Category Archives: Working

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.

The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives!

Actually, this is NOT The Cotton Pigue mentality. It's The Bog Trotters Band. I just needed a Bluegrass picture that was old-timey.

Actually, this is NOT the legendary Cotton Pigue Mentality. It’s The Bog Trotters Band, back in 1937. I just needed a Bluegrass picture that was old-timey.

This is a way, way inside joke, but I thought I’d share it as an illustration of how things don’t change much.

Back in the late ’70s or early ’80s, when I was working at The Jackson (TN) Sun, a judge in a nearby county had a case before him that seemed designed to reinforce every right-winger’s nightmare stereotype of the Welfare Queen. A poor black woman had a houseful of kids, and a couple of her daughters had several of their own. All told, there were about 20 people in the household, if I remember correctly — all women and children.

I forget why they were before him. What I recall is that this old white guy (he was not much older than I am now, but back then he seemed ancient) decided to lecture these women and tell them they needed to stop having children out of wedlock. The judge’s name was “Cotton” Pigue.

It caused a bit of a sensation in West Tennessee when that was reported, and as you might imagine, while some had a “You tell ’em!” reaction, others were quite critical of the judge having overstepped the bounds of his job description.

We were discussing it in the tiny editorial office of the paper, as I recall, when a woman said something disparaging about how certain people needed to get over this “Cotton Pigue mentality.”

My good friend Richard Crowson, the paper’s editorial cartoonist and the best bluegrass picker I’ve ever known, got excited: That was the perfect name for a Bluegrass band! The Cotton Pigue Mentality! I don’t think he actually ever named any of the groups he played in that, but it was a memorable inspiration.

Anyway, after not having been heard from in years — no albums, no tours — it seems the Mentality has made a comeback. In Tennessee, appropriately enough:

Judge to inmates: Get sterilized and I’ll shave off jail time

A judge in central Tennessee is hoping to help repeat offenders “make something of themselves” by offering them a highly original and probably unconstitutional deal: reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization operations.

Under a standing order issued by General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield, inmates in White County, Tenn., can receive 30 days credit toward their jail time if they volunteer for vasectomies or contraceptive implants, as NewsChannel 5 reported Thursday.

The order came down quietly in May, and already dozens of inmates have sought to take advantage of it. Thirty-two women have received implants of the hormone device Nexplanon, and 38 men have signed up to receive vasectomies, according to NewsChannel 5….

The Cotton Pigue Mentality lives! I can’t wait for to hear them when they come to town — just for old times’ sake…

The real "Cotton" Pigue.

The real “Cotton” Pigue.

Editing the Declaration of Independence

I spent part of the long holiday weekend rewatching an episode or two of HBO’s John Adams.

Of course, being me, I love the scene that depicts the editing of the Declaration of Independence.

If you’ll recall, Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were appointed as a committee to draft the Declaration. Then, Adams had talked Jefferson into doing the actual writing, citing his skill with the written word and the fact that Adams himself was far too busy (aside from sitting on various committee, Adams was bearing the greatest share of the burden of arguing for independence, while Jefferson never opened his mouth during the debate).

In this scene, Adams and Ben Franklin are getting their first look at what Jefferson has written, and reacting to it, and offering changes. Having been in this situation myself so many thousands of times with writers who sometimes regarded their words as perfect, I enjoyed watching the dynamics.

First observation: Adams starts out by praising Jefferson’s work to the skies — a fitting approach given the document he’s editing, but one that is wildly at odds with my own approach. As Dave Moniz used to say when he worked for me, the highest praise I ever offered of writers’ work was “pretty good.” Maybe I should have tried this approach; it seems to have led to a good result.

Then there is Jefferson’s unnerving passivity through most of the process — an almost autistic lack of emotion. I’ve had writers fly off the handle at my changes, or be philosophically diplomatic about it. But never anyone with this staring, shrugging apathy. Change to “self-evident?” Yeah, whatevs…

Even when Adams says some of it might not be the way he would have said it, but he will still defend every word, Jefferson has no gratitude, but shrugs, “Well, it’s what I believe…”

Nevertheless, Jefferson proves he’s not an automaton when Franklin (being a newspaper editor himself, Ben had a knack for this) finally gets a rise out of him, and Jefferson says, still in that cold-fish voice, “Every single word was precisely chosen. I assure you of that, Dr. Franklin.” To which Franklin, unfazed, essentially says yeah, that may be the case, but you don’t get the final word; we’ve got to get this thing through Congress.

Adams was (in an unaccustomed role for him) cheerleading the document, while Franklin was determined to edit it. Normally, I’m an Adams fan, but in this case, it’s Ben I identified with. You can’t let writers get an exaggerated sense of their own importance. What do they think they are, editors?

Anyway, this is my belated Independence Day post…

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The NYT makes a mistake, and Bryan and I have a spirited discussion about it

I had a dental appointment at 8 this morning, which meant I arrived there uncaffeinated, intending to eat afterward.

To keep from dozing off while the dentist and hygienist were out of the room, I looked at Twitter, and saw this from Bryan:

And I’m like, say what? Has @realdonaldtrump taken over Bryan’s feed? I glanced quickly over the link provided, but couldn’t tell what he was trying to convey by the time people came back into the room and made me open my mouth again.

When I got into my car to leave, I saw I had a couple of direct messages from Bryan, to this effect:

I hope Palin sues the hell out of the NYT.

and:

I mean, if you want “fake news” it’s right there.

Huh? I replied,

You have the advantage of me, sir. As the foremast jacks would say, what are you on about?

I then drove downtown to get some breakfast. And coffee. When I got there, I found the following messages:

The NYT “Editorial Board” wrote a piece about the Scalise shooting. They specifically blame Palin for Loughner shooting Giffords. Explicitly.b3f68215788bf24bfc7cc42223023a42_400x400

However, it has been specifically, demonstrably proven that Loughner had no idea about Palin, AND THAT WAS IN THE NYT back in 2011.

So the accusation in today’s editorial is demonstrably false according to the NYT itself.

Which, to my legal mind, is evidence of actual malice and enough to support a libel claim.

Do Editorial Boards not run things by lawyers on a regular basis? I can’t imagine any lawyer would have let them make this claim in today’s editorial.

… which was lot to take in during one’s first cup. I replied:

Well, I haven’t seen the reference, but obviously, no one intended to make a false claim. No one knew that they were doing so. They would have zero motivation for doing that. And when you don’t know something you’re referring to is problematic, why on earth would you consult a lawyer?

From Bryan:

Just saying, this editorial is completely counterproductive to having both sides come together, not to mention utterly wrong.

And it was exactly what I predicted and exactly why I hoped the shooter wasn’t left-wing.

It’s another example of why lots of folks don’t trust big news outlets.

You can’t be “the paper of record” and get something factually wrong six year later.

Me:

Well, there are two things going on here. There’s the point the NYT is making, and there’s the error that was made in a reference to a different case. Critics see a connection between the two. I don’t.

“You can’t be ‘the paper of record’ and get something factually wrong six year later.” Of COURSE you can. Let’s suppose for a moment the NYT is the best paper in the world, as it believes it is. It would still make errors, regularly. You seem to be assuming omniscience on he part of the editors, and therefor not only intent, but malicious intent. You show me a long profile about this Loughner guy, and I’m taking your word that somewhere down in it, there’s something that negates the reference in that editorial. Then, you seem to assume that everyone who works at the Times, being omniscient, HAD to know that that fact existed, buried in a profile that appeared in the paper SIX YEARS AGO. Do you not see how unlikely your assumptions are?

Bryan:

It’s not hard to avoid saying false things you know are false.

Me:

“It’s not hard to avoid saying false things you know are false.” That’s 100 percent true. But I fail to see what that assertion has to do with the present case.

Bryan:

I assume the Editors of the NYT are informed about important things reported in their own newspaper. This wasn’t an obscure event.

I don’t think you have to be omniscient to know there was zero evidence linking Loughner to Palin.

Me:

I think our disconnect arises from the differences in our experiences. An attorney has months, sometimes years, to pursue and research anything and everything that might bear upon the case he’s presenting. Try going from concept to publication in half an hour.

Bryan:

Maybe. Might not be the best defense in court, though.

 Me:

The fact that Gifford got shot was not an obscure event. The footnote you refer to most certainly was. I couldn’t have told you the guy’s name was Loughner…

 “Might not be the best defense in court, though.” Actually, it is. Without intent — and if you think about this, you HAVE to see no one would make such a mistake intentionally (and I’m still taking your word that it’s a mistake, since Google isn’t helping me find independent evidence outside of Breitbart et al.) — you can’t have malice.

I then drove to work. By the time I got here, Bryan had written:

I think the fact that it was in their own newspaper is enough to show malice. Maybe a jury would disagree with me, but I think it’s certainly enough to get to a jury and survive a summary judgment motion. If Pailin asked me, I would take the case.

Could be some prize money in it.

And as long as I didn’t have former editorial page editors on my jury, I’d feel pretty good about my chances.

Oh, and related: This editorial is how you get more Trump. If you are someone who is anti-Trump, you should discourage this sort of erroneous editorial. It’s going to make it easy for him to run against the NYT et al. when they continue to make it easy for him to do so with editorials like this.

I’m against this editorial for that reason (it enables Trump), for the reason that it breeds distrust and reinforces existing distrust, and breeds contempt between opposing viewpoints. Literally no good comes from this awful piece.

As you can see, the NYT has now issued a correction, completely retracting their false claim – so you can stop taking my word for it that it was an incorrect claim.

Oh, it it fits into my previous point (a few weeks ago) about the “fake news” being this paradigm: (1) false story trumpeted out from large media source and then repeated by lots of other sources; (2) it’s proven to be factually wrong; (3) retraction/correction is made, but it doesn’t get the same fanfare the original wrong statement did; (4) general public never remembers the correction.

Ok. I’m off my soapbox. I’ll be getting back to some actual legal work now. Cheers.

Now that I was at the office and on my laptop (making typing less laborious), I concluded:

“I think the fact that it was in their own newspaper is enough to show malice. Maybe a jury would disagree with me…” It certainly would if a single person who had a clue about the newspaper business was on the jury. Because the expectation that the editors HAD to know about that point of fact buried in a profile six years ago is one of the wildest things I’ve heard this week.

Bryan, I want to drop this, but every time I get back to Twitter I see multiple assertions I have to address… “This editorial is how you get more Trump.” Yeah, and it would be a bad idea to intentionally publish editorials that contain errors — except no one would be crazy enough to do that! Can’t you see the fundamental flaw in making that point?

As for your complaint about the corrections process, another thing that could only come from a non-journalist (seriously, what is your practical suggestion for an alternative), please examine your words: “false story trumpeted out from large media source.” What “false story?” “Trumpeted how?” One would think that “trumpeting” would at least, at LEAST entail a headline, and to in any way match your indignation here, the headline would have to be large, and would have to say, “Sarah Palin goes around encouraging mass killers.” Instead, this involved an erroneous assertion of fact that was NOT the point of the piece. And your evidence that it was malicious is that there was, once upon a time (six freaking years ago!) there was a lengthy news story that also, deep down, contained something that refuted that fact — as assertion of fact that, just like the current instance, was not the main point being made, or even close to it! It would be outrageous to expect every editor at a paper to remember every HEADLINE that had appeared in the paper in the past six years, much less every single assertion of fact that could be found in every single story!

You know, there’d be a lot fewer arguments like this if, as part of everyone’s civic education, everybody in the country were required to work at a newspaper for a month. It would stop arguments like this before they start…

Of course, my solution is impractical, because to fully get what I’m saying, you’d have to be a senior editor for that month — and you can’t be that without years of experience, experience that would necessarily make the month unnecessary. Here’s the bottom line: To an editor worth his salt, every error is intolerable, and inexcusable, and must never happen again. But of course, it will. And all you can do is correct it. Used to be, you had a whole day to sort things out and make the correction. Now, if you haven’t completely refuted yourself within a couple of hours, the world has a coronary…

Folks, I don’t care what you think of The New York Times, but I’m here to tell you, it is a credible institution — about as credible as you’re likely to find in this sin-stained world.

And its editors — like every editor I’ve ever known or worked with — would rather get a hard punch in the face than make a mistake like that. It’s excruciatingly painful. Any editor I know spends his or her days and sleepless nights worrying about errors like that, and doing everything he or she can to avoid it.

Think for a moment: What in the world do you think would be an editor’s motivation to screw up like that intentionally? I can’t imagine, but maybe you’ll come up with a reason that will surprise me.

Whatever else you come away from this discussion with, I hope you absorb that one point…

One of the toughest questions in journalism (or advertising)

The split-second in question.

The split-second in question.

This intrigued me, because it poses one of the toughest questions I used to deal with as an editor:

In a self-congratulatory ad marking his first 100 days in office, President Trump labels major television networks “fake news.” So CNN is refusing to sell the president airtime to show the commercial.

“CNN requested that the advertiser remove the false graphic that the mainstream media is ‘fake news,’” the cable channel said in a statement. “The mainstream media is not fake news, and therefore the ad is false and per policy will be accepted only if that graphic is deleted.”…

I’ve been there. But as an editor, rather than as a gatekeeper for ads.

As editorial page editor, a substantial portion of the space I was in charge of was devoted to copy generated by people who didn’t work for me — op-eds, and letters to the editor. We always had a lot of copy to choose from in filling that limited space, and we gave priority to fresh views, and particularly those that disagreed with something we had said.

If we had just criticized someone editorially, and that person asked for some of our space to respond, that response went to the front of the line.

But sometimes, there was a problem. Sometimes in answering us, the writer said things that weren’t true. And we weren’t going to let our limited space be used to say things that weren’t true.

We especially weren’t going to let people use our space to mischaracterize what we had said. We went to a lot of trouble to shape the positions we presented to readers and we agonized over exactly how to present them — we weren’t about to let people claim we’d said something we hadn’t said, and give the lie credence by publishing it on our pages. We wouldn’t let a writer say, “They called me a big, fat idiot” when we had not even implied that the gentleman was big, fat, or any kind of idiot.

Trouble is, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes you write X and someone reads Y, no matter how hard you worked to make your point clear. Still, we weren’t going to let people waste our space arguing with Y when no one had said or even suggested Y. Which quite often they wanted to do.

This led to some pretty intense discussions with the writers, and on occasion to an impasse in which the writer withdrew the piece and went around telling anyone who would listen that those jerks at The State refused to publish a dissenting opinion.

Which of course was another lie. We very much wanted alternative, and especially dissenting, opinions. We just weren’t going to allow alternative facts.

Argue all you want with what we said. But don’t waste everyone’s time (and more to the point, our valuable space) arguing with what we did not say.

Not that facts and opinions are always easy to separate. We had some pretty intense arguments among us editors over that. I’d be reading a proof, and stride into the office of the editor who had allowed the piece onto the page and say, “He can’t say this; it’s not true.” And my colleague would say, “It’s an opinion, not an assertion of fact.” And we’d go ’round and ’round, and I’d generally err on the side of letting the reader have his say. And the next day kick myself when another reader would point out that something false had been said on my page, and that we had a sacred duty not to allow that. And I’d be like, Yeah, but he really thinks it’s true, and he and a lot of other people act and vote on that assumption, and if I’m going to educate all readers as to how such people think so that we can all understand each other, they need to be able to present their arguments… And sometimes I’d convince myself, and sometimes not.

Anyway, these kinds of questions are not easy. Telling truth, and making sure what others say on your medium is true, isn’t easy…

Hear Joel Sartore and Photo Ark tonight at Harbison Theater

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I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented people over the course of my career, and no one fits that description better than Joel Sartore.

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Joel Sartore

Joel was a photographer at The Wichita Eagle-Beacon back when I was news editor there, and I knew he was something special then. Part of my job involved deciding what went on the front page, and I had the privilege of using his work a lot. The times I spent with him at the light table peering at negatives through magnifying glasses and discussing them persuaded me that here was an all-around fine journalist, far more than just another shooter.

And he had an incredible eye for exactly the right shot. I’ll post a couple of prints he gave me back in the day when I’m at home. Amazing stuff.

Well, he’s not in Kansas anymore. Not long after my stint in Wichita, Joel started working for National Geographic, and he’s been with them ever since.

Lately, he’s been working on a monumental project called the Photo Ark, which The State described thusly in their story about his appearance in our community tonight:

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is trying to save the planet with his camera….

The project is called Photo Ark, and his goal is to take studio photographs of the roughly 12,000 species in captivity.

“My job, my passion, or what I’m trying to explore and share is the fact that we are throwing away the ark,” Sartore said, adding that he wants “to document as many of the world’s captive species as I can before I die.”

In the past 11 years, he has photographed about 6,500 of these animals. He estimates it will take another 15 years or so to photograph the rest….

So, you know, a herculean task. But Joel’s up to it, I assure you.

He’ll be talking about his work tonight at 7:30 at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College.

I hope to see you there…

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If only Spicer were as much fun as the SNL skits

Editor’s note: I wrote most of this early in the week, and never quite finished or posted it. So it may seem a bit dated, but here you go:

I saw the second Sean Spicer skit on SNL over the weekend, and it was funny. But I found myself wondering, OK, I get why they did this gag once. Spicer was way over the top in that first performance on Saturday, Jan. 21. It was a bizarre situation, with Trump sending him out with specific orders to go on the attack with a bunch of silly, obvious lies. But is he still like that? Hasn’t he calmed down?

In other words, is this not overkill? Is the joke still relevant?

Well, how would I know? I work. How would I know what the daily press briefings are like? I’m not one of these people who does nothing but watch cable TV all day (or ever, these days).

So I went back and watched one. And I saw the problem.

If only the actuality was like what Melissa McCarthy was doing. That might be fun to watch. The real thing is not. It’s painful.

Here’s what it’s really like:

… Q    Earlier this week.  You say the — this is in context of Nordstrom and not about what she was counseled about, but about something she said to CNN earlier this week, is that the President doesn’t comment on everything.  And so I want to contrast the President’s repeated statements about Nordstrom with the lack of comments about some other things, including, for example, the attack on a Quebec mosque and other similar environments.  Why is the President — when he chooses to —

MR. SPICER:  Do you — hold on — because you just brought that up.  I literally stand at this podium and opened a briefing a couple days ago about the President expressing his condolences.  I literally opened the briefing about it.  So for you to sit there and say —

Q    I was here.

MR. SPICER:  I know.  So why are you asking why he didn’t do it when I literally stood here and did it?

Q    The President’s statement —

MR. SPICER:  I don’t understand what you’re asking.

Q    Kellyanne’s comments were about that the President doesn’t have time to tweet about everything.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    He’s tweeting about this.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    He’s not tweeting about something else.

MR. SPICER:  I came out here and actually spoke about it and said the President spoke —

Q    I’m talking about the President’s time.

MR. SPICER:  What are you — you’re equating me addressing the nation here and a tweet?  I don’t — that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.

Q    I’m talking about an attack on Nordstrom on —

MR. SPICER:  Okay, I’m done.  This is silly.  Okay, next.

Q    — and an attack on people, and you’re equating —

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  You’ve asked your question.  Thank you.

Q    Does that not diminish the language that you’re using?

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  Go ahead [to another reporter]…

spicer

It’s not exciting; it’s not funny like throwing a big wad of half-chewed gum across the room, but the very unfunny alienation comes across. So is the fact that there is little communication going on.

The bits where he dismisses reporters with undisguised irritation (“Okay, I’m done.  This is silly.  Okay, next…”) are very uncomfortable to watch. Although maybe the weirdness of the interactions is not as noticeable unless you’ve been  journalist. And of course, if you’re a Trump supporter, this undercurrent of hostility and alienation is just what you want to see. You don’t want to see a professional interaction. You want to see someone giving journalists a hard time.

But if you’re someone who cares about having functional politics, it’s distressing. Government can’t work this way. Trump may think he’s the Tweeter of the world, but bottom line, most people are going to get most of their information about this administration, directly or indirectly, from the people in that room. It helps everybody to have a smooth dialogue going.

And I invite Trumpistas and others who take a dim view of the press to note that the demeanor of the reporters asking questions does not match the stereotype of the howling mob — and is generally more respectful of Spicer than he is of them.

Television has created a misleading impression. A reporter spends a long, frustrating day trying to get a certain question answered. Maybe a lot of that day has has involved trying to get various people on a cell phone while standing in a mob of other frustrated media types. Then, suddenly, the person who can answer the question — possibly the only person on the planet who can answer it — gets out of a car in front of the reporters and walks in into a building, which means you have maybe three or four seconds to get your question answered, and you know that odds are against your even being heard. So yeah, you very urgently and insistently call out your question, desperately trying to be heard over the rest of the gaggle.

And those two seconds when you’re calling out the question, and your competitors are calling out theirs, is all that people who only get their news from television (which they shouldn’t) will see of you trying, against the odds, to do your job.

I’ve had thousands of interactions with newsmakers over the years, and can count on two hands the number of times things got unruly. (Of course, most of that time I was an editor, not a reporter.)

But all that aside — for all my interactions, I’ve only attended a White House press briefing once. But it was at a pretty tense time for the press secretary. It was in 1998. I had gone to Washington to talk to Strom Thurmond in person and try to get an impression of his mental state, since he was declining to meet with our board in that election year. (Yeah, newspapers had money to do stuff like that then.)  And since a South Carolinian, Mike McCurry, was Clinton’s press secretary, I arranged to go by and interview him for a column. The interview was set for after the daily briefing.

On my way in from the airport, I had noted a bunch of TV news trucks outside a federal courthouse, and my cab driver — who was probably from one of those countries Trump would rather people not come from — simply explained in a heavy accent, “Monica Lewinsky.”

The scandal was at its height. And the White House press corps was in no mood for having their questions deflected. There were moments that would fulfill the stereotype of the howling mob, if one didn’t know what was at stake. At one point, the lady next to me jumped up, practically climbing over the seat in front of her, to roar, “Aw. COME ONNN, Mike!” Everyone else around me was doing something similar, but I remember her in particular.

For his part, McCurry smiled disarmingly — sort of a specialty of his — and braved his way through a session in which some of his answers were less than entirely satisfactory. Hence the yelling.

Mike McCurry

Mike McCurry

But before and after the yelling, there was a cordiality and a congeniality that stood in marked contrast to what seemed to run through that Spicer briefing on Feb. 9. At the start of the briefing there was a little ceremony for a member of McCurry’s staff who was leaving for a different job, and the reporters all applauded politely and congratulations were offered. There was real friendliness.

Republicans and other media detractors will say, “Of course it was congenial; it was a room full of liberals.”

But no — the atmosphere in that room (except during the outbreaks of yelling) was more typical of normal interactions between the media and their subjects regardless of party. Normally, there is a mutual recognition of each others’ humanity. A topic I’ve written about quite a few times.

You’ll note that even when the aggressive young woman next to me seemed like she wanted to put her hands around McCurry’s throat and throttle the truth out of him, she still called him “Mike.” Which is normal.

Whereas the interactions between Spicer and the press are not quite normal. And the weirdness seems mostly to be on his side. Of course, if I had his job, trying to sell the world on Trump’s version of events, y’all might find me acting pretty weird, too.

In the end, it’s not funny. And it’s not healthy, either…

Announcing Caskey & Imgrund, LLC

Everyone wish Bryan joy upon the announcement of his new enterprise:

Caskey & Imgrund

C&I 2

Bryan, I want to congratulate you on your new business and I’m sure you’ll do very well and good luck to you. Especially since your interests don’t conflict with mine. Thank you.

Oh, and next time (and please tell all your lawyer friends this), please send a Word file instead of a PDF, so I can copy and paste the info rather than having to post a picture of it…

The Boeing vote against unionization

787

I used to work for a publisher who had come up through the newsroom, and he used to say that if a company’s employees vote to unionize, that’s the CEO’s fault: He had failed to run the company so that employees didn’t feel the need for a union.

If his rule holds, apparently Boeing is doing something right:

Production workers at Boeing’s South Carolina plant voted Wednesday not to join the Machinists, maintaining southern reluctance toward unionization.

Vote totals weren’t immediately available. Under NLRB rules, workers must wait a year before another union vote.

In a statement, Machinists organizer Mike Evans said the union was disappointed with the vote but vowed to stay in close touch with Boeing workers to figure out next steps.

“Ultimately it will be the workers who dictate what happens next,” Evans said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to talk with hundreds of Boeing workers over the past few years. Nearly every one of them, whether they support the union or not, have improvements they want to see at Boeing. Frankly, they deserve better.”…

Since you have the union’s response, I’ll also give you this one from Lindsey Graham:

“Boeing’s South Carolina workforce is second to none.  As South Carolinians, these employees make us proud each day with every 787 Dreamliner that rolls off the assembly line.  They have earned every accolade that comes their way.   

“I was pleased to hear the results of yesterday’s election.  The employees’ decision will keep in place a business model that attracted Boeing to South Carolina in the first place.  Their vote is a strong signal to other businesses that South Carolina is a great place to call home. 

“Boeing is a valued community leader, an admirable employer, and a staple of the South Carolina business community.  We are proud they decided to call South Carolina home years ago and I continue to look forward to a beneficial relationship for the employees, community, and company in the years to come.”

As for what I think, well, I’m not a big union guy. I tend to think like Reid Ashe, my old publisher: It’s up to the employees, and I see no point in a union getting between employer and employed if they have a good, healthy relationship. (In other words, Bryan, if it’s a “happy ship.”)

Of course, as you know, I’m philosophically opposed to public employee unions. But in the private sector, it all depends…

The election stats that I apparently never wrote about

2016-glimpse

Click on the image to download the spreadsheet.

I think I’m losing my mind (and yeah, I know; some of you will present evidence that this happened a LONG time ago).

Let me apologize in advance if I wrote this post before. I thought I had, but I can’t seem to find it. So here goes, perhaps again…

About a week after the election, Cindi Scoppe wrote about the terrible won-loss record of the candidates that The State had endorsed in 2016:

Two-thirds of the candidates our editorial board endorsed in last week’s election lost. We have never seen numbers like that since I joined the board in 1997 — and as far as I can tell for decades before that. Normally, it’s more like 25 percent….

Of course, all that means was that two candidates lost, as the paper had only endorsed in three races in the general, instead of the usual 10 or 20 that we’d back in the days when we had the staff to do it.

But taken as a percentage (which is a pretty meaningless thing to do with a sample of three), I’m sure it was a bitter pill. I wondered why Cindi hadn’t offered the running total from over the years to show just how much of an anomaly that was. Apparently, she just didn’t have the numbers at hand. But I did, at least through 2008, my last election at the paper. And it just took a few minutes to update the table with results from 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Why did I have those numbers? Because in 2004, I got fed up. We’d hear from bitter candidates who did not get our nod who claimed that they didn’t want it anyway, because our endorsement was “the kiss of death.” Well, I knew this wasn’t true, not by a long shot. (I also knew by their behavior that these very people were usually quite eager to get our endorsement, until they didn’t. Then it was sour-grapes time.) But I didn’t know how wrong they were. I didn’t have numbers.

Then there was the other problem: Democrats regularly claimed that we only endorsed Republicans, and vice versa. I knew that was untrue, too (any casual, unbiased observer knew better than that). But again, I couldn’t quantify it.

I had resisted keeping track of such things in the past, for a couple of reasons. First, endorsements were arguments as to who should win, not predictions of who would win. A lot of people failed to understand that, and would demonstrate their lack of understanding by saying we got it “wrong” when our endorsee lost. No, we didn’t. We weren’t trying to make a prediction. And why would we have kept track of how many Dems or Repubs we backed, when we didn’t care about party?

But as I said, I was fed up, and I wanted to lay all the lies to rest permanently. So I dove into our musty archives for several hours, and came up with every general-election endorsement we had done starting with the 1994 election. Why that date? Because that was my first election as a member of the editorial board, and since then we’d had 100 percent turnover on the board — so it was ridiculous to hold any of us responsible for editorial decisions made before that date.

And I stuck to general elections, to keep it simple. After all, that’s the only time one is choosing between Democrats and Republicans. And digging up the primary endorsements would have taken more than twice as much time. I’ll acknowledge this freely, though: Our won-loss numbers wouldn’t have been as good if I’d tried to include primaries, because we were staunch centrists, and primary voters tend to have more extreme tastes than we did.

What I found in 2004 was that since 1994, about 75 percent of “our” candidates had won, and we’d endorsed almost exactly as many Democrats are Republicans. I updated the numbers after the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Anyway, after Cindi’s column, I updated my spreadsheet with numbers from the years since I’d left the paper, including 2016, and here’s what I found:

The running percentage of “wins” had dropped slightly since 2008, with 72.26277372 percent of endorsees winning since 1994. Even though the paper had a big year in 2014, with eight out of 10 endorsees winning. (When I had first compiled the numbers in 2004, our batting average was .753.)

The partisan split became more nearly even. As of 2008, we were favoring Democrats slightly with 52.6 percent of endorsements going to them. Now, that’s down to 50.37 percent, about as dead-even as you can get: 68 Democrats, 67 Republicans and one independent since 1994. The paper has favored Republicans 13-8 since I left.

Anyway, since I’d gone to the trouble of running the numbers, I had meant to write a post about it. If I did before now, I can’t find it. So here you go…

Here’s the spreadsheet.

Yeah, age discrimination is real, but this is ridiculous

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One of those job-hunting websites I signed up for years ago continues to send me advice. I found this rather mind-blowing:

The Y2K Bug… on your resume

Good Monday morning, Brad,

You may remember this global panic around the turn of the century. The “Y2K bug” was an obscure, but potentially disruptive, computer glitch that we spent $400 billion fixing. Midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999 came and went without the dawn of the apocalypse, however, and Y2K passed into history.

But now the Year 2000 Problem rises again and this time it’s on your resume: those dates and entries that indicate you were already out of college and in the workforce before the new millennium arrived give too much latitude to age discrimination.

At Ladders, we’ve got a simple solution for those of you with two or more decades of experience:

Don’t list any dates on your resume before the Year 2000.

Age discrimination is rampant in American work culture.

It’s unfair, unkind, and uncharitable of the world to treat you that way, but it’s also undeniably true that the bias against ‘the olds’ is creeping its way further and further down into the demographics. It won’t be long before the oldest Millennials are considered washed up by their youngest peers.

I’ve written at some length before on how Age Discrimination is Mindset Discrimination, and the steps you can take to thrive in job interviews because of your experience rather than fear them because of your age.

But to master the interview you’ve got to get the interview. And to get the interview, you’ve got to remove anything from the process that can trip you up. …

Say what? Nothing before 2000, which was like, what, five minutes ago?

Yo, Mr. White, I’m trying to get a job here, so I can make mad stacks — I’m not applying to get into preschool!…

A quick trip through the alternate reality that dittoheads mistake for the real thing

Yesterday, I hit the “source” button on my car stereo to switch from Elvis Costello’s “Green Shirt” back to FM, but only hit it once instead of twice, so it first stopped on AM — which I never listen to.

And there was Rush Limbaugh, whose voice I hadn’t heard since Robert Ariail used to play the show in the background while drawing his cartoons. And I decided to pause there, and listen.

This afforded me a glimpse into the alternative reality inhabited by Donald Trump and his supporters.

First, Limbaugh told about the early days of his career when he was first gaining notoriety, and he was so innocent as to think media people were honestly interested in learning about him — before he “wised up” and learned the truth (in the Trumpian sense of “truth”), which was that they all had an agenda and were out to get him.

He spoke of something that commonly happens in interviews — he would say something, then immediately realize that that wasn’t exactly what he meant, and ask to be allowed to rephrase it. At which point, he says, the reporter would say No way: This is what you said, and I’m not going to let you edit the story to suit you.

Yep, that happens. There are reporters who think journalism is some sort of contest conducted under rigid rules that are not subject to personal judgment, and one must never put the source in the driver’s seat, allowing him to control what goes into the paper. That’s collusion.

And they have a point, to some extent. For instance, I would not have allowed Richland County Sheriff Allen Sloan to “take back” what he said to one of The State‘s reporters in that infamous 1989 interview about crime at Columbia Mall. That was a situation of a public figure saying something that was shockingly revealing of his character (even if it was a very bad joke, it was revealing), and not to be papered over.

But in an everyday interview with someone who sincerely edits himself by saying, “That’s not exactly what I meant,” of course I allow him to rephrase it any way he wants. You know why? Because I want to know what he really thinks. It’s not rocket science. And a reporter with half a brain should be able to tell the difference between a source sincerely trying to express himself better and someone trying to manipulate. But you have to use judgment. It’s not black and white.

Anyway, back to Limbaugh. So he had some bad experiences with reporters who probably didn’t trust him any more than he did them — or any more than he does now, since he says he hadn’t wised up yet in those days.

Rush’s point in telling that story was to set up the Wikileaks “revelation” that New York Times Magazine‘s Mark Leibovich emailed a Hillary Clinton staffer to get permission to use some quotes from an interview with the former secretary of state.

Or, as Breitbart would have it (since I was driving and not writing down what Rush said):

The New York Times allowed the Clinton Campaign to pick and choose what parts of an interview with Hillary Rodham Clinton would be used in an article titled, “Re-Re-Re-Reintroducing Hillary Clinton,” the Wikileaks release of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails have revealed.

The Clinton campaign vetoed nearly the entire interview, but even in the portions they did approve for publication, they had Mark Leibovich edit out a mention of Sarah Palin, apparently at Hillary’s personal request.

“My apologies for the delay. I finally had to get her in person,” Clinton Campaign Communication Director Jennifer Palmieri replies to Leibovich, implying that she had to wait to talk to Hillary about what parts of the interview they would allow being used. “Fine to use the moose, but appreciate leaving the mention of Sarah Palin out.”…

The email exchange (Wikileaks Podesta Email 4213) between Palmieri and New York Times writer Mark Leibovich was forwarded to John Podesta by Palmieri in July 2015. Leibovich sends a transcript from the portions of his interview with Hillary that he would like to use saying, “I wanted option to use the following (obviously wouldn’t use all, but a portion) *These exchanges were pretty interesting…..would love the option to use….*”…

After dishing out the marching orders, Palmieri finishes by telling Leibovich, “Pleasure doing business.”…

That’s pretty much the way Rush told it, with emphasis on the “Pleasure doing business” part. The alt-right seems to think that was particularly telling.

And in the Trumpkin universe, I’m sure it was. In that world, this was a huge “gotcha.” It was proof positive that the media are in bed with the Democrats!

But in the universe I live in — the universe where people know how these things actually work — I’m thinking, Well, obviously that conversation — or that part of it, anyway — was off the record. And Leibovich, being a good journalist, was pushing to get the source to go on the record with some of it.

And yep, that’s what was going on, according to Politico:

In a midsummer 2015 exchange, Leibovich wrote to campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri, asking that certain pieces of his New Hampshire interview with Clinton be made “on the record,” for use in his July article (“Re-Re-Re-Reintroducing Hillary Clinton”)….

I hardly need mention this, but during the time I was listening, Limbaugh never said, “off the record.”

Breitbart does make some confusing references to on-and-off-the-record, but not in a way that makes it clear that this completely exonerates the writer from any sort of unethical collusion.

In fact, it shows that he was trying to get even off-the-record material onto the record, which was the point of the emails. But folks, if you’ve allowed a source to go off-the-record on something (which you have to ask for BEFORE saying something, not after), then that’s it. The source is in the driver’s seat on that material. You cannot ethically use it without the source agreeing to put it on the record.

Leibovich

Leibovich

Condemn Leibovich for going off-the-record in the first place if you’re so inclined, but I won’t — along with letting sources rephrase what they’ve said, going off the record is one of the best tools for learning what a source is really thinking. Maybe you can’t use the actual words, but that knowledge can help you to better interpret and prioritize the stuff that is on the record, and more accurately represent what’s going on.

Just as there are reporters who won’t let you rephrase, there are those who are philosophically opposed to letting anyone go off the record, ever. But I’m too curious to be one of them. I don’t just want to know what the person is willing to say for print. I want to know everything that person knows. And while going off the record may not tell me everything — and in the hands of a wily source, it can be as much a device for deception as the carefully crafted public remark — it will tell me more than I otherwise would have known. Even if it’s just what the source wants me to think he or she thinks, that in itself tells me something…

Of course, all of this would be lost on most dittoheads. Even if Limbaugh had explained about it being off the record, he probably would have said the words in a way that dripped with sarcasm, portraying “off-the-record” as another one of the tricks those shifty media types use in trying to pull the wool over the eyes of honest, hard-working, angry white men…

Or not. Since I didn’t hear the whole rant, I could have missed the part where he backed off and decided to be fair to Leibovich. In which case, good for you, Rush…

On ‘truthiness’ and the 2016 election

pilate-cropped

What is truth?” asked Pilate, and washed his hands. Sometimes I ask the same question, because it’s not always as simple as people like to think it is. At least, not in politics. (As a Catholic, I accept that the One of whom Pilate asked the question did trade in actual Truth.)

I had the chance to explore that a bit over at WACH-Fox studios this morning. Cynthia Hardy asked me to participate in a discussion of truth, lies and the current presidential election for the weekly TV version of her OnPoint show. Catch the show on WACH Sunday morning at 8:30. (Hey, you can DVR it, can’t you?)

At this point, I don’t recall precisely what was said during the taped segments, because we were talking about all this before and after the taping, and during breaks. But here are some of the points I made at some time or other while I was there:

  • Someone raised the question of why, with so many of his statements being easily proved to be false, Donald Trump’s followers still accept, and even cheer, them. I mentioned the point, made here so often before, that even though most of us once accepted Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” people today believe they are entitled to the “facts” they prefer, and gravitate toward those who offer them such.
  • Continuing on that point, I said we should think in terms of the Stephen Colbert concept of “truthiness.” Trump regularly says things that are wildly untrue, but his supporters eat it up because his claims strike them as “truthy.” It’s what they want to be true, and they appreciate him for saying it is, and never backing down on the point.
  • I tend to look askance at all these people who propose to do “fact-checking” in real time. First, even if one can determine incontrovertibly whether a statement is true or not, getting the job done frequently takes a lot of time. Not all facts can be instantly Googled. And sometimes — quite frequently — there is no pat answer. Some things are demonstrably untrue — for instance, we are spending tens of billions updating our nuclear arsenal, in direct contradiction of something Trump said in the debate Monday night. On the other hand, some assertions are more slippery, more matters of opinion. For instance, the NYT tried to “fact-check” Mrs. Clinton’s assertion that the U.S. needs an “intelligence surge” to stop homegrown terrorists before they act. The Times said we already collect and share more intel than ever. Perhaps so, but if something happens because we didn’t know something that might have enabled us to prevent it, how can one say we had enough intel? That said, there is the eternal debate over how much we need to protect people from snooping. Since Snowden, we’ve unfortunately erred in the wrong direction on that, but striking a balance will always be difficult. Bottom line, I can give you a pretty good answer to whether what she said was true if you give me 1,000 words or so to do it. Anything less and I’m shortchanging you. But be forewarned that the answer will contain a lot of my own opinion. Why? Because it’s that kind of question.
  • Elaborating on that: People who think it’s easy to separate fact from opinion should try editing editorial pages for a couple of months. The challenge is this: You’re publishing a lot of stuff written by nonprofessionals with strong opinions — letters to the editor and their big brothers, guest columns. If you’re me, you’ll have a rule against letting people make assertions of fact that are false in the course of expressing their opinions. Frequently, in the proofreading process, one of the editors — some of the top, most experienced journalists in South Carolina, when I was doing it at The State — would cross out something in a letter or oped because it was false. But then a terrific argument would ensue as we editors disagreed over whether that point was a matter of fact, or of opinion. In the latter case, we’d allow the writer to say it. These matters were never easily settled, because if you’re intellectually honest and doing your best to be fair to people and not dismissive of their views, it’s complicated.
  • It’s seldom black and white. Even lies have gradations. That’s why The Washington Post‘s pinocchio_1respected Fact Checker feature has levels. A “lie” can earn one, two, three or four “Pinocchios,” with four denoting something that is completely false. Then there is the rare “Geppetto Checkmark” for things found to be completely true. And these judgments are subjective. I forget the “fact” in question, but a couple of months ago, they gave Donald Trump four Pinocchios for something that, having read their findings, I thought should only have earned him two or three. (Of course, even if they had amended that would, Trump would still be the all-time record-holder for four-Pinocchio statements.)

I could go on and on, but there’s real work to be done. I’ll check back in and see what y’all think…

‘There is no such thing’ as ‘the media’

media

Long ago, when my friend and colleague Warren Bolton and I were both still in The State‘s newsroom, before moving to editorial — we’re talking maybe early ’90s — Warren helped lead some newsroom discussions on race.

The idea was help us all do a better, more informed job writing about subjects bearing on that issue, or set of issues, in South Carolina.

One thing I remember in particular was a meeting in which Warren and another African-American colleague urged us to avoid the habit of referring carelessly to “the black community,” as though it were some monolithic, coherent entity that thought and acted in unison, like a colonial animal.

I took that to heart because it made a lot of sense to me, and ever since I’ve hesitated to use that construction, as well as similar ones such as “LGBT community,” “Hispanic community,” and what have you. After all, we don’t write of, say, women as “the female community,” because most of us recognize women as a set of individuals containing too much diversity for such a generalization. We should follow suit with other broadly defined groups.

(Of course, it in part appealed to me because we in the white heterosexual male community are well known to prefer to deal with people as individuals rather than in terms of aggregations, something which sometimes causes members of other “communities” to counsel us to “check our privilege” and stop trying to destroy other groups’ sense of solidarity so that we may oppress them individually. Which we, both communally and individually, tend to find maddening. Smiley face.)

I am reminded of all this because of this piece in The Washington Post urging the great unwashed out there to stop referring to “the media” as though they were a single, coherent thing with one mind, acting in unison. An excerpt:

Please stop calling us “the media.”

Yes, in some sense, we are the media. But not in the blunt way you use the phrase. It’s so imprecise and generic that it has lost any meaning. It’s — how would you put this? — lazy and unfair.

As I understand your use of this term, “the media” is essentially shorthand for anything you read, saw or heard today that you disagreed with or didn’t like. At any given moment, “the media” is biased against your candidate, your issue, your very way of life.

But, you know, the media isn’t really doing that. Some article, some news report, some guy spouting off on a CNN panel or at CrankyCrackpot.com might be. But none of those things singularly are really the media.

Fact is, there really is no such thing as “the media.” It’s an invention, a tool, an all-purpose smear by people who can’t be bothered to make distinctions….

This piece, by the way, was not written by “the media,” or even by The Washington Post. It was written by this guy named Paul Farhi who is one of many individuals who works at the Post. If you want to be properly pedantic about it (and who wouldn’t want to be that?), you would only say that “The Washington Post said” something if it was said in an editorial — an editorial being an unsigned piece by the Post‘s editorial board, not something written by an op-ed columnist or someone else whose byline appears on the piece.

Yeah, I know — confusing. But to keep it simple, you’ll sound a lot smarter if you don’t refer sweepingly to “the media” as doing or saying or thinking this or that.

And we in the media community (which includes the vast army of us who no longer have actual media jobs, and a more cantankerous crowd you are unlikely to find) will appreciate it….

‘A bidness doin’ pleasure:’ Cindi on how Ron Cobb changed us

I hope y’all saw Cindi Scoppe’s column today on how the late Rob Cobb, the most infamous lobbyist in South Carolina history, changed our state:

I DIDN’T KNOW Ron Cobb back when he was buying up a tenth of our Legislature for the FBI.

Didn’t even recognize his picture when FBI agents subpoenaed campaign disclosure reports for all 170 legislators, and legislators and fellow lobbyists started whispering that Mr. Cobb was somehow involved in what would come to be known as Operation Lost Trust.

In fact, while I would learn and write a lot about the cigar-chomping lobbyist who hummed his signature “It’s a bidness doing pleasure with you” while the hidden video camera recorded him counting out crisp $100 bills for legislators who promised to support his horse-gambling bill, I didn’t actually meet him until five years later…

He certainly had a big impact on Cindi and me. We did some of our best work ever chasing the Lost Trust story. Before it was over, Cindi herself had gone to jail, and I had spent a year explaining everything that was wrong with government in South Carolina. Our coverage of the scandal, and my “Power Failure” series, played a big role in my becoming editorial page editor later.

All because of Ron Cobb buying votes and wheeling and dealing from his room in the former Townhouse, just yards from where I now sit. That hotel is undergoing a huge renovation, much as our political life did as a result of Cobb’s actions:

Our news department launched a yearlong examination of how the Legislative State produced not only corruption but a hapless government that answered to no one, and pushed along by that “Power Failure” series, Lost Trust and Gov. Carroll Campbell, the Legislature voted two years later to hand a third of the government over to the governor.scoppeonline3-2x2tighter-2-2x2tighter-2

Lawmakers unleashed the powerful State Grand Jury to investigate political corruption cases. They passed a reporter shield law after a judge ordered me and three other reporters held in federal custody for two days for refusing to testify in one of the trials. And voters elected a target of an earlier vote-buying scandal to fill an open Senate seat in the middle of all this, lawmakers amended the constitution to bar felons from holding office until 15 years after they completed their sentences.

There are still a lot of problems with the way our government operates — the Legislature still holds far too much power over state and local agencies, too many agencies still effectively answer to no one, the ethics law even after this year’s improvements remains far short of what it should be.

But those reforms did a lot of good. And Ron Cobb paved the way for every one of them.

Oh, and speaking of Warthenesque writing… I also appreciated this column because its style was more like my own than Cindi’s. Finally, it seems, I’ve rubbed off on her.

Cindi has always been very task-oriented. When she goes into an interview, she’s all business. When she writes a column or editorial, she intends to accomplish this and this and this, and she lays out her arguments in a perfectly disciplined form.

My own way of approaching interviews or writing has always been like the method Dirk Gently, Douglas Adams’ Holistic Detective, employed whenever he got lost: “My own strategy is to find a car, or the nearest equivalent, which looks as if it knows where it’s going and follow it. I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere I needed to be.”

I loved this digression into purely superfluous detail:

It was June 26, 1995, and I was working on a “where are they now” package of news articles for the upcoming five-year anniversary of Lost Trust becoming public. We met near the interstate, and I followed him to his townhouse overlooking the 10th hole of one of Greenville’s premier golf courses.

Longtime girlfriend-turned-wife Shelley was there to greet us, and they showed off their rooftop garden, where Ron was growing tomatoes and cucumbers, and the Stairmaster he said he used for 10 to 15 minutes every day after work, and he talked about how his values had changed since his career as a lobbyist ended. Of course we also talked about Lost Trust and the Legislature and what he thought had and hadn’t changed, and Shelley talked as much as Ron did.

I don’t remember all those details; I got them from reviewing my notes from our lengthy visit. The only clear memories I have of that rarefied encounter are the rooftop and Bella — the cat who kept running toward the wall and hurling herself into it. Ron and Shelley laughed each time, and assured me the cat was fine, that she just did that for attention….

I’m not one to choose the minimum number of pieces of flair

The Wall Street Journal had a fun piece today about the fad of re-enacting the printer-smashing scene from “Office Space.” Above, you see the spoof produced by the Ted Cruz campaign a few months back. Here’s the original.

But the story was accompanied by a short (only five questions) quiz about “Office Space,” and unfortunately, I missed one. When I guessed the minimum number of pieces of flair, I guessed too high.

Which is not a bad thing if you’re an employee of Chotchkie’s. Seriously, what do you think of a person who only does the bare minimum?

But it’s not good if you’re a huge “Office Space” fan.

So if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk about my flair…

smash

What newsrooms used to look like, long, long ago

The sardonic Managing Editor Bill Sorrels presides at his desk in the middle of the newsroom (he had an office somewhere, too). You see Dave Hampton running somewhere in the background. Note the decor.

The sardonic Managing Editor Bill Sorrels presides at his desk in the middle of the newsroom (he had an office somewhere, too). He’s apparently reading one of the proofs I fetched. You see Dave Hampton striding in a blur across the room in the background. Note the go-to-hell decor — the unmatched linoleum, the rivers of proofs tumbling from spikes on the Metro Desk behind the M.E….

Having just wrestled with the new definitions of an old word, “reporter,” here are some images from the very start of my newspaper career, so very long ago. When reporters were reporters.

After I dug out those pictures from 1978 to go with this post, I started poring through some old negatives, thinking yet again about digitizing them (and again overwhelmed at the enormity of the task), when I ran across something I had forgotten existed.

Apparently, I took my camera to the paper one night during those several months I worked at my first newspaper job, back in 1974. I was a “copy clerk” at The Commercial Appeal in the spring and summer of that year, while a student at Memphis State University. That means I was a “copy boy,” with the title adjusted for the political correctness that was coming into fashion at the time (but which for the most part did not touch this newsroom). And indeed, we did briefly have one girl join us boys standing at the rail, ready to jump when someone called “copy.”

wire machines

Copy Clerk David Hampton, later longtime editorial page editor of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, in the wire room.

We were among the last copy boys in the country, since new technology was doing away with the need for someone to run around doing the stuff we did. Which meant reporters no longer had anyone to lord it over.

I just found these three exposures, found on one short strip of 35 mm film in a glassine envelope. I don’t know whether I took more, or where the rest of the roll is.

Anyway, I appeared to be documenting what I did at the paper by taking pictures of my friend and fellow copy clerk David Hampton doing the same tasks I did every night.

You can see Dave hurrying across the newsroom on an errand in the background of the photo at top, which shows one corner of the newsroom from the perspective of the managing editor’s desk. This part of the room is mostly deserted, with a reporter casually conversing with an assistant editor over on the Metro desk. This is 7:15 p.m., shortly after most of the day side people have left. The place would have been bustling about an hour earlier. Dave and I would be running for the next six or seven hours. (I wish I’d gotten a shot of the whole newsroom when it was full of people — but I probably would have been yelled at. That would not have been a novel experience, but I preferred to avoid it.)

In the foreground of the photo is the late Bill Sorrels, the managing editor, with a characteristic smirk on his face. I had him for a reporting class at Memphis State. His “teaching” technique consisted of telling stories from his reporting days, and stopping in mid-story to go around the room asking everyone, “So what did I do next?” and smirking when they got it wrong.

Bill would look over the galley proofs I brought him with that same expression, and then call out embarrassing critical remarks to reporters and editors about the mistakes they had made. (This was the kind of old-school place where grown men were chewed out and ground into the floor in front of everybody by their bosses.) The only actual work I ever remember seeing him do was on Aug. 9, 1974. He called me over and gave me a piece of paper on which he had scrawled, “Nixon Resigns.” He told me to take it to composing (on the next floor) and have it typeset in our biggest headline type (probably about 96 points), then have them shoot a picture of that and blow it up until it went all the way across the front page — then bring it to him to approve before they set it in metal and put it on the page. Probably the most “historic” thing I did in that job.

Above and at right, you see Dave in the wire room checking one of the 10 or 12 machines there that chugged out news from across the world non-stop — back in the days when ordinary people didn’t have access to such via Twitter, etc. We were the nursemaids to those machines, making sure the paper and ribbons never ran out, that they didn’t jam, and that the stories were ripped off the machines and taken to the editors who needed to see them.

Below, Dave is in the “morgue,” in later more polite times known as the “library,” where he’s been sent to fetch something, probably a photo, that someone needs to go with a story they’re working on. Given the size of the envelopes, these are probably mug shots, or maybe metal “cuts” that were already made to run in the paper previously. We saved those, when they were of repeat newsmakers, to save time and metal. They were uniformly 6 ems (picas) in width.

Another world. I never again worked in such an old-school environment. This was the old Commercial Appeal building, torn down decades ago. The long-defunct Memphis Press Scimitar was up on the fifth floor, if I recall correctly. Most news copy was still written, edited and processed in the old way — typed on manual typewriters, the pages strung together with rubber cement, edited with pencil, and set in metal type by noisy linotype machines up in the composing room. Once the type was set for each story, individual proofs would be pulled of each story, before they were placed on the “turtle” that held the full page — which we would run down to the newsroom. There was a lot of running back and forth.

This place was already an anachronism; it would have been completely recognizable to Ben Hecht’s characters in “The Front Page” It was what the makers of “Teacher’s Pet,” which I saw on Netflix the other night, were going for in the newsroom scenes. (Nick Adams played the copy boy in that film, itching for his shot at becoming a reporter. He was excited to get to write some obits one night. For us, the transitional job was to be the copy clerk who did the “agate” — rounding up police blotter, marriages and divorces, property transfers and other routine list-type copy and typing it up to go into the paper. I got to do that once, when another guy was out, and felt I had taken a huge step up.)

But new technology was creeping in. The non-news departments wrote on IBM Selectrics, and their copy was scanned and set in cold type, and pasted up on paper pages. And maybe some of the news copy as well — I see a Selectric behind Sorrels on the Metro desk. And a couple more on the rim of the copy desk at right.

It was also a crude, rough place that was about as non-PC as anyplace you could find in the ’70s. It’s ironic that they called us “copy clerks” instead of “boys,” because there were few other concessions to modern sensibilities. Culturally, every other newsroom I ever worked in was as removed from this one as though a couple of generations had passed. Although it was 1974, this newsroom would have been more at home in the first half of the century. It was… Runyonesque.

In the following decades, I didn’t miss this place, and was happy to work in a more civil environment. But I’m glad to have had this throwback experience; it gives me something to feel nostalgic about when I watch those old movies made before I was born. Yes, I say, it was just like that — those few months at the Commercial Appeal, anyway….

Dave, fetching a "cut" from the morgue.

Dave, fetching a “cut” from the morgue.

John Oliver on the plight of newspapers

I had trouble finding time to watch this, and if we wait until I have time to comment on it, I’ll never get around to posting it. I have actual work to do.

So… I urge y’all to watch it, and comment, and I’ll jump in and join you later.

I’ll just say that the piece is well-done, and accurate. The truest thing Oliver says is when he indicates that no one has figured out a good way to pay for the journalism our society needs going forward (now that print advertising, which used to be like a license to print money, has essentially gone away). In other words, he says a lot of things I’ve said before, in a less entertaining matter. (My Brookings piece, for instance, wasn’t crafted for laughs.)

That’s the truth, and the tragedy. One can make fun of all the media executives who are trying various stupid strategies to keep going, but the indisputable fact is that no one has come up with the right approach yet…

Dallas chief talking about the jobs cops have to do

I saved this yesterday from The Wall Street Journal and forgot to share. I thought it was good:

From Dallas Police Chief David Brown at a July 11 press conference:

We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. We just ask of us to do too much. download (8)Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental-health funding. Let the cop handle it. Not enough drug-addiction funding. Let’s give it to the cops. Here in Dallas, we got a loose-dog problem. Let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, give it to the cops. Seventy percent of the African American community is being raised by single women. Let’s give it to the cops to solve that as well. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems, and I just ask for other parts of our democracy, along with the free press, to help us. . . .

Serve your communities. Don’t be a part of the problem. We’re hiring. We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. And we’ll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.

This is why I liked Reuters’ photo service

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By the time I started working at newspapers in the ’70s, The Associated Press had become so dominant that about all most people saw of UPI was the unmistakable visage of Helen Thomas at White House press briefings.

In all the subsequent years, I only worked at one paper that subscribed to UPI — The Wichita Eagle-Beacon (now just “Wichita Eagle”).

I appreciated that for one reason — the photos. Time and time again, the photos that came crawling out of our UPI machine were better than the ones AP sent us from the same events.

I knew this because it was part of my job to make such critical comparisons. I was the news editor, which meant I was in charge of the paper from 6 p.m. until the last page went to bed after 1 in the morning. I was also the guy who made most final decisions on what made it into the news pages of the paper and how it was played. That included choosing all the photos, from what our staff photographers offered to the wire services.

And what I learned was that the AP laserphotos got the job done, but their UPI counterparts tended to have a certain je ne sais quoi that made them special. This was due, as I recall it, to the fact that Reuters was included in the package. Those Reuters photogs really had an eye.

For that reason, one night when the UPI photo machine broke down, I spent an hour or two on the phone with a technician in Oklahoma City as he talked me through the steps to fix it (AP would have had someone in town, but UPI’s nearest office was in the next state).

This must have been a rare night when I was fully staffed, and therefore didn’t have to lay out the front page and oversee production of the A section myself. So I learned a new skill. This was an error that I committed over and over in my career — learning how to do something that no one else in the newsroom knew how to do. So whenever that machine broke down again — which it did frequently — I had to fix it if I wanted those excellent Reuters photos.

Anyway, I got to thinking about all that when I saw the above photo from the protests in Baton Rouge the other day.

It was special enough that The Washington Post did a whole separate story about this one Reuters photo:

Jonathan Bachman was snapping pictures of protesters yelling at the officers when he turned and saw her.

The woman in the summer dress didn’t seem to look at the two officers as they ran toward her. Instead, she seemed to look beyond them — even as they arrested her.

“She just stood there and made her stand,” the Reuters photographer told BuzzFeed. “I was just happy to be able to capture something like that.”

Bachman’s powerful photo quickly went viral….

Yeah, it’s good. Every other service got the obligatory photos of people being arrested and such, but Reuter’s Johathan Bachman got this. Good job.

Fortunately for the Eagle, they don’t need that old laserphoto machine anymore to get such shots. If not for the Web, they’d be in trouble, because the repairman is here in Columbia…