Letters from our readers

Here is a selection of letters and emails we’ve received since June. Please send correspondence to letters@cjr.org, along with your name, address, and any relevant affiliation.


The clause freelance writers should fight to remove from their contracts

There’s another type of arrangement that can be equally risky: working without a contract, as a former client of mine insisted (probably still insists) on doing. The publication paid 75 cents a word, dependably within three weeks of acceptance. But in one of my articles, the editor, without telling me, inserted an opinion without labeling it as his own and deleted a source attribution. When I objected to these transgressions, he arrogantly told me that the publication was his, he edited as he saw fit and if I didn’t like it, adios.

Also, Davies’s article underscores a major problem for US freelancers: Federal law classifies us as business owners, meaning that bargaining collectively or talking among ourselves about dealing with clients-in-common violates antitrust law. Legislative attempts at remedy have lain dormant or died in committee, even when Democrats occupied the White House and controlled both congressional chambers.

So for the moment, at least, most freelancers are stuck with publishers’-way-or-the-highway contracts. The fight to gain fair treatment is a long, hard one. But no one should underestimate our resolve.

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Richard Knee; San Francisco, California


Both Sides Now

I have additional examples of media bias at the Signal, where I wrote a regular column under the heading “Democratic Voices.” In 2012, the Signal enacted a policy not to publish any campaign-related opinions in the week before the election, on November 8. It denied publication of a regular column which endorsed the Democratic congressional candidate, Lee Rogers. The piece had been slated to run on October 31.

But then, on that same day, the paper ran an op-ed that both endorsed the Republican incumbent, Buck McKeon, and slammed Rogers. On November 2, the Signal then published a column endorsing McKeon, after a local Republican with ties to party officials privately negotiated with the Signal’s Executive Editor Jason Schaff to run as an exception to the “no endorsement” policy.

Finally, the Signal even published an op-ed from McKeon himself, touting his own record and asking for votes. “McKeon: Vote for my good record, success” also ran on November 2.

Schaff did not respond to objections from columnists (none of whom were paid). No amendments were made to allow endorsements for Democratic candidates.When I submitted my next column, outlining the political preferential treatment at the Signal, Schaff called me at home and said he would never publish one of my columns again.  

Republican political bias is so endemic in Santa Clarita that it passes as normal and often goes unnoticed.  Thank you for validating what many of us have been highlighting for years.

Lori Rivas; Santa Clarita, California


The perception that “one vote won’t matter” comes from the broader feeling that one person doesn’t matter. It is easy to feel small and insignificant, and with that comes a sense of hopelessness. But change only happens on a micro scale. We actually can’t change the world, or the country, but we can change our district, our street, our selves.

So thank you to CJR for deciding that my town of Santa Clarita had a story worth telling. Thank you for bringing fairness and truth to our town’s fight to get the same from our local media.

Santa Clarita’s story is just one of many about communities hungry for news, but when CJR shared it with readers we got the opportunity to stand for others who are similarly trying to make the world a better place by improving their small corner of it. That change begins with truth, facts, and fairness. The article by Ms. Darrach provided healthy doses of all three.

Anthony Breznican; Santa Clarita, California


I grew up in Santa Clarita and wanted to thank you for your in-depth reporting on the Signal and the current political divide there. I live in Los Angeles and still visit my family in Santa Clarita  frequently, but I was so eager to move out of that place when I could. Even as a child I picked up on the thinly-veiled yet palpable conservativeness and racism that permeated the place, and it never felt comfortable. I don’t like my hometown, but I wish I did. I would love to see a younger generation become more active and give representation to progressives in the city that challenge the old guard. Thank you again for taking the time to write such an important piece.

Ashley Becerra; Los Angeles



Ten years after the financial crisis, business journalism awaits its reckoning

I was part of a team covering the financial industry in New York at Bloomberg News in the years before, during, and after the financial crisis. We saw the crisis coming in 2006, when Jody Shenn and I were covering the growing financial troubles of small, independent subprime lenders owned or backed by Wall Street firms, including Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. An editor in the newsroom, Rick Green, organized a “subprime mortgage task force” that met regularly throughout 2007 and 2008.

We wrote scads of stories about the mortgage meltdown well before the bankruptcy of Lehman in September 2008. The problem was not that journalism failed. The problem was that the leaders of the financial industry were oblivious or indifferent to the growing risks because they were making so much money. Shareholders were happy because stock prices were going up, and regulators did little to stop any of this, despite our ample coverage of the unfolding crisis. The Lehman bankruptcy was perhaps a more extreme outcome than we expected, but the broader crisis didn’t come as a surprise. We at Bloomberg News did not miss this story.

Brad Keoun



Kofi Annan didn’t deny the media, even at his most difficult moments

Seldom do you read such demonstrable tosh as your piece on Kofi Annan’s relationship with the media. At Annan’s year-end press conference in 2005, I challenged the then-UN secretary general on the whereabouts of a green Mercedes SUV that was purchased in his name, with his UN tax exemption, for, according to the UN’s own inquiry, his son. Annan not only refused to answer but publicly insulted me in the manner of autocrats the world over, calling me an “overgrown schoolboy” who was not a “serious journalist.” (This was all on live TV.)

I was heartened that the press conference ended with the chairman of the UN Correspondents Association telling Annan that I was “a hard-working journalist trying to get to the bottom of issues of transparency within the Organization.”

For the following five years after Mr Annan’s outburst, while still the Times of London resident correspondent, I was prevented by UN press-handlers from asking a single question of the UN secretary-general, even when the secretary-general changed and even when I called out a question at an open stake-out. Annan and his acolytes behaved like Trump avant la lettre.The UN is no different from any other unaccountable collection of people trying to cover up their own misdeeds.

Your piece, “The intrepid reporter who got expelled from the UN” in July shows nothing has changed. Nothing will, unless some accountability is legislated into the system, and nobody involved has any interest in that.

James Bone; London



Podcast: Were all the free press editorials worth it?

I was appalled to hear that CJR did not join the nationwide effort by newspaper editorial boards to push back against President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on journalists and journalism. For an organization that relies on the mere existence of journalism—and whose mission is “to be the intellectual leader in the rapidly changing world of journalism”—CJR’s lack of support was a poor decision.

Why didn’t we read CJR Editor in Chief and Publisher Kyle Pope “pontificating about the implications of Trump’s broadsides or the value of the free press?” “I was busy,” he joked on the podcast. Pope eventually said the spate of editorials across the country are not a bad thing. But nor did he think such efforts would “move the needle” in the minds of people who don’t already see value in a free press. Pope said those folks would just see the editorials as “naval-gazing,” as “reporters whining about attacks on journalism.”

This topic is no joke to the president or his supporters. And I don’t hear whining from the thousands of working journalists who clearly see that Trump’s attacks cannot be ignored.

Scott P. Yates; Rockford, Illinois



What the media gets wrong about opioids

Thank you for such a well-written article to educate media members about addiction and dependence. I hope many read this and learn from it.When the media keeps mixing up dependence and addiction, it truly hurts chronic pain patients like myself.

Because of the “opioid crisis”—I prefer to call it the illicit drug crisis—we cannot have open and honest dialogues with our doctors anymore. We’re afraid any little thing we do or say will be taken wrong. We’re afraid that at our next visit we may be cut off from our life-changing medicines. We’re automatically treated as drug-seekers if we have to go to urgent care or the ER for any reason. The pharmacists give people problems now, too.

It was nice reading a factual article that didn’t jump on the bandwagon. We are not drug addicts. We are not less than. We hurt, and we are chronic pain patients.

Laurie Stewart



We need a new model for tech journalism

The piece tries to cover tech journalism from general news sites writing about tech and misses the mainstream tech trade press that arose in the 1980s and is still intact today.

There is a big difference between covering the big four tech companies (Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon) and covering the hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller tech companies. The big four affect billions of users, but many of the more interesting tech developments happen from the smallest companies. Rarely are the smaller companies covered by the general news media.

The best tech trade reporters follow product developments that could have big implications, mainly because they know their readers and understand the context of these tech changes. Your story’s recommendation to use junior reporters to cover tech is a major mistake. This is what the major newspapers did back in the 1990s. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work today. Even the most experienced reporters can sometimes miss the forest for the trees. Experience counts.

David Strom



After WNYC, Leonard Lopate’s return to WBAI is met with protest

I serve as secretary of the WBAI Local Station Board. I also chaired the WBAI Community Advisory Board for several years. I have worked in print and broadcast journalism since the 1970s.

I wanted to thank you for your article but point out some additional factors you may not be aware of. There is also lurking behind the surface in all this hoopla the simple fact that WBAI has not in its current form been able to sustain itself financially for years. The average number of listeners to WBAI at any hour ranges from 300 to 1,000. The bulk of the shows only bring in about 25 percent of the money so going to a strategy of raising money through the quality of the shows themselves minus premiums is bound to fail.

Lenny Lopate probably has a total audience for his show equal, in ten hours,to the entire weekly total for all other WBAI programming, which is about 100,000 to 150,000. That is clearly the rationale for bringing him on.

The potential of WBAI to fight its way out of this mess and become a MASS IMPACT media platform requires a lot of help. What we need right now is the active involvement of the communication and journalism schools in NYC to help WBAI move rapidly into the 21st century and play a role in this insane political situation we as Americans and the world find ourselves in.

That, to me, would be a step in the right direction.

Jim Dingeman



CJR Special Report: Photojournalism’s moment of reckoning

What a horrific story about sexual harassment in the field of photojournalism! The two photographers mentioned are the worst of sexual predators. Finally,  justice is being done to remove them from their positions.

I was a photojournalist for the first 10 years of my career. In 1977, I was almost the only woman shooting sports in my area. In 1979, I received an internship at The Detroit News and became only the second woman to ever work there on staff. In 1980,  I received another internship at The Detroit Free Press, where I was the third woman ever on staff. (At the News, we only had one bathroom in the photo lab. I had to call out that I was going into the bathroom so the guys knew it was occupied.) I eventually worked with all the major wire services and then moved to a newspaper in Wichita, Kansas. Again, I was the only woman on staff.

Was sexual harassment a part of my life back then? Maybe, but never to the extent you wrote about. I was considered one of the “guys,” and we were a team. If sexual remarks were made, I just gave them right back. I never changed my appearance to look more masculine, and I never backed down from a difficult assignment.

My mentors, all men, were amazing. Eli Reed, a Magnum photographer, took me under his wing. Tony Spina, the chief photographer of the Free Press, and one of my favorite teachers in art college, Walter Farynk, helped mold me into what I am today. I shot sports for 10 years and was never once made to feel I didn’t belong. I was hired because I could deliver fantastic images and have them ready on deadline. I am blessed to have been accepted as an equal.

Thank you for writing that story. I hope it sparks more debate and action!

Santa Fabio; Detroit, Michigan

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The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.