So many sports news choices. Here's one you can skip.

Occasionally I like to highlight recent interesting research into journalism because, frankly, academic researchers do a poor job of delivering findings in understandable and widespread form to the practitioners who would benefit from them.

 Sports fans, do you know what rare event occurs this week, beginning tonight? It’s the only week of the year when all four major U.S. professional sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL) are scheduled to play. Not to mention college football, in case any of you happen to be interested in that. So you’ll have a lot of choices for watching live sports this week, just as you (always) have a lot of choices in where to get your sports news.

The trend of sports organizations hiring professional sports journalists started in earnest in about 2000 when the Cincinnati Bengals hired a newspaper beat writer who had been covering the team to write for the team’s website, according to researcher Michael Mirer.

The trend of sports organizations hiring professional sports journalists started in earnest in about 2000 when the Cincinnati Bengals hired a newspaper beat writer who had been covering the team to write for the team’s website, according to researcher Michael Mirer.

For coverage that goes beyond live action and results, you can turn to traditional, daily local news organizations or to newer, digital-only outlets such as The Athletic that emphasize long-form enterprise angles. There are also fan blogs but they usually just riff on other media reports. Another source has emerged in the past two decades: Websites published by leagues and teams themselves. But think for a moment. Do you really want to depend on an outlet that’s satisfied to report only the obvious daily news and that won’t report negative off-field news unless it’s already public? Well, actually, the answer is maybe.

Seeking professional competence and an image of legitimacy, these websites are increasingly hiring former journalists (and sadly there are many in the job market). Based on interviews with 24 of these in-house reporters working for either pro teams or major-college athletic departments, researcher Michael Mirer of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee reported in a recent issue of the Journal of Media Ethics ($) that these reporters still consider themselves journalists who follow customary journalistic practices.

They say they publish only truthful stories, and argue that their predominantly factual presentations are superior to a lot of today’s sports journalism that prefers attention-getting hot takes over factual reporting. They criticize the publication of errors and rumors by independent sports writers. They believe they bring more “civility” to sports reporting.

But Mirer cites inevitable departures from best practices. In-house writers report news only when their team or league is ready for publication. Their scope of news is limited to happenings of the team, not any related community or social issues that might arise. They present negative performance not with their own analysis but by citing statistics and letting coaches provide the analysis. “In-house reporters do engage in a public relations function,” Mirer writes. Ideal sports journalism this isn’t.

The researcher, though, concludes with a surprising suggestion for independent sports reporters. He argues that independent reporters can’t match the access and therefore the effectiveness of in-house writers in presenting the basic, daily news of the team. So he suggests that independent reporters should play a distinctive and necessary role that in-house reporters never will, which is to concentrate on “more socially aware sports journalism.”

While standard stories may remain part of the repertoire, Mirer advocates to prioritize attention to how a sports team affects a community, and how sports inevitability reflect and raise the endless social issues of today. He writes: “Independent sports journalism should view sports as the civic, cultural and economic institutions they are. It should examine the way events within athletics dramatize key social issues or serve as an entry point to societal-level discussions on issues of race, gender, crime, domestic violence, childhood development community investment, economics and others.”

Today’s sports media do more of that kind of work than ever before. But more is needed, and it would get an audience if done well. Personally, though, I have no interest in leaving any part of my sports news to team websites, no matter how those writers view and execute their role. The potential issues with the credibility and integrity of the information are just too troubling.

 

Charles Hollis: Still picking, grinning and winning

Thank you to Mark Mayfield and Meredith Cummings for inviting me to talk sports on the campus radio station, 90.7 The Capstone (WVUA-FM). On the taped show that aired Saturday, we talked about the state of sports journalism today, Jalen Hurts, California’s new economic freedoms for college athletes, and I tried to say as many mean and hurtful things as I could about the NCAA. Then I did my first public college football predictions since 1995. I ended up doing slightly better than a blindfolded monkey picking games by dart throws. (Note to self: Zero correlation between team uniform color and game result.)

 We used to do weekly “staff picks” at The Birmingham News. My first year as sports editor, when I knew nothing about the X’s and O’s of college football, I finished third in the department. The next year, when I thought I had learned something, I finished 11th. I promptly killed the staff picks. And ended up creating a legend.

 Charles Hollis is a sports journalism legend for other reasons, of course. He’s in the Alabama Sports Writer Hall of Fame. But he began doing a full column of weekly picks and analysis in 1996. He’s still doing it today. (And get this: This year he produced his 36th consecutive version of the very well-known Birmingham News Spring SEC Football Report, exactly half of its existence.) 

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Some fans think ability to correctly predict game outcomes is one measure of a good (or bad) sports writer. It isn’t. Picks are purely for entertainment (with “entertainment” broadly defined to include helping bettors decide where to place their illegal bets). Mere fun or not, I’ve been perpetually amazed at Charles’ career win percentage. He tells me it’s about 73 percent for regular-season games. That track record is not because he picks chalk. He predicts several upsets every week – did you nail Purdue over Ohio State last year? – and he includes games involving lower-division teams in the state for which there are far fewer scouting and injury reports floating around on the internet. He does not count losing teams that beat the spread as a victory, either.

He does so well because he understands the key to smart picks: Reporting. Along with voluminous online reading, Charles talks to team beat writers and has connections and a reputation that allow him to confidentially pick the brains of real football coaches. In January, Charles got a lot of flak for bucking the trend and picking Clemson over Alabama in the national title game (which is what happened). But he had talked to a member of the Clemson coaching staff, who made persuasive observations, such as Alabama’s likely inability to generate a pass rush and the height of Clemson receivers. That’s how you nail a pick. 

Forecasting college football games ain’t easy, because there’s no accounting for teenagers, emotions or idiot coaches. But everyone tries. Only a few, though, do it in front of a mass audience for 24 years. “I remain amazed that I’m still doing it,” he said of his “silly column.”

Alabama might have legal sports betting someday (Mississippi already does). Reliable picking would become an even more valuable service. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Charles Hollis is still there to do it.

NY Times keeps making people mad

It must be frustrating for The New York Times to do such exceptional journalism (for instance, here and here) and then to get beaten up mercilessly on social media because of its handling of a routine story. It’s a reminder that, of course, there’s really no such thing as a routine story, especially if you live in the middle of a political maelstrom, as the Times does every day.

 The Times is catching some heat for its headlining and framing of a Wednesday story about contact between the Ukraine whistleblower and Congressman Adam Schiff. Some supporters of President Trump, who likely would have done this no matter how the story was presented, are distorting the article as evidence of collusion between the whistleblower and Schiff.

 This unfairness aside, there’s no question the Times is having a real bad run lately. It has gotten justified public criticism for, among other things:

  • A Sunday Review story about a book written by two Times reporters on Brett Kavanaugh. The story omitted facts reported in the book that lessened the credibility of a new sexual assault accusation against Kavanaugh. The Times compounded matters with a promotional tweet that described an act of sexual assault as “harmless fun.”

  • The childish public reaction by a Times opinion writer to a reader’s social media insult, including a complaint made to the reader’s boss.

  • An unquestioning, stenographic headline on a story about President Trump’s nationally televised remarks on racism following mass shooting in Dayton and El Paso. The headline had to be changed between editions.

  • An anti-Semitic cartoon that appeared in the Times’ international edition.

THE ONION TAKES A SHOT AT THE New York TIMES FOR ITS STORY REPORTING SOME FACTS ABOUT THE UKRAINE WHISTLEBLOWER.  here’s a link TO THE ONION .

THE ONION TAKES A SHOT AT THE New York TIMES FOR ITS STORY REPORTING SOME FACTS ABOUT THE UKRAINE WHISTLEBLOWER. here’s a link TO THE ONION.

But the scorn, and the Twitter hashtag #CancelNYT, skyrocketed when the Times published some details regarding the identity of the Ukraine whistleblower. (Birmingham connection: The lead byline on the first version of the story belonged to former Birmingham News reporter Adam Goldman.) The Times reported that the whistleblower is a CIA officer who had been assigned to the White House but was no longer there. It also used the male pronoun. Critics claimed the Times acted recklessly, jeopardizing the anonymity and therefore the safety of the individual, as well as spooking possible future whistleblowers. Philadelphia Inquirer national opinion columnist Will Bunch (another former Birmingham News reporter) repeated his call for Times executive editor Dean Baquet to resign.

The Times countered that the revelations were limited and that the White House already knew the person worked for the CIA. Indeed, as I write this more than a week later, the public still does not know the identity of the whistleblower, though Trump loyalists are dearly trying to find out. Further, the Times argued, the information was relevant because it helps the public assess the person’s basis of knowledge and therefore his credibility. The Times said his employment by a nonpolitical agency was made relevant by Trump’s claim that the person’s actions were “a political hack job.” And the inspector general’s office for the intelligence community concluded the whistleblower had “arguable political bias.”

The Times’ logic would be slam-dunk persuasive had there been more of an information vacuum about the whistleblower’s complaint. But a lot of key points needed to decide how much legitimacy to accord to his account were already known: The whistleblower got his information about Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president second hand. But more notably, his account had already earned credibility because the inspector general deemed it so, and it also impressively matched the approximate recounting of the phone call released by the White House. So how much more did we really need to know about the whistleblower?

It’s a good argument against the Times’ disclosures. But I believe, as the Times did, that on matters of such importance, with credibility so essential to public evaluation, that more facts make better civics. To suggest that the public already knew enough about the whistleblower to invalidate the Times’ decision to publish more runs counter to journalistic principles. I would, though, as the Times believes it did, stop short of revelations that could put the whistleblower’s peace and safety at risk.

While I argue for the relevance of measures of credibility, I argue the contrary regarding evidence of the whistleblower’s political bias. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the truth of his account. It’s a parallel to reporters and sources. A reporter should always be mindful of a source’s possible political agenda, but in the end truth renders it irrelevant.

Which brings up an odd twist in this episode: If the whistleblower had become a New York Times anonymous source instead of going through internal government channels, the Times would be aghast at cracks in confidentiality.

 

 

Five ways for professors and students not to drive each other crazy

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The relationship between professors and students, usually, is a good one. Professors offer students a chance to learn cool stuff, and students give professors their attention and hard work (thank you!). I’ve also come to appreciate the semester-to-semester differences among classes in their backgrounds, perspectives and interests, which keeps each course new and fresh for professors, even if it’s their umpteenth go-round for that course.

 In sum, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. But it would be nice if annoying, frustrating, maddening little things didn’t occasionally (and very temporarily) get in the way. With the current semester still just getting started, I offer five agreements for professors and students so that they don’t drive each other absolutely bonkers by the time the semester ends. I can’t speak for all professors, of course, but I suspect most would find these expectations of them to be reasonable. And students, I fear some of these might come as a huge surprise to you:

5. Your professors will learn your names. In exchange, please address them the way they request to be addressed.

4. Your professors will teach interesting material. You will stay off your cellphones.

3. Your professors will dismiss you on time. You will show up on time.

2. Your professors will respond to your emails (usually within 8 to 48 hours). You will write your emails to show you know what punctuation and capitalization are. And “Hey” is not a salutation.

1. Your professors will answer your questions. Please do not ask questions that are clearly, positively, unequivocally answered in the syllabus. Please. PLEASE!

 This has been a public service announcement.

Journalists' tweets, even old ones, are fair game

CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins, a University of Alabama graduate

CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins, a University of Alabama graduate

The recent news that political supporters of President Trump have been searching social media channels for offensive posts by journalists who work for certain national media brought understandable alarm and companion rhetoric from the targeted organizations. Media objections that such dirt digging intends to punish and discourage aggressive reporting are correct, but the better response would have been: “Have at it, and let us know if you find anything.”

 The New York Times, one of the outlets in the crosshairs of this campaign, reported on Page 1 on Aug. 25 that a friend and adviser to Donald Trump Jr. and other allies of the current administration have scoured social media feeds as far back as a decade and have supposedly compiled “dossiers” on “hundreds” of journalists at prominent organizations. So far, the group has revealed offending remarks -- anti-Semitic or homophobic, for instance -- by journalists at The Times, The Washington Post and CNN, resulting in professional embarrassment, apologies and one resignation. Notably, the most recent of the remarks is eight years old. Two cases involve tweets made in college and one involves tweets made as a teenager. (One of the cases involves tweets by CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins in 2011 when she attended the University of Alabama.)

Among the many anti-press tactics within our current political environment, this one may not even be top 10. There certainly is an element of unfairness to dredging up such distant words, and there certainly is zero chance that this group of operatives will present its revelations with all the warranted context of age and meaning. But the public communications of journalists are fair game.

It would be hypocritical to think otherwise. The long-ago statements and actions of political candidates and elected officials have been standard and justified topics for the media for decades. I recognize that journalists didn’t proffer themselves for votes, nor do they make policy or spend your tax money. But as do politicians, they hold a role of public trust. Character therefore matters.

The industry realizes this. “Journalists should abide by the same high standards they expect of others,” says the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists. Concern for public trust also helps to explain why news organizations are swift to investigate and adjudicate cases within their ranks (though they don’t always get it right). And though this seems to merely hide rather than root out a potential problem, this is why organizations have restrictive policies on what their employees can say on social media.

 I would never suggest there are no bigots among mainstream journalists. I do believe, though, that by the nature of its calling, the field does not reflect the degree of hate that lies within segments of the American population as a whole. The uncovered “opposition research” may involve lesser failings than bigotry, of course -- perhaps conflicts of interest or other lack of adherence to industry best practices. Nonetheless, I do not believe Trump allies are armed with “dossiers” of damaging evidence on “hundreds” of journalists. It’s a bluff. If and when more of this purported treasure-trove of mud gets revealed, I’d wager it’ll be exaggerated or forgivable.

 Doesn’t mean journalists shouldn’t be mindful, though. Social media, as too many people have learned the hard way, is permanent and potentially deadly to a professional, especially when political partisans are hankering for a killing.

 

For my generation, the generation that came of age in the internet, all the youthful mistakes that you made get preserved in digital amber, and no matter how much you change and mature and grow up, it’s always out there, waiting to be discovered.
— Tom Wright-Piersanti, a New York Times politics editor whose decade-old anti-Semitic tweets were recirculated

Some good, and bad, advice for starting college

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School at the University of Alabama and elsewhere begins Wednesday, and I came across a Twitter thread that exploded on my feed. Stacey J. Spiehler of Oxford, Miss., asked for best advice for someone starting as a college freshman (which she is doing as what we euphemistically call a “nontraditional” student, aka old enough to be everyone else’s parent).

Here are five pieces of advice from the thread that are correct:

  • “It's a clean slate, socially and academically. Nobody cares who was popular in high school.”

  • “Learn to write well. It is a lifetime art that will separate you from the pack.”

  • “Do the readings. And go to class even if you haven’t: Strange, wonderful things happen in class discussions.”

  • “Befriend people who grew up in worlds wildly different than yours — nothing will open your mind more.“

  • “Just because everyone around you is drunk doesn't mean you have to be.”

And here are five pieces that are wrong:

  • “Don’t let them know you’re a conservative or you won’t graduate.”

  • “Use upperclassmen as advisors because the university advisors are 9/10 times likely to be useless.”

  • “Study like hell this year and next, so that you build your GPA. Then you can slack off your senior year and cruise.”

  • “Every professor has a system. You can go to every class and read every word assigned but it won't matter at all if you haven't figured out their system. Gaming the system is what tests are all about. Like it or not.”

  • “Don’t ever take 8am classes if you don’t have to after your freshman year.”

I’ll add my five best pieces of advice:

  • Lectures and class assignments are awesome. But one real-world internship is worth 20 of them.

  • If college doesn’t ever cause at least a moment of doubt about your chosen major or career, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Take advantage of professors’ office hours. You’re not annoying them. Honest.

  • Don’t freak out if you don’t understand academic articles. They’re intentionally written to be incomprehensible.

  • You took an enrollment spot from someone who wanted to be here. You have an obligation to act like it.

No more lectures, try TV shows instead

A scene from HBO’s “The Newsroom.”  (PHOTO CREDIT: MELISSA MOSELEY/HBO)

A scene from HBO’s “The Newsroom.”

(PHOTO CREDIT: MELISSA MOSELEY/HBO)

One of my recent blog posts mockingly suggested using a crap TV show as a classroom teaching tool. Well, I came across a recently published academic article that seriously and persuasively endorses the concept of achieving more impactful teaching by indeed letting students watch TV shows. They’d probably love that. 

 Aimed at instructors of journalism ethics such as myself, the article ($) by Laveda J. Peterlin of the University of Saint Mary (Kansas) and Jonathan Peters of the University of Georgia (who also writes excellent articles on press freedom for the Columbia Journalism Review) specifically endorses incorporating viewings of the fictional HBO series “The Newsroom.” That show was created by Aaron Sorkin and ran for three seasons (2012-2014).

Going episode by episode through season one, the researchers identified multiple ethical dilemmas and journalistic debates posed in the show that could serve as talking points and educational lessons for students. In one story thread, for instance, the business reporter clamors for more attention to the federal debt ceiling debate, which runs counter to the cable network’s push for higher ratings. In the end, the anchor asks the producer to throw out the planned story lineup for that night and lead instead with the debt ceiling. The gathered staff applauds. Other issues tackled in The Newsroom’s first season include protection of confidential sources, doing business with boyfriends/girlfriends, advertiser influence, the consequences of zealous artificial balance, anonymous online posts, and speed versus accuracy when news breaks. All good and necessary stuff to think about.

The article’s authors correctly point out that “The Newsroom” offered a highly idealistic version of journalism, and that, based on commentaries written at the time, most journalists in the business deemed it as preachy and inaccurate. (I liked the show, and believe high-minded portrayals can serve as occasional reminders of aspirations. But yeah, a couple of times I wanted to punch a character in the face.) The negativity from the profession eventually got to the point that, in an interview in 2014, Sorkin “apologized” and said he wasn’t trying to tell journalists how to do their jobs.

Still, the academic article’s authors view this show and others as providing an “innovative, rich learning experience,” and a natural one. “Today, many college students grew up watching and learning from television,” they write. I’m good with this idea, but do you think I’d ruin the whole thing by picking “Lou Grant” instead? (Young people, Google it.)

Investigative reporting must overcome obstacles from without and within

This week’s child sex trafficking charges against wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein are a testament to the impact of investigative reporting, in this case by determined journalists from The Miami Herald, who dug through documents, tracked down victims and told a story not only of horrendous crimes but also of enablers and leniency from the court system. It wasn’t easy. Investigative journalism never is. And alarmingly, it’s getting harder to do.

Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown talks with host Brian Stelter on CNN’s Reliable Sources show.

Miami Herald investigative reporter Julie K. Brown talks with host Brian Stelter on CNN’s Reliable Sources show.

 In a way, all news reporting is investigative. But the label customarily applies to in-depth, time-consuming stories that expose some previously unknown instance of wrongdoing or injustice that someone in power wishes to remain secret. In some places, thankfully, this kind of work is becoming more common, as new organizations recognize it not only as fulfillment of civic mission but also as an effective way to gain subscribers and reputation. The Washington Post, for instance, announced last month it is adding 10 positions devoted to investigative journalism in multiple newsroom departments. Membership in the national trade organization Investigative Reporters & Editors stands at an all-time high. Matthew Purdy, who oversees investigations at The New York Times, told The Associated Press: “With the attacks on the press and on facts, there has been a reinvigoration of the investigative mission of journalism. I don’t mean just at the Times but across the industry.” 

 But that does not tell the whole story. Uncovering malfeasance is becoming more difficult for multiple reasons. Start with rising government restrictions on access to information (laws and court rulings), non-compliance with open-records statutes, and threats of costly lawsuits by news subjects. Further, the boffo investigations by major national outlets are not being replicated to the same extent at the local and regional levels. The well-documented shrinkage of newsrooms across the U.S. has taken a big bite out of community watchdog journalism, reflected not only in fewer staff to do the job but also in newsroom priorities.

 Most newsrooms seek to do investigations, but internal considerations often get in the way. It is not easy for a small or medium-sized organization to decide that one or more reporters should spend weeks or months working on a single story when other, basic stories beg for coverage, the website and social media channels demand new posts constantly, and the newsroom’s web metrics look a little low this month. But it can be done.

Moments after then-colleague Brett Blackledge, now the editor of The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, Louisiana, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting while working at The Birmingham News, he was asked in front of the gathered newsroom about the keys to such an accomplishment. His first reply: “Three months without a byline.” On the Epstein story, Herald lead reporter Julie K. Brown worked on her centerpiece story for 18 months. But those confounding internal pressures. To wit: According to a New York Times story, Brown’s collaborator, visual journalist Emily Michot, “sometimes returned from a wrenching interview with one of Mr. Epstein’s accusers and was immediately assigned something unrelated, like a piece about the most outrageous food available at a county fair.”

 Investigations cost money, too, and that’s not something that local and regional news companies have a lot of. Note this part of the Times’ story about the Herald’s work: “The two reporters tried to keep costs down by renting less-expensive rooms at Airbnbs, booking low-cost flights and occasionally not filing expenses.” The barriers to publication aren’t all external. Sometimes they’re cost-conscious managers in the same office.

 Some painstaking investigative reporting never makes it to publication. Occasionally, sadly, presumed legal consequences or political connections keep it in the dark. But sometimes it’s for journalistic reasons: The story hunch was wrong or just couldn’t be supported sufficiently to meet legal and journalistic standards. So the effort goes dormant, with hope for a new development someday. That’s the responsible decision, but a tough moment nonetheless.

 When all those hours, dollars, sacrificed bylines and lost page views end up producing nothing publishable, the key question is how will a news outlet react going forward. For the sake of an informed community and the public service obligation of journalism, I hope the reaction of everyone in the room is, “Well, damn. Now let’s go try another one.”

A new way to teach sports journalism, inspired by a really bad example

With an assist from Fox Sports, I am thinking about revamping the way I teach my sports writing class. Here’s the idea:

  • Cancel all classes except the first and last ones

  • Cancel all readings and all assignments except for one

  • The lone assignment is that students must watch every minute of Fox Sports’ “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” sports talk show starring Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe

  • On the last day of class, I walk in, look every student in the eyes and dramatically intone: “Don’t. You. DARE. Do. ANYTHING. That. Skip. Bayless. Does. Ever.” Then I walk out.

I think it would be the most effective sports writing class ever.

Here, Skip Bayless slams Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors for not trying to play with an injury that turned out to be a torn ACL.

Here, Skip Bayless slams Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors for not trying to play with an injury that turned out to be a torn ACL.

Here, Bayless predicts the future and brands Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors as a quitter because he might exercise his free agent right to play elsewhere. When you seek to be constantly controversial for the mere sake of being constantly controversial – because you have no other act -- you cannot have credibility. Add in loudness and pomposity, and you become odious beyond tolerance.

Here, Bayless predicts the future and brands Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors as a quitter because he might exercise his free agent right to play elsewhere. When you seek to be constantly controversial for the mere sake of being constantly controversial – because you have no other act -- you cannot have credibility. Add in loudness and pomposity, and you become odious beyond tolerance.

Young journalists' survival skill: Shrug off the layoff

Part of the outrage associated with the numbingly constant announcements of layoffs in the field of journalism is the public spin offered by the perpetrating executives. You know, “reallocating resources” or “repositioning for the future” or (insert your own example here). This may have reached a new level of insult last week when the CEO of GateHouse Media’s parent company described layoffs at at least 60 of the chain’s 157 newsrooms as “immaterial.”  He meant that the number, which the company has not disclosed, is only a small fraction of the GateHouse workforce. But try telling that to someone who suddenly has no job.

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 The comment was a moment of insight into how GateHouse, MediaNews Group and other corporations that buy and slash newspapers view the value of their journalists. GateHouse, faced with revenue and stock price declines, has already had a previous round of at least 60 layoffs in 2019. It’s playing a numbers game with every disappointing quarterly financial report, apparently. A different executive said the company this time was targeting editors because they are not content producers, and that it will hire some new reporters. This has been a favored practice among retreating organizations. Its consequences are always underestimated, and more importantly, GateHouse’s moves will produce a large net loss of newsroom personnel.

 It was remarkable also that the CEO initially attempted to claim that actual layoffs (as opposed to reassignments) would amount to only 10. Did he think no one would find out? Using public posts on social media, plus emails and texts, it took one journalist only a couple of days to peg the number of GateHouse layoffs at at least 160. There are reasons that newsroom layoffs take place in the online public square. It helps, of course, to get a morale boost from social media friends at a tough moment, and it’s an immediate head start on the next job opportunity. But equally significant is the journalists’ desire to make sure the whole world understands the damage being done to journalistic quality, product worthiness and public knowledge.

 The GateHouse layoffs, disappointingly, affected The Tuscaloosa News. Two excellent sports writers who cover UA athletics were dismissed, including one who was a standout sports journalism student of mine. That’s the thing about further reducing staff when the newsroom has already shrunk: The only choices left are talented people who do necessary jobs .

 Occasionally I talk to my students about the realities of job security in the field. I always ask them: “If you got laid off, could you deal with it?” Almost invariably, remarkably, their answer is yes. Maybe it’s their idealism, or their self-confidence, or their life flexibility at that age. They might not attach a stigma to it (and considering the number of good, undeserving people to whom this has happened, I think they’re correct). It’s much harder for veterans who have given pieces of their heart to a company and to a mission and whose work has come to define a big part of their identity. I’m glad my students have that attitude, because this is a sad, continuing drumbeat in an industry that is still trying to figure out a plan to survive.