Remembering Anthony Shadid

The first time I spoke to Anthony Shadid in person, he apologized for getting shot.

I had nominated Anthony for the journalism school’s Nafziger Award after following his move from the Associated Press to the Boston Globe and reading his first book, Legacy of the Prophet. Shortly before he was scheduled to come to campus to accept it, he was wounded while on assignment in Ramallah.

When he arrived in Madison, arm in a sling, I asked him if the pain was manageable. He waved off the question and instead said, “I must have really worried you. I’m so sorry.”

Here he was, acclaimed foreign reporter, shot on assignment, winning an award, and he was concerned about me?

That was the first of many, many moments that defined Anthony’s humility in my eyes. He had admirable talents, undoubtedly. But I always felt the thoughtful interviewing, the lyrical writing, the creative angles and the acute insights all sprang from that same well of humility.

Journalism can breed ego. Hardened by seeing difficult things and softened by the conceit of bylines, we can come to see ourselves as something better or bigger than we are. But Anthony never allowed a chasm to grow between his work and his humanity. He never saw himself as larger than anyone or anything.

That humble approach applied well beyond his work. I saw it in his pride and affection for his family, his dedication to his alma mater and his awe for his beloved Green Bay Packers.

He brought it to our friendship, as well. Starting with that nomination back in 2001, I slipped into a habit of signing all my messages to him, “As always, stay safe.” I didn’t notice it, but Anthony did. He pointed it out and said he appreciated my “motherly nature.” It was a theme he would return to often when we interacted. Through a smattering of emails between Madison and the Palestinian territories, he’d taken a small note and teased out a larger meaning.

He once wrote, “The best journalism is sometimes about footnotes, when we write small to say something big.”

I do not have his gift of words, but I believe it’s not just the best journalism that makes this move from observation to meaning. It’s also the best humanity.

Anthony Shadid was a remarkable journalist. But he was an even better man.

Gannett ad marks shift in marketing strategy, biz focus – a mistake?

This is from a blog post on my MediaTrope site:

I have never heard a Gannett ad on television before, but today for the first time I listened to my former employer tout its corporate brand — as opposed to any of its sub-brands like USAToday. I had heard about this new marketing strategy, but this was the first I had seen of it (probably because I was stuck this summer in a place without television). I understand that Gannett wants to raise brand awareness, but I’m not sure it’s the best strategy for them right now, in this market.

I doubt people outside the profession of journalism or finance know that Gannett is the largest newspaper chain, operates one of the only national newspapers, or is ranked in the 2011 Fortune 500. (By the way, while you visit this link from CNN, check out Gannett’s 65% increase in annual profits during 2010! Course it’s average annual growth rate for the last decade has been a stunning NEGATIVE 9.2%. Ouch. Still, I’m struck by how much it has recovered in just a few months, and find myself hoping the growth is indicative of a fundamental turnaround for newspapers specifically even as I realize it’s probably just a byproduct of the advertising industry rebound.) And I suspect few know the chain has also been building to its digital-marketing company holdings, positioning itself as an information marketer and not just an information provider.

The ad — which was fairly general in content — is meant merely to make more people aware of Gannett’s name, but I can’t help but wonder if this television ad marks a subtle in shift in mega-marketing for news organizations in general, refocusing on the parent company rather than the local brands.

When I was working for Gannett newspaper (2000-2006), there were rumors the parent company was going to begin packaging its local products under an umbrella USAToday. Thus a newspaper reader in, say, Vermont, would gain access not only to The Gannett property The Burlington Free Press but also the “Nation’s Newspaper,” USAToday. I thought that was a great idea, actually, because it offered clients value add and also represented a chance for struggling local papers (not necessary for the Free Press, of course, which was a cash cow) to gain renewed vigor through its attachment to a successful and well-known product. The marketing plan — if it ever existed at all!! These kinds of rumors were always swirling around the newsroom — did not materialize while I was there.

Then last spring Gannett announced its “It’s all within reach” marketing campaign. From the press release about the strategy:

The new identity will be rolled out across all Gannett properties to create a stronger association between the Gannett corporate brand and its portfolio of properties. All Gannett businesses will identify themselves as Gannett companies.

However, such a shift to the parent company of Gannett is a mistake, I think, at least for the local news organizations. The niche news segment of local and also hyperlocal could be a key market for corporations, whose entrenched community presence tends to offer a significant advantage as an easily identified, familiar information provider for citizens during a time of overwhelming information overload from blogs, aggregators, Twitter and Facebook. To turn away from community-organization branding would be a lost opportunity, in my opinion. Right now is exactly when Gannett might want to re-emphasize its local-local ties via its sub-brands — during the this era of incredible digital noise. Its community properties could be framed as a familiar neighbor who knows everything, rather than as a mere arm of some unknown outsider.

Geographies of knowledge production

Over at another collective blog produced in part by UW-Madison folks, the always-fascinating GlobalHigherEd, there’s a really interesting post including some visualizations of global knowledge production, taken from this report (linked and downloadable):

Graham, M., Hale, S. A., and Stephens, M. (2011) Geographies of the World’s Knowledge, London, Convoco! Edition.

For example, one of the images visualizes the number of academic journals by country, shaded by impact factor (click to view full size):


What do such visualizations suggest about the place of US faculty and graduate students in the global circulation of knowledge?  How do you think these images would look if targeted to specific fields, like mass communication or media studies?

For more, read the full post over at GlobalHigherEd.  (And thanks to UW-Madison geography professor and GlobalHigherEd author Kris Olds for alerting me to this cool resource.)


9/11 Reading List

As I watched news of Osama bin Laden’s death last spring unfold across four screens (a TV for broadcast news, a laptop for websites, an iPad for Twitter and an iPhone for Facebook), one message stood out. A student tweeted at me to get perspective:

@kbculver actual question (in seriousness): what was it like on the UW-Madison campus when 9/11 occurred?

I recalled the sense of helplessness. I recalled the feeble email I sent out to my class about how we would continue to meet and talk and write and edit even though the shock and sadness made grammar quizzes and lead-writing feel beyond inconsequential. I recalled wanting to mark that moment, and then I remembered the person who best captured it for me.

Leonard Pitts from the Miami Herald penned a column a few days after 9/11 that spoke to so many. In today’s landscape, it would have been a Twitter explosion and gone on countless Facebook walls. But back then, it went viral in the way of that time, via email and hallway conversations. “Did you read that ‘unspeakable bastards’ column?” Pitts captured people’s feelings by writing directly toward the mastermind of our shared nightmare:


“It’s my job to have something to say.

They pay me to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this suffering.”

Read what he concluded:

Tears moved silently down my cheeks as a I read that the first time, and they welled again when I went back to it upon bin Laden’s death.
I tweeted it at that student, so he understood that UW-Madison was like every other corner of the U.S. that fall. In Vilas Hall, on Bascom Hill and down the Lakeshore Path, people wandered, shocked and often silent. Each time a military jet flew over Lake Mendota, I wondered if I would ever again meet that sound without fear.
In those lost days and the trying times since, I found journalism speaking to me as it hadn’t before. I found interpretations of my feelings, inspiration from our humanity and insight into our failings.
Many, many examples abound, but I would suggest these pieces as a look into what journalism gave us in the wake of a national tragedy.
From Esquire, “The Falling Man” is a wrenching look into the iconic photo of a person free-falling after jumping or falling from the burning towers. Read more:
Newsweek had a fascinating piece about the final moments aboard Flight 93 before it crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside. I was uncomfortable with some of its assumptions, but it was a harrowing tale nonetheless. It doesn’t appear in Newsweek’s archives, but this seems to be a full capture:
The Atlantic Monthly ran a stunning series by William Langewiesche that was later published as a book, American Ground. It details the efforts to recover the dead and remove the massive ruins of the site. The book drew criticism in certain corners for its unvarnished look at the behavior of some at the site. But it’s a gripping and rich look at what followed the attacks.
Finally, nothing brought home the reality of that tragedy more for me than the New York Times’ “Portraits of Grief.” Unfurling slowly over weeks, then months, the Times gave us brief and human stories of more than 2,500 people who perished that day. The minute details of everyday lives struck me like nothing else.
A jet flew over my head this morning, set against the same brilliant blue sky of that September Tuesday 10 years ago. I was not afraid. I do not know exactly when that fear faded across all the autumn Tuesdays of the last decade. But I carry with me the work of Pitts and others, those whose words marked a time of indescribable reality.

It’s all in the details

The recent coverage of the 911 anniversary was prolific to say the least, and some, I know, do not understand the media’s fascination with anniversaries. But I always love a good anniversary, and spent a good chunk of my Sunday, Sept. 11, glued to the television. I pulled out a couple pieces for my news producing students to take a gander at, and sent them out on our protrack listserve. Thought I’d share here as well:

1) This Nation piece is important for journalism students to read because it really gets at something significant about humanity. It’s not just another memorial piece or article about the anniversary coverage. It delves deep into our feelings about suicide and death and honor. It delves into our societal values.

Do note the incredible details the report got here, as in this sentence: “Richard used to look at the postings and the photographs on the internet and sometimes wondered if Karen had jumped. She was very vain and particular about her face, he knew; she used plenty of wrinkle cream, and he always figured if conditions were that bad she would jump rather than face the fires.”

2) And also, check out the images here at the NYT of the memorial ceremony. Study the photographs. Note how they show emotion and perspective. Note how they focus on a specific subjects despite the mass crowds and chaos of the day.

If you are interested in being put on the protrack listserve, please send me your email at We also have a twitter hashtag at #jprotrack.