Category Archives: Working

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

 

A bit of news: I’m joining the Smith/Norrell campaign

One victory down, one to go.

One victory down, one to go.

Starting today, I’m joining the James Smith/Mandy Powers Norrell campaign as communications director.

In blog terms this means that, while Leo McGarry is still the guy I want to be when I grow up, it turns out that in real life, I’m Toby Ziegler.

It means a lot of other things, too. More important things.

There are other things it does not mean. For instance, it does not mean, “Brad’s a Democrat now!” Nope, as always, I’m no more of a Democrat than I am a Republican. As you know, over the years I’ve endorsed candidates from both parties in almost exactly equal numbers. I go with the best candidate, without regard to party. In this race, the better candidate is unquestionably James Smith.

This is partly because I’ve respected and admired James for the ways he has served his state and country, and I like what he wants to do for South Carolina — and because, while I’ve only recently gotten to know her, I think Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell is a tremendous positive force in our Legislature (a point on which her largely Republican constituency has repeatedly agreed).

It’s also because Henry McMaster has repeatedly failed to stand up and be a leader on the issues that matter to South Carolina — or on anything, for that matter. He’s a born follower, and he’ll follow anyone he thinks will help him hold high office. It’s almost like the office of governor is vacant, occupied by a nonentity who offers only one thing to the voters: “Donald Trump loves me.”

So what you have here is a guy who doesn’t care about party being so persuaded as to who the better candidate is in this important election that he’s quitting his day job to put it all on the line. Which should count for something among fair-minded observers.

This is weird for me. Very weird. My job will involve constantly dealing with reporters, and they are unlikely to do what I tell them to do, the way they did in my former life. (Which is just plumb unnatural.) As I step out into this unfamiliar territory, I try to reassure myself that others have successfully made the transition before me. For instance, one of my earliest mentors, John Parish — the unquestioned dean of Tennessee political writers — went to work for Lamar Alexander in 1978, and that worked out. “The Bear” remained a hero to young journos like me.

This is the second stage of my transition. As y’all know, I’ve been very frank about which candidates I prefer ever since I joined The State‘s editorial board in 1994. But that was all just words, as Doug would say. A couple of months back, I took the unprecedented step of putting campaign signs in my yard for the two candidates I most wanted to see win this year: James (this was before Mandy joined the ticket) and my Republican representative, Micah Caskey.

Micah has already won his election — he won his primary walking away, and has no general election opponent. So he doesn’t need my help.

James and Mandy have a long, tough campaign ahead of them, trying to win the governor’s (and lieutenant governor’s) office in a state that hasn’t picked a Democrat for either of those offices in 20 years.

But there are reasons to think these two candidates can win. It starts with their qualifications and positive vision for South Carolina, and ends with a factor called “Henry McMaster” — an incumbent who had to scramble like an unknown (against an unknown) just to win his own party’s nomination.

In any event, James and Mandy are determined to win. And so am I….

David Brooks’ excellent column advocating ‘personalism’

Cindi Scoppe and I used to go back and forth over the enduring value of op-ed columns.

Her view was that if they’re good, they’re good, and if she had to wait two or even three weeks to get a good column into the paper, she’d do it.

I saw them as far more perishable. With syndicated columns, I didn’t want our readers to see them more than a day after they were first published elsewhere. I had a prejudice in favor of columns from the Washington Post Writers Group, because they sent them out in real time, as soon as they went to the Post‘s own editors, so we were able to publish George Will, Kathleen Parker and Charles Krauthammer in the same day’s paper as the Post. The New York Times, by contrast, didn’t move their columns on the wire until after we were done with our opinion pages — so the best I could do was run Tom Friedman and David Brooks a day after they were in the Times.

Past that, even when a column was really good, it would tend to lose out to something fresher if I were picking the columns that week.

There are arguments for both points of view, of course, and the relative value of the opposing approaches could vary according the particular column. Today, I’m very happy that today The State ran a David Brooks column that first appeared on June 14, a whole week ago. (It was his column before the column that I mentioned in the Open Thread two days ago — therefore quite moldy by my usual standards.)

I had missed it when it first ran. And it wasn’t perishable at all.

The headline was “Personalism: The Philosophy We Need,” and it won me over from the start:

One of the lessons of a life in journalism is that people are always way more complicated than you think. We talk in shorthand about “Trump voters” or “social justice warriors,” but when you actually meet people they defy categories. Someone might be a Latina lesbian who loves the N.R.A. or a socialist Mormon cowboy from Arizona.Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400

Moreover, most actual human beings are filled with ambivalences. Most political activists I know love parts of their party and despise parts of their party. A whole lifetime of experience, joy and pain goes into that complexity, and it insults their lives to try to reduce them to a label that ignores that.

Yet our culture does a pretty good job of ignoring the uniqueness and depth of each person. Pollsters see in terms of broad demographic groups. Big data counts people as if it were counting apples. At the extreme, evolutionary psychology reduces people to biological drives, capitalism reduces people to economic self-interest, modern Marxism to their class position and multiculturalism to their racial one. Consumerism treats people as mere selves — as shallow creatures concerned merely with the experience of pleasure and the acquisition of stuff….

Yes! And going back up to his mention of journalism at the top…. most news coverage is as guilty as any of these other culprits of trying to cram people into boxes that aren’t made to fit them. As I’ve said many times, too many journalists write about politics the way they would about sports: There are only two teams, and you have to subscribe to one or the other — Democrat or Republican, left or right, black or white. And one is always winning, which means the other is losing — you’re up or you’re down.

Which I hate. One of my motives for blogging is the same as my aims when I was editorial page editor: to provide a forum where we could talk about the world and public policy in different, fairer, less polarized and more accurate terms. The truth is that almost nothing about human affairs is black or white. And I’ve always wanted to provide a forum where that aspect of truth could reign, and lead to more productive conversations.

In this column, Brooks is talking about the same thing I’m talking about when I say “people are people.” Which sounds vaguely stupid, I know, but I mean they’re not just “liberals” or “conservatives” or members of this team or that team, or predictable because of some demographic accident — they’re complicated.

And I think the only way we can write and talk about people and public affairs is to acknowledge that complexity at all times — to get past the black and white and not only deal with the gray, but with the full range of color and combinations of colors.

Anyway, you should read the full column. It’s full of good bits on the meaning of life and other things that are hard to squeeze into so few words. It’s so good I suspect the Brooks haters have been out in force trying to tear it apart over the past week. I’ll close with the ending:

The big point is that today’s social fragmentation didn’t spring from shallow roots. It sprang from worldviews that amputated people from their own depths and divided them into simplistic, flattened identities. That has to change. As Charles Péguy said, “The revolution is moral or not at all.”

Amen.

Another perfectly good blog post, ruined by gratuitous, over-eager journalistic enterprise

Grabbed this from Meg's Twitter feed. Hope she doesn't mind...

Grabbed this from Meg’s Twitter feed. Hope she doesn’t mind…

Dadblastit!

I’ve been giving key personnel at the Post and Courier unmitigated hell for having ruined a perfectly good, really fun blog post that I was almost finished writing when they had to stick their noses in:

This is what had me ticked off:

And what did I get from Andy Shain, the Columbia bureau chief? A bunch of sass:

And his boss, Executive Editor Mitch Pugh, was no better, thoroughly enjoying my pain:

I fired this back at Andy:

Fortunately, I was then able to taunt them a second time-a with this:

But enough of my fulminations. Some of you may wish to comment on the substance of the breaking story.

Frankly, I’m surprised she went with a guy with such a mainstream pedigree, given her desire to be seen as a destructive force, an “outsider buzzsaw,” yadda-yadda. The answer to the standard South Carolina question, “Whose his Daddy?,” is respected former federal appeals judge Billy Wilkins.

And his uncle is even more establishment — our former speaker and ambassador to Canada, David, a throwback to the days when South Carolina Republicans voted for people with names like “Bush” instead of “Trump.”

So maybe she’s not quite the rebel she wants Trump voters to think she is. Or maybe she was just excited to hear that he was a “Young Gun.” Because, you know, she likes guns. Or likes us to think she likes them, anyway…

From John Spratt to Ed Jones: Twitter is awesome

John Spratt with Mandy Powers Norrell and James Smith.

John Spratt in Lancaster Friday with Mandy Powers Norrell and James Smith.

I ran up to Lancaster yesterday to catch James Smith’s announcement of Mandy Powers Norrell becoming his running mate (an excellent choice, by the way — I’ll post video later). One of the highlights of the day was seeing John Spratt, whom I hadn’t seen in years.

So I looked at this Tweet from the AP’s Jeffrey Collins with interest:

That kicked off a digression in my head (sort of my default mode, really) and I replied with this:

Rob Godfrey, whom you’ll remember as Nikki Haley’s press guy, joined the conversation:

I laughed and replied that Ed Jones was a nice guy (“Mr. Ed’s” campaign slogan was “The congressman from the heart of the district, with the district at heart”), but thinking on his feet wasn’t his strongest suit. Then Meg Kinnard said:

Meg is originally from Memphis, and knows that neck of the woods. I decided to take a stab in the dark — Meg’s the age of my kids, but I thought just maybe we’d have an acquaintance in common:

To my surprise, she replied:

 

Twitter is awesome! In what other way could I have possibly made a connection like that? I need to get Kelly’s contact info from Meg — assuming he even remembers me after more than three decades — so we can get a beer together next time I’m at the beach…

That's Mr. Ed Jones on the right, and Kelly Sharbel in the middle. I'm probably somewhere nearby....

That’s “Mr. Ed” Jones on the right, and Kelly Sharbel in the middle. I’m probably somewhere nearby….

Stop trying to lower my non-expectations!

Of course, there are some jobs I wouldn't take no matter how well they paid.

Of course, there are some jobs I wouldn’t take no matter how well they paid.

As you know, back when I first got laid off, I signed up for all kinds of job-tip services — and I still get emails from most of them, all these years later. Sometimes, they are a great source of amusement, considering some of the jobs for which they think I’m just perfect.

One of the many is a service called “Ladders.” It’s one of the least realistic in terms of jobs to which I’d be suited. But I signed up for it anyway, because it supposedly specialized in jobs paying six figures and more. Why lower my standard of living, I thought, right after losing what may have been the last journalism job in South Carolina that paid well?

Of course, the universe of jobs that pay that well is limited, so the jobs the service lists tend to be from a wide variety of fields, including many very far from my experience and qualifications. Some are really interesting: For instance, I frequently see positions for “executive assistant,” which makes me think, Really? Being a secretary pays that well now? What do their bosses make?

But today, I saw something disturbing — an email from Ladders headlined, “Jobs that pay More Than $80K.”

What?!? No-no-no-no-no. If you’re going to show me jobs that I’ll never get anyway, then make them super high-paying ones. In fact, since the whole enterprise is so unrealistic, from now on I only want to see jobs paying at least a million a year.

Stop trying to lower my non-expectations. You might discourage me…

Ambition does weird things to people

Doug was talking about Hillary Clinton always being in the news, and I was saying stuff like Hey, I never see her in the news, but then I remembered that last weekend, I read something in The Washington Post about a new book by the lead NYT reporter who covered her campaign.

And then, having read that, I read a piece by that reporter, Amy Chozick, in the NYT itself, sharing observations about her experience.

And the part that really struck me was this:

In July 2013, Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, put me on the “Hillary beat” ahead of the 2016 election. It was 649 days before Mrs. Clinton would announce she was running for president again, 1,226 days before she would lose to Mr. Trump…

No, not that part. That part’s normal enough, although it’s a little weird that she’d counted the days and all. But then the piece continues:

Every major life decision in my 20s and 30s — when to get married, where to buy an apartment, whether to freeze my eggs until after the election — had revolved around a single looming question: What about Hillary Clinton?…

Really? You let what most of us would consider to be the most important things in our lives be dictated by what this stranger did and what you’d have to do in order to be prepared to cover her?

Amy Chozick

Amy Chozick

Hey, I know back in my reporting days, almost four decades ago, I wasn’t covering politics on that level, but the difference between the way I approached the job and the way she did makes me feel like a member of another species. Back in 1978, my editor was like, I want you to go travel with this gubernatorial candidate next week, and then follow his opponent the following week.

And I was like, yeah, OK, sounds like more fun than what I’d be doing otherwise. And it was. But I didn’t rearrange my life in order to do it.

The idea of making such decisions based on how it affected my readiness to cover one person boggles my mind….

The name of Amy Chozick’s book is Chasing Hillary. Writing about it in The Washington Post, Carlos Lozada said, “Yes, she chases Hillary. But it is Chozick who gets caught.”

Yeah, no kidding…

Tim Kelly on how he got fired by DHEC

Do y’all remember Tim Kelly, pioneer South Carolina blogger? He was one of a number of folks who gave me pointers back when I started this nasty habit in 2005. His blogs, in his case from a liberal Democrat’s point of view, included “Crack the Bell” and “Indigo Journal.”

He sort of quit blogging there for awhile and tried going legit. He worked at ADCO competitor Chernoff Newman for quite awhile, then became chief spokesman for DHEC. Which lasted until he posted this on Twitter a few weeks back.

As he says now, in a blog post:

Its not the worst thing ever said about Donald Trump. It’s not even the most profane thing I’ve ever said about Donald Trump.

Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly

But he said it on the official DHEC Twitter feed, thinking he was on his own account: “But, oops, wrong browser window, and I was toast.”

Yeah, I’ve done that myself. Just not with such, ah, explosive content. In fact, that’s why I recently purged my iPad Twitter app of a couple of client feeds I had been managing. I’d discovered that occasionally the app would just spontaneously flip over to one of those other accounts without my knowing it. Which is kind of scary.

But Tim’s experience far exceeds any cautionary tales I can share from my own experience.

Ironically, Tim was surprised again by Twitter — he had forgotten that his long-dormant blog was set to post the headline and a link to each post automatically.

I say “ironically” because Tim was the guy who originally taught me that was possible. In fact, he’s the guy who talked me into going on Twitter. When I asked him why on Earth I’d want to do that, he said, “To promote your blog.” And then he told me how, and I started doing it right away.

Anyway, Tim thinks he may be onto a new line of work that he will find more personally rewarding than what he’s done in the past, even if he doesn’t get rich doing it. I hope that’s the case…

Great to be ‘working with’ Robert Ariail again

SCMcMasterSanctuaryCitiesAriailW

Back during the years when I worked with Robert Ariail, he would occasionally pay me the great compliment of saying I was the one editor he’d worked with who “thought like a cartoonist.” He had respect for my cartoon ideas, which is not always the way it goes between a word guy and an artist. (He also knew when to ignore my ideas, which was important.)

He never really needed my ideas, but it was fun for me to brainstorm with him — maybe some of the best fun I ever had as a journalist.

Well, I ran into him today at Lizard’s Thicket — he had just had a solitary lunch before heading back up to Camden — and he paid me another compliment, telling me two of his recent cartoons were inspired, at least in part, by things he’d read on this blog.

The one above came from this post, and the one below from my making fun repeatedly of the monotonously pandering intro to Catherine Templeton’s name in all her press releases.

It’s great to be “working with” Robert again, even it it’s for free…

SCTempletonAriailW

Look what I found: My old press cards

press cards

I was digging around in the closet in my home office, trying to find a staple-plucker to use on some multi-page documents I was digitizing, when I ran across these.

They are:

  1. My Tennessee Press Association press card from the late ’70s or early ’80s.
  2. My Secret Service press card from the 1980 presidential campaign (the one with the beard). I probably got this before going up to Iowa to cover Howard Baker’s unsuccessful bid in the caucuses.
  3. My Secret Service press card from 1984. I was an editor by this time, but I was the sort of editor who didn’t believe in letting my reporters have all the fun. Also, I had a weekly column to write, so I couldn’t stay tied to my desk. I liked to go check out interesting events — such as when presidential candidates came to town — myself. The schedule of a p.m. newspaper allowed this, especially if the event happened in the afternoon or evening. Morning newspaper editors can’t get away from the office as easily.

Halcyon days…

Meg Kinnard’s confrontation while covering train wreck

One of Meg's photos from the scene.

One of Meg’s photos from the scene.

Yesterday morning I was sleeping late. I was awakened by an editor at The New York Post, telling me there had been a train wreck a few miles from me and asking whether I would cover it for them. (They’ve had my name and number on file ever since I covered the infamous Mark Sanford presser for them in 2009.)

Meg Kinnard

Meg Kinnard

I declined. There was a time, about 40 years ago, when I’d have been excited to run out in the rain and cover such a thing. But not yesterday. If they’d had a good political story to chase, maybe. But I left this one to the large crowd of reporters that I was sure was already out there.

One of them was Meg Kinnard of The Associated Press. This video she posted on Twitter reminds me of the thousand little hassles reporters run into in the course of doing their jobs:

This partial clip sort of makes it hard to tell what was really happening. The argument started before she started shooting. Obviously, Meg was a bit upset already by that point. Some will probably watch this and think she’s the aggressor and feel sorry for the school employee, who is clearly out of his depth. Especially the kind of people who despise White House press for getting aggressive when they get their rare shot at getting an answer.

I remember how stuff like this felt. You’re trying to do a job under tough circumstances, and somebody erects a barrier “because he can.” It’s pretty infuriating. You’re like Really? Like this wasn’t already difficult enough for all concerned? Kind of made me glad I left this story to Meg, et al. They seem to have done a fine job without me.

I just have one little complaint, Meg: Turn the phone sideways!

Remembering a better time, just 10 years ago

That's me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 -- taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: "Is This Good for the COMPANY?"

That’s me interviewing Obama on MLK Day 2008 — taking notes with my right hand, shooting video with my left. With my Initech mug: “Is This Good for the COMPANY?”

I retweeted this today…

I passed it on not because it was particularly profound or unique or even one of our former president’s better Tweets, but because it reminded me of a better time for our country.

As it happens, I met Barack Obama 10 years ago, on MLK Day.

That was such a better time for our country.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

McCain in the same seat, not long before.

A week before, we had endorsed John McCain in the SC Republican Primary, and he had won. We knew, when Barack Obama came in, that we liked him for the Democratic Primary in a few days. But this interview, at 8 a.m. on that holiday, cinched it. We were all very impressed. And since Hillary Clinton declined even to come in for an endorsement interview (I would learn why sometime later) and Joe Biden had dropped out much earlier, that was pretty much it.

We endorsed Obama, and he won the primary a few days later.

As a result, I’ve never felt better about a presidential election than I did about that one — my last in newspaper journalism, although I didn’t know it at the time.

From the time McCain and Obama won their respective nominations, I referred to it as the win-win election. Whichever one won, I felt good about our countries future.

We endorsed McCain in the fall — I’d wanted him to be president since long before I’d heard of Barack Obama, and I was concerned about the Democrat’s lack of experience. But it was OK by me when the latter won. It was the win-win election.

Fast-forward eight years, and we find the Democrat we rejected then running against the worst candidate ever to capture a major-party nomination in our nation’s history — and as if that weren’t bad enough, the worst man won. And we are reminded of that daily, as he goes from outrage to outrage.

So it’s good, if only for a day, to look back and remember a time, not so long ago, when all our prospects seemed good.

Duke Twitter flap: But was it ‘racial’?

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I’m musing over terminology after reading about the sportswriter who got himself into hot water at a Duke roundball game on Dec. 2.

Here’s what happened, as I understand it:

  • College Insider reporter John Stansberry made some cracks on Twitter about some students who were right behind him at the game.
  • One of the students took offense, I’m assuming because of his reference to her and her friends as “Asian chicks.” But the student’s explanation of her anger on Facebook wasn’t specific. It may have been the Cheap Trick thing.
  • Duke revoked his credentials for the rest of the season.
  • He became an Unperson. His Twitter account is gone, and apparently College Insider (or someone) has erased traces of his existence. (I base this on the fact that, if I Google “John Stansberry College Insider,” I get a bunch of links that say, “CollegeInsider.com: John Stansberry’s College Basketball Notebook.” But I get a “Not Found” error if I click on them. Down the memory hole, I guess. Like Garrison Keillor.)

All of which seems fairly straightforward in a day when we’re used to people being more or less disappeared for stepping over lines.

But I’m confused by news stories that refer to the incident as “racial” or “racist.”

“Racial” maybe, in the sense that a reference to race was made. But that doesn’t seem to be a primary concern of the young woman who complained. She made a passing reference to herself as a member of the set “Asian women,” but didn’t indicate that that was what bothered her about what the wiseguy did. She seemed mostly bothered about being discussed before the world when all she was doing was watching a basketball game.

But “racist?” I ask because the college paper mentioned this among several instances in a story headlined “‘We were just kind of shocked’: Asian American students report racist comments in recent weeks.”

Yeah, the “Cheap Trick” seems to be kind of snide, presumably a reference to this. But racist? And if this guy is actually part Asian, as the reference to “my Korean mother” would indicate, can it be racist? I don’t know.

I don’t know. The whole thing kind of hovers on the edge of a number of hot-button issues that are in vogue — privacy in a social media age, safe spaces in academia, sexism, racism(?), and so forth — that I thought I’d offer it for discussion.

I do know one thing: If he’d been doing his phony-baloney job and paying attention to the game, we wouldn’t have all of this. But that’s the editor in me….

And I didn’t mean to go on about it this long. But whenever I can come up with anything even vaguely sports-related for you, my dear readers, I try to oblige…

CheapTrick_Live_atBudokan

Remembering the night Nixon resigned

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Yeah, I’m a day late with this, but it was some hours-old Tweets I saw this morning that got me to thinking about it:

Then, later in the day, I wondered if I could see that front page again, and sure enough, Google delivered — although a small, low-res image. See the page above. (See how much wider newspaper pages were then?)

It was at the very start of my journalism career, when I was still in school. I worked nights at the long-extinct job of copy boy, although in deference to feminist sensibilities it was by that time called “copy clerk.” Basically, I was an errand boy, learning the business. And at that point in time — the waning days of hot type — the function was essential. In a time when everything was physical instead of digital, everything — news stories, pictures, proofs (and the coffee and meals that everyone in the newsroom had the power to send us for) — had to be carried to each stage of the process by hand. And it was a great way to learn the business. I knew some things that senior editors didn’t know about where things were and how they worked together (mostly, where to get the coffee).

And there were obstacles, and workarounds, that would confound anyone who started in the business just a little later. For instance, if you want to make a two-word headline stretch all the way across the page today, you just click and drag and it’s done. But back then a headline wasn’t ones and zeroes; it was a physical thing, set in heavy metal by a machine that could only make it so big. I think the biggest possible was either 72 points (an inch high) or 96.

So here’s what we did: The managing editor wrote “Nixon Resigns” on a scrap of paper and sent me to the composing room (on the next floor up) to get it set into type as big as we could. Then, we took a high-contrast proof (on slick paper instead of the usual cheap newsprint) of that metal-type hed and shot a picture of it on one of the cameras used to make press plates, which used page-sized negative film. Then we blew that image up to full-page width, and made a proof of that, which I then ran back downstairs to the M.E., so he could see how his headline would look.

This was not something you did every day. We were doing it that night because this was history. The editor was being creative.

When I brought the finished product to him, the M.E. looked upon his headline and pronounced it good.

By the way, here was the scene in the newsroom when Nixon was addressing the nation: A bunch of us crowded around the TV over the M.E.’s desk, and watched and listened. I forget the name of our Washington correspondent. Let’s say it was Clark Kent. Someone in the group wondered aloud where Clark was at that moment. Our gruff metro editor, Angus McEachran, snorted, “Watching it on TV, just like us!” There was some laughter.

Those who want to paint the newspaper business as already a fossil, left behind by TV, might point to that 1974 scene as proof.

But here’s the thing: When the show was over, all these people had to jump into action. I’d be running back and forth to the wire machines with the copy out of Washington. Editors would be editing that copy and putting it onto pages. Reporters would be calling Tennessee pols for reactions, and maybe even doing some man-on-the-street.

And the next morning, people would have a huge, in-depth package of stories about what had happened, explaining every detail and what it meant.

So what? you think. But you’re not thinking hard enough. That morning, that would be the ONLY source of reporting and commentary available to that reader. Maybe they saw the speech the night before, but that was over. There was no 24/7 TV coverage, babbling on endlessly. (And no DVR or even VHS so you could have recorded it and watched again. You saw it when you saw it, and that was it.) There was no Web, no social media. Other newspapers were not available to anyone unless they came in the mail a day or two later. The only source they had that morning for all the details and perspective on this historic event was their local newspaper. Other sources — weekly magazines that came in the mail and such — would be available later. But the newspaper was it on that morning, the one source of information about this huge thing that had happened.

So we had an important role to play for our readers, and I felt important playing the bit part I did. I got some extra copies of that headline proof and took them home. I got together with my soon-to-be wife and some friends and showed these proofs off. I felt like a big shot…

Managing Editor Bill Sorrels, at the desk where he was sitting when I brought him the headline proof.

Managing Editor Bill Sorrels, at the desk where he was sitting when I brought him the headline proof.