A feature, not a bug

Check your work

It should come as no suprise to Michigan Today readers that your crack editor is not exactly Lois Lane. Writing always was my interest, not reporting. In Michigan News meetings, I sit in the “features” chair, surrounded by impressive colleagues with pedigrees from the Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press, the Rocky Mountain News, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others. They talk about public health advancements, climate change, and black holes. When it’s my turn, I talk about the curator who handles Benedict Arnold’s correspondence at U-M’s Clements Library.

Holdship Billboard column

I wrote a Billboard column called “Grass Route” about the indie record business. Later, I had a music video column called “The Eye.” I also had a very tight mugshot and a different last name.

I did have a seven-year stint at the music industry “bible” Billboard, where I wrote about independent record labels (Sub Pop!) and music video directors (David Fincher, anyone?). So I am familiar with the alcoholic rock critic, the loud-mouthed sales guy (Marv!), and the “All About Eve” cub reporter who gets her first column at age 21. But still, I feel like an imposter among “real” reporters, having only ever worked at a weekly — and a weekly trade at that.

After you’d hit “send” by noon each Wednesday, you’d wait by your phone for the call from New York-based news editor Ken Terry. “Are you sure this is right?” he would say, a hint of East Coast disgust in his voice for us SoCal slackers. “Check your notes.” “Call him back.” “I can’t believe you didn’t ask THAT.”

That only had to happen once before you made sure to know every possible answer to every possible question before it was your turn to be “Terry-ized.” (Now I just have you, dear readers, to bring the monthly agita.)

When the term “fake news” secured its tragic place in the modern lexicon, I was at first insulted. How could any sane person believe someone would enter the world of journalism with the intent to produce bogus content? The concept is anathema to everything we learn in j-school, let alone a newsroom. Few sensations are more agonizing to a reporter than having to file an actual correction. I cried real tears in college when I spelled a source’s name wrong. And I never did it again.

Real problems

But then “fake news” suddenly was everywhere, dressed up in logos and pretty websites to look as real as real can be. The stories were so outrageous, I was sure we were safe: Politicians eating babies, microchips embedded in vaccines, school shootings that were merely hoaxes. An election stolen right before our eyes, despite any proof a court would consider. How could anyone possibly believe this!

And then I tuned into the coverage Jan. 6, as our nation’s Congress prepared to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. Suddenly the screen was overtaken by a dangerous, violent mob driven into a frenzy. They breached the Capitol. They desecrated the global symbol of democracy. They killed police. All in the name of fake news.

Soon after I sent Michigan Today, I got this note in my personal in-box from a reader named Wade Johnson. I contacted Wade and he agreed to let me publish his private response to my feature about Benedict Arnold, treason, and the events of Jan. 6.

“Jan 6th event was a protest, not treason you dumb c*nt,” Wade chose to inform me.

That asterisk is mine, not his. How about that for fake news?


  1. Stephen Charles - 1979

    Hi Deb, perhaps you should educate yourself where the term “fake news” originated? Perhaps you would be surprised to learn that it was a term popularized by H. Clinton when the “Pizzagate” scandal broke in 2016?https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-42724320. The phrase was later co-opted by President Trump to describe the unbalanced news coverage he was receiving.


    • Deborah Holdship

      Thanks for educating me, Steve.


    • Jim Otto - 1979, 1985

      So Steve. I noticed that you had comments regarding the four articles and even Ms. Holdship’s editorial. You seem to know a lot about…well, seemingly everything. I found myself wondering if you have, by chance, published anything worth reading that you could share with us less enlightened folks? You obviously have strong opinions about…well, I guess topics written in Michigan Today specifically, but the world in general. You seem to have a counterpoint to every author’s point. You must be a lot of fun at parties. Pre pandemic of course. Oh wait, you probably don’t think the pandemic is real. I can just imagine what theories you have about that. But before you comment on my comment, give me a minute to get a bourbon on the rocks. I like a stiff drink when I read science fiction.


  2. Cindy Zech Burkhart - 1982

    Deborah, Love reading your editorials and features! Keep up the good work! We were just discussing the inconceivable journalistic leap away from factual, verifiable information on which we were ‘raised’.



    Dear Deborah,
    Thank you for stimulating my intellect. I am not surprised by the political left leanings of your writing. Your audience lies mostly there and your surroundings for the past 20 some years have been filled with people of similar inclinations. Here is a thought from someone who labored from the mid-60’s – mid-90’s as a Democrat political activist and party “hack.” It is one thing to address a politically homogenous group and another to address a mixed group, even if most people in the audience lean one way. This lesson was reinforced when I ran for school board (a non-partisan position) in Evanston, IL (a place not unlike Ann Arbor). About 60% of the population was Democrat, 30% Republican. But, the mixture changes from school to school, and the local newspaper covered every speaking event. I might have been elected as an open lefty. But, why would I do that when my job would be to represent all parents and children in improving education in Evanston. Those who go through life wearing their politics on their sleeves, miss many wonderful chances to meet and discuss a variety of issues with a variety of people, and to gain an understanding of What, Why and How they think.
    Best Regards!


  4. Justin (Jay) Gerak - '84 (AB History), '87 (Law)

    Debbie –

    I enjoy your features and hadn’t realized that you had worked for Billboard. Keep up the good work!
    Illegitimi non carborundum.
    Jay Gerak


    • Deborah Holdship

      I don’t know how to say, “It’s cool,” in Latin, but thanks, Jay! All hail Sally. She set me off on this path, I mean it.


      • Jay Gerak - '84 (AB History), '87 (Law)

        Debbie –

        I’ll pass your good wishes along to Sally. Stay Cool.


  5. Tom Banks - 1977

    Now the swamp includes the great University of Michigan. How it is appropriate for you to be commenting on an event that you know only because you listen to (and probably worship) the left wing media? You regurgitate their dribble as if it comes from the mouth of God Himself. I happened to be there and it was nothing the media makes it out to be. Its reported all for political advantage and continued disparagement of what many of believe to be the greatest president we have ever known. Yes- over 50% of Americans like or love President Trump. Are you shocked? Probable because you live in an insulated bubble of your own making because you cannot deal with the real world where people with differing views have to get along with each other. You, on the other hand sit in your ivory tower and pontificate on how you, as the great dictator would great a perfect society. Like Mussolini, Stalin and Mao. Shame on you and the Michigan Today.


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