How a newspaper with Trump ties (allegedly) crossed the line

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I must admit, the Washington Examiner has been a wonderful source for blog fodder lately.

A recent edition included a story about a reporter, Ross Barkan, who just left the New York Observer.  In the article, Barkan told T. Becket Adams that “a buildup of a variety of factors” prompted his decision.

Even so, Barkan’s resignation came soon after the Observer — or more accurately, its editorial board — endorsed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The timing prompted widespread speculation that the endorsement was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“The endorsement definitely did not unfold like I thought it would, given that we are so closely tied to Trump,” Barkan told the Examiner.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the publisher of the Observer. So it really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the publication backed the controversial candidate. And speaking as someone who was a newspaper reporter for more than 21 years, it  really isn’t a big deal. Editorial boards endorse candidates all the time. The only time it constitutes a breach of journalistic ethics is when the board actively tries to influence the way reporters cover the political process.

Crossing The Line

What is far more disturbing is the number of published reports that Kushner and the Observer’s editor-in-chief Ken Kurson, actively participated in the preparation of a speech Trump made in March.

As Barkan so aptly put it: “The editor-in-chief should not be reviewing a speech for a presidential candidate, not matter who that presidential candidate is: Trump, Bernie, Kasich, I don’t care.”

I absolutely agree. If it is true — and at this point there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe it isn’t — it is at best a blatant conflict of interest. At worst… Well, there’s just no polite way to put it, so I will leave it up to your imagination.

If it is true — and I only say if given Mr. Trump’s propensity for suing people and his followers’ propensity for physical violence — it is disgusting and disappointing. But again, it is hardly surprising.

In my 20-plus years working at community newspapers in three states, I had a few good editors. They worked hard. They played by the rules. They actually believed in fairness, accuracy and objectivity. (Yes, I’m serious. You can stop laughing now.) They were good mentors, good people and good friends.

I also worked for some really, really, really, bad editors. (I’m not kidding. They were horrible.) As far as I could tell, they really only cared about only two things:

  1. Using the newspaper (and its staff) to advance their own political philosophies and agendas.
  2. Getting the story first — at any and all costs.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, I assure you that isn’t the case. I could give specific examples. I could tell stories that would make you cringe. I could give blow-by-blow accounts of behavior that I witnessed, recount conversations in which I was personally targeted for standing up to these workplace bullies and so forth. But we all know that wouldn’t be very smart, so I won’t go there.

The Worst Job In America

Given everything I’ve told you — and what I’ve left unsaid — does it really come as a shock that “newspaper reporter” just ranked as the worst job in America for the third year in a row?

Reasons given for this dubious distinction in an article republished on, include an average salary of $37,200 and projected job growth in negative numbers.

An average salary of roughly $37,000? That’s rich. In my 20-plus years on the job I never made more than $28,000 per year. On the other hand, an average work week was at least 50 hours. More often than not, I worked more than 60 hours per week. Obviously, I didn’t make any overtime.

All of that being stated, the job was rewarding in other ways. I won 11 Virginia Press Association awards and one New York Press Association award. More importantly, I won the respect and admiration of readers and sources.

And once upon a time, I actually loved what I did.

At the time, that made it all worthwhile.



Consider the source

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Recently, I announced my plans to lead by example. Specifically, I said that I planned on doing three blog posts per week. And so far I’ve managed to do just that.

Yes, yes. I know. It’s only been a week. But you’ve got to give me props. At least I’m off to a good start. And no, I don’t plan on changing that anytime soon.

Of course that’s not to say that it isn’t an ambitious plan. And like any such idea, it’s got its drawbacks. For one thing, you may be thinking penning three posts per week is fairly time-consuming. For another, you may be wondering how and where on earth I will come up with enough ideas for that many posts.

First thing’s first. Those of you familiar with the art and science of blogging already know that posts can be scheduled in advance. So doing the writing is simply a matter of setting a few hours aside during the week. For example, this particular post won’t appear until Monday afternoon. But I’m actually writing it on Sunday.

Coming up with original ideas for the posts is seemingly a far more daunting challenge. But there’s a trick to that, too. Instead of spending hours scouring the Internet for ideas, I’ve set up alerts so I receive e-mail notifications about matters of interest. With them in hand, I can easily find fodder for thrice-weekly blogs.

“…it’s a bit ironic for someone with my background.”

Needless to say, international, national, regional and local news stories will likely provide most of the inspiration for these posts. And if you think about it, that’s a bit ironic for someone with my background. Once upon a time, the articles with my byline at the top could have been the basis for another blogger’s posts. Now I’m turning to my successors for help.

Ironic, yes. But hardly surprising. For years, TV and radio news anchors, sports talk radio hosts and their counterparts in politics looked to newspapers for  information to serve as the basis for their own programs. They called it “show-prep.”

Today, they turn to the Internet, where information is much more readily available, but by no means any more accurate. There on any given day, at any given time, they can still find a few decent news stories, many of which are written by reporters who work long hours for what amounts to less than minimum wage under the constant threat that their livelihood will disappear entirely.

It’s a possibility I lived with throughout my 21-year newspaper career. But the truth is, the print media hasn’t died. It has just adapted.



Recommended reading

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As a reporter, I always balked at doing “advertorial.” Actually that’s an understatement. I detested it.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, I can sum it up this way. Advertorial is basically a “news” or “feature story” about a specific business or product. In other words, it is basically a free plug.

Anyhow, as the saying goes, you can take the girl out of journalism, but you can’t take a reporter’s ethics out of the girl. Yes, believe it or not, I was a reporter who actually had ethics, but that’s another story for another time.

The point is that as the founder and owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, I am also concerned about doing anything that could be perceived as a conflict of interest. So I am still leery about getting involved in anything that could be construed as giving free endorsements.

“I am now going to set a dangerous precedent by breaking my own rules.”

All of that being stated, I am now going to set a dangerous precedent by breaking my own rules. I am going to recommend a few books that I consider “must-reads” for anyone interested in mediation, writing and the law.

The first book is one I’ve actually read. It’s called Nipped in the Bud, not in the Butt by Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton. In it, Hamilton a former lawyer who is now an accomplished mediator, shares why mediation is the best way to resolve conflicts involving animals. Specifically, she explains how and why mediation yields positive results. She also explains why litigation involving animal disputes often results in pain and frustration for everyone involved. In my humble opinion, this is essential reading for pet owners, veterinarians, animal rescue organizations, groomers, barn managers and anyone else who works with or loves animals.

I must confess that I haven’t read the next two books… but they are definitely on my list. The first is an e-book called Snoopy the Legal Beagle by Charles M. Schulz. The second is also an e-book. This one is called Snoopy the Literary Ace by the same author.

I can’t tell you much about them at this point. But I have no doubt that they’re awesome. After all, Charles Schulz was definitely a genius. And Snoopy is definitely my hero.