Category Archives: Working

The loss of perspective in presentation of the news

The Post's print edition had the Afghanistan story presented with proper perspective. But how many people still read the Post this way? I don't.

The Post’s print edition had the Afghanistan story presented with proper perspective. But how many people still read the Post this way? I don’t.

I could go on about this all day, for many thousands of words, and it would bore you to death, so I’m going to try and say it as quickly as I can.

Back when there was such a thing as newspapers (by which I mean healthy, adequately staffed newspapers in cities across the country), senior people with many years in the business would spend considerable time each day meeting to hash over what they had for the next day’s paper. They argued vociferously over the relative weight to be given to each story, to decide first whether it would made the front, and once there, would be accurately played to reflect its relative importance in relation to the other stories on the page. (There was never much time for the senior group to discuss relative play in the rest of the paper; such decisions were made at a lower level.)

During a certain part of my career — when I was the news editor in Wichita — I was in charge of this process. The assigning editors from each area (and I, in the case of national and international news) would present what was available that day and what was known about each story at that point, and then we’d discuss what to do with each — what would make the front, and how it would be played in relation to the other 1A stories. Then, since production of the front page was the most prominent of my many duties in that job, I would go out and implement the plan.

Our executive editor at that paper, Buzz Merritt, had very definite and detailed ideas about how things should be presented on the front page. I’ve written about this before. He had such an arcane set of rules we should follow that the designers who worked for me were frustrated and intimidated, always sure they’d do something wrong and draw his ire, and far too often, I just went ahead and handled front page and A section production myself. This was a personnel problem I never succeeded in solving at that paper — I did it because I understood what Buzz wanted, but others did not. (They tended to see his system as a set of unworkable principles about the length of the book of Leviticus.) So I found myself spending the rest of the night down in the guts of the machine doing the work, rather than supervising the process. It was a mess.

I don’t blame Buzz for this. I agreed with his views about what the front should be. And I labored mightily to explain it to my unconvinced subordinates. But for this discussion, I’ll just focus on one, simple concept, sort of the Great Commandment of Buzz: He insisted that a lede (here’s a brief explanation of what a lede story was, as he defined it) should communicate one thing very clearly to the reader, even the casual reader, whether consciously or not: Is my world safe?

So much of what we did centered on that. The lede was the most important thing happening in the world, although it might not be a particularly interesting story — in which case it would have a very small headline, and the reader could glance at the part of the page where, under Buzz’ rules, the lede always was, and know: My world is safe enough that I don’t even need to read the lede story unless I want to. I’ll move on to something that interests me more.

That’s a small thing, right? But it translates to a huge service provided to society — that the most reliable and comprehensive news source available to citizens every day (and that’s what the daily paper was, in communities across the country) gives everyone a sense of perspective on the world.

Nobody does that any more, at least not in a way that it provides a shared perspective for a significant portion of society to work from. Which is one of many reasons why we’ve gone from living in a world in which we could all agree on what reality was, and then argue over what to do about it, to a world in which there is little general agreement about the situation before us. So the tribes of liberals and conservatives and all the smaller tribes can’t (and won’t) talk with each other meaningfully about what do DO about reality, because they have different realities.

I’m not blaming anyone for this; everyone’s doing the best they can under the circumstances. And I have no prescriptions: I’m not at all sure that anything can be done about this loss, given the current state of technology and the media marketplace in which we now dwell. (I’m not going to try to explain why that is the case here because I’d never get up from my keyboard, although maybe I’ll elaborate some if y’all are interested in a discussion), but I’m just making the observation that we have this problem. And I’m thinking about it today because of a particularly clear example of it that stands before me.

Which is the actual point of this post.

At one point yesterday, the news broke that Joe Biden planned to withdraw entirely from Afghanistan, without conditions, by Sept. 11. And The Washington Post, which still has many senior, serious editors overlooking the process (for which we can thank Jeff Bezos I suppose), led their browser-based interface with a very large headline to that effect (sorry, I didn’t do a screenshot at the time that I can now show to you, and I can’t now because it no longer exists).

Anyway, that was the right call, for the moment. Not a hard one to make. That’s pretty much a consensus call: Were we back in the ’80s when I was handling the front page of the Wichita paper under the watchful eye of Buzz, I assure you that would have been the lead story on the front of just about every metropolitan-or-larger daily in the country — with some deviation from that norm in markets where there was a huge, overriding local story that day.

But then this morning I was looking at my Wall Street Journal app, and noticed something: They had the Afghanistan story prominently displayed, but it wasn’t the lede. They went with the pause on the Johnson & Johnson:

WSJ top stories

On the one hand this is significant because the WSJ‘s app, unlike a lot of apps, pretty much apes the makeup of a print page, and it doesn’t change during the day (they have a separate interface on the app for the latest news). Of course, the Journal — while it has become more and more conventional in its approach to news play in recent years, is still somewhat idiosyncratic, causing it to play business news (its old wheelhouse) bigger than other things. And Johnson & Johnson is, after all, a business.

So I went to look at a more conventional paper, the Post — which, if you’ll recall, was leading with Afghanistan yesterday when it first happened. Here’s what I found:

WP Top Stories

No mention of Afghanistan on the first screen — it’s all J&J and the Chauvin trial.

That’s the way things are done now. To see the way the Post would have done it in the old days, you look at the actual print product that was delivered this morning to the homes that still take it. It’s at the top of this post. Not only is Afghanistan the lede, but it’s a big lede — four columns, with only one other headline above the fold — a single-column hed on J&J.

Anyway, it’s like looking at an artifact from another time: The morning newspaper, putting the entire previous 24 hours into global, historical perspective. You can read it today, or look back at it 20 or 100 years from now, and it will clearly and unambiguously tell you what was most important among the things that happened on April 13 in the Year of Our Lord 2021.

Which is a fine, solid, reliable and helpful thing to have, if you want to be well-grounded in what was happening on Tuesday. But who will benefit from it? How many people will even see the print version? For that matter, I sincerely doubt that those people looking back 20 or 100 years from now will be looking at the print version, unless they possess the kind of esoteric, geeky understanding of the way newspapers worked a few years ago — and still do, on the print version, when they have the people to do it. That last point is a qualification that few papers can boast today. And even those that can do it, only do it on the print version.

But, I’ll end on a higher note: The New York Times found a way today to keep today’s proper lede at the top even on their iPad app — while still reflecting that in proper 21st-century fashion, time moves on quickly:

NYT top stories

Of course, they did it with a second-day hed. No ringing, historic “U.S. to exit Afghanistan by Sept. 11.” Assuming you know that already, they go with the analysis story: “Will Afghanistan Become a Terrorism Safe Haven Once Again?” They go on to, “What happens next?” So they’re readers, particularly the younger ones, don’t think they’re a bunch of old fuddy-duddies who don’t know how a smart phone works.

I’m impressed, but not a bit surprised. The New York Times is the most conservative major newspaper in America. This may confuse some people, but remember I’m a geek. I’m not talking ideology. I’m saying that for my entire career, the Times has been the most reliably Old School paper around, the very epitome of the kind of steady, reliable approach to presenting news that Buzz embraced, and aspired for the Wichita paper to achieve. I know this because every night when I was agonizing over my front page out in Kansas, I would see the advisory the Times put on the wire stating what they were planning for their front. If it was close to the calls I was making at that point, I’d feel some reassurance. If it wasn’t, I’d take a harder look at my own plan. It might stay the same — they were serving a different readership — but I’d think harder about it anyway, because they were that good at news play. That was something I had never fully realized until I had that job, and a boss like Buzz, and spent that much time looking at what everybody else was doing night after night — and thought hard about it.

And the NYT is still that good at front-page play. Here’s the top of their print version this morning, which is perfect, because this was indeed a banner-headline-lede day:

NYT front

Note that the NYT hed is even more historic in the feel of its headline than the Post‘s print version. But both papers served history well, within the bounds of their own respective design styles.

For the dwindling number of people who see the print version, that is.

Why does any of this nit-picking by the old editor matter? Well, you know how I keep agonizing over the Rabbit Hole thing — which I finally decided recently explains the Trump phenomenon (by which I mean the fact that unbelievably large numbers of American adults are fully ready and willing to believe some really crazy s__t these days), as well as the decade or so of increasingly wild partisanship that preceded 2016. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, look back at posts I’ve labeled in recent months with the Rabbit Hole designation, starting with this one.)

But it’s not just about the way various social media — Facebook, YouTube and many others — cater to readers in a way that leads them farther and farther down often bizarre ideological dead ends. (You liked that? Well then you’ll love this, the algorithm says to the user, over and over, in order to keep you on the site.)

Even the most reliable, staid, responsible print media outlets, the ones we should rely on the most if we’re thoughtful, responsible consumers of news, now present that news in a way that creates separate realities. One of us sees an app or a browser page at one moment, and one thing is the most important in the world, and another thoughtful person checks the same site five minutes later and gets a different take on the world.

And nobody’s doing anything wrong. In fact, editors would be grossly neglectful of their duty to their readers if they didn’t take advantage of this wonderful technology that allows us to update everything over and over throughout the day. I used to daydream in the ’80s and early ’90s about how wonderful it would be if, the moment I hit send on a story I had finished editing, it went straight to the reader. Well, now it does, and that’s great.

But it leaves us all living in a very fragmented, nerve-wracking news environment. Few of us ever experience that moment that used to be common to the American reader — when they opened their papers in the morning (or better yet, when the afternoon when those papers still existed) and saw the world laid out before them in a way that said, OK, here’s what you need to know most urgently about today’s real world, and here are some other things that will interest you as well, presented in order of significance.

(And before someone gives me one of those populist rants like “You mean, what you danged liberal editors say is important,” allow me to tell that person that he doesn’t know what he’s ranting about. I’m not offering an opinion on today’s news. I might do that in a separate post, since this is an opinion blog. It’s important whether you like it or hate it, whether you hold this ideological position or that one.)

By the way, doing it right meant playing all the news right. To keep this absurdly long post as short as possible, I just concentrated on the lede, and I chose to do it on a day when there would have been broad consensus among professionals as to what the lede was (on lighter-news days, you’d have seen more variation from paper to paper).

But to give you the broader picture, handled the way it should be by Old School standards, below is the entire NYT front page of today. They did a great job all the way down the budget; Buzz would approve…

We’ll all be better off as a society when someone figures out a way to give you the best virtues of the old way combined with the fantastic advantages provided by new technology (both carefully discerned perspective and immediacy, to oversimplify a bit). Unfortunately, almost no one is doing a great job of that so far…

Full nyt

 

The day the Pope came to visit us

Our then-pastor, Leigh Lehocky, welcomes Pope John Paul II to St. Peter's on Sept. 11, 1987.

Our then-pastor, Leigh Lehocky, welcomes Pope John Paul II to St. Peter’s on Sept. 11, 1987. Sadly, I missed this part.

In a comment on a previous post, Doug T. asked me to address the death of Jim Holderman. I did, but it’s one of those things that I know so much about that it’s hard to tell whether what I said would make sense to someone who didn’t live through the same things. So I emailed Doug to ask whether I had adequately addressed his question.

Doug wrote back and mused further on the subject, at one point saying, “Remember when Holderman brought the Pope to Columbia?  A really big deal…” He also mentioned something about all the hype about how Columbia would be immobilized, and how that scared people away (Doug included), so that there was just a pitiful few lining his motorcade route…

And I replied as follows…

Oh yeah, I definitely remember the Pope’s visit.

I learned about it the day I came to Columbia to interview for the job of governmental affairs editor at The State. It was like the beginning of July 1987. I’m thinking Tom McLean told me about it over breakfast, which was how I started the long day of interviews.

I also learned that in the next few months Billy Graham would be having a Crusade here. I thought, “Seems like God’s trying to tell me something. Maybe I ought to come here, too.”

Sorry about scaring everybody away like that. I kind of thought my fellow editors were overblowing that, but I was the new guy, and widely regarded as the “Knight Ridder spy,” so who was going to listen to me?

We planned for it like the Normandy invasion. It was the first time I ever used a mobile phone. It was a huge bag phone. I was asked to take it home with me, sometime before the day the Pope came, and try it out. While stopped at the traffic light at Huger and Blossom, I called home and said, “Guess what I’m doing! I’m calling you from the car!”

We got the phones because we assumed our reporters at the Horseshoe and even at the stadium — which was right next to the newspaper building — would be immobilized by the crowds, and this would be the only way we could communicate.

So, you know, we kind of overprepared.

We editors thought we couldn’t leave the building, so I wasn’t able to be there when the Pope visited my church, St. Peters.

Some of us did go up on the roof — only time I was ever up there — and watch the Popemobile approaching the stadium. Couldn’t see much, but that was exciting…

I guess, now that I’ve typed all that, I should post it on the blog…

The huge plaque just inside the front door of St. Peter's -- a few feet from where Msgr. Lehocky welcomed the pontiff.

The huge plaque just inside the front door of St. Peter’s — a few feet from where Msgr. Lehocky welcomed the pontiff.

Stop me before I bite again! Today’s top posted ‘job’…

dog trainer

Another opportunity from Daybook. I was looking to see if the Gaetz internship was still there, and this was on top instead.

Now there’s a job I’d like to have, if I were qualified. But my record on getting dogs to do what I want them to do is… spotty.

And there are challenges. If I had that job presently, the only way I could do a positive self-evaluation would be to say, “I successfully trained Major to bite someone other than Secret Service agents.” Or maybe, “So far, thanks to my intensive training program, Major has not yet actually killed anyone.” Which leaves something to be desired, and would probably not go over terribly well with my superiors.

But I hope they find someone good. They should be able to, at that pay level…

One more thing: If you click on that job, and scroll all the way to the bottom, you find this key bit of information:

APRIL FOOLS!

 

Gaetz offers another exciting opportunity to some lucky young person

daybook

You know that Daybook outfit that advertises political/government jobs? It’s a mailing list I suppose I got on as a result of working for James. Anyway, I occasionally see an interesting opportunity and share it with you.

Check out the top one on today’s email.

This blog is all about public service, so here’s some additional info for any bright, ambitious young person considering this position:

What we know: Rep. Matt Gaetz is under federal investigation, accused of having sex with a minor

WASHINGTON – Rep. Matt Gaetz, a firebrand Florida Republican and close ally of former President Donald Trump, is under investigation over allegations that he had sex with an underage girl, according to media reports Tuesday.

The revelation that the Justice Department is investigating Gaetz for potential violations of sex trafficking laws swiftly roiled national politics. Gaetz was accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paying for her travel, The New York Times first reported.

The third-term congressman denied wrongdoing,  insinuating that he and his family have been under the threat of extortion from a former Justice official….

If you want more, just Google his name. This is pretty much what you’ll find.

Want even more? Here’s what the posting of the position says about the duties:

In the District office, interns may be asked to do a variety of things, including day-to-day office work such as answering phones, writing letters and assisting with media clips. In addition, interns may be assigned to assist in various constituent case work or work on District-based projects of importance.

If you go for an interview, make a point of asking what else “a variety of things” might include, and whether it involves interstate travel…

 

 

Did anyone pay attention to the State of the State?

Henry 2021

I sort of forgot about it, what with a POTUS getting impeached for the second time and all. And other stuff.

Normally, I’d want to watch and see what sort of excuses Henry is offering for his stewardship of our state, but I was busy and to the extent that I was aware of news, other things were shouting louder.

Once, those were Big Wednesdays for me. They took up a lot of my day and night. My colleagues and I would go to lunch at the governor’s house to be briefed on the speech and receive our copies, and then we’d go back to the office and read the copies and argue over it, then one of us would write the editorial, and the writer and I would stay at work through the speech that night to see if we needed to amend the edit before letting the page go. Which we sometimes did.

All this effort was fitting, since the overwhelming majority of what we wrote was about South Carolina and the issues before it.

But now… I’ve done what I could to help South Carolina get committed, rational leadership that actually cares about said issues — all those years on the editorial board, and those few months in 2018 more directly — and just kept running into the same brick walls. It’s hard even to get people to pay the slightest attention. And now I don’t have the soapbox I once did, so… I don’t follow every word said in SC politics the way I used to.

Especially not yesterday.

What about you? Tell me you hung on every word, and offer some cogent thoughts about what was said, and make me feel guilty for having missed it. Beyond that, I’m just curious: Was anyone paying attention?

A Way I’ll Never Be

treetop

And never was, either.

crop

See him up there?

See him up there? There’s a man in the top of an absurdly tall pine tree about 15 or 20 feet before my front door, with a chainsaw dangling from his belt as though it were no more than a hammer — when he’s not using it. As I type this, I hear the loud buzz of the saw, punctuated by the shaking of the house when the massive logs he’s cutting crash into the ground. (See the little dormer sticking out from the second story in the picture? That’s where I am — my home office, where I do jobs more my speed.)

There are all sorts of jobs I think I could do, or have done. But this is not one of them. I wish I could, because I could save a lot of money if I could do this. But even when I was as young and light and strong as this fellow, I could not have done it. I don’t have a head for heights, to say the least. Climbing on a step ladder tests the limits of my tolerance for altitude. I’ve roofed houses, but I generally stayed away from the edges and tried to forget where I was to a certain extent. And I haven’t done that in a while.

So the tree service is removing this one, and another one they cut down late Saturday. Then, they’ll get to the one we’re most concerned about, the massive one with ominous branches that project out over the deck we’ve spent so much time rebuilding — and which spatters pine sap here and there so we don’t forget to worry about it.

I’m looking forward to watching that. It’s going to involve tying ropes to the branches so they just hang there when cut, to protect the house. It will be like watching the swaying of a new mast in one of my Aubrey/Maturin books. A delicate operation, and a triumph when done.

While the young man was at the top of the first tree Saturday, I had out my own (electric) chain saw, removing a large shrub at the corner of the house. That’s about my speed. I had a talk with the climber before he went up — I’ve seen this done before, and I always wonder: How does your chain saw cut so quickly and easily (and repeatedly) through a whole tree? I asked whether he put on a fresh chain before every tree. Because that’s the only time my saw cuts like that — when the chain is new.

Nope. Of course not. He’s a professional. He sharpens it himself. You ever sharpen a chain saw? It’s tedious, and tricky. And as I saw, he evidently does a good job, so it goes through the tree like the proverbial hot knife.

When I took the picture above a few minutes ago, the topman recognized me from our talk and waved. I waved back, thinking, “Better you than me up there.”

Yeah, my headline is a paraphrase of the title of the Nick Adams story. The one in which Nick isn’t quite right following his Hemingwayan Wound — a traumatic brain injury, as we’d call it today. Because that is definitely not a way I’d ever be — you’ll never get me up there….

lumber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But sometimes they don’t seem so thorough.

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

But eventually, I found this:

bells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The word I couldn’t remember for days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YES! Boilerplate. Why was that hard?

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

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

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

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

A minute, however, is better than several days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

the daily

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

So on we move to South Carolina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, tell ’em, Bernie.

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

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

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

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

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

Come on out for SwordFest 2020 on Saturday

Dan demonstrates the katana for Joe and Dawndy.

Dan demonstrates the katana for Joe and Dawndy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2020-02-04 at 11.33.09 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It usually went pretty well, but not always.

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

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

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

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

Precision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had this one poster in his office...

Reid had this one decoration in his office…

In case you doubt corporations are taking over the world…

jobs dec 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

I dropped my newspaper subscription today

"That's the press, baby!"

“That’s the press, baby!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cyber threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANOTHER timely job opportunity

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

Check out today’s:

NBA job

Wow, they got that notice out fast.

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

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

And so forth…

THAT job better pay well…

job postings

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

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

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

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

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

Responsibilities include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

bernie15

This kind of cracked me up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind you, it wasn’t ALWAYS fun…

Mike stare

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

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

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

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

 

Cindi Scoppe at Rotary today

cindi speak

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

So I went. And she did great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of digression.

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

Cindi and me

Wonderful news for Cindi, and even better for SC!

Cindi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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