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Columbine Haunts Aurora Reporting

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Denver Post Editor Greg Moore Says, "We Will Be Covering This Tragedy Forever"

Pundit Admits Opining on Paterno Statue Too Soon

Ifill, Woodruff to Be First All-Female Convention Team

NAHJ Veterans Pose 9 Media Questions to Candidates

Proctor Back in Newspapers as Editor of N.C. Group

Writers Examine Use of N-Word, Beauty Standards

NABJ "Meet-Up" at Martin Luther King Memorial

Short Takes

Denver Post Editor Greg Moore Says, "We Will Be Covering This Tragedy Forever"

The mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that killed 12 people and wounded dozens early Friday presents the kind of story that tests news organizations, particularly in an era of cutbacks. The Denver Post, the dominant newspaper in the region, was no exception.

The Post's coverage was influenced by the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, outside Denver. Two teenagers shot to death 12 fellow students and a teacher, then killed themselves.

Denver Post Editor Gregory L. Moore agreed Sunday to answer questions sent by Journal-isms readers.

"Columbine informs everything we do," Moore said by email. "We learned so much about covering tragedy from Columbine." He also said, "The web has allowed so many more people to experience our journalism, so our impact certainly is much greater than in 1999."

Moreover, "We are doing whatever we feel we need to do to cover this story right," he said, noting, "We had people on the scene within an hour of the shooting, maybe sooner . . . We had some people on the scene for 17 hours."

Here are the questions and answers:

Q. How do you feel about the large volume of copy, and most important, accuracy without a copy desk — or the reduced number of editors? (In May, the Denver Post announced that it was eliminating its copy desk. Instead of dedicated copy editors, reporters and assignment editors would be responsible for copy editing duties, which will be spread throughout the newsroom, according to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.)

Moore: I believe we have been up to the challenge of handling this huge story. We have had some issues responding to the normal crises of grammatical copy and typos but nothing super embarrassing. I have never seen us more meticulous, something we have to be with the staff losses we have incurred. People have incredible capacity to rise to the challenge and we are. Everyone is using every skill they have to make our newspapers and our website the best they can be. And they are succeeding.

Q. Please compare the difference in resources available to the paper when the Columbine shootings occurred and now, with these shootings, and describe how the coverage is different as a result. What was the size of the newsroom during Columbine and what is the size now, specifically?

Moore: I was not here for Columbine, but the other day we were looking at those Columbine papers and marveling at the talent that is no longer here. My guess is the staff was around 240 or so in 1999. Today we have about 170. In terms of how the coverage is different, I just think we know more now about covering these kind of tragedies, the sensitivities involved, the bases that need to be touched. We did an incredible job back then and if I may say so, we are doing an incredible job now. The one thing that hasn't changed is we are doing whatever we feel we need to do to cover this story right. We have added pages, we are busting our OT budget and we are using every single person here to contribute to our coverage in print and online. And we have so many more resources with social media and the speed of the web. The web has allowed so many more people to experience our journalism, so our impact certainly is much greater than in 1999.

Q. How much was the Columbine incident on your mind when planning Aurora coverage? What, if anything, did you do differently based on Columbine feedback? One thing I wanted to know was if there were any Littleton people there.

Moore: Columbine is always on our mind. We learned so much about covering tragedy from Columbine. We learned a lot about being sensitive to those affected by the tragedy and to be skeptical. We also learned to give space to those who have lost loved ones. So Columbine informs everything we do. A big thing is that people here get really concerned about the perpetrator getting any recognition for the heinous act. That is a very sensitive thing for us. We are a newspaper and a conveyor of fact, but we are sensitive to that and how we handle it. When we recount the Columbine anniversary, for instance, we never publish the mugs of the killers next to the victims of that tragedy. It is third rail for us. Yes, there were people from Littleton there, but we are also sensitive about not making everyone from Littleton the poster girl or boy for that previous tragedy.

Q. Did you ask reporters to look for that angle as well?

Moore: We don't have to tell them to do that. It is second nature for us.

Q. Media often swoop in when a big story breaks and do the obligatory coverage — the "wham, bam, thank you ma'am" coverage. How do we let the public know we're not just after the big headline?

Moore: I don't think that characterization is true for local media. You might argue that national media parachute in, but we don't. We are part of the community and here for the long haul. In truth, we have been covering Columbine since the day it happened. And we will be covering this tragedy forever. People here will be affected by this tragedy for as long as they live and for as long as we are here we will cover it. It is now a part of us.

Q. How do we tell the story of the long-term impact on the lives of those affected by such crisis?

Moore: We have to stay on it. In tragedies such as these, there is understandably a lot of focus on the loss of life. But the injuries sustained here are war-like. People will be living with unspeakable injuries and making remarkable comebacks and we will cover them for as long as it takes. We will report about how society takes care of these broken bodies and injured souls and we will chronicle their triumphs. We realize the recovery is a huge story in the months and years to come. That recovery is not just physical. It is psychic as well. We have demonstrated that we can stay with a story for a decade in the case of Columbine. This will be no different.

Q. How do you balance the "need for speed" (an Internet-driven reality) with the need to get it right — the traditional journalistic "must"?

Moore: We don't try to balance those things. The need to be right in a crisis like this is paramount. We don't publish until we know what we are talking about. That has proven a smart strategy on fairly routine stories and it is even more important on a big story like this. People forgive mistakes made by some faraway media outlet. But when we make a mistake it is "Dewey Beats Truman." It is just not worth the gamble to rush. And we are fortunate to have a culture where people question whether we are taking leaps with particular facts and eventually, most times, it gets to me.

Q. As many newsrooms downsize, have fewer people working at night and focus more on the Web, can you recount how your staff first learned about the shootings?

Moore: Yes. Our night web producer was about to leave for the night around 1 and checked our Twitter feeds from cops and there is [an] app where you can get police radio traffic. And he heard all the commotion around the shooting at the theater and the call for emergency vehicles. He alerted the night news editor who was probably just crawling into bed and that person called our News Director, who oversees all print and web journalists, and he was in the office by 2 after directing resources from home. We had people on the scene within an hour of the shooting, maybe sooner, and got great stuff from those folks on the scene. And there were plenty of witnesses milling around. That web producer was doing his job up until the very last second of his shift and it made a huge difference in our response. Yes our staff is smaller, but when people are doing their jobs until the very last second, things tend to go right.

Q. What did your on-duty folks do first?

Moore: They called in reporters and got them to the scene and as soon as we could confirm information we sent out alerts and updated the web. Then we just started using every tool at our disposal. We started assembling photo galleries for the web and sending out information on social media. We reported like a wire service all early morning.

Q. How quickly did you began preparing for print editions?

Moore: The web was our first priority and our print coverage was derived from our day-long reporting and photography. We had some people on the scene for 17 hours. We waste nothing. We take what we have reported on the web and social media, develop it and improve upon it for print.

Q. Was every focus for the first 12 hours about the Web coverage?

Moore: Yes, everything is first about the web for us all day. We probably had 10 million page views that first day. Possibly a bit more. The way we see it, the tools at our disposal allow us to be a wire service, a radio station, a television station and a newspaper and we take full advantage of all of them.

All cable news channels carried NCAA President Mark Emmert's Monday announcement

Pundit Admits Opining on Paterno Statue Too Soon

File this under "it sounded good at the time" or "too-infrequent admissions by commentators that they aren't always right."

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic magazine blogger, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times last week in which he argued that the statue of Joe Paterno, the disgraced Penn State football coach, should remain.

". . . in a democracy, memorial statues are not simply comments on their subjects, but comments on their makers," Coates wrote, citing this example: "In Columbia, S.C., there stands a statue of Ben Tillman, the populist South Carolina senator who helped found Clemson University and, in his spare time, defended lynching from his august national offices."

And so, Coates argued, referring to Jerry Sandusky, the coach exposed as a child predator, ". . . Removing the Paterno statue allows Happy Valley to forget its own compliance in a national crime, to expunge its own culpability in its ruthless pursuit of glory. The statue should remain, and beneath it there should be a full explanation of Sandusky's crimes, Paterno's role and some warning to all of us who would turn a pastime into a god and elect a mortal man as its avatar."

Not so fast, argued Jessica Luther Wednesday on "This argument that the statue should stand does not take into account what it might mean to the victims of Sandusky that the grinning JoePa remains an image on campus in any capacity.

"One of the great frustrations of media coverage when it comes to the Sandusky trial has been the focus on how everyone else outside of the victims themselves will cope with what has happened. How will Penn State football move on? What will the Penn State community do to heal? Not that those aren't legitimate questions. Yet when they take precedence in any capacity over the most direct victims (some of them still children) of Sandusky's crimes, we are doing it wrong."

In a blog post on Sunday, Coates conceded the point.

"I continue to be concerned about public historiography, but that all feels really abstract when you're talking about a victim of child rape. To carry forth my original analogy, whatever my thoughts on Ben Tillman, it would take a cold heart to make academic points to the families of lynching victims from the confines of the writer's comfy offices.

"As for my part, I try to see as much as I can. But I miss things. More perspectives would have made for a better column."

As Reuters reported, the NCAA, the governing body of U.S. college sports, fined Penn State $60 million and voided its football victories for the past 14 seasons Monday in an unprecedented rebuke for the school's failure to stop Sandusky's sexual abuse of children.

Jason Pugh added in the Times of Shreveport, La., "When NCAA president Mark Emmert announced sanctions against Penn State, it helped legendary Grambling State football coach Eddie Robinson return to the top of the NCAA Division I all-time wins list."

Judy Woodruff, left, and Gwen Ifill discuss Bain Capital on PBS. (Video)

Ifill, Woodruff to Be First All-Female Convention Team

"Late last month, PBS announced that Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff would co-anchor the network's coverage of the 2012 conventions," Alyssa Rosenberg wrote Monday for "That's not really surprising: Ifill and Woodruff are two of PBS's most distinguished anchors. But at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles, Calif. on Sunday, the network pointed out something interesting. Ifill and Woodruff will be the first all-female team in news broadcast history to spearhead a network's convention coverage.

" . . . We don't even notice how often it is that white men provide the default perspective on any given event — which is why there is something powerful about PBS's rather routine decision. Woodruff and Ifill will inevitably bring their own experiences to anchoring the conventions, whether as women journalists, or in Ifill's case, as a woman of color. Turns out there's no reason a presidential election should need the supposedly soothing gravitas of a man to help viewers interpret information and make decisions."

NAHJ Veterans Pose 9 Media Questions to Candidates

Last week, Juan Gonzalez, columnist for the Daily News in New York and president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists from 2002 to 2004, said he would "probably not" make an endorsement in the NAHJ president's race, telling Journal-isms, "I'll wait till the convention to get a clearer idea of what the policies and positions of the contending candidates are before I decide on my vote.

"And by 'policies' I mean something more substantive than whether to hold a convention next year, or who should be a voting member. I want to hear their vision for the future of NAHJ and for the journalism profession."

Since then, Gilbert Bailon, NAHJ president from 1994 to 1996, and Cecilia Alvear, president from 2000 to 2002, told Journal-isms they also were not ready to endorse. "I want to study the candidates and their proposals and visions very carefully," Alvear said. Bailon, now editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said, "I've been away from the board for a long while, and I don't know a number of the current players. I will be at Unity to get reconnected."

On Saturday, Gonzalez and other journalists with a history in the association — three of them members of NAHJ's Hall of Fame — sent all NAHJ candidates a list of nine questions seeking their views on such issues as media consolidation, the state of Spanish-language media, NAHJ's advocacy role, whether broadcasters should be required to place their political files online and the concept of Network Neutrality, or "open Internet."

The group included Jessica Durkin, founder, and former NAHJ board member; Felix Gutierrez, professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism; Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, associate professor of journalism, University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism, and Joseph Torres, senior external affairs director for Free Press and former deputy director of NAHJ.

"We are concerned the association is not well positioned to advocate for issues and policies that deal with the many challenging structural issues confronting journalists of color," they said. "If we do not help shape the changing structure, we fear that journalists of color will remain marginalized in whatever media platform we work."

Hugo Balta and Russell Contreras, presidential candidates; Josie Tizcareno Pereira, candidate for at-large, Spanish language officer; and Federico Subervi, candidate for at-large, academic officer, have responded.

Separately, Contreras, vice president/print and chief financial officer, posted his own "NAHJ Plan for Growth 2014" on the site of his slate, "HalftimeInNAHJ."

Among his items was a proposal for Unity Journalists, the alliance that now includes NAHJ, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Asssociation. The National Association of Black Journalists withdrew last year. Contreras wrote:

"The NAHJ board will decide the future of NAHJ's role in UNITY. As NAHJ president, I will call for a summit of the UNITY alliance partners and NABJ President Greg Lee to iron out a new agreement that puts the concerns of the alliance partners first, not UNITY. NAHJ will ask all UNITY board members who are no longer journalists to resign immediately. NAHJ will look toward partnering with NABJ, NAJA and AAJA on future conventions, and possible reorganizing under a new alliance with updated bylaws and goals."

While the statement does not mention NLGJA, Contreras told Journal-isms by email, "The call for a summit with UNITY alliance partners includes NLGJA. They are an alliance partner. I've also approached NLGJA and talked to some board members about partnering with us in the future. We have a good working relationship with them." [Updated July 24]

Proctor Back in Newspapers as Editor of N.C. Group

"Glenn Proctor, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and award-winning news media manager, has been appointed executive editor of Lake Norman Publications . . ." a group of weekly and monthly papers in the region about 25 miles north of Charlotte, N.C., the Huntersville (N.C.) Herald reported Friday.

Glenn Proctor

"In his new role, Proctor will oversee the day-to-day news and digital information operations of the company's newspapers — the Herald Weekly, Mooresville Weekly and Denver Weekly and the monthly Mountain Island Monitor.

" 'I like to win,' Proctor told the staff Wednesday, July 18, during the announcement of his hiring. 'Whether that's with better writing, better layout (design of pages), better photography or better attitudes, I like to win.'

"Craig Moon, owner and CEO of Lake Norman Publications, said, 'Glenn is just the type of person our newspapers need at this point in our company's development — an award-winning, uncompromising journalist who excels at mentoring and leadership."

Moon retired in 2009 as president and publisher of USA Today. Proctor retired last year as vice president for news and executive editor of the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch.

Proctor wrote on Facebook, "As David Ng put it: This is like the scene from Godfather III when Al Pacino as Michael Corleone says, 'I keep trying to get out and they keep sucking me back in.' "

Writers Examine Use of N-Word, Beauty Standards

Emma Sapong, a reporter for the Buffalo News, wrote Friday about the use of the "N" word by African Americans, accompanying it with a sidebar headlined, "Why I had to write this story." The daughter of a Liberian mother, Sapong said she was not fully prepared for its casual use by African American adults when she was growing up.

Emma SapongNor was she "Some 20 years later, as an adult journalist, well-versed in American life and its fixation with race." She "met the n-word's other personality" when it was hurled at her by young white men as she walked down a Buffalo street.

Meanwhile, Jessica C. Andrews, writing Thursday for the online Clutch magazine, examined the implications of comments on Facebook and Twitter about the facial features of Blue Ivy Carter, infant daughter of entertainers Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and what the remarks say about beauty standards in 2012.

"The criticism of full lips, 'nappy' hair, and wide noses in our communities is weighted," Andrews wrote. "Some people would have you believe attractiveness is subjective, but the truth is our collective view of facial features is tangled in the web of racism. In our social imagination, European features set the standard for what's beautiful, rendering broad noses and big lips ugly."

(Credit: Jason Miccolo Johnson/NABJ)

NABJ "Meet-Up" at Martin Luther King Memorial

About 40 members of the National Association of Black Journalists, the Association of Black Media Workers (Baltimore), Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and Washington Association of Black Journalists gathered in a slight drizzle Saturday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington to take a photo and celebrate King's legacy. The "meet-up" was followed by a picnic in the Maryland suburbs.

Short Takes

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Russell Contreras NAHJ

 I feel compelled to comment on your writeup on the NAHJ election because you left out important information. 

Russell sent answers to questions drafted by Juan Gonzalez, Joe Torres and others in an email to Joe at 12:57 a.m. EST Tuesday/10:57 MT Monday. I was cced. So your story is incorrect that he did not have them out Monday. He did send them Monday night Central time (He lives in New Mexico) and 57 minutes into Tuesday Eastern time. 

Russell had been working on his plan for NAHJ before Juan's, Joe's and others' questions were forwarded from the NAHJ executive director to candidates at about 5:07 p.m. Saturday, July 21. He met his own goal to post the multiyear plan on his tumblr site this weekend, then got the unexpected questions answered. If you look back at the site set up by Joe Torres, you'll see that Russell gave very detailed answers.

In addition to answering these questions and posting a multiyear plan, Russell also held a Google +1 chat, which you failed to write about, July 19 to answer the questions of an impartial reporter and to answer member questions. Members were free to submit questions through email, Twitter, Google +1. The chat remains on YouTube so members can see it.

A couple days before that, Russell participated in the NAHJ town hall as a board member. In addition, to his tumblr site, a couple of Facebook pages and his Twitter account,  Russell has said he is glad to discuss his vision for NAHJ by phone with anyone who wants to contact him or schedule a one-on-one with him.

I don't know if other candidates for this job have had so much openness and availability with members, but any suggestion that Russell is delaying responses or not making his ideas known to members is flat out wrong.


Coates hollow apology ...

I remained unimpressed by Coates sterile retreat and hollow apology in regards to the Paterno statute saga . Arrogance and snarky is not what makes for good journalism but that is what one often encounters when one visits his chatter box site. Interesting how Coates lacked the internal fortitude to recognize his offensive posturing on this issue. One day perhaps he will not need an outsider to trigger his humanity . Then again maybe Coates lacks the core required to be a man of substance?

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