James Naughton

Made a career out of covering politicians when people cared to read about that. Moved on to editing, managing and cavorting in newsrooms, often while dressed in costume.


Juan Williams Case Confuses Objectivity with Fairness on Tendentious Television

When Spiro Agnew was compelled to resign the vice presidency after pleading no contest to tax evasion charges, I made the mistake of accepting an invitation to appear on David Susskind’s televised talk show. It was, I naively thought, an opportunity to discuss in detail how that complicated politician had gotten in trouble accepting cash and groceries while governor of Maryland and as vice president.

But the 1973 Susskind program quickly devolved into a clash of loud opinions among William Rusher, Roy Cohn, Pete Hamill, Jules Witcover and Frank Van Der Linden, as I sat mostly mute. During a commercial break, a producer came to me and said, “Get in there and mix it up.” I did not, and never again accepted an invitation to appear on the increasingly tendentious telecasts that masquerade as news analysis.

NPR was right to sever its relationship with Juan Williams — but not for what Williams had said about Muslims on the Fox Network’s “O’Reilly Factor.” Those comments were relatively benign. Read more

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The Real Jerry Ford

Gerald Ford may have been the most genuine person ever to serve in the White House. He was basic, real, without guile or pretense.

When two deranged women made attempts on his life during his brief presidency, my editors at The New York Times began, responsibly, hassling me as the White House correspondent to prepare an advance obituary on President Ford. That was in 1975. It took two years to accomplish, in large part because the president really didn’t want to cooperate with what he called “the death story.”

Finally, after he had left office in 1977, I persuaded Ford to let me interview him for the advance obit. The ground rules were that nothing he would say in the interview could be published until his death. I prepared for the meeting with vigor, shaping and reshaping questions designed to elicit comments that he could not or would not make publicly while alive. Read more

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It’s Not About the Shape of the Paper

The truth is I’m not opposed to tabloids. I When we first were developing zoned sections in Philadelphia we made them tabs, so they would be distinctive, would slide out of the mainsheet with ease, would give the readers in the zones a feeling of uniqueness, a section just for them. One of the most successful sections of the Inquirer was and probably still is Weekend, the Friday entertainment tab.

There’s no question that we competed like hell with the Daily News, but not because it was a tab.

It seems to me the shape of the paper isn’t really the issue; what matters are the four Cs: the content, the continuity, the coherence and the completeness.

The one issue on which broadsheets have a modest advantage is continuity. If you have to go searching for the section you want, that’s a turnoff to readers. But there are plenty of broadsheets that move the business section or local news or sports around from day to day. Read more

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Your Editor, Your Lifeline

Not long after Bob Rosenthal was posted to Nairobi for The Philadelphia Inquirer, he and a Los Angeles Times correspondent were imprisoned by Idi Amin’s soldiers in a remote part of Uganda. Editors at the two newspapers had to enlist pressure from the U.S. State Department and Congress to get the reporters released.


You know Rosey means it when he calls the desk a lifeline.


He’s made that judgment from several vantages. As a correspondent in the 1980s, before laptops and cell phones, the desk was his “voice from home.” They told him how the Phillies were doing, kept him abreast of gossip in the newsroom, patched his phone calls through to his parents and fianceé, and got his stories the good play they deserved.


When Rosey returned home from Africa, he parked on the Foreign Desk while the bozos who ran the paper figured out what he should do next. Read more

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In Case of Emergency, Break Class

At Poynter, we know our first obligation is to you, the teachers and students who come to participate in our seminars. With that in mind, we’ve devised these protocols in case a national emergency disrupts your life en route to, or during, a Poynter seminar:



  1. If the boss no longer can spare you, we’ll adapt to your –- and your boss’s -– needs.

  2. You and your company will receive a full refund of your tuition and housing fee if Poynter has to cancel a seminar because the participants cannot attend.

  3. If the emergency occurs during a seminar and you need to leave, Poynter will refund the unused portion of the seminar and housing fee.

  4. Our agile program staff will assist you in making travel arrangements to return to your job if you must leave prematurely.

  5. What about seminar participants who don’t have to depart in an emergency? We’ve conducted some programs for small groups and, when appropriate, we can adjust the training to a more intimate style.
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Opening Remarks to Journalism & Business Values Participants

Welcome to The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.


We don’t always say those last three words: For Media Studies.


Most people know us as Poynter or, in an oddity I’ve never understood, THE Poynter.


Some know us by our marketing slogan: Poynter, A School for Journalists.


I’m focusing on these differences because it’s important that we stress tonight that this is an institute for media studies.


And this could be the most important gathering ever convened at Poynter, certainly the most notable to be focused on media studies.


I have, in that context, three confessions to make.


The first is that we here at Poynter do not have all the answers.


Yes, we teach. We also learn.  


While we can –- and often should –- make declarations about journalism with the ring of authority, we treasure having established a place where unsettled issues can be discussed with vigor and openness. Read more

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Ending Confusion

We were taken aback by a letter on impressive bond paper from a law firm in New York (with offices in Washington, Los Angeles, Miami and, of course, Paris) alerting us to the risk that Jim Romenesko’s MediaNews could be confused with MediaNews Group, Inc., publisher of The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Daily News and other newspapers.

The gist of the law firm’s concern seems to be that eliminating the space between the words Media and News might prompt the unsophisticated, raffish crowd who tune in to Poynter Online to think it was Dean Singleton in his pajamas pecking away at the keyboard in Romenesko’s Evanston apartment.

For the record (and to appease the folks at Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP), it is not Dean Singleton whose work you read on our website. Neither Jim Romenesko nor his MediaNews has any association with MediaNews Group, Inc. (We’re still working on how to say that in French.)

Despite the law firm’s kind suggestion that we resolve this perilous situation by placing an em of space between Media and News, we’ll decline, thanks. Read more

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Why Fun Matters

This is part of a series of essays under the general title, “Why It Matters.” Poynter faculty members will write these essays with new journalists in mind, but we think their advice will inspire journalists of all ages and levels of experience. After all, craft has little meaning without a sense of purpose, without a sense of why it matters.



You can put a live sheep in a colleague’s hotel room.

You can send a rival reporter on a wild goose chase.

You can send gift hams to the new bosses of your friend — at the friend’s expense.

You can get the Goodyear blimp to hover over the top editor’s house.

You can wear the San Diego Chicken’s head to a President’s news conference.

You can wear goofy slippers on deadline.

You can do all those things, and more. I should know. I’ve done most (not all) of the above, done them because journalism is fun. Read more

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An Unfortunate Precedent

When the Persian Gulf War began a decade ago, journalists reminded one another of their ethical obligation not to disclose national security information. At the newspaper where I worked, we had sober discussions about exercising prudence.


It came, then, as a shock on the eve of the U.S. and allied ground campaign when our Washington bureau filed a story, accompanied by unusually explicit graphics, detailing the tactics that named military units were going to employ.


We told our Washington bureau editors that this was exactly the sort of story it would be irresponsible to publish. They explained that the details had been volunteered by authoritative sources in the Pentagon and that, moreover, similar stories were being prepared by every major news organization in Washington.


We’re still not going to publish it, we said — and we didn’t.


As it turned out, most news organizations did publish the details, and the details in those stories were wrong. Read more

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A Day for Reporting and for Reflection

The reporting should begin carefully finding answers to the questions on the minds of everyone: Who did this? If Osama bin Laden was to blame, who is he? Tell me more about Afghanistan, where he and his group are based. What happened when the Russians tried to exert influence over or control Afghanistan? Do the Russians have insights into whatâs happening there now? What happened to the Pittsburgh flight? What kinds of changes in airline travel are in the offing? Are we apt to see security guards again on planes? If we cannot prevent terrorism, can we mitigate it? How? The single most important information to obtain, for today and future reporting: airline manifests. Who was aboard those flights? Why?


The reflections can focus on what these attacks have done to our culture, our politics, our families. Much of what has appeared on television suggests a unifying effect. How might that shape our lives, our government, our sense of national solidarity, for good or bad? Read more

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