Remembering Ken Reigner: A life of passion for politics, words and friends

Last Saturday, my good friend Ken Reigner died just a few hours before we were scheduled to meet for dinner. Ken was one of the first people Pamela Tobey and I met when we moved to Washington in 1984 and he was part of many of our important life events, including our wedding, family holiday gatherings and even Adirondack vacations at the Dunham family compound. Here is my tribute to Ken’s life, written with the indispensable reporting of Michael Gessel and John McDiarmid.

In the fall of 1983, Ken Reigner was shocked to learn that NBC News had canceled one of his favorite programs, the critically acclaimed but ratings-challenged NBC News Overnight.

“It was just as if someone had shot me through with electricity,” the red-haired Michigander with insatiable energy and righteous passion told The New Yorker in December 1983. “I was dumbfounded. After that, it was like being in an accident. A couple of minutes went by before I knew where I was.”

Ken Reigner at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Ken Reigner at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

But while most people would have accepted the program’s fate with disappointment and sorrow, Reigner, already a veteran of four presidential campaigns, decided to fight back.

“Somebody had to start up a movement to save the show,” he decided.

In the days before the Internet, email and social media, Reigner led a crusade to save NBC News Overnight. He led a candle-light vigil in front of NBC’s Washington studios, shared his outrage by calling in to Larry King’s nationwide radio show, organized a letter-writing campaign to NBC Chairman Grant Tinker and even demonstrated his support by distributing campaign-style buttons to members of the show’s audience one night.

“We noticed yellow ‘Save NBC News Overnight’ buttons on an increasing number of chests as the night wore on,” James Lardner wrote later in The New Yorker, “and we traced them to a tote bag carried by a bright-faced man named Kenneth Reigner.”

That bright-faced man, who led a number of crusades during more than four decades as a political campaigner, congressional staffer, writer and editor, died in his sleep at his home in Greenbelt, Md., on Aug. 8. He was 66.

“Crusading was what Ken was best at and enjoyed most — crusading for political candidates in campaigns, crusading for NBC News Overnight, crusading to save Washington Independent Writers,” said John F. McDiarmid, his partner of 16 years and Professor Emeritus of British and American Literature
at New College of Florida. “He could build up tremendous energy and zeal for crusading.”

Described by friends as “naturally enthusiastic,’ Mr. Reigner was accomplished in both the political sphere and the world of Washington writers. He was a former congressional press secretary, presidential campaign radio specialist and Democratic National Convention media operations fixture. He also was the founder and owner of CompuMedia Business Services, a two-term president of Washington Independent Writers, a freelance radio producer for several segments aired on National Public Radio and a tireless advocate for health-care and social safety net services for freelance writers facing tough economic times. One of his proudest “achievements” was earning a spot on one of President Richard M. Nixon’s infamous “enemies lists” along with fellow staffers and contributors to 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.

“A remarkable person,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a prominent American author, communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania who was a friend of Mr. Reigner’s for three decades after teaching him at the University of Maryland. “A sad loss.”

Paul Dickson, the author of more than 50 non-fiction books, called Mr. Reigner “a wonderful friend and a great person to work with when the going got tough. Watching him in action was to see a man of true determination working with the aid of a great smile and a deep sense of civility.”

Among Mr. Reigner’s ancestors was John Morton of Pennsylvania, a signer of the Declaration of Independence whose decision on July 1, 1776, to side with Benjamin Franklin against fellow Pennsylvanian John Dickinson cleared the way for final approval of independence. Two centuries later, Morton’s descendant entered the American political arena with the active encouragement of his family. Mr. Reigner always credited his mother Ann with instilling in him a keen interest in current events, politics and public service.

“I distinctly remember sitting with my mother when I was only three years old watching the 1952 Democratic and Republican National Conventions on television,” he recalled in 2004. “The message from my mother was loud and clear: this was important stuff that affected real people’s lives and I had better pay attention and learn about it.”

After decades of working on presidential campaigns, Mr. Reigner in 2000 helped his mother fulfill her lifelong ambition to attend a national convention by securing credentials for her to attend the Democratic convention in Los Angeles and hear the acceptance speech of party nominee Al Gore.

In a Washington culture often driven by ego and dominated by a lust for power, Mr. Reigner’s passion for life and his compassion for others made him an icon to many.

“Ken made life nicer for everyone he met,” said former National Press Club president Doug Harbrecht.

Mr. Reigner was born in Detroit, Mich., on May 20, 1949, to Mollie Ann Pocock Reigner and Hal Morton Reigner, a Ford Company engineer. He grew up in Battle Creek and Farmington, Mich., as the only son in a family with three sisters. As a boy, he was in a Battle Creek Cub Scout troop led by his mother. He once contemplated a life in the clergy and graduated from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit in 1967.

Educated at Wayne State University and later the University of Maryland at College Park, he worked for four years as a retail sales manager at the J.L. Hudson Company in Detroit before moving to Washington in 1972 to pursue his passion for politics.

He worked in five presidential campaigns, starting as a volunteer for anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and ending as a volunteer for anti-war Democrat Howard Dean in 2004. He was employed as a radio press assistant three times: for 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, 1976 nominee Jimmy Carter, and Carter’s 1980 Democratic challenger, Ted Kennedy.

In the days before digital broadcasting, Mr. Reigner was a master of the radio actuality, a short recording of a presidential candidate’s speeches, press conferences or interviews that Mr. Reigner taped, edited and then trained an army of volunteers to transmit by telephone to more than 2,000 radio stations and broadcast networks across the United States for use in their news programming. He produced audio commercials for the Democratic presidential candidates and assisted with distribution of video spots. During his decade of presidential politics, he estimated that he recruited, trained and supervised about 500 volunteers and staffers.

“I knew no one in the campaign more exacting, dedicated and passionate about his work than Ken,” Carter Radio Director Robert W. Maynes said.

Mr. Reigner was a seasoned spokesman for Democrats on Capitol Hill, serving as press secretary to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren G. Magnuson of Washington and Representatives Bob Matsui of California, John Burton of California, Mickey Leland of Texas and Mike Barnes of Maryland. He was employed as radio press assistant for Brendan Byrne’s 1973 campaign for governor of New Jersey. He also worked as Director of Public Information for the National Credit Union Administration and Communications Director at the Center for Environmental Education.

The devoted Democrat worked with the media at every Democratic national convention from 1976 to 2012, the last seven times as one of the managers in the convention’s office handling printing and distributing of advance speech texts, schedules and news advisories to the thousands of members of the press corps covering the convention.

“Ken loved politics,” said John McDiarmid. “He was passionately and intelligently committed to liberal political causes.”

The Nixon

The Nixon “Enemies List” through the pen of legendary Los Angeles Times political cartoonist Paul Conrad.

Mr. Reigner’s top political heroes were South Dakota Senator George McGovern and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, both unsuccessful presidential candidates. He considered Richard M. Nixon the nation’s worst president—and earned a spot on one of of Nixon’s enemies lists.

“Not the first-string list, he would modestly point out, but the longer list that he got on by working for the McGovern campaign,” added Mr. McDiarmid.

Although he made rather a bad enemy of the president known to many as Tricky Dick, Mr. Reigner also had friends in high places. Among those who agreed to serve as job references for him were Vice President Walter Mondale and National Transportation Safety Board Chairman James B. King.

In 1986 Mr. Reigner founded his own writing and editing business, which he operated in suburban Maryland until his death. Over three decades, he edited hundreds of books, articles, academic papers, theses and dissertations, and wrote countless résumés.

“He was passionate about the use of the English language,” said Mr. McDiarmid. “He was knowledgeable and judicious about grammar and style, a hard-working, meticulous editor.”

Mr. Reigner was active in the independent writers movement in the national capital region, working to strengthen networking among freelance writers and editors and to help writers who faced financial or medical crises. He joined the Board of Directors of Washington Independent Writers (WIW), then the largest regional writers’ organization in the United States, in 1997. (WIW was renamed American Independent Writers in 2008, then dissolved 2011.)

When first elected to the WIW board of directors, he was named chairman of the WIW Technology Committee. In that position, he organized annual technology conferences at Washington’s University Club. He chaired technology panels at WIW’s annual Spring Writers Conference at the National Press Club and George Washington University.

Mr. Reigner received the Philip M. Stern Award, WIW’s highest honor, in 2000 “for his exceptional service in bringing WIW into the Electronic Age.” The award is named for the investigative journalist, author, early benefactor and founder of WIW.

A year later, in response to a move to dismantle the WIW main office, he ran for WIW president at the head of a “Save WIW” slate including well-known writers Paul Dickson, Beryl Benderly and others. Swept into office in a landslide, Mr. Reigner served two terms before retiring in 2003.

“For hundreds and hundreds of us, WIW was pivotal to building our careers, and Ken, by leading the ‘Save WIW’ ticket to resounding victory over a board that wanted to dismantle the downtown office, allowed it to continue prospering for an additional decade,” said Ms. Benderly.

As WIW president, Mr. Reigner worked with leaders of other writers’ groups and journalism organizations, particularly future National Press Club President Rick Dunham, to offer first-rate training programs for Washington area writers that focused on technology skills and job opportunities.

Ms. Benderly recalls—“vividly”—meeting Mr. Reigner at the National Press Club on a Friday night in April as dissatisfaction with the incumbent WIW board festered.

“The question arose of who would lead the campaign and take on the onerous and time-consuming role of the president who would have to rebuild the shattered organization,” she recalled. “We were all freelancers, so time was very important to us. Nobody came forward to do that.

“Eventually, Ken stepped forward to take on the burden. I don’t think that most people in the crowd knew him. I know that I didn’t. He was younger than most of us and hadn’t been that active. But that didn’t matter, because he seemed sincere in his outrage and his affection for [former staff director] Isolde [Chapin] and, mainly, he was willing to do it. So the ‘Save WIW’ slate was born that night.”

As a candidate, Mr. Reigner brought his organizational and messaging skills to a much smaller electorate.

“To the shock of our adversaries, who had absolutely no idea what was afoot, we put the plan into effect, completely blindsiding them,” said Ms. Benderly. “Ken, of course, knew what to do and relished the fight, as did we all. We raised money among ourselves to send a letter (by mail) to every member–about 1,500 as I recall. And we divided up the telephone directory—literally gave out pages to different people — and together our group and our supporters personally phoned every member to ask for their vote.

“When the votes were counted, we utterly crushed them, electing our entire slate by huge margins.”

George Bailey's in trouble. With WIW, like Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, the good guys won in the end.

George Bailey’s in trouble. With WIW, like Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, the good guys won in the end.

Ms. Benderly calls the “Save WIW” campaign her “Frank Capra moment,” like the scene from It’s a Wonderful Life in which the community unites to the cry of “George Bailey’s in trouble?”

“I keenly feel the loss of my partner in those glorious days of doing the right thing for our fellow writers simply because it was the right thing,” said Ms. Benderly. “Ken had such a big heart and because of it played an absolutely crucial role in WIW at an absolutely crucial time.”

As passionate as he was about politics, Mr. Reigner was equally passionate about words and music. His favorite entertainers—David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Garrison Keillor—were masters of intelligent conversation and piercing wit. His favorite authors—including the historians David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin and the journalist and biographer David Maraniss—are masterful storytellers with an eye for detail.

His musical tastes ran the gamut from Rosemary Clooney to Janis Joplin. He loved theater and was a volunteer with the Ushers group in the Washington area. He also was proud to be a member of MENSA. For years, his Maryland license plate was “HIGH IQ.”

Always on the cutting edge of technology, Mr. Reigner was among the first Washingtonians to have a car phone, a cell phone, a personal computer, an email address and an Internet access account. But his first love was always radios.

“He was interested in computers but loved radio technology,” said Mr. McDiarmid. “He was the first person I have ever traveled with who pointed out different kinds of radio towers we passed. I gave him a radio towers calendar one year.”

Mr. Reigner died of natural causes on the 41st anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation speech. A year earlier, he and longtime friend Rick Dunham had toasted the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s disgrace.

Mr. Reigner is survived by Mr. McDiarmid, a resident of Falls Church, Va., and three sisters, Judith A. Crowe of York, Pa; Susan M. Justice of Seal Beach, Calif., and Beth Reigner of Garden City, Kan.

A memorial service is planned for later this year.

His ashes are likely to be interred alongside his parents in the suburbs of Detroit, a city he loved faithfully even after it hit hard times.

In lieu of flowers, Mr. Reigner’s family asks friends to consider donations to two organizations that provide financial support to freelance writers in financial crisis: the Author’s League Fund and the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ Writers Emergency Assistance Fund.

American Society of Journalists and Authors, Writers Emergency Assistance Fund

Donate online at http://www.asja.org/for-writers/weaf/weaf-donations.php or mail a check made out to the ASJA Charitable Trust to:

Writers Emergency Assistance Fund

IN CARE OF ASJA:

355 Lexington Ave, 15th Floor

New York, NY 10017-6603

or

The Authors League Fund

Donate online at http://www.authorsleaguefund.org/donate/ or make checks out to The Authors League Fund and mail to its office:

Attn: Isabel Howe, Executive Director

The Authors League Fund

31 East 32nd Street, 7th Floor

New York, NY 10016

– 30 –


Global Business Journalism students are improving the quality of journalism in China and around the world

A talented group of global journalists, including the first graduates from Nepal, Jamaica and Ukraine.

A talented group of global journalists, including the first graduates from Nepal, Jamaica and Ukraine.

I am so excited about the opportunities I have had in China to work with journalism students — both international and Chinese — and professional journalists to improve the caliber of reporting and writing in China, and to prepare us all for the Brave New World of journalism in the Digital Age. Here is a transcript of my speech at the July 10 commencement of the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication Global Business Journalism Program.

Speaking to the 2015 graduating class of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University.

Speaking to the 2015 graduating class of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University.

I am honored, on behalf of the faculty of the Global Business Journalism Program, to congratulate you on your successful completion of graduate studies at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication graduation.

It indeed has been an adventure – a voyage of discovery – for all of us. You represent the best of China and the best of the world.

Over the past eight years, students from more than 50 countries have studied together, worked together, gotten to know each other here in the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University. Ours is a vibrant tapestry of cultures and ideas. You have been exposed to new perspectives, whether they are from the minds of brilliant Chinese professors or veteran international journalists who have plied their trade at the highest levels in the United States and around the world. All of us have gained a better understanding of the rapidly changing world we are inheriting, the rise of China and the rapid transformation of its economy, the complicated dynamics of our interdependent global business world, the rapid transformation of our own world of journalism and the imperative to learn new multimedia and data skills to compete in the emerging journalism marketplace. You have been tested with rigor. You have passed the test. I am so proud of you.

Eight years ago, the Global Business Journalism Master’s Degree Program was just a dream, an idea conceived by some exceptionally creative souls at Tsinghua University in Beijing and at the International Center for Journalists in Washington. In just a few years, it has gained tremendous respect throughout China and around the world, attracting renowned international scholars and Pulitzer Prize winning journalists to work with our students and share their wisdom and their skills.

From the beginning, the GBJ program has been nurtured by the invaluable and incalculable support of Bloomberg News, with its unprecedented gift of ten of its priceless terminals, a series of guest lecturers and events, and a wonderful faculty member named Lee Miller.

One of Tsinghua's finest, Zhang Sihan, is heading to Columbia University to pursue a dual master's program in journalism and public policy.

One of Tsinghua’s finest, Zhang Sihan, is heading to Columbia University to pursue a dual master’s program in journalism and public policy.

And special thanks to my partner in the program, Dr. Hang Min, for her support, her wisdom and her guidance in making the GBJ program an invaluable resource for global journalism. Under her leadership, we have offered some of the most advanced classes in communication theory, as well as practical, advanced skills that will help our graduates succeed in their chosen field of endeavor, whether that be global business journalism, business, journalism, or something else somewhere on this globe.

By setting exacting standards and requiring rigorous coursework, the GBJ Program has helped to improve business journalism in China by training a new generation of highly qualified journalists specializing in economics and business. Our Chinese graduates now work at some of the most important media outlets in China, such as China Daily, Xinhua News Service, CCTV, and Radio Beijing, as well as at important international media outlets such as Bloomberg News.

That is a testament to the quality of our alumni. It also is a testament to the iron will of friends in the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication who have exhibited an unwavering commitment to our success and our continuing growth. Dr. Shi Anbin has been a champion of our cause and a special mentor to me as a newly minted college professor. Thanks, Dean Shi, for everything you have done to make GBJ what it is today, and thanks to Dr. Jin Jianbin and other school officials for their support.

Of course, as all of us know in business journalism, you can’t have an entrepreneurial venture without some venture capital. I would like to thank our founding sponsor, Bank of America, for its steadfast commitment to the program since 2007.

I would like to close by quoting from my favorite philosopher, who happens to be my grandfather, Barrows Dunham. Despite a turbulent professional career that included an unwelcome appearance before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee and a spot on the American blacklist during the Red Scare Era of the 1950s, my grandfather, a distinguished philosophy professor and internationally acclaimed author, never lost his sense of patriotism or optimism.

“Even now,” he once wrote, “we ourselves are determining the future, not by knowing what it will be, but by conceiving what it can be.”

None of us know what the future will hold. But with the knowledge we have gained at Tsinghua, the support of our families – and, yes, the Global Business Journalism family – we can conceive that better future.

Congratulations to the Tsinghua Global Business Journalism graduating class. Good luck to all of you. Thank you.


Pulitzer Prize winner Ken Herman encourages Tsinghua journalism students to ‘try different things’

Ken Herman (center) talks to Global Business Journalism Program students, flanked by Rick Dunham (left) and Sharon Jayson (right).

Ken Herman (center) talks to Global Business Journalism Program students, flanked by Rick Dunham (left) and Sharon Jayson (right).

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ken Herman encouraged students in Tsinghua University’s Global Business Journalism Program to experiment with the many new technological tools available to today’s reporters.

“Try different things,” Herman, a columnist at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas, said in a lecture on May 12. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Keep trying and you’ll get better.”

Herman and his wife Sharon Jayson, a longtime reporter for USA Today, spoke to Professor Rick Dunham’s Data Journalism and Multimedia Business Reporting classes at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication. They told the stories of their award-winning journalism careers and advised students to master traditional news writing, audio, video and social media.

Jayson’s three-decade career has included stints as a television news reporter and anchor, a radio station reporter, a radio network Austin bureau chief and a newspaper journalist in Washington and Austin.

“I love journalism,” she said. “I’m glad to go to work every single day.”

Herman, who covered George W. Bush both during his days as governor of Texas and president of the United States, won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1977 for a series of stories in the Lufkin (Texas) News investigating the death of a young recruit in the U.S. military. The series led to congressional hearings and changes in American military recruiting practices. For the past six years, he has written a newspaper column that sometimes covers serious policy topics and often uses humor to make his points.

“I feel it is important to tell people what is going on in their government – or just entertain them,” he said.

Herman was one of the first print reporters to supplement his reports with multimedia elements such as video and audio. He said that some of his early efforts at video journalism were “pretty bad.”

“Make mistakes,” he said. “I certainly did. But you’ll learn how to do it and you’ll get better.”

Jayson, who specialized in coverage of younger Americans and human relationships during her decade at USA Today, said she knew she wanted to be a reporter from the age of 12, when she worked on a newspaper at her school. She encouraged the students to follow their passion in life, like she did, even if it does not lead to material wealth.

“Don’t just accept something because you think you’re going to get rich,” she said.

Ken and Sharon in Tian'anmen Square, with the Forbidden City in the background.

Ken and Sharon in Tian’anmen Square, with the Forbidden City in the background.


Ten tips to improve your news photography from a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner

Larry Price spoke to Global Business Journalism Program students on April 21. (Photo by Gaelle Patricia Chekma)

Larry Price spoke to Global Business Journalism Program students on April 21. (Photo by Gaelle Patricia Chekma)

Every year, the Pulitzer Prizes celebrate some of the world’s best journalism. Just hours after the 2015 Pulitzer winners were announced, my Global Business Journalism Program was fortunate to play host to a two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for photography. Larry C. Price, a University of Texas graduate who won the Pulitzer while working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Philadelphia Inquirer, dazzled my Multimedia Reporting and Data Journalism students with tales from his latest project, a multi-year investigation into the use of child labor in gold mining. His work — entitled “Tarnished” — was published in eBook form by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Here are ten tips I culled from Larry’s lectures and the subsequent Q-and-A period. They are not a definitive list of “ten top tips.” They are just a collection of tips that I hope will be useful as you attempt to improve your photographic skills.

One of the many vivid photos from "Tarnished." This is from Larry Price's trip to a gold mining area of Burkina Faso.

One of the many vivid photos from “Tarnished.” This is from Larry Price’s trip to a gold mining area of Burkina Faso.

1. Always remember that you’re a storyteller.

Whatever publishing platform you’re on, and whatever visual medium you’re using, journalism is always about one thing. “It’s all about the stories,” Larry says. “Stories are as old as language. They’re everywhere. And journalism tells them.”

2. Look for something new — or a new take on an old image.

“Find something that hasn’t been done,” Larry says. “Or find a different spin on it.”

He says colleagues have sometimes discouraged him from shooting certain images, saying, “it’s been done.”

“My response is, ‘I haven’t done it,'” he says. “If somebody’s told the story, tell it differently.”

His example: a recent trip to Paris and a photo shoot at the Eiffel Tower.

The eBook "Tarnished" is available online from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

The eBook “Tarnished” is available online from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

3. Get up early. Stay late.

Larry doesn’t use artificial lighting. As a result, he is looking for the best natural light available. “If you want your multimedia productions to look good, shoot them early in the morning or a few minutes before sunset,” he says.

That means long days of work and short nights of sleep.

4. Get close.

Every photographer has her or his own signature. For Larry, it’s close-ups. “I love tight facial portraits,” he said. “Force yourself to get close.”

Another favorite subject for his close-ups: “Hands and feet. That’s what it’s all about.”

5. Get personal.

To make a subject comfortable with you — especially if you are going to shove your camera into their face — is to develop a personal relationship with them. “I spend a lot of time getting rapport established before I take out a camera,” Larry says. “I develop that rapport so it doesn’t get uncomfortable to your subject.”

Of course, you can’t always do this when news is breaking, but it can help improve your image if you have a bit of time to prepare.

6. Keep shooting.

“When I’m in the field, it’s constant activity,” Larry says. “Digital allows you to shoot, review, delete a lot.” Don’t let your guard down when you’re on duty: You never know when the next great photo opportunity might come. “You can’t ever relax,” he says. “It’s a never-ending cycle of feeling guilty.”

On his most recent trip to Burkina Faso, Larry returned with 37,000 frames. “I always have a lot of failures,” he notes. “I shoot a lot of pictures.”

7. Minimize your vertical shots.

Horizontal photographs work best on digital platforms, whether that’s a mobile device or a computer. And if you’re taking video, make sure it’s horizontal. “Never shoot vertical video,” warns Larry. “It’s useless. Half your space is wasted.” He rarely takes vertical stills, except for portraits. But he likes the square format popularized by Instagram. “Square is a very good portrait format — a little more artsy,” he says.

8. Stay natural.

Great photographers don’t cheat with editing programs that alter reality. “I don’t do a lot of Photoshop with my pictures,” he said. “I don’t exaggerate the colors or anything.”

9. Take good notes.

You need to have the spelling of names, correct ages and the locations of cities or villages. Larry always uses two notebooks. He also records the GPS coordinates of everything.

10. One old-fashioned photo composition rule.

“Don’t ever put people in the middle of the frame,” he says.

Matt Haldane has a front row seat for Larry Price's lecture at Tsinghua.

Matt Haldane has a front row seat for Larry Price’s lecture at Tsinghua.


Congratulations to 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Lisa Falkenberg, who exposed injustice in Texas justice

Lisa Falkenberg gets a hug from Chron colleague Tony Freemantle after winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. (Photo by Steve Gonzales)

Lisa Falkenberg gets a hug from Chron colleague Tony Freemantle after winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. (Photo by Steve Gonzales)


What a thrilling way to start the day! On the morning I will host two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Larry Price in my Global Business Journalism classes at Tsinghua University, I wake up to news that my longtime Houston Chronicle colleague Lisa Falkenberg has won the 2015 Pulitzer for commentary.

Thoroughly deserved. Lisa’s compelling columns exposed deep injustices in the justice system. The scales of justice in Texas are weighted … and not in favor of the individual.

Many in Houston will note that this is the first Pulitzer Prize in the history of the Houston Chronicle. Yes, that is a historical footnote worth noting. But let’s not forget that this prize was given because Lisa described in a compelling and clear nature the deep, systemic flaws in the local criminal justice system. To honor Lisa, let’s have more than champagne. Let’s fix the perversions of justice that take place in Texas.

I can now say that I once covered an election from the cluttered cubicle of a Pulitzer Prize winner, when she was on maternity leave.

Have a great celebration with Mizanur and the family, Lisa. And let’s see if we can do something about the ills you exposed.


Experimenting with data visualization: Here are some interactive graphics I have developed

Teaching Data Journalism at Tsinghua. (Photo by Zhang Sihan)

Teaching Data Journalism at Tsinghua. (Photo by Zhang Sihan)

Data journalism has become an indispensable part of the news world. Every journalist who hopes to have a job in five or ten years will be required to have at least a basic understanding of spread sheets, data scraping, data cleaning, data visualization and coding.

As part of the new Data Journalism course I have created for the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University, I am experimenting with data visualization platforms. Here are a few examples. (If my WordPress blog platform will not allow you to open the embedded graphics, you can click on the links to take you to the pages where you can view them.)

I’d love to get your feedback … and some suggestions on platforms that could be useful for data viz projects.

THE VALUE OF THE U.S. DOLLAR OVER THE PAST DECADE PLOTTING AGAINST SIX INTERNATIONAL CURRENCIES

FROM SILK:

//currencies-vs-dollar.silk.co/s/embed/linechart/collection/currency-silk/numeric/china/numeric/switzerland/numeric/uk/numeric/japan/numeric/eu-euro/numeric/russia/order/asc/title/on/silk.co/slice/0/12
Data from currencies-vs-dollar.silk.co

FROM SILK:
http://goo.gl/JVSGLH

//currencies-vs-dollar.silk.co/s/embed/barchart/collection/currency-silk/numeric/uk/numeric/russia/numeric/eu-euro/numeric/japan/numeric/china/numeric/switzerland
Data from currencies-vs-dollar.silk.co

THE 2016 REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL FIELD: A SAMPLING OF AN UNFORMED CONTEST

FROM BAIDU VIZ PRODUCT:
http://tushuo.baidu.com/p.php?p=dta8dmpds8hkvksww


The Interview: Rude, crude, sexist, racist … with a modicum of political propaganda value

Discussing "The Interview" on CCTV.

Discussing “The Interview” on CCTV.

Like many a TV pundit in our 24/7 news world, I was asked to comment on the movie “The Interview” before I saw it. My words of purported wisdom aired on CCTV’s “Dialogue” program on Jan. 2.

Now, through the wonders of Netflix, I’ve finally seen the movie that launched a thousand schemes. Here’s what I thought:

It was rude, crude, puerile, tasteless, sexist, racist, unsophisticated … and better than I thought it was going to be.

You can guess that this isn’t my kind of movie. I don’t like potty jokes. The movie’s fixation on the bodily functions of the North Korean dictator, not to mention the human orifices of its protagonist, are suitable for seventh grade boys, not (chronologically) adult moviegoers. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the execrable movie “The Love Guru“: “This film could have been written on toilet walls by callow adolescents. Every reference to a human sex organ or process of defecation is not automatically funny simply because it is naughty.”

But “The Interview” offers much more to loathe. Its treatment of every one of its female characters as sex objects is odious. Its replaying of decade-old Hollywood Asian stereotypes is retrograde racism. Oh, the movie also was way too long and self-indulgent.

Those are some of the less objectionable elements of “The Interview.”

I don’t know about you, but I have a fundamental problem with a movie about the assassination of a living leader. It just crosses a line in my mind. Imagine what Americans would say if a Pakistani … or French … or Chinese … or Canadian “comedy” centered on a plot to kill the U.S. president. I don’t care how odious a leader is. You just don’t make a movie about assassinating living characters. (Remember how “The Manchurian Candidate” disappeared for two decades after the Kennedy assassination. And it was fiction.)

One more thing: “The Interview” is completely unbelievable. I am a big believer in “suspension of disbelief” for Hollywood fantasies. I’ll play along with the far-fetched concept that a CIA “babe” convinced two sex-crazed journalists to join an assassination plot. But they lost me when they got to the North Korean palace and kept talking openly about their assassination plans. OK, buddy, if the movie is about this paranoid North Korean dictator, don’t you think that he might just have been bugging your room and listening to your every word? Don’t you think you might be a wee bit careful discussing your murderous plans in loud voices? That may have gone over the heads of the potty-humor gang, but the other 99.9 percent of us are going to have a problem with it.

“The Interview” may be without redeeming social value, but it does have a bit of political propaganda value. The movie was at its best when it skewered the Kim dynasty for its gulags, its decision to focus on nukes, not nutrition, its overblown rhetoric, its paranoia and personal quirks. The transformation of the Kim Jong Un character from personable Dennis Rodman road show buddy to Stalinesque maniac was, from the perspective of political propaganda, quite effective.

I can understand why (alleged) North Korean hackers didn’t want the world to see this depiction of their dear leader. But I still can’t buy a movie that makes the dear leader into the dearly departed leader.

If you want to see the segment of CCTV’s “Dialogue” program in which I discuss “The Interview” with Tsinghua University colleague Shi Anbin, here’s the URL: http://english.cntv.cn/2015/01/03/VIDE1420295520064235.shtml

CCTV Dialogue program on “The Interview”


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