Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘History’

Change comes too slow

In journalism on October 6, 2016 at 3:43 pm


In our changing world, it’s comforting and also a little disconcerting to note that some things don’t change in the publishing world. The first-ever Rocky Mountain Collegian was published in Fort Collins, Colo., in 1891. The first lines of the first editorial read:

After much delay, resulting from a number of causes, the Collegian has at last made it’s appearance…

The newspaper that day consists a transcript of John Walsh’s apparently award-winning oratory on the nature of progress, of print ads with bold type, some gossip and a bunch of briefs. There is even a suggestion that fellow students bring newsworthy bits to the attention of the editor.

Sounds familiar, right?

It would be kind of awesome to note how steady the undercurrents of our profession if not for the fact that so much else about modern life is so very different. Our modes of transportation, our food production, our work lives, even our other modes of communication are so very different. It’s not just that “a number of causes” sometimes conspire to make us late; it’s that so much of what we do is rooted in behaviors two centuries past. That isn’t so good.

Incidentally, the list of Collegian editors includes the current managing editor of the Denver Post, the current public editor of the New York Times and yours truly.


The importance of archives

In Online media on April 28, 2016 at 4:58 pm


Several times a day I check the online archives of the Half Moon Bay Review. At least a couple times a month I go back into the morgue and look at newspapers dating back to the 1960s. Very occasionally, I wander down to the city library, fire up the aging microfilm gizmo and take a trip back in time through generations of Coastside history.

Your archives are probably just as important to you. Have you ever wondered what you would do without them?

Most of us take these resources for granted. We haven’t put much effort into collecting them. The things we’ve put online since sometime in the 1990s are simply there once we upload our content and the physical books, such as they exist, were there before we started. But there is increasing concern about the fragility of the system that protects our first draft of history. … Read the rest of this entry »

Why #womenbywomen matters

In Ideas on March 31, 2016 at 12:16 pm

women by women

The Washington Post did something genius and I sure wish I’d thought of it first. The hashtag is #womenbywomen.

March is Women’s History Month. Eh. I’m not a big believer in such artificial calendar things, but they can provide the peg you need for a project like this. As WashPo digital audience producer Julia Carpenter explains in a blog post, the idea was to comb the newspaper archives for profiles of interesting women that were written by other interesting women.

Why? Well, I certainly think it’s possible – probable, in fact – that in 1981 a writer like Lynn Darling would have a different take on Maya Angelou than, say, Norman Mailer. And that difference is worth noting. I’m not going to rail against the patriarchy here, but we need to acknowledge diversity of opinion and celebrate it when we further the cause. From the Darling’s long-ago profile:

Maya Angelou is 53, and tall as a tower; an earth mother with just enough prima donna about her to make it interesting. She has the confidence of a barnstormer, she knows how to wing it. Certainly the life she’s led has called for a wide variety of moves.

“Oh, I’ve lived a roller coaster life,” she says. “There has been this disappointment and that satisfaction, and then it begins all over again. Or maybe it’s one of those terrible rides that not only goes round and round, but also dips at the same time.”

That is breathtaking writing. … Read the rest of this entry »

It used to be better, right?

In journalism on October 9, 2014 at 2:02 pm
Bill Dedman, speaking at Arizona State University. Courtesy the Cronkite School of Journalism.

Bill Dedman, speaking at Arizona State University. Courtesy the Cronkite School of Journalism.

Recently, investigative reporter Bill Dedman stepped in it when he had the temerity to suggest the good old days weren’t always so good. Speaking to students at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism, he said:

“First, I’d like to urge you to stop worrying about how things were so much better in the old days. They weren’t better.”

That is blasphemy among many in our profession who remember, say, the Reagan administration. We take it as a truism that the golden age of journalism was somewhere between the careers of William Randolph Heart and Ben Bradlee and to say otherwise is to threaten your press pass.

From where I sit, whether it was ever “better” depends on how you define the term.

These things are true: Newsroom budgets used to be bigger. There were more people in the newsroom. Newspapers were bigger. There were more people being paid to cover statehouses and school boards. Newspapers had more prestige. Reporters didn’t feel pulled in quite so many directions.

These things are also true: News organizations used to be terribly hierarchical. They were almost always run by old white guys. Consumers regularly had to wait 24 hours or longer to read the news. There were far fewer people engaged in reporting civic affairs in one way or another. There were fewer people taking newsworthy photos. There was no opportunity to speak the truth to power unless someone powerful allowed it in print. … Read the rest of this entry »

Provide some historical context

In Editing on February 13, 2014 at 3:41 pm


A guy named Mike Connell once told me, “readers don’t keep clips.” He was the editor of the Gainesville Times about a hundred years ago, when I was a spry and impressionable young reporter.

His point was that too often we reporters write in an incremental way. In so doing, we fail to bring readers up to speed on background we assume they already know.

Consider an example. Say that, for the last five years, your town council has been considering spending $2 million to develop a new downtown park. You reported the epiphany with bold headlines: “Mayor announces plans for new park.” Then you reported a thousand details across dozens of stories. Neighbors didn’t like it. Soccer coaches did. The town secured federal funding. The planning commission required a permit. It became an election issue. The council said it would name the park after the late football coach at the high school, and on and on. We all cover ongoing stories like this that progress over time.

Just don’t make the mistake of assuming that today’s readers were with you at the beginning or that they remember that story from Feb. 18, 2004, when you meticulously laid out the funding plan for the park. … Read the rest of this entry »

Tell your own history

In Ideas on December 6, 2013 at 8:43 am


One of the advantages we old-school newspaper folks have is a long, storied history that is relatively readily available to anyone willing to look.

Dig what the National Park Service is doing with a piece of that history. It’s reprinting the four-page Oct. 6, 1743, edition of The Pennsylvania Gazette, which was published by some guy named Benjamin Franklin.

Some of us looked back into our own archives recently to unearth our coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That’s something BuzzFeed, Gawker and Salon can’t do – not with their own historic writing. So take advantage of your history.

You might augment that coverage with a video explaining the old printing process, as the National Park Service did. You might start an online conversation on your blog or Facebook, You could even ask readers what historic event they would like to relive. Maybe the idea is so popular it spawns a history page in your newspaper. As noted in another post, newspaper readers skew older and it may be true that your print audience is more interested in your old stories than your online audience. What do you think? … Read the rest of this entry »

On being an institution

In Guiding principles on September 27, 2013 at 9:17 am

on being an institution art

The Sidney Herald is a thoroughly modern small-town news gathering organization. It’s got a dynamic website, a thriving Facebook conversation and, at last check, more than 300 followers on Twitter. It is not your mother’s small town paper.

It’s also got the ghosts of those three characters you see in the photo, which I lifted from staff writer Susan Minichiello’s Twitter feed.

Susan’s post says the photo was taken in 1908. I don’t know who those people are. I don’t know whether the newspaper is in the same spot today, but I do know that a newspaper with that kind of history is woven into the very fabric of the town. There is something about the bold lettering on the façade and the swagger of the people pictured (whom I choose to think of as rakish editorial types) that lead me to believe the Sidney Herald was what it is: a vibrant part of the town.

Photos like that remind us of our responsibilities to the communities we serve. While we all get embroiled in the news of the day, it’s good to remember the ghosts who haunt your office. When you remember you have been part of a community for decades, you are loathe to burn bridges. When I look at those three in the photo, I am reminded of my duty to them. … Read the rest of this entry »

First draft of history

In Clay Lambert on July 28, 2011 at 2:43 pm

At some point, if you work for newspapers long enough, you realize that what they say about delivering the first draft of history is true. Anniversaries of famous events become an excuse to check your own clips, to remember how you covered them yourself.

And that’s how I came to see that I wasn’t the writer I thought I was.

Fifteen years ago this week, I was working day and night to cover the Olympic Games in Atlanta for the Gainesville Times. I was a sportswriter for the Gannett newspaper, and I had spent the preceding couple of years covering rowing, canoeing and kayaking events to get ready for the Games.

You see, the Olympic flatwater-sports venue was right in our backyard. It was the biggest local story in eons. The newspaper spent considerable resources sending me to national championship events, qualifiers for the Games, national team camps and annual Olympic gatherings in the run-up to the Games. I was one of only a handful of reporters in the country who could name every U.S. Olympic rower. Heck, some of the athletes would stay at my house when they came to town to train on the Olympic course. … Read the rest of this entry »

Find yourself at the Newseum

In journalism on March 20, 2009 at 9:01 am

p1020055Want to feel good about what you do? If you ever get to Washington D.C., make sure you take time to see the Newseum.

You probably know what it is. As the name implies, it’s a news museum. It was founded by the Freedom Forum and is run with donations from some of the country’s biggest media chains, including News Corp., Gannett and Cox. It’s six floors, 250,000 square feet and holds 35,000 historic newspapers, gobs of odds and ends – including the antenna from one of the World Trade Center Towers – and plenty of reasons why we are part of a proud professional lineage.

I was in the nation’s capital on vacation last week and truly enjoyed spending a few hours in the Newseum … though it’s a little odd to see your own life reflected in museum pieces. For instance, anyone remember the “Trash 80?” These Tandy computers were the state of the art for sportswriters and anyone else covering stories on the road in the early 1990s. I carried one everywhere I went for a few years (that is it you see in the picture here) and it was therefore a bit disconcerting to see it behind glass in a museum. I also saw a couple press passes that I have lying around… Read the rest of this entry »

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

In journalism on December 18, 2008 at 10:00 pm

The best editorials often germinate from the most unlikely seeds. Take the four-line letter that 8-year-old Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas of 115 W. 95th St. New York, N.Y., wrote the editor of the New York Sun on a September day in the 1897.

The result was unforgettable. Sun staff writer Francis Pharcellus Church, who as a correspondentauthor during the Civil War likely learned a thing or two about keeping faith in the face of long odds, penned a five-paragraph response that the Newseum claims is the most reprinted editorial in human history. That editorial with the pitch-perfect line, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” has appeared in dozens of languages.

Church’s words live 111 years later because he didn’t shrink from taking a stand. “Alas!” he writes the little girl. “How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.” He writes of the absolute necessity of faith and poetry and romance “to make tolerable this existence.”… Read the rest of this entry »