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Labors of Love for Fans of Elmer Smith

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Philly Columnist's Admirers React to News of His Retirement

A Second Asian American Columnist Loses a Slot

Ethnic Media Say Fallout From 9/11 Reverberates Daily

On Labor Day, Jobs and the Economy Were Topic A 

Al Neuharth Asks: Is Dick Cheney Wary of People of Color?

 

Elmer Smith, left, and other Philadelphia journalists at a celebration at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News this year. The photo was posted during an outpouring of Facebook tributes.

Philly Columnist's Admirers React to News of His Retirement

Labor Day brought unexpected news for friends and colleagues who found their names added to a new Facebook page, "Friends of Elmer Smith": The longtime editorial writer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News is retiring.

"Yo, Elmer!! Sorry to hear that the coolest cat, and one of the smartest voices at the DN, is leaving. The paper and the newsroom won't be the same without you.... I hope your retirement is a blast! I wish you every happiness!" wrote Marianne Costantinou.

". . . you're the wordsmith of all wordsmiths. please don't go, Elmer (frown, tear, frown).... the Daily News will neva eva be the same." said Sarah J. Glover.

"Big thanks to you always Elmer, for being an incredible role model, believing in me and teaching my daughters that a dream like Santa Claus comes in all colors...they still talk about sitting on your knee at the Daily News and making their Xmas wishes," wrote Yvonne Latty.

"When I was a journalism major at Temple University in '80s, I wanted to be the 'next Elmer Smith.' Truth is, Elmer is one of a kind," wrote Ray Jones.

Elmer Smith with granddaughter Ashley  Michelle Arnold: and wife, Maryann."So I guess this is how people at the Daily News learn that Elmer is retiring?" Will Bunch wrote. "Anyway, what a loss for quality journalism in this town — truly [irreplaceable]."

Melanie Burney, editorial writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer, replied to Bunch, "Don't blame Elmer. I jumped the gun in trying to get the word out so his friends can put the party on their schedules. Hope you can make it!"

All this was news to Smith, 66, who wasn't even a subscriber to Facebook. At a weekend wedding of longtime Inquirer manager Sandra D. Long, whose position was recently eliminated, Smith and Burney began plans for a retirement party as a benefit for Brandywine Workshop, of which Smith is an officer. Its goals include "enhancing the quality and richness of the visual arts through active participation of artists and audiences from culturally diverse backgrounds."

Smith told Journal-isms he had reservations about going public with his retirement since he wasn't planning to leave until the end of the year and wasn't sure he wanted to compress his thoughts into the relatively brief space of a farewell column.

But Smith said he'd had "a career I could not have imagined," starting as a student at Temple University, when he landed a job at the old Philadelphia Bulletin in 1973, working 15 hours a week as a rewrite man. "I was seated between two guys, crusty old guys who were better than me by an order of magnitude," he said. They could take poorly written stories and make them sing. "It taught me, this is not about writing, this is about reporting. No matter how well these guys write, reporters' names go on the story."

Along the way, Smith became a sportswriter, a founder of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and an editorial writer and columnist at the Daily News.

"Imagine somebody paying you to think," he said, marveling at his good fortune. "I just feel blessed to have spent as long as I have in this business. I started in the fourth-largest market in the country and the market that I grew up in. I fully expected that I'd have to start my career in some small town. My wife had already started hers" in Philadelphia and that would have caused a problem. "God saw to it that it didn't have to be that way."

Still, after a while "you get comfortable," Smith said, offering one reason for retiring. "There ought to be a different kind of tension. I expect this will enable me to find another spark."

Smith said he hopes to write short stories about life on the road, recalling how different his own life was as a sportswriter. For years, he continued, he wanted to write the story of Clara Ward, the gospel singer who like Smith was a native Philadelphian, and also write about the Caravans, a top gospel group of the 1950s and 1960s that included Albertina Walker and Shirley Caesar.

The columnist said he also wanted to wait until his granddaughter, Ashley Michelle Arnold, got a foothold in journalism. She is now a production assistant at KYW-TV, the CBS-owned station in Philadelphia.

"What I say to my granddaughter is to have an appreciation for the big story, what's important to people, what's interesting, although more and more the pendulum is swinging toward what's interesting," Smith said.

"For the young columnists coming along, what they'll have to deal with is being heard above the din. People are selling attitudes. It's very difficult for young opinion writers to make a point without getting into that scrum. Everybody's got an opinion today, and they're everywhere. It can be as little as 14 words in a tweet. The difficulty is to maintain your integrity."

Smith sees a difference between those write to provoke thought — as he says he does — and those pontificate to cater to the biases of their readers. "If your point is always to be in that fixed place, say to drive Barack Obama out of office, you will do that at all costs. . . . When you know what people want to hear, you will either ignore or walk away from that truth that you should be telling," he said.

"You have to be true to your journalism. I am consciously corny about this stuff, and I don't care who hears it."

A Second Asian American Columnist Loses a Slot

Frances Kai-Hwa WangA second Asian American has been notified that her column is being dropped. Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, columnist for AnnArbor.com, told Journal-isms that the website is discontinuing her offerings next month.

As reported Friday, SFGate.com, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, is eliminating three online columns, including "Asian Pop" by Jeff Yang.

Wang told Journal-isms, "My editor said he was not displeased with my content, he liked my writing and liked my way with words, and he tried to protect my column as long as he could because it is dear to his heart, but 'we only have a small pot of money and we have to direct it towards news now.' "

She said her "Adventures in Multicultural Living" is also syndicated to five other publications: New America Media, Chicago Is the World, Pacific Citizen, InCultureParent.com and RainbowKids.com. These other venues are unaffected, she said.

Tony Dearing, content director of AnnArbor.com, told Journal-isms, "Frances is a gifted writer, and while we will not be continuing her column, we appreciate the work she has done and thank her for her contributions to our site."

President Obama told a predominantly union Detroit crowd , “We’ve got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding.” (Credit: Pete Souza/White House)

On Labor Day, Jobs and the Economy Were Topic A

American daily newspapers lost 13,500 newsroom jobs from 2007 to 2010, the American Society of News Editors reported this year.

The number of journalists of color declined from 6,300 in ASNE's 2009 survey to 5,500 in 2010 to 5,300 in 2011.

No surprise: Journalists, like the rest of the country, were thinking about jobs and the economy this Labor Day, even if they sought distractions.

"Recent figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics place Black unemployment at 16.7 percent, a figure nearly double the national average of 9 percent. And since the beginning and end of the great recession, joblessness among African-Americans has risen by more than 7 percent. Even if a recovery were in full swing, more than 2 million jobs would have to be created and go directly to African-Americans to ease the swell of unemployment," C. Nicole Mason wrote for the Huffington Post.

Emma Lynch noted for La Voz Colorado, "One in every four construction workers is a Latino. The group has the highest fatality rate per 100,000 workers of any minority and Latino workers suffer more minimum-wage and overtime pay violations than any other ethnic group."

As President Obama prepared for his Labor Day address in Detroit, Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley offered this advice:

"Mr. President, as you stand with the unions five days after announcing plans to start infrastructure projects that can create a significant number of jobs, here's an idea: Rebuild one city as a template for rebuilding others.

"Let Detroit be your pilot program, the Great Experiment.

"And while your plan — if it's really soup and not just the idea for a recipe for soup —is a great start, here's another idea: Rebuild America the way that America is rebuilding Iraq."

An editorial in the Detroit News was blunt: "Mr. President, we need jobs."

Ethnic Media Say Fallout From 9/11 Reverberates Daily

"A decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, it’s still common for ethnic media here to encounter stories of hate crimes, racial backlash, immigration raids and interrupted lives in the immigrant communities that they cover on a daily basis," Anthony Advincula reported Monday for New America Media.

"Antoine Faisal, editor and publisher of Arab-American bilingual weekly Aramica (http://www.aramica.com/), established his newspaper seven months after 9/11. He says it has served as a platform to inform his community and educate mainstream society about misconceptions of Arabs in a post-9/11 America.

“Since 9/11, he said, 'we have been in survival mode.'

“ 'For many of you, September 11 is a memorial event once a year. For us, it is what we live every day,' he said at a recent roundtable discussion for New York ethnic media. 'We don’t care about having an elected official; we just want to be alive from anti-Arab bashings.'

"In Chinatown, Rong Xiaoqing, a senior reporter for Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily (http://www.singtaousa.com/), has seen how the tragedy transformed the garment industry — a traditional stepping-stone for new Chinese immigrants.

"As a result of their proximity to the World Trade Center site, many garment factories were shut down. Chinese workers thought the closure was only temporary. But Xiaoqing says the factories still have not fully recovered, displacing many Chinese workers and making it harder for them to adjust to their new environment. . . . "

Gary YoungeMeanwhile, Gary Younge, a black Britisher who covers the United States for Britain's Guardian newspaper, wrote an analysis whose headline asked, "Can the United States move beyond the narcissism of 9/11?"

"Ten years later the US response to the terror attacks [has] clarified three things: the limits to what its enormous military power can achieve, its relative geopolitical decline and the intensity of its polarised political culture," Younge wrote. "It proved itself incapable of winning the wars it chose to fight and incapable of paying for them and incapable of coming to any consensus as to why. The combination of domestic repression at home and military aggression abroad kept no one safe, and endangered the lives of many. The execution of Osama bin Laden provoked such joy in part because almost every other American response to 9/11 is regarded as a partial or total failure.

". . . beyond mourning of the immediate victims' friends and families, there was an element of narcissism to this national grief that would play out in policy and remains evident in the tone of many of today's retrospectives. The problem, for some, was not that such a tragedy had happened but that it could have happened in America and to Americans. The ability to empathise with others who had suffered similar tragedies and the desire to prevent further such suffering proved elusive when set against the need to avenge the attacks. It was as though Americans were unique in their ability to feel pain and the deaths of civilians of other nations were worth less."

Al Neuharth Asks: Is Dick Cheney Wary of People of Color?

"Dick Cheney was the worst vice president since Spiro Agnew. Now in his book out this week, Cheney tries to blame his screw-ups on other key members of President George W. Bush's administration," USA Today founder Al Neuharth wrote Friday in his column for that newspaper.

"The book is 'In My Time,' published by Threshold Editions, a division of Simon & Schuster ($35).

"Cheney especially tries to cut up former secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, both of whom served with him in the Bush Cabinet.

"Cheney was frequently at odds with Powell and Rice, so it's no surprise that he's scapegoating them now. But the fact that both are African Americans raises other questions. Cheney was a kid in Nebraska and grew up as a teenager in Wyoming. Both of those states had overwhelmingly white populations.

"Some individuals never outgrow their suspicions about people of color that develop in that environment, and Cheney may be one of them."

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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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Comments

Elmer Smith, wordsmith

The columnist is an author too. "Out of My Mind" was published by August Press in 2002. It is a collection of about 50 memorable columns in six themes: About me and mine/Passing through/Food fights/Money matters/Little ones/Newsmakers.

There's more, four original illustrations by Elmer's colleague Signe Wilkerson. I've watched the outpouring of richly deserved love for Elmer by fans and friends. Recommendation: Pick up a copy of "Out of My Mind," for those who don't have it. Try Amazon or direct from August Press, P.O. Box 6693, Newport News, Va. 23606.

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