My Take

Your take on the news and how it’s made. What’s your take?

Crossing Paths with Journalists and Pundits

The first (and only) time I met NBC’s Brian Williams, he threatened to send sharks with laser beams attached to their heads after me if I didn’t return his copy of The New York Times.

I needed the newspaper to make a graphic for that night’s edition of “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” Somehow, it seemed that Brian Williams was the only person at MSNBC who still subscribed to a print edition of the newspaper. And, of course, the interns who came before me on “Hardball” during the summer of 2001 had borrowed the newspaper and neglected to return it.

Eventually I was allowed to borrow the newspaper. I learned that no one could beat a news anchor’s ability to deadpan.

Since then, I’ve had the chance to meet a surprising number of high-profile pundits and journalists. Read more


Hold Still, Little Catfish

A long time ago a friend related the story of a little boy and a catfish.

“Catfish, as you know,” my friend wrote, “are extremely lively and can be dangerous. Well, this little boy one day was attempting to clean this catfish and the catfish finned the little boy.

” ‘Hold still, little catfish,’ the boy yelled. ‘I ain’t going to do nothing but gut you.’ “

It’s that story that comes to mind almost every day when I read the newest release from a newspaper telling about the latest cuts in staff and in space.

Hold still, little newspaper, we ain’t going to do nothing but gut you.

It’s also the story that comes to mind every time I read a column by an editor or a statement by a publisher telling readers that we are slicing and dicing staff and space, but we are going to give you a better newspaper. Read more


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Honoring Jim McKay

Jim McKay is dead.

But what he brought to the world of journalism, not just sports television journalism but the world of journalism, will live on and be taught in classrooms and newsrooms for years to come.

And I hope his legacy will also be talked about in living rooms as families gather to watch this year’s Olympics from China or when anyone next hears the words, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports” and “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

My memories of Jim McKay are not just tied to his magnificent work, especially those long hours during the tragedy at the Munich Olympics when his voice was the central thread that tied us together, but also of a little personal moment at Churchill Downs. Read more


Thursday, May 01, 2008

When Competition Isn’t Healthy: Time for APME and ASNE to Merge

We all know that the Newspaper Association of America represents our country’s publishers and lots of other business-side people just below them. But imagine that there’s a competing organization, the National Newspaper General Managers Association, representing GMs and some publishers.

Editors would be the first to skewer both groups for diluting their power and adding to costs during the most precarious time in the history of the American newspaper business.

Of course, the National Newspaper General Managers Association doesn’t exist—because there’s no need for it. In fact, NAA 16 years ago brought together the work of seven business-side organizations to avoid duplication and produce a stronger voice for that part of the industry.

Such clarity of thought doesn’t exist on the news side of the business, though. Read more


Thursday, Mar. 20, 2008

Let the Sunshine In(Without Charging $209,990)

*See Update at the end of this article.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once remarked that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” As the storm clouds cleared from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, that sunlight illuminated many aspects of the failed federal government response to the storms and levee breaks.

  • A Freedom of Information Act request by CBS News uncovered the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s prior knowledge of toxic levels of formaldehyde in trailers provided to nearly 150,000 hurricane-affected families.
  • An earlier FOIA request revealed how the Bush Administration turned away nearly a billion dollars of international assistance.
  • Thousands of e-mails illustrating the federal bureaucracy’s incompetence in the days following the catastrophe came to light only after journalists engaged FOIA’s requirements.

But such FOIA requests are met far too infrequently. Read more


Friday, Mar. 07, 2008

Reinvent Yourself after a Buyout

So they bought you out, and now you’re out of work. Wrong. You’re not unemployed; you have a new job: reinventing yourself.

Here’s how.

First of all, it’s not your fault that your newspaper’s owners did not figure out early enough that when readers change their reading habits, the paper has to change with them. And then they failed to figure out that cutting the newsroom staff lowers the quality of the product they’re trying to sell.

Next, convince yourself that the buyout probably had nothing to do with deficiencies in your skills or performance. Newspaper managers generally buy out people with high salaries. You probably earned that salary by years of solid work. Ironically, a buyout may be a compliment.

Now inventory your skills. Never say things like, “I’m just a journalist.” Your skills are not confined to your former beats, such as writing game stories and occasional columns about the Tampa Bay Bucs. Read more


Monday, Jan. 07, 2008

What Does Age Have to do With It?

Now that the flap over Boston University professor Chris
Daly’s blog
about The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon Jr., 27, has disappeared
into blogging purgatory, or wherever blogs go when they are blogged out, let’s
visit again about this issue of age in the newsroom.

Why? Because it has always been one of my pet gripes about
our business. We have had a distinct tendency, or should I say stinking
tendency, to stamp red letters on journalists’ foreheads that read “Too Young” or “Too Old.” And too many
editors have uttered the words, “Come back when you have five years
experience,” as if that represents some kind of magical day when we shed our
not so talented skin and are miraculously converted into the next David Remnick
or Katherine Boo. Read more


Monday, Dec. 03, 2007

Roberts: Can’t Lose Sight of Journalistic Obligations

It is an honor for me to deliver
the Neal Shine lecture on ethics. Neal
was one of my favorite people. He
brightened the Detroit Free Press newsroom for decades with his wit and wisdom. He cared deeply about Detroit
and his newspaper. He worked tirelessly
to cover the news.

His enthusiasm and leadership could
be amazing. Once, when a huge fire was
raging in the middle of the night, he called staff member after staff member to
roust them from their beds. “Don’t comb
your hair,” he told one reporter. “Don’t wash your face. Just jump into your
pants. Then jump into your car. And get here.
Do not fool around.”

The reporter did just as Neal
directed. He jumped into his pants. He jumped into his car. Read more


Tuesday, Sep. 04, 2007

The Disappearance of Diversity

“Diversity has been marginalized, stalled and stagnated.”

Those words came from ASNE president Gilbert Bailon in a recent interview about what he is learning as he interacts with colleagues across the country. And it has been hard to shake them from my mind.

There is no one thing working against diversity, Gilbert added. But the reality of all of the other pressures showering down on editors and publishers and other news leaders have caused it to essentially disappear from the agenda. And this bleak situation arrives at the same time the latest census figures show a minority population of more than 100 million. The trend forecasts a nation without a majority sometime in the middle of this century.

So what does this shift in demographics, coupled with our inability, or lack of effort, to make our newsrooms reflective of our communities mean? Read more


Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007

About Anniversary Stories: Katrina Two Years Later

How long should newspapers continue to cover the anniversaries and milestones related to major events that occurred outside their geographic areas?

That was the question asked by a talented young journalist who also happens to be the daughter of a high school classmate.

The event that triggered her inquiry: Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans and the Mississippi coast. The reason? Her hometown, like mine in Mississippi, was crushed under the surge, leaving behind an image of the Gulf Coast that is printed so indelibly in the minds of those who lived through it that two years or 20 years could not make the pictures disappear.

Certainly this is true for people such as her father and mother and her sister, who lost their homes, as well as other relatives who suffered the same fate. Read more