Author Archives: Michael Murray

University Honors for ‘All American’ Journalist: Bill McClellan

by Michael D. Murray

 

photo by Courtesy August H. Jennewein, University of Missouri-St. Louis

photo by Courtesy August H. Jennewein, University of Missouri-St. Louis

“St. Louis Post-Dispatch” Columnist, Bill McClellan, received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Saturday, May 13, at University of Missouri-St. Louis Commencement ceremonies held on campus in the Mark Twain Gym. He was introduced by UM Curators Distinguished Teaching Professor, Mike Murray, on behalf of the faculty.

“I am very proud to introduce St. Louis’ legendary columnist and television panelist, Bill McClellan. Many of you already know Bill because you have read his columns for many years. He is also the author of books — including collections of his columns and known as a founder and panelist for one of TV’s best local public affairs programs, ‘Donnybrook.’ Bill’s late friend and former boss, Martin Duggan, once said ‘Bill has a greater grasp of the human comedy than anyone who has ever written in – or about – St. Louis.’ We agree.

A friend of mine once edited a series of reference books about important writers. And he asked some of us for names of influential columnists from our region to include in one of the books. I had a bunch of Bill McClellan’s columns taped to my door. So I just folded them-up and sent them to my friend. His response was: ‘This is a perfect example of what we are looking for in this reference book — someone who writes about their community … and the entire community benefits.’ ‘Besides,’ he added, ‘most of these columns are really funny.’

In your Commencement program Bill’s biography states: ‘Like St. Louis, McClellan has proven to be a character to whom people relate fondly.’ We agree – Bill is ‘a character.’ And we know that heaping high praise on such ‘a character’ can be a tricky business. But in the tradition of the great Missouri writers — like Dr. Mark Twain — or the soon-to-be, Dr. Bill — even if we don’t always agree with such “characters,” we still greatly admire their work and recognize their talent.

We also know that nobody knows a ‘character’ like their spouse. So, it’s also a pleasure to recognize Bill’s wife, Mary, who is also here with us today. Bill and Mary have two children, Lorna and Jack.  Lorna is married to alumnus, Darryl Sanchez.

Many of you know Bill as a master storyteller. He has written crime stories, love stories, stories of injustice and unexpected kindnesses. He meets the classic definition of an ‘All American’ journalist because he is someone who “comforts the afflicted — and afflicts the comfortable,” writing about lack of fairness for people who have had to struggle in life – and calling-out and even mocking some of the folks he has referred to as the ‘born-wells” and the “married-wells.’ Some of you might recognize yourself in that and you know who you are. And because of this, to some of these very fortunate folks, at least, he might be considered a TOTAL trouble-maker — but not to us. To us, Bill is simply a very talented communicator – one with a really great sense of humor.

And whatever he’s doing, he keeps that sense of humor. On TV each week, he and his media veterans dissect the local news and then take phone calls. Someone named ‘Bob from Brentwood’ might call-in. The caller will comment on something serious from the program and then ask: ‘Bill, you remember me?’ Bill always remembers them. Another time ‘Bob from Brentwood’ might call back — but this time showing signs of being very irritated or annoyed. Bill is an expert in getting agitated callers to calm themselves down.  But he always does it very gently. He will frown and then repeat their name — usually three times, like: ‘Bob, Bob, Bob.’ He appears to be reaching-out across the airwaves to comfort “Bob from Brentwood” to get him to cool-off a little.  This takes talent — and a certain temperament.

I have to say that this is actually the second time that I have had the honor of introducing Bill. We have a Great Speakers’ series here at the University and a few years ago, I was asked to introduce Bill for a talk he was giving entitled ‘Characters I Have Known.’ I discovered then that Bill is not only a ‘Character’ – he also KNOWS a lot of characters. And many of them showed-up for his talk at that time. And as he started describing them, they began shouting back at him. He described the founders of St. Louis as lacking in the ambition to keep moving westward. These characters would shout back at him: ‘You’re SO right, Bill.’

It was very funny to get their read on what Bill had written and then was repeating — about them. Later, colleagues in our Communication Department asked how that talk went. I said: ‘It WAS really different … but also interesting … because Bill seemed to know all these characters … and they definitely knew him.’

In spite of his status and familiarity with many St. Louisans, Bill is always low-key — and also self-effacing. Reflecting on his career, he was once asked, ‘In the end … what difference does it all really make?’ And about that era some folks are known to love — high school — Bill said: ‘You know the Pretty women and the high-school athletes go through life with an easy self-confidence. People like me … we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. I’m always ready to get thrown-out.’ With that in mind, we say THANKS Bill!  Thanks to an All-American Journalist, the one with a big chip on his shoulder, one that’s provided a unique perspective.

Because there is something ‘All-American’ about someone who speaks-up for the ‘little guy’ and underdog; or if needed, someone who can speak-up to authority; and articulate the concerns of people who aren’t able to do that for themselves. The University faculty is very proud to present an honorary doctorate to ‘A Real Character,’ and a most distinguished, ‘All-American’ journalist — Bill McClellan.”

GJR book review: Book traces ASNE’s efforts to advance newsroom diversity

Chasing Newsroom Diversity: From Jim Crow to Affirmative Action
Author: Gwyneth Mellinger
Publisher: Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 2013
Hardcover: $25, 238 pages

Professor Gwyneth Mellinger has written a thoughtful, thorough account of the efforts of U.S. newspapers to achieve newsroom diversity through the work of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). The book is published as part of the University of Illinois History of Communication series, edited by Robert McChesney and John Nerone. To demonstrate the extent to which prejudicial hiring practices were embedded in certain places, Mellinger begins her introduction to the book with a discussion of one response to President Harry Truman’s proposals to reform America with a mandate for fair employment practices, outlaw of the poll tax, integrating the military and making lynching a federal crime. The response by an outspoken segregationist, U.S. Sen. James O. Eastland of Mississippi, came in a speech to ASNE in the nation’s capital and emphasized a defense of Southern traditions, including a historical emphasis on an established racial hierarchy.

Perhaps more telling was the emphasis Eastland placed on the kinship that privileged whites enjoyed in newsrooms across the nation by way of identity-based norms, including conscious hiring decisions by news managers, with a concluding statement: “It is your civil right to associate with, employ and work with whomever you please. Liberty is dead in this country when you are deprived of that right.” (p. 1) He extended his argument further by pointing out that, if a racial percentage of representation were present in journalism hiring practices, 10 percent of the nation’s news positions would be manned by minorities. To a large extent, this speech and that percentage of representation served as a point of departure for ASNE’s efforts to achieve a professional norm by which it would come closer to democratizing newsroom hiring.

Mellinger, chair of the Department of Mass Media at Baker University, is an established journalism historian. She points out how the evolution in understanding about racial issues took place within a professional news context and how it paralleled society at large, in terms of congressional action and Supreme Court rulings about employer hiring practices concerning race, and later on gender and sexual orientation. The book addresses the intransigence of racism and discrimination in an organizational setting while the author presents many parallels in terms of American society at large. She shows how, in spite of improvements in voting rights, public accommodations and access to education, institutional progress would still be hampered – even with Civil Rights gains – as self-interest continued to trump fair play in preserving the status quo.

To her credit, the author does a complete job of reviewing the status of the ASNE in terms of the background of those who addressed the group over time, including every U.S. president since Herbert Hoover, and various influential thought leaders both in and out of the news business, such as Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates. She relates the stories of many talented individuals who were limited by their identity-based differences and also carefully lays out the progression of ASNE organizational leadership with each of their philosophical underpinnings in movement toward achieving change. Using archival evidence, the book also explores the limitations of that organization in achieving diversity initiatives, begun as a corollary to civil rights in the 1960s even with a series of highly motivated and enlightened leaders, including Eugene Patterson at the St. Petersburg Times, who often championed demographic parity initiatives, and Loren Ghiglione, later a Northwestern professor and journalism school dean who was also uncompromising in continuing to target a broad range of multicultural diversity efforts. The first female president, Katherine Fanning of the Christian Science Monitor, and John Seigenthaler who followed, of USA TODAY, also are credited for continuing to fight for newsroom integration. Each attempt to make progress in the direction of inclusion is acknowledged, and the author details appointments of the organization’s first minority affairs director, Carl Morris, and the first African-American president, William Hilliard of the Portland Oregonian.

The level of detail and number of telling anecdotes about what was taking place during different periods gives greater insight into the thought processes of those looking to ASNE for leadership. On occasion, reacting to some event or stereotypes as at the 2001 ASNE meeting; leaders were left to respond to a convention performance by the comedy troupe Capital Steps. The troupe offered a derogatory Chinese skit and a blackface impersonation of Diana Ross. As a result, Gilbert Bailon, now editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who would lead both a coalition of media organizations with multicultural concerns and ASNE, is quoted as saying: “I was sitting next to Rick Rodriguez, ironically, and we both thought, ‘Wow, this is really over the top.’ Now, nobody stood up and said … ‘Stop this thing,’ nothing that dramatic, but there were some of us, particularly some of the minority editors who thought, ‘I really can’t believe they went that far.’ ” (p. 161)

Mellinger provides a very useful and most informative case study of how one professional organization addressed some deeply embedded, institutionalized norms with social, political and cultural implications over an extended period of time – 50 years, with insight into the degree of difficulty it had in trying to dismantle them. The failure of ASNE to achieve its goal of matching newsroom demographic diversity with that of the general population is not a happy story, but it is instructive. It shows that goodwill and good intentions do not always win out – and, in that respect especially, this book’s title is very well chosen as it reflects the ongoing effort to play catch-up in an attempt to alter what was so firmly established.

The great irony of examining an organization of national news leadership representing an influential social organ and operating on behalf of fairness and free speech makes this story even more compelling.

CBS' ongoing coverage of Columbia Tribune sports editor murder

Editor's note: This is a preview of a story that will appear in the spring 2013 print issue of Gateway Journalism Review.

Looking for a long-term commitment in covering a complicated local crime story?

As the skeptics say, “Good luck with that!” So it’s well worth noting that both Columbia, Mo., daily newspapers have weighed in recently on the long-term, multiple-part commitment by CBS’ “48 Hours” in covering the 2001 murder case of Columbia Tribune sports editor and popular University of Missouri Journalism School alum Kent Heitholt.

The CBS attention highlights the story of two teenagers convicted in this murder case: one a drug abuser who confessed to the crime two-and-a half-years after the fact, the other consistently denying any involvement but nonetheless named as accomplice, convicted without any physical evidence to tie him to the crime.

Heitholt was slain in the early morning on Nov. 1, 2001. The two young men, high school students at that time – Ryan Ferguson and Charles Erickson – were together that evening. They were implicated in the Heitholt’s death when Erickson told police investigators years later that he had a feeling that he and Ferguson had killed Heitholt when they tried to rob him.

Erickson based his confession on recurring memories of an attack on the victim with what he described as a tire iron. Erickson identified Ferguson as being with him at the scene. Erickson pleaded guilty to the murder and received a sentence of 25 years. Ferguson consistently denied any involvement whatsoever but was convicted in 2005. He is serving a 40-year prison sentence for second-degree murder and first-degree robbery. Erickson recently recanted what he earlier claimed took place that night.

From a reporting point of view, sustained attention by two national television networks makes the case unique. Both CBS and NBC have broadcast reports about it. NBC aired “Under a Killing Moon” as part of “Dateline” on Dec. 1.

More noteworthy, has been continuous reporting by seasoned “48 Hours” correspondent and attorney Erin Moriarty. Writing for VOX Magazine in the Columbia Missourian on May 12, 2011, Megan Thomas Davis touted the determination of Moriarty to continue reporting this case – one Moriarty began following in 2005.

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Book spotlights St. Louis radio, TV legends

Let’s face it. Any book with Harry Caray on the cover “behind the mike” is going to attract attention in St. Louis – and maybe north of the Gateway Arch, too. And any book about the history of local broadcasting compiled by Frank Absher, known for developing Media Archives, is going to be well worth a look.

Absher has put together an excellent collection of illuminating photos and supplementary material for the “Images of America” series, his second about broadcasting for Arcadia, specializing in visual works, focusing on local history.

The book begins by hitting all the highlights of St. Louis broadcast history in a brief, two-page introduction, followed by seven chapters. At 128 pages, it is compact. It starts with the experimental 1920s and wireless operators, with equipment on the grounds of St. Louis Country Club. It progresses through studio shots and portraits of investors, inventors, innovators and promoters; Virginia “Val” Jones, KSD’s first program director; and Thomas Patrick Convey, the first station manager of KMOX.

The second chapter, titled “Radio Comes Alive,” begins with KXOK, KWK, KFUO and St. Louis University’s WEW. Pulitzer’s KSD includes a youthful Russ David, a prelude to television entering the picture. A more mature David appears with Frank Eschen and highlights of the longest-running local radio drama. Every once in awhile, programs or people of national acclaim appear, such as songbird Kate Smith (p. 43) or funny man Spike Jones (p. 55). Diverse sources include brochures and booklets with black performers: Spider Burks (pp. 50-51), jazz great Count Basie (pp. 80-81) and the man called “hardest working” in show business, James Brown, appearing for KATZ (Bernie Hayes is next to him, p. 86), a delight for radio-crazed kids. Vintage readers will remember “Johnny Rabbitt,” Lou “Father” Thimes, Rex Davis, Jack Carney, John McCormack – “the man who walks and talks at midnight” – and also “The Katz Man,” who confounded high school principals with “on-air,” call-in antics.

Having watched too much TV, Baby Boomer readers will recognize homemaker-turned-TV-entertainer Charlotte Peters with trusty sidekicks Stan Kann and John Roedel, and weather fixture Howard “That’s all from here” DeMere. The book’s fifth chapter enters the 1960s with a photo of Forest Park Highlands with Harry “Texas Bruce” Gibbs “In Person” and “Live Telecasts,” and a ticket from KPLR-TVs “Wrestling at the Chase.” Close to the end of the book, we get an entire chapter from the time when kids were TV kings, with fan favorites such as: “Cookie and the Captain” with Dave Allen and Jim Bolen; versatile Harry Fender – a.k.a. “Captain 11”; and Clif St. James as “Corky the Clown,” who served in news and weather.

Photos of many of the folks Baby Boomers first heard or saw creating “media magic” perhaps so much, in some cases, that they thought they knew them: Jack Buck and other talented Buck family members, Joe and Christine; “Newsbeats’” John Auble and Dick Ford; and managers such as Jeff Rainford and Robert Hyland, to whom much attention was paid in Absher’s previous book.

From TV news, Fred Porterfield, Spencer Allen, Max Roby and Julius Hunter are there – and because of St. Louis’ ongoing sports fascination, so, too are Dizzy Dean, “Easy” Ed MaCauley, Jay Randolph, Mike Shannon and Dan Dierdorf.

Talents from KWMU include the late Greg Freeman and Joe Pollack, and others thankfully still with us, reflecting on the varied news career of Don Marsh. The book concludes with shots of KETC-TV regulars: Patrick Murphy, Anne-Marie Berger and Jim Kirchherr, as well as the “Donnybrook” founders.

Since this book essentially is a photo collection, no one ever would mistake it for a scholarly tome. While it could have been enhanced by an index to enable readers to track down contributors, over time, it is consistent with other books in this series. This one, alongside efforts to maintain media, which Absher also leads, offers insight into broadcasting’s evolution. In the parlance of its most likely readers, it’s “a trip” – a fascinating walk down memory lane, well conceived and well executed. It will be a welcome addition for anyone with a love of local broadcasting. If you happened to have “lived it,” it’s even better.

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Seigenthaler fights for First Amendment

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Editor’s note: This is a preview of an article that appears in the November issue of Gateway Journalism Review.

Just before Oprah Winfrey made the move to cable television from her popular national commercial broadcast syndication program in May 2011, she aired a show titled “American Heroes: The Freedom Riders Unite 50 Years Later.” That program revisited events depicted in an award-winning PBS documentary “Freedom Riders.” Guests were introduced as “heroes” but could have been termed “survivors” of that bloody era, when many Civil Rights activists were assaulted and some murdered.

Among Oprah’s guests was John Seigenthaler, former editor, publisher and CEO of the Nashville Tennessean, who went on to become founding editorial director of USA TODAY and is the founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Seigenthaler, who witnessed the brutality suffered by the civil rights protesters, also was a victim of a mob; he was knocked unconscious and almost killed during the Freedom Rides.

In a recent phone interview, he explained how his appearance on “Oprah” resulted in a “reunion” with many of the Freedom Riders – now middle-aged adults. They included a young woman he had tried to rescue from the mob at the Montgomery, Ala., bus terminal during the “Rides.”

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