Category Archives: Working

Cindi Scoppe’s Gonzales Award acceptance speech

Sorry about the quality of the photo. The light wasn't ideal...

Sorry about the quality of the photo. The light wasn’t ideal…

Yesterday, as I mentioned, was my day for awards ceremonies. The best, for me, was the one at The State at which Associate Editor Cindi Scoppe received the paper’s Gonzales Award (named for the paper’s first editor, who was shot and killed on Main Street by the lieutenant governor in 1903).

It was the second time she had received the award, having gotten it in 1999 as well.

Bud Ferillo, Bob McAlister and I had written letters supporting her nomination, which is why we were there.

The work for which Cindi was honored took place during her first months alone, as the last remaining member of the editorial department. (There were once nine of us.) I addressed the significance of that in my letter supporting her:

When it comes to cold, dispassionate, hard-eyed assessment of South Carolina government and politics, no one touches Cindi Scoppe. Not in 2014, and not in 2015, either.

But in 2015, she did something else as well. She grew. She still did everything she had always done, the stuff no one else could do, but she added a couple of new ingredients: Heart and Soul.

There was a time when she didn’t have to do that sort of writing, and that comforted her. She liked being, in her own assessment, the board’s “Designated Mean Bitch.” When empathy and violins were called for, she was more than happy to let other associate editors “resonate” with the proper emotion for the moment – and some of them were really good at it. She would stick to the hard stuff.

But by mid-2015, there were no other associate editors. Warren Bolton – an ordained minister who could speak to the heart as well as anyone who had ever served on the board – left in the spring, and by June, Cindi was alone….

That sort of sets up what Cindi had to say in her acceptance speech. Here it is, shorn of some personal acknowledgments at the beginning:

The day after Dylann Roof slaughtered those nine innocents, Bertram Rantin stopped by my office to chat. I probably said I knew I needed to write something about the massacre but I had no idea what to say. Because what our community needed, what our state needed was not policy prescriptions but emotion and understanding. What was needed was RESONATING. And I don’t do resonating.

And Bertram said, you know, we used to have two people who could speak to this sort of situation. And isn’t it ironic that this would happen just weeks after we lost both Warren Bolton and Carolyn Click.

We talked some more about other things, and he left, but his words stayed in my head. And at some point, I realized that I had to step up to the task. I realized, as Brad wrote in his letter supporting my nomination, that I had to grow. I had to become a writer I had not been willing to.

Three thousand years ago, when God wondered aloud who he could send to speak to his people, the prophet Isaiah answered saying “Here am I, send me.” I think that’s one of the coolest passages in the Bible. Christians and Jews see that as a great act of faith. But it could also be seen as an act of dedication, of commitment to a cause, to a calling.

And don’t we all have a calling? Isn’t that what journalism is?

Shouldn’t we all be willing to ask, in the secularized iteration of Isaiah’s response: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

Isn’t that the commitment that all of us need to give to our craft, to our community?

Now, except for Paul, there’s no one on the second floor who should be doing what I do routinely – advocating for policy positions. It’s probably not often that you should be writing about your personal experiences. Certainly not about how your faith informs your life decisions, or how it relates to public policy.

But what I had to do last year – after the massacre and a few months later, after the flood – is something every one of us can and should be willing to do every day: Look for where we can make a difference, fill roles we might not be comfortable filling, grow, if necessary, into the bigger demands of our jobs.

In his supporting letter, Bob McAlister said this about our jobs:

“I have spent my professional life in South Carolina’s political/media axis and have seen the media, especially newspapers, evolve. Of this I am certain: Our citizens have never needed good journalism more to help them wade through the complexities of life and the chaos of the Internet.”

As newspaper staffs grow smaller and the cacophony of self-interested voices grows louder and objective truth becomes increasingly optional, what each one of us does becomes exponentially more critical.

I would urge all of us to focus on the critical nature of what we would do: Not duplicating what others are doing, but providing our readers with important information they can’t get anywhere else. I urge you all to be truth-tellers, not just stenographers.

Today people in public life just make stuff up..

I can remember a time when it simply didn’t occur to journalists that we needed to verify basic facts from someone in a position of authority. Oh, we needed to watch for spin. We needed to make sure they weren’t manipulating numbers or not quite telling the whole story. But if a governor said half the job applicants at the Savannah River Site failed drug tests, it was safe to assume that was true. Not anymore.

Unfortunately, there’s no way we can fact-check every single thing that public figures say. We can’t even fact-check every single thing a governor says.

But at the very least, we can do this: When people say things we know are not accurate, and we report what they say, we can point out the facts. We can say this is what the law actually says. This is what was actually spent. Or this is what the audit actually recommended.

This isn’t being an editorial writer. This is being an authoritative voice. This is being a journalist. This is something I did as a reporter. It’s something y’all do sometimes as reporters. It’s something we all need to do more of. We need to help our readers understand what is true and what is not. We need to give our readers the facts and the context they need to make informed decisions. It doesn’t matter whether we agree with those choices or not; it matters that they are informed.

Of course, as Jeff will remind us, we need to write things that people will read. And this is the hardest part. It’s never been easy to get people to read the stuff they need to know, and now we have metrics that show, at least in the online world, how little they read it. So it’s very tempting to just give up and give people what they want. That’s the easy way to drive up our unique visitor numbers.

It is not the right way.

The right way is keep trying to figure out how to turn what people need into what they want.

It is a daily battle. It is a battle that I often lose.

But it is a battle that I absolutely must keep fighting.

It’s a battle that you absolutely must keep fighting.

We have big and difficult jobs, and they are getting bigger and more difficult every day. And we have to stretch and grow to fill those jobs.

We have a calling. We work for our community.

Not to entertain our community. To inform our community. To give our readers the tools they need to be active citizens.

It is not an overstatement to say that our system of self-governance depends on our willingness to fulfill our calling.

Amen to that.

Shocking news about Charlie Nutt of Free Times

Sorry not to post all day. I was in an all-morning meeting and have been rushing to catch up since then.

In the midst of it, I received a phone call with shocking news:

The 67-year-old owner and publisher of the Free Times alternative weekly newspaper in Columbia was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in an Augusta, Ga., hotel Wednesday afternoon.Charlie Nutt

Charles Nutt, of Elgin, was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen confirmed. Nutt was found in the bathroom of a hotel room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Augusta.

Richmond County sheriff’s deputies went to the hotel after the department received a call from Columbia police saying that Nutt had taken a gun from his residence and had suicidal thoughts, according to an incident report.

Nutt’s Resort Media company purchased Free Times, an alternative weekly, from Portico Media of Charlottesville, Va., in 2012…..

I just can’t believe it. You see that picture above? There’s something missing. Charlie usually had a modest, friendly smile when saw him.

I had coffee with Charlie Nutt at Drip on Main exactly two weeks ago.

He. Was. Fine.

I mean, as well as one man can tell about another.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Charlie Nutt. He was a fellow member of the Capital City Club, and we had breakfast there together once or twice. I’d see him around town, and I’d always ask him how his business was going.

The answer, always, was that it was going great. The paper was healthy, and developing a fine journalistic reputation extending beyond its traditional base of covering entertainment and nightlife. He had people coming up to him all the time and saying, “Now I get my news from Free Times,” rather than, you know, certain other papers.

He mentioned that when we met on March 3, and I told him I heard similar things. His folks were doing a good job.

And he was comparing himself to the competition. Every time we met, he’d share with me just how low The State‘s circulation figures had fallen — something I don’t really keep up with. He said it with a certain satisfaction, like a guy keeping score, but without any malice. Of course, his own paper is distributed free so it’s like apples to oranges, but it was being widely picked up and the return rate was gratifying.

He also had a growing number of specialty pubs adding to his bottom line — the kinds of things that might be distributed in hotels, about local places to eat and such.

Things were going well. As he expected.

Charlie was a thoroughgoing newspaper man. He started his career a little before me, but we were both part of that last generation before the crash — inspired by Woodward and Bernstein (their book came out when I was a copy boy at The Commercial Appeal), and enjoying the very last decades when owning a printing press was like a license to spend money.

He was editor at several papers, and then publisher of some others. He managed to sock away enough money to achieve his dream of buying his own paper. He didn’t leap into it carelessly. From his New Jersey base, he did his research, and he decided that Free Times would be just right.

So he bought it, and never looked back. He just really seemed like a guy who had it together and whose plan was working out.

As compared, you know, to me — a guy who had the job he’d always wanted until the day the job ceased to exist, and did not have the funds to go out and buy his own paper.

Charlie knew exactly what he was doing, and it was working out so well.

When a friend from The State called to tell me — he had run into Charlie and me having coffee at Drip, and thought I might like to know — my first reaction was to say they needed to do a deeper investigation. Charlie wouldn’t shoot himself.

My next reaction was to remember Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Cory,” and Simon and Garfunkel’s musical adaptation. You never know, even with the guy you admire and respect, the guy who has all that you don’t, who you think has it all together.

All I can do now is ask God for mercy upon him, and upon his family and friends.

Six newspapers run the same editorial calling for Christie to resign, which is kind of creepy in its own right

While researching that last post about Chris Christie’s stare, I ran across the fact that “six newspapers” in New Jersey called on the governor to resign after his Trump endorsement.

And then, I saw that all six apparently ran the same editorial. And I thought, “Huh. How does that happen?”

And then, I saw that all six papers are owned by Gannett. And I got a sort of creepy feeling down my spine.

Once, six separate editorial boards all deciding to call for their governor to resign would have been a very remarkable thing. Traditionally, getting one editorial board to a consensus on such a thing would have taken some heavy lifting by a very determined editorial page editor. But I have to wonder, to what extent were six separate decisions made? To what extent do these papers even have editorial boards as I think of them? To what extent are they, editorially speaking, even separate newspapers in 2016?

For instance, I go to the contacts page of the Asbury Park Press, and see that the opinion staff consists of one person called the “community content editor” — which sounds like someone who shovels input from readers into the paper, rather than expressing opinions himself — and a “news assistant” to handle letters.

I’m curious about the mechanics: Who was involved in the decision to run this in six papers? Who wrote it? Who signed off on it? If one of the papers said, “No, we can’t run that,” would its editors have been heeded? When an editorial says “we” at those papers, to whom does the pronoun refer?

It’s just… weird. And more than a little creepy…

All through my career in editorial, I had to deal with people who thought editorial decisions were made by corporate. They refused to believe me when I said they were not. I couldn’t even imagine by what sort of mechanism such a thing would be brought about — because such mechanisms did not exist.

The closest I ever came to experiencing something dictated by corporate was when corporate president Tony Ridder, speaking at a conference of EPEs, urged us all to stop endorsing in presidential elections. (To him, it did no good. It royally ticked off about half of readers and was a distraction from our true calling, which was local opinion.) I don’t think anyone took his advice, although I didn’t bother to check. I certainly didn’t.

But now, I see this, which flies in the face of everything I ever experienced as an editor….

Kristof posts his Tweets on HIS blog, too. So there.

Admittedly, his are often more thoughtful and substantial, such as:

I had that very same thought when Cruz said that, but didn’t think to Tweet it. I don’t know why. Instead, I Tweeted this within one minute of what Kristof said:

Which is OK, but not as pointed, not as helpful, as what Kristof posted. Dang. And in retrospect, it was too soft on Cruz. What Rubio said a moment later, that not only had Cruz not helped the Navy; he was part of the problem, was way better. As were Kristof’s Tweets.

But even if they were better, he WAS using up a blog post to call attention to his Tweets — something I’ve been criticized for doing.

Of course, he wasn’t doing it instead of his thoughtful, well-crafted columns. It was in addition to. And yeah, I sometimes post Tweets as a substitute for extended commentary, when I don’t have time to write a real post. Under the theory that something is better than nothing.

But in my defense, I’ll say this: Kristof still gets paid to write those thoughtful columns. I do not. He doesn’t have to find time around his job to write them; they are his job.

And though I’m envious of that, I do appreciate his commentary on all levels, from Tweet to blog post to column.

Of course, there are people who won’t pay attention to what he says because he’s a liberal, and they think they are conservatives, and they’re thick enough to think that means they should not be exposed to his views. Such as the Trump supporter and member of Congress who wrote, “We could have written them for you before you started, my friend. The bias is simply that intense and unchangeable.” (At least he said “my friend.”)

Yep, Kristof is a pretty consistent liberal, which means I disagree with him frequently. But he’s the kind of liberal who posts such things as this:

… which means he is not only a talented observer, but an intellectually honest man who doesn’t reflexively dismiss what those on the “other side” have to contribute. And we should all listen to such people more.

Personally, I’ve never seen a Telnaes cartoon I liked

cruz23n-2-web

Last night, Bryan Caskey brought the above cartoon to my attention. Apparently, it was presented in a context that indicated that the monkeys represented Ted Cruz’ young daughters.

My only reaction was this:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Ann Telnaes cartoon that I liked. Don’t like her style, and I can’t recall when she’s ever had a good idea. I never used her in the paper…

In other words, I think the cartoon stinks. But then, that’s my standard reaction to her work. With actually good cartoonists losing their jobs to cost-cutting in recent years, it rather surprises me that she has kept hers.

Today, it seems, that cartoon is a huge deal in social media. And Telnaes’ editor has withdrawn it from the Post‘s website, with this explanation:

Editor’s note from Fred Hiatt: It’s generally been the policy of our editorial section to leave children out of it. I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published. I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree.

So, it seems that even an editor who does normally run her cartoons won’t run this one.

Cruz has used this as a way of damning all journalists, because, you know, we’re all responsible. Just one, big, colonial animal. It plays well with his base.

But hey, a guy gets to rant a bit when defending his kids…

A few thoughts on ‘Spotlight’

One thing they definitely got right: The disaster area that is the typical reporter's workspace...

One thing they definitely got right: The grubby disaster area that is the typical reporter’s workspace…

I’ve had an extremely busy day and haven’t been able to keep up with the news. In any case, I was tired because I didn’t get home from the theater until about 10:30 last night, and then couldn’t resist popping my DVD of “All the President’s Men” into the player. I didn’t watch all of it, mind you, but… I was tired this morning.

I doubt that many of you have seen “Spotlight” yet, but you should. And against the day when you do see it, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the things that struck me about it, most of which I shared with the audience last night during our panel discussion after the show.

First, a plug: That was my first time attending a show in the new Nickelodeon, and it was great. You should give it your custom if you don’t already. Andy Smith and the gang are doing a good job.

Now, my impressions…

I had said I was eager to see whether it really was the best newspaper film since the aforementioned Redford-Hoffman vehicle, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given that the cinematic art has improved over the last four decades (or is it me?), it was better in a number of ways, although there were one or two things ATPM did that this did not (I loved the awkward, naturalistic, disconnected conversations Woodstein had with their sources — very much like real interviews). I was particularly impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced “Spotlight” was. If you watched the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be a cartoonish, black-and-white depiction of courageous, hard-driving journos relentlessly bringing down wicked Cardinal Law and his army of perverts. It was way more intelligent than that.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

For instance, while the film did show how a newspaper with the right resources and good leadership can peel away the layers hiding a dark secret eating away at its community, it did the opposite very well. By that I mean, it showed how a newspaper can fail to get that story, year after year. In a different context during our panel discussion, Charles Bierbauer mentioned the old saw that journalists live by, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That very skepticism caused this team and the newsroom in general to fail to grasp the enormity of what they were facing. Yeah, they had a story about a pedophile priest on their hands, similar to a case they’d thoroughly covered years ago. But as indications emerged that maybe there were as many as 12 or 13 such priests in the archdiocese, then maybe as many as 90 (which would represent 6 percent, which a researcher told them they should expect — after all, that’s roughly the proportion of pedophiles in the adult male population), they just could not believe it. It was too outlandish; it didn’t fit their expectations in any way. John Slattery (of “Mad Men” fame) as Ben Bradlee Jr. spoke for all when he cried “b___s___!” to what the team had found at one point.

The members of the Spotlight team — three reporters and “player coach” Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton — were time and again dismayed to learn how they had missed the story over the years. After Robinson and a reporter ambush and harass a lawyer who has been dodging them, demanding that he provide the names of priests his clients had made claims against (leading to settlements that were sealed by the court), the lawyer finally explodes at them and says he had given the paper the names of 20 such priests several years ago, and the paper had essentially done nothing with it. Look at your own damn’ clips, he told them as he walked away. They look, and find a story buried inside. (This isn’t made clear, but I’m assuming they didn’t actually publish the names of the priests in that story — it would have been amazing if they had, without the kind of exhaustive investigation they were finally conducting at the time when the film is set, 2001-2002. You don’t run something like that on one lawyer’s say-so.)

The paper had also in the past brushed off a victim turned victims’ advocate, Phil Saviano, and an experienced editor can easily see why. When Saviano meets with the team and presents them with what he has, he starts out patient and then keeps slipping back into deep resentment that he had been ignored by others at the paper in the past, which causes him to lash out angrily. As he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the reporters exchange a look behind his back. Yeahhh… one of those. We all have experience with sources like that. Full of passion, and full of stuff you can’t prove, and they come across as a bit unbalanced. Maybe he was abused, and it sent him over the edge. Or maybe the thing that sends him there is his frustration that no one believes the truth. At this point, the team is determined to find out if he’s right.

That the paper had missed opportunities in the past doesn’t mean the Globe is a bad paper; it’s far from that. This was just a particularly difficult story to a) believe, and b) nail down. Why, you wonder? Couldn’t they just go look at the court cases? No, they couldn’t. Lawyers for the victims who made claims — a small minority of the number of actual victims — generally didn’t file lawsuits in court. They went straight to the archdiocese, settlements were mediated, and the records were sealed. There would be a case over here that came to light, then one over there — and the paper covered those extensively, and everyone felt like they were on top of it. That there were so many priests, so many victims, that Cardinal Law was aware of the scope of it, that guilty priests would be shunted from one parish to another after useless “treatment,” all came as a shock as the resources of the Spotlight investigative team were devoted to the case.

And how did that happen? How was the decision made to have Spotlight drop what it was working on and bring to bear the kind of resources necessary to get the story at long last? That was interesting. It was the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, from The Miami Herald. He was an outsider in a newsroom full of people with deep Boston roots. He was Jewish in a Catholic town (all the members of the Spotlight team were raised Catholic, although apparently none were attending Mass any more). He wasn’t even interested in the Red Sox. He comes in feeling pressure to cut expenses, and focuses on Robinson’s team — four extremely talented, experienced reporters who only turn out a story about once a year (not because they were lazy, but because they put that much into their stories — making the team a very expensive luxury). And then he raises the question, if we’re going to have this team, why not have it look further into these sex abuse cases? He suggests they drop what they’re working on (some sort of police story) and turn to this. They do.

But it’s easy, if you’re not a journalist, to focus on the superficialities in the situation. A member of the audience asked me about that aspect of the story — the Jewish outsider being the only one who could make this bunch of hometown mackerel snappers take on the church in the most Catholic city in the country. I pointed out that he was missing the most salient aspect of Baron’s outsider perspective. It wasn’t that he was Jewish, or that he didn’t care about baseball. It was that he was from Florida — born in Tampa, coming up through the Herald‘s newsroom.

I could identify with his perspective. When I arrived at The State after having spent most of my career to that point in Tennessee, I was shocked to find out how much of public life in South Carolina could remain hidden — closed records, closed meetings. In Tennessee, we had had a Sunshine Law based on Florida’s groundbreaking open-government law. We’d had it when my career started. It spoiled me. I would hear stories of the bad old days before the law, when government bodies could go into something called “executive session” and shut out the press and the public, and I would shudder at the idea of such a thing. Then I came to South Carolina, where government bodies regularly go into executive session. It was like I’d been transported to the Dark Ages. Shortly after I arrived here, Jay Bender came to brief editors on improvements to FOI law that he and the Press Association had managed to push through the recent legislative session. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I kept saying things like, “That’s an improvement? You’re kidding me! You couldn’t do better than that?” I don’t think I made a good first impression on Jay.

(As governmental affairs editor, I was determined to break through the culture of closed doors. This led to an embarrassing situation one day. I left the newsroom to go check on my reporters and see what was happening at the State House. There was an important meeting going on somewhere that I was concerned we were missing. I spied a closed door, to one of the rooms off of the lobby near the exterior doors that open to the sweeping outdoor steps, and I strode over and put my hand on it. One of the loungers in the lobby called out that I shouldn’t barge in; there was a meeting going on. Aha! I thought. I self-righteously (I mean, I really made an ass of myself) replied, in a dramatic tone, “I know. That’s why I’m going in!” and pushed the door open with a flourish. It wasn’t my meeting. It was a couple of guys having a private chat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I muttered something, backed out sheepishly, closed the door and endured the laughter of the lobby as I resumed my search.)

So, when Baron expressed surprise that it was so hard to get access to records in the sex-abuse cases, I felt his pain. And it made all the sense in the world that he would decide to overcome the barriers whatever it took, and suggested Spotlight drop what it was doing and get all over it. Which, as I said, they did. And they got the job done, against the odds.

I spoke of nuances. I loved a couple of the touches that undermined popular prejudices about the church, even as the film told in detail of the exposure of the church’s darkest secret. Sure, Law was the villain of the piece, but he was no Snidely Whiplash curling the ends of his mustache. Early on, when he meets Baron — one of those meetings that a new editor routinely has with key people in a community — he speaks of when he, too, had been an outsider, standing up for civil rights in Mississippi.

As for the old saw about a celibate priesthood being the culprit — hey, you don’t let ’em get married, so they take it out on the kids — there was a very interesting touch in the film. Stanley Tucci, wearing an impressive hairpiece, appears as attorney Mitchell Garabedian — as an Armenian, another outsider — who has decided he will try to make the abuse problem more public by actually suing on behalf of his victim clients in open court. He’s an irascible guy, and it takes some time for reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to build a relationship of trust with him. At one point as they’re getting to know each other, Garabedian asks Rezendes whether he’s married. Rezendes says he is (although apparently, it’s complicated). Garabedian asks whether his demanding job causes problems in the marriage. Rezendes admits it does. Garebedian says yeah, that’s why he never married: His work is too important, and he just doesn’t have the time. Which, you know, is the rationale behind priests being celibate — that they’re supposed to devote themselves entirely to being shepherds.

All in all, a rich feast of a film, that never falls back on easy answers. You should see it.

Come see ‘Spotlight’ tonight at the Nickelodeon

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom -- and it's not empty!

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom — and it’s not deserted!

I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”

That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.

And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.

So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.

Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.

The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.

Funniest SNL skit ever… to me… at least on paper…

 

I say “to me” because it was inside humor; it could not possibly have been as funny to someone who has not sat through thousands of news meetings just like the one portrayed, and suffered just the way Phil Hartman’s character suffers in the skit. (I’d love to know who wrote it. It had to be a fellow sufferer, because only someone who has been there and listened to such nonsense could possibly have come up with some of the touches in the dialogue.)ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

And I say “at least on paper” because, to my disappointment in going back and watching it again, I see that the actors were a bit off. There were stumbles by Rob Schneider, and even Phil Hartman, who otherwise is brilliant as the one sane man in the room. I wish in retrospect that they’d shot it as a short film in advance, as SNL sometimes does, to iron out those little problems with timing. I find myself wondering whether the actors just lacked energy because, having never been newspaper editors, they just did not understand how hilarious this was.

Unfortunately, the live audience hardly laughed at all, which probably persuaded Lorne Michaels that insider newspaper humor doesn’t sell.

Anyway, I’m sharing this because of a Twitter exchange I had Saturday night:


Perhaps so. I forget what the show did right after 9/11. But that reminded me that, ironically, one of the funniest things SNL ever did was about Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, the skit ran 50 years to the day after the attacks, and that amount of time having passed gave the show license to make fun.

And it was just so, so real. How many times have I been in such meetings, trying to sell something important as the lede story, while my fellow editors oohed and aahed over minor crime news, or the fact that “the lady bulldogs have a chance of going to the state finals this year.” And as one who has always had little patience with other editors’ overreaction to the weather (my general guiding principle on that is that if I want to know what the weather is, I’ll step outside) this is a battle cry that resonates in my heart:

“I’ll tell you what’s happenin’ in the weather: IT’S RAININ’ BOMBS IN HAWAII; that’s what’s happening…”

There’s just one brilliant line after another, such as “Do we have one Japanese person in Turrell?” and “Now Bill, that is something that affects our readers — they’re going to have to pay for those typewriters!” Someone had to have been taking notes during real newsroom budget meetings to come up with dialogue such as that.

But the very best touch of all is when you see the paper roll off the press, and the Pearl Harbor story is played at the bottom of page 7, under the news that Phil Hartman’s character has, understandably, shot himself. It appears under this savagely brilliant, one-column headline:

Asians
Attack
“Base”

… because, you know, you can’t be too careful. Do we KNOW that they were Japanese? And we’d better put “base” in quotes rather than step out on a limb…

The robot takes a bow

Thought y’all might enjoy this…

Yesterday, one of ADCO’s clients — REI Automation, a home-grown company that provides robotics for a variety of industries — celebrated 25 years in business by cutting the ribbon on a new production facility.

And who drew the honor of cutting that ribbon — well, one of the REI robots. Which turned out to be a total ham, bowing in response to the crowd’s applause.

So we’ve arrived at the point Douglas Adams wrote of — robots with GPP, Genuine People Personalities.

Barbecue was served, along with an iced substance that, fortunately, was entirely like sweet tea…

REI horizontal

Yeah, but a ‘long conversation’ with Biden means nothing

Had to smile at this report on Salon, which cites the above Boston Globe video thusly:

Biden has reportedly said he will make a decision on a bid for the White House by summer’s end and when Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who recently met with Biden, was asked if their discussion included any talk of a potential Biden/Warren ticket, she only offered that “it was a long conversation.”

Well, that doesn’t tell us anything. I’ve had a few conversations with Joe Biden myself over the years, and the only one I can recall that was not “long” was a brief chat at the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting in 2006.

Joe does go on…

A trip through the Wayback Machine

wayback

While working on a presentation later this week on the subject of blogging, I went back and looked at some of my early efforts.

Specifically, I went back to January 2008, my peak blogging month ever.

Looking back, I’m fairly impressed.

If you want to go back and explore, just click on the image above, you’ll go back in time, and you’ll find the links work (or at least SOME of them do) and everything.

Enjoy.

Black cop who helped KKK guy just doing his job

DPS Director Leroy Smith put out this release yesterday in response to the way a picture of him helping a KKK member overcome by the heat Saturday went viral:

STATEMENT FROM DIRECTOR LEROY SMITH REGARDING PHOTO FROM RALLY AT STATEHOUSE

COLUMBIA, SC — The South Carolina Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith issues the following statement regarding the photo that was taken by Rob Godfrey, deputy chief of staff for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, at the July 18 KKK rally on the Statehouse grounds:

—————————————————————————-
Background:

DirectorSmith2012

Leroy Smith

South Carolina Department of Public Safety (www.scdps.gov) Director Leroy Smith was working at the rally in uniform, assisting his own troopers and officers and working alongside multiple agencies. He was helping with crowd control when one of the KKK participants asked him to help two men who were participating in the KKK rally and who appeared to be suffering from heat-related illnesses. In the photo: He, along with Columbia Fire Department Chief Aubrey D. Jenkins, was helping one of the men up the stairs to the Statehouse so he could be treated by Richland County EMS.

Quote from Director Smith:

“I have been somewhat surprised by how this photo has taken off and gone viral around the world. Even though I serve as the director of this agency, I consider myself like every other officer who was out there braving the heat on Saturday to preserve and protect. The photo that was captured just happened to be of me.

Our men and women in uniform are on the front lines every day helping people – regardless of the person’s skin color, nationality or beliefs. As law enforcement officers, service is at the heart of what we do. I believe this photo captures who we are in South Carolina and represents what law enforcement is all about. I am proud to serve this great State, and I hope this photo will be a catalyst for people to work to overcome some of the hatred and violence we have seen in our country in recent weeks.”

Indeed, he was just going his job.

Which takes me to the point that I frequently make here that shouldn’t have to be made: This is normal. Day in and day out, public employees — the kinds of people that government-haters deride as bureaucrats or feeders at the public trough — do their jobs of serving the public, without it being a big deal.

This is the norm. Which is why a public servant such as Leroy Smith can’t help feeling a bit bemused when people make a big deal over it.

Back in the day, when we were all quite young

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Cynthia Hardy isn’t the only one remembering when.

Susan Ardis at The State posted some pages from an old newsroom directory from the late 1980s on Facebook. I got tagged because mine is one of the mugs featured.

On this page, you can find all sorts of familiar names and faces. There’s Cindi Ross, before she was Scoppe. She was such a baby (only 23 when I became her editor). There’s Clark Surratt, who comments here frequently. There’s Neil White, who left in the most recent buyout. And there’s Bill Robinson, who opted to go in the first buyout round, several months before Robert and I were laid off.

Even though this page just covers from Priddy to Wiggins, there are almost as many people as there are in the whole newsroom today. Today, there are two people listed as covering government and politics, total (although some others sometimes do). On this one page, I count six of us — aside from me, there’s Bill, Cindi, Maureen Shurr, Steve Smith and Clark. There were about five others, in those halcyon days right after the Record had closed and we had combined the staffs — Lee Bandy, Charlie Pope, Jeff Miller, Scott Johnson and Bobby Bryant. And Clif Leblanc at one point. I don’t think I had all of those people at the same time, but all were on the gov staff at some point in that period. And once, at the height, I did have 10 people.

We could flat cover some gummint in those days.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out Mike Miller, back before we were doubles.

The employee directory was a handy thing to have in a newsroom with 150 or so people.

Later, this sort of thing disappeared. When I was editorial page editor, I was frustrated that while I knew most of the news people, in other departments of the paper were hundreds of people who knew who I was (not because I was so popular, but because my picture was in the paper all the time), and I didn’t know them. Which can be socially awkward:

“Hey, Brad!”

Hey… you!”

So I nagged and begged and harangued our HR person for a picture directory. I knew pictures existed of all employees — for their IDs — so how hard would that be? An electronic one on the intranet would do. But she kept saying no dice, because of some kind of fear in the HR world that having such directories around would lead to sexual harassment or something. Which seemed odd to me — wouldn’t a harasser be more likely to harass in person, instead of via a picture? But never mind, this concern was all the rage in the HR universe, and we were not going to publish such a directory.

But finally, she got fed up with my griping about it, and had someone compile a looseleaf directory just for me. Just that one copy, eyes only to me. I felt like C, the head of MI6, and the only one allowed to see the NOC list.

I consulted it frequently, and it came in quite handy. And ne’er did I harass a single fair maid.

Fun to be on the page with Robert (and Cindi) again

better page

“They’re back and they’re bad!”

“When they get together, Trouble comes a-runnin’!”

“Confederate Agenda II: Just when you thought it was safe to read the paper again…”

I’m thinking taglines for a cheesy sequel buddy action flick after seeing the page today in The State with Robert Ariail paired with me once again — my column with his cartoon. A lot of friends have commented on that — favorably. Although when Mike Fitts said it was “Just like old times,” Neil White, being himself, responded that “they were celebrating Throwback Tuesday over there.”

“It’s Throwback Tuesday. Don’t turn that page!”

Anyway, it’s great to be back with Robert in print today, even though it’s only today. And to be back with Cindi Scoppe, of course. I’ve been working with her off and on since the weekend, strategizing about what I was going to write and the best time to run it, then working together through the editing process. And I was aware that she was writing two editorials that would run with my piece — this one congratulating the Senate, and this one exhorting the House to follow the Senate’s example — whereas Robert’s cartoon was more of a nice surprise.

Now that was even more like old times. I haven’t even seen my buddy Robert this week, but working on this with Cindi was a very pleasant return to the alternative universe where everything is as it should be.

I even called her to ask for a PDF of the page today, to have a souvenir of the occasion (nowadays, things don’t seem real without a digital version). An inferior JPG image is above. Click on it, and you get the PDF.

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The first 350 words I wrote on the Confederate flag

black and white flags

OK, it’s technically only 349, which is amazingly terse, considering the thousands — probably hundreds of thousands — of words I would eventually write on the subject.

I make a reference to this piece in my column in Wednesday’s editions of The State. I thought I’d share the whole thing with you.

It was February 1994. I had only been on The State‘s editorial board for six weeks. One morning, I read in our paper where my friend and colleague Lee Bandy had asked then-Gov. Carroll Campbell about the Confederate flag that then flew over the State House, and saw how dismissive the governor had been of the issue.

Which I found to be outrageous.

So I quickly ripped out this very short editorial — what we called a backup, as opposed to a lede — and got it into the paper ASAP. (Actually, The State has the first backup that I’ve seen in awhile on the page with my column.)

I hadn’t thought all that carefully about the flag up to that point. The fact that it should come down seemed obvious to me. But in reading this you can see I had not yet developed the themes that would be central to my writing about the flag later. You’ll see that I emphasize South Carolina’s image to outsiders, which has not been an important theme to me since then. I mainly did that because it was believed that Campbell harbored presidential or vice-presidential ambitions, so I seized on that to at least give him reason to think harder about the issue.

Here is the editorial:

CAMPBELL SHOULD SHOW VISION ON FLAG ISSUE
State, The (Columbia, SC) – Wednesday, February 16, 1994

THE ever-careful Carroll Campbell is taking an interesting gamble by not taking a stand on flying the Confederate battle flag atop the State House.

As Governor Campbell cautiously nurtures ambitions for the national stage, this issue could prove to be his Rubicon. If he crosses it, he risks alienating a chunk of South Carolina voters. But crossing it could be a way of gaining the national credibility necessary to his ambitions.

Increasingly, the flag is a human relations irritant even as we confine our gaze inward. And it is a problem for Southerners each time we reach out to the world. This happened with Georgia as it looked toward the Olympics, and Alabama as it worked to lure Mercedes-Benz.

As Mr. Campbell gazes outward, he should see that he ought to issue a call to bring the flag down, and he must do it now. He will have no standing to address it next year, when he will be asked why he avoided the issue as governor.

To say, as Mr. Campbell does, that the flag has to do with little more than “temporal emotions of the moment” is absurd. These emotions arise in turn from a failure to resolve the central crisis of our history. That failure arises from many causes, but one of them is a lack of leadership. The rest of the nation can be expected to have little patience with a man who seeks to lead it into the 21st century, but can’t make a gesture to lay a 19th century conflict to rest.

We’re not saying it would be easy. We’re saying that the effort would be worthwhile, particularly if the flag is placed in an appropriate historical display. The Governor has gained a considerable store of political capital in the past seven years; this would be a good way to invest some of it.

By having the guts to deal with this problem constructively, he will have shown himself worthy of the national stage. And he will have done an enduring service to his home state.

Anyway, that was the start of my 21 years of writing on the subject. And soon, maybe, maybe I’ll be done.

I used to work in a place that… ‘doesn’t even exist anymore’

Pancho's

In a comment way back the middle of last month, Bryan linked to one of my favorite bits in “The Right Stuff” (which is saying something, since I love all of that film). It’s the scene in which The Media (portrayed throughout the film as an overexcited colonial animal constantly emitting motor-drive sounds like the ever-present background noise of crickets in the night) ask Dennis Quaid’s Gordon Cooper, “Who was the best pilot you ever saw?”

Cooper beams, and the viewer smiles with him, because we know the character loves to pose that question rhetorically, and answer it himself with, “You’re lookin’ at him.”

But then he gets serious, and says thoughtfully, hesitantly, in a low voice:

Who is the best pilot I ever saw? I’ll tell you. I’ve seen a lot of them, and most of them were pictures on a wall… back at some place that… doesn’t even exist anymore….

That’s a reference to Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club, a run-down, low-rent bar and grill (as portrayed in the film, anyway) in the desert outside Edwards Air Force Base, where test pilots who had been killed in the line of duty were honored by having their pictures nailed up behind the bar. Pancho’s had burned down a number of years before Cooper became an astronaut.

Well, I just had a moment of wistful remembrance like that of Cooper’s.

I was on my way to an appointment on Market Street, which runs between Bluff Road and Key Road just south of Williams-Brice Stadium. And as I turned off George Rogers onto Key, I was shocked to see that the building housing The State‘s (and The Columbia Record‘s) former offices, there in the shadow of the stadium, was just gone, and something else was being built in its place. Even the little parking lot in front had been dug up.

That was where I worked for the first year I was at The State. We moved to the new building in 1988, and SC ETV bought the building. I knew that ETV had stopped using it, and had seen it looking rather derelict lately.

And most of my memories of The State were down the road in the new building. And I was pretty stressed that one year in the old building, trying to get acclimated to a new paper after my years in Tennessee and Kansas. I didn’t really settle in and start to enjoy myself until after we moved.

Still, it was a bit of a shock.

So I guess I’ll recover the way Gordo did when the journalists were too thick to follow his humble, honest effort to answer the question.

I’ll just give a cocky grin and say, “Who’s the best editor you ever saw? You’re lookin’ at him!”

My piece for the Brookings Institution

When I returned from Thailand, I had an email from Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution:

1477344_10152268988702708_889340808_nI’m reaching out to invite you to contribute a short essay for our FixGov blog at the Brookings Institution. FixGov focuses on new ideas to make government work and identifies and aims to solve the nation’s most pressing political and governance challenges with sensible and realistic solutions.

A major thematic focus area of the blog and our work here at Brookings is improving media capacity.  Given your expertise, I welcome you to author a blog post for an upcoming series that will explain the current state of media in America and propose solutions for reinvigorating the industry, improving local and national news coverage and bolstering media oversight. The series will begin in mid- to late-Spring…

I sort of wondered how they got my name. I learned that, as I had suspected, E.J. Dionne had mentioned me. Which I appreciate.

Anyway, I proposed a topic to them and sat down and wrote it a couple of weekends back, and today it was published.

My topic was the decline of mid-sized newspapers, and why it matters — in terms of not being able to perform (as well) their watchdog role on the state and local level. After mentioning the ironic juxtaposition of the Charleston paper getting a Pulitzer on the same day more staff reductions were announced at The State (which happened after I chose my topic, but gave me a timely peg), I elaborated:

That matters because midsized papers have been the watchdog on the levels of government that most affect our lives. We drown in political news, commentary, gossip and minutiae out of Washington, but there’s no such informational vitality at the state and local level. When there are less than a third as many of you as there used to be, and you’ve added the 24/7 churn of web publishing, it gets hard to do anything more than feed the beast. Enterprise suffers….

And then I got to this point:

So, with newspapers shrinking and blogs unlikely to replace them, who is going to watch our state legislatures and city halls across the country? Increasingly, no one. Or worse, the wrong people…

That’s when I got into the fact that it was great that the S.C. Policy Council stayed on the Bobby Harrell story until action was taken. But I found it disturbing that an ideological group that doesn’t want to tell us where its money comes from was playing a role once played by broad-interest newspapers supported transparently by the ads you saw every day.

But you know what? Just go read the whole thing. Then, if you like, come back and we can discuss it further.

Corey Hutchins writes about buyouts at The State

Yesterday afternoon, Corey Hutchins called me to find out what I knew about the latest round of staff reductions at The State. I pointed him to my report two weeks ago, and chatted a bit about what I had learned since then. Beyond a few names, I had little else to say to enlighten him.

Corey’s report was just published by Columbia Journalism Review. And for me, the most pertinent part is the names of the longtime colleagues:

A number of entries disappeared from the paper’s online listing of newsroom staff between Thursday and Friday, though it was not immediately clear whether all the changes were related to the buyouts. Some of the names not on the current list include features reporter Joey Holleman, education and religion reporter Carolyn Click, associate editor and editorial board member Warren Bolton, photojournalist Kim Kim Foster-Tobin, sports columnist Ron Morris, and sports writer Neil White, who had been with the paper nearly 30 years.

Investigative reporter John Monk, who has deep sources in the legal and law enforcement worlds, is still listed, as are veteran environmental reporter Sammy Fretwell, business and military reporter Jeff Wilkinson, and longtime newsman Clif LeBlanc….

I had already told y’all about Warren and Neil, the only two I had confirmed of the dozen I had tentatively identified. Nothing in Corey’s report contradicted anything I had heard. I will say that some of the people I’ve heard are leaving are still listed on the newsroom’s online roster. Maybe I heard wrong; I don’t know.

Today is Warren’s last day. Here’s the only notice I’ve seen of that in print, at the end of his column today:

Editor’s Note: After 29 years with The State, the past 18 as a member of the editorial board, Mr. Bolton is leaving the newspaper. His insight and his journalism have enriched our community.

Kind of makes my farewell tour from the paper — three columns on the subject, a whole day’s letters to the editor, and multiple blog posts — look like an extended display of narcissism, doesn’t it?

My thoughts and prayers are with those leaving, and with those staying behind, from the top of management to the lowest folks on the totem pole. They’ve all been fighting a tough battle for years, and it just got harder for most of those left behind.

I’d love to be able to help, if I could.

Yes, indeed. Everyone needs an editor…

This is old — posted in 2014. But I just saw it, and I can’t help chortling:

Copy editors are a necessity in any newsroom, but sadly, the positions are slowly disappearing.

Recently, Gannett sacked a hefty amount of editors from its various titles across the nation, and the decision appears to have affected the top dogs. Gannett U.S. Community Publishing President Bob Dickey’s second quarter newsletter, released Wednesday, contained a major typo: Gannett was misspelled….

Did you see it? That’s right. Gannett did not sack a hefty amount of editors. That’s impossible. They sacked a healthy number of editors.

Of course, my enjoyment of this is tempered by the fact that I am a one-time copy editor, since laid off…

I’m glad Obama picked Clancy to head Secret Service

It may seem counterintuitive to many, but I’m glad the president made this decision, and not just because the guy’s name is Clancy (I mean, could you find a better name for a top cop?):

President Obama has named his acting director and trusted former detail leader Joseph Clancy as the new permanent leader of the Secret Service, the White House said Wednesday.

Clancy, 59, has led the agency for the past four months since being asked by the president to replace Julia Pierson, who resigned Oct. 1 amid a series of major security lapses. He had emerged as the likely choice for the full-time role last week, when the administration officials informed candidates that the president had made a selection.

Among the challenges for Clancy will be to determine how to secure the perimeter of the White House complex, in the wake of an intruder bursting past several layers of security last fall and a small drone aircraft landing on the lawn last month. The new director also will be charged with overseeing the massive security operation of protecting the candidates in the 2016 presidential race, through the primaries and the general election…

His selection goes against the advice of an independent panel, appointed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson to examine the security failures, that recommended the agency name an outsider to the top job for the first time in the 150-year history of the Secret Service.

But Obama signaled to associates that his trust in Clancy trumped other concerns…

Why do I prefer Clancy to some outsider? I’ll offer four reasons:

  1. I think an insider who fully understands the challenges the service faces and is committed to overcoming them — assuming he is personally up to the job — is more likely to have the full, unhesitating cooperation of the rank and file in getting the job done. This is a demoralized agency, and being led by one of their own is better for morale than having some Pro from Dover come in and assume he knows it all.
  2. The president’s had experience with this particular guy, observing him in the job, and therefore he’s a known quantity — beyond the fact that the president is used to putting the lives of his family in his hands. POTUS is the boss, and it needs to be someone who has his confidence and full backing.
  3. I’ve just got a prejudice for hiring from within, of giving good people a chance to advance where they are. I’ve been the Pro from Dover myself a couple of times, and while I was qualified and had confidence in my own abilities, I fully understood the resistance I got from people who knew the place far better than I did and resented me as an outsider. Also, I’ve got this thing about trusting people to do their jobs unless they, personally, have demonstrated they’re not up to it. (The agency may have been falling down on the job, but I’ve heard of no indication that Clancy has.) For instance, I’ve got a thing against special prosecutors, who tend to be appointed for political reasons to do jobs that regular cops and prosecutors should be able to do if we just trust their professionalism — which we shouldn’t do if they’ve shown themselves unsuited, but if they haven’t, it’s wrong not to trust them.
  4. Finally, who you gonna trust — a guy named “Clancy,” or one named “Jeh?”

OK; I was kidding with that last one.