Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Week In Review

Their motto was "Sleep Less. Think More" at the Institute of Humane Studies. Initially I was opposed to this credo as it goes against most of my core values, namely "Sleep More. Think Less." According to my crude arithmetic skills, I spent 44 hours in discussion groups with nearly 70 attendees and nine lecturers during the 7-day seminar, but each waking moment fostered lifelong friendships and memories.
The amount of sleep lost--I think I averaged 4-5 hours of sleep a night--is inconsequential when compared to new pals and intellectual stimulation.

Here are a few of the many things I learned:
  • No one can ever truly be well-read. There are too many great books. But I will certainly try.
  • If you stick 70 people on a college campus with a supply of alcohol crazy things will happen.
  • To differentiate yourself: Know something big. Do something big (Kevin Williamson, Deputy Managing Editor National Review).
  • The Simpson's can explain everything from philosophy to economics.
  • Ask questions of everyone. Be inquisitive.
  • Be Great at one skill. Good at two. OK at 2-3 (Chris Harper, Professor and former international correspondent).
  • Be edgy.
  • Grand Funk Railroad was not a funk group from the '70s.
  • Journalists work for their readers.
  • People with good handwriting always end up being the writer in groups.
  • All great businesses get started in bars or garages.
  • The handicap shower stall is far superior to the regular one.
  • Don't wait for opportunities, create opportunities.
I would highly recommend those around college age participate in seminars like this one from IHS. In addition to the social benefits, you are exposed to different ways of thinking and alternate ways to view the world. I wish my college experience had been like this seminar. All of the lecturers were interested in getting to know the participants and helping in whatever way they could, whether that be explaining a topic or discussing what music they rock out to.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

We The People

It is one thing to read about the history of our country in text books. It is quite another thing to go where our country was founded. Suddenly it all becomes real. The founding fathers become more than text on a page, more than aged, two-dimensional images.

Along with a group of more than 20 other seminar participants, I ventured into Philadelphia to take in the sites in the sweltering heat. There were rotations of who was the leader. I enjoyed a brief stint as guide and failed to lead the posse to the Old Tavern. Nevertheless, we went to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

The gravitas of our founding sunk in during the lecture at Independence Hall. The bravery that was required to separate from the oppression of British rule is remarkable.

Apparently in Philly, if there is a thunder storm the Septa train line we took shuts down. Subsequently, the final group of eight who stopped for a nightcap had to take the underground, then a trolley, then walk a good 2 miles back to campus. We made it, somehow.

I was glad I was able to share the experience with so many of my peers from the seminar. While we did wander around in search of places to eat and see I think we succeeded in getting a taste of the history of our fair nation.

Philadelphia is my mistress.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Are Journalists Mutants?

In the long line of evolution from the Greek forefathers of journalism, Herodotus, Pheidippides, Thucydides, journalists have developed genetic modifications allowing them to write and process information faster.

After several lectures enumerating what it takes to be a journalist, certain traits were repeated. One of the first lectures of the week by former foreign correspondent and current journalism professor Chris Harper emphasized the importance of a resilient liver. In his travels he often had to build confidence with his sources by spending times in the local saloons (not sure if Rocky Raccoon was also present). Story after story stresses the dirt that was uncovered at the local bar.

Another modification is the over-sized bladder. This comes from the Murdoch book I referenced earlier, where the author cites another journalist who covered a meeting with Murdoch. Chenoweth explains that the secret to getting the story is largely influenced by being able to sit for long periods of time without bathroom breaks.

Carolyn Lochead, D.C. Bureau Chief for the San Fransisco Chronicle, professed the benefits of sharp elbows and all talked about thick skin.

A photographic memory and ability to write concisely have all become part of the journalist's ability to get the story no matter how sloppy their notes or how badly they need a bathroom break.

When I was speaking with someone about my theory, she had mentioned one of the major weaknesses of this "mutant race." Near-sightedness. Journalists without their glasses or contacts are lost. It is their kryptonite.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Got to Circulate to Percolate

Is it brotherly to charge $10 for a $7 train ride? Aside from the suspicion of being duped on the public transit fare, yesterday began my voyage to Philadelphia and journalistic enlightenment.

The flight went smoothly and was a series of firsts. It was the first flight with on-board entertainment. A group that will be appearing on Conan's show Wednesday night was also flying from Chicago to Philadelphia. The front-woman for the group sang "At Last" acapella, including a shout-out to the captain toward the end of the song ("For you, Captain, are mine at last."). The other first also featured the pilot of our air bus, which coincidentally was an AirBus. June 6 happened to be his son Drew's birthday. So, before we took off he called his son and everyone on the plane sang "Happy Birthday."

I ended up making it to Bryn Mawr without much difficulty aside from the sweltering heat. Temperatures were in the 90's with high dew points; a bad combination. I did keep track of weight loss due to sweat. Current total: 6.7 lbs.

The seminar thus far has been a great experience. The open discussion format makes me wish that my college experience had been different. The lecturers/professors are open to discussion and sharing their expertise. The lecture last night by Chris Harper pertained to being an international correspondent. Harper has worked for the AP, Newsweek, ABC News and traveled the world, sometimes taking his family along, covering news.
He provided tips on getting started in international reporting along with stories from his career.

Below are some of the quotes:
"Look where the crowd isn't."
"Got to circulate to percolate."

"The first casualty of war is truth."

"Give war a chance."

Harper shared a story about time spent in Russia and the mandatory drinking the established rapport with his future sources. It seems an unwritten skill set that journalists should have is a high tolerance and functioning liver.

Initial Hotel/Dorm Report: The bed is reminiscent of concrete. The air conditioning is more like a fan. The toilet paper is single-ply. Room size is generous and has a scenic view. No mint on my pillow.

Also, Uzbekistan is the new Siberia when someone references being dumped in the middle of nowhere. More lectures today. Off to breakfast.