Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Call Me When You Win a Pulitzer..."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On Tuesday, Oct. 19 the News Literacy Project (NLP) launched its McCormick-funded work in Chicago Public Schools with a keynote speech by veteran journalist Clarence Page to more than 200 elementary students at the Marquette School on the city’s south west side. DC-based NLP, which brings seasoned journalists into middle schools and high schools to help give students the critical thinking skills to sort fact from fiction in the digital age, is coordinating its work in Chicago in partnership with LISC (the Local Initiatives Support Corporation) to incorporate its model in five public schools. Inaugural speakers included McCormick’s President and CEO David Hiller, NLP Executive Director Alan Miller and Chicago LISC Senior Program Director Andrew Mooney.

Page spoke to a full auditorium, then took questions from seven students who crowded on stage with questions. Below is an edited version of the Q&A exchange between Page and Marquette students.

What was your most dangerous assignment?
It was when I was covering Soweto in South Africa. We drove our Land Rover out to a small town to talk with some freedom fighters. They told us – ‘Oh, they mine that road at night. You might want to return on the same road – and take the lane you came in on!’

Why did you decide to write a book?
I write a column two times per week. But it’s never enough space to put all my thoughts in!

What is the difference between fact and truth?
Do you guys know the writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway? They were fiction writers, but began as newspaper reporters. Fitzgerald once said that the difference between them is that nonfiction deals with facts while novelists write truths. Did you get that? It’s like the Bible – it has lots of facts about Moses and Jesus, but also lots of truths. Like the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We columnists write truths. That’s why we write short!

Is writing a column hard?
I’ve been writing columns since high school. It’s just as hard now as when I started. Nothing concentrates the mind like a good deadline. It’s a beautiful thing to put on paper what you have in your head. Do you know what I mean? And it’s great when people tell you afterwards thanks for writing this or that.

Best part of working for the Chicago Tribune?
Probably the vacation!
Have you seen Tribune Tower? It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in the country. Especially when it’s all lit up at night.

Have you ever interviewed a teen celebrity?
Years ago I interviewed Michael Jackson. He was a teen at the time. In the end, celebrities are people.

I’m from southern Ohio. My mother wanted me to be a doctor. Always seemed sort of disappointed. But one day my parents came to Chicago. Saw me on TV. I saw that look in her eyes that I hadn’t seen since I was six. Went into a grocery store, and the guy behind the counter said ‘Aren’t you Clarence Page?’ My mom jumped in and said ‘Yes, and he’s my son!’

Page ended by talking about the nurturing he received as a high school student working on the school paper in Middletown, Ohio. His journalism adviser, Mrs. Kendall, often encouraged him to continue in the field. One day years later, just after being awarded a Pulitzer Prize for commentary, he happened to thumb through his old high school senior year book. There was an inscription from Mrs. Kendall that he’d forgotten. She’d written: "Call me when you win a Pulitzer." He did just that. Today they’re friends on Facebook.

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