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American Journalism Review
Letters  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Letters
From AJR,   March 1992

Letters   


Forgetting Elmer
To the editor:
I loved Bernard Roshco's profile of Elmer Davis in your December issue. But the contents-page teaser, headline and lead for the story have one error. It was not a Smithsonian exhibit but a Library of Congress exhibit that "forgot" Davis. As guest curator of "The American Journalist" exhibit, let me accept responsibility — responsibility, however, not for forgetting Davis but for deciding Murrow, Kaltenborn, Winchell, etc., took priority. Trying to compress 300 years of journalism into one exhibit required many such unpleasant decisions.

Loren Ghiglione
Worcester County Newspapers
Southbridge, Massachusetts


Editor's Note: We regret the error.
To the editor :
I devoured your much-appreciated recall of Elmer Davis by Bernard Roshco.
In the spring of 1949, Davis was a primary speaker (and honoree) at the University of Missouri's Journalism Week. All through the years, one of his lines has been a kind of personal torch for me: "Cowards did not found the republic and cowards will not preserve it." Elmer Davis' guidance has steered me as a newspaperman in First Amendment circumstances. At least his words have been a great counsel, even when performance has been faulty.
Young journalists could not find a more worthy torch than that carried by Elmer Davis. Thanks for the article.

Dick Herman
Editorial Page Editor
Lincoln Evening Journal
Lincoln, Nebraska

Reporting Arrests
To the editor:
I've been a news reporter (print and broadcast) since my days in high school 25 years ago and have long wondered about an industry practice many take for granted, especially in smaller newspaper and broadcast markets.
Why is it that so many editors take it upon themselves to publish or broadcast the names, addresses and photographs of persons arrested on so-called "morals" charges?
An arrest is hardly a conviction, and even if the accused is later convicted, why does a newspaper, radio or TV news operation have a hand in encouraging vigilantism or harassment by readers, listeners or viewers?
I recently read that a small-town newspaper in a southern city published names, home street addresses and photographs of men arrested — perhaps entrapped, perhaps not — at a highway rest stop for allegedly engaging in sexual activity. It could just as easily have been persons arrested for allegedly soliciting sex from a prostitute or any similar "morals" situation.
By publishing information that leads readers or viewers to the accused, the newspaper exposes the defendants to ridicule, loss of employment, verbal and physical attack and more. I would like to see you do a survey on attitudes within the industry on this issue. I am curious what percentage of reporters and editors feel the public's need to know defendants' personal identifying information outweighs the privacy and safety requirements of the accused.
Perhaps it is time we re-evaluate this practice.

Garrett N. Glaser
Los Angeles, California

Opening A WINDO
To the editor:
Readers of your excellent article on computer-assisted reporting ("Power Journalists," November) may be interested in a proposal to create a one-stop-shopping, online window to federal government information. H.R. 2772, the Wide Information Network for Data Online Act (WINDO), would direct the government to offer public subscriptions to its electronic public records. The legislation's goal is to provide access, common command structures and centralized billing to thousands of federal databases to which journalists and citizens are now denied useful access. The WINDO bill is sponsored by Rep. Charlie Rose, D-N.C. The original concept for the WINDO was developed by Ralph Nader's Taxpayer Assets Project and the American Library Association. For more information, please contact the Taxpayer Assets Project, P.O. Box 19367, Washington, D.C. 20036; telephone (202) 387-8030.

Dan Newman
Research Associate
Taxpayer Assets Project
Washington, D.C.

Defending Transfers
To the editor:
The December "Letters" section included a short statement from Charles Rappleye on how he went about preparing an article for WJR on personnel reassignments at the Los Angeles Times. I think that his statement requires some clarification, and that WJR should review the manner in which it handles such articles.
To begin at the beginning: A member of the WJR staff, working on the October issue, called me to say he was fact-checking an item on Times staffers who had been reassigned from Metro to Suburban. He asked me to confirm several "facts" in the article. I fielded his questions as best as I could, but became concerned as we talked that the article contained several misleading generalizations and overlooked some points that would clarify the situation.
I mentioned several of these to him:
• That we were not talking about wholesale transfers, but only a selected few (the transfers that became an issue for some in the newsroom involved one editor and four writers out of a staff of about 75).
• That age was not a factor in the transfers, and that in any event there were many more people of similar ages who remained in the newsroom than were transferred.
• That the transfers were done to help correct staffing imbalances developing in the combined Metro/Suburban area (for which I am responsible) as the result of a long-lasting hiring freeze.
• That those persons transferred continued to receive the same pay, the same benefits, and in every case ended up with reduced daily commutes because special care was taken to assign them to suburban bureaus near their homes.
The WJR staffer said he would relay my concerns to the editor handling the article. He did not volunteer the author's name and I did not ask; I assumed it was a short item being prepared by someone on the magazine staff. I had no further contact from WJR.
When the October article appeared, none of the points I raised had been addressed. In fact, the piece appeared to be a recycled version of a predictably venomous treatment in a local alternative paper, the L.A. Weekly. That impression was confirmed when I saw that the author was Charles Rappleye, who wrote the L.A. Weekly piece.
Which brings me to my final point.
In the December "Letters" page, Mr. Rappleye tells WJR readers that he sought a response from me while preparing his article, but I declined comment. That is true as far as it goes. But it doesn't go far enough.
Mr. Rappleye called me while preparing his L.A. Weekly piece. I told him I had no comment. I long ago gave up talking to a publication that so eagerly and indiscriminately feeds off gossip and plainly malevolent tales of life at the Los Angeles Times. That is their shtick and they are welcome to it, but count me out.
It seems to me that WJR should not allow Mr. Rappleye to leave the impression that he sought comment from me for the WJR piece. That causes the WJR readership to believe that I will not talk about the transfers, which is not true. Check with Mike Stein of Editor & Publisher, for example. He will tell you that I gave him a full and candid interview on the transfers, excerpts of which he used in the December 14 issue of E&P.
At the very least, the article you ran should have been accompanied by an editor's note saying that it was a condensed version of an article that originally ran in the L.A. Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Los Angeles. Similarly, Mr. Rappleye's statement in the December issue should have made clear that he sought comment from me while preparing his L.A. Weekly piece, not while writing for WJR.
I recognize the economics of magazine publishing, and the need to use stringers in many instances. But I think there are hazards in taking recycled pieces from publications with an axe to grind, and palming them off as original pieces for WJR. Full disclosure as to the origin of these pieces should be required. The reader can then better judge their credibility.

Noel Greenwood
Senior Editor
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, California

Thanking Evers
To the editor:
I was a kid reporter (Brandeis University dropout, actually) for the weekly Mississippi Free Press in Jackson when the wrenching events Marcel Dufresne described occurred ("Exposing the Secrets of Mississippi Racism," October).
Edited out of the back of black businessman Robert Smith's supermarket, the Free Press tried to be an antidote to the Hedermans' hegemony.
But we volunteer, wet-behind-the-ears journalists were no match for the Hedermans. They invited us to come in and meet with them. Flattered by an invitation from the "real" journalists, we went and talked too much. The next day an "exposù" appeared in the Clarion-Ledger about the Yankee agitator college kids down there stirring up Mississippi's fine race relations.
Medgar Evers was a handsome, gentle man who was kindly tolerant toward these naive white kids who would save the world with their manual Royals. Together with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizer Bob Moses, he put me onto the case of Clyde Kennard, framed for stealing $25 worth of chicken feed and sent to Parchman Penitentiary for seven years because he applied to all-white University of Southern Mississippi.
It's to Evers I owe my first national byline in the Reporter magazine, and Kennard's release. I was gone back to the safety of the North when he died, and never had a chance to thank him — until now.

Ron Hollander
Director of Journalism
Montclair State College
Upper Montclair, New Jersey

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