Category Archives: Editorial

‘Freedom Fighter” Mike Wolff says good reporting inspires social change

Michael A. Wolff, former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and dean of Saint Louis University law school, gave these remarks upon receipt of the GJR’s Freedom Fighter award at last month’s First Amendment Celebration.

by Michael A. Wolff

I am deeply honored by this award. I am impressed by the exaggeration of its title – “freedom fighter” seems an overstatement that my father would have enjoyed and my mother would have believed.

I consider myself a recovering reporter. Here is something I never have disclosed: At one point in my life, nearly five years after graduating from law school and leaving The Minneapolis Star I sent a note to my old managing editor asking if the paper might have an opening for me as a reporter. He did not write back. How soon they forget.

I truly am humbled by receiving this award from an organization whose members have so single-mindedly devoted their lives to telling the truth to the people in our community and nation. I will risk omitting some truly great journalists who are here and honor me by their presence, so I beg your indulgence in advance to single out my friend and occasional co-conspirator Bill Freivogel, Margie Freivogel, Charles Klotzer, whose St. Louis Journalism Review I started reading more than 40 years ago and whose legacy lives on in the Gateway Journalism Review and the able writers and editors who populate it and continue to provide the criticism necessary to keep our media performing their essential role in our society.

Let’s face it – we lawyers and journalism have something in common – if it weren’t for human frailty, greed, avarice, and at times simple incompetence, we would all be out of business.

Great reporting inspires our passion for social change. My friend and SLU colleague Roger Goldman read your reporting in the Post Dispatch 40 years ago about trigger-happy Maplewood officers whose deadly shots did not disqualify one of them for future employment in another municipality. Roger has spent 40 years of his terrific career seeking to hold police accountable through certification and licensing all over the country.

Great reporting builds a sense of community, sets the stage and furthers the progress made in all the areas you have mentioned … education, racial justice, health care, criminal justice. It builds a community of those who, like you who are here, have a shared view of reality and the motivation to do something.

Great reporting can shame our leaders, although shame from time to time seems to go out of fashion.

Put aside shame, for now. These days it seems truth has gone out of fashion, and that feels even more ominous.

But it is so essential that we know basic facts, that we tell basic truths widely to get some agreement on a sensible common course. We cannot be a well functioning democratic republic without shared facts. Correct information is essential to drive out misinformation. I cannot think of a time in my lifetime when great reporting and great editing were more needed.

I thank you for being essential truth sayers. I also am grateful for the comics among us. Satire is alive and well. Unfortunately it sometimes is hard to tell what’s real news and what’s Saturday Night Live. It reminds me of the time decades ago when the satirist Tom Lehrer (younger people, you can Google him) said that satire died the day they gave Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize.

As a lawyer and judge, I sometimes have had the experience you occasionally have when someone questions your motives, your fairness, your judgment. That’s when humor comes in handy. I may be an idiot but I know this because Garrison Keillor told us: You can go your whole life and not need math or physics for a minute, but the ability to tell a joke is always handy.

I have tried to be available, preferably without attribution, to help reporters understand the current events that they are writing about – I remember the feeling of having to write about several different subjects in a single week. I always have had respect for that daunting challenge that reporters and editors have put their talents to. When I was a reporter I sometimes felt like the wreck on the side of the road, hoping that someone would stop and help. I often felt that way as a lawyer.

Also on the side of the road are those who are taking up some cause of social justice in these challenging times. We should stop and help them if we can.

It is easy for us to ignore those who are trying to advance social justice. There are just so many problems. There are many ways that various contending factions define social justice. It is easy to be overwhelmed, and the temptation to do nothing is strong, to leave them on the side of the road.

I leave you with my profound thanks, not on the side of the road, … but without a quick and satisfying answer. Perhaps this will help, a thought from one of Missouri’s most cherished treasures, Mark Twain: “Always do right,” Twain said. “This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

The Gray, Grey Lady mucks up

by William A. Babcock

Media — it’s a plural. Medium is the singular. Grammar 101. Clear. Simple. No question.

Unless you’re the New York Times, which inexplicably and regularly refers to “media” as a singular, as in “the media is.”

That newspaper argues that usage has made it so, much in the same way the Associated Press now accepts “under way” as one word in all instances, allows “hopefully” to be an adjective and persists in saying someone “died suddenly,” where, since death always is sudden, the correct usage is “died unexpectedly.” Ah, the death of the English language as we know it – or at least as we knew it. Sigh….

So yes, the New York Times’ caving into to common/incorrect usage is annoying. But that’s where annoyance with the Gray (or is it Grey?) Lady ends –or should end.

The Times, along with other traditional mass media such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and CNN, have proven to be great annoyances to Donald Trump. The newly elected president has been berating and calling these traditional mass media names and accusing them of distributing false information and news.

His omnipresent diatribes against legacy media not only provide ample fodder for Gateway Journalism Reviews’ weekly eNewsletter, but readers will note the issue they now have in front of them is the second quarterly magazine to focus on Trump and the media. That’s only the second time in this publication’s nine-year existence that it has published two issues focusing on the same topic (let alone on the same individual), with the first being the Ferguson issues.

Journalism reviews are media ethics tools. As such they focus on ethics shoulds, as opposed to First Amendment musts. And even when legal issues are featured, as was the case in GJR’s last magazine, the shoulds must take precedence. Or to quote First Amendment scholar Donald Gillmor, the law must have a clear moral element to it, or it ceases to be just.

To put it bluntly, Trump has been grossly unfair, irresponsible and unethical in his criticism of journalism and the mass media. His skin, if he indeed has any, is microscopically thin. Have the media made mistakes in covering the United States’ president? Absolutely.   Have the mistakes been the exception and exceedingly rare. Absolutely.

And let’s differentiate between “professional media” and “social media.” Professional or traditional media operate under established ethics codes. One such code, and the one most accepted as the gold standard, is that of the Society of Professional Journalists. This code instructs journalists to seek truth and report it, to minimize harm, to act independently and to be accountable. Social media seldom have – and rarely conform to – such ethics guidelines.

Is she a journalist?

Today a 14-year-old girl wearing PJs and blogging on her laptop while reclining in bed may be considered to be a journalist. But to say she’s a journalist in the same manner of the Times’ Dean Baquet, Joseph Kahn or Rebecca Blumenstein, is simply ludicrous. The pig-tailed teenager – a social media journalist – may be engaging in rumor mongering, may be spreading fake news and/or may be reporting the truth.

The U.S. is the only nation guaranteeing freedom of the press. With that guarantee should come the responsibility that journalists be credible – that they behave ethically. It’s a shame that many social media “journalists” are unaware of their ethical responsibility.

But for Trump or his staff to not see the difference and lump all “journalists” in the same boat is demeaning not only to his office, but it also can lead members of the public to distrust journalists – and to distrust them at a time when the world needs to trust trustworthy media. And for him to berate professional media for trafficking in “fake” news is preposterous.

So until Trump understand this, the media will continue to rightfully call him out when he lies, exaggerates and behaves like a boorish bully in his treatment of the media.

Now if only the Times might finally stop mucking up the English language and consider that media are indeed plural.

From Deep Throat to WikiLeaks

By William H. Freivogel

The most outstanding example of the press and the courts acting together to check the abuse of presidential power is the Pentagon Papers.

Congress had fallen down on its oversight during when on Aug. 7, 1964 it approved the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the Vietnam War. The resolution was based on murky — and it turned out false — assertions that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had twice attacked the USS Maddox off the coast of Vietnam.

As the war dragged on and tens of thousands of men died, the press brought the bloody reality of combat to the nightly news, sowing seeds of doubt in Walter Cronkite and the American people. Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright held high-profile hearings later in the war, but Congress did not withdraw its authorization.

Daniel Ellsberg, a disaffected former military analyst and defense expert at Rand Corp., leaked a 47-volume top-secret history of the Vietnam War — the Pentagon Papers — to the New York Times. Publication began in the spring of 1971. The documents showed presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon had lied to the American people and Congress about important aspects of the war, puncturing the myth that voters had to defer to a president’s judgment because he surely knew more than the ordinary citizen. The president knew more, all right, but the additional information was a reason not to fight the war instead of a reason to fight.

Nixon tried to block publication, partly because National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger told him voters would no longer defer to presidents if they saw presidents had lied to them. But the courts backed the press and said the government couldn’t stop publication of national security secrets unless there was the threat of “direct, immediate, and irreparable damager” to national security.

Justice Potter Stewart explained the important check on presidential power that the press and people provide, especially when Congress does not stand up to the president. Stewart wrote:

“In the governmental structure created by our Constitution, the Executive is endowed with enormous power in the two related areas of national defense and international relations. This power, largely unchecked by the Legislative and Judicial branches, has been pressed to the very hilt since the advent of the nuclear missile age.…

“In the absence of the governmental checks and balances present in other areas of our national life, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the areas of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry — in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government. For this reason, it is perhaps here that a press that is alert, aware, and free most vitally serves the basic purpose of the First Amendment. For, without an informed and free press, there cannot be an enlightened people.”

Erwin Griswold — the solicitor general who had filed a secret brief with the Supreme Court claiming there were more than a dozen drop-dead secrets in the Pentagon Papers — later wrote that none of the secrets caused the United States harm once disclosed.

One similarity between the Pentagon Papers and the Trump/Russia stories is that the source of the leaks had an intelligence backgrounds. When intelligence sources provide journalists with damaging secrets and the courts protect the press’ publication of those secrets, a president can find himself in a lonely place.

Deep Throat

A year later, the mysterious “Deep Throat” began meeting with Bob Woodward in an underground garage in Washington. Deep Throat turned out to be Mark Felt, the associate director of the FBI whom Nixon had passed over the lead the agency after J. Edgar Hoover’s death.

The Washington Post stories stirred the professional curiosity of U.S. District Judge John Sirica, who applied pressure to induce Watergate burglars to confess to White House connections.

Later, when a special prosecutor sought the secret tapes of White House conversations, the Supreme Court forced their release and Nixon left office a few days later. So it was a one-two punch by the press and the judiciary that forced Nixon from office.

There was one other important ingredient to the Watergate scandal. Congress fulfilled its role in checks and balances with the important Senate Watergate hearings and a move toward impeachment.

A similarity between Watergate and the Trump situation is that Watergate involved a burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters; the Russian hacks were a modern-day cyber-theft of DNC documents.

Jason Blair and Judith Miller

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the D.C. sniper murders and the anthrax poisonings discredited the press’ use of unnamed sources and tested the press’ spine for checking presidential power.

New York Times reporter Jason Blair built his fabricated stories about the sniper on fictitious confidential sources. Judith Miller of the Times used real but inaccurate confidential sources in government to help President George W. Bush beat the drum for a war against Iraq. The Times also ran a column falsely implicating scientist Steven Hatfill in the anthrax poisonings.

Compounding the problem, the press as a whole failed to scrutinize the president’s justification for the war in Iraq, a justification found to be false when no weapons of mass destruction were found.

With Congress, the courts and the press all on the sidelines, the unchecked president took America into a pre-emptive war against Iraq based on the danger of weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist.

After the fall of Baghdad, as the insurgency grew in Iraq, Ambassador Joseph Wilson disclosed in a New York Times op-ed that the government knew before the war that Saddam Hussein had not bought uranium from Niger for a bomb – despite Bush’s claims to the contrary in his State of the Union speech. I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, struck back at Wilson by leaking the secret that his wife, Valerie Plame, was an uncover CIA agent — an effort to force the whistleblower’s family to pay a price for telling the truth.

Guantanamo and the Geneva Conventions

The courts and the press reasserted their power to check Bush in the years after the war.

The Washington Post disclosed that the CIA was using secret “black” prisons in foreign countries to hold terrorism suspects and apply “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding. The New York Times disclosed what appeared to be illegal and unconstitutional wiretaps of American citizens conducted without warrants. Both stories relied on unnamed sources.

In a Dec. 5, 2005 meeting at the White House, President Bush and his top advisers warned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and top editors that they would have “blood on their hands” if the disclosure of the secret wiretaps helped al-Qaida carry out another attack on U.S. soil. The Times published despite the threat.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration’s assertion that the courts could not review the president’s detention of al-Qaida prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

The Supreme Court found that even the Guantanamo prisoners could go to federal court. In addition, they were entitled to the rudiments of due process, such as the opportunity to hear and refute charges against them.

The legal argument that Trump’s lawyers made in defense of the president’s ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations was similar to the Bush claim about the Guantanamo prisoners. Trump maintained that the courts had no business reviewing his executive order because he had absolute power in arena of immigration and national security.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision rejecting Trump’s argument cited the Supreme Court’s earlier decisions against Bush’s claim of absolute power at Guantanamo Bay. It noted that the Supreme Court had found the “political branches” lack “the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will.”

Trump’s warning that the judges would deserve the blame if the delay of his order resulted in a terrorist attack was reminiscent of Bush’s warning that the Times would have blood on its hands if it disclosed the NSA wiretapping.

Snowden and the NSA

The most recent example of the press checking the power of a president was Edward Snowden’s leak of information about the extent of NSA spying on Americans. Snowden, who worked for the defense contractor Booz Allen, leaked information about the NSA’s collection of metadata on the telephones calls of all Americans and about the PRISM program collecting internet content.

Initially, the NSA claimed the programs had been valuable in stopping scores of terrorist attacks. But it turned out that there was no proof that the information had stopped a single attack.

The Obama administration sought to prosecute Snowden for violating the Espionage Act, but he obtained asylum in Russia. Meanwhile, Obama signed a reform law that put the NSA program on a firmer legal footing by having private phone companies collect the metadata instead of the government.

Crying wolf

One characteristic common among confidential source stories is that the government almost always cries wolf about the dire consequences of publication.

Nixon’s solicitor general wrote a brief of drop-dead secrets that would cost tens of thousands of lives. The solicitor general later said there was no harm.

Bush warned Times’ editors they would have blood on their hands, but there was no attack resulting from the publication of NSA wiretapping.

And the Obama administration claimed Snowden’s disclosures would end surveillance techniques that had stopped scores of attacks. But they later admitted there was no proof that U.S. attacks had been stopped.

One government warning that proved prescient was Kissinger’s to Nixon – If the people knew from the Pentagon Papers that presidents lied about the Vietnam War, they might not believe presidents in the future.

The people found out from the press and they have been skeptical of presidents ever since.

Three veteran journalists depart PD

photo by Terry Ganey

by Terry Ganey

There was a poignant departure ceremony earlier this week on the fifth floor of the building at 900 N. Tucker Blvd, the headquarters of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Newsroom colleagues shared stories about three veteran reporters – Tim O’Neil, Jim Gallagher and Tim Bryant – who were among six journalists taking advantage of a recent buyout offer. Together these three have accumulated some 89 years of experience just at the Post-Dispatch.

The event was similar to others taking place since 2005, as financial pressures have forced owner Lee Enterprises to trim staff. This loss seemed especially painful after all the cuts that had taken place. These three had spent all of their time in the journalistic trenches, and it would be hard to find anyone more conscientious, humble and hardworking.

“This is a great group who have been serving the people of St. Louis for many years,” said one editor. “It has been a privilege to work with them.” In an era when the man occupying the White House rages against journalists being “enemies of the American people,” consider the careers of O’Neil, Gallagher and Bryant.

Columnist Joe Holleman said he had learned much from O’Neil during the years they had worked together. “His word is iron,” Holleman said. “Every word of an O’Neil story works for a living.” Holleman recounted an anecdote about how, after a former mayor of St. Louis claimed another city official had earned a Purple Heart, O’Neil uncovered the records to show the claim was a fraud.

O’Neil gave up a piece of his body collecting the news. Last Nov. 9, while covering a hearing in St. Louis County, Robert E. Jones, the lawyer for Sunset Hills, slammed a door to a conference room after O’Neil had opened it to make an inquiry. Jones slammed the door to keep O’Neil out, slicing off part of the journalist’s finger. A lawsuit is pending.

Business Editor Roland Klose recounted how Gallagher could take a complicated subject and make it understandable for readers. And he related how readily Gallagher would accept an assignment, no matter what the topic. “Do you have something for me?” was Gallagher’s greeting to his editor, Klose said. The headline over Gallagher’s last business column for the newspaper fittingly read: “A geezer’s guide to Social Security.”

Discussing Bryant, Klose said he could extract stories about development from the walled-off world of real estate. He said Bryant was once locked out of a meeting of developers, but he was still able to unearth what had transpired in the meeting by making telephone calls and resorting to old fashioned “shoe leather.”

The buyout offer was made to journalists 55 and older with 10 years of experience. Also departing the paper in the buyout were veteran City Editor Pat Gauen, reporter Steve Giegerich and sportswriter Dan O’Neill.

Gilbert Bailon, editor-in-chief, said there was no getting around the fact shrinking resources will have an impact at the newspaper. But he said the staff remained committed to covering news important to the people of St. Louis.

In an era of “fake news” and declining circulation, the Post-Dispatch has published a house ad that seeks subscribers. It reads: “TRUTH…FREEDOM OF THE PRESS…Delivering stories that uncover truths and fight for progress. Help us protect that liberty.”

 

Greitens plays hide-and-seek with press

by Terry Ganey

Lock on Greitens press office door (photo by Terry Ganey)

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — There’s a game of hide and seek underway in Missouri’s state capital.

The new governor, Republican Eric Greitens, is doing the hiding. The state capital press corps is doing the seeking.

So far, Greitens is winning.

A former Navy SEAL with no experience in government and no penchant for answering questions, Greitens has yet to hold a full-blown news conference since he was sworn into office Jan. 9. Sometimes when pursuing reporters have posed questions, he has ducked into an elevator. During an appearance calling out the National Guard for an ice storm, Greitens deflected questions that sought information about other issues.

Following the recent signing of a “right to work” bill, perhaps one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in modern memory, Greitens bolted out the back door of his office rather than field questions about it. When Greitens held a joint appearance with other state officials to discuss a troubling issue at a foster home, reporters were put on advance notice: “Questions unrelated to this situation will not be answered at this press conference.”

“It’s like covering a brick wall,” said Phill Brooks, a veteran state capital reporter who works for KMOX radio in St. Louis. “You can’t ask questions of this governor. You’re shut off if you try to ask questions. Many of the announcements of state government are getting done through Facebook. I feel like we’re covering the executive branch of state government with a brick wall in the way.”

Kurt Erickson, the statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has resorted to filing Open Records requests to extract routine information out of the Greitens administration. Erickson posted on Twitter recently that “no longer can a reporter freely enter Eric Greitens’ press office to talk with his spokesman.” The posting was accompanied by a photo of a lock on the door to room 218 in the state capital.

For years capital reporters have entered that door where a receptionist could field a request to see the governor’s press aid. In Greitens’ case, that’s Parker Briden.

In response to Erickson’s post, Briden tweeted, “That’s not the ‘press office,’ it’s a full suite of offices. Go through the main entrance and they’ll buzz me.”

The “main entrance” Briden referenced is the reception room where everyone wanting to see the governor or his staff shows up to seek an audience. A reporter for the Gateway Journalism Review went to the reception room recently and requested to see Briden.

The receptionist buzzed him on a telephone, and when there was no answer, the receptionist suggested sending Briden an email. The GJR reporter emailed Briden asking for an interview for information about press access to the governor. There was no response. State capital reporters say they have a hard time getting Briden to respond to written and telephone inquiries.

As public officials reach out to constituents through their own means of communication such as social media, the journalistic organizations supplying straight news to the public have been shunted aside. The Republicans controlling the General Assembly have moved the press offices to a roost in the Capitol building. The Senate has limited journalists’ access by ousting reporters from a table on the floor of the chamber and moving them to a nosebleed section of the public gallery.

If reporters had a chance to question Greitens, they’d ask him about the millions of dollars in undisclosed campaign contributions he received, about the unidentified donors to his inauguration parties, and about his tax returns that he never made public. They’d also ask him about policy decisions to cut state funds for the elderly, disabled and higher education.

Greitens’ behavior has not gone unnoticed. For example, Bill Miller Sr., the veteran editor at the Washington Missourian, recently wrote in an editorial: “Gov. Eric Greitens has gotten off to a terrible start in setting an example to lawmakers, and to all Missourians, in regard to transparency. Why is he hiding the donors who have been backing him? There is no question that he apparently believes it will harm his political career.”

Miller went on to say Greitens apparently has his eyes on the White House. Which brings up the question: Can Greitens play hide and seek for four years?

CBS’s Major Garrett to speak at GJR Celebration

Thursday, March 23, 2017 will be the Sixth Annual First Amendment Celebration in support of The Gateway Journalism Review (GJR) successor of the St. Louis Journalism Review (SJR).  The speaker will be Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent for CBS. Garrett also covered Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. Garrett graduated from the University of Missouri in 1984 with degrees in journalism and political science.

The GJR celebration will be held at the Edward Jones HQ, Manchester and Ballas Roads from 6 pm to 9:30 pm. Invitations will be mailed to past attendees and supporters of GJR. Tickets for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are $100.  Payment can be mailed to GJR/SJR, 8380 Olive Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63132.  Contributions will strengthen the ability of GJR to continue excellent coverage of local, regional and national issues important to journalism and our democracy.

For information contact Dan Sullivan at  <39djsullivan@gmail.com> or 314-313-0858.

Soeteber Remembered

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 2, 2002 - Ellen Soeteber, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. PHOTO BY JERRY NAUNHEIM JR.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 2, 2002 – Ellen Soeteber, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
PHOTO BY JERRY NAUNHEIM JR.

Newspapering was still a man’s world in the 1980s so I didn’t know what to make of my first female boss.

But a few things became obvious. She knew as much as I knew about how the city-that-works really works … and a lot more about the internal workings of the Chicago Tribune.

I was the younger by a few months, yet she had more energy, especially when making assignments. Her ideas could seem prosaic to a mid-career reporter, but she knew what had front page potential if aggressively and creatively pursued.

Most of all I remember her mastery of detail. Her election night staffing memoranda ran page after page, advising dozens of reporters and photographers where they needed to be, and by what exact minute they had to file so as to clear the copy desk in time to make our “final” edition.

Doping stories with her – the process by which reporters tell editors what they’ve got and editors tell reporters what they still need – was a game of 20 questions. But if you had the goods, she’d sell it hard at the 5 o’clock meeting where section editors offer their best stories for Page 1.

Ellen Soeteber had the goods. She moved up Tribune ranks as Metro editor, associate managing editor and deputy of the editorial page. The company sent her to South Florida to help run its newspaper there, yet none of us were surprised when later she was hired away as editor-in-chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It was a homecoming of sorts, Ellen having graduated from East St. Louis High … a fact that gave her “street cred” in our city room … and one that helps explain her lifelong support of minority as well as female journalists.

Ellen Soeteber died last June on the same day as the passing of former Tribune editor and publisher Jack Fuller, one of her mentors. She would have appreciated the irony … and, were she running the news desk, would have risen to the challenge from an editor’s perspective. Run the obits the same day, giving bigger play to Fuller? Nah. Best to hold the Soeteber RIP for a day and give both the measured play they deserve. She was canny that way.

How canny? Back in ’83 she walked up to my desk and asked if I’d go to an old-time saloon near Comiskey Park – Schaller’s Pump to be exact – for a color piece on what locals thought of the White Sox finally making the playoffs. I groaned and eye-rolled … but agreed. Whereupon she asked if I’d also go to Baltimore that weekend for a feature on their stadium’s neighborhood. Had I turned her down on Schallers, another reporter would have enjoyed those expense account crab cakes and playoff tickets.

Then there were all those Saturday mornings, 7 a.m. shift, chasing stories for the Sunday final. Often the big whoop was arrival around 9 a.m. of a stack of the Chicago Sun-Times “bulldog” Sunday edition. Almost always the competition bannered a Page 1 screamer about some investigation or revelation the Trib didn’t have. So Ellen always bought coffee for the copy kid who distributed those papers, and in return he or she agreed to delay delivering a copy to the office of Sunday Editor Bill Jones. She used those precious minutes to evaluate the competition’s story and outline a strategy to either “knock-down” or “recover” the S-T bombshell. I don’t think Jones, another fine editor who died too soon, ever caught on.

In such ways were trails blazed for women in the newsroom. Yet she paid a price, as all pioneers do. There were those damnable cigarettes and other nervous ticks. Of course there were. She asked herself to be twice-as-good and, more often than not, she pulled it off. Not long after Ellen moved on, one of her mentees, Anne Marie Lipinski, became the Tribune’s first female editor-in-chief.

Newspapering has its problems, sure, but thanks to Ellen and her professional sisters, it is no longer a man’s world … and much the better for it.

 

Author’s note:  Following 27 years at the Trib, John McCarron now teachers, consults and writes on urban affairs.

 

Postscript:  A number of Ellen’s colleagues and friends from the Trib, Sun-Sentinal and Post-Dispatch are making gifts in her memory to the Alfred Friendly Foundation, which brings aspiring third-world journalists to the U.S. to see how we do it here. Ellen was a board member and brought lots of Friendly fellows into the newsrooms she led. You can donate online at http://presspartners.org/support/individual-gifts/ or send a check to: Alfred Friendly Press Partners; 310C Reynolds Journalism Institute, Columbia, MO  65211.

Questions?   Email jackie.combs.nelson@gmail.com