Letters from our readers: The value of J-schools, the history of McClatchy, & a limerick

Here is a selection of emails and Facebook comments we’ve received in recent months. Please send correspondence to letters@cjr.org, along with your name, location, and any relevant affiliation. Reader feedback has been edited for length and clarity.


Do we need J-schools?

God, yes, please keep journalism schools. We have to learn the survival of this democratic republic is bound up in at least an awareness of what constitutes objectivity, accountability, and when it has (and will) be poisoned by biases. Without an aware examining the processes of journalistic integrity and objectivity, journalists will become mouthpieces, instead of the balance-checkers, of governments, businesses, and wealth. The everyday person will not have anywhere to turn for objective examination of ideas, instead taking biased statements as facts rather than opinions, and become sheep to the power-hungry.

Lara Zee


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Yes, we need J-schools. A four-year program with broadly-based coursework might be ideal (e.g., economics, statistics, history, sciences), but even a two-year program focused on the responsibilities and role of media as well as basic skills could prevent some of the crap I see these days.

Candy Clouston


Yes, we need J-Schools for all the reasons listed by Bill Grueskin. No, they are too expensive, but we still need the original content and innovation being produced at schools like Columbia. I vote in favor of Journalism Schools, but only that small number of schools like Columbia and Cal Berkeley that do nothing but straight journalism.

During one phone interview with a newspaper editor some years back, I was commended for knowing the difference between public relations and journalism.  I learned that sitting in Stephen Isaacs RW 1 class.

Gene Roman, Bronx, NY


Why you will never spell anything correctly

You are a member ov International English Spelling Congress/Spelling Society (formerly Simplified Spelling Society); correct? I think i remember your name from the May 30 webinar on Inglish spelling reform. I was in said webinar, and i am a passionate supporter ov Inglish spelling reform. I strongly commend you for writing <thruout> instead ov <throughout>.

What else hav you been doing for the spelling reform movement?

Justus Robin Hall, Vermont


Steadying the Miami Herald newsroom, after cuts and a digital reinvention

I worked at The Miami Herald for 18 years. It was an incredible paper in a great news town. Strong leadership, sound journalism values.

You mentioned several things that have occurred at the Herald that also have happened at other McClatchy papers under the current corporate leadership, including the two little papers in the SC Lowcountry that I ran after leaving the Herald in 1992 (The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette): Online headlines that deceive; saturation coverage of clickbait stories about alligators (common in the Lowcountry) and shark sightings; missing or ignoring significant local government stories because they don’t generate enough clicks; storied that get no editing (seriously) of skim-the-treetops editing; extreme pressure on reporters to meet click quotas.

The “original sin” underlying all this was committed by Gary Pruitt, McClatchy’s former CEO and president. Gary was a very smart, dashing and personable fellow, but when he convinced the board to borrow tons of money to buy Knight Ridder, the die was cast. Ad revenue fell off the cliff because of the migration of ad dollars to digital, a problem exacerbated because McClatchy saddled itself with the steep payments on the debt from the KR purchase, Speaking of that debt, it was always my understanding that McClatchy borrowed about $4 billion—not $900 million—to buy KR.

When my mostly young reporters would ask me what was going on with McClatchy, I explained to them in terms they would relate to: Imagine that you just signed a lease for a new and much nicer apartment than the one you’ve been living in. A week after signing the lease, which of course requires you to pay much higher rent until the lease expires, you lose your job. You find part-time work but don’t make nearly what you made as a reporter. You have to do all kinds of horrible things—ramen noodles for dinner, ride a bike back and forth to work because you can’t afford gas or car insurance anymore. That’s the same situation McClatchy finds itself in—barely making ends meet and sometimes not even that—because it made a bad business decision when it bought Knight Ridder.

Fitz Mcaden


The war against the press comes to the local newsroom

I don’t disagree with everything in this article, but it’s kinda ridiculous to continue to blame Trump’s war on the press for this incident after the motive came out. Am I missing something?

Matt M. Harding


The bought out

Amnesia has struck the newsroom.
There’s nobody in the backroom
Reminding the youth
About real hard truth—
It’s gone like a rusted heirloom.

Tim Torkildson, senior limerick editor for the Sunday Long Read.


A Step Toward Fairness at the LA Times

I would respectfully like to point out that the statistics that are quoted in this article are skewed. The pay gap is based mostly on age and seniority of the staff; not because of gender or race. Notice how the authors of the report left out the average ages of the staff. Isn’t it fair to assume that the most senior staff make the most money? It appears that there are about 130 men over 40 who work as reporters vs. about 65 women.

Furthermore, when you compare the pay based on men and women in each decade, there isn’t a glaring difference. The only decade that has a substantial gap is 31-40 age group. However, the study shows that the paper has a “dearth” of people in their late 30s. This study equates age with experience. If they’re going to make that assumption, they should also publish the average ages in each decade based on race and gender.

Overall, I’d estimate that the male staff is approximately 7 years older on average. If you use their rationale that age = experience, it’s not shocking to see that men make on average $14 thousand more.

Please don’t take my word for this. Crunch the data yourself. This report was written by people who are trying to get the staff to unionize. It’s biased based on their end goal.

David Cahill


How 86-year-old Dan Rather became Facebook’s favorite news anchor

This story brings to mind my favorite Dan Rather report from 1968. I hope I remember correctly that he spoke on camera from a foxhole in Vietnam as a medic sewed up a wound in one of his buttocks.

Mary Christine Emerson


As the ‘forever war’ drags on, veterans bring battlefield knowledge to the newsroom

Just a quick fact check: the Gulf War began on August 2, 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and captured US service members. The US began offensive combat operations against Iraqi forces in Iraq and Kuwait in February 1991. Your article incorrectly states, the war in “… Iraq recently turned 15.” In fact, military operations in and over Iraq and Southwest Asia are more than 27 years old.

Paul Sullivan, Washington, DC


Are bots entitled to free speech?

This story makes me think of the insurance laws on licensing vending machines that sell travel insurance. Each vending machine must be identified with and tied to a specific human licensee. In Kentucky law, it says, “A licensed agent may solicit for and issue personal travel accident insurance policies by means of mechanical vending machines supervised by the agent.”

This is the most common wording of similar laws in other states. I feel the key word in this law is “supervised.”

I think this is different than the laws regarding liability for an airplane autopilot. Or maybe not. Is an airline pilot legally responsible for a failure of the autopilot system? Certainly the airline is. Probably the manufacturer.

If the bots were acting as a digital agent of a specific business or person who had to be identified I think the legal case could be no legal case at all. The bot is simply a tool for making a FOI request the same as a fax, an email, or a piece of paper. The key is to publicly identify the legal entity for whom the bot is a digital agent.

Duke Williams, Durham, North Carolina


Govt overreach, an affair, and muddied waters surrounding a press freedom case

I’ve never seen such criticism of the Times in their own platform commenting system about this story. From liberals. The Times has sullied its reputation, again, over this fiasco. Yes, the government over-reached in grabbing up her records, but it simply strains all credulity to think she wasn’t using her paramour serving as top staff on the Senate Intel committee, as a (unnamed) source. This incident is another case as to why the general public has “historic low” confidence in journalism.

Chuck Tingstad


Bridging the age gap

We absolutely cannot lose these people. They have to stay in our newsrooms. That sixth sense for when someone is lying, when something sounds suspect, what to follow, who to keep calling… These are things that only come with experience, but they’re the bedrock of good reporting and ethical journalism. Veteran journalists are our soul and our conscience and we need them now more than ever.

Amy Pachla


After new death toll report Friday, Sunday TV ignores Puerto Rico

I was dismayed that among all the tweets emanating from the WH, nothing has been said throughout the past several weeks about –– or to –– our fellow Americans re. current disasters. Puerto Rico’s abysmal situation was fueled by American banks, as chronicled in the PBS documentary “Blackout in Puerto Rico.” Here is a US territory where, in 1898, residents were ordered to serve in the US military, but denied the right to vote. The story of how this island nation got from where it was to its current status is disgusting and appalling, a situation that would continue, following the hurricanes, except for the benevolence of individuals and groups that have flown over of their own volition to provide assistance.

In other news not shown––or acknowledged––by the press or president, North Carolina and Virginia recently suffered flooding in flash floods when 6-10″ of rain engulfed them; the historic district of Endicott City, Maryland, suffered its second major flooding in two years, this time destroying 75 homes and hopes for future rebuilding; in Cimarron, New Mexico, wildfires have destroyed more than 60,000 acres; and thousands have been evacuated in Hilo, Hawaii, where, last I saw, a volcano was erupting every 10 minutes, destroying land the length of a football field. Not a peep from the media, which is busy covering the most recent lawsuit filing –– last I saw: NCAA vs. Ed. Secretary Betsy Devos –– and if the leader of a once-great country has decided whether or not he can “be bothered” pardoning himself, despite the fact he also says he not guilty of anything.

CJ Woodring


Three clauses freelancers should know (and negotiate), according to lawyers

I have one quibble with Maya Kroth’s reporting, however, regarding one of my best clients, The New York Times. After a long hiatus, I started freelancing for them again over the past year and have been astounded (and grateful) at how quickly (and relatively well) they pay. Perhaps they were sluggish in the past, but it has been my experience that they now pay me within a week or ten days of when I file my story, regardless of when it runs. This is, by far, the fastest I have even been paid by any news outlet. Whereas, years ago, you wrote for the Times for the prestige, and certainly not the money, and even had to lobby for a by-line (back then freelance stories, more often than not, were credited as “By The New York Times“), these days I also am in it for the prompt paycheck.

Tom Verde

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The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.