Letters from our readers: Our Spring 2017 issue, Comey, and Trump photography

HERE IS A SELECTION of emails and Facebook comments we’ve received since April 21. Please send correspondence to letters@cjr.org, along with your name, address, and any relevant affiliation. Reader feedback has been edited for length and clarity.

The pleasure and pain of going nonprofit

We were pleased to see the attention CJR devoted to nonprofit journalism in its Spring 2017 issue. However, the graphic that accompanies the report (“Which Foundations Donate to Journalism Nonprofits?”) is incomplete, resulting in a misleading depiction overall.

The graphic lists 10 donors to journalism and 10 nonprofit recipients of support, with each list ranked by size and giving the impression that these are the “top 10” in each category. The lists omit significant donors to journalism and also significant nonprofits, among them the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

During the 2009-16 period covered by the graphic, the Pulitzer Center raised $7.3 million from the donors named in the graphic. That would place the Pulitzer Center fifth among the nonprofits listed. The $7.3 million doesn’t include additional donations totaling over $23 million during the 2009-16 period that the Pulitzer Center raised from donors not included in the CJR list.

Failure to acknowledge the Pulitzer Center’s prominent role in the nonprofit journalism ecosystem does grave damage to our ability to raise the funds needed for an organization that in our view plays an essential role—not only for the nearly 200 journalists we support each year, but also for the news-media partners that depend on us and the network of over 250 secondary schools and universities that engage with journalism directly through our educational outreach.

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The Columbia Journalism School is one of our 35 Campus Consortium partner institutions. It has been the venue of dozens of presentations by Pulitzer Center journalist grantees. Its students and graduates have received tens of thousands of dollars in direct support from the Pulitzer Center.

Every one of those dollars has been a challenge to raise, precious to us and to all the journalists, educators, and students we serve. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues in helping to explain the importance of this work to us all.

Jon Sawyer
Executive Director
Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

 

A hidden message in memo justifying Comey’s firing

So you’re arguing that Comey was fired because he was too transparent with his investigations? What you’ve left unsaid is that this would worry the fascist during the investigation into Russian election meddling.

Casey Meserve

This article may serve to make points about transparency, but the writer appears oblivious to legal and constitutional points regarding Comey’s July media conference on the investigation into Clinton’s emails. Many legal scholars and practitioners said Comey was way out of line and potentially violated Clinton’s constitutional rights by laying out evidence against her, with no opportunity for her to rebut as she would have in a courtroom. Furthermore, he had to back down from some of his claims. Bottom line on the email non-scandal is Department of State rules at the time of Clinton’s term allowed employees to use personal email accounts and personal servers. As Comey testified, there was no evidence any emails to or from Clinton were marked classified at the time, nor that her server had been hacked in spite of attempts; there is no proof she was careless with classified information. Yet, because of Comey’s July indictment, millions of people believe Clinton broke laws and should be prosecuted. Clinton’s biggest failure was to once again underestimate the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” this time aided by a foreign government.

Diane Brown

 

“Gannett and the last great local hope”

I read with interest your story about Gannett and the specific challenges to its long-term survival as it has hollowed out its community newspapers and consolidated its news-gathering operation into regional clusters. Every time I visit my parents in upstate New York, I am amazed that the Elmira Star-Gazette hasn’t been reduced to a pamphlet format, because that is about how much truly “local” news you will find in the first Gannett newspaper. Ironically, Gannett appears to be attempting to become its own version of the AP, but the problem with that is that the AP, with its global audience, can’t risk being too local in its coverage in order to ensure maximum usage of its content (full disclosure: I worked for the AP from 1997 until 2012, and now work in the nonprofit sector after toiling in two soul-sucking corporate communications jobs).

I don’t harbor any illusions that the Star-Gazette was ever a great newspaper—not even during the three or so months in 1991 when I interned there—but it had plenty of local content and a wide variety of beats covered. I certainly don’t object to coverage by Gannett’s reporter in Albany that seeks to hold state government accountable, which is sorely needed, or to regional efforts to cover issues common to Elmira, Binghamton, and Ithaca. But I agree with Jim Hopkins’ assessment that this coverage is a mile wide and an inch deep. I’m also annoyed that in the interest of penny-pinching, Gannett has homogenized its local newspapers to the point that easily 70 percent of their pages resemble USA Today.

My parents are in their 70s—not exactly a demographic sweet spot for advertisers—but as long as the Star-Gazette still has the crosswords, Sudokus, the comics, and weekly advertising circulars and coupons, I suppose they’ll still have a reason to read it. As a recovering journalist, I care deeply about the future of the news industry and appreciate CJR’s continued coverage of this ever-shifting landscape.

Martha Raffaele

 

America’s growing news deserts

Thank you for updating your map with an editor’s note. The initial version didn’t make it clear why papers might not show up. I don’t know that 1 percent of the county population is necessarily a good standard–Manhattan has a lot of community papers that keep an eye on local government that I suspect wouldn’t qualify under that–but at least readers now have some understanding of how the map was created.

The Needles, California, paper is a good example of why the 1 percent standard may not be a good one. San Bernardino County is physically larger than nine states and has a larger population than 14 of them, but much of it is mostly empty desert. No other paper is going to reliably cover the goings-on in Needles besides the Desert Star, but it doesn’t mean that residents of that town live in a news desert.

Conversely, the LA Times got a Pulitzer Prize for covering the shenanigans of the city council of tiny Bell, California, precisely because, for over a decade, no one was covering Bell City Hall. But Bell is in Los Angeles County, which isn’t a news desert according to your map.

I applaud CJR for having a whole issue tackling local news. Despite there being 1,200 newspapers around the country, the magazine too often focuses on just a handful of non-representative major metros and magazines. But the next time you tackle this very important issue, which deserves annual attention, another methodology ought to be used to determine what counts as a news desert and what does not.

Beau Yarbrough
Staff Writer
Southern California News Group

I live in Eastport, Maine. We depend on the effective reporting in our local bimonthly newspaper, The Quoddy Tides, for up-to-date and insightful stories on local and state issues. The paper is crucial for me to feel like an informed voter.

David Brass
Eastport, ME

Your recent daily news desert map was of interest, but as someone who works for a bi-weekly newspaper, I think you’re missing a valuable cultural contributor on local governance issues. Weekly, bi-weekly, and even monthly community newspapers are doing great and undervalued work. I happen to believe that our paper, The Quoddy Tides, which serves Washington County, Maine, and parts of Charlotte County, New Brunswick, in Canada, contributes mightily. So does The Ellsworth American in Hancock County, Maine, and The Crestone Eagle of Crestone, Colorado. There are so many. We aren’t the subject of national headlines and ticker-tape parades, but we sure do serve up a steady diet of local governance to chew on. Perhaps that should be the subject of your next report. The support would be a welcome dollop of sunshine.

Sincerely,
Lora Whelan

Your exhaustive recent writings on the demise of journalism are well meant and shed a spotlight on the dismal state of American journalism, but you have completely overlooked the fact that even in deserts, there are occasional oases.

When I started as a reporter at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in Massachusetts, we had 17 regional offices and a statehouse bureau. Today, I doubt that the newspaper has even 17 reporters. We were about number 95 in size among 1,700 newspapers, and our publisher had a seat on the AP board of directors.

In 1996, when I finally was allowed to design, build, and manage the Telegram website (with my publisher’s very grudging consent), we did not fully appreciate the disaster that lay ahead for the industry as advertisers realized that print no longer works and subscribers found many others sources of information. Revenues fell, paywalls failed to generate sufficient revenue to make a difference, and many newspapers cut costs or closed.

Today, every special interest from local chambers of commerce to grant-funded tourism groups can “publish” whatever they think of as news. Most such websites operate along the lines of their particular special interest. Facebook has only made the chaos worse. Who would pay for a classified ad when craigslist reaches people for free?

While I was building a newspaper website in 1996 and noticing that my newspaper was shrinking its geography and staff to save money, I also wondered if a town of 1,234 people— served by the state’s smallest daily (4,500 copies printed for nine communities) and a weekly that is hardly more than a shopper—could benefit from having its own independent news and information website. So I built one to find out.

Today, I have long since left the newspaper industry but I still publish Petersham Common—my website, which is a community newspaper with everything but a sports section. “News” may well include a community award for a 90-year-old or the drive to build a community broadband system or cutting down graceful maple trees in front of the town library that have stood for 100 years years or longer.

Coming from a morning paper career, I update the site daily and have done so for the last 20 years. Having been a reporter, columnist, editorial writer, and business reporter, I am determined to publish everything in sight so long as it is not mean-spirited. I report on government meetings (local selectboard and more) each week.

Today, the site averages 10,000 page views a month. And yes, there are advertisers. Across the country there are other such sites. Many started out of some personal local political animus, but others resist the temptation to grind a personal axe. Even Dripping Springs, Texas, has one such site.

Many of these websites are considered unprofessional, but some at least, strive to peek into the AP stylebook from time to time and to separate news from opinion and fiction.

I would argue that while not profitable, these points of light that are determined to keep good quality local news standards alive even in this disorganized Facebook age deserve some notice and some encouragement from CJR.

Roy Nilson
Owner and Publisher
Petersham Common

I think the news media is just going through a shift. I did my senior thesis on this when I attended Journalism school at California Polytechnic State University, and I now own two thriving publications in Santa Barbara County.

The point of the newspaper is to cover local news, unless it’s a mass media organization like The New York Times or the LA Times. Some larger news organizations have lost that hometown feeling, leading them to cut back on staff and recycle stories from other publications. It’s not working. They are losing advertisers and cutting pages.

I started the Santa Ynez Valley Star a little over a year ago, and took it from a monthly, to now twice-monthly, and will be going weekly in 2018. It’s about supporting the community that supports me.

Raiza Giorgi
Owner and Publisher
Santa Ynez Valley Star
Santa Ynez Valley, CA

 

“Gannett newspapers are hiding an important local story”

At one of Gannett’s five Texas papers, four in the newsroom were cut. All have 20-plus years behind them at the paper. We also lost the publisher’s executive secretary, since we have no publisher (we’re now sharing a publisher with another Texas Gannett paper). Doesn’t seem like a lot, but the newsroom was already in a bad way. Twelve staffers remain, meaning that a fourth of the newsroom was cut May 3.

Five months ago there were 18 in the newsroom (two left before the cuts who weren’t replaced), though the paper also lost its human resources director, marketing director, and ad guy in charge of special sections. About 10 years ago, before the copy desk was dismantled, there were about 30. Twenty years before, about 40 in the newsroom.

Two Texas Gannett papers’ editors “retired” two weeks ago on the same day. Don’t think those papers will get new editors.

Papers with no editors and no publishers are limping along with no discernible way of covering any kind of news.

Can’t cover a more than dozen-county region with four reporters. Impossible. Sad day for journalism.

LaFawn Sweeten

My father wrote for a local newspaper for years and was well known in the county. We could not go anywhere without someone coming up and speaking to him. Today, people still ask me about my name, remembering a journalist with the same last name.

Gannett bought that county newspaper, and proceeded to fire those reaching retirement age. My father was one of them. His pension was basically nothing. Thus, what Gannett did was destroy the retirement of people who had worked for the community for many years.

To this corporation, people are merely chattel. On the ground there are families that lived through what companies like this have done. If we do not stand up and speak, we allow the unacceptable to continue.

Reb Dalmas

The Gannett newspaper around here has little sense of community. It’s trying to be a national outlet. The home page might as well be USA Today, with a smattering of local news tossed in to give the illusion of community.

Gev Sweeney

The local papers could do better by publishing stories their communities actually want to read. They should be watchdogs and investigators, and challenge assumptions. Most of all, they should write well and be versed in multimedia. I don’t see this in my local paper.

Stephanie Carta

 

Stop killing your social stories with bad headlines and images

I work at a public relations and digital marketing firm in Michigan and wanted to pass along my praise for your recent article that breaks down writing headlines, social copy, and images for stories.

I handle the digital strategy (which includes revising headlines, images, and writing social copy) for our client Bridge Magazine—Michigan’s newspaper of the year for two years now. Bridge does some excellent watchdog reporting, but they exist completely in the digital space, so it is crucial to have a digital strategy that drives traffic to the site. We battle all the challenges digital publishers face. Your article was such a great refresher to understanding how to make a story package successful. Thank you for providing such great analysis.

Natalie Kozma
Martin Waymire

 

11 images that show how the Trump administration is failing at photography

This is a ridiculous article. So sad that Columbia Journalism Review is so negative, and educated American people hear or read only what they want to. This was certainly a waste of time.

Linda Faye Hurn Brewer

Great read. The photo of the press in the Oval Office makes me think he’d suffocate without attention. He can claim whatever he wants about the media, but he’d lose his mind if folks just ignored him.

Wendy Hudgins

 

Price of ‘independent’: Can this weekly paper stay critical of its new owner?

I take particular exception to this paragraph:

“Two years ago, the biggest media news in Montana came when Lee Enterprises closed its state bureau in Helena, laying off two of the state’s most prominent journalists in the process. At the time, I wrote about how the move sparked talks of new approaches to public affairs coverage in Montana and whether a new journalism project might emerge to fill a void. Since then, nothing has materialized.”

I encourage you to do some research regarding the two writers who now constitute the Lee Statehouse Bureau. As a former Lee employee, I can independently confirm (and so can you, with a little help from Google, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn) that a resolution to statehouse coverage has indeed materialized. Furthermore, I am of the opinion that statehouse coverage from Lee is far superior now than it was.

You can do better. Step up your game.

Sincerely,
Landon Hemsley
Former digital project specialist and columnist at Lee-owned
Independent Record in Helena, MT

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.