Birmingham and journalism

July 6, 2017

Recently I had an opportunity to visit Birmingham, and spent some time seeing where some of the most important battles of the Civil Rights era took place. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his famous “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” that April, challenging white ministers in the city to support equal rights for African Americans. Later that spring, Commissioner of Public Safety “Bull” Connor resorted to using high-pressure water cannon and police dogs to disperse protesters, and even used the same tactics on more than a thousand teens and children.

20170621_114407Dr. King and other leaders staged sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. Some were arrested for arranging marches to register to vote. They held protest marches and faced unimaginable violence. Four teen girls died when racists planted and detonated a bomb at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that September, less than three weeks after Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington.

It was also fascinating to learn a bit about the African-American press of that era. The Birmingham Record didn’t assail the city government and public safety for its overtly racist policies at first. African-American papers in other cities were far more critical in their coverage than the hometown paper. Why? Long-time paper editor Emory Jackson had reservations initially about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s choice of Birmingham as a ‘target city’ to fight racial inequality.

But other African American newspapers DID report extensively, mainly those in the North, about the violence. Their editors, reporters, and publishers were geographically shielded from the Ku Klux Klan, the bombings, the arrests, and other overt vestiges of racism. The national media reported extensively on the violence as well. Jackson and the Birmingham Record joined in later as well. There were no African American police officers in Birmingham in 1963, despite the fact that blacks comprised 40 percent of the city’s population.

20170621_112833.jpgJackson put an editorial on the front page of the Birmingham Daily Record after the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing. “They were victims of cruel madness, the vile bigotry and the deadly hate of unknown persons,” he wrote. He urged people to “pour into the churches on Sunday, stream to the voter registration offices, make their dollars talk freedom, and build up a better leadership.”

There is a powerful lesson there, one which time and distance should never diminish. A free press is essential to accurate reporting, and fair and accurate reporting is more necessary than ever in democratic nations. Governments (be they Democrat or Republican) will lie, withhold information, and try to slant a story in their favor. The Birmingham News, the “white owned” daily newspaper, actually praised the tactics of Connor and the police in 1963.

That’s probably another important difference between 54 years ago and today. The “mainstream” media is much more attuned to injustice and wrong-doing. One of the reasons why the national coverage of Ferguson was so extensive a few years ago is the strong sense in the journalism community that justice in the United States is STILL not equal, 50-plus years after passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Dr. King: We’ve made a lot of progress since your “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963. But there’s still a long way to go until all God’s children are truly “free at last.”

*             *             *             *             *             *          

“How has journalism become so messed up?”

Hundreds have asked me that question in the past few years. The explanation is complicated, because journalism now has so many players involved to a much greater extent than ever before. By “players” I’m referring to a lengthy list: PACs and Super PACs; “non profits” that are exerting huge influence on media coverage through spending millions of dollars; corporations, who use their power to sway both the media and government to get their way with regulations and laws; public relations agencies with greater reach than ever before; lawyers; think-tank organizations that wield substantial power in the Beltway encompassing Washington; savvy social media organizations that create “grassroots” support of or opposition against candidates and/or causes; and political operatives far more concerned about “their side” wining than that truth; and – let’s admit it – smear merchants, operating and interacting with friends in the media for decades now, whose professional goal has become to demonize and destroy the personal lives of anyone (journalists, private citizens, candidates) who oppose their client’s agenda.

Sharyl Attkisson has done our democracy a tremendous service with her latest work, titled “The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake New CONTROL What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote.” If you want to understand journalism today, it’s a must-read book. But be warned – this isn’t a “take it to the beach” page-turner. Your blood pressure is bound to go up as you walk through Attkisson’s chapters, regardless of your political affiliation.

smearI’m not through reading the entire book yet, but after about 100 pages I can unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone who has wondered what’s happened to the practice of professional journalism in the last quarter century. Attkisson, who was with CBS News for about 20 years, provides an authoritative explanation, and she also has the benefit of “insider” knowledge of the gatekeeper and editorial decision-making processes.

Here’s a quote from Attkisson’s introduction:

“We in the news media have allowed ourselves to become co-opted by political, corporate, and other special interests. We permit them to dictate this story du jour. We let them dominate the opinions we consult and quote….We’ve become a willing receptacle for, and distributor of, daily political propaganda. And because we invite both sides to feed us, we call it fair. In many ways, some media outlets have become little more than thinly veiled political operations.” (Page 5)

Attkisson doesn’t pull punches. She writes the way she reported when with CBS, fearlessly. You won’t feel good about what you discover, but at least you’ll get a better sense of how we arrived at where we are in 2017.


Mangun, Kimberly, “Emory O Jackson, the Birmingham World, and the fight for civil rights in Alabama”


Media Memo IV, to the White House

May 12, 2017

TO:   Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and others advising President Trump

FROM:   John Kerezy, an associate professor at a community college who’s also practiced public relations for 30+ years

RE:   Timing of negative news in the digital/mobile news cycle

DATE:   Friday, May 12, 2017 at 4 in the afternoon

This is the precise day of the week and the moment of the day in which you should have announced the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

  1. Major news media outlets go into “weekend” mode by late Friday. The bad news released on a Friday afternoon doesn’t travel as long, or have as much legs, as something bad dropped on a Tuesday afternoon.
  2. It’s too late for the news networks to make major changes in the Sunday morning news analysis programs, so the bad news gets minimized on those programs.
  3. You know that negative coverage is inevitable in many instances. But you can mitigate it by better managing of when it happens. The late Larry Speakes, deputy press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, said, ”You don’t tell us how to stage the news and we don’t tell you how to cover it.”
  4. You lose opportunities to focus on tax cuts or other aspects of the Trump Administration’s policies when you have to keep dealing with negative news.
  5. You might have reduced President Trump’s need to Tweet explanations of the firing by at least 50 percent, thus keeping a national focus on much more important matters which our nation faces.

That’s it. Good luck in convincing the boss of this in the future.




Advantages of becoming a Marine

April 18, 2017

Earlier this month, 55 other educators and I had a unique opportunity to spend three days at the US Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina. About 50 percent of all male Marine recruits and 100 percent of all female recruits receive their Basic Training there. We visited the recruit depot as part of an annual series of Educators Workshops which the Marine Corps offers. We had an amazing amount of access to all facets of the process, including an up-close-and-personal orientation experience showing us a bit of what it’s like at the Yellow Footprints for recruits at the beginning of their training.

It was my third (and probably last) opportunity to visit Parris Island. First a disclaimer: I am NOT objective about this place. IMHO the Marines develop an elite military branch through an intentional, strategic and thorough process. Its recruit training is longer than the other service branches, and it covers physical conditioning and marksmanship more extensively than the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.

At the conclusion of the Educators Workshop, I asked my fellow educators for their observations and “lessons learned” with me. Here are a few of their observations:


A Marine recruit records marksmanship scores on a shooting range at MCRD Parris Island.

“The physical demand to become a Marine is real,” says Cory Brady, a teacher in the North Royalton Schools. “Train your body; get on a healthy diet before arriving.” “Get in shape physically,” adds Carol Pluess, LPC, Coordinator of Career and Assessment Services at the University of Akron’s Wayne Campus. “This includes learning how to swim if you don’t know how to do so.”

Another key point – Take advantage of the many educational opportunities which are provided. We learned that Marine recruits can earn up to nine hours of college credit by completing their Basic Training. Additionally, Marines can attend college online or “live” depending upon their duty posts, and study for additional credit toward a degree while on active duty. For some young men and women (and their families) the Marines then offer a very swift pathway to a college degree or a certification (Police, Fire, EMT, etc.) after military service without debt.

There is a third dimension which several of us discussed during the Workshops. College right after high school is NOT for everybody. There are dozens of varying motivations for high school students. Some may want to get into the most selective of colleges or universities and plow head with studying for first a bachelor’s, then an advanced degree.

Others are wired differently. They may not be academically ready yet for college. They may prefer to not pursue college and instead seek technical or professional careers. We met and heard from jet aircraft maintenance personnel who are thrilled about their MOS (jobs) in the Marines and know that their skills can lead to good careers once they leave military service.

aaaa silver door

“Silver doors” which receive Marine recruits at MCRD Parris Island. Only recruits are allowed to enter through these doors to begin their training.

Speaking of jobs, the Marines offer far more options for recruits than many of us realized. We saw plenty of the Parris Island Marine Band during our time in the Educators Workshop. Musicians can enlist in the USMC and continue playing their instruments in a variety of bands. There are also career opportunities for graphic designers, photographers, and other specialty areas.

One final important component which we learned is this: Marine recruits have a drive, an unquenchable determination, admirable distinctions in today’s society. High standards force recruits to achieve more, and they learn to de-emphasize self and focus on teams and team-building, collaboration, and discipline. These are highly desirable attributes on a battlefield , ones which can save many lives. They are also excellent characteristics in the “real” world of companies and organizations where careers begin.

The Few … the Proud … the Marines is much more than just a slogan. It’s real, and it exemplifies what we saw, heard and felt in the recruit process at Parris Island. From the Commanding General on down to the newest recruits – and we spoke with hundreds of Marines and recruits during the workshop – the elan of the Marines is genuine. For young adults who might not have been “tops” in their high school classes with their GPAs or awards, the US Marine Corps is a place where they can be a part of the very best.

Instructors teaching recruits — impressive!

April 7, 2017

Events in Syria this week provided a stark reminder of how dangerous our world is. Perhaps Syrian’s brutal Bashar al-Assad thought he could continue to get away murdering his own innocent women, men and children with chemical weapons. North Korea’s threat continues to grow. Against that global backdrop, our Educators Workshop had its third day of activities at the USMC Recruit Depot at Parris Island on Thursday.



Instructors aided us excellently at every activity during our time at USMC Parris Island, including here during our try at marksmanship at the Khe Sanh rifle range.

It was another jam-packed day for the educators from the Recruit Station Cleveland and the Recruit Station Frederick districts. We saw Marine recruits undergoing physical training at 6:30 a.m, and also a “Moto” (for motivation) Run of three miles for the members of the 1st Battalion, Alpha Company, who are graduating tomorrow.


We also:

  • Visited the Marine Corp Museum
  • Watched as nine foreign-born Marine recruits became U.S. citizens in a touching ceremony just before all the graduating recruits received six hours of well-deserved liberty.
  • Tried our hand on the obstacle course and the rappel tower.
  • Strived to maximize our teamwork and collaborative skills by repeating some of the puzzles and challenges which Marine recruits face in the Crucible near the end of their training.
  • Shared dinner with a representative group of Marines on base … and also made a brief stop at the Marine Corps Exchange (MCX).


20170405_134412 (1)

A “blackshirt” instructor assisting one of my fellow educators, Darla Wagner, at the rifle range.

Many of us were impressed with the high quality of the teaching we have witnessed at Parris Island. If the “blackshirts” instructors who guided us are any indication, there are some terrific sensei helping young men and women seeking to become Marines master all seven of the requirements needed to get to graduation day.


“It’s evident that, no matter where we were on Parris Island, the knowledge conveyed to the recruits produces a very impressive quality of young men and women who are ready to fight, to think, and also someday lead,” says Kevin Fourman, associate principal at Bucyrus High School.

Today is our last day in the Educators Workshop. There will be more on this blog about the entire experience on Saturday.

NOTE: I was able to upload some video which I took during the Motivation Run on Thursday. It was uplifting for the recruits to see so many family members and loved ones lining the Boulevard de France, cheering for their sons, boyfriends, and husbands. Here’s a link:

Yellow footprints & seeing it from top to bottom at Parris Island

April 6, 2017

A great amount of knowledge was compressed into about 11 hours as the U.S. Marine Corps poured information about the recruit training process into 60 educators from Ohio and the Washington, DC area at the USMC Recruit Depot at Parris Island today.

We began the day on the Yellow Footprints, where every recruit begins his transformation to a Marine. Drill instructors gave us a good glimpse of how the process begins. We were “treated” to a first-hand taste of how the Marines eliminate individual and attitudes and replace them with a mental discipline, physical discipline and physical discipline aimed at core values of honor, courage and commitment and the emergence of a team-before-self ethos.



Educators undergo some IT in a sand box at USMC Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

The Marines could not have been more open and transparent in their explanation of their goals with recruits and recruit training. We received a comprehensive overview from commanding general Brig. Gen. Austin “Sparky” Renforth, who began his military career when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1982 right out of high school. He gave us a terrific explanation of the challenges of recruiting today, and the tremendous opportunities which are available for those who make the grade and become Marines.


At the other end of the spectrum, I was privileged to have lunch with Marine Recruit Michael Diaz. Recruit Diaz was thrilled that he had completed his swimming qualifications earlier this week. He misses his parents and family in Woodbridge, Virginia. He’s a member of the 1st Marine Recruit Battalion  2nd Platoon, and has eight weeks remaining in his training.



Three of my colleagues and some USMC marksman instructors on the Khe Sanh firing range.

We also learned about opportunities with the Marine Corps bands and a variety of higher education options (Marines can receive more than $100,000 in benefits to pay for college). After lunch, we visited the marksmanship training simulator and then finished the afternoon at the Khe Sahn firing range, where we got to fire the M16-A4 rifle. (For the record, Cleveland outscored Frederick, Md., at hitting targets.)


Next we moved to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, where we heard from a roundtable of non-commissioned officers and an F-18 Super Hornet pilot about careers in the Air Wing of the Marines. We concluded with dinner in the Officer’s Club at the MCAS.

One fact stayed with me throughout the day. The “target age” for recruits for Marines is ages 17-21. More than 70 percent of all young adults in this target to not meet USMC entrance requirements and cannot become a Marine.

Tomorrow I hope to write more about this, and to cover the crucible and other “Phase III” parts of basic training where recruits complete their indoctrination and become Marines.

Preparing warriors and leaders

April 5, 2017

 We will make Marines

We will win our nation’s battles

We will develop strong citizens

Those are the three key premises of An Educator’s Guide to the Marine Corps, a brochure which the Marines of Recruit Station Cleveland provided to the teachers and counselors on the Educator’s Workshop to Parris Island.

20170404_192119About five dozen other educators and I will see the “Make Marines” aspect of this first-hand over the next few days. A couple of sentences from this brochure are really powerful: “Since so much is expected of our Marine Corps, recruits must naturally come to expect much of themselves. During …training, Marine recruits are tested in extraordinary ways, emerging as completely transformed individuals.”

20170404_192038Recruit training here consists of 13 very demanding and challenging weeks. “They are literally transformed” the brochure says.  “along the way, they develop new confidence in themselves and the certainty that they will be able to overcome whatever challenges they encounter.”

From what we’ve learned so far in many email communications from Sgt. Stephen Himes, those challenges are immense. Objectives for Marine recruits at the conclusion of their training include:

  • Character Development
  • Discipline
  • Espirit de Corps
  • Military Bearing
  • Combat Basic Tasks
  • Physical Fitness

20170404_192028The workshop took us to a restaurant named “Traditions” at the Recruit Depot. Many Marines shared their stories and career in the Corps with us. We get a first-hand look at these challenges, and how recruits rise to meet them, beginning Wednesday at 6 a.m. when our bus leaves to take us to the USMC Recruit Depot at Parris Island.

Off we go …

April 4, 2017

Our Marine Educators Workshop is traveling today, flying from CLE to Savannah, Ga., then on to Parris Island SC via bus for our first day at the Recruit Depot. We have dinner scheduled at Traditions, a restaurant at Parris Island, where we will hear from Marine Corps Public Affairs.

We had an excellent briefing and overview of our trip Monday. Major Shawn Meier, head of the Marine Corp recruiting station in Cleveland, and Staff Sgt. Kevin Osborne, gave us an explanation of what we will be seeing and doing during our stay there.

Many of us were impressed with the rigorous entry requirements for Marines today. He or she must be very competent mentally, physically, and orally, and also gain a good score on entrance battery exams. Drugs or an arrest record means you won’t meet entrance requirements.

It’s a super exciting trip for Jordan, one of our educators. Jordan teaches English at Caldwell High School, and today she is taking her first plane flight. Many of take so much for granted in 2017. I’ve lost count of the number of times and the different types of planes in which I’ve flown. For everything, there is a first time. Jordan’s first time is today. Hope we all have the best kind of flights — the uneventful kind — as we head to the USMC Recruit Depot today.