrates the katana for Joe and Dawndy.

I don’t always remember to tell y’all about cool things going on at the Relic Room — a client of ours — but I’d truly be remiss if I didn’t give you a heads-up about SwordFest.

I went over to WIS today with Curator of Education Joe Long and Dan Bernardo of WellWithin Martial Arts so they could do a live segment on Dawndy Mercer Plank’s lunchtime show. And it was fun. Dan gave a quick-but-deadly-looking demonstration of his skill with a katana, just one of many bladed-weapon techniques you will see demonstrated on Saturday.

That’s just one of many sword styles from history you’ll see at the event, but a particularly relevant one. It’s a little-known fact (he said, channeling Cliff Clavin) that the oldest artifact at the museum is a katana made in about 1600 that was captured by a South Carolinian at Iwo Jima.

Here’s the release about the event. I’m going to be there. I hope to see some of y’all:

En garde! Third annual SwordFest features every kind of swordplay. And it’s free!

COLUMBIA, S.C. – On Saturday, Feb. 8, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum will again come alive to the clanging and schwinging of swords.

All kinds of swords. Basically, if it’s got a blade and a hilt, you’ll see it in action or on display at the museum’s third annual SwordFest.

And it’s all free and open to the public, all day long.

We’re talking medieval swords, Renaissance swords, 19th-century swords, Japanese swords, Chinese swords, pirate-style cutlasses, modern sport fencing and lightsabers from a galaxy far, far away. More swashbuckling than you’ve ever seen before, and far more varied.

The doors open at 10 a.m., and here’s the schedule. All are in the Atrium except for the first and last, as noted:

10:15 a.m. – “Wade Hampton: Battlefield Swordsman.” This lecture by Education Curator Joe Long, about South Carolina’s most famous hand-to-hand warrior, will be delivered in the Education Room.

11 a.m. – Medieval swordplay. Laurence Lagnese of The Palmetto Knights Steel Combat Team will present a medieval weapon and armor demonstration.

12:15 p.m. – Lightsabers! Trey Jones and members of the Aiken Lightsaber Club will present the techniques of the Jedi, including a choreographed lightsaber duel.

1 p.m. – Art of the Katana. Dan Bernardo of WellWithin Martial Arts of Columbia will show the Japanese approach to sword usage through the stylized, and lethal, techniques of traditional kenjutsu.

1:15 p.m. – “Butterfly Swords.” Keith Mosher of KDA Wing Chun. This fast-flowing Chinese swordsmanship system, part of several kung fu styles including Wing Chun, uses twin blades.

1:30 p.m. – Kids’ Demo: “How to Fight Off Pirates!” The basics of naval cutlass techniques explained in an interactive session for youngsters. (And yes, the “blades” they use will be safe simulators, not the real thing.)

2 p.m. – Modern fencing. South Carolina competitive fencers will demonstrate the fast-moving modern sport.

3 p.m. – “The South Carolina Broadsword System.” Historical researcher and swordsman Benjamin Battiste explains the unique broadsword style taught in our own state during the first half of the 19th century. This will be in the Education Room.

Local, historical, worldwide and intergalactic swashbuckling. You can’t ask for much more than that!

And here’s a video about the event. It includes some brief clips from last year’s SwordFest:

I have some sympathy for those poor wretches in Iowa. Some.

Screenshot 2020-02-04 at 11.33.09 AM

In 2000, there was “Palm Beach stupid.” Now, we have Iowa.

At least, I could swear there was such a (pre-social media) meme as “Palm Beach stupid,” a rather unkind reference to Floridians who lacked the ability to punch a hole in a card corresponding to the candidate of their choice. Yet I can’t find it by Googling, so maybe I dreamed it.

But we definitely have Iowa today, and similar scorn is being directed at it. Especially by Trump’s minions, such as his campaign manager:

Mind you, this is coming from a guy who can’t spell “Democratic.” But hey, Iowa sort of asked for it, right?

The good news is, all this scorn could have a salutary result: Maybe it will finally spell the end of the Iowa caucuses, at least as anything the rest of the nation pays attention to. That would be a good thing.

But while we’re slinging insults at them, and pondering a return to older, more legendary ways of picking leaders:

… I have to admit to a certain fellow-feeling for those poor losers up in Iowa. I’ve kinda been there.

I’ve been the guy in charge of election coverage at three newspapers in my career, in three states: Tennessee, Kansas and South Carolina. Pulling together results from a long ballot and publishing them accurately in the next days paper is — or at least, was in those days — an extremely complex affair that required a lot of different things to happen in different places simultaneously, and without a hitch.

My fellow editors would kindly surrender the resources of the newsroom to me — a hundred or so trained professional would be at my disposal — but it was always on me to figure out exactly who would do what at precisely what time, and how it would flow through the newspaper production process without things clogging up, so that the presses would roll on time and readers would actually receive their newspapers crammed with all that information.

One piece of that puzzle was getting the numbers and putting them into tables — candidate by candidate, county by county, and in the metro area, precinct by precinct. The numbers not only had to get into the charts, but to the reporters writing the stories, so our numbers would match. (We generally kept the use of numbers in the stories to a minimum, though, to simplify the coordination somewhat.)

In other words, a part of my job was doing what the people in Iowa have failed so spectacularly to do.

It usually went pretty well, but not always.

One of the lowest points of my professional life occurred in the early ’80s in Jackson, Tenn. The Jackson Sun was then an afternoon newspaper, which meant we had all night and part of the next morning to get things right before going to press, which meant our report needed to be more complete and accurate than what the morning papers had. And it generally was.

But one election, things went horribly wrong. After working all day on Election Day, and then all night pulling the results together, at mid-morning — about an hour before the presses were to roll — I realized the tables were wrong. Completely wrong. All the totals were wrong, and we couldn’t figure out why. We’re talking about full-page tables, densely packed with numbers.

I’d been up and going at full speed for more than 24 hours, and my brain just froze. What was I going to do? There was only one thing to do. Check every single number, and try to find a pattern that showed us what had gone wrong.

At that moment, my boss stepped in. Executive Editor Reid Ashe was and is a very smart guy, for whom I’ve always had the greatest respect. And he had a lot of respect for me, respect that I valued. For his part, he valued excellence. He had this art deco poster, a reproduction of one that had once hung in French train stations, that had this one word over the image of a locomotive: EXACTITUDE.

Precision.

It was, if I recall correctly, the only decoration in his office. His walls bore that one message for the world. This is what mattered to him. Therefore, we understood, it needed to matter to us.

With a rather grim look on his face, he sat down at a table in a conference room with a calculator, and started to crunch all the numbers.

While he did that, I sat on the floor against the wall with my face in my hands. I had tried to sort it out, but my brain was too fried at that point — those numbers were sort of dancing around before my eyes. I had to wait while Reid had his go at it, with — at least, I imagined — steam coming out of his ears.

He figured it out (hey, he had had some sleep!), and we got the paper out. Eventually, I went home  and crashed.

I don’t know if there’s ever been a moment in my life when I felt more like a failure.

So as I say, I have some sympathy for those people in Iowa.

But it would still be great if this was not the way we started presidential elections going forward…

He had this one poster in his office...

Reid had this one decoration in his office…

In case you doubt corporations are taking over the world…

jobs dec 30

I want to say it was sometime in the ’70s when fiction started portraying a dystopian future in which corporations ruled the world instead of the governments of nation-states. Or maybe the ’80s. I have trouble remembering any specific works that had this as a theme, and this list I found only covers books from this century. But suffice to say that it’s a well-established trope, even older than the national emergence of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and their paranoia-based campaigns.

Anyway, I couldn’t help thinking of that when I saw the top two job postings today.

I saw the job titles, and assumed the employer would be the CIA, NSA, DIA or something along those lines.

But no, they’re both for Microsoft. And note we’re talking “Senior Intelligence Analyst,” which suggests there are other intelligent analysts junior to that one, which in turn seems to indicate there are agents out there to collect the intelligence that they analyze…

This is not quite as disturbing to me as it once might have been. I’d much rather have Bill Gates (or some random guy pulled off the street, for that matter) in charge of our foreign policy than You Know Who. And of course, in order to carry out that task, he’ll need good intel. And the great thing is, unlike our current president, he would actually take the facts thus uncovered into consideration…

Oh, as for the last posting you see in that screenshot… it would be fun to do another campaign, and I really, really need to lose the weight… and I met Tom Steyer’s wife a couple of weeks ago and she seemed nice and all, but… I’m still totally in Joe’s camp. So until he calls and asks for my help, I’m sitting this one out…

I dropped my newspaper subscription today

"That's the press, baby!"

“That’s the press, baby!”

Of course, the emphasis there is on “paper.” I only dropped the print version of The State. I still get it online.

That lowered the price of my subscription from $46 a month to $9 and something. Maybe $9.99. I wasn’t paying that much attention. I was in the middle of my afternoon walk around the USC campus when they called me on account of my having gotten a new debit card to replace the one that expired this month, and the autopay wasn’t working.

So I said, while I’ve got you, I want to drop the dead-tree version….  I only read it online anyway. That’s the only way I read any newspapers. I subscribe to The State, The Washington Post and The New York Times, and read them all on my iPad. The New Yorker, too. I dropped The Wall Street Journal several years back because it got too expensive.

So nothing lost, and a savings of more than $400 a year. A good deal.

Still, I’m a newspaperman. That’s who I am, no matter whether I’m employed doing it or not.

So there seems something historic about this, from my own perspective, and thought I’d take note of it.

Of course, I was never really wedded to the paper part of the equation. Starting in about 1980 when we went from typewriters to a mainframe front-end system, I started wishing that when I hit SEND for a story to go to the copy desk, it would just go straight to the reader. And it only took what, a couple of decades for that to happen.

So it’s all to the good. But still, there’ll be a bit of nostalgia for the days when I was the guy who said “Stop the presses!” when something big happened (or when we realized we’d made a big goof on one of the pages), and it really meant something. It felt a little like being Bogart in “Deadline U.S.A.”

I guess, in a sense, what I did today was say “Stop the presses!” just one more time….

Uncle Jed, I wanna be one a them double-naught analysts!

cyber threat

I know I’m boring y’all with these, but I continue to enjoy the daily job listings I get from Daybook.

That’s because almost all the jobs they show me are ones I would actually be interested in. And you just have no idea what a novelty that is to me, after the thousands of emails I’ve gotten in the years since getting laid off, almost none of which have any basis in who I am or what my skills are or what I might actually like to do.

But the folks at Daybook get me. I think what did the trick was my stint as communications director for James last year. That seems to have been the missing ingredient. Combined with other things in my background, it suddenly caused the algorithms to start churning out some cool jobs, things I might actually like to do in my post-newspaper career.

Today’s coolest job is “Cyber Threat Analyst.” It might not be as cool as being one of the Navy codebreakers who enabled us to win the battle of Midway, but I guess being the guy who, say, warns the country that the Russians are trying to make Donald Trump president of the United States is as close as it gets these days. (Although it seems maybe that may have been more humint than sigint.)

Never mind that I’m totally unqualified for the position. I’m not planning on applying for it. I just like the sound of it.

It appeals to me the way various fantasy jobs appealed to Jethro Bodine — medieval knight, Army general, double-naught spy. It momentarily engages my enthusiasm.

That’s not much, but it’s something. And I enjoy the momentary distraction…

ANOTHER timely job opportunity

As you know, I’ve been really enjoying the timelyripped from today’s headlines! — job opportunities I keep reading about in the emails I get from Daybook.com.

Check out today’s:

NBA job

Wow, they got that notice out fast.

After the recent appeals for people to work for AOC, Bernie and JUUL and now this, I expect soon to see the following employment opportunities crop up:

  • Rudy Minder — Main job duty is to pull back on the choke leash each time Giuliani tries to go on TV.
  • West Wing Naysayer — Entry-level White House position that does nothing but say “no” to all congressional requests or subpoenas for documents or testimony by executive branch personnel. Low base pay, but plenty of overtime.
  • Global Newsbreaker — State Department official charged with finding a nice way to break it to allies that we’re suddenly pulling the rug out from under them. For instance, finding a better way to say, “Thanks for years of fighting ISIS for us, but now we’re going to let Turkey come in and wipe you out.” Extraordinary communication skills a must.
  • Cancel culture consultant — No, we don’t expect you to be able to help. There’s nothing you can do when the mob turns on you. This person’s job is just to tell you when it’s time to throw away your phone and move to that cabin you’ve been preparing up in the mountains.

And so forth…

THAT job better pay well…

job postings

I previously mentioned the job postings I’ve been getting from this new source, called “Daybook.”

I’ve been enjoying getting them, because for once, I’m being sent jobs that would actually interest me if I were in the market. For some reason, the fact that I was a journalist who oversaw the coverage of politics and public policy for decades didn’t cause me to get postings like these. But apparently my having handled communications for James Smith was the previously missing ingredient.

Up to now, I’ve just gotten jobs having something to do with writing and editing. But the thing is, I was always more interested in what we were writing about than I was in the activity of writing. And this particular algorithm seems to get that.

So I look over these eblasts with interest — even when they’re jobs I’d run screaming from, like the “Political Mobilization Manager” for JUUL. Yikes. I hope that one pays well, for whoever takes it on. But there’s no question it would be interesting:

As a mobilization manager, reporting into the senior manager of campaigns, you will be responsible for establishing relationships with JUUL users and activating their voice to assist in accomplishing the company’s mission: to improve the lives of the world’s one billion smokers by eliminating cigarettes.

Responsibilities include:

Building and executing and in-market OTG (on-the-ground) strategy designed to convert JUUL consumers and community members into advocates for the brand

Working cross-functionally with various teams across the organization, including Digital Public Affairs, Communications, State & Local Affairs and Federal Affairs to identify opportunities for OTG advocacy efforts and growing the advocacy base

Meeting regularly with community members to keep them informed on key policy issues in their municipalities and to advise on both OTG and digital advocacy opportunities

I was also, of course, intrigued by the position of Director of Early State Communications for Andrew Yang.

That would be a pretty cool job… if it were for Joe…

Yeah, Bernie, you’d BETTER be paying $15 an hour…

bernie15

This kind of cracked me up.

I still get emails from some job-posting services from way back when I got laid off, all those years ago. They are occasionally interesting, even entertaining.

But I don’t recall ever hearing from this one before. And weirdly, it came in on my ADCO email address rather than my personal one.

And as I said, it drew a smile. Yeah, Bernie, you’d better be paying that intern $15 an hour!

In case you’re interested, here’s the job description:

Senator Sanders is seeking a full-time legislative intern for the fall and spring semesters in his Washington, D.C. office, starting immediately. Interns serve a valuable role in the office assisting in legislative and administrative tasks while gaining insight into the inner workings of the Senate. Responsibilities include assisting staff with constituent phone calls and requests, processing messages, attending briefings and committee hearings, conducting research and drafting memos, leading U.S. Capitol tours and providing responses to constituent letters and inquiries. Interns are paid $15/hr. Those with Vermont ties or a demonstrated interest in progressive politics are a plus. The office is seeking a diverse pool of applicants. As such, all prospective applicants are encouraged to apply.

I suppose it could be educational, and look good on a resume (especially if your prospective future employer is a socialist), but really, don’t count on getting much face time with the boss — he’s planning on being out of the office a lot over the next couple of semesters…

Mind you, it wasn’t ALWAYS fun…

Mike stare

After a few years, one might be tempted to romanticize the newspaper life, and miss all that scintillating intellectual stimulation, yadda-yadda…

But then, one runs across this random shot of colleague Mike Fitts, during some interminable editorial board interview in January 2007, and one realizes: It wasn’t all fun.

Sometimes, one sat there and endured loads of nonsense, and thought with dread about all the work that wasn’t getting done back at one’s desk. And one would start to plot how to get even with the world for this torment — perhaps by writing a piece in which one referred to oneself as “one,” over and over and over…

Anyway, the picture cracked me up when I ran across it yesterday…

 

Cindi Scoppe at Rotary today

cindi speak

Two different members of my old Rotary Club invited me to come back as their guests today, because Cindi Scoppe was the speaker.

So I went. And she did great.

She addressed the questions people like us hear the most from laypeople. I forget how she stated them (What? You think I should take notes?), but they’re the questions like, What’s happening to my newspaper? Will it be here in the future? What does this mean for democracy? And so forth.

Originally when she agreed to speak on this date, she was unemployed after being laid off by The State. But before today rolled ’round, she had started with the Charleston paper. So one thing she did today was explain why Charleston is in hiring mode — not only that, but expanding its staff — when The State has now thrown its entire editorial department overboard.

It’s a simple answer, which she stated simply: The Post and Courier belongs to a family-owned company that is highly diversified and isn’t dependent on newspaper income to keep going. And The State belongs to a publicly-traded corporation that has to produce for shareholders.

Oh, and there’s one other critical element: The owners of the Charleston paper have resolved to use their advantageous position to produce good journalism as a public service to South Carolina. She said one of the last things she did in the interview process for the job was meet with Pierre Manigault, the member of the family who currently runs the business. And she thought then that whether she got the job or not, she felt blessed to have met someone with that intention, and the means of carrying it out. Because there aren’t many people possessing those two characteristics these days.

By the way, a digression… I noted above that The State “has now thrown its entire editorial department overboard.” That brings me to a form of the question I’ve heard uncounted times over the past decade…

People have asked me over and over, after saying how much they miss me from the paper, and how the paper is shrinking away to nothing, the following version of question Cindi was answering: “Do you think The State will still exist in five years?”

Until recently, I’ve answered that this way: Do you think the paper you knew five years ago still exists today? Which is a pedantic way of saying hey, things have already changed radically, so decide for yourself at which point you think the thing you think of as “the newspaper” ceases to be what it has meant to you.

But we’ve crossed a threshold now. As of the day Cindi was let go, The State ceased to be the paper it had been, with ups and downs, ever since the Gonzales brothers started it, intending it to be a paper with statewide impact that stood for something. (At the time, that meant standing against Tillmanism — a cause for which N.G. Gonzales gave his life.)

Newspapers have always mattered to me, and to the country — whether the country appreciates them or not. But when I say “newspaper,” I don’t necessarily mean a thing that is printed on sheets made of dead trees. In fact, as early as about 1980 — at the time when we made the transition from typewriters to mainframe — I fantasized about a day when I could just hit a button and have the copy go instantly to the reader in electronic form, as easily as I sent it over to the copy desk. No more tedious 19th-century manufacturing and delivery process taking hours between me and the reader.

And now that’s not only possible, it happens many times every day. But in far too many communities, the newspaper — meant the way I mean it, as an identifiable entity that plays a significant role in a community (no matter how its delivered) — is a thing of the past.

A newspaper, as I mean it, is a thing with a mind, a soul, a voice, an identity, a consciousness. It has things to say, and says them. It provides a forum for discussing public issues in a civil and productive manner.

And once a newspaper ceases to have an editorial voice, it’s not a newspaper, as I think of the concept.

You may have noticed that since Cindi has been gone, some days The State publishes an “opinion page” and some days it doesn’t. But frankly, does it matter? Because when it does, there are no editorials — just syndicated copy you can read elsewhere, and some letters. There’s nothing where the paper says, “Here’s what we think,” and invites you to say what you think back.

I say this not to run down the hard work that the good folks who still work at The State do, from the young reporters who now cover state politics (with whom I interacted a lot during the campaign) to the few remaining veterans like John Monk (who introduced Cindi today), Sammy Fretwell and Jeff Wilkinson. They’re working harder than ever, and producing information of value, and may they long continue to do so.

And I’m perfectly aware that the world is full of people — including a lot of journalists — who saw no value in the editorial page, who interacted with it no more deeply than to say, “Did you see what those idiots said today?” If that.

But at least the idiots said something. They didn’t just regurgitate what happened. They thought about it to the best of their feeble ability to think, and shared what they thought, and stood behind it. And that means a lot to me. I decided long ago, even before I left the news division to work on the editorial page back in 1994, that I preferred learning things from sources that had something to say about the subject at hand. It didn’t matter so much what they said about it — I might think their editorial point was totally off the mark — but they engaged the news on a different level, a deeper level, and they invited my lazy brain to do the same. That was more valuable to me than “straight” reporting, which by its nature engages the news on a more superficial level.

Also, you should know, in The State’s defense, that when it abandoned its editorial role last fall, it just joined the trend. When The Post and Courier contacted me to arrange James Smith’s endorsement interview with their editorial board, I thought I might as well start reaching out to other papers and arranging such meetings with them, too. Work, work, work. But as I did so, I had a creeping feeling there wouldn’t be any more such meetings. And I was right. I called The Greenville News. They told me they not only didn’t do endorsements any more, they didn’t do other editorials, either. Ditto with the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. I didn’t contact any smaller papers, figuring if they were exceptions to the rule, they’d reach out to me. I had plenty of other work to do, and it was — to someone like me, being who I am and valuing what I value — a singularly depressing exercise.

End of digression.

Anyway, Cindi did a great job, and represented the profession — the much diminished profession — in a way that did credit to us all. Even if very few of us are still around and employed, I’m glad she’s one of the few. But y’all probably already knew that…

Cindi and me

Wonderful news for Cindi, and even better for SC!

Cindi

Cindi Ross Scoppe shared her good news with me last week, but told me to embargo it while she and the folks at the Post and Courier decided how to announce it. So I did. And then, she went ahead and scooped me herself on social media!

It’s those kind of killer instincts that have made her the finest political journalist working in South Carolina today.

And yes, she is indeed back working. As she wrote:

I’m starting my new job on Thursday, as an editorial writer for The Post and Courier. I’ll be working with a great team, writing editorials and columns primarily about state government and the Legislature. And yes, I’m staying in Columbia, where I can keep a close eye on everything. I’ll have a column in a few days introducing myself to readers, and I’ll share that here.

This is tremendous news — the Charleston paper creating this new position, in Columbia, and hiring Cindi for it is the kind of fairy-tale ending that just doesn’t happen for experienced journalists these days. It’s wonderful for Cindi, and even better for South Carolina.

Y’all might not know this, but the Post and Courier is the last daily newspaper in South Carolina that actually employs an editorial department (with an editorial page editor and everything), offering opinions on the issues that affect our state. The State, as you know, doesn’t do it — they didn’t even bother to have an “opinion page” today, which is just as well, since when they do run it it’s just canned stuff from elsewhere and a few letters. And I learned during the campaign, when I was checking around to set up endorsement interviews, that the Greenville and Spartanburg papers don’t do editorials any more, either.

Cindi told me that the Charleston folks asked why, toward the end of her career at The State, she wrote only columns and no editorials. The answer was as obvious to me as it was to her — there was something vaguely false about offering editorials when you’re the last member of the editorial board. Might as well sign them. (For those still confused about the difference, I’ll explain further on request.)

I’m just so happy for Cindi. But I’m thrilled for South Carolina. We all needed her back on the job.

Who congratulates people on their ‘work anniversaries?’

I've blurred names and faces to protect the innocent. It's not their fault LinkedIn does this...

I’ve blurred names and faces to protect the innocent. It’s not their fault LinkedIn does this…

Several years back, I was persuaded to sign up for LinkedIn, on the premise that it would be good for me in my post-newspaper life.

I’ve given it every chance; I really have. I’ve got more than 1,500 connections without having tried all that hard. (I know a lot of people; a lot of people know me.) And I’m sure that any day now, this will come in handy. For something.

But today, as I labor to empty my IN box, I’m wondering about one specific aspect of this thing.

Who congratulates people on their work anniversaries? If you do it, why do you do it? Do you think they want you to? Does anyone have work anniversary celebrations? When you do so, do you worry whether your message will push the recipient into a state of despond, having been reminded that he or she has spent yet another year in that job?

Is this notion of work anniversaries some sort of holdover from when people actually spent whole careers in the same secure jobs, and happily counted down the years until they got that gold watch? Seems to me that the period of time in which LinkedIn has existed corresponds with the years in which more and more of us have been thrown, unwilling, into the gig economy. Is that it? Is the idea that we’re to congratulate the few, the happy (but endangered) few who still have actual jobby-jobs, like Daddy used to have?

I’m just curious whether this is a thing. Or whether LinkedIn is just trying to make it a thing (and, I’m guessing, not succeeding) in a desperate bid for relevance.

All I know is, I’m tired of the emails…

Reactivated for campaign duty, for one brief moment…

Q4

I was eating breakfast last Thursday, minding my own business, when the call came from Tom Barton of The State.

He said he thought maybe today was the day for campaign finance reports for Q4, and wondered when we might have our report ready.

I didn’t say “What?,” or “Why are you asking me?” or “Take a flying leap!” After all, whom else was he going to ask? So I shifted immediately back into campaign mode, and gave him the response I probably used the most during those four months: I told him I didn’t have the slightest idea, but I’d check and get back to him.

I soon learned that the deadline was today, although there was a five-day grace period, and that a couple of folks who had handled finance for the campaign were working on completing it.

This led to a flurry of multilateral communications via text that lasted all day and into the night. I just went back and counted: There were 64 of them, involving a total of seven people. Although the main communications involved one of the finance folks, James and Mandy and me. And James didn’t weigh in until the rest of us had things sorted out — which was smart.

In other words, it was just like being back on the trail, except more restful because we were only dealing with this one simple thing, instead of 10 or 20 things that made us want to tear our hair out.

The short version is that one of those texts gave me the figures I needed, I wrote a release, James and Mandy approved it, and after holding it for a couple of hours to see whether we wanted to react to anything in Henry’s report when they filed it (we didn’t), I dug up my campaign media address lists and sent it out to 200 and something media types, at 10:28 p.m.

But first, I texted Tom to tell him it was coming, since he was the one person who had asked.

I haven’t seen any reports on the filing, which is not surprising, because it’s not that interesting. (Perhaps I even DID see such a headline, and My Eyes Glazed Over.) But we did what was required.

It was kind of nice and sort of poignant to be working with everybody again, although on such a low-key level.

That’s probably my last release for the campaign, but who knows? I wasn’t expecting that one…

But take heart! Corporate B.S. is alive and well…

In 1974, the paper's newsroom was still like a place where Ben Hecht would feel at home.

In 1974, the Memphis paper’s newsroom was still like a place where Ben Hecht would feel at home.

I tend to have little patience with populists who rant about corporations, from Bernie Sanders to Tucker Carlson.

But you know that thing Fitzgerald said about “he test of a first-rate intelligence (being) the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time?”

Well, personally, in my newspaper life, I never saw much good come out of the corporate offices. And I did my best to ignore them, because of a central truth about newspapers: They only had meaning as local players, as institutions vitally engaged with their communities. The purely financial relationship between papers and the corporations had nothing to do with the sacred relationship between papers and their readers. And I was determined to make sure the one in no way intruded into the other.

I was not alone in that, of course. And fortunately, the corporations that owned the papers I worked for respected that.

Those days are largely gone. Corporate looms much larger in the day-to-day existence of small-to-mid-sized newspapers, and the sense of place is much diminished, starting from the top, with senior editors and publishers who oversee several papers at a time, scattered across several cities.

But I digress.

Today, on a Facebook page created for journalists once employed by a newspaper at which I first started working 43 years ago, I noticed a shared news item from 2017 (the page doesn’t get a lot of activity) about the bigger paper down the road in Memphis, with the headline, “The Commercial Appeal seeks new home with digital forward attitude.”

Some of my former colleagues commented on remembering when the building the paper was abandoning was built, and seemed such a glittering modern creation. Me, I remember the ancient building before that one, where I had started my career as a copy clerk while still in school. The atmosphere was exactly like a set from “His Girl Friday,” or something else that would have been familiar to Ben Hecht. It was like stepping from the 1970s back into the ’30s, or ’20s — both architecturally and in terms of the working atmosphere. That was an atavistic bunch that worked there in 1974, bearing very little resemblance to the places I worked for the rest of my career.

But what I chose to comment on was the phrase, “digital forward attitude.”

A lot is gone from the old biz — the people, the money, the sense of mission — but we can clearly see that corporate B.S. is alive and well…

Wait! Isn’t that one of my campaign tweets?

One of the many occasions on which we spoke out about this very thing...

One of the many occasions on which we spoke out about this very thing…

Just saw this, which gave me flashbacks:

Man, how many times in the last few months did I say or type — in Tweets, on Facebook, in press releases, in statements to reporters — some variation of “Some of the best jobs in South Carolina are threatened by the tariffs that Henry McMaster refuses to take a stand against?”

More times than I care to remember…

Not gonna say we told you so… not gonna say we told you so…

More about those job-killing tariffs Henry won’t stand up against — but y’all don’t care about that, do you?

beamer

As Levon Helm said as Jack Ridley, All right, y’all — here we go again.

The P&C brings us twin stories today about the continuing ill effects of Trump’s tariffs — up to which McMaster will not stand (I’m nothing if not grammatical). Of course, they’re doing what anyone with any understanding of the way the world works would expect: threatening some of the best jobs in the state:

I’m not going to repeat myself. I’m just going to refer you to this release, and this one and this one and this one, and then stop there, because you’re probably not even following the links to those.

But yeah, we told you so.

And what did reporters keep asking me about? The next ad buy, or when some yahoo who plans to run for president in 2020 might be coming to South Carolina…

Here we go again, y'all...

All right, y’all — here we go again…

The last group picture

Last shot

Phillip and Kathryn have already remarked upon a version of this photo, on Facebook. Said Phillip:

Brad looking extra cool and laid-back there off to the side, showing the youngsters how it’s done.

This was on Saturday. It was the last time campaign staff were together in headquarters. We had cleaned the place out. Or rather, everybody else had cleaned the place out and I had helpfully watched them do it.

I was more helpful on Thursday, when we had dismantled and removed most of the furniture. I went through every sheet of paper in the random heap on my desk — actually, a bare-bones table from Ikea — and then dismantled the table, and left the pieces on the front porch where presumably someone was to pick them up. And did some other stuff, but mainly dealt with my own particularly chaotic space.

But when I got there Saturday, I was late, and everyone else seemed to have a task, and before I could get my bearings we were done, and posing for pictures. (The group you see above is more or less the core staff, with a volunteer or two. Some people who played a major role are missing, such as Phil Chambers.)

It wasn’t a total waste, though. Managing to look cool in the picture is in itself an accomplishment, right?

I’ll have more to say about the last few months, about what preceded the cleaning-out. But I’ll probably unpack it randomly, as a picture or a word or something in the news reminds me. My mind is still decompressing at the moment. All those months of intensity at an increasingly faster pace, culminating with those eight days and nights on the RV — it’s going to take time to process.

In the meantime, there’s the last picture. There will be more. I shot thousands… Below is one (that I did not shoot; this was done by a professional) showing some of the same people the day Joe Biden came to Charleston.

Between those two was the most intense part of the experience. The Biden thing seems in a way like yesterday, and in a way like 10 years ago…

Biden group shot