Friday, February 06, 2004

Evangelizing About Blogging

I've insisted for more years than I care to recall that writing and teaching are but two sides of the same coin. To write anything remotely worth reading takes a lot of input, a lot of learning. And to write a lot of material worth reading, say a long magazine piece, or a book, takes much concentrated learning, otherwise called research or reporting. That's all a prelude to sharing it with readers, which is not unlike teaching.

All of which means I never pass up the chance to get in front of an audience and share some of my enthusiasms. If that's a talk before a group, wonderful. If it takes the form of addressing students (of whatever age) in a classroom, even better. It's really all the same thing, and it all springs from precisely the same instinct that would cause one to persevere in writing over many years: an eagerness to share ideas, mind to mind.

And so I'm grateful to my esteemed SPJ colleague Dr. Dick Hendrickson for an invite last week to talk to his John Carroll communications class about the use of blogs in American politics. The university's overworked but much-appreciated webmaster, Mike Quinn, was good enough to come capture the audio and put up this page, which was much appreciated. By sticking a link on JCU's home page and also mentioning it in an email newsletter sent to thousands in the JCU community, Mike (and of course Dick) helped put this modest little journal you're now reading before perhaps a few hundred new sets of eyeballs. And maybe a handful might return periodically. I was touched to subsequently hear from several old friends as a result. So for all that, I'm thankful.

After the class, Dick treated me to a quick lunch in the basement of the administration building, where we got to know each other better than we've been able to do in the past through quick bursts of group conversation, often about his specialty--open records and state sunshine laws. He told me an amazing story about his second act as a professional, the teaching career he now pursues after 35 years at one newspaper, the Lorain Journal (and stints at the mighty Associated Press before that). He went to work in the field out of military service, only going back to get his college degree later. And after many years in journalism, where he assumed he would end his career, he got a wake-up call that changed his life. Arguing with a newsroom superior about a matter of journalistic conscience, he found himself quickly fired. That woke him up. He had a family and he really needed that job, so he went back to his boss and pleaded his case, apologizing in the process. And so he was hired back.

But he never forgot the lesson of it: how tenuous this job was. And so he began pursuing plan B, his graduate studies that in time led to a doctorate, and which in turn led to one of the rare fulltime teaching jobs available these days in academia, on the John Carroll Communications Department faculty. It was a slow, steady march, but he did it.

His story of disappointment, perseverance and a second act (which F. Scott Fitzgerald got completely wrong when he observed there are no second acts American lives) really touched me that day as I left the campus. I had known Dick for some time, but had somehow never stopped a moment to get his story. But when it finally came, it seemed more than worth waiting for. I hope he finds a way to somehow transmit that inspiring personal story to a generation of students who need to hear it. Tom Brokaw called it the Greatest Generation, and I'd say Dick is precisely the kind of guy he had in mind.


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