This post is a companion piece that accompanies the feature story on Digital Journalism for Reinventing the News class final project.
What drew you to journalism?
I would ask that question in my career when I interviewed people. [I discovered]Ninety percent of them were drawn to journalism by the age of 16.
[For me] I was riding a school bus on the way to a baseball game; I sat next to a reporter for the local paper and badgered him with questions. I realized that I like to write, and why not do this. I became, in high school, as a junior, I was the sports writer’ & Correspondent for several local papers. I played in games I reported on.
How did you manage this?
Actually, my mother helped me a little bit (laughter).
Was anyone in your family journalistically inclined?
No, not really.
Did you encourage your kids to become journalists?
I encouraged my kids to do what they wanted. However my FARMER daughter writes for fine cooking magazine. She previously worked for Cooks Illustrator. She’s a terrific writer, and she is on the consumer side of food; she and her husband are organic farmers in Albany.
She became interested in farming when she attended Stanford. She worked in college at a newspaper out there, in a farming community. She moved east and met a guy who was trained as an organic farmer. Organic farming became a combined dream. They found a farm near Coopers Town, NY which they developed into a fine organic farm.
Which of your 4 kids had the most unlikely career?
The social worker is the one, I would say, for me it was unlikely, but for her it was natural, but that would be the one who was a social worker. When she was in the 8th grade we lived across from a daycare center that was in the basement of a church and she would go over there every day after school to play with the kids. She loved kids from the beginning. She now runs a bilingual day care and pre-school in Cambridge. It’s more natural for her. It’s the social worker’s temperament.
Do you have sons & daughters?
All daughters, I’m a specialist. The grandchildren are more of a mix, they play well together fortunately.
My youngest daughter just bought the property behind this house. It had been sitting there empty for three years after the gentleman who owned it died at 93. He lived alone and had no close family so I was his caretaker. She and her husband just bought it.
They have recently completed the inside of the house (gutted and rebuilt the inside in 6 months by son-in-law with some assistance from friends). Her husband, during the day takes care of the kids, and on weekends he’s a guitarist for the band Joshua Tree, an anchor band for U2.
In the first 10 years of your career, what were your biggest lessons; what do you wish you had known then?
Early in my career I was a sports writer. That was good, because there was more freedom to write. I wish that I had learned more about reporting (which I obviously learned rapidly) –that’s the whole basis of everything. People don’t realize the intricacies & subtleties required of a reporter. That’s why I dedicated my book to reporters. I think they are the most vital part of journalism. I was only a pure reporter for 10 years.
What are the intricacies and subtleties that people aren’t aware of, that you wish you had known?
We talked about over-reporting, digging up 100 facts even you will only use 10-12. If you do surface reporting, you often go down blind alleys or jump to conclusions when you don’t have the full story. There are not two sides of a story, but there are many sides. Anyone who goes at it thinking you have two sides, is going to have a limited story. So that’s a subtlety that reporters need to learn early on.
The value of written records is valuable for the basis of any story. Ask, “how do you know?”
Why is it that sports writers are some of the best writers out there?
One thing that’s not appreciated about sports writers is that not appreciated about sports writers is how often they write under the gun. They are comfortable writing fast, and the best writers write fast. If you read books on how to write by famous authors, they say write fast. Sports writers adapt more quickly to the reality that the reader isn’t getting the score for the first time when they pick up a news paper. So they had to adjust to this reality. We told people, write about the game as though it’s a review of the game.
What makes for a good sports writer?
I think a good sportswriter is a good reporter. You can learn to write by writing, but if you don’t have the basis for the story you are not going to set yourself apart. The readers are sophisticated about athletics so you have to be on your toes, and they know more than a lot of sports writers.
Friends who are not sure what direction they’d like to go in journalism. What advice would you give people just starting out. Would you say “run”?
I would hope not. There is a common fire in the belly matters; passion. A journalist is someone who has a curiosity, but also a desire to pass on the information that they have. Young people really should follow their bliss. You can’t tell where it’s going to take you. I had no idea about being an editor. Every job I had, even going up the chain I didn’t want, but it came along and I had to take it. Because I had enjoyed so much what I was doing. So there are a lot of opportunities you find when you get into the fray and they’re not necessarily apparent. People who are hiring and are looking for journalists in the various capacities know what good journalists are, and they need them.
So you wouldn’t discourage anyone these days from being a journalist.
No, you have to be a realist, but no, I wouldn’t discourage anyone.
Do you subscribe to the view that papers are going to be gone within 10 years?
No, I have been saying, for the past 10 years that there will be fewer newspapers. My biggest fear is that newspapers are going to close in their circulation area. For example the Boston Globe considered itself a northern New England paper. Will they even bother to come to New Hampshire any longer, sending their trucks, spending gas dollars. Even though they may charge more, will they retrench? That bothers me.
And of course the layoffs of editorial people, particularly reporters, just blows my mind. It shows the lack of respect for the reporting that is the basis of newspapers.
I was encouraged about the group wanting to buy the Globe saying they wanted to beef up the reporting staff. That was music to my ears.
Our class, Reinventing the News, toured Global Post, and they promote global investigative journalism, then there’s also Pro Publica, do you see those outlets taking over from emaciated papers?
They have been a Godsend in many ways in that they have filled in some gaps. They have utilized reporters with experience, in these areas. And, you don’t gain experience overnight, you don’t just send someone in to Afghanistan.
So, I think that they’ve been helpful, I don’t think that they are the answer. They are part of the picture and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately we’ve come to the place where what we need is outside funding, and frankly, what we had before, if you look at the country as a whole what you had were publishers who were willing to put their money into their newspapers because they cared about their community.
So now what you have is corporations taking over the newspaper industry so that 5 corporations now control all the newspapers and you need these foundations to supplant the publishers who cared about their local communities.
You mean the Pro Publica’s etc.
Yeah, that’s where they’re getting their funding. You can’t do this without money. When I was at the Globe as Editor, I set up at least 5 foreign bureaus. That’s a big commitment. You have to move a family to Tokyo, Mexico City, or wherever. So you’re not only paying for basic reporter costs, but you’re making a commitment to them and their families. But it was really important, you need them there.
What do you think about the practice of someone “reporting” to a writer or journalist in India, an event going on State-side. The reporter writes the story based on what is transmitted to them via [transom].
The Berkman Center at Harvard has a project going on right now. It takes training, you can’t just send someone out, telling them to go cover Parliament and give us a story if something happens. I worked in the 90s for 7 years with teenagers from around the world. We put out the Junior Journal, a monthly online publication. We had no problem getting reporters. We were able to train them through editing.
I say we, it was all them, I provided some guidelines on how to report, how to take a photograph, the basic, kinds of things, but they learned by doing, they learned from one another. So for 7 years we had more than 300 kids from 91 countries involved in this project. Originally we had 12 Editors, one for each month. We had one from the US, the rest from abroad. They all spoke English and chose to publish in English. Periodically they would include a piece in another language. The editors were trainers as well as editors. You need a touch point with whether citizen journalists or stringers.
How did you get involved in digital journalism? How do you keep connected? Did you start with a strong interest in technology?
I have absolutely no background in or real interest in technology. Things evolved at the Globe. In 1968 we got a visit from an MIT professor who was trying to develop an electronic library. He asked us for help by providing proofs of stories. So eventually we were developing an electronic library with MIT. By 1978 we had the first electronic library. Eventually we did obituaries where we had an electronic form.
I became involved in technology projects by necessity, but didn’t really find out what technology could do until the late 80s, Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the Media Lab called 35 of us together and TV networks and media stations and read the riot act to us, saying, You’ll be out of business if you don’t get going. So we formed a consortium called news & the future that included not Wash. Post & Dallas News.
Group was 1/3 publishers, 1/3 chief technology officers, 1/3 editors. The Globe decided to send me because they felt the need was in the news area. I was the chairman of the company’s planning committee which may have been a factor. The NJ News had their editor, the Chicago Tribune. The NYT didn’t join initially, but did eventually.
I got involved with audio, video projects.
We had a personalized newspaper. I was involved in the project, “Freshman Fishwrap”. We put out a daily electronic newspaper so that, for ex., a student from California could have stories in the order they were interested, in 1994.
Google is doing that now!
Of course, these kids were ahead of their time. It’s give me what I want in the order we want. We did this for 2 years, and the people on campus loved it.
There was [a tool that provided] an electronic approach to covering catastrophes. It’s a bit like, if you had a flood in China on the Yangtzee River & you lived in Cambridge, it would tell you comparative data so you had context. On a map you would take the Yangtzee River flood, overlay it on the Charles River and it would show you how it went to the Somerville line. It’s still there.
I got excited about Community stuff. In Dorchester, 4 Corners in 1991, we worked with teenagers. At the Globe I’d pick 7-8 stories that were in the Globe that I thought would be useful & informative to the kids and adults. We sent it to them and these kids ran a Web site, back in 1991.
Why did Rye Reflections peter out
We didn’t have enough people take leadership roles or do technical things. We had extraordinary health issues. The group is still together. We have lunch monthly, and everyone attends.
The benefits of community journalism go beyond just the journalism. In the back of Couch Potatoes are a bunch of tutorials that I’m proud of.
I joined Facebook to communicate with the first 30 kids I worked with on the Junior Journal all of whom were now abroad. Once I joined Facebook, I found all 30 of them within a week and was able to send each of them a copy of book.