By William G. Connolly, Senior editor (retired), The New York Times at the Maynard Instituteís Editing Program Graduation exercises at The University of California at Berkeley, Calif., (July 6, 2001) --
Iíve been around newsrooms longer than mice Ö I mean real, living mice, not the electronic kind. I am a genuine curmudgeon, a certified ink-stained wretch, in case you hadnít noticed.
Given such musty qualifications, you might expect that Iíd come here to rant about the wonks who have invaded our business and the Wall Street money-grubbers who were hot on their tails.
Between them, the wonks and the money-grubbers have changed the landscape. The business you are about to enter or return to is not the one I joined eons ago.
The wonks have tried mightily to seize control of journalism and everything else. Their mantra was that the Net would change the world.
To some degree, the Internet has changed the world. E-mail has had a profound effect, and it will probably grow. The Net is worming its way into all manner of commercial transactions. It will no doubt produce far more sweeping change eventually, for better or worse.
Along the way, technology has altered newspapers. You will hear much grumbling about that, especially among the elderly and decrepit Ö people like me. But that's nothing new. Iíve been immersed in change since I encountered my first copy desk, which relied on spikes, pastepots, spittoons and thick black pencils.
We were so primitive in those days that we thought a curser was somebody who used foul language.
Since then, the government has outlawed spikes as too dangerous for the workplace.
Once in a while, I must admit, some agitated editor would put a spike through his hand. But the injury usually wasn't serious; the old cuss would be back at the desk in a day. And Iíve never heard of lockjaw induced by a spike, though there were days when I hoped that it would strike nearby.
Pastepots, scissors and black pencils are not illegal, of course, but they are obsolete. They and spikes have been replaced by pixels and rasters, Edpage and Quark, Pentiums and Macs, scanners and modems. Itís a different world than the one I started in.
We curmudgeons have had to learn how to deal with change, how to get along with technology that morphs into something new every few years.
But adapting to that technology has not meant much ó just learning when and how to push different buttons on strange machines. We old geezers have been through it half a dozen times ó when we went from manual typewriters to electric ones, when optical character readers arrived, when we went from hot type to cold type, when we switched from electric typewriters to computer terminals and when the boss sent all that hardware to the landfill and bought PCs.
And even then it didnít end. Iím on my fourth PC now. I started with a 286, then moved to a 486, then a Pentium and now a Pentium III, which is itself becoming obsolete. I started in DOS, then graduated to Windows, Windows 95, Windows 97 and now Windows Me.
Each of those changes was an annoyance but not a particular challenge. Each of them meant that we were uncomfortable for a week or two, then we went back to pretty familiar routines. We adapted to the technology and made it work for us. We did not allow it to take control.
Now Iím here to ask you ó to plead with you, really ó that you be righteous in the same crusade. Do not let the technology of this moment or the next blind you to whatís important.
You face technologies far more magical and insidious than anything I had to confront. Your technologies will come with far more hype and hoopla than mine did. They will be far harder to resist. And they will have much more power to corrupt.
The technology of my youth was sold as something that would save the boss money and therefore make our jobs more secure. That appealed to the boss, but we had little trouble containing our enthusiasm down at the Peek-a-Boo Lounge. Saving the boss money was not our highest priority.
The technology you wrestle with is a different matter. It has been sold almost as a religion, as a new way of life, a way to transform commerce and communication and work. It may do all of that, and I hope it does.
This technology isnít likely to make you dishonest or get you jail time, but it does have a disturbing potential to give you bad information and to lure you into being intellectually lazy. And in that combination, it seems to me, lies corruption for an editor.
So Iím asking that you discipline yourself, that you look beyond the technology and resist its allure.
Iím asking that you stick with the traditional values that have long imbued our business ó accuracy and fairness, clarity, grace and precision.
Iím urging that you continue to hone your ability to do electronically what I did years ago with a lot of books, a long shears and a thick pencil. Iím urging that you be honest with yourself and your readers, that you be diligent in your craft.
Study the world about you and ask what is important. Analyze the important things. Discover what they mean ó what they really mean ó to the world at large and to your readers.
Once youíve decided whatís important and why, I hope you will pursue with all your energy the best way to make it meaningful, to explain it in words and images that add up to something.
What Iím urging is that you remain committed editors, that you resist the blandishments of both the wonks and the money-grubbers.
As the front offices of journalism tremble under Wall Street's icy gaze, itís easy to forget whatís important. It's easy to fall prey to the money-grubbers' song of gloom, to grow timid in the face of downsizing and shrinking and cutting.
And it's easy to overlook the short-sighted, narrowly focused nature of Wall Street's dirge.
The Street seizes upon the notion that advertising is down from last year, so revenue looks terrible compared to last year. Moreover, newsprint prices ó and therefore costs ó are up compared to last year. That means that margins ó which is to say, profit ó will be down from last year.
To Wall Street, this is Armageddon. In Wall Sreet's view, the infidels are coming over the walls.
Well, I hate to tell you this, but you and I are the infidels, and we'd better get over those damn walls. We can do so, I believe, because the walls are far more rickety than they seem.
If you look a little more closely at the numbers that give Wall Street palpitations, you'll conclude that all is not lost. Indeed fortune is sitting right there in the lobby. We ó well, really, our publishers ó must simply be a little patient as it wanders into the vault.
Take as an example the company I know best because I worked there for 34 years, The New York Times Company. On June 18, it reported that in May 2001 advertising revenue for all of its newspapers decreased 17.1 percent from a year earlier.
For The New York Times newspaper itself, the company said, advertising revenue was down 19.5 percent from a year earlier.
It sounds like bad news, and that's the way Wall Street took it.
Well it's certainly not great news. But it seems a bit less ominous if you look at it in a broader context. Ad revenues for the company were down 17.1 percent in May 2001, compared to a year earlier. But in May 2000 ó a year earlier ó revenues were up 17.7 percent from the previous year. So in May 2001 the company's ad revenues were at about 98 percent of their 1999 levels.
While ad revenue for The Times itself was down 19.5 percent in 2001, it was up 21.2 percent in 2000. In May 2001, in other words, The Times was doing almost as well as it was in 1999, two years earlier.
And what was the official line two years earlier? Why, May 1999 was a boom period. The Times had had another year of billion-dollar ad revenues ó its second in a row ó and the future seemed limitless. The Street was jubilant about a new economy and the wonders that technology would produce.
Today, though, roughly the same numbers, in the hands of the same people, produce hand-wringing and downsizing, thanks to The Street's demands for ever-higher returns. I'm no economist, but that doesn't make sense to me.
In fact The Street was wrong in 1999 and early 2000, seeing Nirvana in a new economy. It's probably wrong now, bashing publishing companies for what will in all likelihood be a cyclical lapse in advertising.
All this up and down doesn't make sense to me. What does make sense to me ó and what always has ó is old-fashioned journalism, the idea that editors must simply buckle down and edit.
Whatever the technological revolution brings and whatever the money-grubbers demand, you must cling to the substance of what you do and what we've always done. You must be the people who bring to the discussion ó to the page or the screen ó accuracy, fairness, clarity, grace and precision.
Now more than ever, you must focus on the business of editors, not the business of engineers or publishers or entrepreneurs or investment bankers.
Long after Iím gone, you must hone your ability to develop and present content ó to provide accuracy, fairness, clarity, grace and precision ó if you hope to flourish as the world around you spins toward who knows what.
Learning which button to push or what color the screen displays is not worth worrying about in the long run. Learning which questions to ask and how to ask them ó thatís the trick. Learning to see the world, to understand it and explain it.
Thatís what you must do today and tomorrow and for all your tomorrows. You must continue to do so no matter what the front office thinks, no matter what Wall Street demands, no matter where technology turns.
You must do that because if you fail ó if you do not do it ó then my grandchildren and your children will be doomed to lives of dark confusion.
We simply cannot have that. It is unacceptable.
So I urge you to take great care. All of us are depending on you.
Maynard Institute Awards the First Charles Jackson Fellowships
OAKLAND, Calif., (June 4, 2001) -- The Robert C. Maynard Institute for
Journalism Education awards the first Charles Jackson Fellowships to
Judith Howard, City Editor at the Arlington Morning News and Rhina
Guidos, Reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal. The fellowships enable
them to participate in the Institute's Management Training Center at
Northwestern University's J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management
this summer. The Maynard Institute's Chairman and CEO Mark N. Trahant
and his wife, author LeNora Begay Trahant and the Freedom Forum sponsor
this year's fellowships.
Fellowship recipients will attend a five-week program to prepare them
for future management positions. Judith Lynn Howard reports across media
platforms and develops community outreach projects. Rhina Guidos, a
University of Nevada at Reno graduate, was recently honored by the
Nevada Women's Fund with a Woman of Achievement award and was a 1998
Chips Quinn/Freedom Forum scholar.
The Charles Jackson Fellowship was established in memory of the late
African American journalist Charles Jackson, former Maynard Institute
programs director. Jackson's 35-year career spanned the whole of print
journalism, from the Dallas Weekly to The Washington Post, including
award-winning coverage at the Oakland Tribune.
Celebrating the Life of One Colorful Newsman
By Steven Chin
"Charles became his dream. No excuses," Rev. Perry Lang told about 200 people, who had gathered to celebrate the life of Charles Jackson. "He became who he wanted to be, who he dreamed he could be in his heart."
The memorial service, held April 10 at San Francisco State University, brought together many of Jackson's friends, colleagues and journalism mentees, also known as his "children." They shared tales of Jackson's warmth and humor, as well as stories of his love of journalism and his determined efforts to diversify the news industry.
Jackson's wife, Deidre Keels recalled one of her last exchanges with Jackson. "I asked him, 'How do you want to be remembered?' He said, 'Newsman is dead.'"
"I said, 'CHARLES, that's a little strong, isn't it?' He said, 'Well, it will be factual. And the syntax is correct.'"
Jackson died March 7th in San Francisco at the age of 55. His 35-year career spanned the whole of print journalism, from the Dallas Weekly to the Washington Post, including award-winning coverage at the Oakland Tribune. He also served the director of programs for the Maynard Institute from 1995 - 1999.
A fellowship in his honor has been established at the Maynard Institute.
The following are selected quotes from the service:
"When I met Charles, I was immediately taken in. I thought I was special. It wasn't until he was dying that I actually realized how many of us there are -- young journalists that Charles had molded, supported, uplifted and brought along. And in that way he was the very best kind of father, the kind who - no matter how many of us children he had out there in the world - managed to make each and every one of us feel as though we were the only ones who mattered."
Thaai Walker, San Jose Mercury News reporter, "Charles Jackson's first official grandchild in Journalism"
He could cut through rhetoric better than anyone I knew. This was a man who spent his life advancing the cause of minority representation but referred to himself as "Negro." Proudly. Not by accident this. He loved language and knew its power. He chose his words carefully. Sometimes he could say things to purposely shock, but sometimes he was just making an observation, or as he would say, "speaking the truth." He would not hide real feelings behind P.C. words.
(from l. to r.): Robert Montemayor, Nancy Conway, Thaai Walker, Mark Trahant
We will not forget this man. He is already part of the folklore of the Oakland Tribune, but his influence goes far, far beyond that. From Ft. Worth, TX to Washington, DC to Oakland, CA and to lots of places in between, Charles Jackson will be with us, not in a sad or melancholy way, more likely as a smile creeps across your face when you remember Charles sneaking off to eat a bag of Fritos or to grab a smoke when he knew he shouldn't or when he recalled a funny story that he gladly shared about his colorful past, or maybe simply how he did his job, with a dose of rebelliousness and irreverence, but always with love.
Chuck Jackson was one of those guys who could take you from here to there. Mentor doesn't even begin to tell the story. He was prototypical in that respect.
Robert Montemayor, Senior Executive VP/Circulation and Database Operations, BPI Communications
Charles loved language and Charles loved theater and he mixed these two loves like nitroglycerin in the newsroom, creating an effect that he referred to simply as "the drama."
In the Charles Jackson "deadline dictionary," a newsroom is not a newsroom at all. The newsrooms where he spent most of his professional life were called "the craziness." His trusted colleagues and reporters upon which his daily credibility rested became - using the Jackson vocabulary - "the bastards." His hundreds of beloved children, whom he recruited to save the soul of journalism, were - in Jackson-speak - "little shits." So, all in all, the Jackson lexicon produced sentences like this - "Mr. Newton, what could a little white boy like you possibly tell those bastards and little shits about the craziness that they don't already know." And then he would give me an Altoid.
Eric Newton, Director of Journalism Initiatives, Knight Foundation
"Telling It Like It Is, Part II"-- Black Journalists Forum on the
State of the Industry Continues
(OAKLAND, Calif.)--More conversations with the courageous black journalists who broke into mainstream media in the sixties and seventies against the backdrop
of the turbulent Black Power Movement to be held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Thursday evening, February 15, 2001 at 7 p.m. with a reception immediately following. The History Project's first "Telling It Like It Is" forum held last December had over 125 guests in attendance and launched the collaboration of the Schomburg and the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education to create an oral history of the journalists' experiences.
The distinguished participants on February 15th include:
Utrice Leid - Moderator - General Manager, WBAI Radio in New York City.
Panelists include Nancy Hicks Maynard, author of "Mega Media, How Market
Forces Are Transforming News," C. Gerald Fraser, Senior Editor, The
Earth Times; Earl Caldwell, Author, "Black American Witnesses"; Dave
Hardy, Journalist now writing a book on the landmark discrimination suit
which he successfully led against the New York Daily News; Don Hogan
Charles, first black photographer at the New York Times.
Location: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
The New York Public Library
515 Malcolm X Boulevard (at 135th Street)
New York, NY 10037
The event is sponsored by The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism
Education and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
For more information please call Barbara Jones at the Maynard Institute,
510-891-9202 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the History Project: Together, the Maynard Institute and the Schomburg, the premier repository of African American history, will interview the journalists and create an archive of their experiences, complete with notebooks, tapes, photographs and other relevant documents. The oral history project is part of the Maynard Institute History Project which was launched in 1999 with "The Caldwell Journals," a personal account of the Black journalist movement written by legendary reporter and columnist Earl Caldwell. James Murray, head of the oral history division at the Schomburg Center, calls the oral history collection, "one of the most important" for the Schomburg.
The Schomburg, a national symbol of the struggles, achievements and
aspirations of black people, is a research library that reaches throughout the
world to collect and document the lives of people of African descent.
The Institute was incorporated in 1977 and provides a number of programs to
help the nation's news media reflect the nation's diversity, including Total
Community Coverage and its nationally acclaimed management and editing
training programs. It was renamed in 1993 to honor the late Robert C.
Maynard, an Institute co-founder and the former owner, publisher and editor
of the Oakland Tribune.
Maynard Institute Announces New Leadership Team
OAKLAND, Calif. (December 15, 2000) -- Mark N. Trahant, former, Seattle Times columnist, has been named the new chairman and chief executive officer at the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Dori J. Maynard, Maynard Institute History Project Director, has been named president. The appointments are effective January 1st.
John L. Dotson Jr., chair of the board's search committee, said the appointments bring together two leaders with a clear vision for how the Maynard Institute can work harder to improve journalism. The Oakland-based nonprofit is the country's premier institute for providing advanced training and services nationally to help news media reflect diversity in content, staffing and business operations. For nearly 25 years, the Maynard Institute has prepared journalism professionals and managers to operate effectively and creatively in multicultural communities.
"After a four-month national search, it became clear to us that the best persons to lead the Institute were within our midst," Dotson said. "Mark Trahant and Dori Maynard have an intimate understanding and a passion for the Institute's mission. Together they will provide leadership for the Institute today and continuity for the future, as well."