August 12, 2015

Funk, Kasko honored with top #communityjournalism paper honors at AEJMC

It was great catching up with everyone at AEJMC again. We had amazing panels, an effective business meeting, and a great social. We also awarded top paper honors to two deserving authors, both of whom have presented papers for the Community Journalism interest group before.

Marcus Funk, from Sam Houston State University, received top faculty paper honors with "Community Journalism: Relentlessly Deviant? CATA of Normative Deviance and Localness in American Community Newspaper Websites."

Dr. Marcus Funk of Sam Houston State University accepts the top Community Journalism Faculty Paper award from Dr. Hans K. Meyer, incoming interest group chair.

Joseph Kasko, who just completed his Ph.D. at the University of South Carolina, received top student papers honors with "Building Community through Branding at NPR Member Stations." This was the second consecutive year that Kasko had the top student paper in the division.

Dr. Joseph Kasko, who just received his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, accepts the top Community Journalism Student Paper award from Dr. Hans K. Meyer, incoming interest group chair.
You will be able to view their papers soon on the AEJMC 2015 website, but I'm sure you'll see both of them in publication in short time as well. The online journal Community Journalism publishes the top faculty paper in the division each year if the author chooses.

For more news from AEJMC, including a list of new interest group officers, check back here in a couple of days.

August 04, 2015

Bring your panel ideas to the business meeting!

I can't believe the conference starts tomorrow. I'm looking forward to seeing all of you again. We've already posted our line up of panels and presentations here, so I won't add that again, but make sure you check us out. When you learn something great, make sure you share it on social media using the hashtag #communityjournalism. I'm going to put together a Storify after the conference of all the best Tweets and Facebooks posts.
With this message, I wanted to encourage everyone to attend our business meeting on Saturday, 7 p.m. just before the social that our interest group head, Dianne Garyantes, set up. The next day we'll be meeting with other division chairs to talk panels for the next conference. Please come with your ideas on what you'd like to see COMJIG do next year so we go in to that meeting with guns blazing. I think that's why our schedule was so packed with great stuff this year. Everyone was prepared and inspired.
So bring all your ideas, big, small and in between. Think about other divisions or interest groups that would make logical partners. Consider next year's setting -- Minneapolis, MN -- and any logical industry or academic partnerships or visits that make sense.
In addition, if you are also interested in helping us plan next year's conference as part of our board, let me know. We are still looking for a graduate student liaison and we could always use help with our teaching and PF&R panel planning.
Thanks again!
Hans (

July 15, 2015

COMJIG Social in San Francisco!

Please put on your conference calendar the COMJIG social! It will held Saturday, Aug. 8, at 9 p.m. at the Belden Taverna:!dinner/c22ew

Tell them you're with the Community Journalism Interest Group and you should be seated upstairs.

See you there!

July 09, 2015

Panels for 2015 AEJMC conference UPDATED!

Here are the latest updates to our panel schedule. I think we've got some really exciting and information sessions lined up. The pre conference workshop by Penny Abernathy still has spots available. Share this with anyone involved with community journalism.

In addition, if any of you are interested in serving on the COMJIG board next year, please let Hans K. Meyer know at We appreciate your service!

Community Journalism Interest Group panels
AEJMC 2015
San Francisco, CA

Theme Sessions – Wednesday
Wed., August 5, 2015 (Pre-Conference Workshops)
8 a.m. to Noon
Saving Community Journalism:  What Journalism Professors Need to Know About the Business of Local News in the Digital Age
$30 Fee (Participation limited to 40)
Many professors and journalism schools have either established news organizations or partnered with existing broadcast, print and digital outlets in their community to report on local issues or devise new ways to communicate with readers. Many of these start-up organizations are struggling to achieve scale and long-term sustainability, and many traditional outlets, such as newspapers, are struggling to make the transition to digital delivery and profits. 
This workshop is designed to give journalism instructors some basic economic knowledge and understanding of the business dynamics of local news organizations that they can incorporate into introductory and advanced courses. It also provides instructional digital tools and practical examples that will enable their students to go into the field and assist local for-profit and nonprofit news organizations in both creating and implementing new journalistic and business strategies. 
It is led by UNC’s Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics, Penny Muse Abernathy (author of Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability and of the instructional website,, and the Knight Chair in Digital Advertising and Marketing, JoAnn Sciarrino. Both have extensive professional experience, operating at the highest executive levels in international media companies, and have focused their research on developing new business models for community news organizations. For information, contact Penny Muse Abernathy at or 919-843-4910. (COMJ, Knight Foundation)

Thursday, August 6, 2015 
2015 AEJMC Conference Program 
3:15 pm to 4:45 pm / 092 
Media Ethics Division and Community Journalism Interest Group PF&R Panel Session: Journalists in Fear: Covering the News Ethically Despite Death Threats, Terrorism, and Dangerous Stories 
Moderating/Presiding: Jenn Burleson Mackay, Virginia Tech 
Panelists: Delphine Halgand, US Director, Reporters Without Borders 
Khalil Bendib, political cartoonist and author of Too Big To Fail: More Subversive Cartoons by American’s Most Dangerous Cartoonist 
Thomas Peele, investigative reporter and author of Killing the Messenger
Tom Kent, Associated Press

Friday, August 7, 2015 
2015 AEJMC Conference Program 
3:15 pm to 4:45 pm
Magazine Division and Community Journalism Interest Group
Research Panel Session: Creation of Community in the Magazine Form: Legacy to Online
Moderating/Presiding: Sheila M. Webb, Western Washington
Panelists: Sheila M. Webb, Western Washington
Elizabeth Hendrickson, Ohio
Amanda Hinnant, Missouri
Dan Kennedy, Northeastern
Michael Clay Carey, Samford

Saturday, August 8, 2015
Refereed Paper Research Session: Scholar-to-Scholar
Community Journalism Interest Group Topic — Community Journalism – High Stakes in the Ever-changing Landscape
Cultivating News Coverage: An Analysis of California Agriculture Reporting Sandra Robinson, California State, Monterey Bay
High Stakes in the High Plains: Attitudes of Rural Editors and Publishers in Areas Facing Depopulation David Guth, Kansas 
Discussant: Dianne Garyantes, Rowan

1:45 pm to 3:15 pm 
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Community Journalism Interest Groups 
PF&R Panel Session: San Francisco and the Heart of the LGBT Movement 
Moderating/Presiding: Ed Alwood, Quinnipiac 
Panelists: Chris Bull, former Washington Correspondent from the Advocate 
Rink Foto, San Francisco Bay Times 
Andrew Stoner, California State Sacramento 
Cynthia Baird, news editor, Bay Area Reporter

5:15 pm to 6:45 pm 
Community Journalism Interest Group Refereed Paper Research Session: Community Journalism – Looking at the Factors and Forums that Influence Both Journalists and the Communities They Serve Moderating/Presiding: Hans Meyer, Ohio
Community Journalism: Relentlessly Deviant? CATA of Normative Deviance and Localness in American Community Newspaper Websites Marcus Funk, San Houston State 
Advocates, Guardians, and Promoters: Factors that Influence Community Journalists’ Coverage of Rural Poverty Michael Clay Carey, Samford 
Building Community Through Branding at NPR Member Stations Joseph Kasko, South Carolina 
Health News Coverage in Kentucky Newspapers Al Cross, Molly Burchett and Melissa Patrick, Kentucky 
Discussant: David Schreindl, Dickinson State

7 pm to 8:30 pm 
Community Journalism Interest Group Business Session: Members’ Meeting
Moderating/Presiding: Dianne Garyantes, Rowan

Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015
2015 AEJMC Conference Program 
11 am to 12:30 pm 
Cultural and Critical Studies Division and Community Journalism Interest Group PF&R Panel Session: Resistance Journalism: Expression, Self-Empowerment, and the Creation of Counternarratives on Poverty Through Community Media 
Moderating/Presiding: Michael Clay Carey, Samford 
Panelists: Mathew Gerring, editor, Street Sheet 
Lisa Gray-Garcia, POOR Magazine 
Kevin Howley, DePauw 
Paula Lomazzi, CEO, Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee 
Cindy Vincent, Salem State

July 07, 2015

Reminder: Register for our Preconference on Saving Community Journalism!

It's time for Early Bird Registration for the AEJMC conference in San Fran and a chance to register now for COMJIG's pre-conference on Saving Community Journalism!

COMJIG is proud to sponsor a pre-conference workshop on community journalism and the business of local news on Wednesday, Aug. 5, at the AEJMC conference in San Francisco.

The workshop will be conducted by Penny Muse Abernathy, UNC Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics, and a former media executive at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. She also is the author of "Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability" (UNC Press, 2014).

The workshop begins at 8 a.m. and runs until noon. The pre-conference also is being sponsored by the Knight Foundation. For more information about the workshop and its content, please check out this blog:

Register now for this important event!

June 25, 2015

Community Journalism in Charleston, S.C.

The New York Times ran an interesting article yesterday about how the local newspaper in Charleston, S.C., The Post and Courier, covered the church shootings last week. Here's the link:

June 11, 2015

Register now for COMJIG's pre-conference on Saving Community Journalism

COMJIG is proud to sponsor a pre-conference workshop on community journalism and the business of local news on Wednesday, Aug. 5, at the AEJMC conference in San Francisco.

The workshop will be conducted by Penny Muse Abernathy, UNC Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics, and a former media executive at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. She also is the author of "Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability" (UNC Press, 2014).

The workshop begins at 8 a.m. and runs until noon. The pre-conference also is being sponsored by the Knight Foundation. For more information about the workshop and its content, please check out this blog:

Register now for this important event!

April 30, 2015

AEJMC Preview: Street newspapers as outlets for new narratives on what it means to be 'poor'

It isn’t too early to start talking about AEJMC programming, is it?

With the national conference a short summer away, I thought I’d offer a bit of information on one of the panels the Community Journalism Interest Group is bringing to San Francisco.

COMJ is co-sponsoring a PF&R panel entitled “Resistance Journalism: Expression, Self-Empowerment, and the Creation of Counternarratives on Poverty Through Community Media.”

Here’s the formal panel description: 

Millions of people in the U.S. struggle with financial need and homelessness. However, news and entertainment media often ignore the lived experiences of those living in extreme poverty or cast them in condescending stereotypes that reinforce dominant ideologies about what it means to be poor, in the process reinforcing and worsening social stratification.

During this panel, scholars and activists will discuss the ways “street newspapers” and similar publications produced by the poor, who are often ignored or marginalized by mainstream media, empower writers to create their own counternarratives about poverty and advocate for change. Street newspapers, also sometimes called homeless newspapers, are urban newspapers generally written and distributed by current or former homeless individuals. 

Panelists include:

  • Lisa "Tiny" Gray-Garcia, founder of POOR Magazine, a poor people/indigenous people-led grassroots organization developed to provide media access to and advocate for people in poverty.
  • Bob Offer-Westort, editor of Street Sheet.
  • Paula Lomazzi, CEO of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee. The committee publishes a street newspaper called the Homeward Street Journal.
  • Dr. Cindy Vincent, assistant professor at Salem State University. Dr. Vincent’s research focuses on representations of class in the media and the role of participatory media in civic engagement and social justice.
Your humble blog post author will be the panel moderator.

I hope you will be able to join us for this interesting and important panel discussion, which is co-sponsored by COMJ and the Cultural/Critical Studies Division.

Panel Date: Sunday, Aug. 9

Panel Time:  11 a.m.

April 16, 2015

Al Jazeera America suspects it may have found America’s smallest two-paper town

Al Jazeera America paints an interesting picture this week of the media landscape in Crawfordsville, Ind., population 15,000.

Crawfordsville is home to two daily newspapers, the Journal Review and The Paper. Al Jazeera America writer Kevin Williams speculates in the article that Crawfordsville might be the smallest U.S. town with competing daily newspapers. Data on the number of two-paper towns is hard to come by, Williams writes. He interviewed media business analyst Rick Edmonds, who said Crawfordsville “sounds like a good bet” to be the smallest.

Journalists quoted in the story make great observations about the value of local ownership and editorial control. They also stress the importance of documenting daily life in their communities. Jack Lule, chair at Lehigh University’s Weinstock Center for Journalism, makes this point in the article:

Two-newspaper towns survive for a good reason: despite all the possibilities of digital media, local coverage still is handled best by local newspapers. People have all sorts of access to news on Washington politics, the latest airline disaster, Mideast tensions and other national and international stories. But local politics, obituaries, sports, concerts, street closings and news stories on that level still are reported only by the local newspaper. 

Is Crawfordsville really is the smallest town in the U.S. with two daily newspapers? I don’t know of any smaller towns with two dailies, although there are many rural communities with competing weekly publications. Oneida, Tenn., population 5,000, has two strong weekly newspapers.

I’d love to hear from you, blog readers. Do you know of any smaller towns with competing daily newspapers?

April 11, 2015

Vermont weekly celebrates 300th edition with stories about community journalism

The Brattleboro Commons, a weekly newspaper in Vermont, is celebrating its 300th issue by "shining the spotlight on community journalism — and especially its future. Our staff and a number of other media professionals with ties to the Windham County region reflect on these issues and help us celebrate a milestone." Here are some of the stories:
When business principles are turned upside down: Jeff Potter writes, "The small newspapers I worked for were founded not to make money but to fill a need — and the bond they had with their readers was amazing."
• Randolph T. Holhut is a Refugee from a corporate news career: "We would have to do more and more with less and less, with no possibility of improvement," he writes. "No newspaper ever got better by giving its readers less. No newspaper ever cut its way to prosperity."
Writing close to home:  Evan Johnson writes, "I’ve learned the craft of journalism while living in a place I know more intimately than anywhere else."

March 30, 2015

6 reasons to submit your research to the Community Journalism Interest Group. You won't believe No. 5!

I thought I'd have a bit of fun with tthis post encouraging everyone to consider submitting to our interest group for the 2015 AEJMC conference. I hope it got your attention. I also think an Unworthy-style listicle fits our goals as an interest group because anyone using conversational headlines is relying on the principles of community to bring people together, and that's what COMJIG is all about.
Remember the deadline for papers is Wednesday, April 1 at 11:59 p.m. Central time. All papers are submitted through the submission site. Check out the AEJMC Uniform Paper Call to see what individual division/interest groups are looking for (by clicking on the link above and scrolling to the bottom of the page), but we hope that you consider COMJIG.
Without further ado, here are six reasons to consider COMJIG.
  1. Feedback: As research chair last year, I was able to secure three reviews for almost every paper pretty easily. I know this year we've already got a good stable of reviewers lined up so you can expect reviews you can use.
  2. Attention: As a small division, we know most of the people who submit papers, and if we don't know you, we will. We might even ask you to join the board as we did with our top student author last year. Don't be intimidated by that, however, because we're a friendly group of scholars interested in our members' success. I can attest to the feedback group members gave me as I applied for tenure this year.
  3. Acceptance: We all want our papers accepted. To be honest, all divisions and interest groups strive for that magic 50 % number. But I can tell you, again from my experience last year, that we had a bit of leeway in going over that number a bit to make sure that all the highly reviewed papers we received got presented. It made my job easier knowing I didn't have to turn down a really good paper just to hit an arbitrary number.
  4. Publication: Each of our top student and faculty papers are considered for our affiliated journal, Community Journalism. The online, open access journal just published its third edition. Check it out!
  5. Definition: Don't think anymore that community journalism is just about small newspapers. In fact, we have made a conscious effort the last two years to educate AEJMC members that we are looking for any research that explores the definition, creation and cultivation of community through news, whether that community is organized geographically or by a topic of interest, whether it meets face to face or entirely online. This concept is something that our members have decided to become experts in. In line with No. 2 above, we want to help you expand this definition so everyone -- researchers, professionals, journalists -- can understand how to strengthen and build communities through factual, fair, and balanced information.
  6. Community: I know it seems redundant, but COMJIG is more than a bunch of scholars just researching the same topic. We are trying to live up to our name by building and sustaining a group of scholars with something important to share. Even if you don't submit to COMJIG this year, we'd love to see you at our business meeting Saturday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m.
Thanks for reading! You can contact our research chair David Schriendl with any questions about submitting a paper or our chair Dianne Garyantes or me, Hans Meyer, vice chair, with any questions about the Community Journalism Interest Group.

March 23, 2015

Check it Out...

COMJIG member Barbara Selvin's article has just been posted by Nieman Reports: Local Weeklies Are Covering the Communities Big Dailies Ignore
It's a great read. Thanks, Barbara!

March 18, 2015

It's nice to see community papers being recognized for the hard work they do. We need lots of these stories to hit the digital highway in order to reinforce the idea that community papers can still thrive and make a difference.
For those who are willing to review a few papers and haven’t signed up yet please accept my sincere thanks as well. Follow the following link and register today.

The deadline for paper submissions is April 1 and the deadline for finished reviews is April 30. I’d appreciate if papers were reviewed a few days prior to the April 30 deadline so that I can get out acceptance and rejection notices out to the submitters prior to May 1st.

March 17, 2015

Interesting Report

Here's an interesting report by the FCC about the information needs of communities:

March 13, 2015

2015 Panel Schedule set!

I know it's early, but I just wanted to share with everyone our panel schedule for this summer's AEJMC conference because I think we've got a fantastic slate.

Here it is:

Wednesday, Aug. 5
Pre-Conference workshop, 8 – noon
“Saving Community Journalism:  What Journalism Professors Need to Know About the Business of Local News in the Digital Age”
Penny Abernathy

Thursday, Aug. 6
3:15-4:45 p.m. Ethics / Community Journalism 034 PF&R
“Journalists in Fear:  Maintaining ethical coverage in a dangerous media climate”

Friday, Aug. 7
3:15-4:45 p.m. Magazine / Community Journalism 110 Research
“Creation of Community in the Magazine Form: Legacy to Online”

Saturday, Aug. 8
1:45-3:15 p.m. GLBT / Community Journalism 157 PF&R
“San Francisco and the heart of the LGBT movement”
Need 2 panelists
5:15 – 6:45 p.m. Refereed Paper
7 – 8:30 p.m. Members’ Meeting

Sunday, Aug. 9
11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. CCSD, Community Journalism 119 PF&R
Resistance Journalism: Expression, Self-Empowerment, and the Creation of Counternarratives on Poverty Through Community Media

Some of our confirmed panelists include Dan Kennedy, author of The Wired City; Chris Bull, former Washington correspondent of The Advocate; Gary or Reed Shilts, brother representing Randy Shilts (1951-1994), reporter for the advocate and San Francisco Chronicle and author of And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1980–85); Dr. Betty Sullivan and Jennifer Viegas, co-editors/publishers of the San Francisco Bay Times; and Anthony G. Rodriguez, founder and CEO of

I'm sure I'm missing others that our members have lined up. I'll get the final panel copy from our cosponsors on Monday.

Depending on how many paper submissions we receive, we will also be part of the poster session on Saturday from 12:15 - 1:30 p.m. We accepted eight papers last year, and I expect we'll surpass that number this year.

To do that, make sure you are sharing our call for papers with your peers and students. In addition, sign up on the conference website and let our research chair David Schreindl know that you'd be willing to serve as a paper reviewer. I served as research chair last year, and I can honestly say it wasn't difficult because our members were so willing to serve and easy to work with. Every paper had at least two reviews. Most had three.

If you have any questions, please drop me a line

February 10, 2015

COMJIG is looking for paper reviewers

Dear COMJIG friends:

It’s that time again: the AEJMC submission deadline is coming soon and we here at COMJIG are preparing to facilitate the review process. 

If you have reviewed for us in the past—we can’t THANK YOU enough for your dedication to COMJIG and if you would be willing to be a first time reviewer we would be grateful. And huge thanks in advance for what I’m sure will be amazing reviews again this year. We will most likely assign only three papers to you. We know that this is a major undertaking, and we appreciate your willingness to continue to judge papers. 

You should go now to the All-Academic site through the AEJMC website or to this address and create an account (username and password) in the All-Academic System.  Go to the right side of the page and scroll down until you come to “Click here to create new username and password.”

If possible, please create your account by Friday, March 13, 2015.  This will allow for assignments of papers to proceed quickly and ensure you have immediate access to your assigned papers to judge soon after the All-Academic system closes for paper uploading. Each year is unique, and if you created an account last year, you will need to do so again this year.

Creating your user name and password now will also allow you to submit, judge and download papers all from the same created account.  

Thank you for assisting the Community Journalism Interest Group of AEJMC.  Your input is invaluable.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.  We look forward to working with you this year.


David Schreindl
COMJIG Research Chair

February 02, 2015

Chinese, U.S. community newspaper people find common ground at seminar

By Al Cross and Ginny Whitehouse

Community newspaper people from China and the United States found common ground, despite great differences in their environments, at the Second Sino-U.S. Community Media Seminar in Kentucky Jan. 8 and 9.

Presentations and discussions revealed that Chinese community papers share with their Kentucky counterparts the desire to tell stories of local people in the face of dramatic economic challenges, and a commitment to serve their communities.

“Community journalism requires a commitment to the people and the place,” said Bill Horner, publisher of Paxton Media Group’s Sanford (N.C.) Herald, who attended the first such seminar, in Shanghai in 2013.

“I have seen a sense of commitment to that among community journalists in China,” Horner said, and seeing that helps American journalists “rediscover our own sense of commitment.”

The seminar was sponsored by the XinMin Evening News, Shanghai’s largest afternoon newspaper and publisher of many community editions; and the Confucius Institute and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky.

It brought from China 10 newspaper executives and journalists, six local-government officials and a Shanghai University professor, You You. She was the Institute’s visiting scholar in 2012-13 and was instrumental in arranging the seminar. It also attracted 25 U.S. newspaper executives, UK faculty and academics at other universities who are among the Institute’s academic partners.

The day before the seminar, the Chinese and a few of the Americans visited the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Danville Advocate-Messenger to learn more about U.S. community newspapers.

The two days were a boost for Bian Haolan, editor-in-chief of the Bao’an Daily News, a 100,000-circulation community paper in Shenzen, next to Hong Kong. In the seminar discussions, through a translator, he noted a sharp decline in Chinese newspaper advertising in the last three years, but said his main takeaway from the seminar is a belief that traditional newspapers are here to stay.

Zhu Qi, associate town-chief of Chonggu in Shanghai, told the group that she was deeply impressed by the commitment to community that she saw in Danville and Lexington. “We are in the pioneer stage of community journalism,” she said. “Our intention is to record the lives of the down-to-earth people who make up China’s development.”

Most community newspapers in China are published in cooperation with local governments, who see them as vehicles for official messaging and tools to create a greater sense of community at a time when Shanghai’s communities are flooded with immigrants from rural areas and the city’s population has exploded to 23 million.

In China, communities are purely administrative and geographic, You You said in her seminar presentation. “In Shanghai, there is a strong feeling of city but no sense of community.”

Jin Fei, assistant editor-in-chief of the XinMin Evening News’ community editions, said her staff has learned how to work within the government framework while always facing the dilemma of whether “to serve the readers or serve the government. . . . The approach we take is to encourage local government to make government affairs public and open.”

She said the government supports the paper’s efforts to monitor its work: The paper publishes the government’s annual plan of work, and reports on how much of it has been accomplished.

Dr. Zixue Tai, a professor in UK's School of Journalism and Telecommunications, said Americans should see community newspapers as some Chinese see them: what sociologists call a “third place” – informal, public gathering spaces outside home and work that contribute to civil society and democracy.

“The third place today can be realized mainly by community newspapers,” said Tai, a native of China. “We have a lot of common ground” in community journalism. “We don’t care about foreign policy.”

Al Cross is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at UK; Dr. Ginny Whitehouse is an associate professor of journalism at Eastern Kentucky University.

Eric Newhouse provides some great insight into community journalism

Recently, current and former AP staffers were asked to weigh in on Connecting, the internal newsletter published by retiree Paul Stevens, on all the various issues surrounding the Charlie Hebdo story, issues of publishing material that might offend someone or a group, etc.

Eric Newhouse, a former AP bureau chief, provided these thoughts that turn out not so much to be about Charlie Hebdo as about community journalism and the reality of being a community journalist.

With Eric's and Paul's permission, I am sharing them here:

Eric Newhouse (Email) - Re Charlie H., just because you have a right doesn't mean you have to exercise it all the time, particularly if you know it will offend or hurt others.

I learned that lesson in my post-AP life as projects editor of the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune. We had committed ourselves to do a 12-part series of stories exploring alcohol abuse in Montana, at least one major package of stories each month for the calendar year 1999. By late February or early March, I was working on a package about how one alcoholic makes the whole family sick, which was to run in April, and the group leader of a local Al-Anon group invited me to sit in on a session.

So I showed up, notebook in hand, and was introduced by name. To make the point clearer, I added that I was a reporter working on a series of stories about alcoholism. No one voiced an objection, so I openly took notes as the meeting progressed.

But after the meeting, a group of women approached to tell me that an Al-Anon tradition requires that what is said in the room stays in the room. They asked me to leave my notebook on the table.

Knowing that by identifying myself as a working reporter without protest, I had a perfect right to report what was said in an open meeting. So I challenged them, asking why and asking how they intended to compensate me for the time that would have been wasted if I left the notebook behind. 

"Give us a moment to talk," their ringleader said.

When they returned, they explained that the tradition was designed to let group members talk honestly without repercussions, and they said they'd be willing to sit around a picnic table with me and tell their stories again in a way that would be more politically correct. "We've all been the victims of alcohol, and we don't want to victimize others," one of the women told me.

That did it for me. I left the notebook on the table, joined them on a park bench outside, and found the new stories were just as compelling as the previous one, although they omitted certain names and details.

The stories ran without incident, but when I began working on the June package, which was how alcohol fuels domestic violence, the wife brought up the Al-Anon encounter and asked how I had resolved it. I told her that I'd left the notebook on the table and that I'd interviewed the women outside the Al-Anon meeting room.

"Just checking," she told me. "Because if you'd screwed our friends over, no one in the alcohol community here would have been willing to speak with you."

My skin crawled when I heard that because I knew that would have been the kiss of death for our 12-part series. Instead the alcohol community supported me, offered tremendous help and encouragement, and celebrated with us when the series won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for explanatory reporting.

Incidentally, if anyone is interested in reading that series, I expanded it into a book, Alcohol: Cradle to Grave." Drop a check for $18 into an envelope, send it to me at 141 Rosetta Lane, Charleston WV 25311, and I'll ship you a copy of the book.