Telling the whole story: Symposium aims to close gap between journalism, humanities

February 13, 2012

The Internet and social media make journalism faster and less expensive than ever to create, share and consume. However, the benefits of digital journalism come with costs: serious audiences are inundated with content, audience attention is increasingly fragmented, and journalists are under increased pressure to produce shorter forms of journalism that are closely linked to the immediate needs of specific communities and consumers.

How to restore, rebuild and re-energize connections between journalism and the humanities is the focus of a symposium from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Feb. 17, in Social Sciences, room 109, Tempe campus, presented by ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research (IHR). Download Full Image

Today’s journalistic culture is one where news stories are shorter, delivered faster and are more focused on of-the-moment reporting of “news” rather than longer analytical pieces that help readers place events in context. These trends are likely to continue, further isolating journalism from sources of deeper reflection, and increasingly turning journalism into an instrument of the Internet and its consumers.

Under the pressure of the immediacy delivered by instant global communications and increasingly specialized forms of information, journalism can easily lose contact with deeper sources of understanding of current events, including history, literature, philosophy and other fields within the humanities.

“Journalism and the humanities should be natural allies,” says Gregg Pascal Zachary, a professor of practice at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications, who will moderate the first session of the symposium. “However, we have to first recognize what’s been lost to journalism and the humanities when the two are estranged, and we need to respond to the challenge of drawing the two closer together in new ways.”

The rise of “robot journalists” – computers programmed to generate standard reports on sports, business and politics, for instance – highlights the promise and the peril of further instrumentalizing journalism, yet at the same time raises the urgent question of how best to incorporate emerging forms of journalism with the enduring wisdom and context of history, literature and philosophy.

The ease with which photos and videos can be captured and shared by reporters and “citizen journalists” raises fresh opportunities for how traditional tools from the humanities can help decode the raw content provided.

The spread of “robot journalism” will inevitably force human journalists into new approaches, and “a re-engagement with the humanities is one of the most appealing options,” Zachary says.

To explore these and other questions, the IHR has assembled two panels of scholars and practitioners from ASU’s Cronkite School, the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, and the School of Life Sciences. The first panel will focus on the generative side of journalism and the humanities: what gets created, by whom and how. Stephen Pyne, a leading historian of fire, will examine the importance of journalism to the writing of history. Craig Allen, a trained historian and a television journalist, will discuss the value of history to journalism, the trend towards historical ignorance and the challenge of grounding journalism in historical context.

The panel also will focus on the craft of storytelling. Lee Gutkind, a leader in creative non-fiction, will explain how some journalists have maintained close relationships with literature and narrative storytelling. Journalism, meanwhile, is sometimes called the “first draft of history,” because reporters can capture a good deal of the significance of signal events and trends.

For writers of short stories and novels, reporting current events can be a beneficial way to learn about the world and to improve their craft. Important novelists also were working journalists of great skill, such as Stephen Crane, author of "The Red Badge of Courage;" Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway; and Steig Larsson, author of the best-selling "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy.

Closing the gulf between journalism and the humanities promises to be beneficial for both sides, which is the focus of the second panel. Three Cronkite School professors, Leslie-Jean Thornton, Sharon Bramlett-Solomon and Dennis Russell, will examine what’s lost to consumers of journalism because of its current estrangement from the humanities.

“For consumers of journalism, the humanities provides a robust set of tools and mental attitudes to help construct and decode the worlds and worldviews presented, consciously and unconsciously, by journalists,” says Sally Kitch, director of the Institute for Humanities Research.

Celebrating a rich history of Sun Devil Athletics

February 13, 2012

Editor’s Note: This is an op-ed by Lisa Love, vice president for Sun Devil Athletics.

On a windy day in February, 1891, on a primitive baseball diamond a few miles away from campus, a team from Tempe Normal competed against a squad from Stringtown – a Mormon settlement that eventually grew into Alma and later Mesa. This was the first recorded athletic event in the school’s history and provided the beginnings for what would later become one of the nation’s elite athletic programs. Download Full Image

For the next 121 years, the institution’s athletic teams would become a part of the fabric of the State of Arizona, and also the nation. What would follow was a celebrated and colorful sports history that must be cherished by all alumni, fans and Arizonans.

Of course, there is football. From turn-of-the-century football legend Charlie Haigler to the electrifying Whizzer White, to the modern-day stars like Terrell Suggs and Jake Plummer – the rich football lineage is well documented. When Dan Devine left ASU for Missouri and an assistant coach named Frank Kush took over in 1958, the team moved out of Goodwin Stadium and into the 30,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium. Today, after multiple additions, the stadium seats more than 70,000.

But there is much more to the history than what transpired on the gridiron. Who will forget coach Ned Wulk’s great basketball teams in the 1960s and 70s or the five NCAA baseball national championships of Bobby Winkles and Jim Brock?  

Women began playing basketball on campus in 1898, although the school didn’t begin attracting national attention for women’s athletics until golfer JoAnne Gunderson (Carner) and diver Patsy Willard began to dominate their sports in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Born in Phoenix, golfer Heather Farr won three state high school championships at Xavier College Prep and then won the U.S. Girls’ Junior and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. A statue in her honor sits outside the clubhouse at The Karsten Golf Course at ASU. Her success is indicative of the championship leadership of legendary golf coach Linda Vollstedt, who won six NCAA National Championships.

There are too many former student-athletes, coaches and administrators to mention in this short space. From Joe Island and Emerson Harvey, who helped break the color barrier for football student-athletes at ASU, to athletes at the top of their respective sports like golf’s Phil Mickelson, baseball’s Reggie Jackson and Barry Bonds, and track and field’s Herman Frazier and Dwight Phillips. The impressive list goes on and on.

Frank Kush has said on many occasions that the person who epitomizes what Sun Devil Athletics represents is Bill Kajikawa. Bill played and coached several sports at ASU, including football, basketball, baseball and wrestling. For over 40 years “Kaji” walked the campus at ASU, serving as a student-athlete, a coach and a professor while earning two degrees from the school.  

Speaking of Kajikawa, there are several Sun Devils who have served our nation with class and dignity and who have earned the respect of our fellow Americans. Bill served with distinction in World War II in the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The 442nd, manned entirely by Japanese-Americans, was the Army’s most decorated combat unit.

Former academic All-American Pat Tillman (1976-2004), who gave up an NFL career to join the U.S. Army Rangers, is an American hero and icon. No Sun Devil fan, nor American for that matter, will forget Pat’s unselfishness and unique personality.  

How about former baseball player Rick Monday, who was a star player at ASU and in the Major Leagues?  But Monday may be best known for what he did for America on April 25, 1976 at Dodger Stadium. During the game, in front of a television audience, Monday raced from his outfield spot, grabbed an American flag away from two protestors who were about to set fire to it, and saved it from destruction. Some have called it the greatest play in baseball.

Who will forget the 2011 image of ASU wrestler Anthony Robles, despite being born with one leg, winning the national championship in the 125-pound weight class and raising his arms high in victory. Robles’ feat remains a motivation to all of us.

Sharon Keeler

associate director, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering