Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Sense of Community

Tom Ashbrook, host of On Point, was so funny, wise, and inspiring.

He spoke of his roots here in central Illinois, growing up with a real sense of community, 4-H, communal farmwork among rugged individualist farmers, and his feeling that church was a place you went where all those people loved you--how that gave him the feeling that wherever he went in the world he would be similarly embraced.

And he was.

He also saw the horrors of the world, while they were happening, and reported on them as a journalist, and had to step away for a time, when he thought maybe telling the world what's happening does not actually stop what's happening, that maybe history isn't a progressive journey toward a better world.

This is surely an ongoing dilemma for many human beings. And journalists. But now he's back, interviewing people on all sorts of topics.

Ashbrook is the kind of journalist raised on Walter Cronkite, with an assumption that objectivity is a good thing to strive for, that you should try to get the real story and all sides of the story, but that journalism must be self-aware and self-critical and not blind to its own flaws and biases. He also thinks the opinion-based "news" is a lot of crap, and that was refreshing to hear.

There was also a great Swede joke, and general joshing about his dad and the phenomenal number of Presbyterians in the room.

As this was an event sponsored by Senior Professionals at Illinois State University, and the first Charles W. Bolen Memorial Lecture, there was a lot of "retired" wisdom in the room.

Of course wisdom never retires.

And since this is sometimes a book blog, here's the On Point hot summer reading list!

10 comments:

Julie Kistler said...

You know when I was trying to explain what Donald Margulies' "Time Stands Still" was about? A part of it is this, what Tom Ashbrook was saying. Here: "He also saw the horrors of the world, while they were happening, and reported on them as a journalist, and had to step away for a time, when he thought maybe telling the world what's happening does not actually stop what's happening..."

Kathleen said...

Yes! Thanks, Julie. I will read the play with that in mind!

Collagemama said...

Glad to know there are still some journalists of the Walter Cronkite school!

Kathleen said...

Me, too!

seana said...

Funny, but I was just reading a book by NPR reporter Brooke Gladstone called The Influencing Machine, which is all about the media and how many things we think are new about it are not really. It's told in graphic novel format and is very interesting. Walter Cronkite, for example did strive for that more objective stance, but she shows that it was when he termed the Vietnam war a stalemate that could not be won without negotiation, Johnson had to accept defeat.

SarahJane said...

I am also glad to know it. I have to say whenever I visit the states nothing makes me sicker than tv news. And after vacation I totally plan to cave to the NYTimes paywall.

Kathleen said...

It seems like a good journalist can indeed pinpoint a situation like that, Seana, so that if Vietnam really was a stalemate it was senseless to proceed otherwise, and I think Tom was saying he thought that was part of the good objective journalists can do in the world. Show what's really happening, and let people do the right thing in response. And that's where he hit a wall, too, since what people do next is not always "the right thing," or the thing that makes the situation better instead of worse. Sigh...

Kathleen said...

And Sarah Jane, my impression was that Tom is also disappointed by what is called news these days in the USA, but he has faith in the people and the institution to figure that out and change it. People in his audience, for instance (like my dad, who had asked the question about this), seek out the international news on cable/satellite stations to know what's really going on in the world. And, yes, my mom gets the New York Times on her new Kindle!

Tom said that when he was reporting world events, for the South China Morning Post, etc., American journalists were the ones going out to get the real story and European journalists sat in the hotel writing the story their paper expected them to file, with his own known slant. So that was in interesting perspective on the recent past!

SarahJane said...

Yes, in contrast to the tv crap, I think America also has one the strongest traditions of investigative journalism, if not the strongest.

We watched "The Shawshank" Redemption last night, and one thing that struck me as a high point is when the main character escapes prison with the packet of incriminating evidence against the warden, he sends it to the newspaper rather than the police.

Kathleen said...

Puts me in the mood to see Shawshank Redemption again! Lots of trust in that act!

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