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Photo from http://www.wickedlocal.com/swampscott/news/x702309234/Dean-Pedersen-looks-back-on-17-years-at-First-Church-confident-in-its-future-as-he-steps-down#axzz2RsEj617x

The Rev. Dean Wesley Pederson, one of my former college roommates, lives in Wenham, Mass., just north of Boston.  

After the bombings at the Boston Marathon, I wrote an email to find out how he and his wife Jane were doing.

“We are well,” he responded. 

The morning after the bombings, he wrote the following piece to the members of the local Rotary Club, of which he is president.

“Several years after he returned from his service as an Army Officer during the Civil War, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes reflected on his tour of duty with the Union Army by saying, ‘We were touched by fire.’

“Yesterday thousands of runners in the Boston Marathon burned hundreds of calories with the fire of passion as they ran the 26.2 miles.

“Family members, friends, colleagues were touched with the fire of their passion as they contributed to the cause/charity they supported, as they encouraged them by standing along the route, as they greeted them at the finish line.

“Each runner brought a story to the marathon that was forged in the heat of a desire to overcome an obstacle, transform a reversal, exceed an expectation, reach a personal goal.

“Little did they or us realize that at this marathon we all would be touched by fire.

“The bombs snatched lives, scarred scores of people, charred hearts and singed the souls of those present and those who saw the marathon on television.

“Into this inferno stepped men and women whose passion it is to serve others, into the chaos came the calming voice and loving embrace of family and friends, into the arena of destruction and despair came the prayers and actions of thousands who refused to be intimidated by fear and defined by violence….

“Let us rekindle the embers of peace as we engage in self-forgetful service to those whose lives have been singed and seared by the flames of hate and evil.”       

The Rev Pedersen and I had been undergraduates at Wheaton College.  He was from Connecticut and I was from suburban Chicagoland, and, because of his honesty and kindness, we quickly became good friends.  When we graduated, he went to a New England seminary and I went to work for newspapers and magazines.  

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Photo from http://thefirstchurch.org/?page_id=412

First Church in Swampscott

Dean’s last tour of duty before retirement was at First Church in Swampscott, Congregational.  

Swampscott, Mass., called “M’squ’ompskut,” (Standing Red Rock), by Native Americans, has a long history.  It was settled in 1629 by English Puritans.  

The First Church in Swampscott, Congregational was the first church established in that little village.  In 1852, Swampscott, spurred by the young church, became a town.  

In July 1846, a year after services had begun, 13 charter memb ers organized First Church.  The  present New England colonial church was completed in 1967 on Monument Avenue, overlooking Boston Harbor.

Dean and I did not keep in touch after undergraduate studies, but during a trip to Boston a few years ago, I stayed an extra night and visited his church.  After the service, I shook his hand and said, “I’m Will Norton.”

“I know you are,” he said.  “I kept looking at you throughout the service, and it finally came to me.

“Go say hello to Jane.”

We visited for a few minutes, and I left in a hurry to catch a plane, but four years ago I was able to visit at his home and get reacquainted with his quick mind and the insightfulness and wisdom of his wife.

In his email response to my inquiry about their safety, he observed that it “… would have been great fun to sit with you and talk about the coverage of the bombing. 

“As in everything there are plus points and minus points. Suffice it to say the coverage was in real time and that has its plus/minus issues.”

“…I think that it is difficult for some people in the Northeast to consider the viability of theology as a way to understand the question and then seek for an answer/response. This too is a discussion for another time.”

As I thought of our correspondence by email, I recalled the unrelenting faith and integrity of Dean Pedersen, and the thousands of Americans in the Boston area in recent weeks who have demonstrated faith, hope and love for their neighbors in distress, and I am grateful for analyses of news coverage by long time friends.  The critiques should help our students.

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Al Neuharth at the opening gala of the Newseum in April 2008

Al Neuharth hired the best people he could and created a vision of corporate excellence that redefined media around the world. He built an empire that grew from a net worth of $62 million in 1963 to $3.3 billion when he retired.

Al’s drive for excellence was his characteristic trait.

He was relentless.  

I watched Al closely for a decade and a half as a board member of the Freedom Forum.

He always seemed to rise above the give-and-take of the group, and he liked to see that trait in others.  

A meeting might go on for more than an hour without Al saying anything.  Then as a discussion was wrapping up, he invariably would make a pointed observation that brought new insights and resulted in better decisions.

To be the best, he believed he had to hire the best.  He employed teams of recruiters to visit leading journalism schools to find the best student journalists.

Then he identified the best of those his recruiters hired, and he worked closely with them.

                                                                               ***

Three of his top assistants were Charles Overby, Ken Paulson and Peter Pritchard.  Each provided Al with what he needed before he asked for it.  

They were Al’s boys, and they got the job done.

They required the best for Al, and their effectiveness in producing the best, said a great deal about Al.

Overby, Paulson and Pritchard always were evaluating how they could improve their performance.  This was the mark of a top executive who worked for Al.  

He did not tolerate less.

Charles was Vice President of News for Gannett and then moved over to the Gannett Foundation to work with Al.  The name was changed to the Freedom Forum and, as CEO and Chairman of the Board, Charles built the innovative Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue five blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

In his retirement, Overby runs the Overby Center, adjacent to the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.

Prichard and Paulson, both former editors of USA Today, were leaders at Gannett before moving to the Freedom Forum.  Prichard was President of the Freedom Forum before retiring a few years ago.  He now is Chairman of the Board of the Newseum.  

Paulson developed the First Amendment Center in Nashville, focusing much of his effort on the status of the influence of the First Amendment on entertainment.

                                                                            ***

I met Al for the first time in 1989 at the mid-winter meeting of journalism administrators in St. Petersburg, Fla. 

He had retired from Gannett and was building the Freedom Forum.  Charles Overby was working with Al, and I had asked Charles to be the keynote speaker at the meeting.

Overby said he would think about it.

A few days later he called back.

"You’re thinking too small," he said.  "You need to ask Al."

I did, and with encouragement from Charles, Al accepted and delivered a visionary message to the approximately 100 administrators in attendance.  He came with an entourage: Jerry Sass Sr, vice president of the Freedom Forum; Overby; Ev Dennis, director of the Media Studies Center; and Chris Wells, Al’s chief of staff at the time.  They participated in a stimulating discussion.

His theme was similar to the message of the leaders of foundations who are calling for the “Teaching  Hospital” model for journalism schools.

More importantly, he called for bold, visionary leadership in journalism education.  He said that the schools that thought outside the box would attract the best faculty, the most able students and strong financial support from media.

Moreover, he said these qualities would result in schools making a difference on their own campuses, in media professions and in society.

At the break he signed his recently released book, Confessions of an S.O.B, and the director of the School of Journalism at the University of North Dakota turned to a colleague and said, “How could we ever have a better program?”

                                                                              ***

Eight years later a delegation of the Freedom Forum had dinner in the Hong Kong home of Jimmy Lai Chee Ying, the publisher of the newspaper Apple Daily.

Tears filled his eyes and he could hardly speak as he welcomed us and told us how much it meant to him to have Al in his home.

"He is my role model," he told us.

He said he created Apple Daily because of what he had seen Al do at USA Today.  Apple Daily was first published in June 1995 and it was designed like USA Today.  It had color on all pages and did not allow advertisements on the front page, and it attracted a large readership.  Other Asian newspapers followed the example of Apple Daily, just as other American newspapers copied USA Today.

                                                                              ***

One afternoon a group of Freedom Forum board members were talking college football, and I spoke enthusiastically about Northwestern University.  “Gary Barnett is an exceptional coach,” I said.  “The Wildcats are going to do very well.”

Al heard my comments and did not say anything, but I knew he thought I was crazy.  Northwestern had been a perennial loser in the Big 10.

A few years later, when Northwestern was headed to the Rose Bowl, Al told Charles Overby that I had been the first person he had heard predict good things for Wildcats.

Al picked up on little things and placed them within a big picture.

If he were still running a media giant today, he would have taken a lot of detailed information and created a vision for the future of business that would be bold.  I have no doubt he would be successful, despite all the negativity that exists in the industry.  

Al Neuharth would not be wringing his hands and whining about what the Internet had done to his newspapers.  He would have gathered a handful of the brightest young executives he could find and brought them to a secluded location to focus on the problem. With prodding from Al, they would have created a new vision for media.

                                                                               ***

In recent days we have heard a litany of successful leaders credit Al with being an example of visionary boldness.  He has been called an entrepreneur who was an example for men and women around the world who crave freedom and the opportunity to be business leaders.

Those of us who observed his ability to cut to the heart of an issue and evoke creative discussion will always be grateful to have had the privilege to see how he hired the best, listened to their insights and empowered them to execute bold decisions that created a vision of excellence.

His legacy is not only USA Today; the Gannett Co., Inc.; the Freedom Forum; Newseum; and First Amendment Center.

His legacy also includes men and women around the world who were inspired to seek the best.

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Charles Overby and William Winter

"I owe Charles Overby, The Clarion-Ledger and Gannett more than anybody in Mississippi," William Winter told an audience at Millsaps University earlier this week.

He was referring to the newspaper’s stories on education reform in Mississippi.  The Clarion-Ledger’s Pulitzer Prize 30 Years Later” was a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1983.

"The new regime of the newspaper under Rea Hederman sold to carpet baggers just as we were starting to make headway," Winter said, and the newly appointed executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger was the head of the Republican party in Tennessee.

"I was a has-been governor, a failed governor and suddenly we had an ally in Charles Overby and The Clarion-Ledger," Winter continued.

"We owe you a debt of gratitude," he told Overby.

Overby responded by describing his perspective.

"I saw no difference between a Lamar Alexander Republican and a William Winter Democrat, and I managed to make both states angry."

Although the lively banter continued throughout, Fred Anklam, operations editor of USA TODAY and political reporter for The Clarion-Ledger’s Pulitzer Prize-winning team in 1982, described what made the coverage of education so effective.

“We tried to provide our readers with what they needed to know,” Anklam said.  We tracked bills in both houses at sub-committees levels, reporting votes.”

He also mentioned the editorial box labeled Hall of Shame that included each senator and representative who voted against the measures.

As the legislative term continued, the box had fewer and fewer names.

Others on the panel:

  • Bill Nichols, managing editor of Politico and a reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in 1982;  
  • Ronnie Agnew, executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting and former executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger;
  • Brian Tolley, executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger; 
  • Rick Cleveland, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and former sports editor for The Clarion-Ledger; 
  • and Pat Thompson, director of student media at the University of Mississippi.

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At the end of the session, Overby said it was Winter’s work that made the Pulitzer reality.

Then he held the gold medal up for the audience to see and said, “This is Mississippi’s Pulitzer.  It belongs to the people of Mississippi.”

“The Future of Newspapers: The Clarion-Ledger’s Pulitzer Prize 30 Years Later”

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Before the Gannett Corporation, Inc., purchased The Clarion-Ledger from the Hederman family, education reform seemed to face serious challenges.

However, Gannett hired Charles Overby to be executive editor, and Overby’s team seemed to run daily one or two articles on education, and Editorial Page Editor David Hardin wrote sharply worded editorials on the political battle that was waging in the legislature.

Perhaps momentum for reform began when the newspaper regularly published a Hall of Shame column on the editorial page, listing the legislators who were against the measures proposed by the administration of Governor William Winter.

Eventually the savvy reporting and strategic editorials won the day, and educational reform legislation was passed in Mississippi.

As a result of its coverage, The Clarion-Ledger was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

These events will be discussed in a panel at 12:30 pm April 15 at the Robert and Dee Leggett Special Events Center at Millsaps College. 

“The Future of Newspapers: The Clarion Ledger’s Pulitzer Prize 30 Years Later” will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the award and will include three distinguished alumni of the former Department of Journalism and a staff member of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. 

Former Mississippi Gov. Winter will make opening remarks and Overby will moderate the panel: Fred Anklam, operations editor of USA TODAY and political reporter for The Clarion-Ledger's Pulitzer Prize-winning team in 1982; Bill Nichols, managing editor of Politico and a reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in 1982; Ronnie Agnew, executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting and former executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger; Brian Tolley, executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger; Rick Cleveland, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and former sports editor for The Clarion-Ledger; and Pat Thompson, director of student media at the University of Mississippi.   

Overby, Anklam and Agnew are alumni of journalism at Ole Miss, and Thompson, a graduate of the University of Missouri, is Director of the S. Gale Denley Student Media Center.  She has been instrumental in improving the quality of center.  

The Student Media Center runs a radio station under a commercial license, a five-days-a-week television news program and The Daily Mississippian

Thompson is a former reporter at The Washington Post and former assistant editor of the San Jose Mercury News that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize during her tenure there.  She taught at the Medill School at Northwestern after leaving The Washington Post.

Roger Fransecky

Several years ago, when I was on the faculty of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications University of Nebraska, I became acquainted with Roger Fransecky.  He is Founder/CEO of The Apogee Group, a global management consulting and leadership development organization, and he was coming to Lincoln to see the college and talk.

Roger had made a major endowment gift to the college in honor of his wife Nancy Foreman who had been on the Today Show for years.  She was a top on the air personality at NBC.

They lived in Omaha, and she worked for NBC while he traveled the world in his consulting business.  However, his life had been changed forever in August 2008 when he came home from the airport and found that she had died suddenly within two hours after his regular call, “It’s on time, my love.”

In his newsletter that September he wrote:

"She died without being able to say goodbye.  In the dark forest of grieving, there are only brief shafts of light.  Our wonderful children, a loving family, so many close and nurturing friends, all stepped in with love, support, patience, wisdom and the quiet presence you need when it feels as if your world just ended.

"Nancy and I celebrated every day.  We made our marriage a daily commitment.  We had fun, grew wiser, struggled, laughed, collected, built, moved, nurtured, spat, loved and lost as all of us do.  Her death startled her, I know, and it came unfairly.  We both understood that we are not in charge, but we shared the hope that this was our time when we would finally have more time to play and ponder.  If you want to hear God laugh, tell her your plans.

"One of Nancy’s favorite books was The Last Time.  The book’s simple premise was never more prescient or compelling than now.  We never know when it’s the last time…the last ride without training wheels, the last salute before boarding the plane, the last breathtaking sunrise, the last kiss in the morning as you part.

"I ‘feel’ Nancy editing me again, and she was my best editor in all things.  It’s important to take something from this terrifying loss: make every moment count.  Do what really matters to you.  Don’t waste a second with the wrong person, dream, hopes, job, missed birthdays or lost, wasted hours.

You never know when that is the last time.  Stay conscious and present in your life.  Savor your days and moments. I remember both.”

***

In our first meeting, I immediately realized that this sensitive man is a person of deep wisdom.  When I returned to Ole Miss, I wanted him to visit Oxford and speak to our faculty.  As we talked on the front steps of Farley, he suggested the possibility of his company’s co-hosting conferences at Ole Miss for top media executives.  This idea sparked Dr Samir Husni to host his annual ACT magazine conferences, the third of which was here last week.

***

Then a few weeks ago, October 8, he sent the following newsletter:

“The Shadow on the Bridge

"There is no delight in having prescient moments if what you foresee brings a dark shadow instead of a burst of insight or a brilliant possibility.  In last month’s Newsletter, I wrote about crossing a swaying rope bridge between our Now and what may come next.  Just days after having written that, I met a dark shadow when I was diagnosed with a serious brain tumor.

"From that moment forward, everything has changed.

"Life is rich with irony.  I had just signed the final agreement with my partners to shift much of the day to day responsibilities of our practice so as to allow me more time to write and reflect.  Just a few hours later, on that very day, I received the startling diagnosis.  Rarely have I been ill, so it would seem that I am getting the "Big One" after all these years of good health.  Today, I am a happy parent, and a new grandparent, all in the full sunshine of great friends and a season of my own making.  I was not expecting to walk smack into darkness.  After all, I am usually the one to bring the light of hope, humor, optimism and possibility to my family, friends, clients, students and partners, during times of uncertainty.

"The Shadow met me in middle of that swaying bridge and redirected me to a new Next I could never have anticipated.  In this season, which will soon be aflame with October’s lemoning of the leaves and the bringing of ripeness and sharpness to each chilly morning, I am rather saddled with an uncertain future.  Sickness has a way of deferring the invitation to enter a new, favorite season.  I am resolute in not letting that happen this bright Autumn. 

"When dramatic changes block the path you’ve prepared, it comes as an affront to your sense of order, and, yes, to your feeling of control.  These calamities are quick to show us that we aren’t in control of anything.  Our well-ordered days often mask the stark realization that we are really only furniture movers in life.  Far larger plans are afoot, and we are often left standing at the margins watching as Life assumes a course without our self-important permission."

I responded as soon as I read the newsletter:

"Your newsletter was a shocker," I wrote.

“I have been looking forward to visiting with you to talk about all sorts of possibilities, and now I am hoping that we will have the opportunity to visit despite the rigors of treatment that you will face.

“Portions of your newsletter reminded me so much of the Book of Ecclesiastes.

“And in this season of this great challenge, I cherish even more our friendship and your wisdom, and my respect for you continues to grow every day.  Again this morning I read your wise insights and paused to pray that you will have many more years to bless us with understanding. “

***

And during the last week of October, he sent another newsletter with more insight and wisdom:
 
“I write this in the last days of October, a time rich in the smells of autumn, with fall leaves, restless as sparrows, rustling along the sidewalk.  The world seems to be preparing us for winter as we gather, rake and cart away the collections of another season.

“Three weeks ago, I shared the stark and dark surprise of learning that I had a brain tumor.  Since then I had exploratory surgery, and I have begun treatment.  I am committed to staying aware and awake to my feelings and the full experience of this path.

“During all of this I have been intensely touched by your emails, cards, missive and calls.  It has meant so much.  Serious news sparks fear and and a sense of isolation.  I know I am not alone.

“Over the years of writing these newsletters, I persist in urging you to ‘discover the prose and poetry of your life’ so you can pay attention to what you are doing, and what, awash in the energy of doing, you are becoming.

“I am so aware of the importance of each moment I have now.  You shouldn’t have to discover a terminal illness to remind yourself of a truth that provides context for this roiling year of leading and living: our lives contain both prose and poetry.  It’s time to pay attention to our simple daily rituals and patterns; the stuff that keeps us fed, folding laundry, watering the plants and washing our cars, the Prose of living.  But it’s also important to rediscover, perhaps for the first time, the Poetry of our lives, the simple joys and small events with our children, our family, our friends and the small silences of each day that remind us of the precious moments we share together.  And experiences ourselves.

“What is important to learn?  Where is there trusted wisdom in a confusing world of constant change?

Again, I urge you to return to the invitation of poetry:

'Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispering healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then like a hand in the dark
it arrests the whole body,
steeling you for revelation.
In the silence that follows
a great line
you can feel Lazarus
deep inside
even the laziest, most deathly afraid
part of you,
lift up his hands and walk toward the light.’

"The Lightest Touch" David Whyte

***

“A recent Wall Street Journal offered a lovely story on Oxford, Mississippi, a place I have visited several times at the invitation of a good friend, Will Norton, Dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.

“The WSJ profile reminded me of the first trip I made to Oxford, 52 years ago when I was writing a thesis on William Faulkner.  While on campus this year, I walked the grounds of his nearby home again and was reminded of Faulkner’s pull on my younger self, trying then to understand the mystery and darkness of his cypress laden images of the South’s ‘storm and fury’.  I hadn’t really experienced either by then, but I knew I could learn so much from him. And, I did.

” Somewhere, I learned to push into places I don’t understand stay there long enough, under the heavy leaves of accumulated wisdom to discove r apath to deeper understanding.  Or, the courage to stay long until I was ready to step back into my Next.

“Autumn invites those personal inventories and the poetry that can provoke in us.  Back in Oxfod all those years ago, I wrote: ‘Teach me fall/as you cast your leaves/ for one last holiday/ not to mourn for my summers gone/in the Autumn of my years/ as chill winds blow your wealth away.’

“It’s not too late. Rake and listen.  Read poetry, and sink into the images, the sounds, the silences between the lives.  Listen to the ‘poetry’ that you discover between the leaves in your feelings, in the quiet of simple work, and in the delight of actually completing a task.  Listen to the whispers of lovers and friends in the sudden winds that move memories and leaving around you.

“Find the poem that is you.

“Let this new poetry gift your November, your autumn inventory, with peace.”

***

Roger was the keynote speaker at the first ACT conference.  His is the speech that attendees quote when they mention that first event.

You cannot help but be drawn to the warm, insightful gentleman whose words are like warm oil, bringing healing to a soul in pain.

And I look forward to many more, inspiring conversations with the prose and poetry that is Roger Fransecky.

I thank God for what he continues to mean to me.

Oct 27, 2009 – Roger Fransecky, CEO and Chairman of The Apogee Group motivates journalism students at Ole Miss.

Jon Hunter speaks in Sioux Falls, SD, at the 60th anniversary of SoDak Sports

I was in South Dakota in early October as a member of the Al Neuharth Media Center advisory board. 

On Wednesday afternoon a group of us celebrated the 60th anniversary of SoDak Sports, Neuharth’s venture into sports journalism.  He had just been graduated from the University of South Dakota when he began the sports newspaper. 

SoDak Sports was a failure, but Neuharth said that failure taught him the lessons that enabled him to become the CEO of Gannett, the largest newspaper company in the nation, and the visionary who started USA Today. 

I found the remarks of Jon M. Hunter to be fascinating.  His grandfather printed SoDak Sports, and I thought you might like to see what the grandson said to the crowd: 

My name is Jon Hunter, publisher of the Madison Daily LeaderSoDak Sports was printed on our press at Madison. 

While I wasn’t there, my grandfather George and father Merrill were.  My grandfather had purchased the Daily Leader just 5 years earlier, and my dad was fresh out of the Marine Corps, and was roughly the same age as Al.

As I looked at the first issue of SoDak Sports, it occurred to me how difficult it would be to put an edition together.  Of course, the columns were set on Linotypes using hot lead. The press was a web letterpress.  Photos were a huge deal, as they would need to be created on what was called a engraver.

In that first issue, my dad was listed as a “contributing editor” and Harlan Severson of the Daily Leader staff wrote a column on a poaching scandal.

Launching a publication like this typically starts from the love of journalism.  And what a terrific time to be in sports journalism!  Think of the stories in that first edition: Harold White being named coach of the year after leading Brookings to an unbeaten football season and a State A tournament title in basketball.  The Claremont Honkers extending their football win streak to 53 games.  The state B basketball tournament had 248 teams participating.  The Northern League had two teams in South Dakota, the Aberdeen Pheasants and the Sioux Falls Canaries.  And high school girls sports was just getting off the ground, with 25 teams playing organized basketball.

But think of the great sports journalism opportunities today!  There are more sports than ever, full participation by girls, club teams for younger student-athletes.  The Madison Daily Leader is living proof of the new opportunities: we provide live webcasts of all the football and basketball home games for the Madison Bulldogs. 

Today’s opportunities in all subject matters and the love of journalism are why people are still starting new publications. Two new papers, the Gazette in Garretson, and the Native Sun News in Rapid City, are the newest newspapers in South Dakota, bringing the total to 199 weekly and 11 daily newspapers, the most per capita of any state in the nation. There are more specialty magazines and tabloids across our state than ever before.

Now, Al, I’ve been meaning to talk with you about unpaid bills.  I don’t have the exact records, but let’s assume a $1,000 bill in 1954.  I think it would be fair to charge some interest on that amount, let’s say 10 percent annually.  I’m not taking advantage of South Dakota’s liberal usury laws, which would allow us to charge a higher rate.  Anyway, at a very fair 10 percent rate, the total is now $251,638.  A check would be just fine.

Finding song and solidarity in South Africa

Meek School students Natalia Burgos, Bracey Harris, Jon Haywood and I were in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, for a journalism class at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) during the first two weeks of August.  

Late in the first week, we rode with two development workers to Ikwezi, a village of 11,000 north of Port Elizabeth.

I had met with Sizwe Mngwevu, the mayor, the night before in a restaurant overlooking Nelson Mandela Bay, and he told of the many challenges facing his little village.

Based on our conversation, I developed a list of possible story ideas for our students, and the next morning we left on the 180-kilometer drive across the plains and through the rolling hills north of Port Elizabeth.

We arrived in Ikwezi about mid-morning and talked with village leaders before visiting the secondary school.  It was break time, and some boys were playing soccer in the concrete courtyard while other students chatted on the porch around the playing area.

We learned that 15 students had finished their schoolwork, but instruction had been such that none had passed their senior exams.

None would be going on to a university.

The town leadership intends to improve that record, and the two development workers told us every student would pass within two years.  This is a priority.

On several occasions, the Ole Miss students came from their interviews on the verge of tears.  The challenges are heartbreaking, and the emotional stress to explore the situation was telling.

The students finished their interviews a little before 3 pm, and we began our return journey to Port Elizabeth.

The traffic was slow.

It took us three hours to reach downtown, but we were early for a meeting at an auditorium near the offices of The Herald, a newspaper that covers the bay area.  The event was promoted as The Herald/ NMMU Community Dialogue.

Port Elizabeth is an industrial city where so much of the antiapartheid movement developed.   The African National Congress (ANC) is powerful in the metropolitan area, but internal conflicts between the regional head of the ANC and the mayor of Port Elizabeth have affected service.  The city has not appointed a permanent municipal manager during the last three years, and permanent executive directors exist in only two departments in the municipality.

The students and I were early, but by the time we had settled in our seats, hundreds of residents were streaming in, and about 15 minutes before the meeting was to begin, the crowd burst into song.  

They filled the aisles, dancing and clapping while they sang.  One woman had a whistle that she blew as she danced, orchestrating the tempo, and the noise increased as more and more of the audience got up to dance.

Only when the editor of The Herald repeatedly asked for everyone to sit down, did the auditorium grow quiet.

Speakers on the platform were a local government official; the president of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber; the president of the Ratepayers’ Association; and Bishop Lunga ka Siboto of the Ethiopian Episcopalian Church.

We cannot afford a struggle between the ANC regional headquarters and City Hall, the president of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber said.  “We need to … take the metro to its rightful place as a global city.

“Across political parties, the city comes first,” he said and the crowd responded in applause.

The president of the Ratepayers’ Association said it is unfair for the public and ratepayers to pay for the practices of corrupt politicians.

Bishop Siboto was the last to speak, and he gave the most impressive remarks of the night.  He quoted from Nehemiah 2:17: “Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.   Come let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we no longer will be in disgrace.”

Siboto said it is “unacceptable for political leadership to abuse their positions” and asked residents to stand up against politicians.  “Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace.”

Then he began to sing “God Fulfill Your Promise.”  The crowd heard the first words of the song and joined in a hauntingly beautiful a cappella performance of solidarity.

The hymn had been written buy Tivo Soga, a NMMU official told me. 

It was vital in the struggle against apartheid.  ANC delegates at the first congress had burst into singing this same hymn, “Lizalis’idinga Lakho.”  This also was the hymn that inspired Oliver Tambo after street killings in Soweto during 1976 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiyo_Soga>.

Soga was the first black South African to earn a college degree.  He was graduated from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.  When he could see Cape Town from the deck of the ship on which he was returning, he realized that because of his education he would be viewed as a leader, and he asked God to help him.

“Fulfill Your Promise,” he sang in prayer.

The singing of the hymn at the forum was a reminder of the deep spiritual roots of the struggles of South Africans for equality and freedom, and those efforts now are not between the races but between those with and those without power.s

MPA Tour

image

Jace Ponder, reporter for the Sea Coast Echo in Bay St. Louis

 

The mood was upbeat a few days ago when I visited newspapers in the northern part of the state with Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association.

We met editors and publishers who were just getting started in their positions, and we met veterans who had distinguished marketing and journalism careers.  It was an encouraging and inspiring day in the Delta.

 

August 16 

 We visited Bill and Carol Knight at the Quitman County Democrat in Marks, Mark Williams at the Bolivar Commercial, Stephanie Patton at The Leland Progress, Dave Brown at The Enterprise-Tocsin, and Ray Mosby at The Deer Creek Pilot.

 

image

Laurel Leader Call, Laurel, Miss.

 

Carol Knight has worked in the newspaper business for many years, and Bill has just retired from a career in accounting, and he was exuberant about reporting for his newspaper.

Williams, a former catcher for an outstanding Delta State baseball team, has been in the business many years.  He took us on a tour of Cleveland and showed us how the city is growing and making adjustments to a variety of challenges.

We had lunch with Stephanie, former vice president of marketing at Southern Living.  She gave us a fresh look at Leland and its newspaper and inspired us with her commitment to helping her town.

 

image

James Arrington Goff, left, executive editor, and Jimmy Goff editor, Collins, Miss.

 

Dave told us how much he and his wife like Indianola and how exciting it has been for him to be in Mississippi.  He recently moved from Georgia to Indianola. 

We ended our tour after 6 pm in Rolling Fork in a warm conversation with a master wordsmith who also inspired us with his love for his community.

Earlier this summer we had visited the newspapers in Magee, Collins, Laurel, Hattiesburg, Bay St. Louis, Pascagoula, Biloxi, Neshoba, Meridian and Jackson.

We have made this tour for several days these last two summers, and each year the editors and publishers seem to be getting a better handle on how to thrive in a multiple platform world.  They seem to be defining a business model that will work for their particular community.

In my three years in the state we now have been to 38 newspapers, and they seem to be thriving.

 

June 11 

 Our first stop was at the Simpson County News where we had such an uplifting conversation with Pat Brown, the publisher.  Pat is a great salesman, and he helped us understand how optimistically he looks at the future of Magee and the newspaper he leads.

 

image

Pat Brown, editor and publisher of The Magee Courier

Again, we had a great visit in Collins, talking with Jimmy Goff, editor, and James Arrington Goff, executive editor.  They told the history of the newspaper and their priorities for operating the newspaper.  As we left the orderly office of The News-Commercial, we saw the influence of the newspaper on the wonderful little town of Collins.

The Chronicle was the third newspaper we visited.  Skippy Haik, Interim Publisher, took time to tell us how Emmerich Newspapers created a newspaper in a matter of days.  Their optimism was contagious. 

After lunch we had a great talk with David Gustafson, publisher of the The Lamar Times in Hattiesburg and The Petal News.  David’s insights on the market of the newspapers and how to sell and promote his products gave a perspective on his successes. 

Our final visit of the day was with Randy Ponder, publisher of the Sea Coast Echo and Jace, his son, who is a reporter for the newspaper.  Jace was a graduate student at Ole Miss, an outstanding graduate student, and it was wonderful to see him again and talk with his dad.

 

image

Randy and Jace Ponder, Bay St. Louis, Miss

June 12

The next morning we spent an hour with Gareth Clary, executive editor of the Mississippi Press in Pascagoula.  Our visit was the day that Newhouse announced staff cuts for its newspapers in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.  Gareth left our meeting to drive to Mobile and learn where the cuts were to be made at the newspaper he led.  This was a sobering visit that reminded me of the terrific stress that exists in major newspaper corporations as they try to deal with the challenge of dealing with finances.

How great it was to meet Glen Nardi, publisher of The Sun-Herald, and Stan Tiner, the executive editor who has led the newspaper for McClatchy Newspapers.  Stan made sure that we had an opportunity to visit with his newspaper staff, and we left Biloxi with the growing assurance that Mississippi newspapers had momentum, despite the enormous challenges they face.

 

image

Laurel Leader Call, Laurel, Miss.

Tracie Fowler, general manager, the Hattiesburg American, and Erin Kosnac, managing editor, talked about the how they are covering the Hattiesburg area with less staff and how they are keeping their revenues up despite the fact that the recession has lingered.

 

June 13

Crystal Dupre’, publisher of the Meridian Star, offered an upbeat perspective on the newspaper she leads.  She talked of her involvement in the community and of the encouraging signs of progress in the city.  Since that visit, Crystal has taken a position in Texas.

Jim Prince III, editor and publisher of the Neshoba Democrat, told about a big news story in his hometown that week, the tragic death of a young child, but he devoted most of his comments to his plans for coverage of the Neshoba County Fair.  His optimism about community journalism and the opportunities for young folk is a message our faculty is sharing with our students at the Meek School.

 

image

Jim Prince III, Publisher and Editor, Neshoba Democrat

Perhaps David Magee, assistant managing editor, The Clarion-Ledger, provided the most energetic and enthusiastic view of the future of newspapers in the state.  He had just joined the leadership of the staff, turning down a major position in New York City in order to lead the newsroom of the Jackson newspaper.  He expressed deep conviction that multiple platform journalism would reverse negative trends for the newspaper and accelerate positive developments.

Home Is Where The Heart Is

A visit to the hometown of Samir Husni in Tripoli, Lebanon, July 2012 

A full moon over center of downtown Beirut where St. Georges is in forefront and Mohamed Al-Ameen Mosque, where the former Prime Minister Hariri is buried.  Clock Tower in Star Square where Leban

Above: A full moon over center of downtown Beirut where St. Georges is in forefront and Mohamed Al-Ameen Mosque, where the former Prime Minister Hariri is buried.

The sunlight shimmered off the blue Mediterranean as our Air France flight made its last approach into the Beirut airport.  Moments earlier I had seen the rebuilt downtown that was destroyed during the mid-1970s. 

Dr. Samir Husni, Mr. Magazine, and I were in Lebanon for a few days to visit Al-Manar University in Tripoli, Lebanon, 50 miles north of Beirut.

Tripoli is Dr. Husni’s hometown, and Dr. Sami Menkara, president of the university and former Minister of Education.  Dr. Menkara had heard Dr. Husni at a magazine session several years ago, and had asked about a partnership between the University of Mississippi and Al-Manar University.  As part of the on-going discussions, he asked me to speak at the university’s graduation on July 7.

In the opening piece of Terrains of the Heart, Willie Morris wrote, “Home, as the old words say, is where the heart is.  But where, then, is the heart?  In these times, how might the American heart respond?  Thomas Wolfe knew his own answer – knew also, in the deep heart’s core, that he could not come home again.  All Southerners, Truman Capote said, go home sooner or later….”

Above: Bekaa Valley

Dr. Husni was home, and I walked with him along the sidewalks of his home city, toured the Old City of Tripoli and traveled into the mountains and even into the Bekkah Valley with him and administrators at the university.

I felt the tensions in the nation surrounded by Syria on two sides and having a southern border with Israel.  I knew of attempts to give Palestinians a homeland in southern Lebanon, and I was part of conversations about the differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims in this nation that has been invaded by its neighbors for thousands of years.  I felt the precarious position that every Lebanese has known during their lifetimes, and I began to grasp how that tenuousness shaped each person’s psyche. 

We stayed at Dr. Husni’s mother’s apartment in downtown Tripoli and visited his sister in a suburb of Tripoli and his brothers in homes in the mountains overlooking Beirut.  Dr. Husni is a fourth generation Presbyterian in a land of Muslims, Maronite Christians and Greek Orthodox.  He represents less than one percent of the population.

Like so many Lebanese he has family in Lebanon and a young, growing family in the United States, and he carries a U.S. and a Lebanese passport.

Above: Cedars of Lebanon

During the days before graduation we met with university officials and visited historic sites in this small nation – 140 miles of coastline to the west, 230 miles of border with Syria to the north and east and 49 miles of border with Israel to the south.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was a visit to the Old City of Tripoli with President Menkara as our guide.  He is a former mayor of the city, and everywhere he walked he was greeted with kisses and praised for his mayoral years when he rejuvenated the Old City.  It is a Mamluk city.  The Mamluks drove the Crusaders out of the Levant, by 1291, ending the era of the Crusades. 

The layout of major thoroughfares in the Old City was set according to prevailing winds and topography – narrow, winding streets.  We saw old markets and caravanserai, Turkish baths, citadels and great Mamluk mosques.  We saw shops of soap-makers, perfumers, tailors and tanners along the narrow streets. 

We also visited the first printing press in the Middle East, the printing press of Saint Antonius in “Quzhayya”, in a monastery in the Valley of the Saints in the mountains east of Tripoli.  A movable type printing press was imported from England to the Saint Antonius Monastery in 1585.  The first publication was the book of Mazameer (Psalms of David).

The Saint Antonius press did not print with Arabic letters but with Syriac letters.  At that time Lebanon was under Turkish occupation.  Arabic script was to be written by hand, not reproduced on a printing press.

Above: Columns of Baalbeck

The Bekkah is a fertile valley in east Lebanon, about 19 miles east of Beirut.  For the Roman Empire the Bekkah Valley was a major agricultural area, and today it remains Lebanon’s most important farming region.   

The valley is situated between Mount Lebanon to the west and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains to the east.  It forms the northeastern-most portion of the Jordan Rift Valley that stretches from Syria to the Red Sea.  The Valley is about 75 miles long and has an average width of about 10 miles.

As we wound our way up Mount Lebanon, past the Cedars of Lebanon, I was confident in our guide’s arrangements, but still felt a bit of anxiety.  Dr. Anes Tannous has a former student who is a general in the Lebanese Army, and we were to have a military escort during our time in Baalbeck, a 9,000-year-old Roman city named for the Canaanite god Baal.  The Romans renamed Baalbeck “Heliopolis” and built a temple complex, including temples to Bacchus, Jupiter, Venus and the Sun.  Today, the ruins are the venue for the Baalbeck International Festival that began the week after our visit.  The festival is the oldest and best-known cultural event in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean.  Since 1955, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have flocked to performances at the festival.  Classical music, opera, jazz, dance and theater, as well as modern world music are performed each July and August. 

Above: Dr. Husni and Dr. Norton at the Temple of Bacchus

These were the weeks before Ramadan and Lebanon is usually bustling with tourists.  However, one guide in the old city of Tripoli told us he usually has 50 clients a day, and this year he has been averaging only two a day. 

I was told the Sunni Muslim world was unhappy with Lebanon’s tolerance of Shia Muslims and the Alawite government of Syria.  Baalbeck and the Bekkah Valley are strongholds of Hezbollah, the nationalist organization that the United States has declared a terrorist organization.

***

On graduation day we visited Byblos, a Phoenician city that is estimated to have been occupied about 5000 BC, perhaps the first city in Phoenicia.  Today it is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. 

Papyrus is reported to have received its early Greek name, byblos, from its being exported to the Aegean through Byblos.  The word Bible is derived from Byblos.  In other words it is “the (papyrus) book.” 

Above: Dr. Husni visits with Um Habib, the owner of a grocery store adjacent to the building where Mom’s apartment is. 

We saw the Temple of Baalat Gebal, Byblos Castle (built by the crusaders in the 12th century), old medieval city walls, St John the Baptist Church (that was turned into stables by Islamic forces after the fall of the city) and an old market.  In July an International Festival has a beautiful venue by the seaside in the historic quarter, in front of the castle.

That evening Dr. Husni and I participated in graduation ceremonies at the university, on a beautiful campus overlooking downtown Tripoli and the Mediterranean Sea.  This is a university started in 2003 by the Karami family foundation. 

Rachid Karami was a Lebanese statesman, an important political figures in Lebanon for more than 30 years.  He was born into one of Lebanon’s prominent political families.  Rachid’s father, Abdul Hamid Karami, was the Grand Mufti, or supreme religious judge, of Tripoli, and served as Prime Minister in 1945.  He was an architect of Lebanese independence from France.  Rachid served as Prime Minister eight times.  His younger brother, Omar Karami, is chairman of the Al-Manara University board.  He served as Prime Minister three times, most recently from 2004 to 2005. 

Clearly, this is a quality university with influence.  All of its graduates have employment.  All speak three languages, and some speak six or more languages.  Thus, they are competitive in the global job market. 

Above: Mohamed Al-Ameen Mosque in downtown Beirut…

It was heartwarming to walk down the middle aisle outdoors in an evening setting in a venue overlooking the bay of Tripoli.  As we walked through the crowd, families stood up and began applauding, expressing their appreciation for the opportunities the university was offering their children who were graduating.

If it was heartwarming for me, I could only imagine what it was like for Dr. Husni who knew the challenges for Lebanese pursuing an education.

Later in the ceremony, I addressed the audience.  The following is a version of what I told the graduates.

His Excellency Omar Karami, chairman of the MUT Board of trustees,

his Excellency Dr. Hassan Diab Minister of Higher Education representing his Excellency Prime Minister Najeeb Mikati,

Dr. Sami Menkara, MUT President, MUT Academic Board Members,

parents

and students: 

Congratulations on this great achievement.

Today is a big day for you who are graduating, for your parents, for the administration, for the board and for your friends. 

I bring you greetings and warm congratulations from Dr. Dan Jones, Chancellor of the University of Mississippi; Provost Morris Stocks and the faculty of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

We are delighted to announce a partnership between the University of Mississippi, including the Meek School, and the Al-Manar University of Tripoli.  It is the first memorandum of agreement signed by the University of Mississippi and a university in Lebanon.  We believe we can grow together and that we can learn from you about complex international issues that many of us in the United States do not understand.  In the process, we hope you will become active with our network of partners.

The Meek School partners also include Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia; American University in Pristina, Kosovo, and the Gimlekolen School of Journalism in Kristiansand, Norway.

Today we are not here to talk about partners.  We are here to recognize you for your years of diligent work.

At many universities this kind of ceremony is called Commencement Exercises. 

 

Commencement means beginning.

 

So today we are celebrating your beginnings:  Beginnings of your adult careers and lives as independent adults.

 

***

 

Today you may have big dreams about your future. 

You also may have a lot of anxiety. 

You worry about the world in which you live.  You worry about your life.  You worry about those things over which you have no control.

As you dream and worry, let me cite some of the predictions about the future by the editors of THE FUTURIST magazine: 

§  Using Nanotechnology, scientists will implant electrodes topped with photodiodes in blind patients’ eyes to restore sight.

§  Solar power will be collected on the Moon.  This process can deliver 20 trillion watts of power a year, the wattage needed for 10 billion people who are expected to be living on the earth at mid-century.

§  Bioluminescent bacteria will be applied to buildings.  They will collect water and sunlight, helping to cool interiors while producing bio-fuels.  

§  Agricultural scientists will tweak a “thermometer” gene in plants – the gene that allows plants to sense and adapt to temperature changes.  It may be that crops will be able to grow in any climate or condition. 

§  City Skyscrapers with entire floors dedicated to growing food could soon be common in urban areas.  A 30-story skyscraper on one city block could feed 50,000 people.

§  Conventional models of global climate project only warmer temperatures.  However, research based on wind patterns over the oceans indicates the possibility of a mini-Ice Age in the next few years.

§  An interactive chip in the lens of your eyeglasses will display data and respond to your commands.  Images will be projected onto your retina, so they will appear several feet in front of you instead of on the lens.

§  Most industrialized nations now average one centenarian for every 10,000 residents, but the figure is moving toward one in 5,000.  These folk exercised regularly, ate breakfast daily, consumed carotenoids and Vitamin A in large amounts, and did not smoke.

§  Tomorrow’s inventors will spend their days writing descriptions of the problems they want to solve, and then letting computers find the solutions. 

§  Before 2025 China will become the world’s largest economy, based on GDP.  The United States will fall behind Japan and will no longer be in the top 20 nations in terms of per capita GDP.  China will shift from an export economy to consumer-driven economy, and Japan will shift most of its export trade away from the United States to China.

§  Vital infrastructure systems, ranging from energy to transportation, are increasingly interconnected, creating more points of entry for intruders. Information warfare based on disruption rather than destruction will be a component of all future wars.  

§  The next generation of college students will be living wherever they want and taking many (if not all) of their courses online.  They will earn degrees that are accredited by international accrediting agencies.  However, even in a globalized, educational environment, students will still want to join fellow students in a campus community.

§  The number of doctorates awarded in the United States has risen for six consecutive years, reaching a record 48,802 in 2008, according to the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates.  About a third of those degrees went to holders of temporary visas.  Computer science and engineering doctorates increased by more than 20 percent during the last decade. 

***

I am not as astute as the editors of THE FUTURIST magazine at making predictions about the future.  For example, I knew media were going to change, but I never realized the changes would come so quickly.

Above: One of Dr. Husni’s favorite Lebanese sweets, caramelized chick peas, made and sold on the street near his mom’s home for more than 40 years by the same person. 

In the United States much of the change occurred because advertisers and the media corporations were highly leveraged.  In other words, they were heavily in debt; the changes were not primarily caused by the Internet.

However, the Internet will bring more change.  Digital innovation will result in new media.  I just am not sure precisely how that will happen or how soon.

In fact, even the innovators are not sure.  I was Dean at a college where one of our alumni was one of the founders of Twitter.  We invited him back to his alma mater to speak, and he told us he was not sure about the precise future of Twitter. 

*** 

Let’s talk about a young man from Tripoli who is dealing with media changes.  He was graduated from a university here in Lebanon in 1977.

He went to work as a journalist at Al-Kefah Al-Arabi.  In 1978 he was accepted to the graduate program at North Texas State University, and he and his wife flew to the U.S. so that he could pursue a M.A. in mass communication.

Above: The Bay of Jonieh and the Bay of Beirut from a distance… 

He wanted to study magazines.   He was obsessed with them.  He dreamed of a future in which magazines would be a major part of his life.

After excelling at the masters level, he was admitted to the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, the oldest journalism school in the United States. 

As he was finishing his doctoral work at Missouri, the Department of Journalism had obtained a grant from the Meredith Corporation for a service journalism magazine program at the University of Mississippi, and we were looking for a faculty member, but we could not find anyone who knew the magazine business.

As I was talking to an executive at the Meredith Corporation, about my frustrations in not finding a professor, he said, “There is a young man at the University of Missouri who knows more about the magazine industry than anyone I have met.  The trouble is that he may have to go back to Lebanon.”

“Who is he,” I asked.

“Samir Husni,” he said.  “I’ll give you his telephone number, and you can call him.”

So I did.

In fact, I think I called him three times before he talked to him.  He and his wife were packing to return to Lebanon.

Needless to say, we interviewed him and hired him, and today he is a consultant to magazine executives throughout the world. 

When he began teaching at our school, some students could not say Professor Samir, much less Professor Husni.  So he is known as Mr. Magazine.

Why do I tell his story?

First, Dr. Husni is here today. 

Secondly, and more importantly, he once was like you.  He was graduating from this university, and he had hopes and dreams.

Like you, he was anxious.  He did not know if he could achieve his dreams, but he worked hard at it, and his dreams came true.

Today he is a role model of how you can achieve.  

As I told you earlier, I am not a great predictor of the future.  I knew Samir Husni would do well, but I did not know he would be known around the world as a magazine expert.

Similarly, I do not know how successful you will be.  But I urge you to follow the example of Samir Husni.

Dream big.

Work hard.

And trust God to help your dreams come true.

***

Later that evening we had dinner at Our House restaurant with Dr. Adel Mourad, Director of the Faculty of Business Administration and Assistant to the President for Academic Affairs.  As we ate a traditional Lebanese meal, he talked about his education in the U.S., about the great abilities and skills of students at Al-Manar University and his delight at having a partnership with Ole Miss and the Meek School.  

The next day, Sunday, we were packing our luggage in preparation for leaving Tripoli, and Dr. Husni said quietly, “It will be great to be back home.”

Later that day I watched him as he talked on Skype with his son and daughter-in-law and daughter and grandsons. 

Oh, how he missed his family.

I knew that, although he would visit his boyhood home as often as possible, home for him is Oxford where he and his young family live. 

Home is where is heart is.