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Archive for May 3rd, 2007

College presidential appointments

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

At least, the heads up on the Purdue presidential appointment came with a bit more than the less than 24 hour notice we got last spring when the new president was named at Kent State.

Still, in a similar move to Kent State, students will be long gone before the person who is to become their leader and their school’s ambassador to the world is publicly named. But I’m hoping I’ll get to throw my hat in the ring for a little bit of reporting, at least on background. See, covering presidential appointments is actually something I have, get this, experience in.

At the time of Lester Lefton’s appointment, we knew what to do. Kind of. OK, mostly, we made it up as we went along. I still remember the race back to campus from breakfast in Akron after we got the call that the board of trustees was meeting the next morning. Ryan drove and we brainstormed, drafting a rough budget during the 20 minute drive. We were both on our cell phones trying to get as many bodies for those assignments to the office as possible. Most of our editors were graduating and while they’d been following it, they didn’t have the time or concern to jump on the story. If we had run a masthead in the two extra editions we put out during exam week, it couldn’t have been more random than if we’d pulled names from a hat. But still, we threw everything and everyone we had (and probably more than we thought we had) into that story, breaking the news with context and impact. Hell, we put a reporter and photographer on a plane for Tulane, where the president was coming from.

To say we were excited and overwhelmed is an understatement. It was the biggest story of our fledgling careers, and something we’d been waiting and waiting and chasing and chasing. The Stater’s motto, “we cover Kent State and more,” had nothing to do with it. This was about getting the information out there to a campus that was slumbering under the weight of final exams. It was also about pride and our unofficial credo, “We cover Kent State like nobody else.” Damned if someone else was going to get that name first.

They didn’t. We dominated the story and had the name online before I took my statistics exam that afternoon. The following day every news account that said “Lester Lefton is expected to be named …” was preceded or followed by “According to the Daily Kent Stater” or “The student newspaper reported …” It was also our first true test of breaking news online. We posted several breaking news updates that day, adding details as we got more information. Our first post was simply a president was being named. Then, when and where. Then, bit by bit as we got more information and a name. Then as we got more comfortable we were right with that name, who he was. Each bit of biography we could cull from the Web, from phone interviews, from off-the-record conversations, from his neighbor’s dog groomer… OK maybe not that much, but we exhausted pretty much everything.

Earlier this week, I was talking to another reporter who happens to be the editor of his college paper (not at Purdue). I mentioned that Purdue would probably pull off what Kent did and name someone at the most inconvenient time to deflect as much media attention and scrutiny as possible. I mentioned that I had failed an exam as a result of our announcement, which in turn caused my GPA to drop below magna cum laude. My editor laughed and said I probably made the right decision. He’s right, and I didn’t feel even a twinge of hesitation when I made the decision to drop everything and focus on getting that story. That moment was the defining moment when I knew for certain nothing else mattered, I was a journalist first.

I was sad to see that the Purdue paper, the Exponent, has nothing posted on the impending announcement. It doesn’t even have as much as our story today (and the TV story that followed) about the woman who has identified herself as a candidate. Although technically I work for a competing media outlet, part of me wants to see the college paper blow everyone else out of the water.

Here’s to another exciting presidential announcement. Though, I do have to say, once it’s over, the excitement you’ve built up starts to dim almost immediately. As much as it’s awesome to get the story out, as we learned last year, the chase is actually the most fun part. Though, the payoff of getting it first and getting it right is definitely worth it.

My first post-Kent State May 4

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Tuesday night, as I was driving home from NW Indiana I was listening to NPR and a story came on about Kent State and May 4. I rolled my eyes as I heard the same mouthpieces drone on and on about the events that unfolded nearly four decades ago. The same voices I’ve heard, telling much the same story I’ve been told.

Tonight, another reporter pointed up to MSNBC as they were doing an interview with some guy about Kent State and May 4. I rolled my eyes as that reporter, like many a person before him, proceeded to hum, “Tin soliders and Nixon’s coming … Four dead in Ohio.”

I suspect — nay know — this will unravel the same way for the next week or so. It always does.

It’s like clockwork. And though related to the events of the same day, it’s even more predictable then the inevitable look of recognition I get when someone asks what school I attended. It’s a look of, “Oh… I know Kent State” And it’s because of May 4. You want to shout, yeah, but they have a great journalism program and fashion school. And they developed liquid crystals (you know like the laptop screens) at the university. And and Aresino Hall and Drew Carey and Devo all attended. But usually, I simply nod, resigned to the one pop-culture reference that will always be associated with the university.

And for the first time since I became a student (and consequently student journalist) at Kent State, I will not be there to watch the silent candlelight march around campus and then the prayers and candlelight vigil that follow this Friday. I will not read the thoughts of peers scribbled in colorful sidewalk chalk beside crude drawings, with labels like “Flowers are better than bullets” written across the Taylor Hall parking lot as it’s emptied of cars for one day of the year. I will not be witness to the annual call to (or I suppose against) arms, when liberal students feel it’s their duty to hold some anti-war protest, as if to prove to the army of media and visitors who descend on campus that those who died did not die in vain, their spirit lives on.

Those are things that made an impression on me, the things that, like the memorial and the song, “Ohio,” I associate immediately with May 4.

But this will also be the first time I’m not exposed to conspiracy theories. I will not, for the first time in several years, be made to listen politely to the barrage of several dozen spectators who feel the media was as guilty as the FBI, and as guilty as the governor and the national guard for covering up whatever happened. And they all know what happened, even if all of their facts conflict with each other and the “official” record.

To stem the tide of people who will inevitably stumble upon this post and want to harass me for my ignorance or my apathy toward the topic, I will say this, I don’t know exactly what happened on May 4, 1970. Neither do you. Nor anyone else. There are as many versions of that history as their are daffodils blooming on Blanket Hill. We will never know. And I accept that. I’m just thankful, I don’t have to explain that to anyone else this year.

I can sit comfortably, several hundred miles away, and roll my eyes at every Vietnam and Iraq war parallel I see or hear reported. And I will probably take a few seconds on May 4 to acknowledge the lives lost in what, no matter what happened or who’s fault, was a terrible tragedy, even if it was several decades before my time. And I’ll continue to nod with a hint of resentment everytime someone recognizes my university for nothing more than a fluke of history.