Cover image for The business of journalism : ten leading reporters and editors on the perils and pitfalls of the press
The business of journalism : ten leading reporters and editors on the perils and pitfalls of the press
Serrin, William.
Publication Information:
New York : New Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xx, 203 pages ; 21 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN4738 .B87 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In recent years the nature of American journalism--and the press's role in everyday life--has dramatically changed. In The Business of Journalism , ten leading reporters and editors speak for the record about the changes they've seen and the effects such changes have wrought. These seasoned journalists tackle such controversial issues as how the press lost the public trust; the increasing concentration of ownership in the media business and its consequences for freedom of the press; the ongoing struggle to integrate America's newsrooms; and the pressures on smaller, independent newspapers. The Business of Journalism is an insider's look at a fascinating and changing industry.

Author Notes

William Serrin, a former labor and workplace correspondent for the New York Times , is an associate professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU. He is the author of several books, including Homestead: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town , and editor of The Business of Journalism (The New Press).

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Three new books reflect differently on American journalism. The essays by 10 prominent reporters and editors that former New York Times reporter Serrin has collected afford hard-eyed assessment of the way journalism is conducted. The pieces examine the coziness between journalists and powerful sources, the blurring of the traditional separation of news from advertising, and the impact of corporate conglomerate management on journalism. Two black reporters note the practice of self-censorship to avoid being typecast and the lack of diversity in newsrooms. The contributors include two Pulitzer Prize winners, independent newspaper publishers, and a newspaper ombudsman. Donovan, an investigative reporter for several newspapers, witnessed and wrote about the history-making events of five presidential administrations. In his memoir, he presents the familiar figure of the veteran journalist, traveling the country by train with Truman's campaign, reporting on the election of Eisenhower, and covering the assassination of Kennedy, a personal friend. He recounts the weightiness of historic events and personal encounters with historic figures, including an incident when President Johnson challenged him to box a kangaroo. Murray, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Boston Globe columnist, takes the basic elements of a hard news story--who, what, where, when, how, and why--and looks at them from the perspective of his own reporting experiences and those of several other journalists whom he interviewed about their approaches to writing to deadline. Murray was "a secret poet desperate to go public" who came to appreciate the writing craft of journalism. In this book, he brings his love of writing and his curiosity about life to advising writers of all types on how to write clearly and succinctly. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Edited by an ex-New York Times labor reporter and based on a series of talks given at the New York University journalism department, this book collects iconoclastic ideas about contemporary journalistic ethics. ContributorsÄwho range from former New York Times columnist Sydney Schanberg to Mother Jones publisher Jay HarrisÄcriticize both the knotty compromises they believe journalists often make, and newspapers' increasing entanglements with American business. Schanberg, for example, recounts his quixotic effort to persuade the mainstream press to cover itself more aggressively, and Harris warns of a "master narrative"Ä"part ignorance, part arrogance, part bias, part laziness, and part the economic self-interest" of publishers and reportersÄthat leads reporters to ignore corporate power. On the other hand, contributors like Tom and Pat Gish, owners and editors of the Whitesburg, Ky. Mountain Eagle, suggest that all is not lostÄthey tell an inspiring story about how their tiny paper has managed to spotlight local inequities. Similarly, former Times legal affairs reporter E.R. Shipp suggests that it's still possible to navigate newsroom shoals (such as in-house politics) and publish good stories. But the book is behind the times; because all the contributorsÄexcept John Leonard, of CBS's Sunday MorningÄwork in print outlets, the volume virtually ignores the electronic media, especially the Internet. Still, bucking convention and journalistic habit, this volume also offers up salutary nuggets of optimism, as well as ammunition for critics of status quo journalism. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In the age of O.J. and Monica, when certain celebrities get constant coverage and giant entertainment conglomerates covet news outlets, the journalist's mission to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted no longer applies. So says Serrin (journalism, New York Univ.), a former New York Times labor reporter, in his introduction to this book. Here, ten print journalists, all distinguished insiders, frankly discuss their dissatisfaction with the news. They consider the mainstream press's debased standards, its willingness to delve into private lives, the coziness between subject and reporter, conflicts of interest, and censorship. Today, freedom of the press, meant to protect democracy, protects business instead, and journalists, rather than challenging power, identify with it. What should we expect in a brand-named, theme-parked country? asks media critic John Leonard. Serrin writes that it took courage for the contributors to write these pieces; a number of other reporters and critics declined to participate. For all libraries.--Raymond Bial, Parkland Coll. Lib., Champaign, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One We Still Scream The Perils and Pleasures of Running a Small-Town Newspaper By Pat and Tom Gish "Freedom of the press," said the press critic A. J. Liebling, "belongs to those who own one." But as Pat and Tom Gish, owners and editors of the Mountain Eagle, a six-thousand-circulation weekly in the eastern Kentucky town of Whitesburg, can testify, owning a newspaper comes with its own price. This is especially true when the owners of the paper have a view of journalism that challenges local truths.     The Gishes purchased theMountain Eagle in 1957 and made it into a rare voice with the courage to speak out on behalf of miners and local residents against the coal companies, local businessmen, and other powers-that-be. "For forty-two years," said a former Eagle staff member, Thomas N. Bethell, "they have been the skunk at the party. They have been the little boy who not only notices but reports that the emperor has no clothes." Advertisers boycotted them, local residents shunned them, they received threats, and at one point the paper's offices were torched. In response, the Gishes changed the paper's long-standing motto, "It screams, "to" It still screams."     Tom Gish, the son of a Kentucky coal miner, had been a United Press reporter in the state capital of Frankfort before he bought the paper. Pat Gish had reported for the afternoon daily in Lexington, Kentucky. Together they have made their paper into an important resource for people concerned about the fight against poverty in Appalachia, the fate of coal miners as the economy becomes more dependent on machines, the weaknesses of occupational safety and health laws, and the ravaging of the Cumberland Mountains by strip-mining. They champion those who otherwise would have no one on their side. And they do it in probably the most difficult of settings: in a part of the nation where, Bethell emphasized, exercising the right of free speech and free press has historically been hazardous. * * * The small-town newspaper editor willing to risk everything to publish that one important story is becoming a thing of the past. One major reason for this is the trend of consolidation that has hit small-town newspapers in recent years. Almost all weekly and small-town daily newspapers in Kentucky, for example, have been purchased by large corporations, most of them based outside the state. The same is true elsewhere.     Some twenty Kentucky newspapers were swallowed in one gulp recently by a publishing company financed by loans from the Alabama Teachers Retirement System. One of the newspapers in this buyout was another mountain newspaper that we have read and respected for many years. It offered good reporting, good editorials, and especially outstanding coverage of the county school system--by all measures one of the worst public school systems in America. For the past decade this newspaper has had perhaps the best coverage of any Kentucky school system, thanks to a gutsy reporter. Her stories detailed just about every kind of fraud and corruption and misuse of school funds you could find anywhere. One consequence of that school system's failure is that the children who attend its schools are among the most poorly educated in the country. Far too many students drop out or are pushed out of school and doomed to follow the path that leads about half the adults in eastern Kentucky to be functionally illiterate.     It was not a happy situation that the reporter wrote about. School officials much preferred the kind of puffery that assures parents that their kids are receiving educations equal to those elsewhere. Every kid is smarter than any other, and every school better than all others.     Not long after the chain took over the paper, we received a phone call from the reporter, who told us that as soon as she hung up she was getting in her car and leaving the community. What had happened? She was called in by the newspaper's new manager and told that she had to stop writing all those bad stories about the schools. She heard that her stories made people unhappy and that wasn't what the newspaper's owners wanted to do. "Happy news" makes people happy, and happy people make a prosperous community, they said.     She packed up and left town, and in the six months or so that have gone by since then, readers in that county have had little reason to be unhappy because of anything found in their newspaper. The sad truth is that happy news has become the prevailing philosophy in all too many community newspapers.     It is now possible for a small daily paper--and about 40 percent of the country's daily papers have a circulation under ten thousand--to be essentially a one-person news operation. That person receives the daily Associated Press report, downloads it into page layouts on a computer, and lays in the copy around the ads, often using headlines suggested by the AP. Thanks to the ever-improving wonders of computers, it is possible, even simple, for one person to use the AP and lay out a ten- or sixteen-page paper or more, and still have time left to write an obituary or two, check with the police on local crime or injury news, and type up some local news releases. That same person can then e-mail the pages to a press in another town, take a nap until the time nears for the printing run to be completed, drive over to pick up the papers, bring them back to town, and put them out on newsstands. The printer probably will take the copies to be mailed to the post office for him.     These newspaper developments are not all that different from what has happened to local radio. In many communities local stations with local news coverage are history. Satellite feeds of recorded music and national headlines now fill up most of the air time. Except for an occasional station break with local ads and maybe a local weather report, you would never know you were listening to a so-called "local" station. When money is spent, the dollars go into salaries for ad salesmen and business managers, not into local news coverage.     Censorship? Maybe--but not as a deliberate act. To engage in censorship you first have to know that an event or some circumstance has or is about to occur. If you don't cover news in the first place, is your lack of coverage censorship or just good business practice? We fear the answer is self-evident. The happier the news, the greater the amount of advertising. Newspapers, radio, or television--it's all the same. Outside ownership, reduced news coverage, happy news, lots more ads.     We have been at this business of community journalism for forty-two years. They have been years of great challenge, but also years of great satisfaction--the feeling, the knowledge, that we were doing something worthwhile, that we were happier where we were than we could possibly be in any other career choice.     We bought our newspaper, the Mountain Eagle , in 1957 when it was fifty years old. The paper is located in Whitesburg, the county seat of Letcher County, where coal mining was and still is the dominant industry. We brought to the community a combined twenty years of newspapering experience and a certain amount of smugness that we knew what news was. Pat had worked for ten years at the afternoon daily in Lexington, Kentucky, where her assignments included health, schools, city government, and the state legislature. For those same years Tom had worked as bureau manager of United Press at Frankfort, the state capital, reporting on state government and occasionally helping with coverage of the Derby and other Kentucky events.     There is no good answer as to why we bought the Mountain Eagle , other than that it was the paper Tom had read as a child growing up in a Letcher County coal camp, it was for sale, and we shared the dream of so many reporters of owning our own newspaper.     We are still surprised at our lack of knowledge about eastern Kentucky at that time. We didn't know that the coal economy was falling apart. We didn't know that one of every two mountain adults couldn't read or write. We didn't know that tens of thousands of mountain families had been plunged into the extremes of poverty, with children and adults alike suffering from hunger and some dying of starvation. We didn't know that mountain pride and independence caused mountain people to suffer in silence--they believed it was God's will that they live such destitute and, by national standards, hopeless lives. Like other practicing reporters in Frankfort, Louisville, and Lexington, we considered ourselves well-informed about Kentucky and its many parts. It was a real shock to find that we knew almost nothing about the mountain region of Kentucky and neither did our fellow newsmen elsewhere.     The Mountain Eagle in 1957 was like many other community newspapers in that it was owned by publishers who first and foremost were printers, not reporters. They made their living printing letterheads and business forms. The newspaper was put together after all the orders for printing had been taken care of. Little or no reporting was done. Instead there were long columns of weekly meeting reports from the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, the garden club, 4-H, and other clubs, and endless obituaries, often half a newspaper page long, in which every sermon was reprinted. News consisted mostly of columns of items from local community correspondents, mailed in from volunteer writers at Jenkins, Mayking, Kuz, Ice, Hot Spot, Kingdom Come, and a dozen other communities around the county.     With what we now recognize as either stupidity or ignorance, we set about doing what we knew how to do. We started reporting on public affairs in the county. As reporters we attended meetings of two school boards, three city councils, and the county governing body, known as the fiscal court. We wrote and printed detailed stories of what happened at those meetings. There were quotes of what public officials said, accounts of how members voted, and explanations of what was being considered--the kind of reporting commonplace in newspapers everywhere.     What we also did not know was that Letcher County officeholders were not accustomed to detailed public disclosure of their activities. School board meetings were considered gatherings of friends and allies. What the board did was regarded as private business. No reporters wanted, no news stories allowed. Several government agencies passed motions declaring their meetings off-limits to reporters. We found ourselves in a fight for fundamental freedom of the press, the right of the Mountain Eagle to attend and report on public government functions. It was a battle that took up much of our time and energies for a decade and it got downright nasty at times.     For the first few years we owned the Eagle , job printing was still a major portion of the newspaper's income. Fiscal court not only banned us from meetings but hit us financially by canceling all its printing contracts. Finally we turned the job printing back over to the paper's former owners and became newspaper publishers only. The county school board chairman tried to ban us from the board's meetings and told teachers, parents, and the public in general to boycott the Eagle . Don't buy it. Don't read it. Don't let it in your homes. The board of a city school system passed a resolution banning the Eagle from its meetings.     It would be nice to say that the community welcomed our reporting, but it didn't. Just about everything we wrote was treated with suspicion, often with disbelief. "Who paid you to put that in the paper?" was a taunt we often heard. Eventually we realized that the suspicions were not without reason. We learned that for years the paper had sold front-page stories to candidates for local offices. And we were confronted in one tense moment at the office by the county's leading criminal figure, a man with several shootings and convictions on his record. He wanted to buy that week's front page to advance his political candidate. "Name your price," he said as he displayed a giant wad of bills. We knew the man's reputation; we had heard stories about his foes who had disappeared. We were scared, and saying "no" to that man at that time, when the paper was having serious financial problems, was one of the toughest decisions we ever made. But, we said "no" and he left us alone. In fact, as our problems continued over the next several years, there were times when we would walk the two blocks from our office to the post office and we would be in such universal disfavor that no one on the street would speak to us except that man. He seemed to know what we were going through, and we shared the common bond of community shunning.     Whitesburg is a town of about seventeen hundred persons. It serves as the Main Street for the county's population of twenty-six thousand. The eastern border of Letcher County is also part of the Kentucky-Virginia border. Three of Kentucky's major rivers have their sources in Letcher County, so when you are there you are literally as far up the creek as you can get. For the past eighty-five years the local economy has been dominated by the ups and downs of coal mining. For the past forty years there has been a steady decline in coal mining employment as bigger and bigger machines have taken over the work of men. Coal employment has gone from eight thousand in the 1950s to a thousand miners today.     Whitesburg is the shopping center, the medical center, the banking center, and the legal center for the county, and it likes to think of itself as somehow not a part of the broader county population with all of the problems that go with 50 percent unemployment. The community folklore had been that coal mining would boom tomorrow, that there was no poverty, that our schools were the best, our homes the finest, our kids the brightest, our churches the best, God was in His heaven, and all was well. No inquiring reporters needed.     Shortly before we arrived in town, a special investigation by the U.S. surgeon general showed that adequate health care did not exist for most families in coal mining regions. As a result of that survey, the United Mine Workers of America union built a chain of splendid hospitals in the eastern coalfields, including one in Whitesburg. These hospitals recruited top graduates from the country's top medical schools. They engaged in a clinic practice at the hospitals, with the UMW paying doctor and hospital bills for miners and their families. Instantly coal miners had some of the best medical care in the United States. The Kentucky Medical Association called the UMW system "socialized medicine" and pressured the state legislature to pass laws allowing the miners to pick their own doctors and not be limited to those connected with the new hospitals. The Eagle spoke out in behalf of the miners and the new hospitals, and Tom went to Frankfort to talk with legislators and state officials whom he had known during his years as a reporter there. The legislature shelved the issue by referring the matter to a two-year study commission. Our local Buick-Pontiac-GMC-Goodyear dealer, a staunch conservative and the brother of a well-to-do nonunion coal operator, was opposed to the UMW's "socialized medicine." He canceled all his ads in the Eagle . With all those products, he was our largest advertiser, and the loss of that business just about destroyed the paper. That was just the beginning.     The problems of coal mine explosions and mine safety issues, coupled with the enormous environmental damage caused by strip-mining, became the targets of years of editorials and news reports in the Eagle . Bethlehem Steel Corporation, owner of the largest coal mines in our county, reacted by telling the Letcher County business establishment that the Eagle was a communist publication and should be put out of business.     In the early 1960s, when national attention focused on Appalachian poverty, there was talk of a new effort to help the region. The Eagle editorially urged development patterned after the Tennessee Valley Authority. Along with others, we proposed that coal be used to produce electricity that would be shipped by transmission lines to places such as New York City. This method also would save the cities money and ease their air pollution problems. This drew the anger of the American Electric Power Company, the public utility for most of eastern Kentucky and one of the largest in the nation. AEP sent representatives into Letcher County to visit every business establishment, urging them to withdraw advertising from the Eagle and cancel subscriptions because the publishers were communists. The power company did what it had urged others to do and canceled its own weekly ads.     We should have known--and exercised appropriate self-censorship--that America's giant utilities are not about to let anyone talk about public ownership of electrical generating plants. Communism, for sure.     It is hard to pinpoint who canceled what ad for what reason or at whose urging, but the paper declined to the point that it was often only four tabloid-size pages in the 1960s and early 1970s. We had one loyal advertiser during that period who saw issues much as we did. He was Ray Collins, an Old Regular Baptist minister who made his living as a bottler of Royal Crown Cola products. Collins supported the Eagle by purchasing a full-page ad every week for ten years. This paid us enough hard cash to buy newsprint and stay in business. I am happy to report that he did not waste his advertising dollars. His bottling firm climbed to the proud position of number one in per capita sales in the United States, and Collins delighted in spreading the word to local merchants about the effectiveness of Eagle advertising.     We are convinced that knowledge is power and that the more the Eagle can help inform its readers about both local and faraway developments that affect them, the more good things can happen. We decided very early that the coal industry had enough publicity people to put its views before the public, and we made it our business to be spokesmen for the coal miners who had to work in unsafe conditions and the landowners whose property was being destroyed by strip-mining or whose wells were being ruined by deep mining. We were also concerned about children who were not getting an adequate education, people who couldn't afford good health care, communities that didn't have adequate public water and sewer systems. These decisions, of course, were censorship of a sort. We used our limited space for the things we considered important.     Sometimes editors have to pick their fights, and that's what we did in the early 1960s concerning conditions in eastern Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia. We decided we would do what we could to show outside reporters and government officials how things really were and not how the local small-town establishment wanted people to think they were. When outsiders came to take a look, we put down what we were doing and escorted them to places we thought they ought to see. There were television crews from all the American networks and several foreign ones, reporters from major national newspapers and newsmagazines, sociologists, government officials, and so on. Some came back several times. Later, after war against poverty was formally declared, we talked with college students and others interested in what was happening in the Kentucky mountains. Many people were interested in both poverty and environmental problems. Strip-mining had increased enormously and the damage became more obvious every day. The negative effects of coal mining on the health of coal miners also were becoming more and more obvious. The area's problems were far beyond the capacity of local efforts to solve them. Most of the nation knew little of conditions in Appalachia, so we spent much of our time and energy trying to show people from other parts of the country what things were like here.     We were among the first papers to write about the problems caused by strip-mining, a process by which coal is removed from the tops and sides of mountains instead of from underground. Until the federal government passed laws regulating the process in 1977, mining companies were free to get the coal out any way they wanted and were not required to reclaim the hillsides they had scarred. In the early 1960s, we carried our first photograph showing the effects of strip-mining and we followed and reported the widespread development of citizen protests against coal companies that were destroying people's homes and farms by strip-mining. At that time the landowners were helpless. The coal companies' mineral deeds permitted them to get the coal in whatever way they pleased, and it took a thirty-year effort by many people to get a new law limiting the use of the infamous Kentucky "broad-form deed." Something of a war was fought--sometimes with words, sometimes with guns and dynamite, sometimes with sabotage.     Public outcries against strip-mining practices and against unsafe conditions in eastern Kentucky's deep mines brought more observers into our area, and we continued to serve as tour guides and offer the use of the newspaper office and darkroom as needed. We had one coal-operator friend, but the rest didn't think very highly of us. The largest group of outside reporters to arrive at one time came in response to two explosions that killed twenty-six men at the Scotia mine in Letcher County in March 1976. These twin explosions and the public hearings held afterward brought about the passage of stronger federal mine safety laws.     In the early 1970s, Whitesburg police, joined by sheriff's deputies, confronted young people in the community over such offenses as boys sitting on the railings of a bridge on Main Street in Whitesburg that crosses the Kentucky River, here only two feet deep and twenty feet wide. The boys were charged with whistling at girls and women who passed by and with playing their car radios too loud. Several kids were beaten by law officers in various incidents around the county and some were jailed for questionable reasons. Some youths were shot. The paper detailed it all, and this angered the lawmen.     While this was going on, there developed a situation involving the coal industry and overloaded coal trucks, which were destroying poorly paved mountain roads. Coal operators and truckers met to discuss plans for dodging the problem. One coal operator told the crowd, "If Tom Gish gets word of this and prints anything, we'll burn his paper down." A reporter from the Louisville Courier-Journal was present and reported the threat.     During this period we were getting frequent threats against our children, our business, and our home. We told city and county officials about what was happening and asked for help. It became high comedy when we called that ultimate authority, the FBI, and the agent called us back from the Letcher County sheriff's office saying we should ask the sheriff for protection.     A few weeks later the newspaper's office and most of its contents were destroyed in a predawn fire caused by a kerosene firebomb tossed through a window by a youth who was at that time a student in a law-enforcement curriculum at one of Kentucky's universities. A long, painful investigation followed. We found ourselves and our son accused. Eventually, however, state police established that a Whitesburg city policeman, who also was a sheriff's deputy, had hired some boys to burn the newspaper. The policeman and the boys were arrested. Most charges were plea-bargained away, but the policeman was tried by a special commonwealth's attorney who came up from Lexington, and he was convicted by a Letcher Circuit Court jury on a charge of procuring arson. He was sentenced to a two-year prison term, which was probated on condition that he leave the state for those two years.     It appeared that those who plotted the Eagle arson hoped to pin it all on police-youth confrontations. But an attorney hired to represent one of the boys told us later that the boys involved had been shown a big roll of bills--he cupped his hands to illustrate--and were told there would be plenty of money for everyone. Everyone knew it was coal money, the attorney remarked.     All these things happened because the Mountain Eagle refused to censor itself on issues involving big industry and common people. The coal industry has a long history of telling one and all what to believe and how to vote. Cross it and you're out of a job. Never would it sit still and let some tiny little newspaper challenge total industry control of the land and people of eastern Kentucky.     Here's another example. For the past couple of years the people who live in the Camp Branch and Indian Creek areas of Letcher County have complained that the underground mining going on in their neighborhoods was destroying their wells and their water supplies. We ran several stories about their troubles and reported on a series of local meetings at which state and federal officials talked about the problem. The officials assured the property owners that Golden Oak Mining Company, the coal company responsible for the damage, would have to restore their water supplies. Meanwhile the state ordered the company to pay for filters and other supplies needed as a result of the mining damage. After one of those meetings, Golden Oak distributed letters to its employees accusing "certain people who are not interested in progress ... along with the Mountain Eagle and others" of "making a political football out of Golden Oak's efforts to be a progressive supporter of the community" and of "working against us and our future." In April 1999, nineteen families filed suit against the coal company, demanding that it provide a public water supply to replace the private ones it had destroyed.     A news story that appeared in the fall of 1998 also had an effect on us. Most mountain people can't afford to build or buy a home. Local banks don't want to finance homes except for short periods at high interest rates. Our residents are paying 10 percent interest or more for a ten- or fifteen-year home mortgage, even though branches of the same banking firms make loans available to homebuyers in central Kentucky at 7 percent interest over longer periods. We asked some questions, wrote a story, and printed it on the front page. That produced a result. The bank, which had been an every-week advertiser since the 1930s depression, apparently did not want its high Whitesburg interest rates compared to the sharply lower rates charged in Lexington by its parent bank. The bank canceled all its advertising and told us not to bother trying to sell it ads. It will call us if it ever wants to run another ad.     Should we have been more concerned about the paper's finances and exercised self-censorship, thus not offending the bank? Or were we doing the correct thing when we sought to explain why so few new homes were being built? We made what we thought was the only acceptable choice.     We no longer panic when such things happen. We have developed dozens of smaller advertising accounts from all kinds of locally owned small businesses--used car lots, auto repairmen, beauticians, plumbers, painters, a long list. Since we became owners of the paper, the price per copy has grown from a nickel to seventy-five cents, and the circulation has grown from twenty-one hundred to six thousand. Circulation income now pays our printing and postage bills with some money left over for other expenses.     Our efforts to serve the interests of our readers keep us doing things a lot of papers dropped long ago. Our community correspondents keep readers in the know about who is sick, who has sons and daughters visiting from Ohio, who is on the honor roll at college. Sometimes they throw in their own observations about national and world events, or they criticize local government for icy roads or some other shortcoming. These columns are forums for all kinds of viewpoints. A lot of this we inherited when we bought the paper. But in those early years, we made the stupid mistake of cutting out the opinions. After a lot of reader complaints we backed off and let the correspondents have their say. Instead of columns with label headlines, though, we began to pick out some comment or event and feature that in the headline. It is still not unusual for the Eagle to have five-column headlines such as "Sherd Martin Kills 5 Copperheads."     We always try to respond to people who call to ask us to come and take a look at some strip-mining or other environmental damage, or perhaps to come and photograph the big potatoes some gardener has grown. And if a proud parent brings in a photo of a child, we print it. Nothing that comes our way from the community is ignored.     We don't have an obituary column, but we write a small news story when someone dies, and we give each a one- or two-line headline.     One of the most popular things in the Eagle is a weekly column called "Speak Your Piece," which allows readers to phone in comments to an answering machine and talk about whatever they want to. We transcribe the messages, edit them for possible libel, and then run them in each week's edition. The subject matter and the ages of the callers cover wide ranges. The column has been in the paper every week since 1983. It generally takes up a page or more of space and it and the television schedule are the most-read parts of the paper. A local public radio station reads items from "Speak Your Piece" on a late-afternoon broadcast every Wednesday. The original idea wasn't ours. We got it from a Michigan newspaper that sold tips for weekly editors. Our version, however, is considerably broader and more political than the original. Some of our newspaper friends think it is wrong to use this kind of thing, but we are convinced that this page gives a voice to people who otherwise would not have one.     We have a list of rules that we guess qualify as self-censorship, but until now we hadn't written them down. Here are some:     We don't use photos of welfare recipients in situations that may be embarrassing to them or to their children.     We straighten up grammar when we are quoting someone. Why embarrass somebody by putting poor grammar into print? It's not the person's fault that he or she doesn't know better, and why should we perpetuate bad grammar when seeing the right way may bring about proper use the next time?     We do not identify suicide as the cause of death except in unusual circumstances, such as the suicide of a prominent public figure.     In cases of deaths that appear in news stories involving crimes, we try also to run a separate notice with just the usual funeral home information in addition to what other coverage may be necessary in a straight news story. Why carry a bad situation into the rest of a family's life when a simple death notice can go into a family's scrapbook instead?     We do not use gory pictures of accidents or crimes. * * * One problem with being a small-town editor is that as soon as the paper is out, you may walk out the door and run into the guy you mentioned unfavorably in an editorial or someone involved in some questionable activity that you reported. This you learn to accept. But it's a little harder for your five kids when their best friends may be the children of someone you have taken to task. One of our daughters came home in terror from a visit to a friends because she had been at the family's dinner table when the talk turned to something that had been in the Eagle , and an adult guest commented that people would "just have to burn the Eagle down if it keeps on like that." That incident occurred fifteen years before somebody finally did set fire to the paper. Also, a high school teacher made unfavorable comments about the paper before a class that included one of our sons. And our children can recall times when mothers of their school friends obviously didn't want their kids associating with ours.     In the early years what we wrote sometimes made other members of our family who also lived in Letcher County uncomfortable. They would sometimes ask why we wrote something, but even if they disagreed with us, they supported our right to print what we thought.     There's a lot of discussion these days as to whether it's proper for newspaper editors to take an active as well as an opinionated part in the development of their communities. Some people think the role of the press is to observe and comment and not to drive outsiders around explaining local conditions and problems to them. We decided early that we had to take an active role in bringing the problems of eastern Kentucky and Letcher County to the attention of those who might help, whether they were students, political scientists, industrialists, government officials, or whatever. We're still doing it. We also were determined to give our mountain readers the facts and information needed to help them confront their many problems. We're still doing that, too.     Our paper's reporting was not welcomed by subscribers or public officials forty years ago. Today we get loud complaints if we fail to attend meetings and report what happens, and most public officials accept our presence. We still think we have the best job in the country. And we still have not learned how to report happy news. Copyright © 2000 The New Press. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

William SerrinPat Gish and Tom GishRonnie DuggerE. R. ShippJames WarrenVanessa WilliamsSydney H. SchanbergJay HarrisJohn Leonard
Introductionp. vii
1. We Still Scream: The Perils and Pleasures of Running a Small-Town Newspaperp. 1
2. The Corporate Domination of Journalismp. 27
3. Excuses, Excuses: How Editors and Reporters Justify Ignoring Storiesp. 57
4. Washington Journalism: Changing It is Harder Than I Thoughtp. 75
5. Black and White and Red All Over: The Ongoing Struggle to Integrate America's Newsroomsp. 95
6. Journalism Lite: How the Old Rules Were Thrown Out and the Press Lost Public Trustp. 117
7. What Is Missing From Your News?p. 141
8. Follow the Bouncing Ball: How the Caged Bird Learns to Singp. 175