Last year I was named one of America’s “Top 50 Journalism Professors” of the year, and I’ve finally decided to share that link with my students as an end-of-semester exercise in critical thinking, while we talk about the differences between journalism in print, on the air and on the Web.
After class — or after next week’s final exams, or after I clean out my office the week after that — I may come back to this page and add a few paragraphs to explain why I’m taking at least a semester or two off from teaching.
(I am also making jokes about going to a tractor-trailer driving school so that I can declare myself “semi-retired.” If I come up with better jokes, I may add them to this page, too — or at least delete that one.)
I was very pleased that a good number of students in my intro news writing class came up with appropriate “critical thinking” questions about that site — in particular, two questions they should ask any news source:
Who are you? (In this case, who runs the website, who pays the bills, and what is the site’s real purpose?)
How do you know that? (In this case, what are the criteria for the top-50 list and how was it assembled?)
In addition to “interrogating” the Web pages themselves, reading the “Home” and “About” pages, I suggested students try the zip-code search to find interesting journalism schools. Surprise! Almost all the results were for for-profit schools or online-only programs. Nowhere was there any link to the major accrediting or research associations in journalism education (ACEJMC and AEJMC), and the search never turned up schools at which the “Top 50″ professors teach.
Writing about old time radio programs at http://jheroes.com means a lot of transcribing from mp3 files made by collectors over the years from tapes of even older transcription discs. With my eyes bothering me on a recent morning, I decided to see whether Google’s Android voice recognition could expedite the transcription process.
Could my Android phone “listen” to an old radio show and convert the dialogue to text? I tested the idea with the plot summary a couple of minutes into episode 6 of an “Adventures of Superman” story titled “Ruler of Darkness.” (See the “Ruler of Darkness” JHeroes.com entry.)
I admit it is not the most static-free recording in the Internet Archive collection, and background organ music probably put the voice recognition to an unfair test.
Here is my eventual (manual) transcription, followed by Android’s two unassisted tries, for your amusement. I’ve highlighted a few words that came out right… but I’m especially curious about the words that Android replaced with asterisks. Did it think the radio announcer said something naughty?
“And now The Adventures of Superman.
“When cub reporter Jimmy Olsen was seriously injured by henchmen of Mike Hickey, political boss of Metropolis, editor Perry White swore he would drive Hickey and his corrupt political machine out of power.
White opened an attack on Hickey in the Daily Planet and chose Joe Martin, war hero and brother of Beanie Martin, the Planet’s copy boy, to run for mayor against the machine candidate in the approaching election.
Enraged, Hickey swore he would nip this reform movement in the bud.”
No seriouslyinjured my kitten or you could drive up with you so don’t want to be my wife definition of elections oregon live in the b*** status other joe wasn’t serious come on out free porn yo
Oh yeah you’re phone daniel seriouslyinjured my kitten like 40 with drive she out of our over then so still want to be my stuff white directions great looking forward sleep well in the b*** account brother
Definitely room for improvement…
Footnote: The accurate transcription also was made with Google’s speech to text. I would listen to a phrase, press pause on the mp3 player, press record on my phone, then speak the phrase in a normal voice at conversational speed or a little slower. I discovered that I couldn’t read the dialogue at radio actor speed if I wanted to!
Finally, I edited the result to fix proper names, capitalization and a few words here and there. End result: My eyes were still tired and my thumb hurt.
An old-time-film blogger’s Twitter feed (Nitrate Diva) just alerted me that the original “Dr. X” is now available on YouTube at full-length, so here it is. I had hoped to show it to my “Portrayal of the Journalist in Popular Culture” course last semester, but couldn’t get my hands anything as good as this copy — now online, presumably because it is sufficiently out of copyright for YouTube to allow it.
Maybe some of the students are still following this blog to see what they missed: A reporter versus a serial killer in a horror/comedy with hints of secret high-tech (for 1932) medical research, madness, sadism and cannibalism. The title character, Dr. Xavier, is the head of a medical lab at the center of the murder investigation, while his daughter is the reporter’s romantic interest — played by Fay Wray, a year before she was carried up the Empire State Building by King Kong.
Filmed in an early color process in 1932, “Dr. X” features Hollywood’s leading “rascal” reporter, Lee Tracy, the original actor to play star journalist Hildy Johnson in “The Front Page” on Broadway in the 1920s.
Tracy wasn’t chosen to play that role in the 1931 film, which cast Pat O’Brien as Hildy, but Tracy had a wisecracking style that kept him playing reporters and publicity men for more than a decade.
“Dr. X” is a Lee Tracy classic — in fact, the character is given the name Lee Taylor, suggesting how close the actor and this type of role were identified. As a Daily World reporter, he hides under a shroud at the morgue to get literally undercover information, slips into a whore house to borrow the phone, startles a beat cop with a handshake buzzer, misrepresents himself as a policeman using a press-credential badge, climbs a drainpipe to sneak into a second-story window, steals pictures from someone’s parlor, hides in a closet during the scientist’s secret investigation, and ultimately solves the murder and gets the girl.
The film was popular enough to rate a sequel in 1939, “The Return of Dr. X,” which has no Lee Tracy and none of the original characters, but a similar plot. In that movie, Humphrey Bogart plays one of the suspicious characters, while Wayne Morris plays another scrappy reporter investigating horrific murders.
The other excuse is that I’ve had a cold since Christmas Eve, although it didn’t keep me from 18 hours on the road for a family visit. But that’s a terrible excuse, which gets to the other good news: Doug Thompson is back at BlueRidgeMuse.com, having survived much more than a cold! (Scroll down to see my November item about his near-fatal motorcycle accident. Better yet, just go read his version.)
… or not. Some of the movies I’ve linked to here are decidedly not “Citizen Kane” or “All the President’s Men.”
But students in my “Portrayal of the Journalist in Film, Fiction & Popular Culture” class may be happy to know that YouTube, the Internet Archive, and other sources have trailers, clips and sometimes full-length feature films relevant to their final research projects on Newspaper Movies and related fictions — projects that are due in a couple of weeks after they return from Thanksgiving break.
Of course Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the local video store can also rent films, but the number of resources available for free online is impressive.
I’ve been collecting links to films available online — not always great films, and certainly not an attempt at a “best” or “complete” list of films with journalists in the plot. For the most complete source I know, see Joe Saltzman’s Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture website and database.
For others, just do a Web search for “best newspaper movies” or “best journalism films” or a variation on that theme. You’ll find scores of newspaper columns, blogs and websites where reporters, editors, critics and fans have compiled their own lists. A few examples, some of which I’ve linked to elsewhere:
I’ve broken my collection of YouTube links by decade or part of a decade, to keep the screen-loading time manageable. (Some pages still may load very slowly.) They are all on the “Video” drop-down/fly-out menu at the top of the page, but here’s a shortcut: Newspaper Films. And here’s the full set, a mini-menu I’ve added to the top of each page:
Note: I don’t maintain any of the uploaded files at YouTube, Vimeo or archive.org. From time to time, those sites discover that some of the videos people post are still under copyright protection and take them down at the “rights” owner’s request. If I have linked to one of those posts, my “player” code will also cease functioning.
Update: Doug’s condition was listed as “good” after 20 days in the hospital, according to a page one story in the Roanoke Times on Dec.2, with a cautionary line that the term is relative, and that he is in need of much healing.
Here’s a video by Doug about the Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and his article about it: The Sound of Thunder, posted at the Roanoke Valley Harley Owner’s Group, one of many Web sites where he’s the man behind the curtain.
I met Doug shortly after I moved to southwest Virginia, and over the years have talked with him about journalism, the Web, cameras, music and politics in a dozen or three conversations at the Floyd Country Store or at the photo studio he used to have nearby. We usually just run into each other, but I did manage to get him to Radford to talk to my journalism students a couple of times. I was hoping to do that again this semester. I’m still hoping to do that again. For now, while he’s in the hospital, students will have to settle for exploring his work…
Here’s what his home page says about him:
“Newspaperman, writer, photographer, videographer, documentary filmmaker, political operative (briefly) and motorcyclist.
It’s hard to put a handle on Doug Thompson. He sold his first story and photographs to a newspaper at age 12, became a full-time daily newspaper reporter at 17, columnist at 19 and city editor at 25.
Today, at 64, he continues to explore the medium with pointed, often acerbic opinion pieces, photography and films.”
True enough. His last post at BlueRidgeMuse.com was about his new iPhone and the serious photojournalists creating, as his headline said, iPhotojournalism. My students should read it, and the variety of stories on BlueRidgeMuse and below.
Friday’s accident involved a cow. A little over a year ago, Doug had a close encounter with deer in the road. He wrote about it under the headline Somebody was watching over me. I’m hoping he recovers soon and fully… to write another “Someone was watching over…” This time it should include the irony of writing on Nov. 8 about preparing to put his bike in the shop for a 100,000-mile tuneup and titling the piece “How many miles to go before I sleep?” He also should have fun with the fact that for all his professional photojournalist credentials, his last Facebook post before the accident was a “cute cat” photo. (Cat in a motorcycle helmet and goggles.)
Last, and only least so that folks who scan to the end will see it and read it, here’s a fine story Doug wrote about his amazing mother and her history with motorcycles. She passed away in August: A life well lived.
I’ve been spending more time in Twitter — and reading Web pages linked to it — than I have in my blog lately, but even among my own students I think Twitter and this blog are reaching slightly different audiences.
So, for the information starved — or information-overload-starved — here is an aggregation of major things that have been distracting me in tweetland for the past few days.
Two tools or topics that I really do want to catch up with, because they may help journalists (or journalism consumers) keep on top of a firehose of news information. “Spunge” discussion at one or both conferences reminded me that I’ve lost track of something with a similar goal, Dave Winer’s OPML editor and River of News project.
The other links below will have to stand for themselves with very little introduction… while I go look for the bottle of eyedrops and a 10-page to-do list hidden somewhere in the rubble here at home.
Alas, the journalist, “Henrietta Stackpole,” is not the lady of the title, and she doesn’t get much mention in Anthony Lane’s almost 5,000 word article, itself in response to a new book, Michael Gorra’s “Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece” (Liveright).
But Lane’s article may give students some ideas about writing about literature, as well as probably convincing them that Portrait of a Lady would be a lot to bite off as a two-week assignment in the middle of a broader course, even if it might be worth it just to meet Henrietta and ponder the life of a woman correspondent abroad 130 years ago.
They may be intrigued by Lane’s references to the journalist, at first comparing her to Isabel Archer, the title character:
“… her friend Henrietta Stackpole, an American reporter, who nourishes fewer illusions about European allure.”
… and, in a discussion of James’ Victorian sensibilities:
“When Henrietta heads off to see the Paris sights with a jovial bachelor named Bantling, and we hear that ‘they had breakfasted together, dined together, gone to the theatre together, supped together, really in a manner quite lived together,’ it is precisely in not knowing what they did together by night—whether they proceeded to feast in foodless ways upon each other—that one finds, as so often with James, a pleasurable ache of dissatisfaction.”
But if I catch any students turning a phrase like “feast in foodless ways upon each other,” now I’ll know where they stole it.
Lane also quotes Henrietta a trifle enigmatically:
“… consider Henrietta, the journalist in search of a topic, who admits to Isabel that ‘I should have delighted to do your uncle.’”
That tease (words do take on new shades of meaning over the years) may convince students that a 19th century novel might be a bit too risque for classroom discussion. But Henrietta is merely debating issues of privacy and publicity with Isabel, talking about painting word-pictures of people for her article, “Americans and Tudors.” Thanks to the searchable plain-text Project Gutenberg edition of the novel, here’s a more complete quote:
“And I should have delighted to do your uncle, who seems to me a much nobler type — the American faithful still. He’s a grand old man; I don’t see how he can object to my paying him honour.”
Alas, Henrietta was entirely written out of the one radio adaptation of Portrait of a Lady that I’ve found (by NBC University Theater), but here it is, if you want to hear an hour of Jamesian prose…
I also haven’t seen the 1968 TV series or the 1994 film adaptations to see how much attention they paid to Henrietta. Mary-Louise Parker — pre-”Weeds” and “West Wing” — played her in the 1994 Portrait of a Lady, opposite Nicole Kidman as Isabel, but those reportorial spectacles were enough to inspire me to put her picture on this page, along with a YouTube clip of the movie trailer.
A Web search inadvertently turned up the fact that both “Brenda Star, Reporter” and the even earlier “Jane Arden” comic strips included a reader-participation gimmick: Fans were invited to send in suggestions for the reporters’ wardrobes, and the designs were published as cut-out paper doll costumes with the Sunday color comics, sometimes reprinted as separate comic books or paper-doll books.
A Chicago teenager — male — was reported to have designed 1,500 dresses for Brenda Star, according to a retrospective in the Chicago Tribune when the strip was cancelled — after 70 years.