Tag Archives: journalism

Rolling Stone did a hatchet job

The Rolling Stone retraction of a story it published alleging a gang rape at a college frat house presents a graphic lesson in Journalism 101.

Be sure you get all sides of the story before you go to press.

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/04/rolling-stone-rape-columbia-report-116714.html?hp=m1#.VSSXRFJ0yt8

The magazine is paying a huge price in its loss of credibility. And it should.

It well might pay even more — as in financially — if it loses a planned lawsuit filed by some of the principals involved in the coverage of the bogus story.

The magazine reported a woman named Jackie was raped by members of a University of Virginia fraternity. However, the magazine didn’t bother to check with Jackie’s friends, or with the fraternity members, or with others who might be able to corroborate Jackie’s story.

It turned out that on the night in question, there wasn’t even a party at the frat house.

The story broke down.

The magazine issued a retraction and an apology.

And this story now has put the media under the looking glass once again.

What still astounds me is that the reporter, her editors and the “fact checkers” still are employed by the magazine. No one has lost his or her job.

I’m scratching my head over this one. I’ve seen reporters and editors fired for less than what happened at Rolling Stone. No one bothered to check the details of Jackie’s story? No one thought to ask the reporter to talk to the fraternity members? The reporter didn’t bother to do her homework?

Where I come from, they call such so-called reporting a “hatchet job.”

To retract a story is to admit that it is false, that it is bogus, that it doesn’t stand up to the basic test of good journalism. Rolling Stone has issued its retraction.

Why hasn’t it punished the people responsible for soiling the magazine’s credibility?

Self-proclaimed scribe passes from the scene

A friend from my former stomping grounds on the Texas Gulf Coast has given me some sad news.

Dr. Gary C. Baine has just died. OK, I’m sad mostly because of the loss his family has suffered. One of his in-laws is a friend of mine and I pray she finds comfort.

Gary Baine helped me hone my understanding of what one can refer to as “editor’s prerogative.” Baine was a fairly regular writer of letters to the editor of the paper where I worked for nearly 11 years. I edited the editorial page of the Beaumont Enterprise and part of my job was to manage the flow of letters that would appear on the pages of that paper.

And yes, Baine was one of our contributors.

He wasn’t just was any old, garden-variety, run-of-the-mill letter writer. Baine, a dentist in Beaumont, was very, very proud of the submissions he would send in.

How proud was he? I’ll tell you.

He was so proud that he would take me to task for having the utter gall to actually edit his letters. He thought his text was sacrosanct, not to be touched by another human’s hands. Why, how dare I actually do the job that my title implied — as an editor — and seek to sharpen his submissions, to correct them for grammar and occasionally for clarity?

That’s what I did for, oh, more than three decades. And by the time my path crossed with Baine’s, I’d been at it for a decade-plus. I thought I was pretty good at it making people’s letters read better than the original submissions. So I edited Baine’s submissions, using precisely the same techniques I would use on other letter writers’ manuscripts.

That didn’t suit Baine in the slightest. We would argue. I would seek to tell him about how the greatest writers in the nation are subject to editing by their editors. I tried to tell him that when reporters turn their stories over to editors, they in effect surrender ownership of their copy; it becomes the editor’s “property.”

The same policy holds true for those who submit unsolicited text to the newspaper. You turn it in, the editorial assumes responsibility for it and then can edit it — or not edit it. It’s the editor’s call exclusively.

None of those explanations ever quite passed Baine’s view of how the world should be run.

We had our differences, but we remained cordial — which I suppose might suggest that deep down he didn’t take himself as seriously as his reaction to my editing style indicated.

Dr. Baine did sharpen my understanding of my craft. For that, I am grateful beyond measure.

May he now rest in peace.

Well done, Anderson Cooper

Critiquing media isn’t usually my bag, although lately I’ve been beating up on TV cable news networks over their coverage of Ebola.

That said, allow me a tip of the cap, or a nod, or salute to CNN’s Anderson Cooper for refusing to take a “selfie” with a local TV reporter who spotted Cooper near the site of the Canadian Parliament shooting in Ottawa.

http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/10/23/anderson-cooper-aghast-when-reporter-asks-him-to-take-selfie-near-ottawa-shooting-scene/

The reporter wanted to take the picture with Cooper near where one victim was killed and the shooter himself was killed by the Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers — who I already have saluted in an earlier blog post.

The young reporter apparently was caught up in the moment and wanted to share some misplaced “glory” with an international media personality, such as Cooper.

His response? “It seems wildly inappropriate,” Cooper told the young man.

Journalists have a fairly well-defined list of things they shouldn’t do when covering a story. They don’t cheer for political candidates or athletic teams; they don’t demonstrate displeasure in either instance; they don’t act overly friendly or unfriendly with sources they might know personally when they’re covering a story; they always behave professionally and dispassionately when on assignment.

A terrorist attack on a government building that results in a fatality clearly falls into the category of an event that requires maximum professional decorum. The young reporter, a fellow named Vandon Gene, needs to brush up on his professional manner before he’s ever assigned to cover a news story.

Anderson Cooper has taught the young man a valuable lesson.

Time really does fly by

You’ve no doubt said it yourself: Time flies when you’re having fun.

I know how it goes.

In a couple of days, I’ll be celebrating an anniversary I never saw coming. On Aug. 30, 2012, I was told that my duties as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News would be handled by someone else. I barely knew the fellow who gave me the news. He was the then-vice president for audience at the newspaper. He’d been hired to fill a newly created position and had been on the job for about two months.

He broke the news to me: “There’s no easy to way to tell you this, but we’ve offered your job to someone else and he accepted.” I asked who it was. He told me.

This was the culmination of a “restructuring” or “reorganization” that the newspaper had initiated. My formerly autonomous department had been rolled into the newsroom operation. Everyone’s job descriptions had been reworked. I looked at my new description and thought, “Yeah, I can do this.” We were invited to apply for any job we wanted and were asked to list two “alternate” posts for which we could apply in case we didn’t get Job One.

I thought, “Hey, I’ve been doing this job for 17-plus years. I can do what they’re asking me to do.”

I was the only one involved directly in this decision who harbored that thought. The VP/audience dropped the bomb in my lap. I sat there, stunned. I caught my breath, said something to him I don’t dare repeat here, walked into my office and called my wife, then my sons. The message was the same to all of them: I’m out.

I went home. Slept well that night. Came back early the next morning and cleared out my office. Rather than apply for another job and hope that lightning would strike and I would get it, I quit. I was qualified to do one thing at the newspaper and I thought I did it pretty well. I’d had an enormously fruitful and moderately successful career over the total span of 37 years.

As near as I can recall, I was the first casualty of this “restructuring.” I was gone, out the door. (Here’s the hilarious aside: The VP/audience quit his job about a week after I walked out and returned to his old employer, the Las Vegas Sun. Suffice to say the individual who runs the Globe-News was not a happy man. My reaction when I got the news? Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?)

Why recall all this today? Well, I guess it’s time to air it out just a little. I won’t waste any effort telling you about the anger I felt at that very moment toward a number of people. Most of that anger has subsided. Some of it remains.

My prevailing attitude, though, is one of thankfulness. I’m thankful to be gone. I hated that my newspaper career ended the way it did. I was hoping for a cake and a party where some folks would say some nice things to me, thank me for my service and my dedication to our craft. Hey, not every dream comes true.

Time flies, yes?

Since then, I’ve discovered a wonderful new life. Semi-retirement is better than I thought. I’ve found new life as a blogger. I’m working part-time for an auto dealer and writing a blog for Panhandle PBS, a gig I started almost immediately after leaving the newspaper. The Panhandle PBS assignment has changed and grown a bit in recent weeks and my hope is that it will continue to grow.

I offer this essay to those who might worry about their future in print journalism. The landscape is changing right under their feet. More papers are going “digital” in their effort to report the news and comment on issues of the day. I was told the Globe-News would be embarking in a “radical new direction.”

My employer said, in effect, that I was ill-suited to take part in that journey. I had reminded him a day or two earlier that journalism today bears little resemblance to what it was when I started out in the 1970s and that the changes he was seeking amounted to a tiny fraction of what I’d already been through. That was my way of saying: I can do whatever you want me to do. Well, that plea fell on deaf ears.

What’s in store for others who are still toiling in daily print journalism? That remains a mystery.

Know this, though. If this old geezer can adapt to a new life rapidly after being punched in the gut, then there’s hope for virtually everyone else facing the uncertainty of a changing profession.

Time has flown by for me the past two years. I’m having the time of my life.

 

 

 

Show me some bias, too

Critics of my work over the years have accused me of many things, called me many bad names.

I’ve been called inaccurate, misinformed, misguided, lazy, arrogant, elitist … all kinds of pejorative terms. I take that criticism seriously.

The one label I refuse to take seriously is “biased.” Yes, I’ve been called that as well.

Since leaving the world of daily print journalism in August 2012, I’ve continued to spew my thoughts into the blogosphere with this blog. I tell friends, acquaintances and family members the same thing: I am having so much fun that if I were any better I’d be twins.

Some of the recipients of my blog have deigned to accuse me of bias.

Such an interesting word, don’t you think? The dictionary describes it this way: “a preference or inclination that inhibits impartiality; prejudice.”

Why is that a non-serious criticism? Because we all have it.

The problem with bias is that we don’t see it in ourselves as readily as we see it in others, particularly those who espouse views at odds with our own.

“Oh, you’re so damn biased,” people will tell me. Oh, really? How do you know that? “Because you’ve got it all wrong on this particular issue.” And you’ve got it right? Does that make your view, well, unbiased?

We have it all contained within ourselves. The bias we see in others infects us as well. We might have precisely same type of bias, but we have.

I have it. I’ve been known to admit freely. I recognize it in commentators I watch on TV or hear on the radio. Yes, even those with whom I agree. It’s just that when I hear bias from sources with whom I share a particular view it doesn’t seem as grating as it does when I read or hear something from those with whom I disagree.

I continue to subscribe to the notion put forth many years ago by the late, great David Brinkley, who once said objectivity in journalism is an impossible goal. The best a journalist can hope to be, he said, is “fair.” That means you give credence to what all sides are saying in a debate or discussion. Opinion journalists then can draw their own conclusions, but only after they’ve given fair consideration to what the folks on the other side have to say.

When someone throws out the “you’re biased” canard, think of what Jesus said in John’s Gospel to those who wanted to stone an adulteress: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone …”

Key decision made on retirement

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on impending retirement.

Decision-making can be a liberating experience.

It brings relief and an almost palpable feeling of weight lifting off one’s shoulders.

I made such a decision this week. I have decided when I’m going to officially “retire.”

It will occur on my 66th birthday, which arrives on Dec. 17, 2015. That will be the day I plan to start collecting Social Security income.

Big deal, you say? What’s so special about that? For starters, that will be the day I can start drawing SSI without incurring a penalty if I choose to keep working part-time. I become eligible for my full Social Security benefit on my 66th birthday. I am working two part-time jobs at the moment and I’m likely to keep working at them even after I start drawing my “retirement” income.

I feel quite good about making this decision. It signals another big turning point in my life since the moment I stopped working full time as a daily print journalist. I won’t go into the details of that event, except to say that I wasn’t ready for that moment to arrive. It did. The circumstances of that moment still anger me but a year and a half later I’m actually glad to have moved on to this phase of life.

My wife and I haven’t been this happy in years. We’ve been able to travel some in our RV. Our granddaughter is growing and developing beautifully. Our sons are thriving. I’m working these two part-time jobs and enjoying them both immensely, mostly because neither of them places much pressure on me. The auto dealership job allows me to meet people and get reacquainted with old friends; the blog I write for PanhandlePBS.org allows me to stay involved with public affairs TV programming.

Of course, I have this blog to which I often contribute several times daily.

I now await another key stage of my retired life when I turn 66 and will start collecting some income for which I’ve worked many years.

There’ll be more to report on this blog as we move forward.

A decision on when to start collecting Social Security might not seem like a biggie to some. It is to me. I’m glad I’ve made it.

Semi-retirement beginning to sink in

Note: This is the first of an occasional series of blog posts discussing the onset of retirement.

I’m beginning to like being semi-retired.

It was nearly a year ago that my life was turned upside-down. I walked away from a career I had enjoyed beyond my wildest imagination. My journalism career had exposed me to some of the most interesting experiences possible. Not many folks can say they’ve attended presidential nominating conventions, interviewed a future president of the United States, a sitting vice president of the U.S., made a tailhook landing on nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (and been catapulted off the flight deck), covered stories in nearly a dozen countries around the world, exposed corruption in government, commented on a whole array of public policy issues or flown over an erupting volcano.

A management “reorganization” scheme this past summer forced me to make a decision I wasn’t prepared to make, which was to resign my job rather than seek a lesser-paying job at the company where I worked — with no guarantee I’d get even that.

My boss told me I no longer would be able to pursue my craft, which I had done for nearly four decades at three newspapers in two states. So I called it quits.

I’ve been working part-time ever since. And now my wife and I are relishing the role of semi-retired citizens. We recently purchased two vehicles: a 3/4-ton pickup and a 29-foot fifth wheel to pull behind it.

We’ve taken the fifth wheel out for a three-night “camping trip” across town, at an RV park — where we got acquainted with our new vehicle. We learned how the plumbing works, we’re getting quite good now at hooking and unhooking the fifth wheel to and from the pickup. Driving the assembly is a piece of cake.

We’re anxious to take our vehicle out for a real trip, which we’ll do in due course.

I’ve learned that we’re entering an exciting new world of discovery.

Our brand new granddaughter is growing up before our eyes, even though she lives with our son, daughter-in-law and her two big brothers a six-hour drive away. Our retirement travel plans include the kids, all of them. We’ll arrive at that point eventually.

For now, we’re both feeling better in our semi-retirement skin all the time.

I’m working three part-time jobs and enjoying all of them immensely. I’m betting we’re going to really enjoy full-time retirement even more when that day arrives.

We’re in no particular hurry for it to get here. As my late mother used to admonish my sisters and me when we were kids: Do not wish your life away.

Not going to do it, Mom. Life is pretty darn good as it is — right now.