November 30, 2017

Last year for Christmas, Chris Cobler gave his staff the gift of oppositional T-shirts. 

Cobler, editor of the Victoria (Texas) Advocate, saw news of a T-shirt at a rally before the election that called for the lynching of journalists. He decided to respond in kind. He published his Christmas note to staff online:

"Like you, I recoiled in horror when I saw a man proudly wearing a T-shirt that read, 'Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.' How can anyone support such a horrible message? What we do is a tremendous community service. You — and all the journalists I have ever known — get into this demanding profession to make our corner of the world a little bit better place. Our founding fathers felt strongly about what we do, too. We should always remember that our work is enshrined by The First Amendment. That’s both a tremendous honor and obligation."

Cobler's shirts, which he designed and ordered himself, read "First Amendment. Journalist. Your support required."

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Advocate reporter Jessica Priest shared an image of the staff in their Christmas gifts on Thursday in response to a call for T-shirts that defend journalists instead of threatening them in a story Poynter published earlier on its site. That story included a letter from RTDNA to Wal-Mart after the big box store featured the offending shirt online from a third-party seller. It was removed within hours.

Since getting their shirts last year, Cobler said staff wears them often, including when they hunkered down in the newsroom earlier this year to cover Hurricane Harvey. 

City editor Tony Balandran emailed Poynter about wearing it on a flight to Kansas City. He saw most people reading it without reaction. 

"I was ready to defend the message, but it was mostly quiet until I was boarding my flight in Houston and moving slowing down the middle aisle. An older couple had already been seated and the man points to me and says, 'I like your shirt. I agree with you.' I told him how I came to own it, and he gave me a thumbs up and said, 'It's a good message.'"

Sara Sneath, a former Advocate reporter now at the Times-Picayune, put her shirt back on this week after seeing how an organization tried to trick The Washington Post into a story. 

"I think most reporters who take the job seriously go to bed worrying whether they got that one number right, or stressing out whether they made sure every name was spelled correctly. We've all been trained not to be political on our social media platforms," she said in an email. "Now, we must also worry whether something we say in our private life will be taken out of context."

The Anniston Star also made their own version. It reads "Facts. Words. Integrity. Some courage required."

So is it okay for other newsrooms to make their own versions of the Advocate's shirt?

"The more the merrier," Cobler said. 

In fact, he wished he'd been able to dress it up more. Cobler is planning to give staff T-shirts again this year but hasn't yet decided on what they'll say. It will be more than just about surviving the hurricane.

He'd like them, once again, to be about journalism, he said.

"I'm taking suggestions."

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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