Category Archives: Journalism

Candidates Hot to Beat Trump


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It was hot Sunday, so I feel like I made a minor sacrifice as part of my civic duty.
I braved the heat to hear a number of Democrats who want to be my president speak. I think the Gazette did a fair and accurate summary of the event in their story.
For me, even the crazy author lady who doesn’t stand a chance would still be a smarter, more qualified president than the current occupant. President Trump, with his recent tweet storm, shows that his instinct is to shout, divide and do damage to democracy, all in the name of drawing attention and firing up the basest instincts of his 40 percent base.
I want him gone, now more than ever. Sure, the Obama recovery is continuing, but at the cost of piling up debt by cutting taxes and boosting arms spending at the same time—an old way of gunning the economy that is not long-term sustainable.
And on any other metric other than economics—international relationships, rule of law, sane immigration policy, the environment, race relations, women’s and minorities’ advancement and rights—this president has not only not made any progress, he has dedicated himself to doing real harm.
He didn’t drain the swamp. He brought in dumber alligators.
So, I showed up on a hot Sunday knowing that I am lucky, as an Iowan, to be able to help weed out this field of candidates. I get to start the process that leads to the nominee who (knock on wood) will crush Trump in fall of 2020.
Say what you will about Tangerine Hitler, besides energizing the basket of deplorables, he’s certainly energized us Democrats. Yet, just as he is not the whole problem in the Republican party, being against him can’t be the whole message for the Democrats.
We know what we don’t want—Trump. What do we want?
Well, of the numerous speakers who appeared Sunday, three stood out to me:
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Amy Klobuchar, senator form Minnesota. “America needs a president who tells the truth,” she said, and I agree. Truth telling is not a long Washington tradition; most politicians, including Democrats, spin. But the current occupant actively and intuitively lies, which is part of the caustic poison of the Trump era.
Klobuchar appeals to me for several reasons. I don’t think being a woman is the key qualifier for office, but I’m inclined to support a woman, if I can. It’s long past time for a madam president.
And Klobuchar is a folksy, talented speaker. She had many resonate lines, including stating that as president she would “stand with our allies and not coddle dictators.”
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Julián Castro, former HUD secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas. My third choice, foreshadowing, is Pete Buttigieg, and Castro reminds me of him. But Castro is a bit older and has more national political experience as a former cabinet member—the biggest reason I hesitate with Buttigieg is my feeling he’s not quite ready for the top job. Castro is a slightly older, more experience former mayor.
Castro is a decent story teller, and that’s an important presidential skill. I liked his short anecdote about the phone call from Barack Obama that lifted Castro on to the national stage: “If you ever get a phone call from a number that says ‘private,’ answer it,” he said. “It might be me (after he is elected president).”
I guess my reasons for picking Castro are also a bit personal and idiosyncratic. He’s from San Antonio, city that gave America one of my daughters-in-law. Hola Nalena! Then again, I’m sure that the fact Amy Klobuchar’s dad was a newspaperman doesn’t hurt her, in my book.
Anyway, Castro scored one of the biggest applause lines of the cattle calls when he set up the scene of him saying goodbye to President Trump, the helicopter in the background at the White House, newly sworn in President Castro shaking Donald Trump’s hand, and his final word to the Don: Adios!
That is what we all want to say to Donald Trump, unless it’s “you’re fired!”
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Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana. The fresh new face of the party, a clear crowd favorite, and it’s easy to see why. He’s bright, he’s witty and he appears thoughtful.
And he’s the anti-Trump—a soft-spoken, gay, military veteran who is a sharp young contrast to the grumpy old man.
“We may be under reacting to the moment we are in,” Buttigieg said, partly referencing Trump’s infamous Sunday morning rant.
Buttigieg had several political warnings for Democrats. One, that the party does not do well just winning the presidency back. He pledged to help other Democrats.
In Iowa, we need to keep Abby in Congress, send Steve King back to Kiron and get a senate candidate who can knock out Joni Ernst. None of those will be easy—and taking back the House and Senate are important in 2020. Buttigieg was not the only candidate to point that out, but he did it the best.
He also noted that the country does not need a “return to normal.” He said that message won’t beat Trump, and “normal does not work anymore.”
One of his lines particularly resonated with me: “Freedom is not a conservative value; it is an American value.”
I faded a bit as the candidates droned on—it was darn hot. Luckily, I had picked a patch of shade to loiter in, and my only wish would have been a place to sit down.
Still, I enjoyed a New Bo lunch, had a refreshing glass of hard cider and also heard and saw a political party that is fired up.
I’m not ready to declare for any of my three favorites, yet. I’m also interested in some candidate who did not make it to the Sunday event in Cedar Rapids, especially Senator Harris. I’m sure I’ll spend some time on web sites like this one.
But I do know which party I’ll favor in 2020. Democrats, we will be fighting it out over the next few months during the caucus and primary season, and 2020 already is shaping up to be a rough, nasty election. Whatever happens, though, I was heartened on Sunday to see so many qualified women and men who can see themselves as president.
I can only hope one of them is right. We desperately need a new direction after the dumpster fire that was Donald Trump.
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Filed under Freedom, History, Journalism, politics

A Review of Print History in Norwich


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Museum volunteer explains 19th century print technology, which basically was used until past mid 20th century. The keyboard is part of a Linotype machine.

I’ve given up pretending I aspire to daily blog posts during this visit to England, partly because I’ve been too busy recording my adventures in the UK on my bicycle rider blog.

But today was worthy. First of all, Amanda’s friend Lara texted her and invited us over for lunch, which basically was a traditional English breakfast—beans, eggs and toast—but done with flourish and some fresh tomatoes, too. It was quite nice.

But before that, we walked some distance downtown to visit the John Jarrold Printing Museum, a cramped, fascinating place in an old building scheduled to be taken down in an area redevelopment project this fall. I do hope that they find a new home for this museum and save all of the interesting displays; we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

The Jarrold name in Norwich is primarily associated with a downtown department store, but the family at one time were printers, too. In fact, they published the first edition of the children’s classic “Black Beauty.” Today, the small museum preserves many pieces of printing history.

We walked in, and at first were a bit lost in the clutter, until a nice elderly gentleman, one of many volunteers who gather at the museum, took us on a tour. He basically started with Gutenberg press technology, and delighted in telling the stories behind the names of many fonts. Every once in a while, he would would pose a question about print history, and seemed a bit taken aback when I knew most answers. Then again, he didn’t know he was giving the tour to a communication professor who teaches media history, but never mind.

Even if the ideas were familiar, seeing the actual machinery and mechanics of printing was still fascinating. And he knew many more details about how the printing actually works.

We moved quickly to the 19th century and the introduction of the Linotype machine.

The first volunteer later passed us off to a second gentleman, who explained lithographic printing. I didn’t realize that the offset presses most often used today actually use basic technology that dates back to presses using stones for offset printing in the 1700s—so I learned new information.

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Second volunteer explains offset printing, used today. The 2009 local paper he is showing the CMYK plates for reports the news that shocked Norwich–the death of Michael Jackson.

As we were leaving, a third volunteer proudly presented me with a one-page reproduction of Magna Carta, which is pretty cool and which I will probably frame and put in my office.

It was quite a day—the visit to the print museum followed by the pleasant visit with Lara and her daughter, followed by a quick bike ride.

I do hope Norwich has the good sense to somehow preserve this museum. It’s a treasure and is worth keeping.

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At the print museum, they noted Norwich had the first “provincial” newspaper, or English paper not published in London. As we walked home, we passed this marker on a downtown building.

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Filed under books, History, Journalism, Travel, Writing

A New Web Site is Headed Our Way


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Web site as of Feb. 28, 2019

10 years, a marketing professional told me this afternoon, is a long time on the web.

That’s about how long Mount Mercy University has had its current web site. It actually has two, which is a minor irritant to me, because when I google MMU seeking our main web site, I sometimes end up in a special online school web site, which is not a terrible fate except when I’m there, I don’t know how to get to the “regular” home of Mount Mercy.

DSC_0012Well, the web is a complex, evolving system, more accessed these days via smartphone than via computers. Which is another point make by Jamie Jones, marketing director, as she spoke to my Introduction to journalism class.

The students are learning about interviews this week, and having a news conference fit into the lesson plan—so thank you, Jamie, for attending my class and subjecting yourself to students’ questions.

I think the question were decent, and I’m glad the class had this experience. I also think that Jamie is right—the MMU site is due for a significant rebirth. Personally, what’s most important to me is ease of navigation—and having a way to get there quickly when I land, by accident, on that online school’s alternative university web site.

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Filed under Computers are stupid, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

Students Begin Their Blog Adventures


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Students typing in computer classroom.

As is normal in my writing classes, I have a set of students who are starting their blogs this semester. I look forward to reading what they do with their own stories.

Blogs sometimes can be too personal—online diaries. But many are entertaining and informative. I have students write blogs so that they can self-publish and play with professional writing. One of my former students, Jenny Valliere, a radio personality at z102.9 in Cedar Rapids, even told me her Mount Mercy blog was helpful to her in launching her career, and she has maintained a blog since then.

Blogging, of course, is not the main or only form of writing I’m hoping my students learn in Introduction to Journalism. But a person who aspires to be a communicator in 2019 needs some online communication experience, and I’m hoping to prod my students in that direction.

Besides clippings from “The Mount Mercy Times,” which students will gain this semester, I’m hoping that a few of them catch the blog bug and continue this form of writing.

Personally, I maintain three blogs: This one which is about gardening, life in general and my experiences as a professor at Mount Mercy University. I also blog about:

My experiences as a bicycle commuter.

My thoughts, as a journalism professor, on media and how media changes our lives.

Anyway, later I’ll post some samples of the students’ work. I’m always excited to see new student blogs, and where this new writing adventure will take them. Some of the writers:

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Filed under Blog, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

My Favorite Student Blogs This Term


As I often do in media writing classes, I required some students to establish or update a blog this semester.

Some student blogs never really take off. Others become more personal to the student, and she or he ends up doing some interesting writing.

This semester, I thought three blogs in particular have content that appealed to me.

Lakin Goodman has turned her blog into more of a personal web site, complete with resume information. She has an interest in photography, and I would like her to use more of her images on the blog, but she does have things to say. She notes that she has no theme to the blog—but that’s not really a downside, to me.

Lakin

Chuck Uthe is a self-described nerd, writing about film and games. His reviews are not casual—they have some depth and background to them. I appreciate how reflective he is.

Chuck

Matt Trueblood says he has more caffeine than oxygen in his blood right now—and I hope he can recharge soon. But his writing is honest and has what another blogger once called “emotional nudity,” which is meant as a positive thing. His blog seems to be an honest peek into his psyche—which is an interesting place to be.

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I am sure I will continue this assignment in media writing classes. Now and then, a student who is introduced to blogging via the class will own it and continue their online efforts. Today, when students who wish to be communicators need to consider their online identity and the nexus of social media they can use to showcase and promote themselves, a blog gives them something to tweet about and share on Facebook. It also is a minor taste of web writing for students, which is a key skill.

The three that I am choosing to feature here (and it does not mean that other students have not done interesting work, this is a personal and ideosycratic look at blogs that just tickled my fancy) are all visually interesting, too–it’s a feature of this semester’s crop of student blogs that those who seemed to care the most about their writing also cared some about the presentation of that writing, which has not always been true.

I hope you check out and enjoy the writing that these students are doing!

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Filed under Blog, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

Can the Earth Run a Marathon?


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Me speaking at Mount Mercy University Oct. 11 on “Hot Story: How the Media Struggles to Cover Climate Change.” Photo by Audrey Sheller.

Earlier in October, I presented a lecture during the Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy University.

It was about how the media struggle to cover climate change, and it was an odd week to do the presentation because the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just released a report that made headlines—stating, in effect, that the severe impacts of climate change are closer than we thought.

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For most of us, we don’t need to combat climate change to save the Earth for future generations. Even at age 60, it’s likely I’m in the generation that will experience rising seas, droughts, storms and other Mother Nature induced “fun.”

Anyway, even if the nations of the Earth agree on the urgency of the problem and work hard to reduce carbon emissions, there will still be plenty of human-caused climate change with it attendant problems.

I used a line from a tweet by 538, the Nate Silver site: “So This Is It. We’re All Going to Die.” That dire tweet was on a link to a blog entry that wasn’t quite that dark—it basically stated that it’s possible to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, but the number analyst and poll wonks at 538 think it’s unlikely that we will do that.

We don’t want the short-term pain for the long-term gain. We’ll take the short-term easy path, and deal with the tragedies of the future in the future. Considering how we’re dealing with the tragedies of today today, I’m thinking this is a bad idea.

In my presentation, I think there were two humans noted whose names ought to be more recognized:

In 1896, Swedish chemist and physicist Svante Arrheius wrote a paper that earned him the Nobel Prize. He proposed that human burning of fossil fuels would release carbon dioxide that would eventually cause the Earth to warm. That’s right, global warming has only been a valid scientific concept for 122 years—no wonder so many still doubt.

In 1988, James Edward Hansen, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, testified before a Senate committee. He was brave to speak out on the topic—and in the ensuring years, the NASA funding for the institute became more of an issue as Republican administrations made it a deliberate strategy to deny global warming and question the science.

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Swedish chemist and physicist Svante Arrheius.

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James Edward Hansen, who was head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. His 1988 Senate testimony established global warning as a bit news story.

I noted lots of reasons why journalists struggle to cover this story—it’s a slow, big trend that doesn’t’ cause daily headlines, and daily headlines are what the media tune into. If a person is great at math and science, journalism may not be their first choice for a major. And even when journalists do cover global warming, there is an increasing anti-science cultural thread that can dominate our political debate.

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Side on why it’s such a hard news story to cover well.

Think of President Trump and his boneheaded response to the IPCC report: Scientists have a “political agenda” and he would have to see who “drew” the report. Well, saving Earth is a political point of view, I suppose, and science is political—but scientific consensus is built over time with careful, rational observation. Clearly President Trump’s head for science is a lot like his head for counting inaugural crowds—largely imaginary.

Here is a link to a playist I used of songs that made me think of my topic. And here is a link to some more images from my presentation on a Facebook gallery.

So, in effect, the IPCC reports, it makes headlines for a day, and now we’re off worried about migrants in Central America who honestly pose almost no threat to our welfare rather than thinking about how we could save our own butts and the butts of our children and grandchildren from the very real catastrophe of human-caused climate change.

My children and grandchildren’s butts may not be their best features, but they are still worth saving. As Sam Gamgee said in Lord of the Rings, “there’s still some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” In full disclosure, I didn’t bother to Google that quote, so it’s a loose paraphrase, but I still agree with the point.

So, is there hope?

Sure.

Think of what your life was like when your baby was 4-weeks old. I’m sure they were a bundle of joy, but you were a bundle of jangled nerves, living on 4 hours or less of sleep at night, praying that junior would please, please, please just stop crying and take a friggin’ nap.

And yet, you survived and fought through. And it changed. It got better. President Trump and I agree on one thing, climate change is not a constant. Of course, I put some faith in science, and personally I don’t see the huge conflict between science and God, but that’s another post. And I believe we need to act, and need to elect politicians who will act.

Maybe we will. Sometimes, people surprise you in a good way.

On Sunday, I went to Des Moines Iowa with my wife and two young grandsons. Their mother was busy becoming something I don’t think anybody in my family had done up to this point—she is a marathoner. She ran 26.2 miles (she says her favorite sign she saw along the way said “26.2, because 26.3 would be ridiculous”).

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She did it? Could I? Probably not, but it’s nice to see what’s possible.

Wow. I was watching people cross the finish line hours after they had started, and I couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of how cool that would be.

Run more than 26 miles? I’m 60, I am overweight and have arthritis in my knees. I gave up running years ago, and bike for my exercise because it’s easier on the joints. But, is it possible? Could I?

I doubt it and I’m not making any commitment here. But I also wouldn’t say it’s impossible. Lots of things are possible.

Well, congratulations, daughter. You may not have thought of yourself that way, but I think of the smile you had on your face as you crossed that finish line, and I am not only unbearably proud as your father, but also inspired and filled with another reaction.

There is hope. It’s possible work for a long, long time on a future goal that involves pain today. That’s what she had to do. I doubt I could do it, but I am happy that running a marathon seems like something a human can accomplish.

Maybe the species can save the Earth from the species. I hope so. Let’s lace up our sustainability sneakers and start training.

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Filed under Grandchildren, History, Journalism, Science

Honoring student editors


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Connor Mahan, Outstanding Journalism Student, Mount Mercy University, 2018. Also editor-in-chief of the Mount Mercy Times.

Honors Convocation was today at the university where I teach. And two students who served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper during their time at Mount Mercy graduated. It made me think about learning from students, as I wrote the speech honoring one of them as Student Journalist of the Year, while also mentioning the other. Several people told me they liked my remarks, so I present them here—text of my presentation at the MMU Honors Convocation:

Each year, it’s a bittersweet moment when you have to say goodbye to your graduating students. For me, as the journalism professor and faculty advisor to the Mount Mercy Times, I’m often saying farewell to students who have worked hard in their classes, and also put in countless hours to serve this university as editors of student media.

It’s both my joy and pain to have that experience twice this year. Two great editors-in-chief of the Mount Mercy Times are in the class of 2018.

Graduating nursing student Madison Coates led the newspaper in her sophomore year, and has continued writing for the paper. When something happened in the newsroom that she liked, Maddie’s response was to say “perrrfect,” with a drawn out R. Maddie, to me, you were darn near perrrfect to work with as a student and an editor.

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Maddie Coates, former Times editor-in-chief, won this year’s award from the nursing program. She receives it from nursing chair Dr. Mary Tarbox.

But today I’m here to honor the second editor-in-chief who is also graduating in the class of 2018.

As a transfer student from Kirkwood Community College, Connor Mahan began excelling early at MMU. In the fall of 2015, when our faculty series was about the legacy of the Vietnam War, Connor was one of five photographers and reporters from the Mount Mercy Times who covered the visit of the Moving Wall, a replica of the National Vietnam Memorial, to campus. During the wall’s visit, Connor made a poignant image of a young boy, holding his ears as he looked at the wall, seeking the name of a relative among the dead.

It wasn’t just any news image—Connor’s photograph was judged the best news photograph in an Iowa college news medium for the year 2015 by the Iowa College Media Association.

Anybody who has worked with Connor quickly recognizes his drive, intelligence and good humor. Life hasn’t given him all the advantages that chance doles out to others, and when he has to go somewhere to cover a story, the structure of his body dictates that it may take him a bit longer than others to get there. But that’s never held Connor back. He’s always willing to take on a new task, he is always pushing himself.

And when you compliment Connor on this hard work, his almost perrrfect answer is: “I do what I can.”

In 2016, the second potentially devastating flood in 8 years threatened Cedar Rapids, and the Mount Mercy Community joined the city in an emergency effort to erect barriers against the rising Cedar River. During that mostly successful, epic battle with rising water, Connor went to Ellis Park to cover the story. There, Connor made some news photographs of people from Mount Mercy who were filling sandbags. One of Connor’s images showed our own Father Tony Adawu handing a sandbag to an MMU student.

You probably can guess, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. In 2017, the best news photograph in Iowa, as judged by the Iowa College Media Association, was that picture of Father Tony made by Connor Mahan. Furthermore, Connor co-wrote the Times’ news story about the flood. That story was judged by the I-C-M-A as the best news story that year.

Connor had done what he could.

In fall of 2017, the Mount Mercy Times faced a leadership crisis when the previous editor could not continue. In the paper’s hour of need, two students stepped in—one, Madelyn Orton, was a sophomore English major who served as Managing Editor.

And the new editor-in-chief, who stepped into the role because he could and because he wanted to serve the newspaper, was Connor Mahan.

I like to think that I teach some lessons to my students, but there is a flip side. One of the joys of being a professor is that I can try to live out what we say about becoming a lifelong learner. And I find that I often learn lessons from my students.

I learned something about faith and joy, the power of a positive attitude and the warmth of a perrrfect smile from Madison Coates.

And I learned that the main challenge of each day that I am blessed with is to take what I have, whatever that is, and simply to get on with it. I need to do the work I am able to do. And I think we all agree that the world would be a better place, and we would lead better lives, if we all could simply say, at the end of each day, the words of Connor Mahan: “I do what I can.”

It’s my sincere pleasure to recognized Connor Mahan as the Mount Mercy University 2018 Outstanding Student Journalist.

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Maddie with me after the ceremony.

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Mahder Habtemariam Serekberhan is also in the class of 2018–she was opinion editor of the student newspaper.

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Filed under Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing