The Presidents’ Lecture Series kicked off its inaugural event in Cosford Cinema with special guest Howell Raines, former executive editor of The New York Times who resigned this summer as a result of the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal.
This was his first public appearance since his resignation. No mention of the incident was made throughout the moderated program.
Dr. Bruce Garrison, of the School of Communication journalism department, encouraged all of his students to attend the event and was disappointed that the issues involving the Jayson Blair case were not discussed.
“Howell Raines is one of journalism’s leaders – his experiences in covering public affairs, particularly politics and the civil rights movement, are extraordinary and we can learn much from him,” Garrison said. “I was, however, extremely disappointed that he would not address the issues involving the Jayson Blair case – I felt short-changed.
“Those of us present were not even offered an explanation.”
In addition to Raines, the students and faculty in attendance heard the whit and wisdom of former UM President Dr. Henry King Stanford, who served in that position from 1961-1981.
Mr. Raines was introduced by Stanford, who praised him for his long and distinguished career.
“I feel very honored that President Shalala would invite the distinguished journalist sitting with me here to be the first speaker in this series,” Stanford said.
Raines began his career in 1964 as a reporter for the Tuscaloosa Press and the Birmingham Post Herald. Before joining the Times in 1978, Raines served as print editor for the Atlanta Constitution and The St. Petersburg Times. He won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1992 for his book, Grady’s Gift.
Raines became executive editor of the Times just prior to Sept. 11 and served in that position until his resignation in June 2003.
During the event, Raines mentioned that on Sept. 11, as he saw the towers burning, he came to the realization that this would be the last moment that he would witness this act as a citizen, and would very shortly be involved in the news coverage of the event.
“I thought, ‘I’m now going to go into the news cocoon,'” Raines said. “And for the rest of the time I would be making journalism about this momentous event.”
Raines recounted one of the things he’s always loved about the newspaper business.
“A newspaper is a daily birth,” Raines said. “It’s an act of creativity that I think is magical.”
Relating some of the difficult decisions involved in covering Sept. 11, Raines recalled a controversial photo of a man committing suicide by jumping off one of the burning towers rather than succumbing to the flame.
“While I respect the argument that says you shouldn’t show that kind of image, my response is: we’re there, journalistically, as witnesses to history,” Raines said. “There are certain events so momentous they can only be captured with images or words of a very strong kind.”
Mr. Raines responded to questions from the audience that ranged from what advice he could give for future journalists to issues dealing with a newspaper’s responsibility to check the assertions of political leaders.
Many students and faculty who attended the event thought it was very enjoyable and informative.
Junior Meaghan Franks thought that an inside look at the operations of a major newspaper were very informative.
“It gave one an inside look at how decisions are made and what makes news,” Franks said.
Junior Jenny Rodriguez found it to be informative as well.
“It was enjoyable, especially the question and answer part,” Rodriguez said. “The students really offered a lot of good questions.”
Scott Wacholtz can be contacted at email@example.com.