Tag Archives: Journalism

One last waltz around the newsroom . . .

Twenty-six years ago this month, I left college with a communications degree and vague thoughts of “man, it would be cool to write for a newspaper.”

Within weeks of graduation, I somehow found myself working as a sports reporter at the Hickory (N.C.) Daily Record. As I wrote back in January, it was a job I wasn’t sure I wanted in an industry that intimidated me. (It also only paid $12,000 a year, which is still kind of hard to believe.)

But I worked hard and learned a lot, and my fears faded as my skills sharpened.

After Hickory, I became the sports editor at a small daily, then a copy editor at a midsize daily, and, in 2000, I landed what’s truly been a dream job — multiplatform editor at USA TODAY.

It’s been a thrill immersing myself in the constantly evolving news business at one of the world’s biggest media organizations. I diversified my skills, won awards for headlines and even started writing again.

However, at some point in the recent past, it stopped being fun.

The Web’s non-stop news cycle can get your adrenaline going, but it also can feel like you’re screaming into a tornado, as one colleague so aptly put it. The secular decline of the newspaper industry, which has meant  stagnant wages and waves of punishing layoffs, hasn’t helped.

So it’s with equal measures of reluctance and relief that I’m saying farewell to newspapers. I’m starting a new job as a magazine editor at a business-to-business publishing firm that covers the door, window and glass industries.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but this new position is a great match for my skills — and it also touches me on a personal level. My father is going on 50 years in the architectural glass business. That means the fenestration industry I’ll be covering has fed me, kept a roof over my head, put me through college and given me walking-around money when I needed it.

Beyond that, this niche of publishing feels stable and secure, which is more than anybody can say about the news business these days.

As I count down my final hours at USA TODAY, I’d like to leave you with a few words:

To my current colleagues who’ve survived the tumult and still consider journalism a noble calling, I salute you. To my former colleagues who’ve been dumped overboard by the industry’s cruel economics, I mourn you.

And to the colleagues I’ll never know except in spirit, I urge you to ignore what I wrote above and give journalism a chance, at least for a while.

There’s really no place on Earth like a newsroom.

Thanks all, and God bless.


A blast from the past…


An old friend who used to live in Asheville, N.C., where I used to work, cut this out of the newspaper back in the 1990s. It was a house ad announcing me as the employee of the month for the Citizen-Times. I can’t believe he kept this thing, but it was a really nice surprise when it popped up on Facebook a while back.

A notable career anniversary

Twenty-five years ago this week,  the tiny Hickory (N.C.) Daily Record hired me to be a sportswriter. It was a job I wasn’t sure I wanted in a field that seemed beyond me.

Two and a half tumultuous decades later, I’m working at one of the largest newspapers in the world  — and many days, the field still feels beyond me. 

USA TODAY intimidates on a couple of levels. Beyond the institutional heft of the brand, there’s an outstanding newsroom full of grand credentials and big egos.  I love working there, but it’s the the kind of place that amplifies the voice in my head that’s always whispered “you’re not supposed to be here.”

Yet if I’ve learned anything during the past 25 years, it’s this: You don’t need the right connections, the right academic degrees or the right  journalism awards to succeed in the news business (though they certainly help). You need to work hard and care deeply about what you’re doing. It’s that simple.

So thanks, Hickory Daily Record, for taking a chance on a kid with a mere bachelor’s degree and a few crumpled-up clips from his college newspaper.

Bob Dylan, ‘The Atlantic’ and — me?

music_rock_roll_bob_dylan_bands_band_desktop_1024x768_free-wallpaper-29003The other week, I wrote a little piece for USA TODAY about Bob Dylan being charged in France for statements that authorities there construed as hate speech. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic used it as a jumping-off point for a remix-style riff on the free-speech issues raised in the story.

Interesting, entertaining and flattering all at once.

Here’s more of my writing for USA TODAY. 

Slow news day at Muck Rack …

For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, I’m the featured journalist today on Muck Rack.

I’m surprised and a little humbled, though I need to correct a small part of their blog post about me. I personally was not a finalist for the 1999 Gannett Freedom of Information Award. I was part of a nominated team at the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. I supplied headlines, copy editing and page designs for the various projects that were recognized.

Anyway, it’s a nice little bit of recognition from the fine folks at Muck Rack, and I’m grateful for the honor.

Please, pass on the ‘charming’

The Atlantic‘s James Fallows thinks the Washington Post‘s homepage headline for this story on Mitt Romney’s perceived campaign gaffes — “Errors hurting Romney effort, some in GOP say” — is “charming”  because it reveals a lot  about “our craft, that of journalism, and the contortions we go through to abide by what we think are the rules.”

Fallows clearly believes the headline is another example of journalism’s “problem” with false balance — the idea that competing points of view must be granted equal weight in news stories, even when one side clearly doesn’t deserve it. (And who determines which side deserves to be discounted?)

I understand there’s a great deal of handwringing surrounding journalism’s “view from nowhere,” but I fail to see how a story in which Romney’s political allies go on the record to criticize his campaign fits that narrative.

That used to be called “news.” Or am I missing something?

Project Censored loves … Cuba?

Does anybody still care about Project Censored?

If you’re unfamiliar with the name, they’re the media watchdogs whose annual list of  the “top 25 censored stories” is a year-end staple of alternative and free-weekly newspapers.

Project Censored started being irrelevant around 2000, as this Mother Jones article makes clear. (A lot of the stories they say are underreported or ignored are anything but, among other offenses.)

PC slipped deeper into irrelevance in 2007 when it embraced 9/11 conspiracy theories. Two of the biggest names on its masthead resigned in protest.

That record is sorry enough to make most right-thinking people write off Project Censored for good, but if you need another one, try this: those indefatigable guardians of press freedom absolutely adore Cuba, a totalitarian society with one of the most oppressive media environments on earth.

The latest example appeared this week on Project Censored’s website. The author, Peter Phillips, recently attended a conference in Havana, and his piece includes you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me lines such as this: “These are multi-generations of people who have never suffered media advertisements.”

Indeed they haven’t. Or “suffered media” of any kind that wasn’t first approved by the government.

Glowing reports about Cuba are pretty standard for Project Censored. Here’s Phillips again in an especially Walter Duranty-espue dispatch, “Cuba Supports Press Freedom”:

I toured the two main radio stations in Havana, Radio Rebelde and Radio Havana. Both have Internet access to multiple global news sources including CNN, Reuters, Associated Press and BBC with several newscasters pulling stories for public broadcast.

It’s good to know that a few dozen members of Cuba’s official state media can access some news sites on the Web.

Unfortunately, they can’t Google anything.

In 2008, the same year Phillips went on his stage-managed tour and posted that report, Reporters Without Borders revealed that “The Internet in Cuba is highly controlled.”:

There is a “national” network which gives users an email address and allows them to send emails abroad but not to surf the net. The “international” network, which costs three times as much, gives access to foreign news websites like the BBC, Le Monde, and Nuevo Herald (Miami-based Spanish-language daily). But if you type in “google.fr”, for example, you are redirected to the pages of the official Cuban newspaper Granma or the news agency Prensa Latina.

Phillips also pays respect to Cuba’s brave, state-controlled journalists and their role as vigilant defenders of La Revolucion:

In the context of this external threat (from the U.S.), Cuban journalists quietly acknowledge that some self-censorship will undoubtedly occur regarding news stories that could be used by the “enemy” against the Cuban people. Nonetheless, Cuban journalists strongly value freedom of the press and there was no evidence of overt restriction or government control.

No government control? Phillips seems to be unaware of  Cuba’s harsh “Black Spring” crackdown on independent media.

During a three-day span in March 2003, as the world focused on the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Cuban government ordered the abrupt arrest of 75 dissidents–29 of them independent journalists. All of the reporters and editors were convicted in one-day trials and handed sentences that could leave some in prison for the rest of their lives. They were accused of acting against the “integrity and sovereignty of the state” or of collaborating with foreign media for the purpose of “destabilizing the country.” Under Cuban law, that meant any journalist who published abroad, particularly in the United States, had no defense.

Here in the early 21st century, it’s hard to understand the moral and intellectual obtuseness of people like Phillips. But someone like Malcolm Muggeridge, an early supporter of communism whose eyes were opened to the terrible truth after a visit to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, understood them well.

These dupes, Muggeridge wrote, are “resolved, come what might, to believe anything, however preposterous …  to approve anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion human freedom.”

Would it surprise anyone to learn that Phillips is a sociology professor at a state-funded college in California?