Knee-jerk apology from Portland Press Herald

Yesterday I happened to see the Muslim/9-11 apology letter from Portland Press Herald publisher Rich Connor.

For those of you who missed it: On 9-11, the PPH featured a story about Eid al Fitr, the holiest of holidays in Islam that marks the end of Ramadan, by reporter Dave Hench and photographer Gregory Rec. The correlation between the holiday and the day nine years ago that marked a change in so many of our lives was entirely coincidental. The editorial staff at the PPH decided to hold 9-11 coverage until the day after (9-12), having a run-down of the day’s events ready for readers in the morning.

Readers responded angrily, many wondering why those “terrorists” were being lauded on A1 on a day still so fresh in the minds of America.

Rich responded by writing a lengthy open letter. Here’s one part:

“We are sorry you are offended by today’s front page photo and story and certainly understand your point of view. Many feel the same way. We do not offer the stock excuses you cite. We should have balanced this story with one that showed our sensitivity to today’s historic importance.”

Justin Ellis, a former PPH reporter who took a buyout earlier this year, responded on his blog with many comments that I agree with.

“Even though Connor says he agrees that the story is newsworthy, the act of issuing a letter to readers over an error that does not violate the paper’s standards, is a betrayal to the writers, photographers, copy editors and everyone down to the pressmen at the paper.

Worse, the apology, in trying to make amends with one part of the community, does it at the expense of another. In trying to mollify the outrage and indignation of readers upset over showing Muslims practicing their religion, the Press Herald has now helped to alienate Muslims in Portland and around Maine.

And it’s here where the Press Herald made it’s biggest failure: By apologizing for this episode they’ve injured their ability to educate readers. In this case the lesson lost is simple – tolerance. Like newspapers around the country the Press Herald covers its religious communities through their observances, whether it’s Rosh Hashanah, Easter or Ramadan. This matters because people of faith aren’t just newspaper readers, they’re part of the community that journalists are responsible for covering. Through writing about these events we’re supposed to gain greater insight into where we live and the people around us.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Justin’s well-written and very thoughtful analysis. We should never apologize for writing ethical, well-reported, timely, relevant, unbiased, interesting and educational stories. Ever. Instead of apologizing for the article and saying there should have been more balance, Rich should have simply said that he apologizes for not memorializing such an important day on the front page of the paper on the anniversary of the event.

The letter was a knee-jerk reaction from Rich in response to a vocal, angry mob. Seeing how this story has gotten play on the Internet making him out to be a newspaper man who panders to bigots, I assume he now regrets the decision to write the letter and not wait a few days to see if it blows over, apologizing for not mentioning 9-11 on 9-11 on the
front page of the largest paper in Maine where close to 90 percent of Mainers get their local news.

I’ve worked at the Portland Press Herald. I know Rich Connor, Greg Rec, Dave Hench and the editors there. They had no ill-intention. They’re committed to covering the community.

It’s sad that this has to occur at a time when much of the media is committed to fear mongering at the sake of Americans who choose to read from a different holy text.

I just hope the decision to issue the apology hasn’t cost a bleeding industry more cancelled subscriptions and less confidence in people who are committed to making a difference and furthering democracy by telling the stories of others.

Tech cleanse: taking a break from the noise

For the past few days, I’ve been taking a bit of a technology cleanse. Granted, I haven’t gone balls to the wall on it because I’ve had a few things to tend to, but just this little bit has been really refreshing.

With a job in news, I feel like I always have to be tapped into what’s going on, constantly reading some article or weighing in on Twitter with my thoughts on a certain issue. So I’ve severely limited my Internet time over the past few days to get away from it. And it’s felt so good.

Sometimes we need to get away from all the noise. The world doesn’t come crashing down if we don’t check our e-mail right away. Life is bigger than the technology that surrounds us.

Saying goodbye

Today is my last day at the Portland Press Herald. I feel like I’ve been getting pretty good at goodbyes, with leaving my family and college friends and professors behind earlier this summer, yet I find I’m not getting any better at it when it comes to places.

People I can say goodbye to – we keep relationships going through phone calls and e-mails. But leaving physical places is always so bittersweet.

There’s something really sad about knowing I won’t be sitting on Fortunes Rocks beach again or having lunch in Monument Square with the cool ocean breeze wafting through the streets.

Over the past year or so I’ve had the opportunity to spend time all over: the waterfront of Texas, the canyons of Arizona, the plains of the Midwest,  and the rolling hills of Tennessee. The pine tree forests of Maine will now be added. I’m constantly in awe of the beauty of our great country. If you haven’t explored our greatest treasures in our national parks, please do – and take your family.

There’s just something about land – the Indians had it right.

The Naysayers

I don’t know if there’s been more bad press about my generation lately or if I’ve just been noticing it more.

1. I’m a Millennial. Our votes elected Obama, we grew up with the Internet, we don’t use landlines, our parents are divorced and texting is our language. We grew up in a post-9/11 world. Most of all, we have the most to say, mainly because we’ve always had the venue to do so. According to a Pew Research Center, I score a 93 on the “How Millennial Are You?” quiz, meaning I’m pretty much the poster child for the generation.

Some writers and experts are saying our tech literacy makes us impersonal, and we are self-absorbed with our “me, me, me” outlook, entitlement and poor work ethic. To that, I snub my nose. My generation thinks critically, volunteers and values relationships that we maintain through technology. Our top priorities are being good parents and having a successful marriage, something most of our parents failed to do.

2. College was not a waste of time, HuffPost College, and your slide show (Notice how HuffPost is so into slide shows because it gets more clicks and, thus, revenue. The money grubbers often use slide shows when it doesn’t serve the purpose of the story, just for this reason.) about how my people are more or less screwed, was pointless and offered no solutions (to this, @HuffPostCollege tells me they’re “just  reporting the news”). I defer to a blog I read yesterday, which I could’ve written, it so accurately describes how I feel. Our generation will be ok. Yeah, we’re out of work (thanks to generations BEFORE us who played with the economy like it was Monopoly money). But we have a lot going for us. We’re in debt, but college was about more than a step on the quest to make money. I made lifelong friendships, I matured, I had amazing experiences that my non-college colleagues didn’t have.

So stop hating on my generation, man.

Carrie Bradshaw

Sometimes I wonder what role Carrie Bradshaw played in me becoming a journalist. Like every second woman in America, “Sex and the City” was one of my favorite shows. I own every season and will watch episodes over and over.

When I first started watching it, I had no idea I wanted to go into journalism. I was planning on being a lobbyist (laugh!) or a lawyer (hehe!). I’d always liked writing, and while I doubt I saw the show and thought, “I want to be her,” there was definitely a part of me that admired Carrie and the way she was self-sufficient and doing something she loved. I think she was a role model for many women, saying that you can be successful and single and still be happy.

This article in The Guardian I think describes some of what I’m trying to say. Candace Bushnell gave so many women a voice. She made us realize that our foibles and stories were worth telling, even when there wasn’t a happy ending.

This Huffington Post column seems to say that the Carrie Effect has pigeonholed women into writing about women’s issues and not hard reporting. As someone who recognizes the value of good investigative reporting, I tend to disagree. If anything, this widens the category of women writers, not narrows it. People will read good writers, and if it takes a sex column to find them, so be it.

I wonder more about the Carrie Effect when I look around the newsroom and see that it’s still mostly men old enough to be my father while my journalism classes scarcely had a male in them. I wonder how much longer we will be minorities.