Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm Still Learning

In my freshman year at the University of Maryland, I had a disgruntled professor named Jon Franklin. I might have cared more about what he was saying if he sounded like he wanted to be there any more than I did. History of journalism? Not a difficult thing to make boring, but he was good at it. Printing press, yellow journalism, Edward R. Murrow, yadda yadda yadda.

What's more, Franklin spent what seemed like the first half of the semester on advertising and how "we, the readers, were the ones being sold to the advertisers." What?!? Dude, stop grumbling and explain yourself! The man seemed constantly frustrated - from the start - that we didn't "get it." It was as though he expected us to know what he was talking about before he said it. Clearly the material meant a lot to him, but that passion came out in the form of anger, rather than in creative teaching methods. This was a man who planned to say his opinions, have us memorize them, and then repeat them for his pointless little tests.

Nothing is worse, as a student who wants to learn, than just being forced to repeat what is being said by the teacher, especially when I don't even know what he's talking about. Can't learn anything if the teacher doesn't let you think for yourself, no? Either way, he was not getting through to me. For a kid interested in journalism, this man was the opposite of an inspiration.

At the end of the year, I learned this man, this rotund, balding man, this grizzly-bearded man, this grouchy, grumpy, malcontent man, was a two-time Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and a leading member of the innovative "new-wave" of non-fiction-novel reporting - a writing style of novelizing non-fiction.

With the Baltimore Sun, Jon Franklin won the first ever Pulitzer prize for feature writing in 1979, and the first ever Pulitzer prize for expository (or explanatory) journalism in 1985. Since then, he has published 5 books, and wrote for many science magazines, known best for humanizing his subjects

Photo of Jon Franklin....
and you thought I was exaggerating.

I've learned more from Jon Franklin since my time with him has passed. I learned he was right, of course, that the audience is sold to the advertisers. I've learned the elements of storytelling, which he was right about as well. I've learned that, just because he's aged, it doesn't mean he wasn't 'new-school' at some point in time.

I've also learned that - even though he did not inspire me as a teacher - his words have been an inspiration to many. He's quoted here by a teacher from VCU: "Back when I first started, I thought intelligence was the most important attribute a reporter could have. I have since changed my mind. You do have to be intelligent, but the big thing is courage. Courage to open your mind and let the whole damned confusing world in. Courage to always be the ignorant one, on somebody else's turf. Courage to stand corrected. Courage to take criticism. Courage to grow with your experiences. Courage to accept what you don't understand. Most of all, courage to see what is there and not what you want to think is there."

I think I can learn something from that.


lindsay said...

i like this post.

also, i didnt have franklin but my teacher for that same course had a similar effect on most of the students in the class as well. not sure why thats a trend, though....

Ozkirbas said...


Stephen said...

I wish I had boring journalism teachers back in the day.

I had a fun loving and creative English teacher in middle school who doubled as the head of the newspaper club, of which I was a member. He was very inspiring and supportive. He was my favorite teacher. Later on it turned out that he molested some of his students throughout his career. It pains me to look back and relive those classes and club meetings while aware of his true motives.

My high school journalism teacher was very strict, which wouldn't have been a problem if I had paid attention in class or completed homework assignments. I did a lot of sleeping that semester, and ended up with my first E grade ever. Later it turned out that I had undiagnosed mono the whole time, but the damage was done. Ultimately I've made my own choices, but had I been interacting with a more understanding teacher, I might have stayed in that field.

It just goes to show that teachers are more than people who instruct students on the rules of their craft. They must have a sense of the future. They need to be leaders if they want to have an impact on how their work is carried on. Otherwise, students like myself can be turned off indefinitley, and the progress these teachers make will end at their own work.