Monthly Archives: April 2012

John Lavine is stepping down as Medill dean at the end of the school year. I asked two Medill alums — both had issues with deans during their years at Northwestern — what qualities they thought the next dean of Northwestern’s journalism school should have. My thanks to David Spett and Sam Eifling for their contributions.

Four years ago, David Spett made national headlines after questioning Lavine’s quotes in the alumni magazine. “One quote, attributed to a student in a 29-person class, contained unnatural-sounding phrases like ‘I sure felt good’ and ‘truth-telling in journalism,'” wrote Spett. “I contacted all 29 students, read them the quote and asked whether they had said it.” They all said no.

Spett now works at the Center for American Progress.

The opportunities arising from the changing media landscape and the distress over print publications in financial turmoil have justifiably brought substantial change to Medill.

David Spett

But in embracing and coping with these challenges, the school lost touch with the basics. There are some amazing faculty members, but also some poor ones, particularly in the core courses. Certain programs and offices are well-run; others lag. In my time there from 2004 to 2008, I found the administration frequently ineffective, at times even incompetent.

So the next dean must be an efficient, effective administrator, one with the vision to plot a future for Medill and the courage to make personnel decisions that will create a more competent faculty and ensure smoother functioning of the school.

Medill’s name change confuses me, since I consider journalism and marketing to be opposites of one another. But as long as Medill is a journalism school, it also needs a dean who understands and is familiar with the craft of journalism. He or she should be forward thinking, open to innovation, keenly adept with technology and new media, and uniquely thoughtful on the journalism industry’s evolution. Such a dean would realize that journalism’s tenets are the same as ever: New technology influences the way people get information, and yes, it demands certain changes in journalism education. But it does not fundamentally change the craft.

My advice to those involved in the search for a new dean? Look for someone who won’t forget the basics.


During the 2001 Medill graduation ceremonies, Dean Ken Bode read an email from one of his critics, student Sam Eifling. “The ceremony’s mood took an awkward, almost hostile tone,” the Daily Northwestern reported. Eifling was one of nine graduates who refused to shake Bode’s hand when they accepted their diplomas.

Eifling is finishing a master’s program in journalism at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver,

In any economic system, the profits shrink as the barriers to entry approach zero. Journalism knows this better than anyone. Websites are a nickel per half-dozen, photostreams radiate from every iPhone, and Twitter feeds are like opinions are like assholes — everybody has one. For a j-school to demonstrate its worth to students, it cannot throw them into the same pool with the hordes of mom’s-basement netizens. I like some of the measures Medill took in the 10 years after I graduated. More students study abroad now, and experience in Doha, for one, benefits greatly from institutional leverage. But the school still has to add value to a craft that has been steadily devalued since Craigslist hit the industry like a plague of locusts. Young journalists have been encouraged to fill this value void by building our own personal brands, presumably without sounding like self-absorbed twerps as we do so. But we can’t compensate for an industry that won’t fund its product, and more than self-promoting, we need to be shown where the resources are and how to use them.

Sam Eifling

Many alumni felt our guts lurch during the school’s renaming, some foofarah around dropping the words “integrated marketing” into the title. The whole point of going through journalism school and getting a reporting job and fighting the formerly good fight is to avoid a life of spreadsheets and market surveys and optimized workflows and all the other petty scrapping that most jobs involve. Journalism done right shouldn’t be mistaken in any form for clerical clock-killing. It should marry joie de vivre with rat cunning and an indefatigable sense of justice. The only reason journalism workplaces can survive as so legendarily inhumane is that the craft itself is still, for its warts, kind of a blast. A marketer’s worst fear is being poor or ignored; a journalist’s is simply being bored.

When I met Dean Lavine last year at my 10-year reunion, I pressed him on this question of how a journalism school can survive as such if it’s intertwined with marketing. He replied that all media are, in a sense, marketing themselves. Would you rather your story be read by few people, or by many? This realpolitik stance works only to a point. Journalists know the dance, nudging your work into the world without being seen to call too much attention to it, writing the cover letter that stops shy of saying you should get the job. Preferably, an advocate (an editor, a colleague) takes up that mantle for us. Preferably, at a school, the faculty does that on behalf of the students.

I like to say that the best editors shield their reporters from the pressure of putting out the paper, allowing the reporter to focus on writing. This is what an ideal journalism school dean does. The dean digs for resources to fund overseas programs and technology labs and the like (Helen Gurley Brown’s gargantuan gift toward media innovation at Stanford and Columbia proves that a few folks still pay for media these days). The dean looks ahead to the emerging areas in the field and makes interdisciplinary connections. The dean fosters a sense of media entrepreneurship over a sense of relentless marketing. The dean hires faculty who can teach, above all, the killer apps of journalism: reading, writing, reporting, editing. Then the dean allows those faculty to focus on the students. My contretemps with Ken Bode, the dean during my undergraduate days, stemmed foremost from his persistent disregard for faculty and students who I happened to think represented the best of Medill. He chose to make a private disagreement we had very public, and in so doing displayed a level of self-regard that reflected badly on the school and the craft. Egos are inevitable in a business that puts its practitioners’ names in print and on Chyrons. But squabbling is the last resort of the marginalized.

The school could do more to pull students — hell, the whole craft — out of a petty frame of thinking. Whether it would be possible within the university or not, I’d like to see Medill move its core classes to a pass/fail grading system. Allow students to take chances and screw up with aplomb. A young journalist who doesn’t make mistakes is one who’s not really trying. Charitably we might say the same for Medill’s recent deans.

You may recall that McClatchy execs were at the top of our newspaper compensation chart with 38.2% raises last year. So how are they steering the company? Here’s what McClatchy reported today:

* The newspaper chain lost $2.1 million in the first quarter vs. $2 million a year ago.
* Revenue fell 5.1% in the quarter from the same period of 2011, while ad sales fell 6.8%.
* The good news: Digital ad sales were up 2.7%. (The company says digital advertising now makes up 22.2 percent of its total ad picture.)

* McClatchy posts loss in first quarter | Press release
* How newspaper executives were compensated in 2011

* “Fox Mole” Joe Muto tweets: “I just got search warranted at 6:30am by a very polite crew from the DA’s office.” (The Awl)
* Writer Andrew Goldman wants New York Post to retract its claim that he collaborated with Koch brothers. (Capital New York)
* Mike Ricigliano practices a nearly extinct newspaper art (he’s a sports cartoonist). (New York Times)
* How the Washington Post failed Elizabeth Flock. (The Awl)
* SF Bay Guardian co-publishers step down from day-to-day operations and sale talks with SF Examiner continue. (Bay Guardian)
* Questions for Chicago Sun-Times editor editor-in-chief Jim Kirk. (Chicago Reader)

The bosses at U-T San Diego tell employees that the paper’s transformation into a “multi-platform media organization” has “caused some to comment and question what such changes mean to the future of the newspaper.”

A memo from the company’s CEO and president reminds staff that “with change, comes change” and “there will be different content standards on different media platforms.” Also, “we will be covering the full lifestyles of San Diego, branching into areas that have not traditionally been part of the UT.” Read the full memo after the jump. Read More

Father Michael McMahon

In April of 2011, the Paxton Record — a weekly published by the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette — ran a letter to the editor in support of gay rights and identified the author as Michael McMahon, a Catholic priest and boys’ school headmaster. The letter also said McMahon is president of the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Association of Vermilion County. (“I’m guessing the Paxton Record was an unwitting participant in a stunt,” a News-Gazette commenter notes.)

The Record apologized and ran a correction, but the priest still wants at least $50,000 from the paper. His suit says:

The representation [in the letter] that Father McMahon, who is charged with the safety and spiritual growth of young Catholic men, was the leader of a sexually active, gay advocacy group headquartered at a Catholic boarding school imputes to him an inability to perform and want of integrity in the discharge of his duties as a Catholic priest and Headmaster.

Publisher John Foreman calls the suit “spurious,” and says “we don’t believe that Father McMahon was defamed by a letter suggesting he was sympathetic to the societal problems faced by gay people. That’s not defamatory.”

* Catholic school’s headmaster sues paper for libel

Peter Behle

Michael Miner’s story about the Chicago Tribune-Journatic deal includes this gem: About a month ago, Journatic executive editor Peter Behle sent employees a notice that said in part, “Reporters will be sniffing around — and they are not authorized to talk with anyone about Journatic under any circumstances. Better yet, if you receive a reporter inquiry and tell us about it (without responding), we’ll pay you a $50 bonus.”

Miner points out:

That’s good money for dropping a dime. A Journatic writer would have to write 13 stories to earn as much, and that’s even if they were the important $4 stories.

* Tribune Co. does a deal with Journatic (Chicago Reader)
* Journatic expected to work with Baltimore Sun and LAT, too (Crain’s)
* “Tribune was smart to turn to Journatic for help with TribLocal” (Street Fight)

Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter James Grimaldi tells Romenesko readers:

After 12 exciting, rewarding, fascinating years at The Washington Post, I am accepting the Post’s buyout offer.

I have decided to join The Wall Street Journal as a Senior Writer. After considering multiple offers, I’m very excited about joining a newspaper with a long and impressive tradition of original and groundbreaking investigative reporting.

With his departure, the Post has lost all three reporters who won its Pulitzer in 2006 for coverage of the Jack Abramoff scandal. (R. Jeffrey Smith is at the Center for Public Integrity, and Susan Schmidt took the Post’s buyout in 2008, joined the Wall Street Journal, then started her own company.)

Grimaldi worked at the Seattle Times before joining the Post. He’s also done reporting for the Orange County Register and the old San Diego Tribune.

Marie Kemph, reporter covering the Boner sexual harassment case

When a county property assessor named Bill Boner was accused of sexual harassment, Murfreesboro Post managing editor Michelle Willard knew her staff had to “get all of the cheesy headlines out of their system” before getting serious about the story.

She had them distribute their best, unprintable headlines, including:


“We had a lot of fun with it in the last week,” says Willard.

County official Bill Boner is accused of sexual harassment

But staff writer Marie Kemph — the reporter on the Boner beat, if you will — says she’s working hard to play it straight.

“It’s not a funny topic,” she says of the sexual harassment allegations, “so I try to keep it serious. A lot of the residents are very offended by what he’s supposedly done, and they’re taking it very seriously. We’re a conservative town. This is the kind of thing that people think would happen in Nashville.”

Still, the 29-year-old Kemph admits that the Boner sexual harassment case “is a gift to journalists.”

* Boner rejects sexual harassment allegations
* “Aptonym of the week? Yeah, I’m still 12 years old”

The Murfreesboro Post newsroom has fun with Boner headlines

I’ve asked the AP reporter to tell us more about his project. (UPDATE: AP’s social media editor has posted a comment.)