June 18, 2021

President Joe Biden started the week in Europe, meeting with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and then Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He wraps it up back in the United States after a historic signing on Thursday.

Juneteenth, which marks the date that the last enslaved African Americans were granted their freedom in 1865 in Galveston, Texas, is Saturday. On Thursday, Biden signed into law a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Juneteenth National Independence Day will be on June 19, but because that’s on a Saturday this year, most federal employees will be off today.

At the signing of the bill, Biden said, “Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery and a promise of a brighter morning to come. This is a day of profound wait and profound power. A day which you’ll remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take. What I’ve long called America’s original sin.”

He added, “Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They don’t ignore those moments in the past. They embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we made. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.”

Here’s some excellent work you should check out: The Washington Post’s Gillian Brockell, Kate Rabinowitz and Frank Hulley-Jones (and illustrations by Temi Coker) with a multimedia and interactive package that documents the fight for emancipation, as well as the powerful history that led to Juneteenth.

For FiveThirtyEight, Alex Samuels with “Juneteenth Challenges A Narrative About America’s History.”

And check out this, too. The“Meet the Press” Twitter account regularly has “Tweet the Press” Q&As with prominent journalists and individuals. On Thursday, it was with NBCBLK editorial director Michelle Garcia, who talked about Juneteenth.

Oh, one more: For Variety, Angelique Jackson with “Why 94-Year-Old Activist Opal Lee Marched to Make Juneteenth a National Holiday.”

A Juneteenth special on ABC

Tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern, ABC will air “Juneteenth: Together We Triumph — A ‘Soul of a Nation’ Special Event.” It will include Michael Strahan’s one-on-one interview with former President Barack Obama, who told Strahan, “We’re not all going to live in a perfect kumbaya society. But we can make it better by working and by reaching out and by assuming the best in each other. And if enough of us do that, we move that boulder up the hill.”

Trump is not president

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Geneva this week. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

As I mentioned, this week also was notable for Biden’s meeting in Geneva with Putin. And that probably didn’t go over well with former President Donald Trump.

Appearing on CNN, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman said, “This is the event that I would say underscored for people around Trump, and the former president himself, the fact that he’s not president anymore. This was the kind of event on the world stage, getting enormous attention, that he really enjoyed, that he saw as one of the trappings of the office that he thought really spoke to a sense of power and strength.”

Haberman also pointed out that those around Trump are complaining about Biden’s snippy exchange with CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins. The complaint is if Trump had done the same thing, he would have been crushed for it.

Haberman said that might be true, but reminded everyone that Biden has never called the media the “enemy of the people.”

Plus, and this is me talking now, Biden was criticized for his exchange with Collins, which, by the way, he later apologized for.

A columnist’s lament

Back in April, Frank Bruni announced he was stepping down as a columnist at The New York Times to take an endowed chair in journalism at Duke University.

On Friday, he wrote his final column and it started with this line that was as surprising as it was captivating:

“I owe Ted Cruz an apology.”

“Though, really,” Bruni continued, “it’s readers to whom I should say I’m sorry.”

Bruni looked back at his 10 years as a columnist and painted a picture of regret, saying he too often “swam with the snide tide.” He added, “Many columnists do.”

To his much larger point, Bruni wondered if he, like many opinion writers, have contributed to the very things they criticize: “the toxic tenor of American discourse, the furious pitch of American politics, the volume and vitriol of it all.”

The column is a fascinating look into what it was like to be an opinion writer over the past decade, including during the presidency of Donald Trump.

He wrote, “Too many columnists generalize too broadly. I know I did when I wrote, in August 2019, about the tenacity of hate and I asserted that Americans who still opposed same-sex marriage ‘cannot bear the likes of me’ and other gay people. A reader called me out on it, saying that there’s a difference between disagreeing with a position and detesting a person. He was right. But that distinction was lost in my excited prose.”

It’s a thoughtful column from Bruni, who still will continue to write his newsletter. But he won’t write a regular column. Which is too bad because, based on this final column, Bruni appears to more aware than ever of what it takes to be a responsible columnist.

Changes at The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal is shutting down its New York City section, but will launch two new sections, according to Insider’s Steve Perlberg.

In a memo to staff, WSJ editor-in-chief Matt Murray said, “This morning, we informed the Greater New York staff that we’re shutting down the team and ceasing publication in print and digital on July 9. Team members will have the chance to apply for other jobs.”

No reason was given for shutting down the New York section, which has a staff of eight.

The new coverage teams will be Life & Work and Speed & Trending. Life & Work will provide coverage about personal career and finance decisions. Speed & Trending is a breaking news initiative. Murray told staff it is meant to raise “both our metabolism and our volume on breaking news.”

WSJ New York City Hall reporter Katie Honan tweeted, “Thank you all for the very kind words. I’ve been through this before but it’s always disheartening, especially after the last year+. I’ll still be reporting until the end, on July 9. I hear there’s some big stuff happening in New York City next week, and I’m not going to miss it.”

Changes at Insider, too

Nicholas Carlson, the global editor-in-chief of Insider, held a meeting with staff on Thursday to announce that all posts, with some exceptions, will be limited to 600 words or fewer. Well, for now anyway. Insider will try it for the summer, according to a memo to staff that was tweeted by CNN media reporter Kerry Flynn. The new strategy will be reviewed in the fall.

So why the limit on words? “For our readers,” Carlson wrote. He said that their data shows readers like short stories and don’t want to spend time on longer ones.

There will be exceptions to the 600-word limit. The investigations team, feature writers, the commentary/explainer team and the Service Journalism team are exempt. In addition, slideshows, listicles and approved features also will not have word restrictions.

MSNBC to unionize?

MSNBC wants in on the wave of newsrooms organizing unions. Employees there — including 315 writers, producers, booking producers, fact-checkers and planners at every program airing on MSNBC and The Choice on Peacock — announced intentions to unionize and be represented by The Writers Guild of America, East.

A statement put out by the guild said “a clear majority of staff signed a letter to management calling for voluntary recognition of the union.” MSNBC employees said it was an “overwhelming majority” and “we are calling on the network to recognize our union and we are looking forward to constructive negotiations over the issues that are important to all of us.”

However, it appears that MSNBC will not automatically recognize the union and said employees should officially vote on unionizing. In a memo to staff, MSNBC president Rashida Jones said, “I respect our employees’ right to decide whether they want to be represented by a union, and I believe our employees should be able to make such an important decision through a standard election process. It is important to give everyone who would be included the chance to understand what this would mean before making their choice.”

In its note, MSNBC’s employees wrote, “We organized because our voices must be heard in the newsroom for the future of our industry. We organized because we want to guarantee diversity in our newsroom, at every level of production. We organized because we want to ensure that every employee is paid fairly for their work and has access to career development. We organized because we want every employee to have access to benefits that meet our families’ needs and reflect our contributions. We organized because we want to make sure workers have a say in what a post-COVID-19 workplace looks like. We organized because we believe every employee should be fairly compensated for the hours they spend working to deliver the news. We organized because we want to ensure that employees are treated equally and paid equally for equal work. We are standing up for each other and our work — because this is who we are.”

MSNBC’s Joy Reid tweeted out, “All right then! Proud of my peeps.” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted he was “extremely proud” of his colleagues.

The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum noted that digital journalists at NBC News unionized in 2019 but have not yet settled on a contract with the network.

Grim news

A file photo shows a copy of the Capital Gazette newspaper in a newsstand in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Kristen Hare.

It has been nearly three years since a gunman attacked the (Annapolis, Maryland) Capital Gazette, killing five. Now, as we approach the third anniversary of that tragedy, hedge fund owner Alden Global Capital also has a voluntary call for buyouts for its newly acquired Tribune newsrooms. So far, reporter Chase Cook and editor Rick Hutzell have taken them. It seems, even for Alden, like a particularly cruel move. Here’s my story.

Media tidbits

  • Sharon Begley was a journalist for STAT and part of the team that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the Breaking News category for its reporting on COVID-19. Begley, however, didn’t live to see the recognition. She died in January from complications of lung cancer. My Poynter colleague Jaden Edison talks to Begley’s husband and colleagues in this terrific story.
  • Richard Stolley, the founding editor of People magazine in 1974, has died from heart complications. He was 92. People’s Rachel DeSantis has the story.
  • Adweek’s Kevin Eck with “Birmingham Stations Come Together During Anchor Chris Sign’s Funeral.”
  • Janet Malcolm, a long-time New Yorker writer, has died from lung cancer. She was 86. The New York Times’ Katharine Q. Seelye has the obit. Seelye wrote that Malcolm was known for “her piercing judgments, her novel-like nonfiction and a provocative moral certainty that cast a cold eye on journalism and its practitioners.”
  • Karen Attiah has been named opinion columnist at The Washington Post. Based in Texas, Attiah will contribute to the new Voices Across America initiative at the Post. She will write about race, international affairs, culture and human rights. Attiah has been at the Post since 2014 and was the Post’s founding Global Opinions editor.
  • CNN’s Marshall Cohen with “Fact-check: Fox News and Republican lawmakers push new false flag conspiracy that FBI orchestrated US Capitol attack.”
  • Yamiche Alcindor is back from covering President Biden’s trip to Europe to moderate tonight’s Washington Week (8 p.m. on most PBS stations). She will be joined by Kaitlan Collins (CNN), Anne Gearan (The Washington Post), Garrett Haake (NBC News) and Pete Williams (NBC News).
  • The Information’s Sahil Patel with breaking news Thursday that The New York Times and The Athletic have ended acquisition talks. There were previous reports that the Times might have been interested in acquiring The Athletic, but Patel reports the sides couldn’t agree on a price. Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz also adds some perspective.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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