Monthly Archives: May 2012

Do college students study enough?

By Chris Daly

Recent news reports about college life focus on the findings of the latest National Survey of Student Engagement, which is run by Indiana University with funding from Pew and Carnegie. The upshot seems to be that college students don’t study enough — or at least, they don’t study as much as college students used to study.

I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t think the NSSE has been around long enough to provide meaningful data about study habits during the Baby Boomers’ college days (a vague metric that seems to underlie a lot of the news coverage).

But as a college professor myself (at a large, selective, private university), I would venture to offer two reasons why today’s college students might study less than their counterparts from the 1970s, when I was in college:

1. Many of today’s students are working during the school year to help their families meet the exorbitant cost of college education. Whenever I propose an out-of-class assignment, the hands immediately go up, and students tell me that they can’t do it because they are working.

2. Many of today’s students are caught up in the expansion of NCAA sports. For one thing, under Title IX, the number of female athletes has exploded in recent decades. Not only that, but many NCAA teams require their “student-athletes” to train year round. I had a student last semester on the B.U. swim team who had to miss a few classes due to travel to swim meets during the winter season. When the season ended, I mentioned that she must be finding it easier to keep up. She said: no, the coach expects them to keep showing up for practice. This is a common fact of life for college athletes — they are competing or training continuously throughout the school year. There goes 3-4 hours a day.

Both of these trends really impinge on the time students could possibly devote to studying. Assuming they want to.

 

 

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A news blog evolves

By Chris Daly 

In my recent book, Covering America, I ended my 300+ year narrative of journalism in America on an optimistic note. One reason for that optimism is the success of Josh Marshall and his Talking Points Memo.

 

I admire Marshall, and I wish him well. So I was pleased to see this item in the Nieman

Josh Marshall (I would credit this photo, but I can’t find the source.)

Journalism Lab website, which suggests that Marshall is trying to figure out what a blog looks like when it grows up. After 12 years in business, TPM has expanded in several stages, reaching 28 full-time employees recently. That makes it a medium-sized newsroom, based entirely on the Web. TPM has no legacy in traditional media; it was born on-line and grew up there.

 

Now, the growing seems to mean branching out into all kinds of media, especially video, as well as mobile apps. Here’s the take-away, from Marshall himself:

“If someone were to ask me a year ago, I would have said, ‘Well, yeah, we’re not just a website — it’s this, and we have that, and the other.’ But I think it was when I saw mobile growing as fast as it was that it just sort of hit me at a different level,” Marshall told me. “Inevitably, as long as mobile was something like five percent of traffic, it was just something you made available on the side. But you start to see,this is going to be half of our audience. We can’t be approaching it in a way that the website is the thing, and we’re making imitations of it — because this thing is losing its primacy. In a lot of ways, it wasn’t until late last year that it hit me at a different level. It hit me as more than a concept. It was really true.”

 Keep up the good work. (But I must say I don’t care for pre-roll ads and usually bail out when I encounter one.)

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Is Google a publisher? Are you?

By Chris Daly 

What is Google?

Of course, it’s a search engine. But is it also a “common carrier” type of utility like the phone company or a bus company?

Or, is it a publisher like the old Yellow Pages or Consumer Reports? Does it organize, rank, and highlight certain information?

That’s a question that many folks are wrestling with. One, highlighted in today’s Times (as a result of an editorial decision, to be sure), is Eugene Volokh, the UCLA law professor behind the popular blog, the Volokh Conspiracy. According to the Times, Volokh took money from Google to write an “article” that argued — surprise! — just what Google wanted him to argue, which is that Google deserves just as much First Amendment protection as it wants.

BTW, if you blog, you are definitely considered a “publisher” in the eyes of the law, and you are just as responsible for the contents of your blog as a traditional publisher or broadcaster.

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A new series: Money in politics

By Chris Daly 

I am launching a new series of posts (like the “Math for Journalists” series) to focus on the impact of money in politics.

I first started paying attention to this issue in the 1980s, when I was covering politics full-time for The Associated Press. My perch was the Massachusetts Statehouse. As the chief of a small bureau there, I lead a team of four who covered government and politics — including elections. Most of those elections were for state office (including the U.S. Senate and House races), but they also included a presidential race in 1987-88 when former Gov. Mike Dukakis took it into his head to run for president. That race, just six election cycles ago, now seems quaint in light of the Supreme Court rulings that have since unleashed spending of a type and scale unknown before. We are in uncharted waters here.

Today’s Times brings a story about a hidden reality of the new Super PACs. For the top guns in political consulting, the Super PACs are, in many ways, more desirable as clients than are actual candidates. When you work for a candidate, you have to travel, you have to deal with volatile spouses and staffers, you have to obey campaign-finance laws that force you to raise money in small amounts from large numbers of individuals.

What the Times story doesn’t say but seems equally important is this: if you work for a candidate, there is a good chance your candidate will lose. The voters can reject the campaign or the campaigner, and the whole staff — including consultants — is, in effect, fired, by the people. Not so with the Super PACs. They don’t ever “lose” in the same sense that a candidate does. They can just hang around forever, banging away at the donors’ pet priorities. In political terms, they are immortal.

Consider “Americans for Rick Perry.” This was a Super PAC that was run by a Republican strategist named Bob Schuman. When Perry dropped out of the Republican presidential primary, Schuman — to use a Texas metaphor — had his horse shot out from under him. No matter. Schuman just got a fresh mount and reorganized as the Restoring Prosperity Fund, pushing the same agenda on behalf of many of the same donors.

One way to look at all this: money is, in effect, dis-enfranchising voters. If you don’t agree with a particular office-holder or candidate, you can vote against him or her. If enough of your fellow citizens agree, then that candidate is done.

But not so with the Super PACs. You can never vote to get rid of them.

Your view? Leave a comment.

(To be continued. . .)

 

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Horst Faas, great news photographer, dies at 79

By Chris Daly

One of the most important photographers and photo editors of the last century has died. Horst Faas, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner during his long career at The Associated Press, was 79.

Obits are here and here and here.

Horst Faas in a heroic pose / AP Photo

Faas really made his mark in Vietnam, where he was stationed from 1962 through 1973. There, he planned the coverage, trained new photographers and photo stringers, edited many of the most memorable images of the war, and shot photos himself. From the tiny darkroom in the bathroom of the AP’s Saigon bureau, he was responsible for much of the “look” of the war.

Two photos are always associated with Faas and his constant efforts to disseminate photos that would show the reality of war:

–in 1968, during the Tet Offensive, the AP photographer Eddie Adams snapped a photo of a South Vietnamese officer executing a Vietcong prisoner. The photo caught the very moment when the bullet entered the prisoner’s head and captured something about the offhand violence of the war.

Eddie Adams / AP Photo

–in 1972, he fought to transmit the unforgettable image of a young girl fleeing naked and screaming from a napalm attack. The picture was shot by Nick Ut, a Vietnamese photographer trained by Faas, and the decision to send it out was one that Faas fought hard for. I remember seeing it on the front page of the Boston Globe on the day it was published in 1972 and never could forget it.

Nick Ut / AP Photo

As I discovered in researching my new book on the history of journalism, Covering America, Faas was also responsible for another of the most emblematic photos of the Vietnam War, the photo from 1962 of a monk burning himself to death in protest against the government of South Vietnam. The photo was taken by AP correspondent Malcolm Browne. But Browne was a reporter/writer, not a photographer. The only reason he was carrying a camera that day was that Faas insisted that all AP correspondents learn to take photos and carry cameras with them. Back at home, union rules forbade AP correspondents from shooting photos, but in Vietnam, those rules didn’t apply, and Faas wisely turned everyone into a photographer.

Recently, while researching the photos for my book, I came across Faas photo. This is a photo that I knew I wanted for my book, but I had a devil of a time figuring out who owned the rights to it. I had seen it variously credited to TIME and the New York Times (both wrong) and to the AP (not quite right either). It is a photo that shows three of the key U.S. correspondents stationed in Saigon during the early years of the war: David Halberstam of the Times, Mal Browne of the AP, and Neil Sheehan of UPI (later of the Times). They are standing around in front of a helicopter. Browne is smoking and Sheehan holds a big map.


According to Faas, he took the photo himself. And he told me that he took it with his own personal camera and that it never belonged to AP. But rather than rile the AP and its lawyers, he sent me the image directly via email and said to go ahead and use it with his blessing. Here’s what he wrote late last year:

I took the photo at the time as a personal picture and should have it in my personal computer files. I will look for it beginning next week: No time now – I am off for a quick trip (without my computer). Since all my material at the time was officially AP material I don”t want to get in conflict with AP and would give you the photo “courtesy of..” i.e. free of charge, In return I would be interested in a copy of your book once it is published. OK?

Best regards, Horst Faas

Thanks again, Horst.

I also want to share another photo that Faas sent me (“courtesy of” the photographer). It shows the press corps in Saigon in 1963:

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Woody Sez: See this play

By Chris Daly

I had the pleasure of seeing a new play/musical revue about Woody Guthrie the other night at the A.R.T. Theater in Cambridge (Mass.). The show, called “Woody Sez,” is a fantastic telling of Woody’s amazing life, mainly through his own songs. It is nearly a one-man show, featuring David Lutken, who is charming and disarming. He is supported by Andy Teirstein, Darcie Deaville, and Helen Jean Russell — all playing a constantly shifting array of acoustic stringed instruments. All told, they use four guitars (including two old Martins), three fiddles, a viola, a dulcimer, a double bass, a mandolin, and a banjo — along with a bunch of non-string instruments, including autoharp, harmonica, pennywhistle, jaw harp and spoons.

The show is a real hoot. (A special treat: seeing more than a hundred or so egg-heads stomping their feet and clapping time to songs like “Union Made” and “Biggest Thing that Man has Ever Done.”)

There were big chunks of Woody’s life that were familiar from reading Woody’s own 1943 autobiography, Bound for Glory, as well as Joe Klein’s 1980 biography, Woody Guthrie: A Life. Still, “Woody Sez” managed to bring up material that was new to me.  I had never noticed how much Woody suffered. Like another great American original , Mark Twain, Woody knew terrible suffering, early and often throughout his life.

Many thanks to David Lutken and his collaborator, Nick Corley for putting this together, and for getting it on-stage in time for the centennial of Guthrie’s birth, which is coming up on July 12.

My only issue is that I would love to see this show break out of the confines of a pricey theater like the A.R.T. and get into every high school, dance hall, barn, and fire station in the country. That’s where this music really belongs.

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AP Apologizes for WWII Blunder

By Chris Daly

I was very pleased to see that my old employer, The Associated Press, finally did the right thing and apologized to a great correspondent who was wronged in 1945 as he broke the news about the end of the fighting in Europe. The apology came earlier this week on the 67th anniversary of the surrender of Germany.

Settle in: There’s quite a story behind the story of the end of the fighting in World War II in Europe. The date of the official celebrations was May 8, 1945, known as V-E Day, for victory in Europe. Much fighting remained to be done in the Pacific, where Japan was still refusing to recognize the now-inevitable Allied victory.

Back to Europe.

In early May, 1945, the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) command selected 17 correspondents from the world’s press and flew them to Riems, France to witness the surrender on behalf of the rest of the press and the people of the world.

There were very few Americans in the group. The ones who were there represented the big wire services and syndicates. In fact, not a single reporter representing a U.S. newspaper was present.

According to the allied military commanders, the news was to be embargoed: that is, you had to accept a deal. In exchange for access to the event, you had to agree to hold the news until the Army said you could release it. The SHAEF press officer said: “I pledge each one of you on his honour as a correspondent and as an assimilated officer of the United States Army not to communicate [the news] until it is released on the order of hte Public Relations Director of SHAEF.”

It remains unclear what constitutes an “agreement” under such conditions (what were the correspondents supposed to do — get up and walk out of an airplane?), but they proceeded to witness the ceremony.

The surrender by the German high command came in the early hours of May 7. Ordinarily, you might expect that the surrender would touch off immediate celebrations.

Not so fast.

The press officer announced that orders had come “from a high political level” to impose a news blackout until 8 p.m. the next day, when the news would be announced simultaneously in Paris, London, Moscow and Washington. (Turned out, Stalin was insisting on the delay so he could make a show in Berlin.) In other words, all the correspondents who had been eyewitnesses would lose their scoops. Instead, some desk-bound rewrite man or editor would get all the glory. The reporters protested tothe SHAEF press officer, but to no avail. The political leaders had decided.

Ed Kennedy, the Paris bureau chief for the AP and a veteran of coverage of the North Africa and Italian campaigns.

Among the press corps, one of the most upset was Edward Kennedy — not the late Democratic senator from Massachusetts but a man by the same name who was the chief correspondent in Europe for the AP. Bear in mind, Kennedy was in a special position. He had been burned earlier in the war when he cooperated with military brass. In 1943, Kennedy had agreed to suppress a story about Gen. George Patton and had gotten scooped by someone else. (See my book, Covering America, pgs 269-70.) Kennedy also knew that his account of the German surrender could probably reach more people on the planet than any other. He knew, too, that the AP thrives on being first and that throughout the ages, AP men (and a tiny but growing number or women) had gone to great lengths to be first to deliver the news.

Besides, he figured, no embargo on such a momentous story could hold for that long. (Nor, perhaps should it.) He was still fuming when the correspondents were marched back onto the military plane. They were flown from Reims back to Paris. Still, the world knew nothing of the surrender. Still, soldiers in Europe kept shooting at each other.

When they landed, Boyd Lewis of United Press got the first jeep from the airport to the Hotel Scribe in Paris, which had been serving as the outpost for most of the press corps. When Lewis got to the press center, he tried to tid up all the available telegraph outlets. Next in line was James Kilgallen of INS, who had beaten Kennedy to the spot by throwing his typewriter at Kennedy’s legs, slowing him down.

Kennedy was beside himself. Then he heard that SHAEF had ordered German radio to announce the surrender.

Kennedy went to the censors and announced that he was breaking the embargo. Using a telephone, he called the AP bureau in London and dictated the following lead:

REIMS, France, May 7_Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Western Allies and the Soviet Union at 2:41 a.m. French time today.

The surrender took place at a little red schoolhouse that is the headquaters of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower…..

Within minutes, the news was flashed to the world, and wild celebrations began.

SHAEF was furious and suspended AP filing facilities throughout Europe. The rest of the press corps was furious, too. More than 50 correspondents signed a protest to SHAEF Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower, calling Kennedy’s action “the most disgraceful, deliberate and unethical double cross in the history of journalism.”AP’s president apologized to the nation. AP brass told Kennedy he could keep his job if he admitted he had done wrong. He wouldn’t and was fired.

What might seem amazing today — aside from the lack of cell phones and other forms of instant global communication — is how unanimously the correspondents fell in line with the military. Today, I dare say, U.S. reporters would be at least split about the ethics of something that they new to be both true and life-saving.

Two weeks later, writing in The New Yorker, A.J. Liebling, the great World War II reporter and press critic, took up the issue of Kennedy’s firing in his column “The Wayward Press.” (May 19, 1945) Liebling’s take:

The great row over Edward Kennedy’s Associated Press story of the signing of the German surrender at Reims served to point up the truth that if you are smart enough you can kick yourself in the pants, grab yourself by the back of the collar, and throw yourself out on the sidewalk. This is an axiom that I hope will be taught to future students of journalism as Liebling’s Law.

I certainly teach it that way. His piece continued:

I do not think that Kennedy imperiled the lives of any Allied soldiers by sending the story, as some of his critics have charged. He probably saved a few, because by withholding the announcement of an armistice you prolong the shooting, and, conversely, by announcing it promptly you make the shooting stop. Moreover, the Germans had broadcast the news of the armistice several hours before Kennedy’s story appeared on the streets of New York. . . The thing that has caused the most hard feeling is that Kennedy broke a “combination,” which means that he sent out a story after all the correspondents on the assignment had agreed not to. But the old-fashioned “combination” was an agreement freely reached among reporters and not a pledge imposed upon the whole group by somebody outside it.

There’s a lot more to learn from Liebling’s piece, but that’s the nub.

I wonder how Liebling would greet the news this week that the AP has finally apologized to Kennedy. I wonder how Kennedy, who died in 1963, would have greeted the news. (For more on Kennedy, see the newly published memoir Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship, and the Associated Press.

As for me, I say the AP was late — 67 years late.

 

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