By: Dave Astor
Mike Leonard had been a loyal member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for 15 years when NSNC leaders started talking about him behind his back in 2000. But they weren’t saying negative things.
“They decided they wanted someone with deep roots in the group to become vice president and then president two years later,” Leonard recalled. “I knew nothing about it!”
He knows plenty about it now, as The Herald-Times of Bloomington, Ind., columnist recently became president of the 400-member organization.
The NSNC was started in 1977 by a small group of white men. Today, as America’s columnists have diversified in ethnicity and gender, NSNC leadership reflects this. Leonard noted that Vice President Suzette Martinez Standring of the Milton (Mass.) Times is of Filipino descent, Treasurer Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is African American, Executive Director Luenna Kim is of Korean heritage, and 2003 Conference Chair Ernesto Portillo, Jr. of The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson is of Latino descent.
“Somehow we’ve ended up with a very diverse group,” said Leonard, who expressed pleasure with this development.
Diversity will be one of the discussion themes of the NSNC’s next annual conference slated for June 19-22 in Tucson. The NSNC is also holding an “Ethics and Excellence in Column Writing” seminar Nov. 1-3 in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Advocacy Also On the Agenda
But meetings are only part of what Leonard and the NSNC do. Defending columnists is another. For instance, Leonard released a strong statement criticizing the San Francisco Chronicle‘s actions in ending Stephanie Salter’s column (Syndicate World, Sept. 9).
“We don’t presume to deny publishers and editors the right to manage their newspapers as they see fit,” said Leonard. “But we’re not going to give up our First Amendment right to say we don’t agree with decisions.”
He did agree with the Chicago Tribune‘s mid-September decision to ask Bob Greene to resign after Greene admitted having sexual contact with a high-school girl in 1988. Leonard noted that, since reports indicate the girl approached the newspaper for help with a journalism project, the situation wasn’t strictly a personal matter and thus the Tribune had the right to make an ethics ruling about it. Greene, 55, who has been married since 1971, also reportedly wrote about the girl in his column.
“With a public persona comes responsibility,” said Leonard. “Unfortunately, Bob’s judgment was apparently clouded in this case.”
He did add that the NSNC is “saddened to see someone who has been such a good writer and done so many good things end his Tribune career this way.” And Leonard concluded: “I do hope that the media haters will take notice that our profession takes ethics very seriously.”
Underwriting For Overhead
Leonard and the NSNC are also continuing to work to bolster the organization’s finances by seeking foundation money and other kinds of underwriting.
“We need to keep the dues low [currently $35 a year] to stay broad-based,” said Leonard. “We don’t want to just be for the elite columnists.”
Some of America’s most widely syndicated writers have come to NSNC meetings — mostly as speakers and honorees — but attendees are usually local columnists from various-size newspapers, and freelance and self-syndicated columnists.
“Very few people leave without being energized by the conference topics and the congeniality of the group,” said Leonard.
The NSNC president noted that columnists have an important role to play. “They’re quite often the liaison between the reader and the rest of the newspaper,” he said. “Having that local voice there — that face and a personality – means so much to the reader.”
Being a local voice doesn’t just mean commenting on local issues. Leonard said many readers want to at least occasionally hear what unsyndicated columnists have to say about Sept. 11, President Bush, a possible war with Iraq, etc.
Leonard, 47, focuses on national issues at least 20% of the time in his general-interest column, which includes commentary, people pieces, humor, and more. He has done the feature since 1985, and has also worked as a music columnist and education reporter for the Herald-Times.
The Indiana native does his column three times a week, and also writes a weekly piece that focuses on music, opera, ballet, or other arts-related topics.
Second Rally Supports Salter
But ‘Chron’ Says Column Not Returning
About 100 people attended a Sept. 24 rally in San Francisco protesting the ending of Stephanie Salter’s San Francisco Chronicle column. A previous support-Salter rally was held on Aug. 28.
A coalition of media, women’s, union, and other groups is asking the Chronicle to reinstate the column by Salter, a progressive writer reassigned to a reporting position. More than 1,500 e-mails have criticized the paper’s decision.
“We have been so encouraged by the overwhelming response to the call for Ms. Salter’s return,” said Jeff Perlstein, executive director of the Media Alliance in San Francisco. Lani Silver, another coalition member, added: “A lot of the media doesn’t cover what should be covered. Stephanie does.”
But Chronicle Director of Public Relations Joe Brown said: “The rally won’t have an influence on the newspaper’s decision to change a writer’s assignment. … Demonstrations are not an uncommon occurrence at our newspaper, as at many others, and while we welcome and listen to the expression of opinion, we don’t base our decisions on outside pressure.”
Chronicle Editorial Page Editor John Diaz, in explaining the Salter decision several weeks ago, said the paper’s Op-Ed pages need to be “less predictable” and that there are still liberal voices in the mix.
Salter’s 16-year-old column was syndicated by the Hearst and Scripps Howard news services.
Correction: Perlstein said he was misquoted in E&P magazine’s Sept. 16 article about the support-Salter efforts. He said the Chronicle has returned coalition phone calls.
King Creator King Of Comics
Jerry Scott Wins Another Award
In the comic world, 2002 is the year of Jerry Scott.
The cartoonist received the Swedish Academy of Comic Art’s Adamson Statuette as “Best International Comic-Strip Artist” for his work on “Baby Blues,” which he co-creates with Rick Kirkman.
Scott, who also co-creates the “Zits” strip with Jim Borgman, won the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award as “Cartoonist of the Year” this spring.
“Zits” this year reached the 1,000-client mark, while “Baby Blues” runs in nearly 800 newspapers. Both comics are distributed by King Features Syndicate.
‘Committed’ Coming To TV
Comic-Based Show Starts Oct. 6
“Committed,” a half-hour animated series based on the syndicated comic of the same name, premieres Oct. 6 on WE: Women’s Entertainment.
The TV show — which focuses on a family — features the voices of Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and Dave Foley.
Michael Fry’s comic panel appears in more than 110 papers via United Media.
Two Comics, One Campaign
Crossover Sequence By Holbrook
Bill Holbrook will have a special crossover storyline in his two King Features Syndicate comics in October.
The cartoonist explained: “In ‘Safe Havens,’ Samantha’s mother has been running for state senate during the past year. With two weeks to go before Election Day, her opponent — N. Ron Shredder — will flee the country under the threat of arrest. He’ll be replaced by a new opponent: Rose Trellis of ‘On the Fastrack.'”
Holbrook’s crossover will feature a debate between the candidates, with the same events depicted in each comic from a different perspective.
Also, each strip has a new book coming this fall from Plan Nine Publishing: Over the Swing (“Safe Havens”) and The Best Christmas Ever (“Fastrack”).
Duffy Doing a Second Comic
‘Figure’ Joins ‘Fusco’ In Cartoon Canon
J.C. Duffy has created “Go Figure,” a United Media comic panel that stars a psychiatrist with daffy patients and a daffy family.
Duffy also does “The Fusco Brothers” comic for Universal Press Syndicate.
Et cetera …
The FBI confirmed Bob Greene contacted an agent he knew this June after receiving phone calls from a woman with whom he had a sexual encounter more than a decade ago, according to the Chicago Tribune. The woman, who was warned by the FBI, subsequently e-mailed the Tribune — which led to Greene’s Sept. 14 resignation from the paper. The 1988 sexual encounter, which occurred after the girl sought help with a high-school journalism assignment, took place when she was 17 and Greene — a father of two married since 1971 — was 41. Greene is no longer writing his column for Tribune Media Services, either. …
Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services added to its Op-Ed report content from the HispanicVista.com Web site and the conservative Black America’s Political Action Committee, and features by James Haught of The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette and Zev Chafets of the New York Daily News. …
Scripps Howard News Service is distributing “Hire Education,” a weekly column that discusses employment topics. It’s by career counselor, author, and speaker Carol Carter. …
Religion News Service launched the biweekly “Religion in Canada” by Toronto correspondent Ron Csillag. It includes six to eight news items, and supplements regular content written by RNS’ three Canadian correspondents. …
Featurewell.com, the online syndicate that sells articles by more than 800 journalists, celebrated its second anniversary Sept. 25 with a literary-nonfiction reading in New York.