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As editor (or public editor), does being a woman matter? Of course

Over the past couple of days, as I've been interviewed about my new job as Public Editor of the New York Times, a few interviewers have gingerly raised the question of gender.  Essentially, they're asking this: Will I approach the job differently because I'm a woman?  (The previous four public editors have been men.)

I've tried to give a nuanced answer.  Yes, it matters because we bring everything we are to the jobs we do.  I was raised a Roman Catholic; I grew up in a steel town;  I am the daughter of a lawyer and a fashion buyer; I went to college in Washington, D.C.  and Chicago.  So I carry all of this with me.

I also bring my experiences as a woman. Since my first child was born in 1988, I've been a working mother; that matters.  I was the first woman in newsroom management at The Buffalo News; that matters.  I know what it means to be a sister, a wife, an aunt.  Even today, I'm still the mother of a teenager; that always matters.  

But it doesn't drive everything I do.  I didn't come into my current job as editor of The Buffalo News with a gender-driven agenda and I won't do that when I start working at the Times.  At the same time, I certainly care about such issues as pay equality, sexual harassment, and child care.   I do like to see women represented in the news media -- in images, in quotes, in stories -- and I know that they are often underrepresented.   When my close friend Liz Kahn, at that time assistant managing editor for features, developed a new Life & Arts section column called "Women's Voices" that runs every Saturday, I was delighted.  And I've sometimes been exasperated that the paper's front page, on a particular day or series of days, has not featured a single photo of a woman, even in a teaser.

Change sometimes happens when you least expect it, though.  When I promoted Lisa Wilson to executive sports editor not long ago, we never spoke a word about her gender.  Her strength has been in her knowledge of Buffalo's professional sports and in her operational ability.   But I've noticed more stories and photos of female athletes on her pages in recent months -- not as function of any agenda but because she's paying more attention to scholastic sports, featuring it more heavily.  So we see more action photos of girls playing soccer, lacrosse and softball.   Lisa played high school sports at Buffalo's City Honors (as I did at Nardin Academy, where I co-captained the varsity basketball team), and perhaps that experience makes a difference, too.

All of this is the subject of a thoughtful story by Mallary Jean Tenore from, "Why it matters that the New York Times' next public editor is a woman."   Should we be shocked that the author of such a piece is female?  Probably not.

Twitter: @SulliView

Bidding farewell to my hometown paper -- and heading to a new challenge at the Times

Monday was a singular day in my life, as my plans were announced to leave The Buffalo News to become Public Editor of the New York Times.

I've been here for quite a while. Coming out of school in 1980, I was lucky enough to have internship offers at both Buffalo newspapers -- the Courier-Express and the Buffalo Evening News.  I had the sense to ask my father, a lawyer, what to do, and I remember his understated analysis: "The News seems to be the dominant paper."  So I took that internship and began writing for Gusto and the paper's arts section.

Dad was pretty smart.  I joined the fulltime staff of The News as a reporter after my internship -- and a little over two years later, the Courier-Express was out of business.

Now, 32 years later (and for those doing the math, I want to emphasize that I was a child when I arrived), I'm leaving for a new challenge.   I have had the rare privilege, over the past 13 years, to be the chief editor of my hometown paper, and it has been both eventful and fulfilling.  

News Reporter Gene Warner's story in today's paper notes both the good times and some of the difficulties I've encountered.

The New York Times report on my appointment is here, including some kind words from Jill Abramson, the paper's first woman editor.

And Bill Mitchell of Florida's Poynter Institute describes the approach I will take in my new job, emphasizing the digital but also continuing a print column.  

Taking the Times position means moving from Buffalo's Elmwood Village to New York City. (I'm not sure exactly where just yet and am considering crowdsourcing my apartment hunt.)  I'm excited about that prospect and especially happy that this move will bring me closer to where my two children are in school -- my son, Alex, is in law school near Boston and my daughter, Grace, is an undergraduate in Manhattan.

As Warner's story notes, Managing Editor Brian Connolly -- a gifted journalist, highly competent newsroom manager and all-around great person -- will serve as interim editor while Publisher Stan Lipsey takes some time to find The News' next editor.

But I will be around for a few weeks, blogging frequently in this space on my usual topics.   See you here.  

Twitter: @SulliView



A few of my favorite things: Digital smarts, literature and a Lowest of the Low video

Here's a grab-bag post with a few of my favorite things.

* This piece about newspapers in the digital age offers insight on a subject that preoccupies me daily.   It's a Media Briefing interview with the Wall Street Journal's Raju Narisetti, who left the Washington Post not long ago to head the Journal's digital journalism efforts.

* On a literary note, the Chautauqua Institution today and tomorrow offers back-to-back author talks by Geraldine Brooks (today) and Tony Horwitz (Friday).   As noted in this Chautauquan Daily feature, Horwitz and Brooks, each with a Pulitzer Prize to their name, are husband and wife.  This afternoon, Brooks will read from and discuss her novel, "Caleb's Crossing." Horwitz will do the same Friday with his "Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War."  Both books are Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selections; two of Brooks' earlier books have been selected for that honor in previous years.  

* And, as a followup to my Wednesday post about the summer music scene, here's Buffalo News Pop Music Critic Jeff Miers' fine review of last night's Lowest of the Low concert at Artpark -- and, below, an admittedly inexpert video shot on my phone of the Low performing one of their best-loved songs, "Rosy and Gray," complete with mildly naughty lyrics, at the same show.  The crowd sang along --  not altogether on key -- with every word, as you'll hear. Imagine a beautiful sunset over the Niagara Gorge, add beer, and you get the full picture.


Summer in Buffalo = Music

Central+wharf+concert++09I had no intention of being at the Town Ballroom on a Tuesday night, listening to Youth Lagoon, whose dream-infused electronica reverberated like a jack hammer through the floor, into my feet and up through my heart.

But a friend wanted to go -- she had become enamored of Youth Lagoon's one and only album, "The Year of Hibernation"  -- so I tagged along.  As Buffalo pop music lovers know, there is no bad vantage point at the Town, so we stood just one level up from the reverential 200 or so truly major fans on the floor -- mostly twentysomething men, though there was one dancing girl in black leather shorts -- and we happily watched the red and purple smoke flow around the two-man outfit as they made their way through the album.  The set didn't last long; they played pretty much every song they had.

And who could complain?  The tickets were cheap, the piano-driven music was mesmerizing, Trevor Powers' stage patter was both charming and observant ("Buffalo is beautiful -- what happened to all the factories near the water?"), and even women of a certain age could be home in their beds around 11.

Tonight, it's the unmissable Lowest of the Low show at Artpark -- the brilliant if under-appreciated Canadian band I've undoubtedly seen more times than any other act in my not-brief life of concert-going. I can only assume they'll play "Subversives," "Bleed a Little While Tonight," and "The Taming of Carolyn," and that talented frontman Ron Hawkins will sing his creations with the usual full-throated splendor.

Later in the month, it's the neo-Motown songwriter from Ann Arbor, Mayer Hawthorne, with his crooning falsetto, at Town; back to Artpark for the uncategorizable but soulful Citizen Cope; and who knows what at the harbor, where in the past month or so, I've seen Grace Potter and the Nocturals, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Matthew Sweet, who delighted me by performing his entire classic album, "Girlfriend," from beginning to end.  For free, no less.

Summer in Buffalo may mean baseball for some people, jet skis for others, barbeque for still others,  but for many of us, it equals music.  And we are duly grateful. 

Should you want to get in on the fun, here's the Gusto summer concert guide.   And here's Buffalo News Pop Music Critic Jeff Miers' Top 10 picks.  They don't correspond to mine, of course -- where on earth is Citizen Cope, I'm still wondering-- but I respect his choices nonetheless.


(The photo above is by Robert Kirkham of The Buffalo News from last year's Lowest of the Low concert at the harbor.  The band plays tonight at Artpark. Jeff Miers will review the show.) 

And here's a taste of Mayer Hawthorne on Letterman last fall:



Twitter: @SulliView


While we're on the subject of newspapers, some 'savage clarity'...

Buffalo News Chairman Warren Buffett's recent newspaper-buying spree is one of the very few bright spots in recent months in the business of print journalism.

David Carr sums up the rest of a rather dire picture in his piece, "The Fissures Are Growing for Newspapers," in today's New York Times.

He writes: "Between operational fiascos and flailing attempts to slash costs on the fly, it’s clear that the print newspaper business, which has been fretting over a looming crisis for the last 15 years, is struggling to stay afloat. There are smart people trying to innovate, and tons of great journalism is published daily, but the financial distress is more visible by the week." 

As a case study, see's Rick Edmonds' report on the troubled finances at the Washington Post, "What's really going wrong (and right) at the Washington Post."

Read them and weep, if you care about such things, as I do.  Or, if you happen to live in Buffalo, where your daily paper is relatively stable (and still profitable), count yourself among the lucky ones. 


Midday addendum:  On a related topic, I came across a provocative speech by a media writer I admire, Jay Rosen of New York University, who writes the PressThink blog.  In proposing to a group of science journalists a "wicked problems" beat, Rosen coined a memorable phrase about journalism that has stuck with me. 

His phrase is "savage clarity," which he recommends as an antidote to cliche and an emblem of the best journalism.  Here is the context:

" is characteristic of wicked problems that key stakeholders define the problem differently. ... There is no kumbaya moment. You never get everyone on the same page. Consensus? You must be kidding. In dealing with wicked problems these are vain hopes, signs of the stupid. What’s possible is a world where different stakeholders 'get' that the world looks different to people who hold different stakes. In reporting on wicked problems, that’s the goal. That and learning from the work of people who do wicked well.

He continues: "Which brings me to something I’ve wanted to say for a long time. Journalism belongs to the vernacular, or it has no place in the world. When reporters render things, they have to find a common language for them. That is why the great vice in journalistic writing is cliché. Cliché is the vernacular in its spent state. Savage clarity is the vernacular coming alive again. Rendering stakeholders intelligible to one another, and to the larger public, is journalism at its best. No one should become a journalist who cannot tolerate the paradox of being a specialist… in the vernacular."

Savage clarity: We could use some of that to help solve the wicked problem of newspaper journalism's struggle to survive in the digital era.

Twitter: @SulliView


Join "Ask the Editor" live chat today happening now

I'll be taking readers' questions and hearing their comments in my monthly live chat today. I invite readers to fire away on subjects from Carl Paladino’s latest lawsuit to Rupert Murdoch’s tweets to The News’ plan for digital subscriptions.

A state senator makes women an offer they can't refuse -- can't refuse to mock, that is

You may not believe in God, despite the apparent existence of the "God particle," but you might believe that Brooklyn state senator Marty Golden is God's gift to women.

Well, not to all women, maybe, but certainly to women who write scathing commentary pieces and know a fat pitch when they see one tossed out in all its tempting glory.

Because it seems that Senator Golden has offered -- at taxpayer expense -- to educate women on some professional skills that will help them navigate the tricky world of the workplace.  His career-development workshop, called "Posture, Deportment and the Feminine Presence," would help women cross their legs properly, walk "like a model," and climb stairs with elegance.  

The story on the Golden-sponsored seminar broke yesterday in City & State, which offers a smart morning news roundup, First Read.  (City & State is edited by wunderkind Morgan Pehme, who was in Buffalo last month to help moderate the YWCA's Candidate College, a daylong forum for budding politicians -- a considerably more useful event than Golden's.)

Comedy Central got in on the fun, as did Elspeth Reeve for, Erin Gloria Ryan for Jezebel, and Alexis Grenell for City & State, who wrote:

"Although presentation and a working knowledge of professional standards can mean the difference between a steady paycheck and a pink slip, it’s obviously not the biggest obstacle for working women today.  If you want to take paid family leave to care for a sick relative or child, Senator Golden and the Republican conference can’t help you. If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who would directly benefit from an increase in the minimum wage, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, Senator Golden can’t help you there either. Maybe you think it should be illegal for your employer to pay a man more than a woman for the same work? Tough luck. Last month, the State Senate concluded their work for the year without so much as a hearing on the Fair Pay Act."

However intrigued they may be, Western New York women shouldn't plan to head downstate for the charm workshop.  For some crazy reason, it's just been canceled. 

Twitter: @SulliView

Buffalo greets Romney with a record-setting $1.25 million -- and, by coincidence, with a tough News story

Presidential hopeful and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney came to Buffalo this past week to raise money for his campaign. His events, a speech and a dinner, were essentially private and about fundraising, not winning votes here.  New York, in all its blueness, will not go his way -- but that doesn't mean there isn't support to be harvested locally.  In fact, as News Political Reporter Robert McCarthy wrote for Saturday's paper, the effort resulted in a fundraising record for Western New York, bringing in $1.25 million in just a couple of hours.  

It was coincidence, but an interesting one, that earlier in the week News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski's story described how Bain Capital's purchase of longtime Buffalo-area company Niagara Envelope adversely affected the lives of the workers there in 1999.   Romney's role heading Bain, a private equity firm, has been much discussed in the campaign, and its political fallout is  the subject of a New York Times story today.

Did The News plot the timing of the Bain story to nearly coincide with Romney's visit, as some commenters have suggested?  Not at all.  The story ran when the reporting on it was complete, and for that reason alone.

Luckily, though, getting the Bain story out of his notebook and into the paper allowed Zremski to focus on the Supreme Court's health care decision which occupied him for the remainder of the week, at first with coverage and then analysis.  That includes his piece on today's front page about how the ruling will play out in the hot local Congressional race between incumbent Democrat Kathleen Hochul and former Erie County Executive Chris Collins, a Republican.  Given her vulnerability in a largely Republican district, the race is one that's garnering national attention.

The political season is in full swing, with the party conventions just around the corner.  And in this season, we'll do what we always do: Publish stories when they are ready -- neither planning the timing to hurt a candidate nor holding them back to protect one.

If that timing sometimes seems awkward, keep in mind that there's always -- to use the phrase from  "Macbeth" -- tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

The tables are likely to turn, and then turn again.

Twitter: @SulliView

'Take notes,' advised Nora Ephron's mother. And she did. Oh, did she ever.

DownloadedFileFor a generation of women -- especially women who love books and movies, women who endlessly analyze relationships, women who've tried to balance work and motherhood, women who have spent great amounts of their lives on the phone with their female friends, women who've seen their marriages splinter on the harsh rocks of modern life -- the news of Nora Ephron's death tonight landed like a blow to the gut.

My reaction to a friend's email and a barrage of Twitter warnings was simply: No.  And when I called my friend, writer Lauri Githens to tell her, I broke it to her gently: "Have you heard about Nora Ephron?" She answered, "Don't tell me this."

Why does it matter?  Because she had a voice -- a writer's voice -- like no other.  Because she helped us laugh at ourselves when crying made more sense.  Because she was us, perhaps funnier, more high-flying, more urbane, but every bit as vulnerable. 

"In my sex fantasy, nobody ever loves me for my mind," she wrote in an early column.  Vintage Ephron.

For women journalists and writers, the identification was even more complete.  She was everything we wanted to be.  "Above all," she wrote, "be the heroine of your own life, not the victim."   

In her early essays and columns, what came across was that undeniable gift of sounding exactly like herself and no one else at all times. 

Her sharp opinions on media and culture packed a punch, as when she wrote in Esquire about feminism's excesses:

"I know that the pendulum has to swing a few degrees in the wrong direction before righting itself. But it does get wearing, sometimes, waiting for the center to catch hold."  

If she had done nothing other than write those pieces, she would have made an unforgettable contribution.  But then came her second and third incarnations -- as screenwriter and director.

 For some odd reason, I moved "Heartburn," the movie version of Ephron's roman a clef about her disastrous marriage to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, to the top of my Netflix queue last week.  I can never tire of it, any more than I can get sick of "When Harry Met Sally," though I can practically recite the dialogue along with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.  And that was just the beginning -- there was "Sleepless in Seattle," "You've Got Mail," "Michael," "Silkwood," and "Julie and Julia," to name just a few.

Ephron said she tried to "write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are."  And she did just that.   She touched men's lives, too, of course, and portrayed them with the humor and perceptiveness she brought to all of her work.  The Billy Crystal character in "When Harry Met Sally" is a prime example, self-mocking with his "white man's overbite" dance, and looking for love in all the wrong places.

Everything she touched had that distinctive Ephron stamp of wit, urbanity, literate dialogue, and underneath it all, her understanding of the human heart: battered yet brave, stupidly hopeful against the odds.

She made us laugh.  And now, I'm afraid, her death at age 71 is doing quite the opposite.  But more than sadness, there is appreciation that she captured life so well and expressed it so perfectly.  She took a sharp-eyed but wry look at herself and the world around her and spun it into writer's gold.

When Ephron's mother was on her deathbed, she famously told her daughter, "Take notes.  Everything is copy."

Ephron took her seriously.  And, looking over the marvelously original body of work she leaves behind,  we should all be glad she did. 


The photo is from the Associated Press.

An obituary from the Los Angeles Times provides details. And here is the New York Times obituary.

Twitter: @SulliView

From Burma to Britain, a heroine for democracy in Aung San Suu Kyi

ImagesBecause of Buffalo's burgeoning Burmese population, including accomplished photojournalist Law Eh Soe, I've written before in this space about my admiration for Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi. (Those earlier posts are here and here.)

The human rights advocate and democracy champion is a Nobel laureate, having finally accepted the peace prize only recently, though it was awarded in 1991.  She has spent 15 years under house arrest in Burma, finally released late in 2010.

I want to mention her again now because of her historic speech to British Parliament today, a portion of which I was lucky enough to hear on NPR this morning, and which brought me to tears with its simplicity and power.    The first non-British woman to address both houses of Parliament, she spoke eloquently of the Burmese journey toward democracy and the struggle that lies ahead and asked for help from Britain and other Western countries.

Voice of America has good coverage, including video of her entire address.

I also very much like this piece by columnist Frida Ghitis for CNN, which describes the 67-year-old activist as brilliant, charismatic and one of the few modern figures who fully deserves her icon status.

Twitter: @SulliView


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