|The following article was published in The Chess Journalist, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4, Consecutive No. 94, December 1999. One-time only publication rights have been obtained from the contributor. All other rights are hereby assigned to the author. Articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CJA, its offices or members. Copyright 1999 by the Chess Journalists of America.|
by Darren Dillinger
A recent e-mail survey went out to about 35 members of the CJA (roughly 25% of the membership) and nine other known journalists. The result was a good cross-section, from Chess Life editor Glenn Petersen and columnist Alex Dunne to state and local club newsletter editors. Thank you all for your input!
Each survey question had 1 to 4 choice of progressive desirability. Let us start with the question that got the most positive response and work our way downward.
If we give a weighted point value for each response, the average response is 3.57. Very high! This is the most important figure to not only show the overall preference of the group, but to indicate how much one choice is preferred over others.
The next highest rated preference was:
Of all the chess journalists responding to the survey, only one person gave this political thought a higher preference than the first (instructional or self-help articles). He gave the such articles a "Sometimes" response (for 2 points) and this one "A lot" (4 points). Having read The Chess Journalist for the last year or so, I found the identity of that person no surprise.
The next two questions had a dual purpose. Let's look at them together.
As one of those who constructed the questions, I expected a flat 1.0 average (Rarely if ever) for having local games and coverage published in TCJ. The intended purpose of this question was to provide a baseline with which to compare the other responses. Several comments were made to support that point of view. Eric Johnson, editor of the new Chess Pride magazine, commented "...there is no reason to duplicate work of the mainstream chess press." But others in giving "Sometimes" support, took an instructional slant. Chess Life editor Glenn Petersen wrote, "I'd like to see ... good examples of journalistic reporting on international and national and regional events. Examples of good layouts, good use of photos, as well as 'guild' type articles can only help fledgling reporters and editors."
Myron Lieberman commented, "Games from local, regional, and national events ... should be printed when it can be instructional to do so. Games can be used as examples of how to publish games (or how not to publish games). Games should not be published for their own merit. People can go to various levels of chess publications to find games. They can find journalistic support in very few places. The Chess Journalist and CJA should be where people look first for help in chess journalism." These comments seem to reflect the instructional nature desired and not just straight news coverage ... and further reinforces the guild type of publication advocated by in the top question.
[[While I agree that a quarterly magazine is not the place to look for the latest chess news, I find it a bit incogruous to publish a chess magazine without any games. -- ed (John Hillery)]]
Likewise, support of editorials on political thought carried with it comments of an instructional nature by many. Again Myron Lieberman: "Political articles should be published only when there is good instructional value for journalists. Counterpoint or debate can be very helpful and can build interest. My primary complaint about te way politics is handled in The Chess Journalist is that fact, opinion, and falsehood are not differentiated sufficiently ... Leave personal attacks to the tabloids. There is no place for them in The Chess Journalist." Selby Anderson, editor of Texas Knights, says, "Texas Knights is similarly constrained under the TCA bylaws to avoid controversy, to wit: 'The content of Texas Knights shall avoid any material of a controversial nature or criticism of any person, club, or region. Editorial opinion shall be clearly identified in separate articles, and shall have the consent of the President prior to publication.'" Glenn Petersen comments, "Opinion pieces are far less helpful (everyone has an opinion) than good pro and con articles which are thoroughly researched, and grounded in fact."
I would add that we need to have some attempt by the authors to document facts (like "... as listed in te USCF annual report page number so and so"). This goes hand in hand with some editorial control to verify facts and not just run what comes in.
Some effective comments in favor of political articles were:
Jim Eade (then Policy Board Member-at-Large): "There is no harm in publishing dissenting and/or opposing views. There is great harm in silencing them ... The opinion pieces, such as the debate between Redman and Parr on FIDE, are what make the publication worth getting. We should be striving for more, not less, of that sort of discourse. ... I am unlikely to respond favorably to attempts to restrict the editorial content of The Chess Journalist. I consider that a very dangerous proposition."
Tom Dorsch (then USCF Treasurer) said, "(The Chess Journalist) ... As a journal of political thought ... provides a valuable learning tool for members of the chess community who otherwise only have access to Chess Life and the Policy Board Newsletter. The two house organs censor views that conflict with the party line; as a result, important members of the chess community, including Voting Members ... can labor under some mighty misconceptions."
I can see merits in both Jim Eade's and Tom Dorsch's comments. As with almost any organization, it is understandable that those in control of USCF may want to publish only what they are inclined to agree with. Both Jim and Tom are complaining about that. Of course it could be maintained that the mass mailings, Internet postings and e-mails sent out by those seeking leadership positions in USCF are an independent uncensored vehicle for them. It is my understanding that both of these gentlemen make full use of these alternatives already. But I can see wanting more. Perhaps the Policy Board Newsletter should make more concrete efforts to publish uncensored anti-establishment opinion pieces. Sort of a minority committee report in print ... This would better reach the intended audience of politicos. With these other avenues available for political expression, many have called for the TCJ to eliminate altogether these opinion pieces, rather than take up room in the slim 16 pages of The Chess Journalist. Others say that if you run them in TCJ, they should be for instructional example purposes only.
The Bottom Line
There is a school of thought which holds that if someone advocates a point of view you share, they are informed, well-reasoned and reach the correct conclusions. Conversely, those who advocate a point of view that you do not share are silly, stupid and nonsensical, as they prattle on in reaching their incorrect conclusions.
It should be noted that the survey question was worded: "I would like to see well written articles on political thought." I think almost all would agree that whether or not well written political pieces should be in TCJ, many (I don't say all, you be the judge) of the political articles in recent years have been abrasive and filled with personal attacks. Facts were often undocumented and there seemed to be little editorial attempt to verify any facts before they were printed and/or offer of opposing points of view in the same issue. The personal involvments of the writers (what Jeremy Bentham caled "sinister interstes" were not disclosed by the writers (are they the chairman of some committee or running for some office with possible partisan motives?), nor was disclosure encouraged by any editorial influence.
The survey and related comments would suggest that the quantity of political articles should be cut down, and the nature of those that do see print should conform to stricter standards, instruction by example, etc. One should still be able to advocate points of view contrary to establishement wisdom. CJA just needs to clean up its act.
Thanks to Robert Miller for sending out the survey, and to all of those who responded. I am reminded of something that Benjamin Franklin said in his essay The Morals of Chess, published in 1779: "(Chess) is so interesting in itself ... Those who have leisure for such diversions, cannot find one that is more innocent ... but advantageous to the vanquished as well as the victor." We have the brotherhood of chess in common. It is a noble cause ... let us move forward with diverse ideas but in harmony and mutual respect.