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emains getting people to simply make the effort to pick up a paper—any paper,” hewrites. At the Tribune Company’s Orlando Sentinel, Managing Editor Elaine Kramerlearned what younger people want from newspapers, then put some of those lessons towork. In time, she believes, newspapers “will have to figure out how to deliver anewspaper for free.”Jennifer Carroll, who directs development at Gannett Company, Inc., highlightsthe extensive research her company has done and points to approaches someGannett papers have taken to attract young readers. These newspapers are“revamping content and presentation, experimenting with new sections, launchingfree weeklies … improving online content, and expanding delivery.” At Gannett’sArizona Republic, Deputy Managing Editor Nicole Carroll writes about hernewspaper’s challenge to create a product that would “move the needle” with ayoung female audience that wasn’t reading the paper. Yes—Your Essential Style,became the paper’s weekly vehicle. And at The Record in New Jersey, staff writerLeslie Koren had just turned 30 when she took on a new challenge of writingstories with people her age and younger in mind. “I want to speak to that part ofthe young readers that is still developing and coming into its own. I want to helpthem make sense of their world and encourage them to think for themselves.”Journalist Leah Kohlenberg engages elementary school students in journalism as sheteaches them how to report and write stories. “It was evident that if these students weregoing to write for a newspaper, they had to learn to read one,” she writes. Editor &Publisher managing editor Shawn Moynihan’s work as a substitute teacher taught himhow kids look up to journalists. “… kids are not going to come to the newspapers—sonewspapers must go to the kids,” he writes. In Los Angeles, Donna C. Myrow, founder ofL.A. Youth, a newspaper written by teens for teens, writes about the paper’s importantpartnership with the Los Angeles Times. And Ellin O’Leary, president and executiveproducer of Youth Radio, describes how young people working in their newsroom withexperienced journalists produce shows geared toward young audiences. ■The belief that as youngpeople grow older, theyadopt the newspaper readinghabits of their elders is amyth. As this chart shows,members of each generationtend to maintain theirreading habits as they getolder. Data: General SocialSurvey of the NationalOpinion Research Center,University of Chicago.Analysis: Phil Meyer, KnightChair in Journalism, Universityof North Carolina atChapel Hill.Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 5


Young Readersto a newspaper. It probably didn’t helpwhen many of us talked about someproblems we face in doing this. Weshared stories about discovering factualerrors just before a section was tobe published. I talked about having topublish mediocre writing when it wasneeded to fill a page.As this editor listened, she also keptasking us questions, and with each oneshe seemed to be challenging the verypremise of what we were doing. Herquestions lingered with me throughthe rest of the conference, creatingmore and more questions in my mind,until finally I saw an image that helpedme to better understand this editor’sresistance.In my mind, I saw those peanuts, soneatly piled in front of this editor, as ametaphor for the way journalists tendto stick to their ways, follow conventions,and adhere to their worldviews.Without being willing to change andexplore ways of reaching out to newreaders, I realized it was hard for thiseditor to see this step as positively asthose of us who’d taken it do.Letting Teens Tell TheirStoriesIt was writing for teenagers, not writingabout teenagers, that really changedmy views about journalism. It openedme to exploring different ways of tellingstories. As I worked on connectingwith teens as the editor of Voices, Irediscovered my sense of humor, myappreciation for irony and for the absurd,my love of music, and my hungerto understand the world.My greatest lesson occurred when Iwas about a year into Voices. At thattime, at the age of 35, I was the adultreporter assigned to Voices. My responsibilitiesincluded coordinatingphoto shoots (often wacky and/orposed ordeals involving costumes),teen artwork, and the writing of stories.I had already written a narrativestory about teens facing the end of highschool and one about auditions for theschool play. In the course of a year, I’dtalked to lots of teenagers, some ofwhom were quite taciturn. Along theway, I’d discovered I was no longerterrified to walk into a room of 100teens because I now knew I was not thefocus of their attention, even whenConventional Views a Teen Section Editor Must Break1. Good journalists don’t puttheir opinions in their writing. Insteadof teaching teens to keep themselvesout of articles, editors need toteach them when and how they shouldwrite first-person pieces. We shouldencourage them how to augment theiropinions with reporting. Start with theassumption that teens can be expertsin many things, especially with theirpeers, and that the teenage years areones marked by many epiphanies andlessons, all of which is fodder for columnsand first-person written and reportedpieces.2. You will pay your teen writerswith experience. They will respecttheir work with your teen section ifthey are paid, and it doesn’t have to bemuch. It shows respect for the timeand effort they put into their journalism,and it puts less pressure on theeditor to find other ways to compensateand motivate reporters. My experienceis that teens appreciate the payand stick around for the experienceand through that they learn the importantlesson that journalism is aboutmore than a paycheck.3. Scylla and Charybdis andKierkegaard have no place in yoursection. Don’t write down to teens—or make teens write down to themselves.The Scylla and Charybdis referencecomes from something written byan advice column writer at Voices.4. Personal writing is a lowerform of journalism. See Number One.5. Nostalgia is for old people.Faced with growing up and responsibility,teens can have great nostalgiafor their childhood. Television shows,music or toys popular just a few yearsago seem to teenagers as if they wereancient history.6. You need the best and brightestteens. GPA and excellent writingskills are no indication of passion forjournalism. Some people don’t knowthey have the passion until they experienceit.7. News happens, you can’t planfor it. You can plan a section a monthin advance and still be flexible andtimely.8. You have nothing to learn fromteens about writing. If you can’thandle the idea that a teenager couldwrite better than you, consider thateach question they pose, each critiqueyou do, helps you hone your craft andmakes you walk the walk because theyare watching you.9. Metaphors are for poetry andnovels. Good journalists use metaphors,but often adults don’t expectthat teens are capable of producingthem or understanding them.10. A diverse section has manyteens of color. Look beyond colorwhen thinking about diversity. Differenceis found not just in skin color butin teens’ economic backgrounds, theirseen and unseen abilities, disabilitiesand interests, religion, politics, themakeup of their family, and the kind ofschool they go to. Voices has broadappeal because we cast a wide netthrough the community and becausethe students write so personally. A Jewishgirl wrote about converting to Catholicismand a homeschooled boy,who is liberal, broke through the stereotypicassumption of homeschooledkids being conservative Christians.We’ve had articles written by gay students,jocks and artists and by jockswho are artists, by kids who can’t affordto have e-mail and those who canafford to hire a personal college coach.To me, that’s diversity. ■ —L.S.Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 7


Young Readersthey were listening to me.Then I volunteered to do a story forthe Reading Eagle; it was a Sundaypiece about competition among thetop students. I knew there was a storybecause I had listened to some ofVoices’ teen writers—all of whom arepaid freelancers—talk about the stressof staying at the top of their class. Andwe’d done a Voices section—abouteight articles each week are built arounda theme to create a Voices section—about finding relief from stress.For the Sunday story, I interviewedcounselors and experts who were veryconcerned about the toll such competitionwas taking and what it said aboutour society. Fresh from these interviewswith experts, I started to callteens who had been recommended byour Voices correspondents. (Ournewspaper’s policy bars adult reportersfrom interviewing our teen writersfor articles.) And there I hit a brick wall:They wouldn’t talk. Well, they talkedbut I knew what theywere saying to me wasn’ttheir real experience. Instead,they were tellingme what they told mostadults—all is well, not abig deal.The Voices’ editor,Wendy Zang, offered mea great suggestion. “Tryasking them how theystay on top.”I followed her adviceand set aside the experts’ views. And Ikept my mouth shut and just listened.What I learned is that some teenagersgo to school feeling physically sickbecause of the pressure. They trackcarefully what classes their peers take,and they quibble over grades just toraise their grade point average by hundredthsof a point so they can get aranking that will get them into an elitecollege or university. And as it getsharder to be admitted to these eliteschools and pay the cost of going there,parents are putting more pressure onsome students to do activities that mightlead to scholarships.This story has been told in manypublications, but what made my storydifferent was that it was largely told inthe voices and through the experiencesof teenagers. Access didn’t make thedifference; rather, it was the questionsasked and the willingness to listen tothe teens and let go of adult bias. Teensare the experts in their own lives—which is why their first-person, reportedessays that appear in Voices can be socompelling. I’ve met many teens whoare experts in topics beyond fashion,sex and angst. I’ve met some who areexperts in dog training, golf, ice hockey,losing weight, beating the system, andaddiction recovery.Teen Topics and NewspapersAnother lesson for me about journalismcame shortly after I became editorof Voices last October. As part of myjob, I met with the newspaper’s advertisingand promotions departments.As a reporter, I’d never talked withanyone from these departments. Forme, the idea of having to also thinkAs I worked on connecting with teensas the editor of Voices, I rediscoveredmy sense of humor, my appreciationfor irony and for the absurd, my loveof music, and my hunger tounderstand the world.about selling stuff seemed so disgusting;before I’d thought of my job asonly pursuing “the truth.” Yet I soonlearned that convincing colleagues atthe paper of the value of a teen sectioninvolves selling them on the idea thatteens have buying power. (The NAA’srecent research brief finds that teensspent $172 billion on products andservices in 2001.)In January of this year, my awkwardfeeling of being a truth-seeker in anadvertising land came to a head at anewspaper marketing conference inFlorida where I went to talk aboutVoices. As I prepared to listen to theteen panel discussion, facilitated by amarketing expert, I was expecting thatthe discussion would make my stomachturn. I pictured the marketing personweaseling out of these teens howto sell them the latest gadgets and stuffthey liked to use. Instead, as I listenedto the teens, I heard them articulatesome of the same lessons I’d learnedwith Voices: Teens want to feel important.They want to be part of a groupbut also thought of as individuals. Theywant respect, and they want help.These lessons were echoed again atthe YEA conference in Reading in October.There we heard from Vivian Lin,president of 180 Enterprises, Inc.,which specializes in marketing to teenagers.Her research tells her that teensare searching for significance. As I heardthis, I hoped the editor who had beenquizzing us about starting a teen sectionwas listening.My learning continues. In October,Voices published a photo of childrenand teens who benefited from the philanthropyof another group of teens.The photograph accompanied an articlewritten by one of ourtwo Voices’ interns. Threeteens in the photo weremaking hand signs and, tome, the gestures appearedto signal West Coast, victoryand peace. Fromwhere I sat, the photo wasabout rap and hip-hop, butsome adult readers saw thehand gestures as signifyinggang signs. Theyweren’t gang signs, but thatdidn’t stop adults from calling and e-mailing. And I know these adults meantwell in expressing their concern, butby jumping to conclusions they insultedthose teenagers.Some editors might have decidednot to run the photograph, fearing justsuch a reaction from adult readers. ButVoices has built its reputation on showingteens as they really are, not howsomeone wants them to be or thinksthey should be. For us that means printingreviews of R-rated movies. (Ourpaper’s policy states that it is the teen’sresponsibility to get parental permissionto see the film.) It means runningreviews of films such as “Jackass,” despitehaving adults say that by doing sowe are promoting that kind of behav-8 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young Readersior, and referring to high school studentswho are in the marching band as“band geeks.” (One of the school’sprincipals told Voices assistant editorStacie Jones that is a putdown hewouldn’t participate in.) While we don’tadvocate illegal activities such as underagedrinking or violence, we doshow teen life from the inside.I am not a teenager, nor do I pretendto be, but the section I edit needsto reflect their life, or they won’t readit. And so, as its editor, I walk a fineline: At what point does reporting aspectsof the youth culture to teenagersbecome an endorsement of that culture?And what if I, as a parent, don’tlike it? Each week, and with each issue,I try my best to answer such questions.I might prod a teen writer to do thoroughand fair reporting, but I try not toimpose my opinion.Each week, adults involved withVoices (the editor, assistant editor,designer, graphic artist, and assistantdesign editor) get together to plan thelook of a future issue. Often we grapplewith stereotypes and the message ofimages and with the challenges of beingdiverse and being cool. We alsoconsult with managing editors on subjectmatter; when we take on topicssuch as sexual issues or being gay, ourwork requires intense scrutiny fromeditors at the newspaper.Working for a newspaper can be anuncomfortable place—even for teenwriters. A girl who wrote a story aboutteens and sex was demoted from herleadership role in her church becauseshe mentioned she might not wait untilshe was married. Perhaps this tensionbetween the adult and teenworldviews is what keeps us fresh withoutresorting to reliance on clichédlingo or celebrity interviews. It mightalso be what attracts readers—adultsand teens—to the section. Or it may bethat we have convinced everyone we’retotally cool. ■Lisa Scheid, who is the editor ofVoices, has worked with this teensection of the Reading Eagle since2000.Seeing the Holocaust Through a Child’s EyesThe following excerpt is from a longer piece, “Seeing Devastation Through aChild’s Eyes,” written by Kayla Conklin and published in Voices in April 2003.Conklin is a former Voices’ intern who is now in her first year at TempleUniversity in Philadelphia.By Kayla ConklinGia drew a picture in crayon. No smilingsun with sunglasses shone uponmulticolored flowers and a village oflittle pink houses, all identical to oneanother. Gia didn’t see that very much.From the barracks where she spent herdays, little light was visible, exceptthrough cracks in the poorly constructedcabin.So Gia drew what she knew: opentoptrains, carrying dead bodies withX’s for eyes away from a gas chamber.She was born more than 60 years ago,and she shares my birthday. She sufferedthrough something I can’t beginto fathom, and that’s all I know aboutGia, except that she had the amazingstrength to survive. This faceless littlegirl has become my new hero.On March 13, my Governor MifflinHigh School class spent three hours inthe United States Holocaust MemorialMuseum in Washington, D.C., on itssenior trip. We were free to wander thecorridors and peruse the museum’soverload of information, both visualand emotional. …Finally, I proceeded to the children’sarea. As a playground leader and aspiringteacher, I love children and admiretheir innocence and unaffectedness. Amovie was playing in a small theater, inwhich a father was telling a story abouthis son. His father knew that his familywould be taken, so he tried to leave hisson where the son would be safe. Thechild steadfastly refused to comply withhis father. As the father recalls, thechild asked him later, “What does itmean to be Jewish? Why am I here?”Such remarks, from a child yet unawareof the fact that anyone was differentfrom anyone else, broke myheart. An estimated 1.5 million childrendied in the Holocaust, their potentialsunfulfilled. The next Einstein,Kafka or Wagner could have beenamong that group; when one considersall of the theories left unthought,the canvases left blank, the words neverwritten and symphonies never composed,the weight of what was lostseems worse than what was done.I walked to a wall, considering this,and stared at pictures: Stars of David,concentration camp barracks and otherthings that children, in an attempt attherapy, depicted on 8.5 inch by 11inch paper with colored pencils, markersand watercolors. I scanned overnames and birthdays and paused at apicture of a crayon train, carrying bodiesaway, and underneath it, only Gia’sname, and August 27, the day I wasborn.Two short lines of text and her crayonpicture are all I know of Gia, but theentity of her existence and the gravityof her experience will stay with meforever. I’ve never seen the horror thatGia had, and most haven’t, but there’struth in the statement that history mustbe understood and remembered, lestit repeat itself. If we reject silence infavor of speaking up, if we refuse tohate even in the face of evil, and if weremember that every person born inthe world is equal and that nothing canalter this fact, we can honor the victims’memories daily by never allowinghate to foster and manifest itself in thecomplete destruction of human lifethat was the Holocaust. In short, ifadults can manage to view the world aschildren do, history surely can neverrepeat itself. ■lscheid@readingeagle.comNieman Reports / Winter 2003 9


Young ReadersApproaching the End of the ‘Monomedia’ EraWhy do young people insist in not understanding what we, the press, do for them?By Thomaz Souto CorrêaThis scene happened recently inSão Paulo, Brazil, where I live. AsI approached a young man typingin front of a computer, he waswriting: blz, bró, vamo tcl? If anything,I can guarantee that those words arenot Portuguese, the language we speakin my country.“What is that?,” I asked, showingwhat I discovered later to be a sign ofunrecoverable ignorance. This is Portuguese,I was assured, and this is howwe write to each other—we have notime for spelling the words, so wecontract them. Translation of the message:“How is it going, brother, everythingnice? Do you have any time toexchange a few words with me now?”It came to me as a vision: If thesekids are communicating in that language,it is no wonder that they don’tread what we write for them. Have Iseen a text written like that in a teenmagazine? No. Have I seen a text writtenlike that in a newspaper supplementfor young readers? No. Have Iseen it in a book? No.The general idea—research showsit, friends and colleagues share theirstories, and we all have our own—isthat kids don’t read. (Let’s not mentionHarry Potter, please. J.K. Rowling haswritten many books, and kids love themall. And no one has been able to writethe way she does. She is unique. I don’taccept her books as a generalizing evidencethat kids read. They don’t. Theyread her Harry Potter books.)Young People and PrintI am forcing an argument here, butlet’s accept it, to make it easier tounderstand my point: We, the printmedia in general, are not communicatingwith the young audiences. Period.Let’s begin by defining a young au-dience. My young reader is 15 yearsold, but could be 12 or 18. But let’s staywith the 15-year-old boy. He does notread. Now, why is that? Let’s have alook at this problem, step by step. Idivide humankind into two maingroups of people: the “paper readers”and the “electronic readers.” There arelots of people in between those twogroups, but they don’t need our help:they read papers and magazines andbooks, they navigate the big net, etc.Each day we lose an important numberof “paper readers”: When peoplewho are more than 60 years of age die,they’ve spent two-thirds of their livesreading books, newspapers and magazines.And each day we gain what I call“electronic readers”: Kids coming tothis world will read much more throughelectronic devices than from paper.Computers in the house and at theschool, electronic games and cellularphones—those will be the primary communicationvehicles in their lives. Evenbefore the time they enter school, thesekids are already multimedia people.Will they read books, newspapersand magazines? Probably, but as acomplement to the electronic media.The difference is that today we complementthe print media with the electronicmedia. This generation (andsubsequent ones) will do the opposite.Why don’t we in print media attractthese young kids? Because we don’tunderstand the simple truth that youngkids are multimedia people, and that’swhy they don’t read the supplementswe publish for young people. A supplementis an anachronous device and tothem a newspaper is an odd object.They relate better to a magazine becauseit’s a friendlier object, smallerand colorful. But magazines they readtalk about issues they are interested in:fashion, beauty, stars and gossip forgirls; rock music, sports and beautiful,provocative young ladies for the boys.There is already a new factor in theirreading experience that makes all thedifference: They go online because theirmagazines invite them to. A bridge hasalready been built between the magazineand the Web site. Under the samebrand, they read (or watch) in paperand play online. Girls can try online thesame dress they see in the pages of themagazine. They build their virtual bodyon the screen and try as many jeans orskirts or colors as they want. Sometimesthey buy the clothes online, instantly.There are not many magazines doingthat in the world, and they arealready late. But most publications allowreaders to create communitiesaround their own interests, hosted ontheir site, and in these virtual communitiesthey chat and chat. Some magazinesput the fashion editor online toanswer questions. The online publicationis the extension of the publicationin paper. They coexist.But these magazines are publishingkids’ stuff. They give them what theyoung want to see and read. Meanwhile,no newspaper and no magazineis reaching this audience in ways thatdiscuss with them issues they’ll be facingin their adult lives: social, political,economic and cultural issues.Bridging Gaps Between UsAs these younger readers age, moreand more electronic readers will reachthe age when usually they would turnto newspapers and magazines. But willtoday’s 10-year-old boy read a newspaperwhen he gets to be 18? Or a magazine?In his cellular phone, today, this10-year-old has fun exchanging messageswith friends. On this phone, he10 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young Readersalso gets and sends e-mails, takes picturesand sends them immediately, listensto music, watches videos, andchecks his schedule as if it was a palmtop.If he wants to, he can watch thenews. He can even use it as a telephone.How much more multimedia can aperson be? And in a multimedia worldsuch as this, with gadgets that are alsofun to use, what becomes of the role ofprint media? In this boy’s life, paperhas become almost nonexistent. Why?In part, it’s because young people don’tlike the way we write, andthey don’t like the look ofour pages. In print, we’vebeen doing basically thesame thing for decades, andthis generation is letting usknow it will not accept theway we do our job.We are “monomedia”when they are “multimedia.”These kids want us tobe multimedia, too, and toreach them we will need tostop thinking in ways thatare monomedia.Prestigious brands andcredible publications haveto engage young readersboth in print and on theWeb, using different media to offerwhat they expect from us. Young peopleshould be able to get whatever information,analysis, or opinion they needor want from their favorite paper/electronicpublication as part of a largemultimedia system. The paper and electronicpublications must complementeach other, but doing this can provedifficult since younger brains do nottend to relate to words and images inthe same way older brains do. While wetend to separate out the ways in whichinformation is delivered, youngerbrains tend to blend these various components—paper,online, news, messages—togetherwith less effort thanwe do.With kids’ minds and experiencesbeing so different from ours, we’ll neversucceed without inviting them to joinus in figuring out ways to bridge thegap between the paper generation andthe electronic one. To try to understandthe way they think, we ought towatch them as they write, “uozzzup,bro?” and read their Weblogs. We’llneed to follow their discussions aboutissues that concern them as we try tocapture a sense of their needs andinterests, and many times they do thisonline. Then we can produce vehiclesfor them, done in ways they understandand not in the way we think theyshould understand.It is important to remember thatdifferences between paper readers andAn image from the Colorado Kids Web site.electronic readers are much more thanabout how they read. There is a culturalgap between us that is perhapslarger than the technological gap thatseparates us. Technology is availableto all of us, but in the ways we relate toit we are very far apart. Nor will weattract younger people by using objectsthey are rejecting, mostly newspapersbut magazines, too.I see little experimentation beingdone with the younger crowd concerningjournalism, but there are a fewgood examples. Though I’ve said thatsupplements for young readers don’tusually work, what The Denver Postdoes is an exception. It publishes asupplement called Colorado Kids, doneby a staff of kids seven to 13 years old.They do the interviews, asking questionsadults would not. And they writethe text. Other teens instantly recognizethat these pieces were not writtenby adults and that adds credibility tothe stories.Maybe we shouldn’t care so muchabout paper. Is our real concernwhether magazines and newspapersdisappear, or is it that we want kids toread? Does it really matter if they readfrom a paper page or on a screen orbehind a piece of plastic? To me, if theyread, then the object in which theyexercise their intellect is of no importance.As long as they read.This will not be a simple challengeto solve, but it is not impossible, either.An electronic newspaperand the electronic magazinetargeted for a youngaudience are still waitingto be invented. As we oldereditors continue to try toattract younger peoplewith our paper objects andWeb sites, I suspect theyare still waiting for an electronicpublication that willcombine newspapers,magazines and what we call“the rest” and will feel likeit belongs, like it fits, intheir lives.Either we invent thispublication, or they willdo it without our help. Andthis second option is what terrifies me.Are we, editors, condemned to a differentmission? If so, what is going tohappen to our role as the eyes andwatchdog of the society? But this isanother serious discussion.Uót’u tink, bro? ■Thomaz Souto Corrêa, a Brazilianjournalist, worked for 40 years aseditor and editorial director for thelargest magazine publishing companyin Latin America, the AbrilGroup. He is an editorial consultantand member of the ManagementBoard of the International Federationof the Periodical Press.TCorrea@abril.com.brNieman Reports / Winter 2003 11


Young ReadersAre We Reaching Da Youth?Young adults’ ‘rejection of “the news” might be a reaction to big journalism’srejection of them.’By Danny SchechterFirst, a scene setter: Please don’tcall it a screed. Journalism tendsto look up. Most news is aboutolder people. It is about people inpower. Presidents and potentates. Corporations.Celebrities. The Rich andFamous. It is about the people runningthings and the people whowant to run things. And whenit’s not about their glories, it’sabout their darker sides, theirscandals and deceits. Andwhen it’s not about them—the Innies—it’s about estrangedoutsiders, losers andthe lost-lone gunmen, suicidedesperados, corporate criminals,everyday crooks, and ordinaryvictims. Body countsgalore.Victims are roadkill on theelectronic highway to ratingsheaven.On TV, there’s a daily paradeof sound bites and pressconferences brought to us bynews guys who look like jockswith great haircuts and perkyblondes standing in front ofbuildings yakking throughthick makeup like politicalscience majors. Presidentialcandidates compete with movie stars.Madonna is writing children’s books.Cookbook connoisseur Martha Stewartis arranging flowers in courtrooms. Arap mogul is now a black politicalleader. Howard Stern is the King of AllMedia. Don Imus has become a caricatureof himself. Jay Leno offers a launchingpad for candidates.And Fox News is anything but news.Even the dream machine on thesmall screen has been reduced to inspiringus to survive “Temptation Island,”not get thrown out of the “BigBrother” House, win a rose and a rela-tionship from the hunk-like Bacheloror, if you are a “Bad Boy,” delight inthose 15 seconds of fame outrunning“Cops.”Reality television is anything but reality.This is the media environment all inThe cover of a CD about media coverage of terror.the know concede has been dumbeddown for years. Even serious peoplecan’t take it seriously. As news bizmerges into show biz, Time magazinecalls war “militainent” and politics“electotainment.” Facts are what theysay they are like WMD’s in Iraq or a fairvote in Florida. News-lite does not makeAmericans very bright. A recent studytook note of pervasive misperceptionsamong TV news viewers.When younger people are not downloadinglibraries of recorded musicfrom the Internet, or piercing theirnoses and tattooing their behinds, theynow get their “news” from late nightTV, the Comedy Channel or “The Onion.”Attitude is what excites them, notinformation. For most, it’s not evencool to read newspapers or vote. Theturnouts prove that.There are so many distractions, solittle time: DVD’s video games,comic books and video games.The channels are many. Thechoices are full. The voicesare few. They don’t watchnews. How do I know? Watchthe ads. The advertisers,whose business it is to watchwho is watching, know. That’swhy there are so many commercialsfor Viagra, stomachremedies, and arthritis medications.In TV jargon, newscasts“skew old.”That’s why Al Gore, whostarted out wanting to launcha liberal TV alternative, hasbeen persuaded that a youthorientedchannel is the way togo. His new TV venture willuse stealth “lifestyle” programmingto politicize by appearingnot to. If Fox News is thestern, finger-wagging ArchieBunker-like, patriotically correctparty-liner on the right, Gore, whohas greened, pastel shirts and all, hasbecome a permissive do-your-ownthinger.For him, depoliticizing politicsis the only hope. He will learn thatpandering won’t work. Honesty andauthenticity might.Meshing News and MusicI’ve written books, such as “The MoreYou Watch, the Less You Know,” toexplain what is going on with newsthese days. But I have also collaboratedon some music projects hoping to zone12 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


into this apolitical zeitgeist to try toreach younger people who seem tohave tuned out on so many fronts.(This does not include a whole generationof young activists crusading on theenvironment, human rights, peace andglobal justice issues.)As the father of a hip media-savvy 20-something, I have had an up-close andpersonal education about why my orientationtowards big ideas and politicalengagement doesn’t always connect.(“If it’s too loud, dad, you’re tooold.”) When I was her age, I believedwith Abbie Hoffman that “you can’ttrust anyone over 30.” Now it sometimesfeels like you can’t trust anyoneunder 50.Over the years, from my days in rock’n’ roll broadcasting, I have seen theway popular culture leads politics. As aresult, I’ve been involved withmultiartist music benefits topromote awareness on importantissues: from “NoNukes” in 1979 (aboutnuclear power) to “Sun City”in 1985 (against apartheid),from “Give Peace a Chance”in 1991 (trying to stop thefirst Gulf War) to “We AreFamily” in the immediate aftermathof September 11th (an appealfor tolerance).As the editor of Mediachannel.org, aglobal media Web site, I am now focusingon media issues by creating CDswith the musician/producer PolarLevine, who records as “polarity/1.”Our first, in l997, used hip-hop to takeon what we call “News Goo.” Here is asample lyric:Communication Breakdown! Pausefor this message. Wake up!Every station is identificationGlobal syndication is shaping thenation. ABC-Disney, NBC-GE.Murdoch is Foxy and we’re the hen,He owns the pen, the camera, thesword.Buy a Coke, buy a Ford. Gettin broke?Getting bored?Selling attitude like food for themasses. Junk consumption. We’relumpenA bumpkin to the corporate state.You cannot satiate what you can’tnegotiateYour will’s been snatched, The bill’sattachedFlim-flam diagram, data-jam, handicamCaught it, Yo, ya bought itA mind is a profitable thing to waste.Ya want another taste, baby? We gotCHORUS:News Goo—What we need to knowNews Goo—What we want to knowNews Goo—What we think we knowGot remote control to choose theshow.But the more we watch, the less weknowIgnorance grows on the spirit like atumor … till freedom is a rumor 1The song is provocative and hardcharging, but getting it on the air in thisage of hyper media consolidation inradio is, shall we say, problematic. Ithas been played on alternative radioand Internet radio stations worldwide.Boston’s WBCN, the radio stationwhere I spent a decade dissecting newsthat is now owned by Viacom, which isone of the companies crusading forlarger media monopolies, won’t playit. No surprise there.In 2003, at the height of the IraqWar, we went another way, making“Media Wars,” named after another ofmy books. This track is an audio collageto a funky electronica groove trackthat uses comments of mine and some“rapping” that is intercut with bits ofTV news broadcasts and presidentialpronouncements. Levine explains onhis popCULTmedia Web site: “The TVYoung ReadersYounger people ‘now get their “news” from late nightTV, the Comedy Channel or “The Onion.” Attitude iswhat excites them, not information. For most, it’s noteven cool to read newspapers or vote.’sound bites have—in no way—beenmanipulated to create a context differentfrom that which was intended. Theoff-the-cuff remarks made by many ofour leading, highly influential TVinfotainers, who pass for presenters ofnews, reveal much about the currentstate of a once vigorous press. FoxNews’s ‘fair, unbiased’ commentaryspeaks for itself in the pride it takes inbeing ‘unafraid’ to serve as propagandistsfor Washington’s right wing politicalestablishment.” 2Songs like these won’t transformthe media or “elevate” a generation ofnews rejectors. How many will evenhear them? They are an expression of adissenting point of view that tends toget marginalized anyway. But they doflow out of the theory that believes thatif the news business is to reach thisaudience, it will have to speak its languageand echo its concerns. Far toomuch of our news ignores young peopleor puts them down. All too often theyare stereotyped as troublemakers tofear, not learn from. Their rejection of“the news” might be a reaction to bigjournalism’s rejection of them.Ya dig? ■Danny Schechter, a 1978 NiemanFellow, writes daily on media issuesfor Mediachannel.org. His latestbook is “Embedded: Weapons ofMass Deception” (Prometheus Books2003) on the coverage of the war onIraq. A new Web site featuring hisbody of work can be accessed atwww.newsdissector.org.danny@mediachannel.org1From “News Goo” (“The More You Watch, the Less You Know”) © 2000 Polar Levine-sinelanguage music/BMI. You can download the song at: http://www.polarity1.com/fcwd9.html2To download “Media Wars”: http://www.polarity1.com/mediawars.htmlNieman Reports / Winter 2003 13


Young ReadersSolving Some Mysteries About the Habits of the YoungThe keys to turning young adults into newsreaders are out there.By John K. HartmanAs newspapers work hard to figureout how to attract youngerreaders, there are some thingswe already know about why they aren’tthere already and what might need tochange to lure them in. A lot of studiesoffer guidance and, though the newsmight seem disheartening at firstglance, there are answers to be found.Memos to the NewspaperIndustryThe numbers are bad and gettingworse. Daily newspaper readershipamong 18- to 29-year-olds slipped to16 percent in 2000, according to asurvey commissioned by American JournalismReview (AJR). This percentagewas a new low, and the trend lineheads to single digits by the end of thedecade. The number had been in the20-25 percent range a decade before.By contrast, the AJR survey showedthat daily readership among 30- to 59-year-olds was 42 percent and, among60 years and older, it was 69 percent.Judging from students in my journalismclasses at Central Michigan University,readership by young adults maybe below 16 percent already. Most ofthem don’t read a daily newspaper. Imust order them to read one and testthem on it and then they might take alook at a newspaper Web site just longenough to do a report or pass a quiz. Inmy advertising classes a decade ago,when I began offering my students adiscount subscription to The Wall StreetJournal, about 10 percent of them subscribed.Over the years, the numberdeclined despite my impassioned pleathat reading the business daily is goodfor future advertising professionals. Inthe spring 2002 semester, I had onetaker out of 150 students: a nontraditionalstudent, around age 30. In 2003I quit offering the discount subscription.It was a hopeless cause.Young adults hurry through yourproduct. On the isolated occasionswhen young adults do read newspapers,they spend about the time it takesto listen to two songs on the radio orthe CD player. According to a 2002study by The Pew Research Center forthe People and the Press, 18- to 24-year-olds averaged nine minutes readingnewspapers out of the 48 theyspent each day in “newsgathering.” The25- to 29-year-olds and 30- to 34-yearoldsboth spent 11 minutes with newspapers.The number went up to 16minutes for those between the ages of35 and 49, 21 minutes for those ages 50to 64, and 33 minutes for the over-65crowd.The young will not age gracefully.Publishers used to cling to thenotion that people acquired the newspaperhabit as they got older: Just wait,they’d say, for the kids to grow up. Nottrue. Researcher John Bartolomeowrote that a generation’s newspaperconsumption habits are established atage 30 and that the younger generationreads less. In other words, a decadefrom now 16 percent of people in their30’s will be newspaper readers everyday. Two decades from now, the percentageof newspaper readers in their40’s might be counted in single digits.The best effort to address the declinecame from Gannett editors, whoput together the X Manual in 2001. It isa 300-page compendium of how todraw young adults into the newspaper.[See Jennifer Carroll’s story aboutGannett’s efforts to attract youngerreaders on page 32.] Among its suggestions:Beef up front page design andentertainment guides; increase businesscoverage; try new sections; boostoutdoor coverage; improve Web sites,and promote more. Suggested areasfor greater coverage included local,world and national news, positive happeningsin the community, education,environment, things to do, health andfitness, families and parenting. Gannettrecently announced its “real life, realnews” initiative, and this bears watchingas well.The young love the Web. Two Californianewspaper industry groups commissioneda survey by MTV Networksthat showed a big gap between whatteenagers and young adults looked forfrom newspapers and what newspapersgave them. The survey found that14- to 24-year-olds wanted, first andforemost, news about music, then localnews. Projecting a culture of diversityis important to the young, the surveyfound, along with more color,pictures and entertainment news. Inkrubbing off on hands and clothes was aturn-off. “Minimize the old, white dudeson the front page,” MTV research executiveBetsy Frank said. The youngconsidered newspapers “important,but just don’t read them.” Frank saidthe development of Web sites was themost important thing newspaperscould do to reach out to the young.A survey done in 2000 by the RoundTable Group echoed the importance ofWeb sites. It found that 18- to 24-yearoldspreferred getting their news onlinerather than in print. Two-thirds likedthe Internet for gathering information,and three-fifths said the Internet offeredbetter information than print.Another study found that young peopleturned to the content-specific sites onthe Web, such as those devoted tosports, music, fashion or dating. Newsorientedsites operated by newspaperswere at a disadvantage.Yet general interest Web sites (socalledentry portals) such as Yahoo,AOL and MSN are thriving by providingaccess points to what the young adultsare interested in. They establish brandloyalty that tethers young adults to the14 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young Readerssites for life while newspaper-operatedsites were casting around unsuccessfullyfor young adult visitors, not unlikewhat was happening with theirprint products.Charging for Web access is crazy.Despite the young’s affection for theWeb, increasing numbers of generalinterest daily newspapers are beginningto charge for Web access. The WallStreet Journal (1.8 million daily circulation),a business newspaper, hascharged from the beginning. The Columbus(Ohio) Dispatch (250,000 daily,370,000 Sunday) began charging in fall2002, becoming the largest generalinterest newspaper to do so. Its editor,Ben Marrison, wrote that the “milk”would no longer be free. Dispatch.comlost a large chunk of its audience overnight.The approach is wrong because,as noted above, young adults like theWeb as much as they disdain the printproduct. So much for newspapersreaching out to young adults via theWeb and eventually winning them overto the print product. The Dispatch’saction was more like a death wish thana marketing strategy. It seems unlikelythat the rest of the newspaper industrywill follow suit.The USA Today approach works.USA Today has done the best job by anewspaper of reaching out to the youngthrough its print and online products.The national newspaper’s dailies-indormsprogram provides prepaid, discountedcopies of newspapers availablefor first come, first served pick-upby students. It added 30,000 additionaldaily sales and two million dollars tothe bottom line. The program, pilotedat Pennsylvania State University in 1997,has gone nationwide. Other newspapersparticipate in the program dependingon their proximity to the collegeand universities involved. Beyondproviding a better-rounded educationto students (its stated purpose at PennState), the program encourages a lifelongnewspaper reading habit. ThePenn State program expanded in 2000to 20 of the 24 campuses of Penn State,reaching 70,000 students.USA Today does very well on campusesin single-copy sales, too. It oftenoutsells local newspapers, regionalnewspapers, and even national competitorsfrom two-to-one to 10-to-one.Its handlers understand, like the majorWeb sites, that media consumptionhabits developed while young last alifetime. Surveys of Penn State alsoshowed that USA Today’s program increasedreadership of daily newspapersin dormitories as much as sevenfoldwithout affecting materially thereadership of the campus newspaper.Yet student newspaper publishers,advisers and student journalists continueto fear incursions by daily newspapersonto their campuses. Many—including my employer, CentralMichigan University—are successful indefeating efforts to offer the dailies-indormsprogram on their campuses.Follow the Reds. The Chicago Tribunetook seriously the research by theMedia Management Center’s ReadershipInstitute about disaffected youngadults and in October 2002 started aMonday-through-Friday newspaper foryoung adults called RedEye. [SeeRedEye story on page 27.] The rivalChicago Sun-Times followed suit withthe Red Streak. Both papers deservecredit for “trying something” in thewake of young adults rejecting theircore products, though the Sun-Timesdoes better with the young than theTribune. Part of the Tribune’s motivationwas to keep out the Metro, a foreign-ownedcommuter tabloid that hasinvaded the major East Coast marketsof Boston and Philadelphia. AnotherTribune motivation was to try to drivethe Sun-Times out of business sincethe paper is experiencing severe financialdifficulties.For a while, the Reds were givenaway. Now the attempt is to charge 25cents for the purchase by their targetaudience—young adult professionalswho commute. So far the watereddown, tarted up, things-to-do ladenReds have failed to achieve critical mass.Readership figures are kept underwraps, which is an indication that theiraudiences are blip-sized. The WashingtonPost copied the Reds and launchedits Express in spring 2003. [See interviewwith Washington Post managingeditor Steve Coll on page 17.] No readershipdata there, either. The Tribune’sparent company started a mini-daily inNew York City called amNewYork inconjunction with its Newsday. Othermetropolitan newspapers have startedweekly, young-adult oriented, free tabloid-sizednewspapers with limitedsuccess. The Centre Daily Times inState College, Pennsylvania, has beguna young-themed section that wrapsaround the traditional daily, havingtried and failed with a weekly free productsix years ago. [See story by CenterDaily Times publisher Henry B. HaitzIII on page 21.] More attempts by thenewspaper industry to woo the youngare on the drawing board, includingnew weeklies in Cincinnati, Ohio andLouisville, Kentucky.Newspaper companies deserve an Afor trying, as well as an A for admitting,through their somewhat desperate actions,that they lack the affection of theyoung. At long last they are trying individuallyand collectively to do something.The owners of the Reds havebeen savaged by critics over the contentand format of their publications.But so were the founders of USA Today21 years ago. It took USA Today 11years and more than one billion dollarsin losses to achieve profitability andthe better part of 15 years to be acceptedas a respectable journalisticproduct. Give the Reds, the Express,amNew York, and other new daily,weekly and wrap-around products comparabletime and money before pullingthe plug.The magic key is out there. Somewhereout there is the key to unlockingthe young adult market. The key appearsto be based on free (no cost)products and easy access. College studentsread campus newspapers becausethey are free and easy to obtain anywhereon campus. Young adults readalternative weeklies because they arefree and easy to obtain around town.Both groups eschew traditional dailies.Therefore, I suggest that daily newspaperscreate a free weekly productaimed at young adults in their circula-Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 15


Young Readerstion area. This new weekly productshould be twinned with thenewspaper’s free Web access, perhapsunder a different, hipper name thanThe Daily Bugle. Young adults like theWeb because it is virtually free and easyto navigate. Newspapers can use theweekly readership and Web site visitsto sell the merits of the daily printpublications. Some young people mightgrow into users of the Web, the weekly,and the daily. If not, two out of threeain’t bad.Newspapers can still do journalism.Washington Post executive editorLeonard Downie, Jr. and Associate EditorRobert Kaiser wrote a well-meaningbook in 2002 about the deteriorationof journalism in the United States. “TheNews About the News: American Journalismin Peril” detailed the public’sdiminishing appetite for hard-hittingjournalism. Other recent books haveechoed the same theme that entertainmentvalues are pushing journalismaside in many mainstream media. Thisis awful. Yet unless the most mainstreammedium of them all—newspapers—canfind a way to attract theyoung to their print and online sites,Pulitzer Prize-worthy journalism is goingto go unnoticed and unheeded,and the mainstream press eventuallywill lack the resources to do good journalismbecause advertising support willhave gone elsewhere.There is not a bigger challenge forthe newspaper industry to confront inthe early 21st century than winningover the young. Think Red. Think Web.■John K. Hartman is a professor ofjournalism at Central MichiganUniversity in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.He is the author of two books,“The USA Today Way 2: The Future”(2000) and “The USA Today Way”(1992). He has examined much ofthe research done on young adultnewspaper readership and is awidely quoted source on the topic.Jacqueline Hartman provided editingassistance to the author.John.Hartman@dacor.net.Lessons Worth Learning About Young ReadersYoung people will read newspapers and creative minds are figuring outhow to reach them.By Tom CurleyIreally like something that the Frencheditor Francois Dufour said aboutgetting young people interested inthe news. Dufour is pioneering thedevelopment of successful newspapersaimed at particular age groups, and hemade an important observation aboutteenaged readers: “Sports and musicnews are very difficult to cover becausethe audience is split among many differentpassions. You can’t say ‘I’m doinga newspaper for teenagers.’ Youhave to remember you’re writing for asegmented audience.”That’s excellent advice. It wasn’t solong ago that most newspapers had“women’s” sections, until it dawnedon editors that the label stereotyped,patronized and risked alienating halftheir readership. We shouldn’t have tolearn that lesson all over again withyoung readers.But having said that, there are somegeneral things that can be said aboutthe kind of news publications that willdraw readers of high school and collegeage. Again I turn to Dufour. I’mfamiliar with Dufour because at USAToday we made a careful study of whathe was doing as we looked for ways tomake our own publications more appealingto younger audiences. Hereare some of his prescriptions that Iconsider right on target:• Make it quick. Teenaged readers willgive you 10 minutes if you’re lucky,so your paper better offer fast-pacedwriting and easy layouts to navigate.• Make it newsy. Of course sports andentertainment are important. Butyour target is young readers whomight pick up a newspaper, andthose are most likely to be readerswho have a genuine interest in worldnews.• Make it useful. Information that helpsthem succeed at school, in or out ofclass, will bring these readers backfor more.I have a fourth nugget of wisdom,gleaned from The Collegiate ReadershipProgram that USA Today undertookin partnership with communitynewspapers and nearly 200 U.S. collegesand universities: Make it easilyaccessible and cheap. In fact, make itfree, or nearly so. A small surcharge ontuition and fees subsidizes the program,and the papers are stacked neardormitories or wherever they’re easyto pick up.The results are encouraging. Newspaperreadership on these campusesgrows by multiples, and many studentsstart reading more than one. An independentstudy shows that the newspaperhabit leads to greater interest inpublic affairs, which in turn spurs furthergrowth in newspaper reading. Thatmight be a good reason to hope for thesuccess of the free commuter tabloidsthat are now showing up in train andsubway systems of U.S. and Europeancities. These publications might kick-16 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young Readersstart reading habits where none existedand perhaps whet the appetitefor more.Another observation from the collegiateprogram is that male college studentsread more than their female classmates,mainly because of higher interestin sports news among young men. ButDufour’s work with younger readersshows that school-age girls and boysare equally interested in newspapers.So there’s a fifth recommendation: Startworking on enticing women readers toyour paper while they’re still in gradeschool.There’s plenty for the news businessto cheer about in all this. Despiteall you might have heard about theindifference of young people to newsand public affairs, the facts show thatthey will read newspapers and thatcreative people in our industry arefiguring out how to turn that basic factinto future subscriptions. Some of thatimportant work is now under way atThe Associated Press, and we will beexpanding the services and features weoffer that will help our members attractyoung audiences. ■Tom Curley is the president and CEOof The Associated Press. Prior to this,Curley was president and publisherof USA Today. In 1982, he becamethe original news staffer of USAToday after being asked in 1979 tostudy the feasibility of a nationalnewspaper.The Washington Post Reaches Out to Young Readers‘Put the journalism first, put the readers first, put the reporters first.And start to move.’In September Melissa Ludtke, editor ofNieman Reports, talked by phone withSteve Coll, managing editor of TheWashington Post, about his experiencesin trying to interest youngerpeople in his newspaper’s work. Excerptsfrom this interview follow.Melissa Ludtke (editor, NiemanReports): As managing editor of TheWashington Post, what have you beenmost interested in learning aboutyounger audiences and how their livesintersect or don’t intersect with whatnewspapers do?Steve Coll (managing editor, TheWashington Post): The first and mostimportant question is media use. Andclearly, there are generations risingwhose patterns of media use and informationretrieval are really quite differentfrom generations who have gonebefore them. And it’s not just the youngadults that the newspaper industryunderstandably concentrates on, butthe generations coming immediatelybehind them, whose use of instantmessaging and search technology isaltering in profound ways their relationshipwith information and media.That younger generation is cruciallyimportant to newspapers in part be-cause it is so large. It’s larger than thebaby boom generation.And so, the first thing I struggle tounderstand is how these changingmedia use habits connect to the kind ofjournalism we produce, not just in thenewspaper, but also on the Web. Andthen, as this generation ages, how canwe capture them across all of our platformswhile sustaining the businessmodel that makes the journalism wedo possible in the first place? It’s notenough to just find an audience as allof the dot-com venture capital investorsdiscovered. We have to find anaudience from which we can sustainjournalism that matters and that involvesresources.M.L.: Are there distinct fundamentallydifferent challenges now?Coll: Yes. And most of those involvethe breakout of the Web as the ubiquitousmedium. But I think it’s importantto see these challenges as a kind ofsynthesis, that is to say you have toconquer the new while you managethe inheritance in a successful and rationalway. If you think about it ingenerational terms, it is a duty and aneed of newspapers to serve the babyboom generation effectively until theypass, and we know for a fact that thebaby boom generation is going to readnewspapers well into its 80’s and do soloyally, and that’s very important forthe future of newspaper-based companies.And the generation that comesafter them, the evidence suggests theyare going to have a less deep and lessloyal relationship with newspapers. Butthey’re going to have some relationshipas they age as well. So that platformand the journalism, and the newsroomculture, and the resources, andthe organizational charts that serve itmust continue even while you constructthe transition. That’s what makesit so interesting.It’s not a radical break. It’s a reallyenergetic and creative evolution thattries to hold both fronts together—thedefensive and the offensive front—andreally pull them together, so they’renot fighting with each other but youare really just moving in the right patternin both of these directions.M.L.: Both directions at the sametime. Is that physically possible?Coll: This is a big advantage of theWeb. In comparison to previous revolutionsin media technology, the Webis much friendlier to newspapers thanNieman Reports / Winter 2003 17


Young Readersthe last couple of media.M.L.: Do you mean broadcastmedia and cable?Coll: You start with radio,then television, then cable television,and each of those mediachanged the way Americansand the world interactedwith news and media. And theycertainly undermined the previousprimacy of newspapers.But each of those media wasnarrower and much less compatiblewith what newspapersdo journalistically. Broadcastnews across television, it’sabout the pictures first of all.Secondly, the delivery systemof television news is really quitenarrow. It’s a small pipe topour information into; it’s whatyou can fit onto a screen overtime. Thus even the best of thenetwork news programs at theheight of the networks’ powerin the mid-60’s were pretty limitedas sources of informationabout what happened in theworld yesterday; only 27 minutesof what a newsreader orscattered correspondentscould voice in that period oftime.By contrast, the Web is infinitein its spatial characteristics.It much more resemblesthe supermarket that a newspaperis. It has no constraintson time or space, yet it has many of theproperties that make a newspaper attractiveas a source of news. It’s continuouslyavailable, it’s easy to update,and so forth. And the Web is not thatexpensive to operate in comparison toa television network. So in some sort ofbig picture sense, I think the Web andnewspapers are more compatible thansome other technologies trying to partnerand win allegiances of audiences.M.L.: That brings me back to theconundrum you face in terms of retainingthe business model that allows youto be a generator of news reporting ina way that you want to be for yourThe Washington Post Sunday section for young readers.current audience.Coll: Right, and that’s at the heart ofthe matter in a sort of medium-runsense because part of the problem whenyou think about the synthesis we’vebeen discussing is what is the scaleultimately of the Web business? Nobodyknows. How much revenue ultimatelywill it generate, and how effectivewill it be in supporting thenewsgathering resources that we’veinherited?We know that the newspaper platform,while eroding in some long-termstructural sense, is very supportive ofthe newsgathering resources and culturethat we’ve built up. So it’smore important in that sensethan the unproven model ofthe Web. On the other hand, ifyou don’t invest in the Weband discover what its potentialis, then you are absolutely foreclosingthe possibility of makingthis transition successfully.In a historical sense, we’rereally very early in this story.It’s only five years since theWeb broke out, and here’s whatwe know: The Web has becomeubiquitous in Americansociety. The rate of take-up isjust astonishing in comparisonto other technologies ofits kind. The rate of penetrationis just huge, and the paceat which that take-up has occurredis mind-boggling. Thereis no way that’s going to reverse.Secondly, we know thatthe audiences that have participatedin this revolutionwant to use this medium fornews. And so they are turningto Web news sources in verylarge numbers. At The WashingtonPost, the total audienceacross all platforms that consumesour journalism hasroughly quintupled in fouryears. That accounts for anenormous new Web audiencethat we’ve attracted. So that’sanother lesson we’ve nowlearned: There is a large audiencethat wants to consumejournalism on the Web, the kind ofjournalism we and other newspapersproduce.Now there’s one other big piece ofthis that we don’t know: What kind ofbusiness model is the Web piece goingto produce by way of scale, and what isthe pace at which that business modelwill emerge? And what are going to bethe limits? Is this going to scale tobasically the size of a radio station, inwhich case over 30 or 40 years it’sgoing to be difficult to support thenewsroom outside my glass window?Or is it going to be the first in a seriesof ways in which news organizationslike ours deliver quality journalism of a18 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


traditional type across multiple platformsto large audiences and in doingso are rewarded by the marketplaceamply to continue with that kind ofjournalism? I don’t know. I don’t knowwhat will happen over the next 20years, but I think that’s the question.M.L.: Can you take one news productand successfully put it across thesedifferent platforms?Coll: Well, you have toevolve. You have to continue tooperate in ways that serve thenext day’s newspaper withoutyielding an inch. That is still thefirst priority. But in doing soyou have to change to deliversimultaneously to this new andcrucially important medium.This is where managementcomes in—figuring out how todo both of those things best notby operating from some theoreticalmanual, but by usingcommon sense and a close adherenceto the journalism. Putthe journalism first, put thereaders first, put the reportersfirst. And start to move. Youhave to insist on change becauseif you don’t you won’tevolve, and you’ll miss this opportunity.But you also have towork from the ground up.One of the problems withthe Web is that it’s always on,and a newspaper is used to operatingonce a day. So in starting to producejournalism for a Web site, you need tomove across the clock in ways that youdidn’t before and initially in doing thatit can be disruptive and cause anxietyin the newsroom. But once you getyour feet under you, you realize that inmany respects, but not all, it’s quitecompatible with what you would wishto do to make a great newspaper thenext day. You end up having colleagueswho are paying attention to the newsearlier in the day than anyone else atthe newspaper used to be. You havecycles of coverage that push you towardsthe edge of the story earlier inthe day than you might have if you wereonly going to write once at six o’clock.Anyway you have this enormous audienceon the Web that is just very excitingto be in touch with, and when youstart to engage with them they stimulateyou as a journalist. They push you,they give you feedback, they respondto your work, they consume what youdo with real relish, and that energizesthe newsroom.It’s not easy. I don’t mean to soundThe Washington Post’s free newspaper for young commuters.Pollyannaish about it, and I know thereare tensions between the two missions,but most of the time those tensions areminor in comparison to the sense ofenergy and excitement that this kind ofjournalism injects into the newsroom.M.L.: This past August The WashingtonPost launched Express. It is a newspapercreated with younger readers inmind. It’s not a Web-based experience,but readers hold it in their hands, andit reads like a tabloid. It’s a quick newsread, particularly appealing to thosewho are maybe college age up to probablymid-30’s. Can you explain the editorialthinking behind Express and howit fits into this kind of discussion we’vebeen having?Young ReadersColl: To see how it fits in you kind ofhave to start where it began and thenfollow its evolution. About five or sixyears ago a Swedish company calledMetro rolled out the model that Expressrepresents. They began publishingin Europe a commuter-orientedfree sheet that is now given away onsubways in some American cities. Andthese papers have certain characteristics,a kind of structure of circulationand advertising and abusiness model in which youcould produce a quick readnewspaper that was not tabloidin its journalistic sensibilityand yet would appeal, byits brevity and its graphic designand other characteristics,to public transportation riderswho were nonreaders ofnewspapers.The key facet of the Expressmodel, from my pointof view, in terms of readership,is that every free sheet ofthis kind—in the United Statesand in Europe—has succeededbecause it appeals tononreaders of newspaperswho are nonetheless attractiveto advertisers. These tendto be younger males commutingon public transportationto jobs early in their careers.Sometimes it appeals to immigrantsand others who relyon public transportation inbig metropolitan areas like ours. Butwhen we looked at the available researchacross a variety of companiesand models, we concluded that eventhough there is an overlap around theedges, these papers succeed withoutcannibalizing in a serious way the readershipof existing broadsheet qualitynewspapers.Overall these are not readers of newspapers.Now why does that fit into ourearlier conversation? In part, it’s anattempt to capture generations andjust find different platforms to deliverto different audiences, but we thinkthere’s maybe more of an opportunitythan just that. Perhaps by operatingintelligently, Express can cross-promotethe Post’s Web site and the news-Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 19


Young Readerspaper, and over time we can migratesome meaningful minority from thenonreader status on the subway tohabitual users of the Web site and perhaps,even over more time, subscribersto the newspaper. I don’t know howmany nonreaders of newspapers willultimately migrate to The WashingtonPost through an Express strategy, but itcan’t hurt. We certainly won’t lose anyoneby trying, and I do think that in theresearch there is evidence that audiencesthat connect to Express are likelyto be Web users for news and information.At a minimum we can migrate asignificant number of people from Expresstowards washingtonpost.com andtowards its search functions. And oncethey become part of our community onthe Web, then that’s good. From therethey may deepen their relationship withthe newspaper in some respects.M.L.: With some of these subwaypublications, there has been criticismthat they are dumbing down the newsto appeal to these younger audiencesand thereby not upholding the standardsof journalism. Is there a concernthat you are introducing a differentkind of news reporting to a youngergeneration, somehow diluting whatjournalism is?Coll: In the case of Express, thisdoesn’t worry me. I think it’s a legitimatequestion, but it doesn’t worry mebecause what’s in Express are wireservice stories. It does not have a tabloidsensibility. The content in Expressis quite hard news driven and derivedfrom The Associated Press primarily,from the Los Angeles Times, and off ofthe wire service secondarily. It’s not adifferent kind of journalism. It’s verysolid journalism. I think of it more asheadline news. It’s just a sense of scaleand brevity and graphic design. There’sno question that time use is changingin our culture and the need that everyonefeels, even people who are veryseriously interested in news, for efficiencyand speed is greater than it wasa couple of generations ago.M.L.: The Washington Post haslaunched a Sunday section with lots ofgraphics and charts that you werequoted as calling “webby and experimental.”Coll: We launched a section calledSunday Source. It is a straightforwardnewspaper section. In content terms,in many respects, it is derived from themainstream of service journalism thatwe and other newspapers do. It wasdeveloped in part to address a structuralproblem in our Sunday newspaper,which was kind of a historicalaccident. Monday through Saturday wehave all of these vertical sections thatprovide really rich lifestyle and servicejournalism: We have a broadsheethealth section on Tuesday, a food sectionon Wednesday, a home section onThursday, a very robust entertainmentsection called Weekend on Friday, andwe do real estate on Saturdays.On Sundays, we have a travel section,but these resources we’d built upin the newsroom that produced all ofthis exciting service journalism wereunderrepresented in the Sunday paper.So part of what we were trying todo was to pull them together into anews section in a Sunday paper thatcould draw on all of this expertise andstaff that we’ve built up over the yearsto deliver something extra on Sundays.So that was step one. Then step twowas, okay, let’s execute this in a waythat is designed to try to include, if notdirectly target, younger readers. Let’snot execute it in a way so that it isdesigned and presented with sort ofbaby boomer design and journalismsensibilities only in mind. Let’s try tothink about presentation, format, lookand feel that tries to go down a generationor two. And what would that mean,and how do you connect it to thesensibilities that seem to attract largeyoung audiences on the Web?And so we ended up with a sectionthat in design and presentation termsis closer to the Web than anything elsewe publish or design. It’s more graphicdriven.There is less pure text, morestories broken down into componentparts and presented through graphicsand captions and boxes and such. Obviously,this look and feel is derived insubstantial part from design innovationpioneered by USA Today and others.And also fundamental to this section,in a more traditional way, arepages of listings and sort of calendarand entertainment functions that wethought were missing in our paper onSunday.M.L.: What mechanisms have youput in place at the Post to assess andmeasure ways that these approachesare working or not working?Coll: We’ve got a terrific researchdepartment and we do quite a lot ofresearch both on a sort of project basisand on a continuing basis to measureperceptions of the paper and the Website.M.L.: Is this done through focusgroups?Coll: No. We do scientificallygrounded quantified research of thesort where you need a pretty largesample size to get to some level ofvalidity.M.L.: Have you gotten any feedbackfrom this yet?Coll: Yes, we’ve gotten some feedback,which is very positive. We didresearch before we launched SundaySource to make sure we weren’t delivering“new Coke” in some way that wecouldn’t perceive. It’s sort of not surprisingthat an organization of this sizewith all the talent can get somethingout the door that people would generallylike.The more important question is overtime, where does it lead us? How doesit help us, or to what degree does ithelp us? Because of the ownership wehave and the resources we have thePost is very much of a long-run place.This section’s place in the Sunday paperis something that we will all measuremore in the long run.M.L.: As these younger generationsget older, can you envision 20 yearsfrom now how they’re going to look atthe newspaper as part of the way theywill take in news?20 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young ReadersColl: I wouldn’t pretend to see thefuture in 20 years out, but I think youcan start to sketch it. Some of this is justmy hope, but I think that if you lookbackward 200 years and ask what valuesand needs of an open society likeours are likely to endure, then youwould say that the American peopleare always going to want to be wellinformedby independent journalistswho hold government accountable andwho report on the exercise of powerand the world we live in. And they willsupport organizations that deliver thenews they need in attractive and accurateand reliable formats.And what’s the delivery system? Andwhere do newspapers fit in that? Thebaby boomer generation is going tolive until 2020, so newspapers are goingto be a part of the delivery systemfor at least 20 years. Can you connectthe community of readers and the journalismand resources that produce itover those 20 years to other platformsthat are equally ubiquitous and excitingand attractive—the always-on Webdelivery, mobile Web delivery, newsand information that arrives in your carwithout causing you to drive into atree, and news and information thatarrives across your cell phone? Or willnews and information be customizedfor you in an intelligent way so you cantake advantage of the Post’s independentreporting about your school districtto go deep on the subjects thatmatter to you and your neighbors?When your local government interactswith you, what role does The WashingtonPost play in helping you to evaluateyour government’s performance? Is itonly going to be the story that we writein the newspaper the next day, or willour journalism across other platformsincluding the Web also be a part of theway you live as a citizen and as a curiousAmerican?Journalism is going to survive. Thetrick for people who have jobs likemine is to muster it and manage it sothat we can preserve the quality andtraditions we’ve inherited, and they’recertainly under pressure. And I don’tknow that we’ll succeed, but I certainlydon’t take failure for granted, either. ■Retaining the Core While Reaching Out to the YoungWhat is needed is a talented young staff, fresh ideas, and a solid business plan.By Henry B. Haitz IIIThe numbers speak for themselves.During the past 20 years,total newspaper readership hasdeclined, and the younger the reader,the faster the decline. At newspapers,executives are working to keep theirproducts relevant and meaningful totheir potential audiences. But eventhough newspapers provide a hugevariety of news, advertising and information,often they do so while speakingrelatively the same way to all readers.To increase our value to youngadults—for purposes of this article,those between the ages of 18 and 24—we will need to speak to them differently.By speak, I am talking aboutfinding different ways to present ournews, advertising and information tothem. Spend time with young peopletoday and you’ll know what I mean.In cities and communities acrossthis country, new approaches are beingtried to attract young adults tonewspapers. In Chicago, each of themajor papers now publishes a subwaytabloid: RedEye from the Tribune, RedStreak, the product of the Sun-Times.There is Trib pm in Pittsburgh, Expressin D.C., and other serious efforts. ESPN,The Magazine has a median reader ageof 30.7, while at Sports Illustrated (SI)the comparable figure is 38.1. Realizingthis, in the fall SI began the weeklySI on Campus that has become part ofcollege student newspapers throughoutthe country. And ESPN2 is joiningthe weekday morning show competitionwith Cold Pizza, aimed at youngmale sports fans.University ReadershipProgramSix years ago Graham Spanier, presidentof Pennsylvania State University,pioneered what has become the modeluniversity newspaper readership program.In dorms and from racks aroundthe campus, students can pick up TheNew York Times, USA Today, and theCentre (Penn.) Daily Times every weekday.The cost to students is discountedby the newspapers and paid for as apart of every student’s tuition. Independentresearch (available at psu.edu/ur/newspaper—see Pulse) has shownthat students find the program valuableand, not surprisingly, it turns outthat accessibility, proximity and a lowprice are the major factors affectingreadership.On an average weekday, studentsusually pick up 2,300 copies of theCentre Daily Times, 2,400 copies ofThe New York Times, and 3,300 copiesof USA Today. And this reading has notstopped them from also reading theircollege newspaper, The Daily Collegian,which has a press run of about18,000 copies. So much for youngadults not reading newspapers!It is important to place this effort inthe context of our region’s demographicsand our newspaper’s history andmission. Centre County has a populationof 140,000; 32 percent of thecounty’s adults and 44 percent of StateCollege’s 42,000 adults are 18 to 24,compared with the national average of13 percent. We know that about 55percent of adults in the county readour newspaper each weekday, whilejust 21 percent of those between theNieman Reports / Winter 2003 21


Young Readersages of 18 and 24 do.These young non-newspaper readerspresent us with a great challengeand opportunity. The Centre DailyTimes has a 25,000 daily readership(34,000 on Sunday) and has beennamed the best of the state’s newspaperof its size for six consecutive years.Last year it was named Newspaper ofthe Year by the Pennsylvania NewspaperAssociation Foundation. At aboutthis same time, we engaged Urban &Associates to help us do some strategicplanning. Our key initiative: to createcontent tailored to the 18 to 34 agegroup, primarily at those between theages of 18 to 24, andimprove our paper’saccessibility to that agegroup as well. DanCotter, Urban’s COO,provided strong guidanceto us during ourexploration.The university readershipprogram hadshown us that this agegroup had an interestin our newspaper.Then, using our ownindependent research,we learned that studentsregarded ourpaper as the bestsource for finding a job,a place to live, and buyinga car. No other publicationcame close onthose measures, andwe were rated numberone in other key areasas well. Learning thismade us feel it was importantthat we continue to reach themthrough our newspaper, but wethought it was also important not tomake changes to our core product andpossibly endanger our strong existingrelationship with current readers.The Newspaper’s NewApproachWhat had brought us success was wrappingour newspaper with a sectionabout football content on Penn Stategame days. We also had wrapped welcomingcontent around newspapersfor those staying at participating hotels.Both were traditional broadsheetwraps. And we’d had success with aweekly entertainment tabloid calledWeekender and More. So as we consideredwhat we’d do next, the idea surfacedof combining the best of each ofthese in a colorful tabloid section thatwe would wrap around the core newspaper.We also appreciated that this newsection had to be available to our targetaudience at all the places they were—which meant providing it off-campus,too. Initially we decided on selling theA cover of Blue, the Centre (Penn.) Daily Times’s wraparound.papers (with the wrap-around section)at single copy locations located downtown,across the street from campus,in and near apartment complexes, andalong bus routes. While geographiczoning happens routinely in largermarkets, our strategy involved creatinga combined geo-demographic product.To develop ideas for the wraparound’snews and information, a taskforce was created and then, a whilelater, a new staff was brought togetherto make these ideas happen. Researchtells us that entertainment and sportsare related to high readership amongthis age group, and we knew theirinterest in local news. Our newspaper’svice president and executive editor,Bob Heisse, has been instrumental inmaking this a reality. Because we knewinvolvement of young people is criticalto its success, Heisse hired very talentedstaff members in their 20’s toproduce content for what would becalled Blue (Penn State’s color). Theeditor of Blue is in her mid-20’s andmost of the other staff members are intheir early 20’s. Heisse continues to bethe seasoned top editor who theseyoung people need, as heprovides leadership andguidance required to publisha daily section. And hedoes this while still overseeingthe rest of the newspaper.In our planning process,we envisioned that out ofour newspaper’s local newscoverage would emerge thetop local issue of the day,as seen from young adults’perspectives, with referencemade to other localcoverage inside the CentreDaily Times. A standard featureof our prototype wraparoundwas that it referredreaders inside to our coreproduct. On the entertainmentbeat, we planned onfeaturing an “around townguide” to let students knowwhat’s going on that nightand the next, as well asother related features.Sports was designed to include informationabout Penn State athletes andathletics. And we developed partnershipswith The Philadelphia Inquirerand Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to get dailysports commentary from them. Thisserved to link students to hometownnews; the majority of Penn State studentsare from Pennsylvania and followtheir hometown sports, especiallypro sports.Once a prototype was developed,we held a series of focus groups. Wewere somewhat surprised. Practically22 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young Readersevery young adult was enthusiasticabout Blue and its tabloid size. Theywere most interested in the “aroundtown guide” and the hometown newsfeatures, which includes two pages ofshort articles from towns around thestate. These focus group participantsalso let us know that they didn’t likebeing stereotyped as only caring aboutsex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Thoughinterested in those things, that didn’tdefine all of their interests. For us to doso felt patronizing to them.Comments made during the focusgroups also revealed that they likedcoupons and any information thatwould help them toidentify where gooddeals could be found.They also said that informationabout jobswas important to them,not just jobs for careersbut also jobs to earnmoney while they werein school. Because ofour research, we knewthat more than half ofPenn State’s studentsare employed, so hearingthese comments, aswell, made us decideto have a job pagetheme two times eachweek.They also told usthey didn’t want thetabloid cover to appearin the vertical “portrait”format because that’snot the way it sat in therack. They preferred ahorizontal “landscape”format, so that is what we use. Theyalso said they wouldn’t read the studentnewspaper any less if Blue waspublished. They felt that the two productswere different enough—and eachof value to them—that they’d still wantto get their campus news.Lessons LearnedA Blue cover image.Once Blue got going, we learnedquickly how good its cover needs to be.Along with how our inside referencesare presented and if they adequatelyportray the benefits for readers to moveinside, Blue’s cover is a critical piece.We received some helpful tutoring froma designer for the Philadelphia DailyNews. But we also learned that ourcover’s look needs a different feel fromthe tone of most newspaper pages.We’re now getting feedback from publicationslike Maxim so that we canbetter understand the formula theyuse to attract readers.Another big lesson is in marketingand awareness. It’s not enough to putBlue on the street and expect the audienceto know what’s inside and pick itup. The marketing of something newor different is expensive and time consuming.I won’t venture too far astrayinto the business side, including advertising,but without a solid businessplan a newspaper is not going to makesomething like this work in the longrun. We’ve spent as much time on all ofthese marketing issues as we have ondeveloping its content. Along the waywe discovered, for example, that somehome delivery customers were upsetthat they couldn’t get it. And our downtownsingle copy sales have gone sowell that we plan to distribute the sectionin almost all single copy locationsin the two zip codes closest to campus.We’re not sure what is going to happen,but we believe it’s worth a solidtry.Challenges AheadWhile I believe our news staff will continueto provide strong content, andour covers are improving, my biggestconcern remains our ability to generategreater awareness for this venture’sbenefits. It’s an expensive enterprisethat requires a business plan in whichthe revenues exceed its costs. Anotherimportant considerationwith our younger readersis the transient nature oftheir lives. This means thatwe continuously need tofind ways to remind ourpotential audience aboutthe value of our productand this section and do somore than needs to be donein an average, less transient,market.Despite the challengeswe face, I’m quite optimistic.So far this semester thepickup rate for the CentreDaily Times is up 10 percentfrom before Blue waswith our newspaper. TheNew York Times is upslightly and USA Today isnow down in double digits.Young adults who readBlue offer positive feedbackand advertisers are startingto catch on. It’s also beeninvigorating to see a young,talented news staff that is so enthusiasticabout its work. It will require thatkind of sustained passion if we’re goingto succeed. That is just one of thethings that can make newspapers suchfun and fulfilling places to work. ■Henry B. Haitz III, president andpublisher of the Centre (Penn.) DailyTimes, is to become president andpublisher of the Bradenton (Fla.)Herald in January 2004.hhaitz@centredaily.comNieman Reports / Winter 2003 23


Young ReadersHow a Newspaper Becomes ‘H.I.P.’To attract younger readers, a newspaper needs to be ‘human, interactiveand personal.’By Colleen PohligMove over, boomers. At 78 millionbetween the ages of 39and 57, you used to be themost coveted population in America.Until Generation Y, that is, who haveyou beat by about 10 million. At 16 to24 years old, the older part of the Gen-Y’s are a powerful, cashwielding,get-it-while-it’s-hotgroup of 32 million youngadults, who spend about$200 billion annually andinfluence another $300-400billion in spending.While the 2003Scarborough Report tells usthat a healthy number of 18to 24-year-olds regularly reada newspaper—38 percentnationally—there is no guaranteethis will continue orthe percentage will increaseas they get older. In fact,there’s plenty to suggest itwon’t. Newspapers are upagainst a behemoth we allknow about, the Internet.There is also a potentiallyruinous trend that most ofus are just waking up to:This generation uses newsdifferently than their parentsand grandparents. If theycan’t interact with it, theywill go—and are going—elsewhere.Searching forSolutionsWhat, then, will attract themto newspapers? What is thefuture of newspapers if theydon’t start subscribing? Whyare this generation’s newspaperreading habits so differentfrom previous genera-tions? In the newspaper business, all ofus are asking these questions and scramblingto implement different solutions,usually partial ones—a teen page here,a tabloid section there, an entertainmentspread somewhere else.I don’t think anyone has yet foundNext appears every Sunday in The Seattle Times.what we’d call “the solution.” This isperhaps because I don’t believe thereis one, in the sense that a newspapercan do any one thing to capture youngreaders’ attention. What connects thisgeneration to information and news istoo complex to fit into our formulas.They are too savvy about marketingand too sophisticatedto fall for a moderate tweak ofthe passive service most of usprovide in our print product.It’s no longer enough to offernews and expect people toaccept what we offer as thelast word. Nor is it enough toallow the usual politicians andloudest voices to dominate theink. Or to believe that “connectingto the community”only means printing a dozenletters to the editor each day.This generation craves—no, demands—debate andparticipation in the news. Insteadof waiting for news toreach them, often they determinewhat “news” is in theirown blogs, in chat rooms, andin online forums. How theyuse news is all about handsondebate and involvement ina continuous and evolvingmarketplace of ideas. By becomingpundits about issuesaffecting them and their peers,by being observers and commentators,they are breakingdown what they perceive tobe the elitist attitude of toomany newsrooms. And they’redoing it all with the click of amouse or the tap of a stylusand with a steady discourseabout political and social issuesand trends in their dailylives—trends most newspa-24 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young Readerspers show no indication of knowinganything about.An unmistakable example of thisnew communication tool is Weblogs.Most blogs are written by your averageJane or Joe who take on a pundit’s roleby reading and thinking in a way thatnewspaper “experts” or usual sourcesrarely do. The few newspaper blogsthat exist are hugely popular, largelybecause they allow the reader to seethe journalist as a human being, connectingwith them without the stiff,imperial we voice that turns so manyyounger people off. And most blogsallow—indeed, thrive on—reader interaction.What Can Be Done?To compete with the Internetand have a chance at attractingyoung people, newspapersmust offer them a combinationof goods: authentic andedgy news coverage, more internationalnews, stories withmore young voices, fresh writingand designs, interactiveoptions such as blogs and forumsand, perhaps most importantly,flexibility.Letters to the editor? Lose’em—unless you print almostall of them online, allowingthe collection of comments tomorph into a marketplace ofideas instead of today’s typicalpractice of selecting a fewletters worthy enough to makethe one page allotted daily tocommunity dialogue.Young reporters in thenewsroom? Stop shuntingthem off to school board meetingsand teaching them towrite to the same 50-year-oldwhite homeowner whomnewspapers have always writtento. Encourage them toweave whimsy into their newsstories along with the facts, towrite something they wouldenjoy reading. Instill in all reportersthe need to considerdifferent generations when reportingand writing, breakingdown for young, old and in-betweenwhat the latest news means for them.Write shorter but with substanceand authority. This generation is allabout quick-hit information gathering—notdumbed-down news, mindyou, just shorter, smarter news stories.Many in this crowd stick to opinionpages where they can get both a senseof what happened and a point of view,so they can form their opinions anddebate with peers, on and offline.This crowd also craves more internationalnews. It is the most ethnicallydiverse generation of any—6.8 millionpeople in the United States describethemselves as being more than oneNext features opinion pieces by young writers.race; of those, 42 percent are under 18,according to the Yankelovich’s summaryof 2000 Census data. They realizethey are part of the global system and,as such, want to know how they fit intoit. Since the September 11th terroristattacks, a majority in every generationindicate they are more interested ininternational news than two years ago,but it is members of Gen-Y who showthe highest jump: 74 percent of themsay “it is important to me to keep upwith international news,” up from 65percent prior to the attacks, accordingto Yankelovich.Young people care about social issuesand politics and want to know inparticular how events inthese realms relate to them.This is a smart bunch; theyknow the world is full of warand crime and injustice, butthey also want to read aboutreal people—locally and internationally—whoare tryingto make a difference.As newspaper editors andmanagers, make some or allof these changes. But don’texpect newspapers to everbe able to cultivate the sameloyal readers who turn onlyto your paper as the day begins.And this is a good thing.The world is too complexfor anyone to read one paper,or look at one Web site,or listen to one news program.The Seattle Times’sApproachAt The Seattle Times, we’retrying to attract and servemore young readers in a varietyof ways. One piece ofour strategy is Next, a freshnew opinion page writtenby and for young readersevery Sunday in The SeattleTimes’s op-ed section. Onthe Next Web site, readersfind an expanded—and interactive—versionof whatappears in the newspaper.We are also starting a blogNieman Reports / Winter 2003 25


Young Readerson the Next site called Nextopia. I amthe editor of Next and, at 31, am closeenough in age to the Next writers thatwe agree on much of what we’d like tosee in Next and in newspapers in general.Another piece is a companywidegroup of young people who examinethe paper and look for ways to make itmore appealing to youth, whetherthrough specific story ideas, designsuggestions, or bringing in youngpeople to give us their opinions. Oncethe newspaper’s budget picture brightensa bit, we plan to conduct moreresearch on local young people’s readinghabits and desires.Next is not the entire answer, but it’sone approach. And we’re seeing somegood results. Close to 400 young peopleapplied for 25 paid freelance positions.Healthy numbers of visitors check outthe Next Web site and interact in onlinepolls. Dozens of people send e-mailseach week responding to Next storiesand/or they submit guest columns forconsideration. Nearly 300 high schooland college educators use Next in theclassroom each week through ourNewspapers in Education program.Once a month, over greasy pizzaand cold pop, I meet with the Nextteam of freelance writers, all of whomare between 17 and 25 years old. Thesewriters come armed with well-researchedcolumn ideas to present anddebate with their peers and with severalyoung Seattle Times’s staffers. Wehelp them to focus their topics andsteer them to sources. They have aboutthree weeks to research and write eachopinion column. I edit them and typicallyoffer suggestions for revisions.Each Sunday, we print two to threecolumns on the page and run up toeight more a week online. We runnearly every letter on the Next Website.What sets Next apart from the rest ofthe paper are the personal perspectivesof this diverse group of youngwriters. Readers don’t come to thispage or the Web site for the freelancers’writing or expertise; they come to hearfrom peers about issues that matter.Others come to these pages so they canconnect with this younger generation.The writers aren’t afraid to get personalabout everything from thestruggles of living in a ghetto to beinga young gay male and a practicingCatholic to one young minority’s fearof becoming “whitewashed” at a mostlywhite college.Interestingly, Next freelancers oftenwrite about many of the same issuesthat members of older generations areconcerned about. The main differencefor our mostly young readers is notwhat they want to read about but howthey want the story told: They wantstories that help them understand whata particular issue means to them.Social Security is a good example.We believe thestories need to beedgier and morelocally focused ….Normally this topic seems incrediblyremote to these younger readers,largely because much of the coverageis written with those 50 years old andolder in mind. But here are some linesfrom a November story in Next aboutSocial Security: “Generation Y has aproblem—a voting problem. And thisis troublesome when politicians’ decisionstoday greatly influence whetherGen-Y will be able to rely on havingSocial Security pensions.” The writergoes on to explain how few youngpeople vote, which allows politiciansto make Social Security promises toboomers, who do vote. The writer goeson to break down the declining fundingpicture of this entitlement program.“This means,” she writes, “thatGeneration Y is paying into the systemnow, but won’t receive its fair share ofbenefits.”This is a good example of what Nexttries to accomplish: writers breakingdown complex political and social issuesthat matter to young people withoutlosing substance or dumbing themdown. Even as they include personalperspectives, opinions are alwaysbacked up by credible sources andrelevant information.In January 2004, Next will celebrateits one-year anniversary. We recentlytook a hard look at what works and,more importantly, what doesn’t andare implementing some changes thiswinter. We believe the stories need tobe edgier and more locally focused,and we’re tweaking the page designand pushing more flexible layouts.Next is a work in progress. And ifprogress means transforming valuablespace in the paper one day each weekand everyday online to create a placefor young people to communicate witheach other and the world, then we’resucceeding. After all, how many 22-year-olds’ opinions are respected—andprinted—in a major metro paper? Andhow many older readers have a chanceto understand and connect with theideas and opinions of Gen-Y, told bymembers of Gen-Y themselves?However, yes, Next is merely onepage, one day a week dedicated toyouth issues and opinions (though afew Next columns have appeared inthe rest of the op-ed section). And it ison, as some of our writers lovinglyrefer to it, the “ghetto page,” the backpage of the Sunday op-ed section.Next is one piece of the puzzle. It’sa start to seeking out and includingyouth voices and issues throughoutthe paper, to creating a more interactiveexperience for readers, and to connectingon a human level with a hugesector of the community that otherwisemight not pick up The SeattleTimes.To borrow a phrase from one of ourNext writers, newspapers need to be“H.I.P.”—human, interactive and personal.We will never be able to competewith the Internet on a level playingfield. But we can—andmust—become H.I.P. if we want tocontinue to serve and cultivate readers.■Colleen Pohlig is assistant editorialpage editor and Next editor at TheSeattle Times.cpohlig@seattletimes.com26 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Drawing Young Urban Commuters to a New Tabloid‘Even the name had to say, “Look at me. I’m not like the other papers.”’By Joe KnowlesYoung ReadersYouth is not the only thing wastedon the young. Newspapers havesquandered mountains of resourcesin attempts to capture the attentionof young adults, but so far mostof the effort has been in vain. Readershipstatistics among this coveted demographicgroup haven’t budged—exceptto move further downward.This is troublesome to all of us inkon-paperpeople, who don’t have tolook far to see a future where the onlypeople reading newspapers will be retirees.Rather than give up the fight,however, the Chicago Tribune decidedto engage it head-on. The result, introducedin October 2002, isthe RedEye, a tabloid editionaimed at young, urbancommuters in Chicago. Afterlearning of the Tribune’sdecision to launch RedEye,the Chicago Sun-Times beganworking on a youthoriented paper of its owncalled Red Streak.Thankfully there is still arobust market full of readerswho want a full-service,full-size paper, and they arewell served by world-classnewsgathering organizationssuch as the Tribune.RedEye’s mission was notto give those readers a “TribLite” or a “Tribune on TrainingWheels,” but rather torethink the traditionalnewspaper and edit it in away that it would be moreattractive and compellingfor these young nonnewspaperreaders. There weresome concerns that a newpaper might cannibalize existingTribune readers, butwe were confident wecould keep these lossessmall by making RedEye amuch different publication than itsolder, more established sibling.From these ideas, RedEye began totake shape: a smartly edited, generalinterestnewspaper that would be easyto consume on mass transit, a newbreed of newspaper with its own distinctidentity. Even the name had tosay, “Look at me. I’m not like the otherpapers.”RedEye’s Look and FeelRedEye’s visuals are bold, its storiesare quick and to the point. There areno “Continued on page …” lines. InA cover from the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye.study after study, focus group afterfocus group, readers kept telling usthey hated turning pages in midstory,especially while on a bus or train. Whynot listen to them? If people have 20minutes at most to spend with a paperon their way to or from work, why doso many papers still write and edit thenews as if everyone is leisurely readingit in an easy chair?To get attention in an increasinglycluttered landscape of media options,RedEye’s cover has a billboard format,designed for maximum impact in astreet-sales environment. The backpage isn’t sports, as it is in many tabloids,but instead is a destinationspace for the mostbuzz-worthy stories wecan find. This way, youhave something to readon the train even if youdon’t have enoughelbowroom to actuallyopen the paper. Sportstakes its place inside thebook, serving as thebridge from the news tothe features section. Thatfeels natural. Sports, bydefinition, fall somewherebetween reality and entertainment.Celebrity and peoplenews compete with “important”stories for primedisplay space in RedEye.Stories are judged on theirrelevance and the level ofinterest they are likely tocreate. If everyone is talkingabout Britney Spearskissing Madonna at theMTV Video Music Awards,the RedEye should be talkingabout it, too. Newspapersthat ignore thesetypes of stories are lookingdown upon their read-Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 27


Young Readersers from a very shaky perch.The stars of RedEye’s universe tendto be younger and more diverse—areflection of our readers. In RedEye’sworld, Jam Master Jay’s passing trumpsBob Hope’s. John Ritter vs. JohnnyCash? That turned out to be a decisionwe didn’t have to make because thetwo celebrities died on a day outside ofour weekday publishing cycle. If wehad to make the call, we’d have playedthe sitcom star over the music icon.Why? Ritter’s death was more unexpected,he was the star of a currentshow, and he meant more to a greaternumber of our readers, many of whomonly knew Cash from his recent remakeof a Nine Inch Nails song.Challenges Ahead for RedEyeOur approach to RedEye put off a lot ofmedia critics, who quickly dismissedRedEye and said it was just “dumbingdown” the news. Theyprobably said much thesame about USA Today orCNN’s Headline News, twoother vehicles—and successfulones, I might add—for delivering informationto people in a differentformat. It’s nice to knowthat as times and habitschange at a frenetic rate,we can count on mediacriticism to be a dependablesource of inertia andtraditionalism.The critics also chidedRedEye for recycling Tribunecontent. Maybe theywould have been happierif we used The AssociatedPress like most other paperslike ours do. In anycase, RedEye’s reliance onnonunique content hasdiminished as we’vegrown. No, we don’t havea Baghdad bureau yet, butwe are producing a substantialamount of originallocal stories and features.RedEye hasthree—soon to be four—reporters covering the city,not to mention its own cadre of columnists,a fashion writer, a TV critic, and amovie critic who goes by the name ofMr. Cranky.Still, it remains to be seen whetherRedEye or any of its numerous imitatorswill win this campaign. Perhapsyoung people who have never beenexposed to a daily newspaper habitwithin their households will never developone on their own. I asked ayoung journalism student if she feltnewspapers were an essential part ofher daily routine, and her answer wastelling. “I feel the need for information,”she said, “but I don’t feel theneed for a newspaper.”The biggest challenge remains gettingpeople to simply make the effortto pick up a paper—any paper. When aRedEye lands in their lap, they’re happyenough to read it, even downright enthusiasticabout it, but if they have tocross the street to find an honor boxRedEye finds most of its readers on the subway.and then fumble for a quarter—well,that’s too much trouble, they tell us.They want the news, but they want itwhen they want it, where they want it,and how they want it.RedEye wrestled with this dilemmawhen it came to defining what role ourWeb site (www.redeyechicago.com)should play. We knew young peoplehad an affinity for electronically deliverednews, but if we followed the dominantnewspaper model and put all ofour content online, how would thathelp us build a daily newspaper habit?We chose to make the site a “teaser,”with just a reproduction of the day’scover and a few summaries of our beststories. This might not be the ultimatesolution, but giving away valuable contentfor free in one format and askingpeople to pay for it in another didn’tseem like a viable long-term strategy,either. Most newspapers, the Tribuneincluded, have adopted a free accessmodel for reading thenewspaper on its Web site,but if news organizationswere to begin anew—aswe were doing—I’m notsure they would make thesame choice now that theydid then.This nexus of news delivery,in my opinion, iswhere the battle for futurereaders will be won or lost.Perhaps the newspapersubscription of the futureis a bundled product:print, Internet and customizede-mail, to fit the changingneeds and preferencesof this new breed of consumer.This notion of “mynews, my way” is whyRedEye initiated a homedelivery program last summer,even though it wasn’tpart of the original businessplan. We’d thoughtof street sales, but whensome readers told us “justput it on our doorstep,and I’ll write you a check.Don’t ask me to make adecision everyday. Let memake one decision and be28 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young Readersdone,” we offered home delivery. Thecost for five days delivery is a dollareach week (a 20 percent discount),and the Sunday Tribune can be includedfor another dollar (it normallycosts $1.79 for home delivery). So farabout 600 people have signed up forhome delivery of RedEye.Young people are also accustomedto getting much of their news free, orfor next to nothing. RedEye’s circulationmodel is an adjustable mix of freeand paid; currently the mix is about 90percent free, 10 percent paid. Retailoutlets and honor boxes are graduallybeing converted to paid-only, but wewill continue to offer free papers indefinitelyat certain transit stops and inplaces like college campuses wheretransactions can be difficult to conductand where we want to be sure we reachour desired audience. The idea of anall-free paper was seriously consideredin the beginning, but the companydecided that the news and informationwe were providing had value and readerswould recognize this and pay for it.Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly,advertisers have embracedRedEye more readily than readers.RedEye has picked up 250 new advertisingaccounts from clients who hadnever before been in a Tribune product.I’d like to think the ad folks areahead of the curve, but more likelythey’re just as desperate as newspapersare to reach new customers. Circulationnumbers are inching upward,though not as quickly as we had hoped.We are, however, reaching our targetaudience effectively, based on GallupPoll figures. And so far the only measurablecannibalizing of existing readershas come at the expense of ourcompetition.RedEye’s success won’t really bemeasurable for years. We won’t knowfor sure if this experiment worked untilanother upstart publication comesalong to attract the next generation,the one that no longer finds the tiredold RedEye relevant. ■Joe Knowles is coeditor of RedEye.Before his work on RedEye, he wasthe Chicago Tribune’s design andgraphics editor for two years andassociate sports editor for 10 years.Jknowles@tribune.comMeshing Young Ideas With Older SensibilitiesAt the Orlando Sentinel, reaching a younger audience is happeningwithout alienating their older one.By Elaine KramerThe young woman sat, chin restingin both hands, at a focusgroup session for 18- to 24-yearoldsfrom Central Florida. The moderatorhad asked whether the panelmembers typically get their news fromTV, the Internet, radio or the newspaper,in this case the Orlando Sentinel.“The newspaper is almost, like, outdated,”the woman said, “because thereare more entertaining ways to get thesame information.”It was a discouraging and ironicmoment, as the journalists watchingthe focus group recognized the unwantedtruth before them: This groupof long-shot potential readers generallyfelt it managed just fine withoutthe paper. Read it online? A slightlybetter possibility but still a slim one.The panel members said they wanttheir news provided to them whilethey do other things: multitasking isimportant. They want their news toreflect their lives more than it doesnow. They hate the idea of having papersstack up unread. And they want—and expect—their news to be free.The observing journalists grumbledat the focus group from the other sideof the one-way glass, as their reactionmoved from resentment to resolve: Wehave to figure this out. The job ofturning the 18 to 34 age group intoregular newspaper readers is complexand confounding. But it is in the handsof newspaper people, who are creative,competitive and not easily dissuadedfrom a task they believe in.Reaching the 18 to 34 demographicgroup is a strategic priority for theSentinel and its corporate parent, TheTribune Co., as circulation numbers atpapers nationwide continue to slide.In Orlando, the percentage of people18 to 24 who read the weekday paperfell 10 percentage points over the pastfive years and of people 25 to 34 it felltwo points. Sunday readership in theseage groups showed an even biggerdrop over the same period. Yet this agegroup represents—for newspapers justas for all consumer products—our longtermfuture. We need them to be customersfor what we produce.The solutions are out there, and Ibelieve they include:• New publications, sections or featuresthat address increasingly nicheinterests• Adding to staff diversity by hiringyounger journalists and doing moreto incorporate their ideas into ourcoverage• New pricing strategies recognizingthat, increasingly, people think newsshould be free• New delivery methods or formats.We need to make these kinds ofchanges while not alienating our ha-Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 29


Young Readersbitual readers, who become incensedand vocal when we tamper with theway things are. And we must maintainour standards and integrity to remainthe most credible, reliable news source.Something for EveryoneAttracting younger readers in itself is achallenge: They don’t have the newspaperhabit, are more comfortable withother media, and have interests andpriorities that newspapers tend to under-cover,possibly because most newspaperdecision-makers belong to anolder age group.And what kinds of content do youngadult readers want? They tell us throughreadership surveys and just for the askingthat they like writing that has personalityand voice. They also want tosee their lives reflected in our pages. Infact, they don’t want content targetedto them as a single, like-thinking group,and they don’t want their diversitymasked by a label such as Generation Yor Z. They get annoyed if we pigeonholethem as wanting only short andsimple stories, emphasizing that theyappreciate complex issues, too.Many of their statements are compatiblewith what older readers say.Both groups want lively writing and abroad range of topics. They like to besurprised, informed and entertained.Young adult readers as well as olderones count on the newspaper as themost credible source, considering itmore thorough than TV or radio andmore accurate and reliable than online.As one 18- to 24-year-old focus groupparticipant said, the paper may nothave a youthful image, but it has acredible one: “I have an image of aprofessor. You have a high opinion ofhim; you know he’s smart—but he kindof dresses funny.”Newspapers can and should feel safedeveloping sections or features theyknow will appeal to young adult readers.Content that generally “skewsyounger” will also attract older readers.This is simply because older readershave children or grandchildren whoare younger or at least because theyused to be young themselves and wantto keep up with what’s relevant in achanging world. They continue to counton newspapers for this information, asthey always have. This wouldn’t necessarilywork in reverse—young readerswith less life experience are unlikely tohave interest in niche content for olderreaders.An example at the Sentinel of olderreader interest in niche youth contentis a weekly page in sports called Rush,which covers extreme or “action”sports. We added the page early thisyear because of the subject’s growingpopularity nationwide and because ofits appeal to younger readers. A newfeature, its readership probably hasn’tsettled yet, however early results showit is doing fine with young readers—but it is most popular with readers ages55 and older.Papers should change their content—createnew publications, sectionsor features—to attract younger readers.In fact, we must do this and fast.However, the task only appears to becomplicated by a fear of alienating ourtraditional readers. The opposite istrue: They’re counting on us.A Seat at the TableNewsrooms sometimes get fat andstodgy about what is news; we coverthings we’ve always covered, with manyof the same beats and priorities we’vehad for years. Yet as the ReadershipInstitute’s data from a couple years agotold us, readers want to see their lives—regular people’s lives—better reflectedin the newspaper. This is true for allreaders, including those in the 18 to 34age group.An important step toward greaterrelevance is a more diverse staff ofjournalists. Most U.S. newsrooms haveworked hard to improve their culturaland ethnic diversity to enable us tocover our communities better. The nextimportant step is to include fully ourincreasingly diverse newsroom staffsin story idea generation and news decision-making.One group that needs tobe heard is young journalists.The Sentinel has tried a couple thingsto encourage participation.• All staff members were invited earlierthis year to a half-day informationaland brainstorming session onattracting younger readers, and approximately60 people from a staffof 340 showed up, most of themunder 35. The group’s most resilientideas were to write stories withmore voice and personality—inother words, narrative accounts andvivid stories told through the experiencesof real people. Participantsalso felt the paper’s front pagechoices and design should be morevibrant.• Out of that exercise we created aYoung Readers Task Force, whichobserved focus groups, did reportingin the community, and collectedbest practices from newspapers andother media around the country.This group’s most influential ideaswere to add a beat specifically forthis age group’s interests, to coverour colleges better, and to revampour weekend Calendar section. Theysaid we should write more storiesthat reflect the lives of youngeradults, such as practical informationfor first-time experiences (apartments,cars, marriages, children,home-ownership). These sectionsand features are in the works. A yetto-be-completedrecommendation isto add a younger metro columnist.The task force also recommendedadding at least one younger journalistat each morning’s news meetingto contribute ideas for coverage orspecific stories. That participationwas begun in November.• This follows a guest editor programwe initiated in 2002 to rotate staffmembers into the afternoon PageOne news meeting for two-week periods.The guest editor contributedideas for the Page One story list andled a daily critique of the paper.About one-third of the participantsin the first year of the program werebetween 18 and 34 years old. Theirspecific interests were as diverse asthe participants, but generally theythought our front page should beless predictable and our writingmuch more lively.30 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Those main points are consistentwith what readers of all ages have beentelling us. Again, we can take thesesteps recommended by and for youngerpeople without fearing an exodus byolder ones. This younger age grouphas the capacity and capability of enhancingour coverage, and it is in thestaff and readers’ best interest for editorsto tap this expertise.Can News Be Free?Content ideas that are purely newsroom-basedare easiest for editors tonurture or implement. Grander ideascome to fruition through collaborationwith other newspaper departments.One idea that would requirenewspaperwide—orindustrywide—exploration is ananalysis of papers’ pricing structures:Can we give readers thepaper for free? Should we returnto that newspaper financialmodel with which we began inthe 1700’s?I heard this expectation loudestand clearest from those 18-to 24-year-old focus group participants,but it was consistent with the informalreporting by the Sentinel’s Young ReadersTask Force. I wonder if it’s an expectationthat will take hold in otherage groups or if it will spread, overtime, as these younger readers age.The Tribune Company’s new paperaimed at young commuters in NewYork City, amNewYork, is free, as isThe Washington Post’s Express [seeExpress article on page 17], called apaper for “local residents on the go.”RedEye [see RedEye article on page27]. published in Chicago by the ChicagoTribune and designed for youngeradult readers, costs 25 cents, as doesthe competing Red Streak, publishedby the Chicago Sun-Times.People in this age group most frequentlyget their news and informationfrom electronic media. They tunein radio while they’re driving or gettingready in the morning, or they watch TVwhile they’re folding wash or catchingdinner. They consider this news to befree—they don’t factor in monthly cablebills or the cost of a new TV. They alsoget their news and information online,at home or at work, and they alsoconsider that free, without countingthe cost of Internet service providersor a computer. Then there’s the Sentinel,which costs 50 cents daily or $1.50on Sunday. This feels like real money,particularly to people ages 18 to 24.That’s the cost of a few beers a week.This group is happy to read thepaper when they can find one sittingaround, and they like feeling informed.As one focus group participant said: “Itgives you something to talk about. Thenthings that are related to it, you starttalking about. You start talking aboutone thing and then it changes.”Can we give readers the paperfor free? Should we return tothat newspaper financialmodel with which we beganin the 1700’s?But they don’t want to buy the paper,so they read pass-along copies atwork, at school, or at the coffee shop.“I’ve never bought the Orlando Sentinelor any other paper,” a focus groupparticipant said, “unless I needed it fora school project.”The cost isn’t that high, they acknowledge,but if they can get it free,why bother paying for it? “You cangenerally hear information from somebodyelse. If it’s really important, youwill find out,” a woman in an 18 to 24focus group said. The paper’s Web site,www.orlandosentinel.com, now requiresregistration, but is free and offersnearly all the newspaper’s coverage.Use of the Internet site is growingrapidly.Newspapers, I suspect, will have tofigure out how to deliver a newspaperfor free but also will have to get a lotbetter with other delivery channels asthey become more portable and affordable.First, people want to multitask. Oneman between 25 and 34 said he likesYoung Readerslistening to news on the radio. “I can’tlay sod and read the newspaper whileI’m laying sod.” A younger woman said,“A daily Sentinel TV show would begood.” Guess she hasn’t seen the 24-hour local news station the paper coowns.Second, people are really irritatedabout all the paper going into the trash.Of course they recycle, but the wholeidea of papers piling up bugs them.They feel particularly bad if they paidfor the newspaper, didn’t have muchtime and then had to toss it away,unread. “Every day would just be toomuch,” a young male reader said. “Itwould just be piling up.”This sense of overload and waste issomething we’ve heard fromreaders of other ages as well,particularly from the groups whohave children, aging parents, twojobs, and a house. Once again,what the younger readers aresaying is in sync with what wehave heard from their older compatriots.But the younger readersdon’t have the habit of newspaperreadership and will need alot of targeted content to attract them.The additional news and informationdesigned for the niche interests ofdiverse readers is the first step and insome ways will be the easy part, particularlyif we successfully tap the thinkingof younger reporters and editors.The harder parts will be new deliverymethods that fit into readers’ lives anda cost structure these readers can accept.But it all starts with reliable, credible,engaging stories, photographs andgraphics. Without the content, the restwon’t matter. ■Elaine Kramer is managing editor ofthe Orlando Sentinel. During 2003,she headed up the paper’s YoungReaders Task Force, whose missionwas to make recommendations tohelp improve the Sentinel’s readershipamong young adults.ekramer@orlandosentinel.comNieman Reports / Winter 2003 31


Young ReadersConnecting What Is Learned With What Is DoneAt Gannett, different strategies aim at the same goal of attracting younger readers.By Jennifer CarrollFrom: Gen-X readerTo: Boomer journalistSubject: Why should I read your newspaperanyway?Date: Not too late to change.So I guess my question is this. Why is yournewspaper so boring? You’ve got tons of infothat I really like when I actually have time to sitand wade through it all. And your local newsand sports are great. But you’ve got no style.You’ve got no edge. You certainly aren’t muchfun to read.Ouch. So began a Gannett taskforce report, culminatingmonths of review, discussionand introspection by a 19-membergroup of 25- to 34-year-olds. Task forcemembers dissected newspapers, readmagazines, watched broadcasts, sharedideas, pored over research, and sharedtheir views with journalists throughoutthe company. At issue: Young adultsare reading fewer newspapers, less often.Adults 25 to 34 years old are lesslikely to subscribe seven days a weekand are more likely to use multipleforums of media for news, includingthe Internet, radio and television.Issued in June 2000, this report wasone of Gannett’s initiatives to give newurgency to understanding and attractingyoung readers. During the pastfour years, we’ve spent countless hoursreviewing the data on young adults’reading habits, especially those betweenthe ages of 25 and 34. We’velistened to focus groups, studied newspapersin print and online, evaluatedavailable research, and tried out newgadgets including personal digital assistantswith text messaging, e-booksand more. When we asked whetheradults were really interested in news—especially local news—we confirmedthey are avid consumers of informa-tion. Young adults are Internet-savvy,multitasking and a headline-scanningcrowd, accustomed to getting free informationwhere they want, how theywant, and when they want.It is imperative that our newspaperskeep and grow these young adults asreaders, if not in daily print then online,in free niche weeklies targeted at theseyoung adults, and with other forms ofdelivery.This younger generation’s willingnessto alter the ways they approachwork, play and use of media is significantwhen we think about how to reachthem. This tells us that we need to offerboth the right content and presentation,including advertising. And thecontent needs to be available in theway they want to receive it and whenthey want to have it, whether in print,on the Web, or broadcast. And newspapersneed to promote their contentacross print, online and broadcast betterso young adults know that the coverageand information is there.Brad Robertson, a Gen-X Task Forcemember who is now director of businessdevelopment for The Des MoinesRegister, observes that “a black-andwhiteheadline with a long story is notenough anymore. Media habits taughtus we need poignant photos, art, breakoutboxes, charts, strong headlines,full color, Web links, cool ads, organizationand attitude.”In summer 2003, Gannett researcherAnne Suh conducted in-depth interviewswith 30 young adults from differentcommunities about their lifestylesand media habits. She also asked themto take photos of the places and peoplerelevant to their lives. Pictures theytook were revealing, offering a valuablewindow into the very customizedand constant way young adults get informationand news. One young mantook a picture of his favorite place—hisfamily room where a 50-inch TV screenis center stage in front of a comfortablechair and computer. The man enjoyswatching ESPN while surfing the Webfor other scores and sports updates.A young woman took a picture ofthe magazines to which she subscribes.She also goes to several Web sites daily,including the online local Gannettnewspaper. She has two children and afull-time job. There is scarce time inher daily routine to read a newspaper,though she makes time to look throughher magazines. Her photos were of herchildren, her favorite restaurants, andneighborhood. Friends call her “theInternet Queen.” She is a typical youngadult in her ability to get informationinstantly and share it just as quickly.Suh told us that these young adults“have a strong interest in hearing fromtheir peers or other ‘real people’ voices,shaped by the availability of voices onthe Internet.” As Suh observers, “Becausethey are accustomed to navigatingthrough so many media messages,questioning the source is a reflex response.”Confronting the ChallengeDavid Daugherty, Gannett’s vice presidentof research, describes the industrychallenge as transitioning from adaily newspaper-driven business to amultiple-media news and informationdelivery business. “Our most dauntingchallenge is producing a newspaperevery day that appeals to a generalaudience. If we intend to remain amass medium—and into the foreseeablefuture we do need to remain amass medium—we have to cast a wideenough net to draw in a large anddiverse audience. Our readers and, asimportant, our potential readers, arechanging faster than we are. We needto be quicker in adjusting to their news32 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young Readersand information needs, and we needto be more innovative with our products,including how we deliver newsand information to them,” saysDaugherty.Who are these potential readers?This year about 45 million Gen-Xer’sare turning 27 to 38 years old. The bulkof them are in their early to mid-30’sand more likely than ever to be enteringa time in their lives when newsevents usually matter more and informationnewspapers provide can be seenas useful. But research shows they won’tsimply pick up a daily newspaper andread. Then there is the huge Gen-Ygroup, numbering some 77 million.Born between 1977 and 1994, the oldestamong them turned 26 years old in2003, based on American Demographicsresearch.Throughout Gannett, we’re workingto understand and respond to thesignificant changes in the way membersof these younger generations usemedia. As part of our response to whatwe’re learning, newspapers are revampingcontent and presentation, experimentingwith new sections, launchingfree weeklies geared toward the interestsand sensibilities of young adults,improving online content, and expandingdelivery.The Detroit News, for example, targetsyoung adults with an array of specialsections covering such topics ashealth and fitness, eating and drinking,and personal finance. Its Money & Lifesection includes among its mix of storiesthe concerns and interests of youngreaders. A recent section featuredMoney Makeover, in which a local financialplanner offered advice to a 27-year-old engineer; 10 tips for smartshopping were given, showing howfamilies can trim $100 a month fromtheir grocery bills, and Nine to Fivefeatured workplace issues that includedadvice on “real life resumé mistakes toavoid.”The News also has a deep local Website with extensive coverage and informationon where to go and what to dothroughout the area and in Michigan.Jill Fredel, assistant managing editorat The News Journal in Wilmington,believes strongly in the need for a hardnews approach on Page One and thefirst page of local news. But she emphasizesthat: “trend stories and sophisticatednews features improve ourmix and also help us appeal to readersof all age groups, including 25 to 34’s.On Page One, that can mean a look atSixers’ fever during the NBA finals. Orit can be a story about the growingnumber of single homeowners, referringback to a package in Life & Leisure.”In The Idaho Statesman newsroom,editors have a new term—alternativepresentation—for incorporating compellingdesign techniques into routinecoverage. This is shorthand for breakinglarge passages of text into readableblocks. The emphasis on interesting,lively pages is a priority for a newsroomgroup of 25- to 34-year-olds whomeet regularly to discuss coverage.Young adult readers “want deep localnews, and they expect hard-hitting investigativecoverage, but they say themore serious and complex stories get,the harder we should work to breakthem up,” notes Executive EditorCarolyn Washburn. “We’re aggressivelyturning sidebars into graphics,” shesaid. For example, a recent front-pagebreaking news story on a local Boisebusiness was augmented by a packageof shorter breakouts with clear labels,color screens, photos and bar charts.Learning Never StopsOur ability to continue to attractyounger audiences means we cannotstop learning about them and theirmedia preferences. That is why our 25to 34 task force report was soon followed,in December 2001, by The XManual. This 300-page manual highlightedresearch on young adult readersand displayed extensive examplesfrom every section of Gannett newspapers.A recurring theme was that youngadults expect relevant, hard-hitting localcoverage from newspapers, includingsophisticated coverage of their livesand lifestyles. The manual went to allGannett newsrooms and was postedon a special company Web site.Within a year after The X Manual wasissued, Gannett conducted a companywide,in-depth review of print andonline coverage appealing to 25- to 34-year-olds. Young adult editors joinedothers in examining content and presentation.Particular focus was given tothe question of whether newspapersinclude coverage of issues of interestto young readers in their pages and ontheir Web sites. Five newspapers weregiven cash awards, and examples oftheir work were distributed throughoutthe company. [See an article aboutthe award-winning work of The ArizonaRepublic on page 34.] Editorsfrom these papers led companywideonline training sessions to share bestpractices in print and online. Similaronline training sessions also targetedyoung readers.Since the fall of 2002, free weekliesaimed at young adults have beenlaunched in several Gannett newspapers,with prototypes of others in theworks. The key to these launches hasbeen more research into the needs,wants, interests and lifestyles of youngadults. In focus group comments, 25-to 34-year-olds reminded editors thatmost of them were beyond college andthat many had started families and careers.What they want: Lively presentation,irreverence, photos and perspectivesof people their age, informationabout places to go and things to do.They also said they wanted authoritativecontent and depth.Rich Ramhoff, the 36-year-old editorand general manager of Noise, afree lifestyle and entertainment weeklyThe accompanying Web site to a freeweekly in Lansing, Michigan.Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 33


Young ReadersA free weekly in Boise, Idaho.in Lansing, Michigan, offers readersrelevant content by ensuring that hisyoung staff (aged 23 to 29 years old)stays tuned into what young peopleare doing in that city. “Creating a magazinethat caters to people in their 20’sand 30’s, who are diverse in everythingbut geography, is a hard mission,”Ramhoff said. Noise is produced separatelyfrom the Lansing State Journalnewsroom, and it maintains a separateWeb site (www.lansingnoise.com) witha colorful magazine-like feel. Noise hasdone stories on how to undo tattoosand about bands with ties to a famouslocal guitar store, as well as regionaltravel and music profiles. Each editioncontains ratings for best videos, books,music, DVD’s, trends and new products,and invites readers to weigh inwith their choices. An election-weekedition included an in-depth look atyoung reader views on local and stateissues. “Our greatest challenge has beento balance the interests of readers whowant a quick, fun publication with thosewho want a more in-depth look atissues,” Ramhoff said.Bridget Lux is the 30-year-old editorof the free weekly THR!VE in Boise,Idaho, and her experiences echo manyof those in Lansing. “While short stories,briefs and at-a-glance informationare all great, some stories need moredepth,” Lux said. THR!VE has publishedstories about environmental issues,such as fallout from chemicals used tokill mosquitoes and a clash over snowmobilerules in Yellowstone NationalPark. But it also has plenty of storiesabout places for young people to goand things to do. It is written in aconversational style and is presentedwith colorful, high-impact layouts. It isintensely local and packed with namesand faces of young residents. “We continuallydiscuss readers’ suggestionsand have implemented standing features—suchas a bar review and moviepicks and pans, because of their suggestions.”The ongoing challenge for the publicationsis to continue to evolve. InBoise and in Lansing, staff constantlybrainstorm and seek improvements.Said Lux: “The challenge now is tokeep innovating, keep challenging ourselvesand keep listening, so we canevolve to keep up with what youngreaders want.” ■Jennifer Carroll is the director ofnews development at Gannett Co.,Inc. She served as mentor onGannett’s Gen X Task Force, directedthe publication of The X Manual,conducted the 25- to 34-year-oldReader Review, and is a consultantfor Gannett’s free weeklies targetedat young adults. Previously, she wasmanaging editor of The Detroit Newsfrom 1997-1999, executive editor ofthe Burlington (Vermont) Free Pressfrom 1994-1997, and managingeditor of the Lansing (Michigan)State Journal from 1990-1994.jennifercarroll@gannett.comTargeting Young Women as Newspaper ReadersThe Arizona Republic uses a magazine-style tabloid focused on fashion to bringyounger women to the paper.By Nicole CarrollLast year we began to ask youngadult women, “Why don’t youread the paper?” Here’s some ofwhat we heard:“I don’t have time to focus, I browse.”“I want to read about new things …hints on how to do things.”“I read magazines, but usually I’mjust looking at the pictures.”“I’ll read a magazine if it has celebrities.”Clearly, our traditional newspapercontent was not going to get theseyoung women in the door. However,the sheer size of the 18- to 34-year-oldfemale age group in the Phoenix, Arizonamarket was huge—400,000 plusand growing—and meant we couldnot ignore them without putting at riskour paper’s future. Deciding what storiesto cover and what information toconvey to win them over as readers wasonly part of our challenge. Even if wecreated the right kind of publication,how could we get it into the hands ofpeople who tell us they aren’t inclinedto read a newspaper? To meet thesechallenges, we knew we’d have to movebeyond traditional newspaper insertionand promotion, and to do thatmeant using every asset our companyhad.What Young Women WantRepublic publisher Sue Clark-Johnsonchallenged us to come up with a breakthroughproduct that would truly resonatewith these potential readers, a34 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young Readersproduct that would, in her words,“move the needle.” One clue was thatmagazines like Lucky, In Style, andReal Simple were doing great with thisage group. After learning what we couldfrom their approaches, we decided toappeal to our region’s young womenwith a weekly local magazine-style tabloidwith the credibility and flavor ofthese magazines.To do this, we began talking to youngwomen—at parties, at the gym, whilethey were dropping off kids at preschool.They told us they are interestedin national and local news, but weknew the paper was working to presentthat news in useful, relevant and livelyways. That wasn’t enough. As wethought more about this challenge,what became clear was that somethingbold had to be done to attract thissegment of the population to the paper.So we listened more and, overtime, we realized they were telling usexactly what they want—somethingeasy to read; something they couldbrowse; something with photos andvisuals to tell the story; something thatis helpful and relevant; something thathelps them look good, feel good, andstay on top of trends and fashions.Most importantly, they wanted somethingthat’s worth their time to read.They wanted a payoff.While these desires don’t necessarilyadd up to what we think of as seriousjournalism, women in this targetaudience were saying they would devotethe time to reading if what theywere reading was authoritative, credibleand relevant. Some magazines dothis well, but they also write aboutproducts from boutiques in Los Angeles,Chicago and New York. A focus onlifestyles and styles that aren’t relevantto young women who live in Phoenixdoesn’t do us a lot of good; even thefashion seasons in these national magazinesare wrong for us. Here we wearsandals in February and shorts intoNovember. What this told us is therewas a need for local fashion news.We decided that our new publication,called Yes—Your Essential Style,would be all about our local style: ourstyle of fashion, shopping, beauty, decorating,entertaining, relationships, fitnessand parenting. It would also havea healthy dose of celebrities and thelocal young stylish scene. We would bewhat young women love most aboutnational fashion magazines in one fastpaced,easy-to-read, local weekly edition.The 10 Rules of YesWe knew what we wanted; now we hadto produce it. We gathered youngwomen from around the newsroomand asked them to envision the product.In true magazine style, they cameup with 10 things a reader must knowabout Yes:1. Reading it is like talking toyour best friend. Yes must act and feellike someone who shares your secrets,revels in your finds, and shares yourpassions.2. Everything in it will be quickand to the point. No story would bemore than 10 inches long and no storywould jump. This product would bedriven by quick bits of information andstrong visuals.3. Yes doesn’t talk to youngwomen but with them. Often we writeabout Gen-X and Y like they are somethingdifferent than “us.” This sectionPublished by The Arizona Republic, Yes—Your Essential Style attracts young female readers.Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 35


Young Readerswould be written from the perspectiveof a young woman. Headlines wouldbe full of “you” and “how,” “our” and“we”: “Five sandals you must have forspring.” “Throw a shower for under$75.”4. Every story must have a payoff.Our time is precious, we demand apayoff such as: learning about a newproduct or trend (“the one skirt youmust have for fall”); picking up a newskill (“how to make handmade paper”);getting useful, real-life information(“five questions you must ask at yournext annual exam”); getting in on asecret (“how the experts throw dinnerparties”), or getting research done forus (“10 romantic day trips”).5. It will offer instant gratification.Yes wouldn’t just tell you thatcoral is the new color for jewelry. Itwould show you three cool coral pieceswe found locally, tell you exactly wherewe got them, and provide Web links, ifavailable. On our Web site, hot linkswould take you right to the productyou were reading about.6. It can’t contain “old” news. Justlike your best friend, we must be thefirst one to tell you something. News isnever so exciting the second or thirdtime you hear it. So we’d be quick. Realquick. If we printed something out ofstyle, out of fashion or out of touch,we’d do more than print a bad story.We’d weaken the credibility of the entiresection. And credibility is everything.7. It will be local. We’d run celebritypictures, but then we’d tell youwhere you could get their look locally.We would take fashions from New Yorkand show you how to wear them inPhoenix.8. We can’t be snarky. We wouldbe hip, but not exclusive. We wouldadvise, not lecture.9. We will be trustworthy. If wesaid something would be all over theclubs, it had to be. When we said pinkwas the new white, readers had to trustus. To help us in this mission, wewould form a “Style Council.” Thisgroup would include “official” people,like department store buyers. But italso would include “real” people, likethe woman at the Nordstrom’s cosmeticcounter who picks your perfectlipstick on the first try.10. Advertising is content. Weknow young readers buy magazines asmuch for the advertising as the editorial.We recognized that the ads in thissection must match the tone of thestories. In addition to the right ads,sales reps must get the right advertisers.Yes Is LaunchedYes launched on November 15, 2002.Readers can get the magazine either inthe newspaper, at one of 1,200 freerack locations around the city, or onlineat yes.azcentral.com. Twice a week, wesend Yes e-mail newsletters to onlinesubscribers, and our partner NBC televisionstation, KPNX-Channel 12, producesweekly Yes segments for its morningnews show. In April, we alsobroadcast a prime-time television special,Yes Next, that ran after “Friends”and before “Will & Grace.”What has been the reaction? We’rebolstered by what we’re hearing fromyoung women now, which is muchdifferent than we heard just over a yearago:• “I love this new section of the newspaper.I look forward to reading iteach week.”• “I am a self-professed magazinejunkie and fashion-aholic … and Ireally enjoy your publication. Theidentification of the challenge ofmaking the fashion of L.A. and N.Y.available and accessible to Arizonaand even So Cal fashionistas wasdead-on.”• “I love reading Yes. I never looked inthe paper until my mom showed methe fashion section. Now I actuallylook forward to seeing The Republicon Fridays.”And our quantitative measures areshowing positive responses, too. Weekafter week, virtually all of our 1,200free rack locations are emptied of copies.Our Web site has had tremendoustraffic, and each week Yes slideshowsdraw more than 200,000 page views. Ittakes some time to grow an audiencein a market of this size. But researchtells us that young women who see Yeslike it and that they say they’d buy thepaper just to get it. And women of allages have told us how much they likethis new approach, even though it’sclearly targeted at younger readers.Nearly a year into Yes, this magazine-styletabloid is still evolving, andso are we. It hasn’t been all easy going.To make this work, a newspaper staffhad to learn how to do magazine-stylewriting and design. And some staffersquestioned whether this type of productbelonged in the newspaper at all.But as we’ve grown more accustomedto our mission, lessons from Yes havebegun to be applied to other parts ofthe newspaper. New education pagesare consumer driven with narrowlyfocused stories and lists and charts thatprovide easily accessible and helpfulinformation. A new Sports page calledQuick Hits—with an ESPN The Magazinekind of attitude—is layered withbits of news and talk from and aboutsports personalities.Targeting young readers isn’t a onetimepush. As the current group agesand the next generation emerges, theirneeds and wants will change, as well.The only way to stay relevant is tochange with them. This is exhaustingfor some, invigorating for others. Forme, it’s a great challenge—one we allneed to find ways to meet. ■Nicole Carroll is deputy managingeditor/features of The Arizona Republic,which won first place inGannett’s 25 to 34 Review for outstandingachievement in taretingyounger readers. Carroll was the keyeditor in the Yes—Your EssentialStyle section’s development andcontinues to supervise the publication.nicole.carroll@arizonarepublic.com36 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young ReadersWriting Stories to Reach Young Adults‘I put more of myself in stories by integrating my experiences and my thoughts andpreferences in what I write.’By Leslie KorenIdevoured Anna Quindlen’s NewYork Times’s columns as a teenager.I knew which days they appearedand ran to get the paper. I readabout AIDS, motherhood, politics andfeminism—definitely not light topics. Idon’t suspect they were written specificallyfor suburban high school students,but they helped me make senseof a world that seemed terribly confusing.I am now a journalist working at theheart of my New Jersey newspaper’seffort to reach young readers. LastDecember I moved from The Record’scrime beat to its features section withthe nebulous charge of writing forpeople in their 20’s and early 30’s. Ioften reflect back on what lessons I canlearn from that young reader sitting atthe kitchen table reading Quindlen’swords.I wanted this assignment because,having just turned 30, I knew what aninteresting and complex time this canbe, especially with so many in my generationdelaying marriage and families.We are searching in different ways forour right career path, our great love,and for a more complete understandingabout ourselves. Along the way, weare creating new types of relationshipswith friends and parents, within communities,and in our homes.Writing for Young AdultsAs a reader and staff reporter, I didn’tsee these issues reflected in our pagesand, in the spring of 2002, I wanted anew challenge. So I proposed writing acolumn, profiles or features directed atmy peers. Eventually our editor, FrankScandale, combined all three and offeredme a shot. Almost a year later, Iam still trying to figure out how best tohone such a broad idea into specificExcerpts From Leslie Koren’s StoriesMy editors told me I’d need to lose theformal newspaper tone and spice upmy stories when I took on this assignment.Now I write using the first person,directly address the reader, andjust try to have fun. Some excerptsfrom my stories:stories and how to incorporate thesestories into a daily newspaper.There are many days when I wonderwhat young readers want to hear fromme and my paper, if anything.Though I hear of many new publicationsoffering short snippets to youngerreaders, my gut and some reader responseinstruct me to move in a differentdirection. So I try to craft wellwritten, informative pieces in a comfortableand friendly voice. To do this,I address the reader directly. I putmore of myself in stories by integratingmy experiences and my thoughts andpreferences in what I write. In my roleas a feature writer, I want to speak tothat part of the young reader that is stilldeveloping and coming into its own. Iwant to help them make sense of theirworld and encourage them to think forthemselves.• I don’t even remember exactly whatmy boyfriend had done wrong, onlythat it made me very unhappy. NowI can see that the relationship wasregrettable from the start. But at thetime, I was new to the area anddesperate to be anything but single.And so I did as generations of females,faced with similar and notso-similarquandaries, have oftendone—I asked a girlfriend what todo. A week later, after following herguidance and giving him the silenttreatment, we officially broke up.Another girlfriend told me never toseek that friend’s advice again.Women, it seems, are programmedto solicit counsel. Natureor nurture, I can’t say, but I’ve spentenough hours on both ends of thetelephone to qualify as an expert onthe issue. Apparently, so have dozensof other women, many of whomalso had the forethought to put theirso-called expertise into a book proposal,land an agent, and get it published.• More than 40 years later, the book,including [Helen] Gurley Brown’sadvice on finding, attracting andenjoying men, is going back on themarket. In a new introduction, shewrites about the great strides allwomen, including those without ahusband, have made since her tellallwas first published, particularlyin the career world. It’s perfect timing.We modern single girls coulduse a dollop of this 81-year-old’sfeistiness. We may have come a longway—and there may be a lot more ofus out there—but being solo, especiallyin your 30’s, still means sloughingoff friends, family and coworkerswho pity you for the lack of a ringon your finger and self-help gurusproffering the quickest way to getone. In Gurley Brown’s world—where pink colors the walls and aneedlepoint pillow proclaims,Continued on page 38.Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 37


Young ReadersSome of my first stories were aboutnotable young people—the 25-yearoldphotographer who’d become thestar of the New York art world, a marketingguru who was Sean “P. Diddy”Combs’s right-hand man, a young magazinepublisher and a novelist who hadstruggled for 10 years to finish a shortstorycollection. I also wrote aboutmore challenging and serious aspectsof dating and sex and about booksmeant to help young women sort it allout.Amid this kind of coverage, I alsofound myself veering towards lighter“fun” topics such as fake tans (probablythe story that garnered the mostresponse), style and shopping. I lovefashion and think it’s important to writeabout it—getting dressed is a big partof our lives—but I still struggle withciting such stories among the maintopics I use to connect with youngerreaders. They are a far cry fromQuindlen’s columns.In late spring, top editors at TheRecord established a young readershipcommittee to examine what additionalsteps the newsroom could take to reversethe ebb of young readers. A groupof about 10 young reporters, myselfincluded, along with one of our Internetcontent providers and three editorshave met almost weekly to decide onour recommendations. In our initialmeetings, as my colleagues talked aboutwhat young readers want, hard newswas rarely included. Stories about stateand federal budgets and school boardswere shunned in favor of celebrity profilesand news about local bands.So noticeable was the absence ofimportant issues that one of our editorsasked if we had given up trying tomake serious news appeal to youngreaders. Few were willing to acceptthis premise and, in fact, the paper isgoing to start publishing a weekly opedcolumn in November, written by arotating group of young staffers, abouttopics ranging from the high cost ofhousing to the future of altar girls inthe Catholic Church.Will this op-ed column—written ina young voice—appeal to young readers?I hope so, but then, I love news,and I like being informed. Newspapersdidn’t have to force news on me whenI was younger because my parents readtwo newspapers, and social and politicalissues of the day were commondinner conversation. To take part, Ihad to be informed.“Good girls go to heaven, bad girlsgo everywhere”—there is glory forthe bachelorette.• According to the literature, the sprayontan lasts for about five days,though mine faded significantly afterthree. But boy, were they threeglorious days. “Did you go on vacationor something, you look niceand tan,” said the first colleague Isaw upon returning to the officepost-tanning. “You’re tan. What didyou do to yourself?” asked my boyfriendas soon as I walked into ourapartment that night. “You aresooooo tan. Where did you go?”asked my yoga teacher as she adjustedmy triangle pose two dayslater. My response—“A new tropicalisland called Paramus”—was notentirely convincing. But the tan was.No one could believe it was fake.“You definitely have that glow,” saidanother coworker.• Near the end of the 25-foot catwalk,past the dancers in white hot pantsand under the neon pink lights,Jameel Spencer clinks shot glasseswith Sean “P. Diddy” Combs anddowns his tequila. Two large bodyguardsflank the table. Hip-hoppulses in the Chelsea club. The timeis 4 a.m., and Spencer’s work isfinally done.It began at 8 a.m., 20 hours earlier,and in another four hours, hewill wake again and drive his twochildren to school. But sleep doesn’tconcern this man. He’ll do that whenhe dies, he says. Being well rested isnot what got him where he is today—right-handman to the formerPuff Daddy, head of a lifestyle andmarketing company, and usheredthrough velvet ropes from New Yorkto St. Tropez. If he is tired, he doesn’tshow it. He follows his boss out ofthe keyhole-shaped door, onto awell lit Manhattan street, and intohis sporty silver Mercedes, which hewill steer across the George WashingtonBridge and into his two-cargarage in Closter. This is living life inthe hottest part of the flame. Speakno excuses, offer no doubts, andshow no fear.• Well, fellow suburbanites, take heart.There’s always Denny’s. Otherwise,I’m afraid, our collective hipster indexis—frankly, it doesn’t exist. Butthere is hope. “I grew up in thesuburbs,” said hipster aficionadoRobert Lanham. My, how far he hascome. The 31-year-old Virginia nativeis now ensconced in a hipster’shaven, Williamsburg, New York. Hewears long sideburns, old-schoolmustard and burgundy Adidas (witha gray suit, no less), and suggestsmeeting at a café that offers freeBuddhism classes. And he has cometo the service of hipster wannabeseverywhere. His new treatise, “TheHipster Handbook,” is an unauthorized,tell-all ethnography of thosestylishly evasive and elusive followersof indie rock bands. More thanan anthropological study, Lanham’sbook offers vital information for thehipster in training. Besides eating atDenny’s (it has enough kitsch appealto qualify, says Lanham, whoespecially likes the menus), you haveto be up on styles and then you haveto pretend you aren’t. No self-respectinghipster would ever admithe or she is a hipster. ■ —L.K.38 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young ReadersWhat stunned me about our paper,once I started to pay particular attentionto these issues, was how often wemissed opportunities to connect withyoung readers. School-related storiesare written for parents, not students,yet we write about teenagers in relationto school and to little else. Many ofour stories are “traditional” newspaperstories, and those do not seem toacknowledge the needs, interests andconcerns of a younger reader.My editor, Barbara Jaeger, has beenvery supportive of my attempts to writeless traditionally and with a differentvoice. But at times, these efforts cameup against our style and standards.[See Koren’s sidebar on page 37 forexamples of her style of writing.] Iwanted to use the word “ladies,” forexample, but our stylebook dictates weuse “women.” In the profile of a photographer,I described one of his morerisqué photographs: semen splatteredon a man’s pants. My editor deferred tothe higher ups. I argued that it was atelling and important detail about hiswork and his willingness to push thelimits. I also thought young readerswant frankness. The editors heard myargument and respected it, but left outthe line.In the recent meetings of our youngreadership committee, we have beentrying to come up with a more concretedefinition of what we think young readerswant. To help us, each of us wasassigned a specific date of the paper toreview for articles that might and mightnot be of interest. I was eager andnervous to hear what others thoughtconcerning my work.On the day when we shared ourreviews, Tara Kane, my 24-year-oldcolleague, held up the front of ourpaper’s entertainment section. I sawthe headline for a Q & A that I hadwritten about Patricia Field, the costumedesigner for HBO’s “Sex and theCity,” and my heartbeat quickenednoticeably. When you are talking aboutyounger readers, “Sex and the City” isa pretty safe bet. But Field is an olderwoman. Would Tara connect with her?She did, and I relaxed. She’s just oneyoung reader, and it’s just one story,but at least it’s a start. ■Leslie Koren, formerly a crime reporter,now writes features for TheRecord in North Jersey.koren@northjersey.comPracticing Journalism in Elementary Classrooms‘Could eight-, nine- and 10-year-olds, who had trouble sitting still for more than 10minutes at a time, develop the skills to become reporters?’By Leah Kohlenberg“I’d like to speak to a doctor,” theyoung reporter said, biting his lipand rolling his eyes skyward as helistened to someone on the phone fromthe county public health department.“What, you don’t have doctorsthere?” the reporter asked. Anotherpause.“You’ve got what? Epi-what? Look,”explained the reporter, a little impatiently,“I just need someone who cangive me a quote about the new flugoing around.”Welcome to the North BeachChronicle, a monthly student newspapernot unlike other student publicationsaround the country, with twoexceptions: North Beach is an elementaryschool, and all the third, fourthand fifth graders—not a select journalismclass—write, illustrate, photographand sell advertising for the paper.The all-inclusive newspaper programis the brainchild of Nakonia (Niki)Hayes, a veteran administrator hired asprincipal three years ago at North BeachElementary School, a small publicschool located in an affluent Seattleneighborhood with an active ParentTeacher Association. Despite strong financialsupport and parental involvement,Hayes was surprised to discoverthe school’s test scores were faltering,especially in writing: Only 36 percentof North Beach’s fourth graders hadpassed the writing section of the WashingtonAssessment of Student Learning(WASL) the previous year, a testsoon to become a requirement for studentsto graduate in Washington State.Hayes, a former journalist, took agamble that newspapering skills wouldboost the test scores and reinvigoratethe school’s writing program. To get itdone, she hired me, a former Timereporter/writer, as the school’s journalist-in-residence—atask I enteredwith trepidation and enthusiasm.Could eight-, nine- and 10-year-olds,who had trouble sitting still for morethan 10 minutes at a time, develop theskills to become reporters? And evenmore importantly, would those skillsmake them better learners and morelikely to become sophisticated newsconsumers—or news consumers, period?We had no idea, then, what waspossible.The Experiment BeginsSeptember 12, 2001: I was in a NorthBeach classroom and had asked fourthgraders to open The Seattle Times andpoint out anything they found interestingabout the previous day’s devastatingnews that featured the terrorists’destruction of the World Trade Center.The kids gravitated, naturally, towardsphotos, in particular, two that were onopposite but facing pages inside the A-Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 39


Young Readerssection:“This,” said one of them, pointing toa picture, “is Osama bin Laden.” Thenhe pointed to the second picture, Palestinianswaving their arms. “Andthese,” he continued, “are his men.”When I first started teaching, I foundthat though the students could readthe words of news stories, they weren’talways comprehending what they werereading and seeing. This is probablyconnected to the fact that the UnitedStates is one of the few countries thatdoes not require teachers to offer medialiteracy to their students.This absence of media literacy was aproblem vividly illustrated in virtuallyall the current events presentations Iwitnessed at North Beach that year andat others I’ve seen at dozens of schoolssince. Typically, students would standin the front of the room reading fracturedversions of the “five Ws and oneH” of a news story. At the end of thepresentation, listeners often still hadno idea what the story was about.It was evident that if these studentswere going to write for a newspaper,they had to learn to read one. I startedby putting transparencies of news storieson overhead projectors and reviewingthe different elements of anews story. Before they could go pastthe first sentence, they had to identifythe five Ws and one H answered in theheadline and the lead. That’s actuallyquite a lot of information, by the way,and required repeated group story assessmentsbefore students were readyto identify those elements in the storiesby themselves.We did other assignments in theclassroom to get children accustomedto reading and scanning the news. Weanalyzed what we could factually surmise,and what we could assume, aboutnews photos. We held weekly newsquizzes, where students had to find theanswers to questions in news stories.And though the first time studentsstruggled through the exercises, by thesecond, third and fourth times aroundthey’d made quantum leaps.Reading and comprehending thenews, by the way, is an often missedconcept in junior and senior highschool journalism classes. I’ve had moreThis photograph of a salmon—taken by a fifth grade student—was used in a classroomexercise to help children determine the difference between facts and assumptions. Studentswere asked to list what they knew as facts from looking at the photo and also listassumptions they might make. The only verifiable fact was that a man was holding a fish.Assumptions included that the person was a fisherman, the fish was dead, that the fishwas scared. At the end of the lesson, students learned that the man who was holding thefish is a wildlife biologist, and he was showing fifth graders how he harvests eggs from adead salmon, like the one he is holding. Photo by B. McFarlane.than one journalism teacher sigh withfrustration over trying to teach kidshow to write a good news lead. I alwaystell them to start at the beginning:“Make sure they know how to read onebefore asking them to write one.”The Chronicle Comes to LifeFourth grader Matt P 1 had a plum assignment:North Beach’s person-onthe-streetcolumn, in which studentsin every grade and one adult are askedthe same question and direct quotesare put under their pictures. But hisquestion “What do you like best aboutschool?” offered up only lackluster answersat best. And when I sent him backto reinterview a fellow fourth grader inhis classroom for the third time, he puthis head in his hands and burst intotears.Actually this assignment, and anynews story, was much harder than itappeared. Students must be able tointroduce themselves fully, state theirintention, ask the right question, identifya good direct quote, and write itdown. No wonder Matt started crying.Matt’s teacher looked over fromwhere she was helping another studenttype in a story. “Are you havingself-esteem problems, Matt?” she askedgently. He nodded, lifted his head up,and took a few gasping breaths to composehimself. She then led him over toanother journalism assistant, whowrote a script for him, took him out torecess, stood over him as he got hisquotes, and jumped in with helpingquestions when he needed them.In 10 minutes, Matt had four greatquotes written down, was high-fivinghis adult helper, and had totally forgottenhis tears. “I’m doing person-on-thestreet, and you wouldn’t believe thegreat quotes I have,” I overheard himtelling a friend as they toted their1The students are identified in the newspaper by their first name and last initial due to a ruling bythe Seattle school board that last names could not be used in the paper.40 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young Readerslunchboxes towards the cafeteria.Part of what teaching journalism toyoung students taught me is to recognizethat there are a multitude of skillscoming into play and that people willget stuck at predictable places. At theelementary level, particularly, a teachercan assume nothing. Most studentsforget to bring their notebooks, paperand questions to their first scheduledinterviews. They have trouble introducingthemselves and what they aredoing. They can’t talk and write at thesame time. Their note-taking skills areslow and painful—as they try at first totake down every word. They are afraidto ask if they don’t understand something.Phone messages will often leavethem tongue-tied.And that’s all before they start writing.What we found at North Beach isthat it’s important for them to hit thewall and equally important for an adultto expect this and be prepared to propthem up and move them forward. That’swhen the learning takes place.Take the following example: Threefifth graders were conducting a phoneinterview with a children’s theater artisticdirector by speaker phone for theChronicle. The call was monitored by ajournalism intern from the local university,but still, one girl looked up atme in the middle of the interview andmouthed frantically “she’s talking toofast” and quit writing.At the end of the interview, the internsat them down. “What do youremember about what she said?” sheasked the girls. As the ideas came out,the girls could write them down withoutthe pressure of having to ask theinterview subject to wait. They got theirstory and even some accurately spokendirect quotes.Showing vs. Telling: AnAdaptable Writing MantraWhen fourth grader Kyle W. brought amovie review he’d written for me toreview, it started predictably like mostbook or movie reports throughout history:“‘Monsters, Inc.’ is a great moviewith something fun for everyone.”“Hey Kyle,” I asked. “Why did youlike the movie?”He thought about it for a second.“Because usually it’s kids who are afraidof monsters,” he said. “But in ‘MonstersInc.,’ the monsters are afraid of ababy.”“That’s your lead, Kyle,” I explained.“You tell us why you like it, not that youlike it.”Showing your story’s importance vs.telling it is a mantra in most newsrooms.It’s also a powerful writing toolin the classroom. Asking students tooffer details to buttress their observationsand opinions does two things: Itforces them to evaluate whether thoseopinions and statements are true, butit also offers them the chance to findtheir voice as a writer because the detailsthey might chose are differentthan someone else’s, but equally valid.Before each newspaper comes out,teachers walk their students silentlyaround the school. At the end of thetrip, they list what they’ve noticed that’sinteresting or different. Often, thoseobservations can be turned into newsstories. It encourages kids not only tonotice what is around them, but also tofind out what is happening and why it’shappening. “It’s kind of like a detectivemystery,” one teacher told me, the firsttime we let 150 kids loose on the schoolto start their reporting.These writing skills don’t need to beconfined to newspaper articles. Theyapply to virtually every school writingassignment and can boost a student’swriting abilities. Once in a third gradeclassroom, I was scheduled to teach ajournalism lesson just after the studentshad returned from a field trip toa local park. “We wrote little storiesabout our field trip, would you like tohear them?” the teacher asked me.“Not yet,” I said. “First, kids, tell methe most interesting things you learnedon the field trip.”I wrote their observations on theboard: We learned about nurse trees,and different kinds of snakes, and thatsome frogs look like they are dead, butthey aren’t; they are just catching flies.Other ideas flew out, with some excellentdetailed descriptions.“Now read me the stories,” I asked.Did any of these details make it intothe stories? Predictably, not one. Nearlyeveryone started the same, with a chronologicalsummation of the event: “Wegot on the school bus and went to thepark.”That assignment would have producedmore diverse and interestingresults if the teacher had first led studentsthrough the exercise of identifyingexciting details, then instructedthem to write about the most excitingthing they saw on the field trip. Thatwould bring out both individual studentvoice and offer more structure tostories that would otherwise neverbreak out of the chronologically toldstory mold.Journalism and WritingNiki Hayes’s gamble ultimately paidoff: The WASL scores have climbeddramatically, from 36 percent of fourthgraders passing the WASL the year beforewe started the program to 58 percentthe next year, to 72 percent thenext year, and to 79 percent last year.We’ve also found that the differentjobs of the newspaper can engage studentswho otherwise wouldn’t want towrite: An Attention Deficit HyperactivityDisorder student turned out to be abrilliant photographer; a highly functioningAsberger’s syndrome childhelped seal envelopes and file contracts,and our first-year advertisingteam of fifth graders hit the pavementnearly every day after school, earningan average of $500-$800 per issue. Atyear four, advertisers contact NorthBeach in the fall, eager to get into thenewspaper.More importantly, though, I’ve hadsome great reporters and writers.There’s Andrew F., a gifted fifth graderand avid skateboarder, who becamethe school’s skateboard correspondent.His first story, on skateboard tricks, fellapart, but his next three stories worked:a news story about new skateboardingrules; a story on skateboard fashion,and a review of Seattle’s skateboardingparks. “He didn’t like writing last year,but he can’t stop this year,” his motherconfided to me. That’s probably becausehe’s writing about what he likesto do, rather than some random as-Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 41


Young Readerssignment.And there’s Luke M., a fifth graderwho decided to find out why “guyswere on ladders and wires were hangingout of the ceiling.” It turned out tobe a great story, as the classrooms wereall getting phones to call outside thebuilding and computers were beingnetworked together.“I’m doing OK,” he told me, afterpresenting a surprisingly well researcheddraft, “but I’m having troublethinking of a good lead.” As we ponderedthat question, I said “How aboutthis one: Phones and networked computerswill be added to classroomssoon.”Luke looked at me with disdain.“That’s the same news lead you suggestedlast month, when we wroteabout new playground equipment,” hesaid. “Let’s keep thinking.” ■Leah Kohlenberg is the founder ofSpecialized Education TrainingCompany (SETC), which offers continuingeducation training andwriting/journalism lesson plans forK-12 teachers. For 13 years, sheworked as a reporter for Time inHong Kong, ABCNews.com andseveral daily newspapers across thecountry. She has trained andcoached journalists in Mongolia,Slovakia, Armenia and the Republicof Georgia.leah@specializededu.comOpening Up to KidsWorking to close the generation and credibility gap, post-Jayson Blair.By Shawn MoynihanPrior to accepting the position ofmanaging editor at Editor & Publisher,I worked as a substituteteacher in Collingswood, New Jerseyand in my hometown of Staten Island,New York. Working in the classroomsmade me realize how much kids stillbelieve in newspapers—and that now,more than ever, it is crucial for reportersand editors to make their presencefelt in the classroom and not justthrough Newspapers in Education(NIE) programs.I’m no expert on the world of education,but once I stepped into the publicschool system, albeit briefly, I quicklydiscovered that a great many studentsare learning much less than we thinkthey are. It was shocking.Many of my days were largely spenttrying to discipline students who werepleased to see someone other thantheir usual teacher at the front of theroom—and equally eager to make mylife miserable. But no matter how badlybehaved or disaffected the studentsseemed, every time I mentioned that Ihad spent years as a writer and editor atthe Staten Island Advance—the popularlocal paper of the “forgotten borough”—thechaos subsided, and I hadthe students’ attention, if only for a fewminutes.It was as though I had suddenlybecome cool, that because I was associatedwith “the paper,” they grew interested.The things I had to say carrieda new weight. It was then that I realizedhow important, and powerful, newspapersare to kids. I had thought theyhad little regard for newspapers andanything that we had to say, particularlyin this Internet and video gameage. Attention spans are shorter thanever, making it increasingly hard forteachers—and print journalists—toreach youngsters.It’s not much of a stretch to believethat teens will always think of newspapers—despitecurrent efforts to courtyounger readers—as little more than aforum in which grown-ups regularlyprovide disinformation to each otherand to young people, especially in lightof the Jayson Blair scandal and otherwell-known episodes of journalisticwrongdoing.But after the umpteenth episode ofgetting a wide-eyed look from kidswhen I told them I’d written for theAdvance, I found out just how wrongthat assumption might be. What becameclear to me is that newspapershave both a responsibility and an opportunity.We have a responsibility toimprove education and awareness ofcurrent events by remaining dedicatedto NIE programs. But we also have anopportunity to reach young people byshowing them (at an impressionableage) not just what newspapers produce,but how they work.In articles urging the press to reformnewsroom policies and our publicimage in the wake of the Blair scandal,many former editors and mediacritics have advised newspapers to offerreaders a clear view of how theyoperate—to become “transparent,” asthe saying goes. In an Editor & Publisherarticle, for example, [formerNieman Curator] Bill Kovach advisedthat there was “only one way to fix” ourcurrent credibility problem: “Be open,be transparent and explain all of thetime what we do. We are in a world ofinteraction right now. I don’t knowwhy news organizations don’t set upmore mechanisms for the public tocome into the organization.”Obviously, kids are not going tocome to the newspapers—so newspapersmust go to the kids. If we do, thepayoff could be big. Contrary to ourself-image, journalists are often viewedby kids as just one step removed fromthe pop-culture media they really love:rock and hip-hop music, movies andtelevision. After all, we write about allthose things, sometimes even meet astar or two, and that rubs off on us,positively.42 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young ReadersScheduling visits to schools wouldnot be easily accomplished at a timewhen resources are stretched thin atpapers across the country. Some canbarely afford to send a bunch of reportersout into the field, while holdingothers back to answer those naggingnewsroom phones. It’s far too easy forus to get caught up in the next deadlinethan it is to give this “transparency”idea some honest consideration.But the potential benefits of personallyinteracting with younger readers—of responding to their questions, helpingthem understand what journalistsdo—are real. If young people grow upbelieving they can’t trust reporters andeditors to tell the truth and respecttheir audience, will they turn to thesenewspapers when they are older? Takingtime to reach out to young peopleand showing them, in person, that we’renot all a bunch of grinning liars is aninvestment in our future as a medium.Who knows? Given the opportunity,we and the kids just might learn something,too. ■Shawn Moynihan, managing editorof Editor & Publisher, worked at theStaten Island Advance from 1989 to2001. A version of this article firstappeared in Editor & Publisher onJune 16, 2003.Smoynihan@editorandpublisher.comL.A. Youth Partners With the Los Angeles TimesIts experiences offer valuable guidance for attracting younger readers.By Donna C. MyrowThere aren’t many cities whereteenagers have their own newspaperto write and read, but inLos Angeles they do. It’s called L.A.Youth and, since 1988, it has giventeens more than a voice. With it, theyhave had a megaphone.I made my decision to publish anewspaper for teenagers in Los Angeleson the morning of January 13, 1988,the day when the United States SupremeCourt struck down student pressrights in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. Thatdecision gave school officials broadpowers to censor student newspapers.That afternoon a dozen teenagers sataround my kitchen table talking aboutissues that affected their lives. Togetherwe wondered how we would publishour own newspaper with no money.We didn’t even have a computer.But we found some resources in thecommunity—grants from The JamesIrvine Foundation and Bank of AmericaFoundation, a few old typewriters fromthe Los Angeles Times, and a meetingplace in a senior citizen center. Thesewere enough to launch the first issue.Starting small with 2,500 copies publishedtwice a year for two years, thengrowing year by year, we now publishsix times each year, with 105,000 copieseach issue. L.A. Youth has a readershipof more than 300,000 in Los AngelesCounty. Our newspaper is read bystudents in public and private schools,by those who attend nearly 400 community-basedyouth programs, and canbe found at most libraries. Every issueis posted on our Web site(www.layouth.com), and a Teacher’sGuide is mailed to 1,200 teachers whouse L.A. Youth in their classrooms.The Role of the Los AngelesTimesBy 1994, L.A. Youth was publishing sixtimes each year and, though the newspaperwas well received, the costs ofproducing it were escalating. We had afull-time staff of four and 200 teenseager to join the staff. So I went lookingfor support from the newspaper industry.I approached then-Los AngelesTimes publisher, David Laventhol, andasked if the Times would contributenewsprint and printing. I explainedhow our young reporters were helpingtheir peers have a better understandingof the society they live in and theforces that act on them and showingthem ways to gain more control overtheir lives. I described ways in whichwe do this, through news stories, selfhelparticles and in personal accounts,and talked about how our stories arewritten in an authentic teen voice andhow this gives L.A. Youth its streetcredibility with readers.Laventhol listened. When the meetingended, he offered the Times’s support.He asked me how many copieswe print. I picked a nice round number,100,000, when we actually couldonly afford to print 35,000. He agreedto help us.Printing our newspaper was just thebeginning. Soon, former Los AngelesTimes senior editor Noel Greenwoodjoined our nonprofit organization’sboard of directors. Then came theTimes’s donation of computers, cameras,scanners and other equipment toassist our struggling newspaper. Today,the Times’s newsroom operationseditor, Dave Rickley, serves on ourboard, and he encourages colleaguesfrom the Times to work with our newspaper.People who work in the prepressdepartment, production andphoto lab, the art director, and otherfolks involved with operations havevolunteered. And as our teens reportstories, they have received mentoringfrom Times’s editorial staff, too.Putting Out the PaperThe teenagers who write for L.A. Youthgather after school and on Saturdays inour mid-Wilshire newsroom for editorialmeetings. There they work withadult editors one-on-one to rewritetheir stories; some articles take up toNieman Reports / Winter 2003 43


Young ReadersTeenagers create L.A. Youth, which reaches 300,000 young readers.six months of reporting and rewritingbefore they are ready to be published.L.A. Youth articles are often abouttraditional teen interests, such as summerjobs, getting into college, educationalissues, and getting a date for theprom. But there is room for controversyin the paper, too. When our teenagersset out to explore such topics asteen pregnancy, substance abuse, AIDS,race relations, homelessness, gangs andother difficult topics, Los AngelesTimes’s reporters, editors and lawyersshare their expertise. An article wepublished in the summer of 1990 aboutalleged police abuse of local teens drewrecognition from national media, includingTime and “60 Minutes.” TheTimes Sunday opinion editor, SueHorton, mentored teen reporter JosieValderrama through the maze of internalaffairs police documents while sheworked on this year-long investigativeproject.There are no requirements to joinour staff. Teens bring friends, teachersrefer students, and even parents call uslooking for a summer workshop or aplace for their son/daughter to improvehis/her writing skills. On Newcomer’sDay, every other month, prospectivewriters, illustrators and photographersmeet the adult staff. A give-and-takefollows—about meeting deadlines;how we put together a newspaper;who our readers are; how many rewrites,etc. Some find it a challenge,and we never see them again. Otherssee it as an opportunity to voice theiruncensored opinions and read theirnames in print. Alum keep in touchand return as mentors to the youngerstaff.The teenagers’ personal stories areoften touching. One of our teen reporterssleeps in a shelter and sometimeson the streets, yet he/she managesto work on a story. Students whoattend private schools gather in ourmidcity office with teens whose livesare very different than theirs, and togetherthey exchange story ideas withone another. Most of the time, theseyoung writers meet the L.A. Youth deadlineswhile also coping with homework,family responsibilities, and personalrelationships.A few years ago, when I wanted toexpand the youth voice to a wideraudience, I spoke with several Los AngelesTimes’s editors to ask if they’dconsider reprinting our articles. FormerMetro Editor Bill Boyarsky took theidea seriously and reprinted GoharGalyan’s riveting article on life inside ayear-round, overcrowded school. Andone of our cover stories, written by ahomeless youth sleeping behind aHollywood Boulevard theater, madethe front page of the Times’s Metrosection.Newspapers Learn From UsThe headline on June 17, 2000screamed, “Tribune Co. acquires theLos Angeles Times.” I took a deepbreath, answered the dozens of callsfrom friends inquiring about thismerger and hoped nothing wouldchange. In fact, since that day the relationshipbetween our two newspapershas grown stronger. Publisher JohnPuerner and Editor John Carroll havekept the presses rolling for L.A. Youthand assured us that the Times has acommitment to high school journalism.However, during the past two yearsI have missed seeing some of our beststories find a broader readership in theTimes. As the war took place in Iraq, forexample, I kept hoping the new editorswould see the relevance of theteen perspective on the war. Whoknows better how teens feel about notfinding a summer job in order to payfor college than those facing this situation?Or who can speak better to theimpact of the ever-increasing classroomsize on student learning?Each year newspapers spend lots ofmoney and time on focus groups andreadership surveys as they try to figureout how to attract younger readers. Bylooking closely at publications likeours—at our contributors and our readers—andsupporting in various waysindependent teen-written newspaperslike ours, those who edit and publishnewspapers could see how we’re growingthe next generation of critical thinkers,good citizens, and newspaper readers.■Donna C. Myrow is founder andexecutive director of L.A. Youth. Teenwriters at the paper have gone on tohave internships at National PublicRadio, Sports Illustrated, Forbes,TeenPeople, the San Jose MercuryNews, The Oakland Tribune and ThePhiladelphia Inquirer, and otherprint and broadcast news organizations.dmyrow@layouth.com44 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Young ReadersMixing Young and Old to Create a New ApproachYouth Radio succeeds by ‘balancing young producers’ insights and new ideas aboutcontent with the professionalism and knowledge of their adult counterparts.’By Ellin O’LearyYouth Radio trains young peopleto become journalists and to producecontent for a variety of audiences,in formats including newspapers,TV, radio and the Web. In ourdecade plus of operation, we havefound that having young people as thevoices and writers, as the producersand columnists of what is produced,might initially attract a young audience.But without something compellingto say, listeners won’t stick around.And to engage young audiences, weemploy their vernacular and style.In the Youth Radio newsroom, afrequent challenge—as adult mentors—isto follow the young producers’advice, especially when we’re notsure they’re right. For example, forthree years, Youth Radio produced apublic affairs show on the largest commercialmusic station in San Francisco,KYLD. This was a great opportunity forour kids’ work to reach a young audiencesince this was the number onestation in the Bay Area among 14- to 24-year-olds. Our young producers insistedmusic should play for the entiretwo-hour show, as a continuous soundunder the features, interviews and eventhe call-ins. To the adult ear, the musicwas distracting; it made it difficult tolisten to what was going on in theshow. But the kids told us that “it’s themusic that keeps young people listeningto the talk, it makes the news andinformation painless.”We deferred to the students sincethey were familiar with the station’sprogramming from the perspective oflisteners. And it turns out they wereright. For a public affairs show to lastthree years on commercial radio is theequivalent of three lifetimes elsewhere.KYLD’s program director, Michael Martin,credited Youth Radio’s highly producedstyle and “the use of music” forthe show’s longevity. Martin commentedthat most public affairs showsjolt his station’s listeners with an immediatebreak in format, a mortal sin incommercial broadcasting.Youth Plus ExperienceYouth Radio students often remind usthat teenagers and young adults don’tusually think of themselves as part of aparticular audience. Rather they describethemselves as avid consumers ormedia surfers on an infinite ocean ofcontent. For many, this expectationcan be traced back to MTV, which begansome 20 years ago. Having theability to choose from an ever-expandingarray of media content has definedthis generation—just as “I Love Lucy”and “Leave It to Beaver” left their indeliblemark with baby boomers.Young writers and producers notonly present the views of their generation,but they also identify stories andproduce them with distinctive youthstyle. In the fall of 2002, for example,newsrooms throughout the Bay Area,including Youth Radio, were strugglingwith how to cover the record youthhomicide rate, high in many urbanareas, but particularly so in Oakland.Many of our Youth Radio students livein the affected neighborhoods; one ofour own students was shot and killed,and others have relatives lost in themadness. Local news outlets were tiredof covering the story; the deaths ofyoung people became routine headlinesalong with increasing body counts.Our national editors weren’t sure we“had anything new to say” from theyouths’ perspective.In the Youth Radio newsroom ourstudents were also hesitant to reporton this very painful issue until one ofour adult producers, Lissa Soep, addedthe element of poetry to the production.A poem written by 19-year-old IceLife told the story of a modern dayRomeo and Juliet caught in the cycle ofpoverty and violence that so often leadsto incarceration and death. This poeminspired the students to produce afeature that integrated poetry with fieldrecordings and interviews with youngpeople living in these neighborhoods.The sound collage also included theperspective of youth who have escapedthe cycle of violence by keeping a pathwayto education and a career.The Oakland violence feature theseYouth Radio students produced was ahit locally with both adult and youthaudiences. It also was broadcast onNational Public Radio, after we“shopped it around” and found a producer,Charlie Mayer, who was as excitedas we were about the artistic andjournalistic merits of the piece. “OaklandViolence” won first prize in thisyear’s National Black Journalists Awardsand was honored this year at the ThirdCoast Festival.Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 45


Young ReadersWhy I Don’t Like Mainstream NewsYoung people find a lot not to like about the way news is oftenpresented.Nieman Reports invited some of YouthRadio’s student journalists—past andpresent—to tell us what they don’t likeabout mainstream press.“I don’t watch mainstream news,but I do stay informed. Even if I didn’twant to know what’s in the news,friends or family would tell me. Myparents have TV news chattering awaywhile they’re in the kitchen preparingdinner. When I check my e-mail, headlinespop up everywhere. But when Iwant to find out what’s happening hereand around the world, I turn to smaller,independent news sources. They don’thave the kind of skewed priorities thatmainstream news does, with so muchof it being more entertainment thanreal news and stories reported overand over again.” — Margarita Rossi, 20years old“There might be a difference in thedetails, but the stories are the same,and all the news anchors look likeclones of each other. What they say isso predictable; they make a fake compassionatestatement about a bad incident,a very stupid joke, and then signoff … with voices that sound like theypractice faking them all day. When amultimillion-dollar news companywastes money and airtime to talk aboutCollaboration andAuthenticityYouth Radio’s success with mainstreammedia outlets is built on this kind ofcollaboration. And to do this successfullyrequires balancing young producers’insights and new ideas about contentwith the professionalism andknowledge of their adult counterparts.At Youth Radio, youth and experiencedstaff producers work together throughoutthe editorial process. We set thePrince William’s first girlfriend or BenAffleck’s birthday, it turns me off as aviewer. They really don’t address orquestion the real problems that leadup to big stories, like the terrible jobthat Oakland mayor Jerry Brown isdoing.” — Josh Clemmons, 18 yearsold“I still read the paper almost everyday, but it’s just to get the basics. Iknow there’s a lot they’re leaving out,printing only the news that is consideredacceptable when it comes to issueslike the Middle East or the realitiesof the juvenile justice system. All in all,I just try to look at any mainstreammedia with a critical eye because Iknow there’s so much more than whatwe are presented.” — Sophie Simon-Ortiz, 17 years old“If I rely on the dominant newssources like NBC, CBS, Fox or ABC togive me all of my information, I won’tlearn about a lot of the issues that arerelevant to my life. Mainstream news isjust like another ‘Friends’ or ‘ParadiseHotel’: fun to watch, but nothing tolearn from. I’d like to see an alternativethat I can trust, but I don’t know whatit would look like, since it doesn’tseem to exist.” — Nora Harrington, 17years old ■highest standards of quality, explainingto the students that programmingby and about youth must be better thanfirst-rate to compete in today’s verycompetitive media markets. With thisemphasis on journalistic quality andcutting-edge youth style, Youth Radiois in the fortunate position of receivingassignments from major news organizationsincluding National Public Radio,the San Francisco Chronicle’s opinionsection, Public Radio International,Marketplace and CNN.com.Because Youth Radio’s goal is tobring diverse voices to the largest andmost diverse audiences possible, weproduce lots of different kinds of programming.Our presentations run fromone minute to two hours; they involvemusic, commentary and features as wellas talk shows; they appear mostly onradio (public and commercial), but alsothrough the Web, TV and in print.Youth Radio’s senior producer,Rebecca Martin, believes audiencesrespond to our programs because of“the unique sensibility that youngpeople bring to their reporting, givingaudiences access to perspectives, truthsand trends that adult reporters justcan’t reach.” When a Youth Radio reporterdid a bedside interview with aU.S. soldier who lost a leg in a battle inIraq, the soldier’s comments are revealing;what comes through is thesense that this soldier is especially atease with the approach of a reporterwho is just about his own age.Youth Radio’s production and editorialprocess becomes longer and a bitrockier (not to mention more fun!)because of the side-by-side work of theyouth-adult team. If young people collectedthe tape, then handed it over toadult professionals to write and produce,getting the pieces broadcastwould no doubt be easier. The “youthonly”and the “adult-only” producermodels each have value and are criticalmodels in expanding the involvementof youth voices. But we find that thecollaboration brings excitement andauthenticity to the work. For YouthRadio, collaboration is the way to gobecause of our commitment to trainingthe next generation, who reflect adiversity of economic and ethnic backgrounds.■Ellin O’Leary is president and executiveproducer of Youth Radio, anaward-winning youth media organization,founded in Northern Californiain 1990 and with bureaus in LosAngeles, Atlanta and Washington,D.C.ellinol@youthradio.org46 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Journalist’s TradeReporting California’s Recall ElectionWith its unusual purpose and Hollywood celebrity, California’s autumn recall election becamean archetypal mix of entertainment and news reporting. Lessons from its reporters shed light onsome of the changing realities of political coverage.After a 13-year break from political reporting, former San Francisco Chronicle columnistMark Simon was back on the campaign trail. He reflects on changes he observed, moststrikingly the impact of the Internet and the self-absorbed way the political press perceive theirrole and work. We are, he writes, in “an era in which the reporter has become more importantthan readers or voters.” Jim Bettinger, director of Stanford University’s John S. KnightFellowships for Professional Journalists, contends that political reporters—by savoring andrelying on the established political process—risk becoming irrelevant “to a political processthat may be undergoing fundamental change.” The consequence: “the established media areseriously disconnected” from citizens, whose profound anger they failed to understand.In nine weeks of campaign coverage, Marjie Lundstrom, a senior editor and columnist withThe Sacramento Bee, never saw or spoke with a candidate. Her assignment was to “go findpeople” and learn from them what this election was about. With photographer José LuisVillegas, whose images appear with her words, Lundstrom’s series illuminated “the essentialtruth about this election: Voters were steamed. The anger was palpable.” Meanwhile, the Bee’sveteran political columnist Dan Walters was seeing how Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaigncapitalized “on his celebrity … to go around us scribblers” and “convey his message of savingCalifornia so effectively.” Also at the Bee, Daniel Weintraub, the paper’s Weblogging politicalcolumnist, was finding the fast-moving campaign to be “a perfect marriage of medium andmessage,” as his blog continuously passed along “political scuttlebutt and speculation.”Cecilia Alvear, NBC News producer, and George Lewis, NBC News correspondent, whobrought the campaign to a national TV audience, admit frustration at how “the image of thesmiling superstar candidate was more powerful than the words.” Dan Morain, who reports onthe influence of money on politics for the Los Angeles Times, writes about the enduring value ofthis watchdog beat. “Tracking money was an essential part of covering the recall race or,indeed, any campaign,” he writes. Pilar Marrero, political editor and columnist at La Opinión,reflects on how often journalists relied on her to report on what Latinos thought about theelection, instead of reporting the story themselves. As she writes, “I’ve never seen a colleague ofthe mainstream media being asked, “What do Anglos think about this?” Photographers from LaOpinión covered the campaign, and their images appear in this section.And Ellen Ciurczak, a longtime radio reporter, describes her difficult transition tobecoming a freelance political journalist during the recall. “I found myself watching some of theworst partisan politics, hypocrisy and grabs for power I’d ever seen while covering state politicsin California,” she writes. “This stirred strong feelings in me, feelings that caused me to losefaith in my news judgment.” ■Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 47


Journalist’s TradeThe Campaigning of Political ReportersThis is ‘an era in which the reporter has become more importantthan readers or voters.’By Mark SimonIn early August, Arnold Schwarzeneggerwent to the offices of theLos Angeles County registrar of votersto file as a candidate for governor inCalifornia’s recall election. He held anews conference the same day—whatwould prove to be one of only two freefor-allpress events. A colleague coveringthe appearance for a San FranciscoTV station counted more than 30 televisioncameras at the event.After several minutes, a press aideannounced, “One more question.”Schwarzenegger, showing an understandingof his own campaign strategythat would dominate the recall campaign,called on a reporter from “EntertainmentTonight” (ET). The hardhittingquestion: When will actor RobLowe be making an appearance onSchwarzenegger’s behalf?And so the news conference came toan end without any meaningful detailsfrom Schwarzenegger about how hewould balance the state’s deficit-riddenbudget, protect spending on publicschools, and reduce taxes. Instead,he managed to repeat what would bethe only message of his campaign—hewould be an upbeat agent of changefrom the state’s do-nothing politicalstatus quo.There’s nothing new about candidatesor officeholders calling on reporterswho are likely to ask softballquestions. There’s nothing new abouta candidate, or a President, holding aminimal number of news conferences.And there’s certainly nothing new abouta candidate figuring out a campaignstrategy that essentially bypasses thepolitical news media. What was unusualwas to see a candidate who socompletely understood the nature ofmodern political reporting and was souniquely positioned to take advantageof a new era in campaign information.Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigns at California State University in Long Beach. Photoby Aurelia Ventura/La Opinión.Changes in PoliticalReportingWhat was remarkable about the recallcampaign had less to do withSchwarzenegger’s barnstorming candidacyand more to do with how thepolitical press corps has changed in avery short time from a small group ofveteran reporters with an abiding interestin campaigns and issues to amassive multimedia experience inwhich huge and small informationsources overlap and interconnect andspend as much time attending to eachother as they do to the job of reportingon a campaign.What this campaign illuminated forme were the sweeping changes in politicalreporting that have happenedduring the past decade or so. For morethan 25 years, I have been involved instate and national political reporting atnewspapers. During the past 13 years,I took a break from political reportingto write a general interest column, firstat a local newspaper in Palo Alto, thenfor the last 10 years at the San FranciscoChronicle. Then this spring, wearyingof the sound of my own voice, Isurrendered the column and began tocover politics for the paper, unawarethat a historic recall election was in theoffing.What I found is that much hadchanged about how the political presscorps perceives and pursues its jobdue to the increased importance of TVand radio talk shows and the risingimpact of the Internet as a means ofconveying information and as a vehiclefor the public to observe and commenton political reporting. And while therehad always been a notable self-awarenessamong political reporters—whenwe could, we often read each other’swork to see who was ahead and whomwe had to follow—the Internet and the48 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


California RecallThe press spotlights Governor Gray Davis during a rally to defeat the recall. Photo byCiro Cesar/La Opinión.airwaves have lifted that to an astonishinglevel of self-absorption.It’s that self-absorption that representsthe biggest concern about thenew era of political reporting—an erain which the reporter has become moreimportant than readers or voters.Certainly, there was no Internet 13years ago. Then, as colleague Robert B.Gunnison noted in a piece for theCalifornia Journal, a California-basedmonthly about politics and government,the press corps consisted of reporters—usuallygarbed in blue blazersand khaki trousers—from a dozenor so newspapers around the state.The occasional TV station had a reporterassigned to politics, but thosewere few and far between, and much ofthe campaign agenda was set by a small,collegial group of middle-aged, whitemales.Clearly, the explosion of informationoutlets blew apart that old boys’club and diversified the perspectivesbrought to politics, perhaps at the costof expertise and institutional knowledgeabout both politics and government.While the press corps might havelacked many things, it also was absent“Entertainment Tonight.” Obviously,without Schwarzenegger’s melding ofcelebrity and politics, “ET” might nothave been on the campaign trail thistime, either, but who’s to say therewon’t be future coverage of politics ina manner historically reserved for showbusiness? And if there was no “ET,”there also was no Romenesko, ThePoynter Institute Web site that focusessolely on journalists and reinforces ahierarchy of media celebrities and bigtimenews outlets.The National Journal’s Hotline,which enhanced the sense in Californiathat the recall was a national storyand dropped our names in front of ournational peers, was a fledgling phenomenon13 years ago. Thirteen yearsago, there was no Rough & Tumble, aWeb site (www.rtumble.com) that, likeThe Hotline, summarizes in a 24-hourcycle the leading stories on Californiapolitics and government. There wereno Weblogs, in which reporters candescribe their first impressions, circulaterumors, and race to be first—areal-time blog can always be correctedlater—without the customary filter ofeditors or time or further reporting.And in just the last few years, therehas been an explosion of informationdistribution points among politicaljunkies—dozens of individuals or organizationsthat post all or part of politicalnews stories or circulate throughe-mail their own lists of the top storiesof the day, often reflecting the politicalperspective of the distributor’s specialinterests.It has become a matter of daily routineto check a variety of Web sites tosee where the newspaper’s reportinglanded on the list of top stories. Themore stories near the top, the moreconvinced we are that we dominatedthat day’s reporting. We could see if wewere first with a story—a scoop—andwe could be sure that our competitorsaround the state knew we were firstand that we had a chance to show offour work to news outlets around thenation and enhance our own nationalreputation. This cycle fed on itself: Weall wanted to write stories that wouldtop the list.At the same time, the recall electionbrought to California the circus of nationalradio talk shows and cable TVshout-fests. Earlier this year—beforethe recall election emerged but longafter the development of the new multimediaera—the Chronicle establisheda new partnership with a Bay Area TVstation and a small studio was installedin the newsroom, pushing aside a numberof copyeditors. Routinely, in a breakbetween deadlines, political reportersand columnists would sit down on thestudio stool and make a quick TV appearanceon one of the many cableshows that must keep feeding the voraciousappetite of a 24-hour news hole.Often the participant would walkaway from the studio muttering thatthe main requirement for such an appearanceis an ability to shout over theother guests. The cross-media partnershipis not unique to the Chronicle,and it could be argued that every newspaperneeds a strategy of integratedmedia. That’s a story for another time.But having this TV outlet for our reportingfed the growing sense that thecoverage of the campaign was moreabout what we were doing—our abilityto show off our expertise—than it wasfinding out what was on the minds ofthe voters and providing meaningful,useful information with which theycould make an informed decision.There always has been the tendencyNieman Reports / Winter 2003 49


Journalist’s Tradeto cover the process, not the policies.But now, increasingly, the processseems to be all that is covered becauseit’s the best way to make a good impressionamong ourselves. After theelection, Romenesko carried a reportof some comments by a California newspapereditor who asserted that thestate’s news corps did a poor job ofcovering the recall election. Too littleattention was paid to what the voterswere thinking. That editor was right—that newspaper fixated onSchwarzenegger’s immigrant statuswhen he first arrived in the country.It was classic “gotcha” journalism,an attempt to expose Schwarzenegger’sown positions on immigration as somehowhypocritical. It was never clearwhy the readers of that newspaperwould find that information valuable.But assuming one role of the media isto tell people things they might want toknow, that doesn’t explain thenewspaper’s focus on the story overseveral days. That can only be explainedas an attempt to attract attention, notfrom readers, but from other newsoutlets.That kind of reporting should bedistinguished from the Los AngelesTimes’s stories in which women allegedthat they were sexually harassedand abused and battered bySchwarzenegger. Those stories, thoroughlyand credibly reported, touchedon an issue that gave the public meaningfuland timely insight into a candidate.The result was a bombardment ofe-mails and Internet posts concerningthe Times’s story, comments and reactionthat indicated the story touched anerve among readers, for better or forworse.And that may be the last, significantirony in the changing nature of politicalreporting. The public now has moreways to reach the media, and we seemto listen less to them and more to eachother. The public also has more waysto comment, more means by which tocomplain about bias or to offer upindependent analysis, or participate inspecial-interest pressure tactics. Thereverse also is true—we can reach morepeople now, ask for a broader range ofopinion, and write stories that trulyreflect the mood and attitude of thepeople who are participating in thepolitical decision making.In short, we have a better opportunityto do the two things good newsreporting should do—tell the publicsomething they didn’t know and putinto words for them those things theycan’t express for themselves.The recall was a unique opportunityto reflect to readers what they werethinking, since it was an election thatwas less about what people knew andmore about how they felt. The bestreporting in the recall election capturedwhat was on people’s minds, wasan early forecast of a public hunger forchange, an anger at a mismanaged statusquo that had badly tarnished theGolden State.But more commonly, reportingseemed to be driven by a desire toreflect ourselves to ourselves. A decadeago, no one thought a politicalreporter was a celebrity. Now it seemsas though each of us wants to be one,not just cover one running for governor.■Mark Simon is a political reporterfor the San Francisco Chronicle. Hehas covered California, Bay Area,and national politics for more than25 years.Msimon@sfchronicle.comThe Anger Journalists Never Fully UnderstoodWe must figure out ‘how to reach growing numbers of disillusioned citizens withoutpandering to them or jettisoning our core values.’By Jim BettingerJournalism staggered away from theCalifornia recall election facing awitches’ brew of problems. Nowjournalists face the challenge ofhaving an awful lot to learn about whathappened, with perhaps not much timeto learn what they need to know.This challenge arises not becausethe coverage of the recall was bad. Itwasn’t. In fact, by measures that seriousjournalists use to evaluate politicalcoverage, it was very good. But goodcoverage didn’t seem to matter muchand, in fact, it served to link journaliststo an established political order thatvoters were determined to chase out ofoffice three years ahead of schedule.This linkage seems apt since by philosophyand in practice, journalists areentwined in established politics. Therecall election showed this graphicallyand also demonstrated how angry asignificant segment of voters are at thatestablished political order.Warnings to PoliticalJournalistsThe warning I take away from the recallelection’s coverage is that serious journalismrisks becoming irrelevant to apolitical process that may be undergoingfundamental change. For those ofus who want to see journalism be amajor force in democratic society andnot just a constitutionally protectedlicense to make money, significant chal-50 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


California Recallof the campaign and election.That news coverage didn’t seem tomake much difference. According toexit polls, two-thirds of the voters madeup their minds more than a monthbefore the election, or about the timeof the first debate, in which ArnoldSchwarzenegger did not participate.Fifty-five percent of these early decidersvoted to recall Governor Gray Davis,and 47 percent voted forSchwarzenegger. For them, all thosenews stories, all those profiles, all thoseissue charts, and all those live TV standupsevidently made no difference.Major newspapers—the Los AngelesTimes, San Francisco Chronicle,The Sacramento Bee, and San JoseMercury News—recommended in editorialsa “no” vote on the recall andrecommended no candidate to replacehim. (Under California’s recall law, therecall question was a two-parter: First,yes or no on whether Davis should berecalled and second, which of the 135candidates on the ballot—and not inalphabetical order!—should replaceDavis if he were recalled.) This was alogically correct strategy, based on theconviction that the recall was a BadThing. But the election outcome showsthat a huge segment of the population—morethan the number who votedfor Davis in 2002—did not share theseeditors’ disdain for the recall process.Reporting on a CelebrityTurned CandidateGovernor Gray Davis loses recall election. Photo by J. Emilio Flores/La Opinión.lenges lie ahead. The toughest one:figuring out how to reach growingnumbers of disillusioned citizens withoutpandering to them or jettisoningour core values.One area where some very hardthinking is necessary is the degree towhich established journalism reallysavors and relies on the establishedpolitical process, when much of thepublic is sick of it. Let others complainabout the length of political campaigns,especially presidential ones. Journalistslike long campaigns. In long campaigns,political journalists participatein the vetting. In a foreshortened campaignlike the recall, name recognitionand celebrity matter more, and thepress matters less, much to the irritationof journalists.The California reporters and editorsI talked with disdained the recall processitself, not to mention this particularelection. In print and in conversation,the chances of the recall gettingon the ballot were minimized. Thisgave an early hint that reporters mightnot be on top of a story that was happeningoutside traditional politicalbounds. Then, once the recall was areality, serious journalistic outlets committedthemselves to serious coverageJournalists worked hard to scrutinizeSchwarzenegger. But he and his crewsucceeded in appearing to be scrutinizedwithout revealing anything significant.In fact, they successfully turnedmost of the scrutiny on its head.Schwarzenegger appeared on entertainmentTV and radio shows such as“The Oprah Winfrey Show” and“Howard Stern” and “Larry King Live,”while avoiding more informed questionersof the political press and traditionalavenues such as meetings withnewspaper editorial boards. As his campaignchief said in August, two monthsbefore the election in early October,“This is not a position election. It’s acharacter election.” Schwarzeneggerproceeded to ridicule attempts to probehis character and preemptively hewarned that Governor Davis would tryto drag the campaign to the gutter. Hethen coarsened his message with referencesto “puke politics” (his aideshanded out barf bags and plastic vomitpuddles to reporters) and vows to “kicksome serious butt.”These contradictions were dutifullyreported. And it didn’t seem to matter.Schwarzenegger’s name identificationand celebrity trumped the toolsthat journalists had at their disposal.Schwarzenegger supporters had seenenough to make up their minds early,and no amount of standard journalisticeffort to shame him into fuller disclosure,either about his character or hispositions on issues, had any impact.Many of these voters held a deepand seething anger that mainstreamjournalists have a hard time tappinginto or even recognizing. Michael Lewis,writing in the New York Times Magazine,recounted chatting with Los Angelestalk-radio hosts John Kobylt andKen Chiampou about their top-ratedprogram in which they dialed in thepolitical anger voters were feeling.“‘The challenge is to hold onto theNieman Reports / Winter 2003 51


Journalist’s Tradetone,’ John says. Asked to describe thetone, Ken says, ‘Rabid dogs.’ John says:‘I don’t know that part of the brain thatshouts all these things you aren’t supposedto say in polite company, butthat’s the part of the brain that wespeak to.’ Ken: ‘People relate to theshouts. What differentiates us from acrazy man is that a lot of people agreewith the shouts.’”Whatever else the tone of 21st centurymainstream journalism is, rabiddogs and shouting aren’t part of it. It’sso alien to most journalists that theyhave a hard time fathoming it as legitimate,let alone plumbing its depthsand writing about it with power. Andwhen we—here I lump myself in withserious journalists—enmesh ourselves,as political reporters, into the establishedpolitical process, we becomeobvious targets of this same anger.While we might see ourselves as outsidersand watchdogs, keeping politicianshonest and providing unbiasedinformation to readers and viewers,the Kobylt-Chiampou audience regardsus as part of an unholy cabal.Watching the Anger GrowFive days after the election, I wrote ananalysis in the San Jose Mercury Newsabout some of these issues, making thesame point: that the established mediaare seriously disconnected from thesecitizens. The vitriolic reaction I gotconvinced me that I was right and alsothat my analysis of all of this had hardlycalmed the seas. One person wroterepresentatively, “You seem to be saying,in a nutshell: There is a disconnectbetween journalists and the public.This is bad for society. So voters bettershape up and get with the program.”From another reader: “I want to thankJim Bettinger for explaining to me whyI voted ‘yes’ on the recall and forSchwarzenegger as governor. I believedI was doing the right thing, but it turnsout I was just plain too stupid to understandwhat the Los Angeles Times, theMercury News, and other ‘Progressive’newspapers were trying to tell me.”Near the end of the campaign camethe Los Angeles Times’s investigationinto six women’s allegations thatThe newly elected governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his wife, MariaShriver, during his victory party in Los Angeles. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/La Opinión.Schwarzenegger had groped them.When given a chance to respond to thewomen before the story was published,the Schwarzenegger campaign ignoredthe specifics and instead portrayed thewomen’s accounts as a tool of the Daviscampaign. (After all, earlier they hadsuccessfully laid the foundation for thiskind of a response.)The campaign took on the newspaper,challenging its decision to publishthe story five days before the election.After a loose and unspecific apologyfrom Schwarzenegger on the day thestory ran, the Schwarzenegger campaignmade scourging the Times itsmessage of the day. Maria Shriver, thecandidate’s wife and a TV reporter herself,called the detailed and exhaustivestory “gutter journalism.”It was a tactic aimed at people preparedto believe the worst about thenews media. And it seemed to work.Despite the swinish details,Schwarzenegger supporters whom Iheard calling talk-radio programs tookevery opportunity to explain away theallegations. Others congratulated himfor his apology, saying it made themmore certain of their vote for him. Forsome, the very fact of publicationseemed to prove to them that theircandidate was an upright man whothreatened the establishment; the problemwasn’t Arnold, it was the press.The Impact of This AngerSome intriguing consequences haveemerged in the aftermath of the recall.One is that a lot of people got veryturned on by the campaign. A survey bythe Public Policy Institute of Californiafound that people were paying attentionto the recall in numbers and intensitysimilar to the September 11th terroristattacks. About half of them saidthey were more interested in politics asa result and nearly half said they weremore enthusiastic about voting. Indeed,about 1.675 million people moreturned out to vote in the recall electionthan had voted in the regular electionless than 12 months earlier. Notingthis, at least eight California televisionstations are considering reopeningtheir state capital bureaus. Journalistsin other sections of the country mightfind this amazing, but not since 1988has a local television station had aSacramento bureau.My own thinking about the recallhas shifted since the election. I’ve gonefrom being opposed on principle to amore ambivalent view. All the reasonsto have opposed the recall are stillthere. But, I ask myself, if that manypeople are that upset about the waythe state is being run, is it good governmentto deny them a political voice forthat anger for three more years?52 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


California RecallSerious journalists should have similarambivalence about what happenedand what they’re going to do about it.Yes, Schwarzenegger’s image ranroughshod over nuanced and criticalcoverage in this election. Yes, this wasthe clichéd “perfect storm” of an unpopulargovernor, an internationalicon, and a short campaign. And yes,rabid dogs and shouting are exactlynot what many of us got into journalismto cover.But the fact remains that a significantsegment of the public believes—to a moral certainty—that mainstreammedia work from an agenda of activelypromoting liberal political goals andthat they work in tandem with thetraditional political system. As journalists,we need to figure out ways toconnect with these angry voters anddisentangle ourselves from the politicalestablishment, rather than dismissthis new political force as crazies whojust aren’t like us. ■Jim Bettinger is director of StanfordUniversity’s John S. Knight Fellowshipsfor Professional Journalistsand a former newspaper editor.jimb@stanford.eduCampaign Coverage Without the CandidatesA Sacramento Bee reporter and photographer discover the anger ofCalifornia’s voters.By Marjie LundstromThe assignment was straightforwardenough: Talk to people.Talk to people everywhere aboutCalifornia’s historic recall election. Notthe pundits. Not the professors. Certainlynot the politicians. Just “go findpeople,” hear them out, and take theirpictures—an extended man/womanon-the-streetassignment, with “thestreet” being the 156,000-square-milestate of California.So off we went. Beginning in earlyAugust, photographer José Luis Villegasand I steered away from the campaigntrails—not once, in nine weeks of travel,did we cross paths with another journalist—probingthe touchy questionwith voters of whether to throw DemocratGovernor Gray Davis out of officeand who, if it came to that, shouldreplace him.We talked to fishermen and farmers,bankers and beauticians, social workersand software execs. We met awoman chain-saw sculptor who turnedredwood burls into art and a wisecrackingsmall-town barber with a 99-year-old barber chair that came from abrothel. We met a disabled man livingin a squalid shack in the Central Valleyand a retired investment banker in SanFrancisco’s Pacific Heights with a million-dollarview.Margaret Gillhan of Pelican Bay, California, where a maximum-security prison is located,voiced anger about what happened with the town during Davis’s governorship. AsGillhan said, “This used to be a quiet little town,” but it has experienced “teenagetroubles” from the children of the inmates’ families. Photo by José Luis Villegas/TheSacramento Bee.Everyone, it seems, had an opinion.Unlike other news stories, whose specificsoften elude large numbers ofpeople, this story was as consuming toCalifornians as the O.J. Simpson trialhad been nearly a decade earlier.For all our diverse travels, it didn’ttake long to uncover the essential truthabout this election: Voters weresteamed. The anger was palpable. Therewere the usual gripes—the budget deficit,the tripling of the vehicle tax, thecontroversial granting of driver’s licensesto illegal immigrants. But afterNieman Reports / Winter 2003 53


Journalist’s Tradethat it got personal, with Davis at thecore of a laundry list of grievances.One mother held Davis directly responsiblefor her seven-year-olddaughter’s special education class beingcut. A community college studentblamed him for her rising fees andinability to enroll in a chemistry class.A souvenir shop manager in Hollywoodwas ticked off about her lack of parking.On and on the list grew, but to eachproblem the proposed remedy was thesame: Throw the rascal out.If recall backers were making Davisout to be the villain, to opponents ofthe recall, he remained almost an abstraction.In rural areas and in cities,even diehard recall opponents wereloath to say they actually supported thegovernor. Instead they expressed philosophicalobjections to the recall—itsexpense, the Republican’s “powergrab,” the futility of leadership change,but would just as quickly add: “Not thatI like Davis.”Hearing this chorus of complaintbegan to pose a journalistic challenge:to report what we were hearing mightmake it seem we were stacking thedeck. So we looked harder for Davissupporters to provide some balance,but often came up short. We mixed upthe story lineup, anticipating, for instance,that gay and lesbian voters inSan Francisco would likely voice strongsupport for the governor, who hadsupported them on key issues. Instead,when we talked with them, we encounteredwidespread ambivalence. Manysaid they weren’t terribly interested inthe recall election. “San Francisco is avery colorful city. It’s hard to have agovernor as flavorless as Gray Davis,”explained a lesbian attorney.By early September, having loggedsome 1,800 miles, one thing was obvious:Gray Davis was in trouble, bigtrouble. We didn’t have to say this—instory after story, the voters did.Strategically Reporting onVotersRosemary Dominguez, with her two-year-old daughter Vanessa, intended to vote for therecall of Governor Gray Davis and for Cruz Bustamante for governor. Photo by José LuisVillegas/The Sacramento Bee.We knew none of this, of course, whenour reporting journey began in earlyAugust. Back then, the greatest challengeseemed to be how to make thepieces unique and not repetitious—toavoid the coffee-shop peril. All too often,it seems, journalists take the easyroute on these kinds of assignments,blowing into a community, locatingthe town “hang-out,” and quizzing ahandful of patrons while discreetlygathering colorful anecdotes about thetablecloths and quaint wall hangingsto give each piece a sense of place.But this election, and this state, werefar more complex than that. As thenation’s most populous state, and thethird largest geographically, Californiais a place where diversity is measurednot just by race and ethnicity, but bymany other factors: socio-economics,sexual orientation, language and culture,urban vs. rural, young and old,newcomer vs. old-timer.To truly capture these wide-rangingvoices, and to distinguish the pieces,we had to spurn the journalistic traditionof the mom-and-pop café—of hittingthe road and winging it. We had tohave a plan, a strategy for where wewere going and why. With meticulousfront-end research by Bee librarian PeteBasofin, who crunched and recrunchedstatewide data and rifledthrough dusty political annuals, wesketched out our targets before we lefthome.There was Placer County in the Sacramentoregion, for instance, a Republicanstronghold that had collected thehighest percentage of recall signaturesof any county in the state. Later, wewould visit heavily Democrat San Francisco,the county that had returned thelowest percentage of recall signatures.We traveled to remote Modoc Countyon the Oregon and Nevada borders,where median household income isthe lowest in the state.And we spent time in Merced Countyin the San Joaquin Valley, where smalldairy farms and lush orchards are givingway overnight to model homes andnew Starbucks. As demographics haveshifted throughout the Valley, Mercedremains one of the last counties whereDemocrats still hold a slight edge overRepublicans, though Republicans oftenprove to be more reliable voters.These particular aspects about variouslocales helped frame the stories,giving readers a fresh context for eachinstallment in the series. With Basofin’shelp, the stories contained not onlycolorful characters talking about therecall and what it meant to them, butalso plenty of rich detail about the54 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


California Recallareas and their historical and politicalsignificance.Not all the pieces were defined byinteresting demographics or politicalpatterns. Some places were simply chosenas backdrops for specific subjects.For instance, we wanted to talk withprison guards—one of Davis’s controversialconstituencies, as he upped theirpay during his leadership (then latertried to renege). For this we traveled toCrescent City near the Oregon border,home of the notorious Pelican Bay StatePrison, where the maximum-securityprison has not always enjoyed an easymarriage with the small coastal town.Meanwhile, women’s rights activists,supportive of Davis, struggled tobe heard over the clang-clang of voters’fiscal alarm. For this perspective, wewent to Fresno County in the CentralValley, where teen birth rates are thehighest in the state—and actually costtaxpayers the most money. We usedSan Diego as the backdrop for a talkradiostory, focusing on conservativetalk-show host and former mayor, RogerHedgecock, an early recall supporterwho whipped up local voters with“drive-by” petition signings. And justfor fun, we hit San Diego’s popularTourmaline Surfing Park, where agingsurfers defied the loopy, checked-outdude image and plunged into articulate,reasoned discussions about therecall.Moving Beyond AssumptionsThe surfers went against stereotype—one of the biggest traps I believe journalistscan fall into on these kinds ofassignments. With limited time in unknownplaces, there is a tendency toover-generalize—to make sweepingconclusions about a whole region orgroup of people, based on a day or twoof interviewing.As a 2001 Ethics Fellow at ThePoynter Institute in St. Petersburg,Florida, I wrote a paper about what Icall “geographic bias,” an affliction sufferedmost commonly by national reporters.The journalists, who parachuteinto strange places at a moment’s notice,routinely try to help readers andviewers get oriented with scene-settingor contextual stories—a worthygoal, except when the work ends upbeing one-dimensional or even twisted.Rural areas are the most susceptible,probably because they are themost foreign to urban journalists—and seem so quaint and simple to theuntrained eye. As a native Nebraskan, Icringe every four years during the presidentialcaucuses in Iowa and the predictableromps around farm country.Dara Morehouse, dressed like Marilyn Monroe and pulling a wagon, takes flyers toGrauman’s Chinese Theatre. Photo by José Luis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee.Jewell Charles blamed California GovernorGray Davis and the U.S. Governmentfor the state of the economy. Photo by JoséLuis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee.Never mind that Iowa’s political decisionsare driven by its urban areas.Never mind that Des Moines is one ofthe world’s busiest insurance centers.Do we ever see Iowa people in suitsand ties? Instead, we are constantlytreated to footage of folksy farmers andrippling ripe cornfields, despite thefact that a cornfield in Iowa in Januaryis nothing more than frozen stubble.Where there is “geographic bias” byjournalists, stereotypes abound. In ruralareas, for instance, the regulars atthe local steakhouse suddenly becomethe voice for the whole community oreven state. The images from the barbershopor bingo parlor are portrayedas the sum of life here.On our travels, José and I vowed toavoid that trap and developed a mantrato keep us grounded: “It is what it is,”we said over and over. At first, it was aresponse to weariness as we crawledinside the car after another long day ofstalking and stopping strangers or gettingchased by farm dogs. But I thinkover time it reminded us not to overreach—notto even try to write the“definitive” piece about an area afterNieman Reports / Winter 2003 55


Journalist’s Tradeto be equally vapid, focused more onprocess and inside baseball than substance.Rather, I found it rather fascinatingthat Schwarzenegger and hisadvisers—political pros, all—couldcapitalize on his celebrity to make ordinaryjournalism so marginally relevantto the outcome, to go around us scribblers,and to convey his message ofsaving California so effectively.Just as John F. Kennedy and thenRonald Reagan redefined political communicationsby using television soadroitly, the recall campaign againstDavis and Schwarzenegger’s campaignto succeed him might have createdanother paradigm shift, if one may usean overused term. “A presidential campaignwas happening inside the bordersof California,” Schwarzeneggeradviser Don Sipple said in a post-electionconclave at the University of California,Berkeley. “It was about symbolicmessage and messenger.”Any doubts about Schwarzenegger’snew definition of political media shouldhave been dispelled not only by his useof the Leno show to make his announceonlyspending a day or two in it. Yet itwas our journalistic instinct to try andsay something profound, to extractsome deeper meaning in every story,but the reality and time limitations ofthe assignment dictated otherwise.It was what it was.And it was important. People in Californiahad a lot to say about this election,and their voices added immeasurablyto the overall coverage. Because inthe end, it wasn’t the political expertsor talking heads who decided Davis’sfate. It was Rose at the General Store inLikely (population 200), who had beensoaking up the buzz behind the cashregister and knew Davis was done-for.It was Maryanne, a waitress at a LosBanos lunch counter, who blamedDavis for her customers’ inability topay for a decent breakfast. And it wasEdwin, a Fresno State college studentmad about rising tuition and enamoredwith Arnold Schwarzenegger’s“celebrity appeal.”These voices mattered most becausethey’re the ones who decided October7—all 8,984,057 of them.The people had spoken. It was aprivilege to listen. ■Marjie Lundstrom is a senior editor,columnist and writing coach for TheSacramento Bee, where she has alsobeen city editor, metro editor, andassistant managing editor/metro. In1991, while a national correspondentwith Gannett News Service, shewon the 1991 Pulitzer Prize fornational reporting for agroundbreaking series of storiesrevealing how child-abuse deathswent undetected because of mistakesby medical examiners and coroners.MLundstrom@sacbee.comCelebrity Transforms Political CoverageThe Schwarzenegger campaign capitalized ‘on his celebrity to make ordinaryjournalism so marginally relevant to the outcome ….’By Dan WaltersWe’d been there before—reportingon some rich guywithout political experiencerunning for governor of California,pretending to know something aboutthe intricacies of state governmentbased on what highly paid adviserswere telling him and being subjectedto withering journalistic scrutiny. Thishappened in 1998 when airline tycoonAl Checchi garnered the nickname“Checkbook Checchi” for lavishing tensof millions of dollars on running forgovernor and losing to a colorless careerpol named Gray Davis in the Democraticprimary.But this time, the rich guy was alsoone of the world’s most famous actors,who had conquered bodybuilding andmotion pictures and now wanted totake his muscular physique and thickAustrian accent to Sacramento. ArnoldSchwarzenegger’s dramatic entry intothe recall election directed at Davis—he announced it on Jay Leno’s latenighttelevision show after hinting thathe had decided not to run—was notonly the political event of the decade,but one that altered everything we hadassumed about what it took to run andwin in the nation’s most populous state.Most of all—at least for those of us inthe political scribbling trade—it alteredthe meaning of “political media,” expandingit to include everything fromInternet bloggers to “EntertainmentTonight” and Oprah Winfrey’s daytimetalk show. Schwarzenegger expandedthe term so much, in fact, that it almostexcluded those of us who actually coverand write about politics for Californianewspapers.Transforming PoliticalReportingThis is not resentment speaking. I don’tclaim any divine right to exclusive accessto politicians or to act as judge andjury of their qualifications, althoughsome of my brethren act as if they havesuch a heavenly charter. I’ve alwaysfound the pre-election part of politics—campaigns,conventions, debates,etc.—to be mostly boring and irrelevantanyway and the media coverage56 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


California Recallment but by his first major news conference,staged at a hotel near LosAngeles International Airport on August20th, two weeks after his Lenoappearance. Schwarzenegger conveneda meeting of his economic advisorypanel and then emerged with formerSecretary of State George Schultz andbillionaire Warren Buffett to answerquestions. More than 30 televisioncrews and dozens of print reportersfrom around the world showed up—easily a record for any political event inCalifornia—and Schwarzeneggerhandled it all with aplomb.Tellingly and perhaps fittingly, thefinal question of the 40-minute sessioncame from a carefully coifed “reporter”for “Entertainment Tonight” whowanted to know, breathlessly, whatexalted role Schwarzenegger pal RobLowe would play in his campaign. “He’sa very good friend of mine,”Schwarzenegger replied coolly.It was a taste of the media feedingfrenzy that would continue for twomonths, until Schwarzenegger was introducedby Leno in a hotel ballroomon election night to claim victory. Lateracademic studies were to demonstratethat Schwarzenegger, by the sheerpower of his celebrity, claimed so muchattention that neither Davis nor any ofSchwarzenegger’s hapless opponents—therewere 135 names on theballot—could gain more than tokenattention. Just one Schwarzeneggerpublic appearance a day was enough todominate television coverage. Whenthe first major debate of the campaignwas staged and Schwarzenegger refusedto attend, most of the coveragewas devoted to that, rather than whatthe participants had to say. And whenhe did attend one debate, it garneredthe largest television audience of anyCalifornia-only political event in history.His adequate, if not inspiring,performance in that debate sent hisnumbers up dramatically and those ofincumbent Davis into the tank. “Hesucked all the oxygen out of the air,”admiringly observed the manager of arival campaign during the Berkeleypostmortem.My favorite personal anecdote aboutthe frenzy is this: One day I got a callfrom a field producer for a televisioncrew from Jakarta, Indonesia, that hadbeen dispatched to California to coverthe recall—or more accurately, theSchwarzenegger phenomenon simplybecause the actor is so famous in thatcountry. And they weren’t alone. I hadcalls, or interview requests, from publicationsand broadcast outlets in anumber of nations, including Austria,of course, Switzerland, Australia andCanada. I practically took up residenceat PacSat, a Sacramento television studiothat specializes in interviews for TVnetwork and cable talk shows. PacSatwas running about a dozen journalistsand politicians through its system eachday and making a lot of money in theprocess.The last gasp of the old politicalmedia in this campaign was a lengthyarticle in the Los Angeles Times, publishedfive days before the October 7thelection, that alleged a pattern of sexualharassment by Schwarzenegger directedat women in and around hismovie productions.In the Times’s article,Schwarzenegger’s campaign spokesmansuggested the charges were politicallymotivated and untrue. But on theday the story appeared, the candidateacknowledged that he had behavedbadly toward women in the past andapologized for it. Private polls showedthat Schwarzenegger’s standing took aserious hit for a day or two, but quicklyrebounded as Republicans and pro-Schwarzenegger radio talk show hostsdenounced the Times. Schwarzeneggerwon the election going away, withnearly 50 percent of the vote despitethe huge field of candidates, and Daviswas recalled by a wide margin.In retrospect, the Times didSchwarzenegger a favor, however inadvertently.Had the charges surfacedearlier, especially before the one debatein which he participated, theymight have done more damage. And ifthey had been published after the election,they could have seriously damagedhis governorship.The question now, of course, iswhether the media frenzy will continueafter Schwarzenegger takes office.It will, for awhile. Los Angeles andSan Francisco TV stations might evenreopen the bureaus they shuttered inthe 1980’s after concluding that politicsis less interesting than freewaychases. But as the Schwarzeneggergovernorship begins, those of us in thereal political media will also have ourshot, because the nuts and bolts ofgovernance are far more complicatedand treacherous than selling a simplisticcampaign message.The reporters who covered the recallcampaign for most of the largerCalifornia papers (the Bee being a notableexception) tended to be purepolitical reporters who specialize incampaigns—and often know littleabout, and usually ignore, the intricaciesof government as they obsess onpolls, television ads, and other formsof political minutiae. But onceSchwarzenegger takes office, he willface the Capitol’s resident press corps,some of whose members have beentracking legislation and administrativepolicy for decades, and he will have amuch more difficult time blowingsmoke on the budget and other issues.Gray Davis could tell him about that.After all, it was the Capitol press corps’intense and critical news coverage ofhis actions as governor that sent Davis’sapproval ratings on a tailspin from 60-plus percent to just over 20 percentand set the stage for theSchwarzenegger phenomenon. He’scoming into our domain now, and wewon’t tolerate campaign-stylesloganeering as a substitute for substantiveaction on the budget and othercritical issues. ■Dan Walters has been The SacramentoBee’s political columnistsince 1984. In 1981, while at TheSacramento Union’s Capitol bureau,he began writing the only dailynewspaper column devoted toCalifornia’s political, economic andsocial events. His column now appearsin 50 California newspapers.dwalters@sacbee.comNieman Reports / Winter 2003 57


Journalist’s TradeScuttlebutt and Speculation Fill a Political WeblogA newspaper columnist’s blog becomes a must-read on the campaign trail.By Daniel WeintraubAfter 20 years writing about politicsand public policy to somelocal note but no national acclaim,I managed to become almostfamous this year—by dispensing speculationand instant analysis on theInternet and punditry on cable television.I owe it all to the California recalland to my Weblog.When I started the Weblog—knownas the California Insider—I had no ideathat the attempt to remove GovernorGray Davis from office would take rootand evolve into the biggest politicalstory of the year. Or that the Internetgenre known commonly as the blogwould come to play such a prominentrole in the coverage.For the uninitiated, a blog is anonline journal of usuallyshort, spontaneous itemsupdated frequently asevents develop. Manyblogs are personal diariesread only by the author’sfamily and close friends.Even the more prominentbloggers are usuallynonjournalists who link toprinted stories and critiquethem on their owntime. Others are createdand updated by collegeprofessors or experts intheir fields.Blogs, then, representa democratization of journalism,or at least opinionjournalism, because theyallow anybody, just aboutanywhere, to publishthemselves and gain readersin relation to their talent,their relevance and,ultimately, their accuracy,regardless of their credentials.Breaking News on My BlogI was breaking new ground by combiningfull-time journalism as a three-timesa-weekcolumnist for The SacramentoBee and a full-time blog that I updatedconstantly from anywhere I had accessto the Internet—from my desk, home,campaign bus, and other unpredictablelocations. When I wrote for theCalifornia Insider, I commented on thenews and broke some, too.It was a perfect marriage of mediumand message. The recall was a fastmovingstory from the start, first withthe signature count and then the watchto see which candidates would file torun. The final, 60-day sprint to ElectionDay was filled with unexpected twistsand turns that I could report and thenanalyze on my blog 18 hours or morebefore they would appear in the printversion of our newspaper. When I beganthe blog in early April, it was readby a few hundred people each day,mainly Capitol staff, lobbyists, politicalconsultants, and colleagues in the presscorps. By the end of the campaign, theblog was getting nearly 20,000 pageviews a day.Some readers told me they wouldcheck the site eight or 10 times a day tosee if anything was breaking on thestory. Those readers included peoplefrom all over the world and many editorsin newsrooms from Los Angeles toNew York. One day, late in the campaignwhen I was riding on the ArnoldSchwarzenegger bus tour, a reporterfor another paper approached me afterhis editor had read an item I’dposted a few minutes earlier,called him, and asked him tocheck it out.Ironically, the success of theblog was based on skills I’d longshunned as a journalist. In my 20years as a beat reporter, I hateddaily news, or at least the kindgenerated by politicians, whichso often seemed artificial andoften self-serving. Rather thanstaffing press conferences andsitting through staged committeehearings, I preferred enterprisestories and analysis. Now Ifound myself with a self-imposeddeadline every minute, and I wasfiling items based not just on myreporting but also on press releases,campaign commercials,fundraising reports, and otherroutine developments.While as a columnist I preferpolicy to politics, my blog wasfilled with political scuttlebuttand speculation, the latest pollsand observations on who was up58 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


California Recalland who was down. Naturally, TV lovedit. I was soon in demand as a guestpundit for all three major cable televisionnetworks, and halfway throughthe campaign I signed on as an exclusiveanalyst with MSNBC. I was bemusedif not surprised that family andfriends who had rarely if ever read oneof my 850-word columns on state policywere thrilled to see me on televisionoffering my latest sound bites on therecall race.Even if I was going against my instincts,I found that the blog helpedimprove my column. The constant writingloosened up my style and made mealways ready to write whenever I satdown to craft my newspaper pieces.The increased feedback from readersalso helped, especially tips and analysisthat flowed in as people respondedto my posts. I also was able to use theWeb site as a public drafting board,posting segments that would grow intocolumns over a few days’ time.The Blog and the NewspaperI did stumble along the way. Mynewfound thirst for reporting breakingdevelopments led me to post anitem from a source close toSchwarzenegger saying the actor haddecided not to run and would be holdinga press conference to announce hisdecision. As it turned out, the pressconference was postponed and ultimatelycanceled and Schwarzenegger,of course, did enter the race. Such arethe hazards of reporting the newsminute-by-minute as it develops.I also became somewhat notoriousafter I posted a sharply worded commentarycritical of Lt. Governor CruzBustamante, the major Democrat inthe race. Protests from the newsroomled to a decision to have an editor preclearmy items. Before then, I’d posteddirectly to the Web with a simultaneouscopy sent to my line editor.When the paper’s ombudsman revealedthis change in policy, it caused an uproarin the “blogosphere” among mynew colleagues who believe thatblogging and editing are incompatiblebecause the craft is supposed to bespontaneous and unfiltered, then revisedas readers jump in for a sort ofinteractive story session. Someone evenstarted a “free Dan Weintraub” movement.By Election Day, I was liberated, butnot from my editors. Now that thecampaign has ended and the transitionment to Schwarzenegger’s internationalprominence as a movie actor.In keeping with Schwarzenegger’sstatus as a former Mr. Universe,Ironman Magazine was also present.Teagan Clive, the Ironman correspondent,granted numerous interviews toher colleagues in the room, telling thePasadena Star-News “Arnold is themodern day king” and adding, “He isstrong, and he shoots from the hip.”The news conference offered a previewof the campaign to follow: longon star power and short on substance.The candidate’s refusal to get into spetogoverning has begun, I’ve returnedto the pace I intended all along: I posta few items a day, some tidbits butmostly analysis. Readers tell me theyare having withdrawal pains. But thereis simply no way to keep up the pace ofthe campaign and also publish threeprint columns a week and still findtime to eat and sleep.The electronic media have also retreated.When, the day after the election,they packed their bags and headedfor the Kobe Bryant trial in Colorado orthe presidential campaign trail in Iowa,they also stopped calling for instantanalysis. My teenage son noted my absencefrom the tube and asked with allthe sincerity a 14-year-old can muster:“What happened, did your 15 days offame run out?”I guess so. But the blog, and thecolumn that begat it, continue. ■Daniel Weintraub opines on Californiapolitics for the editorial pages ofThe Sacramento Bee. His Weblog andcolumn archive are atwww.sacbee.com/insiderdweintraub@sacbee.comLights, Camera, RecallTelevision news coverage could not get past a candidate’s star power.By Cecilia Alvear and George LewisThe California recall was a mixtureof historical event, highdrama, and showbiz. In the beginning,it was covered as a farce, with135 candidates in the field. The firstweek of stories profiled Larry Flynt, theself-styled “smut peddler with a heart,”porn star Mary Carey, and former childactor Gary Coleman in pieces that reinforcedevery East Coast stereotype ofCalifornia as a land of whackos. ThenArnold Schwarzenegger announced hiscandidacy on the “The Tonight Showwith Jay Leno,” and from that momenton the media focus narrowed to him,embattled Governor Gray Davis, and ahandful of other so-called “serious”candidates. But it was Schwarzenegger,with his superstar aura, who dominatedthe story.His first news conference was anevent attended by 160 journalists fromaround the world, representing outletsranging from The New York Timesto Variety, from the broadcast and cablenews outlets to the celeb-news shows“Entertainment Tonight” and “AccessHollywood.” There was a huge contingentof foreign journalists from Europe,Asia and Latin America, a testa-Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 59


Journalist’s Tradecifics prompted a question from anNBC News’ producer about exactlywhat cuts he would make in California’sbudget to ease the state’s fiscal crisis.“The public doesn’t care about figures,”he responded, prompting somepundits to criticize his lack of specificswhile others called it a smart ploy toavoid getting mired in a debate aboutfinancial issues. And so it would gothroughout the campaign—a campaignthat more resembled a Hollywood promotionalmovie junket than a traditionalpolitical contest.The Candidate andQuestionersIn the early days, Schwarzenegger wasoften not available to answer questionsfrom the press. There were the quickieinterviews with local TV anchors—10minutes maximum, hard questions at aminimum. He also took time for interviewson conservative talk radio showswhere the hosts had already endorsedhis candidacy, while the traditionalpolitical press was kept at arm’s length.At one point, an NBC News’ producerobserved Schwarzenegger andhis handlers conferring before a pressconference. The aides were pointingout the reporters who were considered“friendly” and “unfriendly” andadvising him to ignore questions fromthe “unfriendlies.”One friendly reporter Schwarzeneggerwould always call on was BarbaraGasser, the correspondent for theAustrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung. Shewould ask him questions such as, “Willyou establish an office of physical fitnessin California?,” or “How did youcelebrate the 20th anniversary of yourU.S. citizenship?,” probing queries thatmade some of the hard-nosed politicalreporters roll their eyes. Eventually theSchwarzenegger campaign anointedher with a role similar to the one HelenThomas used to play at presidentialpress conferences. Gasser got to say,“Thank you, Mr. Schwarzenegger” toend his question-and-answer sessionswith the press.“I will be the people’s governor,”Schwarzenegger often proclaimed,adding that he would go up and downthe state listening to the voters. So thecampaign organized numerous “AskArnold” events, billed as town hallmeetings with average Californians,where citizens could question the candidate.In reality, the participants werehandpicked by the campaign. Theinvitees mostly served up softball questionsthat Schwarzenegger easily fieldedwith canned answers culled from hisstandard stump speech.At one of the “Ask Arnold” events inEast Los Angeles, a group of politicalactivists, including one of the icons ofthe farm labor movement, DoloresHuerta, gathered outside, protestingSchwarzenegger’s promise to repeallegislation granting driver’s licenses toillegal immigrants. When several of thecamera crews inside headed for thedoor to photograph the protest,Schwarzenegger’s press aides warnedthem that if they left, they would not bereadmitted to the event.Schwarzenegger’s training as a bodybuilderand actor—as someone accustomedto the limelight—served himwell during the campaign. As he waswalking through a crowd of collegestudents at California State University,Long Beach, somebody threw eggs athim. The pool TV camera was right infront of Schwarzenegger at that moment,and the footage showed thatrather than flinching, he just kept smilingand pressing the flesh as he plowedthrough the crowd, eventually pullingoff his egg-stained jacket.While police and security peoplewere alarmed by the incident,Schwarzenegger later laughed it off bysaying of the egg-thrower: “This guyowes me bacon now. This is all part offree speech. I think it’s great.”Most of the images of candidateSchwarzenegger were flattering onesarranged by his staff. Arnold on thesteps of the California State Capitol,broom in hand, promising to make aclean sweep of state government. Thegigantic smiling Arnold picture plasteredon the side of his campaign bus,befitting a rock star on tour. Arnoldsurrounded by soccer moms andschoolteachers holding up signs reading,“Remarkable Women Join Arnold.”It was straight out of the playbook oflongtime Ronald Reagan aide MichaelDeaver, the man who raised the photoopportunity to an art form. Deaver’stheory: In an age in which most peopleget their news from television, showcaseyour candidate in the most visuallyglorious setting possible, the leadersurrounded by adoring citizens. Thenno matter what the reporters say abouthim, what sticks in viewers’ minds arethose triumphant pictures.From the beginning, the Schwarzeneggercamp had to deal with allegationsof his misbehavior toward women,something even he acknowledgedwhen he announced his candidacy on“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”Demonstrators from women’s groupswould routinely show up at his campaignevents as early polls showedwomen had doubts about him.Schwarzenegger countered those attackswith the help of his wife, “DatelineNBC” correspondent and anchorMaria Shriver, on leave from her job.They went on “The Oprah WinfreyShow,” a show with an 80 percentfemale audience. Shriver talked aboutthe warm and fuzzy details of theirprivate life, such as his habit of bringingher coffee in the morning. Almostovernight, Schwarzenegger’s gendergap in public opinion polls meltedaway.Then, late in the campaign, the LosAngeles Times published its exposéabout Schwarzenegger’s alleged gropingof several women. The charges explodedthroughout the media, but theydidn’t seem to sway Californians. Pollsshowed that they had made up theirminds early in the campaign to vote forthe recall and elect Schwarzenegger.At the end of the campaign,Schwarzenegger thanked us for “allthose wonderful pictures”—imagesthat his people arranged and that werepeatedly broadcast to millions ofviewers. From Schwarzenegger’s standpoint,all the free television exposurewas a boon to his campaign. Oftenthere were so many cameras present athis events that the TV crews were trippingover one another repeatedly.And no matter how hard we tried toput the pictures of those events intocontext, the image of the smiling su-60 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


California Recallperstar candidate was more powerfulthan the words. For those of us workingin television news, this triumph ofthe visual is always a source of frustrationwhen we’re up against politiciansand others skilled at manipulating themedium. When we’d try to writethoughtful words about the issuesraised in the campaign, it often felt likethose words were drowned out by thehoopla. His campaign anthem, “We’reNot Gonna Take It” reflected the angrymood of voters who wanted change inSacramento and looked atSchwarzenegger as the action hero whowas going to deliver that change.In the end, it was clear that thevoters didn’t want to see televisionstories or read newspaper articles aboutwhether the candidate was short onanswers to the state’s fiscal crisis orwhether he misbehaved aroundwomen. As reporters, when we did tryto focus on issues, we felt as though wewere doing such pieces for one another,because the general public hadall but tuned out when it came to thatkind of news coverage. Even so, we feltobligated to pursue the truth and triednot to allow our frustrations to poisonthe fairness or integrity of our reporting.Schwarzenegger’s star power is nowinfluencing how television covers statepolitics in California. An unprecedentednumber of media outlets covered hisinauguration at the state Capitol andnow, in what some see as a positiveimpact of “the Schwarzenegger effect,”local stations that closed their Sacramentobureaus during the 1980’s arereopening them as GovernorSchwarzenegger takes over. The showmust go on. ■Cecilia Alvear, a 1989 Nieman Fellow,is an NBC News producer.George Lewis is an NBC News correspondent.Both covered the Californiarecall election full time.alvear@aol.comWATCHDOGTracking Money in the California Recall Election‘Newspapers miss a major element of campaign coverage if they giveshort shrift to campaign money.’By Dan MorainCalifornia’s first recall of a sittinggovernor was a populist uprisingof historic proportions, anend to politics as usual, and a purgingof political insiders. Or so it was said.Campaign donors must not have beentold.In a campaign that lasted 77 daysand ousted Governor Gray Davis, thecandidates who vied to replace him,political parties, and moneyed interestsoperating independent campaignsfor and against the candidates, raisedand spent between $75 million and$80 million. All the major interestschipped in: businesses, lawyers,unions, wealthy political patrons, Indiantribes that own casinos, and more.The recall was supposed to be different.It wasn’t. Money was a definingissue, like it is in all campaigns.“This is business as usual, as far as Ican tell,” Democratic campaign consultantBill Carrick told the Los AngelesTimes after the election. Added politicalscience professor Gary Jacobson, acampaign finance expert at the Universityof California, San Diego, “You canhave a popular revolt—if you can findten’s of millions of dollars.”The million-dollar-a-day-campaignunderscored several truths aboutmoney in politics. Six- and seven-figurechecks were common even thoughthe recall was the first statewide campaignin California in which there werecontribution restrictions. Proposition34, drafted by legislators and approvedby the state’s voters in 2000, purportedlybarred individual donors from givingmore than $21,200 to a single candidate.As quickly became apparent, however,money seeps in, while laws limitingdonations can make money moredifficult for the public and press totrack. Additionally, if moneyed interestsare restricted from giving largesums directly to candidates, they canform independent committees andspend unlimited sums for and againstcandidates. Unlike candidates whomust answer to the voting public abouttheir tactics, operators of independentcampaigns are all but unfettered.“No matter what campaign financescheme you come up with, money isalways going to play a role,” said Sacramentolobbyist Scott Lay, who createda Web page to track money raised forthe recall. “Moneyed interests will finda way to speak out.”Reporting on the MoneyHere’s another truth: Newspapers missa major element of campaign coverageif they give short shrift to campaignmoney. My editors at the Los AngelesTimes assigned veteran reporter JeffRabin, Joel Rubin and me, plus researcherMaloy Moore and editor LindaRogers, to track fundraising and spendingin the recall. Rabin has focused onmoney in Los Angeles politics for years.I have covered money in politics as partof my assignments for the 10 years Ihave been in the Times’s Capitol bu-Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 61


Journalist’s TradeGovernor Gray Davis addresses delegates at the California Democratic Party Conventionwith Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante (to Davis’s right, gesturing), also a candidate forgovernor. Photo by Ciro Cesar/La Opinión.reau in Sacramento.Money spent on presidential andcongressional races attracts interestfrom national media, campaign financereform advocates, and academic researchers.But stakes are high in thestates, as reflected by the findings ofThe Institute on Money in State Politics,based in Helena, Montana, whichcounted $1.54 billion spent on campaignsfor governor, lieutenant governor,and legislative candidates in 2002,up from $1.03 billion in 1998.In California, the campaigns for legislativeseats and statewide offices routinelycost a combined $200 million ormore. Cumulative campaign spendingtopped $500 million in 1998, whenCalifornians elected Davis as governorand decided several high-priced ballotinitiatives. There is, in short, no way toreport fully on state government—orelections to it—without tracking theflow of money. In many instances,money is at the confluence of politicsand policy.Starting in 1999, when Davis tookoffice, I began building an Excel databaseconsisting of his donors. By thetime he left office, the file containedalmost 12,000 entries. I could sort donorsby name, city and state of residence,date of donation, and amountgiven. The file includes informationabout the donor’s employer and industryor interest, ranging from healthcare, gambling, entertainment and telecommunicationsto labor and statecontractors. There were several subclassifications.Within labor, for example,there are state employee unions,firefighter and police unions, buildingtrades and others.Using this accumulated data, mycolleagues and I could write about thenumber of donors from outside thestate who gave to Davis and how manyappointees on boards and commissionswere donors and how much they contributed.This enabled me to report inthe Times, with some authority, that 23percent of Davis’s donations came fromorganized labor. I could readily seethat $175,000 was contributed in 2003from the Mercury Insurance Group,but it’s one thing to know that Mercurygave $175,000 to Davis this year and$270,000 since 1999. It’s another thingto know that in 2003, Mercury sponsoredlegislation beneficial to its business,and Davis signed the bill beforeleaving office. Davis’s aides and Mercurydenied any connection betweentheir contribution and his signature.In his first term, as Davis was raisingmore than $70 million, fundraisingbecame a focus of much of the newscoverage of his administration. Thiswas particularly true in the 2002 electionyear. Newspapers reported thathe offered to meet with students at theUniversity of California, Berkeley, whodonated $100, and that his administrationauthorized an oil refinery to dumpdioxin in the San Francisco Bay afterthe refinery owner donated $70,500.The Times reported that he decidedagainst regulating the dietary supplement,Ephedra, after a manufacturergave him $150,000. After the San FranciscoChronicle reported that Davissolicited a one million dollar donationfrom the California Teachers Association,the Times reported that Davisrequested the money during a meetingin the governor’s Capitol office. Davisnarrowly survived the 2002 re-electionagainst businessman Bill Simon, Jr. Buttales of Davis’s fundraising exploitsserved to increase his vulnerability tothe recall. “[Davis] has two ears andtwo eyes and knows that he was hurt inthe 2002 campaign by the perceptionsthat he was a nonstop fundraiser,”Davis’s chief political adviser GarrySouth said at a forum analyzing therecall campaign, hosted by the Instituteof Governmental Studies at theUniversity of California, Berkeley.Tracking CampaignFundraisingIn California, retail politics is a quaintconcept. Statewide candidates don’thold barbecues or shake hands outsidefactory gates. As a rule, local televisionnews provides little original campaigncoverage. Statewide candidates generallyseek to influence the 15.4 millionregistered voters by spending two milliondollars each week or so on televisionspots. The recall seemed different.News organizations—includinglocal TV—showed intense interest, inpart because Arnold Schwarzeneggerwas running but also because therehad never been a recall of a sittingCalifornia governor.Given this level of media attentionbeing paid to the campaign, politicalexperts believed there would be lessneed to raise large sums. From thestart, they were wrong. Political gadflyTed Costa proposed the recall last De-62 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


California Recallcember, shortly after Davis narrowlywon reelection. Most experts doubtthat Costa would have gathered therequisite 900,000 valid signatures ofregistered voters to place the recall onthe ballot without the infusion of twomillion dollars by multimillionaire RepresentativeDarrell Issa (R-Calif.). Issapaid petition circulators one dollar to$1.25 per signature and funded a directmail petition drive. Altogether, hewas responsible for 1.3 million of the2.1 million signatures gathered in thedrive, according to consultant DavidGilliard, who oversaw Issa’s petitiondrive. Issa had planned to use the recallto launch his run to replace Davis,until Schwarzenegger muscled himaside.During the recall, the public hadmore access to fundraising informationthan in any past election. CaliforniaSecretary of State Kevin Shelley’soffice expanded its Web site, making iteasier to search for donors and downloadlists of contributors. Like Lay, theSacramento lobbyist who knitted togethera Web site to track recall money,California Common Cause set up aWeb site allowing the public to conductmore detailed searches. The Timesand other papers published chartsshowing the amounts raised by eachmajor candidate.But as the campaign took shape,Proposition 34’s infirmities becameapparent. The California Fair PoliticalPractices Commission, which interpretsand enforces state campaign financelaw, carved some loopholes. Candidatesfound others:• There were no caps on donations tocommittees established to supportor oppose the recall, or on donationsto and spending by independentcommittees established to supportor oppose candidates.• The Proposition 34 provision restrictingdonors to giving candidates nomore than $21,200 did not apply tothe recall target, Davis. In his failedattempt to beat the recall, Davis acceptedat least 70 separate donationsof more than $21,200; he received46 separate donations of$100,000 or more.• While Proposition 34 barred candidatesfrom loaning themselves morethan $100,000, candidates couldtake out bank loans, so long as theterms were generally available tothe public. Schwarzenegger used thisloophole to borrow $4.5 million, atfour percent interest.Upon announcing his candidacy,Schwarzenegger portrayed himself as apolitical outsider who wanted to shakeup the establishment. He proclaimedas he entered the race that he wouldaccept no campaign contributions. Hequickly withdrew that pledge, sayinghe wouldn’t raise money from “specialinterests,” which he defined as publicemployee unions and Indian tribes thatown casinos. In both instances, hewould be in a position of negotiatingwith them. “I take money from [the]little grocery store, or the little shoestore or the guy that owns the realestate company or something like that,”Schwarzenegger explained. “But mostof my contributions, 90 percent ofthem, are just from regular people.”As it turned out, Schwarzeneggerled all other candidates in the moneyrace. He gave himself and borrowed$10 million and raised $11.9 millionfrom outsiders. I have begun buildinga new database on the new governor’scontributors. It shows that much ofSchwarzenegger’s money came fromlongtime Republican donors, many ofwhom will have interests in legislationand decisions made by the governorand his administration. He took moneyfrom farm interests, insurance companies,the financial services industry andmanufacturers, all of which have lobbyistsin Sacramento. Real estate anddevelopment interests, which are affectedby state environmental regulationsand various fees, accounted for14 percent of the nearly 12 million heraised.One of the hottest policy issues inthe recall campaign involved the vehiclelicense fee, also called the car tax.After presiding over its decrease in1999, Davis tripled the fee in an attemptto help erase what was a $38billion budget deficit. Car dealers haddonated a combined $450,000 to Davisduring his first term. But in the recall,after the car tax was increased, theirmoney flowed to Schwarzenegger.Schwarzenegger promised to roll backthe car tax, thereby shaving the cost ofnew and used cars. Car dealers accountedfor $500,000 in donations tothe new governor. Bert Boeckmann,who owns car dealerships that haddonated to Davis in his first term, helpedarrange a fundraiser for Schwarzeneggerin the recall. Boeckmann told myreporting partner, Joel Rubin, that therewere many reasons why car dealerssupported the new governor, but “thecar tax was one of the issues that wasvery strong.”Tracking money was an essentialpart of covering the recall race or, indeed,any campaign. The flow of moneyin the recall likely affected the fate of atleast one major candidate, Lt. GovernorCruz Bustamante. But reportingon the influence of money on politicsshouldn’t end when the voting does. Itought to be integral to governmentreporting in off years. Reporters mayfind that Internet disclosure of campaignmoney will help, though thepromise of Internet disclosure doesn’tyet match reality in many states. Groupssuch as the Institute on Money in StatePolitics also can assist.Reporters can make their own jobseasier by taking time to maintain an upto-dateand searchable database. To besure, there’s not always a direct linebetween donations and decisions.Honest reporting on the doings in astate house or city hall should includeinstances when politicians make decisionsthat appear to be in conflict withthe interest of their patrons. Still, inalmost any story about legislative andadministrative issues, a few paragraphsdescribing the donations from the affectedinterests can provide added edgeand give readers insight into the workingsof their government. ■Dan Morain is a staff writer for theLos Angeles Times based in Sacramento.dan.morain@latimes.comNieman Reports / Winter 2003 63


Journalist’s TradeCovering the Recall for a Spanish-Speaking AudienceThe political editor of La Opinión found herself being interviewedby a lot of other reporters.By Pilar MarreroFrom the beginning, minority communitiesin California, which bynow are the majority of the state’spopulation, were not part of the movementtoward the governor’s recall election,the tremor that shook the GoldenState with a force reminiscent of periodicmovements of the San AndreasFault. The decisions involved in therecall of Governor Gray Davis emergedfrom a small but dedicated group ofconservative activists and were laterfueled by the suburban voter who worriesabout raising taxes and the proliferationof benefits for those less fortunate,including the largely facelessgroup referred to as “those illegalaliens.”This pattern is in keeping withRonald Reagan’s election as governorin the 1960’s, passage of the anti-taxProposition 13 during the 1970’s, andthe voters imposition of term limits inthe early 1990’s. Voter revolts haven’tcome from the less affluent and expandingminority communities whereeconomic downturns mean loss of jobs,cuts in pay, closure of neighborhoodhealth clinics, and anti-immigrant initiatives.They arise out of the anger ofthe mostly white middle class.Informing Potential VotersSo it became our job, as journalistsfrom the state’s only Spanish daily newspaper,not only to inform our communityabout developments in this fastpacedpolitical story but also to try toexplain this odd election to our readership.Most of our readers had no knowledgeof the recall process. Is thererelevant historic precedent? How willthe election work? What happens next?Those who rely on us for news includea mix of recent immigrants, newvoters, and older generation Latinoswho’d never seen anything like thiskind of political maelstrom and wonderedhow, in the end, this uniqueelection might affect them. As the campaignsgot underway, they also wonderedwhether it would devolve into acircus or showcase democracy in action.What choices would they have asvoters?Besides following the candidates,we struggled to explain what thesecampaigns were about. We dedicated agreat part of our reporting resources tocivic journalism, which is often a strategyused by newspapers that serve immigrantcommunities. By taking thisapproach, we are able to inform, explain,interpret and, at times, advocatefor the interests of our readership. Inthis election cycle, we found this harderto do; even the experts often didn’tknow answers to our questions.To help bring the community intune with the developing political dynamic,we did some things we hadtried during previous elections. Wewent out on the street and invitedpeople to pose questions to candidates,which we used in our reportingon particular issues. We’d do articlesexplaining how the election wouldwork—explaining what it is, its processand history. We encouraged politicalparticipation by letting our communitymembers understand what wasat stake for them in this election, pointingout the need to vote and remindingthem of key dates for registering, requestingabsentee ballots, and otherdetails related to voting.Former President Bill Clinton and Lt. Governor of California, Cruz Bustamante, greetcrowds at the inauguration of a new school named after Clinton. Photo by J. EmilioFlores/La Opinión.Journalist as SpokespersonIn my job as political editor for LaOpinión, I was pushed to do more than64 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


California Recalljust report, write, plan coverage, andedit—all of which I normally do eachday given the smaller size of our paper.In addition to these roles, I became asource for other journalists, as moreand more called to interview me. Theywere trying to better understandLatinos and to explain us, as Americans,to Spanish-speaking audiencesthroughout the world. Though thishappens during every political campaign,the interviewing demands onme were especially intense during thiselection, and the time I spent doingthem, of course, took away from myown reporting and editing hours.But I recognize that wearing thisother hat—and becoming a source ofnews—is now part of my job. Otherjournalists want me to present theLatino perspective on news shows; oftenI am asked to express the thoughts,feelings or trends in the Latino community,as if I can represent thethoughts and feelings of this large anddiverse group. “What do Latinos thinkabout this election?” I am asked repeatedly.Most of the time, such questionsstrike me as funny, because I’ve neverseen a colleague of the mainstreammedia being asked, “What do Anglosthink about this?”While I understand that these reporterscome to journalists like mebecause we are viewed as “experts,” Ioften wish they would go out into thecommunities themselves and find outon their own about what issues thepeople care about and why. It makesme realize that the lack of a strongLatino presence in newsrooms of mostmainstream publications presents ahandicap to these news organizations.Still, I try to explain to these reporterswhat I know as best as I can. I lookat this as an opportunity to representmy newspaper in front of a differentand broader audience. And I use theseplatforms to try to foster understandingabout the political, social or economicrealities in the Latino community.What I find is that the mainstreampopulation has very little understanding—beyondits usual stereotypes—ofwhat certain groups of people are likewho live only blocks away from them.Governor Gray Davis kisses his wife at a political rally. Photo by Ciro Cesar/La Opinión.With Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entranceinto the campaign, huge interestdeveloped worldwide about thepolitical process in California. Alongwith other colleagues at the newspaper,I received interview requests fromreporters in Latin America, Spain andother countries in Europe, includingthe BBC’s world service in Spanish. Myability to speak Spanish and Englishand firsthand knowledge of the storymade me a valued source.With these reporters I struggled toexplain that, in spite of the entertainmentquality of the story and insistenceby some that this was a circus, not aserious election, this was a very serious,legally sanctioned political eventthat would have real consequences forreal people.I was also invited to serve on thepanel of journalists that conducted thecandidate’s first debate in San Jose,California. There I worked with otherpolitical editors and reporters to preparequestions and topics for discussion.As a Latina journalist, my perspectivegenerated a few questionsabout social and economic issues ofparticular interest to the Spanish-speakingcommunity I serve. BecauseSchwarzenegger did not show up forthis debate, we were not able to get hisperspective on these issues.The Immigrant ConnectionIn California, the related topics of immigrationand demographic changesfind their way to the fore of nearlyevery political debate, and this recallelection proved to be no different. AtLa Opinión, two major angles of coveragefor our readers emerged early inthe campaign: Lieutenant GovernorCruz Bustamante, who became theDemocrat’s alternative candidate in therecall of the governor of his own party,is the first Latino to be the gubernatorialcandidate of a major party in modernCalifornia history. And, in an effortto win over Latino voters, Davis signedcontroversial legislation favored byLatino activists and unions to provideundocumented immigrants with thepossibility of obtaining driver’s licenses.Bustamante’s campaign proved tobe lackluster, and his candidacy’s purposewas hard for people to understandbecause of his politically complicatedmessage of “No on the recall, Yeson Bustamante.” With this campaign,there turned out to be very little tocover after an initial surge and a coupleof good proposals. Instead, the dynamicof the campaign started to re-Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 65


Journalist’s Tradethe recall became official, GovernorDavis announced he wanted those gamingtribes to contribute a percentage oftheir revenues to help reduce the state’shuge budget deficit. The tribes, whichhad traditionally supported Davis, nowsaw an opportunity to throw their campaigncontributions to a candidate whowouldn’t ask for their money, or atleast not so much of it.Two weeks after the race began,news organizations were reporting thatDemocratic contender Lieutenant GovernorCruz Bustamante, who was trailingin the area of fundraising, had receiveda $320,000 donation from aSouthern California gambling tribe.Independent Native News asked me todo a short report on this and, by thetime I was done, I had broken a majorstory.Looking for sources to comment onthe tribal donation, I called the CaliforniaNations Indian Gaming Association,a lobbying group in Sacramento.The public information officer sugvolvearound how Schwarzeneggerwould “terminate” Davis.The issue of permitting undocumentedimmigrants to get licenses is astory we’re still covering. The bill,signed by Governor Davis in early September,would benefit an estimatedone to two million people, but by becominglaw it enraged a majority of thestate’s population, many of whom associateissues involved in immigrationwith their concerns about terrorismand porous boundaries. Right now,there are referendums and initiativesunder way that target the driver’s licensebill and other benefits for immigrants,as anger generated by a badeconomy turns against certain populations.[The drivers license bill was repealedin November.]Because La Opinión is a newspaperread by a Spanish-speaking audience,we will closely monitor what happenswith these issues and do so more closelythan most mainstream publications.And the perspective of our coveragewill also be different, since we willdefinitely look favorably on immigrants’rights. We know our readership andwhy they’ve come to this country. Thissame perspective is found among thejournalists who work for La Opinión.The majority of them are immigrants,and they bring their own life experiencesto their coverage of these issues.There is no doubt that inflammatoryimmigrant issues, such as this one, willcontinue to be a large part of our politicalcoverage during the months aheadand probably into the presidential campaign.In some ways, this is a legacy ofthis odd political process we’ve justendured. In other ways, it is simply areminder that the more things change,the more they remain the same. ■Pilar Marrero is political editor andcolumnist for La Opinión newspaperin Los Angeles, California.Pilar-Marrero@att.netWondering What a Political Story IsIn this celebrity-driven election, a journalist questions her judgmentabout what should be reported.By Ellen CiurczakWhen it began to look like CaliforniaGovernor Gray Davismight lose his job, my reporterfriends told me I had it made. I had justbegun working as a freelance radiojournalist, self-employed for the firsttime after 15 years of job security atsuccessful commercial and public radiostations in San Francisco. I’d spentthe past four years as one of the fewradio reporters covering politics at thestate Capitol in Sacramento. This “recallthing”—happening in my backyard—wouldsurely mean a lot of businessfor me.But that’s not what happened. Instead,I covered one major story—NativeAmerican gaming campaign contributions—anda few little ones.Because of my inexperience as afreelancer, my uncertainty of how thisnew role could work in the new climateof political journalism, and whatI regarded as the extreme partisanshipand just plain silliness surrounding therecall, I began to mistrust my newsjudgment. In retrospect, I let severalstories go untold that I believe mighthave served the public interest.The Native American GamingStoryAbout the same time that California’sSecretary of State announced enoughsignatures had been gathered to forcea recall election, an organization calledthe Independent Native News in Alaskabecame one of my clients. The serviceproduces a daily five-minute radio programfocusing on news of interest toNative Americans, and its stories run instates where there are high NativeAmerican populations, including California.As it turned out, the managers atIndependent Native News helped mestumble onto a big story to tell. CaliforniaIndian tribes had become a significantlobbying group ever since theynegotiated gambling compacts with thestate in 1999. But a few months before66 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


gested I talk to Indian gaming consultantMichael Lombardi, who gave memore information than I could havehoped for. He told me that Bustamantewas speaking to the gaming associationin three days to make his case fortribal votes and that Davis and conservativeRepublican candidate TomMcClintock would also appear.Lombardi said candidate ArnoldSchwarzenegger had also been invited,but had not yet responded. (He did notattend.) And Lombardi made a boldprediction—by the end of the week,Bustamante would have the biggestcampaign war chest of all the candidatesin the race.I called back the association’s publicinformation officer, who confirmed theinformation she’d conveniently neglectedto mention the firsttime. She told me, however,the actual eventwould be closed to thepress. I filed this story notonly for Independent NativeNews, but also forKCBS Radio, the all-newscommercial station in San Francisco,and for National Public Radio’s (NPR)newscast unit, which produces thenews that airs at the top and bottom ofeach hour.This was major news. Indian gamingtribes were playing their biggest roleever in an election in California. Candidatesand the governor were coming tothem to make their case for votes. Thenext day, the only other news outletthat published the information was theSan Francisco Chronicle, in its politicalnews, talk and gossip column. As afreelancer, with especially limited accessto sources during those weeks,this felt like one of my better days.As Lombardi predicted, five days laterBustamante received $2.5 million froma Southern California Indian tribe, almostequaling the amount of moneySchwarzenegger had contributed to hiscampaign from his personal fortune.Stories Not ToldThe remaining two months of the campaignturned out to be much moredifficult for me to find stories to sell.Making independent judgments aboutnews coverage was new to me. Ratherthan pitching ideas to my regular clientsand letting those editors decide ifthe stories were newsworthy or not, Ibecame my own—very critical—editor.With Schwarzenegger in the race,many of the stories focused on himand, because of this, I found myselftrying to impose some balance. Theconsequence: I ended up holding backon stories that perhaps I should havesuggested.A story I covered, but ultimatelydecided against offering to any newsorganization, was San Francisco DemocraticAssembly member Mark Leno’sannouncement on October 5th, justtwo days before the election, that heIt was also difficult to know how toreport on Governor Davis’s officialactivities during the recall.was going to introduce a bill called“Arnold’s Law.” Leno held a conferencecall to discuss this. A reporterfrom The Sacramento Bee and I werethe only two who asked any questions.(We appeared to be the only reporterseven on the call.) Leno said allegationsreported in the Los Angeles Times thatwomen who had worked withSchwarzenegger had been groped bythe actor had convinced him the penaltyfor fondling a woman in the workplaceshould be increased from a misdemeanorto a felony. Leno said theallegations had made him realize theeffect this kind of incident could haveon female workers and their ability tomaintain their livelihood.When I asked Leno about the timingof his announcement, he admitted thatinstead of waiting until the start of thelegislative session in January, he wantedto publicize the measure now. “I won’tbe disingenuous and tell you this isn’tin the middle of a campaign, and Idon’t have a political position on this,but I think these are very serious crimes,and I would be the guilty party if I keptCalifornia Recallmy mouth closed until January,” hesaid. I questioned him about taggingthe measure “Arnold’s Law” and thelikelihood the bill would be signed bythe governor, if it was Schwarzenegger.I was surprised when he said he hadcome up with the name in the heat ofanger and would consider changing it.But he also said, “If his[Schwarzenegger’s] celebrity can helpbring attention to what I think is upuntil now an overlooked but very seriouscrime, I think all the better.”Because I felt the partisan overtoneswere so strong, I decided not to pitchthis story idea. As I look back now, Iwonder if the story was indeed worthreporting, precisely because of its partisannature and Leno’s admissions.I’ve talked with Assemblyman Lenosince the election. He sayshe’s still consideringsponsoring the legislation,but he will hold offfor several months becausehe does not want itsimportance to be dilutedby those who might see itas a political move against the newgovernor.It was also difficult to know how toreport on Governor Davis’s official activitiesduring the recall. Davis signedmany bills during the campaign andannounced support for bills that hadnot made it to his desk yet, somethinghe’d steadfastly refused to do duringthe previous five years of his administration.This, of course, garnered lotsof news coverage—in my mind, muchmore than he would normally get.When Davis announced support fora bill to give driver’s licenses to illegalimmigrants—one that was more lenientthan a similar measure he’d vetoed theyear before—he was heavily criticizedin the press—and by his political opponents—forpandering to the Hispanicvote. In an interview I did about therecall campaign with an NPR station inBoston, this issue was raised. I respondedby mentioning another measurethat in any other year thegovernor’s office would have dispatchedwith little fanfare and that Iwould not have reported. In this newNieman Reports / Winter 2003 67


Journalist’s Tradepolitical climate, Davis’s office had putout an enthusiastic press release championinghis signature on what seemedanother attempt to attract Latino voters.The bill allowed fried dough to becooked on moveable food stands. Theheadline of the Davis press release read,“Governor Davis Signs Bill PermittingChurros to Be Fried on Mobile FoodFacilities.” (A churro is a Mexican specialty,often sold at fairs, of fried doughcovered in cinnamon.) Davis wasquoted in the release as saying “Churrosare popular in California. … And everyonewho has tasted one knows thatfreshly made churros taste better thanwarmed over ones.”The recall election had come downto this: A governor’s power to give thepeople hot churros.When a Reporter’s FeelingsIntrudeI also found myself watching some ofthe worst partisan politics, hypocrisyand grabs for power I’d ever seen whilecovering state politics in California.This stirred strong feelings in me, feelingsthat caused me to lose faith in mynews judgment. It was during this timethat I began to greatly miss the dailyguidance of an editor and the conversationsI used to have with my newsroomcolleagues. My thoughts keptspinning round in my head, rather thanbeing spewed out as part of the goodnatureddebate that happens amongtrusted colleagues.I reacted viscerally to what I sawhappening and became very disappointedin how some of the politiciansI’d come to know were acting. I wasdismayed by these feelings, and theyled me to think there were no storiesworth reporting. I wondered if I wasseeing situations that I thought wereunusual because I was naive and undulysurprised by the raw political calculusthat was so openly on display. Inaddition, with one candidate in particular,Republican State Senator TomMcClintock, I began to feel compassionfor his situation, and this causedme to back away from doing reports onhim at all.During the campaign, the CaliforniaRepublican Party leaned heavily onMcClintock to get out of the race so asnot to split the party’s vote withSchwarzenegger. He refused. He hadbeen a member of the state legislatureoff and on since 1982, and since he hadstarted to serve again in 1996 he’dsteadfastly supported his fellow lawmakersin numerous conservativecauses. Despite this record, the Republicancaucus in both the state senateand the state assembly announced theywere endorsing Schwarzenegger.After the announcement, I interviewedAssembly Republican leaderDave Cox. “I’m surprised that youwould choose an inexperienced actorover a member of your own legislature,”I said to him.“There comes a point in time whenyou have to look at more than justlegislative experience … you have tolook at the ability to get things done,and so it was a very difficult decision,but in the final analysis I believe thatArnold was the one who can and willdefeat Gray Davis. Mr. McClintock’snumbers have not been rising as hethought they would … and as I look atthe numbers, the more important considerationtoday is, can we win and canwe win with whom?”Cox’s admission shocked me. Itdidn’t seem to matter to the Republicanlawmakers if they had a governorwho’d worked with the legislature,knew the key players, and understoodstate government. They’d put theirweight behind an inexperienced butseemingly sure winner. I didn’t suggesta story about this abandonment ofMcClintock, but I should have. Thisseemed a calculation more about gainingpower than serving the people ofCalifornia. And the people of Californiamight have wanted to know this.By the end of the campaign, I hadlearned some things about myself. AndI learned them from the candidate Iwas most reluctant to report on becauseI was identifying with him sostrongly. Even before the recall began,I’d begun to question my decision tobecome a freelancer, to go it alone. Ifelt even more alone as the recall racecontinued, as I was beginning to questionmy news judgment and my politicalsavvy. But watching McClintock,who like me spent most of the campaignon a solo mission, helped me togain some perspective. On ElectionNight, after his concession speech, hewas nearly knocked over by reportersasking him about his plans. He saidhe’d given up any thought of runningfor higher office again and would returnto the state senate. As he said this,I was thinking about when he returnedthere and how he’d be working withcolleagues who had abandoned him.His reply to the question about hisfuture plans brought tears to my eyes.“I’m reminded of that old Scottish ballad,”he said. “I am wounded but notslain, I will lay me down and bleed andthen live to fight again.”Now, as the campaign was ending, Iknew that I also had an internal fight ofmy own to wage. I’d need to learn totrust my news judgment and be willingto endure the possible mockery byeditors of story ideas I put forward.And I’d need to invite colleagues intomy thinking process—editors and otherreporters—to create the kind of newsroomenvironment I was now missing.And in continuing to work on my ownas a reporter, I also needed to trustmore in my instincts and acknowledgemy feelings. Now I know that all of thisgoes into the mix of what I shouldshare with editors so they can help mereport in a fair and contextual way thestories I see waiting to be told. ■Ellen Ciurczak is a freelance politicaljournalist based in Sacramento,California. She has worked as ananchor and reporter at KCBS-AM, theall-news commercial station in SanFrancisco, and as the Sacramentobureau chief for KQED-FM, a publicradio station in San Francisco.eciurczak@earthlink.net68 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Words & ReflectionsWar and TerrorAs the Unites States’s military engagement continues in Iraq, dissent at home increases andnews organizations wrestle with how to report on it, writes former CBS and NBC Newscorrespondent, Marvin Kalb, now a senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center on the Press,Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. “The White House is determined to controlthe message,” he observes, “which means it must try to exercise more control over themessengers—a strategic goal that has been tested by many other administrations with resultsthat have always left much to be desired.” An excerpt about the press and its coverage ofdissent from a recent book Kalb coedited called “The Media and the War on Terrorism”accompanies his article. And from another book, “Terrorism, War, and the Press,” acollection of papers written by visiting fellows at the Joan Shorenstein Center, comes anexcerpt from a 2003 paper by former Los Angeles Times’s Washington Bureau Chief JackNelson. In “U.S. Government Secrecy and the Current Crackdown on Leaks,” Nelson writesabout a dialogue taking place among some of Washington’s top journalists and governmentsenior intelligence officials “about the issue of protecting government secrets withoutinfringing on the right to report on government.”In her job as a National Public Radio correspondent, Anne Garrels was one of the fewAmerican correspondents to remain in Baghdad and report to her radio audience as the IraqWar was being waged. Her account of this reporting experience has been published in a book,“Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq War as Seen by NRP’s Correspondent.” We are publishingexcerpts from her book, which is written in diary style. In one entry, Garrels wonders aboutthe value of a news organization “maintaining a presence at the cost of not reporting thewhole truth,” and describes her reporting mission: “I am here to understand how the Iraqissee themselves, their government, and the world around them.”To publish an oral history of journalists’ wartime reporting, “Embedded: The Media at Warin Iraq: An Oral History,” coeditors Bill Katovsky and Timothy Carlson sought out those whohad covered the Iraq War and recorded their remembrances. As Katovsky writes about theseinterviews, “war correspondents spoke frankly—and subjectively—about their experiences.”In an accompanying excerpt from “Embedded,” New York Times’s chief foreigncorrespondent, John Burns, describes not only what it was like to report in Iraq during thewar, but also during the difficult months preceding it. “Editors of great newspapers and smallnewspapers and editors of great television networks should exact from their correspondentsthe obligation for telling the truth about these places. It’s not impossible to tell the truth,”Burns observes. “I have a conviction about closed societies, that they’re actually much easierto report on than they seem, because every act of closure is itself revealing. Every lie tells youa truth.”In his book, “Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception: How the Media Failed to Cover theWar on Iraq,” Mediachannel.org founder Danny Schechter writes a posthumous letter toNieman Reports / Winter 2003 69


70 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003former CBS news correspondent Edward R. Murrow, ruminating on what happened to thereportorial courage he personified in his coverage of Senator Joe McCarthy’s hearings duringthe early 1950’s. “Some things don’t change,” Schechter notes in his letter. “Media institutionsremain citadels of conformity, conservatism and compromise. Courage is in short supply in ourunbrave world of news because it is rarely encouraged or rewarded, especially if and when youdeviate from the script.”Pulitizer Prize-winning photographer David Turnley spent time before and during the IraqWar working in the Gulf region for CNN as a correspondent, contributing to that network’scoverage a mix of video, photography and on-air reporting. He worked in Syria, Turkey and thenin Iraq, transmitting his work daily to CNN in Atlanta. In a book, “Baghdad Blues: A War Diary,”Turnley weaves words and images together “to convey the immensely human story of life duringthe war in Iraq.” Photographs and an excerpt from his book appear on our pages.For 25 years, Margie Reedy has been a television anchor and reporter, most recently as thehost of New England Cable News’s “NewsNight,” a news interview program. Early this year, asthe Iraq War began, Reedy was a fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, working on adocumentary film about cable news. How major cable news organizations covered the warbecame her focus. Reedy’s documentary tracks the approaches various cable networks took totheir coverage and includes interviews with media observers about what implications theremight be because of coverage decisions made during the war. Reedy notes that “there areprofound implications for American television news if opinion—unidentified as such andmasquerading as news—becomes the new paradigm for cable news or even the broadcastnetworks.”In “War Stories: Reporting in the Time of Conflict From Crimea to Iraq,” Harold Evans,former editor of The Sunday Times in London and former editorial director of the New YorkDaily News, U.S. News & World Report, and The Atlantic Monthly, explores the dangers andresponsibilities that war correspondents assume and shows what about the job has changed andwhat has stayed the same through time. He also addresses some difficult questions aboutjournalism and war: “Should a correspondent or the editor ever put truth second to his owncountry’s perceived national interests? What does history have to tell us about the consequencesof evading the censor? … What public benefit is there—if any—in the firsthand picture ofconflict, or does it amount to no more than voyeurism?”This fall the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) published an updated version of itsguidebook to reporting on war and in other situations in which journalists’ lives might bethreatened. Entitled “On Assignment: A Guide to Reporting in Dangerous Situations,” theinformation delves into a range of possible situations in which journalists find they need toreport. Advice includes the warning that “journalists covering conflicts should never carry armsor travel with other journalists who carry weapons,” since doing so “jeopardizes a journalist’sstatus as a neutral observer and can make combatants view correspondents as legitimate militarytargets.” But as the CPJ guide points out, this advice comes at a time when some journalists arehiring armed guards to accompany them into dangerous territories. ■


Words & ReflectionsDissent: Public Opinion, Media ReactionThough dissent is a constitutionally protected right, to engage in it—sometimeseven to report on it—is to risk having one’s patriotism questioned.By Marvin KalbDissent is so crucial to Americandemocracy that its spirit waswritten into the First Amendmentto the U.S. Constitution. Afterassuring citizens of certain other freedoms,such as the “free exercise” ofreligion and “freedom of speech, or ofthe press,” the founding fathers werevery explicit about “the right of thepeople peaceably to assemble, and topetition the government for a redressof grievances.”You may define dissent in many differentways, often depending onwhether it occurs in war or peace, butits essence has always been clear:People in a democracy have an inalienableright to express their dissent, theirdisagreement or disgust with a governmentpolicy, and the government, inresponse, cannot, or should not, takeany step to curtail dissent, even if it istempted to do so. President GeorgeH.W. Bush, aware of hislimitations in this regard,once portrayed himself as“one man” in fierce battlewith a horde of lobbyistson Capitol Hill objectingto an aspect of his Mideastpolicy—they were, infact, “peaceably” assemblingand petitioning theirgovernment. The President,taking advantage ofhis bully pulpit at theWhite House, was tryingto paint the petitioners into an uncomfortablecorner of public opinion, asthough by disagreeing with his policythey were somehow engaging in anunpatriotic action.His son, President George W. Bush,masterfully seized the tragic events ofSeptember 11th to rally the country ina global war against terrorism, and fora time he succeeded, probably beyondhis own wildest expectations. A tidalwave of patriotism swept across theland and much of the mood still remains.It is everywhere and regardedas a welcome relief from the dark skepticismof the Vietnam era. During theseventh-inning stretch at a World Seriesgame, people rise in solemn unityand, with their right hands coveringtheir hearts and American flags flutteringfrom poles, they sing “God BlessAmerica,” and they seem to enjoy everycadence. Radio commercials extol thevirtues of giving your “extra” car toveterans who might need one, and youget a tax deduction to add to the goodfeeling of helping someone in uniform.Bridges are bedecked with flags; trucksand cars sport them on back bumpers.Not since World War II has therebeen such a warm rush of patriotism.Yet not since World War II has dissentseemed so problematic. It’s not thatThe White House is determined tocontrol the message, which means itmust try to exercise more controlover the messengers—a strategic goalthat has been tested by many otheradministrations with results that havealways left much to be desired.there hasn’t been dissent; in recentmonths, since the swift military victoryover Saddam Hussein’s brutal regimein Iraq, dissent has risen throughoutthe land, as a wide range of problemsunexpected in their breadth and depthhas erupted, leading to a slow butsteadily corrosive effect on public supportfor the administration effort. Thedaily casualty reports only compoundthe administration’s problems.Critics who were very reluctant afterSeptember 11th to criticize the President,or his policy, for fear of seemingto be unpatriotic, have now emergedfrom the woodwork, some with fullthroatedcriticism of both. “What wentwrong with the intelligence?,” they ask.“Were we deliberately misled beforethe war about the extent of Iraq’s ‘weaponsof mass destruction’?” “Was therein fact an ‘imminent’ threat, as we hadbeen told?” Simply put, “Were we liedto?”Journalism and the Iraq WarThe administration knows that the postwarreality of Iraq does not make forpleasant reading or viewing, and itdoes raise serious doubts about U.S.policy. In response, President Bushhas led an administrationwide counterattack,playing on awidespread conservativebelief that the media, too“liberal” in its orientation,cannot be trusted to tellthe truth. The Presidentproudly asserts that hedoesn’t read newspapers,acknowledging that hemight occasionally glanceat a headline but “rarely”reads the article. “The bestway to get the news,” heexplained during a lengthyinterview with Fox News, “is from objectivesources. And the most objectivesources I have are people on my staffwho tell me what’s happening in theworld.” He wore a straight face whilemaking this outlandish comment.The President has been unhappyabout news reports from Iraq that oftenhighlight the negative and rarelyaccentuate the positive. “We’re makingNieman Reports / Winter 2003 71


Words & Reflectionsthe question arose, after the UnitedStates destroyed the Taliban regime inAfghanistan and prepared to fightSaddam Hussein in Iraq: Where wasdissent in this ugly and unusual waragainst terrorism? …“… He [Jurkowitz] then producedanecdotal evidence to support his viewthat reporters were trimming their editorialsails out of concern that criticalstories would kick up a patriotic backlashagainst the press. Overholseragreed with the Jurkowitz line of analysis.She believed that too few toughquestions were being asked, too fewdissident voices being heard. The result,according to Arriaga, was that ourcivil liberties were being jeopardized.“Siegel provided yet another perspective.Normally the journalist wasthe one who produced the ‘first draftof history,’ said the NPR anchor. Now,it was the Pentagon and its unorthodoxspokesman, Defense Secretary DonaldRumsfeld. By briefing almost daily, hecontrolled the message. Even if reportersran contradictory stories,Overholser said, the public tended tobelieve Rumsfeld—he commanded thePR field.“Patriotism was the administration’sally, building a protective wall aroundits policy. Americans were outraged bythe terrorist assaults, and they overwhelminglysupported the President’sresponse. The Taliban regime in Afgoodprogress in Iraq,” he insisted,during this same interview. “Sometimesit’s hard to tell when you listen to thefilter,” the use of the word “filter” beinghis way of refusing even to mentionthe word “media.”The White House is determined tocontrol the message, which means itmust try to exercise more control overthe messengers—a strategic goal thathas been tested by many other administrationswith results that have alwaysleft much to be desired. Nonetheless,National Security Advisor CondoleezzaRice has been put in charge of a newWhite House task force whose primaryresponsibility is to turn negative newsabout Iraq into positive news—a dauntingtask, almost certain to fail.There are, of course, various strategiesto try to address this task. One is totighten control over news sources inIraq, to reduce the number of officialswho talk to the media; another is tolimit access to normally newsworthyplaces, such as hospitals, police stations,and army depots. On one occasion,ABC News’s footage in Iraq wasconfiscated on a flimsy pretext. Stillanother approach is to send prominentU.S. officials to Iraq for the purposeof doing TV interviews fromBaghdad joyfully proclaiming that theThe Press and Coverage of DissentThe Media and the War on TerrorismEdited by Stephen Hess and Marvin KalbThe Brookings Institution. 307 Pages. $22.95 Paperback.Between October 31, 2001 and September19, 2002, 20 sessions were heldin which past and present governmentofficials, foreign and domestic journalists,and scholars discussed topicsrelated to the waging of and reportingon war. This book contains editedtranscripts of those conversations.What follows is an excerpt from thechapter called “Dissent,” in which apanel comprised of pollster Peter D.Hart; Boston Globe media critic MarkJurkowitz; journalism professor, 1986Nieman Fellow, and former newspapereditor Geneva Overholser; humanrights activist Alex Arriaga, and NationalPublic Radio anchor RobertSiegel discussed the press and coverageof dissent. The conversation tookplace on February 27, 2002.“In wartime, dissent carries an additionalnuance—it not only denotes adifference of opinion, it suggests theminority squaring off against the majority,righteously arguing its case. Likethe Supreme Court justice who registersa dissenting opinion, the dissenter,even the lone dissenter, has the right ina free country to register his or heropposition to the majority opinion ofsociety and to government policy. So itwas during the Vietnam War, frequentlyenough that dissent in war came to beseen as a natural appendage of publicopinion in recent American history. Soghanistan collapsed so quickly thatthere was no time for dissent in theUnited States to emerge and grow.Siegel noted that there were few protestson campuses, fewer demonstrationsin central squares. If there wasreal criticism or anger, he said, NPRwould cover it, ‘but that’s barely happening.’This was a ‘fascinating moment’of ‘near unanimity’ in Americanpublic opinion. If the war continuedfor years, he projected, there still mightnot be dissent of the type seen duringthe Vietnam War.” ■72 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Words & Reflectionsprogress they see everywhere is mightyimpressive. Of course, the messageloses much of its power when thesesame officials are hustled to Kuwait inthe evening for “security” reasons.Once, when Deputy Defense SecretaryPaul Wolfowitz decided to overnight inBaghdad, rockets slammed into hishotel, and a U.S. soldier was killed in aweekend of violence. Yet another wayto sell the “positive” message, foolishin the extreme, is to encourage troopsin Iraq to sign and send the exact samedraft of a letter of support for the warto different hometown newspapers,apparently in an effort to suggest that ifthe troops support the war, then everyAmerican ought to, as well.The White House islearning that control of themessage was easier beforethe war. Then, reportersseemed reluctant to criticizethe President or hispolicy. Patriotism stifledthe urge to ask penetratingquestions of senior officials or, onthe omnipresent talk shows, to voiceskepticism about the buildup to thewar. Now, in the aftermath of a brilliantmilitary campaign, the Bush administrationfaces huge problems in Iraqthat were simply unanticipated by thePentagon’s civilian leadership. Each ofthese problems, punctuated by violence,represents hard and unavoidablenews, and the tone of coveragehas decidedly changed—too much tosuit the White House—and the WhiteHouse is fighting back.There is, undeniably, a rising chorusof dissent against the President’s policies—abroadand at home. Critics mightargue that there is not enough dissent,that the administration has been suffocatingdissent, but it exists. Read anynewspaper. Watch any television report.Listen to any radio talk show. Thedebate is everywhere, and it is intensifyingas the opening of the presidentialcampaign draws near.Questions About DissentIn “The Media and the War on Terrorism,”a book I edited with Stephen… the media have begun to give morecoverage of the political oppositionand to antiwar critics.Hess, a senior fellow at the BrookingsInstitution, we included a chaptercalled “Dissent.” Its content emergedout of a seminar held on this subject onFebruary 27, 2002, six months after theSeptember 11th terrorist attacks. WithIraq then on the horizon, the war inAfghanistan was a prime topic of discussion;agreement existed among ourfive experts that the war was “so popular,so swift, and so successful” thatthere was no “room or time” for a“broad, vigorous dissent.”Pollster Peter Hart, a participant inthis seminar, asked in one of his publicopinion surveys whether dissent weakensthe nation’s defense or strengthensit. Forty-nine percent of those hepolled said it strengthened the nation.In a 1985 poll, 57 percent supportedthe right of dissent, even during war.Hart felt the figures indicated little realdifference. I disagree. There has been anoticeable drop in support of dissentduring the war on terrorism.Other seminar participants spoke toissues related to the media and dissent.Boston Globe media reporter MarkJurkowitz raised the question, “Whoshould decide what should be publishedduring wartime about militaryoperations?” A Pew Center poll revealedthat two out of three Americans favoredPentagon oversight, in effect revealingthe obvious: Many Americansdidn’t trust the media. ColumnistGeneva Overholser decried the factthat in her view too few voices of dissentwere being heard, too few questionsbeing asked. She inferred thatwhen the voices are heard and thequestions are asked, it might prove tobe too late. National Public Radio anchorRobert Siegel noted that in thepast journalists usually produced the“first draft of history.” Now, he said,that responsibility has been assumedby the Pentagon’s Defense SecretaryDonald Rumsfeld, whose daily briefingshave set the tone for nationalcoverage of the war on terrorism.In the bloody aftermath of the Iraqinvasion, there is a strong sense this isall changing. With serious problems inIraq and with the economy hoveringbetween recovery and continuing uncertainty,the Bush administration nolonger fully controls the message northe news, as it looks ahead and sees areelection campaign that months agoseemed like a cakewalk now appearingmore like mortal combat. It sees spreadingdissent and open disagreement,even within its own party, and themedia have begun to givemore coverage of thepolitical opposition andto antiwar critics. Theadministration might yetprevail, but if it prevails,it will only be after a vigorousdebate with thosewho are now taking fulleradvantage of their constitutional rightto express their patriotic dissent. ■Marvin Kalb is a senior fellow at theJoan Shorenstein Center on thePress, Politics and Public Policy andfaculty chair for Harvard’s KennedySchool of Government’s Washington,D.C. programs. An award-winningreporter, he worked for 30 years forCBS and NBC News, as chief diplomaticcorrespondent, Moscow bureauchief, and host of “Meet thePress.” His most recent book, “TheMedia and the War on Terrorism,”coedited with Stephen Hess, waspublished by the Brookings InstitutionPress in the fall of 2003.marvin_kalb@harvard.eduNieman Reports / Winter 2003 73


Words & ReflectionsHow and Why Leaking of Secrets HappenJournalists and senior intelligence officials are talking about ‘protecting governmentsecrets without infringing on the right to report on the government.’Terrorism, War, and the PressEdited by Nancy PalmerHollis Publishing Company. 316 Pages. $19.95 Paperback.In “Terrorism, War, and the Press,” theJoan Shorenstein Center on the Press,Politics and Public Policy has assembledpapers written by visiting fellows,including those from the U.K.,Northern Ireland, India, Israel andthe United States. Each has livedthrough, reported on or studied theseissues. In his contribution to this collection,first published in January2003, entitled “U.S. Government Secrecyand the Current Crackdown onLeaks,” Jack Nelson, former Washingtonbureau chief for the Los AngelesTimes and a 1962 Nieman Fellow, exploresthe practice of government leaks,their uses by journalists, and the impactthey can have. Excerpts from hispaper follow. The paper can be foundat www.shorensteincenter.org.“In the never-ending sparring matchbetween the government and the newsmedia, no subject produces more frictionthan the practice of leaking classifiedinformation. Government officials—atleast those who don’tleak—denounce the practice. They sayit can damage intelligence operationsand reduce the government’s ability todetect and deter terrorists or otherenemies.“Journalists, on the other hand, saythey couldn’t do their jobs without theleaks. Almost all leaks come from governmentofficials, they point out. Andin an era of managed news and wholesaleclassification of government documents,such back-channel informationis often the only way the public cangain an understanding of what its governmentis thinking and doing.“Not surprisingly, the debate overleaks has become increasingly heatedsince the September 11th terrorist attacksand the showdown with Iraq overgiving up any chemical and biologicalweapons and abandoning its quest todevelop weapons of mass destruction.Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeldcalled for jail terms for leakers andPresident Bush joined him in denouncingthem. An intelligence official evensuggested sending ‘swat teams intojournalists’ homes’ if necessary to rootout reporters’ sources. …“Several participants said one of themost significant achievements of theDialogue 1 meetings, aside from weighingin on Ashcroft’s decision not toseek anti-leaks legislation, has been arecognition on both sides of the needfor the media and the government tobe educated about both the dangersand the values of leaks. ‘National securityleaders need to understand thatsome leaks are good for democracyand the country even though othersare bad,’ says Jeffrey Smith. ‘The pressneeds to understand more about thesensitivity of national security leaks.Everybody understands you don’t publishthat the 82nd Airborne is planningto land somewhere, but not everyoneunderstands that it’s a national securityproblem to report that Osama binLaden’s cell phone calls have been intercepted.’…“The war on terrorism and the showdownwith Iraq clearly have given agreater sense of urgency to the issue ofunauthorized disclosure of sensitivenational security secrets. Journalistssuch as those attending the Dialoguesessions say they clearly are more concernednow about the dangers of suchdisclosures. …“In today’s climate, leaks undoubtedlywill become an even more burningissue. With the war on terrorismraising serious concerns about violationsof press freedom and other civilliberties, the news media and the governmentshould continue the Dialoguesessions to broaden understanding onboth sides. Dialogue meetings make iteasier for both sides to avoid knee-jerkreactions. Also, the more sophisticatedthe news media’s understanding of theproblems, especially when dealing withsensitive intelligence, the greater themedia’s ability to avoid needless damage.”■1Editor’s note: A group of Washington journalists and senior intelligence officials have met since the fall of 2001 for an “informal, ongoing dialogue aboutthe issue of protecting government secrets without infringing on the right to report on the government,” with investigative journalist Scott Armstrongand Jeffrey Smith, former general counsel of the Central Intellignce Agency, as facilitators.74 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Words & ReflectionsReporting From Baghdad During the WarNPR correspondent Anne Garrels describes what she observed and thought whilereporting from Iraq.Naked in Baghdad: The Iraq War as Seen by NPR’s CorrespondentAnne GarrelsFarrar, Straus and Giroux. 222 Pages. $22.From October 2002 until April 2003,Anne Garrels reported from Baghdadfor National Public Radio. What followsare excerpts from the book shewrote in diary form about her reportingexperiences as one of the few Americancorrespondents to remain inBaghdad during the war in Iraq.October 22, 2002Costs of reporting: “Some Westernnews organizations’ representativeshave sat inside the Information Ministry,refraining from covering the [protestmarch outside], fearing they couldjeopardize their Iraqi visas by documentinga so-called ‘unauthorized demonstration.’They were right. Al Jazeera,the Qatar-based satellite channel thatbroadcasts across the Arab world, hadits videotapes confiscated. A CNN correspondenthas been expelled after thenetwork carried the protests live. Thisis one of the few signs of bravery byCNN, which has curried favor with theIraqi authorities in order to maintainits substantial presence.“But is maintaining a presence atthe cost of not reporting the wholetruth worth it? Tonight there was araging debate among some journalistsat the Al-Rashid [Hotel]. One Italiantelevision correspondent told me, ‘Iam here for the big story,’ meaning thewar. Reporters have long played a regrettablegame, tacitly agreeing not toreport on aspects of Iraq for the sake ofa visa. Among the issues that are forbidden:the personalities of Saddam andhis sons; the fact that he is widelydespised and feared; the terror that hisregime has instilled.“CNN and the BBC are seen in realtime by Iraqi authorities, who monitorthe satellite channels normal Iraqiscan’t see. This puts a lot of pressure onthem to pull their punches and ‘behave.’Myself, I don’t see the point inself-censorship. The obvious stories,press conferences, and official statementsthat are now the fodder for mostnews organizations can easily be hadfrom outside Iraq. I am here to try tounderstand how Iraqis see themselves,their government, and the worldaround them.”October 23, 2002Cultural divides among journalists:“There are many cultural divideshere, most obviously between reportersand Iraqis who are scared to speakout. But there are also divisions betweenthe various journalists who havecome from around the world, eachwith his or her own national perspective.Though friendships cross nationalboundaries, journalists tend to hangout with their own. There is, however,another divide, and that’s between printand television. Their demands are different.The way they cover stories isdifferent. And the means at their disposalare distinctly different. Televisionfolk have much more money, relativelylarge staffs, and big feet, whichmeans they make a lot of noise whereverthey go. They seem to live inanother realm. As a mere radio correspondent,I fall somewhere in betweenprint and video, and given that I workfor National Public Radio, my feet aresmall.”November 1, 2002On being a female reporter interviewingwomen like Huda al-Neamy:“It’s at moments like this that I revel inbeing a female reporter, which on balancehas been a distinct advantage.Men generally deal with me as a sexlessprofessional, while women open up inways that they would not with a man.Hard as it was to break into journalismback in the dark ’70’s, and with fewrole models out there to follow, I haveonly benefited from my sex, reportingfrom overseas especially, ironically insocieties where women are sequestered.Whether in Afghanistan or SaudiArabia, I can walk both sides of thestreet, talking the talk with male officialswhile visiting the women’s innersanctums, which are often off-limits toforeign males. And being an olderwoman has its advantages, too. I wouldnever have been able to interview amullah along the Pakistan-Afghan borderwere he not assured in advancethat I was an ‘old woman.’ He tutoredthe young American muslim JohnWalker Lindh, who then went to fightfor the Taliban until he was capturedby U.S. forces. However, I apparentlydid not look as old as the mullah hadNieman Reports / Winter 2003 75


Words & Reflectionsanticipated, and on my arrival his aidesdemanded I wear a burka for the entireinterview because ‘he had the naturalfeelings of a man,’ which he apparentlycould not control. Enveloped in theburka’s stifling blue nylon pleats andpeering through a square of mesh whiletrying to push buttons on the taperecorder and take notes was not pleasant,but it certainly wasn’t impossible.“As for covering wars, the dangersare basically the same whether you aremale or female. Bullets don’t discriminate,and while some of my bosses inthe past have expressed concerns aboutthe risk of rape, my response has beenthat men can be tortured just as badly,if in different ways.”March 15, 2003Naked in Baghdad: “Tonight I didwhat I had to: I broadcast naked in thedark. Rumors swirled again about alate-night sweep for satellite phones.My thinking went this way: if I turn offthe light in my room it’s harder to seethe antenna on the windowsill andfrom the corridor there will be no lightshining under my door. If someoneknocks, I can pretend they have wokenme up, beg for a few minutes to getdressed, and then perhaps have enoughtime to dismantle the phone and hideit. Not a great plan, but the only one Icould come up with.“I laid out a dress that I could slip onin seconds, moved the equipment so itwas close to the bed so I could quicklypush it under the mattress if I had to,and filed my piece in the buff. RobertSiegel remained in blissful ignorance,and the whole exercise was totally unnecessaryas no one came to the door.But they could have, and they stillmight in the future.”March 21, 2003Ambivalence: “I am of many mindsabout the need and justification forthis war. I have seen how brutalSaddam’s regime is, but I am not convincedthat he continues to have weaponsof mass destruction. The UnitedStates has not made a persuasive case,and American diplomatic efforts appearlame. I also worry about the U.S.government’s staying power to do whatneeds to be done when it is all over.Americans have shown that they have avery short attention span. My ambivalence,however, makes it easier for meto cover the situation, to just listen towhat people here say.”March 22, 2003Stories that don’t add up: “Thecommand bus tours, announced onshort notice, keep us on a very shortleash. Late at night the InformationMinistry rouses us for another trip. Thebus meanders through the city, givingus a glimpse of some of the damage.We pass the smoldering Salam Palace,one of the most fanciful of Saddam’screations. Surrounding the centraldome, which has now been hollowedout, are four huge busts of Saddamdressed as Saladin, the Mesopotamianwarrior who took on and defeated theCrusaders.“Suddenly air raid sirens signal anotherattack. Being out late at night, atbombing hour, right next to Saddam’spalaces is about as dumb as it gets. Ijust hope our minders wish to live asmuch as I do. I swear off any moremidnight tours.“We are taken to four houses thathave allegedly been hit by Americanbombs. Iraqi officials set up generatorsto illuminate the site. They talk of numerousdeaths. But once again thestories don’t quite add up. The officialssay the bombs landed at one time;residents say they landed at another.The officials say several were killed andwounded. Residents say the houseswere unoccupied. At a second location,it’s the same confusion.“I gratefully happen into conversationwith an Iraqi Russian speaker;translators are nowhere to be found.He provided an elaborate picture of ahappy family sitting down to dinnerwhen an American bomb lands, killingthem all. Others, who claim to be relativesof the victims, say no one waskilled but some were injured. Onceagain the damage to the house itself isnot consistent with a missile or anAmerican bomb. I retrieve a piece of ashell and later show it to Amer [Garrel’sguide]. He says it is from an Iraqi antiaircraftgun.”March 23, 2003The few left: “Press conferences arenow impromptu affairs held in thelobby of the Information Ministry, thebetter to flee the building should it behit, perhaps. Looking around at thereporters who are left in Baghdad I amstruck by how few Americans there are.Who would ever have thought it wouldbe pared down to 16, including photographers,with NPR, The New Yorker,and The New York Review of Booksamong them? The absence of CNN, Foxand the other large American networkshas created an intimacy and a lack ofhysteria in the coverage. The perceptionthat television is most important,their money, their sharp elbows, theirneed for pictures, and their shorthandcoverage all tilt the way a story is reported.I have to confess that this is aprecious time that will undoubtedlynever be repeated. Given what littleaccess I have to outside news (at eightdollars a minute on the satellite phone,I don’t log on for long), I really have noidea what the comparatively large numbersof Spaniards, Greeks, French, Britishand Italians are producing. I feel asif I am in a cocoon, documenting thesmall world that I can see.”April 8, 2003Palestine Hotel hit by U.S. forces:“While waiting to do a two-way forMorning Edition, my editor, Doug Roberts,keeps me up to date. He tells methat a correspondent from Al Jazeerahas just been wounded. Then he tellsme the man has died. He was caught inthe morning’s battle while broadcastingfrom the roof of their office building.As I get off the phone, there’s ahuge blast that literally throws me frommy chair. The hotel shudders. I thinkanother bomb has landed close by andcontinue typing. The hotel phone rings.It’s Amer. I assume he wants to tell meabout an upcoming press conferenceand I start to mutter that I’m about togo on the air when he interrupts withthe words ‘Get out now. Hotel hit.’ …“Most of us immediately assumedan Iraqi irregular, angered by Iraqi setbacksin the war and knowing the hotelhoused foreign journalists, had taken apotshot at the building with a shoul-76 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Words & Reflectionsder-launched, rocket-propelled grenade.However, a television camerahad recorded the turn of a U.S. tankturret, its aim at the hotel, and thesubsequent blast. News comes fromthe hospital: two cameramen have died.Three others remain in the hospitalwith wounds. …“At an early briefing at Central CommandHQ in Qatar, Brigadier GeneralVincent Brooks initially says the hotelwas targeted after soldiers were firedon from the lobby, which would havebeen a physical impossibility. Later hetells reporters, ‘I may have misspoken.’U.S. military officials then say a tankfrom the 3rd Infantry had fired on thehotel, after reporting that ‘significant’enemy fire had come from a position infront of the 18-story hotel. The Commanderof the 3rd Infantry Division’s2nd Brigade, which deployed the tank,eventually reports that the crew aimedat the Palestine after seeing enemy ‘binoculars.’This was the dozens of lensesof TV and still cameras that were trainedon the battle. I have to go on the air, butfirst I call Vint [Garrel’s husband] to lethim know I am not one of the victims.”April 9, 2003What the cameras did not capture:“The street scenes are nothinglike as joyous as the cameras makethem out to be. There are plenty ofpeople standing around, numb orshocked at the events. Dr. Sa’ad Jawad,an Iraqi political scientist, watches sadlyas the Marines help topple Saddam’sstatue, calling the scene humiliating.No fan of Saddam, he nonethelesswarns of wounded pride. He acknowledgesthat now the Americans are here,they must be in full control, but he saystheir control will quickly be resented.“When I get back upstairs, Amerconfesses that he wept as he watchedthe scene below. Though he too hatedSaddam, he says seeing Americantroops in Baghdad is more than he canbear. He doesn’t want their help.“Pulling down statues makes forgood television, but as I saw in Moscowin 1991, it doesn’t ultimately signifymuch. It doesn’t begin to answer thedeeper questions. Wiping out the pastdoesn’t mean coming to terms with it.That’s what Amer is struggling with:Who are the Iraqis? How did they get aSaddam? How did they tolerate the fearSaddam created? And where do they gofrom here?”May 10, 2003Conclusion: “The reasons I stayedhave been justified and ignored in waysI had not anticipated. It turns out thatIraqis precisely predicted what wouldhappen, and though many of us workingin Baghdad had long reported whatIraqis thought and feared, the Bushadministration has apparently heededlittle of it. So accurate from the air, itsinitial reaction to events on the groundhas been slow and inept. Iraq is acomplicated place, rife with contradictionsand divisions that the Iraqis arethe first to acknowledge. I hope theUnited States employs the wits, wisdom,and patience to do what it can toensure that this war doesn’t spawnanother. …” ■Excerpted from “Naked in Baghdad”by Anne Garrels, published by Farrar,Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright ©2003 by Anne Garrels. All rights reserved.An Oral History Tells Stories Seldom HeardDuring the WarIn ‘Embedded,’ war correspondents speak frankly about their experiences in Iraq.By Bill KatovskyEmbedding the press with militaryunits, hatched as an innovativepublic relations experimentby the Pentagon, allowed an immediateand intimate view of the Iraq War.From my living room in the San FranciscoBay Area, I became obsessivelyimmersed in the war’s coverage. Thisfascination with the experiences of warcorrespondents I followed on theInternet, TV and in newspapers andmagazines triggered a desire to investigatetheir personal stories behind thenews as part of an oral history book.Like my colleague in this project,Timothy Carlson, I’d never written abook nor had any experience as a warcorrespondent. While Tim worked as areporter for a decade at the Los AngelesHerald Examiner and four yearswith TV Guide, our recent work hadmainly been in sports magazines. I e-mailed a five-page book proposal toThe Lyons Press, a publisher that specializesin sports, adventure and militaryhistory. And to my disbelief, I receiveda response within 24 hours: “Gofor it,” the editor said in reply. “Here’sa small advance to get you started.” Healso informed me that the sales departmentliked my proposed title, “Embedded,”even though we proposed toinclude interviews with unilateral (nonembedded)reporters.Interviewing WarCorrespondentsAs the U.S. Army neared Baghdad’sperimeter, I made arrangements forTimothy to fly to Doha, Qatar to interviewreporters at U.S. CentralCommand’s media headquarters—heis a braver man than I—while I beganthe lengthy process of tracking downNieman Reports / Winter 2003 77


Words & Reflectionsreporters and continued to monitorwar coverage. We feared that once thewar ended in Iraq, worn-out journalistswould immediately head home, sowe needed to land interviews as soonas possible. We had no guarantee thatthese journalists would even talk withus. Nor could we assume that the personalaccounts they might share withus would be engaging or compelling;we suspected that many of them wouldsave their “best stuff” for their memoirs.Tim’s first day in Doha, Qatar—April19th, 10 days after Saddam’s statue fellin Baghdad—proved uneventful. Bythen, the media headquarters was thinlypopulated by low-level stringers fromthe major news bureaus. When wespoke, he sounded demoralized, butan interview the next day with an AlJazeera reporter who had recently decidedto no longer remain embeddedgave him hope. One of the more riskyof the Pentagon’s embedding decisionswas to embed this Al Jazeera correspondent.The message behind doingso was obvious: to demonstrate thatthe U.S. military represented a democratic,open society with nothing tohide.What happened, however, was thatthis Al Jazeera reporter, BBC-trainedAmr El-Kahky, claimed he had beengiven back-of-the-bus treatment andsuffered blatant discrimination fromAmerican officers in the field worriedabout security and believing that anyonefrom Al Jazeera represented theenemy. In time, El-Kahky left his embeddedposition in frustration and wascastigated by Arab media colleaguesand even threatened with death by aFree Iraqi Forces militiaman in the field.Despite this revealing interview, Timlet me know in our dollar-a-minute cellphone call that: “No one is here. I musttravel to Kuwait.” I wired him moremoney. After jumping through severalvisa hoops, Tim flew to Kuwait City.During the next week, he camped outin the air-conditioned lobby of KuwaitCity’s Sheraton, from where he approachedbattlefield reporters on theway home or seeking a welcome respite.Many reporters he managed tospeak with were unilaterals who hadcovered the war from rented SUV’s,encountering fedayeen and armed militiaambushes and stonewalling U.S.and British forces trying to keep nonembedsout of harm’s way.In all, Tim interviewed about a dozenwar correspondents and photographers,including several military publicaffairs officers in Kuwait. Interviewsaveraged about an hour. Many wereeager to discuss their experiences andoften remarked that they were still in atransitional period of decompression,of trying to make sense out of whatthey had been reporting. Their recollectionsand reflections were fresh, visceraland dramatic. The longer theyspoke with Tim, the more their waryjournalistic guard lowered. They discussedpersonal feelings about confrontingfear or facing death, watchingenemy troops dying in a fiery attack,and crossing a wavering line of objectivityin the desert sand.If the book’s goal was to excavatethe emotional cost borne by these witnessesto war, these interviews werehitting pay dirt. Some were haunted bywhat they saw. Robert Galbraith, afreelance photographer from Montreal,Canada, revealed: “Lately, I’ve hadnightmares. Not the usual ones. Worse,far worse. I dreamed that bombs androckets were blasting into my home inMontreal. I heard my children screaming.They were being shot at, and Icouldn’t move. Then I knew it was timeto leave Baghdad.” Others compartmentalizedtheir feelings. Voice ofAmerica’s East Africa bureau chief,Alisha Ryu, said: “What makes it fascinatingfor me is why people behave theway they do. In Africa, I have watchedhands being chopped off. I’ve watcheda man being roasted alive and his hearteaten. There is so much brutality I sawthat after a while I became numb to it.It is terrible to say, but it’s true. Now Ihave almost no reaction when I seedead bodies.”Many reporters, in particular thosefrom U.S. publications, try to maintainobjectivity and impartiality in the waysthey cover events. But in these interviews,war correspondents spokefrankly—and subjectively—about theirexperiences. Stored-up feelings werepried open. Seldom do journalists’personal observations surface for publicconsumption. Peter Baker, TheWashington Post’s Moscow co-bureauchief, said that after watching a live U.S.missile take out an Iraqi personneltruck on plasma TV screens in commandheadquarters, he felt that “it wasan odd disconnect. It’s hard to sit thereand watch a video like that and reallyprocess what it meant. It’s easy to bedetached about it as they were and hadto be. It’s their job. But there is also ahumanity in that situation. Men aredying at that moment, and you arewatching it happen live in front of you.That’s the problem with a high-techwar. In some ways it may appear morebloodless than it really is.” Still, Bakersounded surprisingly calm when recountingan incident when his wife,fellow Washington Post correspondentand Moscow co-bureau chief SusanGlasser, was under fire at a Basra hospital.Baker did ask command headquartersto see what they could do tohelp.Embedded reporter Steve Komarowof USA Today echoed this sense ofestrangement from the human side ofwar: “We’d be watching live video feedsat field command headquarters fromhunter aircraft of night air strikes onIraqi convoys. We’d hear them callingin the fires to take them out. Then thescreen would go black and white witha flash. We’d just see the smoke. It waslike a Tom Clancy movie. It soundshorrible, but we didn’t see the peoplewho were killed. It was more strikingwhen we came to a spot and there werejust bodies rotting in the sun. Thesmell of human bodies rotting is anawful thing. It just hits you. I soonstopped looking.”Moving on to BaghdadAfter spending a week in Kuwait City,Tim insisted on pushing closer to mediaground zero: Baghdad’s PalestineHotel, home to news organizations suchas CNN and The New York Times. Withhis only daughter heading off to col-78 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Words & Reflectionslege in the fall, I felt awkward askinghim to go into Iraq to track down morereporters. In Iraq, journalists were dying.The causes ranged from trafficaccidents to shellings and friendly fireand occasional ambushes. “I just haveto be in Baghdad,” he said. More moneyfor a driver and car was wired. On hisway into Baghdad, two trucks loadedwith menacing men tried to ambushTim’s vehicle, but the driver made aquick U-turn, accelerated and beat thebandits back to a nearby British Armycheckpoint.Once Tim arrived in Baghdad, afterfour last-minute cancellations, he finallysecured a key interview with JohnBurns, then Baghdad bureau chief ofThe New York Times. He also spokewith New York Times photographerTyler Hicks and correspondents fromCNN, Newsweek, Abu Dhabi TV, and aphotographer from Time.Back in California, I worked thephones. I called city desks at newspapersand asked to speak with reporterswhose dispatches on the Internet or ontelevision caught my attention. I alsocontacted reporters by e-mail andwould often get a response a week ortwo later, usually with an apologeticnote that their e-mail box had beenoverflowing with messages. I was pleasantlyamazed that about 75 percent ofthose I contacted agreed to be interviewed.On May 2nd, Tim started home. Itwas the day after President Bush landedon the aircraft carrier and declared theend of the combat phase of the war.While Tim transcribed his tapes anddid more interviews, I spoke with awide range of high-profile correspondentssuch as Jim Axelrod and JohnRoberts of CBS News, Martin Savidgeof CNN, David Zucchino of the LosAngeles Times, Maya Zumwalt of FoxNews, Mike Cerre of ABC News, andGavin Hewitt of the BBC.Reaction to ‘Embedded’We completed a total of 75 interviews(10 were dropped for space or otherreasons), and in mid-July I e-mailed the420-page manuscript to the publisher.In our interviews, we didn’t adhere toour original list of questions that wehad created at the outset of the bookproject, but gently guided and nudgedthe subjects’ responses along. With oralhistories, it is best for interviewers tofade into the background. But even aswe receded from view behind the wordsof those we interviewed, we have remainedattached—in a proprietarymanner—to these stories we collectedand to those whose personal narrativeswe helped to shape.Our sensitivity to this aspect of puttingthe book together surfaced whenThe Wall Street Journal ran on its editorialpage a lengthy excerpt from ourprovocative interview with two-timePulitzer Prize-winning journalist JohnBurns. [See accompanying excerptsfrom Burns’s interview.] Appearing onSeptember 17th and headlined “AnAbsolutely Disgraceful Performance,”the text the Journal printed told whatBurns had said about compliant journalistsin Baghdad who, during therun-up to the war, gave bribes to IraqiInformation Ministry officials and ignoredthe rampant state-sponsoredtorture in exchange for access. As powerfuland incendiary as Burns’s wordswere, the Journal mistakenly said thathe had written them for “Embedded.”Tim and I had never and would neverclaim ownership to Burns’s words (orthe words of any other journalist weinterviewed), but this oversight by theJournal seems to come with the territoryof what constitutes an oral history.Soon after the Journal piece appeared,The Washington Post’s bookeditor called Lyons Press’s publicistand asked her if Tim and I “were compilersor editors, not authors.” His needfor clarification seemed like a legitimaterequest. But the idea of beingconsidered “compilers” was off themark and demeaning. Merriam-WebsterDictionary defines “‘compiler,’ fromLatin compilare to plunder, as to composeout of materials from other documents;to collect and edit into a volume.”Our book is an oral history astold in the words of those war correspondentswho covered the Iraq War(arranged in story form by us, withquestions removed), and it also containsintroductory essays to place theinterviews in context.What purpose does our book servefor newsrooms and classrooms? It’s aquestion I’ve asked myself countlesstimes. The answer mirrors the differentnarratives that emerged in “Embedded.”If forced to distill these accountsinto general themes andobservations, the list would includethese highlights:• Many reporters observed that itwasn’t possible to remain totally objectiveunder fire. Others said it wasdifficult to do, but crucial.• Some said embedded reporting wasfine as long as it was combined withunilaterals for balanced and completecoverage. Some embedded reporterssuch as The WashingtonPost’s William Branigin, who reportedabout an accidental checkpointkilling of civilians, wrote outstandingarticles on the tragedies ofwar. The military wanted their storytold—and accepted that some negativestories would emerge in theprocess—because they saw the embeddedpress as an effective counteractingforce to what the Pentagonfelt was aggressive use of Al Jazerraand other Arab media by al-Qaedaand other anti-Western forces.• Reporters grew close to the soldiersthey traveled with, and some, suchas Scott Nelson of The Boston Globe,pointed out a sniper, or were handeda grenade, as Gordon Dillow of TheOrange County Register was duringa desperate firefight. Others, likeThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution’sRon Martz, dropped his notebookto help a medic in battle.• There was a cultural clash betweenU.S. news organizations, which shiedaway from showing dead bodies,and the European and Arab press,who showed their audiences thenonsanitized version of the brutalityof war.• Arab media took pride in showingall sides and felt CNN and the U.S.media pulled punches and onlyshowed one side. They comparedNieman Reports / Winter 2003 79


Words & Reflectionsthis happy news approach to theway Saddam and Arab governmentstations used to air only positivenews of the government.• Sometimes, 21st century instant coveragetechnology got in the way ofreporting from the war. Some of themost thorough work was done withpencil and notebook, including coverageby Rolling Stone’s Evan Wright,who was with a Marine recon unit.• There was network news camaraderieon the battlefield when ABC News“Nightline’s” Ted Koppel acted as afatherly adviser and comforter to acolleague at CBS following the deathof NBC News correspondent DavidBloom.• Although embedding appeared towork well, Pentagon officials haveindicated that embedding might notbe repeated, depending on the natureof the war and the battlefield.These observations scratch the surfaceof what will surely be an evolvinggive-and-take relationship between themedia and the military. The foot soldiersof today are not just those whocarry weapons. They are also the press.If the 19th century German historianKarl von Clausewitz were alive today,his famous adage might now read, “Waris the continuation of media by othermeans.” Still, it’s the simple truths aboutwar reporting that resonate the loudest,at least to my ears. For example,there are the evocative words of AnnaBadkhen, a young staff writer for theSan Francisco Chronicle, who has filedstories from war zones in Chechnya,Gaza, the West Bank, Kashmir andKabul. She was in northern Iraq whenwe spoke by satellite phone and lives inMoscow with her husband, BostonGlobe Bureau Chief David Filipov, andsix-year old son, Fyodor.Because her assignments often requireher to spend months away fromher home, she admits to experiencingpsychological fallout from her work.“For me personally, war reportingcomes at a high emotional cost. I don’tknow how many people wake up fromnightmares with bullets in their forehead,but it strikes me as a severe priceto pay. I have these recurring dreams ofbeing executed. I have dreams of killingchildren. I have dreams of beingtortured,” she told us. “I’m afraid thetraumas of war must show even athome. Wars are bad, they are devastating,they are terrifying. There can be nogood memories from a war.” ■Bill Katovsky is the coauthor, withTimothy Carlson, of “Embedded: TheMedia at War in Iraq: An Oral History,”published in 2003 by LyonsPress. For more book information,go to www.embeddedthebook.com.bkatovsky@aol.comReporting in Closed Societies‘Every lie tells you a truth. If you just leave your eyes and ears open,it’s extremely revealing.’Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq: An Oral HistoryEdited by Bill Katovsky and Timothy CarlsonThe Lyons Press. 422 Pages. $23.95.John Burns, The New York Times’s chiefforeign correspondent, was interviewedfor this book (even though hewas not embedded), and his wordsappear in a chapter entitled, “TheMoral Compass of Iraq.” Excerpts fromhis observations about reporting inIraq and from other areas of conflictfollow.“There was one major media organization—theBBC—that didn’t even go toAbu Ghraib prison on the afternoon ofOctober the 20th last year. Imaginebeing in the Soviet Union, and you hada chance to be admitted to the heart ofdarkness at the time of the Great Terror.That is what Abu Ghraib was allabout. You had the BBC thinking it wasinappropriate to go there because itmeans that it causes trouble. I couldn’tfind among my colleagues a single onewho had read the human rights reportsabout Abu Ghraib. When Abu Ghraibcame down, most didn’t even knowwhere Abu Ghraib was.“We were summoned on that Sundaymorning to form a motorcade outsidethe Information Ministry. Theydidn’t tell us where we were going. Itturned out to be Saddam’s first tacticalresponse to Bush.… as we headed west on themotorway, anybody who’d read thehuman rights reports knew where wewere going. The problem was even80 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Words & Reflectionswhen we arrived outside it, 98 percentof them [journalists] had never heardof Abu Ghraib. Had no idea of what itwas. …“I found myself in the executionchamber—Special Judgment Division—where20 or 30 butcher’s hookshanging from the ceiling rusty and red,soiled trousers were thrown about theroom. It was horrid. Protests started inthe days that followed. Sweeping acrossthis prison floor were mostly women.Looking for sons, husbands, brothers,who had disappeared years before;wailing and throwing themselves onthe ground and appealing to Allah. Youcouldn’t miss this. They then formedthemselves into groups and went toprotest outside Intelligence Ministrybuildings, which is phenomenal. Theynever protest. Some of my colleagueschose not to cover that. Saying it wouldonly get you into trouble.“The whole performance was woeful.I knew that I was walking a very fineline. The question was not so muchcould I get a new visa, because I wassure the time would come I couldn’teven buy a visa. The question was,would I end up in Abu Ghraib myself?“In February I was denied a visa.Then I found there were visas available.I was in Amman. Some of myrivals who had omitted to notice thatIraq was a terror state were busy heresucking up. They were very pleasedwith themselves. These were peoplewho’d argued that it was essential to bein Iraq for the war. I got a visa ofdubious quality; it was a visa whichallowed me to come in and cover thepeace movement. I assumed I wouldbe thrown out immediately. I arrivedonly two weeks before the war.“I went to the ministry of informationdirector, General Uday Al-Tayyib.I said to him, ‘We’ll never agree aboutthe nature of this society. But you’reabout to go to war with the UnitedStates. I think that you need America’sprincipal newspaper here.’ He said,‘You’ve written a great deal about killinghere in Iraq, Mr. Fisher,’ as theycalled me, which is my middle name,‘This is good. This is a shame for theIraqi people. But now the Americanswill be killing Iraqis. Will you writeabout that?’ I said, ‘Whether it’s anIraqi government that is killing Iraqis,or an American government that iskilling Iraqis, it’s the same to me; I willwrite about both.’“They accredited me. But I was immediatelywarned by friends in theministry that it was a ruse; I would notbe given a minder. They took my passportaway and held it for five days untila man who is said to be a deputydirector of the Mukhabarat showed upone day—a certain Mr. Sa’ad Mutana.He was assigned to be my minder. Hewas an extremely unpleasant man. Atthis point a dozen people from theInformation Ministry came to me andsaid, ‘Get out!’ He was certainly thesenior official. He introduced himselfas a former general. The reason theykept me here is that when the warstarts, I could become a hostage. Well,I stayed. On the night of April 1, theycame to my room at this hotel and said,‘You’re under arrest. We’ve known allalong you’re a CIA agent. You will nowcollaborate with us or we will take youto a place from which you will notreturn.’ They stole all my equipment.They stole all my money. Then theyleft. The hotel had no electrical powerat the time. They said, ‘You stay in yourroom.’ I assumed they left somebodyoutside. I went out into the darkenedcorridor. There was nobody there, so Islipped into the stairway. To tell youthe truth, I didn’t know what to do. Asit happened, a friend of mine, an Italiantelevision correspondent, happenedto be coming up the stairwell.She asked, ‘What are you doing?’ Ireplied, ‘I really don’t know. I’m atwit’s end.’ She said, ‘You come to myroom. They won’t attack my room.’She is a former Italian communist whohad not challenged them. So there’s astrange inversion. I found my safety ata critical moment with an old friendwho had not challenged them. …“Now left with the residue of all ofthis, I would say there are serious lessonsto be learned. Editors of greatnewspapers, and small newspapers,and editors of great television networksshould exact from their correspondentsthe obligation of telling the truth aboutthese places. It’s not impossible to tellthe truth. I have a conviction aboutclosed societies, that they’re actuallymuch easier to report on than theyseem, because the act of closure isitself revealing. Every lie tells you atruth. If you just leave your eyes andears open, it’s extremely revealing. Wenow know that this place was a lotmore terrible than even people like mehad thought. There is such a thing asabsolute evil. I think people just simplydidn’t recognize it. They rationalized itaway. I cannot tell you with what fury Ilistened to people tell me throughoutthe autumn that I must be on a kamikazemission. They said it with a greatdeal of glee, over the years, that thiswas not a place like the others. …“In this profession, we are not paidto be neutral. We are paid to be fair,and they are completely differentthings. For example, in Bosnia it wasperfectly clear from very early on whowere the principal villains of that war.Yes, the Muslims and the Croats got offsome mayhem. But who started thewar? Who did the overwhelming majorityof the killing? The Serbs did. Iworked for an editor at the time whowanted me to iron out of my stories anyimplication that there was one principaloffender. He would have beenhappy with a story that said, ‘They areall as bad as one another. This has beengoing on in the Balkans since the beginningof time.’ This attitude comesfrom a complete misapprehension asto what our business is. Yes, we shouldbe absolutely ruthless as to fact. Weshould not approach a story with somesort of ideological template that weimpose on it. We should let the factslead us to conclusions, but if the conclusionsseem clear, then we shouldnot avoid those on the basis of an ideawe are supposed to be neutral. Becauseif that were the case, they mightas well hire a stenographer, and a stenographerwould be a lot cheaper thanI am.“As far as I am concerned, when theyhire me, they hire somebody who has aconscience and who has a passion aboutthese things. I think I was a little bitadvantaged in this, because I am 58years old.” ■Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 81


Words & ReflectionsPatriotism and JournalismEdward R. Murrow said, ‘The terror is right here in this room.’Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception: How the Media Failed toCover the War on IraqDanny SchechterPrometheus Books. 286 Pages. $26.In a chapter entitled “What Can We DoAbout It?,” Mediachannel.org founderand media observer Danny Schechter,a 1978 Nieman Fellow, writes a posthumousletter to former CBS news correspondentEdward R. Murrow. In ithe wonders what happened to the kindof reportorial courage that Murrowshowed in his news coverage of SenatorJoe McCarthy’s hearings on Communistsin the United States. Excerptsfrom this letter follow.“Dear Ed:“I got the idea of writing to you aftervisiting the Edward Murrow School ofCommunication out in the wheat fieldsof Washington State. I had come todebate the coverage of the Iraq Warwith a group of mainstream journalists,who surprised me by how theywere willing to be candid outside theirinstitutional settings. …“Your work shaped my idea of whata journalist should be. Your guts intaking on [Senator] Joe McCarthy latershowed me that a reporter could standup for truth.“You used to talk about ‘illuminating’issues, not just reporting them.“Anyway, here we are in 2003. Youhave been long gone, and I am trying tohonor your memory by pounding awayat what’s happened to media institutionsthat ‘back in the day’ showedsuch great promise. …“Your broadcasts are still listened toin journalism classes, still revered. Howmuch of the media coverage of the IraqWar will ever be regarded that way?Alas, so much of what we producetoday is forgettable, disposable, evenembarrassing. Sometimes it is thoughtof as a ‘product’ to be recycled intoretrospectives or used as archival materialas today’s breaking news becomesgrist for tomorrow’s History Channelspecials. …“What you had then is what so manyof today’s self-styled experts and oh, soauthoritative newscasters lack today—a sense of humility that admits thatnone of us are know-it-alls. It is a stancethat concedes that today’s news is justa first and often flawed draft of a historystill to be written. …“A final relevant recollection comesfrom one of your producers, JoeWershba, who wrote a book about yourwork and times. He tells of a momentwhen many at CBS had second thoughtsabout going after McCarthy’s Red Hunt.They wanted to kill the broadcast. Youobserved, as you listened but did notbow to the fears of your colleagues:‘The terror is right here in this room.’“And so it was—and so it is todaywhen journalists hesitate to challengethe dominant storyline for fear of appearingunpatriotic. …“Some things don’t change. Mediainstitutions remain citadels of conformity,conservatism and compromise.Courage is in short supply in ourunbrave world of news because it israrely encouraged or rewarded, especiallyif and when you deviate from thescript. Ask Peter Arnett. There is littlespace, airtime or support for thoseindividuals in the media who standalone, who do it their way, who attimes dissent to challenge the paradigmor who suspect that today’s emperorhas no clothes. …“This book looks at how media outletsbought this whole distorted story,and then brought it to the rest of us. …Many media people remain defensive,far more willing to point theirfingers at government deception thantheir own. ‘I really want to read a bookby someone who wasn’t there,’ was thedismissive response I received when Ioffered to send this book to a militarycorrespondent on a newspaper in Atlanta.“That may sound like [a] fair point.But the fact is that many of those whowere there had no idea of the picturethat most of [us] were getting, or howit was hyped, exaggerated and shorn ofcontext. The value of news has to beevaluated by its consumers, not its originators.…“Perhaps it’s too soon for many inthe media to recognize these truths. Atthe same time, I am sure that much ofwhat I have to say, and perhaps evenhow I say it, is far too ‘unobjective’ formany in the media trenches to ‘get.’Most distrust personality-inflected commentaryfrom independent journalistswho deviate or dissent from the straightand narrow, or even from the morepredictable left-right divide. …“So Ed, I just wanted you to knowthat war reporting today has becomejust as controversial as some of yourprograms on the red scare were wayback when. …“My hunch is that the analysis offeredin these pages may have seemedtoo far out to some in the war’s immediateaftermath but will, in its essentials,be accepted down the line. …As you put it once, ‘the obscure wesee eventually. The completely apparenttakes a little longer.’” ■82 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Words & Reflections‘Baghdad Blues: A War Diary’A photojournalist documents daily life during war.Baghdad Blues: A War DiaryDavid TurnleyMagowan Publishing LLC and The Vendome Press. 160 Pages. $25.“… In February I was given an extraordinaryopportunity by Eason Jordan ofCNN to go [to] the gulf region, whereI served as a correspondent mixingvideo, photography, and on-air reporting.My brief early on was to work in thesurrounding countries and along theborder of Iraq to tell stories of peoplewho were in some way affected bySaddam Hussein’s regime, and to put ahuman face on the population of theregion.“For the first month and a half of mythree months in the Middle East forCNN, I worked in Syria and then inTurkey in the Kurdish-controlled areaalong the border of Iraq. As the warapproached, our plan was to be in aposition to enter northern Iraq, whichwas held by the Kurds, and to eventuallyget to Baghdad to cover the warfrom there. The only two ways to getinto northern Iraq were through Iranor through Turkey, but both routeswere shut off––officially, at least. Icouldn’t get a visa from Iran, and theTurks would not allow me to crosstheir border legally. For the first timein my 20 years of covering conflict, Iresorted to being smuggled, first inSyria and from there into northernIraq. This is where my story begins. …“The photographs in this book weretransmitted to CNN in Atlanta everyday of the war, and many were seen ontelevision, with me as narrator.‘Baghdad Blues’ is the culmination ofmy personal experience during thistime. As a photographer, I am accustomedto communicating about theworld visually, but in this book mywords and images work together toconvey the immensely human story oflife during the war in Iraq.” ■David Turnley, a 1998 NiemanFellow, is a Pulitzer Prize-winningphotojournalist.Kurdish children stand in the doorway of a home in the village of Handek in Turkey along theborder with northern Iraq. Photo by David Turnley.Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 83


Words & ReflectionsKurdish men play dominoes during the war in a café in the northern frontline town of Kifri. Photo by David Turnley.84 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Words & ReflectionsIn the Turkish village of Handek, a Kurdish father kisses his child, who rests in a cradle inside the family’s home. Photo by DavidTurnley.Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 85


Words & ReflectionsTwo Kurdish friends walk through an alleyway in the Turkish town of Cizre near the border with northern Iraq. Photo by DavidTurnley.86 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Words & ReflectionsA Documentary Examines Cable News War CoverageWas objectivity a casualty?By Margie ReedyAs I began my fellowship atHarvard’s Kennedy School ofGovernment, the impending warwith Iraq dominated all discussions. Ihad come to the Joan Shorenstein Centeron the Press, Politics and PublicPolicy to produce their first documentary.As the former host of a newsinterview program, I had wanted togauge the effect that cable television’scontentious talk-radio-comes-to-televisioninterview shows had on politicaldiscussion in the United States. But thewar and its coverage became the storyin broadcast journalism.We witnessed several sea changesduring this conflict. The major broadcastnetworks had always been the gotoplaces in times of crisis, but duringthe Iraq War, the number of viewers forthe cable news networks shot up morethan 300 percent. The Fox News Channel(FNC) jumped from its usual onemillion plus audience to five and a halfmillion. CNN spiked to 3.3 million,while MSNBC more than doubled itsaudience to two million viewers.But the battle was not only for ratings.The war coverage was a microcosmof the fiercely competitive ongoingwar raging among the all-newscable networks over journalistic ethicsand allegations of political bias. Evenas the war was declared over, questionsstill lingered about whether objectivity—theattempt to give fair andequal treatment to all participants in astory without the influence of personalor political opinions—had been sidelinedin the struggle for ratings andpolitical supremacy.What Research RevealedTo research my documentary, I watchedendless days of live coverage duringthe war and ran through hours of tapesafter the fact. The three cable networksdifferentiated their presentations, inpart, through the word choice, toneand delivery of anchors and correspondents.This is also where the other bigchange in news coverage became apparent,in the amount of open rallyingfor the United States and the attempt tochill dissent. On Fox, U.S. soldiers weremore often referred to as “we,” troopswere “liberators,” and protesters werethe “great unwashed” or other negatives.The New York Times media writer,Jim Rutenberg, called the level of pro-America coverage on Fox “astoundingand completely unprecedented.” Hequoted Fox anchor Neil Cavuto telling“those who opposed the liberation ofIraq: ‘You were sickening then, you aresickening now.’”As for tone, the same pictures couldreceive very different treatment on thecable networks. While voicing over avideotape given to the networks by AlJazerra—with pictures of Arab men favorablygreeting U.S. soldiers—CNNanchor Aaron Brown commented, “Isuppose if you see American forcescoming in the force they’ve come in,you’d want to look friendly too, nomatter what you feel. … But they werewarmly greeted and in that part of Iraqthere’s no reason they wouldn’t be.”On Fox, anchor Shepard Smith said,“Check out the reaction of ordinaryIraqis to our liberating forces. Smilesand handshakes. … An Iraqi man hasliberation for himself, his family, andhis neighbors. So far the war is going asscripted.”Alex Jones, director of theShorenstein Center, who has closelymonitored the rise of Fox, commented,“If you watch Fox you’re going to get avery positive interpretation of what’sgoing on, who’s right, who’s wrong.There will be very little ambiguity.”Most Fox correspondents deliveredstraightforward, accurate reports. Butduring the evening on Fox, the analystswho usually host their opinion-driveninterview programs anchored their warcoverage. They offered blatant endorsementsof the decision to go to war andverbally attacked antiwar protesters,the United Nations, the French, anyonewho stood in the United States’sway. Fox’s “you’re with us or you’reagainst us” attitude mirrored that ofthe Bush administration in its challengeto other nations.It was “jingoism as journalism,” accordingto Tom Rosenstiel of the Projectfor Excellence in Journalism. Two ofthe cable channels, MSNBC and Fox,adopted the military’s name for thewar—Operation Iraqi Freedom—as thetitle of their coverage. This “psy-ops”term—short for psychological-operations—wascoined by the Pentagon toengender good feelings about the wareffort. Rosenstiel viewed its use as “aclear and financially driven decision topander to patriotic spirit as a way to getviewers.”Bill O’Reilly, who hosts the mostpopular show on Fox, told me, “Thereason we dominated in the ratingsand continue to do so isn’t because wewere rooting for the war, it was becausewe were accurate. Our assessmentwas it was a just war. We wouldwin the war quickly. Both proved to betrue.” The host of the “The O’ReillyFactor” went on to say, “If you’re goingto tell me we shaded the news or didanything other than report the truth,I’m going to tell you you’re flat-outwrong.”Fox failed to separate itself from theU.S. war effort, according to “60 MinutesII” executive producer, Jeff Fager.“Probably the hardest thing to detachfrom is your country. But you have to.That’s just something that is no longeras much of a priority in a place like Fox.It’s okay to say ‘we’ because you’resaying ‘we’ about a part of the audiencethat’s going to love you for it.” Rivalnetwork executives surmise that theNieman Reports / Winter 2003 87


Words & ReflectionsFNC business plan calls for appealingto conservative males—the largest segmentof the news-watching public.Many conservatives believe the pressare too critical of the country at alltimes, let alone during a time of war.The Role of ObjectivityShould journalists be allowed to bemore patriotic, a little less objectiveduring a time of conflict? AndrewHeyward, president of CBS News said,“I think it’s possible to be objective,even if not neutral. It’s a subtle distinction,but an important one. I’m notneutral about the outcome of the war.… when it comes toobjectivity, the question isalways the truth as seenthrough whose lens.I want America to win. I’m not rootingfor Iraq, but I remain objective in thatI hope to maintain the ability to siftthrough information honestly obtainedand honestly presented and give peoplethe most accurate picture we can onwhat’s actually happened.”The president of MSNBC, ErikSorenson, suggested that since September11th the country wants thenews media to give the governmentmore “benefit of the doubt,” to be lesson the attack. Roger Ailes, chairmanand CEO of Fox News, believes governmentshould be given the “presumptionof innocence” by cynical newspeople. It’s a false dichotomy, accordingto Rosenstiel: “It is as much a closedmind to say we’re just going to acceptthe government’s point of view as it isto say every politician is a liar. Both ofthose are a failure of professionalism,and I don’t think there is a sign that theAmerican public has decided in a culturein which there is more informationthan ever to sort through that theydon’t want the truth.”However, when it comes to objectivity,the question is always the truth asseen through whose lens. The debateabout fairness in the war coverage intersectswith the controversy aboutwhether mainstream news organizations,such as The New York Times,The Washington Post, and CNN, have apolitical bias and color their reportsaccordingly. The fiercely competitiveAiles declined to be interviewed forthis documentary, but he has long arguedFox News is the much neededantidote to the liberal media. Ailes regularlyaccuses CNN of leaning to the left,and his commentators take the fighton-air. During the war, a guest on theFox morning show referred to CNN as“Al Jazeera West,” a remark greetedwith gales of laughter.In our interview forthe documentary, CNNgeneral manager, TeyaRyan, was adamant thatthe cable news veteranis “not about a politicalpoint of view.” Ryan saidthat CNN providedstraightforward reportsduring the war. “CNN is about thenews,” she said. “Nothing is going topull us off that road.” But in recentyears, with faltering ratings, CNN hasbeen looking for a road map. Shortlyafter the war, Ryan was relieved of herposition. CNN, which was the undisputednews leader during the first GulfWar, fell to Fox’s highly energized, pro-American presentation during the warin Iraq.O’Reilly claims that other news outletsattack Fox’s journalism becausethey disagree with their politics andare jealous of their success. “Look, thebottom line on this is the establishmentpress, which leans left in thiscountry and always has, is now losingits power to a new operation that leansright, leans right, but isn’t in lockstepwith anybody,” he said.Heyward fires back, “Those predisposedto seeing the networks as eitherleft wing, which I think is ludicrous, ornot appropriately reverential to authorityprobably have a fundamental disagreementabout the role of journalismin this society and thereforewelcome a network that more blatantlyacts as a cheerleader.”Assessing the FutureThe measure of any coverage can beassessed by what viewers learned andwhether it is accurate. In October, animportant postscript to my documentarywas issued by a research groupfrom the University of Maryland thathas evaluated public misperceptionsabout foreign policy for a decade. In ananalysis of polling conducted betweenJune through September, the Programon International Policy Attitudes (PIPA)found 52 percent of Americans believedevidence was found linking Iraq toSeptember 11th. Thirty-five percentbelieved the United States had foundweapons of mass destruction, and 56percent believed most world opinionsupported the war. Those who watchedFox as their main source of news on thewar were found to be most likely tohold one or all three of those misconceptions.PIPA’s research director, ClayRamsay, said: “It is a cautionary tale.People who rely primarily on Fox Newsare living in a different world frompeople who get their news from a mixof sources.”There are profound implications forAmerican television news if opinion—unidentified as such and masqueradingas news—becomes the new paradigmfor cable news or even thebroadcast networks. Such an approachto news could not only eliminate objectivityas a standard, but with morepropaganda and less information, ourdemocracy could be harmed in theprocess. ■Margie Reedy has been a televisionanchor and reporter for 25 years inBoston, Detroit and Austin. Forseven years she hosted the newsinterview program “NewsNight” onNew England Cable News, the largestregional cable station in the country.Reedy was the researcher, writerand producer of “Cable News Goesto War.” The film can be viewed atwww.shorensteincenter.org.Reedy Lark@aol.com88 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Words & ReflectionsReporting From the Battlefield‘… the unwritten last paragraph, the untakenlast photo frame, is the true memorialof the war correspondent.’War Stories: Reporting in the Time of ConflictFrom the Crimea to IraqHarold EvansBunker Hill Publishing. 96 Pages. $12.95.“Writing may be hard for everyone, butit is hardest of all for the war correspondent.He or she has to find theorder of words that neither sensationalizenor downplay, that neither oversimplifynor stupefy, conscious alwaysthat lives may be at stake, that decisionsof gravity may be taken on thestrength of a few hundred words. Is thestory accurate? Is it clear? Is it fair? Howmuch personal emotion should it contain,if any? Is it meaningful? [War correspondent]David [Blundy], naturally,doubted whether he met the tests heset himself. On assignment fromBritain’s The Correspondent in ElSalvador’s civil war on November 17,1989, he already had filed a good dispatch.Then he called in that morningto say he was going out in the barrio tosee if he should top up the story withone last paragraph. There, on a streetcorner, a random bullet took his younglife.“It seemed to those of us who werehis friends that his ‘last paragraph’ wasa mortal redundancy. And yet the unwrittenlast paragraph, the untakenlast photo frame, is the true memorialof the war correspondent. To Blundy,there was a chance that the materialgathered for his last paragraph justmight affect the balance and readabilityof his story, and that was all thatmattered. …“In their long history—for wars havealways been with us—there is muchromance and adventure, but a brutalreality, too. And there are many questions.Should a correspondent or theeditor ever put truth second to his owncountry’s perceived national interests?What does history have to tell us aboutthe consequences of evading the censor?In foreign wars, is it ever proper tosympathize with one side or another?Should a correspondent always keep aprofessional detachment or has he orshe a higher duty when it is possible tointervene and save a life? What publicbenefit is there—if any—in the firsthandpicture of conflict, or does itamount to no more than voyeurism?There are no simple answers.” ■Reprinted with permission of the publisher,author and the Newseum.When Journalists Report in Dangerous PlacesAn updated version of a journalist’s security handbook offers background and advice.In October, the Committee to ProtectJournalists (CPJ) released an updatedversion of its guide to reporting onwar and in other situations in whichjournalists’ lives can be threatened.The handbook is called “On Assignment:A Guide to Reporting in DangerousSituations,” and what follows areexcerpts taken from its various sections.Part I: Introduction“In the early months of 2002, WallStreet Journal reporter Daniel Pearlwas abducted and executed by his captorswhile pursuing a story about Islamicmilitants in Pakistan. The kidnapping—whichcame only weeks aftereight reporters were killed coveringthe conflict in Afghanistan and a littlemore than one year before 11 journalistsdied covering the war in Iraq betweenMarch 19 and April 9, whenBaghdad fell—was a terrible reminderfor journalists around the world oftheir vulnerability.“In the aftermath of Pearl’s murder,veteran journalists—including the mostseasoned war correspondents—beganexamining their own routines: Couldthey suffer Pearl’s fate? What can theyand their media organizations do tomake their work safer? How shouldthey respond in an emergency? AreNieman Reports / Winter 2003 89


Words & Reflectionsthere new security issues for those reportingon terrorism, as Daniel Pearlwas, in the wake of the September 11,2001 attacks …?”From Part II: Who is at Risk?“Recent fatalities in Iraq illustrate thedangers faced by war correspondents.But the hazards of war coverage are notlimited to combat. During and after thethree weeks of fighting in Iraq, severaljournalists died from either medicalconditions that proved fatal in the fieldor from road accidents. … But even allthe risks of reporting in a conflict zonecomprise only a small part of the risksjournalists face worldwide. In fact, forevery journalist killed in crossfire, threeare targeted for murder. Between 1993and 2002, CPJ research indicates that366 journalists have been killed whileconducting their work; of that total, 60journalists, or 16 percent, died incrossfire, while 277 journalists, or 76percent, were murdered in reprisal fortheir reporting. The remaining journalistswere killed on the job in othersituations, such as violent street demonstrations.”From Part IV: Reporting inHostile Areas: MinimizingRisks“Journalists covering conflicts shouldnever carry arms or travel with otherjournalists who carry weapons. Doingso jeopardizes a journalist’s status as aneutral observer and can make combatantsview correspondents as legitimatemilitary targets. … In some particularlydangerous conflicts,journalists have hired armed guards.The practice first became widespreadamong television crews and reporterscovering Somalia in the early 1990’safter journalists traveling withoutarmed guards were robbed at gunpoint.Journalists who use armedguards, however, should recognize thatthey may be jeopardizing their status asneutral observers. For example, CNNcrews used armed guards in northernIraq in 2003. On one occasion, unidentifiedattackers shot CNN’s vehicle,which was clearly marked with ‘Press,’and CNN’s hired guard returned fire.The gunmen continued to shoot thevehicle as it turned around and droveaway. CNN International president,Chris Cramer, defended the network’suse of armed guards as necessary toprotect CNN personnel in Iraq. RobertMenard, secretary-general of the Parisbasedpress freedom watchdog groupReporters san Frontieres, however,criticized CNN, saying that the practice‘risks endangering all other reporters.’”From Part IV: Reporting inHostile Areas: BattlefieldChoices“Although the term ‘embedding,’ orplacing journalists with troops in wartime,was recently coined by U.S. DefenseDepartment officials in 2002, thepractice is as old as the earliest warcorrespondents. … From at least theU.S. Civil War through the first twoworld wars, journalists who accompaniedcombatants were only able to filereports through military censors. …“Journalists briefly enjoyed more autonomyduring the Korean War, althoughit was not until the VietnamWar that many correspondents wereable to file without censorship. Thispractice changed remarkably with subsequentconflicts. U.S. officials, alongwith their local allies, tried to keepjournalists away from the fighting in ElSalvador, Grenada, Panama, the 1991Gulf War, and Afghanistan. …“U.S. officials changed policy, however,during the 2003 war in Iraq. Bythe time the three-week conflict wasover, more than 800 journalists of variousnationalities, including correspondentsreporting in English and Arabic,had been embedded with either U.S. orU.K. forces. … Whether to embed withany armed forces is a decision involvingtrade-offs. A primary advantage ofembedding is that a journalist will geta firsthand, frontline view of armedforces in action. But there are alsodisadvantages. An embedded journalistis only able to cover that single partof the story, and his or her reportingcan become one-sided as a result ofbecoming too close to the soldiers. …”“Since as early as the Vietnam War,U.S. Defense Department officials haveused the term ‘unilaterals’ to describejournalists covering conflicts independently.Such reporting provides invaluableand compelling dispatches, butsometimes at the price of high personalrisk. … In one particularly chillingseries of episodes, on the morningof April 8, 2003, U.S.-led forces fired onthe offices of two international newsbroadcasters and a hotel filled withjournalists in three separate attacks inBaghdad. One journalist died in themissile strike on the Al Jazeera networkstudio, equipment was damaged at theAbu Dhabi TV studio, and two cameramendied when a tank fired on thePalestine Hotel, which was being usedas a base of operations by about 100journalists at the time. …“According to CPJ, U.S. Defense Departmentofficials, as well as commanderson the ground in Baghdad, knewthat the Palestine Hotel was full ofinternational journalists and were intenton not hitting it. However, thesesenior officers apparently failed to conveytheir concern to the tank commanderwho fired on the hotel.” ■90 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Journalist’s International Trade JournalismSun Yu, who for 12 years was a reporter and editor of the Chinese and English languageeditions of China Environment News, explores ways in which news coverage in China of the SARSepidemic affected how the government and media interacted. She describes the reporting workof China’s “independent publications” and also evaluates criticism of Western media’s“exaggeration of the health crisis” in which the coverage “focused too much on negative aspectsand mixed this medical crisis in with political issues.”Kwangchool Lee, bureau chief of the Korean Broadcasting System in Washington, D.C.,reflects on the intensifying pressure for media reform in Korea. Since the February election ofPresident Moo-hyun Roh—whose campaign was ignored and criticized by the major newsorganizations—calls for media reform have come from the president as well as the people. Theissue now is how reform can happen. One thing is clear: “The people insist they do not wantmedia reform to come from government, fearing that will damage democracy.”Lessons From SARS CoverageArguably, this coverage changed both the government and media in China.By Sun YuEarlier this year Severe Acute RespiratorySyndrome (SARS) waslike a nightmare to many wholive in China. SARS first appeared inChina’s southern Guangdong Provincelate in 2003 and until February was stilla regional epidemic. However, initialattempts to cover up the disease resultedin it spreading to Beijing andother provinces. Over time, a regionalepidemic evolved into a national disaster.This tiny virus caused China hugeeconomic losses, far costlier than eitherthe Asian financial crisis in 1997 orthe flood disaster in 1998. Some expertsconclude that SARS resulted indirect economic losses of 400 billionRMB yuan (48 billion dollars). Severalinternational conferences planned forChina were postponed or changed ven-ues. The SARS crisis also exposed problemsin China, such as the transparencyproblem behind the release ofinformation to the public. Becausemedia play such a critical role in gettinginformation to the public, it isworth reflecting on what happenedduring SARS and what impact themedia’s actions continue to have.Coverage By IndependentMediaIn recent years, so-called “fringe media”publications have emerged inChina. These fringe media are less controlledby government; these independentpublications enjoy more autonomythan mainstream media andrely on the market for financial support.Therefore, their viewpoints areless influenced by the government propagandamachine. During the SARScrisis, some of these publications conductedin-depth investigations of thedisease and its impact and deliveredexclusive reports with unique angles.This gave them a golden opportunityto further establish their status as watchdogs.The independent Caijing magazineled in reporting SARS. Unlike its counterpartsin the mainstream media,Caijing Magazine started to cover SARSas soon as February, long before theChinese government acknowledged thescale of the disease and before othermedia in the country were reportingon it. Caijing published many investigativereports about SARS, such as storiesabout large-scale SARS infectionincidents in hospitals and Shangxi, theNieman Reports / Winter 2003 91


International Journalismaffected area. Hu Shuli, founder andmanaging editor of Caijing Magazine,believed the news of SARS involvedissues of government transparency, andthe signficance of these issues meantthat the story had to be reported.In an interview with World PressReview (WPR), Hu Shuli reflected: “Althoughat the time [in February] thedisease was hardly mentioned in anyChinese media, I was quite sure that anepidemic like SARS could hardly becovered up. So I decided to start byreporting about the disease in HongKong. When I saw on the Web site ofthe World Health Organization onMarch 12th that the number of cases inGuangdong had jumped from zero to792, I knew I had real news …. Weassigned a group of four reporters tocover SARS at first and then put anentire desk of 10 people on the reporting.Finally, we put more people on thestory and produced four special weeklyissues on SARS in addition to our normalpublications.” Hu was namedWPR’s international editor of the yearfor her magazine’s probing and comprehensivecoverage of SARS.Another leader of the country’sfringe media is the 21st Century BusinessHerald. On May 1st it published aSARS special edition of about 30pages—normally newspapers only havefour pages. From that point on, theBusiness Herald published investigativestories or editorials about SARS inalmost every issue. On May 8th aneditorial appeared saying that fightingSARS should depend on science andwarning the local government not totake extreme approaches. On May 15thit published a series of investigativereports about the SARS infection situationin Inner Mongolia, Anhui, Hebeiand rural areas of other provinces, analyzingthe problems and solutions ofthe nation’s marginalized rural medicalsystem.Media Coverage in EnglishChina’s news reporting in Englishserves as a window for the outsideworld to understand China. Since itcaters to foreigners, in general, thiscoverage tends to be more open. Oneadvantage of news reporting in Englishis that it can draw on foreign experts’viewpoints, which makes the reportingmore balanced. With SARS, China’smedia in English did probing analysisand sometimes went in front of theChinese news media.In April and May, the English-languageprogram of China Radio International,“People in the Know,” invitedforeign and domestic experts to giveindependent analysis of topics relatedto SARS. On April 14th, at a time ofincreasing public panic in Beijing,“People in the Know” interviewed DavidRopeik, director of risk communicationat the Harvard Center for RiskAnalysis. He was able to explain riskanalysis and inform the public aboutwhy they should not overreact to thedisease. His interview was among thefirst to send a calming message to thepublic.Ropeik explained that because SARSwas a new disease, members of thepress were focusing much attention onit. By doing this, the public’s perceptionof the risk it poses was increasingeven though other epidemics, such asinfluenza, were resulting in far moredeaths than SARS. Ropeik said thatpeople should take precautionary measures,but they should behave rationallyand not panic.China Features of Xinhua NewsAgency reported on many SARS storiesfor foreign media, such as Science,WPR, and Inter Press Service. This reportinghelped foreign readers get abetter sense of the real China duringand after the SARS crisis. Xiong Lei,managing editor of China Features,and her colleagues worked togetherwith Science reporter Martin Enserinkto cover the research on SARS in Chinaand reported how mainland Chineseresearchers missed the chance to bethe first in the world to announce findingsof the coronavirus—the real killerof SARS victims—because they werevery cautious and thought that by announcingit they would not be respectfulto other experts.In July 2003, the article “SARS isMaking a Change” was published in theWPR, and in it Xiong Lei described inblunt language the politics of silenceand change of bureaucratic mentalitythat has occurred during the SARS epidemic:“The dumping of these twoofficials [the mayor of Beijing and theminister of health], regarded as guiltyof holding back information relating tothe spread of the epidemic, is expectedto change China’s old bureaucraticmentality. Before, many governmentofficials would cover up anythingdeemed ‘negative,’ whether it was newsabout the collapse of a coal mine or acase of massive food poisoning …. SARShas shattered the philosophy amongsome bureaucrats that silence on negativetopics might sustain their power.”The Role of Western MediaIn its initial stages, the Western mediabeat its Chinese counterparts in reportingthe SARS crisis. However, someChinese media specialists have criticizedU.S. and other Western media’sexaggeration of the health crisis, claimingthe coverage focused too much onnegative aspects and mixed this medicalcrisis in with political issues. Just asthe two governments—China and theUnited States—hold different views onmany issues, the SARS crisis broughtsome of these differences to the surface.David Ropeik, who was a broadcastreporter for 22 years, explained thatone reason for this problem is that U.S.reporters tend to dramatize problemsand overplay controversy to attractreaders’ and viewers’ attention withheadline-making news. John Pomfret,Beijing bureau chief for The WashingtonPost, said that Ropeik’s viewpointhas some credence, but he does notfeel it’s the main reason. He arguesU.S. reporters regard a part of theirrole as serving as a watchdog—watchingwhat government does (anddoesn’t) do to inform and protect theinterests of the public. Erik Eckholm,who from 1998 to 2003 was Beijingbureau chief of The New York Times,agreed that some Western reporterstend by nature to give relatively morecoverage to crises, corruption andemerging problems in society. He explainedthat the U.S. media’s job is, inpart, to challenge and question every-92 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


International Journalismthing, and this attitude might makesome people in China feel that Westernreporters are too hostile. However,he pointed out that U.S. reporters gofarther in reporting bad news in theirown country than they do in China. Inhis paper’s reporting on China, andthe American press generally, Eckholmobserved that in recent years there hasbeen an enormous expansion in therange of topics covered, including moreabout what’s happening with youngpeople, the arts, culture, social change,and the economy. He said, the goalshould not be to provide a “positive” or“negative” image of China, but a fairand well-rounded picture of a societywith many contradictions undergoingrapid change.What SARS TeachesJournalistsHistorically, the channels of informationin China have been very limited,and it was very easy for the governmentto control the flow of information. Withthe Internet, chatrooms and short messagestransmitted by cellphone, thatkind of control is no longer possible.And when no information is releasedvia official channels, its absence cancause the public to panic and rumorsto spread. Therefore, it is very importantfor members of the media to delivernews accurately and in a timelymanner. To do so will bolster publicconfidence in the government and preparethe public for emergencies.In a May 18th interview conductedby “People in the Know,” Guo Ke,deputy dean of the College of Journalismand Communications of ShanghaiInternational Studies University, analyzedthe conflict between the rolegovernment perceives for itself and themedia and how members of the mediaperceive their own role. On one hand,the government regards media as beingpart of it, or the government’smouthpiece—to say what the governmentwants it to say or to defend itsbehavior and policies. Guo Ke suggeststhat one reason why China’s mainstreammedia overreacted in reportingabout SARS was because news organizationswere pushed by the relevantauthority to cover the fight against SARSas a political task. On the other hand,many members of the media perceivetheir job as supplying information forthe benefit of the public.Guo Ke believes that the SARS crisiscould serve as a wake-up call because itcould prompt media to redefine itsmandate and push for changes that willmake the media’s role one of benefitingmembers of the public and society.He thinks media ought to grow moreindependent and be ready to criticizegovernment officials, when it’s necessary.Given the Chinese media’s experiencewith the SARS crisis, it is reasonableto expect that more aggressiveinvestigative reporting for public emergencieswill exist in the future.Since the first SARS case was identifiedlast year, slightly more than 5,000cases have been reported throughoutthe world, and most people afflictedwith the virus survived. Meanwhile,each winter about 36,000 Americansdie from influenza and 114,000 arehospitalized. However, as we witnessed,the outbreak of SARS causedan irrational fear in China, as well as inthe United States and other countries.Some media experts believe thepress played a large part in causing thespread of fear with this disease. Becauseof the virus’s newness, it receivedattention that more well-knownand also deadly viruses no longer do.And this coverage made people morefrightened of SARS than they needed tobe. Putting such news into its properperspective is a major challenge forjournalists. SARS coverage can andshould be used as an example of whythreats of disease should be handled ina scientific way and how journalists’coverage should not push the publicinto overreacting to the threat. ■Sun Yu, a 1999 Nieman Fellow, wasreporter and editor of the Chineseand English editions of China EnvironmentNews for 12 years. She wasalso editor of the Chinese edition ofFortune and executive editor ofTimeDigest (the Chinese edition ofTime). She is International Scholarat the Knight Center for Science andMedical Journalism at Boston Universitythis year.sunyu65@yahoo.comPressures for Media Reform in KoreaThere are loud calls for changes in the way the press and government interact.By Kwangchool LeeIn late February, Roh Moo-hyun wasinaugurated as the 16th presidentof the Republic of Korea. As soon asRoh stepped into the president’s ovaloffice at the Blue House, he targetedthe Korean press as an institution thathe intended to reform. And he beganthis task by giving government officialsa “not to do” list to break the oldpractices that had characterized governmentand press relations.On the president’s list was an orderthat no members of his executivebranch were to subscribe to the “streetedition” of the daily newspapers. (InKorea, morning newspapers are availableas “street editions” on the previousevening.) In past governments,officials hunted for unfavorable newscoverage in street edition and thencontacted editors to tell them not tocarry such reporting in the morningedition. President Roh compared thispractice to “begging,” and orderedNieman Reports / Winter 2003 93


International Journalismthose in his administration not to exchangetheir pride and dignity for thiskind of arrangement with the press.Under his new policy, when a governmentofficial finds reporting is wrong,challenging the error must be donethrough legal channels, not by negotiatingwith reporters or editors or doinganything illegal.President Roh also advised his employeesnot to flatter or give favor toreporters and editors so that favorablestories would be written. Cabinet membersand government employees weretold not to dine or drink with reporters.Roh argued that in doing this,government officials made the media“a powerhouse without responsibility.”For a strong democracy to thrive,he said, “healthy tension between pressand the government is vital,” and Rohpromised the public he would raise thequality of Korean media to the level ofdeveloped nations’ press. He said hewanted the press to become “powerwith responsibility.”Journalists and editors were quiteunhappy with how the president portrayedthe press. Members of the Koreanpress responded to his actionsand orders by contending that they donot change stories because governmentofficials ask them to do so. Drinkingand meals never changed stories aboutthe truth, the journalists said, and reporterscomplained that it is governmentofficials who invited them to barsand restaurants. For the most part,President Roh ignored complaints fromthe Korean press while continuing toset new rules for engagement with themembers of the press.President Roh instructed that a newsbriefing room was to be set up at theBlue House so the media could gaindirect access to sources in his executivebranch. But the president also prohibitedcorrespondents from gainingentry to the office building where hisstaff members work, explaining thatno nation allows open access to thepresident’s staff. While the staff officesremained off-limits, he allowed a poolof reporters access to activities at hisoval office. In Roh’s view, these newmeasures would enable the press andgovernment officials to devote themselvesfully to their duties and providethe basis for democracy to flourish.The President and the PressIn August, President Roh filed a $2.5million lawsuit against four newspapersand one opposition lawmaker fortheir report that a charge of speculativereal estate trading had been broughtagainst him. Three of the four newspapershe sued claim a 60 percent shareof the country’s readers and are referredto as “majors.” In filing this lawsuit,he became the first president tomake a legal claim against the press.Later, when the newspapers protestedthat while in office he cannot engage inlegal action against news reports abouthim, he agreed to postpone legal actionuntil he finishes his term as president.Also, The Wall Street Journal advisedRoh that he should learn fromBritish Prime Minister Tony Blair, whodid not sue the British BroadcastingCorporation even though it reportedthe British government was under suspicionfor distorting the facts in orderto stage the Iraq War.During the previous Kim Dae-Jungpresidency, it had been these majornewspapers (among a total of 23 mediacompanies that were involved inthe tax investigation) that had to pay anadditional levy resulting from a taxinvestigation into their operations. Twonewspaper owners went to prison fortax evasion, and the wife of one newspaperowner committed suicide duringthe investigation. These newspaperowners asserted that the taxinvestigation was a gag on freedom ofspeech, and international media organizationsalso supported this contention.The government contended it wasa case of business practices (and taxesnot paid), not an attempt to cut off freespeech.Roh, who was minister of MaritimeAffairs and Fisheries in this administration,attacked the major newspaperspublicly and argued for payment oftaxes as the rightful cost of doing business.It was, perhaps, Roh’s support ofthe tax payment that led to many of themajor newspapers criticizing himstrongly during his campaign for president.And after his election, workers atthese newspapers suspected his mediareforms were targeted at them in retribution.During August, Roh also claimedthat since the press had strayed fromreporting fairly, government officialsshould continue to “engage in controversies”with them. A month later Rohwas saying that because of accusationsand false attacks on him and his governmentmade by members of the press,the people would lose confidence intheir work and the result would be thathis government would become almostpowerless. “We should read the newspapersfor fun,” Roh said, in a jokingway. “Occasionally I see the newspaperthat way.”President Roh spoke further aboutthe government and members of thepress fulfilling their duties in “theirproper places.” However, media scholarshad a hard time explaining referencesRoh made to the duties of themedia, especially duties the governmentand the press owe to each otherin their relationship.In Korea, newspapers, television andradio carry more government-relatednews stories than the press does inother countries. The duties of the Koreanpress involve telling the newsabout government actions to readers,viewer and listeners speedily and accurately.However, government officialsin Korea, as in other countries, attemptto conceal news that might be sensitive,making it difficult to bring thisnews to the public. Government officialssee this as their duty to do so.These adherences to duty creates tensionbetween those who try to collectinformation and those who try to hideit, and occasionally these tensions expandinto emotional tangles and legalbattles.For example, a government officialthinks of himself as being “generous”to the reporters and, in return, wantsto be quoted as an only source. But tothe reporter, this official is one of severalsources. When a story appears inwhich the news event is characterizeddifferently from how this official saw it,there is anger at the reporter. But thereporter maintains he did his job well94 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


International Journalismby going to a variety of sources to try toget an accurate story. At times thesemisunderstandings result in lawsuitsfiled by government officials who insistthat reporters acted irresponsibly. UnderPresident Roh, governmental bodieshave made 117 legal claims againstthe press, a significantly higher rate oflawsuits than with any preceding administrations.Media Regulation vs. MediaReformDetermining what the actual dutiesshould be on each side of this relationshipis very difficult and, because theboundaries are not clear, the… when Koreans hear the words‘media regulation,’ they arereminded of when the militaryruled, and the media were tightlycontrolled.major newspapers in Korearegard many of PresidentRoh’s orders regarding thepress as attempts to regulatethe media. And whenKoreans hear the words “mediaregulation,” they are remindedof when the militaryruled, and the media weretightly controlled. Only“good news,” filtered by governmentofficials, could be delivered to the readers.Back then, if reporters wrote unfavorablestories, those in the governmentopenly pushed newsorganizations to fire those reporters. Ifthey were not fired, reporters werekept out of government buildings. Suchrestrictions hampered freedom of thepress and stopped the growth of democracy.Now in Korea, an understanding ofthe need for media reform is developingamong the people. Those who arecritical of the press focus on the “majors”and claim they have not been onthe side of the people. (It was notsurprising when the first newspaperPresident Roh visited was a “minor”paper.) But when polled, the peopleinsist they do not want media reform tocome from government, fearing thatwill damage democracy. Similarly, othernewspapers are also highly critical ofthe “majors,” saying that they act unfairlyin their business practices, suchas giving away bicycles to lure newsubscribers. This leads to tensionamong those who work at these variousnewspapers.But the news media President Roh ismost closely associated with is theInternet, which was responsible for hiselection, as his campaign was praisedon Web sites while it was ignored orcriticized by major newspapers. As soonas he became president, Roh allowedthe Internet news media to enter theBlue House and cover his executivebranch for news stories. He also gaveexclusive interviews to reporters forInternet news sites.The role and position of the Internetnews media arouses a lot of controversyin Korea, as it does in other countries.While this method of transmittingnews is still developing—as itsaccess to readers, the depth of its newsreporting, its reliability and other issuesare being sorted out—those in theInternet news media believe theyshould have the same access to governmentofficials and information as theexisting press do.Reform of the news media is difficultto accomplish. And when most peopletalk about media reform, the “majors”are the target of their criticism; somesuggest that the Internet news mediashould replace them. Reporters, as agroup, also advocate media reform butlittle agreement can be found on themethod or goals, and their debatesbecome divisive as groups of reportersargue with one another.After a visit to Korea in October2002, Professor Leonard R. Sussmanfrom the Freedom House, an acknowledgedauthority on the press in Korea,recommended that a special commissioncomposed of prominent, publicspiritedcitizens, drawn from relevantsectors—journalism, academia, finance,religion and commerce—shouldexamine the strengths as well as thecomplaints about the news media, pastand present. The commission shouldhold open hearings and insist on widecoverage and, after much study, itshould provide recommendations formedia reform.Such a course could avoid reform ofthe news media by the government.Instead, public pressure would compelnongovernmental entities to findsolutions for problems that have pittedlarge segments of the public againstmajor journalistic outlets. This approachcould possibly avoid vindictiveness,as the criminalization of past actionswould be ruled out. Civil chargesmight be appropriate, if conductedstrictly under the rule of law. Iflarge claims for back paymentare sustained by the commission,fair arrangements forlong-term payouts should beconsidered rather than demandingpayments that wouldseverely cripple or bankrupt anews institution.It is not obvious that a specialcommission of this kindwould succeed. Never before has sucha commission existed in Korea, andPresident Roh has not made such acommission a priority when he talksabout reforming the media. And somedoubt that any resolutions that mightcome out of it could be made mandatoryon the news organizations.Now it is unclear what will happento this idea, proposed by ProfessorSussman. What members of the pressand government officials must realizeis they both exist to serve the people.Tensions will always exist between journalistsand government officials. Thatis not going to change. But if servingthe people can become the basis forbuilding trust, then both the press anddemocracy will have a better opportunityto thrive in a system of balance andcooperation. ■Kwangchool Lee, a 2000 NiemanFellow, is bureau chief of the KoreanBroadcasting System in Washington,D.C.kclee@kbs.co.krNieman Reports / Winter 2003 95


Nieman NotesNieman NotesCompiled by Lois FioreThe Watchdog Journalism Project Moves to the Web‘We want to cajole, encourage, prod, stroke and, in the end, help create a sense ofurgency and obligation to higher reporting standards.’By Barry SussmanNiemanWatchdog.org is about toget started. I’m the editor, andI can use your help.As you might know, the NiemanFoundation has had its Watchdog JournalismProject for six years, createdand funded by Murrey Marder, a distinguished,retired Washington Post diplomaticreporter. Marder’s commitmentto watchdog reporting is intense.He believes it’s possible that, if reportersand editors work hard, perhapsthey can help to improve things hereand there and, once in a while, possiblyeven avert catastrophes. It’s a beliefa lot of us share. And if we believe this,we must continually work to see that ithappens. This is what this new Website is all about.Watchdog reporting means holdingaccountable people and groups in positionsof power and especially in government.In practice, fidelity to thisgoal ebbs and flows.A grievous default in watchfulnessby both the press and Congress in 1964plunged the United States into the VietnamWar on a false rationale. While theprinciples remain constant, each generationhas to learn the watchdog lessonanew. In Iraq, as in the Vietnamconflict, the shortcomings of the presshave been remarkably similar: lack ofprobing pre-war questions about thewar’s justification, about the political,economic and military components ofthe U.S. war-fighting strategy and, mostimportant of all, about the postwarcosts and consequences.Until now, the Nieman WatchdogProject relied primarily on conferenceswith members of the press—most heldat Harvard University, one in Washington,D.C.—to stimulate greater interestin how to use reporting to hold thepowerful accountable. But the adventof the war on terrorism, with its wars inAfghanistan and Iraq, have made itimperative to reach a wider audiencemore quickly. The Internet makes thispossible. During earlier times of warthe public was conditioned to criticizethe press for disclosing too much, butin the Iraq conflict a considerable portionof the public has been criticizingjournalists for failing to question governmentpolicymakers vigorouslyenough.With the Internet revolution, anyoneconnected to the Web has accessto more raw information and far moreopinion than any journalist could possiblysort through. What this means isthat there is a critical need in this alwayschurning news world for knowledgeand ability to evaluate this delugeof data. No reporter or editor isequipped to cope with the interwovencomplexities of foreign and domesticpolicy, science, economics, the environment,world trade, culture, religion,genetics and all the other issues thatnow engulf us.NiemanWatchdog.org is poised toassume this role in offering a uniqueservice to journalists at newspapers,TV and radio and to online reportersand editors, journalism students, andcitizens who care about the worldaround them.The Nieman Foundation’s objectiveis to “elevate the standards of journalism”by further educating “personsdeemed especially qualified for journalism.”The Watchdog Web site willmarshal the vast learning resources ofHarvard University, which have nourishedNieman Fellows for more than ahalf-century, to help supply inspirationfor questions and lines of inquirythat reporters around the globe canpursue with policymakers. HarvardUniversity will not be the sole source ofinformation on this site; thought-provokingideas will be offered by otheracademic centers, scientists and specialistsfrom these diverse fields.We want to cajole, encourage, prod,stroke and, in the end, help create asense of urgency and obligation tohigher reporting standards. We will beinternational in scope. We will offerless trivia and more substance, but wealso know that if we are dull, or evenhard to navigate, we are dead.We have plans for several main features,each of which focuses oninteractivity. In one part of the site,there will be brief essays or columns byHarvard professors and other expertsin a variety of fields. The journalist canselect the subject matter to explore,such as how to better report on OPECor race relations or recidivism or Afghanistan.This list is large. These expertsmight focus their writing on aspectsof an issue that the press isn’tcovering well and might include questionsthat ought to be asked. And hereis where the interactivity begins: The96 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Nieman Notesessays, commentary and questions willbe open for comment and queries bythe user.Our site will debut during the upcomingelection campaign, whichmeans we will present a lot of materialabout politics in America. For example,a Harvard Kennedy School of Governmentprofessor contends that misguidedelection campaign coverage ispartly to blame for low voter turnout inthe United States. He’ll present hisviews and suggestions for better reporting,and then journalists, if theydesire, can query him before using hisinformation to inform their reporting.We are asking for as much assistanceas possible from alumni/ae and readersof Nieman Reports. Consider this Webproject a family business. It won’t takelong to see what we’re about and, whenyou visit us, we’d appreciate hearingback from you with your questions andcomments and also with your ideas forissues we should tackle. Please also letfriends and colleagues know what we’redoing. This is your project, too. ■Barry Sussman was a WashingtonPost editor for 22 years. He wasspecial Watergate editor, a columnistfor the Post’s National Weeklyedition, and director of opinionpolls. He left the Post in 1987 and inrecent years has been a news mediaconsultant as well as the author ofseveral books.editor@NiemanWatchdog.org—1951—Simeon S. Booker, Washingtonbureau chief for Jet Magazine, recentlycelebrated 50 years with the magazine,as reporter, Washington bureau chief,and war correspondent. Hundreds offriends, journalists and well-wishersgathered for an afternoon reception inJuly at the Johnson PublishingCompany’s office in Washington, D.C.,according to a November 2003 articlein Jet Magazine. In addition to oraltributes, Booker received many gifts,among them a … history book fromFrederick Douglass IV, the great-greatgreatgrandson of the abolitionistFrederick Douglass.After his Nieman year, Booker wenton to become the first full-time blackreporter at The Washington Post andthen joined Johnson Publishing Company.While at Jet Magazine, he continuedto cover civil rights events in theSouth, including the Emmett Till murdercase. He also covered the wars inVietnam and Grenada.In 1982, Booker was the first AfricanAmerican to win the National PressClub’s Fourth Estate Award.—1955—Robert L. Drew’s four documentariesabout President John F. Kennedyaired for the first time together on TheHistory Channel on November 22,2003, commemorating the 40th anniversaryof the assassination of PresidentKennedy.While an editor at Life magazine,Drew specialized in candid, still pictureessays. Then, during his Niemanyear, he developed filmmaking equipmentthat allowed him to create motionpictures based on candid photography,minimizing narration andfollowing the action as it unfolded. Hisfirst subject, who was a good fit withhis innovative technique, was John F.Kennedy.Drew’s first documentary, “Primary,”focuses on Kennedy running for theDemocratic presidential nomination inWisconsin in 1960. “Crisis: Behind aPresidential Commitment” is the “firstand only film ever shot candidly of aPresident making decisions during acrisis,” according to The HistoryChannel’s press release. The film showsKennedy and Robert Kennedy, then-U.S. Attorney General, making decisionsconcerning Alabama GovernorGeorge Wallace’s refusal in June 1963The Knight Center: A Lippmann House AdditionNieman Curator Bob Giles announcedin November that the new wing on theNieman Foundation’s headquarters,Walter Lippmann House, will honorthe John S. and James L. Knight Foundationfor its long-standing support ofthe Nieman Foundation and its missionto elevate the standards of journalism.The addition to Walter LippmannHouse includes a seminar room, a library,and a media technology laboratoryand will be called the Knight Center.“Putting the Knight name on ourto let two black students enroll at thethen all-white University of Alabama.“Faces of November” presents the reactionsof participants and onlookersto Kennedy’s funeral. The documentary,“Adventures on the New Frontier,”captures Inauguration Day andnight and the early weeks of Kennedy’spresidency in the Oval Office. TheKennedy films have been released onDVD and VHS cassettes.Drew, president of Drew Associates,since 1959 has produced over 60 nonfictionfilms. His films have won majorbroadcasting honors, including Emmys,Peabodys, and duPont-Columbiaawards.Bill French writes: “I retired 13years ago after 42 years with The Globeand Mail, the last 32 as literary editor.I wrote three columns a week (reviewsnew wing is a fitting recognition of theKnight Foundation’s exceptional supportof education for journalists and itsgenerosity to both the Nieman Foundationand Harvard University,” saidGiles. “The Knight Center provides amodern learning environment for theNieman Fellows and will enable theNieman program to include the Harvardcommunity and the larger world ofjournalism in many of its activities.”In his Curator’s Corner on pagethree, Giles writes more about theLippmann House addition. ■Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 97


Nieman Notesand author interviews). Retirementcame just in time. As chief book reviewerfor the paper, I was running outof space in the house for more bookshelves.When I retired, my papers wereacquired by the University of TorontoLibraries and my collection of Canadianfiction and poetry (first editions)by the University of Western OntarioLibraries. (Modesty be damned.)“Any success I had as a literary criticwas due in some measure to a course Itook at Harvard as a Nieman—the ModernNovel, given by Albert J. Guerard inthe English Department. I chose it asmy major course, did all the homeworkand assignments (I still have my lecturenotes). That’s where I first encounteredMalcolm Lowry’s ‘Under the Volcano,’which has since been recognizedas one of the great novels of the20th century. Lowry was living inVancouver at the time, and the citygovernment was trying to evict himfrom his seaside shack—a circumstanceI was able to turn into a good story forthe Globe and Mail. Professor Guerardwas a brilliant teacher, and his coursehad a profound impact. I saw his obitjust the other day; he spent his finalacademic years at Stanford, where hisThe Murrey and Frances Marder Fundfather had been a star on the faculty. …“Jean [French’s wife] and I havedone a lot of traveling, including acruise last year around Australia andNew Zealand. We spent a splendid dayin Wellington with Ian and Tui Crossand talked a lot about our days atHarvard. As you probably know, Ianretired after a very successful career ashead of New Zealand television. Wehad hoped to see Fred Flowers inMelbourne but were, alas, too late.”Mort Stern writes: “A couple of yearsago, after two terms on the Georgetown(Colo.) governing board, I let myselfbe persuaded to run for mayor againsta nice young lady whose qualifications(unknown to me) included a spell as aprofessional strip teaser. She allegedthat I represented the ‘Old Guard’ ofthis historic village since I was in favorof zoning as well as of having the townmarshal enforce the posted speed limits.She beat me by 31 votes, which wasroughly the number of people whocould drink standing up at one of ourdowntown saloons.“For some reason, the media …thought it was a great story and keptmy phone busy questioning how I hadThe Murrey and Frances Marder Fund, established in November 1996, hasprovided the Nieman Foundation with support for four Watchdog Conferences,the publishing of excerpts of the conferences and articles onwatchdog journalism in Nieman Reports and on the Nieman Web site, andthe Nieman Watchdog Project. Following is an accounting of expendituresfrom the fund as of October 31, 2003:Balance at 10/31/02: $285,800.14Income: $97,492.415,184.53 — interest on balance at end of FY 2002-03 (at 6/30/03)92,307.88 — income from endowment for FY 2003-04 (7/1/03-6/30/04)Expense: $51,354.6934,335.00 — design of Watchdog Project’s Web site13,942.31 — editor of Watchdog Project2,873.15 — travel/lodging/meals204.23 — miscellaneousBalance at 10/31/03: $331,937.86managed to lose. … In the normalcourse of headline-making, the newmayor managed to get herself arrestedfor driving under the influence and forallegedly faking an attack on her by afoul smelling man …. She subsequentlylost a recall election (not to me, thankgoodness), but she still managed to geta big spread and Playboy-type colorphoto in The Times of London, whichpresented the words stripped of officespread across her otherwise unadornedbosom. And I must add this footnote toillustrate the shape of politics on thisportion of the Western frontier: Shortlyafter my election loss, a neighbor calledto get my assistance with the towngovernment on a complicated matter.After listening to him explain the …issue, I said, ‘Thank God I lost theelection!’ to which he replied, withobvious sincerity, ‘Well thank me, too,because I worked against you.’“Late in 1990 Pat [Stern’s wife] andI both thought we would retire to fulltimeliving in this historic mountaintown about 15 minutes drive from theContinental Divide. But her interiordesign clients continued to requesther services, and I got occasional requestsfor writing and editing assistance.So we cranked up our consultingpartnership (P. Paty & Co.), and weare still at it and doing a lot of civicservice besides ….Bill Woestendiek retired in 1995 asdirector of the School of Journalism atthe University of Southern California,Annenberg. He writes: “Since my ‘retirement’… I have been a Knight InternationalPress Fellow in Russia andserved as a communications consultantfor the U.S. State Department insuch places as Zimbabwe, Swaziland,Kenya, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan.“My son John, who now works atThe (Baltimore) Sun, won a PulitzerPrize for investigative reporting at ThePhiladelphia Inquirer in 1987.“I should add that I had a heartattack about a year ago, but I am doingwell.”Sam Zagoria’s last full-time job wasas news ombudsman for The WashingtonPost from 1984-86, “courtesy of98 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Nieman NotesExecutive Editor Ben Bradlee,” Zagoriasays. Since then, Zagoria continues, “Igot busy with a Fulbright in wonderfulCopenhagen, teaching at Florida AtlanticUniversity in Boca Raton … andthen teaching in the Wake Forest UniversityMBA program for eight semesters…. I managed to write two books(neither reached best seller range),‘Public Workers and Public Unions,’and ‘The Ombudsman: How Good GovernmentsHandle Citizens’ Grievances,’and traveled in 38 countries.”Zagoria, who will be 85 next spring,and his wife, Sylvia, celebrated their62nd wedding anniversary this winter.—1962—John Hamilton writes: “HamiltonProductions continues to produce bothcorporate and on-air TV programming,including our long-running ‘Watch onWashington’ series. We shape it on astate-by-state basis to feature a state’scongressional delegation, and we produceit in association with Reuters andABC News. We broadcast from theReuters’ studios here in Washingtonand have access to their worldwidenews footage. Kate Snow of ABC Newsserves as our on-camera host. … Nowwe are launching a new series that willair on public broadcasting stations nationwide.It’s called ‘EnvironmentalMinutes.’ We are producing it in associationwith Sky Farm Productions,another independent production firmheaded by Peter Berle, an old friend ofmine. UNC-TV, the North Carolinapublic television system, is our presentingstation. The National EducationalTelecommunications Associationis distributing our series to all publicbroadcasting stations.”John Hughes, on leave as a tenuredprofessor of journalism and director ofthe International Media Studies Programat Brigham Young University, iseditor and chief operating officer ofthe Deseret Morning News, an 80,000-circulation daily in Salt Lake City. Hehas just taken the News from afternoonto morning publication, with a 7.3 percentincrease in circulation, and now isin head-to-head competition with hisLetter to the Editor:Over the past year, we have challengedthe premise and facts of WilliamMcGowan’s book, “Coloringthe News: How Crusading for DiversityHas Corrupted American Journalism.”We stated that Mr.McGowan presented facts selectivelyin his book to help support his argumentthat efforts to diversify themedia industry have corrupted journalism.We are writing now to challengeonce again statements he madein the 2003 fall edition of the NiemanReports.While Mr. McGowan is entitled tohis opinion, we are entitled to challengethem. He wrote the followingin the Nieman Reports article: “Manynews organizations demand a pronouncedcommitment to diversityas a requirement for career advancement.Failing to do so, or asking toomany questions either about its animatingpremises or its execution inthe newsroom, can ‘dramatically narrow’one’s career options, as NewYork Times publisher ArthurSulzberger, Jr., phrased it. Indeed,stepping over the party line on thissubject can result in ostracism, opprobriumand banishment to careerSiberias.”If media executives are so fearfulthat their career advancement mightbe stalled for not hiring more journalistsof color, then why do journalistsof color continue to beunderrepresented in U.S. newsrooms?The percentage of journalistsof color working at all local TVbroadcast stations has declined overthe past two years from 24.6 percentto 18.1 percent. The representationfor Latinos working at English-languagestations dropped from 7.3percent to 5.2 percent during thatsame time.At daily newspapers, journalistsof color make up only 12.5 percentof all newsroom employees. Meanwhile,people of color make up morethan 30 percent of the U.S. population.This historic failing of the mediahas yet to be resolved. I guessthat’s why so many media executivesare being banished to careerSiberias.We also take exception with howMr. McGowan presented the factssurrounding the debate sponsoredby the National Press Club. He writesthat he “had agreed to debate NABJ”about his book, but that “the NABJpulled out.” The National Associationof Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ)is the organization that called forthe debate. That debate betweenMcGowan and NAHJ took place inthe fall of 2002 and aired on C-Span.The press club did invite the NationalAssociation of Black Journalists(NABJ) to participate, but thegroup chose not to take part at thetime. It is unfair to criticize NABJ fornot participating in a debate that theorganization did not call for.Meanwhile, McGowan was unableto accept an NABJ invitation todebate his book at the group’s 2002convention. However, former NABJPresident Condace Pressley did debateMcGowan twice. She debatedhim the first time on CNN in thesummer of 2002 and for the secondtime earlier this year on the C-Spanprogram, “Washington Journal.”It would be irresponsible to statethat Mr. McGowan refused to debateNABJ when he did debate theorganization on two separate occasions.Too bad Mr. McGowan didnot extend the same courtesy. It isconvenient to leave out those factswhen you are attacking the credibilityof NABJ, an organization that hasplayed an instrumental role in improvingthe quality of journalism inthis country. It is also convenient tobe selective when trying to supporta flawed premise.Sincerely,Joseph Torres, Deputy DirectorNational Association of HispanicJournalistsNieman Reports / Winter 2003 99


Nieman Notespartner and competitor in a JOA, themorning Salt Lake Tribune.Dave Kraslow writes: “I am a lifetrustee of the University of Miami andwas recently appointed as theuniversity’s representative on the Miami-DadeCounty public health trust.The trust governs the Jackson HealthSystem. The UM medical school facultystaffs Jackson Memorial Hospital, whichalso serves as the school’s teachinghospital.”Henry Raymont splits his time betweenWashington, D.C., and Berlin,where he spends each spring teachinga seminar on U.S. relations with LatinAmerica at the Freie Universitaet ofBerlin. He teaches the class, he says,“in Spanish, of course.” Along withwriting a column, Raymont, at 76, stillwrites a few news stories a day.Murray Seeger went back to a partof his old East European beat to hold atraining session for economic journalistsin Sofia, Bulgaria. “This was mySpecial Edition of Nieman ReportsA special edition of Nieman Reportsfeaturing practical and reflective guidancefrom 84 leading journalists andscholars who study or report on science,the environment, health andmedicine has been published by theNieman Foundation.A grant from the Scripps HowardFoundation provided the resources toprint 15,000 copies and distribute themto nearly 8,000 journalists who reporton these topics as well as to 105 accreditedcollege journalism programs anddepartments. Faculty members will beable to order additional copies for usein their classrooms. The magazine willbe sent to every U.S. member of theNational Association of Science Writers,Society of Environmental Journalists,Association of Health Care Journalists,and the American MedicalWriters Association. Foreign membersof these organizations, as well as othersinterested in this special edition,fourth visit to this little country—I hadbeen there twice as a reporter andonce as representative of the InternationalMonetary Fund immediately afterthe fall of Communism. Now, morethan a decade later, it was fascinatingto see how people have blossomed outwith energy and spirit, opening newstores and cafés and enjoying theirpretty little city. Like all the former EastBloc countries, Bulgaria has problemsbuilding a new political and new economicsystem simultaneously. Thepress is poorly developed and will needa great deal more help to fulfill itsresponsibilities.”—1963—Saul Friedman, who founded andwrites a weekly column on senior issuesfor Newsday, suffered a stroke lastApril that partially paralyzed his rightarm and leg. But after five months oftherapy, Friedman is walking with acane, and he resumed the column inSeptember with a piece about, whatelse, stroke. He’s using a couple ofcan order a copy by contacting themagazine’s subscription manager,Elizabeth Son, by phone: 617-496-2968or e-mail: elizabeth_son@harvard.edu.The articles can also be found on theNieman Foundation’s Web site,www.nieman.harvard.edu.Each article originally appeared inone of four consecutive issues ofNieman Reports. The science articleswere published in the Fall 2002 issue;reporting on the environment appearedin the Winter 2002 issue; healthreporting was part of our Spring 2003issue, and medical reporting was inour Summer 2003 issue.Melissa Ludtke, editor of NiemanReports, said “Our hope and intent isthat these journalists’ experiences andinsights will become a valued trainingtool in both newsrooms and classroomsas journalists work to improve theircoverage of this broad range of criticaltopics.” ■fingers on his left hand, plus voicerecognition software, to do his writing.Victor King McElheny writes: “Mylatest news is publication early thisyear of my irreverent, unauthorizedbiography of the enfant terrible of biology,Jim Watson (who got the NobelPrize during my Nieman year). It’s called‘Watson and DNA: Making a ScientificRevolution’ (Perseus). The best reviewfrom the subject was a quote in TheNew York Times last February. Askedabout the book during an interview,Watson said, ‘McElheny makes me seemmuch more unique and much moreeccentric than I ever felt.’ The book,selling fairly well in a tough market,was timed for the 50th anniversary ofthe Watson-Crick discovery that DNA isa double helix, which has been celebratedall over the place, including agala in the Grand Ballroom of TheWaldorf-Astoria, a conference in Cambridge,England, and two meetings atCold Spring Harbor, all of which Iattended.“My first book, a biography of thefather of instant photography, EdwinLand, came out in 1998. Also fromPerseus, it’s called ‘Insisting on theImpossible.’ I’m now starting booknumber three.“In 1998, I retired as director ofMIT’s Knight Science Journalism Fellowships(based on the Nieman model),which I headed for 16 years. …“My wife, Ruth, and I divide timebetween Cambridge, Massachusetts,where we’ve lived for 21 years, and ourplace in the woods in New Hampshire.”—1966—Wayne Woodlief, a political writerwho has been with the Boston Heraldfor 27 years, is retiring from full-timeduty at the paper after the Herald announceda series of buyouts, retirementsand layoffs. Woodlief, who willcontinue to write a weekly column onpolitics on the op-ed page, said: “I’mretiring a little bit earlier than I wantedto. I had hoped to cover this campaignfully. I’ve had a great run, and I got agood retirement package.”100 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


Nieman Notes—1969—Richard Longworth, senior correspondentat the Chicago Tribune,writes: “After 54 years in the newsbusiness and 27 years at the Tribune,I’m leaving journalism—not retiringbut shifting gears, to become executivedirector of the Global Chicago Centerat The Chicago Council on ForeignRelations. The Center, which works toraise Chicago’s profile as a global cityand to promote cooperation betweenthe city’s global players, grew out of areport that I wrote for the MacArthurFoundation four years ago on Chicago’stransition from the industrial to theglobal era. I’m also the coauthor of abook on Chicago and globalization, tobe published by the University of IllinoisPress in the spring, and do a lot oflecturing and guest teaching aroundthe area, plus an annual lecture to theKnight-Bagehot Fellows at Columbia J-School. I was one of three finalists forthe Pulitzer on foreign reporting thisyear for a series on U.S.-European relations.Too bad the Pulitzers don’t havea geriatric category, which would haveimproved my chances considerably.”—1977—Hennie van Deventer’s eighthbook, “In Kamera” (“In Camera”in English),has been published in SouthAfrica. Van Deventer writes that thebook “is an armchair journey throughmy life and career. I page through mystack of photo albums and write aboutmy memories. Naturally, there is a chapterabout Harvard. There is also oneabout my dear wife, Tokkie. The titlehas a twofold meaning: ‘In Confidence’and also ‘In the Eye of the Camera.’ Iam writing a ninth and last book at thepresent moment, about life in the bushas a neighbor of Kruger National Park.”Van Deventer, who is retired, is aformer editor of the Afrikaans-languagenewspaper, “Die Volksblad,” and chiefexecutive of Naspers Newspapers.—1984—Jacqueline Thomas, freelancewriter and editor who was editorialpage editor of The (Baltimore) Sununtil late 2001, was a fellow at theInstitute of Politics for the fall 2003semester. Thomas taught a study groupentitled “Up Close & Personal: NewsCoverage of State and Local Issues.”She is also working on a book aboutAfrican Americans during the periodbetween the World Wars.—1991—Rui Araujo writes from Portugal: “Ileft RTP, Portuguese Television Network,last June. I wasn’t fired. I askedthem to leave. I was sick and tired to bepaid (with public money) to do nothing—foralmost four years. Twentythreeyears in the same company ismore than enough—especially whenyou don’t have any challenges and perspectives(since you’re not a memberof the ruling party). The other problemis, they no longer have a single newsshow like ‘60 Minutes’ in the publicsector. Commercial television made thesame option. Portugal is the exceptionin Europe.“Now I work as a stringer for LePoint (a French weekly newsmagazine),Liberation (a French daily newspaper),and for the International Consortiumof Investigative Journalists. I cannotfind a job in Portugal. It seems to me Iam only a decent reporter for foreigncompanies. Unfortunately, the foreignmedia are not interested in Portugal(nothing happens here).The Portuguese government controlsthe two most important mediagroups in the country. They don’t forgiveme for what I wrote (along withspecial assignment French reporterDominique Audibert) in Le Point thissummer: a three-page story on pedophiliain Portugal—including threelines on the two ministers of the actualgovernment who are pedophiles. Thisstory continues to make headlines here.The other media groups prefer to replaceprofessional journalists by students—theywork for free, and theydon’t complain. The fact that I receivednine national journalism awards is notimportant.“As an outsider, I accept the price Ihave to pay to preserve my name andmy principles.”—1992—Marcus Brauchli is now the globalnews editor of The Wall Street Journal.Brauchli had been the Journal’s nationalnews editor. In an announcementin September, the Journal’s managingeditor, Paul Steiger said, “Journalnews editors everywhere will be part ofa 24-hour global news desk and will beresponsible for serving all of our editions… as well as the edition withwhich they are directly affiliated.” Theposition of global news editor thatBrauchli will hold is new.Brauchli’s wife, Maggie Farley, U.N.bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times,shared top honors with her colleagueRobin Wright at the U.N. CorrespondentsAssociation awards dinner inOctober.Mike Ruane reports on the publicationof his new book:“I am the coauthor, with WashingtonPost colleague Sari Horwitz, of thenew book, ‘Sniper: Inside the Hunt forthe Killers Who Terrorized the Nation.’It’s about the October 2002 serial sniperspree that killed 10 people and injuredthree in the D.C., Baltimore and Richmondarea, and the coast-to-coastevents that led up to it. The book waspublished by Random House and cameout September 30th.“To my great pleasure, a book receptionat the paper in October wasattended by, among others, Bill andLynne Kovach and by 1999 fellow andcurrent Post reporter John Kelly.“Katie [Ruane’s wife] works for TheCatholic University Alumni Magazine.Emily is away at college, the Universityof the Arts, in Philadelphia. Julia, asenior in high school, and Sean, an 8thgrader,still at home, are doing great.”—1995—Kemal Kurspahic writes: “TheVienna, Austria-based South East EuropeMedia Organization (SEEMO) hasawarded me its annual Dr. Erhard BusekAward for Better Understanding in theRegion. The award is for my book,Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 101


Nieman Notes‘Prime Time Crime: Balkan Media inWar and Peace,’ published in March2003 by USIP Press. The book, translatedand published by the SarajevobasedMedia Center, has been wellreceived by the professional communityand the general public in Bosnia,Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro, includingbook events in Sarajevo, Zagreb,and Belgrade.” The award was presentedto Kurspahic in October inVienna.—2000—Laura Lynch is now based in Londonas the European correspondentfor CBC News. Her assignment beganon November 9th.—2002—Michele McLellan will be leading aproject, “Tomorrow’s Workforce,” toconduct research and then developways to improve midcareer training forjournalists. The project, which will bebased at the Medill School of Journalismat Northwestern University, isfunded by a $2.2 million, four-yeargrant awarded to Medill by the John S.and James L. Knight Foundation. Thegrant is a part of the foundation’s larger,$10 million initiative to “improve existingjournalism training and to increasethe news industry’s investment in professionaldevelopment.” McLellan, aformer editor at The Oregonian andprimary author of “The NewspaperCredibility Handbook,” will researchthe project by visiting newsroomsacross the country and talking withpeople on both the corporate and editorialsides of newsrooms.McLellan said in the press releaseannouncing the project: “Effective trainingcould impact newsroom cultures.Research has shown that good staffdevelopment contributes to higheremployee retention.”The Knight Foundation learned in arecent study that eight out of 10 journalistsand nine out of 10 executivesexpressed a need for further professionaldevelopment. The $10 millioninitiative was created as a response tothat need.—2004—Erin Hoover Barnett, a reporter atThe Oregonian, won second place inDistinguished Feature Writing in the2003 C.B. Blethen Memorial Awardsfor the story of a father and son’s relationshipafter the father gravely injuredthe son in a logging accident in theirOregon family logging business. Thejudge said: “The reporter has done anexcellent job of stepping back from thestory and letting the drama unfold.Through her well-paced writing, shegives the reader a glimpse of the strongbut silent connections between fatherand son both before and after such atragic accident. The vivid writingcoupled with sensitive storytellingmake this father-son tale unforgettable.It is the ultimate story of forgiveness.”The Blethen Award was named aftera former publisher of the Seattle Timesand this year involved 129 newspapersin at least five western states.Jodi Rave Lee, Native American beatreporter for the Lincoln Journal Star-Lee Enterprises, received top awardsin September at the Nebraska AssociatedPress contest for her “BrokenTrust” series. The Journal Star editorsaccepted the first place award in the“enterprise reporting” category. Sincethe three-part series was published infall 2002, it has also netted first placerecognition from the Native AmericanJournalists Association. Additionally,Rave Lee received the Thomas C.Sorensen Award and $2,000 for theseries from the University of NebraskaSchool of Journalism. The series willalso be featured in a journalism textbookbeing compiled by the ColumbiaUniversity Graduate School of Journalismdue out by fall 2004.The “Broken Trust” series unraveledthe complexities surrounding theU.S. Interior Department’s handling ofbillions of dollars belonging to NativeAmerican landowners. Earned incomecame from mineral, timber and landleases from reservation allotmentsacross the country. The series rosefrom a 1996 class-action suit that was“one of the most complicated pieces oflitigation in federal court history.” ■U.S. Postal ServiceStatement of OwnershipManagement and CirculationTitle of publication: Nieman Reports.Publication no. USPS 430-650. Dateof filing 10/29/03. Frequency of issue:Quarterly. No. of issues publishedannually: 4. Annual subscriptionprice: $20. Complete mailingaddress of known office of publication:One Francis Avenue, Cambridge,MA 02138-2009 Middlesex County.Complete mailing address of theheadquarters or general business officeof the publishers: One FrancisAvenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2009.Full names and complete mailingaddress of publisher and editor: BobGiles, One Francis Avenue, Cambridge,MA 02138-2009; MelissaLudtke, One Francis Avenue, Cambridge,MA 02138-2009. Owner:Nieman Foundation at Harvard University,One Francis Avenue, Cambridge,MA 02138-2009. Knownbondholders, mortgagees and othersecurity holders: None. The purpose,function and nonprofit status of thisorganization and the exempt statusfor Federal income tax purposes hasnot changed during preceding 12months. Extent and nature of circulation(first number is average numberof copies of each issue during preceding12 months, and second isactual number of copies of singleissue published nearest to filing date):Total number copies: 6,475; 7,200.Paid circulation, sales through dealersand carriers, street vendors andcounter sales: None; None. Mail subscription:401; 433. Total paid circulation:401; 433. Free distribution bymail, carrier or other means, samples,complimentary and other free copies:4,833; 5,206. Total distribution:5,234; 5,639. Copies not distributed,office use, left over, unaccounted,spoiled after printing: 1,241; 1,561.Return from news agents: None;None. Total: 6,475; 7,200. I certifythat the statements made by me aboveare correct and complete: Bob Giles.102 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003


End NoteNieman NotesExploring the Alaskan National Wildlife RefugeBy boat and backpack, three journalists wander through this vast, treeless tundra.By Richard ReadPontificators often sound flat whenthey write about subjects—grizzlybears, say, or whales—thatthey haven’t actually seen or tasted.That’s one reason I jumped at the invitationto backpack in the Arctic NationalWildlife Refuge with Nicholas D.Kristof, peripatetic columnist for TheNew York Times, who called out of theblue last summer.I don’t write opinion, at least notconsciously. Neither did Nick when wefirst met in 1989 at adjacent telex machinesin Pyongyang, North Korea. ButNick, who travels to the ends of theearth to report his op-ed column,planned to explore the Alaskan refugewhere the Bush administration favoreddrilling for oil.Perhaps Nick called me believingthat no New Yorker would be crazyenough to go along. Or maybe hemerely figured that Oregon, his homestate and my adopted one, was on theway to Alaska. In any case, Nick calledback a few days later. “Uh,” he said,“you have done some hiking before,haven’t you?”Those who write columns withouthiking, or without at least moving fromtheir keyboards, run certain risks. Sodo people who brave grizzlies, polarbears, blizzards, severe cold, and ricketybush planes in America’s most remotepreserve. But Walt Audi, a bushpilot Nick located, was reassuring whenI reached him by phone as he flippedburgers for his hotel guests in Kaktovik,Alaska. Walt said he’d throw in somebear spray for us.Bear spray? “If a bear attacks you,just spray yourself in the face, and youwon’t see it.”I passed along this tip to the thirdmember of our party, Naka Nathaniel,Paris-based multimedia man for theTimes’s Web site, figuring he might optout. I thought Nick himself might notmake it, given that he described in hiscolumn getting a car stuck in Ukrainethe week before our rendezvous.But we met in a Fairbanks’ hotel inlate August. Fog stranded us the nextday in Deadhorse, the aptly namedgateway to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.A commercial pilot generously agreedto drop us in Arctic Village beside theRichard Read, of The Oregonian, rows with Nicholas D. Kristof, of The New YorkTimes, on the Canning River below Alaska’s Brooks Range. Read, Kristof and NakaNathaniel, of www.nytimes.com, spent five days floating north toward the Arctic Ocean.Photo by Naka Nathaniel.Nieman Reports / Winter 2003 103


Nieman Notesrefuge. On the fly, he arranged forpassing bush pilot Dirk Nickisch toride us in from there.Winging over the spectacular BrooksRange in his 1952 DeHavilland Beaver,Nickisch popped a question. “Hey, youguys want to do a raft trip?” It turnedout he was retrieving a group of vacationingoil company geologists whohappened to have an inflatable raftbelonging to Walt Audi.And so we bounced to a stop on aCanning River gravel bar, to be servedchicken pesto tortellini, red wine, freshchocolate cheesecake, single-maltScotch, cigars and the remains of fourkegs of beer. After the nine Arctic bonvivants flew out, we saw not a footprint,not a shred of plastic, and not acigarette butt during five magical daysfloating 40 miles toward the ArcticOcean.The first grizzly showed up convenientlyat breakfast, enabling Nick tofile an add to his column by satellitephone. The second grizzly, a toweringtawny animal, seemed to find nearbymusk oxen more appetizing than journalists.The refuge was so pristine that somecaribou actually approached us. “Theyseemed to be trying to determinewhether we were pitifully deformedcaribou,” Nick wrote.The vast tundra blazed with autumncolor like a treeless New England inplaces, complete with succulent blueberries.Hummocks of vegetation andwater trapped above permafrost madehiking difficult. On my birthday, we litcandles amid a stiff 40-degree breeze.Nick floated an opinion as webobbed along: The refuge could beopened to oil exploration and drillingas part of a grand bargain on the environmentthat would also address globalwarming. The government wouldbreak the environmental policy deadlockby increasing vehicle mileage standards,controlling carbon emissions,and subsidizing alternative energy.I thought it would make a fine column.I also thought it was a lousy idea.Why should caribou suffer the sins ofHummer drivers? But as I say, I don’twrite opinion.Walt flew us out as promised toKaktovik, an island village closer toGreenland than to Oregon and closerto Finland than to New York. Nevermind that Walt’s Cessna crashed thenext day as he kindly tried to removesome wayward rafters from a mudflat.“Survived another one,” he said with ashrug.In Kaktovik we watched hungry polarbears circle as Inupiats hauled ashorea 43-foot bowhead whale amid snowflurries and celebration. Whale meat,we found, goes down far betterdrenched in ketchup.Nick got five great columns out ofthe trip before departing New York forAfrica. Naka produced stunning, narratedslide shows of our adventures.All in all, Nick went easier on the caribouin print than I thought he might.He called the administration’s attemptedassault on primordial wildernessshameful.What would Huck Finn have said?There’s nothing like a river trip, a shotof whiskey, and a chunk of blubber toopen a person’s eyes. ■Richard Read, a 1997 Nieman Fellow,covers international affairs atThe Oregonian. To read Nicholas D.Kristof’s columns and to see NakaNathaniel’s audio slide shows, visit:http://www.nytimes.com/top/opinion/editorialsandoped/oped/columnists/nicholasdkristof/index.htmlRichRead@aol.comA musk ox eyes rafters from a gravel bar in the Canning River. The rugged animals,wiped out in Alaska by hunters during the 1800’s, were reintroduced from Greenlandbeginning in the 1930’s. Photo by Naka Nathaniel.104 Nieman Reports / Winter 2003

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