A Vast Glowing Empty Page

Am I doing this right?

44 words on age

Hey, thanks for everything. For always being there. Stay in touch.

It’s been too long, let’s catch up soon. Let’s grab lunch, you’ve got my number, right?

Wow, they’re so grown up. It seems like just yesterday.

Damn, he was too young. What now?

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44 words on admiration

I will never be as good as Shakespeare, nor as brilliant as Joyce. I cannot be as cool as Hemingway or as crazy as Kerouac. My imagination will never match Tolkien’s. I will not live forever on page or screen. But I will try.

44 words on a rainy Sunday

It rained in New Hampshire today. Pretty much all of New England, too. The rain, combined with it being Sunday, had me in a rather bookish mood. So I grabbed my copy of The Elements of Style and laid on the couch on the screened in porch and read. I studied, really. I suppose you don’t read a book like The Elements of Style. You highlight, annotate, absorb. So that’s what I did. After a while of reading, though, I wanted to write. So I did. I’m starting a project today based on an exercise I did in my Magazine Writing class last year. In an effort to get us to write concisely, our professor assigned us to write 44 words on credibility — to somehow capture the essence of credibility in a brief paragraph. Now I have before me a summer where my only job is to report and write, and I want to take full advantage of the opportunity before I return to school and face two hundred more tasks everyday. So I’m going to focus on writing concisely, both on the job and in my spare time. I’ll challenge myself to write as often as I can, attempting to take big, complex concepts and capture them in 44 words. I hope I’m able to find some truth in the exercise and to improve my writing along the way. There will be plenty of failures, too. There always are. But I think I’ll enjoy the challenge, and for the summer, that’s good enough for me. For anyone actually reading, I always appreciate feedback. So, here’s my first try on a subject that has been on my mind a lot lately. Here are 44 words on heaven.

To live is to choose — to be happy, kind, cranky, sad. Life is to awake and to choose. Life eternal, though, is to never have to choose again — to just be happy and be kind. To live effortlessly and love constantly: that is heaven.

Ms. B

“Merry Christmas” is a weird thing to say at a wake. But Ms. B was delightfully weird. She would have loved it.

Mary Eileen Barkowski, better known to over 25 years of Brother Rice High School students as “Ms. B,” died on Dec. 20 with little warning to those outside her immediate family. Everyone knew she was sick — she had Crohn’s disease and bouts with pneumonia, causing her to miss long stretches of class — but I don’t think many of her students, past or present, were even remotely aware that she would leave us at age 64.

My two brothers, one of whom was in her her senior Honors Psychology class this year, and my mom and I arrived at her wake at Blake Lamb Funeral Home in Oak Lawn at 3:20. Three minutes later, the line was out the door. And it stayed that way for a long time. My family and I only assumed the decision was made to have the wake at Blake Lamb because it is the largest funeral home in the area. It still overflowed. In his brief eulogy the next day, Ms. B’s oldest son Brian, who also works at Brother Rice, said the funeral director remarked that his mother must have been a special person because they only had turnout like that for fallen police officers and soldiers.

And in that capacity crowd at Ms. B’s wake, there were many familiar faces from my past — teachers, friends, parents. One of those faces, a round and lightly five o’clock-shadowed one, belonged to the best friend I made in high school, Marty Kyler. I saw him from across the large parlor room, and after he paid his respects he strutted over to greet me with a warm hug. I walked away from my family in line and Marty and I talked for a minute or so, but he left me with something to think about, as he often does.

“There are a lot of smiling faces in this room,” he said. “She would have liked that.”

He was right. After he left, with a promise that we would have a proper reunion after the funeral the following day, I looked up to see lots of smiles and hear bursts of hearty laughter. And Ms. B would have loved it. She was one of those people who most definitely would have insisted on a true celebration of life rather than a period of mourning. And after all the stories swapped, memories shared and laughs had, I think it’s safe to say Ms. B’s wake and funeral were a celebration, complete with the Brother Rice marching band she loved so much.

When I returned to line, smile on my face, my mom reminded me of how both she and I first met Ms. B. After my years of class and memories of Ms. B, I had almost forgotten that the first time we ever met perfectly encapsulated who she was.

It was a warm, humid day in late September of 2008. I was a short, pudgy, ill at ease freshman at Brother Rice and it was the day of the Homecoming Dance, which Ms. B. oversaw for as long as I think anyone at Rice can remember. But the dance wasn’t what was worrying me. Instead, my chronically nervous 14-year-old self was concerned about finishing a biology project on Sickle Cell Anemia due the following Monday.

I had been working on the project, which consisted of a paper and an accompanying poster board, since early in the school year, but because it was the first major project I had in high school, I wanted to make it perfect. But I forgot my Biology notebook. Which had all my notes for the project. I was screwed.

My mom graciously drove me over to school on the off chance someone was there to let me in, go to my locker, and grab the all-important notebook. Sure enough, Ms. B was there.

After a few minutes of wandering around the gym and the hallways, which were decorated with balloons and streamers for the dance, my mom and I found Ms. B sitting under a tree outside of the cafeteria. She was with a student, not surprising for a woman who spent most of her time at Brother Rice as a guidance counselor. As I nervously approached and asked if she could possibly unlock the door to the academic wing for me, she looked up with a smile warmer than the day and handed me her bulky keychain.

“Just come right back,” she said. “My house keys are on there and I’m going to need to go home eventually,” Ms. B. said with a chuckle, which I timidly reciprocated as I made my way toward the door.

I don’t remember much after that, but I know I finished the project, went to the dance, had fun, and then two years later found myself in Ms. B’s junior Theology class. And then in her senior Psychology class. I can’t say I learned much Theology or Psychology from those classes, but I learned more about being a good, honest, caring person from her than from any teacher I’ve ever had.

Her classes might as well have been “Being a Man 101.” She was a mother in the classroom that so many of “her boys,” as she lovingly called us, needed as they were on their way to becoming men. She was a mother to her own two boys, Michael and Brian, too. And she loved all of it. She loved all the loving.

Ms. B was the third Brother Rice faculty member to die in 2014. A senior, Cameron Fahey, also died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in August, making it an awful year for my alma mater. But Ms. B’s death seemed one too many.

She died right before Christmas, when all of her former students, her boys, were home. When my family and I left the funeral home, the line had wrapped around the second row of cars in the parking lot, but nobody seemed to mind the wait. I saw more familiar faces as we made our way to the door.

“It’s good to see you. Merry Christmas” was the chorus as we kept going backward through the line. It was said with sincerity and warmth. And a love that Ms. B would have loved.

Being Bob Schmuhl

Imaginary internet points to you if you get my title reference

I like this assignment because it literally requires only my unfiltered opinion on something. And being 19 years old, I have irrationally strong opinions on everything. Not surprisingly, I have strong opinions on my education, especially when it comes to journalism. I agree with what has been said in class before (and by our friend Hedrick Smith) that we at Notre Dame benefit from a journalism minor, allowing us to major in whatever else we want. Professor Ciccone said last semester it would greatly benefit us to “become an expert” in something other than journalism before actually becoming a journalist. I also agree Ciccone’s notion that journalism graduate school is kind of B.S. Still, there are a few things that all aspiring journalists should know, especially looking into the uncertain future of the profession. Ranging from the practical to the philosophical, the following courses need to be at least offered in any journalism curriculum.

1. Reporting/Researching

I haven’t taken it yet, but I know Notre Dame JED offers “Advanced Reporting” with Jack Colwell from the South Bend Tribune. I plan on taking it at some point because more than anything, journalists need to know how to report. As a research institution, Notre Dame provides a good foundation for all students on how to effectively research, but journalists need to take their research out of the library. In our current discussion of the need for knowledge-based reporting, Patterson offers a shift in information as a possible solution. Instead of relying on official sources, journalists ought to rely on the official documents that are available to the public (or can be made so through the Freedom of Information Act). In the pursuit of the truth, journalists should not shy away from pouring over thousands of pages of documents to find significance. On a more basic level, journalism students need to be able actually report. I learned how to report by writing for The Observer more than I did in any classroom (side note: everyone in the JED program should also work in student media in some capacity. There’s a wide enough variety of options that there’s really no excuse not to). Journalism students, before going after internships, need to know how to conduct an interview and how to fact check. 

2. Ethics

In a story on The Observer‘s website from earlier this week (due to space shortage it didn’t actually appear in the paper), former CFO of HealthSouth Weston Smith said, “When I hear people say business ethics I cringe because I think ethics is ethics. It’s just a question of where it’s played out.” Take the same concept and apply it to journalism. The fundamentals class touched on ethics, but seeing as it’s right there in the title of the minor, we should probably place more of an emphasis on it. Requiring JED minors to use their second philosophy university requirement on an ethics class is not out of line, and neither is including an “Ethics of Journalism” class. 

3. Sociology of News/Journalism and American Democracy

For this course, I am imagining our current class, but with a little more emphasis on Schudson-like reading. This class has fundamentally changed the way I look at the media and its role in Democracy, which again, since it’s in the title of the minor, should be a point of emphasis. Any journalist should understand why they do what they do, and a class like this one at least gets that internal conversation started. A class like this not only forces journalism students to think about the press in the context of American Democracy, but also brings sociological issues to the forefront. Personally speaking, this class has made me actively consider sources, framing, and audiences (among other issues) in my own work with The Observer.

4. Coding

This recommendation stems from a point of personal ignorance because I have not the slightest clue how to write code, or exactly what it means to do so. Nevertheless, I have read, and continue to read, countless articles that urge modern journalists to know how to code. So, I figure I, and other journalism students, should probably get on that while we’re still in the part of our lives where learning is our only actual job. 

5. Statistics

This is another “modern” thing, and something we have spent a good deal of time talking about in class. If Nate Silver and 538 is the future of news coverage, shouldn’t journalists be statisticians, too? I’m not saying all JED minors should be ACMS majors (though the thought has crossed my mind more than once that I should study stats more rigorously), but all journalists, in sports or news, should know how to understand and analyze numbers. Journalists have always been good at facts, but figures are a different story. One of the strongest ways to make an argument is by effectively incorporating verifiable numbers into the argument and analyzing their significance and meaning. Journalists, in their role of informing the public, should be able to digest and properly interpret important statistics and use them to their advantage. 

6. Journalism Law/The First Amendment

Last year I took a class entitled “Intro to the First Amendment,” and until I took this class, it was my favorite at Notre Dame. The class was a blend of history and case law surrounding the most treasured American constitutional rights, and provided me with a solid foundation in the law behind speech. As we mentioned in class this past week, journalism is the only profession explicitly protected by the Constitution, so I think it behooves all journalists to know the law behind their profession. 

7. Internship

This one was a no-brainer, and thankfully something that JED already requires. For as much as we want to talk about journalism education, if anybody is serious about actually becoming a journalist, the best way is to learn by doing. Journalism has always been a learn-as-you-go type of job, so why not get some practical experience before actually entering the profession. If anything, internships will help some journalism students arrive at the conclusion that this isn’t really what they want to do with their lives, which frankly saves a few years of your life and what I imagine to be a decent amount of unhappiness. I can’t wait to go do my internship(s) because I’m ready to take my journalism education out of the classroom and into the newsroom (full disclosure, that was taken essentially verbatim from my cover letter any new-related internship I have ever applied for). Ciccone preached the necessity of internships, and every subsequent interaction I have had with anyone in professional journalism has echoed his sentiment. Internships are the foundation of a career in journalism, and if the purpose of an education is to prepare for a career (though I personally don’t believe it is), then internships should be a part of any journalism school or program. 

 

For those of you keeping score at home, I referenced The Observer three times this blog. That’s a new record. 

And the title is a reference to the 1999 cult classic Being John Malkovich. It was a bad joke. I apologize (but not really)

The Structure of Journalism

Editor’s Note: It was my sincere hope to have this post done while it was still technically Monday, but rather predictably, life (read: The Observer) got in the way. I deeply apologize to you, Josh and people of #NDJED. I put the print deadline ahead of the blog deadline. Decisions, man. But I haven’t gone to sleep yet (obviously), so I am still considering this Monday. Respectfully, deal with it. 

This post requires a look at an incredible expanse of journalism history, beginning in the Jazz age and culminating in 1963 in the midst of the establishment of “big media.” Such a long period of history inevitably contains great social, cultural and political changes, among others, but this period of journalism history contains a number of structural changes to the news media, as well. Working chronologically, the first significant structural change in journalism might be considered the creation of an entirely new structure: the magazine. 

The magazine was nothing inherently new when Time launched in 1923, but Harry Luce and Brit Hadden did create something new with their venture. The Yale grads changed the structure of a certain type of news organization by decisively removing all barriers to circulation and coverage. Up until this point in journalistic history, newspapers and magazines limited themselves to the cities in which they published and typically geared their publication to a specific audience. Time sought to reverse this industry convention and appeal to as wide an audience as possible. And it worked. By 1928, the annual circulation reached nearly 300,000 and revenue eclipsed $1 million (p. 193).

In the same period, radio began its explosion into the American mainstream and became a force for news, through the advent of broadcasting. The federal government, however, under the direction of President Herbert Hoover, constructed the airwaves in a specific way so that the government could control and license the use of radio airwaves. The Radio Act of 1927 established the Federal Radio Commission (later the FCC) and forced structural changes upon the radio news industry. Nevertheless, the changes enacted by the Radio Act provided the groundwork for organizing and regulating this new medium, which would be replicated when television emerged as a mass medium. 

During the depression era (or “one horrible decade” as Daly put it) featured a key structural changes in the form of syndication. This “simple business arrangement” brought to a fuller reality Tocqueville’s concept of a newspaper implanting an idea in thousands of minds simultaneously. Not only did syndication provide for quality and easy content, it also gave select columnists a captive national audience. This concept has since been carried on to other media, and television and radio syndication have become arguably more influential than syndicated newspaper columnists. 

One of these widely syndicated columnists, Ernie Pyle, made his fame and ultimately lost his life in another government-implemented structural change: World War II. War coverage always presents a challenge to the news media to find the balance between comprehensive coverage that informs the public at home while also making sure they do not provide too much information to the enemy. Certainly government censors intervened in print and radio coverage both abroad and on the home front, but it was actually the media’s self-censorship that proved more restrictive. Journalists, as with most of the country, considered themselves “part of the team” during WWII, so naturally they were slow to criticize and slower to print something that would risk diminishing national morale. This change was obviously temporary, as the war eventually came to an end, but this mentality also extended to areas beyond military coverage. For example, journalists generally hid President Roosevelt’s health conditions, even as they deteriorated, for the sake of portraying him as a strong leader (p. 269). Ultimately, though, WWII proved beneficial for the news media as a whole, and reporting of World War II surpassed that of previous American wars (p. 284).

 In the post-war era, television came to the forefront of news media, led by an initially reluctant Edward R. Murrow, forging a path into an entirely new structure of news. Though the regulatory and corporate structure were already established for television (they used the same guidelines as radio), television still constituted a significant change in news culture and structure. Advertisers took on unprecedented power to control and influence content as ad revenue was the only source for TV. The Associated Press’s ever-increasing (or at least seemingly so) influence, and the development of “news cycles,” left the media vulnerable to people like Joseph McCarthy, who dominated the news with his absurd claims of rampant communism for the better part of five years (p. 296). Crusaders like Murrow, though, who were bold enough to fight back against the likes of McCarthy changed the entire tone of coverage and debate in the country, and ultimately set the stage for cable news and punditry a few decades later. 

Overall, this period of 43 years contained a world of difference for the news media. Starting in an era dominated by newspapers and radio, the news transformed through wars, both world and cold, regulations, and remarkable individuals and ended in a form much closer to what we know today, a 24-hour news cycle dominated by television coverage (though the internet has certainly made its claim in the past decade and a half). Tracing this history provides an insight into why the news is the way it is and how future changes can and will occur. It is up to us to recognize the patterns of history. 

Sorry again for the delay. 

Good night and good luck. 

Professionalizing the News

I can’t help but think of journalists as professionals. It has literally an idea that has been with me my entire life. I forget if I’ve mentioned this in class before, but my father is a journalist and he has acted as professionalism embodied for as long as I have looked to him as an example. Even in a neighborhood where you see the democratic precinct captain at Sunday mass, my front lawn has never featured a campaign sign. My dad has turned down gifts and stories because they could harm his objectivity and credibility. He is one of my inspirations for becoming a journalist, and his consummate and constant professionalism has given me what I like to think of as a solid foundation for my potential future career.

That being said, this chapter opened my eyes (to some extent) to the era in which professionalism took hold and become the norm in journalism. Though journalism will never be seen in the same light as professions such as law and medicine, as this chapter discusses, this era made journalism a more professional industry than the over-sensationalized business of Pulitzer and Hearst. The notion of licensing journalist seems instinctively wrong, but it was not until Daley pointed out the first amendment implications of licensing journalists that I realized the reason the United States does not require journalists to meet a certain professional standard.

The advent of journalism schools also points to the distinct professionalization of journalism at this time, and it says something that it was Robert E. Lee who helped start the first efforts at a journalism school (I just haven’t decided what exactly it says). And although I am studying journalism, I found the preference Daly noted for experience over academia in journalism. Last semester, Professor Ciccone told us that, in his humble opinion, journalism graduate school is far less worthwhile than newsroom experience.

My final takeaway from this chapter was the role of World War I in the development of journalism. The “Great War” indeed had a great influence on journalism and the way the government handles information with regard to the “fourth estate” of the media. War tends to create extraordinary domestic circumstances as well, but the news always fights to tell the whole story of the war (more recent examples such as Vietnam and both Gulf wars show the ability of the news to tell the story right from the front lines).

Overall, this era seems to me, more than the other time periods we have examined in Daly, the most influential in bringing about journalism as we know it today: a legitimate industry with professional, dedicated workers.