Thursday, January 18, 2018


The New York Times made an interesting move today on its letters page, turning over the newspaper real estate to Donald Trump supporters and posting only letters from those who support the president and continue to do so.

The paper plans to publish a similar page on Friday, but with letters from those who voted for Trump, but now object to his work.

The paper posted this explanation:

The Times editorial board has been sharply critical of the Trump presidency, on grounds of policy and personal conduct. Not all readers have been persuaded. In the spirit of open debate, and in hopes of helping readers who agree with us better understand the views of those who don’t, we wanted to let Mr. Trump’s supporters make their best case for him as the first year of his presidency approaches its close. Tomorrow we’ll present some letters from readers who voted for Mr. Trump but are now disillusioned, and from those reacting to today’s letters and our decision to provide Trump voters this platform.

See all the letters HERE.

Some excerpts are below:

....Donald Trump has succeeded where Barack Obama failed. The economy is up, foreign tyrants are afraid, ISIS has lost most of its territory, our embassy will be moved to Jerusalem and tax reform is accomplished. More than that, Mr. Trump is learning, adapting and getting savvier every day. Entitlement reform is next! Lastly, the entrenched interests in Washington, which have done nothing but glad-hand one another, and both political parties are angry and afraid....

....I voted for Donald Trump and, considering the alternative, I would do so again. Newsflash: Not all Trump voters are Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables.” Many of us are well-informed and highly educated, and we are weary of the Democrats’ tiresome focus on identity politics, class warfare, and disparagement of corporations and the “wealthy.”....

.....By any measure President Trump’s first year has shown prodigious progress. As a child of the ’60s I admire his iconoclastic nature, optimism and unapologetic humanity. When asked during the campaign about his truthfulness, he replied that maybe he is too truthful. He does ruffle feathers, but seems to end up being right about most important things. I think Mr. Trump is doing a terrific job against all odds, and is getting better. I am proud when I see the First Couple representing us on the world stage. Tens of millions of thoughtful, compassionate Americans agree with me.....

Friday, January 12, 2018


In the ongoing coverage of Donald Trump nearly every journalistic question and media ethics challenge has arisen.

The latest is, well, a sh--hole.

That's the phrase the president reportedly uttered (sans dashes) during a recent White House meeting when he supposedly told the assembled participants that the U.S. should limit immigrants from countries such as El Salvador, Haiti and several African nations. 

Reports indicate he was reacting to a possible bipartisan agreement to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, Act and ensure border security funding.

Some in attendance say Trump stated, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?"

As you would expect, the profane and offensive language drew strong coverage, and harsh rebukes.

But it also raised the question of using such specific wording to quote the president.

Most news outlets, from CNN to The Washington Post, used the profanity in their web stories and even headlines, marking a rare occurrence. In many cases when such language is cited, dashes are often placed to break it up.

In print today, The New York Times and the Post used the entire phrase in their Page One stories, but not in print headlines. The New York Post, never one to shy away from a vulgar head, went with a local subway story on its front page, while the rival Daily News, not a Trump fan, declared "SH** FOR BRAINS" on the cover with a cartoonish image that depicted the president as such.

Cable news went with the full verbiage in on-screen graphics for much of the evening Thursday night. MSNBC backed off slightly this morning, while CNN kept with the full wording.

Trump is not the first president to use profanity in a private meeting. But such a direct attack on other nations' citizens, with a racist tinge as well, gives the incident more news value, especially when it relates to the hot-button issue of immigration.

How to report it, however, is clearly a mixed question. As we are seeing, different outlets are handling it in different ways.

The AP Stylebook, long the bible for such usage, states in its latest edition:

obscenities, profanities, vulgarities

Do not use them in stories unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them.

Try to find a way to give the reader a sense of what was said without using the specific word or phrase. For example, an anti-gay or sexist slur.

If a profanity, obscenity or vulgarity must be used, flag the story at the top for editors, being specific about what the issue is:

Eds: Note use of vulgarity "f---" [or "s---"] in story. However, online readers receiving direct feeds of the stories will not see that warning, so consider whether the word in question truly needs to be in the story at all.

When possible, confine the offending language, in quotation marks, to a separate paragraph that can be deleted easily by editors.
In reporting profanity that normally would use the words damn or god, lowercase god and use the following forms: damn, damn it, goddamn it.
If the obscenity involved is particularly offensive but the story requires making clear what the word was, replace the letters of the offensive word with hyphens, using only an initial letter: f---, s---.
In some stories or scripts, it may be better to replace the offensive word with a generic descriptive in parentheses, e.g., (vulgarity) or (obscenity).

When the subject matter of a story may be considered offensive or disturbing, but the story does not contain quoted profanity, obscenities or vulgarities, flag the story at the top:

The New York Times, in its own story about the issue, quoted its associate managing editor for standards, Phil Corbett, as saying, "It seemed pretty clear to all of us that we should quote the language directly, not paraphrase it. We wanted to be sure readers would fully understand what the story was about." It added that, "The Times, unlike some papers, omitted the obscenity from its headline and push alert, using the term 'vulgar language' instead."

"We are still inclined to be somewhat restrained -- for instance, by avoiding the actual vulgarities in the headline," Corbett added.

Asked for his policy, Post Executive Editor Martin Baron emailed: 
“When the president says it, we’ll use it verbatim. That’s our policy. We discussed it, quickly, but there was no debate.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Among the important studies the Committee to Protect Journalists does annually are its reports on the number of journalists jailed and killed around the world.

Sadly, this year's report on journalists behind bars  -- just out today -- shows a new record high of 262, up from 259 last year. It also points at least a partial finger of blame at President Donald Trump's unfair fake news claims.

As CPJ stated:

Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. At the same time, President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoricfixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labeling critical media “fake news” serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists. Globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on anti-state charges, many under broad and vague terror laws, while the number imprisoned on a charge of “false news,” though modest, rose to a record 21.

See the full report HERE

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


It's hard to believe only two months have passed since The New York Times first broke the story of Harvey Weinstein and the numerous women who revealed acts of sexual harassment and other unacceptable behavior by the Hollywood producer.

Since then, the issue has exploded with similar claims, and worse, against powerful men ranging from Kevin Spacey to Matt Lauer. And with swift repercussions that have lost these and other men jobs, contracts and, most importantly, respect.

But as important is the respect, support and awareness that these brave women have sparked for themselves and other survivors of such offensive behavior -- and a believability that should not have taken so long to come about.

Among those also to be credited are the news outlets such as the Times, The Washington Post and others who have dug into the stories and disclosed the horrible pattern of abuse by some of America's most powerful and most famous men.

Knowing the backlash their subjects would inflict, the news outlets in most cases did the most thorough reporting through in-depth interviews and fact-checking of accusers, researching of claims, dates and times, and running down every possible piece of evidence that backs up their reporting.

In the case of the Post, which broke the story of legendary journalist Charlie Rose's history of harassment, a false claim attempted by the disgraced James O'Keefe outlet Project Veritas was exposed after an O'Keefe minion tried to trick the newspaper into believing a fake accusation about U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.

The Post showed its professionalism by checking the claim that Moore, already the subject of numerous accusations of abusive behavior and harassment of under-aged girls, had impregnated the woman as a teen. When it didn't check out, they revealed the attempted scam. 

And the Times continued its work today with a lengthy 8,000-word story on Page One that revealed Weinstein's behavior went beyond the harassment and abuse to influential deal-making aimed at silencing his accusers and threatening reprisals.

It reported, in part:

He gathered ammunition, sometimes helped by the editor of The National Enquirer, who had dispatched reporters to find information that could undermine accusers. He turned to old allies, asking a partner in Creative Artists Agency, one of Hollywood’s premier talent shops, to broker a meeting with a C.A.A. client, Ronan Farrow, who was reporting on Mr. Weinstein. He tried to dispense favors: While seeking to stop the actress Rose McGowan from writing in a memoir that he had sexually assaulted her, he tried to arrange a $50,000 payment to her former manager and throw new business to a literary agent advising Ms. McGowan. The agent, Lacy Lynch, replied to him in an email: “No one understands smart, intellectual and commercial like HW.”

The Times report goes further to detail how the Hollywood mogul allegedly traded favors with tabloid reporters to kill negative coverage of him or his clients, while also claiming many Hollywood agents knew of his sexual harassment and still sent clients to work with him. 

Time magazine, meanwhile, revealed its Person of the Year today, acknowledging these same sex assault and harassment survivors for the influence they have had. Dubbed "The Silence Breakers," the Time cover story describes several examples of women who were mistreated and how and why they came forward.

Time stated:
This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don't even seem to know that boundaries exist. They've had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can't afford to lose. They've had it with the code of going along to get along. They've had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.

As the story continues to break and more names and accusers are expected to come forward, journalists need to keep battling against the threats of those who would seek to silence the silence breakers, and those who believe them.

And with the Pulitzer Prize juries set to review entries in just a few weeks, don't be surprised if these stories and others are among some of the top picks.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


My favorite Pulitzer Prize winner this year had to be the tiny Storm Lake Times of Storm Lake, Iowa, a 3,000-circulation paper that took home the editorial writing prize on Monday for some real  shoe-leather work.

Editor and publisher Art Cullen raised the issue of how local government entities planned to defend themselves against lawsuits related to agricultural and irrigation toxins in local water. When they would not reveal their funding, the paper kept digging and uncovered the fact that the defense cash came from companies known for their own questionable practices such as Koch Industries and Monsanto, according to The Washington Post.

The Pulitzer Board described the work as "editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa."

For years I was lucky enough to cover the Pulitzer Prizes annually for Editor & Publisher. When the biggest awards in journalism were announced inside the third-floor World Room at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, I was as excited as any of the hopeful candidates.

At E&P, we also had a string of finding out the finalists names in advance for several years, a scoop that upset the decision-makers at Columbia, but one that still gets some people reaching out to me for such information. Alas, the well of leaks dried up years ago.

More important, however, was the idea that the Pulitzer could be won by any newspaper, of any size or readership. To this day, The New York Times - which garnered three more prizes on Monday - can be challenged by the likes of a Point Reyes Light or Grand Forks Herald in the competition that gives no weight or sympathy to staff size or revenue.

You win because you speak truth to power, dig up the real story, or challenge the status quo. 

In my 11 years at E&P, I was lucky to write about many notable Pulitzer winners -- ranging from The Village Voice's Mark Schoofs, who won that weekly's first Pulitzer in 2000 for a lengthy series on AIDS in Africa (for which he caught malaria during his time overseas) to The Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, MA., honored in 2003 when it went all out on the story of four local boys who drowned in a river boating tragedy.

One of my favorites, however, was The Boston Globe's Spotlight team revelations about the Catholic Church. Although far from a small newspaper, The Globe had additional challenges as it took on one of the city's sacred institutions - a battle many saw in the 2016 Oscar-winning film Spotlight

What the film failed to mention, however, was that the coverage won the 2003 Public Service Pulitzer, considered to be the most prestigious, and the only one without a cash prize.

So as this year's winners properly enjoy their accolades, knowing they are well-earned in this time of newsroom cutbacks and instant deadlines over dogged reporting and fact-finding, readers should also rejoice that such true newspapering is still going on.

And as the editor of the Storm Lake Times put it, still scaring "the bejeebers" out of those in power.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Very sadden to hear today of the death of Jimmy Breslin, the legendary former columnist for the New York Daily News, Newsday, New York Herald-Tribune and others.

For those of us from several generations, Breslin was New York. The epitome of the loud-talking, tough-writing, cigar-smoking newsroom scribe who would dig out the news, and his views, with little concern for backlash.

He took on the streets with real stories about real people, and the politicians with gritty truth -- even running for city council president himself once. His typewriter -- yeah, remember typewriters? -- plucked words that attacked many previous ivory towers, from City Hall to the Vatican.

His books ranged from novels of quirky characters to non-fiction looks at issues ranging from the early New York Mets to the Nixon impeachment.

When he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986, I was a sophomore at Brooklyn College studying journalism and news and read his daily missives with joy and hope that a journalist's words could make a difference. 

I am sure I was not alone in seeing the way Breslin, and many in those past tabloid and daily newspaper days of New York and elsewhere, could speak truth to power and demand answers.

And he was in the news himself at some moments. Along with his city council run, Breslin drew international attention in the summer of 1977 when the so-called Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz sent a letter to Breslin revealing his psychotic thoughts and plans during a murder spree that ended with six dead and seven wounded. 

When the Pulitzer committee gave Breslin his prize, they wrote that it was for "columns that consistently champion ordinary citizens." That was him to a tee.

When I got my first job at a small newspaper in New Jersey two years later, I always remembered Breslin's approach in that way. That it is how ordinary people were affected by government, crime, taxes, schools, and daily events that was important in journalism. Any news person worth their salt knows that is the focus, or should be, of most any news story.

During my career, I have been lucky to interview Breslin on several occasions. First during my time at Editor & Publisher, and more recently at Media Matters for America. The last time was just four years ago when I wrote about the 37 journalists on the NRA's "enemies list," Breslin among them. 

His reaction: "Put me first on the list."

One of my favorite stories was Breslin's piece in 1963 on the man who would dig JFK's grave. Dispatched to Washington by the Herald Tribune to find an angle on the funeral of the 35th president, Breslin has written that the gravedigger was the most likely unknown part of the story, and among the most important simply for his job.

Breslin wrote, in part:

Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. "Polly, could you please be here by eleven o'clock this morning?" Kawalchik asked. "I guess you know what it's for." Pollard did.

He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

See the entire column HERE.

He revealed years later that when Pope John Paul I died in 1978, he went to Rome looking again for the under-written story. He came up with the idea of writing about the embalming of the pope, which his piece viewed as poorly done in Italy at the time. He said his then editors at the Daily News declined the idea.

And now it is we who write about this death, and his life. And at a time when national politics and local government need fiery news voices more than ever, let's hope that those in our profession seek to continue Breslin's work even as they face stiffer competition, budget cutbacks and a White House more anti-press than ever.

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Jill Abramson never wants to run a newsroom again.

And with a new five-year agreement to continue teaching journalism at Harvard University, the former executive editor of The New York Times won’t have to for a while. 

“I never want to run anything again in any sphere, whether it’s media or any place else. I don’t want to manage people ever again,” Abramson, 62, said in a recent interview. “Because, A, I don’t think it plays to my strengths, what I love most is writing and reading and interviewing people. That is why I got into journalism in the first place.

“The other side of it, the running people and being a manager, I’ve done it in three different venues ... I’m done with it,” she added.

It’s been two years since Abramson left the Times after a rocky tenure that lasted less than three years and included some internal battles over news approaches and reportedly her complaints that her pension and pay were less than her male predecessors.

Her firing also raised concerns that she was being unfairly criticized as “pushy” and “brusque” because she is a woman and that no male editor would be so vilified.

Despite that she said she still “roots for the Times” every day in its news mission, although she admits still having some mixed memories.

“It’s like the rest of life, the honest answer to the question, do I have bad memories? Sure,” Abramson said. “That tends to be true for much of life, the bad memories are completely outweighed by the good … working with reporters on fantastic enterprise and investigative stories that did help change the world or change important institutions in key ways.

“The fun of helping oversee journalism projects and to be in the hunt with reporters is what I loved about being editor,” she said.

And she is not completely out of the news game, writing a regular column on the political world for The Guardian, and writing a book on the transition of news to digital.

“The freedom of being able to sort of control my own workload and not be running from meeting to meeting, which was basically my life certainly as executive editor,” Abramson recalls. “I was scheduled in half-hour segments, it’s much better for me to be the master of my own time and to be free to really dig in to subjects.”

And another new venture is being a grandmother for the first time to 11-month-old Eloise, her daughter’s first-born. Abramson said she lives with her daughter and son-in-law, both surgeons, and takes the youngster to and from day care each day.

“From what I can tell from many of my contemporaries who have senior editing jobs at important publications, so much of the work is related to the business model and coming up with new ideas for ‘innovation’ that isn’t my cup of tea,” she added. “I find the innovations themselves interesting to watch and observe, but working on business models myself is not playing to my strengths.”

She calls the Times an “irreplaceable institution and it still has, thank God, the resources to provide a banquet of fabulous news stories every day.”

And Abramson still has high praise for much of the news world.

“The best work I’ve ever seen is being done now, whether it's at Bill Keller’s Marshall Project or the Times, or The Washington Post is so great these days. The New Yorker, The Atlantic. At the top end, the work has never been better,” she adds. “I’m troubled by a number of developments in the news business generally. I think that the focus, that the line between advertising and content has gotten a little blurrier than I’m comfortable with. The need for massive audiences to attract advertising.”

Asked about the rise of conservative media, she said much of it is still within a small audience, but says the “echo chamber” can promote it further, which is a concern.

“There is an echo chamber where stories that start, let’s say on Breitbart, ricochet through that pipeline of different like-minded news organizations,” she said. “It ricochets in a more disciplined and powerful way on the right than on the left.”

Still, her main focus is teaching her students, who comprise two classes this semester in introduction to journalism and political journalism.

“I love it, the students are so interesting and full of enthusiasm and that’s why,” she said. “Harvard is a great institution. I went to Harvard as an undergraduate, I love the place.”