Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Writer Wants to See What Is Going Right

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Writer Wants to See What Is Going Right

Article excerpt

JOURNALISTS SEEK OUT bad news via sources such as court dockets, police blotters and emergency-room records.

"But when something goes right, we learn of it by accident," said William Raspberry, who received the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' Lifetime Achievement Award at the NSNC convention in Kansas City, June 16.

The Washington Post writer devoted his post-award speech to a plea for the media to run more material of a positive nature.

"What goes wrong is always news," said Raspberry. "We need to know what goes wrong but also what works" -- such as the efforts of people who are "knitting their communities together."

The 1994 Pulitzer Prize winner noted that focusing too much on bad news "can discourage people from doing good" and "poison relations" among America's citizens.

Raspberry, in describing why journalists often focus on the negative, said "we learn as cub reporters that conflict has news value" and that "you need dramatic tension to tell a good story."

But, the 59-year-old writer added, "You can look for ways to create this without pitting individuals and groups against each other. You can create dramatic tension between the problem solver and the problem."

And, he said, the media should help people and society find answers to problems.

Indeed, Raspberry's syndicate, the Washington Post Writers Group, called the Mississippi-born columnist a "solutionist" in a 1994 ad.

And NSNC convention host Bill Tammeus, when presenting the award to Raspberry, called the honoree a "clear and careful thinker" who writes commentary that is not always predictable.

Tammeus, a former NSNC president, is a columnist for the Kansas City Star and New York Times News Service.

Another nationally known columnist, Kansas City native Calvin Trillin, also spoke at the NSNC convention.

The King Features Syndicate humorist said he is not a joiner of organizations, but did note that he used to be a member of a two-person group called the American Association of American Correspondents Covering America.

"There was only one requirement," Trillin remembered. "You couldn't quote de Tocqueville. That's how we kept the membership down."

He also joked about how alarmed he was several years ago when Bill Clinton announced that he would "concentrate like a laser on the economy."

But Trillin said it turned out that columnists didn't have to become economics experts, because the main topic of political discussion ended up being "whether Hillary Clinton was the antiChrist. …

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