In last week's column, I wrote about the importance of seeking out traditional journalism to get informed about issues, rather than relying on pundits and social media commentary. Journalists' job is to gather all the facts through researching documents and conducting interviews, and then provide an impartial account of that information, included with relevant background and context.
This week, I'd like to share some behind-the-scenes perspective on how journalists get trained and continue their education to carry out this work.
The mission of journalism, to provide the public accurate and thoroughly reported information, has remained constant. But the tools used to do the work change with advances in technology. The ethical issues evolve. The logistical and financial challenges ebb and flow. Stress management and morale require regular attention.
All of these issues and more were discussion topics last Saturday at a conference of more than 100 journalists and journalism students at Syracuse University, and many of the staffers from The Citizen's newsroom were active participants in the program.
I've been fortunate to serve on the board of directors for the New York State Associated Press Association, an organization that promotes and supports journalism on behalf of the news organizations in the state that are part of the AP cooperative. In that role, I got an amazing front-row seat into the planning of the 2019 State of the Field conference at SU's Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Starting at 8:30 a.m. and continuing through 4:30 p.m., these students and professionals gathered to learn from an amazing group of practicing journalists who came to central New York from around the country. The guest speakers included Dan Shelley, Radio Television and Digital News Association, and Al Tompkins, senior faculty with the Poynter Institute, two organizations at the forefront of journalism advocacy and innovation. We also had sessions and panel discussions with award-winning journalists from Denver, Orlando, Washington and New York City.
Two of The Citizen's award-winning journalists, photographer Kevin Rivoli and political reporter/online producer Robert Harding, were presenters in afternoon breakout sessions on photojournalism and beat reporting, respectively. Three of our news reporters — Megan Ehrhart, Ryan Franklin and Dan Orzechowski — spent the day learning as much as they could.
Of course, while this was all going on, other newsroom staffers were back in Cayuga County, reporting, writing, shooting photos and editing for our readers. Auburnpub.com was updated throughout the day Saturday and a robust Sunday print edition hit doorsteps and newsstands on Sunday.
Those of us who took part in State of the Field will be sharing our newly gained knowledge and insight with our colleagues, and we'll all have conversations about what we can do to get better at fulfilling our mission. And we will take part in similar training and exchanges again and again.
As someone who was there on Saturday, I came away incredibly proud to be a journalist, and to be practicing journalism with such a dedicated, talented and passionate group of colleagues here in Auburn.
Jeremy Boyer: Stay grounded with reported news, not punditry
A celebrity reports being the victim of a crime, an allegation that many national news media outlets quickly disseminate to their massive audiences. Soon other celebrities around the world and politicians are making statements about the alleged crime and in support of the celebrity. Pundits are talking about what the crime means in the larger context of the place where it was alleged to have occurred. Everyone is talking about it on their social media platforms.
And then it all begins to unravel. The allegation's validity begins to crumble. Surveillance footage brings authorities closer to the truth of what actually happened. Eventually it's revealed to have been a fabrication.
By now you can make a good guess of what I'm writing about. But if you thought it was the case of "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett and his claims to have been a victim of a hate-fueled attack in Chicago last month, you'd be wrong.
I was describing the story of Ryan Lochte. You remember him, right? He was the Olympic swimmer who in 2016 said he was robbed at gunpoint while out on the town in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, during the Olympics. Days after making his public claims, he was forced to admit he made it up.
I bring his story up as a way to discuss the backlash against the media's role in reporting on the Smollett case. Many people have been blasting the journalism industry for pushing Smollett's narrative, which Chicago police are now saying was a hoax. Smollett is facing charges for his false report.
There are two reasons I've referenced the Lochte case in thinking about the news media's role reporting the Smollett matter.
The first is simple: hoaxes like these happen from time to time. They've played out before Smollett and Lochte. They will likely happen again. Journalists are trained to be skeptical about everything, but when law enforcement authorities and other public officials are releasing public information — as they did in both of these cases in the earliest stages — journalists will report on it.
A key for all of us who read, listen to or watch the news is to pay attention to the source of the information and the specific wording that is used. When a news story states that "police said" something happened, take note that police are the source of the information. And when what police are saying is that they are "investigating a report," be mindful that doesn't mean they have arrived at a final conclusion about whether it happened or not.
With that foundation in place, I'll move on to my second observation about news media's role in the Lochte and Smollett cases. When it comes to staying grounded in the facts about where a developing story stands, turn to the journalists who are doing the actual reporting on it. The people who were talking directly to police in both of these stories were providing much more measured coverage than those who were speculating about it or spouting out opinions on cable TV shows and social media.
Way too often these days, people lump everything they see on their screen — celebrities and politicians making statements on Twitter, pundits arguing with each other on TV programs, opinion columnists on news websites — as being the product of journalism. But most of that is not real journalism. It's people reacting to journalism.
In some cases, there's value to these reactions. It can help us think about the news in different ways and perhaps inform how we react to what has been reported. But it's important to seek out the original journalism to have the proper factual foundation.
In the Smollett story in Chicago, if one were to have followed much of the reporting done by journalists covering crime in that city every day, they would have seen a methodical approach to the Smollett story that provided law enforcement-sourced facts as they became available. They would have gradually witnessed the story evolve. And they likely wouldn't have felt misled by the reporting, but rather fully informed about how it came to the point where it is today.
Jeremy Boyer: Wayne Brewer's love of nature came through in every column
For six years, I could always count on a couple of emails arriving on the final Thursday of the month. Wayne Brewer loved putting together the monthly Great Outdoors features we've been publishing without fail since February 2013. And he prided himself on getting them sent to me by his deadline.
Out of instinct, I'm probably going to be looking for that email next week, but then the realization will hit me, just like it has every day since last Friday, when I received a message that his wife, Linda, had called to tell me Wayne had passed away. I called back and she told me he had died suddenly in the hospital on Tuesday, Feb. 12. She and her family will still in disbelief.
But even in her state of grief, Linda couldn't help but laugh with me about how much Wayne loved that outdoors column. She joked about trying to get him out the door to go somewhere while he'd insist on making just a few more phone calls for his fishing forecast. It was clear that he put a lot of time into the package he prepared for our readers each month.
Linda also talked to me about his love of the outdoors, and how the column was a wonderful vehicle for him to share that love with others. Hearing that wasn't a surprise: his passion was clear in each piece he produced. And it stemmed from a distinguished career protecting our precious natural resources.
I'm not sure how many readers are aware, but Wayne was an environmental conservation officer who served at the highest levels of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Law Enforcement Division. He was a graduate of the FBI National Academy and earned a bachelor's degree from Cornell University and a master's from the University of Connecticut. As his career in law enforcement came to an end, getting into outdoors reporting and writing was a natural transition.
Wayne was an active member of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association, which has posted a tribute to him on its Facebook page. He is a past president of the group and was most recently serving as membership secretary.
Wayne actually started a column with The Citizen in 2005 but moved to a different opportunity closer to his Seneca Falls home a year later. Then in early 2013, he reached out to me with a proposal to start contributing to The Citizen again. As I said at the top, he's been a fixture for our Sunday readers for the six full years since that time.
When people think of an outdoors columnist, they probably think about pieces filled with tips and stories about hunting and fishing. Wayne provided that kind of content, but he also did so much more. His care and concern for the environment was a recurring theme, from writing about the impact of diverting DEC officers to details in New York City to advising people about the presence of abandoned oil wells in places where people might be hiking or hunting.
Wayne also was deeply committed to promoting outdoor sporting safety. From best practices while hunting for big game to his final piece filled with tips for staying safe while ice fishing, he devoted considerable space to giving readers helpful do's and don'ts so we all could enjoy being outside without putting ourselves or others in danger.
Above all else, Wayne was just a tremendously kind and pleasant person. On the phone, he always sounded like he was smiling. I'm lucky to have worked with him, and will certainly miss our monthly interactions. Our deepest condolences go out to his friends and family.
Jeremy Boyer: Newspapers in Education content hits full steam
The Citizen's Newspapers in Education program is in full swing, with subscriptions to the paper's print and digital products being supplied to hundreds of students in classrooms throughout the Cayuga County area.
It's a program made possible by reader and community donations, which we greatly appreciate. We feel strongly, perhaps more than ever, that becoming a habitual reader, listener or viewer of local news content is a big step toward helping young people learn about and, ultimately, help their communities.
In an effort to draw student readers and their teachers who signed up for our NIE subscriptions into the paper, we try to supply some customized educational content throughout the year. Two of the more robust months for that content are February and March, when we have Black History Month and Women's History Month profiles. Each of these profile subjects have strong connections to New York state.
Those profiles have kicked off the past two weeks with our publication of profiles of Sojourner Truth and John "Bud" Fowler. Two more profiles for Black History Month and then four profiles for Women's History Month will be appearing each Wednesday on page A9 of the print edition and at the Newspapers in Education Blog at auburnpub.com.
We also will be continuing our monthly history-themed NIE presentations later this month when we publish a feature on the 50th anniversary of the Feb. 24 Supreme Court decision Tinkers v. Des Moines, which solidified that students have First Amendment rights.
The content for these features comes from the terrific people at the New York News Publishers Association (disclosure: I serve on the board of that organization), who also believe strongly in the mission of news media literacy for our student population.
In addition to checking out the profiles, I encourage everyone to visit the association's Young Voices of New York website at www.yvnewyork.com. This is a website in which any student in New York age 13 or younger can contribute content. It's a fun way for them to get some experience writing and sharing their work with a statewide audience.
An updated mug
When I've been able to meet readers in person, one subject that has come up several times over the years is my column photograph. In a friendly way, the reader will say something like "You don't look like the picture that's in the paper." I may say, "No? Do I actually look worse or better?" And the response has almost always been a polite way of saying that the mugshot I've been using for probably a decade or more is not a flattering depiction of my appearance.
My wife has shared this thought with me on occasion, as well. And when that has happened, I'd mutter something about trying to get a new one done soon.
A few weeks ago, when the subject of my column photo came up — not in a good way — during a conversation she was having with some other people, she did what any spouse who needs to get things done would do: she went around me. All it took was a friendly message to our staff photographer, Kevin Rivoli, who subsequently made it clear to me that I had no choice but to sit down in front of his lens.
So about a week ago, I put a little extra effort into combing my hair before coming to the office and had Kevin take a new shot. You should be seeing the result in today's paper. Kevin always does an amazing job with every picture he shoots, but I'm sure this wasn't the best material he's had to work with. I'll leave it up to you to decide if the new me is an improvement.
Jeremy Boyer: Take time to get facts and context
In the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, we took our children to Washington, D.C., and, for the first time in their young lives, one of the sites we walked down the National Mall to see was the Lincoln Memorial.
It had been many years since I had been there myself. For all of us, it was a powerful moment to look up at the giant figure sitting in that chair with the words above him:
IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER
Minutes later, we would visit the National Museum of American History and stand within inches of a hat the Abraham Lincoln wore. A bunch of feelings washed over us. Awe at what we were seeing, gratefulness that we could visit these places, sadness that the man who played such a prominent role in saving the country from internal destruction was brutally assassinated.
For me, though, one feeling stood out among all others. And it may sound corny to some. But that feeling was pride in being an American. That's because as I was visiting our capital that day, I was constantly reminded of the incredible challenges we've faced as a nation and how we've always found a way, however imperfectly and indirectly, to eventually move forward in a positive direction.
I've been thinking about that visit the past couple of days as I try to process the the coverage of and reactions to the incident that happened Saturday near the Lincoln Memorial. Video went viral showing a group of Catholic high school boys in town for the March for Life rally wearing pro-Trump clothing surrounding and appearing to jeer a Native American who was there for the Indigenous Peoples March. Social media blew up with hot takes condemning the students, and news media picked up the story to describe the video and the reaction. The boys' school and the local diocese sent out a statement apologizing for the incident and pledging to take action.
But soon more video emerged, showing the students had been subjected to taunts and harassment from a different group, black men identifying themselves as Hebrew Israelites. And it showed the Native American man, who said he was trying to be a peacemaker in the situation, contributed to the situation by moving toward the students. Just as quickly as Saturday's hot takes condemning the students exploded onto the scene, new outrage was being expressed by people saying the media fabricated the incident, calling it "fake news" and blasting liberals for their attacks on these young Christian men who did nothing wrong. More than a handful of media stories came out about that reaction. And then people reacted to the media reaction on both sides. Politicians and PR firms dove into the fray. As I'm writing on a Wednesday afternoon, it's still a full-fledged national argument.
One thing that's become clear is that a combination of our bitterly divided nation and the viral nature of social media has taken an incident that in the recent past would have likely never been known about by the public and turned it into a national shouting match. And it all started in the shadows of Abraham Lincoln's magnificent memorial to national unity.
Some may read this as a lame "both sides" column. The truth is that I'm not writing about what happened on the mall that day. My bigger worry is what has happened to our collective ability in 2019 to process information with the patience required to get a full picture before launching into our instinctual nature to demonstrate our outrage.
It's a bad formula for this nation, and one that's making it so much harder for American to move forward toward become a better and more just country, like it has through so many other profoundly difficult times in our history.
Jeremy Boyer: All jobs deserve elevated protection
For those of us who work in the American journalism industry, the past couple of years have brought some disturbing headlines.
Amid the most heated political climate in decades and with a president who has frequently labeled reporters as public enemies, there have been real-life examples of violence and threats of violence against the news media in the United States.
There was the member of Congress in Montana who assaulted a reporter for asking him about health care, the Florida man charged with mailing crude bombs to news agencies and political figures and a California man charged with threatening to shoot reporters at the Boston Globe.
And we all were horrified by the mass killing of journalists last June by an angry reader of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland.
With those and other incidents in mind, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to increase criminal penalties in New York state for people convicted of assaulting working journalists. The proposal in the executive budget elevates an assault against a journalist from a misdemeanor to a class D felony.
"Reporters have a tough enough job as it and it is unacceptable and unconscionable that they increasingly have to endure the threat of physical harm for just for doing their jobs," Cuomo said in a press release announcing the proposal this week. "While the current federal administration is fostering an environment that normalizes and even encourages attacks on the press, New York is taking a stand. It is my hope that other states join us in enacting these protections into law once and for all."
I've used this space on occasion to chastise the governor for a lack of openness and accessibility with the news media from time to time, but today I want to thank him and the members of his administration for deciding to make this proposal and taking this vocal stance in support of journalists. My hope is that it has bipartisan support in the Legislature and does become law.
Journalists wouldn't be the first profession with some level of elevated protection in New York state. Similar laws exist protecting law enforcement personnel, nurses, utility workers, emergency medical technicians and process servers.
All of these jobs, by their nature, have the potential to bring a level of conflict with other people into play. We've long dealt with conflict in the news business. People can become very upset with journalists for stories they report or questions they ask. But until the recent high-profile violence or attempted violence, I never heard much discussion about stiffer penalties for crimes against news media professionals.
It makes me wonder. What's the next profession that will surface as needing extra deterrent from potential attackers? It's a troubling question to ponder, and sadly, I'm afraid we all could come up with a long list.
With that in mind, I'd encourage the governor and the Legislature to consider going beyond the much-appreciated proposal for the journalism industry. There's no reason any person should be subjected to violence or physical threats just for lawfully doing their jobs. Let's protect the working public a little better, and maybe we can all feel a little safer on the job.