THE GRADUATE WEEKLY Monday, December 24, 2001

[I-Chun Che]
Final Article - SFO Screeners

[Heidi Dietrich]
Final Article - Dark Winter

[Fang Fang]
Final Article - The Impact of Terrorism on American Economy

[Wen Yu Lang]
Final Aritcle - 9/11 Effect on Charities

[Faiza Hasan]
Final Article - American Muslims

[Shanna McCord]
Final Article - America's Flying Future

[Michael Nalepa]
Final Article - One Flag with Many Meanings

[Julie Ratner]
Final Article - 9/11 and Los Gatos


[Oct. 3] - Memo #1

[Oct. 9] - Memo #2

[Oct. 16] - Memo #3

[Oct. 23] - Memo #4

[Oct. 27] - Memo #5

[Nov. 2] - Memo #6

[Nov. 10] - Memo #7

[Nov. 12] - Nieman Reports Article

[Nov. 18] - Memo #8

[Nov. 24] - Memo #9

[Nov. 25] - Seven Tips for Writing Briefs

[Dec. 1] - Memo #10

[Dec. 8] - Memo #11


Comm273 Syllabus

Comm273 Bulletin Board

Rough and Tumble: a daily snapshot of California politics and policies.

Cybertimes: what the New York Times gives its staff for electronic research.

The Census Bureau: fabulous demographic information.

The Field Poll: California's most authoritative.

The Council on Foundations: information on nonprofits.

The U.S. Supreme Court

The Online Journalism Review

Urban Legends: great site for debunking rumors.

Campaign finance site for California

American Journalism Review: takes you to just about any paper in the U.S.

Poynter Institute

Jim Romenesko's MediaNews

Bob Baker's Newsthinking

Columbia Journalism Review

The Journalist's Toolbox

The Onion



Dec. 1, 2001:
Memo to the class:

Here I am in Hong Kong, along with the raggle-taggle gypsies. It’s about 5 in the morning, and in the darkness in front of me I can see the bright lights of the freighters being unloaded in the harbor and the glow in the water from the ferries and tugs going here and there. Just now a ship is coming in from the South China Sea. I can hear the noise of its diesels from where I sit, and from the looks of the running lights, it’s immense. The weather is cool and clear.

In this last letter to you, I’d like to tell you about the fun I’ve had in journalism. For some of you -- all I hope -- it lies out there. This is serious work we do, and there’s a large public purpose to it. Throughout our course, I’ve rung that bell pretty hard. But there’s another side to it, and it’s a rush, utterly narcotic.

Do you remember the movie “Patton”? There’s a scene in North Africa in which he has his troops dug in to attack the Germans as they come through a mountain pass. Patton is on high ground, watching the enemy move into the trap. Soon many men on both sides will die. Patton turns to his aide and says, “God help me, but I love it.” I know just how he felt.

Many years ago, there was jazz musician named John Kirby. He had a little band that played incredibly tight and swinging numbers, and his singer was a lovely, slender woman named Maxine Sullivan. (I saw her in New York a few years ago,and she was gray and still lovely.) They were the first blacks to play in many of the fancy white hotels, and one of their specialties was up-tempo versions of old folk melodies.

When I was in college, we listened to John Kirby records, and I can still name the band members – Billy Kyle, piano; Buster Bailey, clarinet, Charlie Shavers trumpet… Maxine Sullivan sang a song about the raggle-taggle gypsies. The song probably dates back to the Renaissance, and it’s been an anthem for me. Here are a few lines:

What care I for my goosefeatherbed?
What care I for my money-o?
What care I for my new-wedded lord?
I’ve gone with the raggle-taggle gypsies-o.

Wherever there’s been a story, wherever I can see something that I’ll never see again, wherever there are people living on a thin, frail line, there I hear the raggle-taggle gypsies calling and I go. Long after midnight in Kansas City, the paper gone to press, I’d ride with the cops to see what they saw, because that was a life I would never otherwise know. The dead teenage boy curled up around a little sapling in a vacant lot, his face looking like he was waiting for his mother, the long knife still in his side. The 9-year-old kid the cops found driving a stolen bread truck who answered, when asked why he did it, “to eat that bread,” as if it were the most normal thing in the world; and when the cops looked around again he was gone, had run down to the basement garage and was trying to steal a police car. I remember the black musicians’ Local 627, which became my first national magazine story, where they drew a chalk circle on the floor on Saturday afternoons and everybody pitched in a couple of bucks which bought the whisky; and with musicians dropping in and dropping out, they’d play “Indiana” for a solid hour, while the older guys sat on the sidelines saying, yes, yes, and remembering the days when Count Basie and Lester Young came by to play.

I had to be there, in a way that watching anything on television is never being there. It was more of a kick than I could ever describe to stand in the chilly rain by a Latvian birch forest and watch the All Soviet Union Go-Kart Championships, or walk through the Malaysian jungle to write about a motorcycle grand prix and see the little kids, peeping through the vines, wondering what all that noise and the smell of Castrol was about. On the island of Quemoy, across the Formosa Strait from China, the mainland artillery opened up every other day, and I remember on a shelling day waiting for the C-46 from Taiwan to pick me up and learning that it had broken down. In Vietnam, a Norwegian sea captain and I drank beer on the top floor of the old Caravelle Hotel and watched the fires on the outskirts of Saigon and later at dinner in the hotel’s French restaurant I saw the fat South Vietnamese generals come obscenely in with their gorgeous girl friends in ao dais cut to the hip.

I haven’t mentioned an important story yet, but they all went into my memory where they are as fresh and clean as the day I put them there. Once, at a cocktail party in St. Louis, I met Martha Gellhorn, the great war correspondent who had been Ernest Hemingway’s second wife. Young man, she said to me, what do you do? I work for the newspaper, I replied. She smiled and said, yes, that will be good for later. She was right, of course: All of these things have no value to the world, but I take them out of that memory box every now and then, seeing with pleasure that the trinkets I laid down so long ago still glow.

In time I came to see these trinkets for what they are, and understood that there is a journalism that grown-ups do and that the most important place for me to do it was in that intersection where the government and the governed meets ---that wide place where in a democracy the rubber of the policy meets the road where ordinary people move along with their lives. I came to see that the greatest privilege and opportunity of a journalist was to be able to use the potential and power of the medium for a social purpose. You could say that I had trained all my life to be an editor, for I had seen, in America and many other places, how people struggled, often failing, to lead lives that gave them some dignity and purpose. Perhaps we could help them, if only by telling their stories.

But still, long after I became an editor, I would hear the gypsies calling and I would go because I wanted to “be there”: in a city destroyed by war in the old Yugoslavia; in a rubber Coast Guard Zodiac raft, bouncing out toward Sombrero Key where a boat full of Cuban refugees was on fire; in Pollie Turner’s living room, in the ghetto of St.Louis, to talk and talk and learn what courage was like and how faith was sustained.

So when my friend Ying Chan called from Hong Kong and said, get out here right now, there’s work to be done for young journalists in China and I’ll book you for a speech in Shantou on how the press in America works and maybe can we cab raise some money, I said, Yes, without even thinking. I wanted to be there.

I’ll end this last letter by telling you about a friend named Peter. He was a reporter, writing stories for the zone editions for the Post-Dispatch, when I was given bigger fish to fry. Once, I ran into him in Moscow. I was writing stories for the paper. Peter was there with a peace group, which was going around the world, trying to make it better.

In time, Peter became one of my editorial writers. He was the best line editor I ever met. When I finished editing a story, it read like my story. When Peter finished, it read like the writer’s story, only better. He knew what writers were trying to do and he helped them get there.

Then one day Peter suffered a terrible stroke. It’s a miracle that he’s alive. He is paralyzed and has been immobilized in beds for 20 years or so. Yet he watches television, works the Internet, with a stylus attached to his hand. It’s slow, heartbreaking going. He managed to put out a newsletter that read with all the vim and brightness of his editorials.

Not long ago, he wrote me saying he was giving up the newsletter. He wasn’t quitting. It was just time for something else. Here’s what he said:

Like the old dog at the firehouse, I still hear the bell and want to go. I expect I'll keep on writing. Opeds? A column? Letters-To-The-Editor? Maybe just letters?

And so that, my students, is how I’ll leave you for now. Some of us are old, some cannot even leave their beds. But we still hear the bell and want to go. If you wish to feel sorry for someone, save it for those who never hear the bell, who never go. My hope is that the bell will sound for each of you and that you will hear it, always.

The light is gray now. You can see the mountains across the harbor and the outlines of the freighters at anchor. In front of me, a little gunboat is slowly patrolling for smugglers. The sea is calm and gray. It’s been wonderful writing to you.

Regards, Bill Woo