A Weekly's Wonderful Work  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Columns :    FROM THE EDITOR    
From AJR,   July/August 1998

A Weekly's Wonderful Work   

An Alabama newspaper doesn't let local opposition derail an important investigation.

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

Good Guys Win!!!

It's a headline you don't see nearly often enough.

Which is one of the reasons I love the saga of Ole Goodloe and Miss Jean.

As you'll learn from Alicia C. Shepard's excellent article (see "Taking Down the Sheriff," page 18), the Suttons, a husband-and-wife team who put out a small Alabama weekly, uncovered corruption in the Sheriff's Department. When it was all over, the sheriff was in the slammer.

°nd they did it the old-fashioned way. No investigative teams. No computer-assisted reporting. Just gumshoe stuff: checking out tips, running down documents, asking questions.

And never flinching in the face of widespread skepticism about their stories, and lost ads, and nasty letters.

At the end of a Free Press piece in June's AJR about the Baltimore Sun's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on shipbreaking, the practice of dismantling mothballed Navy ships and selling the leftovers for scrap, Sun reporter Gary Cohn commented that the pieces were a reminder that you don't have to be the New York Times to do topflight work.

»he exploits of the Democrat-Reporter of Linden, Alabama, reinforce the notion that it doesn't matter how big a news organization is or where it's located or how frequently it publishes.

What matters are commitment and values and tenacity – and courage.

And the episode is a powerful reminder that a news organization has to do what's right, even if that means ignoring public sentiment.

  • Maybe it's just me.

    After all, he wasn't my icon. I'm a rock 'n' roll guy, always have been, and rock 'n' roll began in part as a reaction to the style of music that Frank Sinatra epitomized.

    And I'm the last one to say that it's inappropriate to provide massive coverage when someone important dies.

    That said, there was something off-putting about the overall tone of the Sinatra extravaganza.

    Sure, he was something special as a singer, according to sources close to his kind of music. And there's no doubt he had a powerful hold on many people.

    He and his Rat Pack were a powerful cultural influence, not only 100 years ago but in the recent renaissance of lounge culture.

    I think my problem is that he was also a man with an enormous dark side, and in too much of the coverage that fact seemed overwhelmed by the gush.

    Not that death is the time to wallow in someone's shortcomings. But neither is it the time to ignore them.

    Or maybe I'm just bitter that Roy Orbison didn't get nearly this much ink when he died.

  • It generally is journalism's best convention, and last month's installment in New Orleans was no exception.

    If you're ever in despair over the state of the field, go to an Investigative Reporters & Editors convention. If you don't feed off of all of the energy of all of these journalists, many of them young reporters who have paid their own way to get there, it's time to see if you still have a pulse. So many of them are there for one reason: to elevate their game.

    Journalism really is something special, and it never hurts to be reminded of that.

  • It was an all-time basketball one-liner.

    A rival coach had just been wowed by Ralph Lewis, a wonderful 6-foot-6 forward at Philadelphia's LaSalle University. Lewis wasn't a scholarship player. He had played his way onto the roster; in basketball parlance, he was a walk-on.

    In fact, the coach decreed, Lewis was the "greatest walk-on since Neil Armstrong."

    Well, we're not comparing her to the Moonwalking One yet, but AJR has its own walk-on that we're pretty excited about. She's Lori Robertson, our newest editor.

    For the past five years Lori has worked as administrative director of our sister organization at the University of Maryland College of Journalism, the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families.

    ýut what she really wanted to do was write. And it was obvious that she had writing talent. So she began contributing Free Press articles to AJR every month. Plus she clearly had the AJR spirit: She became family way before she became staff. When a job opened up, there was little doubt that hiring Lori was the right thing to do. Her ability, energy, passion and work ethic will make her an AJR mainstay.

    Off the court, Lori is a noted literature maven, aspiring pool shark, microbrew connoisseur and Pittsburgh Steelers fanatic.

    Her main responsibility will be the front of the book departments, Free Press and Bylines. She's got a tough act to follow: Debra D. Durocher.

    îeb was a star AJR intern when she was a journalism student at Maryland. After she got some seasoning at The New Republic – she had become its assis- tant managing editor – we brought her back to AJR. And she's done a splendid job as our AME (no surprise).

    But love got in the way. Not long after she returned, her fiancé got some big job in New York. And after Deb gets married in July, she's heading for the big city, and an editing job at Newsweek.

    But just as people never can leave the mob, Deb can't leave AJR. She'll be writing for us, and she'll make diving catches as our proofreader of last resort.

    So best of luck always, Deb. And welcome, Lori.



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