[updated 2x] Susan Goldberg: one reader wanted her fired, another says she "totally gets it"

Trifecta of reading about the Plain Dealer’s new editor:

One (lengthy review of her service)

Two (request that she be fired for using what the writer calls “hate speech”)

Three (info about Mercury News’ participation in The Learning Newsroom)

I’ll add to this post as I turn up more info or it gets published.

Update: Here’s the speech she gave to the Medill School of Journalism grads in 2006. Parts worth noting:

Our industry is on a cultural fault line, and we are in the middle of an enormous earthquake.

It is impossible to look this sad and sorry event and continue to tell ourselves that we don’t really need to change. That, somehow, the readers are the ones who don’t get it.

But unlike some of my colleagues, who see all this and believe the best days are behind us, I think only that the easy days are behind us. I believe the future for journalism holds great promise, and as much opportunity as ever to make a difference in our troubled world.

But you’ll need a strong stomach, a willingness to learn and the gumption to try new things.

New technologies mean we can do revelatory stories about our communities for even more readers and viewers. They can help us be creative in ways we never dreamed of – giving us the ability to reach people who wouldn’t think of picking up a newspaper, but want our stories online, or in a multimedia format.

In these ways, we can use technology to play offense again, to build new franchises and readership, as opposed to the last hard years of playing defense and making cuts.

In fact, online readership for newspapers hit record levels in the first quarter of this year. An average of 56 million users – nearly four in 10 of all online users – visited a newspaper Web site, up 8 percent from the previous year.

Our industry needs to get over the idea that news has to be told in a traditional way, in a traditional newspaper, to “count” as real journalism.

Readers have been telling us for a long time that much of what we do, and the form in which we do it, is capital-B boring to them. The trouble is, we haven’t listened. Until now.

We finally have stopped hanging up on our readers, literally and figuratively. Whether we call them readers, viewers, listeners, audience or, that dirty word, customers, we finally are asking them what they are interested in. We’re studying their actions online. We’re engaging with them in blogs. We answer their questions in real-time Q and A’s.

To remain relevant, we need to offer far more than this commodity news.

Our truest and strongest value now and into the future will not just be to tell readers what happened, but what it means. Not just to react, but to interpret, to explain, to analyze. We should not shy from telling people why they should care, or be afraid to connect them emotionally to our stories.

We need to stop being hung up on the medium; it is, in fact, all about the message.

What we still have to figure out, of course, is how to continue to do this level of in-depth, investigative work.

That means we need to start to making money the new-fashioned way: online. As it stands now, we do all the work, and the aggregators – the Googles and the Yahoos – pocket the profits from it. This uneasy alliance — between the producers of news and the packagers of it – must and will change, for without our content, there is nothing for them to re-package and re-sell.

We have to get from where we are now – where the diminishing product of ink on dead trees pays all the bills – to where we need to be: A world in which the growing online product can support a strong newsgathering staff that can play its needed watchdog role in the community.

And that brings me back to where we started – with editors, complaining about change. I recently was at the annual meeting of ASNE, the American Society of Newspaper Editors. This year, like last year, and the year before, there was a lot of discussion of declining circulation, declining budgets and declining staff sizes.

So I wasn’t surprised by the low-hanging gloom. But I was brought up short by the remarks of one venerable editor, now retired from the Los Angeles Times, who gave a major speech at the convention:

“A generation ago,” John Carroll said, “we at the ASNE convention might have encountered such formidable editors as Gene Roberts, Ben Bradlee, Abe Rosenthal and Gene Patterson. With all due respect, there is no such pride of lions roaming among us today.”

I was saddened John said this, and not because those were not great editors. They most certainly were. As was John Carroll.

No, I was saddened because his comments perhaps unwittingly reveal we still have a long way to go before women and people of color are fully accepted members of the club. We weren’t in the club in the last generation. And, as he makes clear, even now, when 25 percent of large newspapers are edited by women and about 10 percent by people of color, we’re still not worthy of inclusion in this “pride of lions.” Apparently no white guys are worthy, either, but that’s not really the point.

In fact, there are a lot of brilliant editors — women and men; whites and people of color, fighting to do good work under circumstances far more difficult than those faced by our predecessors. You find them from coast-to-coast — in Los Angeles and Atlanta and Portland and Kansas City. Among their many skills, these editors understand that we cannot reflect our communities in a way that will be authentic to readers and viewers until we look a lot more like the graduates in this room today.

Embracing diversity — as much as harnessing technology and creating a new business model — is a challenge for our industry going forward. We editors of the new age understand that. Your generation will understand it even better.

Finally, because this is commencement, and this is a commencement speech, I feel compelled to offer career advice. I spent 10 years working at USA TODAY, so this will be brief. Here are my top five tips:

–One: Be resilient. Yo
u don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be successful. But you do have to have some of the qualities of this toy that I had, when I was a kid. It was a life-size, plastic, blow-up clown, and it was weighted at the bottom. You’d slug it — and it would pop back up. You’d slug it harder, and there it was again, smiling in your face. There’s a lot we all can learn from that clown about muscling through the inevitable hard times with as much optimism and grace as you can muster.

–Two: Be open to change. In a time whose hallmark is innovation, it’s not productive or profitable to wallow in the past. Become one of those bold, brave people who are eager to learn about smart new ideas and approaches.

–Three: Be generous with praise. Let the newsroom sophisticates pretend they’re above it all, and let the cynics sneer; you’ll be more influential by getting excited about good work and letting people know you appreciate their efforts.

–Four: Keep your priorities straight. Nothing in my career has ever mattered as much as the time I spent away from it — time I took to nurse my parents, and my husband, when they were ill and dying. The paper still came out.

–Five: Do the right thing — and when you don’t, say you’re sorry. We have nothing to offer — nothing — if people don’t believe what they read on our pages and Web sites. We have to be ethical and transparent in all that we do. It’s just that simple.

Update 2x: 5/15/07 Plain Dealer article on Goldberg. What interested me, in addition to the fact that she’s less than three years older than I am (very cool):

Goldberg said she was proudest of the Mercury News’ watchdog role, of the gender and ethnic diversity of its staff and of its solid reputation as a multimedia source of information. Half of the top managers at the newspaper are women, which she said contributed to growing numbers of female and minority readers.

At the PD, she could start by mixing up the white, older, male names on the editorial masthead. The swapping out of Doug Clifton’s name for hers is a good start.


Asked what changes might lie ahead for The Plain Dealer and its partner Web site, cleveland.com, she said she sees an opportunity to create separate online content and different ways to tell stories and interact with readers.

We’ve heard this desire voiced before, but will Advance Communications allow it?

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