The Poynter Institute


Poynter announces project to train Turkish journalists

From the left, Deniz Ergürel, secretary general of the Media Association of Turkey, Howard Finberg, Poynter’s director of business development, Salih Memecan, chairman of the Media Association, Vicki Krueger, Poynter’s director of interactive learning, and Craig Dicker, cultural affairs officer, U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, announce Poynter’s new program for Turkish journalists at a press conference on Wednesday.

One of Poynter’s most ambitious international projects has launched in Turkey today, with four e-learning modules from Poynter NewsU transformed for Turkish journalists. The project also includes the opportunity for 20 Turkish journalists to attend a workshop at Poynter in late October.

The project was developed in partnership with the Media Association of Turkey, a nonprofit journalism organization with a mission to improve Turkish journalism. The initial funding came from a U.S. State Department grant through its “innovation fund.”

Four e-learning courses, from the more than 400 modules on Poynter NewsU, were localized with examples relevant to journalists in Turkey before they were translated in Turkish. The Poynter NewsU localization process includes an English-language version to ensure that Poynter’s teaching is consistent across multiple languages.

The modules for Poynter NewsU Turkiye are:

  • Social Media: Strategies and Tools for News
  • Getting it Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age
  • Introduction to Investigative Reporting
  • Developing a Successful Journalistic Blog

Journalists also can also earn a Poynter NewsU “Improving Your Journalism” certificate by taking an assessment for each of the courses. The assessments, which are based on course material, require a passing score of 80 percent. Participants are allowed to take each assessment three times.

The certificate is part of the application process for the Poynter Turkiye Journalism Fellowship program, which will bring up to 20 Turkish journalists to The Poynter Institute campus in St. Petersburg, Fla., for several days of training in October. Full and partial scholarships are available for journalists who wish to apply for the fellowship.

The combination of e-learning modules, the certificate program and the onsite training makes this “one of the most ambitious international programs Poynter has launched,” said Howard Finberg, director of business development and international programs coordinator. Finberg and Vicki Krueger, director of interactive learning and NewsU, presented the program to Turkish journalists at a news conference in Istanbul today.

“This program combines the very best of Poynter – onsite and online teaching,” said Krueger.

Poynter’s newly named president, Tim Franklin, has made Poynter international programs an important aspect of his strategic review of the Institute. In June, Poynter will convene the first Global Fact-Checking Summit in London. Last month, Poynter led a series of workshops for journalists in India. Poynter also has a strong working relationship with the European Journalism Centre, including a project for Indonesian journalists.

“In an age where Internet and mobile technologies are heavily disrupting the traditional journalism models, this program will be a unique opportunity for everyone who wants to improve their journalistic skills,” said Deniz Ergürel, secretary general of the Turkish Media Association in a news release about the program. “The Poynter Institute is one of the few distinguished journalism institutions in the world, and their expertise will be a valuable source for Turkish journalists.”

NewsU Turkiye is the latest addition to NewsU International, the Poynter e-learning site serving journalists around the world. The multilingual site also includes Russian, with eight modules; Arabic, one module; Persian, with four modules; and Spanish with two modules.  All have been funded in partnership with other journalism associations or groups. Read more


50 years ago today, Gene Patterson published influential ‘Flower for the Graves’ column

Fifty years ago today, Gene Patterson, editor of The Atlanta Journal Constitution, published his most famous editorial column, “A Flower for the Graves.” The sad occasion was one of America’s most vicious hate crimes, the dynamite bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham, Ala. The blast killed four young girls.

Patterson’s rage at his fellow white Southerners comes out in every word. The column was deemed so powerful in its time that Walter Cronkite asked Patterson to read it for the CBS Evening News. While some of its language may feel outdated, its clarion call for racial justice rings as loud and clear as ever.

Patterson, who died earlier this year, holds a special place in the history of the Poynter Institute. Nelson Poynter appointed Patterson to succeed him as the leader of the St. Petersburg Times and to create the school that would own the newspaper. The library at Poynter is named after Patterson. A copy of his famous column hangs nearby.

Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark wrote more about the column in this CNN piece. Below are some AP photos that show the aftermath of the tragic Birmingham bombing.

“In this Sept. 15, 1963 file photo, investigators work outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., following an explosion that killed four young girls. The city of Birmingham is planning five days of events with political leaders, artists and ordinary citizens to mark the 50th anniversary of the racist church bombing that killed four black girls. Attorney General Eric Holder, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, director Spike Lee and actor Jamie Foxx are among those participating in what’s being called “Empowerment Week.” Events begin Wednesday, Sept, 11 and continue through Sunday, Sept. 15, the anniversary of the bombing of the church. Three Ku Klux Klansmen were convicted in the bombing years later.”
(AP Photo/File)
“Graveside services are held for 14-year-old Carol Robertson, victim of a bomb blast at an African American church the previous Sunday, Sept. 18, 1963, Birmingham, Ala. Family in background, including parents, Alpha and Alvin Robinson, and sister Dianne Robertson, seated.” (AP Photo)


“Unidentified mourners, who overflowed the church, stand across the street during funeral services for 14-year-old Carol Robertson, Sept. 17, 1963, Birmingham, Ala. The girl was one of four young African Americans killed in a bomb blast the previous Sunday.” (AP Photo)
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Poynter faculty respond to questions about Romenesko’s practices, resignation

Given that Poynter is a school, with a faculty, it’s probably no surprise to anyone that we don’t agree on the severity of Jim Romenesko’s attribution transgressions. And nobody’s telling us to keep quiet either. To that end, we bring you a diversity of thoughts from the Poynter teaching faculty:

Karen Dunlap, President

Roy Peter Clark, Vice President and Senior Scholar

Kelly McBride, Senior Faculty for Ethics

Al Tompkins, Senior Faculty for Broadcast

Butch Ward, Managing Director

Rick Edmonds, Media Business Analyst

Jill Geisler, Senior Faculty, Leadership and Management

Bill Mitchell, Leader of Entrepreneurial and International Programs

Karen Dunlap, President

We wrote a centerpiece yesterday to show that we make mistakes, too.

The piece began: works hard to meet the highest standards of journalism excellence, and I [Julie Moos, director of Poynter Online] learned late Wednesday that we have not consistently met those standards.

Our site parades goof-ups and misdeeds by others regularly, and Poynter faculty speak out on ethical lapses and questionable practices by others, so when we noted our faults we opted for transparency.

The practices were about us, Poynter, but the case focused on our colleague — now former colleague — Jim Romenesko.

The centerpiece addressed conventions of aggregation vs. standards of attribution and editing vs. autonomy. Internal decisions were about a public discussion vs. quiet internal changes in practices, or no changes at all.

Several of us were involved, not just Julie Moos. We didn’t all agree. As president, I had the last read. Our conversations were primarily about our standards, our practices, not about taking a stand against a valued contributor.

Did we make the right choices? Not all of them. Could we have improved the message or tone? Yes. Should we have even raised the issues discussed? Yes, we should have. Practices of attribution are changing in ways that harm journalism. That’s an area that needs addressing in useful discussions. We chose to look through the lens of practices that we helped create and are now changing.

Should we have found examples other than the Romenesko blog? Not when we anticipated a piece on questionable attributions by a CJR reporter.

Some mention that we have lost Romenesko, the blog. Poynter had gone through the grief of that change which was scheduled for the end of the year, but I regret a breech with Jim Romenesko, a good and private guy. I also regret the storm that rained down on Julie Moos.

Where does Poynter go from here? We will do what we have watched other strong organizations do when their missteps appear on They review their actions and processes. We have already begun. Then they pick up and move on. That’s what we are doing. After all, we make mistakes too.

Roy Peter Clark, Vice President and Senior Scholar

Jim Romenesko is not, repeat only louder, NOT a plagiarist.

I write even that defense with hesitation for fear that some search engine will connect him with a serious literary crime: stealing the work of others without attribution.

No one at Poynter, including Julie Moos, claimed that Jim was a plagiarist. She was alerted to the fact that Jim’s blog summaries of the work of others contained too many words that were not his own. Without quotation marks.

I’ve seen several examples of this, a practice Jim has followed at Poynter for more than a dozen years without complaint from sources, editors, or readers. Most of Jim’s fans think he did nothing wrong and has been treated badly, arguing, in a sense, that aggregation – with linking – serves as a new form of attribution.

This is the kind of issue that Poynter tends to love. Is Jim Romenesko — one of the founding parents of the aggregated blog — an author, subject to the most traditional standards of attribution and quotation? Or is he more like a whiz-bang wire editor, a skilled news thinker who cuts and pastes together the best materials from a variety of sources?

I wish someone could give Poynter a Mulligan, golf’s term for a do-over. Poynter could have taken more time — the co-author of good judgment — to sort through the nuances of borrowing and attribution. We could have argued more among ourselves before Elvis (my nickname for Romenesko) left the building.

Jim’s departure under the false shadow of plagiarism is unfair to Romenesko and unworthy of Poynter. I expressed that opinion, with some anger, at a Poynter staff meeting this morning. Some folks seemed to agree while others, including President Karen Dunlap and Dean Stephen Buckley, backed Julie’s editorial decisions all the way.

That should be an object lesson for those who dismiss the work of Poynter as too pointy-headed and monolithic. On many subjects that we help journalists tackle, especially when it comes to ethics and standards, there is no official ex cathedra point of view.

Rather than discourage minority reports, we are encouraged to express them as part of the conversation about craft and values – as I am doing now.

I admire Julie’s perseverance over the last few days, tolerating not just pointed criticism, but scurrilous personal attacks in the service of debate and transparency. Whatever you may think of the standards she is imposing on those who write for, do you think that standards for bloggers should be looser? Is the wild west not wild enough?

I think most bloggers – including Jim – should tighten up some. But, just as important, I think Poynter should loosen up.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the last few days about Poynter, and about those who read us:

  • We tend to confuse standards and practices with morality and ethics. Everyone would have been better served by bringing folks together to clarify our standards on attribution and aggregation, insisting in private that Jim follow these for two months, and then send him off with our thanks and a $50 Starbucks card.
  • The word plagiarism should be saved for the most grievous offenses. Although I have written about plagiarism since 1982, when I dubbed it “the unoriginal sin,” I now think of the word as radioactive. When people hear the phrase “involuntary manslaughter,” we know that it is a much lesser offense than “murder in the first degree.” We lack the vocabulary to make these distinctions, beyond fair use, when it comes to intellectual property.
  • By writing what amounted to a public apology for not attending to Romenesko’s methods, we invited others to call what he did plagiarism. And they have. This is unfair to a person who, more than anyone who has ever worked here, put Poynter on the digital map. I’ll speak for myself: Jim, I’m sorry for what has happened to you on the way out the door.
  • Because Poynter is asked to evaluate the judgments of others, we can be very tough on ourselves. Fair enough. A good conscience is one thing. Public self-flagellation quite another. We teach people to follow a process in making even deadline decisions, to seek alternatives, to weigh the options, to minimize harm.  But in this, and too many other cases, we come across as rule-givers: arrogant, self-important, and dogmatic.
  • At a time when journalism is taking different forms, from tabulation to curation to aggregation, it is self-defeating to demand that new wine be served in old skins.  The standards of attribution we still apply in print may in fact be outdated in the age of sampling, file sharing, and mash-ups. There are enduring standards, to be sure, and we should be influenced by them. But the cultural mores governing intellectual property have been in constant flux for centuries and are currently under special strain.

In short, do we at Poynter want to be a key player in the evolution of journalism and the cultivation of a Fifth Estate? I think the answer from all corners of the Institute would be yes. If that is our mission, we must cultivate not moral relativism, but a well-intentioned pragmatism that looks ahead, rather than over our shoulders.

Kelly McBride, Senior Faculty for Ethics

I disagree with my bosses on the egregiousness of Jim Romenesko’s aggregation practices. Jim’s habit of paraphrasing but not really paraphrasing his source material evolved over time, as did his contract with his readers. Jim knew he was using the writing of others. His audience knew it. And his sources knew it, too. As a frequent reader, I knew it. And I assumed that the editors here at Poynter Online knew as much as they wanted to know about it, but I’m told they did not.

This doesn’t mean it was OK. But Poynter bears as much, if not more, responsibility for allowing Jim’s practice to evolve over time as Jim does. After all, Jim was a blogger we brought aboard because he had a big audience. We didn’t have any standards on aggregation. Over the years, as we’ve developed our thinking and teaching about online attribution, it was clear that we were articulating a different practice than Jim was employing. That created an understandable disconnect. Poynter is a brand. And Romenesko is a brand. And their values didn’t always match up.

But such is the nature of evolving standards on the Internet. Because we at Poynter often discussed this difference in our values, I assumed this was an unspoken agreement, and that after Jim and Poynter parted ways later this year, we would naturally smooth over that gap in practice as Poynter Online continues to grow.

I was comfortable with this ambiguous arrangement because it was clear to me that Jim’s audience understood the contract, as did his sources. Jim wasn’t being intellectually dishonest and he certainly wasn’t plagiarizing. Instead, he was being inconsistent in his use of tools that distinguish his own words from the work of others.

There is a lot of work to do in establishing standards of intellectual honesty in this digital era. I look forward to being part of that process, but I don’t think those standards are crystal clear, even here at the Poynter Institute.

Al Tompkins, Senior Faculty for Broadcast

I want to get this off my chest first: I do not believe Jim Romenesko plagiarized. I think this whole matter is way too dramatic and hurtful.

But, listening to colleagues and reading comments from you readers, I have learned some things while watching this narrative unfold. At the core of this whole mess lies an important issue. The issue is clarity.

I want to offer a personal take on this and then focus on what it means to my core teaching, broadcasting and multimedia.

As some of you may recall I wrote a column called Al’s Morning Meeting for 9 and a half years on The same editor who called out Romenesko, Julie Moos, confronted me a couple of years ago with a similar concern that she expressed about Romenesko. Even though, like Jim, I linked to the sources I was writing about, even though in my mind it was clear I was talking about what somebody else wrote, she insisted that I had to put phrases and sentences that I did not originate, in quotes. Not italics, not offsets, but quotes. Even if it was just a short phrase, even if I had clearly linked to the original source, put it in quotes.

It seemed unnecessary to me, but it was what Poynter Online wanted and I have tried very hard to hold to that. Julie said to me back then that she was trying to “protect me.” She envisioned a day when somebody might challenge the way I was doing things and see it as “lifting.” After hundreds and hundreds of columns nobody ever did, but that notion stuck with me. I see wisdom in clarity, even excessive clarity. There are worse crimes than being too clear. More than that, it creates a culture of responsibility when those little things matter.

Poynter is a school that makes a reputation on establishing and upholding standards. We call people out when they fall short on ethical issues, editorial decisions and even missteps in media leadership. That role makes us an easy and justifiable target if we were to fall short. I don’t know how many times Romenesko has written about accusations of plagiarism or questionable ethics, but it must be hundreds of times. It forces us to be exceedingly clear.

Broadcast lessons

I suspect many of my broadcast colleagues would look at this controversy and wonder what the fuss is about. It is not terribly unusual for some newsrooms to allow reporters and anchors to voice-over copy that was sent to them through a syndicated service. The viewer would have no way of knowing this was a feed and not the work of that reporter. It is an awful practice that should end.

I wonder how many broadcast newsrooms enforce standards about lifting phrases or sentences from other sources without attribution. I would encourage any reader to post those standards to the comments section of this column (with attribution, of course).

I said in a staff meeting Friday morning that this matter reminds us of the need for constant conversation and training in journalism. Even if a place like Poynter believes we have been clear about our standards, we have to keep talking about them, never assuming we have said enough. When is the last time your newsroom had an open and detailed conversation about attribution? It is time. It is past time. Read more