has always had a complicated relationship to the news, and
the notion of a non-partisan press is relatively modern.
Opinions, seasoned with fact, were the unapologetic pursuit
of the 19th century editor-in-chief of The Woman's Journal,
suffragist champion Lucy Stone, an 1847 Oberlin graduate.
More recently, opining is what journalists do after serving
in the hard-news trenches. Long before he became a nationally
known commentator, Carl Rowan '47 traveled 6,000 miles in
six weeks to report his still-vivid 1951 Minneapolis
Tribune series, "How Far From Slavery." Rowan later
served in the State Department and as head of the U.S. Information
Agency before returning to newspaper columns and television.
similar news-to-commentary trajectory was followed by the
ephemerally famous Raymond Gram Swing, who entered Oberlin
in 1905. A prankster who found freshman math "totally incomprehensible,"
Swing got himself booted out after one year. Much later,
he came to an appreciation for "how much Oberlin had given
me--in music, in the first interest I had in the other arts,
in the basic liberalism of racial and sexual equality."
By the 1940s, the one-time Cleveland News reporter
was the nation's highest-paid radio commentator.
most bothersome trend to me is the general trend toward
more opinion and interpretive stories and less actual reporting,"
said Ted Gest '68 of U.S. News and World Report.
"Many journalists these days seem to think that reaching
conclusions based on flimsy evidence is acceptable. Some
of it is laziness, some of it is 'herd' reporting, and some
of it is due to time and resource pressure. There simply
isn't time to report many complex topics fully."
bias isn't the only wedge driving apart journalists and
the public. There's also the growing gap between what the
public says it wants, and what journalists insist on offering.
The ASNE survey found 88 percent of the public agreeing
that sensational news stories get covered because they're
exciting, not because they're important. But the public's
putative high-mindedness must be put into some perspective.
There's a reason why at least seven books written about
the Jon Benet Ramsey murder case have sold 900,000 copies,
why The National Enquirer claims to be the biggest
circulation newspaper in America, and why MSNBC ratings
rose every time it covered the Clinton scandal. Sex and
celebrity sell because of willing buyers.
talk about journalists being too far left or right, but
that's not the problem," said Marc Sandalow '82, the Washington
bureau chief for the San Francisco Chronicle. "The
problem is hype...there's a big push to make all political
news as entertaining as you can."
great public yawn during the president's impeachment trial
illustrated widespread alienation from Washington and
the press, and may have particularly disturbed those reporters
who came of age during the investigative reporting heyday
of Watergate. Hamburger, for one, recalled his vivid 1973
Winter Term internship at the rabble-rousing San Francisco
Bay Guardian. While Washington was transfixed by Watergate,
an inspired Hamburger began digging into forsaken records
at the San Francisco Weights and Measures Office. His
discoveries revealed a pattern of faulty supermarket scales
and lack of city enforcement; and led, later, to a consumer
fun!" recalled Hamburger, who later became a Pulitzer
finalist for revealing how a legal publishing company
lavished luxurious vacations on federal judges. "What
impact! I was hooked."
joined a succession of 1970s-era Oberlin graduates who
trained at the Pine Bluff Commercial in Arkansas.
So many Obies circulated through the newsroom that one
reporter called it the 'underground railroad in reverse.'
This also was faithful to the journalistic tradition of
on-the-job training; a tradition followed, much earlier,
by the estimable Bruce Catton.
Pulitzer Prize winning historian and founding editor of
American Heritage entered Oberlin in 1916, where
in journalism's sad-sack tradition he recalled being good
in English but "hopeless" in math. Catton left Oberlin
early, to eventually join the Cleveland Plain Dealer and
a succession of newspapers that carried him to Washington
and his appointment with history. Like fellow dropout
Raymond Gram Swing, he later earned a honorary Oberlin
degree. And, like Swing, Catton retained an Oberlin heart.
In 1962, both men resigned in protest from Washington's
elite Cosmos Club when the club refused to admit Carl
Rowan as its first black member.
historian and journalist both, Catton knew the potential
that today's reporters are still struggling to fulfill.
He deserves the last word, fraught with both promise and
of sight," Catton once said, "somewhere, something great
is moving. When the reporter or the historian does his job
faithfully, now and then we get a glimpse of it."
IN A DAY'S WORK
journalism school. Though its journalism classes are
strictly ExCo, Oberlin has produced many journalists
who are now fighting for air time, ink, and, perhaps,
the future of their still-beloved profession.
are names above the fold. Long-time reporter and commentator
Carl Rowan '47 last November received the National
Press Club's Fourth Estate Award for lifetime achievement
in journalism. Robert Krulwich '69 is an Emmy winner
who playfully juggles ideas as an ABC correspondent.
Adam Moss '79, initially hired by the august New
York Times to vivify its Sunday sections, is now
top editor of the influential New York Times Magazine.
Robert Kuttner '65 founded and edits The American
Prospect, a monthly progressive magazine of high
repute, and writes a nationally syndicated column.
Matlack '74 of Business Week moved from Moscow
to Paris last year with that most evocative of job
titles, foreign correspondent. Pulitzer Prize finalist
Dennis Redmont '62 oversees the Associated Press's
coverage of Italy and the Mediterranean, while Frank
Bajak '79 is another AP newsman with global experience.
lures many Oberlin journalists. Michael Duffy '80
runs the Washington bureau for TIME magazine;
one of his TIME colleagues, Philip Elmer-Dewitt
'71, is a senior editor at the magazine's New York
City headquarters. Bob Drogin '73 globe-trotted as
a foreign correspondent for The Los Angeles Times
before settling into the paper's Washington bureau.
All the Washington-based reporters keep their office
TVs tuned to CNN, where Beth Anne Fouhy '83 is producer
of the high-profile political unit. From the West
Coast, Jennifer Siebens '72 works
the airwaves for CBS.
also means, as some call it, the back of the book:
culture, the arts, sports. Pulitzer Prize winner
Michael Dirda '70 explores literature and the world
of ideas as The Washington Post's book critic.
Susie Linfield '76 served as the Post's arts
editor and is now book critic with The Los Angeles
Times and a journalism professor at New York
University. Jane Pratt '84 founded and is chief
editor of the sassily eponymous women's magazine
that's entitled, simply, Jane, and that flashes
headlines like "3,000 of Your Wildest Sex Confessions."
Kim France '87 is editor-at-large for a slick magazine
with a slightly different lifestyle audience, Spin,
while Dade Hayes '93 serves up the Hollywood scoops
as a staff writer at Variety.
of Oberlin grads likewise call themselves journalists,
of one sort or another. Their stories, too, deserve
recognition; but, perhaps, that's why God created
Letters to the Editor.
Doyle is a reporter in the Washington bureau of McClatchy
Newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com.