10 Qualities of a Good Journalist (Rafael Olmeda)
Speech delivered at a World Journalism Institute conference (New York City, N.Y (November 3, 2007)
Rafael Olmeda joined the staff of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as a general assignment reporter in 1999. Before that, he spent six years as a reporter for the New York Daily News, covering his home town of the Bronx. He won third place in the Florida Press Club's contest for Crime Reporting that year, and was part of the team that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2004. He became an assistant city editor in July 2005.
Mr. Olmeda was elected President of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in 2006. In this role he advocates for fair and accurate reporting of Latino communities and issues while upholding the highest standards of journalistic excellence.
In 2004 he became an adjunct professor of writing and grammar at Florida International University.
by Rafael Olmeda
What you're going to see here is what I call “Ten Qualities of a Good Journalist and five non-sequiturs.” Does everybody know what a non-sequitur is? If you have kids, you know. You're talking to your kid and your kid has just done something really wrong, and you're trying to explain here's why this was wrong. This was wrong because it failed to respect your mom, , it failed to respect your dad, it failed to respect your elders. It was wrong because you broke this rule and that rule and the other rule. And the kid looks at you and says, "Can we have pizza?"
When a phrase or expression or a sentence does not follow logically from what came before it, that's a non-sequitur. I'm going to have about five of those sprinkled through here. All of these were various ideas that I had for what to speak on that I abandoned. Just so you know.
First, a little bit about myself: I'm an adjunct professor of writing at Florida International University and assistant city editor at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. President of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Secretary of Unity, Journalists of Color, which is made up of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Asian-American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association.
I'm a parishioner, congregant—the best word to describe me would be a shower-upper—at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. So that's a little bit about me.
How did I develop this thing? Well, the first thing I did was I thought of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount, and I'm thinking of it in terms of Jesus Christ getting up there and speaking about the qualities of a good person. So he says: Blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek—everyone knows this one—they’ll inherit the earth. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, because they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful; they will obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart; they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. There's no "for they shall" with that one, is there?
I said, now, what about journalists? Are there qualities of a good journalist? And yes, there are. It's amazing as we've gone through all of these presentations today, I've been marking off one by one as they've been covered by everyone else. But that's okay because it's a good way to wrap things up.
But I do have a couple of quick disclaimers. Number one, it's not an exhaustive list. There's a lot more to being a good journalist than what I'm going to cover here. For example, I'm not going to discuss opinion writing. I'm not going to discuss a lot of these things—editorial or things of that nature. I'm not going to talk about blogging. There are so many other things to go over about being a good Christian and being a good journalist at the same time. (It can be done.) But I can't get into all of it. So please forgive me if you come up with something else that belongs on this list. That's great.
Number two, your desire to be a committed Christian is assumed. How many people have read the Book of Esther? How many people found the name of God in it? It's not there. The Book of Esther does not mention God, yet lands a place in the Bible. What I'm trying to say is, just because God is not mentioned by name doesn't mean He ain't in it. I'm not necessarily going to say, “by the way, if you're a Christian, you've got to apply this rule in a different way.” I'm not going to waste your time with that. You're here, you're Christian, terrific. Let us assume that you desire to be a good Christian, you desire to be a committed Christian. Great. I'm going to talk about journalism—you do the rest. Okay?
1) Blessed are the compassionate for they shall not forget they are dealing with people.
I've been dealing recently with the case of Rebecca Aguilar in Texas. Rebecca Aguilar conducted an interview with a man who defended his property and shot and killed two intruders in separate incidents a week apart. He called Rebecca one day—and he had not done any interviews on the air—and during the course of their discussion he says, "I'm gonna go into town and buy myself a new shotgun," because the police took his previous two. And Rebecca said, “Oh, I'm gonna catch up with you there.”“I don't want to talk to you.” “So don’t tell me where you are. I'm a journalist. I'll see you at the gun shop.”
She catches up with him in the parking lot and they start this interview, and I'm not going to go into all the details about it, but Rebecca is in a lot of trouble over this interview. She's in a lot of trouble because of this rule here: Blessed are the compassionate for they shall not forget they're dealing with people. I'm not saying she wasn't compassionate. I'm saying that if you look at the video that eventually aired, she does not appear compassionate. So it's not just a matter of being compassionate, it's a matter of being able to—especially if you're in television—show it. So, just the appearance of a lack of compassion has landed her in a lot of hot water.
I'm not going to go into any more detail about that except to say I completely support Rebecca Aguilar in this. If anybody has questions about that later, that's fine. You need to understand the needs and feelings of your subject and understand that they, and not you, are the story. Shall I say that again? Understand that they, and not you, are the story. That goes back to humility. It’s humility. It's a matter of saying, “You know what? It's just not about me.” It's amazing how that works. I go out there and I do somebody else's story. They're not interested in me. My readers are not interested in my background and where I come from and what I do, and what I think about this.
Joe Torres (WABC-TV, New York) was here earlier and he talked about some of the dumb questions he hears at news conferences. There's a reason you hear a lot of dumb questions at news conferences: Because the only way to get somebody to answer is to ask. I defend dumb questions, I really do. Oh, well, somebody just lost their kid or something, and the reporters are getting ignored and they finally get somebody to speak, and ask, "How do you feel?" I hate that question: “How do you feel?” How do you think I feel? Well, I have news for you. I can think of no better way for somebody to tell me how they feel than to ask them.
So it's a really obnoxious question that journalists hate. It really is. But at the same time it's one that you gotta ask, because otherwise they're not going to tell you. And it's about them. It's about getting them to speak. It's about getting them to say things in their own words, not about you. So if you feel a little silly asking the question? Just remember: You're not it, your subject is.
Speaking of your subject being the story, understand that your reporting will affect your subjects' lives, and determine ahead of time whether the story is worth the disruption that's sure to follow.
Great example of this: We once had a terrific story about a man who was a maintenance man at a condo complex. He saw a little kid in the pool and the kid was having trouble. He jumped in and saved the kid's life. And it was just a fine little story. There were no big fireworks, no big dramatics. We didn't have all sorts of things going on. It was just a good interview with a guy who happened to be at the right place at the right time. But you know what we do in journalism—we just can't leave well enough alone, can we? So I said, “Well, this is great. I think this is a wonderful story, but can we just make sure this guy is not a murderer or something so that we don't end up praising him when only to find his victims finally calls us back and says why didn't you mention this?” So our reporter goes and does a background check and comes back to me and says, “Well, good news, he's not a murderer.” I said “Oh, that's great.” “It was manslaughter.”
Now here's a guy who fifteen years ago had committed manslaughter. He said it was self-defense; the prosecution disagreed. But he served a few years and got his life back together and now was working and being productive and not doing anything wrong. There was nothing else on his record. The guy had not so much as a speeding ticket since this happened. We had to ask ourselves, “Can we do this story without mentioning it? We can't. We are so sure to get hammered by anyone who knows what happened in the past. The truth is so much more than what just happened this one day. What do we do?” So we asked him. We talked to him and said, “Hey, what's your feeling on this?” And he said, “Well, that's what happened and I'm not ashamed of it but I really don't want to publicize it.” And we said okay. I thought about it and I asked our reporter to give him a call back and tell him congratulations on saving this young boy's life. We owe you more than we can give you. And that was more than the public ever heard about the maintenance man. Sometimes you just have to let it go, and that was my feeling, my judgment on that story. It wasn't worth the disruption to this man's life. He did something good. He did great and I'm proud of him. But I felt awful that day because you can make an argument for the opposite call. But what I am saying is that you need to have that conversation with yourself and come to a decision that you can live with. I can live with my decision.
2. Blessed are they who are outraged by injustice, for that outrage is the one bias tolerated in journalism.
Nobody likes journalistic bias. I'm opposed to slavery; how about you? So we don't have any pro-slavery journalists in here? Okay, can you go out and find me one? About one hundred percent of American journalists are opposed to slavery. I might be off by one or two. One hundred percent of American journalists oppose murder. An innate sense of right and wrong will take you far. Journalists should oppose abusive power, misappropriation of funds, hypocrisy in public officials, meaning holding one position publicly while doing something else publicly, or privately.
Next point. Journalists should also oppose hypocrisy in journalism. And by that I mean exposing the flaws in those you oppose, while excusing or covering them up in those you favor. Be very careful with that. It's extremely tempting.
My first non-sequitur: If you’re using an adjective, you may have chosen the wrong noun. If you’re using an adverb, you may have chosen the wrong verb. Adverbs are often unnecessary. Use them sparingly.
I find these last two sentences hilarious. I cribbed them from Roy Peter Clark at the Poynter Institute. “Adverbs are often unnecessary.” Often of course is an adverb. “Use them sparingly.” Sparingly of course is an adverb. Let's see. I'm trying to think of a really good example here... Dead Poets Society. You don't want to say somebody is very sad. Very=adverb. He was very sad. No, what was he? More than that. You want to say very sad, but deeply depressed, devastated. Sometimes you can save yourself a little time and aggravation by removing two words and replacing them with one. Not very sad—devastated, depressed, something along those lines.
3. Blessed are the skeptical, for they shall verify all they are told.
Well, I heard verify earlier today and it didn't sound so good. But there's nothing wrong with verifying what you're told. The old phrase in journalism: If your mother says she loves, you check it out. That's called hyperbole. You can trust your mom when she says she loves you. But that's about it. When I tell you that our reporter, if you're going to write about this you better check with that reporter and make sure that he had that story. I'm just saying maybe I made it up. You don't know. I have to give a speech. I had to come up with something!
Remember this one. Write this one down. It is no one's job to tell you the truth. There is not a single person paid who is told when journalists call, tell them the truth. Tell them this, which may be true, but it's not everything.
It is your job to discover it or uncover it, to verify it and to reveal it if necessary. No one who is telling the truth—this is the flip side of that—no one who is telling the truth is going to be insulted when you seek to verify it. No one is going to say to you, “Don't you trust me?” Or if they do, you can say, “Yes, I do. That's why I'm going to verify it. Because the people I trust do the best job of lying to me. So I trust you fully, and now I'm gonna go check it out.” It's not your job to trust. It's your job to verify.
Second non-sequitur: Palindrome spelled backwards is “Emordnilap,” which is not a word. And if you rearrange the letters of the word “anagram,” you cannot come up with another 7-letter word.
4. Blessed are the well-sourced, for they shall never be without a story.
I actually have nothing else to say about that. Blessed are the well-sourced, for they shall never be without a story. Who here has my business card? Okay. I have about thirty. There's more than thirty people in the room. I expect to be out of them by the time I leave.
5. Blessed are they who check their biases, for they will question without fear or favor.
Notice earlier when I asked Joe Torres, committed Christian: Your assignment today is to cover the Gay Pride Parade. What do you do? And his answer was to do justice to the story.
I was at the New York Daily News and I had to do a story about closeted gay Christians. Oh, that was fun. Find them. Focus on that first word—closeted. I actually found several, but it was not easy. And naturally they're asking me, are you going to out me? No, I'm not. They said, “Well, what's your background?” And - mistake; I answered. I said I'm a born again Christian. They said, oh no. I don't want to talk to you. Well, you already kinda did.
All right, he said, now I'm scared. I said I understand. The story came out. He called me back and said you didn't make me look bad. You didn't make me look like a hypocrite. I said, you know what? That's not my job. My job is to present what you were telling me. It wasn't about me, it wasn't about my religious beliefs, it wasn't about what my religion teaches or whether I agree with it. You're going to have to write about churches and ministers. You are going to have to write about abortion. You're going to have to write about politicians with whom you agree and about politicians with whom you disagree. I would advise against revealing your positions to sources because, remember, it's not about you.
Third non-sequitur: Use the abstract to give meaning to the concrete. Use the concrete to bring clarity to the abstract. Example: He insulted me (abstract). He called me names (closer to concrete, but still not there). He said, “You’re such a loser, if they had a contest to determine who’s the biggest loser, you’d come in second” (no abstraction remains).
And we were talking about this earlier except we didn't know it. Were you reading Hebrews 11? He was reading Hebrews 11 and he only mentioned the one with Noah. By faith Noah built an ark. The abstraction "by faith," what does that mean? I don't know. How do you know what does faith mean? He had faith. Yeah, prove it. It says so. I know that, fine, it says so in the Bible. But tell me, show me, how do you know he had faith? Well, he built an ark. Ah, okay, I can see building an ark. I can't see having faith. It's like James says, "You show me your faith without works; I'll show you my faith by my works." That's what he's talking about there. He's not saying you need works to have faith. He's saying your demonstration of faith comes out in actions, it comes out in the things you do. By faith Abraham prepared his son for sacrifice. By faith people do things that can be observed.
Some more examples: God so loved (abstraction). What does it mean to love? He gave his son. I can see that. So for God so loved is the abstraction. He gave his son. He gave his son gives you a visual image of what it means to love. The concrete depicts the abstract. The abstract gives meaning to the concrete. He gave his son. Why? Because he loves. And if that doesn't prove it, I don't what does.
Season’s greetings! Big abstraction. Season’s greetings. What season? Spring? Merry Christmas. Oh, concrete.
He insulted me! That's an abstract. What does it mean he insulted you? Well, he called me names. He called me names. Okay, I can see calling names but I'm kind of like one of the vampires in The Lost Boys. I'm outside the window and I'm looking in. I'm looking in and I can see what's going on but I can't hear it. He called me names. So I see the guy. His lips are moving but I don't care what's coming out of them. So we're a little closer to where we want to be. The abstraction: he insulted me. Getting a little closer: e called me names. You're such a loser, he said, if they had a contest to see who's the biggest loser you'd come in second. Okay, that I can hear. (I stole that from an old episode of "Blossom" which I don't think anyone sees anymore.)
6. Blessed are the adaptable, for they shall embrace change.
I'm so grateful that we talked so much about this earlier today, because it means I don't need to.
My journalism degree was obtained in 1994. By January 1, 1995, it was obsolete. The American Society of Newspaper Editors will soon be changing its name. To what I don't know, but newspaper editors doesn't cut it anymore. After February, 2009, no one will be able to pick up an analog broadcast signal from an antenna on their television sets. I do not know what that means, but I have a feeling it's going to dramatically affect the way we receive our news and information. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is training its reporters in the use of video cameras for multimedia presentations, and we're far from alone. NABJ, NAJA, AAJA and NAHJ—the four groups I referred to earlier in this presentation—all expanded multimedia training sessions at this year's conventions. All were filled to capacity.
In 2007, all journalists are online journalists. I used to ask my reporters for what they called budget lines. Budget line was a few sentences that told what your story is about. It told you how the story would be, whether it had a picture, who was the reporter, who was the editor. Now I ask for story boards. A story board says what part of the story is going to be print—and that comes with a budget line—what part of the story is going to be video, what part is going to be audio, and what part is going to be a slide show—all sorts of different platforms for how we're going to be delivering this particular story to the public. Things are changing very, very quickly.
7. Blessed are they who know their rights and freedoms, for they shall not be intimidated.
This morning photojournalist Gary Fong said he was locked out of getting close to President Ford, but found out he could get closer if he was with the general public. Wow, did he see my speech before we started? How did he know I was going to make that exact same point?
Blessed are they who know their rights and freedoms as journalists and citizens, for they shall not be intimidated. I'm asking you to get to know the Federal Freedom of Information Act. Get to know your state's public records laws, your state's open meetings laws. When you are denied information, that information is being denied to the public. And if the public is entitled to access or to documents, you as a journalist are entitled to the same. They cannot keep you away from any place the public is welcome to be. Do not be shy when it comes to expecting the law to be followed by those charged with enforcing it.
Fourth non-sequitur: Name five aliens. (Note: Words have cold, dictionary meanings, and they have meanings we bring to them. Before using “alien” to refer to human beings, please think about the images and emotions that word conjures up for the reader. Ask yourself whether you intend to conjure up those feelings. If the answer is no, choose another word).
Ah, the great question. Is Elvira Arellano an illegal alien? Yes, as a matter of fact, Elvira Arellano, deported August, 2007, and the last I checked, human. I personally object to the term illegal alien. I know that not every journalist does. And I hope this exercise shows you a little bit why. I'm not going to ask you to change your mind overnight, but I am going to ask you to think words have meanings but they have more than one. What they have is a denotation. A denotation is the strict code meaning of the word, and on the strict code meaning of the word "alien," I have nothing to stand on. But they have connotations, too. And connotation is what you bring to a word.
And when you hear the word "alien," I want you to ask yourself, what am I thinking here? And I want you to observe the use of that word in the media and ask yourself, is this person being objective or critical of human beings? Are they actually dehumanizing people? And if you decide for yourself that the answer to that is no, then that's your answer and stick to it. You don't answer to me, which is something we'll get to later. But at least do me the honor of thinking about it.
8. Blessed are the tenacious, for they will get the truth.
We talked a little bit earlier about persistence, determination. Joe Torres went up to interview that poor woman who lost her daughter and granddaughters, grandchildren, and her initial answer is no. He eventually gets that interview. Rebecca Aguilar in the parking lot of the gun shop in Texas. He initially says no, loudly. She gets the interview and trouble for it.
No from a source isn't always going to mean no. No when the door slams and he drives off? Yeah, that's no. But no sometimes means not now. Sometimes it means not on your terms but maybe on mine. Sometimes it means not on the record. By the way, "on the record" means you can quote me, I said it, no problem. There's "not for attribution,” meaning you can quote me but don't put my name on it. And you're going to want to have a discussion with your editor as to whether or not you can use stuff like that. More and more organizations are saying no.
“On background,” a source said something paraphrased, something like that. “On deep background,” I don't even know how to describe that. You kind of try to blend it in there. "An expert somewhere said “double secret probation.”
There's "on background" and "on deep background." And then there's "off the record." That means you're not using this unless you can prove it from somebody else and get them to put their name on it. Just so you know, those are some ways to get information from somebody not necessarily willing to say put my name on this. Ideally you want "put my name on this." I'm not going to stand in front of you and pretend that journalists don't talk to people off the record. We'd get fired within the first three weeks on the job. We absolutely do. But there are different ways of being on the record and off the record, and you need to discipline yourself to what they are, particularly if you're dealing with a media savvy person who knows what all these things mean. Be careful.
Sometimes, I mentioned earlier, the truth is that there is no story. Discernment is what's going to tell you when to keep pursuing a story and when to let it go.
To avoid obnoxiousness, balance tenacity with rule number one (Blessed are the compassionate for they shall not forget they are dealing with people.) That's how you do it. I can come off as really abusive, really obnoxious, really rude. Joe used the words abusive and persistence. I use the words obnoxiousness and tenacity, but they're the same thing. I'm going to keep trying until I can't try anymore, but I'm also going to say as I'm doing this, I'm still dealing with a human being. So that's going to help me decide when it is time to stop. Tenacity minus discernment equals obstinacy or stubbornness.
9. Blessed are the open-minded, for their job is reporter, not Judge.
If you're reading along, I want you to notice that the word "Judge" is capitalized. That is not a typo. Your job is reporter. It's somebody else's job to judge. Extol the truth. Let others judge whether people's actions are sinful or even hypocritical like, say, Larry Craig. Right? Says one thing, does something else. Hmmm. Is that hypocrisy? Tell you what. I don't even have to tell you, do I? I can tell you he says one thing, and let me rephrase what I said earlier, is accused of doing something else. And then you'll decide. You do it—you the reader, you the person who's receiving information. It's not my job as a reporter to tell you this man is a hypocrite. Because that's abstract. The concrete? I can show you the concrete. Then it's up to you.
As Joe Torres mentioned earlier, do justice to the story. It's okay, by the way, to predict answers. In fact, predicting answers leads to most questions. It's not okay to presume the answers. What do I mean? Well, you see these lawyer shows all the time, and the lawyer always asks this question and the person gives the answer, and the lawyer says, "Oh, ho!" or something like that. Well, maybe not like that. He says, "I'm sorry, are you saying that you didn't see what happened? Oh, you wear glasses." The lawyer knew that before. The lawyer always knew that before, but he asks the question knowing the answer ahead of time. That's a very big tool in journalism. The reason we ask the question, as I mentioned earlier, is not to get new information all the time, although often it is. Sometimes it's to get the other person to give the answer in his or her own words. As this man was coming out of the gun shop in Dallas, Rebecca Aguilar came up to him and said, "What have you got in the box?" Did she know what was in the box? Yes. Why did she ask him a question she already knew the answer to? Because it gets him to say it. His answer? "My new shot gun. I'd hate to have to use it already." Wow. This is going to be a fun interview.
It is okay to predict the answer. It's not okay to presume the answer, because that will stop you from asking questions.
Predict it, ask the question. That way when they answer, you're one of two things: confirmed or surprised. And surprise can be good. It can take the story in a whole new direction.
Fifth non-sequitur: People are “who.” Things are “that.” People that make this mistake annoy people who don’t (and people who correct that mistake in casual conversation annoy everyone).
By the way, if the animal has a name it's a "who." Just so you know. That is if you know the animal's name. So people are who, things and animals are that and which. People that get this mixed up really aggravate the people who don't. That's not really true. Actually, people who correct that really aggravate everyone around them. But it's a good thing to know.
10. Blessed are they who have integrity, for 1-9 are worthless without it.
You can chuck the rest of this list out the window if you have no integrity. I'll tell you right now, if we had a table and Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass were sitting at it, you know what? I'm not interested. I'm just not interested in what they have to say. Why? Because they have so tarnished their journalistic reputations that as journalists, I'm not really interested anymore. Now, as human beings, yes, different story. But remember the Christian aspect of this. I'm gonna leave that to you guys.
Curt Schilling, pitcher for the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, recently said, if you haven't figured it out by now, working in the media is a pretty nice gig. Barring outright plagiarism or committing a crime, you don't have to be accountable if you don't want to. You can say what you want and you don't really have to answer to anyone. Wrong. Wrong. He's right more often than he should be, but for us in this room, to whom are you accountable?
I want to read a poem to you very quickly, but before I do, remember back when we were talking about aliens? The meanings of words change over time, and there used to be a word called "pelf", P-E-L-F. Anybody ever heard of it? It was smackeroos, moola, pelf, money, cash. And the reason is I've seen this poem a million times, and as I was looking it up for inclusion in this, I came across several versions that had the word "pelf" in it and I thought it was a typo. But that would explain it happening once; it wouldn't explain it happening over and over again. So I went to some kind of archaic dictionary and sure enough, pelf means money.
I don't know if any of you here have heard this before. It's called "The Man in the Glass," sometimes called "The Guy in the Glass." Actually, it should be "The Guy in the Glass," but I like the way it sounds better this way. It says,
The Man in the Glass
by Dale Wimbrow, (c) 1934
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you king for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn't your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgment upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the man staring back from the glass.
He's the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he's with you clear up to the end,
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum,
And think you're a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you've cheated the man in the glass.
You will always be accountable to the person you see in the mirror and all that that person truly treasures in his or her heart. And if you're wondering where God is in this, look closely. He's right there.
I want to close with my favorite pieces of Scripture and you can add it in context to what I've been discussing at your leisure.
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9)
Questions and Answers:
Question: Going back to the discussion about aliens, what about using “illegals” instead of “illegal aliens”?
Answer: Illegal is an adjective. Please remember that. Illegal is an adjective. If you're talking about a person and you're calling him "an illegal," you are butchering the language that you pretend you're upholding.
Question: To get away from journalism, how do you spend your leisure time? You seem so passionate about journalism. What do you do to switch it up a bit?
Answer: I'm a karaoke junky.
Question: Since you have an audience of thirty in front of you, what is a prayer request that the thirty of us can keep in mind thinking about you?
Answer: Wow. I have got about seven or eight months left as president of NAHJ and I have been careless at times in the words that I've chosen to speak on several issues. In fact, I've written to Bob and Kim about one particular instance where I really shoved my foot so deep in my mouth, it was one of the most embarrassing things I've done in years. They were very encouraging about it. Oh, don't worry about it, we won't lose sleep. So how about that business of taming the tongue? I could use some help with that.
Question: With the non-sequiturs you have, I imagine you have a few pet peeves as an editor. What is your chief pet peeve?
Answer: A suspect is a person who has been arrested or is believed to have committed a crime. A suspect has a name, always. What gets on my nerves is seeing police and then reporters after them say, "The suspect went into the store, pointed a gun at the teller and took the money." No, the suspect did not do that. The robber did that. The suspect is the person accused of being the robber. That's key because the reason we use words like suspect is to avoid saying that this guy is the robber. To do so without a trial is libel. So be careful with how you're using or parroting police language. Calling the robber a suspect when you mean it the other way around, that would be the concrete. The abstract? Parroting police language. I hate when reporters do that.
I did this early in my career: "He conducted a vertical search." “He” was a police officer. "Our officer was conducting a vertical search." What? He was patrollin the stairwell.
Question: I was especially wondering about your experience at the Daily News. I'm thinking about maybe pursuing an internship next year. As a Christian, how was your experience there?
Answer: As a Christian, how was my experience at the New York Daily News? It was what I made it. They are not hostile. I've not found them to be hostile. In fact, one of the great religion writers of our time, a man named Charles W. (Bill) Bell, passed away recently. He was one of my mentors at the New York Daily News and really did a great job of encouraging me to continue writing and to continue writing about religion, despite the fact that he was agnostic. He knew what my background was and he wanted me to bring that to the table, because he said it's missing. And that's actually something that all of you should remember.
I fight for diversity. That's one thing that I've been doing in some official capacity for the last seven and a half years. When we talk about diversity, we're often talking about race or ethnic background. There are so many more diversities than that, and we in this room bring something else to the table. And it's not that we want to go in there and Christianize the newsrooms. We have a world view, or actually we have probably various world views. We're a diverse group ourselves. And we have a lot to bring to the table. I think when we go into a newsroom understanding what the Christian perspective is, understanding what our backgrounds and our history have told us as Christians, that's a perspective that newsrooms need, and we should not be ashamed to speak up. We really shouldn't. I never felt ashamed in New York of being a Christian. I haven't felt ashamed in South Florida of being a Christian. That might be because I'm shameless or because I stand so strongly for what I believe in that if they're crossing me it’s behind my back, so I'm okay.