So you want to be an editor — a follow up to our discussion in this space on December 1.
This week’s first lesson begins with last week’s cover story, “From Middle East to Central Jersey.” A letter on page 2 of this issue compliments writer Scott Morgan and poses a question: Why not do a similar story on an Israeli middle-class entrepreneur? Implicit in the question is the idea that if we present the Muslim side of life shouldn’t we also present the Israeli side?
Good question, but we don’t think so. We believe the middle class in Israel is well established, and the idea that one (or many) of them are doing business in central New Jersey does not seem like news. The fact that a Muslim middle class is rising is news — in fact, as Shazib Jamil pointed out in our December 8 story, the relative poverty of the Muslim world is one factor that enables radical extremists to flourish.
More importantly, Israelis in America are not operating in a political climate anything like that facing the Muslims, thought by some substantial portion of our population to be “at war” with America (as one crank caller to our office argued after the story’s publication). The fact that our cover subject reported no instances of discrimination or harassment — so far — is good news indeed.
Another reader raised a factual question about the cover headline: “From Middle East to Central Jersey.” Is our Pakistan-born businessman really representative of the Middle East? Or is he from a south Asian country? Did U.S. 1 mistakenly equate Muslim with Middle Eastern?
We came close. The experts suggest that technically Pakistan is not in the Middle East but that practically many people think it is, so much so that it could be considered in the “greater Middle East.” Close or not, it’s a good lesson. Even when you are editing a geographically specific publication such as ours, a little knowledge of world politics can be quite valuable.
Our second lesson springs from exactly that point. Our sister newspaper, the West Windsor-Plainsboro News, has been covering the attempt of several parents in the district (along with some in Princeton and South Brunswick) to establish a charter school that would provide day-long immersion in the Chinese language.
Opponents argue that the creation of another public school will sap the district of funds at a particularly trying economic time, and argue that the WW-P district is already providing first-rate language instruction in Mandarin Chinese beginning in grade four.
The proponents counter that the payoff will be huge: A wave of Americans able to deal fluently with the world’s next great superpower — China, of course.
Of course? Perhaps. A month or so ago I introduced a speaker from a New York-based public relations firm that provides its clients with an annual briefing on world economic and political trends. Robert Dilenschneider’s 52-page outlook for 2010-’11 raised some questions about that conventional wisdom:
Despite rocketing past Japan as the No. 2 economy in the world, China has acquired some baggage. “Many of its companies remain state-owned or . . . partially state-owned.” The government heavily subsidizes energy costs for manufacturers. “Result: On average, a Chinese factory uses four times the energy of a U.S. plant for the same level of production.”
You think we in the U.S. have concerns about social security? Writes Dilenschneider: “China will have to confront the problems of an aging population sooner than India because despite a thriving middle class of 300 million, it has failed to create a meaningful social safety net. . . And because of its one-child-per-family birth control policy, China will have fewer new workers entering the workforce to support any social security system.”
Continues the forecasting report: “The emergence of India as a growth economy in the last 10 years should open some eyes. China will probably stay on its impressive course, but India should be able to keep the race close. Western business leaders will want to think carefully, therefore, about how they invest in Asia’s growth.”
And back in central New Jersey, the editor of the little WW-P News should make sure that the advent of the Chinese charter school doesn’t come at the expense of continued excellence in old-fashioned English, the language that is the primary language of commerce and government in India.
Two readers graded our responses to the quiz posed in the December 1 “so you want to be an editor” column. The first dilemma for the editor involved a story subject who wanted the article about him withdrawn from the Internet because someone had used information in it to harass his child. The second dilemma was posed by a writer who wanted her letter withdrawn prior to publication.
Margaux O’Nolan (a pseudonym, we suspect) supported our position, which was to stand our ground and not expunge the first story from the public record. “Nice work. You were dealing with a Master of the Universe, of which Princeton has an inordinate share. It would seem that your point about the information already being out there in a variety of ways (cached versions as well as that old-fashioned form, the paper itself) was lost on said Master of the Miniverse, but I think otherwise: there’s nothing a Master of the Universe hates more than for someone to point out that they’re wrong and they haven’t thought the problem through.”
Steve Lubetkin, a Cherry Hill-based professional podcaster who has communicated before with U.S. 1 about online matters, agreed with our handling of both dilemmas. “You can’t un-ring the bell from five years ago. I’ve had an online presence since even before widespread Internet usage. I’ve never been targeted or had my family targeted in any way. The chances are the person in this instance did in fact read it at the library.
“Your handling of situation No. 2 was easier, the article hadn’t been published and it wouldn’t kill the paper to hold or even spike this one story.”
That makes two As for the editor. But this week, of course, is another test.