Perhaps the greatest misconception about the news business is that advertisers and other powerful interests can keep embarrassing stories out of the paper.
While I can't say categorically that it has never happened, I never saw it in more than 17 years as a newsman and another 15 as a media relations professionalwhich is not to say it wasn't tried.
What 20th century event had the most significant impact on your profession or field of study? What lesson do you take away from that event?
Advances in technology may have revolutionized mass media communications in the 20th century, but perhaps more than anything else Watergate helped change its natureand not always for the better. Before Watergate, mainstream journalism for the most part was about accuracy, clarity, brevity and fairness. Oh, there were the Pulliams, the Hearsts and the McCormicks. Most young reporters, though, quickly learned that editors demanded bright and tight writing and would not tolerate spin or edge. For the vast majority of editors, giving readers the facts and letting them make their own value judgments was a mantra.
An old-time editor told a cub reporter (me) more than 30 years ago, "Son, they're interested in what you saw, not what you think." No more. I watched idealistic young people enter journalism who grew up during the social and political turmoil of the '60s. They believed their readers WERE interested in what they thought because they perceived injustices, and they wanted to use journalism's power to correct them. Those reporters are today's editors. One of the lamentable results is that today edge and point of view if not outright spin are hallmarks of journalistic prose, and that unfortunately is one of the contributors to the tabloidization of the media.
What lesson can we take from this? Demand critical thinking from those who filter the news for you. Ask them, for example, why reporters still cite as a respectable source the special interest group that used questionable science to trigger the Alar scare.
Personally, what is the most meaningful life lesson you have taken from your vocation or avocation?
Lessons I've learned in my 30-plus years in the communications business: Every issue always…ALWAYS…has two sides, there are very few absolutes in life, and nothing is ever simple. A very good politician once told me, "For every complex issue, there is a solution that is clear, simple, understandableand wrong."
What person(s) or mentor(s) have had the most significant impact on your life? Can you describe how that person affected your life?
Besides immediate family, I suppose there are two people who have had the most significant impact on my life. One is Bob Harvey, Wabash's registrar when I attended. A former newsman, he taught Wabash's only journalism course, a two-hour offering whose four or five enrollees met in a small Lilly Library meeting room. Bob's network in the business was remarkable, and he arranged for a Chicago Tribune recruiter to stop in Crawfordsville to interview me. The meeting ultimately resulted in a job offer. Although I turned the Trib down for a job with a smaller newspaper that offered broader opportunities, it's fair to say that I wouldn't have gotten either offer had it not been for Bob Harvey. The second is Bill Houpt, city editor at the Danville, Ill. Commercial-News in the mid-1960s and my first editor. Intensely well read, articulate, and profane, he demanded accuracy and brevity. He corrected the mistakes of an untutored reporter, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently. A superb teacher, he should have been a Wabash man.
In your experience, what is the greatest misconception the public has about your vocation or the people in that vocation?
Perhaps the greatest misconception about the news business is that advertisers and other powerful interests can keep embarrassing stories out of the paper. While I can't say categorically that it has never happened, I never saw it in more than 17 years as a newsman and another 15 as a media relations professionalwhich is not to say it wasn't tried. A local mover and shaker once called a grizzled newspaper editor of my acquaintance to demand that his son's DUI charge be kept out of the paper. The editor told the powerbroker, "I'm gonna do ya' a favor. If my police reporter happens to miss your son's charge, I won't call it to his attention." I picked up the charge from the blotter, and the indiscretion was duly printed. I found out about the editor's conversation only after the story ran. I told the anecdote whenever a client wanted me to call a media contact to squelch a story.