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NBER the national educational radio network presents special of the week from w k r in East Lansing Michigan State University presents the annual seabird lecture in journalism sponsored by the school of journalism and the College of Communication Arts. These lectures honored Dr. Fred s seabird former dean of the college. This year's speaker is Mr Howard James chief of the Midwestern bureau of The Christian Science Monitor. Mr James a graduate of Michigan State University is a 968 Pulitzer Prize winner for a series of articles on the court system. These articles later appeared in book form. He is also the author of another book dealing with the problems of juvenile delinquents and titled Children in trouble a national scandal. Now Mr. Howard Janes. I must admit that I have not spent my years since I've left Michigan State sitting around brooding about the future of journalism. I don't
belong to a Press Club or even a professional organization and most of my friends come from other professions and so when I sat down and put my fingers on the typewriter keys to write this lecture not much happened and after sitting in that posture for several hours littering the floor with Favre I began to realize that I didn't have much in the way of great words of wisdom and philosophy to say to you. And this I assure you is not false modesty. It is in part my conviction that creativity cannot be taught and my belief that journalism can be and in fact must be as creative as music poetry sculpture dance drama or painting. I believe that at best a teacher can only discover talent and help draw it out. That's the best teacher functions something like a syphon getting a student's creative fluid flowing at a steady pace. This seems to be
largely my role as head of the monitor's Midwest news bureau and working with young reporters. I can only get them started and as necessary provide them with criticism and encouragement and provide them with the opportunity to grow. I cannot take a man who should be an accountant or a shoe salesman and turn him into a reporter. I can't even tell you what kind of a person makes a good reporter because the best writers seem to be very complex people. Perhaps the most important prerequisite is to be careful about being able to go all day without eating and all night without sleeping. Creature comforts and bodily requirements must be secondary. If you are a reporter. A newspaper man needs a strange combination of qualities he must on the surface be callous and tough even while down deep he is extremely sensitive. A writer should be highly
idealistic yet at the same time he must be a skeptic even a cynic. He must be calm thoughtful and methodical while meeting impossible deadlines day after day. He must have so much self-confidence that it borders on arrogance. Yet he also needs enough humility to ask questions that are so basic that they border on being stupid. A reporter is interested interested in everything that goes on around him. He is doggedly stubborn even while imaginative and innovative while he worships at the altar of truth. He knows how to manipulate people like a used car salesman when they stand in his path. Beyond that he may want people to read what he writes and he must do this if he is to communicate with them. Reporter must also recognize that
he has great power even the ability to damage or destroy decent people and a reporter must care. He must care deeply about his community his state his nation and his world. Most of all he cares about people. He has to write. He simply has to. Just as some dogs have to chase cars and only God knows why. A reporter understands that in every human life whether it is the most lonely broom pusher or the most puffed up politician there is a story a story worth telling. They must care about that story. One final thing about a good reporter he is absolutely convinced that without newspapers and radio and television the nation would fall apart. He believes that he believes in the words of Carlyle Carlyle wrote Burke said there were three states in parliament but in the reporter's gallery
yonder there's not a fourth estate more important than the mall is not a figure of speech or what he's saying it is literal fact very momentous to us in these times. It seems certain that in the 70s these words remain true. If there is confusion if there is turmoil if there is unrest in our nation today it is at least in part because the press has not done its job in making the people understand what they must understand. Newspapers are so busy putting out entertainment and other garbage and turning the papers into garbage wrappers that they often do not deal with the bigger issues of the day. I have been and I have a standing order in the Chicago bureau of the monitor that no parte reporter will cover a press conference unless he finds it helpful to a
story that is already in the works. We do everything possible to avoid public relations men trying to plant phony stories and almost all the press releases that come into our office go into the wastebasket. There are of course many things that keep the press from living up to its responsibility to society things that prevent it from playing the role intended by those who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It seems to me that the First Amendment is not a freedom it is an obligation. Thomas Jefferson said the basis of our government being the opinion of the people. The very first object should be to keep the right and were left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers or newspapers without government I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.
Arthur J Goldberg speaking before the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1064 said both ancient and modern history teach that the first step of a regime moving toward a talk Crissy is restraint and control of speech and press. This is invariably the beginning of the destruction of all other liberties. The first and primary responsibility of the press is therefore as but tech tour and promoter of all the rights and liberties of Americans. The entire Bill of Rights is in the presses charge and only the free speech clause of the First Amendment. A newspaper which fails to exercise its right of free expression in protest against the invasion of any branch of government the executive the legislative or the judicial. Freedom of thought of conscience of assembly and of person defaults in its
elementary duty and responsibility. The press must be the protector of all the amendments not only against the invasion by government but against their infringement by the press itself. Arthur Goldberg. As a shirtsleeve reporter I must agree with him and so do many others who gather news for a living and yet in too many one newspaper towns and even in cities where there is competition for the advertising dollar publishers are afraid to stir up dust. Some newspapers today have the moral courage of a family of field mice. It is sad that I can go into almost any city in America as a national reporter and very quickly dig up exclusive material that has not been touched by local papers. I feel that this was the case with a series that I wrote on Gary Indiana in 1966. I spent 18 weeks living in that City's midtown
slum learning what it is like to live and work in such a depressing setting. And eventually the high school students marched on the city hall and then Mayor Ray Martin Katz toured the area with me late one night and ordered a number of changes. About that time I got a call from my managing editor in Boston who had been called by the editor of the Gary Post Tribune the editors of the local paper wanted me out of Gary because they were embarrassed by my reporting and what was happening. My series on the course was really made up of many reports that could have been and more important should have been written by local newspapers. But the courts then were sacrosanct. And even today many papers are afraid to take on local judges. And my most recent work children trouble I was able to get local papers to act in several
states in a reform school in Delaware I found a number of youngsters with punctured ear drums. The result of sanctions staff brutality. I discussed the problem with the judge and he asked me to send him a letter. This was several months before my series was scheduled to run. Early last year I was invited to meet with three members of the Delaware Youth Services Commission to discuss my letter. When I arrived rather than an investigation of the conditions I found myself facing three lawyers and six or seven angry officials who wanted to whitewash. After being grilled for six hours without lunch for the entire session being taped I thought that all of my efforts in the state of Delaware were wasted. When a young attorney who had been in the meeting a member of the Attorney General Staff Richard where approached me and told me that I would have to trust him if a whitewash was to be avoided. Later he conducted an investigation. I assisted him in part of it and he
took 800 pages of testimony and documented my accusations. Unfortunately the Wilmington News Journal picked up the story and kept it on the front page for weeks because of that. The battle has been won in Delaware and the brutal brutality has been stopped. In South Carolina I found youngsters in a reform school being beaten with rubber hoses broken hoe handles and other weapons. And I invited a member of the legislature a lawyer by the name of T Travis Medlock to join me. Later I testified at an open hearing of a joint House-Senate legislative committee in South Carolina. After the hearing I was able to lead a delegation of lawmakers and reporters back to the reform school. And as they approached the school a little Negro youngster a black youngster about that tall I had interviewed in my first visit came running up to me it threw out his arms and he said Mr James they haven't been essential left.
And of course the local papers picked up that story and the other information and legislation was passed in South Carolina and some change has taken place in that state. Last spring when I was asked to testify before a committee of the United States Senate I called Connecticut reform school the Reform School of merit in a brutal inhuman place and the Hartford times banner did on page one. Some changes took place over the past year but a few weeks ago I got a call from a reporter working for the Hartford times Bill Williams and he told me the new trouble was brewing more brutality was being found in the institution. I was able to get that reporter in touch with my contacts within the institution in Connecticut on the professional staff a couple of psychiatry's and they were able to let a reporter from The Hartford times pose as a graduate student. They went in spent a week
and documented the brutality. The Hartford times has been on top of this story since then and an investigation has been started by the state. They've been writing every day. The story's been on page one and on the editorial page. And again the local papers have been able to do a very successful job. Situation has been much different in the state of Indiana. I went to the governor's office before publishing my story of brutality there in the reform school and in the reformatory but his press secretary told me that the governor wasn't interested and I should go peddle my papers. Later I was accused of fabricating the story and worse in the local papers took very little notice of it and that was about a year ago in the spring last fall I made two speeches in Indiana and this time my charges were picked up by radio television in the newspapers locally. Indiana officials tried to intimidate me by sending letters to my editors and eventually governor would come
personally called my editor. I was able to get one of those public officials who challenged me who had written a letter to my editor and a member of the Governor's party to tour the reform school with me all others refuse. And he had been given a glossy tour of the institution a year before and when we went through he was shocked when I showed him such things as solitary confinement cells filled with small youngsters their heads shaved with bruises on their buttocks the size of saucers and other evidence of brutality. Since then both this lawmaker who is brother in law of one of the governor's chief advisers both this man and I have been denounced by the governor. I've been banned from all Indiana institutions the Indiana papers have done a superficial job of reporting all of this all in the name of objectivity but little has happened.
This past winter I wrote a four part series in The Associated Press picked the story up condensed it into one long article and then let the corrections commissioner answer me. And this ran in two thirds of the papers in the state but still no paper in Indiana would pick up the crusade. I understand the Louisville Courier-Journal is about to run a major series now on Indiana corrections and their findings I understand substantiate mine. The Los Angeles Times ran several articles on the Indiana reformatory in a very brutal incident last fall last September 26 when guards killed two inmates and wounded 45 others. A national news magazine is looking at the situation at the moment but it seems certain that little counter will be done in Indiana as long as the local papers in the state sit back and let outsiders do the work in investigative reporting or muckraking or reforming reforming if you prefer the press must grab a story
like a pop grabs an old slipper and worry it and tell one sees results. A few papers will do this today. Little wonder we have so many problems in our society when the press fails to live up to its responsibility under the Bill of Rights which leads me into the charges made by Vice President Agnew in Des Moines last fall. It seemed at the time rather ironic that after Mr Agnew used television to become a household word. That he turned on it along with certain newspapers there can be little doubt that his talk frightened certain segments of the press I have talked to reporters who feel this way speaking in Cleveland on April 8th chant Chet Huntley said the vice president caused several major news gathering operations to change their approach to controversial news. Yet I believe that we must let the vice president have his say and perhaps he has performed a very useful
service. It is good for the press to look at itself to listen to criticism as well as dish it out. Hopefully we'll know we will not tuck tail and run but rather stand firm and begin to live up to our constitutional obligation. I'm afraid we have in the name of objectivity become part of a dangerous propaganda machine. In his book The Information War. Dale Minor says essentially that his most important comments seem to center around managed news in Vietnam and the press releases and the press briefings and propaganda that comes from this and is being churned out by government officials in Washington and elsewhere and fed into the media among other things he says. Reporters in Vietnam are nearly always at the mercy of those who want to stay in the war. They are fed phony casualty figures showing huge enemy losses with few for our side.
Mr minor's new book also reminds me of my experiences in the south when the civil rights battles there were at their peak. I covered Selma knowing full well that I was being used. By Dr. Martin Luther King and by others working in the south. There's little doubt in my mind that Dr. King would have been killed much sooner and little would have happened in Washington or elsewhere if the national press had not been present. Dr. King was honest in explaining that he was dramatizing conditions in the south by creating confrontations that captured the attention of network television cameras. I understand the anger of those who live in the South who watch this happen for this too is a form of managed news. This is one reason that the current debate over objectivity may be rather foolish. We are
all partisans and reporters goal can only be to strive for truth not emotional truth but rather truth that can be documented. The late Ralph McGill editor and publisher of The Atlanta Constitution put it this way for a long time now I've been a voice crying in the wilderness of journalistic teaching. I think that as newspapers generally we have not done the mass job of informing the people of the United States on matters about which they should have been informed. For the simple reason we have been taught to worship the word objectivity truth. I want but not objectivity. I want truth and not objectivity for the simple reason there isn't any such thing as objectivity and cannot be any such thing. Not only that there shouldn't be objectivity is a phantom. I believe that Ralph McGill was probably right. I felt the sting of
objectivity in Indiana when I uncovered the terrible conditions in the reform school and reformatory and the local papers made no effort to ascertain the truth. All they did is print my charges and then publish the denials by public officials determined to whitewash conditions. Discovering truth takes a little effort. In fact it takes a lot of work and it takes time and the press is too busy reading handouts news releases and garbage to do that. I know that the entire problem of crime in America is tied at least in part to so-called objectivity. Because as far as I can tell I'm the only reporter in America assigned full time to keep watch on our system of justice and related areas. I know for example that our police car jail system is a tragic failure. Police officials tell me that less than 30 percent of all crimes are solved by a rest and only a fraction
of those. And in conviction those who go off to prison are not rehabilitated in most instances. And so 60 or 70 or 80 or even 90 percent as one federal official tells me leave prison to commit more crimes. The solution lies in uncovering. The cause of crime and many causes in finding ways of dealing with these causes. I happen to know that two factors play a key role or at least I believe this to be true from my digging into the question. As a reporter the falling apart of the American family and the destructive ness of our public schools. Yet what paper and I met America is telling its readers that this is the case except perhaps my paper The Christian Science Monitor. In this in the turmoil and concern over crime no one really is bothering to look for truth. The press
is much too busy printing controversial statements sometimes made by demagogues who live like leeches off the fears of the people of our nation. And some pundits 10 or 20 years removed from shirtsleeves reporting sit in their towers and ask if we are better off today compared to an earlier era when the papers represented various political views. And I suggest that we may well be worse off no. If in those days the papers took their stand with true conviction moral courage and at least tried to search out the truth. I like to talk a minute about Chicago where I'm based now. I find the press extremely reluctant to take on Mayor Richard Daley in election years he almost always has strong strong support from papers considered to be of Republican leanings as well as those that say they represent the liberal view. In some ways Mayor Daley is good for
Chicago. At least there is some measure of control possible by the Daley machine. But he needs strong press criticism as well as press support. The Chicago Democrats are extremely corrupt and they waste millions of millions of taxpayers dollars. But the press does a little bit of investigative reporting too often they look the other way. In this the press should not be destructive. It seems to me that it is immoral simply to tear down with no effort made to replace the evils that we find with something better. I see this as an important function of the press. We must not only criticize but we must search the nation and the world for better answers. I disagree with those upset citizens who want only sunshine and toilet water in our news columns pretending the bad news isn't there
won't change the conditions. Ignoring hunger will not fill empty stomachs. Ignoring governmental corruption can never make politicians honest and publishing propaganda produced by public relations man hired to gloss over a cover up or simply get somebody's name in print is more than a waste of newspaper space. It destroys the public confidence in the press. Radio and Television News sometimes is little better and in some instances much worse. Local television news remains pretty awful. It is the ideal forum for a demagogue. It was television that created the radicals on the left and the right without the press. There would not have been a Joe McCarthy in my era and we would not have those who are causing turmoil in our country today without the exposure that they
get from the press today. The press still describes news as the unusual or the unique. When a man bites a dog they say that's news according to the cliche. David Brinkley is reported to have said the other day that when a plane flies safely from here to Washington that's not news but when a plane crashes that's what the public wants and gets as news. This may be what sells papers and wins a larger television audience. But whether we are concerned about truth or objectivity this kind of reporting misses the mark by many miles. Objectivity implies telling both sides and except in a political campaign or some other controversy we usually tell only the worst side in the press. Their objectivity suggests that for objectivity suggest that for every plane crash if you follow objectivity to its furthest point of logical and for every plane crash we should also announce the number of safe landings if we believe in
objectivity. If it is truth that we are after we still fail to measure up today. Truth implies depth of content and perspective and too much superficial reporting is going on in our country today as in so many areas of our society. In communications our technical skills seem to have far outstripped our ability to think and to deal with our fellow man. We have not taken the time to sit back and update the role of the press in our society. I suggest that our job is not just to keep a rather loose record of history as it happens. It is more than keeping check on government. The press serves as the conscience of the community and the nation and must arouse citizens out of their lethargy. It must calm the public when their fears are unfounded. The press must make it possible for the people of our nation to make wise decisions
because they are properly informed. We must give the people of America a perspective and balance. This can only be done by hard digging. Day after day. I think we all agree that these are difficult times in our nation. And it is time that the press the Fourth Estate began living up to its responsibility as a journalist my goal is to see that this happens and I can only hope that the students of today. The questioning concerned activist generation will pick up this challenge. I believe that we cannot delay the time for CHANGE is now. Thank you. Thank you have been listening to Mr. Howard James chief of the Midwestern bureau of The Christian Science Monitor as he delivered the Fred as seabird lecture this lecture in journalism is held annually on the
Michigan State University campus. And we are as special of the week thanks W.K. our East Lansing for this recording. This is an E.R. the national educational radio network.
Special of the week
Issue 32-70
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Chicago: “Special of the week; Issue 32-70,” 1970-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
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