Editorial writers don’t have to face the hate alone

Mar 13, 2017


Weekly newspaper editors and reporters; journalism educators and students—don’t miss the notice at the end of this column. The only request: Read to the end first.

By Ken Blum
Black Ink

Are you a community journalist who writes meaningful, at times controversial, editorials or columns, thereby putting your neck on the public chopping block?

If so, you know it can be lonely out there especially if, like most human beings, you like to be liked. It would be nice to have the attitude of the late great Publisher/Editor John S. Knight who said, “It’s a great comfort in life to not be afraid of being disliked.”

Yes, it would be nice but, not many of us are wired that way.

In many ways this is the most difficult time of all to take an editorial stand on any sticky issue without being skewered in some unpleasant manner.

Community journalists, unlike their national media brethren, have always had to face the subjects of their stories and editorials up close and personal, be it at the hair salon, grocery store or Rotary Club.

Today, in addition, there are all kinds of electronic tools used to anonymously torture an outspoken journalist. Examples include Twitter, Facebook, blogs, message boards and what have you.

And now we have a U.S. president who not only dislikes the news media, he hates it with a passion he express openly, emphatically and almost daily. He’s just a small step away from encouraging his militant followers to form into a pack of vigilantes determined to intimidate any journalist who dares speak out, especially against him.

This wolf pack mentality is sure to filter down to the local level sooner or later, if it hasn’t already. And, again, the local level is where it gets most personal and potentially dangerous.

So if you’re a crusading journalist at a weekly newspaper, bless you, because you have guts and you hang in there when sometimes it seems like the only person who likes you is you. (Hopefully.)

But here’s good news. You don’t have to be alone. There are other crusaders out there ready to offer camaraderie, input and support.

They belong to the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

ISWNE has been around since 1955 and its purpose is: “… to help those involved in the weekly press to improve standards of editorial writing and news reporting and to encourage strong, independent editorial voices.”

ISWNE has plenty of tools to carry out its purpose and support hometown commentators like you.

They include:

• A monthly newsletter with member news, columns from members, advice for editorial writers and columnists.

• A more formal quarterly publication, Grassroots Editor, with more of the same.

Members can also access the complete archives of both publications online.

• A major innovation and benefit: the ISWNE Hotline whereby, “Members who are facing a tough decision about editorial policy, newsgathering issues, journalism ethics or any number of other topics can get almost immediate help from their colleagues. Questions sent to the email listserv™ managed by the University of Kentucky automatically go to all subscribers to the hotline. These questions invariably receive quick, perceptive and informed responses, often from people who have encountered a similar situation at their newspapers.”

Again, past hotline threads are easily accessible at the website.

• The ISWNE Annual Conference is held at locations across the world.

Keep in mind it’s an international society. Although the vast majority of the 300-plus members are from the U.S., members also represent countries such as Australia, Ireland, Canada, United Kingdom, Nepal, South Africa and China. Two Pulitzer Prize winners are current and former members: Dave Mitchell and the late Hazel Brannon Smith.

This year’s conference is scheduled for late June at the University of Maryland Campus in College Park. Several visits to the nation’s capital are planned. Editorial page critiques are a highlight of every conference.

• The Society runs its annual Golden Quill contest for opinion pieces. Twelve winners are deemed the “Golden Dozen” and one entry is deemed the “Golden Quill” recipient.

If you’re recognized in this competition, you can rest assured you rank among the best of the best writers of local commentary. Last year’s Golden Quill recipient was Mike Buffington, The Jackson Herald in Jefferson, GA.

So what does it cost to join this distinguished fraternity?

Sixty dollars a year—go to ISWNE.org—but, wait a minute; here’s the notice promised at the beginning of this column.

Any weekly editor or reporter, or journalism educator or student who is not currently an ISWNE member can obtain a FREE one-year membership simply by dropping an email to Executive Director Chad Stebbins at Stebbins-C@mssu.edu.

Make sure to include your name, job title, newspaper name, address, phone number and email address. Encourage your friends in the field who write commentary to do the same.

That’s Stebbins-C@mssu.edu. © Ken Blum 2017


Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a monthly free e-mail newsletter titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail him at blummer@aol.com; or phone 330-682-3416.