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How my novel, mapping Utah, came to be — and what it taught me

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In November 1989, I asked a remarkable woman to marry me.

That didn’t go well.

So I drank myself into a stupor deepened by self-pity and hacked away all night long at a Macintosh SE (Remember those? Two floppy drives?). In the morning, I had an evil headache, more questions about women than I could ever answer, and a 30-page short story.

Such was the sulking, ignoble, drunken genesis of mapping Utah.

That story lay dormant for half a decade, buried in a chaotic array of papers accumulated during study for my master’s degree. It emerged from hiding in 1994 during research for my doctorate. I’d just finished my course work and was supposed to be working on my dissertation.

As all doc students know, aptly timed and brilliantly executed procrastination is a requirement for a successful dissertation. So I procrastinated. (May my adviser, Trager, forgive me.) The short story beget a longer story, about 100 pages. That, too, slunk into hibernation among copies of mass communication research articles I never wanted to face again.

In 1998, the longer story crept unbidden out of a box I had not unpacked since arriving at St. Bonaventure University in 1996. Hmm, I thought. Beats grading the inept writing of freshmen. So, night after night, I wrote more.

Thus begat Lesson No. 1: Don’t over think it. I had written as far as Kara’s desperate flight on her mountain bike from a rest area just west of Green River. Noah had yet to appear in the sky above her unconscious body in his ultralight aircraft.

But I kept rewriting and editing this first third of the book. My logic: Have to get it just right. It had to be perfect before I could continue. My friend Greg Stene intervened: “Why?” he asked.

Greg knows me well. He pressed me: “Why haven’t you moved on to introducing these two people?” I admitted I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what Noah would or should say to Kara and what Kara would or should say to Noah.

“Denny,” Greg said, “You’ve thought about these people for years. Just put them together and get the hell out of their way.”

He was right. I did not write the last two-thirds of mapping Utah. Kara and Noah did.
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Unnamed sources? Journalists should teach readers why they were used

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On Thursday, four journalists for CNN reported:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

CATEGORY: JournalismInformation. Indicates. Associates. Communicated. Suspected. Operatives. Possibly. Coordinate. Information. US officials.

Huh? Could this lede be any more vague? This lede is all may have — which leaves open the possibility of may not have.

The story, reported by Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, and Shimon Prokupecz, contains unnamed sources in 10 of the story’s 18 paragraphs. The FBI director is named, but only in reference to stories reported earlier. White House spokesman Sean Spicer and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov are named, but only in chiding the findings of the story. Two paragraphs near the end of the story contain no sources and appear to be the conclusions of the reporters.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 23, 2017 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

If Congress decides to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, keep tabs on who gets it

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The grades are in. The nation’s infrastructure is close to failing.

The 2017 report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers, posted today, gives the infrastructure on which America depends for commerce, defense, recreation, flight, food, water, waste — almost everything — an overall grade of D+.

From the ASCE report:

aging-infrastructureThe 2017 grades range from a B for Rail to a D- for Transit, illustrating the clear impact of investment – or lack thereof – on the grades. Three categories – Parks, Solid Waste, and Transit – received a decline in grade this year, while seven – Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Ports, Rail, Schools, and Wastewater – saw slight improvements. Six categories’ grades remain unchanged from 2013 – Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, and Roads.

The areas of infrastructure that improved benefited from vocal leadership, thoughtful policymaking, and investments that garnered results.

Scholars & Rogues has long considered addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs essential for the nation’s economic, cultural, resource, and domestic security (see here, here, here, and here). But it’s a topic that until recently has not received the attention its badly needed remediation demands. The ASCE report demands close inspection by citizens and politicians alike — followed by “thoughtful policymaking.”

President Donald wants to spend at least one trillion dollars on infrastructure repairs. First and foremost, that’s not enough: The 2017 ASCE report recommends two trillion dollars over 10 years to fix most of what’s flawed. Then, of course, there’s the need to budget for continuing maintenance of a regenerated infrastructure.

Questions abound beyond defining the desperate need for action most Americans now recognize.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 9, 2017 at 6:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The ‘enemy of the American People’ doesn’t work at your local newspaper

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It engenders anger to know the president of the United States says that what I did for a living for 20 years — and what I’ve spent 25 years teaching — represents the acts of “an enemy of the American People.”

CATEGORY: JournalismPresident Donald, titularly “the most powerful man in the world,” will eventually learn not to pick fights with people who buy ink in 55-gallon drums — and have plenty of digital and video ink to spare.

He’s awakened a slumbering watchdog. Recall journalism’s reactions to President Nixon’s overt and covert deceits. The nation’s best newspapers rose to challenge the president — and Nixon lost. Trust in the executive branch withered. Remember, too, the swell of entrants to the nation’s journalism programs (well, after “All the President’s Men” hit the big screen). Will that happen again in President Donald’s first term?

President Donald’s fortunate in the timing of his presidency. The last 20 years have left journalism in a weakened, altered state. Reasons are many — management reacting too late to the challenge of the internet, a decline in interest in the field among the young, and massive losses of revenue prompting executives to pare the workforce of daily print journalists by 20,000 positions, about 39 percent.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 27, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The overlooked battlefield in the war against the press

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CNN reporter Jeremy Desmond asked Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, under fire because of four deaths at his jail, for an interview. On Friday, Clarke replied on Twitter:

Donald Trump has labeled CNN as fake news. When Pres. Trump says CNN is ok again, then I might.

democracy-in-americaThe sheriff — an elected public official — has refused to respond to a press request for an interview. This particular sheriff has a nationwide reputation as a supporter of President Donald and has been considered for a position in the Donald administration.

No law compels anyone, elected or not, to speak to a journalist. But those who voted for Clarke ought to wonder how, and by whom, his performance should be examined. More troubling, however, is this: Clarke is unlikely to be the last city, county, or state elected public official, feeling empowered by President Donald’s disdain for the press, to withhold information the public is lawfully entitled to.

Imagine a reporter in a small town in a state somewhere between the coasts. She asks the town clerk (an elected public official) for the agenda of the next meeting of the town council. The town clerk refuses — without explanation. The council itself decides to change its meeting date and time without posting a legally required public notice of its intent to meet. The reporter asks the town clerk for a copy of the minutes of the council’s unannounced meeting and is again refused. The reporter calls the chair of the town council and asks for an interview. She is rebuffed.

Expect occurrences of this scenario, which journalists have experienced time and again, to increase.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

January 29, 2017 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Few rules, fewer regulators — Donald’s shrink-the-government plan

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The end game of the heavily mediated engine driving American political strife boils down to these questions:

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3What is the appropriate size of the federal government? Who should decide that? Who should run the “right-sized” government based on what values determined by whom?

Big, big money was wagered in the 2016 election cycle on the outcome of this game as gazillionaires of the right and left poured donations (wonder how many are legal?) into competing PACs, SuperPACS, and 501C’s.

The Democrats shouted: We need social equality. In wealth. In health care. In opportunity. We need government to enable and enforce equality — as well as quality of goods and services. We need to protect those who cannot protect themselves. We need a better (perhaps larger) government. Control unfettered capitalism!

The Republicans shouted back: Damn Nanny-Staters. People should seek, strive, and work for opportunity. To those with the desire to work hard come rewards — so their reward, i.e. their wealth, should be greater than that of those who do not strive, who do not risk, who do not work hard. We must slash regulations to release the free-market engine of innovation. We need a smaller (as small as possible) government. Unshackle capitalism!

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

January 24, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

If they lie, journalists should stop covering the White House. Let the interns do it.

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President Donald’s press secretary boldly and bluntly lied to the White House press corps last week. Yawn.

sean-spicer-white-houseWell, so what? Politicians and their spear carriers have prevaricated, evaded, fibbed, misinformed, misdirected, and dissembled since the dawn of government.

But Sean Spicer lied. He did not disguise the lie. He told lies easily contravened. He did so acting as the representative of the president of the United States. He did so just days after promising he wouldn’t lie.

Media navel gazers pounced. The Washington Post’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, said Spicer’s lies represented “remarks made over the casket at the funeral of access journalism.” Ari Fleischer, press secretary to President George W. Bush, said on NPR, “The American people question whether the press report things accurately and fairly. … And so the press has invited this vulnerability onto itself, and we’re watching this live now on TV.”

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

January 23, 2017 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

President Donald’s already shrunken government

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The Trump transition team has yet to name all its executive branch officials, moving to fill only about 4 percent of positions needing Senate approval.

trumpPresident Donald has yet to flesh out the rest of the executive branch despite Vice President Mike Pence’s claim that “We’re wrapping up this transition on schedule and under budget,” according to Politico’s Influence newsletter.

The heat of media scrutiny has fallen on top-level Cabinet posts, and deservedly so. But President Donald as of yesterday, when he was still president-elect, has moved to fill only 4 percent of the 690 executive branch appointments requiring Senate confirmation.

From an analysis by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein:

Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? It is one of two departments (along with, bizarrely, Commerce) where Trump has selected a deputy secretary. But no solicitor general, no one at civil rights, no one in the civil division, no one for the national security division.

And the same is true in department after department. Not to mention agencies without anyone at all nominated by the president-elect.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

January 20, 2017 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized