Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stephen King has a hot one...

The name of the book, more than 1,000 pages long, is "Under the Dome."

It's a new novel by Stephen King. (That's him in the blue open collared shirt in mugshot photo accompanying book jacket.)

Worth reading if you want to learn about the pathos or inner workings of a small town--in this case Chester's Mill, Maine.

What makes a man or woman tick?

What is it truly?

And what happens when you put an entire community under stress (or under a dome)?

Maybe, if we're honest with ourselves, we all live under a dome of some sorts--be it physical, psychological, emotional, imagined, real...

That seems to be an underlying message of King's latest best seller.

Turn up your sound and click here for what King, who might be the world's most prolific author, says about "Under the Dome."

I like the book. I highly recommend it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tree of freedom planted at Winthrop

One of the reasons I've stayed at Winthrop University so long (now in my 25th year--longest I've been any place without getting fired) is because our university seems to truly treasure freedom of the press.

That's not always the case at other colleges and universities where image-conscious, overly sensitive administrators sometimes find themselves at odds with the student newspaper.

At Winthrop, our student newspaper, The Johnsonian, is free (meaning there's no prior restraint by any faculty or staff member before the paper goes to press). And the big majority of the time the paper gets things right.

I'm the faculty adviser for The Johnsonian, but I'm a hands-off adviser, reading stories or looking at pictures or cartoons or other material--before publication--only when the staff asks me to. (Very seldom do the students call on this old set of eyes to review anything before they run with it.)

To their credit, the students on the staff of The Johnsonian work very hard--for no pay or for a pittance of a stipend.

They don't do it for money.

They don't do it for glory.

They do it because they love it.

And they love it, in great part, because of something called the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Johnsonian is free--free to be a rambunctious (but hopefully responsible) watchdog, free to cover or uncover whatever it wants to, and free to be playful, funny, adventurous and satirical.

All of those qualities are at the core of our democracy.

Visit any university or college.

Yes, take a good look at that school's promotional material--all of its glitzy Web sites, brochures and pamphlets.

But to get the real skinny on the place (and to gain a sense of how much the university respects its students), study closely its student newspaper.

Does the paper seem to be free to responsibly print whatever it wants?

Do the students who work on the paper engage in robust debate--through journalism and informed commentary--about critical issues at their university?

Does the administration at that particular university let the student journalists flap their own wings? Is the student newspaper, thanks to an administrative and faculty hands-off approach, truly a laboratory for learning about and practicing journalism? Are the students at the paper free to explore and document all aspects--good and needing improvement--about the campus community?

Yes to all of the above at Winthrop.

A few years ago, a visiting professor from Shanghai, China, spent a year teaching at Winthrop. He and I became close friends. He would hang out in my office, and he became very interested in journalism and mass communication.

One evening, he called to see what I was up to. "Pon, this is production night at The Johnsonian, and I usually stop by there and give the students a boost and take them some refreshments," I said.

When he asked if he could accompany me to The Johnsonian offices (in the basement of Bancroft), I agreed to let him tag along.

I'll never forget his reaction at seeing all the kids busily working into the late night on their pages, pictures and stories.

"Larry, where is professional to supervise them? " he asked.

"It's totally their baby, Pon," I responded.

"What if they make mistake, Larry?" Pon wondered.

"I hope they don't, but if they do, I ask them to run a correction in the next edition of the paper," I said.

Later that evening, I told Pon (and I still fervently believe this) that if he wanted to see the heartbeat or core of America and democracy, it was right there--in the basement of Bancroft.

It's not in Washington, D.C.

It's in the basement of Bancroft being played out by those student journalists.

And it's all thanks to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

First Amendment freedoms thrive at Winthrop University, and now we have a "Liberty Tree" (a willow oak) that's growing near the front main entrance of campus.

That Liberty Tree symbolizes freedom of expression at our university and for our students, faculty and staff.

May it grow strong and thrive, and may its roots take hold deeply in Winthrop soil and may it be a reminder to all of us about what makes Winthrop such a good and honorable place.

In the picture accompanying this blog post, notice the recently planted Liberty Tree behind a few lovers of the First Amendment. Kneeling in the front (next to the 45 words of the First Amendment), from left, are Guy Reel and yours truly. Standing, from left, are: Haney Howell, Justin Brown, Bill Click, Debra Boyd, Tom Moore and Karen Kedrowki. (Photo by Judy Longshaw of University Relations at Winthrop)

Special thanks to Karen and Justin for winning a grant and bringing that tree and plaque and many quality First Amendment lectures and programs to Winthrop this past semester.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Newspaper article says it all

This ran in today's edition of The Johnsonian, the student newspaper at Winthrop University.

Funny thing: I always tell the woman who cuts my hair to make me look like George Clooney.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reporter of the year wows 'em at Winthrop

Gina Smith, who quite likely broke the biggest story of 2009 for a South Carolina journalist, visited our university earlier this week and spoke about her work.

Gina is a statehouse/government reporter for The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.

She's the enterprising journalist who surprised S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford last June when he got off a jet in Atlanta (from a secret trip he made to Argentina to rendezvous with his mistress.)

The rest, as they say, is history.

Sanford and his wife are separated.

Some key legislators in South Carolina have called for his resignation.

A state Ethics Commission investigation has pointed to 37 potential ethics violations committed by the governor.

Impeachment proceedings might be on the horizon (or might not be.)

Even Sanford's dog abandoned him. (Well not really, but you get the picture.)

Sanford called a press conference soon after being interviewed by Gina at the airport. He came clean and seemed contrite, admitting that he had not been forthright to his staff and to others about where he had been (not hiking on the Appalachian Trail.)

Here's the million dollar question.

Had Gina not confronted him at the airport in Atlanta, would he have called that press conference and spilled his guts?

We'll probably never know.

In the pictures accompanying this blog are Gina Smith (dressed in black and holding the coffee mug), Kristen Gainey, president of the Winthrop chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (sponsor of Gina's visit), and yours truly (the old blogster).

Thanks, Gina, for coming to Winthrop and sharing your story about that airport encounter with the gov.!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving pictures

Memorable Thanksgiving Day at my condo. Rarity because I had all three of my kids there with me.

Stars have to line up.

Rainbow has to be a certain hue.

Wind must be completely still.

All that and more required before I have my three kids with me for a meal and family time.

It happened and we had a good one.

In the photos with me in Rock Hill are youngest daughter Elizabeth of Nashville, Tenn; daughter Dorothy of Durham, N.C., and son Crawford of Melbourne, Fla. The bichon frese puppy is Jackson (named after Michael Jackson.) He's a handful but we love him.